The Story of Two Sisters Who Were Jealous of Their Younger Sister
Once there reigned over Persia a Sultan named Kosrouschah, who from his boyhood had been fond of putting on a disguise and seeking adventures in all parts of the city, accompanied by one of his officers, disguised like himself. And no sooner was his father buried and the ceremonies over that made him king, than the young man hurried to throw off his king’s robes, and calling to his vizier to also get ready, sneaked out in the simple clothes of an ordinary person into the streets of the capital.
Passing down a lonely street, the Sultan heard women’s voices in loud discussion, and peeping through a crack in the door, he saw three sisters, sitting on a sofa in a large hall, talking in a very lively and serious manner. Judging from the few words that he heard, they were each explaining what sort of men they wished to marry.
“I ask nothing better,” cried the eldest, “than to have the Sultan’s baker for a husband. Think of being able to eat as much as one wanted, of that delicious bread that is baked for his Highness alone! Let us see if your wish is as good as mine.”
“I,” replied the second sister, “should be quite content with the Sultan’s head cook. What delicate dishes I should feast upon! And, as I believe that the Sultan’s bread is used all through the palace, I should have that as well. You see, my dear sister, my taste is as good as yours.”
It was now the turn of the youngest sister, who was by far the most beautiful of the three, and had, besides, more sense than the other two. “As for me,” she said, “If we are to wish for husbands, nothing less than the Sultan himself will do for me.”
The Sultan was so much amused by the conversation he had overheard, that he made up his mind to grant their wishes, and turning to the grand-vizier, he told him note the house, and on the following morning to bring the ladies into his presence.
The grand-vizier did as he was told, and hardly giving them time to change their dresses, told the three sisters to follow him to the palace. Here they were presented one by one, and when they had bowed before the Sultan, the king put the question to them,” Tell me, do you remember what you wished for last night? Fear nothing, but answer me the truth.”
These words, which were so unexpected, threw the sisters into great confusion, their eyes fell. All three remained silent, and he continued: “Do not be afraid, I am not going to hurt you, and let me tell you at once, that I know the wishes you each made. You,” he said, turning to the youngest, “who wanted to have me for a husband, shall be satisfied this very day. And you,” he added, addressing himself to the other two, “shall be married at the same moment to my baker and to my chief cook.”
When the Sultan had finished speaking the three sisters threw themselves at his feet, and the youngest spoke, “Oh, sire, since you know my foolish words, believe, I beg you, that they were only said in joke. I am unworthy of the honour you propose, and I can only ask forgiveness for my foolishness.”
The other sisters also tried to excuse themselves, but the Sultan would hear nothing.
“No, no,” he said, “My mind is made up. Your wishes shall be granted.”
So the three weddings were celebrated that same day, but with a great difference. That of the youngest was marked by all the magnificence that was customary at the marriage of the King of Persia, while the celebrations for the marriage of the Sultan’s baker and his chief cook were much less.
This was highly displeasing to the elder sisters, who became extremely jealous, which in the end caused a great deal of trouble and pain to several people. And the first time that they had the opportunity of speaking to each other, which was not till several days later at a public bath, they did not try to hide their feelings.
“Can you possibly understand why the Sultan would want to marry her?” said one to the other
“He must be quite blind,” replied the wife of the chief cook. “As for her looking a little younger than we do, what does that matter? You would have made a far better Queen than her.”
“Oh,” replied the elder,” If the Sultan had chosen you it would have been all right, but it really bothers me that he should have chosen a horrible little creature like that. However, I will take revenge on her somehow, and I ask you to give me your help in the matter, and to tell me anything that you can think of that is likely to hurt her.”
In order to carry out their wicked scheme the two sisters met often to talk over their ideas, though all the while they pretended to be as friendly as ever towards the Queen, always treated them with kindness. For a long time no plan occurred to the two women that seemed likely to succeed, but at last the birth of a son for the king gave them the chance for which they had been hoping.
They received permission from the Sultan to stay in the palace for some weeks, and never left their sister night or day. When at last a little boy, beautiful as the sun, was born, they laid him in his cradle and carried it down to a canal which passed through the grounds of the palace. Then, leaving it, they told the Sultan that instead of the son he had so much wanted the Sultana had given birth to a puppy. At this dreadful news the Sultan was so overcome with rage and grief that it was with great difficulty that the grand-vizier managed to save the Queen from his anger.
Meanwhile the cradle continued to float peacefully along the canal till, on the outskirts of the royal gardens, it was suddenly noticed by the superintendent, one of the highest and most respected officials in the kingdom.
“Go,” he said to a gardener who was working near, “and get that cradle out for me.”
The gardener did as he was told, and soon placed the cradle in the hands of the superintendent.
The official was much astonished to see that the cradle, which he had supposed to be empty, contained a baby, which looked so beautiful. Having no children himself, although he had been married for some years, he at once thought that here was a child which he could take and bring up as his own. And, telling the man pick up the cradle and follow him, he turned towards home.
“My wife,” he exclaimed as he entered the room, “God has refused us any children, but here is one that has been sent in their place. Send for a nurse to look after him.”
