He Wins Who Waits

Once upon a time there reigned a king who had an only daughter. The
girl had been spoiled by everybody from her birth, and, besides being
beautiful, was clever and wilful, and when she grew old enough to be
married she refused to have anything to say to the prince whom her
father favoured, but declared she would choose a husband for herself.
By long experience the king knew that when once she had made up her
mind, there was no use expecting her to change it, so he inquired
meekly what she wished him to do.

‘Summon all the young men in the kingdom to appear before me a month
from to-day,’ answered the princess; ‘and the one to whom I shall give
this golden apple shall be my husband.’

‘But, my dear–‘ began the king, in tones of dismay.

‘The one to whom I shall give this golden apple shall be my husband,’
repeated the princess, in a louder voice than before. And the king
understood the signal, and with a sigh proceeded to do her bidding.

* * * * *

The young men arrived–tall and short, dark and fair, rich and poor.
They stood in rows in the great courtyard in front of the palace, and
the princess, clad in robes of green, with a golden veil flowing
behind her, passed before them all, holding the apple. Once or twice
she stopped and hesitated, but in the end she always passed on, till
she came to a youth near the end of the last row. There was nothing
specially remarkable about him, the bystanders thought; nothing that
was likely to take a girl’s fancy. A hundred others were handsomer,
and all wore finer clothes; but he met the princess’s eyes frankly and
with a smile, and she smiled too, and held out the apple.

‘There is some mistake,’ cried the king, who had anxiously watched her
progress, and hoped that none of the candidates would please her. ‘It
is impossible that she can wish to marry the son of a poor widow, who
has not a farthing in the world! Tell her that I will not hear of it,
and that she must go through the rows again and fix upon someone
else’; and the princess went through the rows a second and a third
time, and on each occasion she gave the apple to the widow’s son.
‘Well, marry him if you will,’ exclaimed the angry king; ‘but at least
you shall not stay here.’ And the princess answered nothing, but threw
up her head, and taking the widow’s son by the hand, they left the

That evening they were married, and after the ceremony went back to
the house of the bridegroom’s mother, which, in the eyes of the
princess, did not look much bigger than a hen-coop.

The old woman was not at all pleased when her son entered bringing his
bride with him.

‘As if we were not poor enough before,’ grumbled she. ‘I dare say this
is some fine lady who can do nothing to earn her living.’ But the
princess stroked her arm, and said softly:

‘Do not be vexed, dear mother; I am a famous spinner, and can sit at
my wheel all day without breaking a thread.’

And she kept her word; but in spite of the efforts of all three, they
became poorer and poorer; and at the end of six months it was agreed
that the husband should go to the neighbouring town to get work. Here
he met a merchant who was about to start on a long journey with a
train of camels laden with goods of all sorts, and needed a man to
help him. The widow’s son begged that he would take him as a servant,
and to this the merchant assented, giving him his whole year’s salary
beforehand. The young man returned home with the news, and next day
bade farewell to his mother and his wife, who were very sad at parting
from him.

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‘Do not forget me while you are absent,’ whispered the princess as she
flung her arms round his neck; ‘and as you pass by the well which lies
near the city gate, stop and greet the old man you will find sitting
there. Kiss his hand, and then ask him what counsel he can give you
for your journey.’

Then the youth set out, and when he reached the well where the old man
was sitting he asked the questions as his wife had bidden him.

‘My son,’ replied the old man, ‘you have done well to come to me, and
in return remember three things: “She whom the heart loves, is ever
the most beautiful.” “Patience is the first step on the road to
happiness.” “He wins who waits.”‘

The young man thanked him and went on his way. Next morning early the
caravan set out, and before sunset it had arrived at the first halting
place, round some wells, where another company of merchants had
already encamped. But no rain had fallen for a long while in that
rocky country, and both men and beasts were parched with thirst. To be
sure, there _was_ another well about half a mile away, where there was
always water; but to get it you had to be lowered deep down, and,
besides, no one who had ever descended that well had been known to
come back.

However, till they could store some water in their bags of goat-skin,
the caravans dared not go further into the desert, and on the night of
the arrival of the widow’s son and his master, the merchants had
decided to offer a large reward to anyone who was brave enough to go
down into the enchanted well and bring some up. Thus it happened that
at sunrise the young man was aroused from his sleep by a herald making
his round of the camp, proclaiming that every merchant present would
give a thousand piastres to the man who would risk his life to bring
water for themselves and their camels.

The youth hesitated for a little while when he heard the proclamation.
The story of the well had spread far and wide, and long ago had
reached his ears. The danger was great, he knew; but then, if he came
back alive, he would be the possessor of eighty thousand piastres. He
turned to the herald who was passing the tent:

‘_I_ will go,’ said he.

