The Hunchback

The King of Swan Island had a daughter named Indu. She was entrusted to the care of an excellent, wise, and intelligent governess. The royal child always spent her time in the garden, learning from her governess all about the various trees and birds she saw there.

One day, Indu saw a lizard. Her governess then told her a story about lizards. Before the Deluge, the lizards had grown to the size of hills. Mother Earth went to Brahma and complained that she could not carry the weight of these lizards. Brahma reduced the size of the lizards.

Indu listened to this strange story, caught hold of the lizard, went to her father and threw it in his lap out of playfulness.

The King, who was in deep thought, started and then grew angry.

The innocent child laughed gleefully and said, “O father, you are afraid of this tiny lizard. What would you have done if it was huge, as in the old days?”

“You shall remain unmarried till this lizard grows to your size! That is what I will do !” the King said, still angry with the poor child.

“Do not say so, sire,” the courtiers protested. “She did it out of innocence. You should not take her so seriously.”

“My word is the law!” the King growled, becoming angry. The governess came to know of this. She embraced the child and wept, saying, “O, my darling, you will never be married.”

“Don’t weep, auntie!” the child said to her. “The lizard will grow big.”

“Remember Brahma’s curse, my dear,” the governess said. “It won’t grow any larger.”

So, every day, innocent Indu would pray secretly to Brahma, “O Lord! Revoke your curse! Let the lizard grow as big as I!”

Maybe, Brahma did concede to her request, or this lizard was different from other lizards; for the lizard began to grow an inch every day until finally, it was the size of a crocodile.

The person who was most glad of this was the King himself.

One day the Minister broached the subject of Indu’s marriage to the King and asked him what he intended to do about it.

“Take out the heart of the lizard which the Princess has reared. We shall exhibit it publicly. The one who can identify the animal to which the heart belonged shall wed the Princess. Make this known in all the countries.”

The lizard was put to death. Its heart was taken out and put into a glass jar. The day of Indu’s wedding was decided upon, and a proclamation was sent out everywhere.

The governess felt that it was an utterly foolish idea. “The fool has done it again!” she said to herself. “His anger is silly, and so is his affection. Now, who can find out that this heart belonged to a lizard? Poor girl, she is not destined for marriage!”

The wedding day drew near. Guests were arriving every day from various countries. The governess saw each one of the princes and said to herself, “Ah, he is not fit to wipe her shoes!”

And then the Prince of the Parrot Island arrived. He was like a full moon in the sky-a fine, good-looking, gentle and cultured boy, born to marry Indu, as it were!

She returned to the palace and sent for one of the four hunchbacks among the palace servants. “Listen carefully, you!” she said to the hunchback when he came. “The selection of the Prince Consort will take place tomorrow. The suitors will be shown the heart inside the glass jar, and the one who guesses correctly which animal the heart belonged to will wed the Princess. Now, I want you to go to the guest house tonight, meet the Prince of the Parrot Island alone, and inform him that the heart in the jar belonged to a lizard. After you do this job, I shall give you a handsome present. If, on the contrary, you inform this secret to anyone else, you will lose your head!”

The hunchback nodded, but he neither went to the guest house that night nor met the Prince of the Parrot Island. The hunchback wanted to use better the secret entrusted to him and marry the Princess himself. So, instead of going to the guest house, he went home and slept peacefully.

The next day, all the guests were invited to the palace. To them, the King said, “See this heart. The one who can find out the animal to which this heart belonged shall not only marry my daughter, but he shall have half my kingdom.”

The guests began to guess at random. They exhausted the list of animals. But none mentioned any creature smaller than a dog, though some mentioned creatures as big as an elephant. After everyone had his turn, the hunchback stepped forward and asked the King, “My Lord, will I get the Princess and half the kingdom if I can guess the animal to which this heart belonged.

“My word is irrevocable!” said the King boastfully. “Go ahead.”

“That thing there is the heart of a lizard!” said the hunchback triumphantly.

There was a loud peal of laughter from the people assembled there.

“He is right!” the King announced solemnly. “It is the heart of a lizard. As I said, my word is irrevocable. The hunchback shall marry my daughter.”

