In a beautiful distant kingdom, of which there is a saying, that the sun on its everlasting green gardens never goes down, ruled, from the beginning of time even to the present day, Queen Phantasie. With full hands, she used to distribute for many hundred years, the abundance of her blessings among her subjects, and was beloved and respected by all who knew her. The heart of the Queen, however, was too great to allow her to stop at her own land with her charities; she herself, in the royal attire of her everlasting youth and beauty, descended upon the earth; for she had heard that there men lived, who passed their lives in sorrowful seriousness, in the midst of care and toil. Unto these she had sent the finest gifts out of her kingdom, and ever since the beauteous Queen came through the fields of earth, men were merry at their labor, and happy in their seriousness.
Her children, moreover, not less fair and lovely than their royal mother, she had sent forth to bring happiness to men. One day Märchen, the eldest daughter of the Queen, came back in haste from the earth. The mother observed that Märchen was sorrowful; yes, at times it would seem to her as if her eyes would be consumed by weeping.
“What is the matter with thee, beloved Märchen?” said the Queen to her. “Ever since thy journey, thou art so sorrowful and dejected; wilt thou not confide to thy mother what ails thee?”
“Ah! dear mother,” answered Märchen, “I would have kept silence, had I not known that my sorrow is thine also.”
“Speak, my daughter!” entreated the fair Queen. “Grief is a stone, which presses down him who bears it alone, but two draw it lightly out of the way.”
“Thou wishest it,” rejoined Märchen, “so listen. Thou knowest how gladly I associate with men, how cheerfully I sit down before the huts of the poor, to while away a little hour for them after their labor; formerly, when I came, they used to ask me kindly for my hand to salute, and looked upon me afterwards, when I went away, smiling and contented; but in these days, it is so no longer!”
“Poor Märchen!” said the Queen as she caressed her cheek, which was wet with a tear. “But, perhaps, thou only fanciest all this.”
“Believe me, I feel it but too well,” rejoined Märchen; “they love me no more. Wherever I go, cold looks meet me; nowhere am I any more gladly seen; even the children, who ever loved me so well, laugh at me, and slyly turn their backs upon me.”
The Queen leaned her forehead on her hand, and was silent in reflection. “And how, then, Märchen,” she asked, “should it happen that the people there below have become so changed?”
“See, O Queen Phantasie! men have stationed vigilant watchmen, who inspect and examine all that comes from thy kingdom, with sharp eyes. If one should arrive who is not according to their mind, they raise a loud cry, and put him to death, or else so slander him to men, who believe their every word, that one finds no longer any love, any little ray of confidence. Ah! how fortunate are my brothers, the Dreams! they leap merrily and lightly down upon the earth, care nothing for those artful men, seek the slumbering, and weave and paint for them, what makes happy the heart, and brightens the eye with joy.”
“Thy brothers are light-footed,” said the Queen, “and thou, my darling, hast no reason for envying them. Besides, I know these border-watchmen well; men are not so wrong in sending them out; there came so many boastful fellows, who acted as if they had come straight from my kingdom, and yet they had, at best, only looked down upon us from some mountain.”
“But why did they make me, thine own daughter, suffer for this?” wept forth Märchen. “Ah, if thou knewest how they have acted towards me! They called me an old maid, and threatened the next time not to admit me!”
“How, my daughter?—not to admit thee more?” asked the Queen, as anger heightened the color on her cheeks. “But already I see whence this comes; that wicked cousin has slandered us!”
“Fashion? Impossible!” exclaimed Märchen; “she always used to act so friendly towards us.”
“Oh, I know her, the false one!” answered the Queen. “But try it again in spite of her, my daughter: whoever wishes to do good, must not rest.”
“Ah, mother! suppose, then, they send me back again, or slander me so that men let me stay in a corner, disregarded, or alone and slighted!”
“If the old, deluded by Fashion, value thee at nothing, then turn thee to the young; truly they are my little favorites. I send to them my loveliest pictures through thy brothers, the Dreams; yes, already I have often hovered over them in person, caressed and kissed them, and played fine games with them. They, also, know me well, though not by name; for I have often observed how in the night they laugh at my stars, and in the morning, when my shining fleeces play over the heavens, how they clap their hands for joy. Moreover, when they grow larger, they love me still; then I help the charming maids to weave variegated garlands, and the wild boys to become still, while I seat myself near them, on the lofty summit of a cliff, steep lofty cities and brilliant palaces in the mist-world of the blue mountains in the distance, and, on the red-tinged clouds of evening, paint brave troops of horsemen, and strange pilgrim processions.”
