THE STORY OF THE SISTERS WHO ENVIED THEIR YOUNGER SISTER.
There was an emperor of Persia named Khoosroo Shaw, who, when he first came to his crown, in order to obtain a knowledge of affairs, took great pleasure in night adventures, attended by a trusty minister. He often walked in disguise through the city, and met with many adventures.
After the ceremonies of his father's funeral-rites and his own inauguration were over, the new sultan, as well from inclination as duty, went out one evening attended by his grand vizier, disguised like himself, to observe what was transacting in the city. As he was passing through a street in that part of the town inhabited only by the meaner sort, he heard some people talking very loud; and going close to the house whence the noise proceeded, and looking through a crack in the door, perceived a light, and three sisters sitting on a sofa, conversing together after supper. By what the eldest said, he presently understood the subjeft of their conversation was wishes: "For," said she, "since we have got upon wishes, mine shall be to have the sultan's baker for my husband, for then I shall eat my fill of that bread, which by way of excellence is called the sultan's: let us see if your tastes are as good as mine." "For my part," replied the second sister, "I wish I was wife to the sultan's chief cook, for then I should eat of the most excellent dishes; and as I am persuaded that the sultan's bread is common in the palace, I should not want any of that; therefore you see," addressing herself to her eldest sister, "that I have a better taste than you."
The youngest sister, who was very beautiful, and had more charms and wit than the two elder, spoke in her turn: "For my part, sisters," said she, "I shall not limit my desires to such trifles, but take a higher flight; and since we are upon wishing, I wish to be the emperor's queen consort. I would make him father of a prince, whose hair should be gold on one side of his head, and silver on the other; when he cried, the tears from his eyes should be pearl; and when he smiled, his vermilion lips should look like a rose-bud fresh blown."
The three sisters' wishes, particularly that of the youngest, seemed so singular to the sultan, that he resolved to gratify them in their desires; but without communicating his design to his grand vizier, he charged him only to take notice of the house, and bring the three sisters before him the following day.
The grand vizier, in executing the emperor's orders, would but just give the sisters time to dress themselves to appear before him, without telling them the reason. He brought them to the palace, and presented them to the emperor, who said to them, "Do you remember the wishes you expressed last night, when you were all in so pleasant a mood? Speak the truth; I must know what they were."
At these unexpected words of the emperor, the three sisters were much confounded. They cast down their eyes and blushed, and the colour which rose in the cheeks of the youngest quite captivated the emperor's heart. Modesty, and fear lest they might have offended the emperor by their conversation, kept them silent. The emperor perceiving their confusion, said, to encourage them, "Fear nothing, I did not send for you to distress you; and since I see that is the effect of the question I asked, without my intending it, as I know the wish of each, I will relieve you from your fears. You," added he, "who wished to be my wife shall have your desire this day; and you," continued he, addressing himself to the two elder sisters, "shall also be married to my chief baker and cook."
As soon as the sultan had declared his pleasure, the youngest sister, setting her eldest an example, threw herself at the emperor's feet, to express her gratitude. "Sir," said she, "my wish, since it is come to your majesty's knowledge, was expressed only in the way of conversation and amusement. I am unworthy of the honour you do me, and supplicate your pardon for my presumption." The two other sisters would have excused themselves also; but the emperor interrupting them, said, "No, no; it shall be as I have declared; every one's wish shall be fulfilled."
The nuptials were all celebrated that day, as the emperor had resolved, but in a different manner. The youngest sister's were solemnized with all the rejoicings usual at the marriages of the emperors of Persia; and those of the other two sisters according to the quality and distinction of their husbands; the one as the sultan's chief baker, and the other as head cook.
The two elder felt strongly the disproportion of their marriages to that of their younger sister. This consideration made them far from being content, though they were arrived at the utmost height of their late wishes, and much beyond their hopes. They gave themselves up to an excess of jealousy, which not only disturbed their joy, but was the cause of great troubles and afflictions to the queen consort their younger sister. They had not an opportunity to communicate their thoughts to each other on the preference the emperor had given her, but were altogether employed in preparing themselves for the celebration of their marriages. Some days afterwards, when they had an opportunity of seeing each other at the public baths, the eldest said to the other, "Well, what say you to our sister's great fortune? Is not she a fine person to be a queen!" "I must own," said the other sister, "I cannot conceive what charms the emperor could discover to be so bewitched by the young gipsy. Was it a reason sufficient for him not to cast his eyes on you, because she was somewhat younger? You were as worthy of his bed; and in justice he ought to have preferred you."
"Sister," said the elder, "I should not have regretted if his majesty had but pitched upon you; but that he should choose that hussy really grieves me. But I will revenge myself; and you, I think, are as much concerned as me; therefore I propose that we should contrive measures, and act in concert in a common cause: communicate to me what you think the likeliest way to mortify her, while I, on my side, will inform you what my desire of revenge shall suggest to me."
After this wicked agreement, the two sisters saw each other frequently, and consulted how they might disturb and interrupt the happiness of the queen. They proposed a great many ways, but in deliberating about the manner of executing them, found so many difficulties, that they durst not attempt them. In the mean time, they often went together to make her visits with a detestable dissimulation, and every time shewed her all the marks of affection they could devise, to persuade her how overjoyed they were to have a sister raised to so high a fortune. The queen, on her part, constantly received them with all the demonstrations of esteem they could expect: from a sister who was not puffed up with her high dignity, and loved them as cordially as before.
Some months after her marriage, the queen found herself to be with child. The emperor expressed great joy, which was communicated to all the court, and spread throughout the empire of Persia. Upon this news the two sisters came to pay their compliments, and proffered their service to deliver her, desiring her, if not provided with a midwife, to accept of them.
The queen said to them most obligingly, "Sisters, I should desire nothing more, if it was absolutely in my power to make the choice. I am however obliged to you for your good-will, but must submit to what the emperor shall order on this occasion. Let your husbands employ their friends to make interest, and get some courtier to ask this favour of his majesty; and if he speaks to me about it, be assured that I shall not only express the pleasure he does me, but thank him for making choice of you."
The two husbands applied themselves to some courtiers their patrons, and begged of them to use their interest to procure their wives the honour they aspired to. Those patrons exerted themselves so much in their behalf, that the emperor promised them to consider of the matter, and was as good as his word; for in conversation with the queen, he told her, that he thought her sisters were the most proper persons to assist her in her labour; but would not name them before he had asked her consent. The queen, sensible of the deference the emperor so obligingly paid her, said to him, "Sir, I was prepared to do as your majesty might please to command. But since you have been so kind as to think of my sisters, I thank you for the regard you have shewn them for my sake; and therefore I shall not dissemble, that I had rather have them than strangers."
The emperor named the queen's two sisters to be her midwives; and from that time they went frequently to the palace, overjoyed at the opportunity they should have of executing the detestable wickedness they had meditated against the queen.
When the queen's time was up she was safely delivered of a young prince, as bright as the day; but neither his innocence nor beauty could move the cruel hearts of the merciless sisters. They wrapped him up carelessly in his cloths, and put him into a basket, which they abandoned to the stream of a small canal, that ran under the queen's apartment, and declared that she was delivered of a little dead dog, which they produced. This disagreeable intelligence was announced to the emperor, who became so angry at the circumstance, that he was likely to have occasioned the queen's death, if his grand vizier had not represented to him, that he could not, without injustice, make her answerable for the caprices of nature.
In the mean time, the basket in which the little prince was exposed was carried by the stream beyond a wall, which bounded the prospect of the queen's apartment, and from thence floated with the current down the gardens. By chance the intendant of the emperor's gardens, one of the principal and most considerable officers of the kingdom, was walking in the garden by the side of this canal, and perceiving a basket floating, called to a gardener, who was not far off, to bring it to shore, that he might see what it contained. The gardener, with a rake which he had in his hand, drew the basket to the side of the canal, took it up, and gave it to him.
The intendant of the gardens was extremely surprised to see in the basket a child, which, though he knew it could be but just born, had very fine features. This officer had been married several years, but though he had always been desirous of having children, Heaven had never blessed him with any. This accident interrupted his walk: he made the gardener follow him with the child; and when he came to his own house, which was situated at the entrance into the gardens of the palace, went into his wife's apartment. "Wife," said he, "as we have no children of our own, God has sent us one. I recommend him to you; provide him a nurse, and take as much care of him as if he were our own son; for, from this moment, I acknowledge him as such." The intendant's wife received the child with great joy, and took particular pleasure in the care of him. The intendant himself would not inquire too narrowly whence the child came. He saw plainly it came not far off the queen's apartment; but it was not his business to examine too closely into what had passed, nor to create disturbances in a place where peace was so necessary.
