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("A büvös macska.")
N the far East, somewhere on the borders of Persia, there
was once an extensive kingdom, over which ruled the good
Sultan Abu Hafiz. The land was rich and fruitful; the
trade prosperous; the people happy.
Yes! almost everybody in the kingdom was happy and gay, the
only sorrowful person being the Sultan himself, and he was
sadly wretched. He would walk on the terraces of his
magnificent palace, and look over the fair gardens, but he
never smiled, not even at the lovely goldfish that peered
at him from out the crystal basins of the diminutive
The good Sultan, Abu Hafiz, had never been known to smile
since the day when they brought home the beautiful Sultana
Arizade dead. She had gone out walking one day,
accompanied by her women, when at the very gate of the
palace garden a great monster had bounded across her path,
which so frightened the Sultana that she swooned away, and
never recovered consciousness again. The faithful servants
did all they could to restore their beloved mistress
 to life, but in vain—the sweet lady was dead; and they had
to return to their lord bearing the dead body of his
The Sultan rent his clothes, and tore his beard in his
despair. He ordered his Court to go into mourning, and then
for months no one ever saw his face. After a while, however,
the affairs of State, and other matters of importance,
claimed his attention, and he appeared again. He was just
as good and kind as ever, and listened to the claims of his
poorest subjects with the same patience as formerly, but he
was no longer merry, and even his little son never saw him
At last, his melancholy growing deeper and deeper, his
subjects began to fear that grief would eventually kill
him, so his Ministers held council as to what could be done
to rouse the Sultan from his apathy, and it was decided that
the Grand Vizier, Ben Achmed, should approach his master on
the subject of a second marriage.
Accordingly, Ben Achmed, seeing the Sultan one day
more self-absorbed than ever, threw himself at his feet,
"Your Majesty, pardon the liberty an old and
faithful subject is taking with you, but it is time that
your mourning should cease.
Your perpetual sadness causes all your people
to lose heart, and really affects your entire nation.
Laughter is banished from your kingdom; even trade
is at a standstill. It is your solemn duty to rouse yourself
from your grief; therefore, I, in the name of all your
people, pray you most humbly to
marry again some very beautiful Princess, who will cheer
your Majesty and heal your sorrow."
Needless to say that, at first, the Sultan refused to listen
 to such a proposition, but at last his
sense of duty to his people prevailed,
and he consented to
marry again, provided a Princess could be found as
beautiful and as virtuous as
the dead Sultana. Then the Vizier despatched ambassadors to
countries near and distant, in order to discover a lady
worthy of becoming Abu Hafiz's wife.
At length one of the ambassadors,
who had travelled very far,
saw a Princess who was famous
alike for her beauty, her wealth, and her accomplishments.
She was the widow of a young Prince who had been
killed in battle, and she was in every way fitted to share
the throne of Abu Hafiz, and be a second mother to his son.
To this match, however, there existed an impediment.
The Princess had a son whom she would not leave.
The ambassador, however, wrote such a glowing account of her
exquisite beauty, her enchanting voice, her wisdom and
goodness, that at last the Sultan decided to formally ask
her to become his wife. He despatched a thousand messengers
bearing costly presents, and a guard of honour composed of
three hundred of the finest and bravest young noblemen in
the land, with orders to bring the Princess and
her son and all her retinue back to his kingdom.
Arrangements were made in the palace for a grand wedding,
the city was gaily decorated, and a feast prepared to
welcome the wonderful Princess.
The Sultan sent his Vizier to the city gate, and he himself
received her on the steps of the grand entrance to the
palace. The Princess was certainly all that
the ambassador had painted her; a more stately and beautiful
 lady could hardly have been imagined. Abu
Hafiz was quite charmed, and, taking her
hand, he led her to the banqueting hall, where he placed
her near him on his throne of gold.
Her conversation pleased him even more than
her beauty, for her voice was sweet, and she talked ably and
with sense upon in many subjects.
For three days the festivities were kept up, during which
time all descriptions of gorgeous spectacles, of the
most lavish splendour, were displayed before the new
Sultana. The guests returned to their homes at the end of
the festivities, and life at the palace resumed its normal
Insensibly the new Sultana took the place of the good lady
who had met with such an untimely end.
She exercised boundless influence over the good Sultan, Abu
Hafiz, over his court, and his entire kingdom.
The new Sultana was very proud, and although very generous,
her good acts did not win the love of the people among whom
she had so recently taken up her abode.
When the fascination that her beauty excited had diminished,
the people noticed that their new queen was gradually using
her influence to supplant, in favour of her own boy, her
husband's son in his rights to the throne. The rightful heir
was now a handsome young Prince, and both court and people
felt that he would emulate his father's justice and wisdom.
