Old Deccan Days/Sodewa Bai
A LONG, long while ago there lived a Rajah and Ranee, who had one only daughter, and she was the most beautiful Princess in the world. Her face was as fair and delicate as the clear moonlight, and they called her Sodewa Bai. At her birth her father and mother had sent for all the wise men in the kingdom to tell her fortune, and they predicted that she would grow up richer and more fortunate than any other lady—and so it was; for, from her earliest youth, she was good and lovely, and whenever she opened her lips to speak, pearls and precious stones fell upon the ground, and as she walked along they would scatter on either side of her path, insomuch that her father soon became the richest Rajah in all that country—for his daughter could not go across the room without shaking down jewels worth a dowry. Moreover, Sodewa Bai was born with a golden necklace about her neck, concerning which also her parents consulted astrologers, who said, 'This is no common child; the necklace of gold about her neck contains your daughter's soul; let it therefore be guarded with the utmost care; for if it were taken off, and worn by another person, she would die.' So the Ranee, her mother, caused it to be firmly fastened round the child's neck, and as soon as she was old enough to understand, instructed her concerning its value, and bade her on no account ever allow it to be taken off.
At the time my story begins, this Princess was fourteen years old; but she was not married, for her father and mother had promised that she should not do so until it pleased herself; and although many great rajahs and nobles sought her hand, she constantly refused them all.
Now Sodewa Bai's father, on one of her birthdays, gave her a lovely pair of slippers, made of gold and jewels. Each slipper was worth a hundred thousand gold mohurs. There were none like them in all the earth. Sodewa Bai prized these slippers very much, and always wore them when she went out walking, to protect her tender feet from the stones; but one day, as she was wandering with her ladies upon the side of the mountain on which the palace was built, playing, and picking the wild-flowers, her foot slipped and one of the golden slippers fell down, down, down the steep hill-slope, over rocks and stones, into the jungle below. Sodewa Bai sent attendants to search for it, and the Rajah caused criers to go throughout the town and proclaim that whoever discovered the Princess's slipper should receive a great reward; but though it was hunted for far and near, high and low, it could not be found.
It chanced, however, that not very long after this, a young Prince, the eldest son of a Rajah who lived in the plains, was out hunting, and in the jungle he picked up the very little golden slipper which Sodewa Bai had lost, and which had tumbled all the way from the mountain-side into the depths of the forest. He took it home with him, and showed it to his mother, saying, 'What a fairy foot must have worn this tiny slipper!' 'Ah, my boy,' she said,—'this must in truth have belonged to a lovely Princess; (if she is but as beautiful as her slipper!) would that you could find such a one to be your wife!' Then they sent into all the towns of the kingdom, to inquire for the owner of the lost slipper; but she could not be found. At last, when many months had gone by, it happened that news was brought by travellers to the Rajah's capital of how, in a far-distant land, very high among the mountains, there lived a beautiful Princess who had lost her slipper, and whose father had offered a great reward to whoever should restore it; and from the description they gave, all were assured it was the one that the Prince had found.
Then his mother said to him, 'My son, it is certain that the slipper you found belongs to none other than the great Mountain Rajah's daughter; therefore take it to his palace, and when he offers you the promised reward, say that you wish for neither silver nor gold, but ask him to give you his daughter in marriage. Thus you may gain her for your wife.'
The Prince did as his mother advised; and when, after a long, long journey, he reached the court of Sodewa Bai's father, he presented the slipper to him, saying, 'I have found your daughter's slipper, and, for restoring it, I claim a great reward.'—'What will you have?' said the Rajah. 'Shall I pay you in horses? or in silver? or gold?'—'No,' answered the Prince, 'I will have none of these things. I am the son of a Rajah who lives in the plains, and I found this slipper in the jungle where I was hunting, and have travelled for many weary days to bring it you; but the only payment I care for is the hand of your beautiful daughter; if it pleases you, let me become your son-in-law.' The Rajah replied, 'This only I cannot promise you; for I have vowed I will not oblige my daughter to marry against her will. This matter depends upon her alone. If she is willing to be your wife, I also am willing; but it rests with her free choice.'
Now it happened that Sodewa Bai had from her window seen the Prince coming up to the palace gate, and when she heard his errand, she said to her father, 'I saw that Prince, and I am willing to marry him.'
So they were married with great pomp and splendour.
When, however, all the other Rajahs, Sodewa Bai's suitors, heard of her choice, they were much astonished, as well as vexed, and said, 'What can have made Sodewa Bai take a fancy to that young Prince? He is not so wonderfully handsome, and he is very poor. This is a most foolish marriage.' But they all came to it, and were entertained at the palace, where the wedding festivities lasted many days.
