Matured Stories

Arabian night (+16) – Episode 8

( The Story of the Vizir Who Was Punished)

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There was once upon a time a king who
had a son who was very fond of hunting.
He often allowed him to indulge in this
pastime, but he had ordered his grand-
vizir always to go with him, and never to
lose sight of him. One day the huntsman
roused a stag, and the prince, thinking
that the vizir was behind, gave chase, and
rode so hard that he found himself alone.
He stopped, and having lost sight of it, he
turned to rejoin the vizir, who had not
been careful enough to follow him. But
he lost his way. Whilst he was trying to
find it, he saw on the side of the road a
beautiful lady who was crying bitterly. He
drew his horse’s rein, and asked her who
she was and what she was doing in this
place, and if she needed help. “I am the
daughter of an Indian king,” she
answered, “and whilst riding in the
country I fell asleep and tumbled off. My
horse has run away, and I do not know
what has become of him.”
The young prince had pity on her, and
offered to take her behind him, which he
did. As they passed by a ruined building
the lady dismounted and went in. The
prince also dismounted and followed her.
To his great surprise, he heard her saying
to some one inside, “Rejoice my children;
I am bringing you a nice fat youth.” And
other voices replied, “Where is he,
mamma, that we may eat him at once, as
we are very hungry?”
The prince at once saw the danger he
was in. He now knew that the lady who
said she was the daughter of an Indian
king was an ogress, who lived in desolate
places, and who by a thousand wiles
surprised and devoured passers-by. He
was terrified, and threw himself on his
horse. The pretended princess appeared
at this moment, and seeing that she had
lost her prey, she said to him, “Do not be
afraid. What do you want?”
“I am lost,” he answered, “and I am
looking for the road.”
“Keep straight on,” said the ogress, “and
you will find it.”
The prince could hardly believe his ears,
and rode off as hard as he could. He
found his way, and arrived safe and
sound at his father’s house, where he
told him of the danger he had run
because of the grand-vizir’s carelessness.
The king was very angry, and had him
strangled immediately.
“Sire,” went on the vizir to the Greek
king, “to return to the physician, Douban.
If you do not take care, you will repent of
having trusted him. Who knows what
this remedy, with which he has cured
you, may not in time have a bad effect on
you?”
The Greek king was naturally very weak,
and did not perceive the wicked intention
of his vizir, nor was he firm enough to
keep to his first resolution.
“Well, vizir,” he said, “you are right.
Perhaps he did come to take my life. He
might do it by the mere smell of one of
his drugs. I must see what can be done.”
“The best means, sire, to put your life in
security, is to send for him at once, and
to cut off his head directly he comes,”
said the vizir.
“I really think,” replied the king, “that
will be the best way.”
He then ordered one of his ministers to
fetch the physician, who came at once.
“I have had you sent for,” said the king,
“in order to free myself from you by
taking your life.”
The physician was beyond measure
astonished when he heard he was to die.
“What crimes have I committed, your
majesty?”
“I have learnt,” replied the king, “that
you are a spy, and intend to kill me. But I
will be first, and kill you. Strike,” he
added to an executioner who was by,
“and rid me of this assassin.”
At this cruel order the physician threw
himself on his knees. “Spare my life,” he
cried, “and yours will be spared.”
The fisherman stopped here to say to the
Genie: “You see what passed between the
Greek king and the physician has just
passed between us two. The Greek king,”
he went on, “had no mercy on him, and
the executioner bound his eyes.”
All those present begged for his life, but
in vain.
The physician on his knees, and bound,
said to the king: “At least let me put my
affairs in order, and leave my books to
persons who will make good use of them.
There is one which I should like to
present to your majesty. It is very
precious, and ought to be kept carefully
in your treasury. It contains many curious
things the chief being that when you cut
off my head, if your majesty will turn to
the sixth leaf, and read the third line of
the left-hand page, my head will answer
all the questions you like to ask it.”
The king, eager to see such a wonderful
thing, put off his execution to the next
day, and sent him under a strong guard
to his house. There the physician put his
affairs in order, and the next day there
was a great crowd assembled in the hall
to see his death, and the doings after it.
The physician went up to the foot of the
throne with a large book in his hand. He
carried a basin, on which he spread the
covering of the book, and presenting it to
the king, said: “Sire, take this book, and
when my head is cut off, let it be placed
in the basin on the covering of this book;
as soon as it is there, the blood will cease
to flow. Then open the book, and my
head will answer your questions. But,
sire, I implore your mercy, for I am
innocent.”
“Your prayers are useless, and if it were
only to hear your head speak when you
are dead, you should die.”
So saying, he took the book from the
physician’s hands, and ordered the
executioner to do his duty.
The head was so cleverly cut off that it
fell into the basin, and directly the blood
ceased to flow. Then, to the great
astonishment of the king, the eyes
opened, and the head said, “Your
majesty, open the book.” The king did so,
and finding that the first leaf stuck
against the second, he put his finger in
his mouth, to turn it more easily. He did
the same thing till he reached the sixth
page, and not seeing any writing on it,
“Physician,” he said, “there is no
writing.”