The following year the queen consort was brought to bed of another prince, on whom the unnatural sisters had no more compassion than on his brother; but exposed him likewise in a basket, and set him adrift in the canal, pretending this time that the sultaness was delivered of a cat. It was happy also for this child that the intendant of the gardens was walking by the canal side, who had it carried to his wife, and charged her to take as much care of it as of the former; which was as agreeable to her inclination as it was to that of the intendant.
The emperor of Persia was more enraged this time against the queen than before, and she had felt the effects of his anger if the grand vizier's remonstrances had not prevailed.
The third time the queen lay in she was delivered of a princess, which innocent babe underwent the same fate as the princes her brothers; for the two sisters being determined not to desist from their detestable schemes, till they had seen the queen their younger sister at least cast off, turned out, and humbled, exposed this infant also on the canal. But the princess, as well as the two princes her brothers, was preserved from death by the compassion and charity of the intendant of the gardens.
To this inhumanity the two sisters added a lie and deceit as before. They produced a piece of wood, and affirmed it to be a false birth of which the queen had been delivered.
Khoosroo Shaw could no longer contain himself, when he was informed of the new extraordinary birth. "What!" said he; "this woman, unworthy of my bed, will fill my palace with monsters, if I let her live any longer! No, it shall not be; she is a monster herself, and I must rid the world of her." He pronounced sentence of death, and ordered the grand vizier to see it executed.
The grand vizier and the courtiers who were present cast themselves at the emperor's feet, to beg of him to revoke the sentence. "Your majesty, I hope, will give me leave," said the grand vizier, "to represent to you, that the laws which condemn persons to death were made to punish crimes; the three extraordinary labours of the queen are not crimes; for in what can she be said to have contributed towards them? Many other women have had, and have the same every day, and are to be pitied, but not punished. Your majesty may abstain from seeing her, but let her live. The affliction in which she will spend the rest of her life, after the loss of your favour, will be a punishment sufficiently distressing."
The emperor of Persia considered with himself, and reflecting that it was unjust to condemn the queen to death for what had happened, said, "Let her live then; I will spare her life; but it shall be on this condition, that she shall desire to die more than once every day. Let a wooden shed be built for her at the gate of the principal mosque, with iron bars to the windows, and let her be put into it, in the coarsest habit; and every Mussulmaun that shall go into the mosque to prayers shall spit in her face. If any one fail, I will have him exposed to the same punishment; and that I maybe punctually obeyed, I charge you, vizier, to appoint persons to see this done."
The emperor pronounced his sentence in such a tone that the grand vizier durst not further remonstrate; and it was executed, to the great satisfaction of the two envious sisters. A shed was built, and the queen, truly worthy of compassion, was put into it, and exposed ignominiously to the contempt of the people; which usage, as she did not deserve it, she bore with a patient resignation that excited the admiration as well as compassion of those who judged of things better than the vulgar.
The two princes and the princess were, in the mean time, nursed and brought up by the intendant of the gardens and his wife with all the tenderness of a father and mother; and as they advanced in age, they all shewed marks of superior dignity, but the princess in particular, which discovered itself every day by their docility and inclinations above trifles, different from those of common children, and by a certain air which could only belong to exalted birth. All this increased the affeftions of the intendant and his wife, who called the eldest prince Bahman, and the second Perviz, both of them names of the most ancient emperors of Persia, and the princess, Perie-zadeh, which name also had been borne by several queens and princesses of the kingdom.
As soon as the two princes were old enough, the intendant provided proper masters to teach them to read and write; and the princess their sister, who was often with them, shewing a great desire to learn, the intendant, pleased with her quickness, employed the same master to teach her also. Her emulation, vivacity, and piercing wit, made her in a little time as great a proficient as her brothers.
From that time the brothers and sister had the same masters in geography, poetry, history, and even the secret sciences; and made so wonderful a progress, that their tutors were amazed, and frankly owned that they could teach them no farther. At the hours of recreation, the princess learned to sing and play upon all sorts of instruments; and when the princes were learning to ride she would not permit them to have that advantage over her, but went through all the exercises with them, learning to ride also, to bend the bow, and dart the reed or javelin, and often-times outdid them in the race, and other contests of agility.
The intendant of the gardens was so overjoyed to find his adopted children so accomplished in all the perfections of body and mind, and that they so well requited the expense he had been at in their education, that he resolved to be at a still greater: for as he had till then been content only with his lodge at the entrance of the garden, and kept no country house, he purchased a country seat at a short distance from the city, surrounded by a large tract of arable land, meadows, and woods. As the house was not sufficiently handsome nor convenient, he pulled it down, and spared no expense in building a mansion more magnificent. He went every day to hasten, by his presence, the great number of workmen he employed; and as soon as there was an apartment ready to receive him, passed several days together there when his presence was not necessary at court; and by the same exertions, the interior was furnished in the richest manner, answerably to the magnificence of the edifice. Afterwards he made gardens, according to a plan drawn by himself. He took in a large extent of ground, which he walled round, and stocked with fallow deer, that the princes and princess might divert themselves with hunting when they chose.
When this country seat was finished and fit for habitation, the intendant of the gardens went and cast himself at the emperor's feet, and after representing how long he had served, and the infirmities of age which he found growing upon him, begged he would permit him to resign his charge into his majesty's disposal, and retire. The emperor gave him leave, with the more pleasure because he was satisfied with his long services, both in his father's reign and his own; and when he granted it, asked what he should do to recompense him? "Sir," replied the intendant of the gardens, "I have received so many obligations from your majesty and the late emperor your father of happy memory, that I desire no more than the honour of dying in your favour."
He took his leave of the emperor, and retired with the two princes and the princess to the country retreat he had built. His wife had been dead some years, and he himself had not lived above six months with them before he was surprised by so sudden a death, that he had not time to give them the least account of the manner in which he had discovered them.
The princes Bahman and Perviz, and the princess Perie-zadeh, who knew no other father than the intendant of the emperor's gardens, regretted and bewailed him as such, and paid all the honours in his funeral obsequies which love and filial gratitude required of them. Satisfied with the plentiful fortune he had left them, they lived together in perfect union, free from the ambition of distinguishing themselves at court, or aspiring to places of honour and dignity, which they might easily have obtained.
One day when the two princes were hunting, and the princess had remained at home, a religious old woman came to the gate, and desired leave to go in to say her prayers, it being then the hour. The servants asked the princess's permission, who ordered them to shew her into the oratory, which the intendant of the emperor's gardens had taken care to fit up in his house, for want of a mosque in the neighbourhood. She bade them also, after the good woman had finished her prayers, shew her the house and gardens, and then bring her to her.
The old woman went into the oratory, said her prayers, and when she came out two of the princess's women invited her to see the house and gardens; which civility she accepted, followed them from one apartment to another, and observed, like a person who understood what belonged to furniture, the nice arrangement of every thing. They conducted her also into the garden, the disposition of which she found so well planned, that she admired it, observing that the person who had formed it must have been an excellent master of his art. Afterwards she was brought before the princess, who waited for her in the great hall, which in beauty and richness exceeded all that she had admired in the other apartments.
As soon as the princess saw the devout woman, she said to her, "My good mother, come near and sit down by me. I am overjoyed at the happiness of having the opportunity of profiting for some moments by the good example and conversation of such a person as you, who have taken the right way by dedicating yourself to the service of God. I wish every one were as wise."
The devout woman, instead of sitting on a sofa, would only sit upon the edge of one. The princess would not permit her to do so, but rising from her seat,'and taking her by the hand, obliged her to come and sit by her. The good woman, sensible of the civility, said, "Madam, I ought not to have so much respect shewn me; but since you command, and are mistress of your own house, I will obey you." When she had seated herself, before they entered into any conversation, one of the princess's women brought a little low stand of mother of pearl and ebony, with a china dish full of cakes upon it, and many others set round it full of fruits in season, and wet and dry sweetmeats.
The princess took up one of the cakes, and presenting her with it, said, "Eat, good mother, and make choice of what you like best; you had need to eat after coming so far." "Madam," replied the good woman, "I am not used to eat such delicacies; but will not refuse what God has sent me by so liberal a hand as yours."
While the devout woman was eating, the princess ate a little too, to bear her company, and asked her many questions upon the exercise of devotion which she practised, and how she lived: all which she answered with great modesty. Talking of several things, at last she asked her what she thought of the house, and how she liked it.
"Madam," answered the devout woman, "I must certainly have very bad taste to disapprove any thing in it, since it is beautiful, regular, and magnificently furnished with exactness and judgment, and all its ornaments adjusted in the best manner. Its situation is an agreeable spot, and no garden can be more delightful; but yet if you will give me leave to speak my mind freely, I will take the liberty to tell you, that this house would be incomparable if it had three things which are wanting to complete it.""My good mother," replied the princess Perie-zadeh,"what are those? I conjure you, in God's name, to tell me what they are: I will spare nothing to get them, if it be possible."
