ONCE upon a time there was a King, and he had a son. And this son was so cruel and disagreeable, that he took a delight in hurting people, and never spoke to anybody without an oath or a blow. He was a thorn in the flesh to everybody he came across; he was like grit in the porridge, like a fly in the eye, like a stone in the shoon. And they called him the Wicked Prince.
One day the Wicked Prince went down to the river to bathe, along with a number of servants. By-and-by a great storm came on, and the clouds were so thick that it became pitch-dark. However, this Prince was obstinate, and would not give up his bathe; and as he was too lazy even to bathe himself, he swore at his servants, and said:
"You lazy beasts! Bathe me, and look sharp about it, or I'll tickle you with a cat-o'-nine-tails!"
Now the servants had had enough of this young bully; and thought they, "What if we pitch him into the river, where the current is strong, and just leave him there! We can easily pretend he was carried away where we could not reach him; and if the King finds us out, and puts us to death--anyhow, death is better than his eternal bullying." So they pitched him head over heels into the water, though he screamed and struggled, and then they went home and told the King that he had gone in to bathe, and a flood carried him away. I daresay it was wicked of them to tell such a lie, but it was more the Prince's fault than theirs.
Meanwhile the Prince had got hold of a tree that had been torn up by the roots, and climbing upon it, went floating down the river.
Now on the banks of this river lived a Snake. This Snake had once been a very rich man, and he had buried a vast treasure on the river bank; and he loved his riches more than he loved his own soul, so when he died, he was born again as a Snake, and had to live for ever close to his buried hoard. And a Rat that lived close by had also been a man once, and buried his money as the Snake had done, instead of using it in doing good; so he was born as a Rat, and made a hole where his money lay. These two creatures were caught by the flood, and it so happened that they saw the tree where the Wicked Prince was, and swimming to it, each got on one end, while the Prince was in the middle. And a young Parrot flying through the air, was beaten down by the rain; for in that country the drops of rain are as big as pigeons' eggs, and no birds can fly through it. Then it so happened that this Parrot dropped down upon the same tree where the Snake was, and the Rat, and the Wicked Prince; and so there were four of them on the tree, floating down the river.
As the tree came near to a bend in the river, it was washed close to the bank. And on the bank a man was sitting. He did not mind the rain a bit, because he was a Hermit, who thought the world so wicked that he left it and went to live in the jungle all by himself. He built himself a little hut by the riverside, and, wet or fine, he cared not a jot. This man saw the tree, and managed to catch hold of it and pull it ashore. Then he got the four creatures off it, and took them into his hut, and dried them and warmed them by the fire. But he began with the Parrot, because she looked the most miserable of them all; and then he dried the Rat; and next the Snake; and only attended to the man when he had comforted the other three. This made the Wicked Prince very angry. If he abused even those who made much of him, you may imagine how he cursed and swore in his heart at this man who left him to the last! But he said nothing, because he was afraid that if he did the man might turn him out in the storm again.
In a day or two the rain stopped, and the flood went down; and the creatures were all right again as they took their leave of the Hermit. The Snake thanked him for his kindness and said:
"You have saved my life, good Hermit! What can I do for you? You seem to be a poor man; I am rich, and if you ever want money just come to my hole and call 'Snake,' and you shall have all my treasure. Good-bye!" The Rat said the same.
The Parrot was very sorry to think that she had no money, so she said: "Silver and gold have I none; but if you ever are hungry, and want some rice, come to my tree and call 'Parrot,' and I'll get you as much rice as ever you like."
But the Wicked Prince hated this kind Hermit, because he had been left to the last. However, he pretended to be grateful, and said to the Hermit: "I hope you will pay me a visit soon. I am a Prince, and I shall be glad of a chance to repay you for all you have done for me." Then he went away, chuckling to think how he would torment the poor Hermit, if ever he got him into his power.
This Hermit had all his wits about him, and he knew that people often promise what they never mean to do; so after a while he thought he would put them all to the test. So first he took his stick, and journeyed to the city where the Wicked Prince lived. The Prince, who was King himself now, saw him coming, and thought to himself: "Aha! here's that rascal that left me to the last. Wants me to pay him for it, I suppose! Well, I'll pay him! I'll pay him out!" So he called to his men: "Hi there, brutes! do you see that fellow? He tried to rob me the other day--just catch him and give him a flogging, and then stick a stake through his body, and leave him to die!"
Then the servants caught the Hermit, and flogged him well. But the Hermit did not cry out or grumble, only kept on saying to himself quietly: "The proverb's true, the proverb's true!"
"What proverb do you mean?" they asked him.
"It's unlucky to save a drowning man," said the Hermit.
Then he told them the whole story, and very angry they were when they heard it. They stopped beating the Hermit at once, and seizing the Wicked King, they beat him instead, and stuck a stake through his body, and left him to die.
Then they made the Hermit King instead of the Wicked Prince. And the Hermit took them a walk into the country, and when they came to the Snake's hole he called out "Snake!" Out came the Snake, and curled up against his feet, and showed him the hole where his treasure was; and the Hermit gave it all to his servants. And then they went to the Rat's hole, and he called out "Rat!" And the Rat ran up, and rubbed his nose against the King's hand, and gave him all his treasure, which the King gave to his servants as well as the other. And last of all they went to the Parrot's tree, and called "Parrot!" And the Parrot flew up and gave a call, and instantly all the air was black with Parrots. And all the Parrots carried a grain of rice in their beaks, and dropped it on the ground; and there was such a heap of rice, that it was enough to feed all the people for the rest of their lives.
So the grateful beasts kept their promise, and the ungrateful Prince was killed, and the Hermit ruled over his people kindly, and they all lived happily until they died. And when they died they all went to heaven; and the Snake and the Rat and the Parrot went there too, because they had at last overcome their love of money, and given it away to show how grateful they were to the Hermit for being kind to them.