THE LITTLE COWHERD BROTHER *
Now Gopala was five years old and it was time for him to go to school in the village that lay beyond the forest on the edge of which he lived.
It was a long way through the forest and to the village; Gopala would see the women sitting by the edge of the road and grinding corn as yellow as gold between great stones. He would meet the dairyman carrying great pails of curds hung from a yoke over his shoulders. He would see bright flowers and then, before he reached the school, he would have to pass through the deep, green woods where the trees stood too closely together for him to be able to see the sunshine.
Gopala's mother was poor, but she had worked very hard to earn him a new tunic, made of fine linen, to wear when he first went to school. His mother had woven him a mat, also, upon which to sit when he learned his letters in the school, for they had no desks. He carried two palm leaves upon which he would write and some pens made of reeds.
So Gopala started for school.
He was so glad to go that the way did not seem long. He was good and studious in school and afterward he played for a while with the other little boys in the village. Then it was dark and Gopala, going home through the forest, thought that the trees were moving about and changing places so as to confuse him in finding his way, and he was afraid. He ran and ran, crying, "Mother!" But just when he could not run any farther he heard a voice calling to him, "Gopala! Gopala!"
It was his mother come to meet him through the darkness, and so he was not afraid any longer.
But when the next morning came Gopala was again frightened, as he thought about going through the forest alone, and he told his mother that he could not go to school. This made his mother feel very sorrowful because she wished him to grow up a wise man. Some of the children had servants who walked with them through the forest, but Gopala's mother was too poor to pay for some one to walk with Gopala. She did not know what to do until, at last, she thought of the Child Krishna to whom she prayed and who it was said walked through the forest in various forms. Perhaps the Child Krishna would take care of Gopala, she thought.
"Do not be afraid, Gopala" his mother said. "In the forest you have a little Cowherd Brother. Call out to him and perhaps he will hear you and walk with you all the way to school."
So Gopala became suddenly quite joyous again and he started for school. When he came to the shadowy places in the forest, he called out as loudly as he could.
"My little Cowherd Brother! Oh, my little Cowherd Brother, come and walk with me!"
And as soon as he had spoken the words the leaves and grasses parted and a tall, beautiful boy stood before him. He wore a gold crown and in it a peacock's feather, and he carried a flute upon which he played. He took Gopala's hand and they played together, and he walked with Gopala all the way to school.
When it was evening, the Cowherd Brother was waiting for Gopala at the edge of the forest, and he walked with him until Gopala was in sight of home. Morning and evening, and then morning and evening again, he walked with Gopala, and each time he took away all Gopala's fear. Gopala told his mother about how much he loved his Cowherd Brother and what good times they had together. It pleased his mother, but it did not surprise her in the least. She had felt sure that the Child Krishna would comfort another child.
One day after Gopala had been at school for some time the teacher said that he was going to give a party. This was as much as to tell each child to bring a present, for in that faraway land the school teachers were not paid. They had to depend for their living upon what gifts were made them by the parents of the little ones whom they taught. To think of the party at the school worried little Gopala. The other children would bring beautiful gift's, he knew, because many of them had rich parents. They would bring bright silks and rich fruits and grain and money. What could he bring, Gopala wondered, to the school teacher whom he had grown to love so dearly?
That was what Gopala's mother wondered too when he told her that there was to be a party at the school. She had nothing in the house to give way, for she was poorer than ever just then. She thought, at last, of the Child Krishna. Perhaps he would help them. She spoke to Gopala.
"To-morrow morning on your way to school you must speak to your little Cowherd Brother about this," she said. "Perhaps he will help us."
The next morning the two, Gopala and his little Cowherd Brother, walked and played together, as usual, but when they had almost reached the school, Gopala remembered that he had no gift for the teacher, and this was the day of the party.
"My little Cowherd Brother!" exclaimed Gopala, "this is the day of the party at the school and I have no present for the teacher. My mother is very poor and she would give him the best gift of all if she could, but she cannot."
" I do not know what I can give you. I am only a poor Cowherd boy," he said, "but if you will wait here I will see what I can find for you to give to the teacher." So the little Cowherd Brother ran into the deep, shadowy places of the forest. Presently he came back again. In his hands he carried a small bowl of curds. "This is all that I have for you," he said. "Take it to your teacher."
Gopala felt that it was a rather poor gift, and when he saw the lovely gifts of the other children, he felt quite ashamed of his little bowl of curds. The children crowded around him and made fun of it, and Gopala began to cry. Seeing his trouble, the teacher came to him and put his hands on his head and said, "It is a beautiful present, Gopala." So Gopala laughed through his tears and was no longer afraid.
Then the teacher took the bowl and emptied the curds into a larger bowl. They filled the larger bowl and still the little bowl was full. He poured them into a still larger bowl and then into another and another. It was always the same; he could fill as many bowls as he liked, but still the little bowl of the Cowherd Brother was full. He gave all the children as much as they could eat, and they had never before tasted such curds. It was as if the taste of rich cakes and fruits and preserves had all been blended into one and they could eat as much as they liked, for there was always more to be poured from the little bowl into the larger ones.
"This is very strange, Gopala," said the teacher. "Who gave you this bowl of curds?"
"I got it in the forest, dear teacher," Gopala explained, "from my little Cowherd Brother."
"Who is he?" asked the teacher.
"I cannot tell you where he lives," Gopala said, "but he came out to walk with me when I was afraid to go through the forest and he comes with me every day to school. He wears a crown of gold and in it a peacock's feather, and he has a flute that he plays upon. When he has brought me to school he goes back to tend his cows all day, but when school is over, he is waiting to take me home."
The teacher was greatly surprised, for he knew that no cowherds lived in the forest. It came to him suddenly that Gopala's playmate must be the Child Krishna with the lotus eyes and the divine heart.
"Take me with you to the forest, I would like to see your little brother," said the teacher. So at the closing of school, the teacher took Gopala's hand and they walked together to the forest. But when they reached it, the little Cowherd Brother did not come out to meet them.
"My little Cowherd Brother! Oh, will you not come to us," cried Gopala. But all they heard was the echo of the call. The teacher was sure now that Gopala had lied. He looked at him sternly. Gopala was ready to cry, for he knew that he had told the truth. He shouted again, "My little Cowherd Brother, please come, I want my teacher to know that I told what was true and that you are my playmate."
Then, from afar off in the deep places of the forest they heard a voice calling to them.
"Little one," it said, "I cannot show my face. The teacher has long to wait. But tell him that he shall see some day when he needs me as did you, my little Gopala."