Samba The Coward

: The Olive Fairy Book

In the great country far away south, through which flows the river

Nile, there lived a king who had an only child called Samba.

Now, from the time that Samba could walk he showed signs of being

afraid of everything, and as he grew bigger he became more and more

frightened. At first his father's friends made light of it, and said

to each other:

'It is strange to see a boy of our race running
nto a hut at the

trumpeting of an elephant, and trembling with fear if a lion cub half

his size comes near him; but, after all, he is only a baby, and when

he is older he will be as brave as the rest.'

'Yes, he is only a baby,' answered the king who overheard them, 'it

will be all right by-and-by.' But, somehow, he sighed as he said it,

and the men looked at him and made no reply.

The years passed away, and Samba had become a tall and strong youth.

He was good-natured and pleasant, and was liked by all, and if during

his father's hunting parties he was seldom to be seen in any place of

danger, he was too great a favourite for much to be said.

'When the king holds the feast and declares him to be his heir, he

will cease to be a child,' murmured the rest of the people, as they

had done before; and on the day of the ceremony their hearts beat

gladly, and they cried to each other:

'It is Samba, Samba, whose chin is above the heads of other men, who

will defend us against the tribes of the robbers!'

* * * * *

Not many weeks after, the dwellers in the village awoke to find that

during the night their herds had been driven away, and their herdsmen

carried off into slavery by their enemies. Now was the time for Samba

to show the brave spirit that had come to him with his manhood, and to

ride forth at the head of the warriors of his race. But Samba could

nowhere be found, and a party of the avengers went on their way

without him.

It was many days later before he came back, with his head held high,

and a tale of a lion which he had tracked to its lair and killed, at

the risk of his own life. A little while earlier and his people would

have welcomed his story, and believed it all, but now it was too late.

'Samba the Coward,' cried a voice from the crowd; and the name stuck

to him, even the very children shouted it at him, and his father did

not spare him. At length he could bear it no longer, and made up his

mind to leave his own land for another where peace had reigned since

the memory of man. So, early next morning, he slipped out to the

king's stables, and choosing the quietest horse he could find, he rode

away northwards.

Never as long as he lived did Samba forget the terrors of that

journey. He could hardly sleep at night for dread of the wild beasts

that might be lurking behind every rock or bush, while, by day, the

distant roar of a lion would cause him to start so violently, that he

almost fell from his horse. A dozen times he was on the point of

turning back, and it was not the terror of the mocking words and

scornful laughs that kept him from doing so, but the terror lest he

should be forced to take part in their wars. Therefore he held on, and

deeply thankful he felt when the walls of a city, larger than he had

ever dreamed of, rose before him.

Drawing himself up to his full height, he rode proudly through the

gate and past the palace, where, as was her custom, the princess was

sitting on the terrace roof, watching the bustle in the street below.

'That is a gallant figure,' thought she, as Samba, mounted on his big

black horse, steered his way skilfully among the crowds; and,

beckoning to a slave, she ordered him to go and meet the stranger, and

ask him who he was and whence he came.

'Oh, princess, he is the son of a king, and heir to a country which

lies near the Great River,' answered the slave, when he had returned

from questioning Samba. And the princess on hearing this news summoned

her father, and told him that if she was not allowed to wed the

stranger she would die unmarried.

Like many other fathers, the king could refuse his daughter nothing,

and besides, she had rejected so many suitors already that he was

quite alarmed lest no man should be good enough for her. Therefore,

after a talk with Samba, who charmed him by his good humour and

pleasant ways, he gave his consent, and three days later the wedding

feast was celebrated with the utmost splendour.

The princess was very proud of her tall handsome husband, and for some

time she was quite content that he should pass the days with her under

the palm trees, telling her the stories that she loved, or amusing her

with tales of the manners and customs of his country, which were so

different to those of her own. But, by-and-by, this was not enough;

she wanted other people to be proud of him too, and one day she said:

'I really almost wish that those Moorish thieves from the north would

come on one of their robbing expeditions. I should love so to see you

ride out at the head of our men, to chase them home again. Ah, how

happy I should be when the city rang with your noble deeds!'

