and other folktales of Aarne-Thompson-Uther type 178A
selected and edited by
D. L. Ashliman
In a certain city there lived a Brahman by the name of Devasarman. His wife gave birth to a son, and then to a mongoose. Full of love for her children, she cared for the mongoose like a son, nursing him at her breast, rubbing him with salve, and so forth. However, she did not trust him, thinking that in keeping with the evil nature of his species he might harm her son. As is rightly said:
A son will bring joy to his parents' heart, even if he is uneducated, bad, malformed, foolish, and sinful.
And as also is said:
Sandalwood salve cools and soothes, but a son's embrace far excels sandalwood salve.
The relationship with one's son is more important than that with a best friend, a good father, or any other person.
One day, after nicely tucking the boy into his bed, she took the water pitcher and said to her husband, "Listen, master, I am going to the pond to fetch water. You must protect our son from the mongoose."
After she departed, the Brahman went off somewhere to collect alms, leaving the house empty. In the meantime a black snake crept out of its hole and -- as fate would have it -- approached the boy's bed. However, the mongoose confronted this, his natural enemy, and fearing that it might kill his brother, the mongoose attacked the wicked snake, tore it to bits, and threw the pieces far and wide.
Proud of his valor and his face covered with blood, the mongoose approached the mother to tell her what had happened.
However, the mother, seeing his blood-spattered face and sensing his excitement, feared, "without doubt this evildoer has devoured our son." Driven by anger and without further investigation she threw the water-filled pitcher at the mongoose, killing the him instantly.
Paying no further attention to the mongoose, she rushed into the house where she found the boy still asleep. Near the bed she saw a large black snake, torn to bits. Then her heart was overcome with sorrow because of the thoughtless murder of her praiseworthy son, the mongoose, and she beat herself on the head, the breast, and her other body parts.
While this was happening the Brahman returned home with alms from wherever he had been begging.
"See there!" she cried, overcome with grief for her son, the mongoose. "Oh, you greedy one! Because you let greed rule you instead of doing what I told you to, you now must taste the fruit of your own tree of sin, the pain of your son's death."
On the banks of the Ganges, which also flows by the most holy city of Benares, there is a town named Mithila, where dwelt a very poor Brahman called Vidyadhara. He had no children, and to compensate for this want, he and his wife tenderly nourished in their house a mongoose -- a species of weasel. It was their all in all -- their younger son, their elder daughter -- their younger son, their elder daughter -- their elder son, their younger daughter, so fondly did they regard that little creature.
The god Visvesvara and his spouse Visalakshi observed this and had pity for the unhappy pair; so by their divine power they blessed them with a son. This most welcome addition to their family did not alienate the affections of the Brahman and his wife from the mongoose; on the contrary, their attachment increased, for they believed that it was because of their having adopted the pet that a son had been born to them. So the child and the mongoose were brought up together, as twin brothers, in the same cradle.
It happened one day when the Brahman had gone out to beg alms of the pious and charitable, that his wife went into the garden to cull some pot-herbs, leaving the child asleep in his cradle, and by his side the mongoose kept guard. An old serpent, which was living in the well in the garden, crept into the house and under the cradle, and was beginning to climb into it to bite the child when the mongoose fiercely attacked it and tore it into several pieces, thus saving the life of the Brahman's little son, and the venomous snake, that came to slay, itself lay dead beneath the cradle.
Pleased at having performed such an exploit, the mongoose ran into the garden to show the Brahman's wife its blood-smeared mouth, but she rashly mistook the deliverer of her child for his destroyer, and with one stroke of the knife in her hand with which she was cutting herbs she killed the faithful creature, and then hastened into the house to see her dead son. But there she found the child in his cradle alive and well, only crying at the absence of his little companion, the mongoose, and under the cradle lay the great serpent cut to pieces.
The real state of affairs was now evident, and the Brahman presently returning home, his wife told him of her rash act and then put an end to her life. The Brahman, in his turn, disconsolate at the death of the mongoose and his wife, first slew his child and then killed himself.
