Chapter 7 — The Merchant
Thus have I heard:
AFTER Ruru had gone to sleep he dreamt of the drowsy boom of whirring bees and moaning winds; of crawling, elemental forms in slimy pits and of stealthy ghosts; for the shadow of terror had cast a cloud of darkness on the curtains of his slumbering mind. It seemed as if the dusky breeze was full of mournful sounds when once again in vision he saw the wizard weave his plutonian garland of strange sorceries. Frantic with terror and with maniac gasps he beheld the nameless blasphemy of those shameless mysteries, until the foul flames of iniquity flickered and died and the ghastly sacrilege was avenged and expiated.
And then he saw in his dreams a vision of Heavenly Maidens, descending like a stream of sapphire stars and smaragdine and rubian lights from the dome of night, and he sank into a deeper, dreamless slumber, as if the soft feather of an angel's wing had stroked his eyelids with a blessing.
Then the pearl-pure pavilions of dawn opened their jubilant gates, and Ruru woke up, while the two babes slept on, wrapped in the wizard's mantle with which Ruru had covered them the night before. He stretched himself and stood up, and he was as much refreshed as one who has just escaped from a burning forest and now bathes in a river of nectar.
"Glory be to the Sons of Light who never sleep and behold all the beauties of creation and the follies of men," he exclaimed thankfully.
He felt a strange throbbing in his right eye, which signified that his fortunes would now change for the better and that he would be released for a time from such nightmare experiences as those of the last four-and-twenty hours. Looking around he saw the magic sword, the dagger and the mystic wand still lying within the circle, and, gazing first in all directions to make sure that none of the spectres of the previous night remained, he stepped outside the circle at last so that he might become better acquainted with his surroundings.
On his right lay the burning-ghat, and it was encircled by a wood. Ruru searched everywhere to see if he could find some fruit to eat or some water to drink, for he expected the babes to awaken at any moment, and he was sorely perplexed what to do with them. Then he noticed that he was still engirdled by the talismanic belt, and the first thing he did was to take it off to inspect it for possible damage. But only the golden buckle was slightly twisted when he had torn the belt away from the wizard, and Ruru, with his strong fingers, soon bent it back into its proper shape. Then he examined the belt carefully and was enchanted with its beauty. It was covered with weird designs and strangely formed letters by means of hundreds of precious stones of all kinds which shone and glittered with a thousand sparks and gleams in the sunlight.
"This is a real treasure," said Ruru to himself; "it is much too precious to carry it openly," he added, and hid it round his waist below his clothes. "Whatever shall I do with it?" he thought; "it isn't mine, yet I do not know to whom to give it up; better wait, and perhaps the future will tell."
Then he took the sword, the wand, and the knife, and, digging a hole with the latter, he buried them as deeply as he could. When he was ready and had stamped down the loose earth firmly, placing some leaves, twigs and ashes from the cemetery over it, he felt easier, and, taking in his arms the two babes, he entered the wood, hoping that by following a line as straight as possible by means of the sun he might arrive at some inhabited spot, or meet someone, so that he could make enquiries about the parents of the two little children.
He chose the spot from which the wizard had appeared with them the previous night, and he had hardly walked ten minutes when he heard a distant clamour of wailing voices of women in grief and the deeper tones of men calling out to one another. Proceeding in the direction of the sounds he called out as loudly as he could, and the babes waking up on account of the noise began to cry. Suddenly he found that he had reached the edge of the wood and not far away several people were running to and fro, searching in all directions. Once more Ruru gave a loud shout and now he was seen and all the people ran towards him. There were cries of joy when they saw that the children were alive and well, except for their crying, and a very babel of voices rose up around him, everybody asking different questions at the same time, while two of the women quickly took the children out of Ruru's arms—for which he was not at all sorry—and ran away with them with exclamations of joy towards a house that was just visible in the distance between some trees. The rest thronged around Ruru, so that he became apprehensive on account of his precious Sarungi which he had managed to keep near him throughout all the turmoil of the previous night.
They were now all walking as rapidly as possible towards the house with Ruru in their midst, when from between the trees around the garden there appeared a most stately and imposing figure. It was a tall, dignified looking gentleman who approached the press of people, who, when he drew quite near, fell back, leaving Ruru to face the newcomer. Courteously he bade Ruru follow him into the house, passing through a garden full of roses, ringed with fronted ferns to make a setting for its fragrant beauty. Within the garden there were strolling about some ladies who were arrayed with twofold grace, for in their braided tresses, which nearly reached the ground, they had woven garlands of flowers; each had a small page who waved his mistress with a palm-leaf fan.