“Turn over a few more pages,” answered
the head. The king went on turning, still
putting his finger in his mouth, till the
poison in which each page was dipped
took effect. His sight failed him, and he
fell at the foot of his throne.
When the physician’s head saw that the
poison had taken effect, and that the king
had only a few more minutes to live,
“Tyrant,” it cried, “see how cruelty and
injustice are punished.”
Scarcely had it uttered these words than
the king died, and the head lost also the
little life that had remained in it.
That is the end of the story of the Greek
king, and now let us return to the
fisherman and the Genie.
“If the Greek king,” said the fisherman,
“had spared the physician, he would not
have thus died. The same thing applies to
you. Now I am going to throw you into
the sea.”
“My friend,” said the Genie, “do not do
such a cruel thing. Do not treat me as
Imma treated Ateca.”
“What did Imma do to Ateca?” asked the
fisherman.
“Do you think I can tell you while I am
shut up in here?” replied the Genie. “Let
me out, and I will make you rich.”
The hope of being no longer poor made
the fisherman give way.
“If you will give me your promise to do
this, I will open the lid. I do not think you
will dare to break your word.”
The Genie promised, and the fisherman
lifted the lid. He came out at once in
smoke, and then, having resumed his
proper form, the first thing he did was to
kick the vase into the sea. This frightened
the fisherman, but the Genie laughed and
said, “Do not be afraid; I only did it to
frighten you, and to show you that I
intend to keep my word; take your nets
and follow me.”
He began to walk in front of the
fisherman, who followed him with some
misgivings. They passed in front of the
town, and went up a mountain and then
down into a great plain, where there was
a large lake lying between four hills.
When they reached the lake the Genie
said to the fisherman, “Throw your nets
and catch fish.”
The fisherman did as he was told, hoping
for a good catch, as he saw plenty of fish.
What was his astonishment at seeing that
there were four quite different kinds,
some white, some red, some blue, and
some yellow. He caught four, one of each
colour. As he had never seen any like
them he admired them very much, and
he was very pleased to think how much
money he would get for them.
“Take these fish and carry them to the
Sultan, who will give you more money for
them than you have ever had in your life.
You can come every day to fish in this
lake, but be careful not to throw your
nets more than once every day, otherwise
some harm will happen to you. If you
follow my advice carefully you will find it
good.”
Saying these words, he struck his foot
against the ground, which opened, and
when he had disappeared, it closed
immediately.
The fisherman resolved to obey the Genie
exactly, so he did not cast his nets a
second time, but walked into the town to
sell his fish at the palace.
When the Sultan saw the fish he was
much astonished. He looked at them one
after the other, and when he had
admired them long enough, “Take these
fish,” he said to his first vizir, “and given
them to the clever cook the Emperor of
the Greeks sent me. I think they must be
as good as they are beautiful.”
The vizir took them himself to the cook,
saying, “Here are four fish that have been
brought to the Sultan. He wants you to
cook them.”
Then he went back to the Sultan, who
told him to give the fisherman four
hundred gold pieces. The fisherman, who
had never before possessed such a large
sum of money at once, could hardly
believe his good fortune. He at once
relieved the needs of his family, and
made good use of it.
But now we must return to the kitchen,
which we shall find in great confusion.
The cook, when she had cleaned the fish,
put them in a pan with some oil to fry
them. When she thought them cooked
enough on one side she turned them on
the other. But scarcely had she done so
when the walls of the kitchen opened,
and there came out a young and beautiful
damsel. She was dressed in an Egyptian
dress of flowered satin, and she wore
earrings, and a necklace of white pearls,
and bracelets of gold set with rubies, and
she held a wand of myrtle in her hand.
She went up to the pan, to the great
astonishment of the cook, who stood
motionless at the sight of her. She struck
one of the fish with her rod, “Fish, fish,”
said she, “are you doing your duty?” The
fish answered nothing, and then she
repeated her question, whereupon they
all raised their heads together and
answered very distinctly, “Yes, yes. If you
reckon, we reckon. If you pay your debts,
we pay ours. If you fly, we conquer, and
we are content.”
When they had spoken the girl upset the
pan, and entered the opening in the wall,
which at once closed, and appeared the
same as before.
When the cook had recovered from her
fright she lifted up the fish which had
fallen into the ashes, but she found them
as black as cinders, and not fit to serve
up to the Sultan. She began to cry.
“Alas! what shall I say to the Sultan? He
will be so angry with me, and I know he
will not believe me!”
Whilst she was crying the grand-vizir
came in and asked if the fish were ready.
She told him all that had happened, and
he was much surprised. He sent at once
for the fisherman, and when he came
said to him, “Fisherman, bring me four
more fish like you have brought already,
for an accident has happened to them so
that they cannot be served up to the
Sultan.”
