Once upon a time there was a time when there was no one but God.
There was a merchant who had a daughter as beautiful as the rays of the sun. The girl's mother was dead, and the father had no other child but this one daughter. Now it happened that the father became very jealous of his daughter, for he intended to make her the wife of an ugly old man who was his friend, and whom he knew to be very rich. Therefore he allowed no one to see her.
Every day when he went to his shop he locked the door of his house, and every evening he opened it to let himself in. Then he used to say to his daughter: "Come, you must be the wife of this rich man who is my friend."
The girl did everything she could to turn her father from this plan, but he would not listen to her, till at last in despair she said to him: "If you want me to obey you and marry your friend, give me money enough to get the goldsmith to make me a golden lamp-stand as big as a house, so that it can carry forty little lamps at once."
The father gave her as much money as ever she wanted, and she sent for a master-goldsmith and gave it to him and said: "Make me a golden lamp-stand so that outside it looks like a lamp-stand and nothing else, and can carry forty little lamps or forty candles at once, but inside let there be a* little house with rooms where I can live. And you must make a little door for it which I can fasten on the inside, and which when it is shut doesn't show at all from the outside."
The goldsmith went off and made the lamp-stand just as she had ordered it, and when it was ready he brought it home and set it in her house. Then she made her preparations, and took water and food enough for four months and hid them in the lamp-stand. And one day when her father was out she took off her shoes and put them beside the edge of the well, and went and shut herself up inside the lamp-stand, fastening the door from the inside.
Evening came, and the father returned home and saw no sign of his daughter anywhere. Hither and thither he hastened searching for her, till at last he came to the well and saw her shoes on the edge of it, and then he was certain that the girl had thrown herself in and drowned herself.
Then he mourned greatly and said: "Lo, I have brought dust and ashes on my own head, for I persecuted my daughter to marry this man against her will, and now she has been forced to drown herself." Thereupon he wept a little, but he told no one of her death, for he was afraid.
Some days passed after this, and whenever his eye fell on the golden lamp-stand he remembered his daughter and mourned for her, so he determined to get it taken away out of the house that it might cease to reproach him. At last he took it to the goldsmith's shop and asked him to try to sell it.
One day the King's Son happened to pass that way, and the golden lamp-stand caught his eye; he rode to the door of the goldsmith's shop to bargain for it. Finally he bought it and carried it home, and so much delighted was he with it that he had it placed in his own private room.
Now this was what his custom was. Every evening he had supper brought to his room, and after he had eaten it he set the rest aside for his -breakfast. One morning when he got up he saw that some one had eaten his supper, and there was very little left. "What does this mean?" cried he. "Who can have come into my room?"
The next night he went to bed as usual, and when he woke in the morning his supper was again half gone. Three or four days running the same thing happened. One evening he said to himself: "I'll stay awake to-night and see who it is who comes into my room." So he cut his finger and sprinkled salt in the wound, so that the pain would prevent his going to sleep, and lay down and wrapped himself in the bedclothes.
About midnight he saw the door of the lamp-stand open quietly, and a girl stepped out as beautiful as the rays of the sun. She went straight to his supper bowl, ate as much as she wanted, and went again into the lamp-stand and shut the door. Not with one heart, but with a hundred hearts the King's Son fell in love with the beautiful maiden; he waited patiently, however, till next evening.
Then again he wrapped himself up in the bedclothes and pretended to be asleep. When midnight came the door of the lamp-stand opened, and a girl as beautiful as the sun came out and went straight to his supper-bowl, ate as much as she wanted, and vanished again into the lamp-stand. Not with one heart, but with a hundred hearts the King's Son was now in love with the beautiful maiden.
One more day he waited, and when evening came he pretended to be asleep till once more the girl came out and ate some supper. Then just as she was about to disappear, he rose and seized her by the wrist, and said: "In the name of the God who created thee, speak! that I may see whether thou art a human maiden or a jinn or a peri. Who and what art thou?" Then answered the girl: "Nay, I am a human maiden," and she told him her story from the very beginning.
Then the King's Son made a declaration saying: "I have fallen in love with thee." Now it chanced that she also had fallen in love with the King's Son, and they agreed together that they would let no one know, and they would spend every evening together, but that the girl would hide in the lamp-stand all the day.
Each evening, as soon as every one else was asleep, she used to come out and join the King's Son, and they passed the night happily in conversation, love, and pleasure. Then when morning came she would disappear into the lamp-stand.
