The Butterfly That Stamped by Rudyard
THIS, O my Best Beloved, is a story--a new and a wonderful story--a story
about The Most Wise Sovereign Suleiman-bin-Daoud--Solomon the Son of David.
There are three hundred and fifty-five stories about Suleiman- bin-Daoud;
but this is not one of them. It is not the story of the Lapwing who found the
Water; or the Hoopoe who shaded Suleimanbin-Daoud from the heat. It is not the
story of the Glass Pavement, or the Ruby with the Crooked Hole, or the Gold Bars
of Balkis. It is the story of the Butterfly that Stamped.
Now attend all over again and listen!
Suleiman-bin-Daoud was wise. He understood what the beasts said, what the
birds said, what the fishes said, and what the insects said. He understood what
the rocks said deep under the earth when they bowed in towards each other and
groaned; and he understood what the trees said when they rustled in the middle
of the morning. He understood everything, from the bishop on the bench to the
hyssop on the wall, and Balkis, his Head Queen, the Most Beautiful Queen Balkis,
was nearly as wise as he was.
Suleiman-bin-Daoud was strong. Upon the third finger of the right hand he
wore a ring. When he turned it once, Afrits and Djinns came Out of the earth to
do whatever he told them. When he turned it twice, Fairies came down from the
sky to do whatever he told them; and when he turned it three times, the very
great angel Azrael of the Sword came dressed as a water-carrier, and told him
the news of the three worlds,--Above--Below--and Here.
And yet Suleiman-bin-Daoud was not proud. He very seldom showed off, and
when he did he was sorry for it. Once he tried to feed all the animals in all
the world in one day, but when the food was ready an Animal came out of the deep
sea and ate it up in three mouthfuls. Suleiman-bin-Daoud was very surprised and
said, 'O Animal, who are you?' And the Animal said, 'O King, live for ever! I am
the smallest of thirty thousand brothers, and our home is at the bottom of the
sea. We heard that you were going to feed all the animals in all the world, and
my brothers sent me to ask when dinner would be ready.' Suleiman-bin-Daoud was
more surprised than ever and said, 'O Animal, you have eaten all the dinner that
I made ready for all the animals in the world.' And the Animal said, 'O King,
live for ever, but do you really call that a dinner? Where I come from we each
eat twice as much as that between meals.' Then Suleiman-bin-Daoud fell flat on
his face and said, 'O Animal! I gave that dinner to show what a great and rich
king I was, and not because I really wanted to be kind to the animals. Now I am
ashamed, and it serves me right. Suleiman-bin-Daoud was a really truly wise man,
Best Beloved. After that he never forgot that it was silly to show off; and now
the real story part of my story begins.
He married ever so many wifes. He married nine hundred and ninety-nine
wives, besides the Most Beautiful Balkis; and they all lived in a great golden
palace in the middle of a lovely garden with fountains. He didn't really want
nine-hundred and ninety-nine wives, but in those days everybody married ever so
many wives, and of course the King had to marry ever so many more just to show
that he was the King.
Some of the wives were nice, but some were simply horrid, and the horrid
ones quarrelled with the nice ones and made them horrid too, and then they would
all quarrel with Suleiman-bin-Daoud, and that was horrid for him. But Balkis the
Most Beautiful never quarrelled with Suleiman-bin-Daoud. She loved him too much.
She sat in her rooms in the Golden Palace, or walked in the Palace garden, and
was truly sorry for him.
Of course if he had chosen to turn his ring on his finger and call up the
Djinns and the Afrits they would have magicked all those nine hundred and
ninety-nine quarrelsome wives into white mules of the desert or greyhounds or
pomegranate seeds; but Suleiman-bin-Daoud thought that that would be showing
off. So, when they quarrelled too much, he only walked by himself in one part of
the beautiful Palace gardens and wished he had never been born.
One day, when they had quarrelled for three weeks--all nine hundred and
ninety-nine wives together--Suleiman-bin-Daoud went out for peace and quiet as
usual; and among the orange trees he met Balkis the Most Beautiful, very
sorrowful because Suleiman- bin-Daoud was so worried. And she said to him, 'O my
Lord and Light of my Eyes, turn the ring upon your finger and show these Queens
of Egypt and Mesopotamia and Persia and China that you are the great and
terrible King.' But Suleiman-bin-Daoud shook his head and said, 'O my Lady and
Delight of my Life, remember the Animal that came out of the sea and made me
ashamed before all the animals in all the world because I showed off. Now, if I
showed off before these Queens of Persia and Egypt and Abyssinia and China,
merely because they worry me, I might be made even more ashamed than I have
And Balkis the Most Beautiful said, 'O my Lord and Treasure of my Soul, what
will you do?'