She looked lovingly at him as she spoke; but, to her surprise, his

face grew dark, and he answered hastily:

'Never speak to me again of the Moors or of war. It was to escape from

them that I fled from my own land, and at the first word of invasion I

should leave you for ever.'

'How funny you are,' cried she, breaking into a laugh. 'The idea of

anyone as big as you being afraid of a Moor! But still, you mustn't

say those things to anyone except me, or they might think you were in


* * * * *

Not very long after this, when the people of the city were holding a

great feast outside the walls of the town, a body of Moors, who had

been in hiding for days, drove off all the sheep and goats which were

peacefully feeding on the slopes of a hill. Directly the loss was

discovered, which was not for some hours, the king gave orders that

the war drum should be beaten, and the warriors assembled in the great

square before the palace, trembling with fury at the insult which had

been put upon them. Loud were the cries for instant vengeance, and for

Samba, son-in-law of the king, to lead them to battle. But shout as

they might, Samba never came.

And where was he? No further than in a cool, dark cellar of the

palace, crouching among huge earthenware pots of grain. With a rush of

pain at her heart, there his wife found him, and she tried with all

her strength to kindle in him a sense of shame, but in vain. Even the

thought of the future danger he might run from the contempt of his

subjects was as nothing when compared with the risks of the present.

'Take off your tunic of mail,' said the princess at last; and her

voice was so stern and cold that none would have known it. 'Give it to

me, and hand me besides your helmet, your sword and your spear.' And

with many fearful glances to right and to left, Samba stripped off

the armour inlaid with gold, the property of the king's son-in-law.

Silently his wife took, one by one, the pieces from him, and fastened

them on her with firm hands, never even glancing at the tall form of

her husband who had slunk back to his corner. When she had fastened

the last buckle, and lowered her vizor, she went out, and mounting

Samba's horse, gave the signal to the warriors to follow.

Now, although the princess was much shorter than her husband, she was

a tall woman, and the horse which she rode was likewise higher than

the rest, so that when the men caught sight of the gold-inlaid suit of

chain armour, they did not doubt that Samba was taking his rightful

place, and cheered him loudly. The princess bowed in answer to their

greeting, but kept her vizor down; and touching her horse with the

spur, she galloped at the head of her troops to charge the enemy. The

Moors, who had not expected to be so quickly pursued, had scarcely

time to form themselves into battle array, and were speedily put to

flight. Then the little troop of horsemen returned to the city, where

all sung the praises of Samba their leader.

The instant they reached the palace the princess flung her reins to a

groom, and disappeared up a side staircase, by which she could,

unseen, enter her own rooms. Here she found Samba lying idly on a heap

of mats; but he raised his head uneasily as the door opened and looked

at his wife, not feeling sure how she might act towards him. However,

he need not have been afraid of harsh words: she merely unbuttoned her

armour as fast as possible, and bade him put it on with all speed.

Samba obeyed, not daring to ask any questions; and when he had

finished the princess told him to follow her, and led him on to the

flat roof of the house, below which a crowd had gathered, cheering


'Samba, the king's son-in-law! Samba, the bravest of the brave! Where

is he? Let him show himself!' And when Samba did show himself the

shouts and applause became louder than ever. 'See how modest he is! He

leaves the glory to others!' cried they. And Samba only smiled and

waved his hand, and said nothing.

Out of all the mass of people assembled there to do honour to Samba,

one alone there was who did not shout and praise with the rest. This

was the princess's youngest brother, whose sharp eyes had noted

certain things during the fight which recalled his sister much more

than they did her husband. Under promise of secrecy, he told his

suspicions to the other princes, but only got laughed at, and was

bidden to carry his dreams elsewhere.

