ANY years ago, on a lovely afternoon, the Caliph Casid of Bagdad sat at his ease on a luxurious sofa. It was a very hot day; he had had a sound nap, and had awakened in the happiest of moods. He drew a few puffs through his long rosewood-stemmed pipe, sipped the coffee brought by an obsequious slave, and stroked his long beard with an air of extreme satisfaction. It was evident that the Caliph felt at peace with the world. Indeed, at such an hour he was easy to approach, and so every day he received a visit from his Grand Vizier, Mansor.
But on this particular afternoon the Grand Vizier seemed rather thoughtful and disinclined to talk; so the Caliph, taking his pipe from his mouth, said:
"What is the matter with you to-day, Mansor?"
The Grand Vizier crossed his arms on his breast, and bowing low answered:
"Mighty lord, there is really nothing the matter; but outside the Castle stands a merchant who has such beautiful wares that I feel quite unhappy that I have no money to spare and to spend."
The Caliph, who had always rather favoured the Grand Vizier, at once sent a black slave to conduct the merchant to his presence. Not many moments did he wait ere a little fat man, with sunbrowned face and ragged garments, appeared. This was the merchant, and he carried a pack containing all sorts of treasures–pearls and rings, richly ornamented pistols, golden cups and combs. The Caliph and the Vizier turned the articles over and over, and the Caliph bought some fine pistols for himself and Mansor, and for the Vizier's wife a comb. While the merchant was packing up his wares in his box, the Caliph noticed therein a small drawer, and asked what it held. The merchant opened the drawer, and showed them a snuff-box containing some black powder, and a small piece of paper, on which was written something which neither the Caliph nor the Vizier could read.
"I got these from a merchant in Mecca," said the pedlar, "and do not know what the writing means. If you like, you can have them for a trifling sum."
The Caliph, who had in his library many rare manuscripts which he could not decipher, but in the possession of which he took pride, bought both snuff-box and paper and dismissed the pedlar. He was, however, very curious about the meaning of the writing, so asked the Vizier if he knew any one who could translate it.
"Gracious lord and master," answered Mansor, "near the great Mosque lives a man named Selim the Scholar, who understands all languages. Bid him come hither; perhaps he can read these secret instructions."
The learned man was sent for at once.
"Selim," said the Caliph, "you are said to be well informed. Look at this writing: if you can read it you shall have a fine new coat; if you cannot, you shall be bastinadoed on back and feet, and every one shall know that Selim the Scholar has not the wisdom he pretends."
Selim bowed humbly and said: "Thy will be done, great lord!" For some minutes he scanned the writing, then exclaimed: "This is Latin, great lord; if not, may I be hanged!"
"Then if it be Latin, tell us what it says," returned the Caliph.
Selim read thus: "'Thou, who this findest, praise Allah for his mercy! Whoever snuffs the powder in this box and says "Mutabor," changes himself to the form of an animal, and will be able to understand animal language. Should he desire to resume his manhood, he need only turn to the east, bow three times, and repeat the word. But he must beware lest during his metamorphosis he laugh; if so, he will forget the magic word and remain for ever an animal.'"
Satisfied with Selim's translation, the Caliph, binding him by solemn oaths not to divulge the secret between them, gave him a new kaftan and sent him away. To his Grand Vizier he said: "I call that a good bargain, Mansor! I should like for once in a way to be an animal. To-morrow morning come to me. We will go together outside the city, snuff a little of this powder, and understand, perhaps, the language of those which fly, swim, or crawl."
Hardly had the Caliph Casid breakfasted the following morning ere the Grand Vizier appeared ready for the appointed walk. The Caliph put the snuff-box safely in his sash, and bidding his followers remain in the city, set out alone with the Grand Vizier. First they walked through the gardens of the Caliphate; but hurriedly, for they were anxious to try the experiment, and the Vizier spoke of a pond outside the walls where he had seen many animals, but particularly storks, whose dignified actions and hoarse cries had often attracted his attention.
The Caliph, therefore, decided in favour of the pond, and together they walked to its bank, where there were quite a number of these quaint birds, who took no notice of their approach, but continued to fish for frogs. At the same time they noticed overhead another stork which was hastening to join the rest.
"I'll wager my beard," said the Vizier, "that these storks have plenty to say to each other. What do you think of our turning storks for a time?"
"An excellent idea," said the Caliph. "But first let us carefully remember exactly how to become men again. We must bow three times to the east, and say 'Mutabor,' then I shall be Caliph and you Grand Vizier. But, in the name of Allah, no laughing, or we shall indeed be in a fix!"
While the Caliph was speaking, he observed how the Stork above their heads balanced his wings and slowly dropped to earth. Quickly he drew forth the box, took a good pinch of snuff, the Vizier doing the same, and both cried: "Mutabor."
Immediately their legs shrivelled and became thin and red; their lovely yellow slippers became storks' feet and their arms wings; their necks stretched till they were nearly a yard long; their beards disappeared, and their bodies were covered with feathers.
"You have a beautiful bill, my Grand Vizier," said the Caliph in some astonishment. "By the beard of the Prophet, this is indeed a transformation."
"Thank you for the compliment," said the Grand Vizier, bowing. "May I return it by saying that your Highness is even handsomer as a stork than as a Caliph? But would it not be as well to join our comrades at once, and ascertain whether we really can understand stork language?"
By this time the other Stork had settled down. It rubbed its bill against its feet, plumed its feathers and went to the pond. The two new Storks, however, hurried after it, and on nearing the group, to their amazement, heard the following conversation:
"Good morning, Madame Longlegs. You are out early this morning."
"Good morning to you, dear Chatterbox! Yes, I have had a nice little breakfast. How have you fared? I suppose you only 'pecked a bit'–a mere quarter of a lizard or hind leg of a frog!"
"Thank you very much. I have not much appetite to-day. Besides, I have to dance for the entertainment of my father's guests. Excuse me if I leave you. I must practise a few steps."
And without ceremony Miss Stork left her companions and at once began her posturing. The Caliph and the Vizier watched her with curious interest; but when she stood on one foot and waved her wings affectedly, they could no longer contain their feelings, but broke into a hearty peal of laughter.
The Caliph was the first to realise the seriousness of the situation. "This is a joke which gold cannot pay for," said he.
The Grand Vizier, too, began to regret that they had not sufficiently remembered that they were on no account to laugh. He tried to conceal his discomfiture by exclaiming: "By Mecca and Medina! It would be a fine thing if I must remain a stork for ever. Can you, my lord, remember that stupid word? It has completely slipped my memory."
Said the Caliph: "Three times must we bow towards the east; and then say 'Mu— Mu— Mu—'" but no more could he recall, and both he and the Caliph had no choice but to remain Storks.
Sadly they wandered through the fields, not knowing what their unfortunate condition might bring upon them. Storks they must remain for the present. It was useless to return to the city and attempt to explain themselves, for who would believe a Stork if he said: "Good people, I am your Caliph!" Or, if belief were accorded, was it likely that the people of Bagdad would consent to be ruled by a Stork? So day by day passed by, and they sustained themselves with wild fruit, finding some difficulty in eating with those long bills. For lizards and frogs they had no appetite. Their one pleasure in this unfortunate state was the ability to fly, and they often flew to Bagdad, and from the roofs watched the doings in the city.
At first they only noticed much sorrow and bewilderment on the part of the people; but about four days after their transformation, as they were resting on the roof of the Caliph's palace, they saw a splendid procession pass through the streets.
Drums and pipes sounded, a man in a gold and scarlet cloak sat on a splendidly caparisoned horse surrounded with liveried guards. Half Bagdad acclaimed him thus:
"Hail, Miszra, Lord of Bagdad!"
The two Storks looked at one another; and then the Caliph said:
"Guess you not, Mansor, why I have been bewitched? This Miszra is the son of my greatest enemy, the mighty magician Cassimir, who in an evil hour swore revenge against me. But I will not despair! Come with me, faithful companion in misery. Let us make a pilgrimage to the grave of the Prophet. Perhaps on that holy spot we shall recall the magic word."
So they forsook the roof of the Palace, and flew towards Medina.
But they were not yet well accustomed to flying, for they had had little practice, and at last the Grand Vizier gasped out:
"Great lord, with your permission I will rest a little. You fly too fast for me. Evening draws near; would it not be well to seek some shelter for to-night?"
To this the Caliph agreed, and as they perceived in the valley near by a ruin which still had some sort of a roof, they flew in its direction. It had evidently been at one time a castle. Although terribly dilapidated, there were remains of stately apartments and splendid passages. The Caliph and the Vizier traversed these with some interest, but suddenly Mansor stopped.
"Lord and deliverer," faltered he, "it is rather ridiculous for a Grand Vizier, even for a Stork, to be afraid of ghosts. But I hear sobbings and sighings, and my courage fails me!"
The Caliph paused and listened, and heard most unmistakably the soft weeping either of a human being or some animal. Full of impatience, he would have pressed forward to ascertain the cause of this distress, but the Grand Vizier seized hold of Casid's wing so that he should not wantonly rush into any new danger. But it was no use. The Caliph, whether man or stork, had a brave heart, and wrenching himself free at the expense of a few feathers, he plunged into a dark passage. Ere long he came to some broken stairs leading to a door, only half fastened, and from behind which the sobs evidently came. Pressing his beak against this door and carefully awaiting surprises, he saw through the narrow opening a ruined chamber, lighted only by a deep casement window on the sill of which was sitting a large night-owl. Thick tears were streaming from her big round eyes, and with plaintive cries she bemoaned her lot. But when she saw the Caliph and the Grand Vizier she uttered a joyful cry. Hastily brushing the tears from her eyes with a dexterous movement of her brown wings, she, much to the astonishment of the two men, called out in excellent Arabic:
"Welcome, welcome, good Storks. You are the tokens of my deliverance; for long ago it was told me that through Storks I should meet with good luck."
As soon as the Caliph recovered from his astonishment, he drew his feet together in an elegant pose, bowed his long neck, and said:
"Night-Owl! From your words I gather you are a fellow-sufferer with ourselves. But, alas! any hope you may have formed as to our capacity to assist you is doomed to disappointment. You will the better understand this if we relate to you our sad story."
When the Caliph concluded his recital the Owl said:
"Listen to my tale of woe, and then you will agree that I am as unfortunate as you. My father is the King of India, and I, his only and unhappy daughter, am named Lusa. The magician Cassimir, who bewitched you, worked his arts on me also. He came one day to my father, and asked me in marriage for his son Miszra. My father threw him down the palace stairs. But the wretch determined on an abominable vengeance, and one morning when I was walking in the palace garden he disguised himself as a slave, and brought me a goblet containing a draught, which had the effect of changing me into an Owl. He then conveyed me to this place, and his hateful voice hissed in my ear these terrible words:
"'In this horrible tower you shall remain till you die, unless some one, in spite of your hideous condition, will make you his wife. So I revenge myself on you and your father!'
"Since then many months have passed by, and all alone I have lived in this gloomy tower. Nature's beauties cannot console me, for in the daytime I am blind; only at night can I see."
The Owl paused, and again brushed from her eyes the tears caused by her sad thoughts.
The story told by the Princess made the Caliph very grave.
"It seems to me," he said at last, "that between your troubles and mine own there is some resemblance; but where shall we find the key to this riddle?"
The Owl replied:
"My lord, I only know this, that when I was a quite young girl, a wise woman foretold that a Stork would bring me luck; and I have an idea how we may deliver ourselves."
The Caliph was astounded, and asked what she meant.
"The magician who has wrought evil on us all," said she, "comes once every month to these ruins. Not far from this apartment is a large hall; there he and others of his sort hold feastings and consultations. I have often watched them. They tell each other of their scandalous tricks; perhaps this next time they meet, the magic word you have so unfortunately forgotten may be disclosed."
"Oh, dearest Princess," cried the Caliph, "tell us when will they come, and where is the hall?"
The Owl was silent for a few minutes. Then: "Do not think me unkind," said she, "but it is only on one condition that I can grant your wish–"
"Name it, name it," cried Casid. "Every moment is precious, and no conditions will be too difficult!"
The Owl replied: "I also wish to be free; but this can only happen if one of you offers to marry me–that is the condition."
At this the Storks seemed rather confused, and the Caliph beckoned the Grand Vizier aside.
"Mansor," said he, whispering, "this is a stupid idea; but you can marry the Owl afterwards."
"Indeed," said the Vizier, "so that my wife may scratch my eyes out when I return home! Besides, look what an old man I am. You are young and unmarried, and can easily offer your hand to a young and beautiful Princess!"
"That is just the point," sighed the Caliph dejectedly, drooping his wings. "How do we know she is young and beautiful? I do not care to buy a pig in a poke."
They spoke seriously for some time, but when the Caliph realised that the Vizier would rather remain a Stork than marry the Owl, he gave way, and agreed himself to fulfil this hard condition. The Owl was delighted with the result of their conference. She assured them that they had all chanced to meet at a particularly lucky moment, for this very night the merchants would assemble.
So all three together they left the chamber and went towards the hall. Through many dark passages they softly stepped. At last a bright light streamed through a crack in a wall. As they approached nearer the Owl begged them to make no noise whatever. From the stones on which they stood they could perceive all that was going on in the hall. Many-coloured lamps shed a light equal to that of day. In the middle was a round table with a variety of choice dishes thereon. Round about the table were couches on which men were sitting. In one of these men the Caliph recognised the pedlar who had sold the magic powder. His neighbour at table was asking him for the latest details of his business. Then, among other anecdotes, he told the story of the Caliph and his Vizier.
"And what was the word you gave him?" asked another magician.
"A Latin word, 'Mutabor,'" was the reply.
When the Storks heard this they were beside themselves with joy. They ran so fast from the place that the Owl could scarcely keep up with them.
Then said the Caliph to the Owl: "Saviour of my life and of the life of my friend, receive our ever-heartfelt thanks and honour me by becoming my wife." Then he turned to the east, for the first rays of the morning sun were showing above the mountain-tops, and he and the Vizier bowed their long necks.
"Mutabor," cried they, and in an instant were they restored to their former state; and in the delight of the moment the Caliph and Vizier laughed and wept in each other's arms. But imagine their astonishment when they saw a lovely woman, most beautifully dressed, standing before them, who smilingly gave her hand to the Caliph.
"Cannot you recognise your Night-Owl?" said she; and the Caliph was so enraptured with her beauty and grace than he more than once declared that he was only too glad that he had been changed into a Stork.
Three very happy people journeyed together to Bagdad. The Caliph found among his clothes, not only the snuff-box, but his purse; and was therefore able to buy, in the villages they passed through, such things as were necessary, so without any delay they reached the city. Arriving there the Caliph heard strange news. He had been mourned as dead. Now, however, his people hastened to rejoice over his happy return, and with each hour their hatred of the usurper Miszra increased. The crowd rushed to the Palace and seized both father and son. The old man was sent by the Caliph to the tower in which the Princess had lived as an Owl, and there he was hanged. To the son, who was ignorant of his father's magic arts, the Caliph gave the choice of death or a pinch of snuff. As he chose the latter, the Grand Vizier handed him the box. A mighty pinch–and the magic word pronounced by the Caliph changed Miszra into a Stork, and confined in an iron cage, he passed the rest of his life in the Palace garden.
Long and happily lived the Caliph Casid with his Princess wife: his happiest hours, perhaps, still being those of the Grand Vizier's afternoon calls, when they often talked over their strange experiences. And sometimes when the Caliph was in a merry mood he would tease the Grand Vizier about his appearance as a Stork. He would strut stiffly up and down the apartment, flap his arms as if they were wings, and bow as the forgetful Vizier did, crying, "Mu, Mu!" This little scene always gave great delight to the Calipha and her children; but after the Caliph had made fun of his friend with his clapping, croaking, and bowing, and his "Mu, mu, mu!" the Vizier was wont to request that the part of the story referring to the Night-Owl the Calipha herself should relate.
OR many years Lezah was Cadi of Acara. He had two children, whose names were Mustapha and Fatima. There was only two years difference in their ages, and they loved each other dearly. When Fatima's sixteenth birthday came, her brother prepared a little feast, to which he invited all their playfellows. The repast included only the daintiest dishes, and towards evening he suggested that they should all go for a row on the sea in a barque, which he had had specially decorated for the occasion.
Fatima and her young guests were delighted, for the evening was so fine and the view of the town from the water very picturesque. The girls, however, enjoyed themselves so much that they persuaded Mustapha to row farther and farther away from the shore. This he rather unwillingly did, for a few days ago he had noticed the presence of a Corsair in the bay.
Not far from the town there was a promontory stretching out into the sea, and the maidens wished to go there and watch the setting sun sink into the peaceful waters. As they rowed round it they noticed a boat, in which were some armed men, and fearing disaster, Mustapha ordered his men to turn the barque round and go back to the landing stage. It seemed almost as if his misgivings were correct, for the other boat immediately followed Mustapha's, then passed it, and kept deliberately between it and the shore. The maidens when they realised their danger became so frightened that they clung together and wept and wailed, and in spite of Mustapha's efforts to reassure them, and his warnings that if they did not sit still the barque might be upset, they became so wild with terror that on the near approach of the Corsair's boat, they crowded to one side and were overturned.
In the meantime the people on the banks had noticed the strange boat, and their suspicions had been aroused; and several craft had put off in order to assist Mustapha should it be necessary. But they only arrived in time to witness the accident. In the confusion the strange boat got away, and as the rescued were placed in different skiffs it was impossible to know at once if all were saved. But by degrees it was only too certain that Fatima and one of her playmates were missing, and that in one of the boats was a man whom no one knew. In reply to Mustapha's threats he admitted that he belonged to a ship which was anchored about two miles away, and that his captors had left him in the lurch as he was trying to save some of the young girls; and that he knew they had taken two off to the ship.
The old father's grief was terrible to witness, and Mustapha was simply heartbroken, for besides the loss of Fatima, the playmate also missing was a young girl to whom he was secretly betrothed; the slender circumstances of her parents having prevented him from acquainting his own father, a proud and haughty man, of the fact.
When his grief had somewhat subsided, the Cadi sent for Mustapha and said: "Through your stupidity I have lost the light of my eyes and the comfort of my old age. Go away from here; I banish you for ever from my sight. May my curse pursue you, only to be removed when you bring Fatima again to me!"
This was a shock to Mustapha; for he had made a vow to find his sister and her companion, and would fain have asked his father's blessing on the endeavour; but now he was sent out into the world bearing the heavy burden of a curse. And the bitterest thought was that it was undeserved.
He sought out the prison where the pirate sailor lay, and asked for news as to the trade of the ship; and was told that the captain trafficked in slaves, which he sold in the great market-place at Balsora. When he returned to the house to prepare for his journey, he found that his father was less angry, and had sent him a purse of gold for the expenses of his journey. Mustapha next took a tearful farewell of Zoraide's parents, and started on the way to Balsora, going as far as possible by land, as no ship was leaving Acara for the port he desired, and travelling in hot haste, so as not to be far behind the pirates. At the end of four days, as he was riding all alone, three men suddenly attacked him. He saw that they were well armed, and as he valued his horse and his gold less than his life, he shouted that he would surrender. They bound his feet together beneath his horse, set him in their midst, and one of them took his reins and led him along without speaking a word.
Mustapha now felt afraid that his father's curse was beginning to work, and could hardly dare to hope that his quest on behalf of his sister and Zoraide could succeed, since all his valuables were seized and only his wretched life spared him. He and his silent captors had ridden for about an hour, when they came upon a little valley, surrounded by high trees, and through which flowed a narrow silvery brook. Here he saw from fifteen to twenty tents, and tethered near by were camels and splendid horses; from one of the tents came the sound of a zither and men's voices singing. It seemed to Mustapha that people who could choose such a lovely place to camp in could not have any evil designs on him, and he followed his captors, who had loosened his bonds and signed to him to dismount, without anxiety or hesitation. They led him towards the largest tent, which was beautifully arranged inside. Splendidly covered cushions, hand-made carpets, golden censers, proved that this tent belonged to no common robber. On one of the cushions sat a little old man, hideous to behold; but by the behaviour of his companions Mustapha felt sure that not for him was the tent so handsomely furnished.
"Where is the Chief?" asked one of the men.
"He is out hunting," was the reply, "and ordered me to take his place in his absence."
"That is a pity," said one of the robbers, "for we want to know if this man shall live or die; and he can decide that better than you."
The little man rose with offended dignity, and would evidently have liked to pull the robber by the ear, but failing in his intention, the two together began struggling and fighting. Suddenly the curtain of the tent was thrown back, and a tall, handsome man entered. His garments, his splendid weapons, betokened his condition, but more impressive far were his noble features, and calm, penetrating eyes.
"Who is it who dares to quarrel in my tent?" he asked.
A brief silence–and then one of the men who brought Mustapha to the camp explained how it happened; and hearing him, the Chief's fine face reddened with anger.
"When did I set you in my place, Hassan?" thundered he.
The little man crept crestfallen from the tent, his lingering steps quickened by a threatening gesture on the part of the Chief.
When Hassan had withdrawn, the three robbers brought Mustapha to the Chief, who had thrown himself on the luxurious cushions.
"We bring you one whose capture you desired," said they.
The Chief looked earnestly at Mustapha and said:
"Bashaw of Sulieika, thy conscience will tell thee why thou standest before Orbassan."
When Mustapha heard these words, he threw himself before the Chief and cried: "My lord, there is some great mistake. I am a most unhappy wretch, but not the Bashaw whom thou seekest."
All those in the tent were amazed at these words, and Orbassan said: "Your denial will not help you, for I can call people who know you well;" and he gave orders that Zuleima should be brought before him; who when asked if she recognised the prisoner, said: "Certainly, my lord, he is the Bashaw of Sulieika, and no one else!"
"See," said the Chief, "how little your lie has availed you. I despise you too much to soil my dagger with your miserable blood; but on the back of one of my horses shall you be bound to-morrow morning, and through the forest I will pursue you until the sun sets behind the hills of Sulieika."
Then Mustapha's courage failed him. "My father's curse is haunting me," he cried, "and now indeed, dear sister, and still dearer Zoraide, are you lost."
"Resistance is no good," whispered one of the robbers, as he bound the captive's hands behind his back. "Best come quietly out of the tent, for the Chief is biting his lips and looking at his dagger. Come, if you wish to live till to-morrow."
As the robbers drew Mustapha out of the tent, they met three comrades with a prisoner.
"We bring the Bashaw, as you commanded," said they, and led the captive before the Chief. As the prisoner was going into the tent, Mustapha had an opportunity of observing him, and was struck with the extraordinary likeness to himself, save that the stranger was darker and his beard blacker.
The Chief was also astonished at the resemblance between the two men. "Which of you is the right man?" he asked, looking from one to the other.
"If you mean which is the Bashaw of Sulieika," said the latest prisioner haughtily, "I am he!"
The Chief looked attentively at him, then signed to the men to take their prisoner away, and when alone with Mustapha cut his bonds with the dagger blade, and invited him to be seated.
"I am sorry, stranger," said he, "that I mistook you for another; but you may thank Heaven that you did not fall into my brother's hands."
Mustapha then begged permission to continue his journey without delay, as every moment was of such dire importance. The Chief inquired the object of his travellings, and having heard, suggested that a night's rest would be best for man and beast, and promised on the morrow to show him a short route by which he would reach Balsora in a day and a half. Mustapha willingly consented to remain, and slept soundly till morning.
When he awoke he found himself alone in the tent, but through the curtains he could hear voices in discussion, among them those of the Chief and the little black man. He listened, and, to his horror, heard the dwarf suggest that Mustapha should be put to death in case he might betray them. Mustapha was certain that the dwarf owed him a grudge on account of the struggle in the tent the day before; but the Chief, after a moment's thought, said:
"No! he is my guest, and as such his person is sacred, and I am sure he is no traitor!"
As he spoke these words he threw the curtains back and cried: "Peace be with you, Mustapha. Let us pledge each other, and then you must prepare for your journey."
The attendant immediately brought goblets of sherbet, and when they had drunk, they mounted their steeds, and with a light heart Mustapha took his departure.
They soon left the camp behind, and crossed an open space which led into the forest. The Chief told Mustapha that the Bashaw, whom they had once caught on the chase, had promised not in any way to molest them; but for many weeks he had captured their bravest men, and after tormenting them cruelly had hanged them. The Chief had been watching for him some time, and to-day the Bashaw must die. Mustapha felt thankful at his own happy escape.
At the far end of the forest the Chief reined in his horse, instructed Mustapha as to his way, shook him by the hand, and said:
"Mustapha, you have, by extraordinary circumstance, been the guest of the bandit Orbassan. I know well you will not disclose anything you have seen or heard. You have passed through danger of death, and I admire your fortitude. Take this dagger in remembrance, and should you need help at any time, send it to me, and I will hasten to your assistance. This purse, I pray you, use on your journey."
Mustapha thanked him for his generosity; he took the dagger, but returned the gold. Orbassan, however, dropped it from his hand, and it lay unheeded on the ground as he sprang to his horse. When he was well out of sight Mustapha picked up the purse, and was startled to find such evidence of his host's magnificence, for the value of the gold was great. He thanked God for his escape, commended the noble robber to His protection, and continued his journey to Balsora at his best speed.
On the seventh day of his journeyings Mustapha rode through the gates of Balsora. Dismounting at an inn, he asked when the slave-market would be held. To his dismay he learnt that he was two days late. The bystanders sympathised with his disappointment, and told him he had lost an excellent opportunity, for on the very last day of the market two most lovely slaves had been brought in, who had attracted the admiration of all the buyers.
Many wished to purchase them, but the biddings went so high that no one could compete with their ultimate possessor. Further inquiries convinced Mustapha that these two slaves were his sister and Zoraide. He also learnt that their owner was named Thiuli-Kos, and lived quite forty hours' journey from Balsora. He was a rich and elderly man, formerly ruler of Kapudan and a Bashaw, but now quietly managed his large dominions.
Mustapha felt inclined to mount his horse at once and follow Thiuli-Kos without delay. But he remembered that alone and without escort he was powerless against a mighty traveller, and had to think what would be a really possible way to carry out his plans. The strange likeness between himself and the Bashaw of Sulieika, which had nearly been so disastrous to him, gave him the idea of assuming the name, and of so gaining an entrance into the house of Thiuli-Kos, with the prospect of rescuing the unfortunate maidens.
He was able, thanks to Orbassan's generosity, to hire servants and horses, and buy suitable outfit for them and himself ere starting on his journey to the Castle. After five days they were in its neighbourhood. It stood in a fine position, and was surrounded by walls which were almost as high as the building itself.
When he reached the Castle, he dyed his hair and beard black, but only slightly darkened the colour of his skin in order to make his face more like to the Bashaw's. Then he sent his servants in advance to the Castle to crave a night's hospitality for the Bashaw of Sulieika. The servants returned, and with them four handsomely dressed slaves, who took Mustapha's horse by the bridle and led it to the courtyard. There they held it while he dismounted, and four other attendants led him up a broad marble staircase to Thiuli, who with great friendliness welcomed him, and ordered a meal to be prepared. After he had eaten, Mustapha turned the conversation to the subject of the new slaves, and Thuili spoke enthusiastically of their good looks, but feared their continual fretting would soon destroy their beauty. Satisfied with the success, so far, of his adventure, Mustapha withdrew to rest.
He could hardly have slept an hour, when he was disturbed by the glare of a lamp held close to his face. He roused himself, and thought he must be dreaming, for it was no other than the little brown-faced dwarf from Orbassan's tent who had awakened him. Mustapha pinched and pulled himself to see if it were reality or imagination.
"Why are you here by my bed?" cried Mustapha, as soon as he had recovered from his surprise.
"Do not excite yourself, my lord," said the dwarf. "I know well why you are come hither. Your face is perfectly familiar to me, though if I had not with my own hands helped to hang the Bashaw, I might have been deceived. Now I have something to ask."
"First tell me why you are here," said Mustapha, furious to find he had been recognised.
"Willingly. I could no longer bear the rule of the Chief Orbassan, so I left him; but you, Mustapha, were partly the cause of our quarrel, so you must promise me your sister for my wife. If you do so I will help you in both rescue and flight; if not, I will go to my new master and tell him you are an impostor."
Mustapha was beside himself with rage to think that just as he had so nearly succeeded in his difficult task, this wretched dwarf should suddenly thwart him. There was only one way out of the difficulty–he must kill the man, and he sprang from his couch with sudden, intention; but the dwarf was not unprepared, and, dropping the lamp, ran out into the dark corridor screaming for help.
Here indeed was a catastrophe. His own safety was of first importance, and Mustapha rushed to the window to see if he could possibly jump out. It was rather high from the ground, and beyond was a wall over which he must climb. As he paused to think, he heard voices near, even at the door of his apartment. Securing his dagger and his clothes he swung himself from the casement. The fall was hard, but he had broken no bones, so ran as fast as be could to the wall, reaching it before his pursuers, and found himself once more free. He ran on till he came to a small wood, where he threw himself down to rest and consider what next to do. His horses and his servants he must leave where they were; but his money, most fortunately, was safe in his cummerbund. His busy brain soon worked out another plan. He went through the wood until he came to a village, where he bought a horse and rode to the nearest town. There he sought an apothecary, and was directed to an old and venerable man; to whom he offered a large price for a drug which would produce a deathlike sleep, and for another which would instantaneously act as an antidote.
With these in his possession he bought a long false beard, a black gown, and some books, so that he could impersonate a travelling doctor, bound these things upon a donkey's back, and went back to the Castle of Thiuli-Kos. He hoped this time to be more successful, for the beard changed his appearance so that he hardly knew himself. When he reached Thiuli, he announced himself as the physician Chakamankabudibaba, and, as he had hoped, the old ruler immediately ordered his attendance. Chakamankabudibaba presented himself before Thiuli, and they had hardly conversed for an hour before the old man thought his slave-women might as well consult this famous doctor. Mustapha could hardly conceal his pleasure at the prospect of seeing his dear sister again, and with a beating heart followed Thiuli to the Seraglio. They paused in a beautifully decorated but empty room.
"Chambaba, or whatever your name is, great doctor," said Thiuli-Kos, "observe that hole in the wall. Through it each slave will put her arm, and you can tell by the pulse if she be well or ill."
This was hardly what Mustapha desired; but he consented to do as Thiuli wished, and the old man took a long roll out of his girdle and began to call his slaves by name, and each in turn passed her hand through the wall, and the physician felt her pulse.
Six had already been declared well and strong when Thiuli called "Fatima," and a little white hand slipped through the wall. Trembling with joy, Mustapha seized it, and declared the owner to be ill undoubtedly. Thiuli was much concerned, and begged his wise Chakamankabudibaba to find some medicine which would cure her.
