Grasp All Lose All

: The Olive Fairy Book

Once, in former times, there lived in a certain city in India a poor

oil-seller, called Dena, who never could keep any money in his

pockets; and when this story begins he had borrowed from a banker, of

the name of Lena, the sum of one hundred rupees; which, with the

interest Lena always charged, amounted to a debt of three hundred

rupees. Now Dena was doing a very bad business, and had no money with

which to pay his de
t, so Lena was very angry, and used to come round

to Dena's house every evening and abuse him until the poor man was

nearly worried out of his life. Lena generally fixed his visit just

when Dena's wife was cooking the evening meal, and would make such a

scene that the poor oil-seller and his wife and daughter quite lost

their appetites, and could eat nothing. This went on for some weeks,

till, one day, Dena said to himself that he could stand it no longer,

and that he had better run away; and, as a man cannot fly easily with

a wife and daughter, he thought he must leave them behind. So that

evening, instead of turning into his house as usual after his day's

work, he just slipped out of the city without knowing very well where

he was going.

At about ten o'clock that night Dena came to a well by the wayside,

near which grew a giant peepul tree; and, as he was very tired, he

determined to climb it, and rest for a little before continuing his

journey in the morning. Up he went and curled himself so comfortably

amongst the great branches that, overcome with weariness, he fell

fast asleep. Whilst he slept, some spirits, who roam about such places

on certain nights, picked up the tree and flew away with it to a

far-away shore where no creature lived, and there, long before the sun

rose, they set it down. Just then the oil-seller awoke; but instead of

finding himself in the midst of a forest, he was amazed to behold

nothing but waste shore and wide sea, and was dumb with horror and

astonishment. Whilst he sat up, trying to collect his senses, he began

to catch sight here and there of twinkling, flashing lights, like

little fires, that moved and sparkled all about, and wondered what

they were. Presently he saw one so close to him that he reached out

his hand and grasped it, and found that it was a sparkling red stone,

scarcely smaller than a walnut. He opened a corner of his loin-cloth

and tied the stone in it; and by-and-by he got another, and then a

third, and a fourth, all of which he tied up carefully in his cloth.

At last, just as the day was breaking, the tree rose, and, flying

rapidly through the air, was deposited once more by the well where it

had stood the previous evening.

When Dena had recovered a little from the fright which the

extraordinary antics of the tree had caused him, he began to thank

Providence that he was alive, and, as his love of wandering had been

quite cured, he made his way back to the city and to his own house.

Here he was met and soundly scolded by his wife, who assailed him with

a hundred questions and reproaches. As soon as she paused for breath,

Dena replied:

'I have only this one thing to say, just look what I have got!' And,

after carefully shutting all the doors, he opened the corner of his

loin-cloth and showed her the four stones, which glittered and flashed

as he turned them over and over.

'Pooh!' said his wife, 'the silly pebbles! If it was something to eat,

now, there'd be some sense in them; but what's the good of such

things?' And she turned away with a sniff, for it had happened that

the night before, when Lena had come round as usual to storm at Dena,

he had been rather disturbed to find that his victim was from home,

and had frightened the poor woman by his threats. Directly, however,

he heard that Dena had come back, Lena appeared in the doorway. For

some minutes he talked to the oil-seller at the top of his voice,

until he was tired, then Dena said:

'If your honour would deign to walk into my humble dwelling, I will


So Lena walked in, and the other, shutting as before all the doors,

untied the corner of his loin-cloth and showed him the four great

flashing stones.

'This is all,' said he, 'that I have in the world to set against my

debt, for, as your honour knows, I haven't a penny, but the stones are


Now Lena looked and saw at once that these were magnificent rubies,

and his mouth watered for them; but as it would never do to show what

was in his mind, he went on:

'What do I care about your stupid stones? It is my money I want, my

lawful debt which you owe me, and I shall get it out of you yet

somehow or another, or it will be the worst for you.'

To all his reproaches Dena could answer nothing, but sat with his

hands joined together beseechingly, asking for patience and pity. At

length Lena pretended that, rather than have a bad debt on his hand,

he would be at the loss of taking the stones in lieu of his money;

and, whilst Dena nearly wept with gratitude, he wrote out a receipt

for the three hundred rupees; and, wrapping the four stones in a

cloth, he put them into his bosom, and went off to his house.

'How shall I turn these rubies into money?' thought Lena, as he walked

along; 'I daren't keep them, for they are of great value, and if the

rajah heard that I had them he would probably put me into prison on

some pretence and seize the stones and all else that I have as well.

But what a bargain I have got! Four rubies worth a king's ransom, for

one hundred rupees! Well, well, I must take heed not to betray my

secret.' And he went on making plans. Presently he made up his mind

what to do, and, putting on his cleanest clothes, he set off to the

house of the chief wazir, whose name was Musli, and, after seeking a

private audience, he brought out the four rubies and laid them before


The wazir's eyes sparkled as he beheld the splendid gems.

'Fine, indeed,' murmured he. 'I can't buy them at their real value;

but, if you like to take it, I will give you ten thousand rupees for

the four.'

To this the banker consented gratefully; and handing over the stones

in exchange for the rupees, he hurried home, thanking his stars that

he had driven such a reasonable bargain and obtained such an enormous


After Lena had departed the wazir began casting about in his mind what

to do with the gems; and very soon determined that the best thing to

do was to present them to the rajah, whose name was Kahre. Without

losing a moment, he went that very day to the palace, and sought a

private interview with the rajah; and when he found himself alone with

his royal master, he brought the four jewels and laid them before him.

