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The Beetle and A Drop of Honey

2006-07-13 23:30

  Once, long ago, there lived in Northern India a Rajah called Surya Pratap, or “Powerful as the Sun.” Now, if this Rajah was not equal to the Sun, he thought himself so, and expected everyone to obey his slightest wish without question. He would never listen to a word of advice, or think twice before the acted, and he was ever ready to punish cruelly anyone who crossed his will even in the smallest matter.

  Now, this Rajah had a Vizier, his Chief Minster of State, called Dhairya-Sila, or “the Patient One.” His name suited him, for never, even under the greatest provocation, did he lose his temper. Dhairya-Sila was very much respected by the people for his honesty and self-less service to the State.

  Dhairya-Sila had a wife called Buddhi-Mati, or “the Wise One,” whom he loved more than anything else in the world. If anyone asked him to whom he owed his success, he would proudly say at once: “To Buddhi-Mati. Without her I should be nobody.” And he meant what he said, for when his tedious duties at the Court were over, he would spend a quite hour with her in the garden of their home. One evening, when they had sat together silent for some time in their garden, Dhairya-Sila said quite suddenly to his wife: “Suppose our good fortune vanished!”

  “Why, what makes you think so?” asked Buddhi-Mati quite startled. “Has anything happened today to make you say such a thing?”

  “No,” replied her husband; “but some people at Court have grown jealous of me because of the favours the Rajah has heaped upon me just lately.”

  “But the Rajah loves you so much that you can afford to make no notice of such things,” said Buddhi-Mati.

  “I don't know,” the Vizier spoke thoughtfully. “The Rajah is so suspicious that some odd idea might take root in his mind. Anyway, dearest of all, do not be surprised at anything that may happen.”

  “Husband,” said Buddhi-Mati, “have you any reason to suspect there is a plot against you?”

  “Not yet,” replied Dhairya-Sila, “but you know the Rajah's temper-restless, suspicious!”

  “Alas!” sighed Buddhi-Mati.

  “Yesterday,” continued the Vizier, “an enemy brought some tale against me to the Rajah. The man lost his ears. Today my name was spoken against. And the enemy was sent to prison. But, dear wife, these little straws show which may the wind blows. Tonight when I bade farewell to the Rajah I noted a coolness in his manner.”

  “Husband!” cried Buddhi-Mati, “let us fly from this place!”

  “Why?” asked the Vizier, much surprised.

  “It is not safe!” she replied with tears in her eyes.

  “Buddhi-Mati!” said the Vizier. “Do you know why I married you? I married you because you were so wise. With you by my side, I don't care for any enemy, not even for the Rajah. Still, my dear, we must be prepared for a change in our present most fortunate state.”

  It turned out that Dhairya-Sila was right. A change was indeed coming. A word here, a word there in the Rajah's ear, and the power of the Chief Minster rocked dangerously. For a day or two the Vizier suffered patiently the Rajah's open rudeness to him. And then, like a bolt from the blue, came a command to do a most shameful deed. Dhairya-Sila could stand it no longer and sprang up from his place of honour with a loud “No!”

  “No!” roared the Rajah. “Who dare say 'No' to me?”

  A dozen hands sprang to the sword-hilt. But they dared not attack Dhairya-Sila, for he, too, carried a sword. They felt that the first to attack him would be a dead man.

  The Rajah moved about restlessly. “Who dare say 'No' to me?” he repeated, but less violently. He hoped that Dhairya-Sila would climb down and be ready to eat humble pie. But one look at the Vizier chased any such hope away. There he stood, firm and unbending. Something must be done with him, and at once.

  The Rajah breathed hard.

  “A subject who disobeys me had no right to live!” he thundered, “but because you have risen high in my favour, Dhairya-Sila, death shall come gently and slowly. Thus you will have longer to repent of your sins.”

  “Sire,” replied the Vizier calmly, “do with me as you will. But whatever my fate, I know that yours will be to repent day and night of your ingratitude towards one whose only fault was in refusing to act unworthily at your bidding.”

  At these proud words, the Rajah flew into a wild rage.

  Then, summoning the guard, the Rajah ordered:

  “Seize Dhairya-Sila at once and take him to the top of a high tower which stands outside the city walls, and there leave him without food or water, and with no shelter from the sun.”

  This in itself was a death sentence. But the men of the guard held back. Not one of them wished to be the first to lay rough hands upon the person of the Vizier. In vain the Rajah stormed. Then Dhairya-Sila said quietly:

  “Men of the guard, I go with you right gladly. It is for the Rajah to command; for us to obey.”

  Dhairya-Sila, without any sign of fear, saluted the Rajah in his usual manner, and, surrounded by the guard, moved away.

  But in his heart of hearts, he was thinking:

  “My poor Buddhi-Mati! When I do not return tonight, how anxious she will be!”

  He had no means of sending her a message, and so the waited for him in the garden, hour after hour, till it was almost day-break. She concluded that something terrible must have happened to her husband. Veiling herself closely, she slipped out of the gates. She saw a group of water-carriers standing in the road, and in their midst an old man talking loudly. She drew near the group to listen to the old man's chatter.

  “Ah, ha!” he laughed, “pride goes before a fall. And what a fall the Vizier has had! You know what happened. It is said that the Rajah flew into one of his tempers and ordered the Vizier to do something very bad indeed!”

  “And then?” put in a listener.

  “The Vizier proudly said 'No'!” said the old man.

  “No! to the Rajah!” The men could hardly believe their ears.

