The Story of the Fair Circassians by Andrew
'We were born in Circassia of poor people, and my sister's name is
Tezila and mine Dely. Having nothing but our beauty to help us in life,
we were carefully trained in all the accomplishments that give
pleasure. We were both quick to learn, and from our childhood could
play all sorts of instruments, could sing, and above all could dance.
We were besides, lively and merry, as in spite of our misfortunes we
are to this day.
'We were easily pleased and quite content with our lives at home,
when one morning the officials who had been sent to find wives for the
Sultan saw us, and were struck with our beauty. We had always expected
something of the sort, and were resigned to our lot, when we chanced to
see two young men enter our house. The elder, who was about twenty
years of age, had black hair and very bright eyes. The other could not
have been more than fifteen, and was so fair that he might easily have
passed for a girl.
'They knocked at the door with a timid air and begged our parents to
give them shelter, as they had lost their way. After some hesitation
their request was granted, and they were invited into the room in which
we were. And if our parents' hearts were touched by their beauty, our
own were not any harder, so that our departure for the palace, which
had been arranged for the next day, suddenly became intolerable to us.
'Night came, and I awoke from my sleep to find the younger of the
two strangers sitting at my bedside and felt him take my hand.
'“Fear nothing, lovely Dely,” he whispered, “from one who never knew
love till he saw you. My name,” he went on, “is Prince Delicate, and I
am the son of the king of the Isle of Black Marble. My friend, who
travels with me, is one of the richest nobles of my country, and the
secrets which he knows are the envy of the Sultan himself. And we left
our native country because my father wished me to marry a lady of great
beauty, but with one eye a trifle smaller than the other.”
'My vanity was flattered at so speedy a conquest, and I was charmed
with the way the young man had declared his passion. I turned my eyes
slowly on him, and the look I gave him caused him almost to lose his
senses. He fell fainting forward, and I was unable to move till Tezila,
who had hastily put on a dress, ran to my assistance together with
Thelamis, the young noble of whom the Prince had spoken.
'As soon as we were all ourselves again we began to bewail our fate,
and the journey that we were to take that very day to Constantinople.
But we felt a little comforted when Thelamis assured us that he and the
prince would follow in our steps, and would somehow contrive to speak
to us. Then they kissed our hands, and left the house by a side-way.
'A few moments later our parents came to tell us that the escort had
arrived, and having taken farewell of them we mounted the camels, and
took our seats in a kind of box that was fixed to the side of the
animal. These boxes were large enough for us to sleep in comfortably,
and as there was a window in the upper part, we were able to see the
country through which we passed.
'For several days we journeyed on, feeling sad and anxious as to
what might become of us, when one day as I was looking out of the
window of our room, I heard my name called, and beheld a beautifully
dressed girl jumping out of the box on the other side of our camel. One
glance told me that it was the prince, and my heart bounded with joy.
It was, he said, Thelamis's idea to disguise him like this, and that he
himself had assumed the character of a slave-dealer who was taking this
peerless maiden as a present to the Sultan. Thelamis had also persuaded
the officer in charge of the caravan to let him hire the vacant box, so
it was easy for the prince to scramble out of his own window and
This ingenious trick enchanted us, but our agreeable conversation
was soon interrupted by the attendants, who perceived that the camel
was walking in a crooked manner and came to find out what was wrong.
Luckily they were slow in their movements, and the prince had just time
to get back to his own box and restore the balance, before the trick
'But neither the prince nor his friend had any intention of allowing
us to enter the Sultan's palace, though it was difficult to know how we
were to escape, and what was to become of us when once we had escaped.
At length, one day as we were drawing near Constantinople, we learned
from the prince that Thelamis had made acquaintance with a holy dervish
whom he had met on the road, and had informed him that we were his
sisters, who were being sold as slaves against his will. The good man
was interested in the story, and readily agreed to find us shelter if
we could manage to elude the watchfulness of our guards. The risk was
great, but it was our only chance.