In another part of the garden, huge poppies were mixed with great imported moon-lotuses, and other flowers waved gently in the delicate breeze; heavy perfumes were fanned about on the currents of warm, balsamic air. In the hollow of a tall rock sat motionless an enormous owl with topaz eyes like wheels of golden flame. Nearer to the house stood shade-giving trees with Mālati creepers snaking over them. Then they came to an arcaded court of red gravel on to which a reception room opened, its roof supported on slender columns. A green reed-blind covered the doorway of the house itself and on its sides could be seen latticed windows.
Pushing aside the reed-blind, the host—for such Ruru took him to be—bade him enter with a gesture. This was a lovely room indeed, and Ruru wondered if he were in the palace of a king. In it were tall white marble pillars whose reflections in the dark green crystal floor resembled a flock of swans who had dipped their heads into a lotus pool to nibble at the succulent roots.
But the host was no king, but a merchant named Dhānapalita, and he was rightly named thus, being the richest man in the world. He had treasures of gold, jewels and musk sufficient to weigh down a hundred porters, and he wore, moreover, a long and splendid necklace of the lovely pearls which are said to be found in the brain, forehead and stomach of the elephant, and this was regarded as a mighty charm of protection.
Not a word had been spoken by either the merchant or Ruru, and the latter was balanced on the swing of perplexity, not quite knowing what to do. The merchant now clapped his hands, and several silent-footed servants entered immediately, carrying various appetisingly smelling dishes which they placed on small tables before the host and his guest. After the merchant had inspected and approved the contents of the dishes he invited Ruru with a wave of the hand to commence, while he set an example by heaping Ruru's plates with all sorts of wonderful things and then commenced himself to honour the art of his cooks, after raising his eyes to heaven and calling silently on Vishnu to bless the food.
Dead silence was kept all the while, and when at last they had finished, the merchant and Ruru seated themselves on some low divans, loaded with silken cushions which were richly embroidered, and when both were quite comfortable the merchant spoke for the first time.
"And now, my young friend," he commenced, "tell me where you found our children and in which manner it became known to you where they live?"
Thus invited, Ruru told his story, beginning with the suicide of the poor madman. He then described the wild woodland, peopled with elemental shadows, that grim forest of gruesome ghosts among trees rustling with menace, beset with the sorceries of the shamanī-shadas, the maniac ministers of sin who walk by night on the woodland's deserted ways, until he arrived at the part where the wizard prayed at the temple.
"To whom did he pray?" asked the merchant. Ruru replied: "He was worshipping the Goddess Durgā, saying: 'Hail to Thee, O Holy Goddess! I worship thy red-stained feet, Thou, who as the all-ruling Power of Shīva dost govern the Three Worlds; Thou, O Slayer of the Asura Mahisha! O, Thou Cherisher of Thy votaries, deliver me that craves Thy protection and grant me a boon!'"
Then Ruru went on to relate the conditions of the dread Goddess, how the wizard had arrived with the babes, and how he, Ruru, had resolved to save them. And then he told of his pleading for their lives and the sneers of the wizard.
The merchant interjected: "Destiny provides the fortunate with the means of success."
"Yes," replied Ruru, "but I had no idea how to achieve the rescue of the children."
"The great in soul," said the merchant again, "never abandon an enterprise when it leads to the benefit of their brothers."
"That is undoubtedly true," remarked Ruru, "but the evil wizard had made a pact with the Goddess to sacrifice these babes, and theirs was a powerful combination."
"True," answered the merchant, "but none can gain victory by slaying the innocent, or even the guilty."
"Then," continued Ruru, "the strange eyes of the wizard were kindled with unholy joy when he saw the horned host of elementals approaching. And as they came nearer he seemed to grow taller, and he looked most majestic in a dreadful manner, as if he were full of a great and dire power and was absolutely conscious of it. And then came the awful Goddess with her flaming eyes, glowing like those of a lioness, defending her whelps."
Thus continuing his story, making light of his own part in it when he defeated the wizard and saved the babes, Ruru reached the end, when the children were taken away by the attendants and he was met by the merchant.
The latter musingly fingered his strange necklace of pearls for a few moments, and then said: "When the mind of a man is on the downward path there is nothing so difficult as to change the descent into an ascent; nor is it easy for him to stop. Every time he errs there is added another weight to his burden of sin, which increases the speed of his fall. He will resemble a stone thrown into a bottomless ocean, and that stone keeps on sinking for ever in the slimy ooze which he himself has created."
