The pleasures I took after my third voyage had not charms enough to divert me from another. I was again prevailed upon by my passion for traffic and curiosity to see new things.
I therefore settled my affairs, and having provided a stock of goods fit for the places where I designed to trade, I set out on my journey. I took the way of Persia, of which I travelled over several provinces, and then arrived at a port, where I embarked. We set sail, and having touched at several ports of the mainland and some of the eastern islands, we put out to sea, and were overtaken by a sudden gust of wind that obliged the captain to furl his sails, and to take all other necessary precautions to prevent the danger that threatened us. But all was in vain; our endeavours had no effect, the sails were torn into a thousand pieces, and the ship was stranded; so that a great many of the merchants and seamen were drowned, and the cargo lost.
I had the good fortune, with several of the merchants and mariners, to get a plank, and we were carried by the current to an island which lay before us: there we found fruit and spring water, which preserved our lives. We stayed all night near the place where the sea cast us ashore, without consulting what we should do, our misfortune had dispirited us so much.
Next morning, as soon as the sun was up, we walked from the shore, and advancing into the island, saw some houses, to which we went; and as soon as we came thither we were encompassed by a great number of black men, who seized us, shared us among them, and carried us to their respective habitations.
I and five of my comrades were carried to one place; they made us sit down immediately, and gave us a certain herb, which they made signs to us to eat. My comrades, not taking notice that the black men ate none of it themselves, consulted only the satisfying of their own hunger, and fell to eating with greediness: but I, suspecting some trick, would not so much as taste it, which happened well for me; for in a little time I perceived my companions had lost their senses, and that when they spoke to me they knew not what they said.
The black men fed us afterwards with rice, prepared with oil of cocoanuts, and my comrades, who had lost their reason, ate of it greedily. I ate of it also, but very sparingly. The black men gave us that herb at first on purpose to deprive us of our senses, that we might not be aware of the sad destiny prepared for us; and they gave us rice on purpose to fatten us, for, being cannibals, their design was to eat us as soon as we grew fat. They did accordingly eat my comrades, who were not aware of their condition; but my senses being entire, you may easily guess that instead of growing fat, as the rest did, I grew leaner every day. The fear of death under which I laboured turned all my food into poison. I fell into a languishing illness which proved my safety, for the black men having killed and eaten up my companions, seeing me to be withered, lean, and sick, deferred my death till another time.
Meanwhile, I had a great deal of liberty, so that there was scarcely any notice taken of what I did, and this gave me an opportunity one day to get at a distance from the houses, and to make my escape. An old man who saw me, and suspected my design, called to me as loud as he could to return, but instead of obeying him, I redoubled my pace, and quickly got out of sight. At that time there was none but the old man about the houses, the rest being away, and not to come home till night, which was pretty usual with them; therefore, being sure that they could not come in time to pursue me, I went on till night, when I stopped to rest a little, and to eat some of the provisions I had taken care to bring; but I speedily set forward again, and travelled seven days, avoiding those places which seemed to be inhabited, and living for the most part upon cocoanuts, which served me for both meat and drink. On the eighth day I came near the sea, and all of a sudden saw white people like myself, gathering pepper, of which there was great plenty in that place. This I took to be a good omen, and went to them without any scruple.
The people who gathered pepper came to meet me as soon as they saw me, and asked me in Arabic who I was, and whence I came. I was overjoyed to hear them speak in my own language, and satisfied their curiosity by giving them an account of my shipwreck, and how I fell into the hands of the black men. ‘Those black men,’ replied they, ‘are cannibals, and by what miracle did you escape their cruelty?’ I told them the same story I now tell you, at which they were wonderfully surprised.
I stayed with them till they had gathered their quantity of pepper, and then sailed with them to the island from whence they came. They presented me to their king, who was a good prince. He had the patience to hear the relation of my adventures, which surprised him, and he afterwards gave me clothes, and commanded care to be taken of me.
The island was very well peopled, plentiful in everything, and the capital was a place of great trade. This agreeable retreat was very comfortable to me after my misfortune, and the kindness of this generous prince towards me completed my satisfaction. In a word, there was not a person more in favour with him than myself; and, in consequence, every man in court and city sought to oblige me, so that in a very little time I was looked upon rather as a native than a stranger.
I observed one thing which to me appeared very extraordinary. All the people, the king himself not excepted, rode their horses without bridle or stirrups. This made me one day take the liberty to ask the king how that came to pass. His majesty answered, that I talked to him of things which nobody knew the use of in his dominions. I went immediately to a workman, and gave him a model for making the stock of a saddle. When that was done, I covered it myself with velvet and leather, and embroidered it with gold. I afterwards went to a locksmith, who made me a bridle according to the pattern I showed him, and then he made me also some stirrups. When I had all things completed, I presented them to the king, and put them upon one of his horses. His majesty mounted immediately, and was so pleased with them, that he testified his satisfaction by large presents to me. I could not avoid making several others for his ministers and the principal officers of his household, who all of them made me presents that enriched me in a little time. I also made some for the people of best quality in the city, which gained me great reputation and regard.
