The righteousness of Puramitra was notorious, and it was evident to all that he had immense faith in his gods. He was as strict in the performance of his devotions as in the payment of his debts, nor was there any altar, whether of Brahma, or of Vishnu, or of Shiva, at which he failed to offer both prayers and gifts. He observed the rules of religion and of business with admirable regularity, and enjoyed the reputation of one whose conduct was above reproach.
But, being a self-contained man, he had not the love of the little children of the village, to whom he often gave sweetmeats and toys; and being a very prosperous man, he was not without rivals and detractors, who liked his prosperity the less the more they marvelled at it. This was displeasing to Puramitra, though he thought it beneath him to show it.
"If all were known!" said some people, wagging their heads sagely, as if they were full of secret and discreditable information.
"If we only had his luck," said others, sighing.
But when Puramitra heard of these things he said, "The fruits of earth ripen by the will of Heaven and the harvest is on the lap of the gods."
So saying, he made the sign of reverence, and went his way calmly to a certain place in his garden, where he was accustomed to practise the virtue of meditation and to review his inmost thoughts.
Now the inmost thoughts of Puramitra were in the shape of wishes and strong desires; for which reason, being a religious man, he often called them prayers. They were concerned chiefly with himself. And next to that, with two others: Indranu, his friend, and Vishnamorsu, his enemy.
But the motions of friendship are quiet and slow, and much the same from day to day; whereas the motions of hatred are quick and stirring, and changeful as the colors on a serpent. So Puramitra came to think less and less of his friend, and more and more of his enemy. Every day he returned at sundown to the retired place in the garden, where an orange-tree shaded his favourite seat with thick, glossy leaves, and surrendered himself to those meditations in which his desires were laid bare to his gods.
At first he gave a thought to Indranu, who had helped him, and served him, and always spoken well of him; and this thought he called love. Then he gave many thoughts to Vishnamorsu, who had opposed him, and thwarted him, and mocked him with bitter words and laughter; and these thoughts he called just indignation. He reflected upon the many misdeeds and offences of his enemy with a grave and serious passion. He considered curiously the various punishments which these misdemeanours must merit at the hand of Heaven, such as poverty and pain and disgrace and death, and, after that, all the thirty-nine degrees of damnation; he turned them over in his mind like a hollow ball with rings carved within it, and they played one into another smoothly and intricately, and at the centre of the rings a little black figure with the face of Vishnamorsu writhed and twisted.
While Puramitra meditated thus upon the justice of the gods and the ill-deserts of his enemy, the tree grew and flourished above him from week to month and from month to year, spreading out its arms to hide and befriend his devotions. The white flowers bloomed and faded with heavy fragrance. The pale-green fruits formed and fell from the tree before their time. But of all their many promises one persisted, clinging to the lowest bough, rounding and ripening among the dark leaves with strange flame and lustre--a fiery globe, intense and perfect as Puramitra's thought of his enemy.
"You meditate much, my son," said a Brahman who knew him well and sometimes visited his garden.
"Holy one," he answered, "I pray."
"For what?" asked the Brahman.
"That the divine will may be done in all ways and upon all things," replied Puramitra.
"Then why have you been at pains to poison your tree?" asked the Brahman.
"I did not know," said the man, "that I had done anything to the tree."
"Look," said the Brahman, and he touched the fruit with the end of his staff. A drop oozed from the saffron globe, red as blood; and where it fell the grass withered as if a flame had scorched it. Then the heart of Puramitra leaped up within him, for he knew that his inmost thoughts had passed into the course of nature and fructified upon the tree.
"Most excellent Brahman," said he, with great humility, "the fruits of earth ripen by the will of Heaven."
"For whom is this one intended?" asked the Brahman.
"Holiness," said Puramitra, "it is on the lap of, the gods."
So the Brahman pursued his way, and Puramitra his meditations.
The next day he ordered an open path made through his gardens for the pleasure and comfort of the neighbours. The glistening fruit hung above the path, ripe and ruddy.
"It is on the lap of the gods," thought Puramitra; "if the evil-doer stretches forth his hand to it, the justice of Heaven will appear." So he hid among the bushes at nightfall, and expected the event.
A man crept slowly along the path and stayed beneath the tree. His face was concealed by a cloak; but the watcher said, "I shall know him by his actions, for my enemy will not respect that which is mine." Now the man was thinking shame and scorn of the rich owner of the garden, and despising the prosperity of wiles and wickedness. So he hated and contemned the fruit, saying to himself, "God forbid that I should touch anything that belongs to the wretch Puramitra." And the path grew darker.
Soon after came another man, walking with uncovered head, but his face could not be discerned because of the shadow. And the watcher said, "Now we shall see what the gods intend." The man went freely and easily, without a care, and when he came to the fruit he put out his hand and took it, saying to himself, "The benevolent Puramitra will be glad that I should have this, for he is good to all his friends." So he ate of the fruit, and fell at the foot of the tree.
Then Puramitra came running, and lifted up the dead man, and looked upon his face. And it was the face of his friend, the well-beloved Indranu.
So Puramitra wept aloud, and tore his hair, and his heart went black within him. And Vishnamorsu, returning through the garden by another path, heard the lamentable noise, and came near, and laughed. But the Brahman, passing homeward, looked upon the three, and said, "The ways of the gods are secret; but the happiest of these is Indranu."