Now it happened that one night one of the King's slave-women was awake and heard the sound of voices coming from the room of the King's Son. She stole up to the door and peeped in, and saw that the Prince was sitting with a very beautiful maiden, and they were talking together. This news was told by the one slave woman to another, who told it to a third, and so on and so on, till the story became known, and at last it reached the ears of his uncle's daughter, who was the betrothed of the King's Son.
This Princess spoke to one of the slave-women and said: "You must find out somehow where this girl comes from every night." So the woman kept careful watch one night, and saw the maiden come out of the lamp-stand in the evening and go back into it next morning. And she brought this news to the Prince's betrothed.
One day that the King's Son had gone out hunting, the cousin Princess sent a message to the mother of her betrothed saying: "I have guests coming to-day. Pray lend me the golden lamp-stand to adorn my room." Now the Prince had given the strictest orders that no one was ever to lay a finger on his lamp-stand, and at first his mother refused to lend it. But the Princess sent message after message, till at last, by reason of her obstinacy, they were forced to send over the lamp-stand.
Then she lighted forty candles and fastened them on it, and little by little the stand grew hotter and hotter. The unfortunate girl inside bore it as long as she could, but at last her whole body was burnt and blistered, and she could not stand it any more, so she opened the door and rushed out and flung herself into a tank of water which was in one of the rooms, and fainted.
Every one thought she was dead, so they wrapped her up in a piece of felt carpet and gave the body to one of the slaves, and said: "Take this away and throw it into the city moat." So he came and took the unconscious girl, all wrapped up as she was, and carried her off and threw her into the moat.
Now a poor old man happened to pass that way, and he heard a noise coming up out of the moat as of some one groaning. He looked about and went nearer, and saw a girl whose body was all blistered and burnt wrapped up in a felt carpet and flung in there. He was a lonely old man and had no children, so he took the girl home to his house and gave her medicine and food, until God granted that her wounds healed and she became quite well again. So she was now the old man's daughter.
He took the girl home.
Now to go back again to the King's Son. When he came home that night from his hunting, he found the lamp-stand in its place, but the door was open and there was nobody inside. He asked this one and that one: "Who touched my lamp-stand?" but they were all too frightened to tell him anything. Then he grew ill with sorrow and grief, and a fever came on, and for forty days he was sick and in bed and would take no medicine and eat no food.
All the doctors and physicians in the kingdom were brought to his bedside, but none of them was able to cure him. At last one came who said: "The King's Son is in love, and nothing will cure him but the sight of his beloved."
Now the King had a Wazir who was very wise, and he sent for him to come and give counsel. So they sent out a crier, as the Wazir suggested, through all the streets and bazars, saying: "Let all the people of the town, rich and poor, great and small, cook a dish and bring it for the King's Son. Perchance one of them will tempt him and he will eat and get well."
All the people of the town, nobles and great men, king's officers and craftsmen, labourers and beggars, all of them cooked a dish of some sort or other, and at noon brought it for the Prince. Now when the poor old man came home and brought news to his adopted daughter of the King's Proclamation, she said: "Well, go to the bazar and bring me a little barley meal." The poor man went and bought it and brought it home. The girl sifted the flour and made dough, and cut it into very fine strips and made a good ash, and poured it into a glazed earthen bowl, and threw into the bowl a ring which the King's Son had given her as a gift. Then she said to the old man: "Take this now to the Prince."
As the poor old man went along carrying the earthen bowl of ash everybody laughed at him and said: "What sort of a fine dish is this to take to the Prince?" And he began to weep, and implored them saying: "Don't break my heart. I am a poor man and this is the best I have, suffer me also to go to the King's Son."
Now it happened that the Prince would not accept any of all the dainty dishes that were brought, but when he saw the poor old man who had brought the best he had, his heart was touched, and in order not to hurt his feelings he called him up and ate a spoonful of his ash. It tasted very good, and he was hungry after his long fast, and he ate it all to the very end. When the bowl was empty his eye fell upon his own ring, and he nearly fainted with delight.
He sent for the old man and saw him privately and said: "Now, tell me the truth. Who cooked this ash of yours?" Then the old man told him the whole story of how he had found the maiden cast away in the city moat, and the King's Son sent messengers and they brought her in. Then he decorated and illuminated seven cities, and he married the beautiful maiden of the lamp-stand and they became man and wife.
And to the poor old man they gave robes of honour and presents and high offices in plenty.
And now my story has come to an end, but the sparrow never got home.