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The Story Of The Second Calendar Son Of A King

from The Arabian Nights Entertainments





"Madam," said the young man, addressing Zobeida, "if you wish to know
how I lost my right eye, I shall have to tell you the story of my whole
life."

I was scarcely more than a baby, when the king my father, finding me
unusually quick and clever for my age, turned his thoughts to my
education. I was taught first to read and write, and then to learn the
Koran, which is the basis of our holy religion, and the better to
understand it, I read with my tutors the ablest commentators on its
teaching, and committed to memory all the traditions respecting the
Prophet, which have been gathered from the mouth of those who were his
friends. I also learnt history, and was instructed in poetry,
versification, geography, chronology, and in all the outdoor exercises
in which every prince should excel. But what I liked best of all was
writing Arabic characters, and in this I soon surpassed my masters, and
gained a reputation in this branch of knowledge that reached as far as
India itself.

Now the Sultan of the Indies, curious to see a young prince with such
strange tastes, sent an ambassador to my father, laden with rich
presents, and a warm invitation to visit his court. My father, who was
deeply anxious to secure the friendship of so powerful a monarch, and
held besides that a little travel would greatly improve my manners and
open my mind, accepted gladly, and in a short time I had set out for
India with the ambassador, attended only by a small suite on account of
the length of the journey, and the badness of the roads. However, as
was my duty, I took with me ten camels, laden with rich presents for
the Sultan.

We had been travelling for about a month, when one day we saw a cloud
of dust moving swiftly towards us; and as soon as it came near, we
found that the dust concealed a band of fifty robbers. Our men barely
numbered half, and as we were also hampered by the camels, there was no
use in fighting, so we tried to overawe them by informing them who we
were, and whither we were going. The robbers, however, only laughed,
and declared that was none of their business, and, without more words,
attacked us brutally. I defended myself to the last, wounded though I
was, but at length, seeing that resistance was hopeless, and that the
ambassador and all our followers were made prisoners, I put spurs to my
horse and rode away as fast as I could, till the poor beast fell dead
from a wound in his side. I managed to jump off without any injury,
and looked about to see if I was pursued. But for the moment I was
safe, for, as I imagined, the robbers were all engaged in quarrelling
over their booty.

I found myself in a country that was quite new to me, and dared not
return to the main road lest I should again fall into the hands of the
robbers. Luckily my wound was only a slight one, and after binding it
up as well as I could, I walked on for the rest of the day, till I
reached a cave at the foot of a mountain, where I passed the night in
peace, making my supper off some fruits I had gathered on the way.

I wandered about for a whole month without knowing where I was going,
till at length I found myself on the outskirts of a beautiful city,
watered by winding streams, which enjoyed an eternal spring. My
delight at the prospect of mixing once more with human beings was
somewhat damped at the thought of the miserable object I must seem. My
face and hands had been burned nearly black; my clothes were all in
rags, and my shoes were in such a state that I had been forced to
abandon them altogether.

I entered the town, and stopped at a tailor's shop to inquire where I
was. The man saw I was better than my condition, and begged me to sit
down, and in return I told him my whole story. The tailor listened
with attention, but his reply, instead of giving me consolation, only
increased my trouble.

"Beware," he said, "of telling any one what you have told me, for the
prince who governs the kingdom is your father's greatest enemy, and he
will be rejoiced to find you in his power."

I thanked the tailor for his counsel, and said I would do whatever he
advised; then, being very hungry, I gladly ate of the food he put
before me, and accepted his offer of a lodging in his house.

In a few days I had quite recovered from the hardships I had undergone,
and then the tailor, knowing that it was the custom for the princes of
our religion to learn a trade or profession so as to provide for
themselves in times of ill-fortune, inquired if there was anything I
could do for my living. I replied that I had been educated as a
grammarian and a poet, but that my great gift was writing.

"All that is of no use here," said the tailor. "Take my advice, put on
a short coat, and as you seem hardy and strong, go into the woods and
cut firewood, which you will sell in the streets. By this means you
will earn your living, and be able to wait till better times come. The
hatchet and the cord shall be my present."

