Story type: Literature
One fine afternoon, Chasid, Caliph of Bagdad, reclined on his divan. Owing to the heat of the day he had fallen asleep, and was now but just awakened, feeling much refreshed by his nap. He puffed at a long-stemmed rosewood pipe, pausing now and then to sip the coffee handed him by an attentive slave, and testifying his approval of the same by stroking his beard. In short, one could see at a glance that the Caliph was in an excellent humor.
Of all others, this was the hour when he might be most easily approached, as he was now quite indulgent and companionable; and therefore it was the custom of his Grand Vizier, Mansor, to visit him every day at this time.
As usual, he came to-day; but, as was unusual with him, his expression was quite serious.
The Caliph, removing the pipe from his mouth for a moment, said–
“Why do you wear so sober a face, Grand Vizier?”
The Vizier crossed his arms on his breast, bowed low before his master, and made answer–
“Sire, whether my face be sober or no, I know not. But beneath the castle walls stands a trader, who has such beautiful wares that I cannot help regretting that I have no spare money.”
The Caliph, who had long wished for an opportunity to do his Vizier a favor, sent his black slave below to bring up the trader. The slave soon returned with the man, who was short and stout, of dark brown complexion, and clothed in rags. He carried a box containing all manner of wares: strings of pearls, rings, and richly-chased pistols, cups and combs. The Caliph and Grand Vizier looked them all over, and finally the Caliph selected a fine pair of pistols for Mansor and himself, as well as a comb for the Vizier’s wife.
Now just as the merchant was about to close his box, the Caliph espied a small drawer therein, and desired to know if it contained still other valuables. By way of reply, the trader opened the drawer, disclosing a little box containing a blackish powder, and a paper covered with singular writing, that neither the Caliph nor Mansor was able to read.
“These two articles,” explained the trader, “came into my possession through a merchant who found them on the street in Mecca. I do not know what they contain, but, for a small consideration, you are welcome to them, as I can make nothing of them.”
The Caliph, who took pleasure in preserving old manuscripts in his library, even though he might not be able to read them, bought both the paper and the box, and dismissed the merchant. Then, curious to know what the manuscript contained, he inquired of the Vizier if he knew of any one who could decipher it.
“Most gracious master and benefactor,” replied the Vizier, “near the great mosque lives a man called Selim the Learned, who understands all languages. Let him be summoned; perhaps he might know these secret characters.”
The learned Selim was soon brought.
“Selim,” began the Caliph, “it is said that you are very learned. Look for a moment at this writing, and see if you can make it out. If you can read it, you shall receive a new holiday cloak from me; if you cannot, you will get instead twelve lashes on the back and twenty-five on the soles of your feet, for being misnamed Selim the Learned.”
Selim made an obeisance, saying, “Thy will be done, O Sire!”
He then examined the writing long and attentively, suddenly exclaiming, “If this be not Latin, Sire, then give me to the hangman!”
“Read what is written there, if it is Latin!” commanded the Caliph.
Selim thereupon began to translate as follows:
” Man, whoever thou art, that findeth this, praise Allah for His goodness. He who takes a pinch of this powder, at the same time saying,
MUTABOR, will be able to transform himself into any animal, and will also understand the language of animals. Whenever he wishes to re-assume the human form, he shall bow three times towards the East and pronounce the same word. But take care that thou dost not laugh while thou art transformed, or the magic word would vanish utterly from thy memory, and thou wouldst remain an animal. “
When Selim the Learned had read this, the Caliph was pleased beyond measure. He made the scholar swear never to mention the secret to any one; presented him with a beautiful cloak, and then dismissed him. Then turning to his Vizier, he said–
“I call that a good investment, Mansor. I am impatient to become an animal. Come to me to-morrow morning early. We will then go together to the fields, take a little pinch of this magical snuff, and then listen to what is said in the air and the water, in the forest and field.”
No sooner had the Caliph Chasid dressed and breakfasted on the following morning, than the Grand Vizier arrived, as he had been commanded to do, to accompany him on his walk. The Caliph put the box containing the magic powder in his sash, and after bidding his attendants remain in the castle, started off, attended only by Mansor.