The physician went outside and wrote on a little slip of paper "Fatima, I will save you, if you can shut yourself up and take a draught which will make you unconscious for two days. I have another which will bring you back to life. Do not be afraid." Then Mustapha returned to the room where Thiuli was impatiently waiting, and taking with him the little draught he felt Fatima's pulse once more and slipped the paper beneath her bracelet, passing the medicine through the opening in the wall. Thiuli seemed in great distress about Fatima, and impatiently awaited the result of the examination. As he left the room with Mustapha, he said in a sad voice: "Chadibaba, what is the matter with Fatima?"
Chakamankabudibaba answered with a deep sigh:
"By the beard of the Prophet, she has a severe fever, which may, perhaps, end fatally."
At this Thiuli flew into a violent rage.
"How dare you tell me that, accursed dog of a physician. Is she, for whom I gave two thousand golden pieces, to die like an animal? By my oath, if you do not save her, I will cut your head off!"
Then Mustapha perceived that he had made a mistake, and spoke rather more hopefully. But at this moment a slave came out of the Seraglio and said that the medicine did not seem to have had a good effect.
"Put forth all your skill, Chakambababa, and whatever fee you ask shall be yours," cried Thiuli-Kos, almost beside himself with anxiety at the thought of losing so much money spent on a slave.
"I will give her another draught which will greatly help her recovery," said the physician.
"Do, do; lose no time," said old Thiuli.
Full of joy, Mustapha went to get his sleeping-draught, and when he had carefully explained to the black slave exactly how it was to be given to the patient, he went to Thiuli and said that he must go out and search for a healing herb on the shore of the lake, and left the Castle. Into the lake, which was not far from the Castle, he threw his disguise, and watched clothes and beard floating on the water; then he withdrew to a short distance, waited for sunset, and then hid himself in the burying-ground adjoining Thiuli's Castle.
Mustapha had hardly been an hour absent from the Castle when the news was brought to Thiuli that his slave Fatima was dying. He sent to the lake, telling his messenger to bring back the physician at once. The man returned alone, and told him that the poor doctor had fallen in the lake and was drowned; his black gown and beard could plainly be seen floating on the waves as they rose and fell. When Thiuli saw there was no more hope, he cursed everything and everybody, tore out the hair of his beard, and banged his head against the wall. But this did no good; and Fatima, meantime, died. When he heard the sad news, he ordered a coffin to be made directly, for he would have no dead bodies in his house, and said she was to be taken to the burial-ground. The bearers brought the coffin there, set it down, and ran away, for they had heard mysterious sobs and groans proceeding from it.
Mustapha, who had hidden himself behind some coffins and had noticed how quickly the hearers ran away from the place, stepped forward, and lighted a lamp he had brought with him. Then he drew forth the phial containing the awakening dose, and raised the lid of Fatima's coffin. But what a sad surprise awaited him! The light of the lamp shone on other features than those of his dear sister. Neither she nor Zoraide lay in that coffin, but altogether a different person. He was much cast down at this fresh blow; fate did indeed seem against him; but pity mingled with his disappointment. He opened the bottle, and poured the medicine between the lips of the swooning girl, who sighed, opened her eyes, and seemed to wonder where she was. At last she remembered all that had happened, and stepping out of the coffin threw herself at Mustapha's feet.
"How can I ever thank you, good friend," said she, "for delivering me from my dreadful seclusion?"
Mustapha interrupted her thanks with the question how it was that she, and not his sister Fatima, was the fortunate slave.
She looked at him in bewilderment.
"Now, I begin to understand," she said, "all that puzzled me before. In the Harem I was called Fatima, and you effected my escape through a misunderstanding."
Mustapha begged the slave to give him some news of his sister and Zoraide, and learnt that they were both in the castle, but Thiuli had given them other names. They were now called Mirza and Nourmahal.
When Fatima, the rescued slave, saw how bitterly downcast Mustapha was, she bade him not despair, and said she thought she could tell him of a way to seek and find his dear ones. Overjoyed at the possibility, Mustapha implored her to lose no time but to explain her meaning.
"I was for five months Thiuli's favourite," she said, "but my thoughts were always bent on escape, though alone and unaided it seemed too difficult. In the innermost courtyard you may have noticed a fountain which spouts its water through ten tubes. This fountain interested me. I remembered one like it in my father's house, and that its waters ran through a wide underground passage. In order to ascertain if this fountain was so built, I flattered Thiuli one day as to its beauty, and asked who the designer was. 'I myself;' answered he; 'and what you see is not all. The water comes at least a distance of a thousand yards, from a brook, and passes through a conduit the height of a man. All this I myself designed.' When I heard this, I often wished only for one moment to have the strength of a man; so as to remove one stone from the side of the fountain, and thus be able to escape. I will now show you this waterway; through it you can make your entrance into the Castle at night, and free your sister and Zoraide. But you must take at least two men with you, so that you can overpower the slaves who guard the Seraglio."
As she finished speaking, Mustapha, in spite of the want of success of his former efforts, felt a keen desire to make one more attempt at rescue by following the suggestions of the slave Fatima, and promised, in return for her help, to assist her safely to reach her own home. But at first he was rather perplexed as to where to get the necessary men. Then he remembered Orbassan's dagger, and taking the slave-girl with him, he set out for the robbers' camp.
In the neighbouring town where he had assumed the disguise of a physician, he bought with his last gold pieces a horse, and paid for lodgings for Fatima in the house of a poor but respectable woman. He himself hastened to the mountains, and received a most hearty welcome from Orbassan, to whom he related his continued bad luck. The treachery of the dwarf infuriated his late master, who swore to hang him with his own hand, should occasion present itself, and promised Mustapha all the help possible, suggesting that he had better fortify himself by a good night's rest.
So once more Mustapha availed himself of the Chief's hospitality, and early next morning he and Orbassan started for Balsora, taking with them trusty men, well armed and well mounted. Riding hard, in two days they reached the little town where Mustapha had left the rescued girl. Taking her with them, they rode on till they came to the small forest, from which they could see, in the distance, Thiuli's Castle, and here they encamped to await the night. As soon as it was dark, with Fatima's guidance they found the brook and the waterway. There they left Fatima, with the servants and the horses. Before they entered the conduit Fatima repeated her instructions most emphatically, namely, that they could reach the interior of the courtyard through the fountain, and on the right and left would find two towers; in the sixth door in the right-hand tower were Fatima and Zoraide, guarded by two black slaves.
Well provided with weapons and crowbars, Mustapha, Orbassan, and two attendants crept into the watercourse. After wading for half an hour in water up to their waists, they reached the fountain and began to ply their tools.
The wall was thick and strongly built, but unable to resist the united efforts of four powerful men, and they had soon broken an opening large enough to slip through easily. Orbassan went first, and helped the others, and when they were in the courtyard carefully examined the side of the Castle nearest to them, so as to ascertain the position of the door which they fain would force. But they were very doubtful which it could be, for when they found the right-hand tower, they also found that the door was nailed up, and wondered whether Fatima had made a mistake. But Orbassan did not hesitate.
"My trusty sword will open any door," said he; and forcing the fastenings, he passed through and went at once to the sixth door, the others following him.
This too they opened, and found six black slaves lying asleep on the ground; and would have drawn back, but that a man in the corner was aroused, and with well-known voice began to cry for help. He was the dwarf from Orbassan's camp. But before the slaves well knew what was happening, Orbassan seized the dwarf, tore off his sash, gagged his mouth, and tied his hands behind his back; then turned to the other slaves, whom Mustapha and the men had partly bound, and helped to overpower them. Holding their daggers to their breasts, Orbassan and Mustapha forced the wretches to say where Mirza and Nourmahal were, and were told "in the adjoining room." Mustapha hastened inside and found Fatima and Zoraide, who had been awakened by the noise. Quickly they collected their ornaments and clothes and followed Mustapha; the two robbers besought permission to plunder, but Orbassan refused it, saying, "he could not have it said that Orbassan entered houses at night to steal gold."
Mustapha and the rescued girls crept quickly into the watercourse, and Orbassan promised to follow them quickly. But first the Chief and his men took the little dwarf into the courtyard, and with a silken rope they had brought with them hanged him to the highest arm of the fountain. After he had thus punished the treachery of the dwarf, he followed Mustapha. With tears of gratitude the maidens thanked their noble-hearted deliverer; but Orbassan urged them on their journey, feeling sure that Thiuli-Kos would follow after, and on the next day, with deep emotion, Mustapha and his precious charges parted from Orbassan, assuring him that they would never forget his goodness. Fatima, the escaped slave, however, went disguised to Balsora, and from thence to her own people.
After a short and pleasant journey, the brother and sister with Zoraide arrived at their home. Their old father nearly died of joy when he saw them, and the next day gave a great fête to celebrate their return, to which the whole town was invited. To a large gathering of relations and friends Mustapha related his adventures, and universal praise was bestowed on the Robber Chief.
When the recital was ended, old Lezah stood up and called Mustapha, and led him to Zoraide's side. "Thus," said he, "I loose thee from my curse. Take this dear maid for whose sake you have endured and ventured as thy bride, and receive for ever your father's blessing."
NCE upon a time there was a dwarf; whose name was Mukrah, but who was nicknamed Little Mouk. The title fitted him well, for, although quite an old fellow, he was only about three feet high. But, though his body was small, his head was larger and rounder than those of many of his townspeople.
Mouk lived all alone in a large house; but so peculiar was he that no one would have known if he were dead or alive, except that he always went out on one particular day each month. That was a joyful occasion for the street boys! They always assembled near his house and waited to greet him. When the door opened, and first his huge head with a still larger turban peeped out, when his little figure followed clad in a shabby coloured coat and bulgy knickerbockers tied round with a broad sash through which was thrust a large dagger–so large that they never felt sure whether Mouk belonged to the dagger or the dagger to Mouk–when the little dwarf thus made his appearance, their shouts and jeers filled the air. Some of them threw their caps in the air; others danced round him singing:
"Little Mouk, Little Mouk,
Come and catch us, little Mouk!
Every day you stay at home,
Only once a month you roam.
Though your body's very small,
Your head is large enough for all,
Little Mouk, Little Mouk,
Come and catch us, little Mouk!"
Little Mouk did not mind their teasing ways, neither did he run after the boys as they would have liked him to do, but greeted them with good-humoured noddings of his head, as he slowly shuffled by with his feet in huge slippers. When his walk was done he went home, and remained indoors for another month.
Although Little Monk was believed to be well off, he was never seen in any clothes but those described. Why was this? Listen, and I will tell you:
These clothes were the only legacy Mouk's father left when he died. Mouk was then about sixteen years old. As his father was a fine, tall man, naturally his clothes did not fit the dwarfish son very well. But Mouk was not easily cast down; so cut off the parts that were too long, threw his rags away, put on his late father's apparel, stuck the famous dagger through his waist-scarf like a sword, took a stick in his hand, and wandered forth in search of fortune.
Happily enough he went along. Most of the people he met laughed heartily at his comical appearance, but he seemed not to notice this, for as Mouk's father's had been ashamed of his pigmy son, Mouk was generally kept indoors, and now he rejoiced in his freedom and the glorious sunshine. And when its rays gilded the distant dome of a mosque, or caused the waves of the lake to sparkle, the dwarf was filled with delight, thinking that at last he was reaching fairyland. But alas! the pleasures faded as his fatigue asserted itself, and pains of hunger brought him back to sad reality.
For two days he wandered about; the wild field-fruits were his food, the hard earth his bed. On the morning of the third day he saw a large town in the distance. Summoning all his strength, he started in its direction, and arrived there about mid-day. Gladly he passed through its gates and walked through its streets. But how disappointed was he! He thought the people would come out of their houses and say: "Little Mouk, come in, and eat and drink and rest your weary bones!" But no one offered him hospitality. At last, as he was looking anxiously at a fine, large house, a window was thrown open, and an old woman leant out and cried in a sing-song voice:
"Come in, come in, you're welcome here,
The table's laid, you need not fear;
Friends are waiting, don't be late,
Well-cooked food is on each plate."
The door of the house opened, and Mouk saw a number of dogs and cats run in. Reassured, he followed them, and as he entered the house, the old woman who had looked out of the window asked his business.
"You invited every one to your feast," said Little Mouk; "and as I am hungry I came!"
The old woman laughed, and said; "And where do you come from, you comical little fellow? The whole town knows that I only cook for my cats, and now and then invite their acquaintances."
Little Mouk then told the old woman how, in consequence of his father's death, he was quite homeless, and how unhappy he was. The woman, whose name was Ahavzi, felt so sorry for the little man that she offered to take him into her service.
Here his duties were light, but rather monotonous. Ahavzi had six cats, and every morning Mouk had to comb out their fur and rub them with costly ointment; at night he had to lay them on silken cushions and cover them with beautiful embroideries. He had also to attend to a little dog, though there was less fuss made about its comfort.
For some time Mouk was quite happy, for he had plenty to eat and little to do. Then he began to feel tired of it all. When Ahavzi went out for a walk, the cats were very troublesome; they raced round and round the room as if possessed, threw things down and broke several beautiful goblets which were in their way. But when they heard their mistress returning they became quite well-behaved again, and as if they never thought of mischief. And when Ahavzi saw her room in such disorder, she threw all the blame on little Mouk, scolded or beat him, no matter how much he protested his innocence.
That he had not found good fortune here, as he had hoped, troubled Little Mouk. He decided to leave the old woman's service; but ere doing so very much wished to discover the mystery of a room into which Ahavzi continually went, but which she always kept locked, whether she was at home or not.
One morning, when she had gone out, and Mouk was wondering how he could get into this room, the little dog, who had become attached to him, pulled him by his knickerbockers as if to say, "Follow me." Mouk, who loved to play with the dog, went with him, and the dog led him through a secret door into the chamber about which he had felt so curious. With great interest he looked around, but could see nothing but old clothes and wonderfully shaped goblets. One of these was of crystal, carved with beautiful figures. He took it in his hand to look more closely at it. But, oh horror! He dropped it, and it broke into a thousand atoms.
Mouk stood for a while quite terror-stricken. Now his course was clear. He must get away at once, or the old woman would beat him to death. As he was leaving the room, the dog whispered to him:
"Take that big pair of slippers, and the walking-stick with the lion's head, and your fortune is made."
Quickly Mouk took off his shoes, and put on the huge slippers; took also the walking-stick with the lion's head, rushed out of the room, put his coat on, set his father's turban on his head, stuck his dagger in his waistband, and ran out of the house and the town. And he ran so much faster than he had ever run in all his life, yet was unable to stop, a secret power seemed forcing him along. At last he noticed that the slippers seemed to take him where they wished. He tried several times to stop; but could not, until he cried in despair, "Oh! Oh! Stop! Oh!" Then the slippers stopped, and Mouk threw himself exhausted on the ground and slept heavily.
While he slept, he dreamt that the little dog whispered in his ear:
"Dear little Mouk, turn yourself once on the heel of your right slipper, then you can fly wherever you will; and with the cane you can discover where treasure is hidden. For gold, strike the earth three times; for silver twice."
As soon as Mouk awoke, he thought of his dream; so he put on his slippers, raised the left foot, and began to turn on the right heel. Immediately he fell and bruised his nose. At last he thought of the magic cane; and thus aided turned easily on heel, wishing himself in a large town far away, and behold, the slippers rose up with him, and took him swiftly through the air.
Before the little "airship" could well understand this magic, Mouk found himself in the town, and right in front of the King's Palace. Beneath its entrance gate stood the Captain of the Guard, who asked him what he wanted. Mouk replied that he "might probably become chief runner to the King."
"You, with your little feet and dwarfish body?" said the Captain of the Guard, laughing. "Go away, I am not here to joke with fools!"
But when Mouk assured him that he was in earnest, the overseer went and told the King about the little man and his desire. The King, a jovial person, ordered that his subjects should meet in the large grounds behind the Castle, and that a competition should be held which he with his Court would attend. As soon as possible all who could were hastening to the spot where the course was marked out, in order to see the boastful little dwarf run.
The King with his sons and daughters had the chief places; and when they were seated, Little Mouk with his competitors, who were the best runners in the Court, presented themselves before the King with great ceremony. A universal shout of amusement went up when every one saw the funny little man, for no one so eccentric had ever been to their town. But the competition had scarcely begun ere their laughter was turned to a wondering surprise. Mouk gave each of his opponents several yards start, yet even in his huge slippers he passed them easily and stood waiting at the winning post, while they ran in panting for breath. Lustily the crowd applauded the winner, and cried, "Long live Little Mouk, the champion runner!"
The King, however, called him up and said: "Little Mouk, you shall be my high Court runner, and always be near my person. You shall have one hundred gold pieces as a reward, and each day shall eat at table with my courtiers."
Little Mouk thought that at last his good fortune was assured. But he soon perceived that the courtiers were jealous of the favour shown him by the King. This made him sad, and he bethought himself how he could gain their friendship.
Pondering deeply, he walked one evening in an outlying part of the Castle gardens. He happened to have his walking-stick in his hand. Suddenly he felt it knock his hand, and then tap the ground three times. With his dagger he made a mark on the nearest tree and returned to the Castle. So soon as night fell, he took a spade and went to the spot to dig for the gold. After long digging he found a pot which contained many golden ducats. Little Mouk took as many as he could safely carry away, then covered up the hole carefully, and took his treasure to his chamber and hid it beneath his pillow.
The next day he divided the gold liberally between the courtiers, thinking thereby to make friends of them. But he was mistaken: for when the courtiers saw he had so much money, they were more jealous than ever.
"He is a magician," said one. "No," said another; "he is a stupid bungler, and has stolen this money from the King's coffer; there has been a large sum missing for several days."
When the King heard about it, he ordered that a secret watch be set on Little Mouk, so as to catch him in the act of stealing. So when night came, and Mouk, spade in hand, went to fetch some more gold pieces he was followed by Ahuli, the major-domo, and Archaz, the treasurer, and just as he was taking the money out of the jar and hiding it in his jacket, they seized him and led him before the King. As they rather rudely disturbed his slumbers, the King received his poor Runner-in-Chief to the Court very ungraciously. The spies had brought with them the jar which was in the ground and the jacket wherein the gold was wrapped and laid them at the King's feet, The treasurer said also that he had, while watching, seen Mouk at once find the spot where this gold was buried.
The King asked the little dwarf if this were true, and whence he obtained the gold which he had buried.
Little Mouk in the fulness of his misery said that he had discovered this jar in the garden, that he had not buried it there first.
The bystanders laughed loudly at this confession, but the King, though much amused at the simplicity of the dwarf, said:
"What, you miserable wretch! You think your King is stupid enough to believe these lies! What ho! Treasurer Archaz! I desire you to say if this sum of money tallies with that missing from my treasury."
The treasurer answered he knew for certain that as much and more had been missing from the treasury for a long time, and he could swear that this had been stolen.
Then the King commanded Little Mouk to be put in an iron cage and confined in one of the towers. But the treasurer must first count the gold. When, however, the jar was emptied before the King's eyes, to the surprise of every one there fell out a paper on which was written, "Whoever finds this treasure shall be pardoned by my son. Signed, King Saïd." King Saïd, the father of the reigning lord, had buried this treasure during a war, without being able before his death to tell his son about it. The King was so convinced that Little Mouk had been conspired against, that he ordered the treasurer to be hanged, as he believed that he had stolen the money from the royal coffers. To Little Mouk the King said:
"I will give you your freedom, if you will tell me the secret of you running power."
Little Mouk admitted that his power lay in his slippers, but the secret of turning three times on the right heel he did not disclose.
The King slipped on the shoes to try if it were true, and ran round and round the garden like a madman. He longed to stop, but did not know how to keep the shoes from running; and Little Mouk let the King continue till he fell fainting from exhaustion. When the King recovered consciousness, he was naturally furious with Little Mouk.
"I have promised you your freedom," he said, "but within twelve hours you must leave this kingdom, or I will hang you on the same gallows as the treasurer."
So poor Little Mouk wandered away, poorer far than when he came; for his slippers and his stick were taken from him and placed in the King's treasure chamber.
As he walked along he came to a thick wood, through which ran a brook overshadowed by fig-trees. Here he lay down to wait for the day. As he watched the ripe figs which swung from the branches, he murmured a blessing and picked and eat the delicious fruit. Then he went to the brook to quench his thirst. But he started back in alarm when he saw his reflection. His head had now two huge ears and a long, thick nose. Horrified, he grasped his ears with both hands. It seemed as if they were a quarter of a yard long.
"I have got ass's ears," he cried, "because like an ass I trod my luck under foot."
Thinking deeply he went along under the shade of the trees: and as he still felt hungry he picked and ate some more figs, but from another tree. After a while, he thought he would try to tuck his long ears inside his turban; but when he felt for them, they had disappeared. Hastily he returned to the brook to examine his looks; and saw to his delight that his own nose and ears were as before. Now he perceived that the figs had two properties: one sort disfigured his face, the other cured the disfigurement. At once he had a lucky thought. He picked from both trees as many figs as he could carry, and went into the nearest town. Here he bought a, flaxen beard and some colouring for his face which completely disguised him, and so went back to the capital of the King, his late master, and sat himself down before the door of the Palace.
He had not waited long before the major-domo came along, who was much pleased with the fruit, and said it should be served at the royal table.
The King was very delighted with his dinner that night, and frequently praised the major-domo for his excellent catering, and for the quality and variety of the dishes. The major-domo, however, thinking of the figs, only smiled and said, "All's well that ends well," "The evening is sometimes finer than the afternoon," and quoted other wise saws; so that the Princesses became quite curious to know what surprise he had in store.
When the figs were brought every one exclaimed, "Oh! What fine fruit!"
"How delicious!" cried the King. "Major-domo, you are a treasure, and worthy of our highest commendation!"
In his delight the King served the dessert with a lavish hand. Each Prince and Princess had two figs each, the Court ladies and viziers one each. The remainder the King reserved for himself.
"But, my dear father!" cried the Princess Amaza, "how strange you look!"
Every one looked at the King, amazed. Frightful ears hung each side of his head, and a long nose stuck out from his face. But not only he, but all who had eaten the figs were also disfigured in the same way. Their horror when the courtiers discovered their condition, can only be imagined. The King sent at once for all the doctors in the city, but their pills and mixtures did no good, and if they cut the ears and noses off, they quickly grew again.
Now was Little Mouk's opportunity. He first of all disguised himself, put on a long gown, and had himself brought to the King as one who could cure the nose and ears illness. At first no one would believe him; when, however, one of the Princesses ventured to eat a healing fig and immediately regained her former looks, every one wished to consult the strange doctor.
The King led Mouk into his treasure chamber and said: "Here are my treasures; choose what you will, only cure me of this hateful disease."
Mouk had noticed immediately his slippers and his stick. He walked slowly round the chamber and pretended to be choosing something; at last he came to his slippers, and hastily putting them on and seizing his stick, he tore off his false beard and showed the astonished King who he really was.
"Faithless King," cried he, "with ingratitude have you treated me. I leave you your long nose and ass's ears as a souvenir." Then he turned three times round on his right heel, wished himself far away, and before the King could call for help, he was gone.
Where Little Mouk wished to go, no one ever knew; but it is certain that with the help of his stick, he became a rich man. And with his wealth he returned in time to his own native city, and lived in an eccentric manner until his death; and, as I told you at the beginning of the story, only went out once a month, and then much to the delight of the street boys, owing to his droll figure and extraordinary costume.
Story of the
O feel one is appreciated is always delightful; and so thought Labakan, a journeyman tailor, who worked for a very worthy master in Alexandria. No one could say that Labakan was unhandy with the needle; on the contrary, he was an excellent worker. And it would have been equally unjust to have called him idle, for he would often sew hour after hour with such rapidity that his needle and thread simply flew through the stuff. But there were days when he seemed to be deep in thought, and would sit with vacant eyes, and was so eccentric in manner that his master and fellow-workmen used to say, "Labakan has put on his superior air!"
On Friday, however–the Mohammedan Sunday–when other people after attending Mosque were quietly returning to their houses or their work, Labakan in his best clothes walked slowly and with dignity through the market-place and streets of the city; and when his friends cried, "Peace be with you, Labakan," or, "How are you, friend Labakan?" he graciously waved his hand, or nodded condescendingly. And when his master would say jokingly, "You ought to be a prince, Labakan!" he was delighted, and answered, "Then you have realised it too," or, "I think so myself."
His master pardoned his foolishness because Labakan, besides being a valuable servant, was a very decent fellow.
One day Prince Selim, the Sultan's brother, who was travelling through Alexandria, sent a handsome coat to be altered. This was handed to Labakan.
When evening came, and both master and men had left business, Labakan remained behind, and looked longingly at the beautifully embroidered silken thing. He could not resist the desire to try it on; and, lo, it fitted him splendidly.
"Am I not as good a prince as Selim?" he asked himself. "Did not the master say I ought to have been born a prince?"
In putting on the coat Labakan seemed to have put on quite a noble air; and he persuaded himself that he was an unknown king's son, and the thought possessed him to go out into the world away from a place where the people were so stupid as not to recognise his true position. That splendid coat, he argued, was surely the gift of a good fairy, and he took his modest belongings and passed in the gathering twilight through the gates of Alexandria.
But the new Prince soon perceived that his fine coat and dignified demeanour were not well suited for walking; so for a modest sum he bought an old nag, for he was not an experienced rider, and feared he could not properly manage a fiery steed.
One day as he was slowly riding along, a traveller begged to be allowed to bear him company. The new-corner was a pleasant young man, good-looking and well set up. He questioned Labakan closely as to where he was going and whence he came, and found that their way lay in the same direction. The young man said his name was Omar, and that he was the nephew of Elfi Bey, the unfortunate Pasha of Cairo, and he was going to that city to carry out a mission entrusted him by his dying uncle.
Labakan was not so frank; he simply told Omar that he was of high rank and was travelling for pleasure. On the second day of their journeyings Labakan asked his companion some particulars of his business, and heard as follows:
Elfi Bey, the Pasha of Cairo, had brought Omar up from his earliest childhood; and his parents were unknown to him. But Elfi Bey had lately been engaged in a war, and after several battles had been mortally wounded and compelled to fly, so he told his foster-child that he was not his nephew, but the son of a mighty ruler of provinces who, in consequence of the baleful predictions of an astrologer, had sent the young Prince away on the understanding that he should return when he was twenty-one. Elfi Bey had never told him his father's name, only that on the fourth day of the coming month, Ramadan, on which he would come of age, he was to present himself on an appointed place, El-Serujah, four days' ride eastwards from Alexandria, and show the men he would find there his dagger, saying at the same time, "Here am I whom ye seek!" If they answered, "Praise be the Prophet, who preserved thee!" he could safely go with them, and they would conduct him to his father.
Labakan was much surprised at his story. He looked at Omar with envious eyes, and reflected on the strange freaks of fate which had in this instance brought into intimacy a prince and a journeyman.
All that day he thought of little else, all night could get little rest, and when he awoke and his glance fell on Omar, who was sleeping soundly, he suddenly thought he would try to obtain, by strategy or strength, the position for which fate had evidently intended him. The dagger, which was to be the sign-manual of the returning Prince, was stuck in Omar's waistband; and very gently Labakan took it, set it in his own belt, got astride the Prince's horse, and before Omar awoke to the consciousness of his misfortune the treacherous tailor was many miles on the way.
It was exactly the first day of Ramadan when Labakan thus robbed the Prince; and he had just four days' time to reach the appointed spot. Possibly two days' hard riding would suffice, so he hastened on, as he feared the real Prince might overtake him. At the end of the second day Labakan saw the monument. It stood on a little hill, and he could reach it in less than three hours. The false Prince was in a more sober state of mind.
During the last two days he had had time to think over the rôle he was assuming; and his conscience had reproached him more than once; but the thought that he was born to be a prince encouraged him again, and with great glee he determined to follow out his own ideas.
The ground was rough and uneven; and the new Prince encamped beneath some palm-trees to await his fate. Towards the middle of the next day he saw a long train of horses and camels coming slowly along. They halted at the foot of the hill, and Labakan saw that many of the Prince's people had come to meet him. He would have liked to declare himself at once, but he had to wait a little longer to attain the height of his ambition.
The rays of the morning sun awoke the excited tailor early on the auspicious day, which was to raise him from lowly estate to that of the honoured son of a noble father. In spite of misgivings, he felt that, in person at least, he was any man's equal; and fortified by this reflection he sprang on his horse, urged it to a gallop, and in less than a quarter of an hour was at the foot of the hill. Here he dismounted, and fastened his horse to a tree; drew out Prince Omar's dagger, mounted the hill, and found six men assembled at the base of the monument. In their midst was a kingly-looking figure. A splendid kaftan of cloth of gold, a white burnous, a white turban glittering with jewels, showed him to be a man of position and power.
To him Labakan went, and bowing low said, as he handed him the dagger: "I am he whom ye seek!"
"Praised be Allah, who has preserved you!" answered the greybeard with tears of joy. "Embrace thy old father, my dear son Omar!"
The tailor was quite overcome on hearing these affectionate words, and with a curious feeling of joy and contrition threw himself into the arms of the old Prince.
But only for one moment did he enjoy the bliss of his new position. As he raised himself from that embrace, he saw a rider rapidly approaching. Labakan recognised his old nag Murva, and seated on his back was the rightful son, Prince Omar. But the spirit of evil stood Labakan in good stead, and he determined, if necessary, to brazen out his venture.
It could plainly be seen that the rider in the distance was waving a handkerchief. And when he reached the foot of the hill he ran rather than walked up it.
"Wait," he cried, breathlessly; "wait if you can; and do not be deceived by a shameless adventurer! I am Omar; and no impostor shall dare to assume my name."
Nothing but amazement was to be seen on the countenances of the bystanders; even the old chieftain seemed bewildered as he gazed from one to another. Labakan, however, said quietly, but impressively: "Gracious lord and dear father, do not be deceived by this young man. He is, I know it well, a half-witted tailor of Alexandria, named Labakan, and deserves pity rather than punishment."
Boiling with rage, Omar sprang at Labakan, but the bystanders closed in and held him fast, and the old Prince said: "Surely enough, my son, the fellow is irresponsible. He shall be bound and set on a came!, so that we may get him examined and well cared for."
The Prince's passion was exhausted; and weeping, he exclaimed: "O my lord, my heart tells me you are my father. I beseech you by the memory of my mother, listen to me!"
