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Life's Secret - A Story Of Bengal






Source: Tales Of Folk And Fairies

In a far-off country there once lived a great Rajah who had two wives,
one named Duo and the other Suo. Both these Ranees were beautiful, but
Duo was of a harsh and cruel nature, while Suo was gentle and kind to
all.

Though the Rajah had been married to his Ranees for some time they
neither of them had any children, and this was a great grief to every
one. Daily prayers were offered up in the temples for the birth of a
son to the Rajah, but the prayers remained unanswered.

One day a beggar, a holy man who had vowed to live in poverty, came to
the palace asking for alms. Duo would have had him driven away, but
Suo felt compassion for him. She gave him the alms he asked and bade
him sit in the cool of the courtyard to rest.

The beggar thanked her and ate the food she gave him. Just before he
left, he asked to speak to her in private. This favor Suo granted him.
She stepped aside with him, and as it so happened this brought them
directly under the windows of Duo's apartments.

"Great Ranee, you have been very kind to me," said the beggar, "and I
wish to reward you. I know that for years you have desired to have a
son, but that this wish has not been granted. Now listen! In the midst
of the jungle over beyond the city there grows the most wonderful tree
in all the world. Its trunk is silver, and its leaves are of gold.
Once in every hundred years this tree bears a single crimson fruit.
She who eats this fruit, whosoever she may be, shall, within a year,
bear a son. This is that hundredth year,--the year in which the tree
bears fruit, and I have gathered that fruit and have it here."

So saying, the beggar drew from among his rags a piece of silk
embroidered with strange figures. This he unfolded, and showed to the
Ranee, lying within it, a strange fruit such as she had never seen
before. It was pear shaped, and of such a vivid red that it seemed to
pulse and glow with light.

Suo looked at it with wonder and awe.

"If you wish to have it, it is yours," the beggar continued. "But I
must tell you one other thing. Whoever eats this fruit shall indeed
bear a son, but he will not be as other children. His life will not be
altogether within himself as with other people; it will be bound up
with an object quite outside of himself. If this object should fall
into the hands of an enemy that enemy could, by willing it, bring upon
him misfortune or even death, and this no matter how closely the child
was watched and guarded. And now, knowing this, do you still wish to
eat the fruit?"

"Yes, yes!" cried Suo.

"Then I will tell you what this object is and where it is to be
found," said the beggar. He drew still closer to the Ranee and
whispered in her ear, but though what he told her was so important Suo
paid but little attention to it; she thought only of the fruit, and
the happiness that might come to her if she ate it.

Now all the while the beggar had been talking to Suo, Duo had been
seated at her window just above them, and she overheard all that was
said. Only when the beggar came closer to Suo and whispered in her ear
Duo could not hear what he said, though she leaned out as far as she
could and strained her ears to listen. So, though she had learned that
if Suo had a child its life would depend on some object outside of
itself, she did not learn what that object was.

The beggar now gave the fruit to Suo, and she took it and ate all of
it. Not one seed or bit of rind did she miss. After that she went back
to her own apartments to dream upon the joy that might be coming to
her.

Within the year, even as the beggar had promised, Suo bore a child,
and this child was so large and strong and handsome that he was the
wonder of all who saw him.

The Rajah was wild with joy. He could scarcely think or talk of
anything but his son, and he showered gifts and caresses upon the
happy mother. Duo was quite forgotten. He never even went near her
apartments, and her heart was filled with jealousy and hatred toward
Suo and the little prince Dalim Kumar,--for so the child was named.
Nothing would have given her more joy than to be able to injure them
and bring sorrow and misfortune upon them.

Now as Dalim Kumar grew older he became very fond of a flock of
pigeons that his father had given him, and he spent a great deal of
time playing with them in the courtyard. They were so tame they would
come at his call and light upon his head and shoulders. Sometimes they
flew in through the windows of Duo's apartments which overlooked the
courtyard. Duo scattered peas and grain on the floor for them, and
they came and ate them. Then one day she caught two or three of them.

Soon after Dalim Kumar missed his pigeons and began calling them.

Duo leaned from her window. "Your pigeons are up here," she cried. "If
you want them you must come up and get them."

Suo had forbidden her son to go to Duo's apartments, but he quite
forgot this in his eagerness to regain his pets, and he at once ran up
to the Ranee's apartments.

