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The Story Of Caliph Stork

from The Green Fairy Book





I.

Caliph Chasid, of Bagdad, was resting comfortably on his divan one
fine afternoon. He was smoking a long pipe, and from time to time
he sipped a little coffee which a slave handed to him, and after
each sip he stroked his long beard with an air of enjoyment. In
short, anyone could see that the Caliph was in an excellent
humour. This was, in fact, the best time of day in which to
approach him, for just now he was pretty sure to be both affable
and in good spirits, and for this reason the Grand Vizier Mansor
always chose this hour in which to pay his daily visit.

He arrived as usual this afternoon, but, contrary to his usual
custom, with an anxious face. The Caliph withdrew his pipe for a
moment from his lips and asked, 'Why do you look so anxious, Grand
Vizier?'

The Grand Vizier crossed his arms on his breast and bent low
before his master as he answered:

'Oh, my Lord! whether my countenance be anxious or not I know not,
but down below, in the court of the palace, is a pedlar with such
beautiful things that I cannot help feeling annoyed at having so
little money to spare.'

The Caliph, who had wished for some time past to give his Grand
Vizier a present, ordered his black slave to bring the pedlar
before him at once. The slave soon returned, followed by the
pedlar, a short stout man with a swarthy face, and dressed in very
ragged clothes. He carried a box containing all manner of wares--
strings of pearls, rings, richly mounted pistols, goblets, and
combs. The Caliph and his Vizier inspected everything, and the
Caliph chose some handsome pistols for himself and Mansor, and a
jewelled comb for the Vizier's wife. Just as the pedlar was about
to close his box, the Caliph noticed a small drawer, and asked if
there was anything else in it for sale. The pedlar opened the
drawer and showed them a box containing a black powder, and a
scroll written in strange characters, which neither the Caliph nor
the Mansor could read.

'I got these two articles from a merchant who had picked them up
in the street at Mecca,' said the pedlar. 'I do not know what they
may contain, but as they are of no use to me, you are welcome to
have them for a trifle.'

The Caliph, who liked to have old manuscripts in his library, even
though he could not read them, purchased the scroll and the box,
and dismissed the pedlar. Then, being anxious to know what might
be the contents of the scroll, he asked the Vizier if he did not
know of anyone who might be able to decipher it.

'Most gracious Lord and master,' replied the Vizier, 'near the
great Mosque lives a man called Selim the learned, who knows every
language under the sun. Send for him; it may be that he will be
able to interpret these mysterious characters.'

The learned Selim was summoned immediately.

'Selim,' said the Caliph, 'I hear you are a scholar. Look well at
this scroll and see whether you can read it. If you can, I will
give you a robe of honour; but if you fail, I will order you to
receive twelve strokes on your cheeks, and five-and-twenty on the
soles of your feet, because you have been falsely called Selim the
learned.'

Selim prostrated himself and said, 'Be it according to your will,
oh master!' Then he gazed long at the scroll. Suddenly he
exclaimed: 'May I die, oh, my Lord, if this isn't Latin !'

'Well,' said the Caliph, 'if it is Latin, let us hear what it
means.'

So Selim began to translate: 'Thou who mayest find this, praise
Allah for his mercy. Whoever shall snuff the powder in this box,
and at the same time shall pronounce the word "Mutabor!" can
transform himself into any creature he likes, and will understand
the language of all animals. When he wishes to resume the human
form, he has only to bow three times towards the east, and to
repeat the same word. Be careful, however, when wearing the shape
of some beast or bird, not to laugh, or thou wilt certainly forget
the magic word and remain an animal for ever.'

When Selim the learned had read this, the Caliph was delighted. He
made the wise man swear not to tell the matter to anyone, gave him
a splendid robe, and dismissed him. Then he said to his Vizier,
'That's what I call a good bargain, Mansor. I am longing for the
moment when I can become some animal. To-morrow morning I shall
expect you early; we will go into the country, take some snuff
from my box, and then hear what is being said in air, earth, and
water.'

II.

Next morning Caliph Chasid had barely finished dressing, and
breakfasting, when the Grand Vizier arrived, according to orders,
to accompany him in his expedition. The Caliph stuck the snuff-box
in his girdle, and, having desired his servants to remain at home,
started off with the Grand Vizier only in attendance. First they
walked through the palace gardens, but they looked in vain for
some creature which could tempt them to try their magic power. At
length the Vizier suggested going further on to a pond which lay
beyond the town, and where he had often seen a variety of
creatures, especially storks, whose grave, dignified appearance
and constant chatter had often attracted his attention.

