Madschun





Once upon a time there lived, in a small cottage among some hills, a

woman with her son, and, to her great grief, the young man, though

hardly more than twenty years of age, had not as much hair on his head

as a baby. But, old as he looked, the youth was very idle, and

whatever trade his mother put him to he refused to work, and in a few

days always came home again.



On a fine summer morning he was lying as usual half asleep in the

little garden in front of the cottage when the sultan's daughter came

riding by, followed by a number of gaily dressed ladies. The youth

lazily raised himself on his elbow to look at her, and that one glance

changed his whole nature.



'I will marry her and nobody else,' he thought. And jumping up, he

went to find his mother.



'You must go at once to the sultan, and tell him that I want his

daughter for my wife,' he said.



'WHAT?' shouted the old woman, shrinking back into a corner, for

nothing but sudden madness could explain such an amazing errand.



'Don't you understand? You must go at once to the sultan and tell him

that I want his daughter for my wife,' repeated the youth impatiently.



'But--but, do you know what you are saying?' stammered the mother.

'You will learn no trade, and have only the five gold pieces left you

by your father, and can you really expect that the sultan would give

his daughter to a penniless bald-pate like you?'



'That is my affair; do as I bid you.' And neither day nor night did

her son cease tormenting her, till, in despair, she put on her best

clothes, and wrapped her veil about her, and went over the hill to the

palace.



It was the day that the sultan set apart for hearing the complaints

and petitions of his people, so the woman found no difficulty in

gaining admission to his presence.






'Do not think me mad, O Excellency,' she began, 'though I know I must

seem like it. But I have a son who, since his eyes have rested on the

veiled face of the princess, has not left me in peace day or night

till I consented to come to the palace, and to ask your Excellency for

your daughter's hand. It was in vain I answered that my head might pay

the forfeit of my boldness, he would listen to nothing. Therefore am

I here; do with me even as you will!'



Now the sultan always loved anything out of the common, and this

situation was new indeed. So, instead of ordering the trembling

creature to be flogged or cast into prison, as some other sovereigns

might have done, he merely said: 'Bid your son come hither.'



The old woman stared in astonishment at such a reply. But when the

sultan repeated his words even more gently than before, and did not

look in anywise angered, she took courage, and bowing again she

hastened homeward.



'Well, how have you sped?' asked her son eagerly as she crossed the

threshold.



'You are to go up to the palace without delay, and speak to the sultan

himself,' replied the mother. And when he heard the good news, his

face lightened up so wonderfully that his mother thought what a pity

it was that he had no hair, as then he would be quite handsome.



'Ah, the lightning will not fly more swiftly,' cried he. And in

another instant he was out of her sight.



When the sultan beheld the bald head of his daughter's wooer, he no

longer felt in the mood for joking, and resolved that he must somehow

or other shake himself free of such an unwelcome lover. But as he had

summoned the young man to the palace, he could hardly dismiss him

without a reason, so he hastily said:



'I hear you wish to marry my daughter? Well and good. But the man who

is to be her husband must first collect all the birds in the world,

and bring them into the gardens of the palace; for hitherto no birds

have made their homes in the trees.'



The young man was filled with despair at the sultan's words. How was

he to snare all these birds? and even if he did succeed in catching

them it would take years to carry them to the palace! Still, he was

too proud to let the sultan think that he had given up the princess

without a struggle, so he took a road that led past the palace and

walked on, not noticing whither he went.



In this manner a week slipped by, and at length he found himself

crossing a desert with great rocks scattered here and there. In the

shadow cast by one of these was seated a holy man or dervish, as he

was called, who motioned to the youth to sit beside him.



'Something is troubling you, my son,' said the holy man; 'tell me what

it is, as I may be able to help you.'



'O, my father,' answered the youth, 'I wish to marry the princess of

my country; but the sultan refuses to give her to me unless I can

collect all the birds in the world and bring them into his garden. And

how can I, or any other man, do that?'



'Do not despair,' replied the dervish, 'it is not so difficult as it

sounds. Two days' journey from here, in the path of the setting sun,

there stands a cypress tree, larger than any other cypress that grows

upon the earth. Sit down where the shadow is darkest, close to the

trunk, and keep very still. By-and-by you will hear a mighty rushing

of wings, and all the birds in the world will come and nestle in the

branches. Be careful not to make a sound till everything is quiet

again, and then say "Madschun!" At that the birds will be forced to

remain where they are--not one can move from its perch; and you will

be able to place them all over your head and arms and body, and in

this way you must carry them to the sultan.'



With a glad heart the young man thanked the dervish, and paid such

close heed to his directions that, a few days later, a strange figure

covered with soft feathers walked into the presence of the sultan. The

princess's father was filled with surprise, for never had he seen such

a sight before. Oh! how lovely were those little bodies, and bright

frightened eyes! Soon a gentle stirring was heard, and what a

multitude of wings unfolded themselves: blue wings, yellow wings, red

wings, green wings. And when the young man whispered 'Go,' they first

flew in circles round the sultan's head, and then disappeared through

the open window, to choose homes in the garden.