"Listen to him," said the chieftain. "He begins to romance again!" And taking Labakan by the arm, they descended the hill together, and mounting splendidly caparisoned horses, rode away. The unhappy Prince's hands were bound, and he was placed on a camel and carefully guarded all the journey by two horsemen.
The old man was Saand, Sultan of Wechabi. After many married years, to his great joy, a son was born to him But the astrologer whom he consulted at the child's birth, told him that until his twenty-first year danger threatened the boy, so the Sultan sent his much-loved infant son to Elfi Bey, an old and trusted friend, to be educated and cared for until he came of age. This the old Sultan related to his pretended son, with whose appearance he seemed to be well pleased.
When they had at last reached the principal city, they were received by the residents with cries of joy, for the return of the young Prince had been eagerly awaited. Through the streets they passed, and beneath arches wreathed with flowers and ribbons. Splendid draperies hung from the windows of the houses, and the people praised Allah and the Prophet that their Prince was so handsome. All this rejoiced the heart of the tailor. But how unhappy was the lot of the real Prince, to whom all this homage belonged! As a prisoner and bound be rode in the procession. No one troubled about him. Omar's name resounded on all sides, but he passed unnoticed save that a few people asked who he was and where they were taking him, receiving for answer simply, "Oh, he is a half-witted tailor." The procession soon reached the Palace, where every splendour was perfected. In the state apartments, the Sultana, a noble lady, surrounded by courtiers, awaited their arrival.
She had not seen her son since his birth, so would not recognise him in a thousand. Nearer and nearer came the procession; the horses' hoofs were heard in the courtyard; and steps were heard in the corridor; the doors were thrown open and through the crowd of humbly-bowing servants, the Sultan, holding Labakan by the hand, hastened to the steps of the throne.
"Here," cried he, "I bring you one for whom your heart has yearned."
But the Sultana had hardly looked at the usurper when she exclaimed:
"That is not my son! That is the impostor whom the Prophet warned me of in a dream!"
And while the Sultan was endeavouring to convince her that she was wrong, the door of the room was hastily opened and Prince Omar rushed in followed by his guards. He then threw himself all breathless before the throne and cried:
"Here will I die! Let me die, mighty father, for I cannot endure this shame any longer!"
This speech caused the greatest surprise. The courtiers stared at the unhappy youth, and his guards would have seized and bound him had not the Sultana, who had been silent with amazement, stepped down from the throne.
"Stop," cried she. "This and no other is my son; though my eyes never beheld him, my heart tells me he is my child."
The guards had unwillingly loosed Omar, but now the Sultan, furious with passion, ordered them to "take the idiot away!"
"It is I, who am to be first obeyed," said he in haughty tones. "Here we are not influenced by dreams, but by unmistakable signs." He signed Labakan to come forward. "This is my son, for when he gave me the dagger, he also gave me my old friend Elfi's word in proof."
"He stole the dagger from me," cried Omar. "My unhappy lot he has shamelessly caused."
But the Sultan would not listen to the voice of his son, so accustomed was he to consider himself always in the right. So poor Omar was overpowered and taken from the throne-room. And then the Sultan led Labakan to his room.
The Sultana was wild with grief over all that had happened, for she was sure than an impostor had gained the heart of the Sultan, and that Omar's was the face she had seen so often in her dreams.
When she became calmer she bethought herself how to convince her husband of his mistake. It was not easy, for besides possessing the dagger Labakan seemed to know so much about the Prince's life as to give quite a reasonable account of it, and his word was counted worthier than the prisoner's.
She sent for the courtiers who had accompanied El-Serujah to the meeting-place, made them tell her everything, and then took counsel with her most-trusted slave-women. They carefully considered all that had been said; and at last Melechsalah, a clever, shrewd old woman, said:
"Have I correctly heard, your Highness, that the half-witted tailor you believe to be your son is named Labakan?"
"They say so," answered the Sultana. "But what of that?"
"Suppose," said the slave, "that this impostor has taken your son's name and given him his! If this be so, I know of a capital plan to put things right."
The slave held a whispered conversation with her mistress, and then assisted her to dress, and they went to the Sultan.
The Sultana was a clever woman. She knew argument would not convince her husband, so said she had a favour to ask him. The Sultan, whose impatience with his wife was now over, granted it at once, and she said:
"I very much want to put these two young men to a test, so as to see which really is the impostor; but it shall neither be riding, nor fighting, nor throwing the spear; I will only put them to a technical proof. To each of them shall be given a kaftan and pair of trousers to make, and we shall soon see which is tailor, which is Prince."
The Sultan laughed, and said:
"Really, you are a very clever woman. Above all, I feel curious to see how much cloth my son will waste."
He went himself, however, to Labakan, and begged him to curry favour with his mother by consenting to make a kaftan.
Labakan laughed heartily; this would be an easy task. Two rooms were set apart, one for the Prince, the other for the tailor. In them were put the articles necessary for their work. For each a roll of cloth, a needle, scissors, and thread. The Sultan was particularly anxious to see what sort of a kaftan his son would make in the time. And even the Sultana's heart beat faster as she thought of all that depended on the success of her plan. For two days the young men were occupied. The third day, when the Sultan and Sultana were sitting together, they sent for the youths. Labakan stepped proudly forward, and showed his kaftan to the astonished pair.
"See, father," he cried. "Look, my honoured mother, if this kaftan is not a masterpiece. I defy the Court tailor to make a better one."
The Sultana smiled, and said to Omar:
"And now show us your handiwork, my son!"
Omar laid the roll of cloth and the scissors at his parent's feet.
"I was taught to bridle a horse, to handle a sword, or to hurl a lance," said he, "but not to do needlework. That was unworthy of a protégé of Elfi Bey, the ruler of Cairo!"
"Oh, you true son of my body!" cried the Sultana. "Oh, let me embrace you, for you are my son. See, my lord and courtiers," said she, turning to the Sultan, "how my plan has succeeded. Do you not now believe which is Prince and which is tailor? Nevertheless, this is a valuable kaftan, sire, for your son has made it. I would like to know to whom he was apprenticed!"
The Sultan seemed deep in thought, mistrusting his wife, and looking at Labakan, who was trying to make his escape.
"This test is not sufficient" said the Sultan. "I also have an idea; we will wait and see." So he ordered his swiftest horse to be brought and rode to a far-off forest in which dwelt a wise woman named Adolzaide, who lived in a hollow tree. When he arrived at the clearing he shouted in a loud voice: "If it be true that your advice guided my father in the hour of need, do not refuse to help me now when I am sore perplexed."
He had hardly spoken the last words when a cedar-tree trunk opened and a lovely fairy appeared. "I know what brings you here, Sultan Saand; your desire is honourable, so you shall have my help. Take these two caskets. Let each of the young men choose one. I know that the true Omar will make no mistake." Then the fairy gave him the little caskets beautifully set with gold and pearls, and disappeared from his gaze. On each lid was an inscription in diamonds. "Honour and Truth" ran the one, and "Happiness and Inheritance" the other.
Directly the Sultan returned to the Palace he sent for his wife and told her what the fairy had said. On this test the Sultana had also great confidence. She felt sure that the one to whom her heart inclined would choose the casket which had the worthiest motto.
Before the Sultan's throne two tables were set; and on these the Sultan placed the caskets, mounted his throne, and signed to the slaves to open the doors of the chamber. A brilliant train of Pashas and Emirs entered and seated themselves on the crimson divans against the walls. The King made another sign and Labakan appeared.
With haughty steps he reached the daïs and throwing himself before the throne, said: "What is my worthy father's wish?"
The Sultan raised his head and spoke: "My son, there is still a doubt in some people's minds as to who you are. This must be settled once for all. In one of these caskets there is the register of your birth. Choose one. I know you will choose aright!"
Labakan went to the tables, and pondered long which casket to choose. At last he said: "Honoured father! What can be better than the happiness of being your son; what nobler than the kingdom of your approval? I choose the casket with the inscription 'Happiness and Inheritance.'"
Omar was then brought in. His sad looks, his unhappy mien attracted the attention of all who beheld him. He threw himself down before the throne and asked what were the Sultan's commands. He was told to choose one of the caskets. Thoughtfully he read the inscriptions and then said: "During the last few days I have learnt the uncertainty of happiness; how doubtful the joys of inheritance; but I have also learnt that honour lives only in the hearts of the brave, and truth does not always dwell with success. And even if I thus lose my throne, I choose 'Honour and Truth.'" Then he laid his hand on the casket he had chosen, but the Sultan bade him wait. And to Labakan he made a sign to keep his casket.
Then the Sultan called for a beaker of water from the holy river of Zem Zem in Mecca, and washed his hands, turned his face to the east, and prayed thus:
"God of my fathers! Thou who hast preserved my race pure and unsullied, do not permit that one unworthy of the name of Abassiden shall succeed me, but guide and protect my rightful son, who shall soon be known beyond doubt."
The Sultan rose and mounted his throne again, and his signal was impatiently awaited. The spectators could hardly breathe; the fall of a seed could have been heard, so still and quiet were they all. Then the Sultan said: "Open the caskets." And at the slightest pressure the lids flew open. In Omar's casket was a golden crown and sceptre. In Labakan's a large needle and a little thread. The Sultan commanded them to bring him the caskets. First he took the crown in his hand and admired its design, for he perceived that it expanded to the size of a full crown; then he set it on his real son's head, and kissed him on the forehead, and bade him sit on his right hand. To Labakan, however, he said: "There is an old proverb, 'The shoemaker must stick to his last.' It seems as if you are destined to the needle. You are far from deserving my consideration; but some one has pleaded for you, and I cannot punish you as you deserve; so I give you your wretched life. But let me also advise you to go away from my country as quickly as you can!"
Ashamed, humbled, and despised, the poor tailor had nothing to say. He threw himself before the Prince and his eyes filled with tears. "Can you forgive me, Prince?" he stammered.
"'Be faithful to your friends, generous to your enemies,' this is the Abassiden motto," answered the Prince, raising Labakan. "Go in peace."
"Oh, you are indeed my son!" cried the old father, embracing Omar. Then the Emirs and Pashas and all their followers stood up and shouted: "Hail, hail, hail to the Prince; the King's son!" And during these rejoicings Labakan, with his casket under his arm, slipped out of the Palace.
He went to the Sultan's stables and took his old nag, Murva, and rode as quickly as he could through the gates and back to Alexandria. Like a brief splendid dream his princehood lay behind him, and only the beautiful casket set with diamonds and pearls reminded him that it had really happened. When he came to the shop kept by his old master he dismounted and went inside. His master, who did not recognise him, bowed low before him and asked what he desired. But as he looked more closely, he recognised Labakan, and called his workmen to come and look at him. They did not at once see who it was, and were all perplexed and puzzled; and the poorest of them all was so bewildered that he hurried in with iron and measure, needle and scissors, and bowed and scraped until he fell exhausted on a heap of old clothes. The worthy master however, rated him soundly for stealing the kaftan. Labakan assured him that he had only come to return it; but no one believed him, and they set upon him and thumped and beat him and pushed him outside the door. So beaten and bruised the unlucky wretch got on his old horse and rode to a wayside inn. There he lay his tired head down, and thought on the uncertainty of happiness and the vanity of earthly things; and fell asleep, determined to give up his dreams of greatness and to diligently follow his rightful occupation.
His adventures he did not regret. He disposed of his casket to a jeweller for a large sum of money, bought himself a house, and started in business, and hung a large sign over the door, "Labakan, tailor."
First of all the industrious fellow began to repair his coat, which was much damaged when he was so hustled and bustled, using for this purpose the fairy's needle and thread. Some one called just as he had begun, and as he sat himself down again to work, a wonderful surprise awaited him. The needle was sewing as if guided by an unseen hand, and making such stitches as Labakan himself could not compass. And, better than all, the thread never came to an end, and he said to himself, "Even a modest gift from a fairy can be useful in great work!"
Labakan got many customers, and was soon the most famous tailor far and near. He cut the garments out, made the first stitch with the magic needle, which flew in and out till the thing was finished, and his business rapidly increased, for he worked so well and so absurdly cheap that the people of Alexandria wondered how he could do without assistants. But he kept his door locked and said nothing.
So after all the motto of his casket was true. If in somewhat different guise, Happiness and Inheritance was his lot, for he was a most successful tailor. And when he heard the universal praises of the young Sultan Omar, who had won the love and pride of his people, and the respect of his enemies, the once-upon-a-time Prince would say to himself; "I am better off as a tailor, for Honour and Truth are difficult things." So he lived long, contented with his condition, and if the magic needle has not lost its cunning it still is sewing with its endless thread, the gift of the good fairy Adolzaide.
N a well-known town in Germany there lived for many years a shoemaker and his wife. He mended boots and shoes and made new ones when he had money to buy the leather, and she sold fruit and vegetables which she grew in their little garden. Many customers came to her stall in the market-place, being attracted by her neat appearance, and the way she arranged her wares.
This worthy couple had one boy, named Jacob; he was eight years old, handsome and well-grown. He helped his mother at the stall and sometimes carried home the customers' purchases.
One day, as the shoemaker's wife was sitting in the market-place, and little Jacob stood near calling out the prices of her vegetables, there came along an old woman, rather shabbily dressed, with a thin, pinched face, red eyes, and a long pointed nose. She leant on a long staff, and hobbled and halted as if her feet were covered with corns, and she looked as if every moment she might tumble on her nose.
"Are you Hannah, the vegetable woman?" asked she, wagging her head. "Let me see if you have what I want." With her ugly brown hands she turned and tumbled the cabbages about, breaking their leaves; with her long, skinny fingers she poked here and there. When she had disarranged all the baskets, she grumbled "Bad stuff, wretched cabbages–much better to be had fifty years ago; bad stuff!"
These remarks made little Jacob angry, and he cried: "Listen, you horrid old woman; you call our vegetables 'bad stuff,' and with your long nose you sniff and smell at them so that no one else will care to buy them; but all the same the Grand Duke's cook buys all he wants of us!"
The old woman looked at the bonny boy, and answered hotly: "My lad, my nose seems to please you. You shall have one like it, but longer still!" She picked over the cauliflowers again, and threw them back into the basket, muttering: "Bad cauliflowers, bad stuff!"
"Make up your mind what you want," returned the shoemaker's wife, indignant at the waste of time. "That were better than talking nonsense to my boy!"
"I will take these six cauliflowers," said the old woman; "but I cannot carry them home. Let your boy come along with me and I will pay him for his trouble."
The boy did not want to go; but his mother persuaded him, for she thought it would be wrong to let the feeble old dame carry such a load, and half crying, Jacob went.
The old dame walked slowly, and it was quite an hour before they reached a little house outside the town. She opened the door, and Jacob was quite surprised when he entered; for inside the house was beautiful. The walls and staircases were of marble, the furniture ebony inlaid with gold, the floors of glass so highly polished that Jacob slipped and fell. The old woman took a whistle out of her pocket, blew it, and immediately some guinea-pigs came in, and Jacob noticed with amusement that they wore men's clothes and walked on their hind legs.
"Where are my slippers?" shrieked the old woman, shaking her stick at them, so that they were quite frightened. They came back again directly with two cocoa-nut shells soled with leather, and the old woman put them on.
Now she began to bustle about. She took Jacob by the hand and went quickly across the glass floor. At last she took him into a room something like a kitchen. "Sit down, little man," said she, pushing him into the corner of a couch. "You have had a heavy load to carry. Men's heads are not light."
"What do you mean?" cried the boy. "They were cauliflowers I brought here."
"Now you know that is a lie," laughed the old woman; and took a man's head out of the basket. The boy was dreadfully frightened, for he thought if this got known his mother would be in sore trouble.
"I must give you a little present," said the old woman; "wait a moment and you shall have some delicious soup." She whistled; and there entered several guinea-pigs in men's clothes, with aprons on and cooking spoons stuck through their waistbelts; after them came several squirrels in white Turkish trousers; they also walked on their hind legs and wore green velvet caps on their heads. They bustled about and brought saucepans and dishes; and the old woman ran hither and thither in her cocoa-nut slippers, and Jacob saw she was evidently going to give him something good to eat. At last something in one of the pots began to boil over, and the smell filled the room. She took it off the fire, poured the contents into a silver soup tureen, and said: "Now, sonny, if you drink this soup, you will have all that you admire in me. And you might also become an excellent cook, only that you will never be able to find the particular cabbage of which it is made. Why does your mother not keep it on her stall?"
The boy hardly understood what she, meant; but he drank the soup eagerly and it tasted delicious. His mother had often made good things for him to eat, but nothing like this. While he was drinking the last spoonful, the whistle sounded for the guinea-pigs, and thick clouds of smoke began to fill the room. The fumes of the smoke confused little Jacob; he wanted to get away; he said he ought to be going back to his mother; but he seemed unable to move, and fell back on the couch and went fast asleep.
Wonderful dreams came to him. It seemed to him that he was changed into a squirrel, and he went about with the squirrels and guinea-pigs and had his duties like the others. At first he had to work as a shoemaker. As he had often helped his father he did not find that difficult. After a time, pleasanter work was given him. He had to go with some of the squirrels to get sunberries. The old dame preferred a certain sort; and as she had no teeth, she made her dinner off bread and sunberries.
After a year he was set to find drinking-water for the old woman. This was done in many different ways. The squirrels and Jacob had to fill the hazel nutshells with dew from the roses, and that was her drinking-water. As she was always thirsty, her water-carriers had plenty to do.
After another year he had indoors work to do; chiefly to keep the glass floors clean. He had to sweep them and then tie his feet up in cloths and so dust them.
In four years' time he was put in the kitchen, and Jacob, from being scullery boy, became head pastry-cook, and his skill was so great that he was sometimes surprised; for pasties of two hundred different flavours, and the most delicate cabbage soups, he could make with greatest ease.
After he had been seven years in the old woman's service it happened one day, when she had gone out with basket and staff, that Jacob had to draw a fowl and stuff and roast it before she came back. In the herb-room he suddenly noticed a cupboard he had not seen before. He looked in it and found inside a great many baskets of herbs. He opened one and found a herb of a quite different colour. He looked carefully at it; it smelt strong, and like the soup that the old woman had given to him on his first day there. But the smell was so strong that he began to sneeze, and sneeze and sneeze, until at last–sneezing he awoke.
He was lying on the old woman's sofa and looked bewildered around.
"What strange things dreams are!" said he. "I could have sworn that I had been a squirrel; and as squirrel a clever cook. How my mother will laugh when I tell her: but how she will scold me for sleeping away from home, instead of helping her.
His limbs were stiff with long sleeping, and so was his neck, and every moment when he moved he either hit the wall with his nose, or when he turned over banged it against the doorpost. The squirrels and guinea-pigs ran busily here and there as if they would accompany him, but they gave it up as they saw him leave the house, and took their nutshells inside and by-and-by he heard them chattering in the distance. He felt very anxious as he got near the market. His mother sat in her usual place and had plenty of vegetables in her baskets; he could not have slept long; but it seemed to him that she was very sad, for instead of calling to the passers-by, she sat with her head resting on her hand; and as he came nearer, he saw she was looking paler than usual. At last he plucked up heart and said, "Mother, are you angry with me?"
His mother turned round, and shrieked with fright.
"Go away, horrid dwarf," said she; "I do not like such jokes."
"Dear little mother, look at me. I am Jacob, your son!"
"Now, this is really too much," cried Hannah; "there stands a hideous dwarf, who says, 'I am your son, your Jacob.' For shame!"
Then all the market-women came to try and comfort this poor Hannah, whose fine boy had been stolen seven years ago.
Poor Jacob did not know what to think. They called him a hideous dwarf and spoke of seven years ago! What had happened to him?
When he saw that his mother would have nothing to do with him, he went with tears in his eyes to the booth where his father worked at his shoemaking, and stood by the door and looked in. The master was so busy that he did not notice him, but chancing to look round he cried out, "Good heaven! what is that? What is that?"
"Good day," said Jacob, stepping in; "how are you?"
"Badly, little man," answered his father to Jacob's surprise, for it seemed he was not recognised. "I am so lonely, and old, and weak."
"Have you no one who can help you?" asked Jacob. "Where is your son?"
"God knows!" answered the shoemaker. "Seven years ago he was stolen from the market-place."
"Seven years ago!" cried Jacob.
"Yes, little man, seven years ago. An ugly old woman came to the market, tumbled about my wife's vegetables, and bought so many that she could not carry them herself. My wife, good soul, sent our boy along with her–and we have never seen him. since."
"And is that seven years ago, do you say?"
"Seven years next spring. We sought him everywhere the town crier 'cried' him, but all to no purpose."
So spoke Jacob's father, and returned to his last.
The youth realised now that he had not been dreaming, but that for seven years he had worked as a squirrel for the old woman. He stood for some time thinking over his strange fate, and then his father said: "Do you want anything, young man? A pair of slippers, or a case for your nose?"
"What is the matter with my nose? Why should I want a case for my nose?" asked Jacob.
"If I had such a horrible nose," said the shoemaker, "I should put a red patent leather cover over it. You might do worse, little man!"
Jacob was dumb with annoyance. He felt his nose. It was about eight inches long. "Oh, for pity's sake let me look in the glass," said he, "it is not for vanity's sake."
"I have not one, but if you want to look in a mirror, go over the way to Barber Urban, he has one as big as your head!"
With these words he pushed the youth through the doorway, shut the door, and sat down to work. The boy went sadly across to the barber, whom he knew in years gone by.
"Good morning, Urban," cried he. "Will you let me look in your looking-glass?"
"With pleasure," laughed the barber. "You are a handsome youth, and a little bit vain, I am thinking."
As the barber spoke a ripple of laughter went round the saloon. The dwarf, however, stepped to the glass and looked at himself. Tears came into his eyes. How dreadful he looked! His eyes were little; his nose hideous, it hung down over his mouth and chin; his head was deep set between his shoulders; his back and chest were humpy, like a well-filled sack. His clumsy body had thin short legs, but his arms were long, his hands brown, his fingers thin and bony, and when he reached them out they touched the floor. He was the most misshapen dwarf ever seen.
"Have you gazed long enough, my prince?" said the barber, as he laughingly looked on. "Come, enter my service, little man; you shall have whatever you ask for, if you only stand at my doors every day and invite the people to step in. I shall get more customers, and each will give you a present."
Jacob was annoyed at this proposition, but it could not be helped. He told the barber he had no time for such service and went away. He intended, however, to pay a final visit to his mother.
He went to the market and begged her to listen to him. He reminded her of the past, and told her that the old woman had turned him into a squirrel, and had kept him there seven years. The shoemaker's wife knew not what to say to this, and thought she had better talk it over with her husband.
She went with the dwarf to the shoemaker's bench, and said:
"Listen! This dwarf says he is our long-lost son Jacob, and he has told me how he has been for seven years bewitched."
"Wait a moment," said the shoemaker. "I told him all that an hour ago, and now he goes to you with the tale. Take care, boy, or I will have you locked up!"
Thus saying, he took a bundle of pieces he had just cut and beat the dwarf over the back and arms so severely that he screamed and ran outside.
He found no one who pitied him or took compassion on him; and had to sleep, that night, on the stone steps of the church. When morning came he went into the church and prayed. Then he suddenly remembered that he could easily earn a living as a cook, and that the Grand Duke was fond of eating, and loved a good table. So he went to the Palace.
As he passed through its gates the doorkeeper asked what he wanted. He said he was a cook, and that he wished to see the major-domo.
When Jacob was taken to his office, the major-domo looked him up and down from head to foot, and said laughing: "So you want to be a cook. Whoever sent you to me has been making a fool of you."
The dwarf would not let himself be disheartened. "Where there is plenty to eat," said he, "an egg or two, some flour and sausage, will never be missed; give me a little meal to prepare, and then you will say, 'He is indeed a cook, and no mistake.'"
The dwarf spoke earnestly, and it was amusing to see how his long nose wagged from side to side, and how he gesticulated with his long thin fingers.
"Very well," said the major-domo, "just for fun we will go into the kitchen."
It was a large, roomy, well-arranged apartment, fires were burning on twenty hearths, and kitchen utensils of every sort lay about and rubbed shoulders with kettles and pans and spoons and forks.
But when the major-domo entered all the servants paused in their work, and the only sound heard was the crackling of the fires.
"What has the Grand Duke ordered for his breakfast to-day?" asked the major-domo of an old cook whose position was "head of the breakfast department."
"Danish soup and red Hauburg dumpling."
"Good," said the major-domo to Jacob. "Do you think you could prepare this difficult meal?"
"Nothing easier," answered the dwarf. "For the soup I shall want the fat of a wild swan, turnips and eggs; for the dumpling, however, I shall want four different kinds of meat, some Madeira wine, goose-grease, ginger, and some mixed herbs and marjoram."
"What magician has taught you?" cried the cook with astonishment. "We have never even heard of that herb; it must make the dish very much nicer."
"Let us put him to the test," said the major-domo; "give him the things that he requires."
This they did, and arranged everything on the stove, but found that the dwarf was too short to reach them, so they put two stools together, and laid thereon a marble slab, and invited the little curiosity to begin his cooking.
When he had got everything ready he asked them to put both pots on the fire and let them simmer for a certain time; then he called out, "Stop!"
The pots were set aside, and the dwarf invited the major-domo to come and taste their contents.
The great man marched with dignity to the hearth, tasted, smacked his lips, and said: "Excellent, excellent, upon my soul!"
And the head cook shook the dwarf heartily by the hand and said: "You are a veritable master in the art. That herb gives it quite a special flavour."
Just then a footman came to say that the Duke was waiting for his breakfast. The food was put on silver dishes and sent to table. The major-domo, however, took the dwarf into his room and entertained him there. They had not been together long before a messenger came to say that the major-domo was to go at once to the Duke.
The Grand Duke looked very pleased and stroked his beard.
"Well, major-domo," said he, "who cooked my breakfast to-day? It has never been so good since I came into my kingdom. Tell me the name of the cook; we will send him a little present."
"My Lord Duke, it is quite a history," said the major-domo, and told him all that had happened.
The Grand Duke sent for the dwarf, and asked him who he was and where he came from.
The dwarf answered briefly, that he had no parents, and had been taught cooking by an old woman.
The Grand Duke asked no more, but made himself very merry over the new cook's comical appearance.
"If you can stay with me I will give you every year fifty ducats and a handsome suit of clothes. In return for this you must cook my breakfast every day yourself and keep my kitchen clean. You shall be called 'Longnose' and wear the uniform of a deputy major-domo."
"Longnose" fell on his knees before the Grand Duke, and kissed his feet, and promised to serve him faithfully.
The dwarf well fulfilled his duties; before he came, the Grand Duke had been sometimes inclined to throw the plates and dishes at the cook's head; but since the dwarf had been in the house everything soon changed. Instead of three meals a day, the Duke ate five, and found everything delicious. He was always good-tempered and got stouter every day. The dwarf was the wonder of the town; people begged for permission to see him at work, and some of the best families obtained leave from the Duke for their servants to take lessons from him, and he earned no small amount of money this way.
He gave all this, however, to the other cooks, so that they should not be jealous of him.
So "Longnose" lived respected and prosperous, only troubled by the thoughts of his parents' grief; but at the end of his second year's service he had a great stroke of luck. As often as he could find time "Longnose" went to the market-place to buy poultry and fruit. One day at the end of the stalls he saw a woman sitting by a large coop of geese, which seemed not quite the common kind. He went up to her and felt and examined the birds. They seemed satisfactory, and so he bought three. He noticed with some surprise that, while two of the geese gobbled and grunted, the third was quiet and mopish, and sighed heavily like a human being.
"It is ill," said he; "I must make haste and cure it!"
But the goose suddenly said:
"Treat me well, I'll be your friend;
Treat me ill, your life shall end!"
"Longnose" was so startled that he dropped the coop, and the goose looked at him with soft, sad eyes and sighed.
"Why, you can speak!" cried Jacob. "I did not expect this. Do not be so unhappy. I will do all I can to help you. You certainly were not born with feathers on your back!"
"That is true," said the goose. "I was not born in this terrible form, but while I was in my cradle it was prophesied that I should end my life in the kitchen of a Grand Duke!"
"Do not be alarmed, you poor thing," said the dwarf; "nothing shall happen to you. I will take your coop to my own room, and will tell the major-domo that I am feeding up a goose on special green stuff for the Grand Duke's table, and at the first opportunity I will set you free."
The dwarf did all that he had promised. He built up a little cage for the enchanted bird in his own room, saying he wanted to fatten it up on special diet as a surprise for his master. As often as he had time he used to go and chat with her.
She told him all her history, and "Longnose" learnt that the goose was called Mimi, and was the daughter of Wetterbock the magician, who lived on the island of Gottland. He had quarrelled with an old fairy, who had revenged herself by turning his daughter into a swan, and bringing her to market.
When "Longnose" had listened to her story, she said:
"What you have told me about herb magic, and your own transfiguration after smelling a herb, convinces me that you have been bewitched by the perfume of these herbs, and that if you could find the plant used by the old fairy, you could regain your own appearance."
Just at this time a very powerful Prince visited the Grand Duke, who sent for "Longnose" and said:
"This is an excellent opportunity for you to show what a master cook you are! The Prince who is coming to stay with me is a connoisseur in food, and a very wise man. See, now, that such meals be served as may quite astonish him. Never serve the same dish twice. You can ask my treasurer for anything you want. I would rather become poor than blush for my table."
The little dwarf put all his skill forward. All day long he was to be seen in clouds of smoke from roasting fires, and his words of command were to be heard all through the kitchen.
The stranger Prince had been a fortnight at the Castle, and was well fêted and flattered. There were always five meals a day, and the Grand Duke was delighted with his cook's skill, when he saw how his guest enjoyed himself. On the fifteenth day the Grand Duke sent for the dwarf, and presented him to the Prince, asking if he was satisfied with his cooking.
"You certainly know what is good to eat," said the Prince to "Longnose"; "you have never repeated a dish all the time I have been here; and everything is splendidly served. But why have you delayed sending us a 'Suzeraine' pasty? It is the queen of dishes."
"Longnose" had never heard of this queen of pasties, but he answered readily enough:
"My Lord, I hoped your gracious visit to this Court would be a long one, and I was waiting to offer this delicacy on the day of your departure."
"Why have you never prepared this pasty for me?" cried the Grand Duke. "Think of another parting dish, and let us have the pasty to-morrow."
"It shall be as my Lord wishes," replied the dwarf. And he went out feeling as if his luck was over, for he had not the least idea how to make the pasty; and he went to his room and wept.
The goose, Mimi, asked what troubled him. "Dry your tears," she said, when he told her; "we often had that pasty at my father's table. I know exactly how it is made, and what you require for it, and if some little thing is left out, no one will be much the wiser."