'That night, when the whole caravan was fast asleep, we raised the
upper part of our boxes and by the help of Thelamis climbed silently
out. We next went back some distance along the way we had come, then,
striking into another road, reached at last the retreat prepared for us
by the dervish. Here we found food and rest, and I need not say what
happiness it was to be free once more.
'The dervish soon became a slave to our beauty, and the day after
our escape he proposed that we should allow him to conduct us to an inn
situated at a short distance, where we should find two Jews, owners of
precious talismans which did not really belong to them. “Try,” said the
dervish, “by some means to get possession of them.”
'The inn, though not on the direct road to Constantinople, was a
favourite one with merchants, owing to the excellence of the food, and
on our arrival we discovered at least six or eight other people who had
stopped for refreshment. They greeted us politely, and we sat down to
'In a short time the two men described by the dervish entered the
room, and at a sign from him my sister made room at her side for one,
while I did the same for the other.
'Now the dervish had happened to mention that “their brother had
danced.” At the moment we paid no attention to this remark, but it came
back to our minds now, and we determined that they should dance also.
To accomplish this we used all our arts and very soon bent them to our
wills, so that they could refuse us nothing. At the end of the day we
remained possessors of the talismans and had left them to their fate,
while the prince and Thelamis fell more in love with us than ever, and
declared that we were more lovely than any women in the world.
'The sun had set before we quitted the inn, and we had made no plans
as to where we should go next, so we readily consented to the prince's
proposal that we should embark without delay for the Isle of Black
Marble. What a place it was! Rocks blacker than jet towered above its
shores and shed thick darkness over the country. Our sailors had not
been there before and were nearly as frightened as ourselves, but
thanks to Thelamis, who undertook to be our pilot, we landed safely on
'When we had left the coast behind us, with its walls of jet, we
entered a lovely country where the fields were greener, the streams
clearer, and the sun brighter than anywhere else. The people crowded
round to welcome their prince, whom they loved dearly, but they told
him that the king was still full of rage at his son's refusal to marry
his cousin the Princess Okimpare, and also at his flight. Indeed, they
all begged him not to visit the capital, as his life would hardly be
safe. So, much as I should have enjoyed seeing the home of my beloved
prince, I implored him to listen to this wise advice and to let us all
go to Thelamis's palace in the middle of a vast forest.
'To my sister and myself, who had been brought up in a cottage, this
house of Thelamis's seemed like fairyland. It was built of pink marble,
so highly polished that the flowers and streams surrounding it were
reflected as in a mirror. One set of rooms was furnished especially for
me in yellow silk and silver, to suit my black hair. Fresh dresses were
provided for us every day, and we had slaves to wait on us. Ah, why
could not this happiness have lasted for ever!
'The peace of our lives was troubled by Thelamis's jealousy of my
sister, as he could not endure to see her on friendly terms with the
prince, though knowing full well that his heart was mine. Every day we
had scenes of tender reproaches and of explanations, but Tezila's tears
never failed to bring Thelamis to his knees, with prayers for
'We had been living in this way for some months when one day the
news came that the king had fallen dangerously ill. I begged the prince
to hurry at once to the Court, both to see his father and also to show
himself to the senators and nobles, but as his love for me was greater
than his desire of a crown, he hesitated as if foreseeing all that
afterwards happened. At last Tezila spoke to him so seriously in
Thelamis's presence, that he determined to go, but promised that he
would return before night.
'Night came but no prince, and Tezila, who had been the cause of his
departure, showed such signs of uneasiness that Thelamis's jealousy was
at once awakened. As for me, I cannot tell what I suffered. Not being
able to sleep I rose from my bed and wandered into the forest, along
the road which he had taken so many hours before. Suddenly I heard in
the distance the sound of a horse's hoofs, and in a few moments the
prince had flung himself down and was by my side. “Ah, how I adore
you!” he exclaimed; “Thelamis's love will never equal mine.” The words
were hardly out of his mouth when I heard a slight noise behind, and
before we could turn round both our heads were rolling in front of us,
while the voice of Thelamis cried:
'“Perjured wretches, answer me; and you, faithless Tezila, tell me
why you have betrayed me like this?”
