ONCE upon a time a Rajah and Ranee died, leaving seven sons and one daughter. All these seven Sons were married, and the wives of the six eldest used to be very unkind to their poor little sister-in-law; but the wife of the seventh brother loved her dearly, and always took her part against the others. She would say, 'Poor little thing, her life is sad. Her mother wished so long for a daughter, and then the girl was born and the mother died and never saw her poor child, or was able to ask any one to take care of her.' At which the wives of the six elder brothers would answer, 'You only take such notice of the girl in order to vex us.' Then, while their husbands were away, they invented wicked stories against their sister-in-law, which they told them on their return home; and their husbands believed them rather than her, and were very angry with her, and ordered her to be turned out of the house. But the wife of the seventh brother did not believe what the six others said, and was very kind to the little Princess, and sent her secretly as much food as she could spare from her own dinner. But as they drove her from their door, the six wives of the elder brothers cried out, 'Go away, wicked girl, go away, and never let us see your face again until you marry Chundun Rajah! 1 When you invite us to the wedding, and give us six eldest six common wooden stools to sit on, but the seventh sister (who always takes your part) a fine emerald chair, we will believe you innocent of all the evil deeds of which you are accused, but not till then!' This they said scornfully, railing at her; for Chundun Rajah, of whom they spoke (who was the great Rajah of a neighbouring country) had been dead many months.
So, sad at heart, the Princess wandered forth into the jungle; and when she had gone through it, she came upon another, still denser than the first. The trees grew so thickly overhead that she could scarcely see the sky, and there was no village nor house of living creature near. The food her youngest sister-in-law had given her was nearly exhausted, and she did not know where to get more. At last, however, after journeying on for many days, she came upon a large tank, beside which was a fine house that belonged to a Rakshas. Being very tired, she sat down on the edge of the tank to eat some of the parched rice that remained of her store of provisions; and as she did so she thought, 'This house belongs doubtless to a Rakshas, who, perhaps, will see me and kill and eat me; but since no one cares for me, and I have neither home nor friends, I hold life cheap enough.' It happened, however, that the Rakshas was then out, and there was no one in his house but a little cat and dog, who were his servants.
The dog's duty was to take care of the saffron with which the Rakshas coloured his face on high days and holidays, and the cat had charge of the antimony with which he blackened his eyelids. Before the Princess had been long by the tank, the little cat spied her out, and running to her said, 'O sister, sister, I am so hungry, pray give me some of your dinner.' The Princess answered, 'I have very little rice left; when it is all gone I shall starve. If I give you some, what have you to give me in exchange?' The cat said, 'I have charge of the antimony with which my Rakshas blackens his eyelids, I will give you some of it;' and running to the house she fetched a nice little pot full of antimony, which she gave to the Princess in exchange for the rice. When the little dog saw this, he also ran down to the tank, and said, 'Lady, Lady, give me some rice, I pray you; for I, too, am very hungry.' But she answered, 'I have very little rice left, and when it is all gone I shall starve. If I give you some of my dinner, what will you give me in exchange?' The dog said, 'I have charge of my Rakshas' saffron, with which he colours his face. I will give you some of it. So he ran to the house and fetched a quantity of saffron and gave it to the Princess, and she gave him also some of the rice. Then, tying the antimony and saffron up in her saree, she said good-bye to the dog and cat and went on her way.
Three or four days after this, she found she had nearly reached the other side of the jungle. The wood was not so thick, and in the distance she saw a large building that looked like a great tomb. The Princess determined to go and see what it was, and whether she could find any one there to give her any food, for she had eaten all the rice and felt very hungry, and it was getting towards night.
Now the place towards which the Princess went was the tomb of the Chundun Rajab, but this she did not know.