“Oh, the dear children!” exclaimed Märchen, deeply affected. “Yes—be it so! with them I will make one more trial.”
“Yes, my good child,” answered the Queen; “go unto them; but I will attire thee in fine style, that thou mayest please the little ones, and that the old may not drive thee away. See! the dress of an Almanach will I give thee.”
“An Almanach, mother? Ah!—I will be ashamed to parade, in such a way, before the people.”
The Queen gave the signal, and the attendants brought in the rich dress of an Almanach. It was inwrought with brilliant colors, and beautiful figures. The waiting-maids plaited the long hair of the fair girl, bound golden sandals on her feet, and arrayed her in the robe.
The modest Märchen dared not look up; her mother, however, beheld her with satisfaction, and clasped her in her arms. “Go forth!” said she unto the little one; “my blessing be with thee. If they despise and scorn thee, turn quickly unto me; perhaps later generations, more true to nature, may again incline to thee their hearts.”
Thus spoke Queen Phantasie, while Märchen went down upon the earth. With beating heart she approached the city, in which the cunning watchmen dwelt: she dropped her head towards the earth, wrapped her fine robe closely around her, and with trembling step drew near unto the gate.
“Hold!” exclaimed a deep, rough voice. “Look out, there! Here comes a new Almanach!”
Märchen trembled as she heard this; many old men, with gloomy countenances, rushed forth; they had sharp quills in their fists, and held them towards Märchen. One of the multitude strode up to her, and seized her with rough hand by the chin. “Just lift up your head, Mr. Almanach,” he cried, “that one may see in your eyes whether you be right or not.”
Blushing, Märchen lifted her little head quite up, and raised her dark eye.
“Märchen!” exclaimed the watchmen, laughing boisterously. “Märchen! That we should have had any doubt as to who was here! How come you, now, by this dress?”
“Mother put it on me,” answered Märchen.
“So! she wishes to smuggle you past us! Not this time! Out of the way; see that you be gone!” exclaimed the watchmen among themselves, lifting up their sharp quills.
“But, indeed, I will go only to the children,” entreated Märchen; “this, surely, you will grant to me.”
“Stay there not, already, enough of these menials in the land around?” exclaimed one of the watchmen. “They only prattle nonsense to our children.”
“Let us see what she knows this time,” said another.
“Well then,” cried they, “tell us what you know; but make haste, for we have not much time for you.”
Märchen stretched forth her hand, and described with the forefinger, various figures in the air. Thereupon they saw confused images move slowly across it;—caravans, fine horses, riders gayly attired, numerous tents upon the sand of the desert; birds, and ships upon the stormy seas; silent forests, and populous places, and highways; battles, and peaceful wandering tribes—all hovered, a motley crowd, in animated pictures, over before them.
Märchen, in the eagerness with which she had caused the figures to rise forth, had not observed that the watchmen of the gate had one by one fallen asleep. Just as she was about to describe new lines, a friendly man came up to her, and seized her hand. “Look here, good Märchen,” said he, as he pointed to the sleepers; “for these thy varied creations are as nothing; slip nimbly through the door; they will not suspect that thou art in the land, and thou canst quietly and unobserved pursue thy way. I will lead thee unto my children; in my house will give thee a peaceful, friendly home; there thou mayest remain and live by thyself; whenever my sons and daughters shall have learned their lessons well, they shall be permitted to run to thee with their plays, and attend to thee. Dost thou agree?”
“Oh! how gladly will I follow thee unto thy dear children! how diligently will I endeavor to make, at times, for them, a happy little hour!”
The good man nodded to her cordially, and assisted her to step over the feet of the sleeping men. Märchen, when she had got safely across, looked around smilingly, and then slipped quickly through the gate.
Once upon a time, there marched through the wilderness a large Caravan. Upon the vast plain, where one sees nothing but sand and heaven, were heard already, in the far distance, the little bells of the camels, and the silver-toned ones of the horses; a thick cloud of dust, which preceded them, announced their approach, and when a gale of wind separated the clouds, glittering weapons and brilliant dresses dazzled the eye. Such was the appearance of the Caravan to a man who was riding up towards it in an oblique direction. He was mounted on a fine Arabian courser, covered with a tiger-skin; silver bells were suspended from the deep-red stripe work, and on the head of the horse waved a plume of heron feathers. The rider was of majestic mien, and his attire corresponded with the splendor of his horse: a white turban, richly inwrought with gold, adorned his head, his habit and wide pantaloons were of bright red, and a curved sword with a magnificent handle hung by his side. He had arranged the turban far down upon his forehead; this, together with the dark eyes which gleamed forth from under his bushy brows, and the long beard which hung down under his arched nose, gave him a wild, daring expression. When the horseman had advanced fifty paces farther, the foremost line of the Caravan was near, and putting spurs to his steed, in the twinkling of an eye he was at the head of the procession. It was so unusual a thing to see a solitary rider travelling through the desert, that the guard, apprehending an attack, put their lances in rest.
