Anthony Hope [Hawkins]
Part 3 out of 3
And Hassan pierced a hole in the screen, so that the big
slave could see what passed in the antechamber without being seen
himself. Then Hassan, still shaking his head, but also patting
his purse, went to summon Lallakalla. But the big black slave
lay quiet behind the screen.
Presently Lallakalla passed through and entered the room where
the Sultana was. A few moments later Ashimullah came in,
carrying over one arm several robes of silk and in the other a
large box or trunk. Ashimullah looked round cautiously, but saw
nobody; the big black slave held his breath, but laid his hand on
the scimitar that he wore. Ashimullah waited. Then Lallakalla
"Yes, of a truth this brown-haired one is most lovely," thought
the big slave. "It would seem impossible that the others can be
so lovely. Moreover, she looks amiable enough. Yet I must see
the others. Which will come next?" And he composed himself to
wait for the next, not caring whether she were the ruddy,
the golden, or the black, so that she came quickly.
But, to the amazement of the slave, Lallakalla tore off the
silken robe she wore and cried to her husband, "Give me the blue
robe--yes, and the golden hair." And, having put on the blue
robe, she took from Ashimullah's hand something that he had taken
from the square box, and put it on her head. Then Ashimullah
gave her a smaller box, and, taking out paints and brushes and a
mirror, she made a complexion for herself. And thus she was
transformed into a golden-haired lady with cheeks of rosy red,
and in this guise she passed in to the Sultana's presence.
"The dog!" thought the slave. "Then he took only two wives
Presently Lallakalla came forth; and all happened as before, save
that she stained her face to an olive tint and put on a wig of
"By the Prophet!" thought the slave, "he took but one wife more!"
Yet again Lallakalla came out from visiting the Sultana, and on
this occasion she hastily donned a robe of red, sprinkled
white powder over her cheeks, and set on her head a most
magnificent structure of ruddy hair. Thus arrayed she went again
into the room where the Sultana was.
"By Allah, the dog took no other wife at all!" thought the slave,
and, looking through his spy-hole, he saw Ashimullah making off
in great haste, carrying the box and the robes with him. Then
Hassan came and led the slave back by the way they had come to
the place where he awaited the Sultana.
"This wife of Ashimullah is a wonderful woman," said the Sultan
to himself, as he lay awake that night. "Behold, she is in
herself a multitude!"
Early the next morning Ashimullah was summoned to the palace, and
at once ushered into the presence of the Sultan.
"O Ashimullah, I have reflected," said the Sultan, "and I desire
that you will send me that wife of yours who has ruddy hair. For
although the choice is difficult, yet I think that she must
be the fairest of them all."
Ashimullah, knowing not what to say, prostrated himself and
promised obedience; then, having withdrawn from the presence, he
ran back home as fast as he could lay his feet to the ground, and
sought out Lallakalla. With her he talked for some time; then he
returned to the palace, weeping and wringing his hands.
"What ails you, Ashimullah?" asked the Sultan.
"Alas! O Light of the World, a pestilence has fallen on my
house, and my wife with the ruddy hair lies dead."
"We must resign ourselves to the will of Heaven," said the
Sultan. "Yet I will not recall the favor I had destined for you.
Send me the wife that has coal-black hair, Ashimullah."
"Alas! Most Mighty One, misfortunes crowd upon me. That
graceless wife has fled from me in company with a fishmonger,"
"You are well quit of her, and so also am I," remarked the
Sultan. "Yet I am not to be turned from my benevolent purpose,
and rather than fail in doing you honor, I will accept the wife
with the golden hair."
"Alas! and alas! High and Potent Majesty, Heaven has set its
wrath upon me. As she rowed this morning, the boat upset, and
she, my golden-haired beauty, was drowned!" And Ashimullah laid
his head on the ground and sobbed pitifully.
"Of a truth you are afflicted. Yet do not despair, I will
comfort you, my good Ashimullah," said the Sultan. "Weep no
more. Send me the wife with the brown hair, and all shall be
well. By Allah! I am a man that hears reason, and does not
exact more than Fate will allow! A man can give only what he
has. I shall be well pleased with her of the brown hair,
Then Ashimullah crawled to the feet of the Sultan, and said:
"Ruler of the World, great is the honor that you purpose for the
meanest of your servants. Yet behold, if I send my wife
with the brown hair, I shall have no wife at all; for the others
are gone, and my house will be altogether desolate."