It happened one day that there was a running at tilt and tournament in the public place appointed for that purpose, to which this gentleman, amongst others, resorted. And no sooner was he gone, but his lady, with her maidens also, went to see it; the nurse also, to satisfy her curiosity, went privately, and left the child lying in the cradle in the hall, and the greyhound in the room.
The gentleman's house being out of repair, in the very room where the child was issued out of a hole a great and horrible serpent, which approaching the cradle with all speed, to slay the child. The greyhound perceived it and flew at the serpent to preserve the child; and so furious was the engagement that the cradle was overturned with the child in it, the bottom upwards, but without any harm to the child, because the clothes fell underneath, and the cradle stood on the four pummels.
The dog being enraged, as well at the wounds he received of the serpent, as the wrong designed his young master, fell with redoubled fury upon the serpent, and at last remained victorious, tearing the serpent in such a manner that he was all besmeared with his blood; and then he laid himself down in his place and licked his wounds.
Not long after this, the tilting being ended, the nurse came into the chamber and saw the cradle turned upside down, compassed round about with blood, and the greyhound likewise all bloody; and without looking any further tore her clothes, and in a fright, with outrageous cries, carried the sad new to her lay, that the greyhound had slain the child.
Hereupon the mother, full of despair and grief for the loss of her only son, likewise rent he clothes and broke out into dismal exclamations, and her maidens who had accompanied her, adding to the lamentation, made the whole house ring; and yet not any of them had the wit to go and turn the cradle up to see what had happened, continuing their outcries, till the gentleman returned from the tournament, to whom the lady, with tears and aggravations, related what she had imagined by the nurse's discourse.
The knight, hearing these sad tidings, full of rage and grief, went into the hall; where meeting the poor greyhound, who came fawning upon him, as he used to do, and seeing him all bloody, he immediately concluded that all they had told him was true; and drawing out his sword he run him quite through the windpipe and neck, so that the poor dog fell down dead at the feet of his mistaken master.
No sooner had the angry knight done this, but he went and took up the cradle, and there he found his son alive and well, and seeing then the slaughtered serpent, which nobody has minded before, he perceived the greyhound had killed the serpent in defense of the child.
Whereupon, being full of grief, he sorrowfully cried out, "Ah! Poor dog! That thy friendship and loyalty should be so unfortunate to thee to cause they death, instead of recompense, which thou didst deserve for preserving my little child.
And saying this, he broke his sword in pieces, and went towards the Holy Land and abode there all the days of his life; and all this was occasioned by giving too much credit to the words of a rash woman.
Folliculus, a knight, was fond of hunting and tournaments. He had an only son, for whom three nurses were provided. Next to this child he loved his falcon and his greyhound.
It happened one day that he was called to a tournament, whither his wife and domestics went also, leaving the child in the cradle, the greyhound lying by him, and the falcon on his perch.
A serpent that inhabited a hole near the castle, taking advantage of the profound silence that reigned, crept from his habitation and advanced towards the cradle to devour the child. The falcon, perceiving the danger, fluttered with his wings till he awoke the dog, who instantly attacked the invader, and after a fierce conflict, in which he was sorely wounded, killed him. He then lay down on the ground to lick and heal his wounds.
When the nurses returned they found the cradle overturned, the child thrown out, and the ground covered with blood, as well as the dog, who, they immediately concluded, had killed the child. Terrified at the idea of meeting the anger of the parents, they determined to escape, but in their flight fell in with their mistress, to whom they were compelled to relate the supposed murder of the child by the greyhound.
The knight soon arrived to hear the sad story, and, maddened with fury, rushed forward to the spot. The poor wounded and faithful animal made an effort to rise, and welcome his master with his accustomed fondness; but the enraged knight received him on the point of his sword, and he fell lifeless to the ground.
On examination of the cradle the infant was found alive and unhurt, and the dead serpent lying by him. the knight now perceived what had happened, lamented bitterly over his faithful dog, and blamed himself for having depended too hastily on the words of his wife. Abandoning the profession of arms, he broke his lance in three pieces, and vowed a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, where he spent the rest of his days in peace.
