THERE was once a man of the blacksmith caste who had six sons; the sons were all married and the whole family lived together. But the sons' wives took to quarrelling and at last the sons went to their parents and proposed that they should set up separate households, as the women folk could not live in peace.
The blacksmith and his wife did not like the idea at all and pointed out that it would be most inadvisable; while, so far, there was plenty of food and clothing for all, they would find it much more expensive to have seven separate households and split up what was quite enough so long as they lived together, and what was to become of their old parents who were now too old to work? The sons protested that they would support their father and mother as long as they lived, even though the family separated.
At last the old man said that he would put them to the test and see whether they were clever enough to manage their own affairs and smart enough to cheat people into giving them what they wanted. "I will see," said he, "how you would manage to support the family in time of famine or if we fell into poverty. I and your mother have managed to bring up a large family, and you know nothing of the anxiety that it has cost us; you have merely had to enjoy yourselves and eat your meals; if you insist on it, I will let you separate, but don't blame me afterwards. However to-morrow I will take you on a journey and find some means of testing your cleverness."
So the next morning they made ready for the journey; their father only allowed them to take one meal of rice tied up in their cloths and he gave each of them one pice, which he said was their inheritance. They set off and after travelling some way they sat down and ate up their rice and then went on again. By the middle of the afternoon they began to feel hungry, so the father proposed their going to a bazar which was in sight; but between them and the bazar was a channel of stagnant water, very deep, and with its surface covered by a coating of weeds. They tried to cross, but directly they set foot on it they sank through the weeds, and it was too deep for wading. So their father said they would all camp on the bank and he would see whether they were clever enough to get across the channel and bring food for a meal; if they could do that he would believe that they could support their families in time of famine.
So the old man spread his cloth on the ground and set down and watched them try their luck one by one. The eldest brother first jumped up to try but he could not cross the channel; everytime he tried, he sank through the weeds, at last he gave up in despair and admitted that he could not feed the party. Then the other brothers all tried in turn and failed. At last it came to the turn of the youngest; he modestly said that he was not likely to succeed where his elders had failed but he would have a try, so he went to the edge of the water and spreading out his cloth on the weeds lay down on it so that his weight was distributed; in this position the weeds supported him and he managed to wriggle himself across on his face to the other side.
Once across, he went to the bazar, and going to a shop began to talk with the shopkeeper; after a little he asked for the loan of an anna; the shopkeeper said that he could not lend to a stranger; the blacksmith's son gave the name of some village as his home and pressed for the loan, promising to pay him one anna as interest within a week and pulling out his pice he said "See here, I will pay you this pice as part of the interest in advance." At this the shopkeeper suffered himself to be persuaded and lent him the anna.
With this the blacksmith's son went off to a second shop and begged for the loan of four annas, as he had pressing need of it; he promised to pay an anna a week interest, and to pay down at once the interest for the first week. After some hesitation the shopkeeper was deceived into lending the four annas. Then he went off to another shop and borrowed a rupee by promising to pay eight annas a month as interest and putting down four annas as advance.
Then he went to a Marwari's shop and asked for the loan of ten rupees; the Marwari asked for interest at the rate of one rupee a day; the blacksmith's son protested that that was too high but offered to pay one rupee every two days and to pay one rupee of interest in advance; the Marwari hesitated, but after being given a name and address--which were however false--he gave way and took his signature to a bond and lent him the ten rupees. At this the blacksmith's son set off in triumph to rejoin his brothers; he crossed the water in the same way as before and took the ten rupees to his father.
Then they all went on to another bazar and bought dried rice and sweetmeats and curds and had a grand feast. Then their father proceeded to point out to his sons how, except the youngest, they were all useless; they had been unable to cross the channel or to make anything of their own pice of capital; they had nothing to answer, and all went home and from that day nothing was heard of any proposal to divide the family until the old father and mother died.