6. THE BRAVE WEAVER
Once upon a time there lived a little weaver, by the name of Victor Prince, but because his head was big, his legs thin, and he was so small, and weak, his neighbours called him Vicky— Little Vicky the Weaver.
But despite his size, his thin legs, and his ridiculous appearance, Vicky was very brave, and loved to talk for hours of his bravery, and the heroic acts he would perform if Fate gave him an opportunity. Only Fate did not, and as a result Vicky remained little Vicky the brave weaver, who was laughed at by everyone for his boasting.
Now one day, as Vicky was sitting at his loom, weaving, a mosquito settled on his left hand just as he was throwing the shuttle from his right hand, and by chance, the shuttle came flying into his left hand on the very spot where the mosquito had settled, and squashed it. Seeing this, Vicky became desperately excited: ‘It is as I have always said,’ he cried; ‘if I only had the chance I knew I could show my courage! Now, I’d like to know how many people could have done that. Killing a mosquito is easy, and throwing a shuttle is easy, but to do both at one time is very special! It is easy enough to shoot a great strong man—there is something to see, something to aim at but to shoot a mosquito with a shuttle is quite another thing. That requires a special man!’
The more he thought over the matter, the more thrilled he became over his skill and bravery, until he decided that he would no longer allow himself to be called ‘Vicky.’ No! Now that he had shown his ability he would be called ‘Victor’—’Victor Prince’—or better still, ‘Prince Victor’; that was a name worthy of his ability. But when he announced this determination to the neighbours, they roared with laughter, and though some did call him Prince Victor, it was with such sniggering and giggling that the little man flew home in a rage. Here was no better, for his wife, a fine handsome young woman, who was tired of her ridiculous little husband’s ridiculous ideas, sharply told him to hold his tongue and not make a fool of himself. Then, deciding to stay no longer in a town where his abilities were not appreciated, he told her to prepare some bread for a journey, and set about packing his bundle.
‘I will go into the world!’ he said to himself. ‘The man who can shoot a mosquito dead with a shuttle should show himself to the world.’ So off he set, with his bundle, his shuttle, and a loaf of bread.
Now as he traveled he came to a city where a terrible elephant came every day to attack the people living there. Many mighty warriors had gone against it, but none had returned. On hearing this, the brave little weaver thought to himself, ‘Now here is my chance! A great elephant will be a fine challenge for a man who has shot a mosquito with a shuttle!’ So he went to the King, and announced that he proposed single-handed to meet and kill the elephant. At first the King thought the little man was mad, but as he stubbornly insisted, he told him that he was free to try his luck if he chose to run the risk.
Nevertheless, our brave weaver was not bothered. He even refused to take either sword or bow, but strutted out to meet the elephant armed only with his shuttle.
‘It is a weapon I thoroughly understand, good people,’ he replied boastfully to those who urged him to choose some more deadly weapon, ‘and it has done its work in its time, I can tell you!’
It was an amazing sight to see little Vicky strutting out to meet his enemy, while the townsfolk flocked to the walls to witness the fight. There was never such a brave weaver until the elephant, seeing its tiny opponent, trumpeted fiercely, and charged right at him, and then, alas! All the little man’s courage disappeared, and forgetting his new name of Prince Victor he dropped his bundle, his shuttle, and his bread, and ran away as fast as his legs could carry him.
Now it so happened that his wife had made the bread ever so sweet, and had put all sorts of tasty spices in it, because she wanted to hide the flavour of the poison she had put in it . She was a wicked, revengeful woman, who wanted to be rid of her annoying little husband. And so, as the elephant charged past, it smelt the delicious spices, and picking up the bread with its long trunk, gobbled it up without stopping an instant. Meanwhile, though he ran like a hare, the elephant soon caught up to him. The beast’s hot breath was on him, when in complete desperation he turned, hoping to escape through the enormous creature’s legs. Being half blind with fear, however, he ran right against them instead. Now, as luck would have it, at that very moment the poison took effect, and the elephant fell to the ground dead.
When the people saw the monster fall they could scarcely believe their eyes, but their astonishment was greater still when, running up to the scene of action, they found Brave Vicky seated in triumph on the elephant’s head, calmly wiping his face with his handkerchief.
‘I had to pretend to run away,’ he explained, ‘or the coward would never have run after me. Then I gave him a little push, and he fell down, as you see. Elephants are big beasts, but they have no strength to speak of.’
The good folks were amazed at the way in which Brave Vicky spoke of his achievement, and as they had been too far off to see very clearly what had occurred, they went and told the King that the little weaver was a fearful man, and had knocked over the elephant like a ninepin. Then the King said to himself, ‘None of my warriors, no, not even the heroes of old, could have done this. I must take this man into my service if I can.’ So he asked Vicky why he was wandering about the world.
