Being returned from my sixth voyage, I absolutely laid aside all thoughts of travelling any farther; for, besides that my years now required rest, I was resolved no more to expose myself to such risk as I had run; so that I thought of nothing but to pass the rest of my days in quiet.
One day, as I was treating some of my friends, one of my servants came and told me that an officer of the caliph asked for me. I rose from the table, and went to him. ‘The caliph,’ said he, ‘has sent me to tell you that he must speak with you.’ I followed the officer to the palace, where, being presented to the caliph, I saluted him by prostrating myself at his feet. ‘Sinbad,’ said he to me, ‘I stand in need of you; you must do me the service to carry my answer and present to the King of Serendib. It is but just I should return his civility.’
This command of the caliph to me was like a clap of thunder. ‘Commander of the Faithful,’ replied I, ‘I am ready to do whatever your majesty shall think fit to command me; but I beseech you most humbly to consider what I have undergone. I have also made a vow never to go out of Bagdad.’ Here I took occasion to give him a large and particular account of all my adventures, which he had the patience to hear out.
As soon as I had finished, ‘I confess,’ said he, ‘that the things you tell me are very extraordinary, yet you must for my sake undertake this voyage which I propose to you. You have nothing to do but to go to the Isle of Serendib, and deliver the commission which I give you. After that you are at liberty to return. But you must go; for you know it would be indecent, and not suitable to my dignity, to be indebted to the king of that island.’ Perceiving that the caliph insisted upon it, I submitted, and told him that I was willing to obey. He was very well pleased at it, and ordered me a thousand sequins for the expense of my journey.
I prepared for my departure in a few days, and as soon as the caliph’s letter and present were delivered to me, I went to Balsora, where I embarked, and had a very happy voyage. I arrived at the Isle of Serendib, where I acquainted the king’s ministers with my commission, and prayed them to get me speedy audience. They did so, and I was conducted to the palace in an honourable manner, where I saluted the king by prostration, according to custom. That prince knew me immediately, and testified very great joy to see me. ‘O Sinbad,’ said he, ‘you are welcome; I swear to you I have many times thought of you since you went hence; I bless the day upon which we see one another once more.’ I made my compliment to him, and after having thanked him for his kindness to me, I delivered the caliph’s letter and present, which he received with all imaginable satisfaction.
The caliph’s present was a complete set of cloth of gold, valued at one thousand sequins; fifty robes of rich stuff, a hundred others of white cloth, the finest of Cairo, Suez, Cusa, and Alexandria; a royal crimson bed, and a second of another fashion; a vessel of agate broader than deep, an inch thick, and half a foot wide, the bottom of which represented in bas-relief a man with one knee on the ground, who held a bow and an arrow, ready to let fly at a lion. He sent him also a rich table, which, according to tradition, belonged to the great Solomon. The caliph’s letter was as follows:
‘Greeting in the name of the Sovereign Guide of the Right Way, to the potent and happy Sultan, from Abdallah Haroun Alraschid, whom God hath set in the place of honour, after his ancestors of happy memory:
‘We received your letter with joy, and send you this from the council of our port, the garden of superior wits. We hope, when you look upon it, you will find our good intention, and be pleased with it. Farewell.’
The King of Serendib was highly pleased that the caliph returned his friendship. A little time after this audience, I solicited leave to depart, and had much difficulty to obtain it. I obtained it, however, at last, and the king, when he dismissed me, made me a very considerable present. I embarked immediately to return to Bagdad, but had not the good fortune to arrive there as I hoped. God ordered it otherwise.
Three or four days after my departure, we were attacked by pirates, who easily seized upon our ship. Some of the crew offered resistance, which cost them their lives. But as for me and the rest, who were not so imprudent, the pirates saved us on purpose to make slaves of us.
We were all stripped, and instead of our own clothes they gave us sorry rags, and carried us into a remote island, where they sold us.
I fell into the hands of a rich merchant, who, as soon as he bought me, carried me to his house, treated me well, and clad me handsomely for a slave. Some days after, not knowing who I was, he asked me if I understood any trade. I answered that I was no mechanic, but a merchant, and that the pirates who sold me had robbed me of all I had.
‘But tell me,’ replied he, ‘can you shoot with a bow?’
I answered that the bow was one of my exercises in my youth, and I had not yet forgotten it. Then he gave me a bow and arrows, and, taking me behind him upon an elephant, carried me to a vast forest some leagues from the town. We went a great way into the forest, and where he thought fit to stop he bade me alight; then showing me a great tree, ‘Climb up that tree,’ said he, ‘and shoot at the elephants as you see them pass by, for there is a prodigious number of them in this forest, and, if any of them fall, come and give me notice of it.’ Having spoken thus, he left me victuals, and returned to the town, and I continued upon the tree all night.
I saw no elephant during that time, but next morning, as soon as the sun was up, I saw a great number: I shot several arrows among them, and at last one of the elephants fell; the rest retired immediately, and left me at liberty to go and acquaint my patron with my booty. When I had told him the news, he gave me a good meal, commended my dexterity, and caressed me highly. We afterwards went together to the forest, where we dug a hole for the elephant; my patron intending to return when it was rotten, and to take the teeth, etc., to trade with.
