Arabian Nights: The Fourth Voyage of Sindbad

“On the eighth day I came to the seashore; here I saw some white people employed in gathering pepper, which grew very plentifully in that place. They came towards me as soon as they perceived me, and asked me in Arabic from whence I came.

“Delighted to hear my native language once more, I readily satisfied their curiosity.

“I remained with them until they had collected as much pepper as they chose to gather. They made me embark with them in the vessel which had conveyed them, and we soon reached another island, from whence they had come. My deliverers presented me to their king, who was a good prince. He had the patience to listen to the recital of my adventures, which astonished him; and he ordered me some new clothes, and desired I might be taken care of. This island was very populous, and abounded in all sorts of articles for commerce. The pleasantness of my new quarters began to console me for my misfortunes, and the kindness of this generous prince made me completely happy. Indeed, I appeared to be his greatest favourite.

“I remarked one thing which appeared to me very singular; every one, the king not excepted, rode on horseback without saddle, bridle, or stirrups. Ione day took the liberty to ask his majesty why such things were not used in his city; he replied that he had never heard of the things of which I spoke.

“I immediately went to a workman, and gave him a model from which to make the tree of a saddle. When he had executed his task, I myself covered the saddle-tree with leather, richly embroidered in gold, and stuffed it with hair. I then applied to a locksmith, who made me a bit and some stirrups also, according to the patterns I gave him.

“When these articles were completed, I presented them to the king, and tried them on one of his horses: the prince then mounted his steed, and was so pleased with its accoutrements, that he testified his approbation by making me considerable presents. I was then obliged to make several saddles for his ministers and the principal officers of his household, who all rewarded me with very rich and handsome gifts. I also made some for the wealthiest inhabitants of the town, by which I gained great reputation and credit.

“As I constantly attended at court, the king said to me one day: ‘Sindbad, I love you; and I know that all my subjects who have any knowledge of you entertain a high regard for you. I have one request to make, which you must not deny me.’ ‘O king,’ replied I, ‘there is nothing your majesty can command which I will not perform, to prove my obedience to your orders. Your power over me is absolute.’ ‘I wish you to marry,’ resumed the prince, ‘ that you may have a tender tie to attach you to my dominions, and prevent you returning to your native country.’ As I did not dare to refuse the king’s offer, he bestowed on me in marriage a lady of his court who was noble, beautiful, rich, and accomplished. After the ceremony of the nuptials I took up my abode in the house of my wife, and lived with her for some time in perfect harmony. Nevertheless I was discontented with my situation, and designed to make my escape at the first convenient opportunity, and return to Bagdad.

“While I was thus meditating an escape, the wife of one of my neighbours, with whom I was very intimate, fell sick and died. I went to console the widower, and finding him in the deepest affliction, I said to him: ‘May God preserve you, and grant you a long life.’ ‘Alas!’ replied he, ‘I have only one hour to live.’ ‘Oh,’ resumed I, ‘ do not suffer such dismal ideas to take possession of your mind; I hope that I shall enjoy your friendship for many years.’ ‘I wish with all my heart,’ said he, ‘that your life may be of long duration. As for me, the die is cast, and this day I shall be buried with my wife: such is the custom which our ancestors have established in this island, and which is still inviolably observed; the husband is interred alive with his dead wife, and the living wife with the dead husband. Nothing can save me, and every one submits to this law.’

“Whilst he was relating to me this singularly barbarous custom, the bare idea of which filled me with terror, his relations, friends, and neighbours came to make arrangements for the funeral. They dressed the corpse of the woman in the richest attire, as on the day of her nuptials, and decorated her with all her jewels. They then placed her on an open bier, and the procession set out. The husband, dressed in mourning, went immediately after the body of his wife, and the relations followed. They bent their course towards a high mountain, and when they had reached the summit, a large stone was raised which covered a deep pit, and the body was let down into the pit in all its sumptuous apparel and ornaments. Thereupon the husband took his leave of his relations and friends, and without making any resistance suffered himself to be placed on a bier, with a jug of water and seven small loaves by his side; he was then let down into the pit as his wife had been. This mountain extended to a great distance, reaching even to the seashore, and the pit was very deep. When the ceremony was ended the stone was replaced and the company retired. I need scarcely tell you that I was particularly affected by this ceremony. I could not avoid telling the king my sentiments on this subject. ‘O king,’ said I, ‘I cannot express my astonishment at the strange custom which exists in your dominions, of interring the living with the dead; in the whole course of my travels I never heard of so cruel a decree.’ ‘What can I do, Sindbad?’ replied the king, ‘it is a law common to all ranks, and even I submit to it. I shall be interred alive with the queen my consort, if she happens to die first.’ ‘Will your majesty allow me to ask,’ resumed I, ‘if strangers are obliged to conform to this custom?’ ‘Certainly,’ said the king, ‘they are not exempt when they marry in the island.’

“I returned home thoughtful and sad. The fear that my wife might die before me, and that I must be interred with her, distressed me beyond measure. I soon had good reason to fear: she was taken dangerously ill and died in a few days. To be buried alive appeared to me as horrible a fate as being devoured by the anthropophagi; yet I was obliged to submit. The king, accompanied by his whole court, proposed to honour the procession with his presence; and the principal inhabitants of the city also, out of respect to me, were present at my interment.