"Madam," replied the devout woman, "the first of these three things is the speaking bird, so singular a creature, that it draws round it all the singing birds of the neighbourhood, which come to accompany his song. The second is the singing tree, the leaves of which are so many mouths, which form an harmonious concert of different voices, and never cease. The third is the yellow water of a gold colour, a single drop of which being poured into a vessel properly prepared, it increases so as to fill it immediately, and rises up in the middle like a fountain, which continually plays, and yet the basin never overflows."
"Ah! my good mother," cried the princess, "how much am I obliged to you for the knowledge of these curiosities! They are surprising, and I never before heard there were such wonderful rarities in the world; but as I am persuaded that you know, I expect that you should do me the favour to inform me where they are to be found."
"Madam," replied the good woman, "I should be unworthy the hospitality you have with so much goodness shewn me, if I should refuse to satisfy your curiosity in that point; and am glad to have the honour to tell you, that these curiosities are all to be met with in the same spot on the confines of this kingdom, towards India. The road to it lies before your house, and whoever you send needs but follow it for twenty days, and on the twentieth let him only ask the first person he meets where the speaking bird, singing tree, and yellow water are, and he will be informed." After saying this, she rose from her seat, took her leave, and went her way.
The princess Perie-zadeh's thoughts were so taken up with what the devout woman had told her of the speaking bird, singing tree, and yellow water, that she never perceived her departure, till she wanted to ask her some question for her better information; for she thought that what she had told her was not a sufficient reason for exposing herself by undertaking a long journey, possibly to no purpose. However, she would not send after her, but endeavoured to remember all she had told her; and when she thought she had recollected every word, took real pleasure in thinking of the satisfaction she should have if she could get these wonderful curiosities into her possession; but the difficulties she apprehended, and the fear of not succeeding, made her very uneasy.
She was absorbed in these thoughts when her brothers returned from hunting; who, when they entered the great hall, instead of finding her lively and gay, as she used to be be, were amazed to see her so pensive, and hanging down her head as if something troubled her.
"Sister," said prince Bahman,"what is become of all your mirth and gaiety? Are you not well? or has some misfortune befallen you? Has any body given you reason to be so melancholy? Tell us, that we may know how to act, and give you some relief. If any one has affronted you, we will resent his insolence."
The princess remained in the same posture some time without answering; but at last lifted up her eyes to look at her brothers, and then held them down again, telling them nothing disturbed her.
"Sister," said prince Bahman, "you conceal the truth from us; there must be something of consequence. It is impossible we could observe so sudden a change if nothing was the matter with you. You would not have us satisfied with the evasive answer you have given: do not conceal any thing, unless you would have us suspect that you renounce the strict union which has hitherto subsisted between us from our infancy."
The princess, who had not the smallest intention to offend her brothers, would not suffer them to entertain such a thought, but said, "When I told you nothing disturbed me, I meant nothing that was of importance to you; but to me it is of some consequence; and since you press me to tell you by our strict union and friendship, which are so dear to me, I will. You think, and I always believed so too, that this house was so complete that nothing was wanting. But this day I have learned that it wants three rarities, which would render it so perfect that no country seat in the world could be compared with it. These three things are, the speaking bird, the singing tree, and the yellow water. After she had informed them wherein consisted the excellency of these rarities, "A devout woman," added she, "has made this discovery to me, told me the place where they are to be found, and the way thither. Perhaps you may imagine these things to be trifles, and of little consequence to render our house complete, that without these additions it will always be thought sufficiently elegant with what it already contains, and that we can do without them. You may think as you please; but I cannot help telling you that I am persuaded they are absolutely necessary, and I shall not be easy without them. Therefore, whether you value them or not, I desire you to consider what person you may think proper for me to send in search of the curiosities I have mentioned."
"Sister," replied prince Bahman, "nothing can concern you in which we have not an equal interest. It is enough that you have an earnest desire for the things you mention to oblige us to take the same interest; but if you had not, we feel ourselves inclined of our own accord and for our own individual satisfaction. I am persuaded my brother is of the same opinion, and therefore we ought to undertake this conquest; for the importance and singularity of the undertaking deserve that name. I will take that charge upon myself; only tell me the place, and the way to it, and I will defer my journey no longer than till to-morrow."
"Brother," said prince Perviz, "it is not proper that you, who are the head and director of our family, should be absent. I desire my sister would join with me to oblige you to abandon your design, and allow me to undertake it. I hope to acquit myself as well as you, and it will be a more regular proceeding." "I am persuaded of your good-will, brother," replied prince Bahman, "and that you would succeed as well as myself in this journey; but I have resolved, and will undertake it. You shall stay at home with our sister, and I need not recommend her to you." He spent the remainder of the day in making preparations for his journey, and informing himself from the princess of the directions which the devout woman had left her.
The next morning Bahman mounted his horse, and Perviz and the princess embraced, and wished him a good journey. But in the midst of their adieus, the princess recollected what she had not thought of before. "Brother," said she, "I had quite forgotten the accidents which attend travellers. Who knows whether I shall ever see you again? Alight, I beseech you, and give up this journey. I would rather be deprived of the sight and possession of the speaking bird, singing tree, and yellow water, than run the risk of never seeing you more."
"Sister," replied Bahman, smiling at the sudden fears of the princess, "my resolution is fixed, but were it not, I should determine upon it now, and you must allow me to execute it. The accidents you speak of befall only those who are unfortunate; but there are more who are not so. However, as events are uncertain, and I may fail in this undertaking, all I can do is to leave you this knife."
Bahman, pulling a knife from his vestband, and presenting it in the sheath to the princess, said, "Take this knife, sister, and give yourself the trouble sometimes to pull it out of the sheath: while you see it clean as it is now, it will be a sign that I am alive; but if you find it stained with blood, then you may believe me dead, and indulge me with your prayers."
The princess could obtain nothing more of Bahman. He bade adieu to her and prince Perviz for the last time, and rode away. When he got into the road he never turned to the right hand nor to the left, but went direftly forward towards India. The twentieth day he perceived on the road side a hideous old man, who sat under a tree some small distance from a thatched house, which was his retreat from the weather.
His eye-brows were as white as snow, as was also the hair of his head; his whiskers covered his mouth, and his beard and hair reached down to his feet. The nails of his hands and feet were grown to an extensive length; a flat broad umbrella covered his head. He had no clothes, but only a mat thrown round his body.
This old man was a dervish, for many years retired from the world, to give himself up entirely to the service of God; so that at last be became what we have described.
Prince Bahman, who had been all that morning very attentive to see if he could meet with any body who could give him information of the place he was in search of, stopped when he came near the dervish, alighted, in conformity to the directions which the devout woman had given the princess Perie-zadeh, and leading his horse by the bridle, advanced towards him, and saluting him, said, "God prolong your days, good father, and grant you the accomplishment of your desires."
The dervish returned the prince's salutation, but so unintelligibly that he could not understand one word he said: prince Bahman perceiving that this difficulty proceeded from the dervish's whiskers hanging over his mouth, and unwilling to go any farther without the instructions he wanted, pulled out a pair of scissors he had about him, and having tied his horse to a branch of the tree, said, "Good dervish, I want to have some talk with you: but your whiskers prevent my understanding what you say: and if you will consent, I will cut off some part of them and of your eye-brows, which disfigure you so much that you look more like a bear than a man."
The dervish did not oppose the offer; and when the prince had cut off as much hair as he thought fit, he perceived that the dervish had a good complexion, and that he did not seem so old as he really was. "Good dervish," said he, "if I had a glass I would shew you how young you look: you are now a man, but before nobody could tell what you were."
The kind behaviour of prince Bahman made the dervish smile, and return his compliment. "Sir," said he, "whoever you are, I am obliged by the good office you have performed, and am ready to shew my gratitude by doing any thing in my power for you. You must have alighted here upon some account or other. Tell me what it is, and I will endeavour to serve you."
"Good dervish," replied prince Bahman, "I am in search of the speaking bird, the singing tree, and the yellow water; I know these three rarities are not far from hence, but cannot tell exactly the place where they are to be found; if you know, I conjure you to shew me the way, that I may not lose my labour after so long a journey."
The prince, while he spoke, observed that the dervish changed countenance, held down his eyes, looked very serious, and instead of making any reply, remained silent; which obliged him to say to him again, "Good father, I fancy you heard me; tell me whether you know what I ask you, that I may not lose my time, but inform myself somewhere else."
At last the dervish broke silence. "Sir," said he to prince Bahman, "I know the way you ask of me; but the regard which I conceived for you the first moment I saw you, and which is grown stronger by the service you have done me, kept me in suspense, whether I should give you the satisfaction you desire." "What motive can hinder you?" replied the prince; "and what difficulties do you find in so doing?" "I will tell you," replied the dervish; "the danger you are going to expose yourself to is greater than you may suppose. A number of gentlemen of as much bravery and courage as you can possibly possess have passed this way, and asked me the same question. When I had used all my endeavours to persuade them to desist, they would not believe me; at last, I yielded, to their importunities; I was compelled to shew them the way, and I can assure you they have all perished, for I have not seen one come back. Therefore, if you have any regard for your life, take my advice, go no farther, but return home."
