THE THREE PRINCES AND THE PRINCESS NOURONNIHAR.
here was once a sultan of India who had three sons. These, with the princess his niece, were the ornaments of his court. The eldest of the princes was called Houssain, the second Ali, the youngest Ahmed, and the princess his niece, Nouronnihar. The Princess Nouronnihar was the daughter of the younger brother of the sultan, to whom the sultan in his lifetime allowed a considerable revenue. But that prince had not been married long before he died, and left the princess very young. The sultan, out of brotherly love and friendship, took upon himself the care of his niece's education, and brought her up in his palace with the three princes, where her singular beauty and personal accomplishments, joined to a sprightly disposition and irreproachable conduct, distinguished her among all the princesses of her time.
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As the three princes were always submissive and obedient to the sultan's will, and each flattered himself that fortune would favour him, they all consented. The sultan gave them the money he promised; and that very day they issued orders in preparation for their travels, and took leave of the sultan, that they might be ready to set out early the next morning. They all went out at the same gate of the city, each dressed like a merchant, attended by a trusty officer dressed like a slave, all well mounted and equipped. They went the first day's journey together; and slept at the first inn, where the road divided into three different tracks. At night when they were at supper together, they agreed to travel for a year, and to make that inn their rendezvous; that the first that came should wait for the rest; that as they had all three taken leave together of the sultan, they should all return together. The next morning by break of day, after they had embraced and wished each other good success, they mounted their horses, and each took a different road.
Prince Houssain, the eldest brother, who had heard wonders of the extent, strength, riches, and splendour of the kingdom of Bisnagar, bent his course towards the Indian coast; and, after three months travelling with different caravans, sometimes over deserts and barren mountains, and sometimes through populous and fertile countries, he arrived at Bisnagar, the capital of the kingdom of that name and the residence of its king. He lodged at a khan appointed for foreign merchants; and having learnt that there were four principal quarters where merchants of all sorts kept their shops, in the midst of which stood the castle, or rather the king's palace, as the centre of the city, surrounded by three courts, and each gate two leagues distant from the other, he went to one of these quarters the next day.
Prince Houssain could not see this quarter without admiration. It was large, and divided into several streets, all vaulted and shaded from the sun, and yet very light. The shops were all of the same size and proportion; and all that dealt in the same sort of merchandise, as well as the craftsmen, lived in one street.
The multitude of shops stocked with the finest linens from several parts of India, some painted in the brightest colours, with men, landscapes, trees, and flowers; silks and brocades from Persia, China, and other places; porcelain from Japan and China, foot carpets of all sizes,--all this surprised him so much that he knew not how to believe his own eyes; but when he came to the shops of the goldsmiths and jewellers (for those two trades were exercised by the same merchants), he was dazzled by the lustre of the pearls, diamonds, rubies, emeralds, and other precious stones exposed for sale. But if he was amazed at seeing so many riches in one place, he was much more surprised when he came to judge of the wealth of the whole kingdom by considering that except the Brahmins and ministers of the idols, who profess a life retired from worldly vanity, there was not an Indian, man or woman, through the extent of that kingdom, who did not wear necklaces, bracelets, and ornaments about their legs and feet, made of pearls and other precious stones.
Another thing Prince Houssain particularly admired was the great number of rose-sellers, who crowded the streets; for the Indians are such lovers of that flower, that not one will stir without a nosegay in his hand, or a garland on his head; and the merchants keep them in pots in their shops, so that the air of the whole quarter, however large, is perfectly perfumed.
After Prince Houssain had run through the quarter, street by street, his thoughts fully occupied by the riches he had seen, he was very much tired, and a merchant civilly invited him to sit down in his shop. He accepted the offer; but had not been seated long before he saw a crier pass by with a piece of carpet on his arm, about six feet square, and cry it at thirty purses. The prince called to the crier, and asked to see the carpet, which seemed to him to be valued at an exorbitant price, not only for its size, but the meanness of the stuff. When he had examined it well, he told the crier that he could not comprehend how so small and poor a piece could be priced so high.