‘What madness!’ cried his master, who happened to be standing near.
‘You are too young to throw away your life like that. Run after the
herald and tell him you take back your offer.’ But the young man shook
his head, and the merchant saw that it was useless to try and persuade

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‘Well, it is your own affair,’ he observed at last. ‘If you must go,
you must. Only, if you ever return, I will give you a camel’s load of
goods and my best mule besides.’ And touching his turban in token of
farewell, he entered the tent.

Hardly had he done so than a crowd of men were seen pouring out of the

‘How can we thank you!’ they exclaimed, pressing round the youth. ‘Our
camels as well as ourselves are almost dead of thirst. See! here is
the rope we have brought to let you down.’

‘Come, then,’ answered the youth. And they all set out.

On reaching the well, the rope was knotted securely under his arms, a
big goat-skin bottle was given him, and he was gently lowered to the
bottom of the pit. Here a clear stream was bubbling over the rocks,
and, stooping down, he was about to drink, when a huge Arab appeared
before him, saying in a loud voice:

‘Come with me!’

The young man rose, never doubting that his last hour had come; but as
he could do nothing, he followed the Arab into a brilliantly lighted
hall, on the further side of the little river. There his guide sat
down, and drawing towards him two boys, one black and the other white,
he said to the stranger:

‘I have a question to ask you. If you answer it right, your life shall
be spared. If not, your head will be forfeit, as the head of many
another has been before you. Tell me: which of my two children do I
think the handsomer.’

The question did not seem a hard one, for while the white boy was as
beautiful a child as ever was seen, his brother was ugly even for a
negro. But, just as the youth was going to speak, the old man’s
counsel flashed into the youth’s mind, and he replied hastily: ‘The
one whom we love best is always the handsomest.’

‘You have saved me!’ cried the Arab, rising quickly from his seat, and
pressing the young man in his arms. ‘Ah! if you could only guess what
I have suffered from the stupidity of all the people to whom I have
put that question, and I was condemned by a wicked genius to remain
here until it was answered! But what brought you to this place, and
how can I reward you for what you have done for me?’

‘By helping me to draw enough water for my caravan of eighty merchants
and their camels, who are dying for want of it,’ replied the youth.

‘That is easily done,’ said the Arab. ‘Take these three apples, and
when you have filled your skin, and are ready to be drawn up, lay one
of them on the ground. Half-way to the earth, let fall another, and at
the top, drop the third. If you follow my directions no harm will
happen to you. And take, besides, these three pomegranates, green,
red and white. One day you will find a use for them!’

The young man did as he was told, and stepped out on the rocky waste,
where the merchants were anxiously awaiting him. Oh, how thirsty they
all were! But even after the camels had drunk, the skin seemed as full
as ever.

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Full of gratitude for their deliverance, the merchants pressed the
money into his hands, while his own master bade him choose what goods
he liked, and a mule to carry them.

So the widow’s son was rich at last, and when the merchant had sold
his merchandise, and returned home to his native city, his servant
hired a man by whom he sent the money and the mule back to his wife.

‘I will send the pomegranates also,’ thought he ‘for if I leave them
in my turban they may some day fall out,’ and he drew them out of his
turban. But the fruit had vanished, and in their places were three
precious stones, green, white and red.

For a long time he remained with the merchant, who gradually trusted
him with all his business, and gave him a large share of the money he
made. When his master died, the young man wished to return home, but
the widow begged him to stay and help her; and one day he awoke with a
start, to remember that twenty years had passed since he had gone

‘I want to see my wife,’ he said next morning to his mistress. ‘If at
any time I can be of use to you, send a messenger to me; meanwhile, I
have told Hassan what to do.’ And mounting a camel he set out.

* * * * *

Now, soon after he had taken service with the merchant a little boy
had been born to him, and both the princess and the old woman toiled
hard all day to get the baby food and clothing. When the money and the
pomegranates arrived there was no need for them to work any more, and
the princess saw at once that they were not fruit at all, but precious
stones of great value. The old woman, however, not being accustomed,
like her daughter-in-law, to the sight of jewels, took them only for
common fruit, and wished to give them to the child to eat. She was
very angry when the princess hastily took them from her and hid them
in her dress, while she went to the market and bought the three finest
pomegranates she could find, which she handed the old woman for the
little boy.

Then she bought beautiful new clothes for all of them, and when they
were dressed they looked as fine as could be. Next, she took out one
of the precious stones which her husband had sent her, and placed it
in a small silver box. This she wrapped up in a handkerchief
embroidered in gold, and filled the old woman’s pockets with gold and
silver pieces.

