It is written in the chronicles of the Sassanian monarchs, that there once lived an illustrious prince, beloved by his own subjects for his wisdom and prudence, and feared by his enemies for his courage, and for the hardy and well-disciplined army of which he was the leader. This prince had two sons, the elder called Schah-riar, and the younger Schah-zenan, both equally good and deserving of praise.
The old king died at the end of a long and glorious reign, and Schah-riar, his eldest son, ascended the throne and reigned in his stead. A friendly contest quickly arose between the two brothers as to which could best promote the happiness of the other. The younger, Schah-zenan, did all he could to show his loyalty and affection, while the new sultan loaded his brother with all possible honors, and, in order that he might in some degree share his own power and wealth, bestowed on him the kingdom of Great Tartary. Schah-zenan went immediately and took possession of the empire allotted him, and fixed his residence at Samarcand, the chief city.
After a separation of ten years, Schah-riar ardently desired to see his brother, and sent his first vizier, with a splendid embassy, to invite him to revisit his court. Schah-zenan, being informed of the approach of the vizier, went out to meet him, with all his ministers, most magnificently dressed for the occasion, and urgently inquired after the health of the sultan, his brother. Having replied to these affectionate inquiries, the vizier unfolded the more especial purpose of his coming. Schah-zenan, who was much affected at the kindness and recollection of his brother, then addressed the vizier in these words: "Sage vizier, the sultan, my brother, does me too much honor. It is impossible that his wish to see me can exceed my anxious desire of again beholding him. You have come at an opportune moment. My kingdom is tranquil and in ten days' time I will be ready to depart with yon. In the mean while pitch your tents on this spot; I will take care and order every refreshment and accommodation for you and your whole train."
At the end of ten days everything was ready Schah-zenan took a tender leave of the queen, his consort, and, accompanied by such officers as he had appointed to attend him, left Samarcand in the evening, to be near the tents of his brother's ambassador, with the intention of proceeding on his journey early on the following morning.
Wishing, however, once more to see his queen whom he tenderly loved, and whom he believed to return his love with an equal affection, he returned privately to the palace, and went directly to her apartment, when, to his extreme grief, he found that she loved another man, and he a slave better than himself. The unfortunate monarch yielding to the first outburst of his indignation,' drew his scimitar, and with one rapid stroke changed their sleep into death. After that he threw their dead bodies into the fosse or great ditch that surrounded the palace.
Having thus satisfied his revenge, he went from the city as privately as he entered it, and returned to his pavilion. On his arrival, he did not mention to any one what had happened, but ordered the tents to be struck, and began his journey. It was scarcely daylight when they commenced their march to the sound of drums and other instruments. The whole train was filled with joy, except the king, who could think of nothing but his queen's misconduct, and he became a prey to the deepest grief and melancholy during the whole journey.
When he approached the capital of Persia, he perceived the Sultan Schah-riar and all his court coming out to greet him. What joyful sensations arose in their breasts at this fraternal meeting! They alighted and embraced each other; and after a thousand expressions of regard, they remounted, and entered the city amidst the acclamations of the multitude. The sultan conducted the king, his brother, to a palace which had been prepared for him. It communicated by a garden with his own; and was even more magnificent, as it was the spot where all the fetes and splendid entertainments of the court were given.
Schah-riar immediately left the King of Tartary, in order that he might have time to bathe and change his dress; on his return from the bath he went immediately to him again. They seated themselves' on a sofa, and conversed with each other at their ease, after so long an absence; and seemed even more united by affection than blood. They ate together at supper, and after their repast they again conversed, till Schah-riar, perceiving the night far advanced, left his brother to repose.
The unfortunate Schah-zenan retired to his couch; but if the presence of the sultan had for a while suspended his grief, it now returned with redoubled force. Every circumstance of the queers misconduct arose to his mind and kept him awake, and impressed such a look of sorrow on his countenance that the sultan could not fail to remark it. Conscious that he had done all in his power to testify the sincerity of his continued love and affection, he sought diligently to amuse his brother; but the most splendid entertainments and the gayest fetes only served to increase his melancholy.