The wife accepted the baby with joy, and though the superintendent saw quite well that it must have come from the royal palace, he did not think it was his business to ask more about the mystery.
The following year another prince was born and sent floating down the canal, but happily for the baby, the superintendent of the gardens again was walking by the canal, and carried it home as before.
The Sultan, naturally enough, was still more furious the second time than the first, but when the same curious accident was repeated in the third year he could control himself no longer, and, to the great joy of the jealous sisters, ordered that the Queen should be executed. But the poor lady was so much loved at Court that not even the fear of sharing her fate could prevent the grand-vizier and the courtiers from throwing themselves at the Sultan’s feet and begging him not to order so cruel a punishment for what, after all, was not her fault.
“Let her live,” begged the grand-vizier, “and send her far away for the rest of her days. That will be punishment enough.”
When he had calmed down a little, the Sultan said, “Let her live then. But if I grant her life it shall only be on one condition. Let a box be built for her at the door of the main mosque, and let the window of the box be always open. There she shall sit, in the shabbiest clothes, and every person who enters the mosque shall spit in her face in passing. Anyone that refuses to obey shall have the same punishment himself. You, vizier, will see that my orders are carried out.”
The grand-vizier saw that it was useless to say more, and, happily, the sisters watched the building of the box, and then listened to the jeers of the people at the helpless Queen sitting inside. But the poor lady had so much dignity and modesty that it was not long before she had won the sympathy of those among the crowd.
But it is now time to return to the story of the third baby, this time a princess. Like its brothers, it was found by the superintendent of the gardens, and adopted by him and his wife, and all three were brought up with the greatest care and tenderness.
As the children grew older their beauty increased,. The princes had been named by their foster-father Bahman and Perviz, after two of the ancient kings of Persia, while the princess was called Parizade, or the child of the genie.
The superintendent soon employed a tutor to teach the young princes how to read and write. And the princess, determined not to be left behind, showed herself so anxious to learn with her brothers, that the superintendent agreed to allow her to join in their lessons, and it was not long before she knew as much as they did.
From that time all their studies were done together. They had the best teachers for the fine arts, geography, poetry, history and science, and even for sciences which are learned by few, and every subject seemed so easy to them, that their teachers were astonished at the progress they made. The princess had a love for music, and could sing and play upon all sorts of instruments. She could also ride and drive as well as her brothers, shoot with a bow and arrow, and throw a javelin with the same skill as they, and sometimes even better.
The superintendent decided that his children should not be kept any longer in the palace gardens, where he had always lived, so he bought a splendid country house a few miles from the capital, surrounded by an immense park. This park he filled with wild beasts of various sorts, so that the princes and princess might hunt as much as they pleased.
When everything was ready, the superintendent threw himself at the Sultan’s feet, and, begged his Highness’s permission to resign his job. This was granted by the Sultan in a few gracious words, and he then asked what reward he could give to his faithful servant. But the superintendent said that he wished for nothing, and bowing once more, he left.
Five or six months passed away in the pleasures of the country, when the superintendent passed away so suddenly that he had no time to tell the secret of their birth to his adopted children, and as his wife had long been dead also, it seemed as if the princes and the princess would never know. Their sorrow for their father was very deep, and they lived quietly on in their new home, without feeling any desire to leave it
One day the princes as usual went out to hunt, but their sister remained alone in her room. While they were gone an old woman appeared at the door, and asked to enter, as it was the hour of prayer. The princess sent orders at once that the old woman was to be taken to the private chapel in the grounds, and when she had finished her prayers was to be shown the house and gardens, and then to be brought before her.
When she had seen it all she was led by the servants before the princess, who was seated in a room which was more beautiful than all the rest all the rest.
“My good woman,” said the princess pointing to a sofa, “come and sit beside me. I am delighted at the opportunity of speaking for a few moments with so holy a person.” The old woman made some objections to so much honour being given her, but the princess refused to listen, and insisted that her guest should take the best seat, and as she thought she must be tired, ordered refreshments.
While the old woman was eating, the princess put several questions about her way of life, and then asked what she thought of the house now that she had seen it.
“Madam,” replied the woman, “It is beautiful, comfortable and it is impossible to imagine anything more lovely than the garden. But since you ask me, I must say that it lacks three things to make it absolutely perfect.”
“And what can they be?” cried the princess. “Only tell me, and I will lose no time in getting them.”
“The three things, madam,” replied the old woman, “are, first, the Talking Bird, whose voice draws all other singing birds to it, to join in chorus. And second, the Singing Tree, where every leaf is a song that is never silent. And lastly the Golden Water, of which it is only needed to pour a single drop into a basin for it to shoot up into a fountain, which will never run out, nor will the basin ever overflow.”
“Oh, how can I thank you,” cried the princess, “For telling me of such treasures! But please tell me where I can find them.”
