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Story of the Three Calenders.
From Arabian Nights Entertainments by Andrew Lang.
Start of Story
Age Rating 8 Plus.
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 to you."
"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
himself 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
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 her sister.
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
"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
"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