THE SILENT PRINCESS 329
to the princess's apartments. He was at once admitted by the slaves who guarded the door, and took care to pass near the window so that the nightingale hopped unseen to the top of a pillar. Then he turned and bowed low to the princess, and asked her several questions; but, as before, she answered nothing, and, indeed, gave no sign that she heard. After a few minutes the young man bowed again, and crossing over to the window, he said :
' Oh, pillar ! it is no use speaking to the princess, she will not utter one word ; and as I must talk to somebody, I have come to you. Tell me how you have been all this long while ? '
' I thank you,' replied a voice from the pillar, ' I am feeling very well. And it is lucky for me that the princess is silent, or else you would not have wanted to speak to me. To reward you, I will relate to you an interesting tale that I lately overheard, and about which I should like to have your opinion.'
' That will be charming,' answered the prince, ' so pray begin at once.'
' Once upon a time,' said the nightingale, ' there lived a woman who was so beautiful that every man who saw her fell in love with her. But she was very hard to please, and refused to wed any of them, though she managed to keep friends with all. Years passed away in this manner, almost without her noticing them, and one by one the young men grew tired of wraiting, and sought wives who may have been less handsome, but were also less proud, and at length only three of her former wooers remainedóBaldschi, Jagdschi, and Firedschi. Still she held herself apart, thought herself better and lovelier than other women, when, on a certain evening, her eyes were opened at last to the truth. She was sitting before her mirror, combing her curls, when amongst her raven locks she found a long white hair!
' At this dreadful sight her heart gave a jump, and then stood still.