At once, the hunchback was taken away, decorated, and dressed for a bridegroom. Then followed a magnificent feast with entertainment. The other three hunchbacks, also servants in the palace, entertained the guests with their antics. Then they approached their lucky comrade and said to him, “We rejoice in your luck, friend. Now that you are going to marry the Princess and become King give us good gifts!”

At this, the bridegroom got wild. He got up from his seat at the table, kicked the erstwhile companions, and shouted, “Get away, you hunchbacked devils!”

The Princess, who witnessed this, pitied the poor fellows and whispered to her maid, “Take those three fellows to my chamber. I shall go there presently and give them gifts.”

Soon the feast was over, and the Princess went upstairs to her chamber, where the hunchbacks were awaiting her. Indu bolted the door and emptied her boxes to find suitable gifts for them.

As she was engaged thus, there was a knock at the door.

“Who is it?” she asked. In reply, she heard the voices of her father and the bridegroom.

Indu had to hide the hunchbacks. She signed them to get into her boxes, closed the lids over them, and locked them. Then she went and opened the door. The King and the hunchback stepped inside.

They stayed there for a long while. The King told her at length how their family had been renowned for its truthfulness, how right it was for a daughter to obey her father without question, and how dutiful a woman should be to her husband, whoever he be. He then mentioned that quite a few crowned heads were hunchbacks. He lectured her till sunset; then, he departed with the bridegroom to inspect the wedding preparations. The wedding itself was to take place at midnight.

Princess Indu closed the door behind them and unlocked her boxes only to find the three hunchbacks dead from suffocation. She sent for her governess and told her everything.

The governess went out of the palace and found a strong limbed woodcutter. “My man,” she said to him, “I shall give you ten rupees if you can pick up a sack at the palace, carry it to the sea, and dump it into it. After you finish the job, you will get twenty more.”

Thirty rupees was a significant amount to the woodcutter, so he readily agreed.

The governess returned to the palace with the woodcutter. In the Princess’s chamber, he was shown a sack. He put it on his head and went to the sea. Having thrown it in the water, he returned for the rest of the amount. What was his surprise when he saw the sack again in the same place?

“This sack is tricky,” the governess said to the woodcutter. See how it fooled you and came back. Be careful so that it will not deceive you again.”

This time the woodcutter went far out into the sea before he dumped the sack into it. And yet, he found the bag where it was when he came back.

The woodcutter was mad with anger. The third time he took the sack to the sea, he did not throw it away as before. He opened the bag and found the dead hunchback in it. “You think you can fool me by pretending to be dead, eh?” said the woodcutter. He cut up the dead body with his hand axe and threw the bits into the water. He took the empty sack and came back to the palace.

As he came onto the staircase that led up to the chamber of the Princess, he saw another person going up the steps ahead of him. It was the hunchbacked bridegroom.

“Burn me if he hasn’t fooled me again!” the woodcutter exclaimed. He rushed up the stairs, caught hold of the bridegroom and strangled him to death with his strong hands. Then he pushed him into the sack, took it away, and burned it to ashes. He scattered the ashes in the sea and came back late at night.

“Madam,” he said to the governess, “what a job I had getting rid of that sack!”

“Why are you so late?” she asked him.

“Madam,” replied the woodcutter,” the hunchback fooled me thrice. The fourth time I saw him again coming up the stairs. Dressed like a bridegroom, he was too! I got tired of him, burnt him to ashes, and threw the ashes in the sea!”

When they heard what the woodcutter said, the governess and the Princess were joyfully beside themselves.

They gave him a total purse of coins. The woodcutter bowed to them thankfully and departed.

It was nearly midnight, and the King was wondering what had happened to the bridegroom when the governess went to him and said, “Sire, an unfortunate thing happened. The bridegroom was coming up the staircase when he slipped, fell, broke his neck and died. I wanted to avoid commotion, so I got him cremated secretly. I submit to Your Highness that the wedding need not be cancelled because of this mishap. Among our guests is the Prince of Parrot Island, who will make an admiracle match for our dear Indu!”

The King took the tip and married his daughter Indu to the Prince. No one was sorry for this mysterious change of bridegroom, and the wedding was a great success.

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