The fisherman did not say what the Genie
had told him, but he excused himself
from bringing them that day on account
of the length of the way, and he
promised to bring them next day.
In the night he went to the lake, cast his
nets, and on drawing them in found four
fish, which were like the others, each of a
different colour.
He went back at once and carried them
to the grand-vizir as he had promised.
He then took them to the kitchen and
shut himself up with the cook, who began
to cook them as she had done the four
others on the previous day. When she
was about to turn them on the other side,
the wall opened, the damsel appeared,
addressed the same words to the fish,
received the same answer, and then
overturned the pan and disappeared.
The grand-vizir was filled with
astonishment. “I shall tell the Sultan all
that has happened,” said he. And he did
so.
The Sultan was very much astounded,
and wished to see this marvel for
himself. So he sent for the fisherman, and
asked him to procure four more fish. The
fisherman asked for three days, which
were granted, and he then cast his nets in
the lake, and again caught four different
coloured fish. The sultan was delighted to
see he had got them, and gave him again
four hundred gold pieces.
As soon as the Sultan had the fish he had
them carried to his room with all that
was needed to cook them.
Then he shut himself up with the grand-
vizir, who began to prepare them and
cook them. When they were done on one
side he turned them over on the other.
Then the wall of the room opened, but
instead of the maiden a black slave came
out. He was enormously tall, and carried
a large green stick with which he touched
the fish, saying in a terrible voice, “Fish,
fish, are you doing your duty?” To these
words the fish lifting up their heads
replied, “Yes, yes. If you reckon, we
reckon. If you pay your debts, we pay
ours. If you fly, we conquer, and are
content.”
The black slave overturned the pan in the
middle of the room, and the fish were
turned to cinders. Then he stepped
proudly back into the wall, which closed
round him.
“After having seen this,” said the Sultan,
“I cannot rest. These fish signify some
mystery I must clear up.”
He sent for the fisherman. “Fisherman,”
he said, “the fish you have brought us
have caused me some anxiety. Where did
you get them from?”
“Sire,” he answered, “I got them from a
lake which lies in the middle of four hills
beyond yonder mountains.”
“Do you know this lake?” asked the
Sultan of the grand-vizir.
“No; though I have hunted many times
round that mountain, I have never heard
of it,” said the vizir.
As the fisherman said it was only three
hours’ journey away, the sultan ordered
his whole court to mount and ride
thither, and the fisherman led them.
They climbed the mountain, and then, on
the other side, saw the lake as the
fisherman had described. The water was
so clear that they could see the four
kinds of fish swimming about in it. They
looked at them for some time, and then
the Sultan ordered them to make a camp
by the edge of the water.
When night came the Sultan called his
vizir, and said to him, “I have resolved to
clear up this mystery. I am going out
alone, and do you stay here in my tent,
and when my ministers come to-morrow,
say I am not well, and cannot see them.
Do this each day till I return.”
The grand-vizir tried to persuade the
Sultan not to go, but in vain. The Sultan
took off his state robe and put on his
sword, and when he saw all was quiet in
the camp he set forth alone.
He climbed one of the hills, and then
crossed the great plain, till, just as the
sun rose, he beheld far in front of him a
large building. When he came near to it
he saw it was a splendid palace of
beautiful black polished marble, covered
with steel as smooth as a mirror.
He went to the gate, which stood half
open, and went in, as nobody came when
he knocked. He passed through a
magnificent courtyard and still saw no
one, though he called aloud several
times.
He entered large halls where the carpets
were of silk, the lounges and sofas
covered with tapestry from Mecca, and
the hangings of the most beautiful Indian
stuffs of gold and silver. Then he found
himself in a splendid room, with a
fountain supported by golden lions. The
water out of the lions’ mouths turned
into diamonds and pearls, and the
leaping water almost touched a most
beautifully-painted dome. The palace was
surrounded on three sides by magnificent
gardens, little lakes, and woods. Birds
sang in the trees, which were netted over
to keep them always there.
Still the Sultan saw no one, till he heard a
plaintive cry, and a voice which said, “Oh
that I could die, for I am too unhappy to
wish to live any longer!”
The Sultan looked round to discover who
it was who thus bemoaned his fate, and
at last saw a handsome young man, richly
clothed, who was sitting on a throne
raised slightly from the ground. His face
was very sad.
The sultan approached him and bowed to
him. The young man bent his head very
low, but did not rise.
“Sire,” he said to the Sultan, “I cannot
rise and do you the reverence that I am
sure should be paid to your rank.”
“Sir,” answered the Sultan, “I am sure
you have a good reason for not doing so,
and having heard your cry of distress, I
am come to offer you my help. Whose is
this palace, and why is it thus empty?”
Instead of answering the young man
lifted up his robe, and showed the Sultan
that, from the waist downwards, he was
a block of black marble.
The Sultan was horrified, and begged the
young man to tell him his story.
“Willingly I will tell you my sad history,”
said the young man.

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