A Thousand And One Arabian Nights
The Story of the Three Calenders, Sons of Kings, and of Five Ladies of Bagdad
In the reign of the Caliph Haroun-al-Raschid, there lived at Bagdad
a porter who, in spite of his humble calling, was an intelligent
and sensible man. One morning he was sitting in his usual place with
his basket before him, waiting to be hired, when a tall young lady,
covered with a long muslin veil, came up to him and said, "Pick up
your basket and follow me." The porter, who was greatly pleased
by her appearance and voice, jumped up at once, poised his basket
on his head, and accompanied the lady, saying to himself as he went,
"Oh, happy day! Oh, lucky meeting!"
The lady soon stopped before a closed door, at which she knocked.
It was opened by an old man with a long white beard, to whom
the lady held out money without speaking. The old man, who seemed
to understand what she wanted, vanished into the house, and returned
bringing a large jar of wine, which the porter placed in his basket.
Then the lady signed to him to follow, and they went their way.
The next place she stopped at was a fruit and flower shop, and here she
bought a large quantity of apples, apricots, peaches, and other things,
with lilies, jasmine, and all sorts of sweet-smelling plants.
From this shop she went to a butcher's, a grocer's, and a poulterer's,
till at last the porter exclaimed in despair, "My good lady,
if you had only told me you were going to buy enough provisions
to stock a town, I would have brought a horse, or rather a camel."
The lady laughed, and told him she had not finished yet, but after
choosing various kinds of scents and spices from a druggist's store,
she halted before a magnificent palace, at the door of which
she knocked gently. The porteress who opened it was of such
beauty that the eyes of the man were quite dazzled, and he was
the more astonished as he saw clearly that she was no slave.
The lady who had led him hither stood watching him with amusement,
till the porteress exclaimed, "Why don't you come in, my sister?
This poor man is so heavily weighed down that he is ready to drop."
When they were both inside the door was fastened, and they all
three entered a large court, surrounded by an open-work gallery.
At one end of the court was a platform, and on the platform stood
an amber throne supported by four ebony columns, garnished with
pearls and diamonds. In the middle of the court stood a marble
basin filled with water from the mouth of a golden lion.
The porter looked about him, noticing and admiring everything;
but his attention was specially attracted by a third lady sitting
on the throne, who was even more beautiful than the other two.
By the respect shown to her by the others, he judged that she must be
the eldest, and in this he was right. This lady's name was Zobeida,
the porteress was Sadie, and the housekeeper was Amina. At a word
from Zobeida, Sadie and Amina took the basket from the porter,
who was glad enough to be relieved from its weight; and when it
was emptied, paid him handsomely for its use. But instead of taking
up his basket and going away, the man still lingered, till Zobeida
inquired what he was waiting for, and if he expected more money.
"Oh, madam," returned he, "you have already given me too much,
and I fear I may have been guilty of rudeness in not taking my
departure at once. But, if you will pardon my saying so, I was lost
in astonishment at seeing such beautiful ladies by them-selves. A
company of women without men is, however, as dull as a company of men
without women." And after telling some stories to prove his point,
he ended by entreating them to let him stay and make a fourth at
The ladies were rather amused at the man's assurances and after
some discussion it was agreed that he should be allowed to stay,
as his society might prove entertaining. "But listen, friend,"
said Zobeida, "if we grant your request, it is only on condition
that you behave with the utmost politeness, and that you keep the
secret of our way of living, which chance has revealed to you."
Then they all sat down to table, which had been covered by Amina
with the dishes she had bought.
After the first few mouthfuls Amina poured some wine into a golden cup.
She first drank herself, according to the Arab custom, and then
filled it for her sisters. When it came to the porter's turn he
kissed Amina's hand, and sang a song, which he composed at the moment
in praise of the wine. The three ladies were pleased with the song,
and then sang themselves, so that the repast was a merry one,
and lasted much longer than usual.
At length, seeing that the sun was about to set, Sadia said
to the porter, "Rise and go; it is now time for us to separate."