“When all was in readiness for the ceremony, the corpse of my wife, decorated with her jewels, and dressed in her most magnificent clothes, was placed on a bier, and the procession set out. As the chief mourner in this dreadful tragedy, I followed the body of my wife, my eyes full of tears, and deploring my miserable destiny. Before we arrived at the mountain I made an appeal to the compassion of the spectators. I first addressed myself to the king, then to the courtiers who were near me, and entreated them to have pity on me. ‘ Consider,’ said I, ‘that I am a stranger, who ought not to be subject to your rigorous law, and that I have another wife and children in my own country.’ I pronounced these words in a heartrending tone, but no one seemed moved; on the contrary, the spectators hastened to deposit the corpse in the pit, and soon after I was let down also on another bier, with a jug of water and seven loaves. At last, this fatal ceremony being completed, they replaced the stone over the mouth of the cave, notwithstanding my piteous lamentation.

“As I approached the bottom of the pit, I discovered by the little light that shone from above the nature of this subterranean abode. It was a vast cavern, and might be about fifty cubits deep. I soon smelt an insupportable stench, which arose from the mouldering corpses, that were strewed around. I even fancied I heard the last sighs of some miserable wretches who had lately fallen victims to this inhuman law. So soon as the bier stopped at the bottom of the cave I stepped from it to the ground, and stopping my nostrils, went to a distance from the dead bodies. I threw myself on the ground, where I remained a long time, and gave way to the most violent grief. Nevertheless, I did not call on death to release me from this habitation of horror; the love of life still glowed within me, and induced me to seek to prolong my days. I felt my way to the bier on which I had been placed; and notwithstanding the intense darkness which prevailed, I found my bread and water, and ate and drank of it. I lived for some days on my provisions, but as soon as they were exhausted I prepared to die. I had become resigned to my fate, when suddenly I heard the stone above me raised. A corpse and a living person were let down. The deceased was a man. It is natural to have recourse to violent means to preserve life when a man is reduced to the last extremity. While the woman was descending, I approached the spot where her bier was to be placed, and when I perceived that the aperture by which she had been lowered was closed, I gave the unhappy creature two or three heavy blows on the head with a large bone. She was stunned, or, to say the truth, I killed her, committing this inhuman action to obtain the bread and water which had been allowed her. I had now provisions for some days. At the end of that time a dead woman and her living husband were let down into the pit. I killed the man as I had slain the woman; and as at that time there happened, fortunately for me, to be a great mortality in the city, I was not in want of food, always obtaining my supplies by the same cruel means.

“One day, when I had just put an end to an unfortunate woman, I heard footsteps, and a sound like breathing. I advanced in the direction from whence the sound proceeded. I heard a louder breathing at my approach, and I fancied I saw something fleeing from me. I followed the flying shadow, which occasionally stopped and then again retreated panting as I drew near. I pursued it so long, and went so far, that at last I perceived a small speck of light resembling a star. I continued to walk towards this light, till I arrived at an opening in the rock large enough to allow me to pass.

“At this discovery I stopped for some time to recover from the violent emotion occasioned by my rapid chase; then passing through the crevice, I found myself on the seashore. You may imagine the excess of my joy; it was so great, I could scarcely persuade myself that my imagination did not deceive me. When I became convinced that it was a reality, and that my senses did not play me false, I perceived that the thing which I had heard pant, and which I had followed, was an animal that lived in the sea, and was accustomed to go into that cave to devour the dead bodies.

“I returned to the cave to collect from the different biers all the diamonds, rubies, pearls, golden bracelets, in short, everything of value on which I could lay my hands in the dark, and I brought all my plunder to the shore. I tied it up in several packets with the cords which had served to let down the biers, of which there were many lying around. I left my goods in a convenient place, till a proper opportunity should offer for conveying them away.

“At the end of two or three days I perceived a vessel just sailing out of the harbour, and passing by the spot where I was. I made signals with my turban, and cried aloud with all my strength. They heard me on board, and despatched the boat to fetch me. When the sailors inquired by what misfortune I had got in that place, I replied that I had been wrecked two days since on that shore, with all my merchandise. Fortunately for me these people did not stop to consider whether my story was probable, but, satisfied with my answer, they took me into the boat with my bales.

“When we had reached the vessel the captain never thought of doubting the tale of the wreck.

“At length I arrived happily at Bagdad, with immense riches. To show my gratitude to Heaven for the mercies shown me, I spent a great deal in charity, giving money for the support of the mosques and for the relief of the poor. I then entirely gave myself up to the society of my relations and friends, and passed my time in feasting and entertainments.”

Sindbad here concluded the relation of his fourth voyage. He repeated his present of a hundred sequins to Hindbad, whom he requested, with the rest of the company, to return on the following day to dine, and hear the story of his fifth voyage. The next day, when all were assembled, they sat down to table; and at the conclusion of the repast, Sindbad began the account of his fifth voyage..

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