Schah-riar having one morning given orders for a grand hunting party, at the distance of two days' journey from the city, Schah-zenan requested permission to remain in his palace, excusing himself on account of a slight indisposition. The sultan wishing to please him, gave him his choice, and went with all his court to partake of the sport.
The King of Tartary was no sooner alone than he shut himself up in his apartment, and gave way to a sorrowful recollection on the calamity which had befallen him. As, however, he sat thus grieving at the open window, looking out upon the beautiful garden of the palace, he suddenly saw the sultana, the loved wife of his brother, meet in the garden and hold secret conversation with another man beside her husband. Upon witnessing this interview, Schah-zenan determined within himself that he would no longer give way to such inconsolable grief for a misfortune which came to other husbands as well as to himself. He ordered supper to be brought, and ate with a better appetite than he had before done since his departure from Samarcand, and even enjoyed the fine concert performed while he sat at table.
Schah-riar, on his return from hunting at the close of the second day, was delighted at the change which he soon found had taken place in his brother, and urgently pressed him to explain both the cause of his former deep depression, and of its sudden change to his present joy. The King of Tartary being thus pressed, and feeling it his duty to obey his suzerain lord, related to his brother the whole narrative of his wife's misconduct, and of the severe punishment with which he had visited it on the offenders. Schah-riar expressed his full approval of his conduct. "I own," he said, "had I been in your place, I should, perhaps, have been less easily satisfied. I should not have been contented with taking away the life of one woman, but should have sacrificed a thousand to my resentment. Your fate, surely, is most singular, nor can have happened to any one besides. Since, however, it has pleased God to afford you consolation, and as I am sure it is equally well , founded as the cause of your grief, inform me, I beg, of that also, and make me acquainted with the whole."
The reluctance of Schah-zenan to relate what he had seen yielded at last to the urgent commands and entreaties of his brother, and he revealed to him the secret of his disgrace in the faithlessness of his own queen. On hearing these dreadful and unexpected tidings, the rage and grief of Schah-riar knew no bounds. He far exceeded his brother in his invectives and indignation. He immediately sentenced to death his unhappy sultana and the unworthy accomplice of her guilt; and not content with this, in all the power of an Eastern despot, he bound himself by a solemn vow that, to prevent the possibility of such misconduct in future, he would marry a new wife every night, and command her to be strangled in the morning. Having imposed this cruel law upon himself, he swore to observe it immediately on the departure of the king his brother, who soon after had a solemn audience of leave, and returned to his own kingdom, laden with the most magnificent presents.
When Schah-zenan was gone, the sultan began to put into execution his unhappy oath. He married every night the daughter of some one of his subjects, who, the next morning, was ordered out to execution, and thus every day was a maiden married, and every day a wife sacrificed. However repugnant these commands were to the benevolent grand vizier, he was obliged to submit at the peril of the loss of his own head. The report of this unexampled inhumanity spread a panic of universal consternation through the city. In one place a wretched father was in tears for the loss of his daughter; in another, the air resounded with the groans of tender mothers, who dreaded lest the game fate should attend their offspring. In this manner, instead of the praises and blessings with which, till now, they loaded their monarch, all his subjects poured out imprecations on his head.
The grand vizier, who, as has been mentioned, was the unwilling agent of this horrid injustice, had two daughters; the elder was called Scheherazade, and the youngest Dinar-zade. Scheherazade was possessed of a degree of courage beyond her sex. She had read much, and was possessed of so great a memory, that she never forgot anything once learned; her beauty was only equaled by her virtuous disposition.
The vizier was passionately fond of so deserving a daughter.
As they were conversing together one day, she made a request to her father, to his very great astonishment, that she might have the honor of becoming the sultan's bride. The grand vizier endeavored to dissuade his daughter from her intention by pointing out the fearful penalty of an immediate death attached to the favor which she sought. Schehera-zade, however, persisted in her request, intimating to her father that she had in her mind a plan which she thought might be successful in making a change in the intention of the sultan, and in putting a stop to the dreadful cruelty exercised towards the inhabitants of the city. "Yes, my father, "replied this heroic woman, "I am aware of the danger I run, but it does not deter me from my purpose. If I die, my death will be glorious; and if I succeed, I shall render my country an important service." The vizier was most reluctant to allow his beloved child to enter on so dangerous an enterprise, and endeavored to dissuade her from her purpose, but at length, overcome by his daughter's firmness, yielded to her entreaties; and although he was very sorry at not being able to conquer her resolution, he immediately went to Schah-riar, and announced to him that Schehera-zade herself would be his bride on the following night.
