Gateway to the Classics: Ten Boys Who Lived on the Road from Long Ago to Now by Jane Andrews
Ten Boys Who Lived on the Road from Long Ago to Now by  Jane Andrews


The Story of Kablu, the Aryan Boy Who Came Down to the Plains of the Indus

"Man is he who thinks."

ARE you ready to take a long journey, first across the Atlantic to Europe, then across Europe, through Italy, and Greece, and Turkey, past the Black Sea, and into Persia? Look at your map and see where you are going, for this is a true story, and you will like to know where Kablu really lived. We have passed the Persian boundary and are in Afghanistan, and now we must climb the steep slopes of the Hindoo Koosh mountains, and in a sheltered nook we shall find a house. It is built of logs laid one upon another, and the chinks are filled with moss and clay. It leans against a great rock, which forms, as you see, one whole side of the house. The roof slopes from the rock down to the top of the front door (the only door indeed), which faces the sunrise.


"Here lived Kablu, far away in distance, and far away in time, too."

Here lived Kablu, far away in distance, and far away in time too, for it was four thousand years, or more, ago.

It is very early in the morning: you can still see a few stars shining in the gray light of dawn. Kablu is waked by his father, and he knows he must not linger a moment, for the first duty of an Aryan is to offer a prayer to the great god of light and fire, who will soon shed warmth and beauty over the whole mountain land. He never fails to rise and bless them, and certainly the least they can do is to rise to receive him and offer thanks to him.

So in the soft morning light you can see the whole family standing around a broad, flat stone, in front of their house, on which are laid ready materials for a fire.

Kablu's two sisters stand beside their father; he rubs dry sticks rapidly together, and, just as the sun rises, a light flame springs up. The little girls and their mother pour upon it the juice of the soma plant, and it burns brighter and brighter; then they add butter, and the fire shines with a clear yellow light, while the father stands with the morning sunshine on his face and says,—

"O Agni! great benefactor, shine upon us to-day, gladden our hearts to do thy will!"

This is Kablu's church, his Sunday, his everyday, his prayer, his Bible, his minister. He has no other, and, if his father should die, it would be his right and duty to kindle every morning the sacred fire, and worship before the great sun-god.

And now the sun shines upon this family while they eat their breakfast of cakes made from crushed grain, and baked in the ashes, eaten with curds and the flesh of the mountain goat.

Breakfast over, the mother combs out wool for her spinning and weaving, for the father has torn his tunic, and a new one must be made. The little girls will help her, but Kablu must go with his father. Can you guess what he is to do?

Do you remember that butter was poured upon the sacred fire? Doesn't that tell you that there were cows to be looked after. And where did the mother get wool for spinning and wearing. Of course there were sheep and goats. And didn't they have cakes for breakfast? So somebody must have planted grain on the slopes of those high mountains.

Now you know that Kablu is a farmer's son, for although you might have woollen dresses without keeping sheep, and butter and cakes without getting them from your own cows and your own fields of grain, it is not so with these Aryas; they must do for themselves all that is done.

In the field is a clumsy wooden plough, not even an iron point to it, for in those days iron was unknown.

Then what did they do for knives?

Oh, they had copper and bronze. Copper, you know, is found in the earth all ready to be cut out and used without being melted, but iron is so mixed with earth that it must be melted in a very hot fire to separate it, and although Kablu's father had often found pieces of iron ore, he did not know what they were, and had not tried to do anything with them.

When you know Kablu well, however, you will be sure that he will try some day, if his father does not before him, and the great gift of iron will become known.

See what they are going to do to-day, after the cattle have been cared for and the grain ground between heavy stones (they have a mill, you see, even if it is a poor one). Why, the mother comes to say that her earthen jars are broken, and the father goes with Kablu to the clay-bed, and shows the boy how to moisten and mould the clay, and shape jars, and cups, and pots, while the clay is soft and easily worked.

Before night they have shaped ten of them, and now they will leave them to dry, and in a few days they will build a great fire in which they will bake them, until they are hard and smooth, and capable of holding water.

