The Avaricious Brother

Edited by Rachel Harriette Busk

Long ages ago there dwelt in a city of Western India two brothers.

As the elder brother had no inheritance, and made a poor living by selling herbs and wood, he suffered the common fate of those in needy circumstances, and received no great consideration from his fellow-men.

The younger brother on the other hand was wealthy, yet gave he no portion of his riches to his brother.

One day he gave a great entertainment, to which he invited all his rich neighbours and acquaintances, but to his brother he sent no invitation.

Then spoke the brother’s wife to her husband, saying,—

“It were better that thou shouldst die than live thus dishonoured by all. Behold, now, thou art not even invited to thy brother’s entertainment.”

“Thy words which thou hast spoken are true,” replied the husband. “I will even go forth and die.”

Thus saying, he took up his hatchet and cord, and went out into the forest, passing over many mountains by the way. On the banks of a stream, running through the forest, he saw a number of lions and tigers, and other savage beasts, so he forbore to go near that water, but continued his way till he came to the head of the stream, and here in the sheltering shade of a huge rock were a number of Dakinis, dancing and disporting themselves to tones of dulcet music. Presently one of the Dakinis flew up on high out of the midst of those dancing, and took out of a cleft in the rock a large sack, which she brought down to the grassy bank where the dancing was going on. Having spread it out on the ground in the presence of them all, she took a hammer out of it, and began hammering lustily into the bag. As she did so, all kinds of articles of food and drink that could be desired presented themselves at the mouth of the sack. The Dakinis now left off dancing, and began laying out the meal; but ever as they removed one dish from the mouth of the bag, another and another took its place.

When they had well eaten and drank, the first Dakini hammered away again upon the bag, and forthwith there came thereout gold and silver trinkets, diadems, arm-bands, nûpuras3, and ornaments for all parts of the body. With these the Dakinis decked themselves, till they were covered from head to foot with pearls and precious stones, and their hair sparkling with a powdering of gems. Then they flew away, the first Dakini taking care to lay up the bag and hammer in the cleft of the rock before taking her flight.

When they were far, far on their way, and only showed as specks in the distant sky, then the man came forth from his hiding-place, and having felled several trees with his axe, bound them together one on to the end of the other with his cord, and by this means climbed up to the cleft in the rock, where the Dakini had laid up the hammer and bag, and brought them away.

He had no sooner got down to the ground again, than to make proof of his treasure even more than to satisfy his ravenous appetite, he took the hammer out of the bag, and banged away with it on to the bag, wishing the while that it might bring him all manner of good things to eat. All sorts of delicious viands came for him as quickly as for the Dakinis, of which he made the best meal he had ever had in his life, and then hasted off home with his treasure.

When he came back he found his wife bemoaning his supposed death.

“Weep not for me!” he exclaimed, as soon as he was near enough for her to hear him; “I have that with me which will help us to live with ease to the end of our days.” And without keeping her in suspense, he hammered away on his bag, wishing for clothes, and household furniture, and food, and every thing that could be desired.

After this they gave up their miserable trade in wood and herbs, and led an easy and pleasant life.

The neighbours, however, laid their heads together and said,—

“How comes it that this fellow has thus suddenly come into such easy circumstances?”

But his brother’s wife said to her husband,—

“How can thine elder brother have come by all this wealth unless he hath stolen of our riches?” As she continued saying this often, the man believed it, and called his elder brother to him and asked him, “Whence hast thou all this wealth; who hath given it to thee?” And when he found he hesitated to answer, he added, “Now know I that thou must have stolen of my treasure; therefore, if thou tell me not how otherwise thou hast come by it, I will even drag thee before the Khan, who shall put out both thine eyes.”

When the elder brother had heard this threat, he answered, “Going afar off to a place unknown to thee, having purposed in my mind to die, I found in a cleft of a rock this sack and this hammer”

“And how shall this rusty iron hammer and this dirty sack give thee wealth?” again inquired his brother; and thus he pursued his inquiries until by degrees he made him tell the whole story. Nor would he be satisfied till he had explained to him exactly the situation of the place and the way to it. No sooner had he acquainted himself well of this than, taking with him a cord and an axe, he set out to go there.

When he arrived, he saw an immense number of deformed, ugly spirits, standing against the rock in eight rows, howling piteously. As he crept along to observe if there was any thing he could take of them to make his fortune as his brother had done, one of them happened to look that way and espied him, after which it was no more possible to escape.

“Of a surety this must be the fellow who stole our bag and hammer!” exclaimed the ugly spirit. “Let us at him and put him to death.”

The Dakinis were thoroughly out of temper, and did not want any urging. The words were no soon uttered than, like a flock of birds, they all flew round him and seized him.

“How shall we kill him?” asked one, as she held him tight by the hair of his head till every single hair seemed as if forced out by the roots.