"Longnose" blessed the day when he bought this good little goose, and immediately set to work to make this queen of pasties according to her instructions. He first made a small one, and it tasted delicious, and the major-domo again praised his ability.
The next day he sent the pasty to table hot from the oven and decorated with a wreath of flowers; then put on his best suit and went to the dining-hall. As he entered the Court carver had just served both the Prince and Grand Duke with their portions, and on magnificent silver plates. The Grand Duke ate a mouthful, looked at his plate, and said:
"Truly this is the queen of pasties, and my dwarf is the king of cooks. Is he not, my friend?"
'The guest took a bite and chewed and tasted, laughing to himself. "The thing is good enough," said he, as he pushed his plate away, "but the 'Suzeraine' it certainly is not; I can answer for that."
The Grand Duke frowned with anger and cried: "Dog of a dwarf how dare you trifle with your Lord?"
"Heaven knows, my Lord, I have made the pasty according to the best recipe; it must be right," tremblingly answered the dwarf.
"It is a lie, you rascal," shouted the Grand Duke, "my guest would not otherwise have found fault. I will have you chopped up and made into a pasty."
"Have pity," said the dwarf, throwing himself on his knees before the Prince. "Tell me what is lacking. Do not let me die for a handful of flour and a little bit of meat."
"That would not serve any purpose, dear 'Longnose'," answered the Prince, smiling. "This pasty lacks a herb which no one about here knows. It is the herb 'borage,' a notable relish, and without it the pasty has not its true flavour, and neither your master nor I care to eat it!"
Then the Grand Duke stormed and raged. "By my soul," he cried, "if you do not bring me the exact pasty to-morrow, your head shall be cut off and fastened on the gate of my Palace. Go, you little wretch. I will give you just twenty-four hours' grace!"
The dwarf went weeping from the hall and told the goose of his fate, and that he must die because he had never heard of this herb.
"Tell me, my friend, are there any old chestnut-trees near the Castle?" asked the goose.
"Yes," answered "Longnose," "by the lake there is a large group; but why do you ask?"
"Well, at the foot of old chestnut-trees this herb grows," said Mimi; "so take me under your arm and put me down by the trees, and I will try to find it for you."
He took her up and went to the door. But a guard had been placed there and said: "I have orders that you are not to go out of the house."
"But I must go in the garden," said "Longnose." "Send one of your fellows to the officer of the Palace and ask if I may go into the garden to look for herbs." The guard did so, and the dwarf received permission to go into the garden. The goose wandered round and round the chestnut-trees, but could not find the herb, and cried with disappointment and sympathy. But the dwarf, who was also looking about, suddenly noticed some trees the other side of the lake and cried: "Over there, there is a large old tree, perhaps we shall be more fortunate."
The goose flew along, and he ran after her as quickly as his little legs could carry him; the chestnut-tree threw a deep shadow, and it was so dark beneath its branches that it was difficult to see anything; but the goose suddenly stood still, flapped her wings with joy, and poked her bill into the long grass, and pulled something out, which she handed to the astonished dwarf and said:
"This is the herb, and here is a large patch of it, so you need never be without it again."
The dwarf looked thoughtfully at the herb; its, sweet scent reminded him of the day when he was bewitched; the stalks and leaves were bluish-green, and it had a bright red flower with golden stamen.
"Thank God!" he cried at last. "How wonderful! I believe this is the very same herb which changed me from a squirrel to a dreadful little dwarf. Shall I taste a bit?"
"Not now," said the goose. "Bring a handful with you, and let us go back to your room and collect all your things together, and then you shall see what the herb will do."
They went back to his room, and the dwarf's heart beat fast with excitement. After he had made a bundle of his clothes and safely concealed his money–about fifty ducats–he said: "Surely God has willed that I shall end this unhappy condition," and he pushed his nose down in the bunch of herbs and inhaled the scent.
Then his whole body seemed to stir, he felt as if he had his own head on his shoulders. He looked at his nose in the glass, and it was getting smaller and smaller, his chest and back straightened out, and his legs grew longer.
The goose was greatly astonished.
"Oh, how you are growing! How tall you are!" cried she. "Thank God that nothing worse has happened to you. Now you are yourself again!"
Jacob was indeed happy, and he folded his hands and said a short prayer. But in his joy he did not forget his gratitude to the goose Mimi; and though he longed to go at once to his parents, he felt he must defer this pleasure for her sake, and said:
"To whom do I owe this happiness but to you? Without you I should never have found that herb, and must always have remained a dwarf or have been hanged by the Grand Duke. So first of all I must consider you. I will take you to your father; and he being so clever in magic will easily remove the spell from you."
The goose shed tears of joy and they took their departure. Jacob got safely and unrecognised out of the Palace, and made his way as quickly as possible to the seashore, where Mimi's home was.
There is little more to tell, except that they happily reached their journey's end; and that Wetterbock was able to turn his daughter back into her former state, and that Jacob, laden with presents, made his way home. His parents welcomed him joyfully, and with the money Wetterbock had given him he bought himself a shop, and became rich and prosperous.
One thing more; after he had left the Palace things were rather unsettled; for the next day, when the dwarf did not bring the pasty as he promised, the Grand Duke raged and stormed and sent for Jacob to cut off his head. But he could nowhere be found. And the Prince said he believed the Grand Duke had hidden him away so that no one should rob him of his best cook; and accused the Duke of breaking his word.
Then war was declared between the two Princes, well known as the "Herb War," and many battles were fought; but peace was made at last, and this was known as the "Pasty Peace," because at the banquet the Prince's cook served the celebrated "Suzeraine" pasty, so that the Grand Duke should taste it in perfection.
So you see that small beginnings have often great endings, and there is no more to tell about the Dwarf's Nose.
ALI BANU, Governor of Alexandria, was a highly respected man. As he passed through the streets every morning on his way to the Mosque, clad in splendid robes and wearing a jewelled girdle worth the value of fifty camels, the bystanders would say: "Is he not a fine, handsome man? And how rich!" "Rich, yes, indeed! Has he not a castle on the Harbour of Stamboul? Has he not flocks, and herds, and slaves?" "Yes," a third would add; "and see how high he stands in the favour of the Sultan! Surely his steps are blessed. He is a rich, well-favoured man, but–but–you know–" "I know," another would reply, "that it is only too true that, with all his wealth and power, he has his load of trouble to bear; he is a fortunate man–but–but—"
Ali Banu had a splendid house in the best position in Alexandria; and on its wide marble terrace, shaded by palm-trees, he would sit in the evenings and smoke his hookah. Twelve splendidly dressed slaves awaited his commands; one held his betel-nut, another a magnificent gold goblet filled with sherbet, another wielded a large fan of peacocks' feathers, others were singers and musicians, and one had a long roll of manuscript from which to read if Ali Banu so desired.
But they waited in vain for orders; he wanted neither music nor singing, neither reading nor reciting, neither sherbet nor betel-nut, and even the fan-bearer did not trouble to exert himself, for Ali Banu seemed unaware of the flies.
The passers-by often stopped to admire the fine house, the handsomely costumed slaves, the luxury which was apparent on all sides; but when they saw Ali Banu sitting deep in thought, under the shade of the palms, they shook their heads.
Four young men, as they went along, laughed, and said: "Truly, this rich man is a poor man. He who has so much is poorer than those who have nothing. For the Prophet has not given him the sense to enjoy it."
"Youth is a fine time, and so is age when one is happy," said an old man of very ordinary appearance, who was standing by and had overheard their remarks. "But let me tell you that the young are often foolish and unthinking, and inclined to judge hastily."
"What do you mean, old man?" asked one of the young men. "Do you reprove us? What does it matter to you if we discuss the Sheikh?"
"The Prophet says, 'It is our duty to correct ignorance in others,'" said the old man. "The Sheikh, it is true, is enormously rich, and has everything heart could desire; but he has good reason to be grave and sad. Do you think he has always been like this? Most certainly not! Fifteen years ago he was active as a gazelle, and lived freely and enjoyed life. For he had a son, the pride of his heart, as handsome as one could desire, and all who knew him congratulated the Sheikh on his boy's gifts of body and mind; and when Kairam was only ten years old he knew as much as many a one at eighteen!"
"And he is dead! Poor Ali Banu!" cried one of the young men.
"It were better for Ali Banu to know that the boy were safe in the Prophet's arms; for he would be out of all earthly danger. But I have something sadder than that to tell you. It happened that at that time the French invaded our land. They took Alexandria, and then pursued and fought with the Mamelukes. Ali Banu was a clever man and knew how to make terms with them. But whether it was that they hankered after his wealth, I know not, but the officers came to him one day and accused him of secretly supplying the Mamelukes with weapons, food, and horses; and although he protested his innocence, it made no difference, for the French were rough, desperate men, and meant to have his gold. They also took Kairam, his boy, as hostage to their camp. Ali Banu offered a large sum as ransom, but they would not give the boy up, meaning to obtain still higher terms. Suddenly they received orders from their commander to embark, and as suddenly they sailed away, taking with them little Kairam, the governor's son, and nothing has ever since been heard as to his fate."
"Oh, poor man! Allah has tried him sorely," said the young men, and looked compassionately towards the Sheikh, who, surrounded with luxury but tormented with grief, still sat beneath the palms.
"Ali Banu's favourite wife," continued the old man, "died of grief for the loss of her son. Her husband, however, chartered a ship, and having provisioned it, persuaded a French physician who lived near the fountain to go with him to France in search of the boy. They started off, and after long voyaging reached the land of the Giaours. But there dreadful things were happening. There had been a revolution, the King had been deposed and the republican government were chopping men's heads off, and the whole country was in a terrible state. From town to town they went seeking Kairam, and all with no avail; and at last the French doctor told Ali Banu that they had better leave the country, or perhaps they would also lose their heads. So they came back to Alexandria, and ever since, Ali Banu has lived simply, mourning for his boy; and who can wonder at it? When he eats or drinks, he thinks: 'Perhaps my poor Kairam is hungry and thirsty.' When he dresses himself in beautiful robes, he wonders if the boy is naked. And when he is surrounded by his slaves singing, dancing, and reciting, he fancies that far away Kairam may have to sing, and dance, and wait upon his French captors. But what causes him the greatest grief is the fear that the boy may forget, among such different influences, the faith of his fathers, and that he will never be able to embrace his little Kairam in the Garden of Paradise! This is why he is so kind to his slaves and gives large sums of money to the poor, for he thinks Allah will remember it, and so soften the hearts of the French generals that they will treat his boy well. And on the anniversary of the day when his son was taken from him, Ali Banu gives so many slaves their freedom.
"Do not listen to the gossip around you," said the old man; "what I have told you is true. But the evening air is cool. I must go home. Salem aleikum, peace be with you, young men; and think more kindly in the future of Ali Banu."
The youths thanked the old man for his information, looked once more at the unhappy father, and went their way, saying to each other, "I am glad I am not Ali Banu."
Not long after the day that the old man had told them the Sheikh's story, it happened that one morning as they were going to the Mosque they passed through the same street. They remembered the conversation and again pitied Ali Banu, and glanced towards his house. But how astonished they were to see it beautifully decorated. From the roof, where gaily clad slaves were pacing to and fro, waved banners and pennons; the hall of the Palace was laid with costly carpets, silken rugs were on the broad marble steps, and even on the path outside was a fine cloth outspread, which many of the passers-by would have liked to use for a kaftan, or even a counterpane.
"What a difference in a few days!" said one of the young men. "Is he going to have an entertainment? Will there be singing and dancing? Look at these carpets! Have you ever seen any like them in Alexandria? And this cloth thrown down here. Really it is a shame!"
"Surely he expects an honoured guest; for these are preparations such as one would only make for the ruler of a great country, or for the representative of a governor who proposed to honour his house with a visit. Who can be coming to-day?"
"See, there goes the old man! He is certain to know, and will tell us. Hullo! old man! Will you not join us in our walk?"
Hearing their voices the old man came towards them, for he remembered them as being the youths to whom he had spoken a few days before. They called his attention to the decoration of the Sheikh's house, and asked if any guest of high rank was expected.
"You think, then," he said, "that Ali Banu is celebrating a festival, or awaiting a visit from some great man? That is not so; but to-day is the twelfth day of Ramadan, as you know, and on this day his son was taken captive!"
"By the beard of the Prophet!" cried the young man; "all the signs are those of feasting and merriment, and yet it is the anniversary of his great bereavement. How do you account for that? Surely the Sheikh is a little out of his mind!"
"Do not judge so hastily, my young friend," said the old man; "your conclusions are not exactly kind or just, and therefore not worth utterance. Are you not aware that Ali Banu expects his son to-day?"
"Do you mean he is found?" cried the young man joyfully.
"No, nor likely to be found for a long while; but you must know that eight or ten years ago, when the Sheikh was sadly celebrating this dreadful day by freeing some of his slaves and feeding the sick and hungry, he was told there was a poor Dervish lying outside his house, who needed food and drink. The Dervish, however, was a worthy man, and skilled in astrology and in prophecy. After he had partaken of the Sheikh's hospitality, he spoke thus:
"'Ali Banu, I know the cause of your grief: is not to-day the twelfth of the month Ramadan, and on this day did you not lose your boy, Kairam? Be comforted; for this day of mourning will at last be a day of joy; on this date your son will be restored to you.'
"So spake the Dervish. It would be more than wrong for a Mussulman to doubt the word of such a holy man; and though Ali's grief was not really lessened by this prophecy, still, he hoped every year for the return of his boy, and decorated his Palace, his hall, and his staircase, and waited as patiently as he could."
"Wonderful!" exclaimed one of the young men. "But how I should like to see all this splendour for myself and how he sorrows in the midst of so much luxury, and also to hear how the tales his slaves tell him–"
"Nothing easier," said the old man. "The overseer of the slaves is an old friend of mine, and always keeps a place for me in the hall every year: for in the crowd of Ali Banu's friends and slaves one more or less passes unnoticed. I will speak to him, and ask permission; there are only four of you. Be here at nine o'clock, and I will give you his answer."
The young men thanked their old friend and withdrew, waiting with some curiosity to see what would happen.
They returned to the spot at the appointed hour; the old man was there already, and told them the overseer would allow them to go into the Palace. He led the way, not through the state staircase and passages, but through a side door, which he carefully closed behind them. Then he took them through more passages, till they came to the great hall.
Here was a large gathering of people; richly clad men, merchants from the city and friends of Ali Banu, who wished to comfort him in his grief, and slaves of all nations. But they seemed sad too, for they loved their master and sympathised with him.
At the end of the hall, sitting on a splendid divan, the chief's friends were served by the slaves. Near them on the floor was the Sheikh, for his grief would not permit him to share the seat of his happier friends. He leant his head on his hands and seemed to little heed the words of comfort whispered by those around him. Opposite him sat some old and young men in slave garments. The old man told his young friends that these were the slaves who would be freed.
Some of the slaves were French by birth, and among them was a youth of such considerable beauty that the old man was much impressed. The Sheikh had bought him from a slave-dealer in Tunis, only a few days ago, for a large sum, and intended to set him free to-day, thinking the more French youths he sent back to their own country, the sooner would the Great Prophet restore to him his own son.
When every one had feasted, Ali Banu made a sign to the overseer of the slaves, and a deep silence reigned in the hail as they stepped forward, and he thus addressed them:
"Young men, by the goodness and compassion of Sheikh Ali Banu you will to-day receive your freedom, but first, in accordance with the custom of this day, you shall relate some story."
And so three of the slaves related their adventures, and as the recital pleased Ali Banu, they were set at liberty.
While the assembly were attentively listening to these different stories, the superintendent of the slaves drew near to the old man and said:
"My lord, the Sheikh Ali Banu has noticed that you are here, and begs you will come to him and share his seat."
The young men were not a little surprised at the honour bestowed on the old man, whom they had regarded as little more than a beggar, and as he went towards the Sheikh, they detained the superintendent of slaves, and one of them said:
"By the beard of the Prophet, tell us, we pray, who is this old man whom the Sheikh so honours?"
"What!" cried the superintendent, "you do not know who he is?"
"No, we do not know who he is," was the answer.
"But I saw you several times with him in the street, and my Lord Ali Banu had also observed it and had said: 'These must be gallant youths who thus deserve the old man's acquaintance!'"
"But tell us who he is!" cried one of the youths impatiently.
"You are trying to joke with me," said the superintendent. "To this hall no one comes who is not specially invited, and to-day the old man asked if the Sheikh would allow him as a great favour to bring some young friends with him; and Ali Banu sent a message saying his house was at his service."
"Do not keep us any longer in ignorance," said one of the young men. "I swear to you, not one of us knows who the old man is: we made his acquaintance quite accidentally."
"Then you can indeed congratulate yourselves; for you have spoken with a most learned and honourable man who is respected by all who know him. He is no other than Mustapha, the learned Dervish!"
"Mustapha!" cried the young men, "the great and wise Mustapha, who taught the Sheikh's son: who has written learned treatises; who takes long journeys in all directions? To think tbat we have been talking to Mustapha, and, alas! without any deference, but as if he were one of ourselves!"
And the young men began to discuss their good fortune. They felt themselves not a little honoured that such a worthy and distinguished man should have shown them such favour as to walk and talk with them. Just then Ali Banu stood up and in a loud voice said:
"Let us now listen to the story the last of my slaves who will receive his liberty to-day has to tell."
This young slave, whose good looks and gallant bearing had excited the admiration of all present, stepped forward, and in a clear voice spoke as follows:
"My lord, those who have preceded me have related such wonderful adventures that have befallen them in strange lands, that I feel I have no story of my own worth the telling. But with your gracious permission I will narrate the strange experiences and extraordinary fate that befell a friend of mine.
"On board that Algerian privateer from which your gracious hand removed me was a young man of my age, one who certainly was not born to wear the dress of a slave. The other unfortunate men on the ship were either rough and rude, or people whose language I did not understand; and as I did not care to be with them, whenever I had a few spare moments I spent them with this young fellow. He called himself Almansor, and from his speech appeared to be an Egyptian. We enjoyed chatting together, and one day agreed to tell each other our histories, and it happened that Almansor's was far more remarkable than mine.
"Almansor's father was a powerful and important man in a town in Egypt he did not name. His childhood was very happy and surrounded by every possible luxury. But his education was not neglected, for his father was a wise man, who not only taught him to be true and honourable, but provided for him as tutor a most learned and distinguished man, who taught him all that a youth should know. Almansor was about ten years old when the French crossed the seas and declared war with his people. Almansor's father could not have been very favourable to the French, for one morning as he was about to go to the Mosque, they came and demanded his wife as hostage and as pledge of his honourable intentions towards them, and as he would not consent to this they seized his little son and carried him away to their camp."
As the young slave spoke the Sheikh covered his face, and murmurs were heard in the hall.
"Oh!" cried the Sheikh's friends. "How can this youth be so foolish as to relate a story which only reminds Ali Banu of his bereavement? How can he so thoughtlessly open wounds which time even can never heal?" The superintendent of slaves was very angry and told the lad to be silent.
The young slave was, however, very much surprised, and asked Ali Banu if his story had in any way annoyed him. The Sheikh raised his head and said: "Do not distress yourself, my friends. How can this youth, who has hardly been under my roof three days, know anything of my unhappy lot? It is possible that others are as unhappy as myself. It is possible even that this Almansor–But continue your story, my boy!" The slave bowed low.
"The boy Almansor," said he, "was carried to the French camp, where he was well treated, for one of the generals took him to his tent, and being amused with his prattle, gave him into the care of one of his men, and saw that he needed neither for food nor clothing. Almansor, however, missed his father and mother sadly. He cried for several days, but his tears did not soften the hearts of his captors. The camp was broken up, and the boy thought he would now be allowed to return home; but it was not to be. The army went hither and thither; made war with the Mamelukes, and took Almansor wherever it went. When he begged the generals and officers to let him go home again, they told him he must remain with them as a guarantee of his father's good faith. So he was for many days on the march.
"But suddenly there was a commotion in the army which even the boy noticed. There was a general talk of packing up and embarking, and Almansor was beside himself with joy, for now that the French were returning to their own land they would surely let him go home.
"Men, horses, and waggons wended their way towards the coast, and soon they could see the ships lying at anchor. The soldiers embarked as quickly as possible, and it was night before all were on board. Almansor had kept awake, thinking every moment they would set him free, but at last he fell sound asleep. He believed his captors must have mixed some drug with his drinking-water, so that he should not be easily aroused; for when he awoke the daylight was filling the tiny room to which he had been carried while asleep. He sprang out of bed, but as his feet touched the floor he fell down, the floor went up and down, and it seemed as if all round him was swaying and moving. He steadied himself, and holding by the wall made his way out of the room.
"A wonderful rushing and roaring bewildered him, he hardly knew if he were sleeping or waking, for he had never heard anything like it before. At last he reached the narrow stairs; with some trouble he climbed them, and what a shock awaited him! He was on board a ship, and nothing else could be seen but the sky and the sea. At first he wept piteously. Then Almansor begged to be taken back; he even tried to jump overboard so as to swim home; but the men held him fast, and one of the officers sent for him, and said that if he were obedient he would soon be sent home; and explained to Almansor that if he had been left behind he would have been in a sorry plight.
"But the French did not keep their word; for the voyage was a long one, and when at last they landed, it was not on the coast of Egypt, but in France! Almansor while a prisoner in the camp had already picked up a little French, and learnt still more on the voyage; and this was very useful to him in a land where no one spoke his language. He travelled for some days through the country, and everywhere folk streamed to see him; for his guards said 'he was the son of the King of Egypt, who had sent him to France to complete his education.' But the soldiers only said this to make the people believe they had conquered Egypt.
"After they had journeyed for several days they reached a large city. There Almansor was given into the charge of a doctor, who took him to his house and instructed him in the habits and customs of France.
"He had to wear French clothes, and they seemed very tight and uncomfortable, and not nearly so handsome as his Egyptian dress. He was no longer allowed to make his obeisance with his arms crossed on his breast; but was taught to take off with one hand his hideous black felt hat such as every one wore, keep the other hand at his side, and draw his right foot back. He was not allowed to sit cross-legged, but on a high stool with his feet just touching the ground. The meals were most tiresome, for he had to use a spoon and fork.
"The doctor was a harsh, bad-tempered man, and ill-treated the boy; and, if for instance, Almansor forgot and said to a visitor 'Salem aleikum' instead of 'Votre serviteur,' he got a severe beating. He might not think, speak, or write in his own language, though he might dream in it; and during this time he might easily have forgotten his mother tongue, had it not been for an old man who lived in the town and showed him great kindness.
"This was an old but most learned professor, who understood very many languages: Arabic, Persian, Coptic, even Chinese, besides many others. He allowed Almansor to come to his house at least once a week, feasted him with fruit and sweets, and made him thoroughly at home; for he was a kindly soul. He had a suit of clothes made for the boy just like those worn in Egypt, and kept them in a certain room in his house. When Almansor came, he sent him there, with a servant, to change his things. Then he went to another room, called 'Little Arabia.' In this room were rare plants, palms, bamboos, and dwarf cedars, and flowers such as grew in his native land. Persian rugs lay on the floor, round the walls were large cushions, and not even a chair or stool of French make.
"On one of the cushions sat the old professor, but not looking the same as usual; for on his head he had a turban made of a Turkish shawl, and a long, false, grey beard, reaching to his girdle, which looked as though it grew on his chin. He wore a gown made out of a brocade dressing-gown, and though he was of a most peaceful disposition, a Turkish sword was stuck in his girdle and a dagger set with imitation jewels. He was smoking a pipe about two yards long, and was waited on by servants who were dressed for the occasion in Persian clothes with their hands and faces darkened.
"At first all this puzzled Almansor very much, but he soon found these hours so pleasantly passed with the old professor were of great help to him. When he was at the doctor's he was not allowed to speak a single word of Egyptian; here, he was not allowed to speak French. On his entrance into the room Almansor had to give the Eastern greeting–on this the professor insisted; then he signed to the boy to come and sit by him, and used to speak to him in Persian, Arabic, Coptic, and other languages.
"Near him stood a servant, though on such days they called him a slave, who held a large book, actually a dictionary, and if the professor forgot a word he nodded to the slave, who looked it out, and then he continued what he was saying.
"The slaves served sherbet and such things in Turkish fashion, and nothing pleased the old professor better than to hear Almansor say it was 'just like home.' Almansor knew Persian very well, and that was a favourite study of the professor's. He had many Persian manuscripts, which he gave to the boy to read aloud, then read them himself, and so learnt the correct pronunciation.
"These were happy days for poor Almansor; for the professor never sent him back to the doctor's without a present, and often these were gifts of money, or body-linen, or other necessaries which the doctor did not provide him with. Almansor thus passed several years in the capital city of France, but his longing to return home never lessened. When he was about fifteen years old something happened to him which greatly influenced his future.
"The French chose as their King and ruler the general who had so often chatted with Almansor in Egypt Almansor was well aware that something important had been offered to this particular officer and in this city, but he did not believe that the King was the general he had known, for he seemed a so much younger man. But one day Almansor was crossing one of the bridges which span the river when he noticed in the selfsame uniform a soldier, who leant on the parapet of the bridge and gazed down into the water. The features of this man were familiar to him, and he felt sure that he had seen him before. He thought over all that had happened in Egypt, and suddenly remembered that this soldier was that French general who had always been so kind to him, and who had so often spoken to him while they were in camp. He did not know by what name to address him, but he plucked up his courage and saluted him as he had seen the soldiers salute, and then crossing his arms on his breast said: 'Salem aleikum, little corporal!'
"The soldier was amazed, but looked sharply at the boy, thought a little while, and then said:
"'Good heavens! is it possible? What! you here, Almansor? What is your father doing? What is happening in Alexandria? Why are you over here?'
"Almansor could not help it. He broke down and cried bitterly and said to the soldier:
"'Then you do not know, little corporal, how badly your people have treated me? You do not know that I have not seen my native land for many years?'
"'I hope,' said the soldier, frowning sternly, 'that you were not carried away by force?'
"'It was so,' answered Almansor. 'On the day your soldiers embarked I saw my native land for the last time. They took me away, and a captain who pitied my unhappiness paid a sum of money for my education and board to a learned doctor who beats me and does not give me enough to eat. But now, little corporal,' said he more cheerfully, 'as I have been so lucky as to meet with you, you will help me, I know.'
"The soldier laughed, and asked how he could serve him.
"'Listen,' said Almansor. 'It is hardly fair to accept help from you; you were always so kind to me, but I know you are poor too; for if you were a general you would not dress so shabbily; you must admit that, only to mention your hat and coat, you are not very well set-up. But I have found that there is a Sultan living among these French people, and no doubt you know some of those who are about his person, his Janissari-Aga, or his Reis-Effendi, or his Kapudan Pasha? Do you not?'
"'Well,' answered the soldier, 'what then?'
"'You might put in a good word for me, little corporal, and ask them to get the Emperor of the French to say I may go home; then I should need some money for the journey; but you must promise me you will not say one word about it to the doctor or the professor.'
"'Who is this learned professor?'
"'Oh! he is a wonderful man; but I will tell you about him another time. If they both heard of it, I should never dare to go away from France. But do speak to the Agas for me. Promise that you will!'
"'Come with me,' said the soldier, 'perhaps I can help you.'
"'Now, at once?' cried the boy nervously. 'Not now, indeed I dare not; the doctor would beat me! I must hurry back to the house.'
"'What have you in that basket?' asked the soldier, catching hold of him.
"Almansor blushed, and did not wish to show him; but at last he said:
"'Little corporal, I have to work like the meanest of my father's slaves. The doctor is a greedy man, and sends me out for an hour every day to buy vegetables and fish in the market; and I have to bargain with dirty women, because things are cheaper in one district than in another. Look at this nasty herring, this handful of salad, and this morsel of butter, for which I have to walk about four miles every day. Oh, if my father only knew!'
"The soldier was sorry for the boy, and said:
"'Come with me, and do not be afraid; the doctor shall not dare to punish you to-day, even if he does have to dine without his herring-salad. Be a brave boy, and come with me!'
"With these words, he took Almansor by the hand and led him along; and although his heart beat faster when he thought of the doctor, there was something in the manner and words of the soldier which encouraged Almansor to follow him. So with his basket on his arm, the soldier and he passed through many streets, and the boy noticed with much surprise that all the men they met took off their hats, and that the people stood looking after them. He asked his friend why this was, but a smile was his only answer.
"At last they reached a splendid palace, into which the soldier went.
"'Do you live here, little corporal?' asked Almansor.
"'This is my house,' answered the soldier, 'and I will take you to my wife–'
"'But how beautiful it is!' exclaimed Almansor. 'Perhaps the Sultan has given you free lodging!'
"'The Emperor gave me this house,' said his companion, and led the boy in.
"They mounted the broad steps, and Almansor left his basket in the beautiful hall, and went with his soldier-friend into a lovely room, where a lady was sitting on a sofa. The soldier spoke to her in a foreign language, and they both laughed heartily, and then the lady asked Almansor, in French, to tell her about Egypt. At last the 'little corporal' said to Almansor:
"'I think I had better take you at once to the Emperor, and speak to him about you.'
"Almansor was very frightened; but he thought of his unhappiness and his home. And he said to his kind friends:
"'God has compassion on the unhappy in their time of need, and He will not forsake a poor boy. I will go with you. But tell me, corporal, must I fall on my knees before him? must I touch the ground with my forehead? What must I do?'
"The husband and wife laughed and said that would not be necessary.
"'Does the Sultan look very haughty and stern?' asked Almansor. 'Has he a long beard? Do his eyes flash fire? Tell me what he is like!'
"His companion laughed again and said:
"'I would rather not describe him, Almansor; you shall judge for yourself. I will only tell you this for a sign; when the Emperor is in the Audience chamber every one takes off his hat; the only one who keeps it on is the Emperor of France himself.'
"So saying he took Almansor by the hand and went with him to the Audience chamber. The nearer they drew, the faster beat Almansor's heart; and his knees trembled as they reached the door. A servant opened it, and within stood about thirty men in a half-circle, all splendidly uniformed and glittering with gold lace and jewelled orders; and Almansor thought his friend, so simply dressed, must be lowest of all in rank. They had all bared their heads, and Almansor looked earnestly at them all to see whose head was still covered, so that he might know which was the Emperor, when suddenly he glanced at his protector and lo–he was still wearing his hat!
"The boy was astonished and bewildered. He looked again at his soldier-friend and took off his hat and said:
"'Salem aleikum, little corporal! So far as I know, I am not the Emperor of the French, so if I take off my hat, you are the only one whose head is covered. Little corporal, are you indeed the Emperor?'
