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Archive for the ‘shortstories’ Category

Author unknown: this Persian tale can be found in the

Bodleian Library. Tr: Rueben Levy, M.A.,

of MS. Ouseley 231, Bodleian Library/OUP.

 

IT is related that in the city of Basrah there was a man, Abu’l Fawaris,

who was the chief of the sailors of the town, for in the great ocean

there was no port at which he had not landed. One day, as he sat on

the seashore, with his sailors round him, an old man arrived in a ship,

landed where Abu’l Fawaris was sitting, and said: “Friend, J. desire you

to give me your ship for six months, and I will pay you whatever you

desire.” “I demand a thousand gold dinars,” said the sailor, and at once

received the gold from the old man, who, before departing, said that he

would come again on the next day, and warned Abu’l Fawaris that

there was to be no holding back.

The sailor took home his gold, made his ship ready, and then, taking

leave of his wife and sons, he went down to the shore, where he found

the old man waiting for him with a slave and twenty ass-loads of empty

sacks. Abu’l Fawaris greeted him, and together they loaded the ship

and set sail. Taking a particular star for their mark, they sailed for three

months, when an island appeared to one side of them. For this the old

man steered, and they soon landed upon it. Having loaded his slave with

some sacks, the old man with his companions set out towards a mountain

which they could see in the distance. This they reached after some hours

of travel, and climbed to the summit, upon which they found a broad

plain where more than two hundred pits had been dug. The old man

then explained to the sailor that he was a merchant, and that he had,

on that spot, found a mine of jewels. “Now that I have given you my

Confidence,” he continued, “I expect faithfulness from you too. I desire

you to go down into this pit and send up sufficient pearls to fill these

sacks. Half I will give to you, and we shall be able to spend the rest

of our lives in luxury,” The sailor thereupon asked how the pearls had

found their way into these pits, to which the old man replied that there

was a passage connecting the pits with the sea. Along this passage oysters

swam, and settled in the pits, where by chance he had come upon them.

He explained further that he had only brought, the sailor because he

needed help; but he desired not to disclose the matter to any one else.

 

With great eagerness then the sailor descended into the pit, and there

found oysters in great numbers. The old man let down a basket to him,

which he filled again and again, until at last the merchant cried out that

the oysters were useless, for they contained no pearls. Abu’l Fawaris

therefore left that pit, and descended into another, where he found

pearls in great number. By the time night fell he was utterly wearied,

and called out to the old man to help him out of the pit. In reply the

merchant shouted down that he intended to leave him in the pit, for he

feared that Abu’l Fawaris might kill him for the sake of the jewels.

With great vehemence the sailor protested that he was innocent of any

such intention, but the old man was deaf to his entreaties, and, making

his way back to the ship, sailed away.

 

For three days Abu’l Fawaris remained, hungry and thirsty. As he

struggled to find a way out he came upon many human bones, and

understood that the accursed old man had betrayed many others in the

same fashion. In desperation he dug about, and at last he saw a small

opening, which he enlarged with his hands. Soon it was big enough for

him to crawl through, and he found himself in the darkness, standing

upon mud. Along this he walked carefully, and then felt himself sud-

denly plunged to his neck in water, which was salt to the taste; and he

knew that he was in the passage that led to the sea. He, swam along in

this for some way, till, in front of him, there appeared a faint light.

Greatly heartened by the sight of it, he swam vigorously until he reached

the mouth of the passage. On emerging, he found himself facing the sea,

and threw himself on his face to give thanks for his delivery. Then he

arose, and a little distance from him he found the cloak which he had

left behind when he set out for the mountain; but of the old merchant

there was no sign, and the ship had disappeared.

 

Full of trouble and despondency, he sat down at the water’s brink,

wondering what he was to do. As he gazed at the sea there came into

view a ship, and he saw that it was filled with men. At sight of it the

sailor leaped from his place; snatching his turban from his head, he

waved it with all his might in the air, and shouted at the top of his

voice. But as they approached he decided not to tell his rescuers the truth

ef his presence there; therefore when they landed and asked how he

came to be on the island he told them that his ship, had been wrecked at

sea, that he had clung to a plank and been washed to the shore.