"I was surprised," said Ruru, "that this wizard, with all his power and knowledge, did not suspect me after I had pleaded so earnestly for the lives of the two children."
The merchant replied: "There is a quality within the soul of a pure being which the average mind cannot hope to understand."
Ruru blushed with embarrassment at these words, remembering what the black dwarf had called him the previous day; but he was grateful all the same, for he thought that the merchant had wisdom as well as riches, and kind words from such a one carry weight.
"I cannot comprehend," continued the merchant, "how the wizard managed to steal my two children—who are twins, by the way—the only children I possess. They are always guarded like Sitā was guarded by her female attendants in the cave of Lankā. They are the most treasured possession of my wife and I, for though riches can be acquired by good fortune, life can be granted by the Gods only. It seems almost an impossibility for anyone to penetrate into the rooms where the children live with their nurses. It seems as impossible as the effort of the little boy who tried to put the whole of the ocean into a small ewer, or that of the cat who tried to set fire to a pond full of fish, so that they would be roasted and good for eating, or the producing of live chicks from boiled eggs."
"Perhaps," suggested Ruru, "the wizard knew the secret of producing magnetic sleep, or that of making oneself invisible."
"We shall never know how he did it," replied the merchant, "the main thing is that we have them back again alive, thanks to your bravery."
There was a momentary silence; then the merchant rose up from his seat and said: "And now I should like to introduce you to the babes' mother; would you like to follow me to her apartments?"
Ruru assented gladly and followed the merchant to a passage which led to an inner garden, full of flowers, trees and birds. There stood the chilla tree with its silver bark, overhung with thick clusters of small round leaves, like pale green disks. There bloomed the dhak-tree, which at times stands bare, and seemingly dead, and then suddenly burgeons into flame-like flowers. Birds of golden and variegated plumage wandered about everywhere. There were scarlet flowers, flecked with golden bars, beneath the shades cast by the trees, and singing birds sang avestian melodies. A mongoose suddenly darted across the path, and Ruru murmured: "A lucky omen!"
The merchant smiled, and said: "It is with lucky omens as it is with lucky or unlucky marks: if one believes in them they are true. The interpretation of bodily marks—Sāmudrika—has been the cause of many learned tomes, written by the Sages. The Lord Buddha was said to have possessed thirty-two lucky marks and eighty minor marks. Among the Kurubas the bridegroom's father observes certain marks, or 'curls,' on the head of the proposed bride. If she has one on her forehead it is considered lucky; but the opposite is the case if one is found at the back of the head, or near the right temple.
"On the other hand the Pallis, who are Tamil agriculturists, consider a 'curl' on the forehead as an indication that the girl will become a widow, and one at the back of the head portends the death of the eldest brother of her husband, So you may take your choice with regard to 'curls.'
"The number of horizontal lines on the forehead indicate years of longevity, it is said. If a man has two lines he will live for forty years or so; if three, he will live for about seventy-five years; if four, he may complete the full century."
"This is very interesting," said Ruru, "please tell me some more if you will."
"Very well," replied the merchant. "If while smiling a man gets a dimple or depression in his cheeks, he will be a loose character. If his chin is double and broad he will be strong-willed. If the chin is thin and rounded he likes the adoration of women. If he has very long ears he will be licentious. If there be a deep horizontal line at the top of his nose he wants to be in a place of power and authority. If he has whorls at five tips of his fingers he will be of royal blood; if all the ten fingers have that mark he will become a ruler or king. If a man has a line on the sole of his foot, running between his big toe and the second toe, he will travel in palanquins. A woman with the little toe overlapping the next one, or if it does not reach the ground, will be of a morally bad character and seek intercourse with many men. If the four fingers of a man when held up against the sun show light through the interstices, he is an extravagant person. On the contrary, if he has fat fingers and no interstices, he is a close-fisted man, and likely to be a miser."
Ruru had listened with interest to the merchant and expressed some surprise at his knowledge of all these various signs and omens.
"There are," replied the merchant, "certain marks which act as a fairly reliable index to the character of the man with whom one may happen to be negotiating. As such they are useful in my trade."
They had strolled on slowly, and Ruru noticed that the merchant's habitation was laid in a deep glade, rife with the perfume of buds expanded in the dews of dawn; for though it was already fairly hot it was still early morning. And now he espied a lovely house, with paven court in front, and on the steps leading up to the court there stood a wondrous peacock, glorious tail spread out, its thousand eyes shining in the light with emerald, gold and blue. Above the roof flapped lazily in the wind a multicoloured gonfalon, or standard.