"'You have guessed right,' replied the soldier; 'and besides that, I am your friend. Do not ascribe your ill-luck to me, but to the force of circumstance, and rest assured that you shall be sent back to your father in the first ship that sails. Now go to my wife and tell her about the Arabian professor and all about yourself. I will send the herring and the salad to the doctor, but you will remain for the present in my Palace!'
"So spake the Emperor, for it was he; but Almansor fell on his knees before him, kissed his hand, and begged his pardon for not knowing. He had no idea that his old friend was the new Emperor of France.
"'That is all right,' said the Emperor, laughing. 'When one has only been Emperor a few days, the fact is not plainly written on his forehead!' And he nodded to Almansor and again told him to go to the Empress.
"After that day, Almansor had a very happy time. He once visited the old professor, but never saw the doctor again.
"At last the Emperor sent for him, and told him that a ship was about to sail for Egypt, and that he should go home. Almansor was quite excited, and full of joy at the prospect of seeing his father once more, and in a few days his preparations were complete; and with a heart almost bursting with gratitude, and loaded with presents and treasures of all sorts, he took leave of the Emperor and went on board the ship.
"But God had further trials for him, and put his courage in adversity again to the test; and not for a long time did Almansor see the coast of his native land.
"The English were now engaged in a naval war with the French. They captured as many of the French ships as possible, and on the sixth morning of the voyage, the vessel on which Almansor was was also taken by the English sailors, and all on board were put on another and smaller vessel, which sailed far away with the fleet. And Almansor realised that the sea is no safer than the desert, where bands of robbers attack the caravans, for a privateer from Tunis attacked the little vessel, which had got separated from the rest during a storm, seized it, and all the crew were taken to Algiers and sold as slaves.
"Almansor's lot was easier than that of the Christian slaves, for he was a faithful Mussulman, but he could not help feeling he must now give up all hope of seeing his home again. He passed five years in a rich man's service, tending the garden and watering his flowers. Then his master died, and as he had no heirs, his property was divided, his slaves sold, and Almansor fell into the hands of a slave-dealer, who chartered a ship to take his cargo to a better market. It happened that I was one of the dealer's slaves, and was on board this ship, and so was Almansor. We gradually became friends, and he told me his extraordinary story. Then, when we landed, I was witness to the wonderful power of Allah; for it was on Almansor's native shore; it was in the market-place of his native town where we were exposed for sale; and–oh, my lord, that I should say it–he was bought by his own father!"
The Sheikh Ali Banu was much impressed by this narrative, which had agitated him very deeply. His eyes gleamed, his breath came fast, and he seemed as if he would interrupt the young slave; but the end of the story did not appear to satisfy him.
"You say Almansor was twenty-one years old?" he asked.
"My lord, he is my age, between twenty-one and two."
"And which did he say was his native town? You have not told us."
"If I am not mistaken," answered the young slave, "it was Alexandria!"
"Alexandria!" exclaimed the Sheikh. "It is my son! Where is he–where is he staying? Did you say his name was Kairam? Had he dark eyes and brown hair?"
"He had, my Lord, and in unhappy hours he called himself Kairam, and not Almansor."
"But, Allah! Allah! Tell me again. Do you say his father bought him before your eyes? His own father? Then he is not my son!"
The slave answered:
"He spoke thus to me:
"'Allah be praised; for after so much misery I am at last in the market-place of my native city.'
"After a while a distinguished-looking man came towards us, and then Almansor cried:
"'Oh, how blessed is the gift of sight! I see my own dear father at last.'
"The great man came to our corner, and examining this one and that, bought those who pleased him best. Then Almansor praised Allah, and whispered to me:
"'Now, I am going back to the home of my childhood It is my father who has bought me.'"
"He cannot be my son, my little Kairam," said the Sheikh mournfully.
The young slave could bear it no longer. Tears of joy streamed from his eyes; and he threw himself before Ali Banu.
"But he is indeed your son Kairam Almansor; for it was you who bought him!"
"Allah is great! Allah is great!" cried the onlookers, and pressed forward; but the Sheikh stood motionless, and looked at the boy's handsome face.
"Mustapha, my friend!" said he to the old Dervish, "tears blind me; I cannot see. My Kairam was the image of his dear mother. Tell me if this youth resembles her!"
The old man stepped forward, and looked long and earnestly at the slave, then laying his hand on the lad's forehead, said:
"Kairam! Can you repeat the text I taught you the day you were carried away into the French camp?"
"My dear teacher," answered the young man, pressing the old Dervish's hand to his lips, "it was this, 'He who loves God and has a pure conscience is never alone in the Desert of Misery: for he has two faithful companions ever by his side.'"
The old Dervish raised his grateful eyes to heaven, pressed the youth to his breast, and led him to the Sheikh, saying:
"Take him. As surely as you have mourned for him for ten years, so surely is he your son!"
The Sheikh was too overjoyed for words. He examined again and again the youth's features, and undoubtedly this was his long-lost son. And all the bystanders offered their congratulations, for they loved the Sheikh, and each one of them rejoiced in his happiness.
And now music and singing echoed through the hall, as in the old happy days. More than once Almansor had to tell his story, and every one praised the Arabian professor and the Emperor and all who had been kind to the boy. Not until evening did the company disperse, and then the Sheikh gave each of his friends costly presents in remembrance of this happy day.
As to the four young men whom the wise Mustapha had introduced to him, Ali Banu requested them to visit his son Kairam as often as they could, as he hoped a mutual friendship might be valuable; and gave them advice as to their future fortunes, telling them how to prosper in their respective professions, the first as a merchant, the second as an artist, the third as a teacher, the fourth as a mariner. And with handsome gifts he bade them adieu.
N the time of Haroun Al Rashid, governor of Bagdad, there was a man named Benezar. He had private means, and led a quiet, peaceful life. God had given him an only son, and while he was growing up, his father entrusted his education to wise and prudent men. For Benezar knew that his boy's mind needed as careful training as his body, and that self-control and philosophy were as valuable as a quick eye and a safe seat in the saddle. Saïd also received daily instruction in the use of weapons, and none of his young companions could surpass him in swimming and riding, or in the art of self-defence.
When Saïd was eighteen years old, and in accordance with the usual custom, his father decided he should go to Mecca to visit the grave of the Prophet. Just before he started, his father sent for him to give him advice and to say farewell; and spoke to him as follows:
"Listen to me, my dear son Saïd! I am a man of more education than most. I have often heard tales of fairies and magicians, and though they amused me, I never really believed, as so many do, that these genii, or whatever they call themselves, can really influence our lives. Your mother, who died twelve years ago, believed in them as firmly as in the Koran; and told me, on condition I would keep it secret, that ever since her birth she had been guarded by a fairy. I laughed at this, but I must admit, Saïd, that at your birth things happened which more than astonished me, as I will tell you now.
"During the whole of the day it had thundered and rained, and the sky was so black that no one could see to read without a light. At four o'clock in the afternoon I was told that Allah had sent me a little son. At this moment the skies suddenly cleared, and Bagdad was bathed in sunlight. I hastened to my wife's room. As I entered, a fragrant breath of air refreshed me. Your mother brought you to me, and smilingly showed me a silver whistle which hung on a fine gold chain round your neck.
"'The good fairy of whom I spoke,' said she, 'has given our child this present.' 'And I suppose she has brought fine weather and this balmy air,' I laughed. 'But she might have given the boy something better than this plaything; a purse full of gold, for instance; or a fine horse.' Your mother begged me not to jest, because the good fairy might easily be offended, and become an enemy instead of a friend. So I said no more.
"Look, this is the 'talisman,'" continued Benezar, and gave the wonderful whistle to his deeply interested son. "You ought not to have had it before your twentieth birthday; but as you are going away, and I may be gathered to my fathers before you come back, I see no reason why you should not receive it now, though two years sooner than your mother wished. You are a clever, well-principled boy, and, young as you are, as apt with your weapons as many are at twenty-four, therefore I let you go out into the world to-day. Peace be with you!"
So spoke Benezar of Bassora, and parted from his beloved son, who, mounting his horse, joined a caravan just starting for Mecca. There were eighty camels and a hundred horsemen, and thus he passed through the gates of his native city.
At first he was greatly interested in the strangeness of his surroundings and the places through which he passed, but after they reached the desert, and the daily journeying became rather monotonous, his thoughts turned to his kind old father, and to the story of his birth. Saïd drew out the whistle from beneath his vest, and examined it carefully, but though he blew with the whole strength of his lungs, it was impossible to produce any sound. Annoyed with such a stupid present, he put it in his girdle, and pondered long and earnestly over his mother's words. He had heard so much about good fairies, but had never learnt that any friends of his in Bassora had had dealings with them. And as in a dream he rode along, neither hearing nor joining in the songs of his companions.
Saïd was a handsome youth, and looked out on the world with honest eyes. His mouth showed determination, and in spite of his youth, his whole bearing was manly and straightforward, and his splendid attire attracted much attention. An oldish man who rode by his side took a great fancy to him, and asked him many questions as to his destination; which Saïd, with all the respect due from him to an older man, answered discreetly, but so cleverly and pleasantly that the old man was very pleased with him.
But all this time Said's mind was dwelling on the mysteries of fairyland; and he asked the old man at last if he thought or believed that there really were fairies or good and bad spirits, who could interfere in the events of daily life.
The old man stroked his beard, shook his head, and said:
"Such things may be, although I have not known them; but I have heard many tales from those who do believe."
And then the old man said he felt sure that the whistle had magic powers, and told Saïd to take the greatest care of it.
Saïd dreamt the whole night through of castles, robbers, fairies, and such things, and was still dreaming when his companions aroused him, telling him the caravan was starting. And, strangely enough, on this very day Saïd was to prove how useless all his dreams, whether sleeping or waking, were.
The caravan was already well on its way, Saïd still riding by the old man's side. All at once, in the distance, some dark forms could be seen, which might have been sand-hills, or clouds, or even another caravan. But the old man, who had often made such journeys, loudly declared that the danger was greater; and that no doubt it was a robber band, and they must prepare themselves against a sudden attack. There was not much doubt about this. Like a whirlwind a mighty band of men swooped down upon the travellers, charging them with their lances, and with fierce cries calling upon them to surrender.
The members of the caravan defended themselves bravely, but the robbers were too many in number, and surrounded them on all sides, killing many with their arrows and spearing them with the lance. During this desperate fight, Saïd suddenly remembered his whistle. He drew it out, blew it–and sadly let it drop. It made not the slightest sound. Furious with disappointment, he suddenly turned on an Arab, whose splendid garments showed his high rank, and ran him through the breast with his sword. The Arab reeled in his saddle and fell from his horse dead.
"Great Allah! what have you done, young man?" exclaimed the old man, who was still by his side. "Now indeed all is lost!" And so it seemed; for when they saw their leader had fallen, the robbers, with wild howls of vengeance, attacked the caravan with such fury that the few unwounded men were completely scattered. Saïd suddenly found himself attacked by five or six men. He used his lance so well that they did not dare to close in. At last one of them took careful aim at Saïd with his crossbow. But before he drew the bolt another of them made a sign. Saïd felt his danger, but before he could make a fresh effort to defend himself a lasso was thrown over his head, and with a jerk he was dragged from his horse and lay on the sand a captive.
The travellers were all either killed or captured. The Arabs, who belonged to one tribe, divided the prisoners and the booty and continued on their way, half going to the north, the rest to the east. Near Saïd four armed men rode, who treated him to bitter looks and fierce curses; and he felt sure that the young Arab he had killed must have been a prince, or the chief of his tribe. Slavery would, he thought, be worse than death, and he hoped, as he had evidently aroused the hatred of the entire band, that death would soon end all his troubles. He hardly dared to look back, for his guards rode close at his side. But it comforted him to see that his good horse was safe, and also the old man, for he thought he lay among the dead.
At last trees and tents were seen in the distance; and as the cavalcade drew nearer, a crowd of women and children came out to meet them; but hardly had the Arabs greeted them than they burst out weeping and wailing, and cast threatening looks at Saïd and tried to strike him.
"This," they cried, "is the wretch who has killed Almansor, bravest of men! Surely he shall die!"
Then they threw sticks and stones at Saïd, so that the Arabs had to close round to protect him.
"Be off, you youngsters! keep back, you women!" they shouted, and drove back the crowd with their lances. "He killed Almansor and he must die, but not by the hands of women, but by the swords of the brave."
As they neared some tents which stood somewhat apart, they halted; the prisoners were tied two and two together; the booty was taken to the tents; and Saïd was shackled and led to the largest tent of all. There sat an old man in splendid garments, whose grave, dignified mien showed that he was chief of this tribe. The men who led Saïd in stepped forward with sad and downcast looks.
"The wailing of the women has told me what has happened," said this majestic old Chief, as he looked at the men; "your bearing confirms it. Almansor is dead!"
"Almansor is dead," answered the men, "but here, great Selim, Protector of the Desert, is his murderer; and we bring him to you for judgment. What manner of death shall he die? Shall we kill him with the arrow, shall he run the gauntlet of the lance, shall he be hanged by the neck, or torn apart by wild horses?"
"Who are you?" asked Selim, looking thoughtfully at the youth, who in the face of death stood calm and fearless before him.
Saïd answered the question briefly and without hesitation.
"Did you kill my son treacherously? Did you shoot him in the back with an arrow, or so stab him with a lance?"
"No, my lord," answered Saïd. "I killed him in fair fight, and in sight of my fellow-travellers, after he had slain at least eight of our party."
"Is this true?" asked Selim of the men who had brought Saïd in.
"Yes, my lord, he killed Almansor in fair fight."
"Then he has done no more than we ourselves would do," said Selim. "He fought honourably with one who would have robbed him of life and liberty, and killed him. Unloose his bonds!"
The men seemed astounded and muttered angrily as they released Saïd.
"If Almansor's murderer is not to die," said one, looking furiously at Saïd, "it is a pity we brought him with us."
"He shall not die," said the Chief, "and I claim him as my share of the spoil. He shall remain in my tent and be my servant."
Saïd could not speak. His feelings overpowered him; and he could not even express his gratitude to the Chief. The men went muttering out of the tent, and when they told the women and children old Selim's decision, a horrible cry arose, and they swore that if Selim would not avenge his son's death, they themselves would.
The other prisoners were divided between the tribe. Some were sent to get money to ransom the richer amongst them, others were obliged to mind the flocks, and some who had kept in their own homes at least ten slaves to wait upon them, had to perform the very lowest services in the camp. Not so Saïd. Either because of his noble appearance or owing to the secret influence of the good fairy, the old Chief showed him much favour. Indeed, Said's position in the tent was more that of a son than a slave. But the indulgence of their master roused the anger of the other servants. Saïd had to bear indignant and jealous looks, and often as he went through the camp an arrow struck him, which undoubtedly was meant to kill him, but that he still lived, Saïd felt sure must be owing to the magic whistle which he always wore beneath his shirt. He often told Selim of these attempts on his life, but it would have been useless to try to find the culprits, for the whole tribe was against him.
So one day Selim said:
"I had hoped you might have become as my son, in the place of him you slew. It is not your fault nor mine that this cannot be, but all the tribe are bitter against you, and I cannot answer any longer for your safety; and it would not do me any good to kill those who are sure to kill you. So when the men return from their wanderings, I shall tell them that your father has paid your ransom, and I will send three trustworthy men to guide you through the desert."
"But I cannot trust any one of your tribe," said Saïd. "They will probably kill me on the way!"
"'The oath they must swear to me shall be your protection," said the Chief; "they dare not break that!"
Some days later the Arabs returned and Selim gave them his commands. He presented Saïd with clothes, arms, and a horse, chose for his guides five of his most valiant men, bound them by a fearful oath not to kill the youth, and parted from him with tears of regret.
The five men rode silently and sullenly along with Saïd in their midst. Saïd saw how unwillingly they undertook the errand, and noticed that two of them took part in the fight in which he had slain Almansor. When they had ridden about eight hours, Saïd heard them whispering, and observed that they seemed more threatening in their manners. He listened, and found that they were talking to each other in a dialect peculiar to the tribe, and which Selim had learnt during his stay in the Sheikh's tent. What he overheard was not encouraging.
"This is the place," said one of them; "'twas here we held up the caravan, and here this boy killed the bravest of the brave."
"The wind has blown away all traces in the sand," said another, "but I have not forgotten the spot."
"And to our shame he is living and a free man. Who could believe that a father would not avenge the death of his son? Selim is getting childish."
"And if his father is forgetful of his duty, then it is ours to avenge our fallen friend. Let us kill Saïd on this spot. By the rules of our warfare we may take his life."
"But we have sworn an oath to our Chief" said the fifth; "we dare not kill him!"
"That is true," replied one of the band; "we have given our word, and so the murderer goes free."
"Stop," cried one. "The old Chief is a clever man, but not so clever as he thinks; we have only sworn not to kill. But we did not promise to take him anywhere in particular. So the scorching sun and the sharp teeth of the jackal may serve our purpose. Here on this spot we will bind him and leave him to his fate." So the robbers made their plans, but Saïd, who had already heard enough, put his spurs to his horse and rode for his life. But though the men were startled for a moment, they were well used to such tactics, and two of them quickly overtook the youth, and as he turned to escape from them, he found himself surrounded by the other three. The oath they had sworn protected his life as far as that was concerned; but they threw a lasso over his head, jerked him out of his saddle, beat him unmercifully, bound him hand and foot, and left him lying on the burning sand of the desert.
Saïd begged and prayed them to have pity. He promised them a handsome sum of money in ransom; but it was no good; and laughing, they mounted their horses and rode off. For a few minutes he listened to the sound of the horses' feet, and then gave himself up for lost. He thought of his father, of his grief should his son no more return; he thought of his wretched fate, for death seemed so sure. How could he prevent it? If the sun did not kill him, the jackals would.
The sun rose higher and higher in the heavens, and its fierce rays scorched his forehead. He tried to turn over, but even the change of position gave him little advantage. In doing so, however, the whistle fell out of his shirt, and after many attempts he managed to get it between his lips, and tried to blow it; but even in his dreadful need, no sound could he produce. Utterly disheartened he sank down again, and at last lost consciousness.
After many hours Saïd was awakened by a noise near at hand; and found too that something was holding him by the shoulder, and he uttered a cry of alarm, for he thought it was surely a jackal attacking him. Then he felt his legs held fast, but not by the ropes used by the Arabs, but by the hands of a man who seemed to be tending him, and who was speaking to another standing by. "He lives," they were saying, "but he thinks we are enemies!"
At last Saïd opened his eyes, and saw bending over him a little fat man with small eyes and a long beard; who spoke kindly and helped him to rise, brought food and drink, and said that his name was Kalum Bey, and he was a merchant of Bagdad. He was returning from a trading expedition, and had noticed an apparently lifeless body on the sand.
The youth thanked him heartily for his goodness, saying undoubtedly he must have died; and then told Kalum Bey his history. As he had now no money, and could not go on foot all through the desert, he gratefully accepted a seat on the back of one of the already heavily laden camels. He thought he would go first to Bagdad and then to Bassora.
On the way the merchant told him much about the notable Protector of the Faithful, the great Haroun al Raschid. He spoke of his keen sense of honour and justice, and of his eccentricities
"Our great lord, Haroun," said Kalum Bey, "is a wonderful man. If you think that he even sleeps like other people, you are mistaken. I know this, because Messour, his Chamberlain, is my cousin, and although he would never betray his master's secrets, he sometimes lets fall a word here and there. Instead, then, of sleeping like ordinary men, the Caliph walks at night through the streets of the city, seeking adventures. Generally he is alone, sometimes he takes two followers. He dresses himself either as a merchant or a soldier, and he carefully observes how the laws of the city are kept. So it happens that we in Bagdad are rather particular in our ways at night, for the dirty-looking Arab who may hustle us in passing is as likely to be Haroun as any one else."
Saïd was glad he was going to Bagdad, where he might see this powerful Sultan. In ten days' time they reached the end of their journey, and the youth was greatly surprised at the exceeding beauty of the city. The merchant invited him to come to his home, and Saïd agreed, for without money and among strangers such a hospitable offer was very acceptable.
The day after his arrival, when he was dressed, he told his host he would go for a walk through the town, but the merchant laughed and stroked his beard, and then said:
"All very fine, young man! But what will become of you and your fine clothes, if you have nothing to bite or sup?"
"Dear Kalum Bey," said the young man, blushing, "I have no money, certainly, but if you will lend me a little, I will go home to my father. He will honestly pay you again!"
"Your father, boy?" cried the merchant, laughing. "I believe the sun has affected your mind. Do you think I believed a word of the story you told me in the desert? Who is your father? A rich man in Bassora? Then I ought to know him; but I have never heard of Benezar. Your story is a pack of lies. You are either a robber or a rogue. Your father is no doubt a poor rascal, and to his runaway son I would not lend a penny. And as to the affair in the desert–no one would dare while Haroun is Caliph to attack a caravan. The whole story is a pack of lies!"
Pale with anger, Saïd would have knocked the little man down, but the merchant screamed and kicked, and shouted:
"And you say you killed Selim's son! Do you think we believed that? Selim's name is well known. He, the fiercest of chiefs, would have had you torn in pieces. He, who has often had robbers hanged in his presence so that he could enjoy their agonies. Oh! you shameless liar!"
"I can only swear," answered the youth, "by my immortal soul, and by the beard of the Prophet, that all I told you is true!"
"What! You will swear on your soul?" cried the merchant; "by your black, lying soul? Who can believe you? And 'by the beard of the Prophet'? You who have no beard! The truth indeed!"
"I have no witnesses," said Saïd; "but you found me bound and senseless."
"That does not matter," said the merchant. "You were dressed like an ordinary robber, and possibly you met with a stronger robber who bound you and left you there."
"I would like to see," said Saïd, with flashing eyes, "the man who could throw me and bind me; but what can you do when four or five attack you, and lasso you from behind? However, you saved my life and I am not ungrateful. What do you want? If you will not help me, I must beg; and rather than accept charity I will go to the Caliph."
"Indeed!" said the merchant, laughing. "You will only take alms from our noble governor? I call that begging! Ei! Ei! Bethink you, young man. The road to the Caliph is barred by my cousin, Messour, and I can easily tell him the story is untrue. But I pity you, Saïd, because you are young. There is time before you. I will take you into my employ; you shall bind yourself to me for a year, and then I will give you your wages and you can go wherever you please, to Aleppo or Medina; to Stamboul or Bassora–or—! I will give you till noon to decide. If you do not accept my offer, I will calculate what you have cost me up to now, and will insist on having your clothes in payment; and then I will turn you out in the streets, and you can go to the Caliph or to the Mufti in the Mosque, or you can beg in the market-place."
And with this the merchant went out the room. Saïd was furious. He was so angry with the little wretch that he could have done almost anything to him; but after all he was in his power. He thought he would leave the house, but found that the door of his room was fastened. At last, when he was in a more reasonable mood, he decided it might be best after all to accept Kalum Bey's offer. He knew that without money he could never reach Bassora. And he resolved as soon as possible to seek the aid of Haroun al Raschid.
The following day Kalum Bey took his new apprentice to the Bazaar. He showed Saïd the shawls and stuffs and other wares in which he dealt, and explained his methods of dealing. He insisted that Saïd should wear the costume of a merchant's assistant, and should stand in the doorway of his shop, calling to the passers-by to come and buy; and now Saïd understood why Kalum Bey had wished for his services. For the ugly little man drove customers away, whereas the women admired the young salesman and bought from him very willingly.
When Kalum Bey found how much his business had improved since Saïd stood at the door of his shop, he treated him better, fed him well, and dressed him in smarter clothes. But Saïd, although he attended just as well as before to his duties, thought day and night of only one thing, namely, how he could manage to go back to his own dear city.
One day, when there had been so many customers that all the porters were away from the shop carrying the goods bought to the houses of their owners, a woman entered the bazaar and wanted to make some purchases at Kalum Bey's. She was a long time making her choice, and having done so, asked for some one to carry her parcels home, saying she would give the porter a fee for himself.
"I can send some one in half an hour's time," said Kalum Bey. "At present all my porters are out."
"I cannot wait, and I do not want a strange porter," said the woman. "But look, there is one of your assistants. Let him carry my purchases."
"No, no!" cried the merchant. "He is my decoy; my signpost! He must not leave the door."
"Nonsense," exclaimed the woman, and gave her parcel to Saïd. "It's a pretty thing if you cannot hold your own in business, but have to rely on a handsome assistant! Come, lad, you shall have an opportunity of earning an extra fee to-day. For, good or bad, Kalum Bey is bound to stay and mind his shop himself."
Saïd followed the woman. They went through the market and many streets. At last they reached a fine house at the door of which she knocked. It was opened immediately, the woman entered, and Saïd followed her. They came to a large and splendidly furnished room. The woman seated herself on a divan, while Saïd laid his bundle down, and was about to depart, having already received a silver piece for himself.
"Saïd," cried a gentle voice. He looked wonderingly round, and saw, instead of the old woman, a beautiful lady sitting on the cushions surrounded by many attendants. Saïd was too much astonished for words.
"Saïd," said the lady, "much as I regret the misfortunes which were the cause of your coming to Bagdad, they are the result of your leaving your native city before you were twenty years of age, they were part of your fate in life. Have you your whistle still?"
"Indeed I have," joyfully exclaimed the youth, as he drew it and the gold chain out. "And surely you are the good fairy who gave it to me!"
"I was your mother's friend," answered the fairy, "and am also yours, Saïd. If your father had followed my advice, you would have been spared all these unhappy experiences."
"It cannot be helped," replied Saïd. "But now, dear fairy, help me to get away from Bagdad. Send me back on a magic cloud to Bagdad, to my father. There will I remain the six months that remain before my twentieth birthday."
"You have a coaxing way," said the fairy, "but what you ask is impossible. As long as you are in a strange place I cannot help you. I cannot even release you from Kalum Bey. He is under the protection of your mightiest enemy."
Saïd sadly bent his head in thought.
"But can I not go to the Caliph?" he asked at last. "Will he not incline his gracious ear to me, and advise me what to do?"
"Haroun is a wise man," said the fairy, "but, unfortunately, only a man. He trusts his Lord Chamberlain thoroughly, for he has tried and proved his fidelity. Messour, however, is greatly influenced by his friend Kalum Bey; and this is not right, for he believes all the evil gossip he repeats. The Caliph knows, no doubt, that you are a doubtful character. He would not be just to you. If you wish to deserve his sympathy and help, you must wait a little longer."
"This is indeed bad news," said Saïd sadly. "But grant me a favour, good fairy. I was well trained in the use of arms, and my greatest delight is in the tournament. Every week there is one held here in which the noblest youths take part. Could you not help me to present myself as an unknown competitor?"
"Your request shall be granted," said the fairy. "Every week you shall find here a fine horse, and knightly armour, and two pages. A magic water, with which you must bathe your face each time, will alter your appearance. And now good-bye, Saïd; be patient and do not worry. In six months your whistle will sound, and Zulima's ear will hear it at once."
The youth parted from his powerful friend with gratitude and respect; he noted carefully the house and street and returned to the Bazaar, and got back to the shop just in time to be of the greatest service to his master, for a crowd of boys were dancing round him, and jeering and hooting at him, while older people stood by laughing. Kalum Bey himself was standing at the door of his shop trembling with fright, in one hand he held a shawl, in the other a veil. This extraordinary scene came about through Said's absence from his post; for Kalum had taken his place meantime, but the customers would not buy of him. Two men passed through the Bazaar in search of presents for their wives. They walked up and down several times, and at last walked away with a puzzled air. Kalum Bey, who noticed this, thought he might get their custom, and cried out:
"Here, my lords, here! Here are beautiful things! What is it you want?"
"My good man," said one of them, "your wares are good enough, but our wives are particular, and it is now a custom among the women to buy their veils only from the handsome young shop-assistant, Saïd. We have been walking up and down for an hour, and cannot find him; perhaps you can tell us where he is, so that we may go and buy what we want; and we will visit your shop another day."
"Heaven be praised!" cried Kalum Bey. "The great Prophet has guided your steps to the right door. You wish to buy veils from the handsome young salesman! Well, this is his opportunity!"
One of the two men laughed heartily at Kalum's ugly face and figure and his assurance that he was the handsome youth; the other, however, thought that Kalum was joking with them and would not buy. Thereupon Kalum Bey was annoyed, and called his neighbours to witness to the fact that his shop was known as "the handsome salesman's"; but the neighbours, jealous of his recent successful trade, pretended not to know; and the two men, furious with "the old liar," as they called him, began treating him roughly.
Kalum defended himself more by shrieks and howlings than with his fists; and by degrees a crowd surrounded his shop. Half the town knew him as a greedy, grasping man, and all the bystanders grudged him the luck he had had. But just as one of the two men had seized hold of Kalum's beard, he in turn was seized by a stalwart arm and roughly thrown to the ground, losing in his fall his turban.
The crowd, who had enjoyed Kalum's dilemma, began to murmur; and the companion of the man who was thrown down looked round, and wondered who had attacked his friend; but when he saw a tall, strong youth with flashing eyes and bold bearing come to Kalum's assistance, he did not feel inclined to parry blows with him. Kalum, however, was overjoyed; his rescue seemed a miracle, and he cried:
"Now, my lords, what more do you want? This is Saïd, the handsome salesman!"
The people laughed, for they knew Kalum had not always treated the youth well. The two men looked rather ashamed, and went off together without buying shawls or veil.
"Oh, you jewel of all assistants! you treasure of a youth!" cried Kalum, as he led his servant into the shop. "You did indeed arrive at the right moment. The man lay on the ground as if he would never rise again, and I–I should have had no need of a barber any more to comb and trim my beard if you had been two minutes later. How can I reward you?"
Saïd had simply followed the impulse of the moment; his heart was always easily moved to pity, but he realised that be had rendered a valuable service to the ugly little man. A few dozen hairs the less in his beard would, Saïd reflected, have kept Kalum quiet and humble for a day or two; but he was anxious to gain a good word of the merchant, and said the reward he would like best would be permission for an afternoon and evening holiday once a week, so that he could do as he liked. This Kalum agreed to, for he knew Saïd, having neither money nor clothes, was not likely to run away. So Saïd got what he wished.
On the next Wednesday, the day of the weekly tournament, he went to the street where the fairy lived, knocked at the door of her house, and it was immediately opened. The servant seemed prepared for his arrival, for, without asking his business, he led Saïd up some steps into a beautiful room, and gave him the magic water. He bathed his face with it, and on looking in a mirror which hung on the wall could hardly recognise himself, for he was quite sunburnt, had a well-trimmed black beard, and looked at least ten years older than he really was.