  “Yes,” said the old man.

  “The Rajah at once ordered him to be imprisoned on the top of the tower outside the city wall, and left without food or drink and at the mercy of the midday sun,” replied the old man.

  “He'll soon die for saying 'No' to the Rajah!” declared another of the men.

  Buddhi-Mati waited to hear no more. She realized that only she herself could do something to save her husband, but she waited till midnight came. At midnight she slipped through the city gates again and came to the foot of the tower. In the dim light of the stars she could just make out the form of her husband leaning over the iron railing which ran round the platform.

  “My lord, it is I, your wife Buddhi-Mati,” she said in a low, clear voice. And the answer came as softly and clearly:

  “Ah, Buddhi-Mati, I knew you would come. I have been waiting for you.”

  “Tell me how to help me,” he replied, “so listen carefully. At this time tomorrow night return to the foot of the tower, bringing these things with you.”

  “Yes?” whispered Buddhi-Mati.

  “First,” said Dhairya-Sila. “I shall want a beetle. It must be a strong, resolute, and greedy insect, for much depends on it. Secondly, I shall want sixty yards of the finest silken thread, sixty yards of cotton thread, thin and strong, sixty yards of good strong string, and sixty yards of rope strong enough to bear my weight. And, lastly, one drop of the purest honey!”

  Buddhi-Mati went home as quickly as she had come, and began to search at once for all the things her husband wanted.

  She had some difficulty in finding the beetle. There were many beetles in the garden and of various kinds. But none appeared to be strong. At last, she found a very strong-looking beetle, just the one she wanted. “This,” she cried out aloud, “is the very beetle that I need.”

  She caught it easily, and put it with a leaf in a silken purse in the bosom of her robe. Then, with a little bottle of honey, and her balls and coils of silk, cotton, string and rope all ready, she waited for the night to come.

  And when the night came, Buddhi-Mati carefully slipped out of the city gates again, and came to the foot of the tower. The guards were all sound asleep. Buddhi-Mati called very softly, lest her voice should awaken the sleeping guards:

  “My lord, I have brought all the things you told me to bring. The silken thread, the cotton, string, rope, the beetle and the drop of honey. Now, hasten, husband, and tell me what to do.”

  “First of all,” began Dhairya-Sila, “you must tie the end of the silken thread round the middle of the beetle.” “But be sure to leave its legs free!” warned the Vizier. “Now, if the silken thread is fast, smear a drop of honey on the beetle's nose, then set the little creature on the wall, with its nose pointed upwards towards me.”

  “There, I've done that!” said Buddhi-Mati, “the beetle is on the wall. It has started to climb.”

  “Hold the ball of silk tight in your hand. Then let it unwind very slowly. Be sure not to let it slip, for my very life depends upon it,” said her husband.

  Charmed with the smell of the honey in front of it, the little beetle climbed steadily until it reached the tower top. Dhairya-Sila caught it gently and freed it from the silken thread. Then, holding the end of the silken thread securely in one hand, he placed the beetle with the other hand in the soft folds of his turban.

  He then called down to Buddhi-Mati again:

  “Now tie the cotton thread firmly to the end of the silken thread you hold, and let it unwind slowly in the same way.”

  Buddhi-Mati tied the ends carefully. Dhairya-Sila pulled up the silken thread very slowly and carefully. And now the end of the cotton thread was in his hand. Breaking off the silk, he put that, too, in his turban, and began to pull up the cotton as carefully as the silk.

  “The work is now half done,” he called down to the brave Buddhi-Mati. “Now tie the end of the cotton to the string.”

  “I have done that,” replied Buddhi-Mati.

  “The string is in my hand,” said Dhairya-Sila. “And now, my dear, it is the turn of the rope. Your knot must be firm as the faith I have in you.”

  Then Buddhi-Mati took the rope, and she tied a knot so tight that the edge cut into her soft hands, and little drops of her red blood were carried up to the beloved prisoner. When the end of the rope was in his hands, Dhairya-Sila tied it firmly to the heavy iron railing which ran round the platform at the tower. Then he slid down to the bottom, where his wife waited half weeping from fear and joy.

  “Most wonderful of women!” said Dhairya-Sila, “without you I could never have escaped.”

  Saying this, he embraced his wife who was full of joy at getting her husband back from the jaws of death, as it were.

  Then they immediately went home together, for they wanted to be in their house before it was day. Dhairya-Sila hid himself from the servants, for he did not want anyone to come to know of his escape.

  In the meantime the Rajah was miserable. The thought that he might have brought about the death of the wisest man in his kingdom began to weigh heavy upon his mind. But he was too proud to pardon his Chief Minister. But for the two nights and two days during which Dhairya-Sila had remained on the tower, he could neither eat nor sleep.

  On the third day he would see no one, and gave orders that none should be admitted to his presence. Standing at the big window, he stared at the distant tower, and wished that he had never been born.

  Then a low tap at the door made him call out angrily:

  “I will see no one. Anyone who disobeys me shall lose his ears.”

  “But, Sire,” said Dhairya-Sila gently, as he came in boldly through the door, “pray leave me mine, for indeed I have great need of them in your service.”

  With a cry, the Rajah rushed forward and embraced his Chief Minister. “How I have missed you! Every minute I have missed you,” he said. “But how did you escape from the top of the tower? Who helped you?”

  “A beetle your Majesty,” replied Dhairya-Sila, and then added smiling gently, “a beetle and a drop of honey.”

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