‘For pleasure, for service, or for adventure!’ replied Brave Vicky. The King immediately made him Commander-in-Chief of his whole army.
So there was Brave Vicky, a mighty fine warrior, and so proud for having fulfilled his own predictions.
‘I knew it!’ he would say to himself when he was dressed in shining armour and waving plumes, and spears, swords, and shields; ‘I felt I had it in me!’
Now after some time a terribly savage tiger came attacking the country, and at last the people asked that the mighty Prince Victor might be sent out to destroy it. So out he went at the head of his army,—for he was a great man now, and had quite forgotten all about looms and shuttles. But first he made the King promise his daughter in marriage as a reward. ‘Nothing for nothing!’ said the clever little weaver to himself, and when the promise was given he went out happily.
‘Do not worry yourselves, good people,’ he said to those who flocked round him praying for his successful return; ‘it is ridiculous to suppose the tiger will have a chance. Why, I knocked over an elephant with my little finger! I am really invincible! ‘
But, unfortunately for our Brave Vicky, no sooner did he see the tiger lashing its tail and charging down on him, than he ran for the nearest tree, and scrambled up into the branches. There he sat like a monkey, while the tiger glowered at him from below. Of course when the army saw their Commander-in-Chief flee like a mouse, they followed his example, and never stopped until they reached the city, where they spread the news that the little hero had escaped up a tree.
‘Let him stay there!’ said the King, secretly relieved, for he was jealous of the little weaver and did not want him for a son-in-law.
Meanwhile, Brave Vicky sat trembling in the tree, while the tiger stayed below sharpening its teeth and claws, and curling its whiskers, till poor Vicky nearly tumbled into its jaws with fright. So one day, two days, three days, six days passed by; on the seventh the tiger was fiercer, hungrier, and more watchful than ever. As for the poor little weaver, he was so hungry that his hunger made him brave, and he decided to try and slip past his enemy during its mid-day nap. He crept stealthily down inch by inch, till his foot was within a yard of the ground, and then? Why then the tiger, which had had one eye open all the time, jumped up with a roar!
Brave Vicky shrieked with fear, and making a tremendous effort, swung himself onto a branch. The tiger’s red panting mouth and gleaming white teeth were within half an inch of his toes. In doing so, his dagger fell out of his belt, and went pop into the tiger’s wide-open mouth, and thus down into its stomach, so that it died!
Brave Vicky could scarcely believe his good fortune, but, after prodding at the body with a branch, and finding it did not move, he concluded the tiger really was dead, and climbed down. Then he cut off its head, and went home in triumph to the King.
‘You and your warriors are a nice set of cowards!’ he said, angrily. ‘Here have I been fighting that tiger for seven days and seven nights, without a rest, while you have been eating and sleeping at home. Pah! It’s disgusting! But I suppose not everyone can be a hero like me!’ So Prince Victor married the King’s daughter, and was a greater man than ever.
Sometime later a neighbouring prince came with a huge army, and camped outside the city, swearing to put every man, woman, and child within it to death. Hearing this, the people of course cried together, ‘Prince Victor! Prince Victor to the rescue!’ so the brave little weaver was ordered by the King to go out and destroy the invading army, after which he was to receive half the kingdom as a reward. Now Brave Vicky, with all his boasting, was no fool, and he said to himself, ‘This is a very different affair from the others. A man may kill a mosquito, an elephant, and a tiger; yet another man may kill him. And here is not one man, but thousands! No, no!—what is the use of half a kingdom if you haven’t a head on your shoulders? Under the circumstances I prefer not to be a hero!’
So in the middle of the night he told his wife to rise, pack up her golden dishes, and follow him—’Not that you will want the golden dishes at my house,’ he explained boastfully, ‘for I have heaps and heaps, but on the journey these will be useful.’ Then he crept outside the city, followed by his wife carrying the bundle, and began to sneak through the enemy’s camp.
Just as they were in the very middle of it, a big bee flew into Brave Vicky’s face. ‘Run! Run!’ he shrieked to his wife, and setting off as fast as he could, never stopped till he had reached his room again and hidden under the bed. His wife set off at a run likewise, dropping her bundle of golden dishes with a clang. The noise woke the enemy, who, thinking they were attacked, grabbed their weapons. But being half asleep, and the night being pitch-dark, they could not distinguish friend from enemy, and attacking each other, fought with such fury that by next morning not one was left alive! Then, as may be imagined, great were the rejoicings at Prince Victor’s strength. ‘It was nothing!’ remarked that brave little gentleman modestly; ‘when a man can shoot a mosquito with a shuttle, everything else is child’s play.’
So he received half the kingdom, and ruled it well, refusing ever afterwards to fight, saying that kings never fought themselves, but paid others to fight for them.
Thus he lived in peace, and when he died every one said Brave Vicky was the greatest hero the world had ever seen.