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Matured Stories

Arabian night (+16) – Episode 20

Rich and happy as I was after my third
voyage, I could not make up my mind to
stay at home altogether. My love of
trading, and the pleasure I took in
anything that was new and strange, made
me set my affairs in order, and begin my
journey through some of the Persian
provinces, having first sent off stores of
goods to await my coming in the
different places I intended to visit. I took
ship at a distant seaport, and for some
time all went well, but at last, being
caught in a violent hurricane, our vessel
became a total wreck in spite of all our
worthy captain could do to save her, and
many of our company perished in the
waves. I, with a few others, had the good
fortune to be washed ashore clinging to
pieces of the wreck, for the storm had
driven us near an island, and scrambling
up beyond the reach of the waves we
threw ourselves down quite exhausted,
to wait for morning.
At daylight we wandered inland, and
soon saw some huts, to which we
directed our steps. As we drew near their
black inhabitants swarmed out in great
numbers and surrounded us, and we
were led to their houses, and as it were
divided among our captors. I with five
others was taken into a hut, where we
were made to sit upon the ground, and
certain herbs were given to us, which the
blacks made signs to us to eat. Observing
that they themselves did not touch them,
I was careful only to pretend to taste my
portion; but my companions, being very
hungry, rashly ate up all that was set
before them, and very soon I had the
horror of seeing them become perfectly
mad. Though they chattered incessantly I
could not understand a word they said,
nor did they heed when I spoke to them.
The savages now produced large bowls
full of rice prepared with cocoanut oil, of
which my crazy comrades ate eagerly, but
I only tasted a few grains, understanding
clearly that the object of our captors was
to fatten us speedily for their own eating,
and this was exactly what happened. My
unlucky companions having lost their
reason, felt neither anxiety nor fear, and
ate greedily all that was offered them. So
they were soon fat and there was an end
of them, but I grew leaner day by day, for
I ate but little, and even that little did me
no good by reason of my fear of what lay
before me. However, as I was so far from
being a tempting morsel, I was allowed to
wander about freely, and one day, when
all the blacks had gone off upon some
expedition leaving only an old man to
guard me, I managed to escape from him
and plunged into the forest, running
faster the more he cried to me to come
back, until I had completely distanced
For seven days I hurried on, resting only
when the darkness stopped me, and
living chiefly upon cocoanuts, which
afforded me both meat and drink, and on
the eighth day I reached the seashore and
saw a party of white men gathering
pepper, which grew abundantly all
about. Reassured by the nature of their
occupation, I advanced towards them and
they greeted me in Arabic, asking who I
was and whence I came. My delight was
great on hearing this familiar speech, and
I willingly satisfied their curiosity, telling
them how I had been shipwrecked, and
captured by the blacks. “But these
savages devour men!” said they. “How
did you escape?” I repeated to them what
I have just told you, at which they were
mightily astonished. I stayed with them
until they had collected as much pepper
as they wished, and then they took me
back to their own country and presented
me to their king, by whom I was
hospitably received. To him also I had to
relate my adventures, which surprised
him much, and when I had finished he
ordered that I should be supplied with
food and raiment and treated with
The island on which I found myself was
full of people, and abounded in all sorts
of desirable things, and a great deal of
traffic went on in the capital, where I
soon began to feel at home and
contented. Moreover, the king treated me
with special favour, and in consequence
of this everyone, whether at the court or
in the town, sought to make life pleasant
to me. One thing I remarked which I
thought very strange; this was that, from
the greatest to the least, all men rode
their horses without bridle or stirrups. I
one day presumed to ask his majesty why
he did not use them, to which he replied,
“You speak to me of things of which I
have never before heard!” This gave me
an idea. I found a clever workman, and
made him cut out under my direction the
foundation of a saddle, which I wadded
and covered with choice leather,
adorning it with rich gold embroidery. I
then got a lock-smith to make me a bit
and a pair of spurs after a pattern that I
drew for him, and when all these things
were completed I presented them to the
king and showed him how to use them.
When I had saddled one of his horses he
mounted it and rode about quite
delighted with the novelty, and to show
his gratitude he rewarded me with large
gifts. After this I had to make saddles for
all the principal officers of the king’s
household, and as they all gave me rich
presents I soon became very wealthy and
quite an important person in the city.
One day the king sent for me and said,
“Sindbad, I am going to ask a favour of
you. Both I and my subjects esteem you,
and wish you to end your days amongst
us. Therefore I desire that you will marry
a rich and beautiful lady whom I will find
for you, and think no more of your own
As the king’s will was law I accepted the
charming bride he presented to me, and
lived happily with her. Nevertheless I had
every intention of escaping at the first
opportunity, and going back to Baghdad.
Things were thus going prosperously with
me when it happened that the wife of
one of my neighbours, with whom I had
struck up quite a friendship, fell ill, and
presently died. I went to his house to
offer my consolations, and found him in
the depths of woe.
“Heaven preserve you,” said I, “and send
you a long life!”
“Alas!” he replied, “what is the good of
saying that when I have but an hour left
to live!”
“Come, come!” said I, “surely it is not so
bad as all that. I trust that you may be
spared to me for many years.”
“I hope,” answered he, “that your life
may be long, but as for me, all is
finished. I have set my house in order,
and to-day I shall be buried with my
wife. This has been the law upon our
island from the earliest ages–the living
husband goes to the grave with his dead
wife, the living wife with her dead
husband. So did our fathers, and so must
we do. The law changes not, and all must
submit to it!”
As he spoke the friends and relations of
the unhappy pair began to assemble. The
body, decked in rich robes and sparkling
with jewels, was laid upon an open bier,
and the procession started, taking its way
to a high mountain at some distance from
the city, the wretched husband, clothed
from head to foot in a black mantle,
