No. XXIV—p. 137.

THIS remarkable tale, of which variants were current throughout Europe during the Middle Ages, does not belong to the original Book of Sindibād, and is found in only two of the five Arabic texts of the Seven Vazīrs represented in our Comparative Table, namely, Scott's MS. and the Rich MS. in the British Museum. Its earliest appearance in European literature seems to have been in the spiritual tales, or Contes Devots, written in the 12th and 13th centuries, under the title of “D'un Roi qui voulut faire brûler le fils de son Seneschal,” from which it was probably taken by the complier of the first Italian collection of tales, Cento Novelle Antiche, and by the author of the Anglican Gesta Romanorum, both of which works were composed about the end of the 13th century; it is also found in the continental Gesta, translated by Swan. The 68th of the Novelle Antiche is to the following effect: An envious knight is jealous of the favour a young man enjoys with the king. As a friend, he bids the youth hold back his head while serving this prince, who, he says, was disgusted with his foul breath, and then acquaints his master that the page did so from being offended with his Majesty's breath. The irascible monarch forthwith orders his kiln-man to throw the first mes­senger he sends into the furnace, and the young man is accord­ingly despatched on some pretended errand, but happily passing a monastery on his way, tarries for some time to hear mass. Meanwhile, the contriver of the fraud, impatient to learn the success of his stratagem, sets out for the house of the kiln-man, and arrives before his intended victim. On inquiring if the com­mands of the king have been fulfilled, he is answered that they will be immediately executed, and, as the first messenger on the part of the sovereign, is forthwith thrown into the furnace.*

This forms the 95th chapter of the Anglican Gesta Romanorum, edited for the Roxburgh Club, by Sir Fredrick Madden, and No. 70 of Herrtage's recent edition, published for the Early English Text Society, in which the youth, who is an orphan and the king's nephew, is called Fulgentius, and in place of a knight is an envious steward, who tells his master that his favourite says that his Majesty has leprosy. Fulgentius hearing a chapel-bell, on his way to the lime-pits, goes in to hear mass, and afterwards (having got up earlier than usual) falls asleep in the chapel. When he awakes, he hastens to the lime-pits, inquires, as he was instructed, “Have you done the commandment of the king?” and learns that the steward had met the fate intended for himself.—Cinthio has the story in his Hecatommithi (viii, 6), written in the 16th century, and it is also found in the Anecdotes chrétiennes de l'abbé Reyre, t. i, under the title of “Les Deux Pages.” From an Alsatian tradition Schiller, it is said, composed his ballad, “Der gang nachdem eisenhammer,” which is well known to English readers through Mr. Bowring's excellent translation, entitled, “Fridolin; or the Walk to the Iron Foundry.” Schiller's version bears a slight resemblance to our Arabian tale of Ahmed in one point: Robert the huntsman, having long cherished in vain a guilty passion for the countess, in revenge falsely accuses the page Fridolin to the Count Savern of the crime which he had been but too willing himself to commit:

Then to two workmen beckons he,
And speaks thus in his ire:
The first who's hither sent by me,
Thus of ye to inquire—
Have ye obeyed my lord's word well?
Him cast ye into yonder hell,
That into ashes he may fly,
And ne'er again torment mine eye.

In the Turkish tales of the Forty Vazīrs, the lady's 22nd story is another variant. Instead of a page, the favourite is a courtier, of whom another is envious. Having privately told the king that his favourite went about asserting that his Majesty was leprous, and that he could not endure his breath, the envious courtier caused a Tātār pie to be cooked, strongly seasoned with garlic, and invited the favourite to his house. They ate together of the pie, and immediately after went to the court; on the way thither the envious man warned his “friend” not to approach too near the king because of his garlic-tainted breath. Accordingly the favourite held his sleeve close to his mouth, and stood a little way off. The king naturally thought that this confirmed the report, and gave him a letter to the chief magistrate, telling him at the same time to keep whatever he was offered. The envious man persuaded the favourite to give him the letter, for the sake of the expected present, saying that he should always have the king's countenance. The result of delivering the letter was different from the courtier's expectations;—its contents were: “Seize him who gives this letter into thy hand, and spare him not, but flay him alive, and stuff his skin with grass, and set it upon the road, that, when I pass, I may see it there.” Some days afterwards the king perceives the stuffed skin of the envious courtier, and sends for his former favourite, who explains the whole affair from first to last.

