He Wins Who Waits

: The Olive Fairy Book

Once upon a time there reigned a king who had an only daughter. The

girl had been spoiled by everybody from her birth, and, besides being

beautiful, was clever and wilful, and when she grew old enough to be

married she refused to have anything to say to the prince whom her

father favoured, but declared she would choose a husband for herself.

By long experience the king knew that when once she had made up her

mind, ther
was no use expecting her to change it, so he inquired

meekly what she wished him to do.

'Summon all the young men in the kingdom to appear before me a month

from to-day,' answered the princess; 'and the one to whom I shall give

this golden apple shall be my husband.'

'But, my dear--' began the king, in tones of dismay.

'The one to whom I shall give this golden apple shall be my husband,'

repeated the princess, in a louder voice than before. And the king

understood the signal, and with a sigh proceeded to do her bidding.

* * * * *

The young men arrived--tall and short, dark and fair, rich and poor.

They stood in rows in the great courtyard in front of the palace, and

the princess, clad in robes of green, with a golden veil flowing

behind her, passed before them all, holding the apple. Once or twice

she stopped and hesitated, but in the end she always passed on, till

she came to a youth near the end of the last row. There was nothing

specially remarkable about him, the bystanders thought; nothing that

was likely to take a girl's fancy. A hundred others were handsomer,

and all wore finer clothes; but he met the princess's eyes frankly and

with a smile, and she smiled too, and held out the apple.

'There is some mistake,' cried the king, who had anxiously watched her

progress, and hoped that none of the candidates would please her. 'It

is impossible that she can wish to marry the son of a poor widow, who

has not a farthing in the world! Tell her that I will not hear of it,

and that she must go through the rows again and fix upon someone

else'; and the princess went through the rows a second and a third

time, and on each occasion she gave the apple to the widow's son.

'Well, marry him if you will,' exclaimed the angry king; 'but at least

you shall not stay here.' And the princess answered nothing, but threw

up her head, and taking the widow's son by the hand, they left the


That evening they were married, and after the ceremony went back to

the house of the bridegroom's mother, which, in the eyes of the

princess, did not look much bigger than a hen-coop.

The old woman was not at all pleased when her son entered bringing his

bride with him.

'As if we were not poor enough before,' grumbled she. 'I dare say this

is some fine lady who can do nothing to earn her living.' But the

princess stroked her arm, and said softly:

'Do not be vexed, dear mother; I am a famous spinner, and can sit at

my wheel all day without breaking a thread.'

And she kept her word; but in spite of the efforts of all three, they

became poorer and poorer; and at the end of six months it was agreed

that the husband should go to the neighbouring town to get work. Here

he met a merchant who was about to start on a long journey with a

train of camels laden with goods of all sorts, and needed a man to

help him. The widow's son begged that he would take him as a servant,

and to this the merchant assented, giving him his whole year's salary

beforehand. The young man returned home with the news, and next day

bade farewell to his mother and his wife, who were very sad at parting

from him.

'Do not forget me while you are absent,' whispered the princess as she

flung her arms round his neck; 'and as you pass by the well which lies

near the city gate, stop and greet the old man you will find sitting

there. Kiss his hand, and then ask him what counsel he can give you

for your journey.'

Then the youth set out, and when he reached the well where the old man

was sitting he asked the questions as his wife had bidden him.

'My son,' replied the old man, 'you have done well to come to me, and

in return remember three things: "She whom the heart loves, is ever

the most beautiful." "Patience is the first step on the road to

happiness." "He wins who waits."'

The young man thanked him and went on his way. Next morning early the

caravan set out, and before sunset it had arrived at the first halting

place, round some wells, where another company of merchants had

already encamped. But no rain had fallen for a long while in that

rocky country, and both men and beasts were parched with thirst. To be

sure, there was another well about half a mile away, where there was

always water; but to get it you had to be lowered deep down, and,

besides, no one who had ever descended that well had been known to

come back.

However, till they could store some water in their bags of goat-skin,

the caravans dared not go further into the desert, and on the night of

the arrival of the widow's son and his master, the merchants had

decided to offer a large reward to anyone who was brave enough to go

down into the enchanted well and bring some up. Thus it happened that

at sunrise the young man was aroused from his sleep by a herald making

his round of the camp, proclaiming that every merchant present would

give a thousand piastres to the man who would risk his life to bring

water for themselves and their camels.

The youth hesitated for a little while when he heard the proclamation.

The story of the well had spread far and wide, and long ago had

reached his ears. The danger was great, he knew; but then, if he came

back alive, he would be the possessor of eighty thousand piastres. He

turned to the herald who was passing the tent:

'I will go,' said he.