Chundun Rajah had died many months before, and his father and mother and sisters, who loved him very dearly, could not bear the idea of his being buried under the cold ground; so they had built a beautiful tomb, and inside it they had placed the body on a bed under a canopy, and it had never decayed, but continued as fair and perfect as when first put there. Every day Chundun Rajah's mother and sisters would come to the place to weep and lament from sunrise to sunset; but each evening they returned to their own homes. Hard by was a shrine and small hut where a Brahman lived, who had charge of the place; and from far and near people used to come to visit the tomb of their lost Rajah, and see the great miracle, how the body of him who had been dead so many months remained perfect and undecayed; but none knew why this was. When the Princess got near the place a violent storm came on. The rain beat upon her and wetted her, and it grew so dark she could hardly see where she was going. She would have been afraid to go into the tomb had she known about Chundun Rajah; but, as it was, the storm being so violent and night approaching, she ran in there for shelter as fast as she could, and sat down shivering in one corner. By the light of an oil lamp that burnt dimly in a niche in the wall, she saw in front of her the body of the Rajah lying under the canopy, with the heavy jewelled coverlet over him, and the rich hangings all round. He looked as if he were only asleep, and she did not feel frightened. But at twelve o'clock, to her great surprise, as she was watching and waiting, the Rajah came to life; and when he saw her sitting shivering in the corner, he fetched a light and came towards her and said, 'Who are you?' She answered, 'I am a poor lonely girl. I only came here for shelter from the storm. I am dying of cold and hunger.' And then she told him all her story--how that her sisters-in-law had falsely accused her, and driven her from among them into the jungle, bidding her see their faces no more until she married the Chundun Rajah, who had been dead so many months; and how the youngest had been kind to her and sent her food, which had prevented her from starving by the way.
The Rajah listened to the Princess's words, and was certain that they were true, and she no common beggar from the jungles. For, for all her ragged clothes, she looked a royal lady, and shone like a star in the darkness. Moreover, her eyelids were darkened with antimony, and her beautiful face painted with saffron, like the face of a Princess. Then he felt a great pity for her, and said, 'Lady, have no fear, for I will take care of you,' and dragging the rich coverlet off his bed he threw it over her to keep her warm, and going to the Brahman's house, which was close by, fetched some rice, which he gave her to eat. Then he said, 'I am the Chundun Rajah of whom you have heard. I die every day, but every night I come to life for a little while.' She cried, 'Do none of your family know of this? and if so, why do you stay here in a dismal tomb?' He answered, 'None know it but the Brahman who has charge of this place. Since my life is thus maimed, what would it avail to tell my family? It would but grieve them more than to think me dead. Therefore, I have forbidden him to let them know; and as my parents only come here by day, they have never found it out. May be I shall some time wholly recover, and till then I will be silent about my existence.' Then he called the Brahman who had charge of the, tomb and the shrine (and who daily placed an offering of food upon it for the Rajah to eat when he came to life) and said to him, 'Henceforth place a double quantity of food upon the shrine, and take care of this lady. If I ever recover, she shall be my Ranee.' And having said these words he died again. Then the Brahman took the Princess to his little hut, and bade his wife see that she wanted for nothing, and all the next day she rested in that place. Very early in the morning Chundun Rajah's mother and sisters came to visit the tomb, but they did not see the Princess; and in the evening, when the sun was setting, they went away. That night when the Chundun Rajah came to life he called the Brahman, and said to him, 'Is the Princess still here?'--.'Yes,' he answered; 'for she is weary with her journey, and she has no home to go to.' The Rajah said, 'Since she has neither home nor friends, if she be willing, you shall marry me to her, and she shall wander no further in search of shelter.' So the Brahman fetched his shastra 2 and called all his family as witnesses, and married the Rajah to the little Princess, reading prayers over them, and scattering rice and flowers upon their heads. And there the Chundun Ranee lived for some time. She was very happy; she wanted for nothing, and the Brahman and his wife took as much care of her as if she had been their daughter. Every day she would wait outside the tomb, but at sunset she always returned to it and watched for her husband to come to life. One night she said to him, 'Husband, I am happier to be your wife, and hold your hand and talk to you for two or three hours every evening, than were I married to some great living Rajah for a hundred years. But oh! what joy it would be if you could come wholly to life again! Do you know what is the cause of your daily death? and what it is that brings you to life each night at twelve o'clock?'
