416 THE ARABIAN NIGHTS
'Oh, if only the Sultan had had sons like that!' they murmured, ' they look so distinguished and are about the same age that his sons would have been! '
The Sultan commanded that splendid apartments should be prepared for the two brothers, and even insisted that they should sit at table with him. During dinner he led the conversation to various scientific subjects, and also to history, of which he was especially fond; but whatever topic they might be discussing he found that the views of the young men were always worth listening to. ' If they were my own sons,' he said to himself, k they could not be better educated! ' and aloud he complimented them on their learning and taste for knowledge.
At the end of the evening the princes once more prostrated themselves before the throne and asked leave to return home ; and then, encouraged by the gracious words of farewell uttered by the Sultan, Prince Bahman said: ' Sire, may we dare to take the liberty of asking whether you would do us and our sister the honour of resting for a few minutes at our house the first time the hunt passes that way ?'
' With the utmost pleasure,' replied the Sultan; ' and as I am all impatience to see the sister of such accomplished young men you may expect me the day after tomorrow.'
The princess was of course most anxious to entertain the Sultan in a fitting way, but as she had no experience in court customs she ran to the Talking Bird, and begged he would advise her as to what dishes should be served.
' My dear mistress,' replied the bird, ' your cooks are very good and you can safely leave all to them, except that you must be careful to have a dish of cucumbers, stuffed with pearl sauce, served with the first course.'
' Cucumbers stuffed with pearls!' exclaimed the princess. 'Why, bird, who ever heard of such a dish? The Sultan will expect a dinner he can eat, and not one he