Once again, Vikram returned to the tree, got down the corpse, threw it across his shoulder and began to walk towards the burial ground. The Bethal of the corpse said to him, “I’m quite sorry to have put you to all this trouble, O King! Let me tell you a queer story so you’ll forget the strain of your endeavours.” And he began the following tale:
There was a particular merchant in a city called Tamra-lipti. He had a daughter named Dhana- vati. When she was old enough to be married, her father began searching for a suitable young man. But these efforts were cut short by an illness, resulting in the merchant dying.
At the time of his untimely death, the merchant had very few assets and huge debts. His wife, who wanted all her jewellery to go to her daughter, was naturally afraid that the creditors would seize it. So, one night, she made a bundle of all her ornaments and started for another country, taking her daughter along with her.
They made their way out of the city and across the burial ground in the dark. At one place, a thief was impaled that evening, and the older woman, not seeing him, knocked against the dying thief. In great pain, the thief whimpered, “Who is it that tortures a dying man?”
“I didn’t see you in the dark, my man,” the lady regretfully said.
“Who are you?” the thief asked. “Where are you going?”
“I am a merchant’s wife. This is my daughter. My husband has died, and I am searching for a proper husband for my daughter.”
The thief thought for a moment and said, “Good lady, I’m dying anyway. But I’ve neither a wife nor children. One who has no children cannot enter Heaven, as you know. If you make a traditional gift of your daughter to me now, she can marry someone else after my death, and her children will be legally mine, and I shall be able to go to Heaven. In return, I shall reveal where I’ve hidden all my wealth. You can be happy all your life.”
Out of greed, the older woman agreed to gift away her daughter to the dying thief in exchange for his wealth.
“All my gold is buried at the foot of that banian tree there,” said the thief, “Dig up that gold at once and in the meantime, I shall be dead. Then you can take down my corpse, have it cremated and submerge the ashes. Not far away is a place called Vakrolak. The King there is a good man. His subjects are very contented people. You can settle there.”
The woman dug up the hidden gold, took her daughter and went to Vakrolak. The next day she sent a messenger and got the thief’s corpse, had it cremated, and the ashes sub-merged.
Now, there was a depraved Brahman youth called Vishnu-swami in this city. He was a gambler and a worthless skunk but uncommonly handsome. He learned that a mother and daughter had come to this city recently and seemed well-off. After a time, he got acquainted with them and confessed to his mother that he wanted to marry Dhana-vati. Dhana-vati, on her side, was so taken up with the good looks of Vishnu-swami that she readily consented to marry him.
From the day he married her, Vishnu-swami began to harass his wife for money. Dhana-vati was so enamoured with her husband that she was willing to give him any money, but her mother did not allow it. Over time, Dhana-vati gave birth to a son.
“You are now the father of a son,” the elderly woman said to Vishnu-swami. “Even now, you have no sense of responsibility. Why don’t you earn some money instead of asking for it?”
Vishnu-swami was disgusted with the nagging of his mother-in-law. So one day, he absconded, leaving his wife and son to their fate. Soon afterwards, the older woman died, and poor Dhana-vati was left alone with her young babe. She saw that her future was bleak, that she would not be able to bring up the child all by herself. Gradually she got dis- gusted with life itself, and one night she left her son in a cot in the street, put all the money she had in a bag and placed the bag beside the child, and went away. She thought that someone would find the child in the morning and that they would bring him up with the money in the bag.
But the city’s King discovered the boy the following day. Early in the morning, he started for a ride on his horse and had to get down from his horse when he found a cot across the road. Thus he saw the babe and the bag of money. Being childless, he decided to bring up the child as his own. The child was adorable; the King thought it was a gift from God.
The boy was named Chandra-Prabhu and was brought up with the best care and attention that could be given to him. He was given the best possible education, and as soon as he came of age, he has crowned the future King of the realm.
Over time, the old King passed away. His son, Chandra-Prabhu, performed the cremation ceremony; he cares,ied out the prescribed prayers at Prayag and Banaras. Then he went to Gaya to leave the morsel offering at the Sacred Pool, But just as he was about to drop the morsel into the water, three hands rose out of it. One of the hands was the hand of the thief. Another was that of a Brahman. The third hand had a diamond ring- undoubtedly the hand of the dead King.
Having narrated the story thus far, Bethal asked Vikram, “O King, in which of these three hands should Chandra-Prabhu have placed the morsel? Should he have given it to his father, the Brahman, the King, or the thief? In short, which of them was his birth father? Your head shall be split if you know the answer and still do not speak!” “There is no doubt,” Vikram replied, “that the morsel should go to the thief alone. Vishnu-swami sold himself for money. As for the King, he was paid for bringing up the babe. In the case of the thief, Dhana-vati was, more gifted away to him, and he accepted her with the express desire to find Heaven with the help of her future son. Also, you must agree that the thief’s gold helped to lure Vishnu-swami into marrying Dhana-Vati and begetting a child with her. Again, the thief’s gold helped the King to bring up that child. So the morsel rightfully belongs to the thief.”
Vikram’s silence was broken, and Bethal returned to the tree with the corpse once again.