There are innumerable variants of the story current in India, where, indeed, it had its origin, one of which is a Bengali folk­tale, translated by Mr. C. H. Damant, under the title of “The Minister and the Fool,” in the Indian Antiquary: The minister, in the course of a journey, meets with the fool, and, being struck with some of his remarks, takes him into his service. One day the rāja hears three birds talking together, and requests his minister to inform him what they had been saying. The fool, knowing the speech of birds, gives his master the required information, which he at once communicates to the rāja; but, jealous lest he should learn that it was the fool's wit which had solved his question, he determines to have the fool put to death, and accordingly gives him a sealed letter to the executioner. On his way the fool meets the minister's son, who desires him to pick a nosegay of flowers for him. The fool replies that he will do so immediately after he has delivered the letter; but the youth would brook no delay, and told him to remain in the garden and pick the flowers, while he himself delivered the mes­sage. When the minister saw the fool in the garden, and learned that his own son had done the fatal errand, he was frantic with grief.

A parallel incident is found in the Kathá Sarit Ságara: In the Story of Sundaraka, the king is persuaded by his wife, in order that he may acquire magic power, to consent to practise the horrible rite of eating human flesh. The narrative thus proceeds (Professor Tawney's translation, vol. i, pp. 162-3):

“Having made him enter into the circle, previously conse­crated, she said to the king, after he had taken an oath: ‘I attempted to draw hither, as a victim, that Bráhman named Phalabhūti, who is so intimate with you; but the drawing him hither is a difficult task: so it is the best way to initiate some cook in our rites, that he may himself slay him and cook him. And you must not feel any compunction about it, because by eating a sacrificial offering of his flesh, after the ceremonies are complete, the enchantment will be perfect, for he is a Bráhman of the highest caste.’ When his beloved said this to him, the king, though afraid of the sin, consented;—alas! terrible is com­pliance with women! Then that royal couple had the cook summoned, and, after encouraging him, and initiating him, they both said to him: ‘Whoever comes to you to-morrow morning and says, “The king and queen will eat together to-day, so get some food ready quickly,” him you must slay, and make for us secretly a savoury dish of his flesh.’ The cook consented, and went to his own house. Next morning, when Phalabhūti ar­rived, the king said to him: ‘Go and tell the cook in the kitchen, “The king, together with the queen, will eat to-day a savoury mess, therefore prepare as soon as possible a splendid dish.”’ Phalabhūti said: ‘I will do so,’ and went out. When he was outside, the king's son, whose name was Chandraprabhā, came to him, and said: ‘Have made for me this very day, with this gold, a pair of ear-rings, like those you had made before for my noble father.’ Phalabhūti, in order to please the prince, im­mediately proceeded, as he was ordered, to get the ear-rings made, and the prince went readily with the king's message, which Phalabhūti told him, alone to the kitchen; and when he delivered the king's message the cook, true to his agreement, at once put him to death with a knife, and made a dish of his flesh, which the king and queen ate, after performing their ceremonies, not knowing the truth. After spending the night in remorse, the next morning the king saw Phalabhūti arrive with the ear-rings in his hand. So being bewildered, he questioned him about the ear-rings immediately; and when Phalabhūti had told him his story, the king fell on the earth, and cried out: ‘Alas, my son!’ blaming the queen and himself; and when the ministers ques­tioned him, he told them the whole story, and repeated what Phalabhūti had said every day: ‘The doer of good will obtain good, and the doer of evil, evil.’”