The crier, who took him for a merchant, replied, 'Sir, if this price seems so extravagant to you, your amazement will be greater when I tell you I have orders to raise it to forty purses, and not to part with it for less.'
'Certainly,' answered Prince Houssain, 'it must have something very extraordinary about it, which I know nothing of.'
'You have guessed right, sir,' replied the crier, 'and will own as much when you come to know that whoever sits on this piece of carpet may be transported in an instant wherever he desires to go without being stopped by any obstacle.'
At this the Prince of the Indies, considering that the principal motive of his journey was to carry some singular curiosity home to the sultan his father, thought that be could not meet with anything which could give him more satisfaction. 'If the carpet,' said he to the crier, 'has the virtue you assign it, I shall not think forty purses too much but shall make you a present besides.'
'Sir,' replied the crier, 'I have told you the truth; and it will be an easy matter to convince you of it, as soon as you have made the bargain for forty purses, by experiment. But as I suppose you have not so much with you, and that I must go with you to the khan where you lodge, with the leave of the master of the shop we will go into his back shop, and I will spread the carpet; and when we have both sat down, and you have formed the wish to be transported into your room at the khan, if we are not transported thither it shall be no bargain. As to your present, as I am paid for my trouble by the seller, I shall receive it as a favour, and be very much obliged to you for it.'
The prince accepted the conditions, and concluded the bargain; and having obtained the master's leave, they went into his back shop; they both sat down on the carpet, and as soon as the prince wished to be transported into his room at the khan, he found himself and the crier there, and as he wanted no more convincing proof of the virtue of the carpet, he counted to the crier forty purses of gold, and gave him twenty pieces for himself.
In this manner Prince Houssain became the possessor of the carpet, and was overjoyed that on his arrival at Bisnagar he had found so rare a treasure, which he never doubted would gain him the Princess Nouronnihar. In short he looked upon it as an impossible thing for the princes, his younger brothers, to meet with anything to compare with it. It was in his power, by sitting on this carpet, to be at the place of rendezvous that very day; but as he was obliged to wait for his brothers, as they had agreed, and as he was curious to see the King of Bisnagar and his court, and to learn about the laws, customs, and religion of the kingdom, he chose to make a longer abode there.
It was a custom of the King of Bisnagar to give audience to all strange merchants once a week; and Prince Houssain, who remained incognito, saw him often; and as he was handsome, clever, and extremely polite, he easily distinguished himself among the merchants, and was preferred before them all by the sultan, who asked him about the Sultan of the Indies, and the government, strength, and riches of his dominions.
The rest of his time the prince spent in seeing what was most remarkable in and about the city; and among other things he visited a temple, all built of brass. It was ten cubits square, and fifteen high; and the greatest ornament to it was an idol of the height of a man, of massy gold: its eyes were two rubies, set so artificially, that it seemed to look at those who looked at it, on whichever side they turned. Besides this, there was another not less curious, in a village in the midst of a plain of about ten acres, which was a delicious garden full of roses and the choicest flowers, surrounded with a small wall breast high, to keep the cattle out. In the midst of this plain was raised a terrace, a man's height, so nicely paved that the whole pavement seemed to be but one single stone. A temple was erected in the middle of this terrace, with a dome about fifty cubits high, which might be seen for several leagues round. It was thirty cubits long, and twenty broad, built of red marble, highly polished. The inside of the dome was adorned with three rows of fine paintings, in good taste: and there was not a place in the whole temple but was embellished with paintings, bas-reliefs, and figures of idols from top to bottom.
Every night and morning there were ceremonies performed in this temple, which were always succeeded by sports, concerts, dancing, singing, and feasts. The ministers of the temple and the inhabitants of the place had nothing to live on but the offerings of pilgrims, who came in crowds from the most distant parts of the kingdom to perform their vows.