"Oh, madam," replied he, "how can you desire me to quit you in
the state in which I am? Between the wine I have drunk, and the
pleasure of seeing you, I should never find the way to my house.
Let me remain here till morning, and when I have recovered my senses
I will go when you like."
"Let him stay," said Amina, who had before proved herself his friend.
"It is only just, as he has given us so much amusement."
"If you wish it, my sister," replied Zobeida; "but if he does,
I must make a new condition. Porter," she continued, turning to him,
"if you remain, you must promise to ask no questions about anything
you may see. If you do, you may perhaps hear what you don't like."
This being settled, Amina brought in supper, and lit up the hall with a
number of sweet smelling tapers. They then sat down again at the table,
and began with fresh appetites to eat, drink, sing, and recite verses.
In fact, they were all enjoying themselves mightily when they heard
a knock at the outer door, which Sadie rose to open. She soon
returned saying that three Calenders, all blind in the right eye,
and all with their heads, faces, and eyebrows clean shaved,
begged for admittance, as they were newly arrived in Bagdad,
and night had already fallen. "They seem to have pleasant manners,"
she added, "but you have no idea how funny they look. I am sure
we should find their company diverting."
Zobeida and Amina made some difficulty about admitting the new comers,
and Sadie knew the reason of their hesitation. But she urged
the matter so strongly that Zobeida was at last forced to consent.
"Bring them in, then," said she, "but make them understand that
they are not to make remarks about what does not concern them,
and be sure to make them read the inscription over the door."
For on the door was written in letters of gold, "Whoso meddles in
affairs that are no business of his, will hear truths that will not
The three Calenders bowed low on entering, and thanked the ladies
for their kindness and hospitality. The ladies replied with words
of welcome, and they were all about to seat themselves when the eyes
of the Calenders fell on the porter, whose dress was not so very unlike
their own, though he still wore all the hair that nature had given him.
"This," said one of them, "is apparently one of our Arab brothers,
who has rebelled against our ruler."
The porter, although half asleep from the wine he had drunk,
heard the words, and without moving cried angrily to the Calender,
"Sit down and mind your own business. Did you not read the inscription
over the door? Every-body is not obliged to live in the same way."
"Do not be so angry, my good man," replied the Calender; "we should
be very sorry to displease you;" so the quarrel was smoothed over,
and supper began in good earnest. When the Calenders had satisfied
their hunger, they offered to play to their hostesses, if there were
any instruments in the house. The ladies were delighted at the idea,
and Sadie went to see what she could find, returning in a few
moments laden with two different kinds of flutes and a tambourine.
Each Calender took the one he preferred, and began to play
a well-known air, while the ladies sang the words of the song.
These words were the gayest and liveliest possible, and every now
and then the singers had to stop to indulge the laughter which almost
choked them. In the midst of all their noise, a knock was heard
at the door.
Now early that evening the Caliph secretly left the palace,
accompanied by his grand-vizir, Giafar, and Mesrour, chief of the eunuchs,
all three wearing the dresses of merchants. Passing down the street,
the Caliph had been attracted by the music of instruments and the sound
of laughter, and had ordered his vizir to go and knock at the door
of the house, as he wished to enter. The vizir replied that the ladies
who lived there seemed to be entertaining their friends, and he thought
his master would do well not to intrude on them; but the Caliph had
taken it into his head to see for himself, and insisted on being obeyed.
The knock was answered by Sadie, with a taper in her hand,
and the vizir, who was surprised at her beauty, bowed low before her,
and said respectfully, "Madam, we are three merchants who have
lately arrived from Moussoul, and, owing to a misadventure which
befel us this very night, only reached our inn to find that the
doors were closed to us till to-morrow morning. Not knowing
what to do, we wandered in the streets till we happened to pass
your house, when, seeing lights and hearing the sound of voices,
we resolved to ask you to give us shelter till the dawn.
If you will grant us this favour, we will, with your permission,
do all in our power to help you spend the time pleasantly."
Sadie answered the merchant that she must first consult her sisters;
and after having talked over the matter with them, she returned to tell
him that he and his two friends would be welcome to join their company.