They praised his good fortune at his escape, and in reply to his ques-

tions with regard to the place of their origin, told him that they had

sailed from Abyssinia, and were then on their way to Hindustan. At

this, Abu’l Fawaris hesitated, saying that he had no business in Hin-

dustan. They assured him, however, that they would meet ships going

to Basrah, and would hand him over to one of them. He agreed then to

go with them, and for forty days they sailed without seeing any inhabited

spot. At last he asked them whether they had not mistaken their way,

and they admitted that for five days they had been sailing without know-

ing whither they were going or what direction to follow. All together

therefore set themselves to praying, and remained in prayer for some

time.

 

Soon afterwards, as they sailed, something in appearance like a minaret

emerged from the sea, and they seemed to behold the flash of a Chinese

mirror. Also they perceived that their ship, without their rowing, and

without any greater force of wind, began to move at great speed over

the water. In great amazement the sailors ran to Abu’l Fawaris and asked

him what had come to the ship that it moved so fast. He raised his eyes,

and groaned deeply as in the distance he saw a mountain that rose out

of the sea. In terror he clapped his hand to his eyes and should out:

“We shall all perish! My father continually warned me that if ever

I lost my way upon the sea I must steer to the East; for if I went to

the West I would certainly fall into the Lion’s Mouth. When I asked

him what the Lion’s Mouth was, he told me that the Almighty had

created a great hole in the midst of the ocean, at the foot of a mountain.

That is the Lion’s Mouth. Over a hundred leagues of water it will attract

a ship, and no vessel which encounters the mountain ever rises again. I

believe that this is the place and that we are caught.”

 

In great terror the sailors saw their ship being carried like the wind

against the mountain. Soon it was caught in the whirlpool, where the

wrecks of ten thousand ancient ships were being carried around in the

swirling current. The sailors and merchants in the ship crowded to Abu’l

Fawaris, begging him to tell them what they could do. He cried out to

them to prepare all the ropes which they had in the ship; he would then

swim out of the whirlpool and on to the shore at the foot of the moun-

tain, where he would make fast to some stout tree. Then they were to

cast their ropes to him and so he would rescue them from their peril.

By great good fortune the current cast him out upon the shore, and he

made the rope of his ship fast to a stout tree.

 

Then, as soon as was possible, the sailor climbed to the top of the

mountain in search of food, for neither he nor his shipmates had eaten

for some days. When he reached the summit he found a pleasant plain

stretching away in front of him, and in the midst of it he saw a lofty

arch, made of green stone. As he -approached it and entered, he observed

a tall pillar made of steel, from which there hung by a chain a great

drum of Damascus bronze covered with a lion’s skin. From the arch

also hung a great tablet of bronze, upon which was engraved the fol-

lowing inscription: “O thou that dost reach this place, know that when

Alexander voyaged round the world and reached the Lion’s Mouth, he

had been made aware of this place of calamity. He was therefore accom-

panied by four thousand wise men, whom he summoned and whom he

commanded to provide a means of escape from this calamitous spot.

For long the philosophers pondered on the matter, until at last Plato

caused this drum to be made, whose quality is that if any one, being

caught in the whirlpool, can come forth and strike the drum three

times, he will bring out his ship to the surface.”

 

When the sailor had read the inscription, he quickly made his way to

the shore and told his fellows of it. After much debate he agreed to

risk his life by staying on the island and striking the drum, on condition

that they would return to Basrah on their escape, and give to his wife

and sons one-half of what treasure they had in the ship. He bound them

with an oath to do this, and then returned to the arch. Taking up a

club he struck the drum three times, and as the mighty roar of it echoed

from the hills, the ship, like an arrow shot from a bow, was flung out

of the whirlpool. Then, with a cry of farewell to Abu’l Fawaris from

the crew, they sailed to Basrah, where they gave one-half the treasure

which they had to the sailor’s family.

 

With great mourning the wife and family of Abu’l Fawaris cele-

brated his loss; but he, after sleeping soundly in the archway and giving

thanks to his Maker for preserving him alive, made his way again to the

summit of the mountain. As he advanced across the plain he saw black

smoke arising from it, and also in the plain were rivers, of which he

passed nine. He was like to die of hunger and weariness, when suddenly

he perceived on one side a meadow, in which flocks of sheep were graz-

ing. In great joy he thought that he was at last reaching human habi-

tation, and as he came towards the sheep, he saw with them a youth,

tall in stature as a mountain, and covered with a tattered cloak of red

felt, though his head and body were clad in mail. The sailor greeted

him, and received greeting in reply, and also the question “Whence come

you?” Abu’l Fawaris answered that he was a man upon whom catas-

trophe had fallen, and so related his adventures to the shepherd. He

heard it with a laugh, and said: “Count yourself fortunate to have

escaped from that abyss. Do not fear now, I will bring you to a vil-

lage.” Saying this he set bread and milk before him and bade him eat.

