So the king went back under the sissoo tree, caught the goblin just as before, put him on his shoulder, and started toward the monk. And as he walked along, the goblin on his shoulder spoke and said: “O King, listen once more to the following story to beguile your weariness.”
The Specialist in Food, the Specialist in Women, and the Specialist in Cotton. Which is the cleverest?
In the Anga country there is a great region called Forest. There lived a great Brahman, pious and wealthy, whose name was Vishnuswami. To his worthy wife three sons were born, one after another. When they had grown to be young men, specialists in matters of luxury, they were sent one day by their father to find a turtle for a sacrifice which he had begun.
So the brothers went to the ocean and there they found a turtle. Then the eldest said to the two younger: “One of you take this turtle for Father’s sacrifice. I cannot carry a slimy thing that smells raw.”
But when the eldest said this, the two younger said: “Sir, if you feel disgust, why shouldn’t we?”
When the eldest heard this, he said: “You take the turtle, otherwise Father’s sacrifice will be ruined on your account. Then you and Father too will surely go to hell.”
When they heard him, the two younger brothers laughed and said: “Sir, you seem to know our common duty, but not your own.”
Then the eldest said: “What! Are you not aware that I am a connoisseur in food? For I am a specialist in foods. How can I touch this loathsome thing?”
When he heard these words, the second brother said: “But I am even more of a connoisseur. I am a specialist in women. So how can I touch it?”
After this speech, the eldest said to the youngest: “Do you then, being younger than we, carry the turtle.”
Then the youngest frowned and said to them: “Fools! I am a great specialist in cotton.”
So the three brothers quarrelled, and arrogantly leaving the turtle behind them, they went to have the matter decided at Pinnacle, the capital of a king called Conqueror. When they came there, and had been announced and introduced by the door-keeper, they told their story to the king. And when the king had heard all, he said: “Stay here. I will examine you one after another.” So they agreed and all stayed there.
Then the king invited them in at his own dinner hour, seated them on magnificent seats, and set before them sweet dishes of six flavours, fit for a king. While all the rest ate, one of the Brahmans, the specialist in food, disgustedly shook his head and refused to eat. And when the king himself asked him why he would not eat food that was sweet and savoury, he respectfully replied: “Your Majesty, in this food there is the odour of smoke from a burning corpse. Therefore, I do not wish to eat it, however sweet it may be.”
Then at the king’s command all the rest smelt of it and declared it the best of winter rice, and perfectly sweet. But the food-critic held his nose and would not touch it. Now when the king reflected and made a careful investigation, he learned from the commissioners that the dish was made of rice grown near a village crematory. Then he was greatly astonished and pleased, and said: “Brahman, you are certainly a judge of food. Pray take something else.”
After dinner the king dismissed them to their rooms, and sent for the most beautiful woman of his court. And at night he sent this lovely creature, all adorned, to the second brother, the specialist in women. She came with a servant of the king to his chamber, and when she entered, she seemed to illuminate the room. But the judge of women almost fainted, and stopping his nose with his left hand, he said to his servants: “Take her away! If not, I shall die. A goaty smell issues from her.”
So the servants, in distress and astonishment, conducted her to the king and told him what had happened. Then the king sent for the specialist in women, and said: “Brahman, she has anointed herself with sandal, camphor, and aloes, so that a delightful perfume pervades her neighbourhood. How could this woman have a goaty smell?” But in spite of this the specialist in women would not yield. And when the king endeavoured to learn the truth, he heard from her own lips that in her infancy she had been separated from her mother and had been brought up on goat’s milk. Then the king was greatly astonished and loudly praised the critical judgment of the specialist in women.
Quickly he had a couch prepared for the third brother, the specialist in cotton. So the critic of cotton went to sleep on a bed with seven quilts over the frame and covered with a pure, soft coverlet. When only a half of the first watch of the night was gone, he suddenly started from the bed, shouting and writhing with pain, his hand pressed to his side. And the king’s men who were stationed there saw the curly red outline of a hair deeply imprinted on his side.
They went at once and informed the king, who said to them: “See whether there is anything under the quilts or not.” So they went and searched under each quilt, and under the last they found one hair, which they immediately took and showed to the king. And the king summoned the specialist in cotton, and finding the mark exactly corresponding to the hair, was filled with extreme astonishment. And he spent that night wondering how the hair could sink into his body through seven quilts.
Now when the king arose in the morning, he was delighted with their marvellous critical judgment and sensitiveness, so that he gave each of the three specialists a hundred thousand gold-pieces. And they were contented and stayed there, forgetting all about the turtle, and thus incurring a crime through the failure of their father’s sacrifice.
When he had told this remarkable story, the goblin on the king’s shoulder said: “O King, remember the curse I spoke of and declare which of these three was the cleverest.”
When he heard this, the wise king answered the goblin: “Without doubt I regard the specialist in cotton as the cleverest, on whose body the imprint of the hair was seen to appear visibly. The other two might possibly have found out beforehand.”
When the king had said this, the goblin slipped from his shoulder as before. And the king went back under the sissoo tree again to fetch him.