The German Novelists/Eberhardt/Treachery its own Betrayer

The German Novelists  (1826)  translated by Thomas Roscoe
Treachery its own Betrayer by P. Eberhardt

Published in German as "Untreue schlägt seinen eigenen Herrn (ein persisches Mährchen)" in Mährchen-Sammlung (1821), probably based on a German translation of a summary in The Spectator (1715) of part of François Pétis de la Croix's "Le Prince Fadlallah" in Les mille et un jours (1710).



Fadlallah, the son of the mighty monarch Bin-Ortob, succeeded on the decease of the latter to the throne of the kingdom of Mousel. He was still in the flower of his days, was intelligent and even more good natured than clever, so that in a short time he acquired the entire affection of his subjects. He was in particular commended for the filial tenderness he displayed towards his widowed mother, the queen Zemrouda; devoting himself, in every way he could imagine, to her happiness, and to shed light and pleasure over the evening of her days. Upon ascending the throne, instead of dooming her to a widowed solitude, as formerly had been the custom, he left her in possession of the same royal honours and the same splendid establishment which she had enjoyed during the late sultan’s life. He even took a vow that he would never raise a new queen to the same rank until he had erected a splendid palace for his future consort, so as not to deprive his queen-mother of the least portion of her present possessions, or subject her to the slightest inconvenience.

The young monarch possessing a great taste for the arts and sciences, as well as esteeming their professors, bestowed liberal encouragement upon men of letters, numbers of whom quickly resorted to his court. He had sufficient discrimination, however, to distinguish between those who possessed no useful talents or endowments, whom he soon dismissed, and those whose sound principles and knowledge entitled them to his patronage.

A young Dervise at length appeared at his court, whose singular penetration and acquirements, whose wit and personal accomplishments attracted the attention and won the admiration and affection of all ranks. He became the constant topic of conversation, and always of applause. It could not fail at length to reach the ears of the monarch, whose curiosity led him to wish for a personal interview, the Dervise not having taken a single step to recommend himself to his patronage. He summoned him, therefore, to his presence—the Dervise obeyed, and appeared to such great advantage, in point of intellectual endowments, of such noble principles, united to so many accomplishments and such address, as even at a single interview to win the royal favour. King Fadlallah admired and esteemed him, declaring that in this instance, report had no way flattered the object of its applause. He entreated of the young stranger that he would frequently visit him; while the latter availed himself of the invitation with so much modesty and discretion as to remove every suspicion of interested motives for his return; and so great was the progress he made in Fadlallah’s good opinion by his superior character and conversation, that he appeared always dissatisfied if he had not conversed with him in the course of the day. He at length attached him wholly to his court, retained him as much as possible near his person, and by degrees succeeded in availing himself of his talents for the public service. In a short time the king conferred upon him the highest office in the state. This the Dervise repaid by observing the strictest fidelity and affection; though he refused to receive this last proof of his kindness, declaring with great modesty that he was unequal to it, and that he had moreover taken a vow to refuse office, inasmuch as he preferred his freedom to the highest honors and to the most enormous wealth.

The king was astonished at his moderation, and from this time forth regarded the Dervise as his first friend and favorite. Once as the Dervise was accompanying the king to the chase, he entertained his master with an account of his travels and many singular adventures. Their conversation at length turned upon India, and when the Dervise had related several very extraordinary events that had occurred there, he concluded by saying, that in the same country he had become acquainted with a certain venerable old bramin, one who had penetrated into some of nature’s deepest secrets. “He died in my arms,” continued the Dervise, “and with his last words communicated to me one of his rarest secrets, under the express condition, that I would never confide it to any other mortal.”

Surely, thought the king, this must be the grand art of making gold; and then his refusal to accept the highest office in his kingdom directly occured to him; this suspicion he communicated to his friend.

“No, my noble master,” replied the latter, “it is something far more wonderful; it is the secret power of again restoring a deceased body to life by a migration of my own spirit.” Just at that moment a roe was observed bounding past them, and the king, who was prepared to fire, brought it down by a shot through the heart. “There,” he said to the Dervise, “you have now an opportunity of displaying your power.”

“You seem to doubt it,” returned the Dervise, “but I will soon convince you of its truth;” and this he pronounced in a very deep and earnest tone. At the same time he fell down dead, and the next moment the roe sprang up, as lively and well again as ever. It bounded towards the king, played a thousand pretty tricks, displaying its attachment to him in every way it could, and then fell lifeless upon the grass, while the Dervise on his side got up again.