Duo took him by the wrist and drew him into her room. "You shall have
your pigeons again," said she, "but first there is something you must
tell me."

"What is it?" asked Dalim Kumar.

"I wish to know where your life lies and in what object it is bound
up."

Dalim Kumar was very much surprised. "I do not know what you mean,"
said he. "My life lies within me, in my head and my body and my limbs,
as it is with every one."

"No, that is not so," said Duo. "Has your mother never told you that
your life is bound up in something outside of yourself?"

"No, she has never told me that, and moreover I do not believe it."

"Nevertheless it is so," said Duo. "If you will find out what this
thing is and come and tell me you shall have your pigeons again, and
if you do not do this I will wring their necks."

Dalim Kumar was greatly troubled at the thought of harm coming to his
pigeons. "No, no! You must not do that," he cried. "I will go to my
mother and find out what she knows, and if there is indeed truth in
what you say I will come back at once and tell you the secret. But you
must do nothing to my pigeons while I am gone."

To this Duo agreed. "There is another thing you must promise," said
she. "You must not let your mother know I have asked you anything
about your life. If you do I will wring your pigeons' necks even
though you tell me the secret."

"I will not let her know," promised the boy, and then he hastened away
to his mother's apartments. When he came to the door he began to walk
slowly and with dragging steps. He entered in and threw himself down
among some cushions and closed his eyes.

"What ails you, my son?" asked his mother. "Why do you sit there so
quietly instead of playing about?"

"Nothing ails me now," answered the boy, "but there is something that
I wish to know, and unless you tell me I am sure I shall be quite
ill."

"What is it that you wish to know, my darling?"

"I wish to know where my life lies, and in what it is bound up,"
answered the boy.

When Suo heard this she was very much frightened.

"What do you mean?" she cried. "Who has been talking to you of your
life?"

Then Dalim said what was not true, for he feared that harm might come
to his pigeons. "No one has been talking to me," said he, "but I am
sure that my life lies somewhere outside of me, and if you will not
tell me about it I will neither eat nor drink, and then perhaps I may
die."

At last Suo could withstand him no longer. "My son," she said, "it is
as you have guessed. You are not as other children. Your life is bound
up in some object outside of yourself, and if this object should fall
into the hands of an enemy the greatest misfortunes might come upon
you, and perhaps even death."

"And what is this object?" asked the boy.

Again Suo hesitated. Then she said:

"The beggar told me that under the roots of that same tree that bore
the fruit lies buried a golden necklace, and it is with that necklace
that part of your life is bound up."

Now that Dalim Kumar knew the secret he was content, and smiled upon
his mother and caressed her, and ate some of the sweetmeats she had
prepared for him. Then he ran away to get his pigeons.

Duo was waiting for him impatiently. "Have you found out the secret of
your life?" she demanded.

"Yes," answered the Prince. "It is bound up in a golden necklace that
lies buried under the roots of a tree over in the jungle,--a tree with
a silver trunk and golden leaves. And now give me my pigeons."

Duo was very willing to do this; she had no longer any use for them.
She placed the cage in which she had put them in his hands and pushed
him impatiently from the room.

As soon as the boy had gone the Ranee sent for a man upon whom she
could depend and told him what she wished him to do. She wished him to
go into the jungle and search until he found a tree with a silver
trunk and golden leaves. He was then to dig down about its roots until
he found a golden necklace that lay buried there. This necklace he was
to bring to her, and in return for his services she would give him a
lac of gold mohurs.

The man willingly agreed to do as she wished and at once set out into
the jungle. After searching for some time he at last found the tree
and began to dig about its roots.

Now at the very time this happened Dalim Kumar was with his mother
playing about in her apartment. But no sooner did the man in the
jungle begin to dig about the tree than the boy gave a cry and laid
his hand upon his heart. At the same time he became very pale.

"What is the matter, my son?" cried his mother anxiously. "Are you
ill?"

"I do not know what is the matter," answered the Prince, "but
something threatens me."

His mother put her arm about him, and at the very moment she did so
the man who had been digging found the necklace and picked it up, and
at that the young Prince sank back senseless in his mother's arms.

The Ranee was terrified. She sent at once for the Rajah, and
physicians were called in, but none of them could arouse the child nor
could they tell what ailed him. He lay there among the cushions where
they had placed him still breathing, but unconscious of all around
him.