And Suleiman-bin-Daoud said, 'O my Lady and Content of my Heart, I shall
continue to endure my fate at the hands of these nine hundred and ninety-nine
Queens who vex me with their continual quarrelling.'
So he went on between the lilies and the loquats and the roses and the
cannas and the heavy-scented ginger-plants that grew in the garden, till he came
to the great camphor-tree that was called the Camphor Tree of
Suleiman-bin-Daoud. But Balkis hid among the tall irises and the spotted bamboos
and the red lillies behind the camphor-tree, so as to be near her own true love,
Presently two Butterflies flew under the tree, quarrelling.
Suleiman-bin-Daoud heard one say to the other, 'I wonder at your presumption
in talking like this to me. Don't you know that if I stamped with my foot all
Suleiman-bin-Daoud's Palace and this garden here would immediately vanish in a
clap of thunder.'
Then Suleiman-bin-Daoud forgot his nine hundred and ninety-nine bothersome
wives, and laughed, till the camphor-tree shook, at the Butterfly's boast. And
he held out his finger and said, 'Little man, come here.'
The Butterfly was dreadfully frightened, but he managed to fly up to the
hand of Suleiman-bin-Daoud, and clung there, fanning himself. Suleiman-bin-Daoud
bent his head and whispered very softly, 'Little man, you know that all your
stamping wouldn't bend one blade of grass. What made you tell that awful fib to
your wife?--for doubtless she is your wife.'
The Butterfly looked at Suleiman-bin-Daoud and saw the most wise King's eye
twinkle like stars on a frosty night, and he picked up his courage with both
wings, and he put his head on one side and said, 'O King, live for ever. She is
my wife; and you know what wives are like.
Suleiman-bin-Daoud smiled in his beard and said, 'Yes, I know, little
'One must keep them in order somehow, said the Butterfly, and she has been
quarrelling with me all the morning. I said that to quiet her.'
And Suleiman-bin-Daoud said, 'May it quiet her. Go back to your wife, little
brother, and let me hear what you say.'
Back flew the Butterfly to his wife, who was all of a twitter behind a leaf,
and she said, 'He heard you! Suleiman-bin-Daoud himself heard you!'
'Heard me!' said the Butterfly. 'Of course he did. I meant him to hear me.'
'And what did he say? Oh, what did he say?'
'Well,' said the Butterfly, fanning himself most importantly, 'between you
and me, my dear--of course I don't blame him, because his Palace must have cost
a great deal and the oranges are just ripening,--he asked me not to stamp, and I
promised I wouldn't.'
'Gracious!' said his wife, and sat quite quiet; but Suleiman-bin-Daoud
laughed till the tears ran down his face at the impudence of the bad little
Balkis the Most Beautiful stood up behind the tree among the red lilies and
smiled to herself, for she had heard all this talk. She thought, 'If I am wise I
can yet save my Lord from the persecutions of these quarrelsome Queens,' and she
held out her finger and whispered softly to the Butterfly's Wife, 'Little woman,
come here.' Up flew the Butterfly's Wife, very frightened, and clung to Balkis's
Balkis bent her beautiful head down and whispered, 'Little woman, do you
believe what your husband has just said?'
The Butterfly's Wife looked at Balkis, and saw the most beautiful Queen's
eyes shining like deep pools with starlight on them, and she picked up her
courage with both wings and said, 'O Queen, be lovely for ever. You know what
men-folk are like.'
And the Queen Balkis, the Wise Balkis of Sheba, put her hand to her lips to
hide a smile and said, 'Little sister, I know.'
'They get angry,' said the Butterfly's Wife, fanning herself quickly, 'over
nothing at all, but we must humour them, O Queen. They never mean half they say.
If it pleases my husband to believe that I believe he can make
Suleiman-bin-Daoud's Palace disappear by stamping his foot, I'm sure I don't
care. He'll forget all about it to-morrow.'
'Little sister,' said Balkis, 'you are quite right; but next time he begins
to boast, take him at his word. Ask him to stamp, and see what will happen. We
know what men-folk are like, don't we? He'll be very much ashamed.'