The sultan was much astonished at the sacrifice of the grand vizier. "Is it possible," said he, "that you can give up your own child?" "Sire," replied the vizier, "she has herself made the offer. The dreadful fate that hangs over her does not alarm her; and she resigns her life for the honor of being the consort of your majesty, though it be but for one night." "Vizier," said the sultan, "do not deceive yourself with any hopes; for be assured that, in delivering Schehera-zade into your charge to-morrow, it will be with an order for her death; and if you disobey, your own head will be the forfeit." "Although," answered the vizier, "I am her father, I will answer for the fidelity of this arm in fulfilling your commands."
When the grand vizier returned to Schehera-zade, she thanked her father; and observing him to be much afflicted, consoled him by saying that she hoped he would be so far from repenting her marriage with the sultan, that it would become a subject of joy to him for the remainder of his life.
Before Schehera-zade went to the palace, she called her sister, Dinar-zade, aside, and said, "As soon as I shall have presented myself before the sultan, I shall entreat him to suffer you to sleep in the bridal chamber, that I may enjoy for the last time your company. If I obtain this favor, as I expect, remember to awaken me to-morrow morning an hour before daybreak, and say, 'If you are not asleep, my sister, I beg of you, till the morning appears, to recount to me one of those delightful stories you know.' I will immediately begin to tell one; and I flatter myself that by these means I shall free the kingdom from the consternation in which it is." Dinar-zade promised to do with pleasure what she required.
Within a short time Schehera-zade was conducted by her father to the palace, and was admitted to the presence of the sultan. They were no sooner alone than the sultan ordered her to take off her veil. He was charmed with her beauty; but perceiving her tears, he demanded the cause of them. "Sire," answered Schehera-zade, "I have a sister whom I tenderly love; I earnestly wish that she might be permitted to pass the night in this apartment, that we may again see each other, and once more take a tender farewell. Will you allow me the consolation of giving her this last proof of my affection?"
Schah-riar having agreed to it, they sent for Dinar-zade, who came directly. The sultan passed the night with Schehera-zade on an elevated couch, as was the custom among the Eastern monarchs, and Dinar-zade slept at the foot of it on a mattress, prepared for the purpose.
Dinar-zade, having awoke about an hour before day, did what her sister had ordered her. "My dear sister," she said, "if you are not asleep, I entreat you, as it will soon be light, to relate to me one of those delightful tales you know. It will, alas! be the last time I shall receive that pleasure."
Instead of returning any answer to her sister, Schehera-zade addressed these words to the sultan: "Will your majesty permit me to indulge my sister in her request?" "Freely," replied he Schehera-zade then desired her sister to attend, and, addressing herself to the sultan, began as follows:—
There was formerly, sire, a merchant, who was possessed of great wealth, in land, merchandise, and ready money. Having one day an affair of great importance to settle at a considerable distance from home, he mounted his horse, and with only a sort of cloak-bag behind him, in which he had put a few biscuits and dates, he began his journey. He arrived without any accident at the place of his destination; and having finished his business, set out on his return.
On the fourth day of his journey, he felt himself so incommoded by the heat of the sun, that he turned out of his road, in order to rest under some trees, by which there was a fountain. He alighted, and tying his horse to a branch of the tree, sat down on its bank to eat some biscuits and dates from his little store. When he had satisfied his hunger, he amused himself with throwing about the stones of the fruit with considerable velocity. When he had finished his frugal repast, he washed his hands, his face, and his feet, and repeated a prayer, like a good Mussulman.