This counsel was very distasteful to me, but I thought I could not do
otherwise than adopt it. So the next morning I set out with a company
of poor wood-cutters, to whom the tailor had introduced me. Even on
the first day I cut enough wood to sell for a tolerable sum, and very
soon I became more expert, and had made enough money to repay the
tailor all he had lent me.

I had been a wood-cutter for more than a year, when one day I wandered
further into the forest than I had ever done before, and reached a
delicious green glade, where I began to cut wood. I was hacking at the
root of a tree, when I beheld an iron ring fastened to a trapdoor of
the same metal. I soon cleared away the earth, and pulling up the
door, found a staircase, which I hastily made up my mind to go down,
carrying my hatchet with me by way of protection. When I reached the
bottom I discovered that I was in a huge palace, as brilliantly lighted
as any palace above ground that I had ever seen, with a long gallery
supported by pillars of jasper, ornamented with capitals of gold. Down
this gallery a lady came to meet me, of such beauty that I forgot
everything else, and thought only of her.

To save her all the trouble possible, I hastened towards her, and bowed
low.

"Who are you? Who are you?" she said. "A man or a genius?"

"A man, madam," I replied; "I have nothing to do with genii."

"By what accident do you come here?" she asked again with a sigh. "I
have been in this place now for five and twenty years, and you are the
first man who has visited me."

Emboldened by her beauty and gentleness, I ventured to reply, "Before,
madam, I answer your question, allow me to say how grateful I am for
this meeting, which is not only a consolation to me in my own heavy
sorrow, but may perhaps enable me to render your lot happier," and then
I told her who I was, and how I had come there.

"Alas, prince," she said, with a deeper sigh than before, "you have
guessed rightly in supposing me an unwilling prisoner in this gorgeous
place. I am the daughter of the king of the Ebony Isle, of whose fame
you surely must have heard. At my father's desire I was married to a
prince who was my own cousin; but on my very wedding day, I was
snatched up by a genius, and brought here in a faint. For a long while
I did nothing but weep, and would not suffer the genius to come near
me; but time teaches us submission, and I have now got accustomed to
his presence, and if clothes and jewels could content me, I have them
in plenty. Every tenth day, for five and twenty years, I have received
a visit from him, but in case I should need his help at any other time,
I have only to touch a talisman that stands at the entrance of my
chamber. It wants still five days to his next visit, and I hope that
during that time you will do me the honour to be my guest."

I was too much dazzled by her beauty to dream of refusing her offer,
and accordingly the princess had me conducted to the bath, and a rich
dress befitting my rank was provided for me. Then a feast of the most
delicate dishes was served in a room hung with embroidered Indian
fabrics.

Next day, when we were at dinner, I could maintain my patience no
longer, and implored the princess to break her bonds, and return with
me to the world which was lighted by the sun.

"What you ask is impossible," she answered; "but stay here with me
instead, and we can be happy, and all you will have to do is to betake
yourself to the forest every tenth day, when I am expecting my master
the genius. He is very jealous, as you know, and will not suffer a man
to come near me."

"Princess," I replied, "I see it is only fear of the genius that makes
you act like this. For myself, I dread him so little that I mean to
break his talisman in pieces! Awful though you think him, he shall
feel the weight of my arm, and I herewith take a solemn vow to stamp
out the whole race."

The princess, who realized the consequences of such audacity, entreated
me not to touch the talisman. "If you do, it will be the ruin of both
of us," said she; "I know genii much better than you." But the wine I
had drunk had confused my brain; I gave one kick to the talisman, and
it fell into a thousand pieces.

Hardly had my foot touched the talisman when the air became as dark as
night, a fearful noise was heard, and the palace shook to its very
foundations. In an instant I was sobered, and understood what I had
done. "Princess!" I cried, "what is happening?"

"Alas!" she exclaimed, forgetting all her own terrors in anxiety for
me, "fly, or you are lost."

I followed her advice and dashed up the staircase, leaving my hatchet
behind me. But I was too late. The palace opened and the genius
appeared, who, turning angrily to the princess, asked indignantly,

"What is the matter, that you have sent for me like this?"

"A pain in my heart," she replied hastily, "obliged me to seek the aid
of this little bottle. Feeling faint, I slipped and fell against the
talisman, which broke. That is really all."

"You are an impudent liar!" cried the genius. "How did this hatchet
and those shoes get here?"