They entered and bowed politely to the ladies and their guests.
Then Zobeida, as the mistress, came forward and said gravely,
"You are welcome here, but I hope you will allow me to beg one thing
of you--have as many eyes as you like, but no tongues; and ask
no questions about anything you see, however strange it may appear
"Madam," returned the vizir, "you shall be obeyed. We have quite
enough to please and interest us without troubling ourselves about
that with which we have no concern." Then they all sat down,
and drank to the health of the new comers.
While the vizir, Giafar, was talking to the ladies the Caliph
was occupied in wondering who they could be, and why the three
Calenders had each lost his right eye. He was burning to inquire
the reason of it all, but was silenced by Zobeida's request, so he
tried to rouse him-self and to take his part in the conversation,
which was very lively, the subject of discussion being the many
different sorts of pleasures that there were in the world.
After some time the Calenders got up and performed some curious dances,
which delighted the rest of the company.
When they had finished Zobeida rose from her seat, and, taking Amina
by the hand, she said to her, "My sister, our friends will excuse us
if we seem to forget their presence and fulfil our nightly task."
Amina understood her sister's meaning, and collecting the dishes,
glasses, and musical instruments, she carried them away, while Sadie
swept the hall and put everything in order. Having done this she
begged the Calenders to sit on a sofa on one side of the room,
and the Caliph and his friends to place themselves opposite.
As to the porter, she requested him to come and help her and
Shortly after Amina entered carrying a seat, which she put down
in the middle of the empty space. She next went over to the door
of a closet and signed to the porter to follow her. He did so,
and soon reappeared leading two black dogs by a chain, which he
brought into the centre of the hall. Zobeida then got up from her
seat between the Calenders and the Caliph and walked slowly across
to where the porter stood with the dogs. "We must do our duty,"
she said with a deep sigh, pushing back her sleeves, and, taking a
whip from Sadie, she said to the man, "Take one of those dogs to my
sister Amina and give me the other."
The porter did as he was bid, but as he led the dog to Zobeida it
uttered piercing howls, and gazed up at her with looks of entreaty.
But Zobeida took no notice, and whipped the dog till she was
out of breath. She then took the chain from the porter, and,
raising the dog on its hind legs, they looked into each other's eyes
sorrowfully till tears began to fall from both. Then Zobeida took
her handkerchief and wiped the dog's eyes tenderly, after which she
kissed it, then, putting the chain into the porter's hand she said,
"Take it back to the closet and bring me the other."
The same ceremony was gone through with the second dog,
and all the while the whole company looked on with astonishment.
The Caliph in particular could hardly contain himself, and made
signs to the vizir to ask what it all meant. But the vizir
pretended not to see, and turned his head away.
Zobeida remained for some time in the middle of the room, till at
last Sadie went up to her and begged her to sit down, as she
also had her part to play. At these words Amina fetched a lute
from a case of yellow satin and gave it to Sadie, who sang several
songs to its accompaniment. When she was tired she said to Amina,
"My sister, I can do no more; come, I pray you, and take my place."
Amina struck a few chords and then broke into a song, which she
sang with so much ardour that she was quite overcome, and sank
gasping on a pile of cushions, tearing open her dress as she did
so to give herself some air. To the amazement of all present,
her neck, instead of being as smooth and white as her face,
was a mass of scars.
The Calenders and the Caliph looked at each other, and whispered together,
unheard by Zobeida and Sadie, who were tending their fainting sister.
"What does it all mean?" asked the Caliph.
"We know no more than you," said the Calender to whom he had spoken.
"What! You do not belong to the house?"
"My lord," answered all the Calenders together, "we came here
for the first time an hour before you."
They then turned to the porter to see if he could explain
the mystery, but the porter was no wiser than they were themselves.
At length the Caliph could contain his curiosity no longer,
and declared that he would compel the ladies to tell them the meaning
of their strange conduct. The vizir, foreseeing what would happen,
implored him to remember the condition their hostesses had imposed,
and added in a whisper that if his Highness would only wait till
morning he could as Caliph summon the ladies to appear before him.