But before this baking day comes—indeed, the very night after the jars are made—something important happens in the mountain home of these Aryas.

The sun set among great, dark, stormy-looking clouds; and as the father stood before the little altar, performing the sunset service, he said,—"Oh, Agni, great and beneficent spirit, shine still on thy children, though the veil of cloud tries to shut thee away from us!"

Then they all went into the house, and drew together and fastened the mats that hung in the doorway, and, stretching themselves on their beds of sheep and goat skins, they were soon asleep.

Do you know what a storm is among the mountains? How wild it is; how the thunder echoes among the peaks, and how the little streams swell into torrents and rush down the steep mountain-sides!

Well, they had not slept long before a great storm broke upon them. Awakening, they heard the thunder and they saw the keen flashes of lightning, the glances of Agni piercing the darkness, and then they heard the rush of the rain, coming down like a mountain torrent.

Through the cracks between the logs of the roof it poured into the house. The little Nema clung to her mother and cried; a blast of wind tore the mats from the doorway, and now they felt the force of the storm sweeping in upon them.

"What is that, father," cried Kablu, as through the darkness he listens to a great, rushing, rumbling sound, heavy as thunder, but more lasting, and coming every instant nearer.

The father listens a moment, then he answers, "It is the swollen brook, and it tears away stones in its course down the hill-side."

But he had hardly spoken, when a falling avalanche struck the house and tore away one side, leaving the rest tottering.

If it had not been for the blessing of the morning light that just then began to gleam faintly in the east, I think this whole family might have been killed by the logs falling upon them in the darkness. But the dawn had come, and with it help.

In the shelter of the cattle-shed they find a dry spot where they can light the sacred fire, and then the father goes to the next settlement to see if his brothers have escaped the perils of the storm, and if they will come and help him.

It would be bad enough for you or me to have our houses torn to pieces by a storm, but you know very well that there is timber ready in the lumber-yard, and tools in the carpenter's shop, and men to be hired for money who know how to build it up again. But with Kablu's family, how different!

The timber is still in the form of living trees in the forest, and there is no axe of steel, or even of iron, with which to cut them down.

They have a copper or bronze tool, aided, perhaps, by fire, but fire can't do much with green, growing wood.

No carpenters to be hired? Certainly not; but the brothers will come and work for the one who is in need, knowing well that like help will be freely given to them in time of trouble.

And while his father is gone, our little boy sits on the great rock against which the house was built, and watches the sun driving the clouds before it away through the long valleys, and he looks down upon the ruined house, and then he begins to think.

It was only yesterday that he had said to his father, "Tell me, father, what does man mean?"

And his father had answered, "Man means one who thinks. The cows and the sheep and the dogs breathe and eat and sleep and wake as we do, but when calamity overtakes them, they have no new way to meet it; but man, the thinker, can bring good out of disaster, wisdom out of misfortune, because he can think."

So, as I told you, Kablu sat on the great rock and began to think. "Wisdom out of misfortune, what does it mean? Perhaps a new way to save ourselves from the like misfortune again." But beyond this no new thought came to the child, and saying to himself, with a laugh, "I'm not a man yet," he jumped from the rock and ran down to the clay-bed to see if all the new jars had been broken or swept away by the storm.

The clay-bed was in a sheltered place. The jars stood safely as he had placed them yesterday. The lowest parts of the clay-bed were flooded but the higher part was just moist enough for working, and Kablu began to pat smooth cakes of it and shape them with his hands.

Then he wondered whether his father would bake the jars to-morrow, or whether they must wait until the new house was finished; but he answered his own question when he remembered that after last night's havoc only one jar remained for his mother to bring water in at breakfast-time. Yes, the baking of the jars must come first; it would not take long to prepare the fire, and he himself could tend it while his father and the others worked on the house.

Now Kablu is beginning to be a man—a thinker,—though he hardly knows it himself; for, as he pats his little flat cakes of clay, the thought comes to him, "The water floods the clay-bed, it doesn't run through it, and our jars, which are made of clay, hold water. If our roof was like them, we should never be troubled with the rain again."