They first took their way through the extensive gardens of the Caliph, vainly searching for some living thing, in order to make their experiment. The Vizier at last proposed that they go farther on, to a pond, where he had frequently seen many creatures, more especially storks.
The Caliph consented to the proposal of Mansor, and went with him towards the pond. Arriving there, they saw a stork walking up and down, looking for frogs, and occasionally striking out before him with his bill. At the same time far up in the sky they discerned another stork hovering over this spot.
“I will wager my beard, Most Worthy Master,” said the Vizier, “that these two storks will hold a charming conversation together. What say you to our becoming storks?”
“Well thought of!” answered the Caliph. “But first let us carefully examine again the directions for resuming our human form. All right! By bowing three times towards the East and saying ‘ Mutabor,’ I shall be once more Caliph, and you Grand Vizier. But, for heavens sake! recollect! No laughing, or we are lost! “
While the Caliph spoke, he noticed that the stork above their heads was gradually approaching the earth. Quickly drawing the box from his girdle, he put a good pinch to his nose, held out the box to the Vizier, who also took a pinch, and both then cried out: ” Mutabor! “
Their legs at once shrank up and became thin and red; the beautiful yellow slippers of the Caliph and his companion took on the shape of stork’s feet; their arms developed into wings; their necks were stretched until they measured a yard in length; their beards vanished, while white feathers covered their bodies.
“You have a beautiful bill, Mr. Grand Vizier,” cried the Caliph, after a long pause of astonishment. “By the beard of the Prophet! I never saw any thing like it in my life.”
“Thank you most humbly,” replied the Vizier, bowing low; “but, if I dare venture the assertion, Your Highness presents a much handsomer appearance as a stork than as Caliph. But come; if agreeable to you, let us keep watch on our companions over there, and ascertain whether we can really understand Storkish.”
In the meantime the other stork had alighted on the ground, cleaned its feet with its bill, smoothed its feathers nicely, and approached the first stork. The two newly-made storks now made haste to get near them, and, to their surprise, overheard the following conversation:
“Good morning, Mrs. Longlegs! So early in the meadow?”
“Thank you kindly, dear Clapperbill; I was just procuring a little breakfast for myself. How would a portion of lizard suit you, or a leg of a frog?”
“Much obliged; but, I have not the least appetite to-day. I come to the meadow for quite another purpose. I am to dance to-day before my father’s guests, and therefore wish to practice a little in private.”
So saying, the young stork stepped over the field in a series of wonderful evolutions. The Caliph and Mansor looked on in wonder. But when she struck an artistic attitude on one foot, and began to fan herself gracefully with her wings, the two could no longer contain themselves. An irrepressible fit of laughter burst forth from their bills, from which it took them a long time to recover. The Caliph was the first to compose himself.
“That was sport!” exclaimed he, “that money could not buy. It’s too bad that the stupid creatures were frightened away by our laughter, or they would certainly have tried to sing.”
Just here the Vizier remembered that laughing during the transformation was forbidden them. He communicated his anxiety to the Caliph.
“Zounds! By the Cities of the Prophet, that would be a bad joke if I were compelled to remain a stork! Try and think of that stupid word, Mansor! For the life of me, I can’t recall it!”
“We must bow three times towards the East, calling: Mu — Mu — Mu.”
They turned towards the East, and bowed away so zealously that their bills nearly ploughed up the ground. But, O Horror! the magic word had escaped them; and no matter how often the Caliph bowed, or how earnestly his Vizier called out– Mu — Mu, their memory failed them; and the poor Chasid and his Vizier remained storks.
