The Peri Wife
Once there was and there was not a merchant in the city of Hindustan who
had an only son named Ali. But so wild and undutiful a boy was he, that
at last his despairing father drove him away.
Dressed in the clothes of a wandering dervish, Ali left his father's house
and walked for many miles. But overcome with fatigue, he left the high
road and sat down to rest in a small grove of trees by a little pool.
It was just sunset; four white doves flew down from one of the trees in
the grove, and when they reached the ground, they changed into four of
the most beautiful young women Ali had ever seen.
The sun, the moon have never so
perfect a form, Ali thought. He knew at once they were Peries, those magnificent
fairies who lived on the smell of perfume.
They stripped off their white shifts
and went into the pool where they splashed one another and laughed in lovely
voices that sounded like birds singing.
While they were playing, Ali stood
up quietly and crept to where their garments had been left upon the sand.
He gathered these up and crept back to the grove, where lie placed the
clothing in the hollow of one of the trees. Then he hid behind that very
When the Peries came out of the
Water and could not find their shift's, they, were distressed beyond measure.
They, ran about this way and that, looking for their clothes, but all in
One of them, the youngest
and handsomest, spied Ali, and, guessing immediately that he had taken
their shifts, she alerted her sisters. Then she came over to him and cried.
"Please, son of Adam, return us our shifts, for without them we cannot
"Only if you consent to be
my wife," said Ali.
"But marriage between us
is impossible," the Peri said. "For I am made of fire, and YOU of earth
"Nevertheless," Ali insisted,
"your sisters shall not have the return of their shifts unless you promise
to be my bride. At last the Peri saw that her pleadings were useless. She
bid her sisters a tearful farewell. Then Ali gave them back their shifts,
all but his Peri Wife. The other fairy maidens turned into doves and flew
off, but the Peri Wife remained behind.
Ali returned home with his lovely,
bride and was forgiven at once, for his father thought that with so beautiful
and docile a wife, his son would soon mend his ways.
For a long time this was
true. Ali staved comfortably at home, making certain that his bride was
clothed in the most costly raiment and draped in jewels. But her Peri shift
he buried in a secret place in the far end of the walled garden, for he
did not want her ever to leave.
The Peri had been wrong about
the sons of Adam wedding fairy wives. Fire and earth and water produced
three handsome sons and three lovely daughters whom she loved. She learned
to take some pleasure in the company of her husband's friends and relatives.
Ali was sure of her affection, and so he took no other wife.
But when Ali's father died,
it soon became known that the old man had not been a wise and careful merchant.
There was little enough money left after he was buried, and so Ali was
forced to go off on a long voyage to try to regain the family's fortune.
He put his wife and home
in the charge of an old woman who had served the family for years.
Taking the old woman aside,
he said, "You already know my wife is a Peri. But should anything happen
to me and I not return, someone should know my greatest secret: Her Peri
shift lies buried in the far corner of the garden." And he showed the old
woman where. Then off he sailed.
The old woman was sad, and
so were his children, that Ali had gone without them. But the Peri Wife
seemed saddest of all, for she wept continuously and would not be comforted.
It was not three days later
that, having just bathed, the Peri wife was drying her amber - scented
hair with the corner of her veil. The old woman was helping her, and she
murmured over and over about the Peri's great beauty."
Ah, nurse," the Peri replied, "I
am no beauty now. If you could see me for just one moment in my Peri shift,
then you would know "why the poets sing that: The sun, the moon have never
so perfect a form
The nurse said, "I cannot
believe you could be any more beautiful, my lady."
The Peri smiled sadly. "It
is said that we are the most finished portrait on the tablets of existence.
What you see now is but a sketch for that portrait. Ah, had I my
Peri Shift, you should see me as I should be seen."
"I know where your shift
is, my lady," said the old woman.
The Peri smiled a smile of
such sweetness, it seemed a lamp had been lit in the room. "Then let me
put it on for a single moment, dear nurse - one moment only, and
I will show you my native beauty, the likes of which only my lord husband
has gazed upon."
The silly old woman went
at once and dug up the Peri's shift which, though it had been in dirt all
those years, still gleamed perfectly white. She brought it to her mistress.
"Watch closely, dear nurse,
the Peri Wife said, and put on the shift. No sooner had it slipped clown
over her head than she turned into a dove and escaped, crying her freedom
in a thrilled voice, into the darkling air.
When the merchant returned
from his successful voyage and found his wife gone, he became possessed,
weeping and crying and calling out day and night.
Peri stricken, it is called. And
thus he remained, confined in a madman's cell to the end of his life.