Prince Houssain was also spectator of a solemn feast, which was celebrated every year at the court of Bisnagar, at which all the governors of provinces, commanders of fortified places, all the governors and judges of towns, and the Brahmins most celebrated for their learning, were obliged to be present; and some lived so far off that they were four months in coming. This assembly, composed of innumerable multitudes of Indians, met in a plain of vast extent, as far as the eye could reach. In the centre of this plain was a square of great length and breadth, closed on one side by a large scaffolding of nine stories, supported by forty pillars, raised for the king and his court, and those strangers whom he admitted to audience once a week. Inside, it was adorned and furnished magnificently; and on the outside were painted fine landscapes, wherein all sorts of beasts, birds, and insects, even flies and gnats, were drawn as naturally as possible. Other scaffolds of at least four or five stories, and painted almost all alike, formed the other three sides.
On each side of the square, at some little distance from each other, were ranged a thousand elephants, sumptuously harnessed, each having upon his back a square wooden castle, finely gilt, in which were musicians and actors. The trunks, ears, and bodies of these elephants were painted with cinnabar and other colours, representing grotesque figures.
But what Prince Houssain most of all admired was to see the largest of these elephants stand with his four feet on a post fixed into the earth, two feet high, playing and beating time with his trunk to the music. Besides this, he admired another elephant as big, standing on a board, which was laid across a strong beam about ten feet high, with a great weight at the other end which balanced him, while he kept time with the music by the motions of his body and trunk.
Prince Houssain might have made a longer stay in the kingdom and court of Bisnagar, where he would have seen other wonders, till the last day of the year, whereon he and his brothers had appointed to meet. But he was so well satisfied with what he had seen, and his thoughts ran so much upon the Princess Nouronnihar, that he fancied he should be the more easy and happy the nearer he was to her. After he had paid the master of the khan for his apartment, and told him the hour when he might come for the key, without telling him how he should go, he shut the door, put the key on the outside, and spreading the carpet, he and the officer he had brought with him sat down on it, and, as soon as he had wished, were transported to the inn at which he and his brothers were to meet, where he passed for a merchant till they came.
Prince Ali, the second brother, travelled into Persia with a caravan, and after four months' travelling arrived at Schiraz, which was then the capital of the kingdom of Persia, and having on the way made friends with some merchants, passed for a jeweller, and lodged in the same khan with them.
The next morning, while the merchants were opening their bales of merchandise, Prince Ali took a walk into that quarter of the town where they sold precious stones, gold and silver work, brocades, silks, fine linens, and other choice and valuable merchandise, which was at Schiraz called the bezestein. It was a spacious and well-built place, arched over, and supported by large pillars; along the walls, within and without, were shops. Prince Ali soon rambled through the bezestein, and with admiration judged of the riches of the place by the prodigious quantities of most precious merchandise there exposed to view.
But among all the criers who passed backwards and forwards with several sorts of things to sell, he was not a little surprised to see one who held in his hand an ivory tube about a foot in length and about an inch thick, and cried it at thirty purses. At first he thought the crier mad, and to make sure, went to a shop, and said to the merchant, who stood at the door, 'Pray, sir, is not that man mad? If he is not, I am very much deceived.'
'Indeed, sir,' answered the merchant, 'he was in his right senses yesterday, and I can assure you he is one of the ablest criers we have, and the most employed of any when anything valuable is to be sold; and if he cries the ivory tube at thirty purses, it must be worth as much, or more, for some reason or other which does not appear. He will come by presently, and we will call him; in the meantime sit down on my sofa and rest yourself.'
Prince Ali accepted the merchant's obliging offer, and presently the crier passed by. The merchant called him by his name; and pointing to the prince, said to him, 'Tell that gentleman, who asked me if you were in your right senses, what you mean by crying that ivory tube, which seems not to be worth much, at thirty purses: I should be very much amazed myself, if I did not know you were a sensible man.'
