PRIDE GOETH BEFORE A FALL
By Joseph Jacobs
IN a certain village there lived ten cloth merchants who always went
about together. Once upon a time they had traveled far afield, and
were returning home with a great deal of money which they had obtained
by selling their wares. Now there happened to be a dense forest near
their village, and this they reached early one morning. In it there
lived three notorious robbers, of whose existence the traders had never
heard, and while they were still in the middle of it the robbers stood
before them, with swords and cudgels in their hands, and ordered them
to lay down all they had. The traders had no weapons with them, and
so, though they were many more in number, they had to submit themselves
to the robbers, who took away everything from them, even the very
clothes they wore, and gave to each only a small loin cloth a span in
breadth and a cubit in length.
The idea that they had conquered ten men and plundered all their
property now took possession of the robbers' minds. They seated
themselves like three monarchs before the men they had plundered, and
ordered them to dance to them before returning home. The merchants now
mourned their fate.
They had lost all they had, except their loin cloth, and still the
robbers were not satisfied, but ordered them to dance.
There was, among the ten merchants, one who was very clever. He
pondered over the calamity that had come upon him and his friends, the
dance they would have to perform, and the magnificent manner in which
the three robbers had seated themselves on the grass. At the same time
he observed that these last had placed their weapons on the ground, in
the assurance of having thoroughly cowed the traders, who were now
commencing to dance. So he took the lead in the dance, and, as a song
is always sung by the leader on such occasions, to which the rest keep
time with hands and feet, he thus began to sing:
We are enty men,
They are erith men:
If each erith man
Surround eno men,
Eno man remains.
Ta, tai, tom, tadingana.
The robbers were all uneducated, and thought that the leader was merely
singing a song as usual. So it was in one sense: for the leader
commenced from a distance, and had sung the song over twice before he
and his companions commenced to approach the robbers. They had
understood his meaning, because they had been trained in trade.
When two traders discuss the price of an article in the presence of a
purchaser, they use a riddling sort of language.
"What is the price of this cloth?" one trader will ask another.
"Enty rupees," another will reply, meaning "ten rupees."
Thus, there is no possibility of the purchaser knowing what is meant
unless he be acquainted with trade language. By the rules of this
secret language erith means "three," enty means "ten," and eno means
"one." So the leader by his song meant to hint to his fellow-traders
that they were ten men, the robbers only three, that if three pounced
upon each of the robbers, nine of them could hold them down, while the
remaining one bound the robbers' hands and feet.
The three thieves, glorying in their victory, and little understanding
the meaning of the song and the intentions of the dancers, were proudly
seated chewing betel and tobacco. Meanwhile the song was sung a third
time. Ta, tai, tom had left the lips of the singer; and, before
tadingana was out of them, the traders separated into parties of three,
and each party pounced upon a thief. The remaining one-the leader
himself-tore up into long narrow strips a large piece of cloth, six
cubits long, and tied the hands and feet of the robbers. These were
entirely humbled now, and rolled on the ground like three bags of rice!
The ten traders now took back all their property, and armed themselves
with the swords and cudgels of their enemies; and when they reached
their village, they often amused their friends and relatives by
relating their adventure.