'Well, well,' answered the boy, 'we shall see who is right; but the

next time we give battle to the Moors I will take care to place a

private mark on our commander.'

In spite of their defeat, not many days after the Moors sent a fresh

body of troops to steal some cattle, and again Samba's wife dressed

herself in her husband's armour, and rode out at the head of the

avenging column. This time the combat was fiercer than before, and in

the thick of it her youngest brother drew near, and gave his sister a

slight wound on the leg. At the moment she paid no heed to the pain,

which, indeed, she scarcely felt; but when the enemy had been put to

flight and the little band returned to the palace, faintness suddenly

overtook her, and she could hardly stagger up the staircase to her own


'I am wounded,' she cried, sinking down on the mats where he had been

lying, 'but do not be anxious; it is really nothing. You have only got

to wound yourself slightly in the same spot and no one will guess that

it was I and not you who were fighting.'

'What!' cried Samba, his eyes nearly starting from his head in

surprise and terror. 'Can you possibly imagine that I should agree to

anything so useless and painful? Why, I might as well have gone to

fight myself!'

'Ah, I ought to have known better, indeed,' answered the princess, in

a voice that seemed to come from a long way off; but, quick as

thought, the moment Samba turned his back she pierced one of his bare

legs with a spear.

He gave a loud scream and staggered backwards, from astonishment, much

more than from pain. But before he could speak his wife had left the

room and had gone to seek the medicine man of the palace.

'My husband has been wounded,' said she, when she had found him, 'come

and tend him with speed, for he is faint from loss of blood.' And she

took care that more than one person heard her words, so that all that

day the people pressed up to the gate of the palace, asking for news

of their brave champion.

'You see,' observed the king's eldest sons, who had visited the room

where Samba lay groaning, 'you see, O wise young brother, that we were

right and you were wrong about Samba, and that he really did go into

the battle.' But the boy answered nothing, and only shook his head


It was only two days later that the Moors appeared for the third time,

and though the herds had been tethered in a new and safer place, they

were promptly carried off as before. 'For,' said the Moors to each

other, 'the tribe will never think of our coming back so soon when

they have beaten us so badly.'

When the drum sounded to assemble all the fighting men, the princess

rose and sought her husband.

'Samba,' cried she, 'my wound is worse than I thought. I can scarcely

walk, and could not mount my horse without help. For to-day, then, I

cannot do your work, so you must go instead of me.'

'What nonsense,' exclaimed Samba, 'I never heard of such a thing.

Why, I might be wounded, or even killed! You have three brothers. The

king can choose one of them.'

'They are all too young,' replied his wife; 'the men would not obey

them. But if, indeed, you will not go, at least you can help me

harness my horse.' And to this Samba, who was always ready to do

anything he was asked when there was no danger about it, agreed


So the horse was quickly harnessed, and when it was done the princess


'Now ride the horse to the place of meeting outside the gates, and I

will join you by a shorter way, and will change places with you.'

Samba, who loved riding in times of peace, mounted as she had told

him, and when he was safe in the saddle, his wife dealt the horse a

sharp cut with her whip, and he dashed off through the town and

through the ranks of the warriors who were waiting for him. Instantly

the whole place was in motion. Samba tried to check his steed, but he

might as well have sought to stop the wind, and it seemed no more than

a few minutes before they were grappling hand to hand with the Moors.

Then a miracle happened. Samba the coward, the skulker, the terrified,

no sooner found himself pressed hard, unable to escape, than something

sprang into life within him, and he fought with all his might. And

when a man of his size and strength begins to fight he generally

fights well.

That day the victory was really owing to Samba, and the shouts of the

people were louder than ever. When he returned, bearing with him the

sword of the Moorish chief, the old king pressed him in his arms and


'Oh, my son, how can I ever show you how grateful I am for this

splendid service?'

But Samba, who was good and loyal when fear did not possess him,

answered straightly:

'My father, it is to your daughter and not to me to whom thanks are

due, for it is she who has turned the coward that I was into a brave