“Madam,” replied the old woman, “Because of the kindness you have shown me I will tell you. The three things of which I have spoken are all to be found in one place, on the borders of this kingdom, near India. Your messenger has only to follow the road that passes by your house, for twenty days, and at the end of that time, he is to ask the first person he meets for the Talking Bird, the Singing Tree, and the Golden Water.” She then rose, and saying farewell to the princess, went on her way.
The old woman had left so suddenly that the Princess Parizade did not realize till she was gone that the directions were hardly clear enough for the search to be successful. And she was still thinking of the subject, and how delightful it would be to have such treasures, when the princes, her brothers, returned from hunting.
“What is the matter, my sister?” asked Prince Bahman; “Why do you look so serious? Are you ill? Or has anything happened?”
Princess Parizade did not answer directly, but at length she raised her eyes, and replied that there was nothing wrong.
“But there must be something,” said Prince Bahman, “for you to have changed so much during the short time we have been absent. Hide nothing from us, I beg you.”
“When I said that it was nothing,” said the princess, “I meant that it was nothing that affected you, although I admit that it is certainly of some importance to me. Like myself, you have always thought this house that our father built for us was perfect in every way, but only today I have learned that three things are still lacking to complete it. These are the Talking Bird, the Singing Tree, and the Golden Water.” After explaining the strange qualities of each, the princess continued, “It was a holy woman who told me all this, and where they might all be found. Perhaps you will think that the house is beautiful enough as it is, and that we can do quite well without them, but in this I cannot agree with you, and I shall never be content until I have got them. So advise me who to send on this mission.”
“My dear sister,” replied Prince Bahman, “that you should care about the matter is quite enough. But we both care about you, and I, as the elder, will go to make the first attempt, if you will tell me where I am to go, and what steps I am to take.”
Prince Perviz at first objected that, being the head of the family, his brother should not be allowed to face such danger, but Prince Bahman refused to listen, and left to make the necessary preparations for his journey.
The next morning Prince Bahman got up very early, and after saying farewell to his brother and sister, mounted his horse. But just as he was about to touch it with his whip, he was stopped by a cry from the princess.
“Oh, perhaps after all you may never come back. One never can tell what accidents may happen. Give it up, I beg you, for I would a thousand times rather lose the Talking Bird, and the Singing Tree and the Golden Water, than that you should run into danger.”
“My dear sister,” answered the prince, “accidents only happen to unlucky people, and I hope that I am not one of them. But as everything is uncertain, I promise you to be very careful. Take this knife,” he continued, handing her one, “and every now and then draw it out and look at it. As long as it keeps bright and clean as it is to-day, you will know that I am living, but if the blade is spotted with blood, it will be a sign that I am dead, and you may weep for me.”
Prince Bahman said farewell once more, and started on the road. For twenty days he rode straight on, turning neither to the right hand nor to the left, till he found himself drawing near the border of Persia. Seated under a tree by the road he noticed a hideous old man, with a long white moustache, and beard that almost fell to his feet. His nails had grown to an enormous length, and on his head he wore a huge hat, which served him as an umbrella.
Prince Bahman, who, remembering the directions of the old woman, had been since sunrise on the look-out for some one, recognized the old man at once to be a monk. He dismounted from his horse, and bowed low before the holy man, saying by way of greeting, “My father, may your life be long, and may all your wishes be fulfilled!”
The monk did his best to reply, but his moustache was so thick that his words were difficult to understand, and the prince, realizing what the matter was, took a pair of scissors from his saddle pockets, and requested permission to cut off some of the moustache, as he had a question of great importance to ask the monk. The monk made a sign that he could do as he liked, and when a few inches of his hair and beard had been cut the prince told the holy man that he would hardly believe how much younger he looked. The monk smiled at his compliments, and thanked him for what he had done.
“Let me,” he said, “show you my gratitude for making me more comfortable by telling me what I can do for you.”
“Gentle monk,” replied Prince Bahman, “I come from far away, and I seek the Talking Bird, the Singing Tree, and the Golden Water. I know that they are to be found somewhere around here, but I do not know the exact spot. Tell me, if you can, so that I have not have traveled on a useless journey.” While he was speaking, the prince noticed a change in the expression on the monk’s face, who waited for some time before he made a reply.
“My lord,” he said at last, “I do know the road, for which you ask, but your kindness and the friendship make me reluctant to point it out.”
“But why not?” asked the prince. “What danger can there be?”
“The very greatest danger,” answered the monk. “Other men, as brave as you, have ridden down this road, and have asked me that question. I did my best to change their minds, but it was of no use. Not one of them would listen to my words, and not one of them came back. Be warned, and go no further.”
“I am grateful to you for your interest in me,” said Prince Bahman, “and for the advice you have given, though I cannot follow it. But what dangers can there be in the adventure which courage and a good sword cannot face?”
“And suppose,” answered the monk, “that your enemies are invisible, what then?”
“Nothing will make me give up,” replied the prince, “and for the last time I ask you to tell me where I am to go.”