The Caliph consented, and they went straight to the pond. As soon
as they arrived they remarked a stork strutting up and down with a
stately air, hunting for frogs, and now and then muttering
something to itself. At the same time they saw another stork far
above in the sky flying towards the same spot.

'I would wager my beard, most gracious master,' said the Grand
Vizier, 'that these two long legs will have a good chat together.
How would it be if we turned ourselves into storks?'

'Well said,' replied the Caliph; 'but first let us remember
carefully how we are to become men once more. True! Bow three
times towards the east and say "Mutabor!" and I shall be Caliph
and you my Grand Vizier again. But for Heaven's sake don't laugh
or we are lost!'

As the Caliph spoke he saw the second stork circling round his
head and gradually flying towards the earth. Quickly he drew the
box from his girdle, took a good pinch of the snuff, and offered
one to Mansor, who also took one, and both cried together
'Mutabor!'

Instantly their legs shrivelled up and grew thin and red; their
smart yellow slippers turned to clumsy stork's feet, their arms to
wings; their necks began to sprout from between their shoulders
and grew a yard long; their beards disappeared, and their bodies
were covered with feathers.

'You've got a fine long bill, Sir Vizier,' cried the Caliph, after
standing for some time lost in astonishment. 'By the beard of the
Prophet I never saw such a thing in all my life!'

'My very humble thanks,' replied the Grand Vizier, as he bent his
long neck; 'but, if I may venture to say so, your Highness is even
handsomer as a stork than as a Caliph. But come, if it so pleases
you, let us go near our comrades there and find out whether we
really do understand the language of storks.'

Meantime the second stork had reached the ground. It first scraped
its bill with its claw, stroked down its feathers, and then
advanced towards the first stork. The two newly made storks lost
no time in drawing near, and to their amazement overheard the
following conversation:

'Good morning, Dame Longlegs. You are out early this morning!'

'Yes, indeed, dear Chatterbill! I am getting myself a morsel of
breakfast. May I offer you a joint of lizard or a frog's thigh?'

'A thousand thanks, but I have really no appetite this morning. I
am here for a very different purpose. I am to dance to-day before
my father's guests, and I have come to the meadow for a little
quiet practice.'

Thereupon the young stork began to move about with the most
wonderful steps. The Caliph and Mansor looked on in surprise for
some time; but when at last she balanced herself in a picturesque
attitude on one leg, and flapped her wings gracefully up and down,
they could hold out no longer; a prolonged peal burst from each of
their bills, and it was some time before they could recover their
composure. The Caliph was the first to collect himself. 'That was
the best joke,' said he, 'I've ever seen. It's a pity the stupid
creatures were scared away by our laughter, or no doubt they would
have sung next!'

Suddenly, however, the Vizier remembered how strictly they had
been warned not to laugh during their transformation. He at once
communicated his fears to the Caliph, who exclaimed, 'By Mecca and
Medina! it would indeed prove but a poor joke if I had to remain a
stork for the remainder of my days! Do just try and remember the
stupid word, it has slipped my memory.'

'We must bow three times eastwards and say "Mu...mu...mu..."'

They turned to the east and fell to bowing till their bills
touched the ground, but, oh horror--the magic word was quite
forgotten, and however often the Caliph bowed and however
touchingly his Vizier cried 'Mu...mu...' they could not recall it,
and the unhappy Chasid and Mansor remained storks as they were.

III.

The two enchanted birds wandered sadly on through the meadows. In
their misery they could not think what to do next. They could not
rid themselves of their new forms; there was no use in returning
to the town and saying who they were; for who would believe a
stork who announced that he was a Caliph; and even if they did
believe him, would the people of Bagdad consent to let a stork
rule over them?

So they lounged about for several days, supporting themselves on
fruits, which, however, they found some difficulty in eating with
their long bills. They did not much care to eat frogs or lizards.
Their one comfort in their sad plight was the power of flying, and
accordingly they often flew over the roofs of Bagdad to see what
was going on there.

During the first few days they noticed signs of much disturbance
and distress in the streets, but about the fourth day, as they sat
on the roof of the palace, they perceived a splendid procession
passing below them along the street. Drums and trumpets sounded, a
man in a scarlet mantle, embroidered in gold, sat on a splendidly
caparisoned horse surrounded by richly dressed slaves; half Bagdad
crowded after him, and they all shouted, 'Hail, Mirza, the Lord of
Bagdad!'

The two storks on the palace roof looked at each other, and Caliph
Chasid said, 'Can you guess now, Grand Vizier, why I have been
enchanted? This Mirza is the son of my deadly enemy, the mighty
magician Kaschnur, who in an evil moment vowed vengeance on me.
Still I will not despair! Come with me, my faithful friend; we
will go to the grave of the Prophet, and perhaps at that sacred
spot the spell may be loosed.'