Prince Bahman persisted in his resolution. "I will not suppose," said he to the dervish, "but that your advice is sincere. I am obliged to you for the friendship you express for me; but whatever may be the danger, nothing shall make me change my intention: whoever attacks me, I am well armed, and can say I am as brave as any one." "But they who will attack you are not to be seen," replied the dervish; "how will you defend yourself against invisible persons?" "It is no matter," answered the prince; "all you say shall not persuade me to do any thing contrary to my duty. Since you know the way, I conjure you once more to inform me."
When the dervish found he could not prevail upon prince Bahman, and that he was obstinately bent to pursue his journey notwithstanding his friendly remonstrance, he put his hand into a bag that lay by him and pulled out a bowl, which he presented to him. "Since I cannot prevail on you to attend to my advice," said he, "take this bowl; when you are on horseback throw it before you, and follow it to the foot of a mountain, where it will stop. As soon as the bowl stops, alight, leave your horse with the bridle over his neck, and he will stand in the same place till you return. As you ascend you will see on your right and left a great number of large black stones, and will hear on all sides a confusion of voices, which will utter a thousand injurious abuses to discourage you, and prevent your reaching the summit of the mountain. Be not afraid; but above all things, do not turn your head to look behind you; for in that instant you will be changed into such a black stone as those you see, which are all youths who have failed in this enterprise. If you escape the danger of which I give you but a faint idea, and get to the top of the mountain, you will see a cage, and in that cage is the bird you seek; ask him which are the singing tree and the yellow water, and he will tell you. I have nothing more to say; this is what you have to do, and the danger you have to avoid; but if you are prudent, you will take my advice, and not expose your life. Consider once more while you have time that the difficulty is almost insuperable."
"I am obliged to you for your repeated advice," replied prince Bahman, after he had received the bowl, "but cannot follow it. However, I will endeavour to conform myself to that part of it which bids me not look behind me as I shall ascend the mountain, and I hope to come and see you again soon, and thank you when I have obtained what I am seeking." After these words, to which the dervish made no other answer than that he should be overjoyed to see him again, the prince mounted his horse, took his leave of the dervish with a respectful salute, and threw the bowl before him.
The bowl rolled away unceasingly with as much swiftness as when prince Bahman first hurled it from his hand, which obliged him to put his horse to the same pace to avoid losing sight of it, and when it had reached the foot of the mountain it stopped. The prince alighted from his horse, laid the bridle on his neck; and having first surveyed the mountain, and seen the black stones, began to ascend; but had not gone four steps, before he heard the voices mentioned by the dervish, though he could see nobody. Some said, "Where is that fool going? where is he going? what would he have? do not let him pass." Others, "Stop him, catch him, kill him;" and others with a voice like thunder, "Thief! assassin! murderer!" while some in a gibing tone cried, "No, no, do not hurt him; let the pretty fellow pass, the cage and bird are kept for him."
Notwithstanding all these troublesome voices, prince Bahman ascended with courage and resolution for some time, but the voices redoubled with so loud a din near him, both behind and before, that at last he was seized with dread, his legs trembled under him, he staggered, and finding that his strength failed him, he forgot the dervish's advice, turned about to run down the hill, and was that instant changed into a black stone; a metamorphosis which had happened to many before him, who had attempted the ascent. His horse likewise underwent the same change.
From the time of prince Bahman's departure, the princess Perie-zadeh always wore the knife and sheath in her girdle, and pulled it out several times in a day, to know whether her brother was alive. She had the consolation to understand he was in perfect health, and to talk of him frequently with prince Perviz, who sometimes prevented her by asking her what news.
On the fatal day that prince Bahman was transformed into a stone, as prince Perviz and the princess were talking together in the evening, as usual, the prince desired his sister to pull out the knife to know how their brother did. The princess readily complied, and seeing the blood run down the point was seized with so much horror that she threw it down. "Ah! my dear brother," cried she, "I have been the cause of your death, and shall never see you more! Why did I tell you of the speaking bird, singing tree, and yellow water; or rather, of what importance was it to me to know whether the devout woman thought this house ugly or handsome, or complete or not? I wish to Heaven she had never addressed herself to me? Deceitful hypocrite!" added she, "is this the return you have made for the kind reception I gave you? Why did you tell me of a bird, a tree, and a water, which, imaginary as I am persuaded they are, by my dear brother's death, yet disturb me by your enchantment?"
Prince Perviz was as much afflicted at the death of prince Bahman as the princess; but not to waste time in needless regret, as he knew that she still passionately desired possession of the speaking bird, the singing tree, and the golden water, he interrupted her, saying, "Sister, our regret for our brother is vain and useless; our grief and lamentations cannot restore him to life; it is the will of God, we must submit to it, and adore the decrees of the Almighty without searching into them. Why should you now doubt of the truth of what the holy woman told you? do you think she spoke to you of three things that were not in being? and that she invented them on purpose to deceive you, who had given her no cause to do so, but received her with so much goodness and civility? Let us rather believe that our brother's death is owing to some error on his part, or some accident which we cannot conceive. It ought not therefore to prevent us from pursuing our object. I offered to go this journey, and am now more resolved than ever; his example has no effect upon my resolution; to-morrow I will depart."
The princess did all she could to dissuade prince Perviz, conjuring him not to expose her to the danger of losing two brothers; but he was obstinate, and all the remonstrances she could urge had no effeft upon him. Before he went, that she might know what success he had, he left her a string of a hundred pearls, telling her, that if they would not run when she should count them upon the string, but remain fixed, that would be a certain sign he had undergone the same fate as his brother; but at the same time told her he hoped it would never happen, but that he should have the happiness to see her again to their mutual satisfaction.
Prince Perviz, on the twentieth day after his departure, met the same dervish in the same place as his brother Bahman had done before him. He went diredly up to him, and after he had saluted, asked him, if he could tell him where to find the speaking bird, the singing tree, and the golden water? The dervish urged the same difficulties and remonstrances as he had done to prince Bahman, telling him, that a young gentleman, who very much resembled him, was with him a short time before; that, overcome by his importunity and pressing instances, he had shewn him the way, given him a guide, and told him how he should act to succeed; but that he had not seen him since, and doubted not but he had shared the same fate as all other adventurers.
"Good dervish," answered prince Perviz, "I know whom you speak of; he was my elder brother, and I am informed of the certainty of his death, but know not the cause." "I can tell you," replied the dervise; "he was changed into a black stone, as all I speak of have been; and you must expeft the same transformation, unless you observe more exaftly than he has done the advice I gave him, in case you persist in your resolution, which I once more entreat you to renounce."
"Dervish," said prince Perviz, "I cannot sufficiently express how much I am obliged for the concern you take in my life, who am a stranger to you, and have done nothing to deserve your kindness: but I thoroughly considered this enterprise before I undertook it, and I cannot now relinquish it: therefore I beg of you to do me the same favour you have done my brother. Perhaps I may have better success in following your direftions." "Since I cannot prevail with you," said the dervish, "to give up your obstinate resolution, if my age did not prevent me, and I could stand, I would get up to reach you a bowl I have here, which will shew you the way."
Without giving the dervish time to say more, the prince alighted from his horse and went to the dervish, who had taken a bowl out of his bag, in which he had a great many, and gave it him, with the same directions he had given prince Bahman; and after warning him not to be discouraged by the voices he should hear without seeing any body, however threatening they might be, but to continue his way up the hill till he saw the cage and bird, he let him depart.
Prince Perviz thanked the dervish, and when he had remounted, and taken leave, threw the bowl before his horse, and spurring him at the same time, followed it. When the bowl came to the bottom of the hill it stopped, the prince alighted, and stood some time to recollect the dervish's directions. He encouraged himself, and began to walk up with a resolution to reach the summit; but before he had gone above six steps, he heard a voice, which seemed to be near, as of a man behind him, say in an insulting tone, "Stay, rash youth, that I may punish you for your presumption."
Upon this affront the prince, forgetting the dervish's advice, clapped his hand upon his sword, drew it, and turned about to revenge himself; but had scarcely time to see that nobody followed him before he and his horse were changed into black stones.
In the mean time the princess Perie-zadeh, several times a day after her brother's departure, counted her chaplet. She did not omit it at night, but when she went to bed put it about her neck; and in the morning when she awoke counted over the pearls again to see if they would slide.
The day that prince Perviz was transformed into a stone, she was counting over the pearls as she used to do, when all at once they became immoveably fixed, a certain token that the prince her brother was dead. As she had determined what to do in case it should so happen, she lost no time in outward demonstrations of grief, which she concealed as much as possible; but having disguised herself in man's apparel, armed and equipped, she mounted her horse the next morning, having told her servants she should return in two or three days, and took the same road her brothers had done.