When he had eaten he said: “You cannot remain here all day, I will

take you to my house, where you may rest for a time.”

 

Together they descended to the foot of the mountain, where stood a

gateway. Against it leaned a mighty stone, which a hundred men could

not have lifted, but the shepherd, putting his hand into a hole in die

stone, lifted it away from .the gateway and admitted Abu’l Fawaris.

Then he restored the stone to its place, and continued on his way.

 

When the sailor had passed through the gateway he saw before him

a beautiful garden in which were trees laden with fruit. In the mjdst

of them was a kiosk, and this, the sailor thought, must be the shepherd’s

house. He entered and looked about from the roof, but though he saw

many houses there was no person in sight. He descended therefore, and

walked to the nearest house, which he entered. Upon crossing the

threshold he beheld ten men, all naked and all so fat that their eyes

were almost closed. With their heads down upon their knees, all were

weeping bitterly. But at the sound of his footsteps they raised their heads

and called out “Who are you?” He told them that the shepherd had

brought him and offered him hospitality. A great cry arose from them

as they heard this. “Here,” they said, “is another unfortunate who has

fallen, like ourselves, into the clutch of this monster. He is a vile crea-

ture, who in the guise of a shepherd goes about and seizes men and

devours them. We are all merchants whom adverse winds have brought

here. That div has seized us and keeps us in this fashion.”

 

With a groan the sailor thought that now at last he was undone.

At that moment he saw the shepherd coming, saw him let the sheep into

the garden, and then close the gateway with the stone before entering

the kiosk. He was carrying a bag full of almonds, dates, and pistachio

nuts, with which he approached, and, giving it to the sailor, Hie told him

to share it with the others. Abu’l Fawaris could say nothing, but sat

down and ate the food with his companions. When they had finished

their meal, the shepherd returned to them, took one of them by the

hand, and then in sight of them all, slew, roasted, and devoured him.

When he was sated, he brought out a skin of wine and drank until he

fell into a drunken sleep.

 

Then the sailor turned to his companions and said: “Since I am to

die, let me first destroy him; if you will give me your help, I will do

so.” They replied that they had no strength left; but he, seeing the two

long spits on which the ogre had roasted his meat, put them into the

fire until they were red hot, and then plunged them into the monster’s

eyes. ‘

 

With a great cry the shepherd leaped up and tried to seize his tormentor,

who sprang away and eluded him. Running to the stone, the

shepherd moved it aside and began to let out the sheep one by one, in

tile hope that when the garden was emptier he could the more easily

capture the sailor. Abu’l Fawaris understood his intention: without delay,

he slew a sheep, put on the skin and tried to pass through. But the shep-

herd knew as soon as he felt him that this was not a sheep, and leaped

after him in pursuit. Abu’l Fawaris flung off the pelt, and ran like the

wind; Soon lie came to the sea, and into this he plunged, while th

, shepherd after a few steps returned to the shore, for lie could not swim.

Full of terror the sailor swam till he reached the other side of the

mountain. There he met an old man who greeted him, and, after hear-

ing his adventure, fed him and took him to his house. But soon, ‘to his

horror, Abu’l Fawaris found that this old man also was an ogre. With

great cunning he told the ogre’s wife that he could make many useful

implements for her house, and she persuaded her husband to save him.

After many days in the house, he was sent away to the care of a shep-

herd, and put to guard sheep. Day by day he planned to escape, but there

was only one way across the mountain and that was guarded.

One day, as he wandered in a wood, he found in the hollow trunk

of a tree a store of honey, of which he told the shepherd’s wife when

he went home. The next day, therefore, the woman sent her husband

with Abu’l Fawaris, telling him to bring home some of the honey; but,

on the way, the sailor leaped upon him and bound him to a tree. Then,

taking the shepherd’s ring, he returned and told the woman that her

husband had given him leave to go, and that he sent his ring in token

of this. But the woman was cunning and asked: “Why did not my

husband come himself to tell me this?” Seizing him by the cloak, she

told him that she would go with him and find out the truth. The sailor,

however, tore himself free, and again fled to the sea, where he thought

that he might escape death. In haste and terror he swam for many

hours, until at last he espied a ship full of men, who steered towards

him and tobk him on board. Full of wonder they asked how he came

there, and he related to them all his adventures.