'Then I understood what had happened, and that, in his rage, he had
mistaken me for my sister.
'“Alas,” replied my head in weak tones, “I am not Tezila, but Dely,
whose life you have destroyed, as well as that of your friend.” At this
Thelamis paused and seemed to reflect for an instant.
'“Be not frightened,” he said more quietly, “I can make you whole
again,” and laying a magic powder on our tongues he placed our heads on
our necks. In the twinkling of an eye our heads were joined to our
bodies without leaving so much as a scar; only that, blinded with rage
as he still was, Thelamis had placed my head on the prince's body, and
his on mine!
'I cannot describe to you how odd we both felt at this strange
transformation. We both instinctively put up our hands—he to feel his
hair, which was, of course, dressed like a woman's, and I to raise the
turban which pressed heavily on my forehead. But we did not know what
had happened to us, for the night was still dark.
'At this point Tezila appeared, followed by a troop of slaves
bearing flowers. It was only by the light of their torches that we
understood what had occurred. Indeed the first thought of both of us
was that we must have changed clothes.
'Now in spite of what we may say, we all prefer our own bodies to
those of anybody else, so notwithstanding our love for each other, at
first we could not help feeling a little cross with Thelamis. However,
so deep was the prince's passion for me, that very soon he began to
congratulate himself on the change. “ My happiness is perfect,” he
said; “my heart, beautiful Dely, has always been yours, and now I have
your head also.”
'But though the prince made the best of it, Thelamis was much
ashamed of his stupidity. “I have,” he said hesitatingly, “two other
pastilles which have the same magic properties as those I used before.
Let me cut off your heads again, and that will put matters straight.”
The proposal sounded tempting, but was a little risky, and after
consulting together we decided to let things remain as they were. “Do
not blame me then,” continued Thelamis, “if you will not accept my
offer. But take the two pastilles, and if it ever happens that you are
decapitated a second time, make use of them in the way I have shown
you, and each will get back his own head.” So saying he presented us
with the pastilles, and we all returned to the castle.
'However, the troubles caused by the unfortunate exchange were only
just beginning. My head, without thinking what it was doing, led the
prince's body to my apartments. But my women, only looking at the
dress, declared I had mistaken the corridor, and called some slaves to
conduct me to his highness's rooms. This was bad enough, but when—as
it was still night my servants began to undress me, I nearly fainted
from surprise and confusion, and no doubt the prince's head was
suffering in the same manner at the other end of the castle!
'By the next morning—you will easily guess that we slept but
little—we had grown partly accustomed to our strange situation, and
when we looked in the mirror, the prince had become brown-skinned and
black-haired, while my head was covered with his curly golden locks.
And after that first day, everyone in the palace had become so
accustomed to the change that they thought no more about it.
'Some weeks after this, we heard that the king of the Isle of Black
Marble was dead. The prince's head, which once was mine, was full of
ambitious desires, and he longed to ride straight to the capital and
proclaim himself king. But then came the question as to whether the
nobles would recognise the prince with a girl's body, and indeed, when
we came to think of it, which was prince and which was girl?
'At last, after much argument, my head carried the day and we set
out; but only to find that the king had declared the Princess Okimpare
his successor. The greater part of the senators and nobles openly
professed that they would much have preferred the rightful heir, but as
they could not recognise him either in the prince or me, they chose to
consider us as impostors and threw us into prison.
'A few days later Tezila and Thelamis, who had followed us to the
capital, came to tell us that the new queen had accused us of high
treason, and had herself been present at our trial—which was conducted
without us. They had been in mortal terror as to what would be our
sentence, but by a piece of extraordinary luck we had been condemned to
'I told my sister that I did not see exactly where the luck came in,
but Thelamis interrupted me rudely:
'“What!” he cried, “of course I shall make use of the pastilles,
and—” but here the officers arrived to lead us to the great square
where the execution was to take place—for Okimpare was determined
there should be no delay.