It was evident here too that the merchant flourished in power, splendour and riches, and this became still more noteable when they entered the house of his lady. The carpets, hangings, furniture and ornaments were such as Ruru could never have imagined, and the lamps blazed forth even in the daytime.
The merchant beat a golden gong, and anon light footsteps were heard and soft rustlings of silk, and in another moment there entered his wife. She was very young, and Ruru would never have thought that she was the mother of those babes. It was clear that the merchant was very proud of and deeply in love with her, for he regarded her with a look such as Indra himself would bestow on Shachi, with whom he dwells in the utmost felicity in Heaven; and the lotus-gleam of her eyes rested first on her lord before she even saw Ruru and before her husband introduced the latter as the saviour of the children. It seemed to Ruru that when she entered the room that the glowing lights were eclipsed by her star-like beauty.
Her brow was resplendent as the autumn moon, and her ornaments consisted of several large spangles, set in gold, each surrounded by many fine jewels. Her husband gave her so many gems that it was as if the earth had yielded up all its treasures and would henceforth be deprived of its riches. And she looked as happy as the peafowl when it greets the peals of thunder, announcing the great rains, with cries of joy. Surely, thought Ruru, all the stores of gold and spice, ivory and sandalwood could never be sufficient to pay for the happiness that such a splendid being could bring to a man; and he blushed at his own thoughts.
Then the merchant told his lovely wife such parts of the story as he deemed might not offend her delicate ears too much, and he gave due praise to Ruru, who, when he saw the look of gratitude the lady bestowed upon him, felt as if his soul were a pure white eagle, soaring up to Paradise on splendid wings.
"We were so terrified this morning," said the lady, "when the attendants discovered that the children had disappeared. We did not know what to do or where to begin searching for them, nor were we able to think who could have taken them away, and it was a time of dreadful anxiety for us all; but now it is all over, thanks to you."
The merchant said: "The interval of time between a Heaven of Bliss and the prison of despair is often so small that the human intellect cannot perceive it. Disaster falls sometimes like a thunderbolt out of a serene blue sky, just as the sun of delight may suddenly pierce the black clouds of despondency."
The lady was now anxious to return to her children, for she had not quite recovered from her fright; so she took a charming farewell of Ruru and thanked him a thousand times, although he disclaimed all thanks. When he was alone once more with the merchant, the latter wanted to know Ruru's own history, so he told him everything from the beginning, showing him the Sarungi and the talismanic belt.
"I cannot tell in which way this musical instrument is going to influence your future," the merchant said: "I can only say that it is of great age and very valuable. The talismanic belt also has great value, for its golden plates are linked together by a master craftsman and the jewels are most precious indeed. Do you wish to sell it?" he queried.
"No," said Ruru, "I should like to keep it as a memento, if you think it is right, for I do not know if there are any heirs to it as I do not even know the name of the wizard, nor from whence he hails."
"You have every right to keep it then," was the merchant's verdict; "it may be a gift from your Gods of Destiny and it may also have some bearing on future events. I wish you all success and hope that you will soon find the Master you are seeking, for when learning is united to intelligence, such as you have shown in the matter of rescuing my children, each part supplements the good qualities of the other."
Then he asked Ruru if he could be of any assistance to him on his travels, for, knowing everybody of any importance in the land, he could give him many introductions along the road and some of those people might know of a great Master.
"No, Sir," said Ruru gratefully; "I thank you from the bottom of my heart, but I feel that I can find the true Master only by my own efforts, and I really do not require any thanks; I am only too happy to have been the instrument of Fate in returning your children to you."
The merchant looked very pleased at this and said: "Real gratitude will find a means of proving itself, like real gold is proved by the touchstone. Allow me at least to have your Sarungi placed in a proper instrument case which I happen to possess, for I fear that during your travels it might be damaged if not properly packed; and it is too precious for that."
Ruru thanked him and waited in the beautiful garden until the merchant should return with the Sarungi, for he had taken it away with him to see if it would fit the case he had in mind.
When the merchant returned he had in his hand a lovely box, made of light wood and inlaid with tortoise shell, mother-of-pearl and gold. It had also a strap, so that Ruru could carry it on his back and have his hands quite free. The merchant also gave him a walking stick which contained a finely tempered sword; for, he said, "You travel along unfrequented roads, it seems, and you might be attacked by some wild animal or a robber. Now you will be able to defend yourself, although I hope there will never be any need."
And so they said good-bye; the merchant repeating that if at any time Ruru needed an introduction or any other assistance he would be always at his service. So Ruru left that happy home and proceeded on his Quest.
Next: Chapter 8 — The Ascetic
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