Closely allied to the class of stories above cited is the 20th chapter of Swan's Gesta Romanorum: A king, belated while hunting, takes shelter for the night in the hut of an exiled courtier, whom he does not recognise. During the night the count's wife gives birth to a fine boy, upon which the king hears a voice telling him that the child just born should be his son-in­law. In the morning the king orders his squires to take the infant from his mother and destroy him; but, moved to compas­sion, they place it upon the branches of a tree, to secure it from wild beasts, and then kill a hare, and convey its heart to the king. A duke, passing through the forest, hears the cries of a child, and, discovering it, wraps it in the folds of his cloak, and takes it to his wife to bring up. In course of time, when the child is grown a handsome youth, the king suspects him to be the same who was predicted to be his son-in-law, and despatches him with a letter to the queen, commanding her to put the bearer to death. On his way he goes into a chapel, and there having fallen asleep, a priest, seeing the letter suspended from his girdle, has the curiosity to open it; and after reading the intended wickedness, he alters the purport thus: “Give the youth our daughter in marriage,” which the queen does accordingly.

Dr. Dasent, in his Popular Tales from the Norse, gives a variant of this under the title of “Rich Peter the Pedlar;” and Dr. A. C. Fryer presents similar incidents in the first story of his charming little work, recently published, English Fairy Tales from the North Country, in which a beautiful maiden takes the place of the miller's son, and a sorcerer knight that of Peter the Pedlar.—Professor Tawney has pointed out, in the Indian Antiquary, the exact resemblance which a story in the Kathākosa bears to the Norse tale: A merchant named Sāgarapota, of the town of Rājagriha, hearing it prophesied that a young beggar named Dāmannaka (he was, however, the son of a merchant who had died of the plague) would inherit all his property, makes Dāmannaka over to a Chandāla to be killed. The Chandāla, instead of killing him, cuts off his little finger, and Dāmannaka, having thus escaped death, is adopted by the merchant's cowherd. In the course of time the merchant recognises Dāmannaka. In order to insure his being put out of the way, he sends him with a letter to his son Samudra-datta. But when Dāmannaka reaches the outskirts of the town of Rājagriha he feels fatigued, and falls asleep in the temple. Meanwhile the daughter of that very merchant, named Vishā, came to the temple to worship the divinity. “She beheld Dāmannaka with the large eyes and the broad chest.” Her father's handwriting then caught her eye, and she proceeded to read the letter. In it she read the following distich:

Before this man has washed his feet, do thou with speed
Give him poison [visham], and free my heart from anxiety.

The lady immediately concluded that she herself (Vishā) was to be given to the handsome youth, and that her father had in his hurry made a slight mistake in orthography. She, therefore, makes the necessary correction, and replaces the letter. Samu-dradatta carries out his father's orders, and the merchant returns to Rājagriha to find Dāmannaka married to his daughter Vishā. The termination of the story is the same as that of Phalabhūti [see p. 296] and its European parallels, the tales of Fulgentius, Fridolin, etc. The merchant Sāgarapota arranges a second time to kill Dāmannaka, whom he will send to the temple of the goddess of the city. But, as the bridegroom and bride are going to the temple of the goddess, Samudradatta, the son of the merchant Sāgarapota, meets them, and insists on performing the worship in their stead. “Having taken the articles for offering, Samudradatta went off, and as he was entering the temple of the goddess, he was despatched by Khadgila, who had gone there before.”

The incident of a person being made the unconscious bearer of his own death-warrant is as old at least as the Biblical story of King David and Uriah; while classical legend furnishes a familiar example in the tale of Bellerophon; and another instance (not so well known) is found in Arabian tradition, in the story of the celebrated pre-Islamite poets Tarafa and Mutalammis, who, having offended the King of Hīra, by com­posing satires upon his drunken habits, were sent by him with letters to the govenor of Bahrayn, ordering him to put the bearers to death;—Mutalammis having learned the nature of the missive he carried destroyed it, and urged his friend to turn back with him, but Tarafa declined to do so, and continued his fatal journey.—But in these tales, Western and Eastern, which I have cited, there is the same fundamental outline—the same sequence of identical incidents, which indicate, without any possibility of doubt, that they have all been derived from a common source.