Tales from the Punjab
ONCE upon a time a soldier died, leaving a widow and one son. They were dreadfully poor, and at last matters became so bad that they had nothing 1eft in the house to eat.
'Mother,' said the son, 'give me four shillings, and I will go and seek my fortune in the wide world.'
'Alas!' answered the mother, 'and where am I, who haven't a farthing wherewith to buy bread, to find four shillings?'
'There is that old coat of my father's,' returned the lad; 'look in the pocket–perchance there is something there.'
So she looked, and behold! there were six shillings hidden away at the very bottom of the pocket!
'More than I bargained for,' quoth the lad, laughing. 'See, mother, these two shillings are for you; you can live on that till I return, the rest will pay my way until I find my fortune.'
So he set off to find his fortune, and on the way he saw a tigress, licking her paw, and moaning mournfully. He was just about to run away from the terrible creature, when she called to him faintly, saying, 'Good lad, if you will take out this thorn for me, I shall be for ever grateful.'
'Not I!' answered the lad. 'Why, if I begin to pull it out, and it pains you, you will kill me with a pat of your paw.'
'No, no!' cried the tigress, 'I will turn my face to this tree, and when the pain comes I will pat it.'
To this the soldier's son agreed; so he pulled out the thorn, and when the pain came the tigress gave the tree such a blow that the trunk split all to pieces. Then she turned towards the soldier's son, and said gratefully, 'Take this box as a reward, my son, but do not open it until you have travelled nine miles.'
So the soldier's son thanked the tigress, and set off with the box to find his fortune. Now when he had gone five miles, he felt certain that the box weighed more than it had at first, and every step he took it seemed to grow heavier and heavier. He tried to struggle on–though it was all he could do to carry the box–until he had gone about eight miles and a quarter, when his patience gave way. 'I believe that tigress was a witch, and is playing off her tricks upon me,' he cried, 'but I will stand this nonsense no longer. Lie there, you wretched old box! –heaven knows what is in you, and I don't care.'
So saying, he flung the box down on the ground: it burst open with the shock, and out stepped a little old man. He was only one span high, but his beard was a span and a quarter long, and trailed upon the ground.
The little mannikin immediately began to stamp about and scold the lad roundly for letting the box down so violently.
'Upon my word!' quoth the soldier's son, scarcely able to restrain a smile at the ridiculous little figure, 'but you are weighty for your size, old gentleman! And what may your name be?'
'Sir Buzz!' snapped the one-span mannikin, still stamping about in a great rage.
'Upon my word!' quoth the soldier's son once more, 'if you are all the box contained, I am glad I didn't trouble to carry it farther.'
'That's not polite,' snarled the mannikin; 'perhaps if you had carried it the full nine miles you might have found something better; but that's neither here nor there. I'm good enough for you, at any rate, and will serve you faithfully according to my mistress's orders.'
'Serve me!–then I wish to goodness you'd serve me with some dinner, for I am mighty hungry! Here are four shillings to pay for it.'
No sooner had the soldier's son said this and given the money, than with a whiz! boom! bing! like a big bee, Sir Buzz flew through the air to a confectioner's shop in the nearest town. There he stood, the one-span mannikin, with the span and a quarter beard trailing on the ground, just by the big preserving pan, and cried in ever so loud a voice, 'Ho! ho! Sir Confectioner, bring me sweets!'
The confectioner looked round the shop, and out of the door, and down the street, but could see no one, for tiny Sir Buzz was quite hidden by the preserving pan. Then the mannikin called out louder still, 'Ho! ho! Sir Confectioner, bring me sweets!' And when the confectioner looked in vain for his customer, Sir Buzz grew angry, and ran and pinched him on the legs, and kicked him on the foot, saying, 'Impudent knave! do you mean to say you can't see me? Why, I was standing by the preserving pan all the time!'
The confectioner apologised humbly, and hurried away to bring out his best sweets for his irritable little customer. Then Sir Buzz chose about a hundredweight of them, and said, 'Quick, tie them up in something and give them into my hand; I'll carry them home.'
'They will be a good weight, sir,' smiled the confectioner.
'What business is that of yours, I should like to know?' snapped Sir Buzz. 'Just you do as you're told, and here is your money.' So saying he jingled the four shillings in his pocket.
'As you please, sir,' replied the man cheerfully, as he tied up the sweets into a huge bundle and placed it on the little mannikin's outstretched hand, fully expecting him to sink under the weight; when lo! with a boom! bing! he whizzed off with the money still in his pocket.
He alighted at a corn-chandler's shop, and, standing behind a basket of flour, called out at the top of his voice, 'Ho! ho! Sir Chandler, bring me flour!'
