Once upon a time, in days long gone by, when my father was my father, and I was my father's son, when my father was my son, and I was my father's mother, once upon a time, I say, at the uttermost ends of the world, hard by the realm of demons, stood a great city.

In this same city there dwelt three poor damsels, the daughters of a poor wood-cutter. From morn to eve, from evening to morning, they did nothing but sew and stitch, and when the embroideries were finished, one of them would go to the market-place and sell them, and so purchase wherewithal to live upon.

Now it fell out, one day, that the Padishah of that city was wroth with the people, and in his rage he commanded that for three days and three nights nobody should light a candle in that city. What were these three poor sisters to do? They could not work in the dark. So they covered their window with a large thick curtain, lit a tiny rushlight, and sat them down to earn their daily bread.

On the third night of the prohibition, the Padishah took it into his head to go round the city himself to see whether every one was keeping his commandment. He chanced to step in front of the house of the three poor damsels, and as the folds of the curtain did not quite cover the bottom of the window he caught sight of the light within. The damsels, however, little suspecting their danger, went on sewing and stitching and talking amongst themselves about their poor affairs.

"Oh," said the eldest, "if only the Padishah would wed me to his chief cook, what delicious dishes I should have every day. Yes, and I would embroider him for it a carpet so long that all his horses and all his men could find room upon it."

"As for me," said the middling damsel, "I should like to be wedded to the keeper of his wardrobe. What lovely splendid raiment I should then have to put on. And then I would make the Padishah a tent so large, that all his horses and all his men should find shelter beneath it."

"Well," cried the youngest damsel, "I'll look at nobody but the Padishah himself, and if he would only take me to wife I would bear him two little children with golden hair. One should be a boy and the other a girl, and a half-moon should shine on the forehead of the boy, and a bright star should sparkle on the temples of the girl."

The Padishah heard the discourse of the three damsels, and no sooner did the red dawn shine in the morning sky than he sent for all three to the palace. The eldest he gave to his head pantler, the second to his head chamberlain, but the youngest he took for himself.

And in truth it fared excellently well with the three damsels. The eldest got so many rich dishes to eat, that when it came to sewing the promised carpet she could scarce move her needle for the sleep of surfeit. So they sent her back again to the woodcutter's hut. The second damsel, too, when they dressed her up in gold and silver raiment, would not deign to dirty her fingers by making tents, so they sent her back too, to keep her elder sister company.

And how about the youngest? Well, after nine months and ten days the two elder sisters came sidling up to the palace to see if the poor thing would really be as good as her word, and bring forth the two wondrous children. In the gates of the palace they met an old woman, and they persuaded her with gifts and promises to meddle in the matter. Now this old woman was the devil's own daughter, so that mischief and malice were her meat and drink. She now went and picked up two pups and took them with her to the sick woman's bed.

And oh, my soul! the wife of the Padishah brought forth two little children like shining stars. One was a boy, the other a girl; on the boy's forehead was a half-moon and on the girl's a star, so that darkness was turned to light when they were by. Then the wicked old woman exchanged the children for the pups, and told it in the ears of the Padishah that his wife had brought forth two pups. The Padishah was like to have had a fit in the furiousness of his rage. He took his poor wife, buried her up to the waist in the ground, and commanded throughout the city that every passer-by should strike her on the head with a stone. But no sooner had the evil witch got hold of the two children, than she took them a long way outside the town, exposed them on the bank of a flowing stream, and returned to the palace right glad that she had done her work so well.

Now close to the water where the two children lay stood a hut where lived an aged couple. The old man had a she-goat which used to go out in the morning to graze, and come back in the evening to be milked, and that was how the poor people kept body and soul together. One day, however, the old woman was surprised to find that the goat did not give one drop of milk. She complained about it to the old man her husband, and told him to follow the goat to see if perchance there was any one who stole the milk.

The Golden Haired Children

The Golden-Haired Children. - p. 57.

So the next day the old man went after the goat, which went right up to the water's edge, and then disappeared behind a tree. And what do you think he saw? He saw a sight which would have delighted your eyes also - two golden-haired children were lying in the grass, and the goat went right up to them and gave them to suck. Then she bleated to them a little, and so left them and went off to graze. And the old man was so delighted at the sight of the little starry things, that he was like to have lost his head for joy. So he took the little ones (Allah had not blessed him with children of his own) and carried them to his hut and gave them to his wife. The woman was filled with a still greater joy at the children which Allah had given her, and took care of them, and brought them up. But now the little goat came bleating in as if in sore distress, but the moment she saw the children, she went to them and suckled them, and then went out to graze again.