Prince Llewellyn had a favorite greyhound named Gellert that had been given to him by his father-in-law, King John. He was as gentle as a lamb at home but a lion in the chase. One day Llewellyn went to the chase and blew his horn in front of his castle. All his other dogs came to the call but Gellert never answered it. So he blew a louder blast on his horn and called Gellert by name, but still the greyhound did not come. At last Prince Llewellyn could wait no longer and went off to the hunt without Gellert. He had little sport that day because Gellert was not there, the swiftest and boldest of his hounds.
He turned back in a rage to his castle, and as he came to the gate, who should he see but Gellert come bounding out to meet him. But when the hound came near him, the prince was startled to see that his lips and fangs were dripping with blood. Llewellyn started back and the greyhound crouched down at his feet as if surprised or afraid at the way his master greeted him.
Now Prince Llewellyn had a little son a year old with whom Gellert used to play, and a terrible thought crossed the prince's mind that made him rush towards the child's nursery. And the nearer he came the more blood and disorder he found about the rooms. He rushed into it and found the child's cradle overturned and daubed with blood.
Prince Llewellyn grew more and more terrified, and sought for his little son everywhere. He could find him nowhere but only signs of some terrible conflict in which much blood had been shed. At last he felt sure the dog had destroyed his child, and shouting to Gellert, "Monster, thou hast devoured my child," he drew out his sword and plunged it in the greyhound's side, who fell with a deep yell and still gazing in his master's eyes.
As Gellert raised his dying yell, a little child's cry answered it from beneath the cradle, and there Llewellyn found his child unharmed and just awakened from sleep. But just beside him lay the body of a great gaunt wolf all torn to pieces and covered with blood. Too late, Llewellyn learned what had happened while he was away. Gellert had stayed behind to guard the child and had fought and slain the wolf that had tried to destroy Llewellyn's heir.
In vain was all Llewellyn's grief; he could not bring his faithful dog to life again. So he buried him outside the castle walls within sight of the great mountain of Snowdon, where every passerby might see his grave, and raised over it a great cairn of stones. And to this day the place is called Beth Gellert, or the Grave of Gellert.
Llewellyn had perfect confidence in the dog Gellert, and one day when he went out hunting he told Gellert to stay at home and take care of his little master.
So Gellert lay down by the side of the cradle and stretched his great paws out, as if to say: "No one shall come near my little master."
The afternoon went by, the hunt was over, and Llewellyn drew near his castle. He sounded his horn, and threw himself from his horse at the door. Gellert came bounding out, but to his horror Llewellyn saw that his mouth was dripping with blood, and there were marks of blood all about.
"O faithless hound!" he cried, "Is this the way you guard your little master?"
And he drew his sword and with one blow laid the hound dead at his feet. Then he rushed into the house. Everything was in confusion. The cradle was empty, and the clothes were thrown about.
He stood still, ready to faint, when he heard a little sound. Perhaps his son still lived. He went to the cradle, and there on the floor behind it was his little boy, laughing, and pulling the hair of a great shaggy wolf that lay stretched out dead beside him.
Then the whole story was clear to him. The wolf had come in through the open door, had stolen toward the cradle, when Gellert had sprung upon the wolf, had fought with him and slain him.
O happy father! O unhappy prince! To have his child back again, and to have slain that child's faithful guardian! He could not bring the hound back to life, but he dug his grave and built above it a beautiful monument, and the place is called Beth Gellert to this day.
When turning turning up the cradle, he found his child unhurt and an enourmous serpent lying dead on the floor, killed by that faithful dog, whose courage and fidelity in preserving the life of his son, deserved another kind of reward.
These affecting circumstances afforded him a striking lesson, how dangerous it is too hastily to give way to the blind impulse of a sudden passion.
The greater room there appears for resentment, the more careful should we be not to accuse an innocent person.
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Revised September 29, 2014.