And when the corn-chandler looked round the shop, and out of the window, and down the street, without seeing anybody, the one-span mannikin, with his beard trailing on the ground, cried again louder than before, 'Ho! ho! Sir Chandler, bring me flour!'
Then on receiving no answer, he flew into a violent rage, and ran and bit the unfortunate corn-chandler on the leg, pinched him, and kicked him, saying, 'Impudent varlet! don't pretend you couldn't see me! Why, I was standing close beside you behind that basket!'
So the corn-chandler apologised humbly for his mistake, and asked Sir Buzz how much flour he wanted.
'Two hundredweight,' replied the mannikin, 'two hundredweight, neither more nor less. Tie it up in a bundle, and I'll take it with me.'
'Your honour has a cart or beast of burden with you, doubtless?' said the chandler, 'for two hundredweight is a heavy load.'
'What's that to you?' shrieked Sir Buzz, stamping his foot, 'isn't it enough if I pay for it?' And then he jingled the money in his pocket again.
So the corn-chandler tied up the flour in a bundle, and placed it in the mannikin's outstretched hand, fully expecting it would crush him, when, with a whiz! Sir Buzz flew off, with the shillings still in his pocket. Boom! bing! boom!
The soldier's son was just wondering what had become of his one-span servant, when, with a whir! the little fellow alighted beside him, and wiping his face with his handkerchief, as if he were dreadfully hot and tired, said thoughtfully, 'Now I do hope I've brought enough, but you men have such terrible appetites!'
'More than enough, I should say,' laughed the lad, looking at the huge bundles.
Then Sir Buzz cooked the girdle-cakes, and the soldier's son ate three of them and a handful of sweets; but the one-span mannikin gobbled up all the rest, saying at each mouthful, 'You men have such terrible appetites–such terrible appetites!'
After that, the soldier's son and his servant Sir Buzz travelled ever so far, until they came to thc King's city. Now the King had a daughter called Princess Blossom, who was so lovely, and tender, and slim, and fair, that she only weighed five flowers. Every morning she was weighed in golden scales, and the scale always turned when the fifth flower was put in, neither less nor more.
Now it so happened that the soldier's son by chance caught a glimpse of the lovely, tender, slim, and fair Princess Blossom, and, of course, he fell desperately in love with her. He would neither sleep nor eat his dinner, and did nothing all day long but say to his faithful mannikin, 'Oh, dearest Sir Buzz! oh, kind Sir Buzz!–carry me to the Princess Blossom, that I may see and speak to her.'
'Carry you!' snapped the little fellow scornfully, 'that's a likely story! Why, you're ten times as big as I am. You should carry me! '
Nevertheless, when the soldier's son begged and prayed, growing pale and pining away with thinking of the Princess Blossom, Sir Buzz, who had a kind heart, was moved, and bade the lad sit on his hand. Then with a tremendous boom! bing! boom! they whizzed away and were in the palace in a second. Being night-time, the Princess was asleep; nevertheless the booming wakened her and she was quite frightened to see a handsome young man kneeling beside her. She began of course to scream, but stopped at once when the soldier's son with the greatest politeness, and in the most elegant of language, begged her not to be alarmed. And after that they talked together about everything delightful, while Sir Buzz stood at the door and did sentry; but he stood a brick up on end first, so that he might not seem to pry upon the young people.
Now when the dawn was just breaking, the soldier's son and Princess Blossom, wearied of talking, fell asleep; whereupon Sir Buzz, being a faithful servant, said to himself, 'Now what is to be done? If my master remains here asleep, some one will discover him, and he will be killed as sure as my name is Buzz, but if I wake him, ten to one he will refuse to go.'
So without more ado he put his hand under the bed, and bing! boom! carried it into a large garden outside the town. There he set it down in the shade of the biggest tree, and pulling up the next biggest one by the roots, threw it over his shoulder, and marched up and down keeping guard.
Before long the whole town was in a commotion, because the Princess Blossom had been carried off, and all the world and his wife turned out to look for her. By and by the one-eyed Chief Constable came to the garden gate.
'What do you want here?' cried valiant Sir Buzz, making passes at him with the tree.
The Chief Constable with his one eye could see nothing save the branches, but he replied sturdily, 'I want the Princess Blossom!'
'I'll blossom you! Get out of my garden, will you?' shrieked the one-span mannikin, with his one and quarter span beard trailing on the ground; and with that he belaboured the Constable's pony so hard with the tree that it bolted away, nearly throwing its rider.
