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- The Arabian Nights Entertainments Complete - 220/272 -
The nuptials were all celebrated that day, as the emperor had resolved, but in a different manner. The youngest sister's were solemnized with all the rejoicings usual at the marriages of the emperors of Persia; and those of the other two sisters according to the quality and distinction of their husbands; the one as the sultan's chief baker, and the other as head cook.
The two elder felt strongly the disproportion of their marriages to that of their younger sister. This consideration made them far from being content, though they were arrived at the utmost height of their late wishes, and much beyond their hopes. They gave themselves up to an excess of jealousy, which not only disturbed their joy, but was the cause of great troubles and afflictions to the queen consort their younger sister. They had not an opportunity to communicate their thoughts to each other on the preference the emperor had given her, but were altogether employed in preparing themselves for the celebration of their marriages. Some days afterwards, when they had an opportunity of seeing each other at the public baths, the eldest said to the other, "Well, what say you to our sister's great fortune? Is not she a fine person to be a queen!" "I must own," said the other sister, "I cannot conceive what charms the emperor could discover to be so bewitched by the young gipsy. Was it a reason sufficient for him not to cast his eyes on you, because she was somewhat younger? You were as worthy of his bed; and in justice he ought to have preferred you."
"Sister," said the elder, "I should not have regretted if his majesty had but pitched upon you; but that he should choose that hussy really grieves me. But I will revenge myself; and you, I think, are as much concerned as me; therefore I propose that we should contrive measures, and act in concert in a common cause: communicate to me what you think the likeliest way to mortify her, while I, on my side, will inform you what my desire of revenge shall suggest to me."
After this wicked agreement, the two sisters saw each other frequently, and consulted how they might disturb and interrupt the happiness of the queen. They proposed a great many ways, but in deliberating about the manner of executing them, found so many difficulties, that they durst not attempt them. In the mean time, they often went together to make her visits with a detestable dissimulation, and every time shewed her all the marks of affection they could devise, to persuade her how overjoyed they were to have a sister raised to so high a fortune. The queen, on her part, constantly received them with all the demonstrations of esteem they could expect: from a sister who was not puffed up with her high dignity, and loved them as cordially as before.
Some months after her marriage, the queen found herself to be with child. The emperor expressed great joy, which was communicated to all the court, and spread throughout the empire of Persia. Upon this news the two sisters came to pay their compliments, and proffered their service to deliver her, desiring her, if not provided with a midwife, to accept of them.
The queen said to them most obligingly, "Sisters, I should desire nothing more, if it was absolutely in my power to make the choice. I am however obliged to you for your good-will, but must submit to what the emperor shall order on this occasion. Let your husbands employ their friends to make interest, and get some courtier to ask this favour of his majesty; and if he speaks to me about it, be assured that I shall not only express the pleasure he does me, but thank him for making choice of you."
The two husbands applied themselves to some courtiers their patrons, and begged of them to use their interest to procure their wives the honour they aspired to. Those patrons exerted themselves so much in their behalf, that the emperor promised them to consider of the matter, and was as good as his word; for in conversation with the queen, he told her, that he thought her sisters were the most proper persons to assist her in her labour; but would not name them before he had asked her consent. The queen, sensible of the deference the emperor so obligingly paid her, said to him, "Sir, I was prepared to do as your majesty might please to command. But since you have been so kind as to think of my sisters, I thank you for the regard you have shewn them for my sake; and therefore I shall not dissemble, that I had rather have them than strangers."
The emperor named the queen's two sisters to be her midwives; and from that time they went frequently to the palace, overjoyed at the opportunity they should have of executing the detestable wickedness they had meditated against the queen.
When the queen's time was up she was safely delivered of a young prince, as bright as the day; but neither his innocence nor beauty could move the cruel hearts of the merciless sisters. They wrapped him up carelessly in his cloths, and put him into a basket, which they abandoned to the stream of a small canal, that ran under the queen's apartment, and declared that she was delivered of a little dead dog, which they produced. This disagreeable intelligence was announced to the emperor, who became so angry at the circumstance, that he was likely to have occasioned the queen's death, if his grand vizier had not represented to him, that he could not, without injustice, make her answerable for the caprices of nature.