Then he was taken to another room, where he found such beautiful clothes as Haroun himself might wear when he rode in full state at the head of his army. Besides a turban of finest muslin with a diamond aigrette and feathers, a coat of cloth of gold worked with silver flowers, Saïd found a shirt of silver chainwork which was so fine and close and strong that no blow of lance or sword could penetrate it. A Damascene blade in a rich sheath, with a hilt set with priceless jewels, completed his costume.
As he was leaving the room, a servant brought him a silk handkerchief, and said that the mistress of the house had sent this, and if he wiped his face with it the beard and the brown staining would disappear.
In the courtyard stood three beautiful horses: the best Saïd mounted, the others were for his pages, and then he rode happily enough to the grounds where the tournament was held. The magnificence of his clothes and the splendour of his weapons drew all eyes to him; and a cheer hailed him as he rode into the ring. There was a brilliant gathering of the bravest and noblest young men; even the Caliph's brothers competed and took their chances of falls and blows.
When Saïd rode in, and as no one seemed to know him, the son of the Grand Vizier, with some of his friends, rode up, asked his name and to what place he belonged, and invited him to take part in the day's proceedings.
Saïd said his name was Almansor, and he came from Cairo; that he was travelling about, and having heard much of the bravery and skill in arms of the young nobles of Bagdad, thought he would like to see it for himself.
The young men were charmed with Saïd-Almansor's speech and manners, and gave him a lance, telling him to choose his side; for the whole gathering was divided into two parties thus to fight the one against the other.
But if Said's dress had already attracted attention, still more did his courage and skill. His horse was quicker than a bird, and his sword flashed hither and thither. He threw his lance as easily, as surely as if it were a dart. He defeated even the doughtiest of his opponents, and at the end of the engagement was so heartily declared the victor, that one of the Caliph's brothers, as well as the Grand Vizier's son, who had fought on Said's side, begged him to fight with them. Ali, the Caliph's brother, was defeated, but the combat with the Grand Vizier's son was so long and so equal, that it was decided to finish it another day.
The day after the tournament every one was talking about the handsome stranger; all who had seen him were fascinated by his noble bearing, and Saïd heard people in Kalum Bey's shop talking about him, and regretting that no one knew where he came from or where he lived.
On his next holiday he found in the fairy's house a still more handsome suit, and still more splendid weapons. All Bagdad had assembled, even the Caliph sat in his balcony and watched the encounter; he too, noticed the prowess of Saïd-Almansor, and sent him a large gold medal and a chain to put round his neck as a sign of his appreciation.
It was a matter of course that this second triumph for Saïd should attract the attention of all the young men in Bagdad.
"Shall a stranger come here," said they, "and rob us of our military renown? Let him go somewhere else. We cannot put up with this sort of thing."
So they agreed that at the next tournament five or six of them would attack him.
Said's sharp eyes soon observed these mutterings; he saw that the young men glanced bitterly at him; he felt that besides the Caliph's brother and the Grand Vizier's son there was no one very friendly towards him, and even these were rather inclined to ask inquisitive questions as to where they could call on him, what he did, and why he was staying in Bagdad.
It was a strange thing that one of the young men who gave Saïd the blackest looks was no other than the man whom he had thrown down the day of the Kalum Bey affair; the one who had seized the merchant by the beard. Saïd had defeated him twice in fair fight, but that was no reason why ill-feeling should be displayed, and our hero feared lest by some accident of voice or feature his identity with the salesman at Kalum Bey's shop had been discovered, and might tell against him here.
The unfair attack to which Saïd was exposed was not only from jealousy at his bravery and skill, but also on account of the favour shown to him by the Caliph's brother and the Grand Vizier's son. When these two young nobles saw that the fight was as six to one, and that the struggle was a desperate one, they sprang into the mêlée, scattered the gang, and forbade the young men who had acted so dishonourably ever to present themselves at the tournament again.
For more than four weeks Saïd had surprised Bagdad by his deeds of prowess, and as he was going home one evening after the contests, he heard some voices which seemed familiar. In front of him were slowly walking four men, who were speaking in the dialect of the desert tribe over which the Chief Selim ruled. As Saïd, treading lightly, came up with them, he caught some words which told him plainly that they were planning some mischief. His first idea was to leave them to their own devices, but then he remembered that he might be able to defeat their evil plot, so he listened carefully to all they were saying.
"The doorkeeper distinctly said the street to the right of the Bazaar," said one. "He will be passing through it to-night with his Grand Vizier."
"Good," said another. "I don't care a fig for the Grand Vizier; he is old and weak, and no hero; but the Caliph is a grand swordsman, and I am afraid of him!"
"You stupid!" said the third. "It is well known that he is only accompanied by one person. So to-night we will seize him, but no harm must happen to him."
"The best way," said the first speaker, "were to throw a noose over his head; we must not kill him, for a large ransom will be paid for him, and this is all we are sure to get."
"Then until eleven o'clock," said they all, and separated, one going here, another there.
Saïd was decidedly alarmed at this plot. He thought at first of going to the Palace and warning the Caliph, and asking for help to take the conspirators. But as he walked along he remembered the fairy's words, "that the Sultan was unfavourably disposed towards him," and thought that the Chamberlain might treat his warning as a joke, or else accuse him of trying to gain the Sultan's favour; so he paused, and decided that it would be best to rely on his good sword, and himself rescue the Sultan from the men of the robber tribe.
So instead of going back to Kalum Bey's he sat on the steps of the Mosque and waited till night fell; then he went to the Bazaar through the street the robbers had named, and hid himself behind the corner of a house.
He had waited there for about a quarter of an hour when he heard some steps; and he thought at first it might be the Caliph and his Grand Vizier; but one of the men clapped his hands, and immediately two others hurried out, though very quietly, from their hiding-places. They whispered together for a little while and then separated. Two stood not far from him, the other walked up and down. The night was very dark, and Saïd had to listen very carefully.
After a while footsteps were heard again in the Bazaar. One of the robbers, near to where Saïd hid, had also heard them, and gave a signal. In a moment the three other men attacked the wayfarers, who fought valiantly, and the sound of the sword-blows was rapid and distinct.
Saïd now drew his blade, and threw himself into the thick of the fray, crying:
"Down with the enemies of Haroun al Raschid!" He cut one robber down, then sprang on two more who had just bound a man and were feeling for his weapon. The brave youth hit one of these robbers a blow on the arm and cut off his hand. With a dreadful cry he fell. Now the fourth, who had been fighting too, turned on Saïd, who was still engaged with the third. But the man who had been bound had now freed himself, and with his dagger would have stabbed the robber, only that the latter ran away.
Saïd was not long in ignorance as to whom he had saved. The taller of the two men came up to him and said:
"The sudden attack on my life and liberty is as difficult to understand as your share in my deliverance; did you know of these men's intentions?"
"Defender of the Faithful," answered Saïd;–"for I feel sure you are he–I was walking the street called El Malek to-night, behind these men, and overheard their evil plot against you and your companion. It was too late to warn you, so I decided to remain on the spot and to help you if necessary."
"I thank you," said Haroun; "but let us leave this horrible place. Take this ring, and come to me at the Palace to-morrow morning."
He signed to the Grand Vizier to follow him, after having set the ring on Said's finger. The old man, however, hastily pressed a purse of gold into Said's hand, and whispered:
"Take it, noble youth; I cannot reward you better." Then he hurried after the Caliph.
Saïd felt half drunk with joy as he hastened home. But Kalum Bey was very angry at his being out so late, and had begun to think he had lost his valuable apprentice, and he began to scold and curse and swear like a madman. But Saïd, who had satisfied himself on looking inside his purse that it was full of gold pieces, felt the moment had come when he could return to his father's house, did not defend himself, only told Kalum Bey that he would not remain another hour in his service. At first the little merchant was too surprised to speak, then he laughed spitefully, and said:
"You stupid idiot! You beggarly rascal! How can you go away? Where will you get food or a night's lodging?"
"That does not concern you, Kalum Bey," answered Saïd. "Be certain of this, you shall not see me again!"
He went out of the house, and Kalum Bey was speechless with astonishment. The next morning, however, when he had thought the matter well over, he sent his porters out to see what they could hear about Saïd. After some time one of them came back, saying he had seen Saïd come out of the Mosque and join a caravan. He seemed altered; was wearing a splendid coat and turban, and was armed with a dagger and crossbow.
When Kalum Bey heard this he raged and stormed and cried:
"He has stolen both money and clothes from me. Oh, I am indeed an unlucky man!"
Then he sent a messenger to the police, and as they knew he was a relation of Messour, the Court Chamberlain, he easily enough got a warrant for Said's arrest.
Saïd was sitting waiting for the caravan to start, and was chatting with a merchant who was going to Bassora, when suddenly, notwithstanding his protests, some men seized him, and bound his hands behind his back. He asked them by what right they arrested him; and they replied, they held a warrant from the police and Kalum Bey. Then the little merchant appeared on the scenes, and accused and abused Saïd, searched in his pockets, and, to the bystanders' surprise, triumphantly drew out a purse full of gold.
"Look! He stole this from me, the young villain," cried he. "So young, so handsome, and yet so base! Justice, justice is all I ask–except the bastinade!"
So they dragged him along, and a whole crowd of men of all sorts followed, crying: "Look at the handsome young salesman of the Bazaar; he has robbed his master and would have run away. He has stolen two hundred gold pieces!"
The superintendent of the police received Saïd with severe looks. Saïd would have spoken, but the officials bade him be silent, and only attended to the little merchant. He asked Kalum Bey if the purse belonged to him, and Kalum Bey swore it did; but that a far greater loss to him were the services of his assistant, which were worth a thousand gold pieces. Then the judge said: "According to a law, made long ago by our great Caliph, every thief who stole more than one hundred gold pieces must be punished by perpetual banishment to a desert island. This thief is taken at the right moment, for he makes the twentieth, and completes a gang which will be shipped to-morrow morning."
Saïd was bewildered. He implored the judge to allow him to speak to the Caliph; but he found no mercy. Kalum Bey, who began to regret his folly, interceded for him, but the judge said: "You have your money, so be contented; go home and be quiet, or I will fine you ten gold pieces for each accusation." Kalum silently disappeared; and the judge signed to the guards to take the unlucky Saïd away.
He was thrown into a dark damp cell, where nineteen other miserable wretches lay about on the straw and related with some rough wit their experiences. The prospect of his fate seemed so awful, and the possibility of being compelled to spend his days on a desert island so terrible, that he fervently hoped something might happen to release him from this terrible position. But he hoped in vain; nor was his fate on the convict ship a pleasant one. In the hold, where no one could stand upright, the twenty prisoners were confined, and had to make themselves as comfortable as they could.
The anchor was weighed, and Saïd wept bitter tears when the vessel set sail. Only once a day did they get a frugal meal of bread and fruit, washed down with a drink of water; and it was so dark in the hold that when the gaolers brought food they had to bring a lamp while the convicts ate it. Almost every day one of the prisoners died through the foul air of the place; and it was only Said's youth and good constitution which kept him alive.
For fourteen days they voyaged, and then one day there was a strange tumult on board the ship.
Saïd thought it might be a storm, and he hoped he might die.
The ship tossed up and down, and at last a grating sound was heard. Cries and groans on deck mingled with the raging of the storm. At last all was quiet; but at that moment water began to rise in the hold. The convicts knocked on the partition door, but no one heeded them. And as the water rose higher and higher, they put forth all their strength and burst its panels.
Then they ran up the stairs, but could not see any one. The crew had saved themselves in the ship's boats. This was a terrible time for these poor wretches, for the storm still raged, and the ship seemed likely to go to pieces any moment. For some hours they sat on the deck, and made a meal from the odds and ends of food left by the crew; then the storm rose with greater force, and the ship was shattered to pieces against the rocks.
Saïd had bound himself to the mast. The waves washed him backwards and forwards; but he steered a course with his foot, and kept himself safe. But for more than half an hour he was in greatest danger; then all at once his whistle fell from his shirt, and he thought he would see if it would sound. With one hand he clung to the mast, with the other he held it to his mouth, blew, and lo! a clear, sweet sound came forth, and instantly the storm ceased, and the waves were as still as if oil had been poured on the water. Hardly had he had time to look around for any signs of land, when the mast beneath him began to move and change in a most wonderful manner; and he was rather dismayed to find himself sitting astride a dolphin. After a few minutes he recovered his nerve, and when he felt that the dolphin was swimming slowly and steadily he knew he owed his good fortune to the fairy and the whistle, and offered his heartfelt thanks aloud.
His wonderful steed carried him swiftly through the waves, and when evening came he saw the land and a wide river, into which the dolphin swam, and slowly followed the course of the stream, and Saïd, remembering his instructions, drew out his whistle and blew it, and wished for a hearty meal. The dolphin stopped, and on the water suddenly appeared a table as dry as if it had been standing a week or more in the sun, and it was spread with delicious food. Saïd eat sparingly, for after his long imprisonment his appetite was not very good; and when he had finished his meal, he returned thanks, and once more swam along the water of the river on the back of his strange steed.
The sun was setting when Saïd saw in the far distance a large town, which from its appearance might have been Bagdad. Any other place would have pleased him better; however, he thought of the good fairy, and wondered where he would land. The dolphin swam towards the shore, and round a small promontory. The youth then noticed a fine country house, to which his wonderful steed steered his course. On the flat roof some handsomely dressed men were standing and beckoning to him.
The dolphin stopped by a landing stage which stretched out into the water. Two servants carrying wands in their hands awaited Saïd, and begged him, in the name of their master, to enter. Hardly had Saïd stepped on dry land than the dolphin disappeared like magic.
The servants took Saïd to a chamber where he changed his clothes. Then he was conducted to the lord of the Palace. There were two men in splendid apparel with him.
"Who are you, you strange young man?" the lord of the Palace asked him kindly. "You bestrode that large fish and guided him right and left as well as the best rider would manage his horse."
"My lord," answered Saïd, "I have had much misfortune during the last few weeks; with your permission I will tell you all that happened to me."
After Saïd had had some refreshment, he told the three men his adventures from the time he left his father's house until his wonderful rescue from the shipwreck.
"Where are the chain and the ring which the Caliph gave you?" asked the lord of the house.
"Here in my bosom," said Saïd, as he drew them forth.
"By the beard of the Prophet, it is my ring!" cried the one of highest rank. "Grand Vizier, we must embrace him, he is our deliverer."
Saïd felt as if in a dream.
"Pardon me, Protector of the Poor, for my blunt speech. Are you truly Haroun al Raschid?"
"Haroun al Raschid, and your friend. But from this moment your fortunes will mend. Follow me to Bagdad; you shall stay in my house, for you have proved the truth of your story."
So Saïd went with the Caliph to Bagdad, and was given a splendid room in the Palace. And both the Caliph's brother and the Grand Vizier's son recognised him as their brave brother-in-arms.
On the next day Messour, the Chamberlain, came to Haroun and said:
"Defender of the Faithful, may I ask a favour of you?"
"I must first hear what it is," said the Caliph.
The Chamberlain said:
"My worthy cousin Kalum Bey is standing without. He is a respectable merchant in the Bazaar. He has had a fuss with a man from Bassora whose son was my cousin's assistant, and robbed him, and ran away, no one knows whither. The father wants his son, and Kalum has not got him. Kalum begs and prays that you will graciously interfere between him and the man from Bassora."
"I will judge the case," answered the Caliph. "In half an hour your cousin and his accuser may appear in the Hall of Justice."
Messour withdrew with grateful thanks. Haroun, however, called Saïd and said:
"Your father is actually in this city, Saïd, and now I fortunately know all, I can be as wise as Solomon. You shall hide behind this curtain until I call you; and you, Grand Vizier, send some one directly to fetch that careless and incompetent magistrate."
Each did as he was bid. Said's heart beat fast as with feeble steps his dear old father, pale and agitated, entered the Hall. Kalum Bey's nasty sly smile, however, made him so furious that he would willingly have knocked him down.
There were a good many people in the Hall, for the Caliph wished them to hear justice done. After silence was proclaimed the Grand Vizier asked who it was who wished for the Caliph's interference.
Kalum Bey stepped forward, and with an easy air stated his grievance. He described Saïd as a thieving, untrustworthy rascal, and said he did not know what had become of him.
Then it was Benezar's turn. He declared his son to be a noble-minded, trustworthy youth, and said it was impossible he should have fallen so low as to steal.
"I hope, Kalum Bey," said Haroun, "you have, as was your duty, notified the theft to the police."
"Certainly," laughed Kalum. "I took Saïd myself to the police magistrate."
"Bring the magistrate here," said the Caliph.
The magistrate came forward and acknowledged hearing the case.
"Did you allow the young man to speak for himself, and did he confess the theft?" asked Haroun.
"No, he said he would explain to no one but yourself," answered the magistrate.
"But I do not remember seeing him," said Haroun.
"Surely, my lord, I am not to send a pack of rascals every day to trouble your ear with their stories!"
"You know that my ears are always ready to listen," answered Haroun, "but perhaps the testimony as to the theft was so clear that it was not necessary to grant his request. Did you have witnesses to prove that this gold which Saïd stole really belonged to you, Kalum?"
"Witnesses?" said Kalum. "No, I had no witnesses; one piece of gold is as much like another as egg to egg."
"Then how did you know the money belonged to you?"
"By the purse it was in," answered Kalum readily.
"Have you got the purse with you now?" asked the Caliph. The merchant drew it forth.
Then the Grand Vizier cried with a loud voice: "By the beard of the Prophet, that purse is not yours, false liar! It belongs to me; and I gave it, filled with gold pieces, to the brave young man who saved my life!"
"Can you swear that?" asked the Caliph.
"As solemnly as I hope to enter Paradise," answered the Grand Vizier.
"Well, well," said Haroun. "Then you judged falsely, magistrate. Why did you believe this purse belonged to the merchant?"
"He swore it did," answered the magistrate, trembling.
"So you swore falsely," thundered the Caliph to the merchant, who was shivering with fear.
"Allah, Allah!" he cried; "I will not say anything against the Grand Vizier, he is a worthy man; but oh! the purse was my property, and the dishonest Saïd stole it. I would give a thousand gold pieces if he were here."
"What have you done with Saïd?" asked the Caliph.
"I sent him to a desert island," said the magistrate.
"Then he did commit the crime?"
The magistrate turned white. Then he said at last:
"So far as I know–yes."
"You know nothing about it," said the Caliph in a dreadful voice, "so we will ask him ourselves. Come here, Saïd; and you, Kalum Bey, pay down those thousand gold pieces, for he is here as you wished."
Kalum and the magistrate thought to have seen a ghost. They bowed their heads and cried:
Benezar, however, overcome with joy, threw himself into the arms of his long-lost son.
With stern dignity the Caliph said:
"Magistrate, this is Saïd. Did he confess his guilt?"
"No, no," groaned the magistrate. "I had only Kalum's word for it. He is a respectable man."
"Did I not make you a judge so that you should deal justice?" cried Haroun al Raschid in a rage. "For ten years I banish you to a desert island in the middle of the sea; there you can think over all your injustice. And as for you, you wretched little man, who saved a dying man simply to make him your slave, you shall pay, as already stated, a thousand gold pieces, because you said you would if Saïd were here as a witness to your kindheartedness."
Kalum rejoiced to get out of this unpleasant business so well, and made an attempt to thank the good Caliph.
But Haroun continued:
"As for your false oath about the hundred gold pieces, you shall have one hundred strokes on the soles of your feet. And further, Saïd shall decide if he will confiscate your house and business, or if he will be contented to receive instead ten gold pieces for every day he served in your shop."
"Let the wretch go, great lord!" cried Saïd. "I wish for nothing that ever belonged to him."
"No," answered Haroun. "I intend you to have recompense, so I shall choose the ten gold pieces a day for you, and you must reckon how many days you were in his service. Now take the wretches away!"
The guards removed them, and the Caliph led Benezar and Saïd into another large room. Here he told Benezar how Saïd had saved his life. The Caliph invited Benezar to stay with him for a while, Saïd to remain too, and the invitation was joyfully accepted. And Saïd ever afterwards lived like a prince in a beautiful palace the Caliph had built for him, and to which Benezar brought all his belongings.
Story of the
N Upper Swabia there stand to this day the walls of the Castle of Hohenzollern, once the finest in the land. It was built on the top of a high round hill, and from its look-out tower you could see all the length and breadth of the land. And far and near the brave deeds of the Hohenzollerns were admired, and the name was known and honoured all through the kingdom of Germany.
About four hundred years ago, almost before gunpowder was invented, there lived in this castle a Zollern, who was a most peculiar man. No one could remember ever having heard him speak like other men; for if when he was riding through the valley any one greeted him and doffed his cap, or stopped and said, "Good evening, noble Count; it is lovely weather," all the answer the Count would give would be: "Stupid nonsense!" or, "I know that!" And if by chance any one did not make way for him and his horse, or if a peasant with a cart blocked the path, so that he could not gallop as fast as he chose, he gave vent to his anger in a torrent of curses; but he was never known to thrash a peasant. And all through the land he was known as "the Stormy Knight of Zollern."
The Stormy Knight of Zollern had a wife who was as different from him as could be, amiable and gentle as an angel. And when people had been upset by their lord's harsh words, her sweet voice and kindly looks won them back to their allegiance. To the poor she was always a good friend, and in the summer heat and winter cold might be seen going down the steep hill to visit some sick child, or some family needing help. And if the Count met her on her way he would growl, "Stupid nonsense! Don't I know it?" and ride on.
Many wives would have fretted or frightened themselves over this disagreeable temper. One might have said, "What do the poor people's trouble matter to me? My husband says it's 'Stupid nonsense.'" Another might have let her love for such a gloomy husband get cold. But the Lady Hedwig von Zollern was not like this. She loved him as much as ever, and with her small white hand would stroke the frowns from his forehead, and would soothe and caress him. And though after they had been married a year and a day, God sent them a little son, she did not love her husband less, but tried, in spite of her many duties, to be a wise and tender mother to her boy. Three years went by, and only every Sunday at dinner-time did the Count see his son and take him from the nurse's arms. He would look at the child, mutter something in his beard, and give it back to the nurse. When the boy could say "Father," the Count gave the nurse a florin, but took no kindly notice of the child.
When Kuno was three years old the Count ordered the child to be dressed in trunk hose and a doublet of velvet and satin; then he called for his own black horse and two others, took the boy in his arms, and descended the staircase jingling his spurs. The Countess Hedwig was amazed. She was not in the habit of asking her husband where he went, or what he was going to do, but anxiety for her child made her inquire:
"Are you going for a ride, my lord?" The Count did not answer. "What are you doing with the boy?" she asked. "Kuno was going out with me."
"I know that," answered the Stormy Knight of Zollern, and strode on, and when he reached the courtyard he took the boy by the foot, lifted him into the saddle, tied him fast with a handkerchief, and mounting his own horse rode through the Castle gates holding the bridle of his little son's horse.
The child was delighted to go a-riding with his father, and clapped his hands, and pulled the horse's mane to make it go faster, and the Count was delighted, and cried more than once, "He will be a fine youth one day!"
When they came to the open country, and instead of trotting the Count put the horse to a gallop, the boy lost his nerve; he begged his father to ride slower; but the Count quickened his pace, and the wind took the boy's breath away, and he began to cry, softly at first, but screaming at last with the full power of his lungs.
"Stupid nonsense!" his father exclaimed. "The youngster cries over his first ride–Be quiet or–" But just as he was beginning to swear at poor Kuno, his horse reared, the reins of the other slipped from his hand, and it took him a few moments to quiet his steed; when this was done, he looked anxiously for his son, and saw the horse galloping up the hill without his little rider.
Hard and stern as the Count of Zollern was, his heart seemed to stand still for a moment. He believed the child must be lying dead upon the road. He pulled his beard and groaned aloud. But as while he slowly rode back he could find no trace of his son, he came to the conclusion that the startled horse had thrown him into the river which ran near, and that the little one had found a watery grave. All at once he heard a childish voice calling him, and as he turned round, lo! there sat an old woman beneath a tree on the other side of the road, nursing the boy on her knee.
"What are you doing with my son, old witch?" cried the Count in angry tones. "Bring him to me directly!"
"Not so fast! Not so fast! your Highness," laughed the ugly old woman, "or some misfortune may happen to your proud head! You want to know how it is I have the boy? Well, the horse passed me, with its little rider hanging by one foot, with his hair brushing the ground, and I just caught him in my apron."
"Just so!" cried the Count of Zollern impatiently. "Give him to me; I cannot dismount; the horse is fresh and might kick him."
"Give me a stag-florin, then," said the old woman.
"Stuff and nonsense!" said the Count, and threw her some copper pieces.
"No! I want a stag-florin!" said she again.
"You are not worth so much," blustered the Count. "Give me the boy quickly, or I will set the dogs on you!"
"Oh! I am not worth a stag-florin, then?" answered the old woman, laughing maliciously. "Well, we shall see which of your heirs is worth a stag-florin. Here, keep your pennies for yourself!" And so saying, she threw the little copper coins to the Count, and with such dexterity that they all fell at once into the purse he held in his hand.
The Count was too astonished to speak; but at last his temper burst forth. He seized his crossbow, bent it, and aimed at the old woman, who kissed and cuddled the boy on her lap, and said as she held him between herself and the weapon: "Be a good child; keep still and he will not hurt you!" Then she set him down, and shaking her finger at the Count and crying: "Zollern, Zollern, you owe me a stag-florin," disappeared among the beech-trees in the forest. Conrad, the groom, got down trembling from his horse, lifted the little master into his saddle, mounted behind him, and followed his lord to the Castle.
This was the first and last time that the Stormy Knight of Zollern took his son for a ride; for he set him down as a cowardly boy who would never be worth much in the way of manly exercise; and took such a dislike to him that when Kuno, who really loved his father, would run laughing and smiling into his arms, the Count would push him away, saying: "Stuff and nonsense! Stuff and nonsense!" The Countess Hedwig could bear with her husband's unkindness to herself, but his treatment of her little son grieved her so much that she fell ill, more from fright because the Count had cruelly beaten the boy for some slight fault, than from any disease, and died after a few days' suffering, and was deeply mourned by her servants and the whole population, and bitterly by her poor little Kuno.
From this moment the Count set his face against Kuno, and gave the care of him entirely to the nurse and the chaplain, and scarcely troubled to see him. Shortly afterwards he married a very rich woman, who bore him twin sons.
Kuno's favourite walk was to the cottage of the old woman who had saved his life. She told him all about his dear, dead mother, and how good and kind she was to all. The boys and girls warned him about going to see Dame Feldheim so often, telling him that it was well known she was a witch; but the boy was not afraid, for the chaplain had assured him that there were no witches, and that the stories told of how they flew through the air on broomsticks and danced on the bracken were false.
It is true he could not quite understand all he saw and heard at Dame Feldheim's. The trick of the three pennies which she threw into his father's purse he remembered well; her skill, too, in preparing healing drinks from herbs for sick people and cattle was great; but it was not true, as people said, that she had a weather-vane, and that when she hung it over the fire thunderstorms arose. She taught the little Count many things that were very useful to him; for instance, how to make several nostrums for sick horses; and how to prepare a dose to cure hydrophobia; how to make bait for fishing, and many other useful things. The old woman was almost his only companion, for his nurse was dead and the chaplain did not trouble much about him.
While his brothers were growing up, Kuno had even a duller life than before. They were so fortunate as to keep their seat in the saddle the first time they went out riding, and the Stormy Knight of Zollern thought them plucky little fellows, and made a great fuss over them, taking them out every day, and teaching them all he knew. This did not, however, amount to much; for he could neither read nor write, and would not allow them to waste their time in study; but while they were quite young they could both swear as well as their father, and at the least difference of opinion would fight like cats and dogs, and it was only when they had a mutual grudge against Kuno that they ever agreed.
Their mother did not mind their quarrels, for she thought it was a sign of health and strength when boys fought. An old servant, however, called the Count's attention to their fighting one day, and although all the Stormy Knight said was, "Stuff and nonsense! Don't I know it?" he began to think it must be stopped before one killed the other, for he could not get out of his head the saying of the old witch, as he called her: "Well, we shall see which of your heirs is worth a stag-florin!"
One day, as he was riding to his Castle, he noticed two hills which seemed just the place for castles, and decided to build them. He did so, and called one "The Castle of Schalksberg," because he had nick-named the smaller of the twins "Little Schalk," and the other castle he had intended to call "Hischguldenberg," to annoy the witch who had said his heirs would not be worth a stag-florin. He called it, however, by the simpler name, "Hirschberg," and so they are called to this day, as any one can prove who journeys so far as the Elbe.
The Stormy Knight of Zollern had always intended to give his eldest son Zollern Castle, to little Schalk, Schalksberg, and to the other twin, Hirschberg; but his wife would not rest till he altered his will.
"That stupid Kuno," said she, "is quite rich enough, what with his mother's fortune; shall he have this beautiful Castle of Hohenzollern too? And are my sons to inherit nothing but a Castle each, and no land except the forest near by?"
Although the Count told her that no one might dare to rob Kuno of his birthright, she cried and scolded so that the Stormy Knight for the sake of peace and quietness gave way, and in his will left little Schalk, Schalksberg; to the elder twin, Zollern; and to Kuno, Hirschberg and the neighbouring village of Balingen. Soon after he fell suddenly ill. To the doctor, who told him he was about to die, he said, "I know that," and to the chaplain, who would fain have prepared him for his end, he said, "Stuff and nonsense!" and cursed and swore and died as he had lived, a great sinner.
But the breath was hardly out of his body, when the Countess brought in the will and said spitefully to Kuno that he might as well have the opportunity of seeing for himself that he had no right to the Castle of Zollern; and she and her sons were congratulating each other on the fine property and the two castles they had taken from the firstborn son.
Kuno accepted the terms of his dead father's will without grumbling; but took leave with tears of the Castle where he was born, and where his dear mother was buried; where the good old chaplain prayed, and near which Dame Feldheim, his only friend, lived. The Castle of Hirschberg was a fine, handsome building, but it was too lonely and dull, and he soon fell ill from sheer longing for his old home.
The Countess and the twin-brothers, who were just eighteen years old, sat one evening on the balcony and looked towards the Castle hill; and saw a handsome knight riding on horseback and a splendid litter carried by twelve men, and many boys following behind. They wondered whoever it could be, and at last little Schalk cried:
"It is no other than our elder brother from the Castle of Hirschberg!"