Fadlallah was lost in delighted astonishment as he beheld this strange transaction, and then he entreated the Dervise, by every thing that was sacred, to impart to him the nature of the secret. At first the latter made many objections, assuring the King that there was nothing he would not willingly encounter to promote the pleasure of his noble patron, holding his own life light in the balance; yet he could hardly venture to break the sacred vow he had made the old bramin, and he trusted his majesty would excuse him. This only induced the monarch to make fresh and more urgent entreaties, so as at length, to convince his favorite that there was nothing which he ought to refuse to so great a prince, and particularly a secret that some time or other, he would himself most probably communicate to a third person.

The monarch, however, must consent to take a binding oath to preserve a strict silence in regard to the affair, upon receiving which the Dervise taught him two cabalistical words which were not to be pronounced above the breath, for fear of destroying the potent charm of which he had just given so lively a proof.

The King was full of impatience to put his knowledge into execution upon the spot, although the Dervise appeared as if he wished to dissuade him. But he spoke the dreadful wonder-words that he had learnt, and suddenly he found his soul inspiring the dead body of the roe. The Dervise here gave him little time to consider the nature of the metamorphosis; for he treacherously took possession of the lifeless form of the monarch, and the same moment seizing the weapon of his master he would have levelled it at the roe, had not the King, aware of his design, suddenly concealed himself in an adjacent thicket.

Rejoicing in his successful villany, the Dervise proceeded in the outward semblance of Fadlallah towards the capital, and shortly he found himself seated upon the king’s throne.

No one suspected the cheat; even Fadlallah’s own mother received her supposed son with her usual tenderness, though it was a little more difficult on the part of the Dervise to counterfeit an affection he did not feel, for the expression of a pure and virtuous heart cannot by any art or hypocrisy be imitated. The false king excused the absence of the Dervise, by saying, that he had been greatly deceived in him, that he was by no means the wise man he took him for; and that being engaged in an argument with him, he (the King) had not concealed his opinion of him, upon which the Dervise had left him in a huff, declaring that he would never more submit to any of the King’s commands from the moment he should reach the frontiers.

This invention obtained credit throughout the whole court, for there were many who had been jealous of the Dervise’s influence with the monarch, and were rejoiced to think that he had incurred the royal displeasure. All tongues were now loud in their aspersions of him, insomuch that the Dervise in the King’s shape, had an opportunity of hearing the real, but by no means flattering opinion entertained of him at court. He resolved to revenge himself at a fit opportunity, but at present he had more important business to occupy his attention, namely to secure possession of the throne which he had thus treacherously obtained. For this purpose he issued a royal edict to all his subjects for the speedy destruction of all the roes throughout his dominions, each being entitled to a handsome reward for every one that should be taken.

The real king would infallibly have been destroyed, as coming within the operation of this act, had he not luckily avoided his impending fate by escaping into the corpse of a deceased nightingale, which he found at the foot of a tree

In this transformation he flew as fast as possible towards his capital of Mousel. He had a great curiosity to learn in what way the treacherous Dervise was proceeding, as well as once more to behold his dearly beloved mother. He took his station, therefore, upon a tree directly opposite to the queen’s chamber, over which it cast a cool delicious shade. Here he poured his sweetest song; but so mournful withal were the strains he poured, that the princess sat enchanted for hours at her window listening to him. But it sadly grieved him to think that she had not the least suspicion of the cause, and that so far from feeling any degree of compassion, she only amused herself along with her slaves, in praising the compass of his notes. Still he ceased not, both morn and eye, to pour his tender song, until the queen on the approach of a colder season, fearful lest she might lose her little musical guest, gave orders to have him, if possible, secured.

The transformed monarch heard the whole of this from his perch on the bough, and when the Queen’s bird-catcher appeared, to secure him by some sleight of hand, he sat quite still and quietly permitted him to take him. For the unhappy king wished for nothing so much as to avail himself of this occasion to approach nearer his affectionate mother. So the bird-catcher, then, presented him to the Queen contained in a costly cage, and he received a high reward. She soon ordered a still more splendid residence for him, constructed of the finest gold wire, beset with rubies, emeralds and sapphires, besides other precious materials, being resolved to guard him with the utmost care and tenderness.

As she now put her hand into the cage in order to transfer him to his new abode, he not merely permitted her to take him without the least cherupping or flutter, but looked into her face with so soft and musical an expression, pecked and billed her hands so very affectionately, that finding him so tame the Queen held him more gently than before, when he fluttered round her face and neck, and seemed so delighted that the Queen was quite overjoyed with her little feathered guest.

She placed the cage on a marble slab; leaving the door ajar, so that the King was at liberty to fly in and out when he pleased; still continuing his flattering kisses and caresses. She listened hours together to his song, played with him in a thousand little ways, and pronounced him the sweetest pretty favorite she ever had.