They rose from the palace roof, and spread their wings toward
Medina.

But flying was not quite an easy matter, for the two storks had
had but little practice as yet.

'Oh, my Lord!' gasped the Vizier, after a couple of hours, 'I can
get on no longer; you really fly too quick for me. Besides, it is
nearly evening, and we should do well to find some place in which
to spend the night.'

Chasid listened with favour to his servant's suggestion, and
perceiving in the valley beneath them a ruin which seemed to
promise shelter they flew towards it. The building in which they
proposed to pass the night had apparently been formerly a castle.
Some handsome pillars still stood amongst the heaps of ruins, and
several rooms, which yet remained in fair preservation, gave
evidence of former splendour. Chasid and his companion wandered
along the passages seeking a dry spot, when suddenly Mansor stood
still.

'My Lord and master,' he whispered, 'if it were not absurd for a
Grand Vizier, and still more for a stork, to be afraid of ghosts,
I should feel quite nervous, for someone, or something close by
me, has sighed and moaned quite audibly.'

The Caliph stood still and distinctly heard a low weeping sound
which seemed to proceed from a human being rather than from any
animal. Full of curiosity he was about to rush towards the spot
from whence the sounds of woe came, when the Vizier caught him by
the wing with his bill, and implored him not to expose himself to
fresh and unknown dangers. The Caliph, however, under whose
stork's breast a brave heart beat, tore himself away with the loss
of a few feathers, and hurried down a dark passage. He saw a door
which stood ajar, and through which he distinctly heard sighs,
mingled with sobs. He pushed open the door with his bill, but
remained on the threshold, astonished at the sight which met his
eyes. On the floor of the ruined chamber--which was but scantily
lighted by a small barred window--sat a large screech owl. Big
tears rolled from its large round eyes, and in a hoarse voice it
uttered its complaints through its crooked beak. As soon as it saw
the Caliph and his Vizier--who had crept up meanwhile--it gave
vent to a joyful cry. It gently wiped the tears from its eyes with
its spotted brown wings, and to the great amazement of the two
visitors, addressed them in good human Arabic.

'Welcome, ye storks! You are a good sign of my deliverance, for it
was foretold me that a piece of good fortune should befall me
through a stork.'

When the Caliph had recovered from his surprise, he drew up his
feet into a graceful position, bent his long neck, and said: 'Oh,
screech owl! from your words I am led to believe that we see in
you a companion in misfortune. But, alas! your hope that you may
attain your deliverance through us is but a vain one. You will
know our helplessness when you have heard our story.'

The screech owl begged him to relate it, and the Caliph
accordingly told him what we already know.

IV.

When the Caliph had ended, the owl thanked him and said: 'You hear
my story, and own that I am no less unfortunate than yourselves.
My father is the King of the Indies. I, his only daughter, am
named Lusa. That magician Kaschnur, who enchanted you, has been
the cause of my misfortunes too. He came one day to my father and
demanded my hand for his son Mirza. My father--who is rather
hasty--ordered him to be thrown downstairs. The wretch not long
after managed to approach me under another form, and one day, when
I was in the garden, and asked for some refreshment, he brought
me--in the disguise of a slave--a draught which changed me at once
to this horrid shape. Whilst I was fainting with terror he
transported me here, and cried to me with his awful voice: "There
shall you remain, lonely and hideous, despised even by the brutes,
till the end of your days, or till some one of his own free will
asks you to be his wife. Thus do I avenge myself on you and your
proud father."

'Since then many months have passed away. Sad and lonely do I live
like any hermit within these walls, avoided by the world and a
terror even to animals; the beauties of nature are hidden from me,
for I am blind by day, and it is only when the moon sheds her pale
light on this spot that the veil falls from my eyes and I can
see.' The owl paused, and once more wiped her eyes with her wing,
for the recital of her woes had drawn fresh tears from her.

The Caliph fell into deep thought on hearing this story of the
Princess. 'If I am not much mistaken,' said he, 'there is some
mysterious connection between our misfortunes, but how to find the
key to the riddle is the question.'

The owl answered: 'Oh, my Lord! I too feel sure of this, for in my
earliest youth a wise woman foretold that a stork would bring me
some great happiness, and I think I could tell you how we might
save ourselves.' The Caliph was much surprised, and asked her what
she meant.

'The Magician who has made us both miserable,' said she, 'comes
once a month to these ruins. Not far from this room is a large
hall where he is in the habit of feasting with his companions. I
have often watched them. They tell each other all about their evil
deeds, and possibly the magic word which you have forgotten may be
mentioned.'