Sadly the enchanted ones wandered through the fields, without the slightest idea of what course they had better pursue in their present plight. They could neither get rid of their feathers, nor could they return to the town with any hope of recognition; for who would believe a stork, were he to proclaim himself Caliph? or, even believing the story, would the citizens of Bagdad be willing to have a stork for their Caliph? So they stole about for several days, supporting themselves very poorly on fruits, which, on account of their long bills, they could eat only with great difficulty. For lizards and frogs they had no appetite, fearing lest such tit-bits might disagree with their stomachs. The only consolation left them in their wretchedness was the power of flight; and they often flew to the roofs of Bagdad, that they might see what occurred there. For the first day or two, they noticed great excitement in the streets, followed by sadness. But about the fourth day after their enchantment, while they were resting on the roof of the Caliph’s palace, they observed down in the street a brilliant procession. Trumpets and fifes sounded. A man in a gold-embroidered scarlet coat sat upon a richly caparisoned steed, surrounded by a gay retinue. Half Bagdad followed him, and all shouted:
“Hail Mizra! Ruler of Bagdad!”
The two storks perched on the palace roof, exchanged a glance, and Caliph Chasid said–
“Do you perceive now the meaning of my enchantment, Grand Vizier? This Mizra is the son of my deadly enemy, who, in an evil hour, swore to revenge himself on me. But still I will not give up all hope. Come with me, thou faithful companion of my misfortune, we will make a pilgrimage to the grave of the Prophet. Perhaps in that sacred place the spell will be removed.”
They rose from the palace roof and flew in the direction of Medina. But so little practice had the two storks had in flying, that it fared hard with them.
“Oh, Sire!” groaned the Grand Vizier, after a few hours’ flight, “with your permission I shall have to stop. You fly much too fast! And it is now evening, and we should do well to look out for a place on which to alight for the night.”
Chasid harkened to the request of his follower, and, perceiving a ruin that promised to afford a shelter, they flew down to it. The place they had selected for the night bore the appearance of having once been a castle. Beautiful columns rose out of the ruins, while several rooms still in a fair state of preservation, testified to the former splendor of the building. Chasid and his companion strolled through the passages, seeking some dry sheltered spot, when suddenly the stork Mansor stopped.
“Sire,” whispered he softly, “I wish it were not so unbecoming in a Grand Vizier, and even more in a stork, to fear ghosts! My courage is fast failing me, for near here there was a distinct sound of sighing and groaning!”
The Caliph also stopped, and very plainly heard a low sobbing that seemed to proceed from a human being, rather than from an animal. Full of curiosity, he was about to approach the place whence the sounds came, when the Vizier caught him by the wing with his bill, and begged him most earnestly not to plunge into new and unknown dangers. All in vain! for the Caliph, who even under a stork’s wing, carried a stout heart, tore himself away with the loss of a few feathers, and hastened into a dark passage. He shortly came to a door, through which he plainly heard sighs intermingled with low groans. He pushed open the door with his bill, but remained standing on the threshold in surprise.
In the ruined room, lighted but dimly by a small lattice window, he saw a large owl sitting on the floor. Large tears fell from its great round eyes, while in passionate tones it poured forth its complaints from its curved beak. But when the owl saw the Caliph and his Vizier, who by this time had stolen up, it raised a loud cry of joy. Daintily brushing the tears from its eyes with the brown spotted wings, it exclaimed in pure human Arabic, to the wonder of the listeners:
“Welcome, storks! You are a good omen, as it was once prophecied that storks would be the bearers of good fortune to me.”
As soon as the Caliph had sufficiently recovered from his astonishment, he made a bow with his long neck, brought his slender feet into a graceful position, and said–
“O owl of the night! from your words I believe I see in you a companion in misfortune. But, alas! Your hope that we can give you relief is doomed to disappointment. You will yourself appreciate our helplessness when you have heard our story.”
The owl requested him to relate it; which the Caliph did, just as we have heard it.
When the Caliph had concluded his story, the owl thanked him, and said:
“Listen also to my tale, and learn that I am not less unfortunate than yourself. My father is king of India. I, his only and unhappy daughter, am named Lusa. That same Sorcerer, Kaschnur, who transformed you, plunged me also into misery. One day he came to my father and demanded me in marriage for his son Mizra. But my father, who is a quick tempered man, had him thrown down-stairs. The wretch found means, by assuming other forms, of approaching me; and one day, as I was taking the air in my garden, he appeared, dressed as a slave, and handed me a drink that changed me into this horrible shape. He brought me here senseless from fright, and shouted in my ears with a terrible voice: ‘Here you shall remain, ugly, despised by every creature, until death; or till some man voluntarily offers to marry you in your present form! Thus do I revenge myself on you and your proud father!’ Since then many months have passed. Lonely and sad, I live as a hermit within these walls, abhorred by the world, despised even by animals, shut out from all enjoyment of the beauties of nature, as I am blind by day, and only at night, when the moon sheds its pale light over these walls, does the veil fall from my eyes.”
