THE SILENT PRINCESS 325
' Once upon a time,' began the nightingale, ' there lived a pasha whose daughter was the most beautiful maiden in the whole kingdom. Suitors she had in plenty, but she was not easy to please, and at length there were only three whom she felt she could even think of marrying. Not knowing which of the three she liked best, she took counsel with her father, who summoned the young men into his presence, and then told them that they must each of them learn some trade, and whichever of them proved the cleverest at the end of six months should become the husband of the princess.
' Though the three suitors may have been secretly disappointed, they could not help feeling that this test was quite fair, and left the palace together, talking as they went of what handicrafts they might set themselves to follow. The day was hot, and when they reached a spring that gushed out of the side of the mountain, they stopped to drink and rest, and then one of them said:
' " It will be best that we should each seek our fortunes alone ; so let us put our rings under this stone, and go our separate ways. And the first one who returns hither will take his ring, and the others will take theirs. Thus we shall know whether we have all fulfilled the commands of the pasha, or if some accident has befallen any of us."
' " Good," replied the other two. And the three rings were placed in a little hole, and carefully covered again by the stone.
' Then they parted, and for six months they knew naught of each other, till, on the day appointed, they met at the spring. Eight glad they all were, and eagerly they talked of what they had done, and how the time had been spent.
' " I think I shall win the princess," said the eldest, with a laugh, " for it is not everybody that is able to accomplish a whole year's journey in an hour! "
' " That is very clever, certainly," answered his friend ; " but if you are to govern a kingdom it may be still more