In the old, old time, in the age of fairy tales, there was once the daughter of a Padishah who was as fair as the full moon, as slim as a cypress-tree, with eyes like coals, and hair like the night, and her eyebrows were like bows, and her eyeballs like the darts of archers. In the palace of the Padishah was a garden, and in the midst of the garden a fountain of water, and there the maid sat the livelong day sewing and stitching.
One day she put her ring upon her sewing-table, but scarcely had she laid it down when there came a little dove and took up the ring and flew away with it. Now the little dove was so lovely that the damsel at once fell in love with it. The next day the damsel took off her bracelet, and immediately the dove was there and flew off with that too. Then the damsel was so consumed with love that she neither ate nor drank, and could scarce tarry till the next day for the dove to come forth again. And on the third day she brought her sewing-table, put upon it her lace handkerchief, and placed herself close beside it. She waited for the dove, and waited and waited, and lo! all at once there he was right before her, and he caught up the handkerchief and away he flew. Then the damsel had scarce strength enough to rise up; weeping bitterly she went into the palace, and there she threw herself on the ground in a passion of grief.
Her old waiting-woman came running towards her: "O Sultana!" cried she, "wherefore dost thou weep so sorely? - what ails thee?"
"I am sick, my heart is sick!" replied the daughter of the Sultan, and with that she fell a-weeping and a-wailing worse than ever.
The old waiting-woman feared to tell of this new thing, for the damsel was the only daughter of the Padishah, but when she perceived how pale the damsel was growing, and how she wept and sobbed, the waiting-woman took her courage in both hands, went to the Padishah, and told him of his daughter's woe. Then the Padishah was afraid, and went to see his daughter, and after him came many wise men and many cunning leeches, but not one of them could cure her sickness.
But on the next day the Padishah's Vizier said to him: "The wise men and the leeches cannot help the damsel, the only medicine that can cure her lies hidden elsewhere." Then he advised the Padishah to make a great bath, the water whereof should cure all sick people, but whoever bathed therein was to be made to tell the story of his life. So the Padishah caused the bath to be made, and proclaimed throughout the city that the water of this bath would give back his hair to the bald, and his hearing to the deaf, and his sight to the blind, and the use of his legs to the lame. Then all the people flocked in crowds to have a bath for nothing, and each one of them had to tell the story of his life and his ailment before he returned home again.
Now in that same city dwelt the bald-headed son of a bed-ridden mother, and the fame of the wonderworking bath reached their ears also. "Let us go too," said the son; "perchance the pair of us shall be cured."
"How can I go when I can't stand on my legs?" groaned the old woman. - "Oh, we shall be able to manage that," replied bald-pate, and taking his mother on his shoulders he set out for the bath.
They went on and on and on, through the level plains by the flowing river, till at last the son was tired and put his mother down upon the ground.
At that same instant a cock lighted down beside them with a big pitcher of water on its back, and hastened off with it. Then the young man became very curious to know why and whither this cock was carrying water; so after the bird he went. The cock went on till it came to a great castle, and at the foot of this castle was a little hole through which water was gurgling. Still the youth followed the cock, squeezed himself with the utmost difficulty through the hole, and no sooner had he begun to look about him than he saw before him a palace so magnificent that his eyes and mouth stood wide open with astonishment. No other human being had ever stood in the path that led up to this palace. All over it he went, through all the rooms, from vestibule to attic, admiring their splendour without ceasing, till weariness overcame him. "If only I could find a living being here!" said he to himself, and with that he hid himself in a large armoury, from whence he could easily pounce out upon any one who came.
He had not waited very long when three doves flew on to the window-sill, and after shivering there a little while turned into three damsels, all so beautiful that the young man did not know which to look at first.
"Alas, alas!" cried the three damsels, "we are late, we are late! Our Padishah will be here presently, and nothing is ready! "Then one seized a broom and brushed everything clean, the second spread the table, and the third fetched all manner of meats. Then they all three began to shiver once more, and three doves flew out of the window.
Meanwhile the bald-pate had grown very hungry, and he thought to himself: "Nobody sees me, why should I not take a morsel or two from that table?" So he stretched his hand out from his hiding-place, and was just about to touch the food with it when he got such a blow on the fingers that the place swelled up. He stretched out the other hand, and got a still greater blow on that. The youth was very frightened at this, and he had scarcely drawn back his hand when a white dove flew into the room. It fell a-shivering and immediately turned into a beautiful youth.
And now he went to a cupboard, opened it, and took out a ring, a bracelet, and a lace handkerchief. "Oh, lucky ring that thou art!" cried he, "to be allowed to sit on a beautiful finger; and oh, lucky bracelet, to be allowed to lie on a beautiful arm." Then the beautiful youth fell a-sobbing, and dried his tears one by one on the lace handkerchief. Then he put them into the cupboard again, tasted one or two of the dishes, and laid him down to sleep.