'Yes,' he said, 'it is because I have lost my Chundun Har, 3 the sacred necklace that held my soul. A Pen stole it. I was in the palace garden one day, when many of those winged ladies flew over my head, and one of them, when she saw me, loved me, and asked me to marry her. But I said no, I would not; and at that she was angry, and tore the Chundun Har off my neck, and flew away with it. That instant I fell down dead, and my father and mother caused me to be placed in this tomb; but every night the Pen comes here and takes my necklace off her neck, and when she takes it off I come to life again, and she asks me to come away with her, and marry her, and she does not put on the necklace again for two or three hours, waiting to see if I will consent. During that time I live. But when she finds I will not, she puts on the necklace again, and flies away, and as soon as she puts it on, I die. 4--' Cannot the Pen be caught?' asked the Chundun Ranee; but her husband answered, 'No, I have often tried to seize back my necklace--for if I could regain it I should come wholly to life again,--but the Pen can at will render herself invisible and fly away with it, so that it is impossible for any mortal man to get it.' At this news the Chundun Ranee was sad at heart, for she saw no hope of the Rajah's being restored to life; and grieving over this she became so ill and unhappy, that even when she had a little baby boy born, it did not much cheer her, for she did nothing but think, 'My poor child will grow up in this desolate place and have no kind father day by day to teach him and help him as other children have, but only see him for a little while by night; and we are all at the mercy of the Peri, who may any day fly quite away with the necklace and not return.' The Brahman, seeing how ill she was, said to the Chundun Rajah, 'The Ranee will die unless she can be somewhere where much care will be taken of her, for in my poor home my wife and I can do but little for her comfort. Your mother and sister are good and charitable, let her go to the palace, where they will only need to see she is ill to take care of her.'
Now it happened that in the palace courtyard there was a great slab of white marble, on which the Chundun Rajah had been wont to rest on the hot summer days; and because he used to be so fond of it, when he died his father and mother ordered that it should be taken great care of, and no one was allowed to so much as touch it. Knowing this, Chundun Rajah said to his wife, 'You are ill; I should like you to go to the palace, where my mother and sisters will take the greatest care of you. Do this, therefore--take our child and sit down with him upon the great slab of marble in the palace courtyard. I used to be very fond of it; and so now for my sake it is kept with the greatest care, and no one is allowed to so much as touch it. They will most likely see you there and order you to go away; but if you tell them you are ill, they will, I know, have pity on you and befriend you.' The Chundun Ranee did as her husband told her; placing her little boy on the great slab of white marble in the palace courtyard and sitting down herself beside him. Chundun Rajah's sister, who was looking out of the window, saw her and cried, 'Mother, there are a woman and her child resting on my brother's marble slab; let us tell them to go away.' So she ran down to the place; but when she saw Chundun Ranee and the little boy she was quite astonished. The Chundun Ranee was so fair and lovable-looking, and the baby was the image of her dead brother. Then returning to her mother, she said, 'Mother, she who. sits upon the marble stone is the prettiest little lady I ever saw; and do not let us blame the poor thing, she says she is ill and weary; and the baby (I know not if it is fancy, or the seeing him on that stone) seems to me the image of my lost brother.'
