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In the palace of a certain king stood an incomparable bed, blessèd with every cubiculary virtue. In a corner of its coverlet lived a female louse named Creep. Surrounded by a thriving family of sons and daughters, with the sons and daughters of sons and daughters, and with more remote descendants, she drank the king’s blood as he slept. On this diet, she grew plump and handsome.While she was living there in this manner, a flea named Leap drifted in on the wind and dropped on the bed.

Leap
Creep


This flea felt supreme satisfaction on examining the bed – the wonderful delicacy of its coverlet, its double pillow, its exceptional softness like that of a broad, Gangetic sand-bank, its delicious perfume. Charmed by the sheer delight of touching it, he hopped this way and that until – fate willed it – so he chanced to meet Creep, who said to him: “Where do you come from? This is a dwelling fit for a king. Be gone, and lose no time about it.’ “Madam,” said he, “you should not say such things. For

This flea felt supreme satisfaction on examining the bed – the wonderful delicacy of its coverlet, its double pillow, its exceptional softness like that of a broad, Gangetic sand-bank, its delicious perfume. Charmed by the sheer delight of touching it, he hopped this way and that until – fate willed it – so he chanced to meet Creep, who said to him: “Where do you come from? This is a dwelling fit for a king. Be gone, and lose no time about it.’ “Madam,” said he, “you should not say such things. For

The Brahman reverences fire,
Himself the lower castes’ desire;
The wife reveres her husband dear;
But all the world must guests revere.


Now I am your guest. I have of late sampled the various blood of Brahmans, warriors, business men, and serfs, but found it acid, slimy, quite unwholesome. On the contrary, he who reposes on this bed must have a delightful vital fluid, just like nectar. It must be free from morbidity, since wind, bile, and phlegm are kept in harmony by constant and heedful use of potions prepared by physicians. It must be enriched by viands unctuous, tender, melting in the mouth; viands prepared from the flesh of the choicest creatures of land, water, and air, seasoned furthermore with sugar, pomegranate, ginger, and pepper. To me it seems an elixir of life. Therefore, with your kind permission, I plan to taste this sweet and fragrant substance, thus combining pleasure and profit.”

“No,” said she. For fiery-mouthed stingers like you, it is out of the question. Leave this bed. You know the proverb:

“The fool who does not know
His own resource, his foe,
His duty, time, and place,
Who sets a reckless pace,
Will by the wayside fall,
Will reap no fruit at all.”

Thereupon he fell at her feet, repeating his request. And she agreed since courtesy was her hobby, and since, when the story of that prince of sharpers, Muladeva, was being repeated to the king while she lay on a corner of the coverlet, she had heard how Muladeva quoted this verse in answer to the question of a certain damsel:

Whoever, angry though he be,
Has spurned a suppliant enemy,
In Shiva, Vishnu, Brahma, he
Has scorned the Holy Trinity.

Recalling this, she agreed, but added: “However, you must not come to dinner at a wrong place or time.”

“What is the right place and what is the right time?” he asked. “Being a newcomer, I am not au courant” And she replied: “When the king’s body is mastered by wine, fatigue, or sleep, then you may quietly bite him on the feet. This is the right place and the right time.” To these conditions, he gave his assent.

In spite of this arrangement, the famished bungler, when the king had just dozed off in the early evening, bit him on the back. And the poor king, as if burned by a firebrand, as if stung by a scorpion, as if touched by a torch, bounded to his feet, scratched his back, and cried to a servant: “Rascal! Somebody bit me. You must hunt through this bed until you find the insect.”

Now Leap heard the king’s command and in terrified haste crept into a crevice in the bed. Then the king’s servants entered, and following their master’s orders, brought a lamp and made a minute inspection. As fate would have it, they came upon Creep as she crouched in the nap of the fabric, and killed her with her family.

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