'I have done your bidding, O Sultan, and now give me the princess,'

said the youth. And the sultan answered hurriedly:



'Yes! oh, yes! you have pleased me well! Only one thing remains to

turn you into a husband that any girl might desire. That head of

yours, you know--it is so very bald! Get it covered with nice thick

curly hair, and then I will give you my daughter. You are so clever

that I am sure this will give you no trouble at all.'



Silently the young man listened to the sultan's words, and silently he

sat in his mother's kitchen for many days to come, till, one morning,

the news reached him that the sultan had betrothed his daughter to the

son of the wizir, and that the wedding was to be celebrated without

delay in the palace. With that he arose in wrath, and made his way

quickly and secretly to a side door, used only by the workmen who kept

the building in repair, and, unseen by anyone, he made his way into

the mosque, and then entered the palace by a gallery which opened

straight into the great hall. Here the bride and bridegroom and two or

three friends were assembled, waiting for the appearance of the sultan

for the contract to be signed.



'Madschun!' whispered the youth from above. And instantly everyone

remained rooted to the ground; and some messengers whom the sultan had

sent to see that all was ready shared the same fate.



At length, angry and impatient, the sultan went down to behold with

his own eyes what had happened, but as nobody could give him any

explanation, he bade one of his attendants to fetch a magician, who

dwelt near one of the city gates, to remove the spell which had been

cast by some evil genius.



'It is your own fault,' said the magician, when he had heard the

sultan's story. 'If you had not broken your promise to the young man,

your daughter would not have had this ill befall her. Now there is

only one remedy, and the bridegroom you have chosen must yield his

place to the bald-headed youth.'



Sore though he was in his heart, the sultan knew that the magician was

wiser than he, and despatched his most trusted servants to seek out

the young man without a moment's delay and bring him to the palace.

The youth, who all this time had been hiding behind a pillar, smiled

to himself when he heard these words, and, hastening home, he said to

his mother: 'If messengers from the sultan should come here and ask

for me, be sure you answer that it is a long while since I went away,

and that you cannot tell where I may be, but that if they will give

you money enough for your journey, as you are very poor, you will do

your best to find me.' Then he hid himself in the loft above, so that

he could listen to all that passed.



The next minute someone knocked loudly at the door, and the old woman

jumped up and opened it.



'Is your bald-headed son here?' asked the man outside. 'If so, let him

come with me, as the sultan wishes to speak with him directly.'



'Alas! sir,' replied the woman, putting a corner of her veil to her

eyes, 'he left me long since, and since that day no news of him has

reached me.'



'Oh! good lady, can you not guess where he may be? The sultan intends

to bestow on him the hand of his daughter, and he is certain to give a

large reward to the man who brings him back.'



'He never told me whither he was going,' answered the crone, shaking

her head. 'But it is a great honour that the sultan does him, and well

worth some trouble. There are places where, perhaps, he may be

found, but they are known to me only, and I am a poor woman and have

no money for the journey.'



'Oh! that will not stand in the way,' cried the man. 'In this purse

are a thousand gold pieces; spend them freely. Tell me where I can

find him and you shall have as many more.'



'Very well,' said she, 'it is a bargain; and now farewell, for I must

make some preparations; but in a few days at furthest you shall hear

from me.'



For nearly a week both the old woman and her son were careful not to

leave the house till it was dark, lest they should be seen by any of

the neighbours, and as they did not even kindle a fire or light a

lantern, everyone supposed that the cottage was deserted. At length

one fine morning, the young man got up early and dressed himself, and

put on his best turban, and after a hasty breakfast took the road to

the palace.



The huge negro before the door evidently expected him, for without a

word he let him pass, and another attendant who was waiting inside

conducted him straight into the presence of the sultan, who welcomed

him gladly.



'Ah, my son! where have you hidden yourself all this time?' said he.

And the bald-headed man answered:



'Oh, Sultan! Fairly I won your daughter, but you broke your word, and

would not give her to me. Then my home grew hateful to me, and I set

out to wander through the world! But now that you have repented of

your ill-faith, I have come to claim the wife who is mine of right.

Therefore bid your wizir prepare the contract.'



So a fresh contract was prepared, and at the wish of the new

bridegroom was signed by the sultan and the wizir in the chamber where

they met. After this was done, the youth begged the sultan to lead him

to the princess, and together they entered the big hall, where

everyone was standing exactly as they were when the young man had

uttered the fatal word.



'Can you remove the spell?' asked the sultan anxiously.



'I think so,' replied the young man (who, to say the truth, was a

little anxious himself), and stepping forward, he cried:



'Let the victims of Madschun be free!'



No sooner were the words uttered than the statues returned to life,

and the bride placed her hand joyfully in that of her new bridegroom.

As for the old one, he vanished completely, and no one ever knew what

became of him.





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