FablesPanchatantraStories from India

The Mice That Ate Iron

In a certain town lived a merchant named Naduk, who lost his money and determined to travel abroad.

In his house was an iron balance-beam inherited from his ancestors, and it weighed a thousand pals. This he put in pawn with Merchant Lakshman before he departed for foreign countries.

Now after he had long traveled wherever business led him through foreign lands, he returned to his native city and said to Merchant Lakshman: “Friend Lakshman, return my deposit, the balance beam.” And Lakshman said: “Friend Naduk, your balance beam has been eaten by mice.”

To this Naduk replied: “Lakshman, you are in no way to blame, if it has been eaten by mice. Such is life. Nothing in the universe has any permanence. However, I am going to the river for a bath. Please send your boy Money-God with me, to carry my bathing things.”

Since Lakshman was conscience-stricken at his own theft, he said to his son Money-God: “My dear boy, let me introduce Uncle Naduk, who is going to the river to bathe. You must go with him and carry his bathing things.”

So Lakshman’s son took the bathing things and delightedly accompanied Naduk to the river. After Naduk had taken his bath, he thrust Lakshman’s son Money-God into a mountain cave, blocked the entrance with great rock, and returned to Lakshman’s house. And when Lakshman said: “Friend Naduk, tell me what has become of my son Money-God who went with you,” Naduk answered: “My good Lakshman, a hawk carried him off from the river-bank.”

“Oh, Naduk!” cried Lakshman. “You liar! How could a hawk possibly carry off a big boy like Money-God?”

“But, Lakshman,” retorted Naduk, “the mice could eat a balance-beam made of iron. Give me my balance-beam, if you want your son.” Finally, they carried their dispute to the palace gate, where Lakshman cried in a piercing tone: “Help! Help! A ghastly deed! This Naduk person has carried off my son his name is Money-God.”

Thereupon the magistrates said to Naduk: “Sir, restore the boy to Lakshman.” But Naduk pleaded: “What am I to do? Before my eyes, a hawk carried him from the river-bank.”

“Come, Naduk!” said they, “you are not telling the truth. How can a hawk carry off a fifteen-year-old boy?”

“How was that?” they asked, and Naduk told them the story of the balance beam. At this, they laughed and caused the restoration of balance-beam and boy to the respective owners.

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