When the monk saw that the prince’s mind was made up, he drew a ball from a bag that lay near him, and held it out. “If it must be so,” he said, with a sigh, “take this, and when you have mounted your horse throw the ball in front of you. It will roll on till it reaches the foot of a mountain, and when it stops you will stop also. You will then throw the bridle on your horse’s neck, and will dismount. On each side you will see vast heaps of big black stones, and will hear many insulting voices, but pay no attention to them, and, above all, beware of ever turning your head. If you do, you will instantly become a black stone like the rest. For those stones are men like yourself, who have been on the same journey, and have failed, as I fear that you may fail also. If you manage to avoid this danger, and to reach the top of the mountain, you will find there the Talking Bird in a splendid cage, and you can ask of him where you are to seek the Singing Tree and the Golden Water. That is all I have to say. You know what you have to do, and what to avoid, but if you are wise you will think of it no more, but return home.”
The prince smilingly shook his head, and thanking the monk once more, he sprang on his horse and threw the ball before him.
The ball rolled along the road so fast that Prince Bahman had much difficulty in keeping up with it, and it never slowed till the foot of the mountain was reached. Then it came to a sudden halt, and the prince at once got down and flung the bridle on his horse’s neck. He paused for a moment and looked round him at the masses of black stones with which the sides of the mountain were covered, and then began to climb. He had hardly gone four steps when he heard the sound of voices around him, although not another creature was in sight.
“Who is this imbecile?” cried some, “Stop him at once.” “Kill him,” shrieked others, “Help! Robbers! Murderers! Help! Help!” “Oh, let him alone,” sneered another, “He is such a beautiful young man; I am sure the bird and the cage must have been kept for him.”
At first the prince paid no attention to all this noise, but continued on his way. Unfortunately, instead of silencing the voices, it only seemed to irritate them the more, and they doubled their fury, in front as well as behind. After some time he grew bewildered, his knees began to tremble, and finding himself in the act of falling, he forgot altogether the advice of the monk. He turned to flee down the mountain, and in one moment became a black stone.
As may be imagined, Prince Perviz and his sister were all this time very anxious, and looked at the magic knife, not once but many times a day. Before the blade had remained bright and spotless, but at the moment at which Prince Bahman and his horse were changed into black stones, large drops of blood appeared on the surface. “Ah! My beloved brother,” cried the princess in horror, throwing the knife from her, “I shall never see you again, and it is I who have killed you. Fool that I was to listen to the voice of that holy woman, who probably was not speaking the truth. What are the Talking Bird and the Singing Tree to me in comparison with you?”
Prince Perviz’s grief at his brother’s loss was as great as that of Princess Parizade, but he did not waste his time on useless crying.
“My sister,” he said, “why should you think the old woman was deceiving you about these treasures, and what would have been her reason for doing so! No, no, our brother must have met his death by some accident, and tomorrow I will start on the same quest.”
Terrified at the thought that she might lose her only remaining brother, the princess begged him to give up his quest, but he remained firm. Before setting out, however, he gave her a string of a hundred pearls, and said, “When I am absent, look this over daily for me. But if you should find that the beads stick, so that they will not slip one after the other, you will know that my brother’s fate has befallen me. Still, we must hope for better luck.”
Then he departed, and on the twentieth day of his journey met the monk on the same spot as Prince Bahman had met him, and began to question him as to the place where the Talking Bird, the Singing Tree and the Golden Water were to be found. As in the case of his brother, the monk tried to make him give up his quest, and even told him that only a few weeks since a young man, looking very much like him, had passed that way, but had never come back again.
“That, holy monk,” replied Prince Perviz, “was my elder brother, who is now dead, though how he died I cannot say.”
“He changed into a black stone,” answered the monk, “like all the rest who have gone on the same quest, and you will become one likewise if you are not more careful in following my directions.” Then he told the prince, if he valued his life, to pay no attention to the voices that would pursue him up the mountain, and handing him a ball from the bag, which still seemed to be half full, he sent him on his way.
When Prince Perviz reached the foot of the mountain he jumped from his horse, and paused for a moment to recall the instructions the monk had given him. Then he walked on, but had scarcely gone five or six paces when he was startled by a man’s voice that seemed close to his ear, exclaiming: “Stop, rash fellow, and let me punish your foolishness.” This insult completely made the prince forget the monk’s advice. He drew his sword, but almost before he had realized that there was nobody there, he and his horse were two black stones.
Not a morning had passed since Prince Perviz had ridden away without Princess Parizade looking at her beads, and at night she even hung them round her neck, so that if she woke she could be sure of her brother’s safety. She was moving them through her fingers at the moment that the prince turned to stone, and her heart sank when the first pearl remained fixed in its place. However she had long made up her mind what she would do in such a case, and the following morning the princess, disguised as a man, set out for the mountain.
As she was used to riding from her childhood, she managed to travel as many miles every day as her brothers had done, and it was, as before, on the twentieth day that she arrived at the place where the monk was sitting. “Good monk,” she said politely, “Will you allow me to rest by you for a few moments, and perhaps you will be so kind as to tell me if you have ever heard of a Talking Bird, a Singing Tree, and some Golden Water that are to be found somewhere near here?”
