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Matured Stories

Arabian night (+16) – Episode 21 [Completed]

Not even all that I had gone through
could make me contented with a quiet
life. I soon wearied of its pleasures, and
longed for change and adventure.
Therefore I set out once more, but this
time in a ship of my own, which I built
and fitted out at the nearest seaport. I
wished to be able to call at whatever
port I chose, taking my own time; but as I
did not intend carrying enough goods for
a full cargo, I invited several merchants
of different nations to join me. We set
sail with the first favourable wind, and
after a long voyage upon the open seas
we landed upon an unknown island
which proved to be uninhabited. We
determined, however, to explore it, but
had not gone far when we found a roc’s
egg, as large as the one I had seen before
and evidently very nearly hatched, for
the beak of the young bird had already
pierced the shell. In spite of all I could
say to deter them, the merchants who
were with me fell upon it with their
hatchets, breaking the shell, and killing
the young roc. Then lighting a fire upon
the ground they hacked morsels from the
bird, and proceeded to roast them while I
stood by aghast.
Scarcely had they finished their ill-
omened repast, when the air above us
was darkened by two mighty shadows.
The captain of my ship, knowing by
experience what this meant, cried out to
us that the parent birds were coming,
and urged us to get on board with all
speed. This we did, and the sails were
hoisted, but before we had made any way
the rocs reached their despoiled nest and
hovered about it, uttering frightful cries
when they discovered the mangled
remains of their young one. For a
moment we lost sight of them, and were
flattering ourselves that we had escaped,
when they reappeared and soared into
the air directly over our vessel, and we
saw that each held in its claws an
immense rock ready to crush us. There
was a moment of breathless suspense,
then one bird loosed its hold and the
huge block of stone hurtled through the
air, but thanks to the presence of mind of
the helmsman, who turned our ship
violently in another direction, it fell into
the sea close beside us, cleaving it
asunder till we could nearly see the
bottom. We had hardly time to draw a
breath of relief before the other rock fell
with a mighty crash right in the midst of
our luckless vessel, smashing it into a
thousand fragments, and crushing, or
hurling into the sea, passengers and
crew. I myself went down with the rest,
but had the good fortune to rise unhurt,
and by holding on to a piece of driftwood
with one hand and swimming with the
other I kept myself afloat and was
presently washed up by the tide on to an
island. Its shores were steep and rocky,
but I scrambled up safely and threw
myself down to rest upon the green turf.
When I had somewhat recovered I began
to examine the spot in which I found
myself, and truly it seemed to me that I
had reached a garden of delights. There
were trees everywhere, and they were
laden with flowers and fruit, while a
crystal stream wandered in and out under
their shadow. When night came I slept
sweetly in a cosy nook, though the
remembrance that I was alone in a
strange land made me sometimes start up
and look around me in alarm, and then I
wished heartily that I had stayed at home
at ease. However, the morning sunlight
restored my courage, and I once more
wandered among the trees, but always
with some anxiety as to what I might see
next. I had penetrated some distance into
the island when I saw an old man bent
and feeble sitting upon the river bank,
and at first I took him to be some ship-
wrecked mariner like myself. Going up to
him I greeted him in a friendly way, but
he only nodded his head at me in reply. I
then asked what he did there, and he
made signs to me that he wished to get
across the river to gather some fruit, and
seemed to beg me to carry him on my
back. Pitying his age and feebleness, I
took him up, and wading across the
stream I bent down that he might more
easily reach the bank, and bade him get
down. But instead of allowing himself to
be set upon his feet (even now it makes
me laugh to think of it!), this creature
who had seemed to me so decrepit
leaped nimbly upon my shoulders, and
hooking his legs round my neck gripped
me so tightly that I was well-nigh choked,
and so overcome with terror that I fell
insensible to the ground. When I
recovered my enemy was still in his
place, though he had released his hold
enough to allow me breathing space, and
seeing me revive he prodded me adroitly
first with one foot and then with the
other, until I was forced to get up and
stagger about with him under the trees
while he gathered and ate the choicest
fruits. This went on all day, and even at
night, when I threw myself down half
dead with weariness, the terrible old man
held on tight to my neck, nor did he fail