“Fly with him up to the top of the rock, and then dash him down!” cried some. “Drop him in the middle of the sea!” cried others. “Cut him in pieces, and give him to the dogs!” cried others again. But the sharp one who had first espied him said, “His punishment is too soon over with killing him; shall we not rather set a hideous mark upon him, so that he shall be afraid to venture near the habitations of his kind for ever?” “Well spoken!” cried the Dakinis in chorus, something like good-humour returning at the thought of such retribution. “What mark shall we set upon him?”

“Let us draw his nose out five ells long, and then make nine knots upon it,” answered the sharp-witted Dakini.

This they did, and then the whole number of them flew away without leaving a trace of their flight.

Fully crestfallen and ashamed, the avaricious brother determined to wait till nightfall before he ventured home, meantime hiding himself in a cave lest any should chance to pass that way and see him with his knotted nose. When darkness had well closed in only he ventured to slink home, trembling in every limb both from remaining fright at the life-peril he had passed through, and from fear of some inopportune accident having kept any neighbour abroad who might come across his path.

Before he came in sight of his wife he began calling out most piteously,—

“Flee not from before me! I am indeed thine own, very own husband. Changed as I am, I am yet indeed the very self-same. Yet a few days I will endeavour to endure my misery, and then I will lay me down and die.”

When his neighbours and friends found that he came out of his house no more, nor invited them to him, nor gave entertainments more, they began to inquire what ailed him; but he, without letting any of them enter, only answered them from within, “Woe is me! woe is me!”

Now there was in that neighbourhood a Lama, living in contemplation in a tirtha on the river bank. “I will call in the same,” thought the man, “and take his blessing ere I die.” So he sent to the tirtha and called the Lama.

When the Lama came, the man bowed himself and asked his blessing, but would by no means look up, lest he should see his knotted nose. Then said the Lama, “Let me see what hath befallen thee; show it me.” But he answered, “It is impossible to show it!”

Then the Lama said again, “Let me see it; showing it will not harm thee.” But when he looked up and let him see his knotted nose, the sight was so frightful that a shudder seized the Lama, and he ran away for very horror.” However, the man called after him and entreated him to come back, offering him rich presents; and when he had prevailed on him to sit down again, he told him the whole story of what had befallen him.

To his question, whether he could find any remedy, the Lama made answer that he knew none; but, remembering his rich presents, he thought better to turn the matter over in case any useful thought should present itself to his mind, and said he would consult his books.

“Till to-morrow I will wait, then, to hear if thy books have any remedy; and if not, then will I die.”

The next morning the Lama came again. “I have found one remedy,” he said, “but there is only one. The hammer and bag of which your brother is possessed could loose the knots; there is nothing else.”

How elated so ever he had been to hear that a remedy had been found, by so much cast down was he when he learnt that he would have to send and ask the assistance of his brother.

“After all that I have said to him, I could never do this thing,” he said mournfully, “nor would he hear me.” But his wife would not leave any chance of remedying the evil untried; so she went herself to the elder brother and asked for the loan of the sack and hammer.

Knowing how anxious his brother had been to be possessed of such a treasure, however, the brother thought the alleged misfortune was an excuse to rob him of it; therefore he would not give it into her hand. Nevertheless, he went to his brother’s house with it, and asked him what was the service he required of his sack. Then he was obliged to tell him all that had befallen, and to show him his knotted nose. “But,” said he, “if with thy hammer thou will but loose the knots, behold the half of all I have shall be thine.”

His brother accepted the terms; but not trusting to the promise of one so avaricious, he stipulated to have the terms put in order under hand and seal. When this was done he set to work immediately to swing his hammer, and let it touch one by one the knots in his brother’s nose, saying as he did so,—

“May the knots which the eight rows of evil Dakinis made so strong be loosed.”

And with each touch and invocation the knots began to disappear one after the other.

But his wife began to regret the loss of half their wealth, and she determined on a scheme to save it, and yet that her husband should be cured. “If,” said she, “I stop him before he has undone the last knot he cannot claim the reward, because he will not have removed all the knots, and it will be a strange matter if I find not the means of obtaining the hammer long enough to remedy one knot myself.” As she reasoned thus he had loosed the eighth knot.

“Stop!” she cried. “That will do now. For one knot we will not make much ado. He can bear as much disfigurement as that.”

Then the elder brother was grieved because they had broken the contract, and went his way carrying the sack, and with the hammer stuck in his girdle. As he went, the younger brother’s wife went stealthily behind him, and when he had just reached his own door, she sprang upon him, and snatched the hammer from out his girdle. He turned to follow her, but she had already reached her own house before he came up with her, and entering closed the door against him: then in triumph over her success, she proceeded to attempt loosing the ninth knot. Only swinging it as she had seen her brother-in-law do, and not knowing how to temper the force so that it should only just have touched the nose, the blow carried with it so much moment that the hammer went through the man’s skull, even to his brain, so that he fell down and died.

By this means, not the half, but the whole of his possessions passed to his elder brother.