Once upon a time, when the servants of Allah were many, there lived a Padishah1 who had one son and one daughter. The Padishah grew old, his time came, and he died; his son ruled in his stead, and he had not ruled very long before he had squandered away his whole inheritance.
One day he said to his sister: "Little sister! all our money is spent. If people were to hear that we had nothing left they would drive us out of doors, and we should never be able to look our fellow-men in the face again. Far better, therefore, if we depart and take up our abode elsewhere." So they tied together the little they had left, and then the brother and sister quitted their father's palace in the nighttime, and wandered forth into the wide world.
They went on and on till they came to a vast sandy desert, where they were like to have fallen to the ground for the burning heat. The youth felt that he could go not a step further, when he saw on the ground a little puddle of water. "Little sister!" said he, "I will not go a step further till I have drunk this water."
"Nay, dear brother!" replied the girl, "who can tell whether it be really water or filth? If we have held up so long, surely we can hold up a little longer. Water we are bound to find soon."
"I tell thee," replied her brother, "that I'll not go another step further till I have drunk up this puddle, though I die for it," - and with that he knelt down, sucked up every drop of the dirty water, and instantly became a stag.
The little sister wept bitterly at this mischance; but there was nothing for it but to go on as they were. They went on and on, up hill and down dale, right across the sandy waste till they came to a full spring beneath a large tree, and there they sat them down and rested. "Hearken now, little sister!" said the stag, "thou must mount up into that tree, while I go to see if I can find something to eat." So the girl climbed up into the tree, and the stag went about his business, ran up hill and down dale, caught a hare, brought it back, and he and his sister ate it together, and so they lived from day to day and from week to week.
Now the horses of the Padishah of that country-were wont to be watered at the spring beneath the large tree. One evening the horsemen led their horses up to it as usual, but, just as they were on the point of drinking, they caught sight of the reflection of the damsel in the watery mirror and reared back. The horsemen fancied that perhaps the water was not quite pure, so they drew off the trough and filled it afresh, but again the horses reared backwards and would not drink of it. The horsemen knew not what to make of it, so they went and told the Padishah.
"Perchance the water is muddy," said the Padishah.
"Nay," replied the horsemen, "we emptied the trough once and filled it full again with fresh water, and yet the horses would not drink of it."
"Go again," said their master, "and look well about you; perchance there is some one near the spring of whom they are afraid."
The horsemen returned, and, looking well about the spring, cast their eyes at last upon the large tree, on the top of which they perceived the damsel. They immediately went back and told the Padishah. The Padishah took the trouble to go and look for himself, and raising his eyes perceived in the tree a damsel as lovely as the moon when she is fourteen days old, so that he absolutely could not take his eyes off her. "Art thou a spirit or a peri?"1 said the Padishah to the damsel.
"I am neither a spirit nor a peri, but a mortal as thou art," replied the damsel.
In vain the Padishah begged her to come down from the tree. In vain he implored her, nothing he could say would make her come down. Then the Padishah waxed wroth. He commanded them to cut down the tree. The men brought their axes and fell a-hewing at the tree. They hewed away at the vast tree, they hewed and hewed until only a little strip of solid trunk remained to be cut through; but, meanwhile, eventide had drawn nigh and it began to grow dark, so they left off their work, which they purposed to finish next day.
Scarcely had they departed when the stag came running out of the forest, looked at the tree, and asked the little sister what had happened. The girl told him that she would not descend from the tree, so they had tried to cut it down. "Thou didst well," replied the stag, "and take care thou dost not come down in future, whatever they may say." With that he went to the tree, licked it with his tongue, and immediately the tree grew bigger round the hewed trunk than before.
The Damsel and the Old Witch.
The next day, when the stag had again departed about his business, the Padishah's men came and saw that the tree was larger and harder round the trunk than ever. Again they set to work hewing at the tree, and hewed and hewed till they had cut half through it; but by that time evening fell upon them again, and again they put off the rest of the work till the morrow and went home.
But all their labour was lost, for the stag came again, licked the gap in the tree with his tongue, and immediately it grew thicker and harder than ever.
Early next morning, when the stag bad only just departed, the Padishah and his wood-cutters again came to the tree, and when they saw that the trunk of the tree had filled up again larger and firmer than ever, they determined to try some other means. So they went home again and sent for a famous old witch, told her of the damsel in the tree, and promised her a rich reward if she would, by subtlety, make the damsel come down. The old witch willingly took the matter in hand, and bringing with her an iron tripod, a cauldron, and sundry raw meats, placed them by the side of the spring. She placed the tripod on the ground, and the kettle on the top of it but upside down, drew water from the spring and poured it not into the kettle, but on the ground beside it, and with that she kept her eyes closed as if she were blind.