'What madness!' cried his master, who happened to be standing near.

'You are too young to throw away your life like that. Run after the

herald and tell him you take back your offer.' But the young man shook

his head, and the merchant saw that it was useless to try and persuade


'Well, it is your own affair,' he observed at last. 'If you must go,

you must. Only, if you ever return, I will give you a camel's load of

goods and my best mule besides.' And touching his turban in token of

farewell, he entered the tent.

Hardly had he done so than a crowd of men were seen pouring out of the


'How can we thank you!' they exclaimed, pressing round the youth. 'Our

camels as well as ourselves are almost dead of thirst. See! here is

the rope we have brought to let you down.'

'Come, then,' answered the youth. And they all set out.

On reaching the well, the rope was knotted securely under his arms, a

big goat-skin bottle was given him, and he was gently lowered to the

bottom of the pit. Here a clear stream was bubbling over the rocks,

and, stooping down, he was about to drink, when a huge Arab appeared

before him, saying in a loud voice:

'Come with me!'

The young man rose, never doubting that his last hour had come; but as

he could do nothing, he followed the Arab into a brilliantly lighted

hall, on the further side of the little river. There his guide sat

down, and drawing towards him two boys, one black and the other white,

he said to the stranger:

'I have a question to ask you. If you answer it right, your life shall

be spared. If not, your head will be forfeit, as the head of many

another has been before you. Tell me: which of my two children do I

think the handsomer.'

The question did not seem a hard one, for while the white boy was as

beautiful a child as ever was seen, his brother was ugly even for a

negro. But, just as the youth was going to speak, the old man's

counsel flashed into the youth's mind, and he replied hastily: 'The

one whom we love best is always the handsomest.'

'You have saved me!' cried the Arab, rising quickly from his seat, and

pressing the young man in his arms. 'Ah! if you could only guess what

I have suffered from the stupidity of all the people to whom I have

put that question, and I was condemned by a wicked genius to remain

here until it was answered! But what brought you to this place, and

how can I reward you for what you have done for me?'

'By helping me to draw enough water for my caravan of eighty merchants

and their camels, who are dying for want of it,' replied the youth.

'That is easily done,' said the Arab. 'Take these three apples, and

when you have filled your skin, and are ready to be drawn up, lay one

of them on the ground. Half-way to the earth, let fall another, and at

the top, drop the third. If you follow my directions no harm will

happen to you. And take, besides, these three pomegranates, green,

red and white. One day you will find a use for them!'

The young man did as he was told, and stepped out on the rocky waste,

where the merchants were anxiously awaiting him. Oh, how thirsty they

all were! But even after the camels had drunk, the skin seemed as full

as ever.

Full of gratitude for their deliverance, the merchants pressed the

money into his hands, while his own master bade him choose what goods

he liked, and a mule to carry them.

So the widow's son was rich at last, and when the merchant had sold

his merchandise, and returned home to his native city, his servant

hired a man by whom he sent the money and the mule back to his wife.

'I will send the pomegranates also,' thought he 'for if I leave them

in my turban they may some day fall out,' and he drew them out of his

turban. But the fruit had vanished, and in their places were three

precious stones, green, white and red.

For a long time he remained with the merchant, who gradually trusted

him with all his business, and gave him a large share of the money he

made. When his master died, the young man wished to return home, but

the widow begged him to stay and help her; and one day he awoke with a

start, to remember that twenty years had passed since he had gone


'I want to see my wife,' he said next morning to his mistress. 'If at

any time I can be of use to you, send a messenger to me; meanwhile, I

have told Hassan what to do.' And mounting a camel he set out.

* * * * *

Now, soon after he had taken service with the merchant a little boy

had been born to him, and both the princess and the old woman toiled

hard all day to get the baby food and clothing. When the money and the

pomegranates arrived there was no need for them to work any more, and

the princess saw at once that they were not fruit at all, but precious

stones of great value. The old woman, however, not being accustomed,

like her daughter-in-law, to the sight of jewels, took them only for

common fruit, and wished to give them to the child to eat. She was

very angry when the princess hastily took them from her and hid them

in her dress, while she went to the market and bought the three finest

pomegranates she could find, which she handed the old woman for the

little boy.

Then she bought beautiful new clothes for all of them, and when they

were dressed they looked as fine as could be. Next, she took out one

of the precious stones which her husband had sent her, and placed it

in a small silver box. This she wrapped up in a handkerchief

embroidered in gold, and filled the old woman's pockets with gold and

silver pieces.