The owl finished her story, and once more brushed away with her wing the tears which the recital of her sufferings had caused.
The Caliph was sunk in deep thought over the story of the Princess.
“Unless I am greatly in error,” said he, “there is a hidden connection between our misfortunes; but where shall I find the key to this riddle?”
“O, Sire,” the owl replied, “I suspect that too, for when I was a little child it was foretold me by a soothsayer that a stork would sometime bring me great good fortune. And I think I know a way by which we can accomplish our own rescue.”
In great surprise the Caliph asked her in what way she meant.
“The sorcerer who has done this wrong to us both,” she answered, “comes once a month to these ruins. Not far from here there is a room in which he is accustomed to hold a banquet with many of his fellows. Many times have I heard them there. On these occasions they relate to each other their shameful deeds. Perhaps then he will divulge the magic word you have forgotten.”
“O, dearest Princess,” cried the Caliph, “tell us, when does he come, and where is the banqueting hall?”
The owl remained silent for a moment, and then said:
“Do not take it unkindly; but only on one condition can I inform you.”
“Speak out! speak out!” exclaimed Chasid. “Whatever your condition it will be acceptable to me.”
“Well then, I am also desirous of being set free; but this can only happen by one of you offering me his hand.”
The storks were somewhat disconcerted at this proposal; and the Caliph beckoned his follower to leave the room with him.
“Grand Vizier,” said the Caliph, closing the door behind them, “this is a pretty piece of business! But you, now, might take her.”
“Indeed?” answered he, “and thus give my wife cause to scratch my eyes out, when I get home? Then, too, I am an old man; whereas you are young and unmarried, and therefore in a better position to offer your hand to a beautiful young princess.”
“That’s the very point,” sighed the Caliph, as he sadly allowed his wings to droop to the ground. “It would be buying a cat in the bag; for what assurance have you that she is young and beautiful?”
They discussed the matter for a long time, until at last the Caliph, convinced that the Vizier would rather remain a stork than marry the Princess, concluded to fulfill the condition she had imposed on himself.
The owl was greatly rejoiced, and confessed that they could not have come at a better time, as it was probable that the sorcerers would assemble there that very night. The owl then left the room with the storks to show them to the banquet-room. For a long time they walked through a dark passage, when finally there streamed out bright rays of light through a broken wall. As they came up to the wall the owl cautioned the storks to remain perfectly quiet. The gap in which they stood overlooked a large room, adorned on all sides with marble columns, and tastefully decorated; countless colored lamps made the place light as day. In the centre of the room stood a round table covered with various dainty dishes, and upon the divan that encircled it, sat eight men. In one of these men the storks recognized the trader who had sold them the magic powder. The person who sat next to him called on him to relate his latest deeds. The trader then told the story of the Caliph and his Vizier.
“What kind of a word did you give them?” asked the other sorcerer.
“A very hard Latin word– Mutator.”
When the storks from their place in the wall, heard this, they were almost beside themselves with joy. They ran so fast toward the outlet of the ruins that the owl could hardly keep up with their long legs. Once clear of the building, the Caliph said to the owl with much feeling:
“Savior of my life and the life of my friend! As a lasting reward for what you have done, take me for your husband.”
Then he turned to the East. Three times the storks bowed their long necks to the sun just rising above the mountains, ” Mutabor! ” shouted they, and in a trice they were men again. Then, in the joy of their newly-returned life, master and follower were laughing and weeping by turns in each other’s arms.
But who could describe their astonishment when they turned around and saw a beautiful lady, richly dressed, standing before them? With a smile she gave the Caliph her hand.
“Do you no longer recognize the owl?” she asked.