 

It happened by great good fortune that the ship’s captain had business

at one place only on the coast, and that from there he was sailing to

Basrah. In the space of a month, therefore, Abu’l Fawaris was restored

to his family, to the joy of them all.

 

The many dangers and sufferings of the sailor had turned his hair

white. For many days he rested, and then, one day, as he walked by the

seashore, that same old man who had before hired his ship again ap-

peared. Without recognizing him, he asked if he would lend his ship on

hire for six months. Abu’l Fawaris agreed to do so for a thousand dinars

of gold, which the old man at once paid to him, saying that he would

come in a boat on the morrow, ready to depart.

 

When the ancient departed, the sailor took home the money to his

wife, who bade him beware not to cast himself again into danger. He

replied that he must be avenged not only for himself, but also for the

thousand Muslims whom the villainous old man had slain.

 

The next day, therefore, the sailor took on board the old man and a

black slave, and for three months they sailed, until they once more

reached the island of pearls. There they made fast the ship on the shore,

and taking sacks, they ascended to the top of the mountain. Once arrived

there, the old man made the same request to Abu’l Fawaris as before,

namely, that he should go down into die pits and send up pearls. The

sailor replied that he was unacquainted with the place, and preferred

that the old man should go down first, in order to prove that there was

no danger. He answered that there was surely no danger; he had never

in his life harmed even an ant, and he would of a certainty never send

Abu’l Fawaris down into the pits if he knew any peril lay there. But

die sailor was obstinate, saying that until he knew how to carry it out,

he could not undertake the task.

 

Very reluctantly, therefore, the old man allowed himself to be lowered

into the first pit by a basket and a rope. He filled the basket with oysters

and sent it up, crying out: “You see, there is nothing to do harm in this

pit. Draw me up now, for I am an old man and have no more strength

left.” The sailor replied, “Now that you are there, it were better if you

remained there to complete your task. To-morrow I myself will go into

another pit and will send up so many pearls as to fill the ship.’

For a long time the old man worked, sending up pearls, and at last he cried

out again, “O my brother, I am utterly wearied, draw me out now.”

Then the sailor turned upon him with fury, and cried out: “How is it

that thou dost see ever thine own trouble and never that of others? Thou

misbegotten dog, art thou blind that thou dost not know me? I am Abu’l

Fawaris, the sailor, whom long ago you left in one of these pits. By the

favor of Allah I was delivered, and now it is your turn. Open your eyes

to the truth and remember what you have done to so many men.” The

old man cried aloud for mercy, but it availed him nothing, for Abu’l

Fawaris brought a great stone and covered up the mouth of the pit. The

slave too he overwhelmed with threats, and then together they carried

down the pearls to the ship, in which they set sail. In three months they

arrived at Basrah. There Abu’l Fawaris related his adventures, to the

amazement of all. Thenceforward he abandoned the sea and adopted a

life of ease. Finally he died, and this story remains in memory of him.

And Allah knoweth best.

On reading this tale one can only conclude that Story of Odysseus found its way into Persia. If one picks out a thread, say the episode of the Cyclopes one may as well assume many other strands do stretch to great many other lands and climes as well.

 

 

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“You mean that mountain isn’t real?” asked young Googool amazed at the monk’s words.

Scan 234

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My five years’ old daughter Mini cannot live without chattering. I really believe that in all her life she has not wasted a minute in silence. Her mother is often vexed at this, and would stop her prattle, but I would not. To see Mini quiet is unnatural, and I cannot bear it long. And so my own talk with her is always lively.

One morning, for instance, when I was in the midst of the seventeenth chapter of my new novel, my little Mini stole into the room, and putting her hand into mine, said: “Father! Ramdayal the doorkeeper calls a crow a krow! He doesn’t know anything, does he?”

Before I could explain to her the differences of language in this world, she was embarked on the full tide of another subject. “What do you think, Father? Bhola says there is an elephant in the clouds, blowing water out of his trunk, and that is why it rains!”

And then, darting off anew, while I sat still making ready some reply to this last saying, “Father! what relation is Mother to you?”