Away flew the Butterfly's Wife to her husband, and in five minutes they were
quarrelling worse than ever.
'Remember!' said the Butterfly. 'Remember what I can do if I stamp my foot.'
'I don't believe you one little bit,' said the Butterfly's Wife. 'I should
very much like to see it done. Suppose you stamp now.'
'I promised Suleiman-bin-Daoud that I wouldn't,' said the Butterfly, 'and I
don't want to break my promise.'
'It wouldn't matter if you did,' said his wife. 'You couldn't bend a blade
of grass with your stamping. I dare you to do it,' she said. Stamp! Stamp!
Suleiman-bin-Daoud, sitting under the camphor-tree, heard every word of
this, and he laughed as he had never laughed in his life before. He forgot all
about his Queens; he forgot all about the Animal that came out of the sea; he
forgot about showing off. He just laughed with joy, and Balkis, on the other
side of the tree, smiled because her own true love was so joyful.
Presently the Butterfly, very hot and puffy, came whirling back under the
shadow of the camphor-tree and said to Suleiman, 'She wants me to stamp! She
wants to see what will happen, O Suleiman-bin-Daoud! You know I can't do it, and
now she'll never believe a word I say. She'll laugh at me to the end of my
'No, little brother,' said Suleiman-bin-Daoud, 'she will never laugh at you
again,' and he turned the ring on his finger--just for the little Butterfly's
sake, not for the sake of showing off,--and, lo and behold, four huge Djinns
came out of the earth!
'Slaves,' said Suleiman-bin-Daoud, 'when this gentleman on my finger' (that
was where the impudent Butterfly was sitting) 'stamps his left front forefoot
you will make my Palace and these gardens disappear in a clap of thunder. When
he stamps again you will bring them back carefully.'
'Now, little brother,' he said, 'go back to your wife and stamp all you've a
Away flew the Butterfly to his wife, who was crying, 'I dare you to do it! I
dare you to do it! Stamp! Stamp now! Stamp!' Balkis saw the four vast Djinns
stoop down to the four corners of the gardens with the Palace in the middle, and
she clapped her hands softly and said, 'At last Suleiman-bin-Daoud will do for
the sake of a Butterfly what he ought to have done long ago for his own sake,
and the quarrelsome Queens will be frightened!'
The the butterfly stamped. The Djinns jerked the Palace and the gardens a
thousand miles into the air: there was a most awful thunder-clap, and everything
grew inky-black. The Butterfly's Wife fluttered about in the dark, crying, 'Oh,
I'll be good! I'm so sorry I spoke. Only bring the gardens back, my dear darling
husband, and I'll never contradict again.'
The Butterfly was nearly as frightened as his wife, and Suleiman-bin-Daoud
laughed so much that it was several minutes before he found breath enough to
whisper to the Butterfly, 'Stamp again, little brother. Give me back my Palace,
most great magician.'
'Yes, give him back his Palace,' said the Butterfly's Wife, still flying
about in the dark like a moth. 'Give him back his Palace, and don't let's have
any more horrid.magic.'
'Well, my dear,' said the Butterfly as bravely as he could, 'you see what
your nagging has led to. Of course it doesn't make any difference to me--I'm
used to this kind of thing--but as a favour to you and to Suleiman-bin-Daoud I
don't mind putting things right.'
So he stamped once more, and that instant the Djinns let down the Palace and
the gardens, without even a bump. The sun shone on the dark-green orange leaves;
the fountains played among the pink Egyptian lilies; the birds went on singing,
and the Butterfly's Wife lay on her side under the camphor-tree waggling her
wings and panting, 'Oh, I'll be good! I'll be good!'
Suleiman-bin-Daolld could hardly speak for laughing. He leaned back all weak
and hiccoughy, and shook his finger at the Butterfly and said, 'O great wizard,
what is the sense of returning to me my Palace if at the same time you slay me
Then came a terrible noise, for all the nine hundred and ninety-nine Queens
ran out of the Palace shrieking and shouting and calling for their babies. They
hurried down the great marble steps below the fountain, one hundred abreast, and
the Most Wise Balkis went statelily forward to meet them and said, 'What is your
trouble, O Queens?'
They stood on the marble steps one hundred abreast and shouted, 'What is our
trouble? We were living peacefully in our golden palace, as is our custom, when
upon a sudden the Palace disappeared, and we were left sitting in a thick and
noisome darkness; and it thundered, and Djinns and Afrits moved about in the
darkness! That is our trouble, O Head Queen, and we are most extremely troubled
on account of that trouble, for it was a troublesome trouble, unlike any trouble
we have known.'
