THE WORLD’S BEAUTY
These tales were originally translated to the English language by A. G. Seklemian and Z. C. Boyajian
A rich merchant of the city of Baghdad had accumulated great wealth and property. He had a wife and a son. One day the merchant fell sick, and felt that he was about to die. On his deathbed he called his son, saying:
“You see, my son, I have accumulated so great wealth that even princes have not as much. I bequeath all to you. Continue my business and enjoy your property, but never go to the city of Tiflis1.”
Then he called his wife, explained to her the mystery of his riches, and gave her the key of his secret chamber, saying:
“If my son spends all my wealth and becomes poor, then you may tell him my secrets.”
The merchant died, and his son, continuing his business, one day took forty camel-loads of merchandise, and set out for the city of Erzerum. In the caravansary, where he deposited his goods in Erzerum, he met two poor men in rags, sighing and beating their breasts.
“What is the matter with you?” asked the young merchant.
“Oh!” exclaimed the two ragamuffins, “It is something that cannot be told.”
The boy had great compassion on them, and said:
“Nay, masters, tell me your grief; I am ready to spend all my wealth for your sake.”
At last they said:
“Would to heaven you had not met us, sir! You will be like ourselves.”
“How?” asked the boy.
“Each of us was a wealthy merchant, such as you are,” said the men; “we went to Tiflis and there heard that the King had a daughter called the World’s Beauty. We wished to see her, and they charged each of us forty pieces of gold to behold her from behind a glass partition. We fell in love with her, and thereafter spent all our wealth to see her over and over again. So we wasted eighty camel-loads of merchandise and to-day we are so poor that no one cares to look at us.”
The boy gave them a handful of gold coins, and on the next day loaded his camels and started for Tiflis. He gave forty gold coins to see the World’s Beauty from behind the glass, and after that spent all his wealth and merchandise for her sake. He came back to Bagdad to his mother, as poor as Job, and told her his ill-luck. She scolded him for his disobedience to his father’s command. But the boy wept and promised that he would not go to Tiflis any more, if she gave him from his father’s secret chamber something by which he could earn his living and preserve his father’s reputation. His mother gave him an empty purse, saying:
“If to-day you put in this purse forty pieces of copper, on the morrow you will see that they have changed to forty pieces of gold. After three years, the gold put into the purse changes into copper. That is to say, once in three years the talisman changes to its contrary.”
“This is good,” thought the boy; “I have now an inexhaustible revenue, which never requires work.”
He soon forgot his promise to his mother, and took the first caravan
to go to Tiflis. He paid forty gold pieces every day to see the World’s Beauty, and his money was not exhausted. The maiden was surprised, and one day invited him to a banquet, with the intention of robbing him.
“Ah! I love you very much,” she said to him, artfully, “I will certainly marry you if you tell me the secret of your wealth.”
How easily may a simple youth be deceived by an artful woman! The boy fell into the trap and showed her the magic purse. The maiden intoxicated him with poisonous wine, and taking away the purse expelled him from her house. He returned to his mother, lamenting his loss. He wept and promised not to go again to Tiflis, if she gave him something else from his father’s secret chamber by which he might earn his living. A mother’s heart is tender; she could not resist his importunities, and at last brought to him from the secret chamber a cap, saying:
“This is a magic cap; when you put it on your head you will see others without being seen by anybody.”
This was something that suited the boy best of all. As soon as he became the owner of the cap he forgot his solemn promises to his mother and directly set out for the city of Tiflis. He entered the maiden’s house and looked at her as much as he pleased, without being molested. The maiden and the inmates of the house detected that there was somebody in the house, but they could not see him, despite their repeated efforts. One day, the maiden thought it might be the youth of Bagdad who was playing this trick, and she called him by his name, saying:
“Disclose yourself, I will certainly marry you.”
The boy took the cap from his head, and appeared to the maiden.
“O, my dear lord,” said the wily maiden, “I have been burning for your love. Ever since you have gone away I have uttered no name but yours, and I am yours still if you tell me your secret.”
The boy was deceived by her artful words and told her the secret of the cap. A banquet was given to the boy, poisonous wine was served to him, and the cap being taken from him he was expelled from the house, with disgrace. He came back to Bagdad, begging his way. He had no heart to go again to his mother. He entreated the intervention of friends and kinsfolk, who persuaded the mother and reconciled her with her prodigal son. He begged his mother for a third secret from his father’s chamber.
“But one secret is left,” she said. “If you lose this one also, we shall become hungry and naked, and become paupers.”
She gave the boy a horn, and told him to blow it. The boy blew it, and lo! the mountains and plains were covered with soldiers.
“Now,” she said, “blow it from the other end.”
He did so, and lo! the army disappeared.
“Mamma,” said the boy, “now let me go, fight with my enemies and
bring back all that I have lost.”
Thus speaking he set out without waiting for an answer. As soon as he arrived at Tiflis, he stood upon the hilltop near the city and blew the horn. In the twinkling of an eye the city was besieged by an army so great that there was no room left for the soldiers to stand on. There was a sudden panic in the city; all the people were terrified. The King sent messengers to the boy, asking him what he wanted.
“War! War!” exclaimed the boy. “Who do you think I am?”
They recognized him and saw that he was the boy of Bagdad. Thereupon the King called his daughter, saying:
“You are the cause of this trouble; go see the boy and quench this fire, before we both perish.”
