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There was once a youth named Hassan, who was so poor that he had scarcely rags to cover him, and he was often obliged to go hungry to bed.
One day Hassan went out to the forest beyond the city and set a snare, hoping to catch a bird or some small animal that would serve him for a meal. After setting it, he hid himself in the bushes near by to wait. He had not been there long when he heard a loud flapping, and running out he saw that a large black crow was caught in the snare.
Hassan was greatly disappointed. He had hoped for something more worth eating than a crow. However, even that was better than nothing. He took the bird from the snare, and was about to wring its neck when it spoke to him in a human voice.
“Hassan, Hassan, do not kill me! Spare my life and I will make your fortune for you.”
Hassan was greatly surprised to hear the crow speak, but after a moment he swallowed his surprise and answered it.
“Make my fortune!” cried he. “How can you make my fortune?—you, a crow? No, no, I am hungry, and the best fortune that can happen to me now is to have a full stomach!”
Again he was about to wring the bird’s neck, but it called to him so piteously that he could not but pause.
“Hassan! Hassan! You do not know what you are doing. I am no common crow. Let me go now, and do you return to-morrow to this same spot and you will find something in the snare that will be worth more to you than I can possibly be.”
“Very well,” said Hassan. “I will let you go, but I do this through pity, and not because I believe in the least that you can better my fortunes.”
“That is well,” said the crow. “You will see, however, that I will keep my promise. But before you let me go, pluck three feathers from my wings. If you are ever in trouble, blow one of these feathers into the air and call to me, and I will come and give you aid.”
Hassan did as the crow bade him. He plucked three feathers from its wings, but as he did so he could not keep from laughing.
“You may laugh,” said the crow, “but you will soon find that my promises are not vain. To-morrow return to your snare, and you will find in it something that will be of value to you.”
It then spread its wings and flew away over the tree-tops, flapping heavily.
Hassan returned home, but the next day he came to the forest again. As he approached the spot where the snare was, he gave a cry of joy and wonder. Caught in it was the most beautiful bird he had ever seen or dreamed of. Its feathers were of pure silver, and over them played the most gorgeous colours, like the colours of a rainbow. Its eyes shone like diamonds, and its crest was tipped with jewels of seven different kinds.
“Such a bird as this is not to be eaten,” said Hassan to himself. “It is a gift that is fit for the King. I will take it to the palace and present it to him, and he will be sure to reward me handsomely.” At the same time he could not help marvelling to think how truly the crow had spoken.
The youth hastened back to the city and borrowed a cage from a neighbour. Then he returned to the tree, and put the wonderful bird in the cage, and set out for the palace. He had thrown a piece of cloth over the cage, so as to hide the bird, but the light from it was so bright that it shone through, and set every one to wondering what it could be that the ragged youth was carrying so carefully.
At the palace Hassan found that it was a difficult matter to see the King. At last, however, he was allowed to come before his presence, and at once he uncovered the cage so that the bird could be seen.
The King was filled with wonder at the sight. He had never seen such a bird before. He questioned Hassan and made him repeat again and again the story of how he had caught the bird, and exactly what it was that the crow had said to him.
“There is some magic in this,” said the King. “I will keep the bird, and never before have I received a gift that pleased me so much. I will also prove to you that the crow spoke the truth, for, from now on, your fortune is made.”
The King then caused the youth to be clothed in magnificent garments, and he also gave him for his own a handsome house near to the palace, and slaves to serve him, and gold to spend. Every day he sent for Hassan to come to him, and because the youth was clever and handsome and adroit, he soon became the King’s favourite above all others.
But success is sure to make enemies. The King’s former favourite became very jealous of Hassan, and he began to scheme to destroy the youth, and win back the King’s favour to himself. One day he went to the King and said, “What a pity it is that such a wonderful bird as Hassan has brought you should be kept in a cage! What it should have is an ivory palace, in which you could visit it and sit at ease to watch it.”
“That is true,” answered the King, “but I do not know how I could obtain such a palace. There is not enough ivory in all my kingdom to build such a thing.”
“It is plain enough,” answered Hassan’s enemy, “that Hassan is the favourite of some magic power. Ask him to build the palace, and if he refuses, threaten him with death. Then I am sure that in some way he will be able to provide it for you.”
