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By E. Frere

ONCE upon a time there was a Raja who had seven beautiful daughters.
They were all good girls; but the youngest, named Balna, was more
clever than the rest. The Raja's wife died when they were quite little
children, so these seven poor Princesses were left with no mother to
take care of them.

The Raja's daughters took it by turns to cook their father's dinner
every day, while he was absent deliberating with his Ministers on the
affairs of the nation.

About this time the Prudhan died, leaving a widow and one daughter; and
every day, when the seven Princesses were preparing their father's
dinner, the Prudhan's widow and daughter would come and beg for a
little fire from the hearth. Then Balna used to say to her sisters,
"Send that woman away; send her away. Let her get the fire at her own
house. What does she want with ours? If we allow her to come here, we
shall suffer for it some day."

But the other sisters would answer, "Be quiet, Balna; why must you
always be quarreling with this poor woman? Let her take some fire if
she likes." Then the Prudhan's widow used to go to the hearth and take
a few sticks from it; and while no one was looking, she would quickly
throw some mud into the midst of the dishes which were being prepared
for the Raja's dinner.

Now the Raja was very fond of his daughters. Ever since their mother's
death they had cooked his dinner with their own hands, in order to
avoid the danger of his being poisoned by his enemies. So, when he
found the mud mixed up with his dinner, he thought it must arise from
their carelessness, as it did not seem likely that anyone should have
put mud there on purpose; but being very kind he did not like to
reprove them for it, although this spoiling of the curry was repeated
many days.

At last, one day, he determined to hide, and watch his daughters
cooking, and see how it all happened; so he went into the next room,
and watched them through a hole in the wall.

There he saw his seven daughters carefully washing the rice and
preparing the curry, and as each dish was completed, they put it by the
fire ready to be cooked. Next he noticed the Prudhan's widow come to
the door, and beg for a few sticks from the fire to cook her dinner
with. Balna turned to her, angrily, and said, "Why don't you keep fuel
in your own house, and not come here every day and take ours? Sisters,
don't give this woman any more wood; let her buy it for herself."

Then the eldest sister answered, "Balna, let the poor woman take the
wood and the fire; she does us no harm." But Balna replied, "If you
let her come here so often, maybe she will do us some harm, and make us
sorry for it, some day."

The Raja then saw the Prudhan's widow go to the place where all his
dinner was nicely prepared, and, as she took the wood, she threw a
little mud into each of the dishes.

At this he was very angry, and sent to have the woman seized and
brought before him. But when the widow came, she told him that she had
played this trick because she wanted to gain an audience with him; and
she spoke so cleverly, and pleased him so well with her cunning words,
that instead of punishing her, the Raja married her, and made her his
Ranee, and she and her daughter came to live in the palace.

Now the new Ranee hated the seven poor Princesses, and wanted to get
them, if possible, out of the way, in order that her daughter might
have all their riches, and live in the palace as Princess in their
place; and instead of being grateful to them for their kindness to her,
she did all she could to make them miserable. She gave them nothing
but bread to eat, and very little of that, and very little water to
drink; so these seven poor little Princesses, who had been accustomed
to have everything comfortable about them, and good food and good
clothes all their lives long, were very miserable and unhappy; and they
used to go out every day and sit by their dead mother's tomb and cry-
and say:

"O mother, mother, cannot you see your poor children, how unhappy we
are, and how we are starved by our cruel stepmother?"

One day, while they were thus sobbing and crying, lo and behold! a
beautiful pomelo tree grew up out of the grave, covered with fresh,
ripe pomeloes, and the children satisfied their hunger by eating some
of the fruit, and every day after this, instead of trying to eat the
bad dinner their stepmother provided for them, they used to go out to
their mother's grave and eat the pommels which grew there on the
beautiful tree.

Then the Ranee said to her daughter, "I cannot tell how it is, every
day those seven girls say they don't want any dinner, and won't eat
any; and yet they never grow thin nor look ill; they look better than
you do. I cannot tell how it is." And she bade her watch the seven
Princesses, and see if anyone gave them anything to eat.


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