The maiden sent a messenger to the boy, saying:
“I will come to you, my love, and we will go directly to the church to be married, and then go to our house. But, love, disperse your army that I may come to you.”
Soon after the message the maiden herself appeared. The boy blew the horn from the other end, and the army disappeared. The maiden coming to the boy, apologized for the past and poured out all her store of sweet and fascinating words. She brought also a letter from her father approving of their marriage. The boy told the maiden the secret of the horn, but this time did not give it to her.
“Well, then,” said the maiden, “put the horn in your trunk, lock and seal it, and let us send it home. One cannot go to church with a horn in one’s pocket; it is a sin. After the wedding we will return home, examine the seal of the trunk, and open it. Nobody will steal your horn.”
The boy consented, and putting the horn in the box, sealed it and sent it to the maiden’s house. When they reached the church door, the maiden suddenly exclaimed:
“O me! I forgot to kiss the hand of my father and mother. Let me go and bid them farewell, then I will come and the wedding will take place.”
The boy believed her and let her go. Coming to the house, she ordered her servants to break the trunk. She got out the horn, sent a man to the boy and expelled him with disgrace from the city. The boy was now at a complete loss. He had no more hope in his mother, and no favor in the sight of his countrymen. For a time he wandered here and there and then decided to go to sea.
“Let me go,” he thought, “to the end of the world, to an unknown country, where nobody will know me.”
He was accepted as a servant on board a ship. But soon after they sailed there was a heavy storm on the sea, and the ship was wrecked. The boy was saved on a piece of board, and was cast upon an uninhabited island where he lived eating wild berries. One day he saw two apple-trees growing near one another; the fruit of one was of common size, but the fruit of the other tree was as large as a man’s head, and very tempting to eat.
“What a nice fruit!” thought the boy, and ate one of the large apples. As soon as he tasted it, lo! he became a donkey, with a tail and very long ears. As a four-legged beast, for a time he grazed in the neighborhood; only he was conscious that he was a man and had become a donkey. One day, as he was grazing near the two apple-trees, he ate one of the small apples which had fallen down from the tree, and lo! he became a man as before.
“This is well,” thought the boy, “I can make good use of these wonderful fruits.”
He picked up a good many of the apples of both kinds. One day he saw a ship sailing at a distance. He displayed a signal and the ship sailed to the island. He went on board, taking both kinds of apples with him. The sailors pitied him and brought him back to Tiflis without charge. The boy disguised himself, and taking the shape of a peddler, went to the neighborhood of the house of the King’s daughter, to sell his large apples. The maiden was greatly pleased with the appearance of the fruit, and paying twenty pieces of gold, bought two large apples. She and her forty maids ate slices of the apples, and all of them were suddenly changed into donkeys, and went out into the yard braying. It is said that as a donkey also the World’s Beauty was excellent. The King came with his peers who, seeing what had happened, were greatly surprised and grieved. By this time the boy was again disguised, taking the shape of a doctor, and calling himself Dr. Karabobo. The King’s servants summoned all the doctors of the city, but it was of no avail. At last they said to the King that there was left only a certain Dr. Karabobo, a foreigner.
“Bring him hither,” said the King.
By that time all the followers of secret arts crowded about the King’s palace. Priests, monks, astrologers, star-gazers, magicians, sorcerers, witches, wizards, necromancers, bird conjurers, mice conjurers, snake conjurers, predictors by measuring with the span, predictors by casting beans or blue pebbles, predictors by gazing at cups of water, and all kinds of enchanters, male and female, old and young, were there, practicing their arts, but none could understand the secret, or devise a remedy. They all, however, were unanimous in declaring that it was a punishment sent from heaven to chastise the World’s Beauty for her arbitrary cruelties. Thereupon Dr. Karabobo came in and said to the King:
“I can transform these donkeys once more into human beings, but only on two conditions; first, that you give to me your daughter in marriage, and secondly, that you also give me whatever I desire.”
“I agree to do so,” answered the King.
The agreement was written, signed and sealed by the King and his twelve peers. The boy took the document, and putting it in his pocket, said:
“First of all, I want you to bring hither the eighty camel-loads of merchandise, which your daughter stole from two merchants.”
The King gave orders and they were brought.
“Now bring,” he added, “the forty loads which were taken from the youth of Bagdad; bring his magic purse, cap, and horn, and also the gold coins which were, during the past years, taken from the magic purse at the rate of forty gold pieces a day.”
The King and his lords were surprised that he knew all this, but were obliged to bring what he asked, according to the agreement. The King only begged him not to demand the gold which the purse had held, as there was not enough in the royal treasury to make up so large a sum. But Dr. Karabobo was inflexible; he held the horn in readiness to call the army, if needed. Then he drew the small apples out of his pocket and gave a piece to every donkey, whereupon they were transformed into human beings. After that he told them who he was. He took the maiden and all belonging to him and set out for Bagdad. He blew the horn and an immense army accompanied him. Thus with a princely procession he came to the city of Erzerum, where he found the two ex-merchants and restored to them their property. Then he entered Bagdad with great pomp, and said to his mother, who had gone to meet him:
“Mother, here are all my possessions, and here is the maiden who tortured your son so much. I was obliged to become an ass before I learned how to treat her, and it was necessary for her to become an ass before she ceased to be a deceitful shrew. She is now a human being and promises to become a submissive daughter-in-law.”
The maiden then kissed both hands of the aged woman as a token of her obedience. They celebrated their wedding festival for forty days, after which they went to the church and were married.