In the mean time, the basket in which the little prince was exposed was carried by the stream beyond a wall, which bounded the prospect of the queen's apartment, and from thence floated with the current down the gardens. By chance the intendant of the emperor's gardens, one of the principal and most considerable officers of the kingdom, was walking in the garden by the side of this canal, and perceiving a basket floating, called to a gardener, who was not far off, to bring it to shore, that he might see what it contained. The gardener, with a rake which he had in his hand, drew the basket to the side of the canal, took it up, and gave it to him.
The intendant of the gardens was extremely surprised to see in the basket a child, which, though he knew it could be but just born, had very fine features. This officer had been married several years, but though he had always been desirous of having children, Heaven had never blessed him with any. This accident interrupted his walk: he made the gardener follow him with the child; and when he came to his own house, which was situated at the entrance into the gardens of the palace, went into his wife's apartment. "Wife," said he, "as we have no children of our own, God has sent us one. I recommend him to you; provide him a nurse, and take as much care of him as if he were our own son; for, from this moment, I acknowledge him as such." The intendant's wife received the child with great joy, and took particular pleasure in the care of him. The intendant himself would not inquire too narrowly whence the child came. He saw plainly it came not far off the queen's apartment; but it was not his business to examine too closely into what had passed, nor to create disturbances in a place where peace was so necessary.
The following year the queen consort was brought to bed of another prince, on whom the unnatural sisters had no more compassion than on his brother; but exposed him likewise in a basket, and set him adrift in the canal, pretending this time that the sultaness was delivered of a cat. It was happy also for this child that the intendant of the gardens was walking by the canal side, who had it carried to his wife, and charged her to take as much care of it as of the former; which was as agreeable to her inclination as it was to that of the intendant.
The emperor of Persia was more enraged this time against the queen than before, and she had felt the effects of his anger if the grand vizier's remonstrances had not prevailed.
The third time the queen lay in she was delivered of a princess, which innocent babe underwent the same fate as the princes her brothers; for the two sisters being determined not to desist from their detestable schemes, till they had seen the queen their younger sister at least cast off, turned out, and humbled, exposed this infant also on the canal. But the princess, as well as the two princes her brothers, was preserved from death by the compassion and charity of the intendant of the gardens.
To this inhumanity the two sisters added a lie and deceit as before. They produced a piece of wood, and affirmed it to be a false birth of which the queen had been delivered.
Khoosroo Shaw could no longer contain himself, when he was informed of the new extraordinary birth. "What!" said he; "this woman, unworthy of my bed, will fill my palace with monsters, if I let her live any longer! No, it shall not be; she is a monster herself, and I must rid the world of her." He pronounced sentence of death, and ordered the grand vizier to see it executed.
The grand vizier and the courtiers who were present cast themselves at the emperor's feet, to beg of him to revoke the sentence. "Your majesty, I hope, will give me leave," said the grand vizier, "to represent to you, that the laws which condemn persons to death were made to punish crimes; the three extraordinary labours of the queen are not crimes; for in what can she be said to have contributed towards them? Many other women have had, and have the same every day, and are to be pitied, but not punished. Your majesty may abstain from seeing her, but let her live. The affliction in which she will spend the rest of her life, after the loss of your favour, will be a punishment sufficiently distressing."
The emperor of Persia considered with himself, and reflecting that it was unjust to condemn the queen to death for what had happened, said, "Let her live then; I will spare her life; but it shall be on this condition, that she shall desire to die more than once every day. Let a wooden shed be built for her at the gate of the principal mosque, with iron bars to the windows, and let her be put into it, in the coarsest habit; and every Mussulmaun that shall go into the mosque to prayers shall spit in her face. If any one fail, I will have him exposed to the same punishment; and that I maybe punctually obeyed, I charge you, vizier, to appoint persons to see this done."
The emperor pronounced his sentence in such a tone that the grand vizier durst not further remonstrate; and it was executed, to the great satisfaction of the two envious sisters. A shed was built, and the queen, truly worthy of compassion, was put into it, and exposed ignominiously to the contempt of the people; which usage, as she did not deserve it, she bore with a patient resignation that excited the admiration as well as compassion of those who judged of things better than the vulgar.
The two princes and the princess were, in the mean time, nursed and brought up by the intendant of the gardens and his wife with
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