The poor man went straight to the King, saying, 'Your Majesty! I am convinced your Majesty's daughter, the Princess Blossom, is in your Majesty's garden, just outside the town, as there is a tree there which fights terribly.'
Upon this the King summoned all his horses and men, and going to the garden tried to get in; but Sir Buzz behind the tree routed them all, for half were killed, and the rest ran away. The noise of the battle, however, awoke the young couple, and as they were now convinced they could no longer exist apart, they determined to fly together. So when the fight was over, the soldier's son, the Princess Blossom, and Sir Buzz set out to see the world.
Now the soldier's son was so enchanted with his good luck in winning the Princess, that he said to Sir Buzz, 'My fortune is made already; so I shan't want you any more, and you can go back to your mistress.'
'Pooh!' said Sir Buzz. 'Young people always think so; however, have it your own way, only take this hair out of my beard, and if you should get into trouble, just burn it in the fire. I'll come to your aid.'
So Sir Buzz boomed off, and the soldier's son and the Princess Blossom lived and travelled together very happily, until at last they lost their way in a forest, and wandered about for some time without any food. When they were nearly starving, a Brahman found them, and hearing their story said, 'Alas! you poor children!–come home with me, and I will give you something to eat.'
Now had he said 'I will eat you,' it would have been much nearer the mark, for he was no Brahman, but a dreadful vampire, who loved to devour handsome young men and slender girls. But, knowing nothing of all this, the couple went home with him quite cheerfully. He was most polite, and when they arrived at his house, said, 'Please get ready whatever you want to eat, for I have no cook. Here are my keys; open all my cupboards save the one with the golden key. Meanwhile I will go and gather firewood.'
Then the Princess Blossom began to prepare the food, while the soldier's son opened all the cupboards. In them he saw lovely jewels, and dresses, and cups and platters, such bags of gold and silver, that his curiosity got the better of his discretion, and, regardless of the Brahman's warning, he said, 'I will see what wonderful thing is hidden in the cupboard with the golden key.' So he opened it, and lo! it was full of human skulls, picked quite clean, and beautifully polished. At this dreadful sight the soldier's son flew back to the Princess Blossom, and said, 'We are lost! we are lost!–this is no Brahman, but a horrid vampire!'
At that moment they heard him at the door, and the Princess, who was very brave and kept her wits about her, had barely time to thrust the magic hair into the fire, before the vampire, with sharp teeth and fierce eyes, appeared. But at the selfsame moment a boom! boom! binging noise was heard in the air, coming nearer and nearer. Whereupon the vampire, who knew very well who his enemy was, changed into a heavy rain pouring down in torrents, hoping thus to drown Sir Buzz, but he changed into the storm wind beating back the rain. Then the vampire changed to a dove, but Sir Buzz, pursuing it as a hawk, pressed it so hard that it had barely time to change into a rose, and drop into King Indra's lap as he sat in his celestial court listening to the singing of some dancing girls. Then Sir Buzz, quick as thought, changed into an old musician, and standing beside the bard who was thrumming the guitar, said, 'Brother, you are tired; let me play.'
And he played so wonderfully, and sang with such piercing sweetness, that King Indra said, 'What shall I give you as a reward? Name what you please, and it shall be yours.'
Then Sir Buzz said, 'I only ask the rose that is in your Majesty's lap.'
'I had rather you asked more, or less,' replied King Indra; 'it is but a rose, yet it fell from heaven; nevertheless it is yours.'
So saying, he threw the rose towards the musician, and lo! the petals fell in a shower on the ground. Sir Buzz went down on his knees and instantly gathered them up; but one petal escaping, changed into a mouse. Whereupon Sir Buzz, with the speed of lightning, turned into a cat, which caught and gobbled up the mouse.
Now all this time the Princess Blossom and the soldier's son, shivering and shaking, were awaiting the issue of the combat in the vampire's hut; when suddenly, with a bing! boom! Sir Buzz arrived victorious, shook his head, and said, 'You two had better go home, for you are not fit to take care of yourselves.'
Then he gathered together all the jewels and gold in one hand, placed the Princess and the soldier's son in the other, and whizzed away home, to where the poor mother–who all this time had been living on the two shillings–was delighted to see them.
Then with a louder boom! bing! boom! than usual, Sir Buzz, without even waiting for thanks, whizzed out of sight, and was never seen or heard of again.
But the soldier's son and the Princess Blossom lived happily ever after.
Next: The Rat's Wedding
Tales of the Punjab
"Sir Buzz." by Flora Annie Steel (1847-1929)
From: Tales of the Punjab (1894) by Flora Annie Steel. London & New York: Macmillan and Co., 1894.