ONCE again, Vikram went to the tree, took down the corpse, threw it across his shoulder, and began walking toward the burial ground.
“O King,” said the Bethal of the corpse, “if only you knew how ungrateful men are, you would not be undergoing all this hardship for someone else. The very persons you have helped become deadly enemies to you when you displease them a little. Lohita, the goldsmith, provides a good instance. Let me tell you his odd tale.” And he began as follows:
During the days when Vala- bhi was a great centre of commerce, Dhana-Gupta lived there. He came from a distant place and settled there, so he had neither kith nor kin in that city. He led a lonely life, for the most part, his associations with others being that of a money-lender. After some time, Dhana-Gupta became old. He was reputed to possess gold and silver worth five or six lakhs.
One evening, about nightfall, he was returning from a neighbouring village when robbers attacked him. He was struck on the head and fell blee, ding and unconscious.
Later, Dhana-Gupta regained consciousness and began to continue his journey. Walking on at a slow pace, he reached the city’s outskirts around midnight. Here he saw an open gate with a man standing beside it.
The man was a goldsmith called Lohita. He had earned some money by his trade but had lost all of it through his efforts to make gold. His ambition was to turn lead into silver and brass into gold.
At that moment, he was alone in his house, his wife having gone to see her dying father. Lohita had spent the whole day near his furnace, and he had come out to cool himself only a few minutes ago.
Lohitadid does not recognise Dhana- Gupta, yet he runs forward to help the tottering older man. It was only when he saw the man in the light of the furnace that he identified him. “Is it you?” he asked in surprise, “How did it happen?”
“Robbers!” said Dhana-Gupta. “They cracked my skull!” The next moment he was dead.
Lohita could not decide what to do. He could shout and wake up his neighbours, but they might accuse him of killing the older man for his money. Dhana-Gupta was no longer alive to tell them the truth. No one had seen him enter Lohita’s house. So, the best thing for Lohita was to eliminate the older man.
And then Lohita recollected that this older man was reputed to have put by large quantities of wealth. Now that he was dead and there was no one to inherit his wealth, it would be confiscated by the King. Lohita decided that he would obtain it and keep it for himself.
Lohita was very devoted as a husband and a father. He struggled to make gold mainly for the benefit of his wife and children; He now decided to get at the wealth of Dhana-Gupta only for their sake.
He found a bunch of keys on the body of the dead man. With them, he went to his house. The streets were deserted. Lohita entered the house, opened the iron safe and found all the gold and silver Dhana-Gupta had in it. Lohita put all this gold and silver into a sack, closed the safe, locked the house, and returned home.
By daybreak, Lohita had concealed all the gold and silver in the loft and disposed of the dead body by burying it six feet deep in his backyard.
No one appeared to miss Dhana-Gupta for a couple of days, and then the inquiries started. The last thing that was known about him was that he had created for Valabhi from the neighbouring village at nightfall. After that, no one had seen him- except Lohita. It was presumed that Dhana Gupta was dead somewhere, somehow. The King’s representatives came to confiscate the dead man’s belongings. They broke into the house, broke the safe open and, to their dismay, found very little money in it. But there was nothing to indicate that any theft had occurred.
Soon everybody stopped talking about Dhana-Gupta. Lohita thought that he was now relatively safe. Shortly afterwards, his wife and children returned, and his mind was at rest.
“My dear,” Lohita said to his wife one day, “I heard that there is a great hermit at Banaras who knows how to make gold. I want to meet him and learn the secret. It will take six months for me to make the journey.”
His wife would not listen to it. “Stop worrying about gold. You are more than all the gold in the world to me, and I won’t bear to be away from you even for six days. Whatever you earn by your trade is enough for us to live happily.”
She was so adamant that Lohita had to take her into his confidence, and he told her the real secret. He also showed her the gold and silver hidden away in the loft.
“You see,” ” he told her, “we cannot enjoy all this unless I pretend to go to Banaras. For six months, I shall wander here and there. After that, we can openly live a luxurious life.”
To allay all suspicion, Lohita borrowed from friends the expenses for his trip to Banaras and the maintenance of his family for six months. Then he went away.
At the end of the six months, Lohita returned. No one saw him arrive since he came about midnight, Next morning, he invited all his friends and acquaintances to go and see how he had come back a rich man, thanks to the kindness of the hermit in Banaras. Lohita’s friends were utterly deceived. They complimented him on his luck and wished him all happiness.
Soon Lohita’s story got about, and a great confident man of the King’s court began to covet Lohita’s astounding wealth. This gentleman had a daughter who was remarkable for her good looks. The gentleman thought Lohita should get rid of his wife and children, marry his daughter, and lead a more dignified life. He picked up Lohita’s acquaintance, by which Lohita was incredibly flattered. After a time, the gentleman showed his daughter to Lohita and said, “Strangely enough, this girl has fallen in love with you! She refuses to marry anyone else. I know that you deserve her.”
Lohita was so overpowered by this chance of achieving aristocracy that he readily agreed to marry the gentleman’s daughter.
Lohita’s wife was in terrible distress when she heard about this marriage. She wept a great deal. She begged her husband not to marry again.
“You do not know anything,” Lohita replied. “It is too late now. Everything is settled.”
Now she was sure that Lohita did not love her and her children anymore, and she almost went mad. In a state of frenzy, she ran to the minister and said to him, “Your Highness, my husband murdered Dhana-Gupta and robbed his wealth. The corpse was buried in our backyard. You can have it dug up if you don’t believe me!”
This was found faithful when the King’s men went to Lohita’s house and dug up the backyard. Lohita was tried for murder and theft. He revealed the facts, but no one believed him, and he was sentenced to death.
The entire property of Lohita was confiscated, and he was hanged. His wife, who still loved him, burned herself on his funeral pyre.
Having narrated this story, Bethal said, “O King, who was responsible for the ruination that befell Lohita’s family? Was it his wife who brought a false charge against her husband because of blind jealousy? Was it Lohita himself who had robbed Dhana-Gupta? Or was it the King who failed to realise that Lohita was innocent of the murder? Your head shall split if you know the answer and still refuse to speak.”
“Lohita’s wife cannot be blamed for the disaster that befell Lohita’s family,” Vikram replied. “If she was jealous, she was also very much in love with her husband. She did the one possible thing to prevent the marriage between her husband and another woman. She was unhappy that her husband died, for she, too, died with him. Lohita was not to blame either. He did not commit theft, for by then, the property owner was already dead, and there were no heirs. If Dhana Gupta had lived a few more minutes, perhaps, he would have asked Lohita to take his wealth. Nor can I blame the King, for all available evidence pointed out that Lohita was the murderer of Dhana-Gupta: money being the motive. Now, I believe the wealth of Dhana-Gupta was the root cause of the ruination of Lohita’s family. But for that wealth, Dhana-Gupta would not have died, and Lohita would not have had the offer of the hand of an aristocratic girl. The same money drove Lohita’s wife to madness, resulting in her bringing a false charge against the husband she had loved so much, even in his poverty !”
The King’s silence was broken, and Bethal disappeared with the corpse and returned to the tree.