Once upon a time an old woman lived in a small cottage near the sea with
her two daughters. They were very poor, and the girls seldom left the
house, as they worked all day long making veils for the ladies to wear
over their faces, and every morning, when the veils were finished, the
other took them over the bridge and sold them in the city. Then she
bought the food that they needed for the day, and returned home to do
her share of veil-making.
One morning the old woman rose even earlier than usual, and set off
for the city with her wares. She was just crossing the bridge when,
suddenly, she knocked up against a human head, which she had never
seen there before. The woman started back in horror; but what was her
surprise when the head spoke, exactly as if it had a body joined on to
'Take me with you, good mother!' it said imploringly; 'take me with you
back to your house.'
At the sound of these words the poor woman nearly went mad with terror.
Have that horrible thing always at home? Never! never! And she turned
and ran back as fast as she could, not knowing that the head was
jumping, dancing, and rolling after her. But when she reached her own
door it bounded in before her, and stopped in front of the fire, begging
and praying to be allowed to stay.
All that day there was no food in the house, for the veils had not been
sold, and they had no money to buy anything with. So they all sat silent
at their work, inwardly cursing the head which was the cause of their
When evening came, and there was no sign of supper, the head spoke, for
the first time that day:
'Good mother, does no one ever eat here? During all the hours I have
spent in your house not a creature has touched anything.'
'No,' answered the old woman, 'we are not eating anything.'
'And why not, good mother?'
'Because we have no money to buy any food.'
'Is it your custom never to eat?'
'No, for every morning I go into the city to sell my veils, and with the
few shillings I get for them I buy all we want. To-day I did not cross
the bridge, so of course I had nothing for food.'
'Then I am the cause of your having gone hungry all day?' asked the
'Yes, you are,' answered the old woman.
'Well, then, I will give you money and plenty of it, if you will only do
as I tell you. In an hour, as the clock strikes twelve, you must be on
the bridge at the place where you met me. When you get there call out
"Ahmed," three times, as loud as you can. Then a negro will appear, and
you must say to him: "The head, your master, desires you to open the
trunk, and to give me the green purse which you will find in it."'
'Very well, my lord,' said the old woman, 'I will set off at once for
the bridge.' And wrapping her veil round her she went out.
Midnight was striking as she reached the spot where she had met the head
so many hours before.
'Ahmed! Ahmed! Ahmed!' cried she, and immediately a huge negro, as tall
as a giant, stood on the bridge before her.
'What do you want?' asked he.
'The head, your master, desires you to open the trunk, and to give me
the green purse which you will find in it.'
'I will be back in a moment, good mother,' said he. And three minutes
later he placed a purse full of sequins in the old woman's hand.
No one can imagine the joy of the whole family at the sight of all this
wealth. The tiny, tumble-down cottage was rebuilt, the girls had new
dresses, and their mother ceased selling veils. It was such a new thing
to them to have money to spend, that they were not as careful as they
might have been, and by-and-by there was not a single coin left in the
purse. When this happened their hearts sank within them, and their faces
'Have you spent your fortune?' asked the head from its corner, when it
saw how sad they looked. 'Well, then, go at midnight, good mother, to
the bridge, and call out "Mahomet!" three times, as loud as you can. A
negro will appear in answer, and you must tell him to open the trunk,
and to give you the red purse which he will find there.'
The old woman did not need twice telling, but set off at once for the
'Mahomet! Mahomet! Mahomet!' cried she, with all her might; and in an
instant a negro, still larger than the last, stood before her.
'What do you want?' asked he.
'The head, your master, bids you open the trunk, and to give me the red
purse which you will find in it.'
'Very well, good mother, I will do so,' answered the negro, and, the
moment after he had vanished, he reappeared with the purse in his hand.
This time the money seemed so endless that the old woman built herself a
new house, and filled it with the most beautiful things that were to
be found in the shops. Her daughters were always wrapped in veils that
looked as if they were woven out of sunbeams, and their dresses shone
with precious stones. The neighbours wondered where all this sudden
wealth had sprung from, but nobody knew about the head.
'Good mother,' said the head, one day, 'this morning you are to go to
the city and ask the sultan to give me his daughter for my bride.'
'Do what?' asked the old woman in amazement. 'How can I tell the sultan
that a head without a body wishes to become his son-in-law? They will
think that I am mad, and I shall be hooted from the palace and stoned by
'Do as I bid you,' replied the head; 'it is my will.'
The old woman was afraid to say anything more, and, putting on her
richest clothes, started for the palace. The sultan granted her an
audience at once, and, in a trembling voice, she made her request.
'Are you mad, old woman?' said the sultan, staring at her.
'The wooer is powerful, O Sultan, and nothing is impossible to him.'
'Is that true?'
'It is, O Sultan; I swear it,' answered she.
'Then let him show his power by doing three things, and I will give him
'Command, O gracious prince,' said she.
'Do you see that hill in front of the palace?' asked the sultan.
'I see it,' answered she.
'Well, in forty days the man who has sent you must make that hill
vanish, and plant a beautiful garden in its place. That is the first
thing. Now go, and tell him what I say.'
So the old woman returned and told the head the sultan's first
'It is well,' he replied; and said no more about it.
