Gateway to the Classics: The Fairy Ring by Kate Douglas Wiggin & Nora Archibald Smith
The Fairy Ring by  Kate Douglas Wiggin & Nora Archibald Smith

The Grateful Cobra

O NCE upon a time there was a rajah and ranee who were much grieved because they had no children, and the little dog in the palace had also no puppies. At last the Rajah and Ranee had some children, and it also happened that the pet dog in the palace had some puppies; but, unfortunately, the Ranee's two children were two puppies and the dog's two puppies were two pretty little girls! This vexed her majesty very much; and sometimes when the dog had gone away to its dinner, the Ranee used to put the two puppies (her children) into the kennel, and carry away the dog's two little girls to the palace. Then the poor dog grew very unhappy, and said: "They never will leave my two little children alone. I must take them away into the jungle, or their lives will be worried out." So one night she took the little girls in her mouth and ran with them to the jungle, and there made them a home in a gritty cave in the rock, beside a clear stream; and every day she would go into the towns and carry away some nice currie and rice to give her little daughters; and if she found any pretty clothes or jewels that she could bring away in her mouth, she used to take them also for the children.

Now it happened some time after this, one day, when the dog had gone to fetch her daughters' dinner, two young princes (a rajah and his brother) came to hunt in the jungle, and they hunted all day and found nothing. It had been very hot and they were thirsty; so they went to a tree which grew on a little piece of high ground, and sent their attendants to search all around for water; but no one could find any. At last one of the hunting dogs came to the foot of the tree, quite muddy, and the Rajah said: "Look, the dog is muddy; he must have found water; follow him, and see where he goes." The attendants followed the dog, and saw him go to the stream at the mouth of the cave where the two children were; and the two children also saw them, and were very much frightened and ran inside the cave. Then the attendants returned to the two princes and said: "We have found clear, sparkling water flowing past a cave, and, what is more, within the cave are two of the most lovely young ladies that eye ever beheld, clothed in fine dresses and covered with jewels; but when they saw us they were frightened and ran away." On hearing this the princes bade their servants lead them to the place; and when they saw the two young girls, they were quite charmed with them, and asked them to go to their kingdom and become their wives. The maidens were frightened; but at last the Rajah and his brother persuaded them, and they went, and the Rajah married the elder sister and his brother married the younger.

When the dog returned, she was grieved to find her children gone, and for twelve long years the poor thing ran many, many miles to find them, but in vain. At last one day she came to the place where the two princesses lived. Now it chanced that the elder, the wife of the Rajah, was looking out of the window, and seeing the dog run down the street, she said: "That must be my dear, long-lost mother." So she ran into the street as fast as possible, and took the tired dog in her arms, and brought her into her own room, and made her a nice comfortable bed on the floor, and bathed her feet, and was very kind to her. Then the dog said to her: "My daughter, you are good and kind, and it is a great joy to me to see you again, but I must not stay; I will first go and see your younger sister, and then return." The Ranee answered: "Do not do so, dear mother; rest here to-day; to-morrow I will send and let my sister know, and she, too, will come and see you." But the poor, silly dog would not stay, but ran to the house of her second daughter. Now the second daughter was looking out of the window when the unfortunate creature came to the door, and seeing the dog she said to herself: "That must be my mother. What will my husband think if he learns that this wretched, ugly, miserable-looking dog is my mother?" so she ordered her servants to go and throw stones at it, and drive it away, and they did so; and one large stone hit the dog's head, and she ran back, very much hurt, to her elder daughter's house. The Ranee saw her coming, and ran out into the street and brought her in in her arms, and did all she could to make her well, saying: "Ah, mother, mother! Why did you ever leave my house?" But all her care was in vain: the poor dog died. Then the Ranee thought her husband might be vexed if he found a dead dog (an unclean animal) in the palace; so she put the body in a small room into which the Rajah hardly ever went, intending to have it reverently buried; and over it she placed a basket turned topsy-turvy.

