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YASHPEH
International Folktales Collection

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Story No. 594


The Ferryman

Book Name:

Folklore of the Santal Parganas

Tradition: India

There was once a ferryman who plied a ferry across a big river, and he had two wives. By the elder wife he had five sons and by the younger only one. When he grew old he gave up work himself and left his sons to manage the boats; but the step-brothers could not agree and were always quarrelling. So the father gave one boat to the son of the younger wife and told him to work it by himself at a separate crossing higher up the river, while the five other brothers plied to old ferry.

It turned out that most passengers used to cross at the youngest brother’s ferry and as he had no one to share the profits with him, his earnings were very large. Because of this he used to jeer at his other brothers who were not so well off. This made them hate him more than ever, and they resolved to be revenged; so one day when he was alone in the boat they set it adrift down the river without any oars.

As he drifted helplessly down the river he saw a river snake, as long as the river was broad, waiting for him with open mouth. He thought that his last hour had come, but he seized a knife which was in the boat and waited. When the stream brought him within reach, the snake swallowed him, boat and all, and swam to the bank. When he felt the snake climbing up the bank he began to cut his way out of its stomach with his knife, and soon made a wound which killed the snake and enabled him to make his way out and pull out the boat. Then he looked about him and saw a large village near by; so he went towards it to tell the villagers how he had killed the great snake. But when he reached it he found it deserted; he went from house to house but found no one. At last he came to a house in which there was one girl, who told him that she was the only inhabitant left, as the great river snake had eaten up all the other people. Then he told her how he had killed the snake and took her to see its dead body. The village was full of the wealth left by its former inhabitants; so he and the girl decided to stay there, and there were such riches that they lived like a Raja and Rani.

One morning his wife told him that she had had a dream, in which she was warned that he must on no account go out towards the south of the village; but he laughed at her, because he had up to that time moved about wherever he liked without any harm. She begged him to listen to her advice, because it was by her wisdom that she had saved her life when every one else in the village had been killed, so for a few days he obeyed her, but one morning he took a sword and went off towards the south. He had not gone far when he came to a cow, which had fallen into a pit, and it called to him. “Oh Brother, I have fallen into great trouble; help me out and one day I will do the same to you, if you ask my aid.” So he took pity on the cow and pulled it out. Going on a little further he came to a buffalo which had stuck fast in a bog and it also called to him for help and promised to do the like for him in case of need. So he pulled it out of the mud, and went on his way. Presently he came to a well and from the depths of the well a man who had fallen into it cried to him for help; so he went and pulled him up; but no sooner had the man reached the surface than he turned and pushed his rescuer down the well and ran away.

His wife waited and waited for his return and when he did not come, she divined that he had gone towards the south in spite of her warning. So she went to look for him and presently found him at the bottom of the well. So she let down a rope and pulled him up and gave him a scolding for his folly.

After this they thought it best to leave that country, so they embarked on the boat and travelled back to his father’s house.

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