'The square was crowded with people of all ages and all ranks, and
in the middle a platform had been erected on which was the scaffold,
with the executioner, in a black mask, standing by. At a sign from him
I mounted first, and in a moment my head was rolling at his feet. With
a bound my sister and Thelamis were beside me, and like lightning
Thelamis seized the sabre from the headsman, and cut off the head of
the prince. And before the multitude had recovered from their
astonishment at these strange proceedings, our bodies were joined to
our right heads, and the pastilles placed on our tongues. Then Thelamis
led the prince to the edge of the platform and presented him to the
people, saying, “Behold your lawful king.”
'Shouts of joy rent the air at the sound of Thelamis's words, and
the noise reached Okimpare in the palace. Smitten with despair at the
news, she fell down unconscious on her balcony, and was lifted up by
the slaves and taken back to her own house.
'Meanwhile our happiness was all turned to sorrow. I had rushed up
to the prince to embrace him fondly, when he suddenly grew pale and
'“I die faithful to you,” he murmured, turning his eyes towards me,
“and I die a king!” and leaning his head on my shoulder he expired
quietly, for one of the arteries in his neck had been cut through.
'Not knowing what I did I staggered towards the sabre which was
lying near me, with the intention of following my beloved prince as
speedily as possible. And when Thelamis seized my hand (but only just
in time), in my madness I turned the sabre upon him, and he fell struck
through the heart at my feet.'
The whole company were listening to the story with breathless
attention, when it became plain that Dely could go no further, while
Tezila had flung herself on a heap of cushions and hidden her face.
Zambac ordered her women to give them all the attention possible, and
desired they should be carried into her own rooms.
When the two sisters were in this condition, Ibrahim, who was a very
prudent young man, suggested to his parents that, as the two
Circassians were both unconscious, it would be an excellent opportunity
to search them and see if the talismans belonging to the daughters of
Siroco were concealed about their persons. But the Bassa, shocked at
the notion of treating his guests in so inhospitable a manner, refused
to do anything of the kind, adding that the next day he hoped to
persuade them to give the talismans up of their own free will.
By this time it was nearly midnight and Neangir, who was standing
near the Jewess Sumi, drew out the portrait of Argentine, and heard
with delight that she was even more beautiful than her picture.
Everyone was waiting on tip-toe for the appearance of the two watches,
who were expected when the clock struck twelve to come in search of
Sumi, and that there might be no delay the Bassa ordered all the doors
to be flung wide open. It was done, and there entered not the
longed-for watches, but the page who had been sent away in disgrace.
Then the Bassa arose in wrath. 'Azemi,' he said, 'did I not order
you to stand no more in my presence?'
'My lord,' replied Azemi, modestly, 'I was hidden outside the door,
listening to the tale of the two Circassians. And as I know you are
fond of stories, give me also leave to tell you one. I promise you it
shall not be long.'
'Speak on,' replied the Bassa, 'but take heed what you say.'
'My lord,' began Azemi, 'this morning I was walking in the town when
I noticed a man going in the same direction followed by a slave. He
entered a baker's shop, where he bought some bread which he gave to the
slave to carry. I watched him and saw that he purchased many other
kinds of provisions at other places, and when the slave could carry no
more his master commanded him to return home and have supper ready at
'When left alone the man went up the street, and turning into a
jeweller's shop, brought out a watch that as far as I could see was
made of silver. He walked on a few steps, then stooped and picked up a
gold watch which lay at his feet. At this point I ran up and told him
that if he did not give me half its price I would report him to the
Cadi; he agreed, and conducting me to his house produced four hundred
sequins, which he said was my share, and having got what I wanted I
'As it was the hour for attending on my lord I returned home and
accompanied you to the Cadi, where I heard the story of the three Jews
and learned the importance of the two watches I had left at the
stranger's. I hastened to his house, but he had gone out, and I could
only find the slave, whom I told that I was the bearer of important
news for his master. Believing me to be one of his friends, he begged
me to wait, and showed me into a room where I saw the two watches lying
on the table. I put them in my pocket, leaving the four hundred sequins
in place of the gold watch and three gold pieces which I knew to be the
price of the other. As you know the watches never remain with the
person who buys them, this man may think himself very lucky to get back
his money. I have wound them both up, and at this instant Aurora and
Argentine are locked safely into my own room.'