And so the boy lay all the while that the man with the necklace hidden
in his bosom was on his way back from the jungle. But when he reached
the apartments of Duo and gave the necklace into the hands of the evil
Ranee, the breath went out from the Prince's body, and he became as
one dead.

The Rajah was in despair. His grief was now as great as his joy had
been when the child was born. He had a magnificent temple built in the
most beautiful of all his gardens, and in this temple the body of
Dalim Kumar was laid. After this was done the Rajah commanded that the
gates of the garden should be locked, and that no one but the
gardeners should ever enter there on pain of death.

This command was carried out. The garden gates were kept locked, and
no one entered but the men who went there in the daytime to prune the
trees and water the flowers and keep the place in order. Not even Suo
might go into the garden to mourn beside the body of her son.

But though every one believed Dalim Kumar to be dead, such was not
really the case. All day, while Duo wore the necklace, he lay without
breath or sign of life, but in the evening, when the Ranee took the
necklace off, he revived and returned to life. And this happened every
night, for every night the Rajah came to visit Duo, and just before he
came she always took the necklace off and hid it. She feared if he saw
it he might wonder and question her about it.

The wicked Ranee was now satisfied and happy. She believed she had
destroyed the young Prince, and with him the Rajah's love for Suo. For
the Rajah now never went to Suo's apartments. He neither saw her nor
spoke of her, for she only reminded him of his grief for his son.

Now the first time that Dalim Kumar awoke in the temple he was very
much surprised to find himself alone in a strange place, and with no
attendants around him. He arose and went out into the garden, and then
at once he knew where he was, though the temple was new to him. He
went to one gate after another of the garden, intending to go and
return to the palace, but he found them all locked. The gardeners had
gone away for the night, and before going they had securely fastened
the gates, according to the Rajah's orders. The young prince called
and called, but no one heard or answered. Feeling hungry, he plucked
some fruit and ate it, and after that he amused himself as best he
could, playing about among the trees and flowers.

Toward morning he felt sleepy and returned to the temple. He lay down
upon the couch, and later on, when Duo again put on the necklace, his
breath left him, and he became as one dead.

As it had been that night, so it was also in the many nights that
followed. In the evening the Prince revived and came out to play among
the flowers, but with the coming of day he returned to the temple and
lay down on the couch, and all appearance of life left him. After a
time he became used to the strange life he led, and no longer wondered
why he was left there alone and why no one came to seek him.

So year after year slipped by, and from a child the Prince became a
youth, and in all that time he had seen no one, for the gardeners had
always gone away before he returned to life.

Now there lived at this time, in a country far away, a woman who had
one only child, a daughter named Surai Bai. This girl was so beautiful
that she was the wonder of all who saw her. Her hair was as black as
night, her eyes like stars, her teeth like pearls, and her lips as red
as ripe pomegranates.

When this child was born it was foretold to her mother that she would
sometime marry a Prince who was both alive and dead. This prophecy
frightened the mother so much that as soon as her daughter was of a
marriageable age she left her own country and journeyed away into a
far land, taking the girl with her. She hoped that if she went far
enough she might escape the fate that had been foretold for the child.

Journeying on from one place to another, she came at last to the city
where Dalim Kumar's father reigned, and where the garden was, and the
temple where the young prince lay.

It was toward evening when the mother and daughter reached the city,
and it was necessary for them to find some shelter for the night.
Surai Bai was weary, and her mother bade her sit down and rest by the
gate of one of the palace gardens while she went farther to seek a
lodging. As soon as she had found a place where they could stay she
would return for the girl.

So Surai Bai seated herself beside the gate, and there her mother left
her. But the mother had not been gone long when some noise farther up
the street frightened the girl. She looked about for a place to hide,
and it occurred to her that she might go into the garden and wait
there. She tried the gate and found it unfastened, for by some chance
one of the gardeners had forgotten to lock it that evening when he
went away.

Surai Bai pushed the gate open and stepped inside, closing it behind
her. When she looked about her, she was amazed at the beauty of the
garden. The fruit trees were laden with fruits of every kind. There
were winding paths and flowers and fountains, and in the midst of the
garden was a temple shining with gold and wondrous colors.

Though daylight had faded the moon had arisen, and the garden was full
of light. Surai Bai went over close to the temple, wishing to examine
it, but just as she reached the foot of the steps that led up to it a
young man appeared above her at the door of the temple. It was Dalim
Kumar, who had aroused again to life and was coming forth to breathe
the air of the garden.