'Oh, dearest Princess!' exclaimed the Caliph, 'say, when does he
come, and where is the hall?'

The owl paused a moment and then said: 'Do not think me unkind,
but I can only grant your request on one condition.'

'Speak, speak!' cried Chasid; 'command, I will gladly do whatever
you wish!'

'Well,' replied the owl, 'you see I should like to be free too;
but this can only be if one of you will offer me his hand in
marriage.'

The storks seemed rather taken aback by this suggestion, and the
Caliph beckoned to his Vizier to retire and consult with him.

When they were outside the door the Caliph said: 'Grand Vizier,
this is a tiresome business. However, you can take her.'

'Indeed!' said the Vizier; 'so that when I go home my wife may
scratch my eyes out! Besides, I am an old man, and your Highness
is still young and unmarried, and a far more suitable match for a
young and lovely Princess.'

'That's just where it is,' sighed the Caliph, whose wings drooped
in a dejected manner; 'how do you know she is young and lovely? I
call it buying a pig in a poke.'

They argued on for some time, but at length, when the Caliph saw
plainly that his Vizier would rather remain a stork to the end of
his days than marry the owl, he determined to fulfil the condition
himself. The owl was delighted. She owned that they could not have
arrived at a better time, as most probably the magicians would
meet that very night.

She then proceeded to lead the two storks to the chamber. They
passed through a long dark passage till at length a bright ray of
light shone before them through the chinks of a half-ruined wall.
When they reached it the owl advised them to keep very quiet.
Through the gap near which they stood they could with ease survey
the whole of the large hall. It was adorned with splendid carved
pillars; a number of coloured lamps replaced the light of day. In
the middle of the hall stood a round table covered with a variety
of dishes, and about the table was a divan on which eight men were
seated. In one of these bad men the two recognised the pedlar who
had sold the magic powder. The man next him begged him to relate
all his latest doings, and amongst them he told the story of the
Caliph and his Vizier.

'And what kind of word did you give them?' asked another old
sorcerer.

'A very difficult Latin word; it is "Mutabor."'


V.

As soon as the storks heard this they were nearly beside
themselves with joy. They ran at such a pace to the door of the
ruined castle that the owl could scarcely keep up with them. When
they reached it the Caliph turned to the owl, and said with much
feeling: 'Deliverer of my friend and myself, as a proof of my
eternal gratitude, accept me as your husband.' Then he turned
towards the east. Three times the storks bowed their long necks to
the sun, which was just rising over the mountains. 'Mutabor!' they
both cried, and in an instant they were once more transformed. In
the rapture of their newly-given lives master and servant fell
laughing and weeping into each other's arms. Who shall describe
their surprise when they at last turned round and beheld standing
before them a beautiful lady exquisitely dressed!

With a smile she held out her hand to the Caliph, and asked: 'Do
you not recognise your screech owl?'

It was she! The Caliph was so enchanted by her grace and beauty,
that he declared being turned into a stork had been the best piece
of luck which had ever befallen him. The three set out at once for
Bagdad. Fortunately, the Caliph found not only the box with the
magic powder, but also his purse in his girdle; he was, therefore,
able to buy in the nearest village all they required for their
journey, and so at last they reached the gates of Bagdad.

Here the Caliph's arrival created the greatest sensation. He had
been quite given up for dead, and the people were greatly rejoiced
to see their beloved ruler again.

Their rage with the usurper Mirza, however, was great in
proportion. They marched in force to the palace and took the old
magician and his son prisoners. The Caliph sent the magician to
the room where the Princess had lived as an owl, and there had him
hanged. As the son, however, knew nothing of his father's acts,
the Caliph gave him his choice between death and a pinch of the
magic snuff. When he chose the latter, the Grand Vizier handed him
the box. One good pinch, and the magic word transformed him to a
stork. The Caliph ordered him to be confined in an iron cage, and
placed in the palace gardens.

Caliph Chasid lived long and happily with his wife the Princess.
His merriest time was when the Grand Vizier visited him in the
afternoon; and when the Caliph was in particularly high spirits he
would condescend to mimic the Vizier's appearance when he was a
stork. He would strut gravely, and with well-stiffened legs, up
and down the room, chattering, and showing how he had vainly bowed
to the east and cried 'Mu...Mu...' The Caliphess and her children
were always much entertained by this performance; but when the
Caliph went on nodding and bowing, and calling 'Mu...mu...' too
long, the Vizier would threaten laughingly to tell the Chaliphess
the subject of the discussion carried on one night outside the
door of Princess Screech Owl.





Next: The Enchanted Watch

Previous: The Half-chick



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