For thirty-nine days the head remained in its favourite corner. The old
woman thought that the task set before was beyond his powers, and
that no more would be heard about the sultan's daughter. But on the
thirty-ninth evening after her visit to the palace, the head suddenly
'Good mother,' he said, 'you must go to-night to the bridge, and when
you are there cry "Ali! Ali! Ali!" as loud as you can. A negro will
appear before you, and you will tell him that he is to level the hill,
and to make, in its place, the most beautiful garden that ever was
'I will go at once,' answered she.
It did not take her long to reach the bridge which led to the city, and
she took up her position on the spot where she had first seen the head,
and called loudly 'Ali! Ali! Ali.' In an instant a negro appeared before
her, of such a huge size that the old woman was half frightened; but his
voice was mild and gentle as he said: 'What is it that you want?'
'Your master bids you level the hill that stands in front of the
sultan's palace and in its place to make the most beautiful garden in
'Tell my master he shall be obeyed,' replied Ali; 'it shall be done this
moment.' And the old woman went home and gave Ali's message to the head.
Meanwhile the sultan was in his palace waiting till the fortieth day
should dawn, and wondering that not one spadeful of earth should have
been dug out of the hill.
'If that old woman has been playing me a trick,' thought he, 'I will
hang her! And I will put up a gallows to-morrow on the hill itself.'
But when to-morrow came there was no hill, and when the sultan opened
his eyes he could not imagine why the room was so much lighter than
usual, and what was the reason of the sweet smell of flowers that filled
'Can there be a fire?' he said to himself; 'the sun never came in at
this window before. I must get up and see.' So he rose and looked out,
and underneath him flowers from every part of the world were blooming,
and creepers of every colour hung in chains from tree to tree.
Then he remembered. 'Certainly that old woman's son is a clever
magician!' cried he; 'I never met anyone as clever as that. What shall I
give him to do next? Let me think. Ah! I know.' And he sent for the old
woman, who by the orders of the head, was waiting below.
'Your son has carried out my wishes very nicely,' he said. 'The garden
is larger and better than that of any other king. But when I walk across
it I shall need some place to rest on the other side. In forty days
he must build me a palace, in which every room shall be filled with
different furniture from a different country, and each more magnificent
than any room that ever was seen.' And having said this he turned round
and went away.
'Oh! he will never be able to do that,' thought she; 'it is much more
difficult than the hill.' And she walked home slowly, with her head
'Well, what am I to do next?' asked the head cheerfully. And the old
woman told her story.
'Dear me! is that all? why it is child's play,' answered the head; and
troubled no more about the palace for thirty-nine days. Then he told the
old woman to go to the bridge and call for Hassan.
'What do you want, old woman?' asked Hassan, when he appeared, for he
was not as polite as the others had been.
'Your master commands you to build the most magnificent palace that ever
was seen,' replied she; 'and you are to place it on the borders of the
'He shall be obeyed,' answered Hassan. And when the sultan woke he saw,
in the distance, a palace built of soft blue marble, resting on slender
pillars of pure gold.
'That old woman's son is certainly all-powerful,' cried he; 'what shall
I bid him do now?' And after thinking some time he sent for the old
woman, who was expecting the summons.
'The garden is wonderful, and the palace the finest in the world,' said
he, 'so fine, that my servants would cut but a sorry figure in it. Let
your son fill it with forty slaves whose beauty shall be unequalled, all
exactly like each other, and of the same height.'
This time the king thought he had invented something totally impossible,
and was quite pleased with himself for his cleverness.
Thirty-nine days passed, and at midnight on the night of the last the
old woman was standing on the bridge.
'Bekir! Bekir! Bekir!' cried she. And a negro appeared, and inquired
what she wanted.
'The head, your master, bids you find forty slaves of unequalled beauty,
and of the same height, and place them in the sultan's palace on the
other side of the garden.'
And when, on the morning of the fortieth day, the sultan went to the
blue palace, and was received by the forty slaves, he nearly lost his
wits from surprise.
'I will assuredly give my daughter to the old woman's son,' thought he.
'If I were to search all the world through I could never find a more
And when the old woman entered his presence he informed her that he was
ready to fulfil his promise, and she was to bid her son appear at the
palace without delay.
This command did not at all please the old woman, though, of course, she
made no objections to the sultan.
'All has gone well so far,' she grumbled, when she told her story to
the head,' but what do you suppose the sultan will say, when he sees his
'Never mind what he says! Put me on a silver dish and carry me to the
So it was done, though the old woman's heart beat as she laid down the
dish with the head upon it.
At the sight before him the king flew into a violent rage.
'I will never marry my daughter to such a monster,' he cried. But the
princess placed her head gently on his arm.
'You have given your word, my father, and you cannot break it,' said
'But, my child, it is impossible for you to marry such a being,'
exclaimed the sultan.
'Yes, I will marry him. He had a beautiful head, and I love him
So the marriage was celebrated, and great feasts were held in the
palace, though the people wept tears to think of the sad fate of their
beloved princess. But when the merry-making was done, and the young
couple were alone, the head suddenly disappeared, or, rather, a body
was added to it, and one of the handsomest young men that ever was seen
stood before the princess.
'A wicked fairy enchanted me at my birth,' he said, 'and for the rest of
the world I must always be a head only. But for you, and you only, I am
a man like other men.'
'And that is all I care about,' said the princess.