“My dear little sister in the law!” I murmured involuntarily to myself, but with a grave face contrived to answer: “Go and play with Bhola, Mini! I am busy!”

The window of my room overlooks the road. The child had seated herself at my feet near my table, and was playing softly, drumming on her knees. I was hard at work on my seventeenth chapter, where Protrap Singh, the hero, had just caught Kanchanlata, the heroine, in his arms, and was about to escape with her by the third story window of the castle, when all of a sudden Mini left her play, and ran to the window, crying, “A Kabuliwallah! a Kabuliwallah!” Sure enough in the street below was a Kabuliwallah, passing slowly along. He wore the loose soiled clothing of his people, with a tall turban; there was a bag on his back, and he carried boxes of grapes in his hand.

I cannot tell what were my daughter’s feelings at the sight of this man, but she began to call him loudly. “Ah!” I thought, “he will come in, and my seventeenth chapter will never be finished!” At which exact moment the Kabuliwallah turned, and looked up at the child. When she saw this, overcome by terror, she fled to her mother’s protection, and disappeared. She had a blind belief that inside the bag, which the big man carried, there were perhaps two or three other children like herself. The pedlar meanwhile entered my doorway, and greeted me with a smiling face.

So precarious was the position of my hero and my heroine, that my first impulse was to stop and buy something, since the man had been called. I made some small purchases, and a conversation began about Abdurrahman, the Russians, the English, and the Frontier Policy.

As he was about to leave, he asked: “And where is the little girl, sir?”

And I, thinking that Mini must get rid of her false fear, had her brought out.

She stood by my chair, and looked at the Kabuliwallah and his bag. He offered her nuts and raisins, but she would not be tempted, and only clung the closer to me, with all her doubts increased.

This was their first meeting.

One morning, however, not many days later, as I was leaving the house, I was startled to find Mini, seated on a bench near the door, laughing and talking, with the great Kabuliwallah at her feet. In all her life, it appeared; my small daughter had never found so patient a listener, save her father. And already the corner of her little sari was stuffed with almonds and raisins, the gift of her visitor, “Why did you give her those?” I said, and taking out an eight-anna bit, I handed it to him. The man accepted the money without demur, and slipped it into his pocket.

Alas, on my return an hour later, I found the unfortunate coin had made twice its own worth of trouble! For the Kabuliwallah had given it to Mini, and her mother catching sight of the bright round object, had pounced on the child with: “Where did you get that eight-anna bit? ”

“The Kabuliwallah gave it me,” said Mini cheerfully.

“The Kabuliwallah gave it you!” cried her mother much shocked. “Oh, Mini! how could you take it from him?”

I, entering at the moment, saved her from impending disaster, and proceeded to make my own inquiries.

It was not the first or second time, I found, that the two had met. The Kabuliwallah had overcome the child’s first terror by a judicious bribery of nuts and almonds, and the two were now great friends.

They had many quaint jokes, which afforded them much amusement. Seated in front of him, looking down on his gigantic frame in all her tiny dignity, Mini would ripple her face with laughter, and begin: “O Kabuliwallah, Kabuliwallah, what have you got in your bag?”

And he would reply, in the nasal accents of the mountaineer: “An elephant!” Not much cause for merriment, perhaps; but how they both enjoyed the witticism! And for me, this child’s talk with a grown-up man had always in it something strangely fascinating.

Then the Kabuliwallah, not to be behindhand, would take his turn: “Well, little one, and when are you going to the father-in-law’s house?”

Now most small Bengali maidens have heard long ago about the father-in-law’s house; but we, being a little new-fangled, had kept these things from our child, and Mini at this question must have been a trifle bewildered. But she would not show it, and with ready tact replied: “Are you going there?”

Amongst men of the Kabuliwallah’s class, however, it is well known that the words father-in-law’s house have a double meaning. It is a euphemism for jail, the place where we are well cared for, at no expense to ourselves. In this sense would the sturdy pedlar take my daughter’s question. “Ah,” he would say, shaking his fist at an invisible policeman, “I will thrash my father-in-law!” Hearing this, and picturing the poor discomfited relative, Mini would go off into peals of laughter, in which her formidable friend would join.

