IN DAYS gone by there lived a married couple who had one only son. When he grew up they made him learn something which would be of use to him in after-life. He was a kind, quiet boy, and feared God greatly. After his schooling was finished his father gave him a ship, freighted with various sorts of merchandise, so that he might go and trade about the world, and grow rich, and become a help to his parents in their old age. The son put to sea, and one day the ship he was in met with a Turkish vessel in which he heard great weeping and wailing. So he demanded of the Turkish sailors, 'Pray, tell me why there is so much wailing on board your ship?' and they answered, 'We are carrying slaves which we have captured in different countries, and those who are chained are weeping.'
Then he said, 'Please, brothers, ask your captain if he would give me the slaves for ready cash?'
The captain gladly agreed to the proposal, and after much bargaining the young man gave to the captain his vessel full of merchandise, and received in exchange the ship full of slaves.
Then he called the slaves before him, and demanded of each whence he came, and told them all they were free to return to their own countries. At last he came to an old woman who held close to her side a very beautiful girl, and he asked them from what country they came. The old woman told him, weeping, that they came from a very distant land, saying, 'This young girl is the only daughter of the king, and I am her nurse, and have taken care of her from her childhood. One day, unhappily, she went to walk in a garden far away from the palace, and these wicked Turks saw her and caught her. Luckily I happened to be near, and, hearing her scream, ran to her help, and so the Turks caught me too, and brought us both on board of this ship.' Then the old woman and the beautiful girl, being so far from their own country, and having no means of getting there, begged him that he would take them with him. So he married the girl, took her with him, and returned home.
When he arrived his father asked him about his ship and merchandise, and he told him what had happened, how he had given his vessel with its cargo, and had bought the slaves and set them free. 'This girl,' continued he, 'is a king's daughter, and the old woman her nurse; as they could not get back to their country, they prayed to remain with me, so I married the girl.'
Thereupon the father was very angry, and said, 'My foolish son! what have you done? Why have you made away with my property without cause and of your own will?' and he drove him out of the house.
Then the son lived with his wife and her old nurse a long time in the same village, trying always, through the good offices of his mother and other friends, to obtain his father's forgiveness, and, begging him to let him have a second ship full of merchandise, promised to be wiser in future. After some time the father took pity on him, and received him again into his house, with his wife and her old nurse. Shortly after he fitted him out another ship, larger than the first one, and filled with more valuable merchandise. In this he sailed, leaving his wife and her nurse in the house of his parents. He came one day to a city where he found the soldiers very busy carrying some unlucky villagers away to prison. So he asked them, 'Why are you doing this my brethren? Why are you driving these poor people to prison?' and the soldiers answered:
'They have not paid the king's taxes, that is why we take them to prison.'
Then he went to the magistrate and asked, 'Please tell me how much these poor prisoners owe?'
When the magistrate told him he sold his goods and ship, and paid the debts of all the prisoners, and returned home without anything. Falling at the feet of his father, he told him what he had done, and begged him to forgive him. But the father was exceedingly angry, more so than before, and drove him away from his presence. What could the unhappy son do in this great strait? How could he go begging, he whose parents were so rich? After some time his friends again prevailed upon the father to receive him back, because, as they urged, so much suffering had made him wiser. At last the father yielded, took him again into his house, and prepared a ship for him finer and richer than the two former ones. Then the son had the portrait of his wife painted on the helm, and that of the old nurse on the stern, and, after taking leave of his father and mother, and wife, he sailed away the third time.
After sailing for some days he came near a large city, in which there lived a king, and, dropping anchor, he fired a salute to the city. All the citizens wondered, as did also their king, and no one could say who the captain of the strange ship might be. In the afternoon the king sent one of his ministers to ask who he was, and why he came; and the minister brought a message that the king himself would come at nine o'clock the next morning to see the ship. When the minister came he saw on the helm the portrait of the king's daughter, and on the stern that of her old nurse, and in his surprise and joy dared not believe his own eyes. For the princess had been promised to him in marriage while she was yet a child, and long before she was captured by the Turks.
But the minister did not tell any one what he had seen.
Next morning, at nine o'clock, the king came with his ministers on board the ship, and asked the captain who he was, and whence he came?
Whilst walking about the vessel he saw there the portrait of the girl on the helm and that of the old woman on the stern, and recognised the features of his own daughter and her old nurse who had been captured by the Turks. But his joy was so great, he dared not believe his eyes, so he invited the captain to come that afternoon to his palace to relate his adventures, hoping thus to find out if his hopes were well founded.
In the afternoon, in obedience to the king's wish, he went to the palace, and the king at once began to inquire why the figure of the girl was painted on the helm and that of the old woman on the stern. The captain guessed at once that this king must be his wife's father, so he told him everything that had happened--how he had met the Turkish ship filled with slaves, and had ransomed them and set them free. 'This girl, alone,' he continued, 'with her old nurse, had nowhere to go, as her country was so far off, so they asked to remain with me, and I married the girl.'
When the king heard this he exclaimed, 'That girl is my only child, and the accursed Turks took her and her old nurse. You, since you are her husband, will be the heir to my crown. But go--go at once to your home and bring me your wife that I may see her--my only daughter, before I die. Bring your father, your mother, bring all your family. Let your property be all sold in that country, and come all of you here. Your father shall be my brother, and your mother my sister, as you are my son and the heir to my crown. We will all live together here in one palace.' Then he called the queen, and all his ministers, and told them all about his daughter. And there was great rejoicing and festivity in the whole court.