The Sultana and her son were very jealous of his
 popularity, and many were the plots they hatched together to
try and injure him, unknown to Abu Hafiz. This was well
nigh impossible, as the young Prince was always with his
father, and continually surrounded by a faithful and devoted
At last the Sultan, who was now getting quite
old, became tired of the cares and responsibilities of his
State, so he called his wife and
his son to him one day, and told them that he
had fully made up his mind to abdicate in favour of
his young heir, and hoped the latter would soon
marry a Princess as good and beautiful as his mother
had been, and become a wise and just ruler,
as he had always endeavoured to be.
This did not suit the Sultana's plans at all. If the young
Prince Al Hafiz once gained the
throne, the difficulties of doing away with him
would become almost insurmountable.
That night she and her son Ben Haroun held a long
consultation as to what had best be done. Prince Al Hafiz
had already chosen a bride, a sweet lady, at his father's
court, and whom he had loved for some time.
The Sultan had consented to their union, and
in three days they were to be
After the wedding, Abu Hafiz would formally resign the crown
to his son, and retire with his wife and stepson into
private life. This was a very serious state of things.
The Sultana and Ben Haroun resolved to strike a sudden and
decisive blow, and that very night, when every one in the
palace was asleep, they went out and consulted the
celebrated magician, Abraduz, who had come over from the far
East in the Sultana's retinue.
They found him in his cavern brewing magic potions in
curiously shaped goblets. A tall peaked cap was on his head,
and his beard was so long that it swept the ground round him
where he sat.
Without even looking up he said to the Sultana—
"I know what you want, and why you are here to-night; you
want to destroy the young
 prince, Al Hafiz. I cannot do it; magic
cannot kill, though it can do many things."
"You must help me," the Sultana said, her eyes
glistening with rage; "for
if magic cannot kill, my
sharp dagger can, and unless
you do as I bid you. . . . . . ."
"I am not afraid," the old man said, "but I will help you,
because you have all been
good to me, and
because I know that the young prince hates all
magicians, and when once Sultan, he will probably
expel them from his country. But kill
him I cannot; I have not the power. However, I have a
potion here, which, if you put one drop on the prince's
threshold, will, the moment he treads on it, change him into
a black cat. A cat is easily
destroyed. But remember, on the night of every new moon
my power ceases, and the prince will resume his human
form for six hours. Therefore, lay your plans carefully,
for the cat once dead, no one can ever know who was
instrumental in his destruction."
Saying which, the old magician seized a long wand, and
drawing a magic circle round a skull, into which he had
poured some dark liquid, he began his incantation, the
Sultana and the Prince watching him with eager curiosity.
He murmured strange words, and mixed curious ingredients
with his potion, some frog's legs, and skins of spotted
snakes, a shark's tooth, and unicorn's horn. When he had
finished, he picked up the skull and handed it to the
Sultana, who carried her precious burden back with her to
It was yet night, and no one was about in the Palace, and
the Sultana unable to contain her impatience, stole on
 tiptoe to Prince Al Hafiz's door. Two faithful negroes lay
on the step, to prevent any one having access to their
master. These were, however, fast asleep.
The Sultana cautiously, but rapidly,
poured some of the contents of the skull on the
threshold, and fled back to her own chamber.
The next day every one in the Palace was
profoundly agitated, and
anxious, for the young Prince Al Hafiz had
disappeared, as though the
earth had engulphed him. His two
negro attendants strongly asserted that no
one had crossed the threshold of his apartments.
They saw him come out of his room, and then something
occurred which neither of them could exactly describe.
The young Prince absolutely seemed to vanish,
and not a trace could be
found of him anywhere. Search was made throughout the
entire kingdom, but it was useless, the young heir had
disappeared. His beautiful young bride, and the good Sultan,
nearly went mad with grief, nothing could console them, and
the Palace became more gloomy than it had been after the
death of the first Sultana.
The only joy the poor old Sultan knew in all this trouble
was the affection of a strange and beautiful Angora cat, which
had haunted the Palace ever since the disappearance of
young Prince. It would sit for hours on his
knee, and look at him with great and almost
reproachful eyes, and the Sultan would stroke
its soft fur, and somehow its
eyes would remind him of his lost son.
Naturally the Sultana was not content
for matters to remain as they were; the night
of the new moon was rapidly approaching, and
pussy must be got rid of before then.