He was still on his knees, when he saw a genie, white with age, and of an enormous stature, advancing towards him, with a scimitar in his hand. As soon as he was close to him, he said in a most terrible tone, "Get up, that I may kill thee with this scimitar, as thou hast caused the death of my son." He accompanied these words with a dreadful yell. The merchant, alarmed by the horrible figure of this giant, as well as the words he heard, replied in terrible accents, "How can I have slain him? I do not know him, nor have I ever seen him." "Didst thou not," replied the giant, "on thine arrival here, sit down, and take some dates from thy wallet; and after eating them, didst thou not throw the stones about on all sides?" "This is all true," replied the merchant; "I do not deny it." "Well, then," said the other, "I tell thee thou hast killed my son; for while thou wast throwing about the stones, my son passed by; one of them struck him in the eye, and caused his death, and thus hast thou slain my son." "Ah, sire, forgive me," cried the merchant. "I have neither forgiveness nor mercy," added the giant; "and is it not just that he who has inflicted death should suffer it?" "I grant this; yet surely I have not done so; and even if I have, I have done so innocently, and therefore I entreat you to pardon me, and suffer me to live." "No, no," cried the genie, still persisting in his resolution, "I must destroy thee, as thou hast done my son." At these words, he took the merchant in his arms, and having thrown him with his face on the ground, he lifted up his sabre, in order to strike off his head.
Schehera-zade, at this instant, perceiving it was day, and knowing that the sultan rose early to his prayers, and then to hold a council, broke off. "What a wonderful story," said Dinar-zade, "have you chosen!" "The conclusion," answered Schehera-zade, "is still more surprising, as you would confess, if the sultan would suffer me to live another day, and in the morning permit me to continue the relation." Schah-riar, who had listened with much pleasure to the narration, determined to wait till to-morrow, intending to order her execution after she had finished her story. He arose, and having prayed, went to the council.
The grand vizier, in the mean time, was in a state of cruel suspense. Unable to sleep, he passed the night in lamenting the approaching fate of his daughter, whose executioner he was compelled to be. Dreading, therefore, in this melancholy situation, to meet the sultan, how great was his surprise in seeing him enter the council-chamber without giving him the horrible order he expected!
The sultan spent the day, as usual, in regulating the affairs of his kingdom, and on the approach of night retired with Schehera-zade to his apartment. On the next morning the sultan did not wait for Schehera-zade to ask permission to continue her story, but said, "Finish the tale of the genie and the merchant; I am curious to hear the end of it." Schehera-zade immediately went on as follows:
When the merchant, sire, perceived that the genie was about to execute his purpose, he cried aloud, "One word more, I entreat you; have the goodness to grant me a little delay; give me only one year to go and take leave of my dear wife and children, and I promise to return to this spot, and submit myself entirely to your pleasure." "Take Allah to witness of the promise thou hast made me," said the other. "Again I swear," replied he, "and you may rely on my oath." On this the genie left him near the fountain, and immediately disappeared.
The merchant, on his reaching home, related faithfully all that had happened to him. On hearing the sad news, his wife uttered the most lamentable groans, tearing her hair, and beating her breast; and his children made the house resound with their grief; while the father, overcome by affection, mingled his tears with theirs. The year quickly passed away. The good merchant, having settled his affairs, paid his just debts, given alms to the poor, and made provision to the best of his ability for his wife and family, tore himself away amidst the most frantic expressions of grief, and, mindful of his oath, arrived at the destined spot on the very day he had promised. While he was waiting for the arrival of the genie, there suddenly appeared an old man leading a hind, who, after a respectful salutation, inquired what brought him to that desert place. The merchant satisfied the old man's curiosity, and related his adventure, on which he expressed a wish to witness his interview with the genie. He had scarcely finished his speech when another old man, accompanied with two black dogs, came in sight, and having heard the tale of the merchant, determined also to remain to see the event.
Soon they perceived, towards the plain, a thick vapor or smoke, like a column of dust raised by the wind.. This vapor approached them, and then suddenly disappearing, they saw the genie, who, without noticing them, went towards the merchant, with his scimitar in his hand; and taking him by the arm, "Get up," said he, "that I may kill thee, as thou hast slain my son." Both the merchant and the two old men, struck with terror, began to weep and fill the air with their lamentations. When the old man who conducted the hind saw the genie lay hold of the merchant, and about to murder him without mercy, he threw himself at the monster's feet, and, kissing them, said, "Lord genie, I humbly entreat you to suspend your rage, and hear my history, and that of the hind which you see; and if you find it more wonderful and surprising than the adventure of this merchant, whose life you wish to take, may I not hope that you will at least grant me one half part of the blood of this unfortunate man?" After meditating some time, the genie answered, "Well then, I agree to it."