The poor king felt very happy in thus still being made the object of her love; and it was only when his treacherous foe, the wily Dervise made his appearance, in his stolen body; and when he lavished his hypocritical attentions upon the Queen, with affected filial respect, that he felt as if a dagger went to his heart.

And though his indignation was all in vain, he could not refrain from sometimes betraying it by biting at his fingers when he touched him, striking with his little wings, and uttering the most sharp and lamentable notes, at which the Queen and her supposed son appeared much amused.

In addition to her nightingale, however, she had another favorite in her apartments, which had been presented to her when she was only twelve years of age. It was a lap dog, and from that time, it had never been absent from her side; a very faithful little creature, but it was very old, very cross, and very ill. And alas, one morning the princess found it lying dead upon its cushion near her bed, whence it had hitherto always sprang to salute her in the morning.

This was a cruel blow upon the Queen; she could not conceal her grief, and declared her fixed determination to have the little dog stuffed, so as to be enabled to keep him still near her.

All this was communicated to our royal Dervise, who instantly waited upon the Queen in order to console her on her loss. In the mean time, however, the real king had availed himself himself of this occurrence to leave the body of the bird, and take possession of that of the lap dog, in order to please his mother by bringing her favourite back to life.

When the Dervise entered the Queen’s apartment he found her to his infinite astonishment, playing with the pretty little dog, frisking about as usual. In great glee she acquainted him that as she was lamenting over the little fellow just before, and stroking him for the last time, he jumped up, and began to bark, caressing her as if nothing had happened. “Indeed,” she continued, “I think I never should be comforted for the loss either of my pretty lap dog, or of my sweet nightingale, that pours such delightful songs.” Saying this, “she looked up, and what a sight! she beheld her nightingale stretched lifeless at the bottom of his cage.”

The extravagance of her grief was now greater than for the loss of her dog, and she refused to be comforted. The Dervise, irritated at these lamentations, and forgetting for a moment the part he was playing, reproached the Queen sharply for this morbid sensibility; a weakness he said, the less excusable as she must know that all that lives must sometime die; and he added mockery to his reproaches. “Strange,” he continued, “that she, who had been deprived of a consort whom she ought to have loved infinitely more than these senseless animals, could have consoled herself for his loss, and yet waste her foolish lamentations over them.”

The Queen, unaccustomed to such language from her affectionate son, now wept more bitterly than ever, and persevered in her lamentations and reproaches so long that the Dervise became alarmed at having thus inconsiderately assumed his natural character, and sought to make the matter up. But he had gone too far, and all his endeavours were now in vain. “Well, well,” he suddenly exclaimed, as a last resource, “I will do what I can to lighten your grief. Every morning your nightingale shall come to life again, and sing as much as you please.”

The queen looked at him with an air of surprise, and did not conceal her doubts. In fact she fancied her son had suddenly run mad.

“What I have promised you,” insisted the Dervise, “shall be done, were it only to convince you that mine are no empty words.”

So forthwith he laid himself down upon the sofa and sent his soul into the nightingale, which to the no small astonishment of the Queen, began to flutter about and sing as exquisitely as before.

The real king in the form of the dog was a spectator of this scene; and availed himself of this opportunity to take possession of his own body, which he did the moment the wily Dervise left it. He then sprang off the sofa, ran to the cage and seizing the nightingale by the neck wrung it till it was dead.

“Madman,” cried the queen, transported with anger at the deed; “what is it you do? Is this your affected kindness and respect for your mother, a mother who has lavished upon you so much care and tenderness?”

It was now king Fadlallah proceeded to inform her respecting every thing which had passed, in consequence of the treachery of the Dervise. The queen was the less inclined to question the truth of what he stated, as she recollected a variety of little circumstances, which though not before noticed, now corroborated it. In particular the decree issued against the roes, and the account she had received of the Dervise’s body being found half devoured by the wolves under a tree in the wood. Thus after a short reign of power and splendor, the traitor received the just reward of his deeds; having betrayed the utmost ingratitude and baseness towards the best of masters. All his infernal arts were insufficient to screen him from the hand of that justice, which is dealt out equally from on high.

  1. Though not strictly of Germanic origin, this story has been incorporated in many German collections, insomuch as to authorize the editor to give it a place in a work, the chief object of which is to amuse. Nor in other instances has he felt himself justified in omitting, such tales as he considered adapted to this purpose, where they have been previously adapted by German authors or collectors of fictitious narrative; merely for fear of their not having taken their origin in the country in whose language they are related.—Ed.