These were autumn mornings, the very time of year when kings of old went forth to conquest; and I, never stirring from my little corner in Calcutta, would let my mind wander over the whole world. At the very name of another country, my heart would go out to it, and at the sight of a foreigner in the streets, I would fall to weaving a network of dreams, –the mountains, the glens, and the forests of his distant home, with his cottage in its setting, and the free and independent life of far-away wilds.

Perhaps the scenes of travel conjure themselves up before me, and pass and repass in my imagination all the more vividly, because I lead such a vegetable existence, that a call to travel would fall upon me like a thunderbolt.

In the presence of this Kabuliwallah, I was immediately transported to the foot of arid mountain peaks, with narrow little defiles twisting in and out amongst their towering heights. I could see the string of camels bearing the merchandise, and the company of turbaned merchants, carrying some of their queer old firearms, and some of their spears, journeying downward towards the plains. I could see–but at some such point Mini’s mother would intervene, imploring me to “beware of that man.”

Mini’s mother is unfortunately a very timid lady. Whenever she hears a noise in the street, or sees people coming towards the house, she always jumps to the conclusion that they are either thieves, or drunkards, or snakes, or tigers, or malaria or cockroaches, or caterpillars, or an English sailor. Even after all these years of experience, she is not able to overcome her terror. So she was full of doubts about the Kabuliwallah, and used to beg me to keep a watchful eye on him.

I tried to laugh her fear gently away, but then she would turn round on me seriously, and ask me solemn questions.

Were children never kidnapped?

Was it, then, not true that there was slavery in Kabul?

Was it so very absurd that this big man should be able to carry off a tiny child?

I urged that, though not impossible, it was highly improbable. But this was not enough, and her dread persisted. As it was indefinite, however, it did not seem right to forbid the man the house, and the intimacy went on unchecked.

Once a year in the middle of January Rahmun, the Kabuliwallah, was in the habit of returning to his country, and as the time approached he would be very busy, going from house to house collecting his debts. This year, however, he could always find time to come and see Mini. It would have seemed to an outsider that there was some conspiracy between the two, for when he could not come in the morning, he would appear in the evening.

Even to me it was a little startling now and then, in the corner of a dark room, suddenly to surprise this tall, loose-garmented, much bebagged man; but when Mini would run in smiling, with her, “O! Kabuliwallah! Kabuliwallah!” and the two friends, so far apart in age, would subside into their old laughter and their old jokes, I felt reassured.

One morning, a few days before he had made up his mind to go, I was correcting my proof sheets in my study. It was chilly weather. Through the window the rays of the sun touched my feet, and the slight warmth was very welcome. It was almost eight o’clock, and the early pedestrians were returning home, with their heads covered. All at once, I heard an uproar in the street, and, looking out, saw Rahmun being led away bound between two policemen, and behind them a crowd of curious boys. There were blood-stains on the clothes of the Kabuliwallah, and one of the policemen carried a knife.

Hurrying out, I stopped them, and enquired what it all meant. Partly from one, partly from another, I gathered that a certain neighbour had owed the pedlar something for a Rampuri shawl, but had falsely denied having bought it, and that in the course of the quarrel, Rahmun had struck him. Now in the heat of his excitement, the prisoner began calling his enemy all sorts of names, when suddenly in a verandah of my house appeared my little Mini, with her usual exclamation: “O Kabuliwallah! Kabuliwallah!” Rahmun’s face lighted up as he turned to her. He had no bag under his arm today, so she could not discuss the elephant with him. She at once therefore proceeded to the next question: “Are you going to the father-in-law’s house?” Rahmun laughed and said: “Just where I am going, little one!” Then seeing that the reply did not amuse the child, he held up his fettered hands. ” Ali,” he said, ” I would have thrashed that old father-in-law, but my hands are bound!”

On a charge of murderous assault, Rahmun was sentenced to some years’ imprisonment.

Time passed away, and he was not remembered. The accustomed work in the accustomed place was ours, and the thought of the once-free mountaineer spending his years in prison seldom or never occurred to us. Even my light-hearted Mini, I am ashamed to say, forgot her old friend. New companions filled her life. As she grew older, she spent more of her time with girls. So much time indeed did she spend with them that she came no more, as she used to do, to her father’s room. I was scarcely on speaking terms with her.

Years had passed away. It was once more autumn and we had made arrangements for our Mini’s marriage. It was to take place during the Puja Holidays. With Durga returning to Kailas, the light of our home also was to depart to her husband’s house, and leave her father’s in the shadow.