When he saw Surai Bai he stood amazed, not only at her beauty, which
was so great, but because hers was the first face he had ever seen in
the years he had spent in the garden. As for Surai Bai, never before
had she beheld a youth so handsome, or with such a noble air, and as
the two stood looking at each other they became filled with love for
one another.

Presently Dalim Kumar came down the steps of the temple and took Surai
Bai's hand.

"Who are you, beautiful one?" he asked. "Whence come you, and what is
your name?"

"My name is Surai Bai," answered the girl, "and I come from another
country far away. My mother left me sitting by the gate while she went
to find a lodging for us, but some noise frightened me, and I ran in
here to hide."

"That is a strange thing," said the Prince. "In all the years I have
been living here, the gates have never been unlocked before."

"But do you live here alone?" asked the girl.

"Yes, all alone. Yours is the first face I have seen for years, and
yet I am a Prince, and the son of a great Rajah."

"Then why are you here?"

"I am here because my life was bound up in a golden necklace that lay
buried under the roots of a tree in the jungle. I told the secret to a
Ranee who was my enemy, though I did not know it at the time. She must
in some way have gained possession of the necklace, and now she is
using it for my harm. All day I lie there in the temple as though
dead; no sound reaches me, nothing arouses me; only at night can I
arise and come forth. I, a great prince, am as one both dead and
alive."

When Dalim Kumar pronounced these words Surai Bai could not refrain
from giving a loud cry. She was overcome with amazement and confusion.

The Prince at once wished to know what had moved her so. "Why do you
cry out and change color?" he asked. "And why do you tremble and look
at me so strangely?"

At first Surai Bai would not tell him, but he was so urgent in his
questioning that finally she was obliged to recount to him the
prophecy made at the time of her birth;--that it had been foretold of
her that she was to marry a Prince who was both alive and dead.

Dalim Kumar listened to her attentively. "That is a strange thing,"
said he. "I do not suppose in all the world there is another prince
beside myself who is both alive and dead. If this saying is true, it
must be that I am the one you are to marry. If so, I am very happy,
for already I love you, and if you will stay here with me we will be
married by the ceremony of Grandharva, and I will be a true and loving
husband to you."

To this Surai Bai willingly consented, for already she loved the
prince so dearly that she felt she could not live without him. That
very night she and the Prince presented each other with garlands of
flowers, for that is the ceremony of Grandharva, and so they became
man and wife.

After that they lived together in great happiness, and nothing could
exceed their love for each other. By day, while Dalim Kumar lay
lifeless in the temple, his bride slept also, and at evening they
awoke and talked together and walked through the garden.

But after a while a son was born to the young couple, and after that
Surai Bai was no longer gay and happy. Her look was sad, and often she
stole away from Dalim Kumar to weep in secret.

The Prince was greatly troubled by this. At first he forbore to
question her, but one day he followed her and finding her in tears, he
said, "Tell me, why are you sad and downcast? Have you wearied of this
garden, and are you lonely here; or is it that you no longer love me?"

"Dalim Kumar," answered the girl, "I love you as dearly as ever, and I
am never lonely with you. As long as we had no child I was content to
stay here in the garden and see no one. But now that we have a son I
wish him to be seen by your people, and I wish them to know that he is
the heir to the kingdom."

At this Dalim Kumar became very thoughtful. "My dear wife," said he,
"you are right. Our son should be known as my heir; but every one
believes I died long ago when I was a child. If you went out among
them with the boy and told them he was my son, they would laugh at
you, and either think you were an impostor or that you were crazy. If
we could but gain possession of the necklace, then I could go out from
the garden with you, and if I showed myself to my people they would be
obliged to believe."

"That is what I have thought also," said Surai Bai, "and it has been
in my mind to ask you to give me permission to leave the garden for a
while. If you will do this I will try to gain entrance to the palace
and the apartments of Duo. Then possibly I can find where she keeps
the necklace at night, and I may be able to get possession of it."

Dalim Kumar eagerly agreed to this plan, and the very next day, while
he lay unconscious in the temple, Surai Bai took the child and managed
to steal out through one of the gates without being seen by any of the
gardeners.

She at once sought out a shop in the city and bought for herself the
dress of a hairdresser; then, leading the child by the hand she made
her way to the palace. She told the attendants there that she was very
skillful in dressing the hair, and if they would take her to the
Ranees she was sure she could please them.