The princess, who had been used to ride on horseback in hunting, supported the fatigue of so long a journey better than most ladies could have done; and as she made the same stages as her brothers, she also met with the dervish on the twentieth day. When she came near him, she alighted off her horse, leading him by the bridle, went and sat down by the dervish, and after she had saluted him, said, "Good dervish, give me leave to rest myself; and do me the favour to tell me if you have not heard that there are somewhere in this neighbourhood a speaking bird, a singing tree, and golden water."
"Princess," answered the dervish, "for so I must call you, since by your voice I know you to be a woman disguised in man's apparel, I thank you for your compliment, and receive the honour you do me with great pleasure. I know the place well where these things are to be found: but what makes you ask me this question?"
"Good dervish," replied the princess, "I have had such a flattering relation of them given me, that I have a great desire to possess them." "Madam," replied the dervish, "you have been told the truth. These curiosities are more singular and surprising than they have been represented to you: but you have not been made acquainted with the difficulties which must be surmounted in order to obtain them. If you had been fully informed of these, you would not have undertaken so troublesome and dangerous an enterprise. Take my advice, go no farther, return, and do not urge me to contribute towards your ruin."
"Good father," said the princess, "I have travelled a great way, and should be sorry to return without executing my design. You talk of difficulties, and danger of life; but you do not tell me what those difficulties are, and wherein the danger consists. This is what I desire to know, that I may consider and judge whether I can trust my courage and strength to brave them."
The dervish repeated to the princess what he had said to the princes Bahman and Perviz, exaggerating the difficulties of climbing up to the top of the mountain, where she was to make herself mistress of the bird, which would inform her of the singing tree and golden water. He magnified the noise and din of the terrible threatening voices which she would hear on all sides of her, without seeing any body, and the great number of black stones, alone sufficient to strike terror. He entreated her to reflect that those stones were so many brave gentlemen, so metamorphosed for having omitted to observe the principal condition of success in the perilous undertaking, which was not to look behind them before they had got possession of the cage.
When the dervish had done, the princess replied, "By what I comprehend from your discourse, the difficulties of succeeding in this affair are, first, the getting up to the cage without being frightened at the terrible din of voices I shall hear; and secondly, not to look behind me: for this last, I hope I shall be mistress enough of myself to observe it. As to the first, I own that those voices, such as you represent them to be, are capable of striking terror into the most undaunted; but as in all enterprises and dangers every one may use stratagem, I desire to know of you if I may use any in one of so great importance." "And what stratagem is it you would employ?" said the dervish. "To stop my ears with cotton," answered the princess, "that the voices, however loud and terrible, may make the less impression upon my imagination, and my mind remain free from that disturbance which might cause me to lose the use of my reason."
"Princess," replied the dervish, "of all the persons who have addressed themselves to me for information, I do not know that ever one made use of the contrivance you propose. All I know is, that they all perished. If you persist in your design, you may make the experiment. You will be fortunate if it succeeds; but I would advise you not to expose yourself to the danger."
"My good father," replied the princess, "nothing can hinder my persisting in my design. I am sure my precaution will succeed, and am resolved to try the experiment. Nothing remains for me but to know which way I must go; I conjure you not to deny me the favour of that information." The dervish exhorted her again, for the last time, to consider well what she was going to do; but finding her resolute, he took out a bowl, and presenting it to her, said, "Take this bowl; mount your horse again, and when you have thrown it before you, follow it through all its windings, till it stops at the bottom of the mountain, there alight, and ascend the hill. Go; you know the rest."
After the princess had thanked the dervish, and taken her leave of him, she mounted her horse, threw the bowl before her, and followed it till it stopped at the foot of the mountain.
The princess alighted, stopped her ears with cotton; and after she had well examined the path leading to the summit, began with a moderate pace, and walked up with intrepidity. She heard the voices, and perceived the great service the cotton was to her. The higher she went, the louder and more numerous the voices seemed; but they were not capable of making any impression upon her. She heard a great many affronting speeches and raillery very disagreeable to a woman, which she only laughed at. "I mind not," said she to herself, "all that can be said, were it worse; I only laugh at them, and shall pursue my way. At last she got so high, that she could perceive the cage and the bird, which endeavoured, with the voices, to frighten her, crying in a thundering tone, notwithstanding the smallness of its size, "Retire, fool, and approach no nearer."
The princess, encouraged by this object, redoubled her speed, and by effort gained the summit of the mountain, where the ground was level; then running directly to the cage, and clapping her hand upon it, cried, "Bird, I have you, and you shall not escape me."
While Perie-zadeh was pulling the cotton out of her ears, the bird said to her, "Heroic princess, be not angry with me for joining with those who exerted themselves to preserve my liberty. Though in a cage, I was content with my condition; but since I am destined to be a slave, I would rather be yours than any other person's, since you have obtained me so courageously. From this instant, I swear inviolable fidelity, and an entire submission to all your commands. I know who you are; you do not: but the time will come when I shall do you essential service, which I hope you will think yourself obliged to me for. As a proof of my sincerity, tell me what you desire, and I am ready to obey you."
The princess's joy was the more inexpressible, because the conquest she had made had cost her the lives of two beloved brothers, and given her more trouble and danger than she could have imagined, notwithstanding what the dervish had represented to her. "Bird," said she, "it was my intention to have told you that I wish for many things which are of importance; but I am overjoyed that you have shewn your good-will and prevented me. I have been told that there is not far off a golden water, the property of which is very wonderful; before all things, I ask you to tell me where it is." The bird shewed her the place, which was just by, and she went and filled a little silver flagon which she had brought with her. She returned to the bird and said, "Bird, this is not enough; I want also the singing tree; tell me where it is." "Turn about," said the bird, "and you will see behind you a wood, where you will find this tree." The princess went into the wood, and by the harmonious concert she heard soon knew the tree among many others, but it was very large and high. She came back to the bird, and said to it, "Bird, I have found the singing tree, but I can neither pull it up by the roots, nor carry it." The bird replied, "It is not necessary that you should take it up by the roots; it will be sufficient to break off a branch, and carry it to plant in your garden; it will take root as soon as it is put into the earth, and in a little time will grow to as fine a tree as that you have seen."
When the princess had obtained possession of the three things which the devout woman had told her of, and for which she had conceived so great a desire, she said again to the bird, "Bird, what you have yet done for me is not sufficient. You have been the cause of the death of my two brothers, who must be among the black stones which I saw as I ascended the mountain. I wish to take them home with me."
The bird seemed reluctant to satisfy the princess in this point, and indeed made some difficulty to comply. "Bird," said the princess, "remember you told me that you were my slave. You are so; and your life is in my disposal." "That I cannot deny," answered the bird; "but although what you now ask is more difficult than all the rest, yet I will do it for you. Cast your eyes around," added he, "and look if you can see a little pitcher." "I see it already," said the princess. "Take it then," said he, "and as you descend the mountain, sprinkle a little of the water that is in it upon every black stone."
The princess took up the pitcher accordingly, carried with her the cage and bird, the flagon of golden water, and the branch of the singing tree, and as she descended the mountain, threw a little of the water on every black stone, which was changed immediately into a man; and as she did not miss one stone, all the horses, both of the princes her brothers, and of the other gentlemen, resumed their natural forms. She instantly recognized Bahman and Perviz, as they did her, and ran to embrace her. She returned their embraces, and expressed her amazement. "What do you here, my dear brothers?" said she; they told her they had been asleep. "Yes," replied she, "and if it had not been for me, perhaps you might have slept till the day of judgment. Do not you remember that you came to fetch the speaking bird, the singing tree, and the yellow water? and did not you see, as you came along, the place covered with black stones? Look and see if there be any now. The gentlemen and their horses who surround us, and you yourselves, were these black stones. If you desire to know how this wonder was performed," continued she, shewing the pitcher, which she set down at the foot of the mountain, having no further use for it, "it was done by virtue of the water which was in this pitcher, with which I sprinkled every stone. After I had made the speaking bird (which you see in this cage) my slave, by his directions I found out the singing tree, a branch of which I have now in my hand; and the yellow water, which this flagon is filled with; but being still unwilling to return without taking you with me, I constrained the bird, by the power I had over him, to afford me the means. He told me where to find this pitcher, and the use I was to make of it."
The princes Bahman and Perviz learnt by this relation the obligation they had to the princess their sister; as did all the other gentlemen, who were collected round, and expressed to the princess, that, far from envying her happiness in the conquest she had made, and which they all had aspired to, they thought they could not any otherwise acknowledge the favour she had done them, or better express their gratitude to her for restoring them to life again, than by declaring themselves all her slaves, and that they were ready to obey her in whatever she should command.