"That stupid Kuno?" said the Countess, much surprised. "Oh yes. He no doubt means to invite us to come to see him, and that lovely litter is for my use. Really I did not credit Kuno with so much good feeling. One compliment deserves another. Let us go down to the Castle door to receive him; put on pleasant looks, perhaps he will make you some presents; to one a horse, to the other a set of harness; as for me, I have long wanted his mother's jewels!"
"I don't want Kuno's presents," said Wolf, "nor will I put on a pleasant look to greet him. Let him die soon, like our father, and then we shall inherit the Castle of Hirschberg, and we will sell you the Countess's jewels cheap, my dear mother."
"Oh, you ungrateful boy!" cried his mother. "So I am to buy the jewels? Is this your gratitude to me for getting Zollern for you? Little Schalk, I shall certainly have the jewels for nothing, shall I not?"
"Nothing is certain but death, my dear mother," answered the younger twin, laughing; "and if it be true that the jewels are worth as much as many a castle, we should not be such fools as to hang them round your neck. As soon as Kuno dies, we shall ride over and divide everything, and l shall sell my share of the jewels. If you will give me more for them than the Jews will, you shall have them, mother mine!"
They were now standing by the great entrance door, and the Countess had hardly time to attempt a smile ere Kuno rode over the drawbridge. As he wished to be polite to his step-mother and brothers, he reined up his horse and dismounted, greeting them with courtesy. And although they had never treated him well, he remembered that these were his brothers, and that this wicked woman had loved his father.
"Now it is really good of you to come and see us," said the Countess in a soft voice and with a flattering smile. "How are things at Hirschberg? Is it a nice place to live in? And what a lovely litter! Surely an empress might be proud to travel in it. Now you must look out for a wife, so that she may use it."
"I have not thought yet of marrying, gracious lady," answered Kuno; "I am going to give myself a little company, and that is why I have brought the litter."
"You are very kind and thoughtful," said the Countess as she nodded and smiled.
"I have come for Father Joseph, the chaplain, who is too old to sit a horse," said Kuno quietly. "I mean to take my old tutor back with me, and arranged this with him when I was leaving Zollern. I am also taking Dame Feldheim home with me. She is very old and feeble, and I can never forget she saved my life, the first time I ever rode out with my late father. There is room and to spare in Hirschberg, and there she shall end her days." And so saying he went through the courtyard to find Father Joseph.
The Countess was yellow with rage, Wolf was biting his lips, and little Schalk was laughing.
"How much will you give me for my horse? Brother Wolf, give me your set of harness for it. Ha! ha! ha! he is taking back with him the chaplain and the old witch. What a pretty pair! He can study Greek before dinner with Father Joseph, and magic in the afternoon with Dame Feldheim. Oh! what a funny fellow Kuno is!"
"He is a nasty mean thing," replied the Countess, "and you ought not to be laughing, Schalk. It is a disgrace to the family that it should be said that the Count of Zollern has taken the chaplain and the old witch to his Castle in that splendid litter, and that they are to live there with him. He is his own mother's son. She was always so much with sick and sorry people. His father would turn in his coffin if he only knew; and never would he rest in his grave!"
"Yes," said Schalk, "my father would grumble out 'Stuff and nonsense! Don't tell me!'"
"Look–there Kuno comes with old Father Joseph, and even lets him take his arm," cried the Countess indignantly. "Come away, I do not wish to meet him again."
They went away from the hall, and Kuno led his old tutor across the drawbridge and helped him into the litter, and halfway down the hill they stopped at Dame Feldheim's cottage, and found her waiting with a bundle of glasses and pots and potions and draughts, and her beech wand in her hand. But things did not turn out quite as the angry Countess hoped. No one in the country round thought unkindly of Kuno; on the contrary, they respected and liked him for his kindness to the old woman in her last years, and praised him for his conduct towards his old tutor. The only people who were disagreeable and unpleasant to him were his two step-brothers and the Countess. But such unnatural behaviour was not approved of, and a report was spread that the Countess and her two sons did not live on good terms, and that they quarrelled with each other every day.
Count Kuno of Zollern-Hirschberg made many attempts to be friendly with his brothers, and it seemed strange to him that they often came to his fêtes, but never spoke if they met him in the woods or in the fields, and greeted him more coldly than if he were a stranger. But his advances met with no encouragement, and he gave up further attempts at friendship.
One day he suddenly bethought himself of a way to win their hearts, for he knew they were greedy and grasping. There was a large pond almost equally distant from the three Castles, but really Kuno's property. In this pond were the finest pike and carp in the whole neighbourhood; and the two brothers, who were very fond of fishing, thought it unfair that their father had not left them this piece of water. They were too proud to fish there without their brother's leave, and too bitter to ask his permission. So one day Kuno asked them, knowing how they envied him the pond, to meet him there.
It was a lovely spring morning, and the three brothers arrived almost at the same moment.
"Well," said Schalk, "this is capital. I left home on the stroke of seven."
"So did I." "So did I," exclaimed his brothers.
"Then the pond must lie exactly between our three estates," said Schalk. "It is a fine piece of water!"
"It is," said Kuno; "and I have an offer to make you. I know you both are fond of fishing, and I too love the sport; there is enough fish for the three families, and enough room on the bank for us all, even if we all come at the same time. So I have decided that this pond shall be common property, and that each of us has an equal right to fish here."
"How good and gracious our brother is!" said little Schalk, laughing spitefully, "to give six days' fishing and two hundred little fishes. And now–we must give him something in exchange; that is as certain as death."
"It is certain that I mean what I say," said Kuno in a vexed tone. "I have often wished to talk to you about this pond. Are we not the sons of one father?"
"That may be," said Schalk; "but fishing in company is no good; we shall simply chase the fish from one to another. Let us have each certain days. You, Kuno, take Monday and Thursday; you, Wolf, Tuesday and Friday; and I will have Wednesday and Saturday. That will be best."
"That will not suit me," cried Wolf. "I do not want a favour, and will not take a part. It was right of Kuno to make the offer, but we each have an equal right to the pond, so let us gamble for it; and if I have the luck to win you can always ask my leave to fish."
"I will not gamble for it," said Kuno, distressed at the behaviour of his brothers.
"No! he is too good and right-minded, this wonderful brother of ours!" cried little Schalk. "He thinks gambling is one of the deadly sins. But I have a plan to propose which he cannot object to. We will fetch our rods and bait, and whoever has caught the most fish by twelve this morning, shall be the winner of the pond."
"I was certainly a fool," said Kuno, "to argue about what is my own property by right. But that you shall see I was in earnest, I will fetch my fishing-tackle."
They each rode back to their Castles. The twins sent servants in all directions to turn up the large stones, and hunt beneath them for worms for bait. Kuno, however, took his usual rod and the bait which Widow Feldheim had prepared for him, and was first back at the appointed spot. He allowed his brothers to choose the best and most convenient places, and then threw his line out. It really seemed as if the fish knew who was their real master. A whole shoal of carp and pike came round and nibbled at his bait. The older and stronger ones pulled the younger fish away; every moment he caught something, and as he threw fresh bait into the water, it was surrounded by twenty or thirty fish, each eager to seize the hook. He had only been fishing two hours when the grass around him was covered with his splendid spoil. So he left off, and went to see what luck his brothers had had. Schalk had caught one little carp and two small perch. Wolf had three barbel and two little gudgeon; and both looked despondently at the pond, for they could see from where they stood what a number of fish Kuno had caught.
As Kuno approached, his brother Wolf sprang up, fuming with rage; broke his rod, destroyed the tackle, and threw it altogether in the pond.
"I wish I had a thousand hooks to throw in there instead of one, and that each one might strike a fish," cried he. "But honest ways never succeed; unless it is by magic and witchcraft, how could you, you stupid Kuno, catch more fish in an hour than I could in a year?"
"Of course," said Schalk; "now I remember. It was the old woman, that old witch, who taught Kuno to fish, and we were idiots to angle with him; he will soon be a magician himself."
"You wretched youths," said Kuno quietly. "This morning I have had a good opportunity to see your greed, your shamelessness, and your ill-manners. Now go home, and never come here again, and, believe me, it were better for you if your hearts were as good and pure as that of the old woman you call the witch."
"No, she is no true witch," said Schalk sneeringly. "A real witch speaks the truth, but Dame Feldheim is about as much a witch as a goose is a swan. Did she not tell my father that his heir would not be worth a stag-florin? yet at his death his property reached as far as eye could see. No! no! Dame Feldheim is nothing but a lying old woman, and you–you are stupid old Kuno."
After this speech Schalk hastened away, for he was afraid of their brother's mighty arm; and Wolf followed him, cursing as heartily as ever his father did.
In saddest mood Kuno went back to the Castle, for he knew all friendship with his brothers was quite at an end. He took their harsh words so much to heart, that he became quite ill, and only the kindness of Father Joseph and the skilful treatment of Dame Feldheim saved his life. But when the brothers heard that Kuno was dangerously ill, they gave a banquet, and in their wine-cups agreed that, if that stupid Kuno died, whoever heard the news first should fire off a cannon as a sign, and whoever fired first should have the very best bottle of wine in Kuno's cellar. Wolf sent one of his servants to wait about as near to the Castle of Hirschberg as possible, and little Schalk bribed one of Kuno's servants to let him know directly his master's end came. But this man was, however, more faithful to his kind-hearted master than to the wicked Count of Schalksberg. He asked Dame Feldheim one evening how the Count his master was, and as she said he was fast getting well, he told her about the plot of the two brothers, and that they had planned great rejoicings if Kuno died. This disgusted the old woman. She told the Count, and as he could not believe in such heartlessness on the part of his brothers, she asked him to test her story by letting a report be spread that he was dead, so that they could hear if the guns were fired or not. The Count sent for the servant whom his brother had bribed, and asked him all about it, and told him to ride to Schalksberg and say Count Kuno was dying.
But as the servant was hurrying down the hill, Count Wolf's servant saw him, and stopping him, asked why he was in such a hurry.
"Oh!" said the man, "my poor master cannot last through the night; his life is despaired of."
"Oh! is that it?" cried the other, and springing on his horse he rode with such speed to Zollern and up the Castle hill that his horse fell down at the door, and he could only gasp out, "Count Kuno is dying!" before he fainted right away. Then the cannon roared from the walls of Castle Zollern; and Count Wolf and his mother were delighted to think that they would get the fine flask of wine, the property, the pond, besides the jewels; and above all were they pleased with the echoing sound of the cannon. But what they thought was the echo was the Schalksberg cannon, and Wolf said laughingly to his mother:
"What is this? Schalk evidently had a spy too, and we shall have to divide the wine as well as the inheritance."
Then he ordered his swiftest horse to be saddled, and rode to Hirschberg, for he was afraid little Schalk would get there first and take away some of the treasures belonging to the dying man. But just by the fishpond the two brothers met, and reddened with shame at the thought that each had been trying to reach the Castle first. They did not speak of Kuno as they continued their ride, but discussed as brothers their future intentions, and to whom Hirschberg should belong. As they rode over the draw-bridge and into the courtyard, they looked up and saw their brother, hale and well, looking out of the windows at them. The brothers were thoroughly frightened, thinking it must be his ghost, and crossed themselves devoutly; but when they saw he really was alive Wolf cried:
"How glad I am! I believed you were dead!"
"Never mind, a sick man is not a sound man," said Schalk, looking spitefully at his brother.
Then Kuno spoke with a voice of thunder.
"From this hour all ties of blood and relationship are severed between us. I have heard your salvoes of joy; but, as you see, I have fine field guns here in the courtyard, and have had them ready loaded. So you had better get out of their range as soon as possible, or you shall have an opportunity of judging how we here at Hirschberg can aim."
They did not wait to be told twice, for they could see he was in earnest. They dug their spurs into their horses and raced down the hill, and their brother sent a shot after them which flew above their heads; for he only wanted to give them a good fright, not to hurt them.
"Why did you fire off your cannon, you stupid?" asked little Schalk angrily. "I fired mine because I heard yours."
"On the contrary, you fired first," said Wolf. "Ask our mother. You know you fired first, and have brought us to this plight, you stupid little idiot!"
The younger brother had nothing more to say in self-defence, and as they had reached the fishpond they parted company, each proving himself a worthy son of the old Stormy Knight of Zollern in the matter of cursing and swearing, and parting from each other in thorough ill-feeling.
Two or three days afterwards Kuno made his will, and Dame Feldheim said to Father Joseph:
"I will answer for it, Kuno has not left much to the gunnery-knights!"
But her curiosity was such that she often begged her darling boy to let her read the document; but he always refused, and it happened that a year later the good old woman died, not from any illness except her eighty-ninth year, and none of her potions or lotions were any help in prolonging her life. Count Kuno gave her such a funeral as was worthy of his mother rather than a poor old peasant; and many people besides himself and Father Joseph followed her to the grave.
Strangely enough, the good Count Kuno died rather suddenly when he was only twenty-eight years old, and people said that the wicked Schalk had poisoned him.
However that might be, a few hours after his death the thunder of cannon was heard again, and both from Zollern and Schalksberg.
"This time it is no false alarm," said Schalk to Wolf.
As they rode towards the Castle, a knight, accompanied by followers, a stranger to them, sought their company. They thought he might be a friend of their brother's come like themselves to assess the property. So they began to mourn Count Kuno, and spoke in his praise, regretted his early death, and little Schalk managed to squeeze out a few crocodile tears. The knight did not reply to their remarks, but rode silently by their side until they reached the Castle.
"Now let us make ourselves at home! Bring wine, cellarman, and the best!" cried Wolf as he dismounted.
They mounted the winding staircase which led into the dining-room, followed by the silent knight; and when the twins had seated themselves comfortably at the table, the strange guest drew a piece of silver out of his waistcoat pocket and threw it on the table so that it rolled and jingled, and said:
"Now you have your inheritance at last; and it is exactly one stag-florin!"
The two brothers laughed and stared and asked what he meant. The knight drew out a parchment roll, with hanging seals, on which "Stupid Kuno" had written down all the maliciousness of his brothers during his life, and at the end had ordered that his whole property, only excepting his mother's jewels, should be sold to Würtemberg at his death for a couple of stag-florins. But with the value of the jewels some almshouses were to be built and endowed in Balingen.
The brothers were surprised and bit their lips with rage, for they could not interfere with the bequest to Würtemberg, and so after all they had lost the Castle, the estate, the money, the village of Balingen, and even the fishpond, and all they inherited was a stag-florin each. Wolf put his in his waistcoat pocket, and without saying one word they put their caps on their heads, and saying neither "Good-bye," nor "Au revoir," to the Würtemberg official, mounted their horses and rode back to Zollern.
On the following morning Wolf's mother teased him with so many questions, as to his legacy and the jewels, that he rode over to Schalksberg and said to his brother:
"Shall we gamble or drink away our inheritance?"
"Let us drink it away," said Schalk, "then we shall at least have the wine! We will go to Balingen and bear ourselves boldly, even if we have lost the village."
"And at the 'Lamb' there is good red wine," said Wolf. "Even the Emperor has none better."
So they rode together to the "Lamb," and asked how much the best red wine was, and drank their stag-florin's worth. Then Wolf stood up, and drew the coin with the leaping stag out of his pocket, threw it on the table and cried:
"There is your gulden, that is your fee!"
The host took the money, looked first at one side, then at the other, and laughed.
"Yes, but there are no more stag-florins in circulation! Only last night there came a messenger from Stuttgart, and early this morning a trumpeter read a proclamation in the name of the Count of Würtemberg, who now owns the village, to say that they were called in to the mint, and giving me other money instead."
The two brothers turned pale.
"Pay up," said one.
"Have you no change?" said the other, and, to be brief, they had to owe the money to the "Lamb" at Balingen. They rode silently and sadly home, but when they came to the cross-roads, where the way to Zollern lay to the right and that to Schalksberg to the left, Schalk said:
"How now! we are poorer than ever, and the wine was bad."
"It was!" answered his brother. "But what the old witch said has come true. Do you see? Neither of us is worth a stag-florin. We could not even pay for a flask of wine."
"A pretty kettle of fish!" said Schalk.
"Stupid nonsense!" said Wolf, and rode sulkily towards his Castle.
So this is the story of the Stag-florin, and it is true. The host in Dürrwangen, which is not far from the three Castles, told the tale to a trusty friend, and oft did he repeat it to the travellers who visited Swabia, and returned home by Dürrwangen.
NCE upon a time, there lived in the Black Forest a widow-woman named Dame Barbara Munk. Her husband was a charcoal-burner, and after his death she brought up her sixteen-year-old son to follow his father's calling. So young Peter Munk used to sit all through the week tending the wood-kiln, and going from time to time into the neighbouring town to sell his charcoal.
A charcoal-burner has plenty of time for thought. When Peter sat by his kiln he felt both depressed and impatient. A charcoal-burner's life seemed a miserable sort of thing. How much pleasanter to be a glass-blower, a clock-maker, or one of the strolling musicians who played for the dancing on Sunday evenings! Even the timbermen on the other side of the forest had a better time. When they came over in their smart costumes, and with outstretched legs and contented glances sat and watched the dancers, or smoked their long pipes, he thought they were the luckiest men in the world. And when they plunged their hands in their capacious pockets and drew out thick florins wherewith to gamble, he became more impatient and discontented than ever, and would slink away to his hut.
There were three of these men he envied very much, though he was not sure which of them he envied most. One was a tall fat man with a red face, and he was supposed to be the richest in the district. He was called "Big Ezekiel." The other was the tallest man in the forest, he was called "Long Solomon," and he was very friendly with all the most prosperous villagers, and took up more room in the inn than even a stout man, for he spread both elbows on the table, and no one dared to complain, for he was too rich to offend. The third was a handsome young man, a splendid dancer, who was nicknamed "the King of the Ball-room." He had been apprenticed to a woodcutter, and now seemed to be very well off. Some said he had found a pot of gold beneath a fir-tree; others thought he might have fished up a sack of gold out of the Rhine on one of his voyages. But all the same, he was evidently a rich man, and treated by old and young as if he were a prince. It is true they all had one fault which caused them to be disliked. They were terribly conceited. But then they had so much money, it seemed as if they shook it off the trees. No one else had so much to squander.
While Peter Munk's father was alive the neighbours often came to visit him, and they would talk about rich people and how they got their money. In all these tales the "little Glass-man" was mentioned as if he had something to do with it. Peter could partly remember a rhyme which, properly recited, would make this little person appear. It began thus:
"Treasure-man in forest old,
More than a hundred years, I'm told,
You own this wood. If this be true–"
But he could remember no more; the last line had entirely slipped his memory. Once, when his mother was speaking about the little Glass-man, she told him that it was only to those who were born on a Sunday between eleven and twelve that the elf would show himself. Peter was one of the lucky ones because he was born one Sunday at noon.
When the charcoal-burner heard this he was full of curiosity to try his luck. So one day after he had sold his charcoal, instead of firing another furnace, he put on his Sunday suit, said good-bye to his mother, telling her he had business in the city, and made his way to the magic grove.
These fir-trees were on the highest point of the Black Forest, but for some miles from the grove there were neither villages nor huts, for these superstitious peasants thought it not well to live too near. Accidents often happened to the woodcutters who worked there, and sometimes half-hewn trees fell on them and killed them. The raftsmen would never attempt to float timbers from this grove, for it was believed nothing but ill-luck would follow.
Peter Munk felt rather nervous, for there was no sound or sign; no voice but his own to be heard, even the birds seemed to avoid this particular spot.
At last he reached the highest point of the fir-grove, and there stood a fir-tree of immense size. "This," thought he, "is where the king of money lives"; and he took off his hat, made a deep bow to the tree, and said falteringly:
"Good morning, Mr. Glass-man."
But there was no reply. "Perhaps I must repeat the verse," he thought, and murmured:
"'Treasure-man in forest old,
More than a hundred years, I'm told,
You own this wood. If this be true–'
While he was speaking, he saw, to his amazement, a tiny figure looking out from behind the huge trunk. He fancied it was the Glass-man; but so quickly did the figure disappear that he thought he was mistaken.
With hasty steps Peter turned to go. The shadow of the forest seemed to grow blacker every moment, and it was not until he saw a hut in the distance that he began to feel less frightened. The people in the hut were woodcutters. They welcomed Peter without any questioning, gave him cider to drink, and when supper-time came a large fowl was set on the table.
After supper the wife and daughters began to spin, and the boys to carve wooden spoons and forks, while the host, his old father, and the guest sat and looked on. Outside in the forest a storm was raging. Heavy claps of thunder were heard, and it seemed as if large trees were falling. The boys wanted to go out, but their grandfather would not allow it.
"I will not let any one leave the house. He who does will never return. Dutch Michael is cutting timber for a new raft to-night."
Peter Munk, who had never before heard of Dutch Michael, asked the old man who he was.
"Dutch Michael is the lord of the forest," answered the old man. "I will tell you about him, not only what I know, but what I have heard.
"More than a hundred years ago, there lived a rich timber merchant who employed many labourers; and his business prospered, for he was a good man.
"One day a stranger came to his door; his dress was that of the Black Forest peasants, but he was quite a head taller than any of them. The man asked for work, and the timber merchant, who saw that he was strong and active, quickly made terms with him and took him into his service.
"Michael was the best workman the merchant had ever had, for he equalled any three of the woodcutters. But after he had worked for about six months, he went one day to his master and said:
"'I am tired of cutting down trees; suppose you let me be a raftsman?'
"The merchant answered:
"'I will not stand in your way, Michael; if you wish to go with the rafts, you can do so.'
"Well, the rafts with which he would voyage were each composed of eight pieces of timber, and the last one was always the longest. But what do you think? On the evening before they were to start, Michael brought down eight pine logs as thick and long as had never yet been seen. Where he cut them no one knows to this day. The merchant laughed to think how much money these timbers would bring in. But Michael said:
"'I shall take charge of this raft myself; I could not trust myself to thin planks.' His master, to show his gratitude, would have given him a pair of wading boots, but Michael brought out his own. My grandfather said positively they were five feet long.
"The rafts started, and if Michael had already surprised the woodcutters, he still more surprised the timbermen, for instead of this long raft floating slowly along, he raced through the Neckar like an arrow. If the river turned suddenly, Michael jumped into the water, gave the logs a push right or left, so that they floated out into the stream, leapt on the first log, bade them fix their tow-ropes, stuck his huge punt-pole in the river bed, and with one push the raft flew ahead and left the trees and villages far behind.
"They reached Cologne in half the usual time, and it was there they usually sold their cargo. But Michael said:
"'You are honest men, and understand our business. Do you think the people here need all this timber for themselves? Certainly not. They take it to Holland and sell it there. Let us sell the smaller logs here, and take the rest to Holland ourselves; and all the extra profit we make we will divide.'
"To his proposition his comrades agreed, partly because they wanted to see what Holland was like, and partly on account of the money. They steered the rafts through the Rhine, Michael leading the way; and at Rotterdam they easily sold their timber at a higher price, while for Michael's special load he made a handsome bargain.
"The woodcutters were delighted to have had such luck; and Michael divided the profit, so much for the master, and so much for each man. And then they sat down in the inn and drank and smoked and gambled, without a thought for the morrow.
"But after this experience, the peasants in the Black Forest looked upon Holland as Paradise, and on Dutch Michael as its king. The masters, however, did not know anything about this. And with the Dutch money, slowly and surely came Dutch bad habits, among others, drinking and gambling.
"Dutch Michael, however, according to the story, suddenly disappeared; but he certainly is not dead, for over a hundred years he has haunted the forest, and it was said that he has often helped peasants to get rich, but only at the cost of their immortal souls. It is enough to say that he is still to be found on stormy nights in the pine-woods, where no one dares to hew the trees, or search for the thickest and longest firs; and my father has seen him break a four-foot-thick trunk of a tree as easily as a twig. Such logs he gives to those who ask his help, and voyagers with them to Holland. But if I were king of the Dutch people, I would shoot him, for all the ships built of Dutch Michael's timber meet with accidents, or sink to the bottom of the sea.
"This is the legend of Dutch Michael, and true enough it is that all the bad luck in the Black Forest can be set down to his evil influence. I should not like to have anything to do with him. Nothing would persuade me to stand in Big Ezekiel's or Long Solomon's shoes. I believe the 'King of the Dancers' is also in his power."
The storm had ceased during the grandfather's tale; but the man gave Peter Munk a bag of hay for a pillow, and wished him good-night.
Charcoal-burner Peter had never had such bad dreams as during this particular night; it seemed to him that Dutch Michael was in the room; then he heard the song of the treasure-man, and a voice whispered in his ear:
"You stupid, Peter! Though you were born punctually at twelve o'clock on a Sunday, you cannot repeat the rhyme correctly!"
He woke with a start, and tried to think of a rhyme to end the verse. But he could not, and fell a-dreaming again. In the morning, as he lay half awake, still thinking of the verse, he heard some peasants passing the cottage on their way to the forest: one of them was singing:
"'As I looked from the hillside
To the valley at my feet,
I saw my own dear maiden,
So beautiful, so sweet.'"
In a moment Peter's mind seemed clear.
"That helps me to my rhyming! Now, Glass-man, I will have a word with you."
He look leave of his kind hosts, and went slowly towards the pine-woods, thinking of the verse. At last he completed the line, and with a joyful cry leapt and ran up the hill. A huge man in rafter's dress, with a long pole, suddenly came from behind a tree. Peter Munk fell on his knees as he saw, so he thought, Dutch Michael coming towards him.
"Peter Munk, what are you doing here?" asked the uncanny fellow in a deep harsh voice.
"Good morning, sir," answered Peter; "I am only going home."
"Peter Munk," said the old rascal, looking at him sharply, "this is not your nearest way home."
"Perhaps not the nearest way," said Peter, "but it is very warm, and I thought the shade here would be pleasant."
"Do not tell lies, Peter," shouted Dutch Michael angrily, "or I will strike you to the earth. Do you think I did not see you talking to the little Glass-man? He is a cheat, the little rascal, and you won't get much from him; but he will get his bargain's worth! Peter, you annoy me! Fancy such a spirited lad, who might see the world, being content to burn charcoal!"
"It is a dull life," said Peter.
"Well, we will alter that," continued Dutch Michael. "You are not the first I've helped. Tell me, how many hundred thalers would you like to have?"
As he shook the money in his pockets, Peter's heart beat fast; he was hot and cold by turns. Trembling with fear, Peter said:
"Thank you, sir, I know who you are, and do not wish to have anything to do with you."
He ran away as fast as he could; but the forester overtook him and said:
"You won't regret it, Peter, you won't regret it. Don't run so fast. Listen to me! There is my boundary!"
When Peter heard this, and saw a small ditch not far away, he tried to cross the boundary; and hurrying, jumped the ditch, and as Dutch Michael vaulted after him the huge pole splintered into pieces and a long bit fell on Peter. Triumphantly he seized this to throw it back to the huge forester, but as he held it he felt the stick twist in his hand, and saw to his horror that he held a horrible snake, which darted its poisonous fangs at him. Its fearful head came nearer and nearer to his face; but just then a fierce eagle swooped down, hit the snake's head with its sharp beak, and flew up with it into the air, while Dutch Michael fumed and raged.
Quite delighted, Peter continued on his way; the path became steeper, and soon he reached the enchanted tree. He made a low bow, as on the previous day, and began:
"Treasure-man in forest old,
More than a hundred years, I'm told,
You own this wood. If this be true,
As Sunday's child I come to you."
"The rhyme is not quite correct, but as it is you, I'll pass it," said a little voice.
Peter looked round, and underneath a beautiful fir-tree sat a little old man in a black waistcoat and red stockings, with a large hat on his head. He was smoking a long pipe made of blue glass, and as Peter drew near to him he noticed that coat, hat, and shoes were of coloured glass, and it seemed as if the dwarf was still rather hot, for at every moment he mopped himself with a pocket-handkerchief.
"You have just met Dutch Michael," said the little man. "He would have beaten you, but I broke his magic pole, so now he can never use it again."
"Yes, Treasure-master," answered Peter, bowing low. "You have indeed been good to me; and I thank you very much. I have come to ask your advice. A charcoal-burner's life is a dull one, I cannot make money quickly, while Ezekiel and the 'Dance-king' seem to coin it like hempseed."
"Peter," said the little man earnestly and puffing at his pipe–"Peter do not talk like this. Is it worth while to tempt Fortune for a time only to be the more unhappy afterwards? You must not neglect your work. I can hardly think that love of dancing brought you here!"
Peter blushed. "No," said he, "dancing is all very well, but you cannot blame me if I wish to improve my position. A charcoal-burner's is not much of a life; and glass-blowers and timberers seem to have a much better time."
"You are a discontented lot, you men! If you were a glass-blower, you would want to be a timber merchant; and if you were a timber merchant, you would want a still better position. However, it can't be helped! If you promise me that you will work hard, I will help you to get on, Peter. I give every Sunday child three wishes. The first two are free, the third I can refuse if it is a foolish wish."
"Hurrah!" cried Peter. "You are a splendid little man! Now I can have whatever I want. So I will first wish to dance better than the King of the Dancers, and to always have as much gold in my pocket as Big Ezekiel!"
"You young stupid!" exclaimed the dwarf; "what an idiotic wish! You ought to be ashamed of yourself. What good will it do you and your poor mother if you dance well? I will give you one more free wish, however; see you chose worthily."
Peter scratched his head, and after some deliberation said:
"I should like to have the best and most complete glass factory in the forest, with sufficient means to work it well."
"Nothing else, Peter?" asked the little man. "Nothing else?"
"Well, you can also give me a horse and carriage."
"Oh, you stupid boy!" cried the dwarf, and threw his pipe with such temper against a tree that it broke into little pieces. "Horses? Carriages? Wisdom, I tell you, prudence, and intelligence are what you should desire, not horses and carriages! But, though I am much disappointed in you, your second wish is not altogether foolish. A good glass factory is worth having; but if you had intelligence and prudence, the carriages and horses would follow as a matter of course."
"But, little Glass-man, I still have a wish to spare; so I could use that and desire the prudence you think so important."
"No, not yet; you have to pass through many experiences before you get the third wish. Now, make haste home! Here are two thousand florins, more than enough for you. And don't come here again asking me for money, or I will hang you to the highest tree. Three days ago old Frederick, the owner of the largest glass factory in the forest, died. Go to-morrow morning to his widow and make a fair offer for the business. Be industrious and careful. And listen to what I am going to say. Beware of the village wine-shop, it is a good friend to no one!" The little man, as he was speaking, drew out a fresh pipe, filled it with chopped fir-cone, and began to smoke. When it was well alight, he shook Peter kindly by the hand, gave him full directions as to the way, and disappeared in a cloud of smoke.
