Meanwhile Zobeida had turned to the three Calenders and inquired if, as they were all blind, they were brothers.
“No, madam,” replied one, “we are no blood relations at all, only brothers by our mode of life.”
“And you,” she asked, addressing another, “were you born blind of one eye?”
“No, madam,” returned he, “I became blind through a most surprising adventure, such as probably has never happened to anybody. After that I shaved my head and eyebrows and put on the dress in which you see me now.”
Zobeida put the same question to the other two Calenders, and received the same answer.
“But,” added the third, “it may interest you, madam, to know that we are not men of low birth, but are all three sons of kings, and of kings, too, whom the world holds in high esteem.”
At these words Zobeida’s anger cooled down, and she turned to her slaves and said, “You can give them a little more liberty, but do not leave the hall. Those that will tell us their histories and their reasons for coming here shall be allowed to leave unhurt; those who refuse—” And she paused, but in a moment the porter, who understood that he had only to relate his story to set himself free from this terrible danger, immediately broke in,
“Madam, you know already how I came here, and what I have to say will soon be told. Your sister found me this morning in the place where I always stand waiting to be hired. She bade me follow her to various shops, and when my basket was quite full we returned to this house, when you had the goodness to permit me to remain, for which I shall be eternally grateful. That is my story.”
He looked anxiously to Zobeida, who nodded her head and said, “You can go; and take care we never meet again.”
“Oh, madam,” cried the porter, “let me stay yet a little while. It is not just that the others should have heard my story and that I should not hear theirs,” and without waiting for permission he seated himself on the end of the sofa occupied by the ladies, whilst the rest crouched on the carpet, and the slaves stood against the wall.
Then one of the Calenders, addressing himself to Zobeida as the principal lady, began his story.
In order, madam, to explain how I came to lose my right eye, and to wear the dress of a Calender, you must first know that I am the son of a king. My father’s only brother reigned over the neighbouring country, and had two children, a daughter and a son, who were of the same age as myself.