After this the king gave his son-in-law his own large ship to bring back the princess and the whole family. So the captain left his own ship there, but he asked the king to send one of his ministers with him, 'Lest they should not believe me,' he said; and the king gave him as a companion for his voyage the same minister to whom he had formerly promised the princess in marriage. They arrived safely in port, and the captain's father was surprised to see his son return so soon, and with such a splendid vessel.
Then he told all that had happened and his mother and wife, and especially the old nurse, rejoiced greatly when they heard the good news. As the king's minister was there to witness the truth of this strange news, no one could doubt it. So the father and mother consented to sell all their property and go to live in the king's palace.
But the minister resolved to kill this new heir to the king and husband of the princess who had been promised to him for wife; so, when they had sailed a long distance, he called him on deck to confer with him. The captain had a quiet conscience, and did not suspect any evil, so he came up at once, and the minister caught him quickly and threw him overboard.
The ship was sailing fast, and it was rather dark, so the captain could not overtake her, but was left behind in the deep waters. The minister, however, went quietly to sleep.
Fortunately the waves carried the king's young heir to a rock near the shore; it was, however, a desert country, and no one was near to help him. Those he had left on board the ship, seeing next morning that he had disappeared, began to weep and wail, thinking he had fallen overboard in the night and been drowned. His wife especially lamented him, because they had loved each other very much. When the ship arrived at the king's city, and reported to him the great disaster that had befallen them, the king was troubled, and the whole court mourned greatly. The king kept the parents and family of the young man by him as he had engaged to do, but they could not console themselves for their great loss.
Meanwhile, the king's unhappy son-in-law sat on the rock, and lived on the moss which grew there, and was scorched by the hot sun, from which he had no shelter; his garments were soiled and torn, and no one would have recognised him. Still not a living soul was to be seen anywhere to help him. At last, after fifteen days and fifteen nights, he noticed an old man on the shore, leaning on a staff, and engaged in fishing. Then the king's heir shouted to the old man, and begged him to help him off the rock. The old fisherman consented--
'If you will pay me for it,' said he.
'How can I pay you when, as you see, I have nothing, and even my clothes are only rags?' answered the young man sadly.
'Oh, that matters nothing,' exclaimed the old man; 'I have here pen and paper, so, if you know how to use them, write a promise to give me half of everything you may ever possess, and then sign the paper.'
To that the young man gladly consented; so the old man walked through the water to him, and he signed the paper, and then the old man took him over to the shore. After that he journeyed from village to village, barefoot, hungry, and sorrowful, and begged some garments to cover him.
After thirty days' wandering, his good luck led him to the city of the king, and he went and sat at the door of the palace, wearing on his finger his wedding-ring, on which was his own name and the name of his wife. At eventide, the king's servants took him into the courtyard, and gave him to eat what remained of their supper. Next morning he took his stand by the garden-door, but the gardener came and drove him away, saying that the king and his family were soon coming that way. So he moved away a little, and sat down near a corner of the garden and shortly afterward he saw the king walking with his mother, his father leading the queen, and his wife walking with the minister, his great enemy. He did not yet desire to show himself to them, but as they passed near him and gave him alms, his wife saw the wedding-ring on a finger of the hand which he held out to take the money. Still she could not think the beggar could be her husband, so she said--
'Let me see the ring you have on your finger.'
The minister, who was walking by her, was a little frightened, and said--
'Go on, how can you speak to that ragged beggar?'
But she would not hear him. She took the ring, and read thereon her own and her husband's names. Her heart was greatly troubled by the sight of the ring, but she controlled her feelings and said nothing. As soon as they returned to the palace, she told the king, her father, that she had recognised her husband's ring on the hand of the beggar who sat by the side of the garden. 'So please send for him,' said she, 'that we may find out how the ring came into his hands.'
Then the king sent his servants to find the beggar, and they brought him to the palace. And the king asked him whence he came, and how he got that ring. Then he could no longer restrain himself, but told them how he had been thrown overboard by the treacherous minister, and spent fifteen days and nights on the naked rock, and how he had been saved.
'You see now how God and my right-dealing have brought me back to my parents and my wife.'
When they heard that, they could hardly speak, so rejoiced were they. Then the king summoned the father and mother, and related what had happened to their son.
The servants quickly brought him fine new garments, and bathed and clothed him. Then for many days there was great rejoicings, not only in the palace, but also in all the city, and he was crowned as king. The minister was seized by the king's order, and given up to the king's son-in-law, that he might punish him after his own will. But the young king would not permit him to be put to death, but forgave him, on condition that he left the kingdom instantly.
A few days after, the old man who had saved the young king came, bringing with him his written promise. The young king took the paper, and reading it, said--
'My old man, sit down. To-day I am king, but if I were a beggar I would fulfil my word, and acknowledge my signature. Therefore we will divide all that I have.'
So he took out the book and began to divide the cities.
'This is for me--that is for you.' So saying, he wrote all on a chart, till all were divided between them, from the greatest city to the poorest barrack.
The old man accepted his half, but immediately made a present of it again to the young king, saying--
'Take it! I am not an old man, but an angel from God! I was sent by God to save thee, for the sake of thy good deeds. Now reign and be happy, and may thy prosperity last long.'
The angel disappeared; and the king reigned there in great happiness.