“Madam,” replied the monk, “for in spite of your manly dress your voice betrays you, I shall be proud to serve you in any way I can. But may I ask the purpose of your question?”
“Good monk,” answered the princess, “I have heard such wonderful descriptions of these three things that I cannot rest till I possess them.”
“Madam,” said the monk, “they are far more beautiful than any description, but you seem ignorant of all the difficulties that stand in your way, or you would hardly have undertaken such an adventure. Give it up, I beg you, and return home, and do not ask me to help you to a cruel death.”
“Holy father,” answered the princess, “I come from far, and I should be in despair if I turned back without having got my object. You have spoken of difficulties. Tell me, I beg you, what they are, so that I may know if I can overcome them, or see if they are beyond my strength.”
So the monk repeated his tale, of the voices, the horrors of the black stones, which were once living men, and the difficulties of climbing the mountain, and pointed out that the main means of success was never to look behind till you had the cage in your hand.
“As far as I can see,” said the princess, “The first thing is not to mind the voices that follow you till you reach the cage, and then never to look behind. As to this, I think I have enough self-control to look straight before me; but as it is quite possible that I might be frightened by the voices, as even the bravest men have been, I will block my ears with cotton, so that I shall hear nothing.”
“Madam,” cried the monk, “out of all the number who have asked me the way to the mountain, you are the first who has ever suggested such a means of escaping the danger! It is possible that you may succeed, but all the same, the risk is great.”
“Good monk,” answered the princess, “I feel in my heart that I shall succeed, and it only remains for me to ask you the way I am to go.”
Then the monk said that it was useless to say more, and he gave her the ball, which she rolled before her.
The first thing the princess did on arriving at the mountain was to block her ears with cotton, and then, making up her mind which was the best way to go, she began her climb. In spite of the cotton, some echoes of the voices reached her ears, but not so as to trouble her. Indeed, though they grew louder and more insulting the higher she climbed, the princess only laughed, and said to herself that she certainly would not let a few rough words stand between her and the goal. At last she saw in the distance the cage and the bird, whose voice called out, “Return, return! Never dare to come near me.”
At the sight of the bird, the princess hurried, and without worrying about the noise which by this time had grown deafening, she walked straight up to the cage, and seizing it, she said, “Now, my bird, I have got you, and I shall take good care that you do not escape.” As she spoke she took the cotton from her ears, for it was needed no longer.
“Brave lady,” answered the bird, “Although kept in a cage, I was happy, but if I must become a slave, I could not wish for a better mistress than one who has shown so much bravery, and from this moment I promise I will serve you faithfully. Some day you will need you to prove this, for I know who you are better than you do yourself. Meanwhile, tell me what I can do, and I will obey you.”
“Bird,” replied the princess, who was filled with joy, “Let me first thank you for your good will, and then let me ask you where the Golden Water is to be found.”
The bird described the place, which was not far away, and the princess filled a small silver flask that she had brought with her for the purpose. She then returned to the cage, and said: “Bird, there is still something else, where shall I find the Singing Tree?”
“Behind you, in that wood,” replied the bird, and the princess wandered through the wood, till a sound of the sweetest voices told her she had found what she was looking for. But the tree was tall and strong, and it was hopeless to think of carrying it away.
“You need not do that,” said the bird, when she had returned to ask what to do. “Break off a twig, and plant it in your garden, and it will take root, and grow into a magnificent tree.”
When the Princess Parizade held in her hands the three wonders promised her by the old woman, she said to the bird: “All that is not enough. It was because of you that my brothers became black stones. I cannot tell them from the others, but you must know, and point them out to me, I beg you, for I wish to carry them away.”
For some reason that the princess could not guess these words seemed to displease the bird, and he did not answer. The princess waited a moment, and then continued in severe tones, “Have you forgotten that you yourself said that you are my slave to do my bidding, and also that your life is in my power?”
“No, I have not forgotten,” replied the bird, “but what you ask is very difficult. However, I will do my best. If you look round,” he went on, “you will see a jug standing near. Take it, and, as you go down the mountain, scatter a little of the water it contains over every black stone and you will soon find your two brothers.”
Princess Parizade took the pitcher, and, carrying with her besides the cage the twig and the flask, returned down the mountain side. At every black stone she stopped and sprinkled it with water, and as the water touched it the stone instantly became a man. When she suddenly saw her brothers before her, her delight was mixed with astonishment.
“Why, what are you doing here?” she cried.
“We have been asleep,” they said.
“Yes,” replied the princess, “But without me your sleep would probably have lasted forever. Have you forgotten that you came here in search of the Talking Bird, the Singing Tree, and the Golden Water, and the black stones that were heaped up along the road? Look round and see if there is one left. These gentlemen, and yourselves, and all your horses were changed into these stones, and I have saved you by sprinkling you with the water from this jug. As I could not return home without you, even though I had obtained the treasures on which I had set my heart, I forced the Talking Bird to tell me how to break the spell.”