It really was the Princess. The Caliph was so enraptured by her beauty and grace, that he declared his transformation into a stork had been the best piece of fortune that had ever happened to him.
The three now set out together on their journey to Bagdad. The Caliph found in his clothes not only the box of magic powder, but his purse as well. He therefore bought in the next village whatever was necessary for their journey, and thus they soon reached the gates of Bagdad. There the arrival of the Caliph caused the greatest surprise. He had long since been given up for dead, and the joy of the people at getting back their beloved ruler knew no bounds. All the more was their wrath inflamed against the traitor Mizra. They rushed to the palace, and took the old sorcerer and his son prisoners.
The Caliph sent the old man to the ruins, and had him hanged in the very room that had been occupied by the Princess when an owl. But to the son, who understood nothing of the art of his father, he gave the choice of death or a pinch of the powder. As the prisoner chose the latter, the Grand Vizier offered him the box. A generous pinch, followed by the magic word of the Caliph, and he became a stork. The Caliph secured him in an iron cage, which was placed in the garden.
Long and happily Caliph Chasid lived with his wife, the Princess. His pleasantest hours were always those of the afternoon, when the Grand Vizier visited him. Then they often spoke of their adventures as storks, and whenever the Caliph felt unusually merry, he began to imitate the Grand Vizier as he appeared when a stork. He stalked up and down the room, set up a great clapping, waved his arms as though they were wings, and showed how the Vizier had turned to the East and called, ” Mu — Mu — Mu –.” All this was great sport for the Caliph’s wife and children. But sometimes, when the Caliph clapped too long and cried, ” Mu — Mu — Mu –” too often, the Vizier was wont to silence him with the threat that if he did not stop he would tell the Princess what their conversation had been before the door of her room in the ruin.
As Selim Baruch finished his story, the merchants testified their approval thereof most heartily.
“Of a truth, the afternoon has passed without our knowing it,” said one of them, lifting the curtain of the tent. “The evening wind blows fresh; we could put behind us a good stretch of road.”
As his companions were of the same opinion, the tents were folded, and the caravan started on its way in the same order in which it had entered camp.
They journeyed nearly all night, as the days were hot and sultry, while the night was cool and starlit. They came at last to a convenient camping place, pitched their tents and lay down to rest. But the merchants did not neglect to provide for the stranger as bountifully as if he had been their most honored guest. One gave him a cushion, another blankets, a third gave him slaves; in short, he was as well provided for as though he had been at home.
The heated hours of the day were already upon them when they arose from their slumbers, and they therefore unanimously decided to remain where they were until evening.
When night approached, the movement of the caravan was resumed, and its progress was continued until the following noon without impediment. After they had halted and refreshed themselves, Selim Baruch said to Muley, the youngest of the merchants–
“Although you are the youngest of us all, you are always cheerful, and could certainly give us a merry tale. Serve it up, so that we may refresh ourselves after the heat of the day.”
“I should be glad to relate something that would amuse you,” answered Muley. “Still, modesty in all things is becoming to youth; therefore, my older traveling companions should take precedence. Zaleukos is always so serious and silent, ought he not to tell us what it is that clouds his life? Perhaps we should be able to lighten his sorrow, if such he experiences; for we would willingly treat him as a brother, even though he is not of our religion.”
The person thus addressed was a Greek merchant–a man in middle age, fine looking and of vigorous frame, but very grave. Although he was an unbeliever (that is, not a Musselman), he was much beloved by his fellow-travelers, as his whole conduct had won their esteem and confidence. He had but one hand, and some of his companions supposed that this loss was the cause of his grief.
Zaleukos replied to the confidential inquiries of Muley: “I am much honored by the interest you take in me, but have no grief–at least none that you, with even the best intentions, could dispel. Still, as Muley seems to lay so much stress on my sadness, I will tell you something that will perhaps account for my appearing sadder than other people. As you see, I have lost my left hand. It was not missing at my birth, but I was deprived of it in the darkest hours of my life. Whether my punishment was just–whether, under the circumstances, my features could be other than sad–you may judge for yourselves when you have heard the story of the Amputated Hand.”
(see story 3)