Once upon a time there reigned over Persia a Sultan named Kosrouschah, who from his boyhood had been fond of putting on a disguise and seeking adventures in all parts of the city, accompanied by one of his officers, disguised like himself. And no sooner was his father buried and the ceremonies over that marked his accession to the throne, than the young man hastened to throw off his robes of state, and calling to his vizir to make ready likewise, stole out in the simple dress of a private citizen into the less known streets of the capital.
Passing down a lonely street, the Sultan heard women’s voices in loud discussion; and peeping through a crack in the door, he saw three sisters, sitting on a sofa in a large hall, talking in a very lively and earnest manner. Judging from the few words that reached his ear, they were each explaining what sort of men they wished to marry.
“I ask nothing better,” cried the eldest, “than to have the Sultan’s baker for a husband. Think of being able to eat as much as one wanted, of that delicious bread that is baked for his Highness alone! Let us see if your wish is as good as mine.”
“I,” replied the second sister, “should be quite content with the Sultan’s head cook. What delicate stews I should feast upon! And, as I am persuaded that the Sultan’s bread is used all through the palace, I should have that into the bargain. You see, my dear sister, my taste is as good as yours.”
It was now the turn of the youngest sister, who was by far the most beautiful of the three, and had, besides, more sense than the other two. “As for me,” she said, “I should take a higher flight; and if we are to wish for husbands, nothing less than the Sultan himself will do for me.”
The Sultan was so much amused by the conversation he had overheard, that he made up his mind to gratify their wishes, and turning to the grand-vizir, he bade him note the house, and on the following morning to bring the ladies into his presence.
The grand-vizir fulfilled his commission, and hardly giving them time to change their dresses, desired the three sisters to follow him to the palace. Here they were presented one by one, and when they had bowed before the Sultan, the sovereign abruptly put the question to them:
“Tell me, do you remember what you wished for last night, when you were making merry? Fear nothing, but answer me the truth.”
These words, which were so unexpected, threw the sisters into great confusion, their eyes fell, and the blushes of the youngest did not fail to make an impression on the heart of the Sultan. All three remained silent, and he hastened to continue: “Do not be afraid, I have not the slightest intention of giving you pain, and let me tell you at once, that I know the wishes formed by each one. You,” he said, turning to the youngest, “who desired to have me for an husband, shall be satisfied this very day. And you,” he added, addressing himself to the other two, “shall be married at the same moment to my baker and to my chief cook.”