'Oh, ho!' said the rajah, 'these are priceless gems, and you have done

well to give them to me. In return I give you and your heirs the

revenues of ten villages.'

Now the wazir was overjoyed at these words, but only made his deepest

obeisance; and, whilst the king put the rubies into his turban,

hurried away beaming with happiness at the thought that for ten

thousand rupees he had become lord of ten villages. The rajah was also

equally pleased, and strolled off with his new purchases to the

women's quarters and showed them to the queen, who was nearly out of

her mind with delight. Then, as she turned them over and over in her

hands, she said: 'Ah! if I had eight more such gems, what a necklace

they would make! Get me eight more of them or I shall die!'

'Most unreasonable of women,' cried the rajah, 'where am I to get

eight more such jewels as these? I gave ten villages for them, and yet

you are not satisfied!'

'What does it matter?' said the rani; 'do you want me to die? Surely

you can get some more where these came from?' And then she fell to

weeping and wailing until the rajah promised that in the morning he

would make arrangements to get some more such rubies, and that if she

would be patient she should have her desire.

In the morning the rajah sent for the wazir, and said that he must

manage to get eight more rubies like those he had brought him the day

before, 'and if you don't I shall hang you,' cried the rajah, for he

was very cross. The poor wazir protested in vain that he knew not

where to seek them; his master would not listen to a word he said.

'You must,' said he; 'the rani shall not die for the want of a few

rubies! Get more where those came from.'

* * * * *

The wazir left the palace, much troubled in mind, and bade his slaves

bring Lena before him. 'Get me eight more such rubies as those you

brought yesterday,' commanded the wazir, directly the banker was shown

into his presence. 'Eight more, and be quick, or I am a dead man.'

'But how can I?' wailed Lena; 'rubies like those don't grow upon


'Where did you get them from?' asked the wazir.

'From Dena, the oil-seller,' said the banker.

'Well, send for him and ask him where he got them,' answered the

wazir. 'I am not going to hang for twenty Denas!' And more slaves were

sent to summon Dena.

When Dena arrived he was closely questioned, and then all three

started to see the rajah, and to him Dena told the whole story.

'What night was it that you slept in the peepul tree?' demanded the


'I can't remember,' said Dena; 'but my wife will know.'

Then Dena's wife was sent for, and she explained that it was on the

last Sunday of the new moon.

Now everyone knows that it is on the Sunday of the new moon that

spirits have special power to play pranks upon mortals. So the rajah

forbade them all, on pain of death, to say a word to anyone; and

declared that, on the next Sunday of the new moon, they four--Kahre,

Musli, Lena and Dena--would go and sit in the peepul tree and see what


The days dragged on to the appointed Sunday, and that evening the four

met secretly, and entered the forest. They had not far to go before

they reached the peepul tree, into which they climbed as the rajah had

planned. At midnight the tree began to sway, and presently it moved

through the air.

'See, sire,' whispered Dena, 'the tree is flying!'

'Yes, yes,' said the rajah, 'you have told the truth. Now sit quiet,

and we shall see what happens.'

Away and away flew the tree with the four men clinging tightly to its

branches, until at last it was set down by the waste sea-shore where a

great wide sea came tumbling in on a desert beach. Presently, as

before, they began to see little points of light that glistened like

fires all around them. Then Dena thought to himself:

'Think! last time I only took four that came close to me, and I got

rid of all my debt in return. This time I will take all I can get and

be rich!'

'If I got ten thousand rupees for four stones,' thought Lena, 'I will

gather forty now for myself, and become so wealthy that they will

probably make me a wazir at least!'

'For four stones I received ten villages,' Musli was silently

thinking; 'now I will get stones enough to purchase a kingdom, become

a rajah, and employ wazirs of my own!'

And Kahre thought: 'What is the good of only getting eight stones?

Why, here are enough to make twenty necklaces; and wealth means


Full of avarice and desire, each scrambled down from the tree, spread

his cloth, and darted hither and thither picking up the precious

jewels, looking the while over his shoulder to see whether his

neighbour fared better than he. So engrossed were they in the business

of gathering wealth that the dawn came upon them unawares; and

suddenly the tree rose up again and flew away, leaving them upon the

sea-shore staring after it, each with his cloth heavy with priceless


* * * * *

Morning broke in the city, and great was the consternation in the

palace when the chamberlains declared that the rajah had gone out the

evening before and had not returned.

'Ah!' said one, 'it is all right! Musli wazir will know where he is,

for it was he who was the king's companion.'

Then they went to the wazir's house, and there they learnt that the

wazir had left it the evening before and had not returned; 'but,' said

a servant, 'Lena the banker will know where he is, for it was with him

that Musli went.'

Then they visited the house of Lena, and there they learnt that the

banker had gone out the evening before, and that he too had not

returned; but the porter told them that he was accompanied by Dena the

oil-seller, so he would know where they were.

So they departed to Dena's house, and Dena's wife met them with a

torrent of reproaches and wailings, for Dena too had gone off the

evening before to Lena's house and had not returned.

In vain they waited, and searched--never did any of the hapless four

return to their homes; and the confused tale which was told by Dena's

wife was the only clue to their fate.

To this day, in that country, when a greedy man has overreached

himself, and lost all in grasping at too much, folks say:

'All has he lost!--neither Dena, nor Lena, nor Musli, nor Kahre

remain.' And not five men in a hundred know how the proverb began, nor

what it really signifies.