The Grey Fairy Book
The Story of the Three Sons of Hali
Till his eighteenth birthday the young Neangir lived happily in a village about forty miles
from Constantinople, believing that Mohammed and Zinebi his wife, who had brought
him up, were his real parents.
Neangir was quite content with his lot, though he was neither rich nor great, and unlike
most young men of his age had no desire to leave his home. He was therefore completely
taken by surprise when one day Mohammed told him with many sighs that the time had
now come for him to go to Constantinople, and fix on a profession for himself. The
choice would be left to him, but he would probably prefer either to be a soldier or one of
the doctors learned in the law, who explain the Koran to the ignorant people. 'You know
the holy book nearly by heart,' ended the old man, 'so that in a very short time you would
be fitted to teach others. But write to us and tell us how you pass your life, and we, on our
side, will promise never to forget you.'
So saying, Mohammed gave Neangir four piastres to start him in the great city, and
obtained leave for him to join a caravan which was about to set off for Constantinople.
The journey took some days, as caravans go very slowly, but at last the walls and towers
of the capital appeared in the distance. When the caravan halted the travellers went their
different ways, and Neangir was left, feeling very strange and rather lonely. He had
plenty of courage and made friends very easily; still, not only was it the first time he had
left the village where he had been brought up, but no one had ever spoken to him of
Constantinople, and he did not so much as know the name of a single street or of a
creature who lived in it.
Wondering what he was to do next, Neangir stood still for a moment to look about him,
when suddenly a pleasant-looking man came up, and bowing politely, asked if the youth
would do him the honour of staying in his house till he had made some plans for himself.
Neangir, not seeing anything else he could do, accepted the stranger's offer and followed
They entered a large room, where a girl of about twelve years old was laying three places
at the table.
'Zelida,' said the stranger, 'was I not quite right when I told you that I should bring back a
friend to sup with us?'
'My father,' replied the girl, 'you are always right in what you say, and what is better still,
you never mislead others.' As she spoke, an old slave placed on the table a dish called
pillau, made of rice and meat, which is a great favourite among people in the East, and
setting down glasses of sherbet before each person, left the room quietly.