"Gentlemen," replied the princess, "if you had given any attention to my words you might have observed that I had no other intention in what I have done than to recover my brothers; therefore, if you have received any benefit, you owe me no obligation, and I have no further share in your compliment than your politeness towards me, for which I return you my thanks. In other respects, I regard each of you individually as free as you were before your misfortunes, and I rejoice with you at the happiness which has accrued to you by my means. Let us however stay no longer in a place where we have nothing to detain us; but mount our horses, and return to our respective homes."
The princess took her horse, which stood in the place where she had left him.--Before she mounted, prince Bahman desired her to give him the cage to carry. "Brother," replied the princess, "the bird is my slave, and I will carry him myself; if you will take the pains to carry the branch of the singing tree, there it is; only hold the cage while I get on horseback." When she had mounted her horse; and prince Bahman had given her the cage, she turned about and said to prince Perviz, "I leave the flagon of golden water to your care, if it will not be too much trouble for you to carry it." Prince Perviz took charge of it with pleasure.
When Bahman, Perviz, and all the gentlemen had mounted their horses, the princess waited for some of them to lead the way. The two princes paid that compliment to the gentlemen, and they again to the princess, who, finding that none of them would accept of the honour, but that it was reserved for her, addressed herself to them and said, "Gentlemen, I expect that some of you should lead the way;" to which one who was nearest to her, in the name of the rest, replied, "Madam, were we ignorant of the respect due to your sex, yet after what you have done for us there is no deference we would not willingly pay you, notwithstanding your modesty; we entreat you no longer to deprive us of the happiness of following you."
"Gentlemen," said the princess, "I do not deserve the honour you do me, and accept it only because you desire it." At the same time she led the way, and the two princes and the gentlemen followed.
This illustrious company called upon the dervish as they passed, to thank him for his reception and wholesome advice, which they had all found to be sincere. But he was dead: whether of old age, or because he was no longer necessary to shew the way to the obtaining the three rarities which the princess Perie-zadeh had secured, did not appear. They pursued their route, but lessened in their numbers every day. The gentlemen who, as we said before, had come from different countries, after severally repeating their obligations to the princess and her brothers, took leave of them one after another as they approached the road they had come.
As soon as the princess reached home, she placed the cage in the garden; and the bird no sooner began to warble than he was surrounded by nightingales, chaffinches, larks, linnets, goldfinches, and every species of birds of the country. And the branch of the singing tree was no sooner set in the midst of the parterre, a little distance from the house, than it took root, and in a short time became a large tree, the leaves of which gave as harmonious a concert as those of the tree from which it was gathered. A large basin of beautiful marble was placed in the garden; and when it was finished, the princess poured into it all the yellow water from the flagon, which instantly increased and swelled so much that it soon reached up to the edges of the basin, and afterwards formed in the middle a fountain twenty feet high, which fell again into the basin perpetually without running over.
The report of these wonders was presently spread abroad, and as the gates of the house and those of the gardens were shut to nobody, a great number of people came to admire them.
Some days after, when the princes Bahman and Perviz had recovered from the fatigue of their journey, they resumed their former way of living; and as their usual diversion was hunting, they mounted their horses and went for the first time since their return, not to their own demesne, but two or three leagues from their house. As they pursued their sport, the emperor of Persia came in pursuit of game upon the same ground. When they perceived by the number of horsemen in different places that he would soon be up, they resolved to discontinue their chase, and retire to avoid encountering him; but in the very road they took they chanced to meet him in so narrow a way that they could not retreat without being seen. In their surprise they had only time to alight, and prostrate themselves before the emperor, without lifting up their heads to look at him. The emperor, who saw they were as well mounted and dressed as if they had belonged to his court, had the curiosity to see their faces. He stopped, and commanded them to rise. The princes rose up, and stood before him with an easy and graceful air, accompanied with respeftful modest countenances. The emperor took some time to view them before he spoke: and after he had admired their good air and mien, asked them who they were, and where they lived.
"Sir," said prince Bahman, "we are the sons of the late intendant of your majesty's gardens: and live in a house which he built a little before he died, till we should be fit to serve your majesty, and ask of you some employ when opportunity offered."
"By what I perceive," replied the emperor, "you love hunting." "Sir," replied prince Bahman, "it is our common exercise, and what none of your majesty's subjects who intend to bear arms in your armies ought, according to the ancient custom of the kingdom, to neglect." The emperor, charmed with so prudent an answer, said, "Since it is so, I should be glad to see your expertness in the chase; choose your own game.
The princes mounted their horses again, and followed the emperor; but had not gone far before they saw many wild beasts together. Prince Bahman chose a lion, and prince Perviz a bear; and pursued them with so much intrepidity, that the emperor was surprised. They came up with their game nearly at the same time, and darted their javelins with so much skill and address, that they pierced, the one the lion, and the other the bear, so effectually, that the emperor saw them fall one after the other. Immediately afterwards prince Bahman pursued another bear, and prince Perviz another lion, and killed them in a short time, and would have beaten out for fresh game, but the emperor would not let them, and sent to them to come to him. When they approached he said, "If I would have given you leave, you would soon have destroyed all my game: but it is not that which I would preserve, but your persons; for I am so well assured your bravery may one time or other be serviceable to me, that from this moment your lives will be always dear to me."
The emperor, in short, conceived so great a kindness for the two princes, that he invited them immediately to make him a visit: to which prince Bahman replied, "Your majesty does us an honour we do not deserve; and we beg you will excuse us."
The emperor, who could not comprehend what reason the princes could have to refuse this token of his favour, pressed them to tell him why they excused themselves. "Sir," said prince Bahman, "we have a sister younger than ourselves, with whom we live in such perfect union, that we undertake nothing before we consult her, nor she any thing without asking our advice." "I commend your brotherly affection," answered the emperor. "Consult your sister, meet me here tomorrow, and give me an answer."
The princes went home, but neglected to speak of their adventure in meeting the emperor, and hunting with him, and also of the honour he had done them, by asking them to go home with him; yet did not the next morning fail to meet him at the place appointed. "Well," said the emperor, "have you spoken to your sister? And has she consented to the pleasure I expect of seeing you?" The two princes looked at each other and blushed. "Sir," said prince Bahman, "we beg your majesty to excuse us: for both my brother and I forgot." "Then remember to-day," replied the emperor, "and be sure to bring me an answer to-morrow."
The princes were guilty of the same fault a second time, and the emperor was so good-natured as to forgive their negligence; but to prevent their forgetfulness the third time, he pulled three little golden balls out of a purse, and put them into prince Bahman's bosom. "These balls," said he, smiling, "will prevent your forgetting a third time what I wish you to do for my sake; since the noise they will make by falling on the floor, when you undress, will remind you, if you do not recollect it before." The event happened just as the emperor foresaw; and without these balls the princes had not thought of speaking to their sister of this affair. For as prince Bahman unloosed his girdle to go to bed the balls dropped on the floor, upon which he ran into prince Perviz's chamber, when both went into the princess Perie-zadeh's apartment, and after they had asked her pardon for coming at so unseasonable a time, they told her all the circumstances of their meeting the emperor.
The princess was somewhat surprised at this intelligence. "Your meeting with the emperor," said she, "is happy and honourable, and may in the end be highly advantageous to you, but it is very disagreeable and distrustful to me. It was on my account, I know, you refused the emperor, and I am infinitely obliged to you for doing so. I know by this your affection is equal to my own, since you would rather be guilty of incivility towards the emperor than violate the brotherly union we have sworn to each other. You judge right, for if you had once gone you would insensibly have been engaged to leave me, to devote yourselves to him. But do you think it an easy matter absolutely to refuse the emperor what he seems so earnestly to desire? Monarchs will be obeyed in their desires, and it may be dangerous to oppose them; therefore, if to follow my inclination I should dissuade you from shewing the complaisance he expects from you, it may expose you to his resentment, and may render myself and you miserable. These are my sentiments: but before we conclude upon any thing let us consult the speaking bird, and hear what he says; he is penetrating, and has promised his assistance in all difficulties."
The princess sent for the cage, and after she had related the circumstances to the bird in the presence of her brothers, asked him what they should do in this perplexity? The bird answered, "The princes your brothers must conform to the emperor's pleasure, and in their turn invite him to come and see your house."
"But, bird," replied the princess, "my brothers and I love one another, and our friendship is yet undisturbed. Will not this step be injurious to that friendship?" "Not at all," replied the bird; "it will tend rather to cement it." "Then," answered the princess, "the emperor will see me." The bird told her it was necessary he should, and that everything would go better afterwards.