The crier, addressing himself to Prince Ali, said, 'Sir, you are not the only person that takes me for a madman on account of this tube; you shall judge yourself whether I am or no, when I have told you its peculiarity. First, sir,' pursued the crier, presenting the ivory tube to the prince, 'observe that this tube is furnished with a glass at both ends; by looking through one of them you see whatever object you wish to behold.'
'I am,' said the prince, 'ready to make you all proper reparation for the scandal I have thrown on you, if you will make the truth of what you say appear'; and as he had the ivory tube in his hand, he said, 'Show me at which of these ends I must look.' The crier showed him, and he looked through, wishing at the same time to see the sultan, his father. He immediately beheld him in perfect health, sitting on his throne, in the midst of his council. Afterwards, as there was nothing in the world so dear to him, after the sultan, as the Princess Nouronnihar, he wished to see her, and saw her laughing, and in a pleasant humour, with her women about her.
Prince Ali needed no other proof to persuade him that this tube was the most valuable thing, not only in the city of Schiraz, but in all the world; and he believed that, if he should neglect it, he would never meet again with such another rarity. He said to the crier, 'I am very sorry that I should have entertained so bad an opinion of you, but hope to make you amends by buying the tube, so tell me the lowest price the seller has fixed upon it. Come with me, and I will pay you the money.' The crier assured him that his last orders were to take no less than forty purses; and, if he disputed the truth of what he said, he would take him to his employer. The prince believed him, took him to the khan where he lodged, counted out the money, and received the tube.
Prince Ali was overjoyed at his bargain; and persuaded himself that, as his brothers would not be able to meet with anything so rare and marvellous, the Princess Nouronnihar would be his wife. He thought now of visiting the court of Persia incognito, and seeing whatever was curious in and about Schiraz, till the caravan with which he came returned back to the Indies. When the caravan was ready to set out, the prince joined them, and arrived without any accident or trouble at the place of rendezvous, where he found Prince Houssain, and both waited for Prince Ahmed.
Prince Ahmed took the road to Samarcand; and the day after his arrival there went, as his brothers had done, into the bezestein. He had not walked long before he heard a crier, who had an artificial apple in his hand, cry it at five-and-thirty purses. He stopped the crier, and said to him, 'Let me see that apple, and tell me what virtue or extraordinary property it has, to be valued at so high a rate.'
'Sir,' said the crier, putting it into his hand, 'if you look at the outside of this apple, it is very ordinary; but if you consider the great use and benefit it is to mankind, you will say it is invaluable. He who possesses it is master of a great treasure. It cures all sick persons of the most mortal diseases, fever, pleurisy, plague, or other malignant distempers; and, if the patient is dying, it will immediately restore him to perfect health; and this is done after the easiest manner in the world, merely by the patient smelling the apple.'
'If one may believe you,' replied Prince Ahmed, 'the virtues of this apple are wonderful, and it is indeed valuable: but what ground has a plain man like myself, who may wish to become the purchaser, to be persuaded that there is no deception or exaggeration in the high praise you bestow on it?'
'Sir,' replied the crier, 'the thing is known and averred by the whole city of Samarcand; but, without going any further, ask all these merchants you see here, and hear what they say; several of them would not have been alive this day if they had not made use of this excellent remedy. It is the result of the study and experience of a celebrated philosopher of this city, who applied himself all his life to the knowledge of plants and minerals, and at last performed such surprising cures in this city as will never be forgotten; but he died suddenly himself, before he could apply his own sovereign remedy, and left his wife and a great many young children behind him in very indifferent circumstances; to support her family, and provide for her children, she has resolved to sell it.'
While the crier was telling Prince Ahmed the virtues of the artificial apple, a great many persons came about them, and confirmed what he said; and one among the rest said he had a friend dangerously ill, whose life was despaired of, which was a favourable opportunity to show Prince Ahmed the experiment. Upon which Prince Ahmed told the crier he would give him forty purses if he cured the sick person by letting him smell at it.