“What mean you?” exclaimed the horseman, as he saw himself received in so hostile a manner. “Do you imagine that a single man would attack your Caravan?”
Ashamed of their precipitation, the guards lowered their lances, and their leader rode forth to the stranger, and asked to know his pleasure.
“Who is the lord of this Caravan?” inquired the cavalier.
“It belongs to no single lord,” answered the interrogated one; “but to several merchants, who march from Mecca to their native country, and whom we escort through the desert; for oftentimes scoundrels of every kind alarm those who travel here.”
“Then lead me to the merchants,” responded the stranger.
“That cannot be now,” rejoined the other, “for we must proceed without delay, and the merchants are at least a quarter of a mile behind; if, however, you would like to ride along with me until we halt to take our siesta, I will execute your desire.”
The stranger said nothing further; he drew forth a long pipe which he had attached to his saddle, and began to smoke with slow puffs, as he rode along by the leader of the van. The latter knew not what to make of the stranger, and ventured not to ask his name in so many words; but when he artfully endeavored to weave up a conversation, the cavalier, to his remarks, “You smoke there a good tobacco,” or, “Your horse has a brave gait,” constantly replied with only a brief “Yes, yes!” At last they arrived at the place where they were to halt for the siesta: the chief sent his people forward to keep a look-out, while he remained with the stranger to receive the Caravan. First, thirty camels passed by, heavily laden, guided by armed drivers. After these, on fine horses, came the five merchants to whom the Caravan belonged. They were, for the most part, men of advanced age, of grave and serious aspect; one, however, seemed much younger, as well as more gay and lively than the rest. A large number of camels and pack-horses closed the procession.
Tents were pitched, and the camels and horses fastened around. In the midst was a large pavilion of blue silk, to which the chief of the escort conducted the stranger. When they reached the entrance, they saw the five merchants seated on gold-embroidered cushions; black slaves were carrying around to them food and drink. “Whom bringest thou hither to us?” exclaimed the young merchant unto the leader: before, however, the latter could reply, the stranger spoke.
“I am called Selim Baruch, and am from Bagdad; I was taken captive by a robber-horde on a ride to Mecca, but three days ago managed to free myself from confinement. The mighty Prophet permitted me to hear, in the far distance, the little bells of your Caravan, and so I came to you. Allow me to ride in your company; you will grant your protection to no unworthy person; and when we reach Bagdad, I will reward your kindness richly, for I am the nephew of the Grand Vizier.”
The oldest of the merchants took up the discourse: “Selim Baruch,” said he, “welcome to our protection! It affords us joy to be of assistance to thee. But first of all, sit down, and eat and drink with us.”
Selim Baruch seated himself among the merchants, and ate and drank with them. After the meal, the slaves removed the table, and brought long pipes and Turkish sherbet. The merchants sat for some time in silence, while they puffed out before them the bluish, smoke-clouds, watching how they formed circle after circle, and at last were dissipated in the ambient air. The young merchant finally broke the silence. “Here sit we for three days,” said he, “on horseback, and at table, without doing any thing to while away the time. I feel this tediousness much, for I am accustomed after dinner to see dancers, or to hear singing and music. Know you nothing, my friends, that will pass away the time for us?”
The four elder merchants smoked away, and seemed to be seriously reflecting, but the stranger spoke: “If it be allowed me, I will make a proposition to you. I think one of us, at this resting-place, could relate something for the amusement of the rest: this, certainly, would serve to pass the time.”
“Selim Baruch, thou hast well spoken,” said Achmet, the oldest of the merchants; “let us accept the proposal.”
“I am rejoiced that it pleases you,” answered Selim; “and, in order that you may see that I desire nothing unreasonable, I will myself begin.” The five merchants, overjoyed, drew nearer together, and placed the stranger in their midst. The slaves replenished their cups, filled the pipes of their masters afresh, and brought glowing coals for a light. Selim cleared his voice with a hearty draught of sherbet, smoothed back the long beard from his mouth, and said, “Listen then to the History of Caliph Stork.”
The Caravan – Arabic Folktales