The Story Of The Three Calenders Sons Of Kings And Of Five Ladies Of Bagdad

: The Arabian Nights Entertainments

In the reign of the Caliph Haroun-al-Raschid, there lived at Bagdad a

porter who, in spite of his humble calling, was an intelligent and

sensible man. One morning he was sitting in his usual place with his

basket before him, waiting to be hired, when a tall young lady, covered

with a long muslin veil, came up to him and said, "Pick up your basket

and follow me." The porter, who was greatly pleased by her appearance

d voice, jumped up at once, poised his basket on his head, and

accompanied the lady, saying to himself as he went, "Oh, happy day!

Oh, lucky meeting!"

The lady soon stopped before a closed door, at which she knocked. It

was opened by an old man with a long white beard, to whom the lady held

out money without speaking. The old man, who seemed to understand what

she wanted, vanished into the house, and returned bringing a large jar

of wine, which the porter placed in his basket. Then the lady signed

to him to follow, and they went their way.

The next place she stopped at was a fruit and flower shop, and here she

bought a large quantity of apples, apricots, peaches, and other things,

with lilies, jasmine, and all sorts of sweet-smelling plants. From

this shop she went to a butcher's, a grocer's, and a poulterer's, till

at last the porter exclaimed in despair, "My good lady, if you had only

told me you were going to buy enough provisions to stock a town, I

would have brought a horse, or rather a camel." The lady laughed, and

told him she had not finished yet, but after choosing various kinds of

scents and spices from a druggist's store, she halted before a

magnificent palace, at the door of which she knocked gently. The

porteress who opened it was of such beauty that the eyes of the man

were quite dazzled, and he was the more astonished as he saw clearly

that she was no slave. The lady who had led him hither stood watching

him with amusement, till the porteress exclaimed, "Why don't you come

in, my sister? This poor man is so heavily weighed down that he is

ready to drop."

When they were both inside the door was fastened, and they all three

entered a large court, surrounded by an open-work gallery. At one end

of the court was a platform, and on the platform stood an amber throne

supported by four ebony columns, garnished with pearls and diamonds.

In the middle of the court stood a marble basin filled with water from

the mouth of a golden lion.

The porter looked about him, noticing and admiring everything; but his

attention was specially attracted by a third lady sitting on the

throne, who was even more beautiful than the other two. By the respect

shown to her by the others, he judged that she must be the eldest, and

in this he was right. This lady's name was Zobeida, the porteress was

Sadie, and the housekeeper was Amina. At a word from Zobeida, Sadie

and Amina took the basket from the porter, who was glad enough to be

relieved from its weight; and when it was emptied, paid him handsomely

for its use. But instead of taking up his basket and going away, the

man still lingered, till Zobeida inquired what he was waiting for, and

if he expected more money. "Oh, madam," returned he, "you have already

given me too much, and I fear I may have been guilty of rudeness in not

taking my departure at once. But, if you will pardon my saying so, I

was lost in astonishment at seeing such beautiful ladies by themselves.

A company of women without men is, however, as dull as a company of men

without women." And after telling some stories to prove his point, he

ended by entreating them to let him stay and make a fourth at their


The ladies were rather amused at the man's assurances and after some

discussion it was agreed that he should be allowed to stay, as his

society might prove entertaining. "But listen, friend," said Zobeida,

"if we grant your request, it is only on condition that you behave with

the utmost politeness, and that you keep the secret of our way of

living, which chance has revealed to you." Then they all sat down to

table, which had been covered by Amina with the dishes she had bought.

After the first few mouthfuls Amina poured some wine into a golden cup.

She first drank herself, according to the Arab custom, and then filled

it for her sisters. When it came to the porter's turn he kissed

Amina's hand, and sang a song, which he composed at the moment in

praise of the wine. The three ladies were pleased with the song, and

then sang themselves, so that the repast was a merry one, and lasted

much longer than usual.

At length, seeing that the sun was about to set, Sadia said to the

porter, "Rise and go; it is now time for us to separate."

"Oh, madam," replied he, "how can you desire me to quit you in the

state in which I am? Between the wine I have drunk, and the pleasure

of seeing you, I should never find the way to my house. Let me remain

here till morning, and when I have recovered my senses I will go when

you like."

"Let him stay," said Amina, who had before proved herself his friend.

"It is only just, as he has given us so much amusement."

"If you wish it, my sister," replied Zobeida; "but if he does, I must

make a new condition. Porter," she continued, turning to him, "if you

remain, you must promise to ask no questions about anything you may

see. If you do, you may perhaps hear what you don't like."