On hearing these words Prince Bahman and Prince Perviz understood what they owed their sister, and the knights who stood by declared themselves her slaves and ready to carry out her wishes. But the princess, while thanking them for their politeness, explained that she wished for no company but that of her brothers, and that the rest were free to go where they would.
So saying the princess mounted her horse, and, refusing to allow even Prince Bahman to carry the cage with the Talking Bird, she gave him with the branch of the Singing Tree, while Prince Perviz took care of the flask containing the Golden Water.
Then they rode away, followed by the knights and gentlemen, who begged to be allowed to escort them.
It had been the plan of the party to stop and tell their adventures to the monk, but they found to their sorrow that he was dead, whether from old age, or whether from the feeling that his task was done, they never knew.
As they continued their journey their numbers grew smaller every day, for the knights turned off one by one to their own homes, and only the brothers and sister finally arrived at the gate of the palace.
The princess carried the cage straight into the garden, and, as soon as the bird began to sing, nightingales, larks, thrushes, finches, and all sorts of other birds joined their voices in chorus. The branch she planted in a corner near the house, and in a few days it had grown into a great tree. As for the Golden Water it was poured into a great marble basin specially prepared for it, and it swelled and bubbled and then shot up into the air in a fountain twenty feet high.
The fame of these wonders soon spread abroad, and people came from far and near to see and admire.
After a few days Prince Bahman and Prince Perviz continued their life, and passed most of their time hunting. One day it happened that the Sultan of Persia was also hunting in the same direction, and, not wishing to interfere with his sport, the young men, on hearing the noise of the hunt approaching, prepared to leave, but, as luck would have it, they turned into the very path down which the Sultan was coming. They threw themselves from their horses and bowed, but the Sultan was curious to see their faces, and ordered them to rise.
The princes stood up respectfully, and the Sultan looked at them for a few moments without speaking, then he asked who they were and where they lived.
“Sire,” replied Prince Bahman, “We are sons of your Highness’s late superintendent of the gardens, and we live in a house that he built a short time before his death.”
“You seem fond of hunting,” answered the Sultan.
“Sire,” replied Prince Bahman, “It is our usual exercise, and one that should be practiced by any man who expects to serve his country in times of war.”
The Sultan was delighted with this remark, and said at once, “In that case I shall take great pleasure in watching you. Come, choose what sort of animal you would like to hunt.”
The princes jumped on their horses and followed the Sultan at a little distance. They had not gone very far before they saw a number of wild animals appear at once, and Prince Bahman started to chase a lion and Prince Perviz a bear. Both used their javelins with such skill that, soon the lion and the bear fell. Then Prince Perviz pursued a lion and Prince Bahman a bear, and in a very few minutes they, too, lay dead. As they were making ready for a third time the Sultan, called them, and said smiling, “If I let you go on, there will soon be no animals left to hunt. Besides, your courage and manners have so won my heart that I will not have you expose yourselves to further danger. I am convinced that some day or other I shall find you useful as well as agreeable.”
He then gave them a warm invitation to stay with him, but with many thanks for the honour done them, they begged to be excused, and to be allowed to remain at home.
The Sultan who was not used to seeing his offers rejected asked their reasons, and Prince Bahman explained that they did not wish to leave their sister, and were accustomed to do nothing without consulting all three together.
“Ask her advice, then,” replied the Sultan, “and tomorrow come and hunt with me, and give me your answer.”
The two princes returned home, but they quite forgot to speak to their sister on the subject. The next morning when they went to hunt they met the Sultan in the same place, and he inquired what advice their sister had given. The young men looked at each other and blushed. At last Prince Bahman said, “Sire, we must throw ourselves on your Highness’s mercy. Neither my brother nor myself remembered anything about it.”
“Then be sure you do not forget today,” answered the Sultan, “and bring me back your reply tomorrow.”
When, however, the same thing happened a second time, they feared that the Sultan might be angry with them for their carelessness. But he just laughed, and, taking three little golden balls from his pocket, he held them out to Prince Bahman, saying, “Put these round your neck and you will not forget a third time, because when you remove your clothes tonight the noise they will make in falling will remind you of my wishes.”
It all happened as the Sultan had foreseen, and the two brothers told their tale to their sister.
The Princess Parizade was much disturbed at the news. “Your meeting with the Sultan is very honourable to you,” she said, “But it places me in a very awkward position. It is because of me, I know, that you have resisted the Sultan’s wishes, and I am very grateful to you for it. But kings do not like to have their offers refused, and in time he would become angry with you, which would make me very unhappy. Ask the Talking Bird, who is wise and far-seeing, and let me hear what he says.”
So the bird was sent for.
“The princes must not refuse the Sultan’s proposal,” said he, “And they must even invite him to come and see your house.”
“But, bird,” objected the princess, “You know how dearly we love each other; will not all this spoil our friendship?”
“Not at all,” replied the bird, “It will make it all the closer.”
“Then the Sultan will have to see me,” said the princess.
The bird answered that it was necessary that he should see her, and everything would turn out for the best.