This the enemy said, not because he at all believed it, but because he wished to destroy Hassan.
After spending a short time in thought, the King agreed to this plan. He sent for Hassan and said to him, “I am, as you know, greatly delighted with the bird that you have given me, but now I wish for still another thing. I wish you to build an ivory palace in which the bird can live, and in which I can go to visit it.”
“Alas, your Majesty, how can I build such a place as that?” cried Hassan. “I have nothing of my own, as you know, but only what you yourself have given me, and in all your kingdom there is not enough ivory to build a whole palace of it.”
“Nevertheless, you must provide it,” answered the King, “and if you do not do so, your life shall answer for it.”
When Hassan heard these words, he was greatly troubled. He went out from the King’s presence and returned home, and there he prepared to die, for he knew not where to find enough ivory to build one room, to say nothing of a whole palace.
Suddenly, in the midst of his despair, he remembered the three feathers that he had plucked from the crow’s wing. He feared they were lost, but after some search he found them laid away in a corner with the rags he had once worn. He took them up, and blowing one of them into the air he called upon the crow to come and help him.
Almost at once he heard outside a heavy flapping of wings, and a large crow flew in through the window and lighted beside him.
“What do you wish?” asked the crow, “and why have you called upon me? Are you in trouble?”
“Trouble enough,” answered Hassan, “and trouble that may end in my losing my life.” He then told the crow what it was that the King had demanded of him, and that he did not see how it would be possible for him to carry it out.
“Do not despair over this,” answered the crow. “It is not such a difficult matter as you seem to think. Ask the King to give you forty cartloads of wine, with bullocks to pull them, and forty slaves to drive the carts, and do you come away with me into the forest, and I may be able to get the ivory for you.”
The youth had little hope of this. Still, he asked the King for the things, as the crow had bade him,—forty cartloads of wine, the bullocks, and the forty slaves, and the King was not slow to give them to him. Then Hassan went away with them into the forest, and the crow flew before to show him in which direction to go. After they had journeyed a long distance, they came to a pool, and all round this pool were marks that showed that it was the drinking-place for a great herd of elephants. There had been a drought, however, and the water had almost dried up.
The crow bade Hassan fill the pool with the wine he had brought with him, and this he did. Then, by the crow’s directions, Hassan hid himself and the carts and bullocks and slaves some little distance away.
Toward evening there was a great noise of trampling and trumpeting in the forest, and a huge herd of elephants came down to the pool to drink. They were very thirsty, for the supply of water had been low for some days. When they found the pool full to the brim, they trumpeted with joy and rushed to it to drink. They drank and drank, and presently they were all overcome with the wine and fell down and lay as though dead.
Then Hassan called to the forty slaves, and they came and cut off all the elephants’ tusks and loaded them upon the carts, and there were forty cartloads.
Hassan and his slaves and carts left the forest before the elephants awoke, and by the next day they were back in the city again.
When the King saw the loads of ivory that Hassan had brought with him, he could not wonder enough.
Hassan’s enemy was filled with rage and envy, but he dissembled. “Did I not know it?” said he to the King. “I tell you there is nothing in the world that Hassan cannot do if only he wishes to.”
The ivory palace was built, and every day the King went there to sit and watch the bird, and Hassan was more of a favourite with him than ever.
But one day Hassan’s enemy thought of a new plot to destroy him. He went to the King and said, “What a pity it is that such a beautiful bird as this should never make a sound. No doubt it could make the most ravishing music if it would but sing.”
“Yes, it is a pity,” answered the King, and at once he became dissatisfied.
“It must be that the bird misses its former owner,” said the enemy. “If Hassan really wished to please you, he would find the former owner and bring him here, so that the bird might sing again.”
“Yes, that is true,” said the King, “and I would greatly like to hear it sing.”
He then sent for Hassan and told him what he wished.
“But, your Majesty,” cried Hassan in despair, “I do not know who was the owner of the bird, nor have I any means for finding out. As you know, I caught it in a snare far away from the city, and where there is no house within sight.”
Nevertheless the King was determined that Hassan must find the former owner of the bird and bring him to the palace. If he did not, his life should answer for it.