Everybody was so delighted to hear this news that Azemi was nearly
stifled with their embraces, and Neangir could hardly be prevented from
running to break in the door, though he did not even know where the
But the page begged to have the honour of fetching the ladies
himself, and soon returned leading them by the hand.
For some minutes all was a happy confusion, and Ibrahim took
advantage of it to fall on his knees before Aurora, and search in the
fifth fold of her dress for the missing coral bead. The Book of Spells
had told the truth; there it was, and as the chaplet was now complete
the young man's days of seeking were over.
In the midst of the general rejoicing Hassan alone bore a gloomy
'Alas!' he said, 'everyone is happy but the miserable being you see
before you. I have lost the only consolation in my grief, which was to
feel that I had a brother in misfortune!'
'Be comforted,' replied the Bassa; 'sooner or later the dervish who
stole the pink bag is sure to be found.'
Supper was then served, and after they had all eaten of rare fruits
which seemed to them the most delicious in the whole world, the Bassa
ordered the flask containing the elixir of love to be brought and the
young people to drink of it. Then their eyes shone with a new fire, and
they swore to be true to each other till death.
This ceremony was scarcely over when the clock struck one, and in an
instant Aurora and Argentine had vanished, and in the place where they
stood lay two watches. Silence fell upon all the company—they had
forgotten the enchantment; then the voice of Azemi was heard asking if
he might be allowed to take charge of the watches till the next day,
pledging his head to end their enchantment. With the consent of Sumi,
this was granted, and the Bassa gave Azemi a purse containing a
thousand sequins, as a reward for the services he had already rendered
to them. After this everybody went to his own apartment.
Azemi had never possessed so much money before, and never closed his
eyes for joy the whole night long. Very early he got up and went into
the garden, thinking how he could break the enchantment of the
daughters of Siroco. Suddenly the soft tones of a woman fell on his
ear, and peeping through the bushes he saw Tezila, who was arranging
flowers in her sister's hair. The rustling of the leaves caused Dely to
start; she jumped up as if to fly, but Azemi implored her to remain and
begged her to tell him what happened to them after the death of their
lovers, and how they had come to find the dervish.
'The punishment decreed to us by the Queen Okimpare,' answered Dely,
'was that we were to dance and sing in the midst of our sorrow, at a
great fete which was to be held that very day for all her people. This
cruel command nearly turned our brains, and we swore a solemn oath to
make all lovers as wretched as we were ourselves. In this design we
succeeded so well that in a short time the ladies of the capital came
in a body to Okimpare, and prayed her to banish us from the kingdom,
before their lives were made miserable for ever. She consented, and
commanded us to be placed on board a ship, with our slave Gouloucou.
'On the shore we saw an old man who was busily engaged in drowning
some little black pigs, talking to them all the while, as if they could
'“Accursed race,” said he, “it is you who have caused all the
misfortunes of him to whom I gave the magic bracelet. Perish all of
'We drew near from curiosity, and recognised in him the dervish who
had sheltered us on our first escape from the caravan.
'When the old man discovered who we were he was beside himself with
pleasure, and offered us a refuge in the cave where he lived. We gladly
accepted his offer, and to the cave we all went, taking with us the
last little pig, which he gave us as a present.
'“The Bassa of the Sea,” he added, “will pay you anything you like
to ask for it.”
'Without asking why it was so precious I took the pig and placed it
in my work bag, where it has been ever since. Only yesterday we offered
it to the Bassa, who laughed at us, and this so enraged us against the
dervish that we cut off his beard when he was asleep, and now he dare
not show himself.'