It so happened, however, that when the Rajah came to visit his wife, as chance would have it, he went through this very room; and tripping over the upturned basket, called for a light to see what it was. Then, lo and behold! there lay the statue of a dog, life-size, composed entirely of diamonds, emeralds, and other precious stones, set in gold! So he called out to his wife, and said: "Where did you get this beautiful dog?" And when the Ranee saw the golden dog, she was very much frightened, and, I'm sorry to say, instead of telling her husband the truth, she told a story, and said, "Oh, it is only a present my parents sent me."

Now see what trouble she got into for not telling the truth.

"Only!"  said the Rajah; "why this is valuable enough to buy the whole of my kingdom. Your parents must be very rich people to be able to send you such presents as this. How is it you never told me of them? Where do they live?" Now she had to tell another story to cover the first. She said: "In the jungle." He replied: "I will go and see them; you must take me and show me where they live." Then the Ranee thought: "What will the Rajah say when he finds I have been telling him such stories? He will order my head to be cut off." So she said, "You must first give me a palanquin, and I will go into the jungle and tell them you are coming"; but really she had determined to kill herself, and so get out of her difficulties. Away she went; and when she had gone some distance in her palanquin, she saw a large white ants' nest, over which hung a cobra, with his mouth wide open; then the Ranee thought: "I will go to that cobra and put my finger in his mouth, that he may bite me, and so I shall die." So she ordered the palkee bearers to wait, and said she would be back in a while, and got out, and ran to the ants' nest, and put her finger in the cobra's mouth. Now a large thorn had run, a short time before, into the cobra's throat, and hurt him very much; and the Ranee, by putting her finger into his mouth, pushed out this thorn; then the cobra, feeling much better, turned to her, and said: "My dear daughter, you have done me a great kindness; what return can I make you?" The Ranee told him all her story, and begged him to bite her, that she might die. But the cobra said: "You certainly did very wrong to tell the Rajah that story; nevertheless, you have been very kind to me. I will help you in your difficulty. Send your husband here. I will provide you with a father and mother of whom you need not be ashamed." So the Ranee returned joyfully to the palace, and invited her husband to come and see her parents.

When they reached the spot near where the cobra was, what a wonderful sight awaited them! There, in the place which had before been thick jungle, stood a splendid palace, twenty-four miles long and twenty-four miles broad, with gardens and trees and fountains all around; and the light shining from it was to be seen a hundred miles off. The walls were made of gold and precious stones, and the carpets, cloth of gold. Hundreds of servants, in rich dresses, stood waiting in the long, lofty rooms; and in the last room of all, upon golden thrones, sat a magnificent old Rajah and Ranee, who introduced themselves to the young Rajah as his papa- and mamma-in-law. The Rajah and Ranee stayed at the palace six months, and were entertained the whole of that time with feasting and music; and they left for their own home loaded with presents. Before they started, however, the Ranee went to her friend, the cobra, and said: "You have conjured up all these beautiful things to get me out of my difficulties, but my husband, the Rajah has enjoyed his visit so much that he will certainly want to come here again. Then, if he returns and finds nothing at all, he will be very angry with me." The friendly cobra answered: "Do not fear. When you have gone twenty-four miles on your journey, look back, and see what you will see." So they started; and on looking back at the end of twenty-four miles, saw the whole of the splendid palace in flames, the fire reaching up to heaven. The Rajah returned to see if he could help anybody to escape, or invite them in their distress to his court; but he found that all was burned down—not a stone nor a living creature remained!

Then he grieved much over the sad fate of his parents-in-law.

When the party returned home, the Rajah's brother said to him: "Where did you get these magnificent presents?" He replied: "They are gifts from my father- and mother-in-law." At this news the Rajah's brother went home to his wife very discontented, and asked her why she had never told him of her parents, and taken him to see them, whereby he might have received rich gifts as well as his brother. His wife then went to her sister, and asked how she had managed to get all the things. But the Ranee said: "Go away, you wicked woman, I will not speak to you. You killed the poor dog, our mother."

But afterwards she told her all about it.

The sister then said: "I shall go and see the cobra, and get presents too." The Ranee then answered: "You can go if you like."

So the sister ordered her palanquin, and told her husband she was going to see her parents, and prepare them for a visit from him. When she reached the ants' nest she saw the cobra there, and she went and put her finger in his mouth, and the cobra bit her, and she died.

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