Then Balkis the Most Beautiful Queen--Suleiman-bin-Daoud's Very Best
Beloved--Queen that was of Sheba and Sable and the Rivers of the Gold of the
South--from the Desert of Zinn to the Towers of Zimbabwe--Balkis, almost as wise
as the Most Wise Suleiman-bin-Daoud himself, said, 'It is nothing, O Queens! A
Butterfly has made complaint against his wife because she quarrelled with him,
and it has pleased our Lord Suleiman-bin-Daoud to teach her a lesson in
low-speaking and humbleness, for that is counted a virtue among the wives of the
Then up and spoke an Egyptian Queen--the daughter of a Pharoah--and she
said, 'Our Palace cannot be plucked up by the roots like a leek for the sake of
a little insect. No! Suleiman-bin-Daoud must be dead, and what we heard and saw
was the earth thundering and darkening at the news.'
Then Balkis beckoned that bold Queen without looking at her, and said to her
and to the others, 'Come and see.'
They came down the marble steps, one hundred abreast, and beneath his
camphor-tree, still weak with laughing, they saw the Most Wise King
Suleiman-bin-Daoud rocking back and forth with a Butterfly on either hand, and
they heard him say, 'O wife of my brother in the air, remember after this, to
please your husband in all things, lest he be provoked to stamp his foot yet
again; for he has said that he is used to this magic, and he is most eminently a
great magician--one who steals away the very Palace of Suleirnan-bin-Daoud
himself. Go in peace, little folk!' And he kissed them on the wings, and they
Then all the Queens except Balkis--the Most Beautiful and Splendid Balkis,
who stood apart smiling--fell flat on their faces, for they said, 'If these
things are done when a Butterfly is displeased with his wife, what shall be done
to us who have vexed our King with our loud-speaking and open quarrelling
through many days?'
Then they put their veils over their heads, and they put their hands over
their mouths, and they tiptoed back to the Palace most mousy-quiet.
Then Balkis--The Most Beautiful and Excellent Balkis--went forward through
the red lilies into the shade of the camphor-tree and laid her hand upon
Suleiman-bin-Daoud's shoulder and said, 'O my Lord and Treasure of my Soul,
rejoice, for we have taught the Queens of Egypt and Ethiopia and Abyssinia and
Persia and India and China with a great and a memorable teaching.'
And Suleiman-bin-Daoud, still looking after the Butterflies where they
played in the sunlight, said, 'O my Lady and Jewel of my Felicity, when did this
happen? For I have been jesting with a Butterfly ever since I came into the
garden.' And he told Balkis what he had done.
Balkis--The tender and Most Lovely Balkis--said, 'O my Lord and Regent of my
Existence, I hid behind the camphor-tree and saw it all. It was I who told the
Butterfly's Wife to ask the Butterfly to stamp, because I hoped that for the
sake of the jest my Lord would make some great magic and that the Queens would
see it and be frightened.' And she told him what the Queens had said and seen
Then Suleiman-bin-Daoud rose up from his seat under the camphor-tree, and
stretched his arms and rejoiced and said, 'O my Lady and Sweetener of my Days,
know that if I had made a magic against my Queens for the sake of pride or
anger, as I made that feast for all the animals, I should certainly have been
put to shame. But by means of your wisdom I made the magic for the sake of a
jest and for the sake of a little Butterfly, and--behold--it has also delivered
me from the vexations of my vexatious wives! Tell me, therefore, O my Lady and
Heart of my Heart, how did you come to be so wise?' And Balkis the Queen,
beautiful and tall, looked up into Suleiman-bin-Daoud's eyes and put her head a
little on one side, just like the Butterfly, and said, 'First, O my Lord,
because I loved you; and secondly, O my Lord, because I know what women-folk
Then they went up to the Palace and lived happily ever afterwards.
But wasn't it clever of Balkis?
THERE was never a Queen like Balkis,
From here to the wide world's end;
But Balkis tailed to a butterfly
As you would talk to a friend.
There was never a King like Solomon,
Not since the world began;
But Solomon talked to a butterfly
As a man would talk to a man.
She was Queen of Sabaea--
And he was Asia's Lord--
But they both of 'em talked to butterflies
When they took their walks abroad!