The hind, whom you, lord genie, see here, is my wife. I married her when she was twelve years old, and we lived together thirty years without having any children. At the end of that time I adopted into my family a son whom a slave had borne. This act of mine excited against the mother and her child the hatred and jealousy of my wife. She availed herself, during my absence on a journey, of her knowledge of magic, to change the slave and my adopted son into a cow and a calf, and sent them to my farm to be fed and taken care of by the steward.
Immediately on my return, I inquired after my child and his mother. "Your slave is dead," said she, "and it is now more than two months since I have beheld your son; nor do I know what is become of him." I was sensibly affected at the death of the slave; but as my son had only disappeared, I flattered myself that he would soon be found. Eight months, however, passed, and he did not return; nor could I learn any tidings of him. In order to celebrate the festival of the great Bairam, which was approaching, I ordered my bailiff to bring me the fattest cow I possessed for a sacrifice. He obeyed my commands. Having bound the cow, I was about to make the sacrifice, when, at the very instant, she lowed most sorrowfully, and the tears even fell from her eyes. This seemed to me so extraordinary that I could not but feel compassion for her, and was unable to give the fatal blow. I therefore ordered her to be taken away and another brought.
My wife, who was present, seemed very angry at my compassion, and opposed my order.
I then said to my steward, "Make the sacrifice yourself; the lamentations and tears of the animal have overcome me."
The steward was less compassionate, and sacrificed her. On taking off the skin we found hardly anything but bones, though she appeared very fat. "Take her away," said I to the steward, truly chagrined; "and if you have another very fat calf, bring it in her place." He returned with a remarkably fine calf, who, as soon as he perceived me, made so great an effort to come to me, that he broke his cord. He lay down at my feet, with his head on the ground, as if he endeavored to excite my compassion, and to entreat me not to have the cruelty to take away his life.
"Wife," answered I, "I will not sacrifice this calf; I wish to favor him; do not you, therefore, oppose it." She, however, did not agree to my proposal; and continued to demand his sacrifice so obstinately that I was compelled to yield. I bound the calf, and took the fatal knife to bury it in his throat, when he turned his eyes, filled with tears, so persuasively upon me, that I had no power to execute my intention. The knife fell from my hand, and I told my wife I was deter; mined to have another calf. She tried every means to induce me to alter my mind; I continued firm, however, in my resolution, in spite of all she could say; promising, for the sake of appeasing her, to sacrifice this calf at the feast of Bairam on the following year.
The next morning my steward desired to speak with me in private. He informed me that his daughter, who had some knowledge of magic, wished to speak with me. On being admitted to my presence, she informed me that, during my absence, my wife had turned the slave and my son into a cow and a calf; that I had already sacrificed the cow, but that she could restore my son to life, if I would give him to her for her husband, and allow her to visit my wife with the punishment her cruelty had deserved. To these proposals I gave my consent.
The damsel then took a vessel full of water, and pronouncing over it some words I did not understand, she threw the water over the calf, and he instantly regained his own form.
"My son! my son!" I exclaimed, and embraced him with transport; "this damsel has destroyed the horrible charm with which you were surrounded. I am sure your gratitude will induce you to marry her, as I have already promised for you." He joyfully consented; but before they were united, the damsel changed my wife into this hind, which you see here.
Since this, my son has become a widower, and is now traveling. Many years have passed since I have heard anything of him; I have, therefore, now set out with a view to gain some information; and as I did not like to trust my wife to the care of any one during my search, I thought proper to carry her along with me. This is the history of myself and this hind; can anything be more wonderful?" "I agree with you," said the genie, "and in consequence, I grant to you a half of the blood of this merchant."
As soon as the first old man had finished, the second, who led the two black dogs, made the same request to the genie for a half of the merchant's blood, on the condition that his tale exceeded in interest the one that had been just related. On the genie signifying his assent, the old man began.