Next morning the princes met the emperor hunting, who, at as great a distance as he could make himself be heard, asked them if they had remembered to speak to their sister? Prince Bahman approached, and answered, "Sir, your majesty may dispose of us as you please; we are ready to obey you; for we have not only obtained our sister's consent with great ease, but she took it amiss that we should pay her that deference in a matter wherein our duty to your majesty was concerned. But if we have offended, we hope you will pardon us." "Do not be uneasy on that account," replied the emperor; "so far from taking amiss what you have done, I highly approve of your conduct, and hope you will have the same deference and attachment to my person, if I have ever so little share in your friendship." The princes, confounded at the emperor's goodness, returned no other answer but a low obeisance, to shew the great respect with which they received it.
The emperor, contrary to his usual custom, did not hunt long that day. Presuming that the princes possessed wit equal to their courage and bravery, he longed with impatience to converse with them more at liberty. He made them ride on each side of him, an honour which, without speaking of the principal courtiers who accompanied him, was envied by the grand vizier, who was much mortified to see them preferred before him.
When the emperor entered his capital, the eyes of the people, who stood in crowds in the streets, were fixed upon the two princes Bahman and Perviz; and they were earnest to know who they might be, whether foreigners or natives.
All, however, agreed in wishing that the emperor had been blessed with two such handsome princes, and said, "He might have had children as old, if the queen, who had suffered the punishment of her misfortune, had been more fortunate in her lyings-in."
The first thing that the emperor did when he arrived at his palace was to conduct the princes into the principal apartments; who praised without affectation, like persons conversant in such matters, the beauty and symmetry of the rooms, and the richness of the furniture and ornaments. Afterwards a magnificent repast was served up, and the emperor made them sit with him, which they at first refused; but finding it was his pleasure, they obeyed.
The emperor, who had himself much learning, particularly in history, foresaw that the princes, out of modesty and respect, would not take the liberty of beginning any conversation. Therefore, to give them an opportunity, he furnished them with subjects all dinner-time. But whatever subject he introduced, they shewed so much wit, judgment, and discernment, that he was struck with admiration. "Were these my own children," said he to himself, "and I had improved their talents by suitable education, they could not have been more accomplished or better informed." In short, he took such great pleasure in their conversation, that after having sat longer than usual he led them into his closet, where he pursued his conversation with them, and at last said, "I never supposed that there were among my subjects in the country youths so well brought up, so lively, so capable; and I never was better pleased with any conversation than yours: but it is time now we should relax our minds with some diversion; and as nothing is more capable of enlivening the mind than music, you shall hear a vocal and instrumental concert which may not be disagreeable to you."
The emperor had no sooner spoken for them than the musicians, who had orders to attend, entered, and answered fully the expectations the princes had been led to entertain of their abilities. After the concerts, an excellent farce was acted, and the entertainment was concluded by dancers of both sexes.
The two princes seeing night approach, prostrated themselves at the emperor's feet; and having first thanked him for the favours and honours he had heaped upon them, asked his permission to retire; which was granted by the emperor, who, in dismissing them, said, "I give you leave to go; but remember I brought you to the palace myself only to shew you the way; you will be always welcome, and the oftener you come the greater pleasure you will do me."
Before they went out of the emperor's presence, prince Bahman said, "Sir, may we presume to request that your majesty will do us and our sister the honour to pass by our house, and rest and refresh yourself after your fatigue, the first time you take the diversion of hunting in that neighbourhood? It is not worthy your presence; but monarchs sometimes have vouchsafed to take shelter in a cottage." "My children," replied the emperor; "your house cannot be otherwise than beautiful, and worthy of its owners. I will call and see it with pleasure, which will be the greater for having for my hosts you and your sister, who is already dear to me from the account you give me of the rare qualities with which she is endowed; and this satisfaction I will defer no longer than to-morrow. Early in the morning I will be at the place where I shall never forget that I first saw you. Meet me, and you shall be my guides."
When the princes Bahman and Perviz had returned home, they gave the princess an account of the distinguished reception the emperor had given them; and told her that they had invited him to do them the honour, as he passed by, to call at their house; and that he had appointed the next day.
"If it be so," replied the princess, "we must think of preparing a repast fit for his majesty; and for that purpose I think it would be proper we should consult the speaking bird, he will tell us perhaps what meats the emperor likes best." The princes approved of her plan, and after they had retired she consulted the bird alone. "Bird," said she, "the emperor will do us the honour to-morrow to come and see our house, and we are to entertain him; tell us what we shall do to acquit ourselves to his satisfaction."
"Good mistress," replied the bird, "you have excellent cooks, let them do the best they can; but above all things, let them prepare a dish of cucumbers stuffed full of pearls, which must be set before the emperor in the first course before all the other dishes."
"Cucumbers stuffed full of pearls!" cried princess Perie-zadeh, with amazement; "surely, bird, you do not know what you say; it is an unheard-of dish. The emperor may admire it as a piece of magnificence, but he will sit down to eat, and not to admire pearls; besides, all the pearls I possess are not enough for such a dish."
"Mistress," said the bird, "do what I say, and be not uneasy about what may happen. Nothing but good will follow. As for the pearls, go early to-morrow morning to the foot of the first tree on your right hand in the park, dig under it, and you will find more than you want."
That night the princess ordered a gardener to be ready to attend her, and the next morning early led him to the tree which the bird had told her of, and bade him dig at its foot. When the gardener came to a certain depth, he found some resistance to the spade, and presently discovered a gold box about a foot square, which he shewed the princess. "This," said she, "is what I brought you for; take care not to injure it with the spade."
When the gardener took up the box, he gave it into the princess's hands, who, as it was only fastened with neat little hasps, soon opened it, and found it full of pearls of a moderate size, but equal, and fit for the use that was to be made of them. Very well satisfied with having found this treasure, after she had shut the box again she put it under her arm, and went back to the house, while the gardener threw the earth into the hole at the foot of the tree as it had been before.
The princes Bahman and Perviz, who, as they were dressing themselves in their own apartments, saw the princess their sister in the garden earlier than usual, as soon as they could get out went to her, and met her as she was returning, with a gold box under her arm, which much surprised them. "Sister," said Bahman, "you carried nothing with you when we saw you before with the gardener, and now we see you have a golden box: is this some treasure found by the gardener, and did he come and tell you of it?"
"No, brother," answered the princess; "I took the gardener to the place where this casket was concealed, and shewed him where to dig: but you will be more amazed when you see what it contains."
The princess opened the box, and when the princes saw that it was full of pearls, which, though small, were of great value; they asked her how she came to the knowledge of this treasure? "Brothers," said she, "if nothing more pressing calls you elsewhere, come with me, and I will tell you." "What more pressing business," said prince Perviz, "can we have than to be informed of what concerns us so much? We have nothing to do to prevent our attending you." The princess, as they returned to the house, gave them an account of her having consulted the bird, as they had agreed she should, and the answer he had given her; the objection she had raised to preparing a dish of cucumbers stuffed full of pearls, and how he had told her where to find this box. The princes and princess formed many conjectures to penetrate into what the bird could mean by ordering them to prepare such a dish; and after much conversation, though they could not by any means guess at his reason, they nevertheless agreed to follow his advice exactly.
As soon as the princess entered the house, she called for the head cook; and after she had given him directions about the entertainment for the emperor, said to him, "Besides all this, you must dress an extraordinary dish for the emperor's own eating, which nobody else must have any thing to do with besides yourself. This dish must be of cucumbers stuffed with these pearls;" and at the same time she opened him the box, and shewed him the pearls.
The chief cook, who had never heard of such a dish, started back, and shewed his thoughts by his looks; which the princess penetrating, said, "I see you take me to be mad to order such a dish, which you never heard of, and which one may say with certainty was never made. I know this as well as you; but I am not mad, and give you these orders with the most perfect recollection. You must invent and do the best you can, and bring me back what pearls are left." The cook could make no reply, but took the box and retired: and afterwards the princess gave directions to all the domestics to have every thing in order, both in the house and gardens, to receive the emperor.
Next day the two princes went to the place appointed; and as soon as the emperor of Persia arrived the chase began, which lasted till the heat of the sun obliged him to leave off. While prince Bahman stayed to conduit the emperor to their house, prince Perviz rode before to shew the way, and when he came in sight of the house, spurred his horse, to inform the princess Perie-zadeh that the emperor was approaching; but she had been told by some servants whom she had placed to give notice, and the prince found her waiting ready to receive him.
When the emperor had entered the court-yard, and alighted at the portico, the princess came and threw herself at his feet, and the two princes informed him she was their sister, and besought him to accept her respects.
The emperor stooped to raise her, and after he had gazed some time on her beauty, struck with her fine person and dignified air, he said, "The brothers are worthy of the sister, and she worthy of them; since, if I may judge of her understanding by her person, I am not amazed that the brothers would do nothing without their sister's consent; but," added he, "I hope to be better acquainted with you, my daughter, after I have seen the house."