After Sodewa Bai and her husband had lived there for some little time, he one day said to his father-in-law, 'I have a great desire to see my own people again, and to return to my own country. Let me take my wife home with me.' The Rajah said, 'Very well. I am willing that you should go. Take care of your wife; guard her as the apple of your eye; and be sure you never permit the golden necklace to be taken from her neck and given to any one else, for in that case she would die.' The Prince promised; and he returned with Sodewa Bai to his father's kingdom. At their departure the Rajah of the Mountain gave them many elephants, horses, camels, and attendants, besides jewels innumerable, and much money, and many rich hangings, robes, and carpets. The old Rajah and Ranee of the Plain were delighted to welcome home their son and his beautiful bride; and there they might all have lived their lives long in uninterrupted peace and happiness, had it not been for one unfortunate circumstance. Rowjee (for that was the Prince's name) had another wife, to whom he had been married when a child, long before he found Sodewa Bai's golden slipper; she, therefore, was the first Ranee, though Sodewa Bai was the one he loved the best (for the first Ranee was of a sullen, morose, and jealous disposition). His father, also, and his mother, preferred Sodewa Bai to their other daughter-in-law. The first Ranee could not bear to think of any one being Ranee beside herself; and more especially of another, not only in the same position, but better loved by all around than she; and therefore, in her wicked heart, she hated Sodewa Bai and longed for her destruction, though outwardly pretending to be very fond of her. The old Rajah and Ranee, knowing the first Ranee's jealous and envious disposition, never liked Sodewa Bai to be much with her; but as they had only a vague fear, and no certain ground for alarm, they could do no more than watch both carefully; and Sodewa Bai, who was guileless and unsuspicious, would remonstrate with them when they warned her not to be so intimate with Rowjee Rajah's other wife, saying, 'I have no fear. I think she loves me as I love her. Why should we disagree? Are we not sisters?' One day, Rowjee Rajah was obliged to go on a journey to a distant part of his father's kingdom, and being unable to take Sodewa Bai with him, he left her in his parents' charge, promising to return soon, and begging them to watch over her, and to go every morning and see that she was well; which they agreed to do.
A little while after their husband had gone, the first Ranee went to Sodewa Bai's room and said to her, 'It is lonely for us both, now Rowjee is away; but you must come often to see me, and I will come often to see you and talk to you, and so we will amuse ourselves as well as we can.' To this Sodewa Bai agreed; and to amuse the first Ranee she took out all her jewels and pretty things to show her. As they were looking over them, the first Ranee said, 'I notice you always wear that row of golden beads round your neck. Why do you? Have you any reason for always wearing the same ones?'—'Oh yes,' answered Sodewa Bai thoughtlessly. 'I was born with these beads round my neck, and the wise men told my father and mother that they contain my soul, and that if any one else wore them I should die. So I always wear them. I have never once taken them off.' When the first Ranee heard this news, she was very pleased; yet she feared to steal the beads herself, both because she was afraid she might be found out, and because she did not like with her own hands to commit the crime. So, returning to her house, she called her most confidential servant, a negress, whom she knew to be trustworthy, and said to her, 'Go this evening to Sodewa Bai's room, when she is asleep, and take from her neck the string of golden beads, fasten them round your own neck, and return to me. Those beads contain her soul, and as soon as you put them on, she will cease to live.' The negress agreed to do as she was told; for she had long known that her mistress hated Sodewa Bai, and desired nothing so much as her death. So that night, going softly into the sleeping Ranee's room, she stole the golden necklace, and, fastening it round her own neck, crept away without any one knowing what was done; and when the negress put on the necklace, Sodewa Bai's spirit fled.
Next morning the old Rajah and Ranee went as usual to see their daughter-in-law, and knocked at the door of her room. No one answered. They knocked again, and again; still no reply. They then went in, and found her lying there, cold as marble, and quite dead, though she had seemed very well when they saw her only the day before. They asked her attendants, who slept just outside her door, whether she had been ill that night, or if any one had gone into her room? But they declared they had heard no sound, and were sure no one had been near the place. In vain the Rajah and Ranee sent for the most learned doctors in the kingdom, to see if there was still any spark of life remaining; all said that the young Ranee was dead, beyond reach of hope or help.
Then the Rajah and Ranee were very grieved, and mourned bitterly; and because they desired that, if possible, Rowjee Rajah should see his wife once again, instead of burying her under ground, they placed her beneath a canopy in a beautiful tomb near a little tank, and would go daily to visit the place and look at her. Then did a wonder take place, such as had never been known throughout the land before! Sodewa Bai's body did not decay, nor the colour of her face change; and a month afterwards, when her husband returned home, she looked as fair and lovely as on the night on which she died. There was a fresh colour in her cheeks and on her lips; she seemed to be only asleep. When poor Rowjee Rajah heard of her death, he was so broken-hearted they thought he also would die. He cursed the evil fate that had deprived him of hearing her last words, or bidding her farewell, if he could not save her life; and from morning to evening he would go to her tomb and rend the air with his passionate lamentations, and looking through the grating to where she lay calm and still under the canopy, say, before he went away, 'I will take one last look at that fair face. To-morrow Death may have set his seal upon it. O loveliness too bright for earth! O lost, lost wife!'