Hassan went out from the King’s presence very sad. Then he bethought himself of the crow’s feathers. He took one of the two that still remained, and blew it into the air, and called to the crow to come.
Almost at once the crow appeared and settled on the ground beside him.
“What is it that you wish now?” it asked. “Are you again in trouble?”
“Yes, I am in trouble, and my trouble is very grievous.” Hassan then told the crow what it was that the King demanded of him.
“This is a more difficult matter than the former one,” answered the crow. “Nevertheless, it may be managed. Do you ask the King to give you a vessel fitted out in the most complete and magnificent way. The sails must be of silk and the figurehead of gold. It must be painted and gilded within and without. There must be a dining-hall hung about with velvet curtains, and the dishes must be of solid gold. There must also be a bathroom with a marble bath-tub, and there must be damsels on the ship, dressed in shining colours, and with bracelets and anklets of gold set with precious stones. Do this, and then, when the vessel is ready, I will instruct you further.”
Hassan did as the crow bade him. He went to the King and asked him for a vessel fitted out in exactly the manner the crow had described to him. This the King gave him.
When the vessel was finished, Hassan went on board, taking the crow with him. They sailed away and sailed away, and always the crow told Hassan in which direction to steer. After seven days and seven nights, they came within sight of an island. The island was very pleasant to look upon, for there were flowers and trees loaded with fruit, and shining domes and palaces.
“Look, Hassan,” said the crow. “That is the place whither we are bound. Now listen attentively to what I tell you, for I can guide you no farther; I must leave you, but if you will follow out exactly all my directions, everything will go well with you. That island belongs to the Queen of the Peris. She is a very powerful fairy, and very beautiful. She is very curious as well. When she sees your vessel, she will be anxious to find out about it, whence it comes, and who is the owner. She will send her messengers to inquire about it. But you must answer no questions, and you must let no one but the Queen herself come on board. She will wish to go all over the vessel, and when she sees the bathroom she will admire it so much that she will wish to take a bath there. This you must agree to. Then, while she is bathing, you must sail away with her, for she is the owner of the Wonder Bird, and for her and her alone will it sing.”
Hassan promised to do exactly as the crow bade him in all things, and then it spread its wings and flew away and out of sight. Hassan ordered the captain to sail the vessel up close to the shore of the island, and there they dropped anchor.
Presently he could see that they had been observed from the island. People gathered on the shore, many of them magnificently dressed, and presently several boats put out and were rowed over to the ship’s side. In them were messengers from the Queen.
These messengers questioned Hassan as to whence the vessel came and whose it was. But Hassan would answer none of these questions. Neither would he allow them to come on board to examine the vessel, though they greatly wished it, and it had been, indeed, their Queen’s commands that they should do so.
“If the Queen wishes to know about the vessel, she must come herself,” said Hassan.
The messengers returned to shore very much dissatisfied. But presently another boat put forth from the shore, and in it was the Queen herself. She was rowed over to the ship’s side, and she said to the youth that she would now come on board herself and bring her maidens with her.
She was so beautiful and so magnificent that Hassan scarcely knew how to refuse her. However, he remembered the crow’s words, and was determined to obey them.
“Your majesty, if you will do me the honour to enter my ship, it and all that are in it are yours,” he said; “but as to anyone’s coming on board with you, that I cannot allow, for I was expressly forbidden to permit anyone but yourself to visit the ship.”
The Queen was very much offended by Hassan’s words. Still, she was so very curious that she could not resist coming on board to see whether the ship was really as magnificent within as it seemed from the outside.
The youth showed her all over it, and she was filled with admiration at the beauty and completeness of its furnishing. When she entered the room where the marble bath was, she was particularly delighted, and after examining all the arrangements she signified to Hassan that she would like to bathe in the marble tub.
Hassan at once retired and sent the damsels he had brought with him to attend the Queen.
While she was bathing, the sails were set, and the ship sailed away from the island and back across the sea toward Hassan’s own country.
When the Queen had finished bathing, and had returned to the deck, she was amazed to find the ship under way and the island already lost to view. She commanded Hassan to carry her back at once to her island, but this the youth would in nowise consent to do. He explained to the Queen why it was that he had carried her off—that it was to save his own life. He said that later on, if she wished, she might return to her own country, but first she must see whether the bird belonged to her, and whether it would sing for her. He also told her so many pleasant things about the King, his master, that the Queen became quite curious to see him.
