The Tortoise and the Geese and Other Fables of Bidpai  by Maude Barrows Dutton

The Two Travelers

Two Friends, Ganem and Salem, were journeying together, when they came to a broad stream at the foot of a hill. The woods were near at hand, and the shade was so welcome after the heat of the desert that they halted here to rest. After they had eaten and slept, they arose to go on, when they discovered near at hand a white stone, upon which was written in curious lettering this inscription:—

Travelers, we have prepared an excellent banquet for your refreshment; but you must be bold and deserve it before you can obtain it. What you are to do is this: throw yourselves bravely into the stream and swim to the other side. You will find there a lion carved from marble. This statue you must lift upon your shoulders and, with one run, carry to the top of yonder mountain, never heeding the thorns which prick your feet nor the wild beasts that may be lurking in the bushes to devour you. When once you have gained the top of the mountain, you will find yourselves in possession of great happiness.

Ganem was truly delighted when he read these words. "See, Salem," he cried, "here lies the road which will lead us to the end of all our travels and labor. Let us start at once, and see if what the stone says be true."

Salem, however, was of another mind. "Perhaps," he made answer, "this writing is but the jest of some idle beggar. Perhaps the current of the stream runs too swiftly for any man to swim it. Perhaps the lion is too heavy to carry, even if it be there. It is almost impossible that any one could reach the top of yonder mountain in one run. Take my word, it is not worth while to attempt any such mad venture. I for one will have no part in it."

Nevertheless, Ganem was not to be discouraged. "My mind is fully made up to try it," he replied, "and if you will not go with me, I must go alone." So the two friends embraced, and Salem rode off on his camel.

He was scarcely out of sight before Ganem had stripped off his clothes and thrown himself into the stream. He soon found that he was in the midst of a whirlpool, but he kept bravely on, and at last reached the other side in safety. When he had rested a few moments on the beach, he lifted the marble lion with one mighty effort, and with one run reached the top of the mountain. Here he saw to his great surprise that he was standing before the gates of a beautiful city. He was gazing at it in admiration, when strange roars came from the inside of the lion on his shoulder. The roaring grew louder and louder, until finally the turrets of the city were trembling and the mountain-sides reëchoing with the tumult. Then Ganem saw to his astonishment that great crowds of people were pouring out of the city gates. They did not seem afraid of the noise, for they all wore smiling faces. As they came nearer, Ganem saw that they were led by a group of young noblemen, who held by the rein a prancing black charger. Slowly they advanced and knelt before Ganem, saying,—

"Brave stranger, we beseech thee to put on these regal robes which we are bringing, and, mounted upon this charger, ride back with thy subjects to the city."

Ganem, who could scarcely believe his ears, begged them to explain to him the meaning of these honors, and the noble youths replied,—

"Whenever our king dies, we place upon the stone by the river the inscription which you have read. Then we wait patiently until a traveler passes by who is brave enough to undertake the bold venture. Thus we are always assured that our king is a man who is fearless of heart and dauntless of purpose. We crown you to-day as King over our city."