to greet the first glimmer of morning
light by drumming upon me with his
heels, until I perforce awoke and
resumed my dreary march with rage and
bitterness in my heart.
It happened one day that I passed a tree
under which lay several dry gourds, and
catching one up I amused myself with
scooping out its contents and pressing
into it the juice of several bunches of
grapes which hung from every bush.
When it was full I left it propped in the
fork of a tree, and a few days later,
carrying the hateful old man that way, I
snatched at my gourd as I passed it and
had the satisfaction of a draught of
excellent wine so good and refreshing
that I even forgot my detestable burden,
and began to sing and caper.
The old monster was not slow to perceive
the effect which my draught had
produced and that I carried him more
lightly than usual, so he stretched out his
skinny hand and seizing the gourd first
tasted its contents cautiously, then
drained them to the very last drop. The
wine was strong and the gourd capacious,
so he also began to sing after a fashion,
and soon I had the delight of feeling the
iron grip of his goblin legs unclasp, and
with one vigorous effort I threw him to
the ground, from which he never moved
again. I was so rejoiced to have at last got
rid of this uncanny old man that I ran
leaping and bounding down to the sea
shore, where, by the greatest good luck, I
met with some mariners who had
anchored off the island to enjoy the
delicious fruits, and to renew their supply
of water.
They heard the story of my escape with
amazement, saying, “You fell into the
hands of the Old Man of the Sea, and it is
a mercy that he did not strangle you as
he has everyone else upon whose
shoulders he has managed to perch
himself. This island is well known as the
scene of his evil deeds, and no merchant
or sailor who lands upon it cares to stray
far away from his comrades.” After we
had talked for a while they took me back
with them on board their ship, where the
captain received me kindly, and we soon
set sail, and after several days reached a
large and prosperous-looking town where
all the houses were built of stone. Here
we anchored, and one of the merchants,
who had been very friendly to me on the
way, took me ashore with him and
showed me a lodging set apart for strange
merchants. He then provided me with a
large sack, and pointed out to me a party
of others equipped in like manner.
“Go with them,” said he, “and do as they
do, but beware of losing sight of them,
for if you strayed your life would be in
With that he supplied me with
provisions, and bade me farewell, and I
set out with my new companions. I soon
learnt that the object of our expedition
was to fill our sacks with cocoanuts, but
when at length I saw the trees and noted
their immense height and the slippery
smoothness of their slender trunks, I did
not at all understand how we were to do
it. The crowns of the cocoa-palms were
all alive with monkeys, big and little,
which skipped from one to the other with
surprising agility, seeming to be curious
about us and disturbed at our
appearance, and I was at first surprised
when my companions after collecting
stones began to throw them at the lively
creatures, which seemed to me quite
harmless. But very soon I saw the reason
of it and joined them heartily, for the
monkeys, annoyed and wishing to pay us
back in our own coin, began to tear the
nuts from the trees and cast them at us
with angry and spiteful gestures, so that
after very little labour our sacks were
filled with the fruit which we could not
otherwise have obtained.
As soon as we had as many as we could
carry we went back to the town, where
my friend bought my share and advised
me to continue the same occupation until
I had earned money enough to carry me
to my own country. This I did, and before
long had amassed a considerable sum.
Just then I heard that there was a trading
ship ready to sail, and taking leave of my
friend I went on board, carrying with me
a goodly store of cocoanuts; and we
sailed first to the islands where pepper
grows, then to Comari where the best
aloes wood is found, and where men
drink no wine by an unalterable law.
Here I exchanged my nuts for pepper and
good aloes wood, and went a-fishing for
pearls with some of the other merchants,
and my divers were so lucky that very
soon I had an immense number, and
those very large and perfect. With all
these treasures I came joyfully back to
Baghdad, where I disposed of them for
large sums of money, of which I did not
fail as before to give the tenth part to the
poor, and after that I rested from my
labours and comforted myself with all the
pleasures that my riches could give me.
Having thus ended his story, Sindbad
ordered that one hundred sequins should
be given to Hindbad, and the guests then
withdrew; but after the next day’s feast
he began the account of his sixth voyage
as follows.

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