This being settled, Amina brought in supper, and lit up the hall with a

number of sweet smelling tapers. They then sat down again at the

table, and began with fresh appetites to eat, drink, sing, and recite

verses. In fact, they were all enjoying themselves mightily when they

heard a knock at the outer door, which Sadie rose to open. She soon

returned saying that three Calenders, all blind in the right eye, and

all with their heads, faces, and eyebrows clean shaved, begged for

admittance, as they were newly arrived in Bagdad, and night had already

fallen. "They seem to have pleasant manners," she added, "but you have

no idea how funny they look. I am sure we should find their company


Zobeida and Amina made some difficulty about admitting the new comers,

and Sadie knew the reason of their hesitation. But she urged the

matter so strongly that Zobeida was at last forced to consent. "Bring

them in, then," said she, "but make them understand that they are not

to make remarks about what does not concern them, and be sure to make

them read the inscription over the door." For on the door was written

in letters of gold, "Whoso meddles in affairs that are no business of

his, will hear truths that will not please him."

The three Calenders bowed low on entering, and thanked the ladies for

their kindness and hospitality. The ladies replied with words of

welcome, and they were all about to seat themselves when the eyes of

the Calenders fell on the porter, whose dress was not so very unlike

their own, though he still wore all the hair that nature had given him.

"This," said one of them, "is apparently one of our Arab brothers, who

has rebelled against our ruler."

The porter, although half asleep from the wine he had drunk, heard the

words, and without moving cried angrily to the Calender, "Sit down and

mind your own business. Did you not read the inscription over the

door? Everybody is not obliged to live in the same way."

"Do not be so angry, my good man," replied the Calender; "we should be

very sorry to displease you;" so the quarrel was smoothed over, and

supper began in good earnest. When the Calenders had satisfied their

hunger, they offered to play to their hostesses, if there were any

instruments in the house. The ladies were delighted at the idea, and

Sadie went to see what she could find, returning in a few moments laden

with two different kinds of flutes and a tambourine. Each Calender

took the one he preferred, and began to play a well-known air, while

the ladies sang the words of the song. These words were the gayest and

liveliest possible, and every now and then the singers had to stop to

indulge the laughter which almost choked them. In the midst of all

their noise, a knock was heard at the door.

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

the company.

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


The Caliph, who was naturally very impatient, suffered far more than

either of the others at feeling that his life was at the mercy of a

justly offended lady, but when he heard her question he began to

breathe more freely, for he was convinced that she had only to learn

his name and rank for all danger to be over. So he whispered hastily

to the vizir, who was next to him, to reveal their secret. But the

vizir, wiser than his master, wished to conceal from the public the

affront they had received, and merely answered, "After all, we have

only got what we deserved."

Meanwhile Zobeida had turned to the three Calenders and inquired if, as

they were all blind, they were brothers.

"No, madam," replied one, "we are no blood relations at all, only

brothers by our mode of life."

"And you," she asked, addressing another, "were you born blind of one


"No, madam," returned he, "I became blind through a most surprising

adventure, such as probably has never happened to anybody. After that

I shaved my head and eyebrows and put on the dress in which you see me


Zobeida put the same question to the other two Calenders, and received

the same answer.

"But," added the third, "it may interest you, madam, to know that we

are not men of low birth, but are all three sons of kings, and of

kings, too, whom the world holds in high esteem."

At these words Zobeida's anger cooled down, and she turned to her

slaves and said, "You can give them a little more liberty, but do not

leave the hall. Those that will tell us their histories and their

reasons for coming here shall be allowed to leave unhurt; those who

refuse--" And she paused, but in a moment the porter, who understood

that he had only to relate his story to set himself free from this

terrible danger, immediately broke in,

"Madam, you know already how I came here, and what I have to say will

soon be told. Your sister found me this morning in the place where I

always stand waiting to be hired. She bade me follow her to various

shops, and when my basket was quite full we returned to this house,

when you had the goodness to permit me to remain, for which I shall be

eternally grateful. That is my story."

He looked anxiously to Zobeida, who nodded her head and said, "You can

go; and take care we never meet again."

"Oh, madam," cried the porter, "let me stay yet a little while. It is

not just that the others should have heard my story and that I should

not hear theirs," and without waiting for permission he seated himself

on the end of the sofa occupied by the ladies, whilst the rest crouched

on the carpet, and the slaves stood against the wall.

Then one of the Calenders, addressing himself to Zobeida as the

principal lady, began his story.