The Bey of Roses by Elsa Sophia von Kamphoevener
In the rich southern region of Asia Minor there lived a beautiful girl whose name was Gülilah (from Gül, “the rose “). Her father was a merchant and was away traveling most of the time. Her mother was sickly and knew that her death was approaching. She foresaw that her husband would take another wife after her death. Therefore she called Gülilah and showed her the largest and most beautiful rosebush of the garden. She told her daughter to go there whenever she was sad, to lay her hand on the bush and call her mother.
The mother died, and soon Gülilah’s father returned from a journey, already married again. When the new wife was given all the jewels of Gülilah’s dead mother, the girl felt desolate. She hurried to the rosebush; the gray veil in which she liked to wrap herself fluttered about her like dove wings. Beseechingly she laid her hands upon the strong wood of the rose and called her mother. The rosebush opened as if the curtain was drawn from before a chamber. Gülilah stepped into the rosebush; it closed upon her like the arms of her mother.
So Gülilah disappeared. All the day the nurse searched for her in vain. Finally she came to the rosebush and called the girl’s name. Gülilah answered from the bush, and then slipped out of it; innumerable rose petals clung to the gray veil. From then on she lived for many years most of the time in the rosebush with her mother.
It so happened that in the region of Gülilah’s home there lived a rich young man. His name was Omer, but he was also called the Bey of roses, for he possessed immeasurably large fields of roses. His mother wanted him to marry, but he resisted. When, finally, he seemed to give in, he did so on condition that he should himself make sure that the girl he would wed was fragrant with the most sweet smell of roses.
But it was of course impossible to fulfill this condition, since Muslim custom forbids a man to know the fragrance of a girl before marriage; he may not even see her unveiled. When his mother therefore remonstrated with him, Omer, playful as he was, suggested that his mother should choose several girls, bring them veiled to the courtyard of the women’s house, the harem, and there line them up. Then he would pass along the row, sniff at the girls as at roses without unveiling them, and choose the one with the sweetest smell.
By this demand Omer hoped to have frustrated his mother’s marriage plans. He told all his friends of the event, and winged Fame spread the extraordinary news all over the town.
Of course, all the mothers of marriageable girls were horrified at the idea. The girls, however, were ready to submit to the unusual bridal test. The mother of the Bey of roses made all necessary preparations with discretion, and Omer was caught in his own trap. Omer’s marriage became the talk of the whole town. Gülilah h in the fragrant prison of the rosebush was the only one who had not heard the news. The nurse, however, knew all about it and made her plans accordingly.
The nurse’s nephew was a carpenter. It so happened that he and a friend had decided to earn some additional money in the future as sedan chair men, and had therefore built a new sedan chair. This nephew the nurse took into her confidence.
The day arrived on which Omer had to choose his bride. His mother had invited sixteen girls to come to the courtyard of the harem. In good time the nurse called Gülilah in the rosebush: “Come forth, little dove, come to me, I must ask a favor of you, come forth.” Gülilah parted the leaves as if she were gliding through a curtain and said: “Can I do you a favor? Your request is already granted.” The nurse told Gülilah that her nephew had built a new sedan chair and wanted to test its strength: “I intended to ask you, Mistress, to do me the favor of letting him carry you a little way.” Gülilah assented immediately and stepped into the sedan chair, the curtains of which were drawn. The sedan-chair men carried her through the town.
When the sixteen girls, veiled and perfumed, were assembled in the courtyard, and when the Bey of roses was about to pass along them to test their fragrance, just then the sedan-chair men arrived at the court of the Bey and set the chair down. Gülilah pushed aside the curtains a little bit: her gray veil fluttered. She asked the men why they had stopped, opened the door, and was about to descend. Just then a light wind came up and the sweet smell of roses was carried to the Bey. In a moment Omer was beside the sedan chair. But when Gülilah saw a strange man coming towards her, she hurriedly closed the door, and the bearers took up the chair and carried it away. Omer was so overcome that he did not even think of stopping the sedan-chair men. But on the ground just where the sedan chair had stood there lay a rose that had fallen from the gray veil of the girl. Omer took up the rose and breathed in its fragrance. Everything around him sank into oblivion. He returned the way he had come, did not even notice the sixteen waiting girls, and went up to his chamber. He lay on his bed and smelled the rose. For three days and three nights he lay there motionless j he ate nothing but a handful of grapes which his servant had put beside him.
The two sedan-chair men hurriedly took Gülilah home. She was all excited; and when she arrived, she threw herself into her nurse’s arms. She spoke of a young Padishah that had approached her, of one that was at once like the bright orb of the sun and like the gentle rays of the moon. She never left the rosebush in the days that followed.