The morning was bright. After the rains, there was a sense of ablution in the air, and the sun-rays looked like pure gold. So bright were they that they gave a beautiful radiance even to the sordid brick walls of our Calcutta lanes. Since early dawn to-day the wedding-pipes had been sounding, and at each beat my own heart throbbed. The wail of the tune, Bhairavi, seemed to intensify my pain at the approaching separation. My Mini was to be married to-night.

From early morning noise and bustle had pervaded the house. In the courtyard the canopy had to be slung on its bamboo poles; the chandeliers with their tinkling sound must be hung in each room and verandah. There was no end of hurry and excitement. I was sitting in my study, looking through the accounts, when some one entered, saluting respectfully, and stood before me. It was Rahmun the Kabuliwallah. At first I did not recognise him. He had no bag, nor the long hair, nor the same vigour that he used to have. But he smiled, and I knew him again.

“When did you come, Rahmun?” I asked him.

“Last evening,” he said, “I was released from jail.”

The words struck harsh upon my ears. I had never before talked with one who had wounded his fellow, and my heart shrank within itself, when I realised this, for I felt that the day would have been better-omened had he not turned up.

“There are ceremonies going on,” I said, “and I am busy. Could you perhaps come another day?”

At once he turned to go; but as he reached the door he hesitated, and said: “May I not see the little one, sir, for a moment?” It was his belief that Mini was still the same. He had pictured her running to him as she used, calling “O Kabuliwallah! Kabuliwallah!” He had imagined too that they would laugh and talk together, just as of old. In fact, in memory of former days he had brought, carefully wrapped up in paper, a few almonds and raisins and grapes, obtained somehow from a countryman, for his own little fund was dispersed.

I said again: “There is a ceremony in the house, and you will not be able to see any one to-day.”

The man’s face fell. He looked wistfully at me for a moment, said “Good morning,” and went out. I felt a little sorry, and would have called him back, but I found he was returning of his own accord. He came close up to me holding out his offerings and said: “I brought these few things, sir, for the little one. Will you give them to her?”

I took them and was going to pay him, but he caught my hand and said: “You are very kind, sir! Keep me in your recollection. Do not offer me money!–You have a little girl, I too have one like her in my own home. I think of her, and bring fruits to your child, not to make a profit for myself.”

Saying this, he put his hand inside his big loose robe, and brought out a small and dirty piece of paper. With great care he unfolded this, and smoothed it out with both hands on my table. It bore the impression of a little band. Not a photograph. Not a drawing. The impression of an ink-smeared hand laid flat on the paper. This touch of his own little daughter had been always on his heart, as he had come year after year to Calcutta, to sell his wares in the streets.

Tears came to my eyes. I forgot that he was a poor Kabuli fruit-seller, while I was–but no, what was I more than he? He also was a father. That impression of the hand of his little Parbati in her distant mountain home reminded me of my own little Mini.

I sent for Mini immediately from the inner apartment. Many difficulties were raised, but I would not listen. Clad in the red silk of her wedding-day, with the sandal paste on her forehead, and adorned as a young bride, Mini came, and stood bashfully before me.

The Kabuliwallah looked a little staggered at the apparition. He could not revive their old friendship. At last he smiled and said: “Little one, are you going to your father-in-law’s house?”

But Mini now understood the meaning of the word “father-in-law,” and she could not reply to him as of old. She flushed up at the question, and stood before him with her bride-like face turned down.

I remembered the day when the Kabuliwallah and my Mini had first met, and I felt sad. When she had gone, Rahmun heaved a deep sigh, and sat down on the floor. The idea had suddenly come to him that his daughter too must have grown in this long time, and that he would have to make friends with her anew. Assuredly he would not find her, as he used to know her. And besides, what might not have happened to her in these eight years?

The marriage-pipes sounded, and the mild autumn sun streamed round us. But Rahmun sat in the little Calcutta lane, and saw before him the barren mountains of Afghanistan.

I took out a bank-note, and gave it to him, saying: “Go back to your own daughter, Rahmun, in your own country, and may the happiness of your meeting bring good fortune to my child!”

Having made this present, I had to curtail some of the festivities. I could not have the electric lights I had intended, nor the military band, and the ladies of the house were despondent at it. But to me the wedding feast was all the brighter for the thought that in a distant land a long-lost father met again with his only child.

(ack:Angelfire)

The End

The

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