As I paid court very constantly to the king, he said to me one day, ‘Sinbad, I love thee; and all my subjects who know thee treat thee according to my example. I have one thing to demand of thee, which thou must grant.’
‘Sir,’ answered I, ‘there is nothing but I will do, as a mark of my obedience to your majesty, whose power over me is absolute.’
‘I have a mind thou shouldst marry,’ replied he, ‘that so thou mayst stay in my dominion, and think no more of thy own country.’
I dared not resist the prince’s will, and so he gave me one of the ladies of his court, a noble, beautiful, and rich lady. The ceremonies of marriage being over, I went and dwelt with the lady, and for some time we lived together in perfect harmony. I was not, however, very well satisfied with my condition, and therefore designed to make my escape on the first occasion, and to return to Bagdad, which my present settlement, how advantageous soever, could not make me forget.
While I was thinking on this, the wife of one of my neighbours, with whom I had contracted a very close friendship, fell sick and died. I went to see and comfort him in his affliction, and finding him swallowed up with sorrow, I said to him as soon as I saw him, ‘God preserve you and grant you a long life.’
‘Alas!’ replied he, ‘how do you think I should obtain that favour you wish me? I have not above an hour to live.’
‘Pray,’ said I, ‘do not entertain such a melancholy thought; I hope it will not be so, but that I shall enjoy your company for many years.’
‘I wish you,’ said he, ‘a long life; but for me my days are at an end, for I must be buried this day with my wife. This is a law which our ancestors established in this island, and always observed inviolably. The living husband is interred with the dead wife, and the living wife with the dead husband. Nothing can save me; every one must submit to this law.’
While he was entertaining me with an account of this barbarous custom, the very hearing of which frightened me cruelly, his kindred, friends and neighbours came in a body to assist at the funerals. They put on the corpse the woman’s richest apparel, as if it had been her wedding-day, and dressed her with all her jewels; then they put her into an open coffin, and lifting it up, began their march to the place of burial. The husband walked at the head of the company, and followed the corpse. They went up to a high mountain, and when they came thither, took up a great stone, which covered the mouth of a very deep pit, and let down the corpse, with all its apparel and jewels. Then the husband, embracing his kindred and friends, suffered himself to be put into another open coffin without resistance, with a pot of water, and seven little loaves, and was let down in the same manner as they let down his wife. The mountain was pretty long, and reached to the sea. The ceremony being over, they covered the hole again with the stone, and returned.
It is needless to say that I was the only melancholy spectator of this funeral, whereas the rest were scarcely moved at it, the practice was so customary to them. I could not forbear speaking my thoughts on this matter to the king. ‘Sir,’ said I, ‘I cannot but wonder at the strange custom in this country of burying the living with the dead. I have been a great traveller, and seen many countries, but never heard of so cruel a law.’
‘What do you mean, Sinbad?’ said the king; ‘it is a common law. I shall be interred with the queen, my wife, if she die first.’
‘But, sir,’ said I, ‘may I presume to ask your majesty if strangers be obliged to observe this law?’
‘Without doubt,’ replied the king, smiling at my question; ‘they are not exempted, if they are married in this island.’
I went home very melancholy at this answer, for the fear of my wife dying first, and my being interred alive with her, occasioned me very mortifying reflections. But there was no remedy: I must have patience, and submit to the will of God. I trembled, however, at every little indisposition of my wife; but alas! in a little time my fears came upon me all at once, for she fell ill, and died in a few days.
You may judge of my sorrow; to be interred alive seemed to me as deplorable an end as to be devoured by cannibals. But I must submit; the king and all his court would honour the funeral with their presence, and the most considerable people of the city would do the like. When all was ready for the ceremony, the corpse was put into a coffin, with all her jewels and magnificent apparel. The cavalcade began, and, as second actor in this doleful tragedy, I went next to the corpse, with my eyes full of tears, bewailing my deplorable fate. Before I came to the mountain, I addressed myself to the king, in the first place, and then to all those who were round me, and bowing before them to the earth to kiss the border of their garments, I prayed them to have compassion upon me. ‘Consider,’ said I, ‘that I am a stranger, and ought not to be subject to this rigorous law, and that I have another wife and child in my own country.’ It was to no purpose for me to speak thus, no soul was moved at it; on the contrary, they made haste to let down my wife’s corpse into the pit, and put me down the next moment in an open coffin, with a vessel full of water and seven loaves. In short, the fatal ceremony being performed, they covered up the mouth of the pit, notwithstanding the excess of my grief and my lamentable cries.
