Once upon a time in the old old days when straws were sieves, and the camel a chapman, and the mouse a barber, and the cuckoo a tailor, and the donkey ran errands, and the tortoise baked bread, and I was only fifteen years old, but my father rocked my cradle, and there was a miller in the land who had a black cat - in those olden times, I say, there was a King who had three daughters, and the first daughter was forty, and the second was thirty, and the third was twenty. One day the youngest daughter wrote this letter to her father: "My lord father! my eldest sister is forty and my second sister is thirty, and still thou hast given neither of them a husband. I have no desire to grow grey in waiting for a husband."
The King read the letter, sent for his three daughters, and addressed them in these words: "Look now! let each one of you shoot an arrow from a bow and seek her sweetheart wherever her arrow falls!" So the three damsels took their bows. The eldest damsel's arrow fell into the palace of the Vizier's son, so the Vizier's son took her to wife. The second girl's arrow flew into the palace of the Chief Mufti's son, so they gave her to him. The third damsel also fired her arrow, and lo! it stuck in the hut of a poor young labourer. "That won't do, that won't do!" cried they all. So she fired again, and again the arrow stuck in the hut. She aimed a third time, and a third time the arrow stuck in the hut of the poor young labourer. Then the King was wroth and cried to the damsel: "Look now, thou slut! thou hast got thy deserts. Thy sisters waited patiently, and therefore they have got their hearts' desires. Thou wast the youngest of all, yet didst thou write me that saucy letter, hence thy punishment. Out of my sight, thou slave-girl, to this husband of thine, and thou shalt have nought but what he can give thee! "So the poor damsel departed to the hut of the labourer, and they gave her to him to wife.
They lived together for a time, and on the tenth day of the ninth month the time came that she should bear a child, and her husband, the labourer, hastened away for the midwife. While the husband was thus away his wife had neither a bed to lie down upon nor a fire to warm herself by, though grinding winter was upon them. All at once the walls of the poor hut opened hither and thither, and three beautiful damsels of the Peri race stepped into it. One stood at the damsel's head, another at her feet, the third by her side, and they all seemed to know their business well. In a moment everything in the poor hut was in order, the princess lay on a beautiful soft couch, and before she could blink her eyes a pretty little new-born baby girl was lying by her side. When everything was finished the three Peris set about going, but first of all they approached the bed one by one, and the first said:
"Rosa be thy damsel's name, And she shall weep not tears but pearls!"
The second Peri approached the bed and said:
"Rosa be thy damsel's name, The rose shall blossom when she smiles!"
And the third Peri wound up with these words:
"Rosa be thy damsel's name, Sweet verdure in her footsteps spring!" whereupon they all three disappeared.
Now all this time the husband was seeking a midwife, but could find one nowhere. What could he do but go home? But when he got back he was amazed to find everything in the' poor hut in beautiful order, and his wife lying on a splendid bed. Then she told him the story of the three Peris, and there was no more spirit left in him, so astounded was he. But the little girl grew more and more lovely from hour to day, and from day to week, so that there was not another like her in the whole world. Whosoever looked upon her lost his heart at once, and pearls fell from her eyes when she wept, roses burst into bloom when she smiled, and a bright riband of fresh green verdure followed her footsteps. Whosoever saw her had no more spirit left in him, and the fame of lovely Rosa went from mouth to mouth.
At last the King of that land also heard of the damsel, and instantly made up his mind that she and nobody else should be his son's consort. So he sent for his son, and told him that there was a damsel in the town of so rare a beauty that pearls fell from her eyes when she wept, roses burst into bloom when she smiled, and the earth grew fresh and green beneath her footsteps, and with that he bade him up and woo her.
Now the Peris had for a long time shown the King's son the beautiful Rose-damsel in his dreams, and the sweet fire of love already burned within him; but he was ashamed to let his father see this, so he hung back a little. At this his father became more and more pressing, bade him go and woo her at once, and commanded the chief dame of the palace to accompany him to the hut of the labourer.
They entered the hut, said on what errand they came, and claimed the damsel for the King's son in the name of Allah. The poor folks rejoiced at their good luck, promised the girl, and began to make ready.
Now this palace dame's daughter was also a beauty, and not unlike Rosa. Terribly distressed was the dame that the King's son should take to wife a poor labourer's daughter, instead of her own child; so she made up her mind to deceive them and put her own daughter in Rosa's place. So on the day of the banquet she made the poor girl eat many salted meats, and then brought a pitcher of water and a large basket, got into the bridal coach with Rosa and her own daughter, and set out for the palace. As they were on the road (and a very long time they were about it) the damsel grew thirsty and asked the palace dame for some water. "Not till thou hast given me one of thine eyes," said the palace dame. What could the poor damsel do? - she was dying with thirst. So she cut out one of her eyes and gave it for a drink of water.
They went on and on, further and further, and the damsel again became thirsty and asked for another drink of water. "Thou shalt have it if thou give me thy other eye," said the palace dame. And the poor damsel was so tormented with thirst that she gave the other eye for a drink of water.