"Sir," said the princess, "it is only a plain country residence, fit for such people as we are, who live retired from the great world. It is not to be compared with houses in great cities, much less with the magnificent palaces of emperors." "I cannot perfectly agree with you in opinion," said the emperor very obligingly, "for its first appearance makes me suspect you; however, I will not pass my judgment upon it till I have seen it all; therefore be pleased to conduct me through the apartments."
The princess led the emperor through all the rooms except the hall; and, after he had considered them very attentively and admired their variety, "My daughter," said he to the princess, "do you call this a country house? The finest and largest cities would soon be deserted, if all country houses were like yours. I am no longer surprised that you take so much delight in it, and despise the town. Now let me see the garden, which I doubt not is answerable to the house."
The princess opened a door which led into the garden; and the first object which presented itself to the emperor's view was the golden fountain. Surprised at so rare an object, he asked from whence that wonderful water, which gave so much pleasure to behold, had been procured; where was its source; and by what art it was made to play so high, that he thought nothing in the world was to be compared to it? He said he would presently take a nearer view of it.
The princess then led him to the spot where the harmonious tree was planted; and there the emperor heard a concert, different from all he had ever heard before; and stopping to see where the musicians were, he could discern nobody far or near; but still distinctly heard the music, which ravished his senses. "My daughter," said he to the princess, "where are the musicians whom I hear? Are they under ground, or invisible in the air? Such excellent performers will hazard nothing by being seen; on the contrary, they would please the more."
"Sir," answered the princess smiling, "they are not musicians, but the leaves of the trees your majesty sees before you, which form this concert; and if you will give yourself the trouble to go a little nearer, you will be convinced, and the voices will be the more distinct."
The emperor went nearer, and was so charmed with the sweet harmony, that he would never have been tired with hearing it, but that his desire to have a nearer view of the fountain of yellow water forced him away. "Daughter," said he, "tell me, I pray you, whether this wonderful tree was found in your garden by chance, or was a present made to you, or have you procured it from some foreign country? It must certainly have come from a great distance, otherwise, curious as I am after natural rarities, I should have heard of it. What name do you call it by?"
"Sir," replied the princess, "this tree has no other name than that of the singing tree, and is not a native of this country. It would at present take up too much time to tell your majesty by what adventures it came here; its history is connected with the yellow water, and the speaking bird, which came to me at the same time, and which your majesty may see after you have taken a nearer view of the golden water. But if it be agreeable to your majesty, after you have rested yourself, and recovered the fatigue of hunting, which must be the greater because of the sun's intense heat, I will do myself the honour of relating it to you."
"My daughter," replied the emperor, "my fatigue is so well recompensed by the wonderful things you have shewn me, that I do not feel it the least. I think only of the trouble I give you. Let us finish by seeing the yellow water. I am impatient to see and admire the speaking bird."
When the emperor came to the yellow water, his eyes were fixed so steadfastly upon the fountain, that he could not take them off. At last, addressing himself to the princess, he said, "As you tell me, daughter, that this water has no spring or communication, I conclude that it is foreign, as well as the singing tree."
"Sir," replied the princess, "it is as your majesty conjectures; and to let you know that this water has no communication with any spring, I must inform you that the basin is one entire stone, so that the water cannot come in at the sides or underneath. But what your majesty will think most wonderful is, that all this water proceeded but from one small flagon, emptied into this basin, which increased to the quantity you see, by a property peculiar to itself, and formed this fountain." "Well," said the emperor, going from the fountain, "this is enough for one time. I promise myself the pleasure to come and visit it often; but now let us go and see the speaking bird."
As he went towards the hall, the emperor perceived a prodigious number of singing birds in the trees around, filling the air with their songs and warblings, and asked, why there were so many there, and none on the other trees in the garden? "The reason, sir," answered the princess, "is, because they come from all parts to accompany the song of the speaking bird, which your majesty may see in a cage in one of the windows of the hall we are approaching; and if you attend, you will perceive that his notes are sweeter than those of any of the other birds, even the nightingale."
The emperor went into the hall; and as the bird continued singing, the princess raised her voice, and said, "My slave, here is the emperor, pay your compliments to him." The bird left off singing that instant, when all the other birds ceased also, and it said, "The emperor is welcome; God prosper him, and prolong his life." As the entertainment was served on the sofa near the window where the bird was placed, the sultan replied, as he was taking his seat, "Bird, I thank you, and am overjoyed to find in you the sultan and king of birds."
As soon as the emperor saw the dish of cucumbers set before him, thinking it was stuffed in the best manner, he reached out his hand and took one; but when he cut it, was in extreme surprise to find it stuffed with pearls. "What novelty is this?" said he "and with what design were these cucumbers stuffed thus with pearls, since pearls are not to be eaten?" He looked at the two princes and princess to ask them the meaning: when the bird interrupting him, said, "Can your majesty be in such great astonishment at cucumbers stuffed with pearls, which you see with your own eyes, and yet so easily believe that the queen your wife was delivered of a dog, a cat, and a piece of wood?" "I believed these things," replied the emperor, "because the midwives assured me of the facts." "Those midwives, sir," replied the bird, "were the queen's two sisters, who, envious of her happiness in being preferred by your majesty before them, to satisfy their envy and revenge, have abused your majesty's credulity. If you interrogate them, they will confess their crime. The two brothers and the sister whom you see before you are your own children, whom they exposed, and who were taken in by the intendant of your gardens, who provided nurses for them, and took care of their education."
This speech of the bird's presently cleared up the emperor's understanding. "Bird," cried he, "I believe the truth which you discover to me. The inclination which drew me to them told me plainly they must be my own blood. Come then, my sons, come, my daughter, let me embrace you, and give you the first marks of a father's love and tenderness." The emperor then rose, and after having embraced the two princes and the princess, and mingled his tears with theirs, said, "It is not enough, my children; you must embrace each other, not as the children of the intendant of my gardens, to whom I have been so much obliged for preserving your lives, but as my own children, of the royal blood of the monarchs of Persia, whose glory, I am persuaded, you will maintain."
After the two princes and princess had embraced mutually with new satisfaction, the emperor sat down again with them, and finished his meal in haste; and when he had done, said, "My children, you see in me your father; to-morrow I will bring the queen your mother, therefore prepare to receive her."
The emperor afterwards mounted his horse, and returned with expedition to his capital. The first thing he did, as soon as he had alighted and entered his palace, was to command the grand vizier to seize the queen's two sisters. They were taken from their houses separately, convicted, and condemned to be quartered; which sentence was put in execution within an hour.
In the mean time the emperor Khoosroo Shaw, followed by all the lords of his court who were then present, went on foot to the door of the great mosque; and after he had taken the queen out of the strict confinement she had languished under for so many years, embracing her in the miserable condition to which she was then reduced, said to her with tears in his eyes, "I come to entreat your pardon for the injustice I have done you, and to make you the reparation I ought; which I have begun, by punishing the unnatural wretches who put the abominable cheat upon me; and I hope you will look upon it as complete, when I present to you two accomplished princes, and a lovely princess, our children. Come and resume your former rank, with all the honours which are your due." All this was done and said before great crowds of people, who flocked from all parts at the first news of what was passing, and immediately spread the joyful intelligence through the city.
Next morning early the emperor and queen, whose mournful humiliating dress was changed for magnificent robes, went with all their court to the house built by the intendant of the gardens, where the emperor presented the princes Bahman and Perviz, and the princess Perie-zadeh, to their enraptured mother. "These, much injured wife," said he, "are the two princes your sons, and this princess your daughter; embrace them with the same tenderness I have done, since they are worthy both of me and you." The tears flowed plentifully down their cheeks at these tender embraces, especially the queen's, from the comfort and joy of having two such princes for her sons, and such a princess for her daughter, on whose account she had so long endured the severest afflictions.
The two princes and the princess had prepared a magnificent repast for the emperor and queen, and their court. As soon as that was over, the emperor led the queen into the garden, and shewed her the harmonious tree and the beautiful effect of the yellow fountain. She had seen the bird in his cage, and the emperor had spared no panegyric in his praise during the repast.
When there was nothing to detain the emperor any longer, he took horse, and with the princes Bahman and Perviz on his right hand, and the queen consort and the princess at his left, preceded and followed by all the officers of his court, according to their rank, returned to his capital. Crowds of people came out to meet them, and with acclamations of joy ushered them into the city, where all eyes were fixed not only upon the queen, the two princes, and the princess, but also upon the bird, which the princess carried before her in his cage, admiring his sweet notes, which had drawn all the other birds about him, which followed him, flying from tree to tree in the country, and from one house-top to another in the city. The princes Bahman and Perviz, and the princess Perie-zadeh, where at length brought to the palace with this pomp, and nothing was to be seen or heard all that night but illuminations and rejoicings both in the palace and in the utmost parts of the city, which lasted many days, and were continued throughout the empire of Persia, as intelligence of the joyful event reached the several provinces.