Gülilah’s nurse soon heard that Omer lay lovesick in his chamber. She went to his mother and said she knew whence Omer’s rose had come; she said that she could lead Omer to the bush of the rose: “Then he will be healed.” Omer’s mother brought the nurse to his chamber. The nurse told me Bey heard these words, he leaped from the bed. The nurse took his hand and led him along the streets and through the high gate that encircled Gülilah’s home; she conducted him through the gardens until they came to the part that was like a forest. There they found the mysterious rosebush that hid the girl. Omer recognized the fragrance of the rose. He laid his hands on the rosebush and said: “I have come to be cured by virtue of your fragrance and to be awakened to a new life. Why do you conceal yourself? May not my fingers touch your dove-colored veil, tenderly and reverentially, as one touches a sacred talisman?” Gülilah answered from the bush: “You may not, my Lord. I hide from you because my mother told me so. She enclosed me and spoke thus: ‘When he will come, he who dreams of the sweet smell of your rose, tell him this: The bush will open when you have unearthed it, when you have dug, deep and long, for forty days. And at the same time you shall order that a hole be dug on your own soil as deep as the one around my bush. Then you must carry the bush to your soil and there let it down into the earth. When you have accomplished this task, the rosebush will open and show you the one destined for you. But you shall not see her before.’ Thus, my Lord, my mother bade me speak to you.”
The Bey asked Gülilah: “Is your mother with you in the rosebush?” She answered him: “No, my Lord, she died and left me this bush for my consolation. When I am within the bush, I hear her voice. Hitherto I could enter and leave as I chose. Now, however – forty days are a long time.”
Omer went and fetched workmen, who began to dig up the bush. Every day Omer sat before the rosebush that did not release its prisoner. The nurse stood near the trees and worried whether the girl was troubled by hunger and thirst. The girl answered from the bush: “The dew suffices for my thirst, and my hunger is satisfied with the fragrance of the roses.” For forty days the workmen dug around the bush in a wide circle; not the tenderest root was to be hurt. Many people stood outside the walls, to watch in silence over the wonder within. The mother of the Bey of roses had the chambers prepared for the one that was to enter as the bride of her son.
Gülilah’s father did not know of these events, and it so happened that he had gone on a journey at just about the same time. His new wife accompanied him. Brigands attacked him on the way; they killed him and kidnapped his wife. There was no one to say yes or no to Gülilah’s marriage.
On the fortieth day the ditch around the rosebush was ready. A large cart, carefully built for the purpose and drawn by strong mules, stood ready, and the bush was loaded upon the cart. Then it was driven away from the gardens of Gülilah’s father’s house. The high gates of her home opened to let the bride pass, the prisoner of the rosebush. The Bey of roses walked beside the cart, worrying because of the uneven road and taking the utmost care to protect the bush; but Gülilah in the bush trembled with joy and expectation.
To the Bey the way to his own home seemed very long. Finally Omer saw a multitude of people, heard the calls of his friends, and the Imam approached who was to unite him with the girl of the roses when the bush opened. The rosebush was carefully lowered into the ditch. “Slowly, slowly,” the Bey implored the workmen. “Do not worry,” called the voice from the bush, “I am secure.” When the people in the crowd heard the voice from the bush, they were amazed at the miracle. And then the rosebush touched the soil of the Bey’s paternal ground and sank into the earth. The earth closed upon it, though no hand had stirred, and the rosebush opened as if it were a curtain opening.
Gülilah appeared, wrapped in her gray veil, roses behind her and roses at her sides. She looked as if clothed in veils and as if a cloud was floating about her. Silence greeted this wondrous sight that no one who was given to see it ever forgot. Into the silence came forth the Imam’s voice: “Omer, my son, take this thy wife Gülilah.” Gülilah stretched out her hands, and in a moment Omer was beside her, lifted her from the rose cage, wrapped her in his cloak, and carried her into the house.
Silence still reigned when the Imam spoke again: “The bride was concealed during the sacred forty days. Only when the earth of her home soil was wedded to the earth of her husband’s home soil was she released from her captivity.” And the Imam praised god, and all the people that had watched dispersed as if they renounced celebrating a wedding because they had already participated in something more than a celebration.
And in the evening the faithful nurse spoke thus to the women and maid-servants: “What we have witnessed today shall be an example of love and its wonders. Though many sceptics will say it is nothing but a legend, a tale -let them do so. We know of its veracity and truth.”