The following morning, when the Sultan inquired if they had spoken to their sister and what advice she had given them, Prince Bahman replied that they were ready to agree to his Highness’s wishes, and that their sister had scolded them for their hesitation about the matter. The Sultan received their excuses with great kindness, and told them that he was sure they would be equally faithful to him, and kept them by his side for the rest of the day.
When they entered the gates of the capital, the eyes of the people who crowded the streets were fixed on the two young men, strangers to every one.
“Oh, if only the Sultan had had sons like that!” they murmured, “They look so handsome and are about the same age that his sons would have been!”
The Sultan ordered that splendid rooms should be prepared for the two brothers, and even insisted that they should have dinner with him. During dinner he talked about various scientific subjects, and also history, of which he was especially fond, but whatever topic they might be discussing he found that the views of the young men were always worth listening to. “If they were my own sons,” he said to himself, “they could not be better educated!” and he complimented them on their knowledge.
At the end of the evening the princes once more bowed before the throne and asked to return home; and then, encouraged by the kind words of farewell spoken by the Sultan, Prince Bahman said, “Sire, may we ask whether you would do us and our sister the honour of resting for a few minutes at our house the first time the hunt passes that way?”
“With the greatest pleasure,” replied the Sultan; “And as I am impatient to see the sister of such talented young men you may expect me the day after tomorrow.”
The princess was of course most anxious to entertain the Sultan in a suitable way, but as she had no experience in court customs she ran to the Talking Bird, and begged him to advise her as to what dishes should be served.
“My dear mistress,” replied the bird, “Your cooks are very good and you can safely leave all to them, except that you must be careful to have a dish of cucumbers, stuffed with pearl sauce, served with the first course.”
“Cucumbers stuffed with pearls!” exclaimed the princess. “Why, bird, whoever heard of such a dish? The Sultan will expect a dinner he can eat, and not one he can only admire! Besides, if I were to use all the pearls I possess, they would not be enough.”
“Mistress,” replied the bird, “do what I tell you and it will all turn out well. And as to the pearls, if you go at dawn tomorrow and dig at the foot of the first tree in the park, on the right hand, you will find as many as you want.”
The princess had faith in the bird, who generally proved to be right, and taking the gardener with her early next morning followed his directions carefully. After digging for some time they came upon a golden box.
The box was found to be full of pearls, not very large ones, but well-shaped and of a good colour. So leaving the gardener to fill up the hole he had made under the tree, the princess took up the box and returned to the house.
The two princes had seen her go out, and had wondered what could have made her rise so early. Full of curiosity they got up and dressed, and met their sister as she was returning with the box under her arm.
“What have you been doing?” they asked, “Did the gardener come to tell you he had found a treasure?”
“On the contrary,” replied the princess, “it is I who have found one,” and opening the box she showed her astonished brothers the pearls inside. Then, on the way back to the palace, she told them of what advice the bird, had given her. All three tried to guess the meaning, but they were forced at last to admit the explanation was beyond them.
The first thing the princess did on entering the palace was to send for the head cook and to order the dinner for the Sultan When she had finished she suddenly added, “Besides the dishes I have mentioned there is one that you must prepare for the Sultan, and that no one must touch but yourself. It consists of a stuffed cucumber, and the stuffing is to be made of these pearls.”
The head cook, who had never in all his experience heard of such a dish, stepped back in amazement.
“You think I am mad,” answered the princess, who could see what he was thinking. “But I know quite well what I am doing. Go, and do your best, and take the pearls with you.”
The next morning the princes started for the forest, and were soon joined by the Sultan. The hunt began and continued till mid-day, when the heat became so great that they were forced to rest. Then, as arranged, they turned their horses’ heads towards the palace, and while Prince Bahman remained by the side of the Sultan, Prince Perviz rode on to warn his sister of their approach.
The moment his Highness entered the courtyard, the princess threw herself at his feet, but he bent and raised her, and gazed at her for some time, impressed with her grace and beauty. “They are all worthy,” he said to himself, “And I am not surprised that they think so much of her opinions. I must find out more about them.”
By this time the princess had recovered from the first embarrassment of meeting, and made her speech of welcome.
“This is only a simple country house, sire,” she said, “suitable for people like ourselves, who live a quiet life. It cannot compare with the smallest of the Sultan’s palaces.”
“I cannot quite agree with you,” He replied, “Even the little that I have seen I admire greatly.”
The princess then led the way from room to room, and the Sultan examined everything carefully. “Do you call this a simple country house?” he said at last. “Why, if every country house was like this, the towns would soon be deserted. I am no longer astonished that you do not wish to leave it. Let us go into the gardens, which I am sure are no less beautiful than the rooms.”
A small door opened straight into the garden, and the first object that met the Sultan’s eyes was the Golden Water.
“What lovely coloured water!” he exclaimed, “where is the spring, and how do you make the fountain rise so high? I do not believe there is anything like it in the world.” He went forward to examine it, and when he had satisfied his curiosity, the princess conducted him towards the Singing Tree.
As they drew near, the Sultan was startled by the sound of strange voices, but could see nothing. “Where have you hidden your musicians?” he asked the princess; “Are they up in the air, or under the earth? Surely the owners of such charming voices should not hide themselves!”