“I make no doubt from what you tell me,” said she, “that the bird is one that I lost some time ago. If it is, I shall be glad to make it sing for your master, but after that I must of course return home, and I shall take the bird with me.”
The youth doubted whether the King would agree to this, but he kept his thoughts to himself, and at last brought the Queen to the city and into the King’s palace.
When the King saw the lady Hassan had brought with him, he was amazed at her beauty. He could think of nothing else. Even the bird was forgotten. He caused her to sit at his right hand and did all he could to entertain her.
The Queen was no less pleased with him, and some time was spent in talking pleasantly together.
“And now, your Majesty,” said the Queen at last, “let us visit the ivory palace where the Wonder Bird is kept, and see whether it is mine, and if it is, I can promise you that it will immediately begin to sing, and that its voice is as beautiful as its plumage.”
The King at once arose, and together they went to the ivory palace. No sooner had the Queen crossed the threshold than the bird burst into song, and its song was so beautiful that all who heard it stood as though enchanted. They could not stir, nor scarcely breathe until the song was ended.
After the first day at the King’s palace, the Queen spoke no more of returning to her own island. She had fallen deeply in love with the King, and he with her.
Before long they were married, and then Hassan became more of a favourite with them than ever. Wealth and honours were heaped upon him, and there was nothing that the King and Queen were not ready to do for him.
The former favourite was more filled with rage and envy than ever. He could scarcely eat or sleep, he was so envious.
Now after the King and Queen had been married for little more than a year the Queen fell ill, and her illness was so grievous that all the doctors in the kingdom could do nothing for her. At last it seemed as though she must surely die.
When this became known, Hassan’s enemy went to the King and said, “Your Majesty, I am but an ignorant man. I know you think nothing of me or my words, but is it not possible that there is some drug in the Queen’s own country that might cure her? And if so, why should not Hassan be sent to fetch it for her? For he and he alone knows where her island lies.”
This the enemy said because he hoped that if Hassan returned to the island the people there would either kill him or make a prisoner of him because he had carried off their Queen.
The King, however, never thought of that. He thought only of what might save the Queen’s life. The advice he received seemed to him very wise. He at once sent for Hassan and told him what he wished him to do—that he was to return to the Queen’s own country, and demand of her court physician some drug that would make her well.
Hassan thoroughly understood how dangerous this errand might prove. He knew, too, why his enemy had suggested it; that it was not through any love of the Queen, but from hatred of him.
However, he said nothing of this to the King. He only agreed to what his master wished and at once made ready to set out. First, however, he took out the third feather that the crow had given him, blew it into the air, and called the crow to come to him.
At once the crow appeared.
“What would you have of me now?” it asked of the youth. “Has some new trouble come upon you?”
“That I do not know,” answered Hassan, “but the King is sending me upon a mission that may, it seems to me, prove very dangerous.”
He then told the crow what it was that the King required of him.
The crow seemed greatly disturbed when it heard of the Queen’s illness. “You must go,” it said, “and go at once. There is indeed a drug in the Queen’s palace that will save her life if you can but fetch it in time. You will suffer no harm from the people in the palace. They will, indeed, give you the drug at once when they learn that the Queen is in need of it. But at the gateway of the palace there are two fierce lions. These would certainly tear you to pieces before ever you could enter, unless you had my help to depend on.”
The crow then bade the youth look carefully at its right wing. “You will find there a single silver feather,” it said. “Pluck it out and carry it with you. When the lions spring at you, you must at once touch them with that feather, and then they will become gentle, and you can pass them by unharmed.”
The crow stooped before Hassan and spread wide its wings, and Hassan saw that the third feather from the tip of the right wing was of pure silver. He plucked it out, and having hidden it in a safe place in his clothing, he started out on his journey. For seven days and seven nights he sailed across the seas in the same direction as he had gone before, and on the morning of the eighth day he came within sight of the island. He landed and made his way toward the palace, and he saw no one on his way. No sooner did he approach the gateway than two fierce lions sprang out and rushed at him as though to tear him to pieces.
