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
"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
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.