'Ah,' exclaimed the page, 'it is not fitting that such beauty should
waste itself in making other people miserable. Forget the unhappy past
and think only of the future. And accept, I pray you, this watch, to
mark the brighter hours in store.' So saying he laid the watch upon her
knee. Then he turned to Tezila. 'And you fair maiden, permit me to
offer you this other watch. True it is only of silver, but it is all I
have left to give. And I feel quite sure that you must have somewhere a
silver seal, that will be exactly the thing to go with it.'
'Why, so you have,' cried Dely; 'fasten your silver seal to your
watch, and I will hang my gold one on to mine.'
The seals were produced, and, as Azemi had guessed, they were the
talismans which the two Circassians had taken from Izif and Izouf,
mounted in gold and silver. As quick as lightning the watches slid from
the hands of Tezila and her sister, and Aurora and Argentine stood
before them, each with her talisman on her finger.
At first they seemed rather confused themselves at the change which
had taken place, and the sunlight which they had not seen for so long,
but when gradually they understood that their enchantment had come to
an end, they could find no words to express their happiness.
The Circassians could with difficulty be comforted for the loss of
the talismans, but Aurora and Argentine entreated them to dry their
tears, as their father, Siroco, who was governor of Alexandria, would
not fail to reward them in any manner they wished. This promise was
soon confirmed by Siroco himself, who came into the garden with the
Bassa and his two sons, and was speedily joined by the ladies of the
family. Only Hassan was absent. It was the hour in which he was
condemned to bewail his ebony hand.
To the surprise of all a noise was at this moment heard in a corner
of the terrace, and Hassan himself appeared surrounded by slaves,
clapping his hands and shouting with joy. 'I was weeping as usual,'
cried he, 'when all at once the tears refused to come to my eyes, and
on looking down at my hand I saw that its blackness had vanished. And
now, lovely Zelida, nothing prevents me any longer from offering you
the hand, when the heart has been yours always.'
But though Hassan never thought of asking or caring what had caused
his cure, the others were by no means so indifferent. It was quite
clear that the little black pig must be dead—but how, and when? To
this the slaves answered that they had seen that morning a man pursued
by three others, and that he had taken refuge in the cavern which they
had been left to guard. Then, in obedience to orders, they had rolled a
stone over the entrance.
Piercing shrieks interrupted their story, and a man, whom the
Circassians saw to be the old dervish, rushed round the corner of the
terrace with the three Jews behind him. When the fugitive beheld so
many people collected together, he turned down another path, but the
slaves captured all four and brought them before their master.
What was the surprise of the Bassa when he beheld in the old dervish
the man who had given the chaplet, the copper plaque, and the bracelet
to his three sons. 'Fear nothing, holy father,' he said, 'you are safe
with me. But tell us, how came you here?'
'My lord,' explained the dervish, 'when my beard was cut off during
my sleep by the two Circassians, I was ashamed to appear before the
eyes of men, and fled, bearing with me the pink silk bag. In the night
these three men fell in with me, and we passed some time in
conversation, but at dawn, when it was light enough to see each other's
faces, one of them exclaimed that I was the dervish travelling with the
two Circassians who had stolen the talismans from the Jews. I jumped up
and tried to fly to my cave, but they were too quick for me, and just
as we reached your garden they snatched the bag which contained the
little black pig and flung it into the sea. By this act, which delivers
your son, I would pray you to forgive them for any wrongs they may have
done you—nay more, that you will recompense them for it.' The Bassa
granted the holy man's request, and seeing that the two Jews had fallen
victims to the charms of the Circassian ladies, gave his consent to
their union, which was fixed to take place at the same time as that of
Izaf with the wise Sumi. The Cadi was sent for, and the Jews exchanged
the hats of their race for the turbans of the followers of the Prophet.
Then, after so many misfortunes, the Bassa's three sons entreated their
father to delay their happiness no longer, and the six marriages were
performed by the Cadi at the hour of noon.
[Cabinet des Fees.]