‘Go, dear mother,’ she said, ‘to the palace, and present the jewel to
the king, and if he asks you what he can give you in return, tell him
that you want a paper, with his seal attached, proclaiming that no one
is to meddle with anything you may choose to do. Before you leave the
palace distribute the money amongst the servants.’

The old woman took the box and started for the palace. No one there
had ever seen a ruby of such beauty, and the most famous jeweller in
the town was summoned to declare its value. But all he could say was:

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‘If a boy threw a stone into the air with all his might, and you could
pile up gold as high as the flight of the stone, it would not be
sufficient to pay for this ruby.’

At these words the king’s face fell. Having once seen the ruby he
could not bear to part with it, yet all the money in his treasury
would not be enough to buy it. So for a little while he remained
silent, wondering what offer he could make the old woman, and at last
he said:

‘If I cannot give you its worth in money, is there anything you will
take in exchange?’

‘A paper signed by your hand, and sealed with your seal, proclaiming
that I may do what I will, without let or hindrance,’ answered she
promptly. And the king, delighted to have obtained what he coveted at
so small a cost, gave her the paper without delay. Then the old woman
took her leave and returned home.

The fame of this wonderful ruby soon spread far and wide, and envoys
arrived at the little house to know if there were more stones to sell.
Each king was so anxious to gain possession of the treasure that he
bade his messenger outbid all the rest, and so the princess sold the
two remaining stones for a sum of money so large that if the gold
pieces had been spread out they would have reached from here to the
moon. The first thing she did was to build a palace by the side of the
cottage, and it was raised on pillars of gold, in which were set great
diamonds, which blazed night and day. Of course the news of this
palace was the first thing that reached the king her father, on his
return from the wars, and he hurried to see it. In the doorway stood a
young man of twenty, who was his grandson, though neither of them knew
it, and so pleased was the king with the appearance of the youth, that
he carried him back to his own palace, and made him commander of the
whole army.

Not long after this, the widow’s son returned to his native land.
There, sure enough, was the tiny cottage where he had lived with his
mother, but the gorgeous building beside it was quite new to him. What
had become of his wife and his mother, and who could be dwelling in
that other wonderful place. These were the first thoughts that flashed
through his mind; but not wishing to betray himself by asking
questions of passing strangers, he climbed up into a tree that stood
opposite the palace and watched.

By-and-by a lady came out, and began to gather some of the roses and
jessamine that hung about the porch. The twenty years that had passed
since he had last beheld her vanished in an instant, and he knew her
to be his own wife, looking almost as young and beautiful as on the
day of their parting. He was about to jump down from the tree and
hasten to her side, when she was joined by a young man who placed his
arm affectionately round her neck. At this sight the angry husband
drew his bow, but before he could let fly the arrow, the counsel of
the wise man came back to him: ‘Patience is the first step on the road
to happiness.’ And he laid it down again.

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At this moment the princess turned, and drawing her companion’s head
down to hers, kissed him on each cheek. A second time blind rage
filled the heart of the watcher, and he snatched up his bow from the
branch where it hung, when words, heard long since, seemed to sound in
his ears:

‘He wins who waits.’ And the bow dropped to his side. Then, through
the silent air came the sound of the youth’s voice:

‘Mother, can you tell me nothing about my father? Does he still live,
and will he never return to us?’

‘Alas! my son, how can I answer you?’ replied the lady. ‘Twenty years
have passed since he left us to make his fortune, and, in that time,
only once have I heard aught of him. But what has brought him to your
mind just now?’

‘Because last night I dreamed that he was here,’ said the youth, ‘and
then I remembered what I have so long forgotten, that I _had_ a
father, though even his very history was strange to me. And now, tell
me, I pray you, all you can concerning him.’

And standing under the jessamine, the son learnt his father’s history,
and the man in the tree listened also.

‘Oh,’ exclaimed the youth, when it was ended, while he twisted his
hands in pain, ‘I am general-in-chief, you are the king’s daughter,
and we have the most splendid palace in the whole world, yet my father
lives we know not where, and for all we can guess, may be poor and
miserable. To-morrow I will ask the king to give me soldiers, and I
will seek him over the whole earth till I find him.’

Then the man came down from the tree, and clasped his wife and son in
his arms. All that night they talked, and when the sun rose it still
found them talking. But as soon as it was proper, he went up to the
palace to pay his homage to the king, and to inform him of all that
had happened and who they all really were. The king was overjoyed to
think that his daughter, whom he had long since forgiven and sorely
missed, was living at his gates, and was, besides, the mother of the
youth who was so dear to him. ‘It was written beforehand,’ cried the
monarch. ‘You are my son-in-law before the world, and shall be king
after me.’

And the man bowed his head.

He had waited; and he had won.

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