As I came near the bottom, I discovered, by help of the little light that came from above, the nature of this subterranean place; it was a vast long cave, and might be about fifty fathoms deep. I immediately smelt an insufferable stench proceeding from the multitude of corpses which I saw on the right and left; nay, I fancied that I heard some of them sigh out their last. However, when I got down, I immediately left my coffin, and, getting at a distance from the corpses, lay down upon the ground, where I stayed a long time, bathed in tears. Then reflecting on my sad lot, ‘It is true,’ said I, ‘that God disposes all things according to the decrees of His providence; but, poor Sinbad, art not thou thyself the cause of thy being brought to die so strange a death? Would to God thou hadst perished in some of those tempests which thou hast escaped! Then thy death had not been so lingering and terrible in all its circumstances. But thou hast drawn all this upon thyself by thy cursed avarice. Ah! unfortunate wretch, shouldst thou not rather have stayed at home, and quietly enjoyed the fruits of thy labour?’
Such were the vain complaints with which I made the cave echo, beating my head and breast out of rage and despair, and abandoning myself to the most afflicting thoughts. Nevertheless, I must tell you that, instead of calling death to my assistance in that miserable condition, I felt still an inclination to live, and to do all I could to prolong my days. I went groping about, with my nose stopped, for the bread and water that was in my coffin, and took some of it. Though the darkness of the cave was so great that I could not distinguish day and night, yet I always found my coffin again, and the cave seemed to be more spacious and fuller of corpses than it appeared to me at first. I lived for some days upon my bread and water, which being all used up at last I prepared for death.
As I was thinking of death, I heard something walking, and blowing or panting as it walked. I advanced towards that side from whence I heard the noise, and upon my approach the thing puffed and blew harder, as if it had been running away from me. I followed the noise, and the thing seemed to stop sometimes, but always fled and blew as I approached. I followed it so long and so far that at last I perceived a light resembling a star; I went on towards that light, and sometimes lost sight of it, but always found it again, and at last discovered that it came through a hole in the rock large enough for a man to get out at.
Upon this I stopped some time to rest myself, being much fatigued with pursuing this discovery so fast. Afterwards coming up to the hole I went out at it, and found myself upon the shore of the sea. I leave you to guess the excess of my joy; it was such that I could scarce persuade myself of its being real.
But when I had recovered from my surprise, and was convinced of the truth of the matter, I found that the thing which I had followed and heard puff and blow was a creature which came out of the sea, and was accustomed to enter at that hole to feed upon the dead carcasses.
I examined the mountain, and perceived it to be situated betwixt the sea and the town, but without any passage or way to communicate with the latter, the rocks on the side of the sea were so rugged and steep. I fell down upon the shore to thank God for this mercy, and afterwards entered the cave again to fetch bread and water, which I did by daylight, with a better appetite than I had done since my interment in the dark hole.
I returned thither again, and groped about among the biers for all the diamonds, rubies, pearls, gold bracelets, and rich stuffs I could find. These I brought to the shore, and, tying them up neatly into bales with the cords that let down the coffins, I laid them together upon the bank to wait till some ship passed by, without fear of rain, for it was not then the season.
After two or three days I perceived a ship that had but just come out of the harbour and passed near the place where I was. I made a sign with the linen of my turban, and called to them as loud as I could. They heard me, and sent a boat to bring me on board, when the mariners asked by what misfortune I came thither. I told them that I had suffered shipwreck two days ago, and made shift to get ashore with the goods they saw. It was happy for me that those people did not consider the place where I was, nor inquire into the probability of what I told them; but without any more ado took me on board with my goods. When I came to the ship, the captain was so well pleased to have saved me, and so much taken up with his own affairs, that he also took the story of my pretended shipwreck upon trust, and generously refused some jewels which I offered him.
We passed with a regular wind by several islands, among others the one called the Isle of Bells, about ten days’ sail from Serendib, and six from that of Kela, where we landed. This island produces lead from its mines, Indian canes, and excellent camphor.
The king of the Isle of Kela is very rich and potent, and the Isle of Bells, which is about two days’ journey in extent, is also subject to him. The inhabitants are so barbarous that they still eat human flesh. After we had finished our commerce in that island we put to sea again, and touched at several other ports. At last I arrived happily at Bagdad with infinite riches, of which it is needless to trouble you with the detail. Out of thankfulness to God for His mercies, I gave great alms for the support of several mosques, and for the subsistence of the poor, and employed myself wholly in enjoying the society of my kindred and friends, and in making merry with them.
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.