I continued this game for two months, and killed an elephant every day, getting sometimes upon one tree, and sometimes upon another. One morning, as I looked for the elephants, I perceived with an extreme amazement that, instead of passing by me across the forest as usual, they stopped, and came to me with a horrible noise, in such a number that the earth was covered with them, and shook under them. They encompassed the tree where I was with their trunks extended and their eyes all fixed upon me. At this frightful spectacle I remained immoveable, and was so much frightened that my bow and arrows fell out of my hand.
My fears were not in vain; for after the elephants had stared upon me for some time, one of the largest of them put his trunk round the root of the tree, and pulled so strong that he plucked it up and threw it on the ground; I fell with the tree, and the elephant taking me up with his trunk, laid me on his back, where I sat more like one dead than alive, with my quiver on my shoulder: then he put himself at the head of the rest, who followed him in troops, and carried me to a place where he laid me down on the ground, and retired with all his companions. Conceive, if you can, the condition I was in: I thought myself to be in a dream; at last, after having lain some time, and seeing the elephants gone, I got up, and found I was upon a long and broad hill, covered all over with the bones and teeth of elephants. I confess to you that this furnished me with abundance of reflections. I admired the instinct of those animals; I doubted not but that this was their burying place, and that they carried me thither on purpose to tell me that I should forbear to persecute them, since I did it only for their teeth. I did not stay on the hill, but turned towards the city, and, after having travelled a day and a night, I came to my patron; I met no elephant on my way, which made me think they had retired farther into the forest, to leave me at liberty to come back to the hill without any hindrance.
As soon as my patron saw me: ‘Ah, poor Sinbad,’ said he, I was in great trouble to know what had become of you. I have been at the forest, where I found a tree newly pulled up, and a bow and arrows on the ground, and after having sought for you in vain I despaired of ever seeing you more. Pray tell me what befell you, and by what good hap you are still alive.’
I satisfied his curiosity, and going both of us next morning to the hill, he found to his great joy that what I had told him was true. We loaded the elephant upon which we came with as many teeth as he could carry; and when we had returned, ‘Brother,’ said my patron— ‘for I will treat you no more as my slave—after having made such a discovery as will enrich me, God bless you with all happiness and prosperity. I declare before Him that I give you your liberty. I concealed from you what I am now going to tell you.
‘The elephants of our forest have every year killed a great many slaves, whom we sent to seek ivory. Notwithstanding all the cautions we could give them, those crafty animals killed them one time or other. God has delivered you from their fury, and has bestowed that favour upon you only. It is a sign that He loves you, and has use for your service in the world. You have procured me incredible gain. We could not have ivory formerly but by exposing the lives of our slaves, and now our whole city is enriched by your means. Do not think I pretend to have rewarded you by giving you your liberty; I will also give you considerable riches. I could engage all our city to contribute towards making your fortune, but I will have the glory of doing it myself.’
To this obliging discourse I replied, ‘Patron, God preserve you. Your giving me my liberty is enough to discharge what you owe me, and I desire no other reward for the service I had the good fortune to do to you and your city, than leave to return to my own country.’
‘Very well,’ said he, ‘the monsoon will in a little time bring ships for ivory. I will send you home then, and give you wherewith to pay your expenses.’ I thanked him again for my liberty, and his good intentions towards me. I stayed with him until the monsoon; and during that time we made so many journeys to the hill that we filled all our warehouses with ivory. The other merchants who traded in it did the same thing, for it could not be long concealed from them.
The ships arrived at last, and my patron himself having made choice of the ship wherein I was to embark, he loaded half of it with ivory on my account, laid in provisions in abundance for my passage, and obliged me besides to accept as a present, curiosities of the country of great value. After I had returned him a thousand thanks for all his favours, I went on board. We set sail, and as the adventure which procured me this liberty was very extraordinary, I had it continually in my thoughts.
We stopped at some islands to take in fresh provisions. Our vessel being come to a port on the main land in the Indies, we touched there, and not being willing to venture by sea to Balsora, I landed my proportion of the ivory, resolving to proceed on my journey by land. I made vast sums by my ivory, I bought several rarities, which I intended for presents, and when my equipage was ready, I set out in the company of a large caravan of merchants. I was a long time on the way, and suffered very much, but endured all with patience, when I considered that I had nothing to fear from the seas, from pirates, from serpents, nor from the other perils I had undergone.
All these fatigues ended at last, and I came safe to Bagdad. I went immediately to wait upon the caliph, and gave him an account of my embassy. That prince told me he had been uneasy, by reason that I was so long in returning, but that he always hoped God would preserve me. When I told him the adventure of the elephants, he seemed to be much surprised at it, and would never have given any credit to it had he not known my sincerity. He reckoned this story, and the other narratives I had given him, to be so curious that he ordered one of his secretaries to write them in characters of gold, and lay them up in his treasury. I retired very well satisfied with the honours I received and the presents which he gave me; and after that I gave myself up wholly to my, family, kindred and friends.
Fairy Tales from the Arabian Nights.
Edited by E. Dixon
The text of the present selection from the Arabian Nights is that of Galland, 1821, slightly abridged and edited. The edition is designed virginibus puerisque.