The Rajah and Ranee feared that he would die, or go mad, and they tried to prevent his going to the tomb; but all was of no avail; it seemed to be the only thing he cared for in life.
Now the negress who had stolen Sodewa Bai's necklace used to wear it all day long, but late each night, on going to bed, she would take it off, and put it by till next morning, and whenever she took it off Sodewa Bai's spirit returned to her again, and she lived till day dawned and the negress put on the necklace, when she again died. But as the tomb was far from any houses, and the old Rajah and Ranee, and Rowjee Rajah, only went there by day, nobody found this out. When Sodewa Bai first came to life in this way she felt very frightened to find herself there all alone in the dark, and thought she was in prison; but afterwards she got more accustomed to it, and determined when morning came to look about the place, and find her way back to the palace, and recover the necklace she found she had lost (for it would have been dangerous to go at night through the jungles that surrounded the tomb, where she could hear the wild beasts roaring all night long); but morning never came, for whenever the negress awoke and put on the golden beads Sodewa Bai died. However, each night, when the Ranee came to life, she would walk to the little tank by the tomb, and drink some of the cool water, and return; but food she had none. Now no pearls or precious stones fell from her lips, because she had no one to talk to; but each time she walked down to the tank she scattered jewels on either side of her path; and one day, when Rowjee Rajah went to the tomb, he noticed all these jewels, and thinking it very strange (though he never dreamed that his wife could come to life), determined to watch and see whence they came. But although he watched and waited long, he could not find out the cause, because all day Sodewa Bai lay still and dead, and only came to life at night. It was just at this time, two whole months after she had been buried, and the night after the very day that Rowjee Rajah had spent in watching by the tomb, that Sodewa Bai had a little son; but directly after he was born, day dawned, and the mother died. The little lonely baby began to cry, but no one was there to hear him; and, as it chanced, the Rajah did not go to the tomb that day, for he thought, 'All yesterday I watched by the tomb and saw nothing; instead, therefore, of going to-day, I will wait till the evening, and then see again if I cannot find out how the jewels came there.'
So at night he went to the place. When he got there he heard a faint cry from inside the tomb; but what it was he knew not; perhaps it might be a Peri, or an evil spirit. As he was wondering, the door opened, and Sodewa Bai crossed the courtyard to the tank with a child in her arms, and as she walked showers of jewels fell on both sides of her path. Rowjee Rajah thought he must be in a dream; but when he saw the Ranee drink some water from the tank and return towards the tomb, he sprang up and hurried after her. Sodewa Bai, hearing footsteps follow her, was frightened, and running into the tomb, fastened the door. Then the Rajah knocked at it, saying, 'Let me in; let me in.' She answered, 'Who are you? Are you a Rakshas, or a spirit?' (For she thought, 'Perhaps this is some cruel creature who will kill me and the child.') 'No, no,' cried the Rajah, 'I am no Rakshas, but your husband. Let me in, Sodewa Bai, if you are indeed alive.' No sooner did he name her name than Sodewa Bai knew his voice, and unbolted the door and let him in. Then, when he saw her sitting on the tomb with the baby on her lap, he fell down on his knees before her, saying, 'Tell me, little wife, that this is not a dream.'—'No,' she answered, 'I am indeed alive, and this our child was born last night; but every day I die; for while you were away some one stole my golden necklace.'
Then for the first time Rowjee Rajah noticed that the beads were no longer round her neck. So he bade her fear nothing, for that he would assuredly recover them and return; and going back to the palace, which he reached in the early morning, he summoned before him the whole household.
Then, upon the neck of the negress, servant to the first Ranee, he saw Sodewa Bai's missing necklace, and seizing it, ordered his guards to take the woman to prison. The negress, frightened, confessed that all she had done was by the first Ranee's order, and how, at her command, she had stolen the necklace. And when the Rajah learnt this, he ordered that the first Ranee also should be imprisoned for life; and he and his father and mother all went together to the tomb, and placing the lost beads round Sodewa's Bai's neck, brought her and the child back in triumph with them to the palace. Then, at news of how the young Ranee had been restored to life, there was great joy throughout all that country, and many days were spent in rejoicings in honour of that happy event; and for the rest of their lives the old Rajah and Ranee, and Rowjee Rajah and Sodewa Bai, and all the family, lived in health and happiness.
- The Lady Good Fortune.