392 THE ARABIAN NIGHTS
believe, I pray you, that they were only said in joke. I am unworthy of the honour you propose to do me, and I can only ask pardon for my boldness.'
The other sisters also tried to excuse themselves, but the Sultan would hear nothing.
' No, no,' he said, ' my mind is made up. Your wishes shall be accomplished.'
So the three weddings were celebrated that same day, but with a great difference. That of the youngest was marked by all the magnificence that was customary at the marriage of the Shah of Persia, while the festivities attending the nuptials of the Sultan's baker and his chief cook were only such as were suitable to their conditions.
This, though quite natural, was highly displeasing to the elder sisters, who fell into a passion of jealousy, which in the end caused a great deal of trouble and pain to several people. And the first time that they had the opportunity of speaking to each other, which was not till several days later at a public bath, they did not attempt to disguise their feelings.
' Can you possibly understand what the Sultan saw in that little cat,' said one to the other, ' for him to be so fascinated by her ? '
' He must be quite blind,' returned the wife of the chief cook. ' As for her looking a little younger than we do, what does that matter? You would have made a far better Sultana than she.'
' Oh, I say nothing of myself,' replied the elder, ' and if the Sultan had chosen you it would have been all very well; but it really grieves me that he should have selected a wretched little creature like that. However, I will be revenged on her somehow, and I beg you will give me your help in the matter, and to tell me anything that you can think of that is likely to mortify her.'
In order to carry out their wicked scheme the two sisters met constantly to talk over their ideas, though all the while they pretended to be as friendly as ever