The crier, who had orders to sell it at that price, said to Prince Ahmed, 'Come, sir, let us go and make the experiment, and the apple shall be yours; it is an undoubted fact that it will always have the same effect as it already has had in recovering from death many sick persons whose life was despaired of.'
The experiment succeeded, and the prince, after he had counted out to the crier forty purses, and the other had delivered the apple to him, waited with the greatest impatience for the first caravan that should return to the Indies. In the meantime he saw all that was curious in and about Samarcand, especially the valley of Sogda, so called from the river which waters it, and is reckoned by the Arabians to be one of the four paradises of this world, for the beauty of its fields and gardens and fine palaces, and for its fertility in fruit of all sorts, and all the other pleasures enjoyed there in the fine season.
At last Prince Ahmed joined the first caravan that returned to the Indies, and arrived in perfect health at the inn where the Princes Houssain and Ali were waiting for him.
Prince Ali, who was there some time before Prince Ahmed, asked Prince Houssain, who got there first, how long he had been there; he told him three months: to which he replied, 'Then certainly you have not been very far.'
'I will tell you nothing now,' said Prince Houssain, 'but only assure you I was more than three months travelling to the place I went to.'
'But then,' replied Prince Ali, 'you made a short stay there.'
'Indeed, brother,' said Prince Houssain, 'you are mistaken: I resided at one place over four or five months, and might have stayed longer.'
'Unless you flew back,' replied Prince Ali again, 'I cannot comprehend how you can have been three months here, as you would make me believe.'
'I tell you the truth,' added Prince Houssain, 'and it is a riddle which I shall not explain till our brother Ahmed comes; then I will let you know what curiosity I have brought home from my travels. I know not what you have got, but believe it to be some trifle, because I do not see that your baggage is increased.'
'And pray what have you brought?' replied Prince Ali, 'for I can see nothing but an ordinary piece of carpet, with which you cover your sofa, and as you seem to make what you have brought a secret, you cannot take it amiss that I do the same.'
'I consider the rarity which I have purchased,' replied Prince Houssain, 'to excel all others whatever, and should not have any objection to show it you, and make you agree that it is so, and at the same time tell you how I came by it, without being in the least apprehensive that what you have got is better. But we ought to wait till our brother Ahmed arrives, that we may all communicate our good fortune to each other.'
Prince Ali would not enter into a dispute with Prince Houssain, but was persuaded that, if his perspective glass were not preferable, it was impossible it should be inferior, and therefore agreed to wait till Prince Ahmed arrived, to produce his purchase.
When Prince Ahmed came, they embraced and complimented each other on the happiness of meeting together at the place they set out from. Then Prince Houssain, as the elder brother, said, 'Brothers, we shall have time enough hereafter to entertain ourselves with the particulars of our travels: let us come to that which is of the greatest importance for us to know; let us not conceal from each other the curiosities we have brought home, but show them, that we may do ourselves justice beforehand and see to which of us the sultan our father may give the preference.
'To set the example,' continued Prince Houssain, 'I will tell you that the rarity which I have brought from my travels to the kingdom of Bisnagar, is the carpet on which I sit, which looks but ordinary and makes no show; but, when I have declared its virtues to you, you will be struck with admiration, and will confess you never heard of anything like it. Whoever sits on it as we do, and desires to be transported to any place, be it ever so far off, is immediately carried thither. I made the experiment myself before I paid down the forty purses, and when I had fully satisfied my curiosity at the court of Bisnagar, and had a mind to return, I made use of no other means than this wonderful carpet for myself and servant, who can tell you how long we were coming hither. I will show you both the experiment whenever you please. I expect you to tell me whether what you have brought is to be compared to this carpet.'
Here Prince Houssain ended, and Prince Ali said, 'I must own, brother, that your carpet is one of the most surprising things ima