The Sultan smiled down at Ashimullah. Then he bent and took him
by the hands and raised him up. And he spoke to him in a tone of
most tender and friendly reproach:
"Indeed, Ashimullah," said he, "you wrong me in your thoughts,
supposing that I would leave your house desolate, or that I would
receive without bestowing. Such is not the custom of great
princes, nor is it my custom. But where we take we give fourfold
of what is given to us. Be of good cheer, and grieve no more
either for the wives who are dead or for the brown-haired wife
whom it is my gracious pleasure to accept from you. For I will
send you four wives; and thus you shall be as you were before
your misfortunes, and before you gave me your brown-haired wife.
And if the color of their hair does not please you (for it seems
that you are curious in these matters, O Ashimullah), I
think that you have means to set right what is wrong, and to
array the head of each in the color that you love best." And, as
he said this, the Sultan looked very full and significantly in
the face of Ashimullah.
But Ashimullah turned and went out, full of fear; for he
perceived that the Sultan had discovered his secret and that he
had been betrayed by Hassan his servant, and he feared for his
life, because of the trick that he had played upon the Sultan,
besides being greatly afflicted to think that now indeed there
was no escape, but he must have four wives. Moreover, although
this could not stand beside the question of his salvation, he
regretted greatly the losing of Lallakalla, whom the Sultan took
from him. And as he told Lallakalla all that had passed, he
wept; but she bade him be of good cheer, and, having comforted
him, withdrew to her apartments, and was very busy there all the
In the evening came a litter from the palace, and with it a
letter from the Sultan, commanding that Lallakalla should come,
and bidding Ashimullah to expect his four wives the next day.
Accordingly Ashimullah, having divorced Lallakalla according to
the formalities of the law, set her in the litter, and she, being
brought to the palace, was soon visited by the Sultan, who was
full of curiosity to see her. But, when he entered, he gave a
loud cry of surprise. For, behold, the hair on Lallakalla's head
was red. But then he smiled and said to her:
"Take off the wig, my daughter."
"I obey," said she, "but I pray you to look away while I obey."
So the Sultan looked away, and, when he turned again, her hair
"Take that off also," said the Sultan, turning his head away.
And when he looked again her hair was coal-black.
"Take that off also," said the Sultan.
"I obey," said Lallakalla, and the Sultan turned away.
"Now," said he, "I will behold your own brown hair," and he
turned to her. But again he cried out in surprise and horror.
For there was no brown hair on Lallakalla's head, but her head
was bare and shaven as clean as the ball of ivory on the staff
that the Sultan carried.
"Heaven forbid," said Lallakalla meekly, "that I should come to
the Light of the Universe with hair of the color that he hates;
for he chose every color sooner than my poor color. Therefore I
have left the brown hair for Ashimullah, for he loves it, and I
have brought my lord the colors that my lord loves." And with
this she laid the three wigs of black hair, of golden, and of
ruddy at the Sultan's feet, and stood herself before him with her
Then the Sultan, seeing that Lallakalla looked very ludicrous
with her shaven poll, burst out laughing. And he came and took
her by the hand, and said to her:
"Behold a woman who loves her husband better than her
beauty, and to be his wife rather than mine! Return, then, to
Ashimullah and be his wife again."
"My lord," said she, "suffer me also to take back with me the
other wives of Ashimullah," and she pointed to the heads of hair
that lay upon the ground.
"Take them," said he, laughing. "And since Ashimullah has
already four wives and yet will give me no wife, why, neither
will I give Ashimullah any wives. But he shall have the four
wives that he had before, and all the city shall hear of the
beauty and the virtue of Ashimullah's wives."
So Lallakalla went home in great joy, and put on her own hair,
which she had fashioned into a wig, and went in to Ashimullah.
And they dwelt happily together, there being no differences in
their household, save in the color of Lallakalla's hair from day
to day. But the Sultan raised a pillar of many-colored marble,
black and gold, brown and red, and inscribed it, "To the
Virtues of the Wives of Ashimullah the Vizier." And
henceforward none troubled Ashimullah concerning his wives.
Hassan, however, was most justly put to death.
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