At this the old Ranee and the rest of the family went out, and when they saw the Chundun Ranee they all took such a fancy to her and to the child that they brought her into the palace, and were very kind to her, and took great care of her; so that in a
while she got well and strong again, and much less unhappy; and they all made a great pet of the little boy, for they were struck with his strange likeness to the dead Rajah; and after a time they gave his mother a small house to live in, close to the palace, where they often used to go and visit her. There also the Chundun Rajah would go each night when he came to life, to laugh and talk with his wife, and play with his boy, although he still refused to tell his father and mother of his existence. One day it happened, however, that the little child told one of the Princesses (Chundun Rajah's sister) how every evening some one who came to the house used to laugh and talk with his mother and play with him, and then go away. The Princess also heard the sound of voices in the Chundun Ranee's house, and saw lights flickering about there when they were supposed to be fast asleep. Of this she told her mother, saying, 'Let us go down to-morrow night and see what this means; perhaps the woman we thought so poor, and befriended thus, is nothing but a cheat, and entertains all her friends every night at our expense.'
So the next evening they went down softly, softly to the place, when they saw--not the strangers they had expected, but their long-lost Chundun Rajah! Then, since he could not escape he told them all. How that every night for an hour or two he came to life, but was dead all day. And they rejoiced greatly to see him again, and reproached him for not letting them know he ever lived, though for so short a time. He then told them how he had married the Chundun Ranee, and thanked them for all their loving care of her.
After this he used to come every night and sit and talk with them; but still each day, to their great sorrow, he died; nor could they divine any means for getting back his Chundun Han, which the Pen wore round her neck.
At last one evening, when they were all laughing and chatting together, seven Pens flew into the room unobserved by them, and one of the seven was the very Pen who had stolen Chundun Rajah's necklace, and she held it in her hand.
All the young Pens were very fond of the Chundun Rajah and Chundun Ranee's boy, and used often to come and play with him, for he was the image of his father's and mother's loveliness, and as fair as the morning; and he used to laugh and clap his little hands when he saw them coming; for though men and women cannot see Pens, little children can.
Chundun Rajah was tossing the child up in the air when the Pens flew into the room, and the little boy was laughing merrily. The winged ladies fluttered round the Rajah and the child, and she that had the necklace hovered over his head. Then the boy, seeing the glittering necklace which the Peri held, stretched out his little arms and caught hold of it; and, as he seized it, the string broke, and all the beads fell upon the floor. At this the seven Pens were frightened, and flew away, and the Chundun Ranee, collecting the beads, strung them, and hung them round the Rajah's neck; and there was great joy amongst those that loved him, because he had recovered the sacred necklace, and that the spell which doomed him to death was broken.
The glad news was soon known throughout the kingdom, and all the people were happy and proud to hear it, crying, 'We have lost our young Rajah for such a long, long time, and now one little child has brought him back to life.' And the old Rajah and Ranee (Chundun Rajah's father and mother) determined that he should be married again to the Chundun Ranee with great pomp and splendour, and they sent letters into all the kingdoms of the world, saying, 'Our son the Chundun Rajah has come to life again, and we pray you come to his wedding.'
Then, among those who accepted the invitation were the Chundun Ranee's seven brothers and their seven wives; and for her six sisters-in-law, who had been so cruel to her, and caused her to be driven out into the jungle, the Chundun Ranee prepared six common wooden stools; but for the seventh, who had been kind to her, she made ready an emerald throne, and a footstool adorned with emeralds.
When all the Ranees were taken to their places, the six eldest complained, saying, 'How is this? Six of us are given only common wooden stools to sit upon, but the seventh has an emerald chair?' Then the Chundun Ranee stood up, and before the assembled guests told them her story, reminding her six elder sistersin-law of their former taunts, and how they had forbidden her to see them again until the day of her marriage with the Chundun Rajah, and she explained how unjustly they had accused her to her brothers. When the Ranees heard this they were struck dumb with fear and shame, and were unable to answer a word; and all their husbands, being much enraged to learn how they had conspired to kill their sister-in-law, commanded that these wicked women should be instantly hanged, which was accordingly done.
Then, on the same day that the Chundun Rajah remarried their sister, the six elder brothers were married to six beautiful ladies of the court, amid great and unheard-of rejoicings, and from that day they all lived together in perfect peace and harmony unto their lives' end.
1 King Sandalwood.
2 Sacred books.
3 Sandalwood necklace.
4 See Notes.