Hassan was terrified at their appearance. It seemed as though he must surely lose his life, but he stood firm until they were almost upon him, and then he touched them with the feather. At once they became perfectly gentle, and even fawned at his feet as though he were their master. So Hassan passed by them unharmed and entered the palace.
Those who were there were very much surprised to see a stranger enter. They could not understand how it was he had been able to pass by the lions without being torn to pieces.
The youth explained the matter to them, however, and showed them the silver feather. He also told them the sore need of their Queen, and begged them, if they had any drug that could save her, to bring it to him at once and let him go.
The people of the palace looked at him strangely when he showed them the feather. But when he made known the illness of the Queen they hastened to fetch a drug she always used, and gave it to him.
“This will save her,” they told him, “for she has often used it to bring back life when it was almost gone.”
They then escorted him to the seashore, showing him the greatest honour, and many of them wished to return with him to the King’s country, but this he dared not allow.
It was again seven days and seven nights before Hassan came to the end of the journey, and by that time the King was in despair. He had no longer any hope. However, when he heard that the ship had arrived, he sent his swiftest horses and riders to meet Hassan and bring him to the palace.
The youth was at once taken into the room where the Queen was lying stretched upon a couch, seemingly lifeless. The King, the court physician, and her attendants were with her.
“Have you brought it? The drug?” cried the King.
Hassan drew it forth from his bosom, where he carried it, and placed it in the hands of the Queen’s physician. He did not notice that the crow had followed him into the room.
The physician poured a few drops of the drug into a goblet and held it to the Queen’s lips. No sooner had she swallowed it than a wonderful change came over her. The colour returned to her cheeks and the life to her limbs. She opened her eyes and sat up and looked about her.
At once her eyes fell upon the crow, and it was to it that she addressed her first words.
“Oh, thou careless and disobedient one!” she cried, “into what danger didst thou not throw thy mistress.”
“Alas!” answered the crow, “thou hast indeed been near to death. But all that is over now. There is only happiness before thee. But for me, is my misery never to end?”
“Yes, and that right soon,” cried the Queen. “If I owe my danger to thee, so also do I owe to thee my happiness. Draw near to me.”
All in the room had listened in wonder to this talk between the Queen and the crow. But a still stranger thing was to happen.
As the crow hopped close to the couch, the Queen took a few drops of water from a vial near by and sprinkled it over the bird, at the same time pronouncing some magic words.
At once, instead of the crow, a tall and graceful maiden stood there before the Queen, a maiden of such great beauty that she was even the equal of the Queen herself.
The King and Hassan were filled with wonder at this sight.
The Queen then turned to the King with a gentle smile.
“This maiden,” said she, “was my favourite of all the Peris that once attended me. But she grew proud and haughty because of my favour, and at last presumed to disobey even me. To punish her, I changed her into a crow and sent her to fly about the world, despised by all. But I will now forgive her because she brought me to you, and will take her back into favour if she can assure me of her repentance.”
The Peri sank on her knees before the Queen and kissed her hand, weeping. She assured her mistress that her pride was indeed broken, and that from now on she would be her faithful and obedient servant.
The Queen then raised her from her knees and made her sit beside her, and all was joy and happiness.
As for Hassan, he found the maiden so beautiful that he could not keep his eyes from her. Already he loved her with his whole heart, and longed for nothing so much as to have her for a wife. The Peri returned his love, and with the consent of the King and Queen they were married, and from that time on they lived in the greatest joy and contentment.
As for the former favourite, he was so miserable over the sight of Hassan’s happiness that at length he could bear it no longer. He sold his house and goods and sailed away, no one knew whither, and if anyone regretted him, it was not Hassan.
LET’S DISCUSS THE STORIES ~ IDEAS FOR TALKING WITH KIDS
1. Hassan lets the crow go because he says he “pities” her, not because he believes she will make his fortune. Why do you think Hassan pities the crow? How do you think pity makes a person’s heart feel?
1. The Queen changed her favourite, the Peri, into a crow, because she had become “proud and haughty”. Why do you think it might not be a good thing to be too proud? How do you think being proud and haughty might make others feel?
SHORT STORY FOR CHILDREN BY KATHARINE PYLE
Header Illustration by Open-Clipart Vectors (Pixabay)
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