"I never saw them before," she answered, "and you came in such a hurry
that you may have picked them up on the road without knowing it." To
this the genius only replied by insults and blows. I could hear the
shrieks and groans of the princess, and having by this time taken off
my rich garments and put on those in which I had arrived the previous
day, I lifted the trap, found myself once more in the forest, and
returned to my friend the tailor, with a light load of wood and a heart
full of shame and sorrow.

The tailor, who had been uneasy at my long absence, was, delighted to
see me; but I kept silence about my adventure, and as soon as possible
retired to my room to lament in secret over my folly. While I was thus
indulging my grief my host entered, and said, "There is an old man
downstairs who has brought your hatchet and slippers, which he picked
up on the road, and now restores to you, as he found out from one of
your comrades where you lived. You had better come down and speak to
him yourself." At this speech I changed colour, and my legs trembled
under me. The tailor noticed my confusion, and was just going to
inquire the reason when the door of the room opened, and the old man
appeared, carrying with him my hatchet and shoes.

"I am a genius," he said, "the son of the daughter of Eblis, prince of
the genii. Is not this hatchet yours, and these shoes?" Without
waiting for an answer--which, indeed, I could hardly have given him, so
great was my fright--he seized hold of me, and darted up into the air
with the quickness of lightning, and then, with equal swiftness,
dropped down towards the earth. When he touched the ground, he rapped
it with his foot; it opened, and we found ourselves in the enchanted
palace, in the presence of the beautiful princess of the Ebony Isle.
But how different she looked from what she was when I had last seen
her, for she was lying stretched on the ground covered with blood, and
weeping bitterly.

"Traitress!" cried the genius, "is not this man your lover?"

She lifted up her eyes slowly, and looked sadly at me. "I never saw
him before," she answered slowly. "I do not know who he is."

"What!" exclaimed the genius, "you owe all your sufferings to him, and
yet you dare to say he is a stranger to you!"

"But if he really is a stranger to me," she replied, "why should I tell
a lie and cause his death?"

"Very well," said the genius, drawing his sword, "take this, and cut
off his head."

"Alas," answered the princess, "I am too weak even to hold the sabre.
And supposing that I had the strength, why should I put an innocent man
to death?"

"You condemn yourself by your refusal," said the genius; then turning
to me, he added, "and you, do you not know her?"

"How should I?" I replied, resolved to imitate the princess in her
fidelity. "How should I, when I never saw her before?"

"Cut her head off," then, "if she is a stranger to you, and I shall
believe you are speaking the truth, and will set you at liberty."

"Certainly," I answered, taking the sabre in my hands, and making a
sign to the princess to fear nothing, as it was my own life that I was
about to sacrifice, and not hers. But the look of gratitude she gave
me shook my courage, and I flung the sabre to the earth.

"I should not deserve to live," I said to the genius, "if I were such a
coward as to slay a lady who is not only unknown to me, but who is at
this moment half dead herself. Do with me as you will--I am in your
power--but I refuse to obey your cruel command."

"I see," said the genius, "that you have both made up your minds to
brave me, but I will give you a sample of what you may expect." So
saying, with one sweep of his sabre he cut off a hand of the princess,
who was just able to lift the other to wave me an eternal farewell.
Then I lost consciousness for several minutes.

When I came to myself I implored the genius to keep me no longer in
this state of suspense, but to lose no time in putting an end to my
sufferings. The genius, however, paid no attention to my prayers, but
said sternly, "That is the way in which a genius treats the woman who
has betrayed him. If I chose, I could kill you also; but I will be
merciful, and content myself with changing you into a dog, an ass, a
lion, or a bird--whichever you prefer."

I caught eagerly at these words, as giving me a faint hope of softening
his wrath. "O genius!" I cried, "as you wish to spare my life, be
generous, and spare it altogether. Grant my prayer, and pardon my
crime, as the best man in the whole world forgave his neighbour who was
eaten up with envy of him." Contrary to my hopes, the genius seemed
interested in my words, and said he would like to hear the story of the
two neighbours; and as I think, madam, it may please you, I will tell
it to you also.





Next: The Story Of The Envious Man And Of Him Who Was Envied

Previous: The Story Of The First Calender Son Of A King



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