After some hesitation the attendants agreed to do this, and led the
way first to the apartments of Suo. When Surai Bai entered the room
and saw her husband's mother sitting there thin and pale and
grief-stricken, her heart yearned over her. But Suo would not so much
as look at the pretended hairdresser. "Why do you bring her here?" she
asked. "I have no wish to look beautiful. My son is dead and my
husband no longer loves me nor comes to me. Take her away and leave me
alone with my sorrow."

The attendants motioned to Surai Bai to come away, and they led her
across the palace to the apartments of Duo.

Here all was bright and joyous. The beautiful Duo lay among the
cushions, smiling to herself and playing with the necklace that hung
about her neck. When she heard that the young woman they had brought
to her was a skilled hairdresser, she sat up and beckoned Surai Bai to
approach.

"Come!" said she. "Let us see how well you can dress my hair. The
Rajah will be here before long, and I must be beautiful for him."

Surai Bai at once came behind Duo and began to arrange her hair. The
child meanwhile kept close by her side. When Surai Bai had almost
finished she managed to loosen the clasp of the necklace so that it
slipped from Duo's neck and fell upon the floor.

This was as the pretended hairdresser had planned, and she had
explained to her son beforehand that when the necklace fell he must
pick it up and hold it tight, and yield it to no one. So now, no
sooner did the necklace slip to the floor, than the child picked it up
and twisted it tight around his fingers.

Duo was frightened. "Give me my necklace," cried she, and reaching
over she tried to take it from the boy, but at this he began to scream
so loudly that it seemed as though the whole palace must be aroused by
his cries.

Duo drew back alarmed and bade the child be quiet. Then she turned to
the pretended hairdresser. "Make him give me the necklace again," she
demanded.

Surai Bai pretended to hesitate. "If I try to take it from him now,"
she said, "he might break it. Have patience, and let him keep it for a
while; he will soon tire of it. Then I can take it from him and bring
it to you."

To this Duo was obliged to agree. It was growing late and she feared
at any moment now the Rajah might come in and that he might notice the
necklace in the child's hands and ask questions about it.

"Very well," she said. "Let him keep it for the present, but bring it
back to me the first thing in the morning. If you neglect to do this
you shall be severely punished,--you and the child also."

The pretended hairdresser made a deep obeisance, and then departed,
carrying the child who still held the necklace tightly clutched in his
hands.

As soon as Surai Bai was outside of the palace she hastened away to
the garden and found Dalim Kumar awaiting her at the gate.

"I know you have the necklace," he cried to her, "for I aroused while
it was still day, and with such a feeling of life and joy as I have
never felt before."

"Yes, it is here," said Surai Bai, and she took the necklace from the
child and held it out to him.

Dalim Kumar gave a cry of joy. His hands trembled with eagerness as he
grasped the necklace. "Oh, my dear wife," he cried, "you have saved
me. I have now again become as other men and can claim what is my own.
Come! Let us return to the palace and to my father and mother."

So, with the child on his arm, and leading Surai Bai by the hand, the
Prince hastened back to the palace. But when he entered the gates no
one knew him, for when they had last seen him he had been only a boy.
They wondered to see a stranger enter in like a master, but his air
was so noble, and his appearance so handsome that no one dared to stop
him.

Dalim Kumar went at once to his mother's apartments, and though no one
else had known him, she recognized him at once, even though he had
become a man. She knew not what miracle had brought him back, but she
fell upon his neck and kissed him, and wept aloud, so that all in the
palace heard the sound of her weeping.

The Rajah was sent for in haste, and when he came Dalim Kumar quickly
made himself known to his father. The Rajah's joy was no less than the
Ranee's over the return of his son.

Soon the news spread through all the palace, and there was great
rejoicing. But Duo was filled with fear. She knew not what punishment
would fall upon her for her evil doings, but she guessed the wrath of
the Rajah would be great. So she fled away secretly and in haste, and
for a long time she wandered about from place to place, miserable and
afraid, and at last died in poverty as she deserved.

But Dalim Kumar and his young wife lived in happiness forever after,
and when the old Rajah died Dalim Kumar became Rajah in his stead, and
his own son ruled after him as Surai Bai and he had desired.





Next: Dame Pridgett And The Fairies

Previous: The Triumph Of Truth - A Hindu Story



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