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Fourth Voyage

from The Arabian Nights Entertainments





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 him.

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 consideration.

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 country."

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 Bagdad. 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 fresher.

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 Bagdad 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.





Next: Fifth Voyage

Previous: Third Voyage



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