following mournfully.
When the place of interment was reached
the corpse was lowered, just as it was,
into a deep pit. Then the husband,
bidding farewell to all his friends,
stretched himself upon another bier,
upon which were laid seven little loaves
of bread and a pitcher of water, and he
also was let down-down-down to the
depths of the horrible cavern, and then a
stone was laid over the opening, and the
melancholy company wended its way
back to the city.
You may imagine that I was no unmoved
spectator of these proceedings; to all the
others it was a thing to which they had
been accustomed from their youth up;
but I was so horrified that I could not
help telling the king how it struck me.
“Sire,” I said, “I am more astonished than
I can express to you at the strange
custom which exists in your dominions of
burying the living with the dead. In all
my travels I have never before met with
so cruel and horrible a law.”
“What would you have, Sindbad?” he
replied. “It is the law for everybody. I
myself should be buried with the Queen
if she were the first to die.”
“But, your Majesty,” said I, “dare I ask if
this law applies to foreigners also?”
“Why, yes,” replied the king smiling, in
what I could but consider a very heartless
manner, “they are no exception to the
rule if they have married in the country.”
When I heard this I went home much cast
down, and from that time forward my
mind was never easy. If only my wife’s
little finger ached I fancied she was going
to die, and sure enough before very long
she fell really ill and in a few days
breathed her last. My dismay was great,
for it seemed to me that to be buried
alive was even a worse fate than to be
devoured by cannibals, nevertheless
there was no escape. The body of my
wife, arrayed in her richest robes and
decked with all her jewels, was laid upon
the bier. I followed it, and after me came
a great procession, headed by the king
and all his nobles, and in this order we
reached the fatal mountain, which was
one of a lofty chain bordering the sea.
Here I made one more frantic effort to
excite the pity of the king and those who
stood by, hoping to save myself even at
this last moment, but it was of no avail.
No one spoke to me, they even appeared
to hasten over their dreadful task, and I
speedily found myself descending into
the gloomy pit, with my seven loaves and
pitcher of water beside me. Almost
before I reached the bottom the stone
was rolled into its place above my head,
and I was left to my fate. A feeble ray of
light shone into the cavern through some
chink, and when I had the courage to
look about me I could see that I was in a
vast vault, bestrewn with bones and
bodies of the dead. I even fancied that I
heard the expiring sighs of those who,
like myself, had come into this dismal
place alive. All in vain did I shriek aloud
with rage and despair, reproaching
myself for the love of gain and adventure
which had brought me to such a pass, but
at length, growing calmer, I took up my
bread and water, and wrapping my face
in my mantle I groped my way towards
the end of the cavern, where the air was
Here I lived in darkness and misery until
my provisions were exhausted, but just
as I was nearly dead from starvation the
rock was rolled away overhead and I saw
that a bier was being lowered into the
cavern, and that the corpse upon it was a
man. In a moment my mind was made
up, the woman who followed had
nothing to expect but a lingering death; I
should be doing her a service if I
shortened her misery. Therefore when
she descended, already insensible from
terror, I was ready armed with a huge
bone, one blow from which left her dead,
and I secured the bread and water which
gave me a hope of life. Several times did
I have recourse to this desperate
expedient, and I know not how long I had
been a prisoner when one day I fancied
that I heard something near me, which
breathed loudly. Turning to the place
from which the sound came I dimly saw a
shadowy form which fled at my
movement, squeezing itself through a
cranny in the wall. I pursued it as fast as I
could, and found myself in a narrow
crack among the rocks, along which I was
just able to force my way. I followed it
for what seemed to me many miles, and
at last saw before me a glimmer of light
which grew clearer every moment until I
emerged upon the sea shore with a joy
which I cannot describe. When I was sure
that I was not dreaming, I realised that it
was doubtless some little animal which
had found its way into the cavern from
the sea, and when disturbed had fled,
showing me a means of escape which I
could never have discovered for myself. I
hastily surveyed my surroundings, and
saw that I was safe from all pursuit from
the town.
The mountains sloped sheer down to the
sea, and there was no road across them.
Being assured of this I returned to the
cavern, and amassed a rich treasure of
diamonds, rubies, emeralds, and jewels
of all kinds which strewed the ground.
These I made up into bales, and stored
them into a safe place upon the beach,
and then waited hopefully for the passing
of a ship. I had looked out for two days,
however, before a single sail appeared,
so it was with much delight that I at last
saw a vessel not very far from the shore,
and by waving my arms and uttering
loud cries succeeded in attracting the
attention of her crew. A boat was sent off
to me, and in answer to the questions of
the sailors as to how I came to be in such
a plight, I replied that I had been
shipwrecked two days before, but had
managed to scramble ashore with the
bales which I pointed out to them.
Luckily for me they believed my story,
and without even looking at the place
where they found me, took up my
bundles, and rowed me back to the ship.
Once on board, I soon saw that the
captain was too much occupied with the
difficulties of navigation to pay much
heed to me, though he generously made
me welcome, and would not even accept
the jewels with which I offered to pay my
passage. Our voyage was prosperous, and
after visiting many lands, and collecting
in each place great store of goodly
merchandise, I found myself at last in
Baghdad once more with unheard of
riches of every description. Again I gave
large sums of money to the poor, and
enriched all the mosques in the city, after
which I gave myself up to my friends and
relations, with whom I passed my time in
feasting and merriment.
Here Sindbad paused, and all his hearers
declared that the adventures of his fourth
voyage had pleased them better than
anything they had heard before. They
then took their leave, followed by
Hindbad, who had once more received a
hundred sequins, and with the rest had
been bidden to return next day for the
story of the fifth voyage.
When the time came all were in their
places, and when they had eaten and
drunk of all that was set before them
Sindbad began his tale.

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