"But how could we make and bake a sheet of clay big enough for a roof?" and, as he thinks, he flattens out his cake and shapes it like a square tile.

"This would do for a roof to a play-house," he says, half aloud, "I will slip it into the ashes to-morrow, and see how it comes out."

So, when the next day's fire is kindled for the jars, Kablu's tile is slipped in under them, and baked until it is dark brown and almost as hard as stone, and when he takes it out he carries it to his father, who is more of a thinker than he is, and finishes the thought for him, saying, "My boy, we will make many of these little squares of clay, and, putting them together, cover our roof and keep out the rain."

So, you see, Thought has brought wisdom out of misfortune.

But you will want to hear about the new house. One of the brothers, as they worked slowly and laboriously cutting down the trees to build it, said, "It would be easier to pile up stones than to cut down these trees, and stones would not be so easily washed away by a torrent; or, if a few did go, that would not be so bad as losing the whole side of your house."

So the lower part of the house was built of stone, and the logs laid on top, and when it was finished, enough tiles had been made to cover the roof; and what a nice house it was!

Almost a pity, you will think, that it had been built so well, when you hear what happened the next year.

It was a year of great trouble, for the sun-god hid his face; great snows and frosts came, and the winter was so long and the summer so short that the flocks could find no pasture. Kablu drove the sheep from one hill-side to another, where the grass always used to be fresh and sweet, but everywhere it was scanty and poor; and the little lambs lay down and died by the road-side, and the boy could find no help for them.

Then he said to his father, "What shall we do?" and the father answered, "I will think."

It took the thought of many men to learn how to bring wisdom out of this misfortune; but they found the way at last; and before the time for the autumn rains, down the long slope of the Hindoo Koosh mountains, troops of men, women, and children, flocks of sheep, and herds of cattle, were making their way, slowly but steadily, to the plains of the great river Indus.

Some had said, "Why do you go now, when the autumn rains are just coming to make everything green again?"

But the wiser answered, "The autumn rains will bring relief for this one year. How do we know what the next will be? Let us go where the great river, the Indus, will supply us always with water; where we, who are ploughers, tillers of the ground, shall have soft, level fields instead of rough mountain sides, and where we and our children can make a new home."

But still others objected, "Why do you go down into the country of the wild Dasyus, your enemies, men like beasts, who live in hollow trees and cannot plough, nor spin, nor make houses; who have no cows nor sheep, but are like savage creatures, speaking only by wild cries, and ready to tear us in pieces if we oppose them?"

But again the wise men answered, "Our God has decreed that we shall conquer the Dasyus. Agni will give their land to the Aryas, and the wild Dasyus shall serve them."

So Kablu, the Aryan boy, came down to the plains of the Indus.

In the Aryan language, river was "Sindhu," and by this name the Aryas called it, and by and by the neighboring people called them "Sindhus," or "Hindus," meaning river men. But the ancient name, Aryas, was cherished especially among the old people, and by the time our little Kablu grew to be a man, this name had grown to mean noble, or belonging to the old families.

But we have nothing to do with Kablu as a man. When he came down from the mountains he was about twelve years old, only he didn't count his twelve years as you would. If you had asked him his age, he would have told you that one hundred moons and half a hundred more had measured his life; for the very word moon means the measurer, and the moon was to the Aryas in place of almanacs and calendars, and it told not only their ages, but their planting times and harvests, their festivals and the times of other important events.

When they could say, "Two thousand moons ago our fathers came down from their home among the mountains," it happened that Kablu's great-great-grandson was sitting by the river mourning for the loss of his little playmate, Darius, who had that day started on a long journey with his father, mother, brothers and sisters, and a host of their friends. They had set their faces westward, and they travelled towards the setting sun until they reached the land we now call Persia; but what they did there, and how they lived, I must leave you to learn from another Darius, the Persian boy, who was a great-grandson of this one who had journeyed away from the Indus towards the setting sun.

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