“Sire,” answered the princess, “The voices all come from the tree which is straight in front of us, and if you will take a few steps, you will see that they become clearer.”
The Sultan did as he was told, and was so delighted at what he heard that he stood some time in silence.
“Tell me madam,” he said at last, “How this marvelous tree came into your garden? It must have been brought from a great distance, or else, I could not have missed hearing of it! What is its name?”
“The only name it has, sire,” replied she, “Is the Singing Tree, and it is not a native of this country. Its history is mixed up with those of the Golden Water and the Talking Bird, which you have not yet seen. If your Highness wishes I will tell you the whole story, when you have recovered from your tiredness.”
“Indeed, madam,” replied he, “You show me so many wonders that it is impossible to feel any tiredness. Let us go once more and look at the Golden Water and I am dying to see the Talking Bird.”
The Sultan could hardly tear himself away from the Golden Water, which puzzled him more and more. “You say,” he observed to the princess, “That this water does not come from any spring, or brought by pipes. All I understand, is that neither it nor the Singing Tree is a native of this country.”
“It is as you say, sire,” answered the princess, “And if you examine the basin, you will see that it is all in one piece, and therefore the water could not have been brought through it. What is more astonishing is, that I only emptied a small flaskful into the basin, and it increased to the quantity you now see.”
“Well, I will look at it no more today,” said the Sultan. “Take me to the Talking Bird.”
On approaching the house, the Sultan noticed a vast quantity of birds, whose voices filled the air, and he inquired why they were so much more numerous here than in any other part of the garden.
“Sire,” answered the princess, “Do you see that cage hanging in one of the windows of the room? That is the Talking Bird, whose voice you can hear above them all, even above that of the nightingale. And the birds crowd to this spot, to add their songs to his.”
The Sultan stepped through the window, but the bird took no notice, continuing his song as before.
“My slave,” said the princess, “this is the Sultan. Make him a pretty speech.”
The bird stopped singing at once, and all the other birds stopped too.
“The Sultan is welcome,” he said. “I wish him long life and all prosperity.”
“I thank you, good bird,” answered the Sultan, seating himself before the meal, which was spread at a table near the window, “And I am enchanted to see you, the King of the Birds.”
The Sultan, noticing that his favorite dish of cucumber was placed before him, started to help himself to it, and was amazed to find that the stuffing was of pearls. “A novelty, indeed!” cried he, “But I do not understand the reason for it. One cannot eat pearls!”
“Sire,” replied the bird, before either the princes or the princess could speak, “Surely your Highness cannot be so surprised at seeing a cucumber stuffed with pearls, when you believed without any difficulty that the Sultana had given birth to a dog, a cat, and a log of wood.”
“I believed it,” answered the Sultan, “because the women looking after her told me so.”
“The women, sire,” said the bird, “were the sisters of the Sultana, who were full of jealousy at the honour you had given her, and in order to revenge themselves invented this story. Have them questioned, and they will admit their crime. These are your children, who were saved from death by the superintendent of your gardens, and brought up by him as if they were his own.”
Like a flash the truth came to the mind of the Sultan. “Bird,” he cried, “my heart tells me that what you say is true. My children,” he added, “let me embrace you.”
When the first moments of emotion were over, the Sultan hurried to finish his meal, and then turning to his children he exclaimed, “Today you have met your father. Tomorrow I will bring you the Sultana your mother. Be ready to receive her.”
The Sultan then mounted his horse and rode quickly back to the capital. Immediately he sent for the grand-vizier, and ordered him to seize and question the Sultana’s sisters that very day. This was done. They were tried and found guilty, and were executed in less than an hour.
But the Sultan did not wait to hear that his orders had been carried out before going on foot, followed by his whole court to the door of the great mosque, and drawing the Sultana with his own hand out of the narrow prison where she had spent so many years, “Madam,” he cried, embracing her with tears in his eyes, “I have come to ask your forgiveness for what I have done for you. I have already begun by punishing your sisters for this terrible crime, and I hope you will forgive me when I introduce you to our children, who are the most charming and talented people in the whole world. Come with me, and take back your position and all the honour that is due to you.”
This speech was delivered in the presence of an enormous number of people, who had gathered from all parts when they heard what was happening, and the news was passed from mouth to mouth in a few seconds.
Early the next day the Sultan and Sultana followed by all the court, set out for the country house of their children. Here the Sultan presented them to the Sultana one by one, and for some time there was nothing but embraces and tears and tender words. Then they ate the magnificent dinner which had been prepared for them, and after they were all refreshed they went into the garden, where the Sultan pointed out to his wife the Golden Water and the Singing Tree. As to the Talking Bird, she had already met him.
In the evening they rode together back to the capital, the princes on each side of their father, and the princess with her mother. Long before they reached the gates the way was lined with people, and the air filled with shouts of welcome, with which were mingled the songs of the Talking Bird, sitting in its cage on the lap of the princess, and of the birds who followed it.
And in this manner they came back to their father’s palace.