Great prince of the genies, you must know that these two black dogs, which you see here, and myself are three brothers. Our father, when he died, left us one thousand sequins each. With this sum we all embarked in business as merchants. My two brothers determined to travel, that they might trade in foreign parts. They were both unfortunate, and returned at the end of two years in a state of abject poverty, having lost their all. I had in the mean while prospered, and I gladly received them, and gave them one thousand sequins each, and again set them up as merchants. My brothers frequently proposed to me that I should make a voyage with them for the purpose of traffic. Knowing their former want of success, I refused to join them, until at the end of five years I at length yielded to their repeated solicitations. On consulting on the merchandise to be bought for the voyage, I discovered that nothing remained of the thousand sequins I had given to each. I did not reproach them; on the contrary, as my capital "was increased to six thousand sequins, I gave them each one thousand sequins, and kept a like sum myself, and concealed. The other three thousand in a corner of my house, in order that if our voyage proved unsuccessful, we might be able to console ourselves, and begin our former profession. We purchased our goods, embarked in a vessel, which we ourselves freighted, and set sail with a favorable wind. After sailing about a month, we arrived, without any accident, at a port, where we landed, and had a most advantageous sale for our merchandise. I, in particular, sold mine so well that I gained ten for one.
About the time that we were ready to embark on our return, I accidentally met on the sea-shore a female of great beauty, but very poorly dressed. She accosted me by kissing my hand, and entreated me most earnestly to permit her to be my wife. I started many difficulties to such a plan; but at length she said so much to persuade me that I ought not to regard her poverty, and that I should be well satisfied with her conduct, I wag quite overcome. I directly procured proper dresses for her, and after marrying her in due form, she embarked with me, and we set sail.
During our voyage, I found my wife possessed of so many good qualities that I loved her every day more and more. In the mean time my two brothers, who had not traded so advantageously as myself, and who were jealous of my prosperity, began to feel exceedingly envious. They even went so far as to conspire against my life; for one night, while my wife and I were asleep, they threw us into the sea. I had hardly, however, fallen into the water, before my wife took me up and transported me into an island. As soon as it was day, she thus addressed me: "You must know that I am a fairy, and being upon the shore when you were about to sail, I wished to try the goodness of your heart, and for this purpose I presented myself before you in the disguise you saw. You acted most generously, and I am therefore delighted in finding an occasion of showing my gratitude; and I trust, my husband, that in saving your life, I have not ill rewarded the good you have done me; but I am enraged against your brothers, nor shall I be satisfied till I have taken their lives."
I listened with astonishment to the discourse of the fairy, and thanked her, as well as I was able, for the great obligation she had conferred on me. "But, madam," said I to her, "I must entreat you to pardon my brothers." I related to her what I had done for each of them, but my account only increased her anger. "I must instantly fly after these ungrateful wretches," cried she, "and bring them to a just punishment; I will sink their vessel, and precipitate them to the bottom of the sea." "No, beautiful lady," replied I; "for Heaven's sake, moderate your indignation, and do not execute so dreadful an Intention; remember they are still my brothers, and that we are bound to return good for evil."
No sooner had I pronounced these words, than I was transported in an instant from the island where we were to the top of my own house. I descended, opened the doors, and dug up the three thousand sequins which I had hidden. I afterwards repaired to my shop, opened it, and received the congratulations of the merchants in the neighborhood on my arrival. When I returned home, I perceived these two black dogs, which came towards me with a submissive air. I could not imagine what this meant, but the fairy, who soon appeared, satisfied my curiosity. "My dear husband," said she, "be not surprised at seeing these two dogs in your house; they are your brothers." My blood ran cold on hearing this, and I inquired by what power .they had been transformed into that state. "It is I," replied the fairy, "who have done it, and I have sunk their ship; for the loss of the merchandise it contained I shall recompense you. As to your brothers, I have condemned them to remain under this form for ten years, as a punishment for their perfidy." Then informing me where I might hear of her, she disappeared.
The ten years are now completed, and I am traveling in search of her. "This, O lord genie, is my history; does it not appear to you of a most extraordinary nature?" "Yes," replied the genie, "I confess it is most wonderful, and therefore I grant you the other half of this merchant's blood;" and having said this, the genie disappeared, to the great joy of the merchant and of the two old men.
The merchant did not omit to bestow many thanks upon his liberators, who, bidding him adieu, proceeded on their travels. He remounted his horse, and returned home to his wife and children, and spent the remainder of his days with them in tranquillity.