But the Caliph, who was not accustomed to be contradicted,
rejected this advice, and it was resolved after a little more talking
that the question should be put by the porter. Suddenly Zobeida
turned round, and seeing their excitement she said, "What is the matter--
what are you all discussing so earnestly?"
"Madam," answered the porter, "these gentlemen entreat you to explain
to them why you should first whip the dogs and then cry over them,
and also how it happens that the fainting lady is covered with scars.
They have requested me, Madam, to be their mouthpiece."
"Is it true, gentlemen," asked Zobeida, drawing herself up,
"that you have charged this man to put me that question?"
"It is," they all replied, except Giafar, who was silent.
"Is this," continued Zobeida, growing more angry every moment,
"is this the return you make for the hospitality I have shown you?
Have you forgotten the one condition on which you were allowed
to enter the house? Come quickly," she added, clapping her hands
three times, and the words were hardly uttered when seven black slaves,
each armed with a sabre, burst in and stood over the seven men,
throwing them on the ground, and preparing themselves, on a sign from
their mistress, to cut off their heads.
The seven culprits all thought their last hour had come, and the
Caliph repented bitterly that he had not taken the vizir's advice.
But they made up their minds to die bravely, all except the porter,
who loudly inquired of Zobeida why he was to suffer for other
people's faults, and declared that these misfortunes would never
have happened if it had not been for the Calenders, who always
brought ill-luck. He ended by imploring Zobeida not to confound
the innocent with the guilty and to spare his life.
In spite of her anger, there was something so comic in the groans
of the porter that Zobeida could not refrain from laughing.
But putting him aside she addressed the others a second time,
saying, "Answer me; who are you? Unless you tell me truly you
have not another moment to live. I can hardly think you are men
of any position, whatever country you belong to. If you were,
you would have had more consideration for us."
The Caliph, who was naturally very impatient, suffered far more
than either of the others at feeling that his life was at the
mercy of a justly offended lady, but when he heard her question
he began to breathe more freely, for he was convinced that she
had only to learn his name and rank for all danger to be over.
So he whispered hastily to the vizir, who was next to him,
to reveal their secret. But the vizir, wiser than his master,
wished to conceal from the public the affront they had received,
and merely answered, "After all, we have only got what we deserved."
Meanwhile Zobeida had turned to the three Calenders and inquired if,
as they were all blind, they were brothers.
"No, madam," replied one, "we are no blood relations at all,
only brothers by our mode of life."
"And you," she asked, addressing another, "were you born blind
of one eye?"
"No, madam," returned he, "I became blind through a most surprising
adventure, such as probably has never happened to anybody.
After that I shaved my head and eyebrows and put on the dress
in which you see me now."
Zobeida put the same question to the other two Calenders,
and received the same answer.
"But," added the third, "it may interest you, madam, to know
that we are not men of low birth, but are all three sons of kings,
and of kings, too, whom the world holds in high esteem."
At these words Zobeida's anger cooled down, and she turned to
her slaves and said, "You can give them a little more liberty,
but do not leave the hall. Those that will tell us their histories
and their reasons for coming here shall be allowed to leave unhurt;
those who refuse--" And she paused, but in a moment the porter,
who understood that he had only to relate his story to set himself
free from this terrible danger, immediately broke in,
"Madam, you know already how I came here, and what I have to say
will soon be told. Your sister found me this morning in the place
where I always stand waiting to be hired. She bade me follow her
to various shops, and when my basket was quite full we returned
to this house, when you had the goodness to permit me to remain,
for which I shall be eternally grateful. That is my story."
He looked anxiously to Zobeida, who nodded her head and said,
"You can go; and take care we never meet again."
"Oh, madam," cried the porter, "let me stay yet a little while.
It is not just that the others should have heard my story and that I
should not hear theirs," and without waiting for permission he
seated himself on the end of the sofa occupied by the ladies,
whilst the rest crouched on the carpet, and the slaves stood against
Then one of the Calenders, addressing himself to Zobeida as the
principal lady, began his story.
Next: The Story of the First Calender, Son of a King
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