The Thanksgiving of the Wazir

Once upon a time there lived in Hindustan two kings whose countries
bordered upon each other; but, as they were rivals in wealth and
power, and one was a Hindu rajah and the other a Mohammedan bâdshah,
they were not good friends at all. In order, however, to escape
continual quarrels, the rajah and the bâdshah had drawn up an
agreement, stamped and signed, declaring that if any of their
subjects, from the least to the greatest, crossed the boundary between
the two kingdoms, he might be seized and punished.

One morning the bâdshah and his chief wazir, or prime minister, were
just about to begin their morning’s work over the affairs of the
kingdom, and the bâdshah had taken up a pen and was cutting it to his
liking with a sharp knife, when the knife slipped and cut off the tip
of his finger.

‘Oh-he, wazir!’ cried the king, ‘I’ve cut the tip of my finger off!’

‘That is good hearing!’ said the wazir in answer.

‘Insolent one,’ exclaimed the king. ‘Do you take pleasure in the
misfortunes of others, and in mine also? Take him away, my guards, and
put him in the court prison until I have time to punish him as he
deserves!’

Instantly the officers in attendance seized upon the luckless wazir,
and dragged him out of the king’s presence towards the narrow doorway,
through which unhappy criminals were wont to be led to prison or
execution. As the door opened to receive him, the wazir muttered
something into his great white beard which the soldiers could not
hear.

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‘What said the rascal?’ shouted the angry king.

He says, ‘he thanks your majesty,’ replied one of the gaolers. And at
his words, the king stared at the closing door, in anger and
amazement.

‘He must be mad,’ he cried, ‘for he is grateful, not only for the
misfortunes of others, but for his own; surely something has turned
his head!’

Now the king was very fond of his old wazir, and although the court
physician came and bound up his injured finger with cool and healing
ointment, and soothed the pain, he could not soothe the soreness of
the king’s heart, nor could any of all his ministers and courtiers,
who found his majesty very cross all the day long.

Early next morning the king ordered his horse and declared that he
would go hunting. Instantly all was bustle and preparation in stable
and hall, and by the time he was ready a score of ministers and
huntsmen stood ready to mount and accompany him; but to their
astonishment the king would have none of them. Indeed, he glared at
them so fiercely that they were glad to leave him. So away and away he
wandered, over field and through forest, so moody and thoughtful that
many a fat buck and gaudy pheasant escaped without notice, and so
careless was he whither he was going that he strayed without
perceiving it over into the rajah’s territory, and only discovered the
fact when, suddenly, men stepped from all sides out of a thicket, and
there was nothing left but surrender. Then the poor bâdshah was seized
and bound and taken to the rajah’s prison, thinking most of the time
of his wazir, who was suffering a similar fate, and wishing that, like
the wazir, he could feel that there was something to give thanks for.

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That night the rajah held a special council to consider what should
be done to his rival who had thus given himself into his hands. All
the Brahmans were sent for–fat priests who understood all about
everything, and what days were lucky and what unlucky–and, whilst all
the rest of the rajah’s councillors were offering him different advice
until he was nearly crazy with anger and indecision, the chief Brahman
was squatting in a corner figuring out sums and signs to himself with
an admiring group of lesser priests around him. At last he arose, and
advanced towards the throne.

‘Well,’ said the rajah anxiously, ‘what have you to advise?’

‘A very unlucky day!’ exclaimed the chief Brahman. ‘Oh, a very unlucky
day! The god Devi is full of wrath, and commands that to-morrow you
must chop off this bâdshah’s head and offer it in to him in
sacrifice.’

‘Ah, well,’ said the rajah, ‘let it be done. I leave it to you to
carry out the sentence.’ And he bowed to the priests and left the
room.

Before dawn great preparations were being made for a grand festival in
honour of the great idol Devi. Hundreds of banners waved, hundreds of
drummers drummed, hundreds of singers chanted chants, hundreds of
priests, well washed and anointed, performed their sacred rites,
whilst the rajah sat, nervous and ill at ease, amongst hundreds of
courtiers and servants, wishing it were all well over. At last the
time came for the sacrifice to be offered, and the poor bâdshah was
led out bound, to have his head chopped off.

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The chief Brahman came along with a smile on his face, and a big sword
in his hand, when, suddenly, he noticed that the bâdshah’s finger was
tied up in a bit of rag. Instantly he dropped the sword, and, with his
eyes starting out of his head with excitement, pounced upon the rag
and tore it off, and there he saw that the tip of his victim’s finger
was missing. At this he got very red and angry indeed, and he led the
bâdshah up to where the rajah sat wondering.

‘Behold! O rajah,’ he said, ‘this sacrifice is useless, the tip of his
finger is gone! A sacrifice is no sacrifice unless it is complete.’
And he began to weep with rage and mortification.

But of instead of wailing likewise, the rajah gave a sigh of relief,
and answered: ‘Well, that settles the matter. If it had been anyone
else I should not have minded; but, somehow–a king and all–well, it
doesn’t seem quite right to sacrifice a king.’ And with that he jumped
up and with his jewelled dagger cut the bâdshah’s cords, and marched
with him out of the temple back to the palace.

After having bathed and refreshed his guest, the rajah loaded him with
gifts, and himself accompanied him with a large escort as far as the
frontier between their kingdoms, where, amidst salutes and great
rejoicings, they tore up the old agreement and drew up another in
which each king promised welcome and safe conduct to any of the
other’s people, from the least to the greatest, who came over the
border on any errand whatever. And so they embraced, and each went his
own way.

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When the bâdshah got home that very evening he sent for his imprisoned
wazir.

‘Well, O wazir!’ he said, when the old man had been brought before
him, ‘what think you has been happening to me?’

‘How can a man in prison know what is happening outside it?’ answered
the wazir.

Then the bâdshah told him all his adventures. And when he had reached
the end he added:

‘I have made up my mind, as a token of gratitude for my escape, to
pardon you freely, if you will tell me why you gave thanks when I cut
off the tip of my finger.’

‘Sire,’ replied the old wazir, ‘am I not right in thinking that it
was a very lucky thing for you that you _did_ cut off the tip of your
finger, for otherwise you would certainly have lost your head. And to
lose a scrap of one’s finger is surely the least of the two evils.’

‘Very true,’ answered the king, touching his head as he spoke, as if
to make quite certain that it was still there, ‘but yet–why did you
likewise give thanks when I put you into prison?’

‘I gave thanks,’ said the wazir, ‘because it is good always to give
thanks. And had I known that my being in prison was to prevent the god
Devi claiming me instead of your majesty, as a perfect offering, I
should have given greater thanks still.’

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