'Go, dear mother,' she said, 'to the palace, and present the jewel to

the king, and if he asks you what he can give you in return, tell him

that you want a paper, with his seal attached, proclaiming that no one

is to meddle with anything you may choose to do. Before you leave the

palace distribute the money amongst the servants.'

The old woman took the box and started for the palace. No one there

had ever seen a ruby of such beauty, and the most famous jeweller in

the town was summoned to declare its value. But all he could say was:

'If a boy threw a stone into the air with all his might, and you could

pile up gold as high as the flight of the stone, it would not be

sufficient to pay for this ruby.'

At these words the king's face fell. Having once seen the ruby he

could not bear to part with it, yet all the money in his treasury

would not be enough to buy it. So for a little while he remained

silent, wondering what offer he could make the old woman, and at last

he said:

'If I cannot give you its worth in money, is there anything you will

take in exchange?'

'A paper signed by your hand, and sealed with your seal, proclaiming

that I may do what I will, without let or hindrance,' answered she

promptly. And the king, delighted to have obtained what he coveted at

so small a cost, gave her the paper without delay. Then the old woman

took her leave and returned home.

The fame of this wonderful ruby soon spread far and wide, and envoys

arrived at the little house to know if there were more stones to sell.

Each king was so anxious to gain possession of the treasure that he

bade his messenger outbid all the rest, and so the princess sold the

two remaining stones for a sum of money so large that if the gold

pieces had been spread out they would have reached from here to the

moon. The first thing she did was to build a palace by the side of the

cottage, and it was raised on pillars of gold, in which were set great

diamonds, which blazed night and day. Of course the news of this

palace was the first thing that reached the king her father, on his

return from the wars, and he hurried to see it. In the doorway stood a

young man of twenty, who was his grandson, though neither of them knew

it, and so pleased was the king with the appearance of the youth, that

he carried him back to his own palace, and made him commander of the

whole army.

Not long after this, the widow's son returned to his native land.

There, sure enough, was the tiny cottage where he had lived with his

mother, but the gorgeous building beside it was quite new to him. What

had become of his wife and his mother, and who could be dwelling in

that other wonderful place. These were the first thoughts that flashed

through his mind; but not wishing to betray himself by asking

questions of passing strangers, he climbed up into a tree that stood

opposite the palace and watched.

By-and-by a lady came out, and began to gather some of the roses and

jessamine that hung about the porch. The twenty years that had passed

since he had last beheld her vanished in an instant, and he knew her

to be his own wife, looking almost as young and beautiful as on the

day of their parting. He was about to jump down from the tree and

hasten to her side, when she was joined by a young man who placed his

arm affectionately round her neck. At this sight the angry husband

drew his bow, but before he could let fly the arrow, the counsel of

the wise man came back to him: 'Patience is the first step on the road

to happiness.' And he laid it down again.

At this moment the princess turned, and drawing her companion's head

down to hers, kissed him on each cheek. A second time blind rage

filled the heart of the watcher, and he snatched up his bow from the

branch where it hung, when words, heard long since, seemed to sound in

his ears:

'He wins who waits.' And the bow dropped to his side. Then, through

the silent air came the sound of the youth's voice:

'Mother, can you tell me nothing about my father? Does he still live,

and will he never return to us?'

'Alas! my son, how can I answer you?' replied the lady. 'Twenty years

have passed since he left us to make his fortune, and, in that time,

only once have I heard aught of him. But what has brought him to your

mind just now?'

'Because last night I dreamed that he was here,' said the youth, 'and

then I remembered what I have so long forgotten, that I had a

father, though even his very history was strange to me. And now, tell

me, I pray you, all you can concerning him.'

And standing under the jessamine, the son learnt his father's history,

and the man in the tree listened also.

'Oh,' exclaimed the youth, when it was ended, while he twisted his

hands in pain, 'I am general-in-chief, you are the king's daughter,

and we have the most splendid palace in the whole world, yet my father

lives we know not where, and for all we can guess, may be poor and

miserable. To-morrow I will ask the king to give me soldiers, and I

will seek him over the whole earth till I find him.'

Then the man came down from the tree, and clasped his wife and son in

his arms. All that night they talked, and when the sun rose it still

found them talking. But as soon as it was proper, he went up to the

palace to pay his homage to the king, and to inform him of all that

had happened and who they all really were. The king was overjoyed to

think that his daughter, whom he had long since forgiven and sorely

missed, was living at his gates, and was, besides, the mother of the

youth who was so dear to him. 'It was written beforehand,' cried the

monarch. 'You are my son-in-law before the world, and shall be king

after me.'

And the man bowed his head.

He had waited; and he had won.

(From Contes Armeniens. Par Frederic Macler.)