But this was a very
difficult matter, for the Sultan would not allow the cat
out of his sight. It sat on his
 knee most of the day, and slept on the foot of his bed at
One night, however, everything seemed to favour the
Sultana's plans, it was a very hot and dark night, and
the Sultan had been persuaded to take a sleeping
draught to cure him from the restless nights he had been
spending since the disappearance of his son. The Sultana
waited till everything was quiet in the
Palace, and then went quietly to her lord's bedside, and
threw a thick cloth over the cat's head as it lay curled
up asleep. Poor pussy! it tried to struggle, knowing in
whose hands it had fallen, but the wicked Sultana
hurried with it to the window which overlooked the
terrace, and beyond that the lake, and taking hold of the
cat's paws hurled it as far as her strength could send it
towards the lake.
She heard a cry and a splash, but did not dare look out, and
crept noiselessly to bed. The next morning she got up happy,
knowing that at last her hated stepson was out of her way
for ever, when going down the marble steps of the terrace
whom should she see but pussy sitting drying his still wet
fur in the sun, and grinning at her triumphantly. She did
not dare express any surprise, and eagerly waited to hear an
explanation of the event.
The young Princess, who had been betrothed to Al Hafiz, had
been out bathing with her attendants in the lake that night,
when suddenly they saw poor pussy dropping
apparently from nowhere, and seemingly not relishing his
rapid descent. In a moment they had formed a circle, and
picked puss up in their arms, just as he fell with a splash
into the lake. He got a ducking, which no cat relishes, but
still he was unhurt, and, when the sun rose, they deposited
him on the terrace, where it took him hours to restore his
fur to its original sleek condition.
The Sultana was quite unable to conceal her rage when she
heard this account, and from that moment never
 attempted to hide her antipathy to the black cat, and it
required all the Sultan's watchful care to prevent her
murdering his pet, even before his eyes. The night for the
new moon was now drawing very near, and plan after plan did
the Sultana and her stepson concoct, but every time they
failed, for pussy was so cunning that it always managed to
evade its enemies, and sought protection with the Sultan or
the young Princess.
At last the very night had come. The moon would rise
in a few hours, and something must be done at once. Fortune
favoured the Sultana; her lord was closeted with his Grand
Vizier, discussing affairs of State, and pussy was roaming
about the palace seeking for the young Princess, who had
gone out for a midnight ramble. Prince Ben Haroun went to
the lake and caught a beautiful young trout, which he left
fastened to his line, then he and the Sultana hid behind
the pillars of the terrace and waited.
Presently pussy came out. He thought he sniffed the
delicious smell of freshly caught trout, and stepped
cautiously on the terrace to see if he had not been deceived.
There, sure enough, on the marble steps, lay the
silvery fish. Pussy found it quite irresistible,
and ventured a little nearer. The trout appeared to
go back at this, and, as pussy again approached, the trout
again drew off.
This was very odd. The fish was certainly
very tempting, but would it be safe to venture so near
those mysterious pillars? Pussy pondered
for one moment, then made one spring at the trout.
Alas! in an instant he was seized,
a cloth thrown over his head, and, worse than all,
felt a heavy stone was adjusted
round his neck, and he was being carried towards the lake.
Struggles, scratches, bites, were useless; he was
absolutely at the mercy of his
enemies, and not a soul was
 in sight. He heard his wicked stepmother say, "Quick,
the lake is not far; quick, before the moon rises. I
can see a light towards the east."
And then all his hopes sank, for the cloth was taken from
his head, and he saw the Sultana's wicked eyes glaring at
him, while Ben Haroun prepared to hurl him into the water.
Poor pussy was so small and so defenceless, his struggles
were useless; he felt, indeed, his end had come. . . .
At that very moment, the thin, pale crescent of the new moon
from the clouds in the east, and a second later Ben Haroun
was wrestling with his brother Al Hafiz, while the
Sultana had fled in terror. Al Hafiz felt the strength
of a giant in him, and with little difficulty he overpowered
and made a prisoner of Ben Haroun.
When the Sultan heard the story of his wife's and stepson's
villainy, he was beside himself with rage, and ordered that
both should be expelled his domains, and
forbidden to return on penalty of death. As for the
wicked old magician, he was hanged the next morning, and I
think, dear little readers, that he well deserved it.
The good old Sultan was now so happy to have found his son,
whom he had believed dead, that he quite forgot all his past
troubles. There was a gorgeous wedding in the
Palace for the young couple, and I have no doubt that if we
were to go to that distant kingdom on the borders of Persia
we should find the Sultan Abu Hafiz, the young Prince Al
Hafiz and his wife, and probably also the Vizier, Ben
Achmed, living happy and prosperous, even to this day.