When Peter reached home he found his mother very anxious about him, for she thought he must have been taken to serve as a soldier. He told her his adventures and how he had met with a good friend in the forest who had given him a sum of money and had advised him to choose another occupation and buy a glass factory.
Although his mother had lived for more than thirty years in a charcoal-burner's hut, she was vain enough to pride herself on their change of circumstances. "As mother of a son who owns a glass factory, I am very different from neighbour Greta, and shall in future sit with better class people in church." Her son soon concluded his bargain with the heirs of old Frederick, and retained the workmen who had been there so long, and all day and all night they were blowing glass.
At first he liked the work. He rose early, walked to and fro in the factory; looked here, looked there, spoke to this one and that one, much to the amusement of his people, and his greatest pleasure was to watch them blowing the glass. Sometimes he would try it himself, and made all sorts of wonderfully shaped things. But soon he got tired of his new occupation, and only visited the works an hour in the morning, then every two days, then once a week, and his workmen did exactly as they liked.
All this was the fault of the ale-house. On the Sunday after Peter came back from the pine-forest, he went to the ale-house, and already there was the King of the Dancers footing it gaily, and Big Ezekiel, who was drinking and gambling.
Peter put his hands in his pockets to see if the little Glass-man had kept his word, and lo! his pockets were full of gold and silver. His legs, too, felt as if they wanted to be dancing, and when the first dance was over, he and his partner took the floor opposite the "King," and if he jumped three feet high, Peter sprang four feet, and if the "King" performed wonderful steps, Peter did the same, to the wonder and admiration of all who beheld him.
When the people at the gathering heard that Peter had bought a glass factory, when they saw how, every time a dance was over, he threw money to the musicians, there was no end to their surprise. Some thought he must have found some money in the forest; others that he had come into some property; but all could see that he had plenty to spend. He would gamble away twenty gulden in one evening, and yet his pockets seemed as full as ever.
When Peter realised how lucky he was, he could hardly hide his pride and satisfaction. He threw money about freely, and helped the poor generously, for he knew well enough how they suffered.
His wonderful gift of dancing gained him the title of Emperor of the Dance. The hardest gamblers did not wager so much as he, so they lost less. But the more he lost the more he won. It was just as the Glass-man had said. He had wished always to have as much money in his pocket as Big Ezekiel; and so he did. If he lost thirty gulden, he still had the amount in his pocket, if Ezekiel had won. But by degrees he became a worse gambler than the veriest rascal in the Black Forest, and he was more often called gambler than Emperor of the Dance, for he played all day long, and neglected his work.
And so the glass factory did very badly owing to Peter's idleness and inattention to business. Glass was made, certainly, and plenty of it, but in buying the business Peter neglected to buy the secret of the manufacture of its particular sort of glass. He had never really troubled to learn the art of glass-making and at last he sold the business at half-price, and realised just enough to pay his workmen the wages due.
One evening, as he went home from the village inn, he thought with disgust of all the wine he had drunk just to cheer his spirits.
Then suddenly he noticed that some one was walking beside him, and behold! it was the little Glass-man. Peter flew into a rage and swore he was at the bottom of all his troubles.
"What do I want with horse and carriage?" cried he; "what use to me was the factory and the glass? When I was a miserable charcoal-burner I lived happily. Now I never know when the bailiff will come and seize my goods for debt."
"Indeed!" answered the little Glass-man; "I am sorry to have been the cause of your unhappiness. Why did you choose such foolish wishes? Did I not say you should wish carefully? Prudence and understanding, Peter, are what you needed!"
"I am no worse than other young men, as I will prove," cried Peter, as he seized the little man roughly by the collar. "Now I have you fast, Treasure-man. The third wish I will have now, and you must grant it. And I wish for two hundred thousand golden florins at once and a house, and–oh, dear! "cried he, shaking his hand, for the little man had changed himself into molten glass and burnt his hand like a firebrand. And Peter saw him no more.
For many days Peter remembered his burnt hand and his ingratitude and stupidity. Then, however, he recollected that all was not lost.
"For if the glass factory is sold, there is always Big Ezekiel. So long as he has money on Sunday, I am all right."
Yes, Peter, but if he has none? And so it happened. For one Sunday Peter drove to the inn, and the people there stretched their heads out of window, and one said: "Here comes the gambler!" and another, "Yes; the wonderful dancer; the rich glass-man!" and a third shook his head, and said: "With riches comes trouble. I heard that Peter Munk is greatly in debt, and that it won't be long before the bailiff will seize his belongings."
Peter greeted the frequenters of the inn as he got out of his carriage, and cried:
"Well, mine host, is Big Ezekiel here yet?" And a deep voice cried:
"Here I am, Peter! Your place is kept for you, and we have just begun to play cards."
So Peter Munk went into the bar parlour, felt in his pockets, and knew that Ezekiel must have had good luck, for his pockets were full of money.
He sat down at the table and played, and won and lost as time went on, and they played till honest folk had all gone home, saying: "It's time we were going home to our wives and children." But Peter persuaded Ezekiel to stay. He was rather unwilling, but at last said:
"Very well, I will count my money, then we will play dice, the stakes to be five gulden." He drew out his purse and found he had barely one hundred gulden, so Peter knew he had about the same. But though Ezekiel had been winning all the evening, he now began to lose stake after stake, and was perfectly furious. At last he laid his remaining five gulden on the table, and cried: "Once more. If I lose these, you must lend me some of your winnings, Peter; an honourable man is always ready to help another!"
"Just as you like, even if it be a hundred gulden," said Peter, pleasantly; and Ezekiel shook the dice and threw fifteen.
"Pooh!" he cried; "now we shall see!"
Peter, however, threw eighteen, and a deep voice behind him said:
"That's the end of it all."
He looked round, and there stood Dutch Michael behind him; but Big Ezekiel did not seem to notice him, and asked Peter to lend him ten gulden. Half-dreaming, Peter put his hand in his pocket. There was no money! He felt in another pocket, but found none. He turned his coat inside-out, but none fell out, and all at once he remembered his wish always to have as much money as Big Ezekiel. It had all vanished like smoke.
The innkeeper and Ezekiel would not believe him, but after they had searched his pockets they began to be indignant, and said that Peter was a magician and had conjured away the money to his own house. Peter denied this, but appearances were against him, Ezekiel said he would spread the tale all through the Black Forest, and Peter Munk might be sure he would be burnt for a wizard. Then they seized him, tore the coat off his back, and threw him out of the house.
Not a star could be seen in the sky as Peter walked sadly home; but suddenly he was aware of a dark figure which approached him and said:
"You have come to grief, Peter, all your luck is at an end. I could have told you how it would be when you ran from me to the stupid little Glass-man. Now you see how much wiser is he who takes my advice. But I am sorry for you. No one has ever regretted coming to me for help; and remember this, I shall be all day to-morrow in the pine-wood if you want to speak to me. You have only to call to me."
Peter knew only too well who was speaking to him, but he felt afraid to reply, and ran off home.
When he went to his glass factory next morning, there were not only no workmen there, but some very unwelcome visitors, namely, the bailiff and his men. The bailiff wished Peter "Good morning," and drew a long ledger in which he had registered Peter's debts.
"Can you pay or not?" asked the bailiff with a stern look. "Answer me quickly, I have not much time to spare."
Peter stammered out that he could not pay, that he was a ruined man, and the bailiff had better value his house and shop. And while the bailiff and his men went poking and prying about, he thought, "It is not so far to the pinewoods The little Glass-man has not done much for me, I will try my luck with Dutch Michael."
He hastened to the pine wood. As he passed the spot where he had first spoken with the Glass-man, it seemed to him that an unseen hand held him fast; but he wrenched himself free, and ran on to the boundary-line and breathlessly called out:
"Mr. Dutch Michael!" and immediately the giant raftsman, pole in hand, stood before him.
"So you've come," said Michael, laughing. "Did you want the skin off your back? Well, never mind; your fault lay in going to the little Glass-man. When any one makes a gift, it should be royally done, and not as he does. But come, let us go to my house, there we will see if we can come to terms."
"Come to terms!" thought Peter. "What does he mean?"
They first went up a steep path, which led to a deep ravine. Dutch Michael strode over the rocks as if they were ordinary doorsteps, and Peter was nearly dropping with fatigue, when his companion turned back, and straightening his huge figure, stretched out an arm as long as a weaver's beam, with a hand as broad as the table in the village wine-shop, shouting in a voice as loud as a church bell:
"Seat yourself on my hand and hold on to my fingers."
Peter, trembling, did as he was told; he sat on Michael's hand and held his thumb. Dutch Michael, when Peter was seated, had made himself smaller again, and they came to a house such as the richer peasants in the Black Forest live in, and the room into which he led Peter was no different from the rooms of other people.
The wooden clock on the wall, the hideous stove, the two benches were here as everywhere. Michael placed Peter at the table, then went out of the room, returning with a jar of wine and some glasses. He poured some out and they drank together, and Dutch Michael spoke of the misfortunes which Peter had experienced.
"Why should a clever fellow like you worry about these things? Do you really think that you are a villain? Has the bailiff's visit done you bodily harm? What is the matter with you?"
"It is my heart!" said Peter, as he pressed his hand against his side, for it seemed to him that his heart was beating as if it would burst.
"You have thrown away many hundred gulden on beggars and servants," said Dutch Michael. "What good has it done you? What was it prompted you to feel in your pocket every time a beggar stretched out his stupid hand? Your heart, your heart–always your heart. Not your eye, not your ears, but always your heart. You took things, as we say, too much to heart."
"But how could I help it?" cried Peter. "I tried not to feel pity, but my heart always beat so that it positively hurt me!"
"You stupid boy," laughed Michael; "so you were guided by your heart. Give it to me, and you will see you are just as well without it."
"Give you my heart?" cried Peter, quite horrified at the idea. "Then I shall die! Certainly not!"
"Certainly, if a surgeon took your heart out of your body in the course of an operation you would die; but this is altogether a different thing. Come in here and strip yourself."
Michael then rose, and led Peter into an inner room. His heart seemed to contract as he passed in, for the first glimpse was anything but reassuring. On wooden shelves round the room were glass jars filled with spirit, and in each was a heart. One jar was secured with chains, and there was an inscription which Peter read with curiosity. There was Big Ezekiel's heart, the heart of the King of the Dancers, the Head-Forester's heart, six hearts belonging to money-lenders, eight to recruiting-sergeants, three to money-changers–in short, there was a collection of the most undesirable hearts in the neighbourhood for twenty miles round.
"Look," said Dutch Michael, "all these people live free from care and sorrow. Do you not envy them?"
"But what sort of heart do they possess?" asked Peter.
"This sort," replied Dutch Michael, and showed him a stone heart on one of the shelves.
"Really," said Peter, shuddering, "a heart of marble! That must feel very cold inside your body."
"Possibly; but not so very cold! Why should a heart be warm? In summer, when everything is hot, surely such a heart will be hot too! And, best of all, neither anxiety, nor fear, nor foolish pity, nor any sort of grief will cause such a heart one extra beat."
"And is all that you can give me?" asked Peter. "I want money, and you offer me a stone!"
"Well, perhaps a hundred thousand gulden will be sufficient for you at first. With such a sum carefully handled you ought soon to become a millionaire."
"A hundred thousand!" cried poor Peter joyfully. "Here, Michael, give me the stone heart and the money, and the unquiet thing that beats here you can keep in your house as long as you like!"
"I thought you were a sensible lad," said the Dutchman, laughing heartily. "Come, let us pledge each other, and then I will count out the money."
So they sat down again, and drank and drank till Peter fell fast asleep. He awoke to the ringing clang of the post-horn, and lo! he was driving along in a beautiful coach, and the forest lay far behind him. At first he could not believe it was really he who was in the carriage. For even his clothes were different; but he remembered everything so clearly that at last all his doubts vanished, and he cried:
"I am really Peter the charcoal-burner–that is a fact; but how wonderful everything is!"
He felt a little surprised as he passed the quiet cottage where he had so long dwelt with his mother. But even when he thought of her no tears came to his eyes.
"Well, I suppose home-sickness and loneliness come from the heart, and thanks to Dutch Michael–mine is as cold as a stone!"
He laid his hand on his heart and it was quite still.
"If he keeps his word about the hundred thousand gulden as he has about my heart, I shall be very glad," and with these words he sprang out of his carriage in order to search it thoroughly. At last he found a pocket in the lining in which were many thousand florins in gold and silver.
"Now I have all I want," thought he, and threw himself in a corner of the carriage and ordered the coachman to drive "any- or everywhere."
For two years he drove hither and thither in every direction. His only home were the various inns; and the most beautiful things in the towns he visited possessed for him no pleasure. No picture, no house, no music, no pleasure stirred his feelings. His heart was as cold as a stone, and his eyes and ears seemed closed to everything worth seeing or hearing. The only pleasure left to him consisted in eating, drinking, and sleeping; and his whole life was spent in driving about, living well, and sleeping from sheer boredom.
Now and then he remembered that he once was gay and happy; but that was when he was poor and obliged to work. Then every modest pleasure delighted him, and he had often thought for hours together of the simple meals his mother would daily bring him while he was attending to his kiln. Now he certainly felt very comfortable and free from anxiety, but certainly neither contented nor happy. Formerly such a little thing made him light-hearted, now he never cared to laugh. It was neither homesickness nor loneliness, but a desolate, joyless sort of life which determined him to seek his home once more.
As he neared the house, as he saw again for the first time each well-known landmark, each true, honest peasant of the forest, as his ear heard the old familiar sounds, he laid his hand on his heart.
"Surely," thought he, "my blood will flow faster for joy; but I forget–it is only stone."
His first visit was to Dutch Michael, who welcomed him heartily.
"Michael," said he, "I have been everywhere and have seen everything, and am thoroughly bored. Your stone heart has its drawbacks. I am never worried or sad, but, on the other hand, I do not enjoy anything, and it seems to me as if I only half live. Do give me back my own heart; I got quite used to its ways in my twenty-five years, and if it was sometimes a bad adviser, it was always a cheerful and contented heart!"
The Dutchman laughed scornfully.
"When you are dead, Peter Munk, you can have your own soft heart again, and you can feel both pleasure and pain. But here things must go on as they are. Settle down in the forest, build a house, marry a wife, and content yourself with your belongings. You have had nothing to do for some time past, so you blame this unfortunate heart because you found the days hang heavy on your hands."
Peter realised that Michael was right, and determined to work hard so as to become richer and richer.
It soon became known through the Black Forest that Peter the charcoal-burner was back again, and apparently richer than formerly. His life fell into the old grooves. When he was without means, he was turned out of the wine-shop; but now that he went there in style on a Sunday people shook him by the hand, asked him about his travels, and as he gambled as before for dollars with Ezekiel, he was respected too. He did not attempt glass-making again, but only the timber trade. This was, however, only a pretence. His real business was in corn and money. The half of the Black Forest would have borrowed of him, but he would lend nothing under ten per cent. interest. Now he and the bailiff were close friends; and if any one did not repay Peter Munk to the day, the bailiff set out with his men, valued the house and home, sold it at once, and turned father, mother, and children out into the forest.
But by degrees this reacted on Peter, for the unfortunate people besieged his door, and tried to soften his hard heart; but he bought a pair of fierce bloodhounds, and this "cat's music," as he called it, did not disturb him long. They snarled and growled, and the poor beggars ran shrieking away.
No one worried him more than the "old woman." This was none other than his old mother, Dame Munk. She was in great need and misery, for her house had been seized and sold, and although her son had returned rich, he had not troubled himself at all about her. She came occasionally and waited near his house. She dared not go inside, for once he had driven her out; and it grieved her sorely to have to accept charity from neighbours while her son could easily provide for her in her old age. But his cold heart was never moved by her pleading looks, her trembling hands, her feeble figure; but when she knocked at his door on Sunday evenings he would take a sixpence out of his pocket, and, grumbling all the time, would pass it to her through a hole in the door. He did not care if she thanked him or not; he only remembered that he was the poorer by sixpence.
At last Peter thought he would marry. He was particular in his choice, for he wanted the neighbours to envy his good fortune. So he rode through the forest, looked here, looked there, and none of the girls seemed good enough for him. At last he heard that the most beautiful and notable girl in the whole forest was a woodcutter's daughter. She lived at home and managed her father's house, and never was seen at the village dances except at Easter-time or at the annual fair. When Peter heard of this charming girl he determined to see her for himself, and rode to the house in which he had been told she lived. Her father received him with amazement, and was still more surprised when he heard that this was rich Peter Munk who wished to become his son-in-law. He hoped that all Elizabeth's poverty and hard work was now at an end, and without consulting her he gave his consent, and the good child was so obedient to his wishes that without grumbling she became Mrs. Peter Munk.
But it was not so pleasant for the poor girl as she had hoped. She was a good housekeeper, but nothing seemed to please Mr. Peter. She was compassionate to the poor, and as her husband was rich she thought there was no harm in giving a penny to a beggar, or a cup of wine to an old man. But when Peter noticed this one day he said in a voice of thunder:
"Why do you waste my money and food on idle people and beggars? If you do it again I will beat you."
Poor Elizabeth cried and wished herself back in her poor father's hut. If she had only known that Peter's heart was of stone she would not have wondered at his unkindness. So when she sat in the porch and a beggar-man came near, she cast down her eyes so as not to see him, and clenched her hand in case she should be tempted to feel in her pocket for a halfpenny.
So it was whispered all through the forest that the beautiful Elizabeth was even stingier than Peter Munk. But one day, Elizabeth was sitting by her door spinning and singing a little song; and there came along a little old man carrying a heavy sack, and she heard him coughing badly. And as Elizabeth watched him she thought how sad it was that such an old man should have to carry such a heavy burden. Slowly the little old man came along, and when he was not far from Elizabeth he almost fell beneath the weight of the sack.
"Have pity, dear lady," he said, "and give me some water to drink; I cannot go any further, and shall perish with thirst."
"But you are too old to carry such a heavy load," said Elizabeth.
"Alas!" said the old man, "I have no choice. I must earn a living; but such a rich lady as you are cannot think how delicious a drink of cold water is on such a hot day."
When she heard this, Elizabeth hurried into the house, took a jug and filled it with water; then as she was returning with it and saw the little man looking so tired and forlorn, and sitting on the sack, she thought that as her husband was not at home she would bring him something better; so found a goblet, filled it with wine, cut a slice of bread, and gave it to the old man.
"A glass of wine may be better for you than water as you are so old," said she; "but do not drink too fast, and eat some bread with it."
The little man seemed overcome with surprise; and large tears stood in his old eyes. He drank the wine and said:
"I have lived many years, but never have I met with any one who was so good and kind as you, Dame Elizabeth; you will surely meet with your reward in this world and the next!"
"So she will! and part of her reward she shall get at once!" shouted a horrible voice, and looking round they saw Peter's furious face.
"And so you give my best wine to beggar folks, and let tramps drink out of my own goblet? There, take your reward!"
Dame Elizabeth started to her feet and begged his forgiveness, but that heart of stone had no pity, and Peter hit his wife on the forehead with the handle of his whip with such force that she fell lifeless into the old man's arms. When Peter saw this, it seemed as if he did feel some sort of shame, for he bent down to see if there was any sign of life; but the little man said in his well-known voice:
"Don't trouble yourself, Peter. This was the loveliest flower in the Black Forest; you have destroyed it, and it will never bloom again."
Then Peter turned white as a ghost, and he said:
"So it is you, the Treasure-man! Well, what is done, is done, and cannot be undone. I hope, however, you will not charge me before the justices as a murderer!"
"Wretch!" said the little man, "what good would it do me if I brought you to the gallows? No earthly justice need you fear, but a mightier, more righteous one, for you have sold your soul to the Evil One."
"And if I have sold my heart," cried Peter, "whose fault is it but yours? You got me into trouble, and to retrieve my position I had to seek other help. The whole disaster is your fault."
But hardly had he said this than the little Glass-man suddenly became tall and strong; his eyes were like soup-plates, his mouth like a hot oven, and his breath burning flames. Peter threw himself down on his knees, and his stone heart was of so little protection that his limbs shook like an aspen-tree. The wood-spirit seized him roughly by the throat and threw him on the ground with such force that all Peter's bones cracked.
"You miserable worm!" he cried in a voice of thunder. "I could easily kill you for your abominable behaviour to the lord of the forest. But for this dead woman's sake and for her generous kindness to me, I will give you eight days' grace. If you do not repent of your sins in that time, you shall certainly not have another chance!"
It was quite late in the evening when some passers-by saw the rich Peter Munk lying on the ground. They turned him over and felt to see if he still lived. At last one of them went into the house, brought water, and sprinkled his face. Then Peter gave a deep sigh, opened his eyes, looked round, and asked for his wife. No one had seen her. He thanked the men for their help, went into his house and looked all about, but Elizabeth was neither in the rooms nor where she fell, and all that he thought was a dreadful dream was evidently a horrible reality.
Now that he was quite alone, terrible thoughts passed through his mind. When he thought of his wife's death, he remembered also other evil deeds; the tears of poor people, the curses of his victims on whom he had set his bloodhounds, his treatment of his poor old mother, and again, of his poor dead Elizabeth. How could he face his old father-in-law when he asked, "Where is my dear daughter? Where is your wife?"
He had dreadful dreams all night, and every moment he seemed to hear a sweet voice saying, "Peter, pray for a kind heart." And when he awoke, he shut his eyes quickly again, for the warning voice could belong to no one else but his wife Elizabeth.
The next day he went to the wine-shop to distract his thoughts, and there sat Big Ezekiel. Peter sat down by his side and they talked of this and that, of the fine weather, of war, of the harvest, and at last of death; and Peter asked Ezekiel what he thought of death, and if he believed in an after-life.
Ezekiel answered that "Though the body was buried, the soul went either to heaven or hell."
"Then the heart is buried?" said Peter.
"Certainly," said Ezekiel, "the heart is buried."
"But if a man has no heart?" continued Peter.
Ezekiel turned on him furiously.
"Do you wish to insult me? Do you mean to suggest that I have no heart?"
"If you have one it is made of stone!" said Peter.
Ezekiel stared, looked round to see if any one was listening, and then said: "How do you know? Is yours stone too?"
"My heart has ceased to beat, at least here," said Peter, touching his breast. "But, tell me, as you understand what I was meaning, what will become of our hearts?"
"What does that matter?" asked Ezekiel, laughing. "Have you not to live on earth? Is not that enough? We need not think about the future."
"Perhaps not, but one does think, and if I have no fear for the present, I am as afraid of the future as any naughty little boy."
"Oh! that will be all right," said Ezekiel. "I once asked a schoolmaster about it, and he said that after death our hearts would be punished according to their deserts."
"Well," said Peter, "that may be; but it often annoys me that my heart is so indifferent to everything."
And they changed the subject: but in the night Peter heard the well-known voice whispering:
"Peter, pray for a kind heart."
He knew no peace now that he had killed his wife, but when he said to the neighbours that she had gone on a visit, he thought to himself:
"Where can she have gone?"
Six days passed, and each night he heard the voice, and always remembered the wood-spirit's warning, and on the seventh he sprang from his bed and cried:
"Now, at last, I will try if I can exchange this heart of mine, for this stone in my breast makes life only a miserable existence."
He put his Sunday suit on as quickly as possible, and ran to the fir-grove.
When he reached it, he dismounted near a thick clump of trees, tied his horse up, and went as fast as he could to the brow of the hill; and when he came to the large pine-trees, he repeated the little verse
"Treasure-man in forest old,
More than a hundred years, I'm told,
You own the land. If this be true,
As Sunday's child I come to you."
The little Glass-man came out at once, but his manner had completely changed, and he was grave and sad. He wore a little coat of black glass, and a long mourning scarf hung down from his hat.
"What do you want?" he asked in ungracious tones.
"I have only one wish," answered Peter, with downcast face.
"Can hearts of stone wish?" asked the Glass-man. "I have no desire to grant any wish of yours."
"You promised me three wishes, and I still have one to come."
"I can refuse to grant it, if it is foolish," said the Glass-man; "but you can tell me what you want."
"Take out this stone heart, and give me my own!" said Peter.
"Did I make the exchange?" asked the Glass-man. "Am I Dutch Michael, who gives riches and cold hearts away? You must go to him."
"Alas! he will not give it back," said Peter.
"You annoy me with your wickedness," said the little man, after a few moments' thought. "But because your wish is not foolish, I cannot refuse my help. Listen! Your heart you can only regain by cunning, strength will avail you nothing: and it will not be difficult, for Michael is always 'dull Michael,' although he thinks himself very clever. So go at once to him, and do as I tell you."
And then the little Glass-man gave Peter some instructions, and a little cross made of glass.
"Although he has no pity for you, he will help you if you hold this before him, and pray to our Redeemer. And when you have obtained your desire, come back here to me."
Peter Munk took the little cross, and repeating to himself the old man's words, went to find Dutch Michael. He called him three times by name, and the raftsman stood before him.
"You have killed your wife," said Dutch Michael, smiling. "You will have to leave the country for a time, for there will be an inquiry when the murder is discovered; and so I suppose you want some money, and have come to me for it?"
"You are right, and I want a good deal this time. America is a long way off," answered Peter cautiously.
Michael led him into the cottage. There he opened a drawer in which there was much money, and took out some rolls of gold in packets. While he was counting these Peter said:
"You are a sad rascal, Dutch Michael, for you told me that I had a stone in my breast and you had my heart."
"And isn't that true?" asked Michael, astonished. "Do you feel your heart beating?"
"You may have made it stand still, but it is still here, and Ezekiel has his, and it is he who told me how you have deceived us."
"But I assure you," said Michael seriously, "you and Ezekiel and every one who becomes rich through my help, have such cold hearts as yours, and I have their hearts here in my room."
"That some people may believe, but during my travels I saw such things by the dozen. The hearts you keep in your cupboard are only made of wax. You are a rich rascal, but you are not a magician."
This irritated the raftsman, and he threw open the cupboard door and cried:
"Come, I will loose the chains and you will see. There is Peter Munk's heart. Do you see how it beats? Could a wax heart beat like that?"
"A real heart does not beat like that," said Peter Munk. "Mine is still my own. No, you are no conjuror."
"I will convince you," said Michael eagerly. "You shall feel that this is really your heart."
He took it in his hand, tore open Peter's waistcoat, and took a stone heart out of his side and showed it him; then he took the real heart, and put it back in its right place, and immediately Peter felt it beating and was almost overcome with joy.
"How do you feel now?" asked Michael, smiling.
"You are right," answered Peter, as he carefully laid his little glass cross on the table.
"And you admit I am a magician; but come here, and I will put the stone heart back again."
"Beware! Dutch Michael," cried Peter, and held the cross before him. "This time you are the victim." And he began to pray; and as he prayed a strange thing happened; for Michael grew smaller and smaller, fell down and twisted and turned about on the ground as if he were a worm, and sighed and groaned; and all the hearts began to pulse and beat, till it seemed as if it were a watchmaker's workroom.
Peter was frightened; he ran out of the house and climbed the ravine as fast as be could, for he heard Dutch Michael shouting bitter curses after him. As he reached the pine-forest, a dreadful storm arose, lightning flashed in all directions and splintered the trees, but he reached the little Glass-man's dwelling in safety.
His heart, he plainly felt, beat with joy. Then he remembered his life for the last few years and thought of the dreadful deed which had made him a wanderer up and down the forest. He realised what an awful crime he had committed when he killed his excellent wife, and crying bitterly he reached the Glass-man's cottage.
The Treasure-man sat beneath the huge fir-tree smoking his pipe, and seemed more cheerful than before.
"Why are you crying, charcoal-burner Peter? Have you not got back your heart?"
"Good little Glass-man! while I had a stone heart, I never cried, now it seems as if my heart will break when I think of my evil deeds. I set my bloodhounds on the poor and the sick; and you know, perfectly well, that I felled my dear wife to the ground with one blow of my whip."
"Peter, you have been a great sinner," said the little man; "the love of money and amusement has ruined you; but repentance atones, and if I felt sure that you are really sorry from your heart and wish to lead a better life, I would do something to help you."
"I am tired of life," said Peter, sorrowfully drooping his head. "I can no longer enjoy it. Kill me, I pray, good Treasure-man, for I am a miserable wretch."
"Very well," answered the little man, "if you wish it, it shall be so." He quietly took his pipe in his hand, knocked the ashes out, refilled it and put it in his mouth. Then he rose slowly and went behind the fir-tree. Peter stretched himself on the grass, weeping, but patiently awaiting the death-blow. After a few moments he heard steps behind him and thought, "Now all will soon be over."
"Look up, Peter Munk," cried the little Glass-man. He dashed the tears from his eyes, looked up and saw–his mother and Elizabeth, his wife, who both were gazing kindly at him. He sprang up with a cry of joy.
"Then you are not dead, Elizabeth! And you are here too, mother! Can you ever forgive me?"
"They will forgive you," said the Glass-man, "because you feel true sorrow, and all shall be forgotten. Go home to your father's cottage and be a charcoal-burner as before. If you are worth anything you will respect yourself and your occupation, and the neighbours will think more of you than if you had ten tons of gold." And the little Glass-man bade them farewell.
Peter, and Elizabeth, and his mother thanked and blessed the little Glass-man, and went home. But how surprised were they when they reached the old hut! It was now a pretty cottage, and though all the furnishings were simple, they were good and clean.
"This is the good little Glass-man's doing," cried Peter.
"How lovely!" cried Dame Elizabeth. "And how much more like home it seems to me than in that large house with all the workmen!"
From this day Peter was an industrious, steady man. He was contented with his lot, attended to his occupation, and in consequence became well-to-do and was respected in all the country round. He never quarrelled with his wife, he honoured his mother, and gave to the poor who begged at his door. And when Dame Elizabeth's little son was born, Peter went up into the pine-forest and repeated his verse. But the little Glass-man did not appear.
"Treasure-man," cried Peter loudly, "listen to me. I only want to ask you to be my little son's godfather." But there was no answer, only a slight breeze blew through the trees and scattered some fir-cones among the grass.
"Very well, as you will not show yourself to me, I will take these as a souvenir," said Peter, and putting the cones in his pocket he went home. But when he took off his waistcoat later and gave it to his mother to lay in the oak chest, there fell out four thick rolls of money, and when they opened them they found nothing but good golden dollars. And these were the little Glass-man's christening present to little Peter.
So they lived happy and contented, and often when Peter was old and grey-headed, he would say:
"It is better to be satisfied with little than to have money and luxury, and a cold, unfeeling heart."