THE SILENT PRINCESS 323
and failing altogether, the nightingale pecked open his cage door, which was lightly fastened by a stick, and, perching on his shoulder, murmured softly in his ear:
' What makes you so sad, my prince ? ' The young man started. In his native country birds did not talk, and, like many people, he was always rather afraid of what he did not understand. But in a moment he felt ashamed of his folly, and explained that he had travelled for more than a year, and over thousands of miles, to win the hand of the sultan's daughter. And now that he had reached his goal he could think of no plan to force her to speak.
' Oh! do not trouble your head about that,' replied the bird, ' it is quite easy! Go this evening to the women's apartments, and take me with you, and when you enter the princess's private chamber hide me under the pedestal which supports the great golden candlestick. The princess herself will be wrapped so thickly in her seven veils that she can see nothing, neither can her face be seen by anyone. Then inquire after her health, but she will remain quite silent; and next say that you are sorry to have disturbed her, and that you will have a little talk with the pedestal of the candlestick. When you speak I will answer.'
The prince threw his mantle over the bird, and started for the palace, where he begged an audience of the sultan. This was soon granted him, and leaving the nightingale hidden by the mantle, in a dark corner outside the door, he walked up to the throne on which his highness was sitting, and bowed low before him.
' What is your request ? ' asked the sultan, looking closely at the young man, who was tall and handsome ; but when he heard the tale he shook his head pityingly.
'If you can make her speak she shall be your wife,' answered he ; ' but if notódid you mark the skulls that strewed the mountain side ? '
' Some day a man is bound to break the spell, 0 sultan,'