Home - FAQ - Images - Bibliography | complete versions by Burton - Dixon - Lang - Payne - Scott

Payne: The First Calender's Story

[Go back to The Porter and the Three Ladies of Baghdad]

My father was a king, and he had a brother, who was also a king over another city. The latter had a son and a daughter, and it chanced that I and the son of my uncle were both born on the same day. In due time we grew up to man's estate and there was a great affection between us. Now it was my wont every now and then to visit my uncle and abide with him several months at a time. One day, I went to visit him as usual and found him absent a-hunting; but my cousin received me with the utmost courtesy and slaughtered sheep and strained wine for me and we sat down to drink. When the wine had got the mastery of us, my cousin said to me, "O son of my uncle I have a great service to ask of thee, and I beg of thee not to baulk me in what I mean to do." "With all my heart," answered I; and he made me swear by the most solemn oaths to do his will. Then he went away and returning in a little, with a lady veiled and perfumed and very richly clad, said to me, "Take this lady and go before me to the burial-ground and enter such and such a sepulchre," and he described it to me and I knew it, "and wait till I come." I could not gainsay him, by reason of the oath I had sworn to him; so I took the lady and carried her to the cemetery, and entering the tomb sat down to await my cousin, who soon rejoined us, carrying a vessel of water, a bag containing plaster and an adze. He went up to the tomb in the midst of the sepulchre and loosening its stones with the adze, laid them on one side after which he fell to digging with the adze in the earth till he uncovered a trap of iron, as big as a small door, and raised it, when there appeared beneath it a winding stair. Then he turned to the lady and said to her, "Up and make thy choice." So she descended the stair and was lost to sight; and he said to me, "O my cousin, when I have descended, complete thy kindness to me by replacing the trap-door and throwing back the earth on it: then mix the plaster in the bag with the water in this vessel and build up the tomb again with the stones and plaster it over as before, lest any see it and say, 'This tomb has been newly opened, albeit it is an old one;' for I have been at work here a whole year, unknown to any save God. This then is the service I had to ask of thee, and may God never bereave thy friends of thee, O my cousin!" Then he descended the stair; and when he was out of sight, I replaced the trap-door and did as he had bidden me, till the tomb was restored to its original condition, and I the while in a state of intoxication; after which I returned to the palace, and found my uncle still absent. Next morning I called to mind what had happened and repented of having obeyed my cousin, when repentance was of no avail, but thought that it must have been a dream. So I fell to enquiring after my cousin; but none could give me any news of him; and I went out to the burial-ground and sought for the tomb where I had left him, but could not find it, and ceased not to go from sepulchre to sepulchre and from tomb to tomb, without success, till nightfall. Then I returned to the palace and could neither eat nor drink, for my heart was troubled about my cousin, seeing I knew not what was come of him; and I was extremely chagrined and slept not that night, but lay awake for anxiety till morning. As soon as it was day, I repaired again to the cemetery, pondering what my cousin had done and repenting me of having hearkened to him, and vent round among all the tombs, but could not find the one I sought. Thus I did for the space of seven days, but with no better success, and my trouble and anxiety increased till I was well-nigh mad and could find nothing for it but to return to my father. So I set out and journeyed till I reached his capital; but as I entered the gate of the city, a number of men sprang out on me and tied my hands behind me. At this I was beyond measure amazed, seeing that I was the son of the Sultan and that they were his servants and my own; and great fear fell on me, and I said to myself, "I wonder what has befallen my father!" Then I questioned my captors; but they returned me no answer. However, after awhile, one of them, who had been my servant, said to me, "Fortune has played thy father false; and the troops deserted him. So the Vizier slew him and seized on his throne; and we laid wait for thee by his command." Then they took me and carried me before the Vizier, well-nigh distraught for this news of my father. Now between me and this Vizier was an old feud, the cause of which was as follows. I was fond of shooting with a pellet-bow, and one day, as I was standing on the terrace of my palace, a bird lighted on the terrace of the Vizier's house, where the latter chanced to be standing at the time. I let fly at the bird, but, as fate and destiny would have it, the pellet swerved and striking the Vizier on the eye, put it out. As says the poet:

Our footsteps follow on in their predestined way, Nor from the ordered track can any mortal stray: And he whom Fate appoints in any land to die, No other place on earth shall see his dying day.

The Vizier dared say nothing, at the time, because I was the Sultan's son of the city, but thenceforward he nourished a deadly hatred against me. So when they brought me bound before him, he commanded my head to be smitten off; and I said, "For what crime wilt thou put me to death?" "What crime could be greater than this?" answered he, and pointed to his ruined eye. Quoth I, "That I did by misadventure." And he replied, "If thou didst it by misadventure, I will do the like with intent." Then said he, "Bring him to me." So they brought me up to him, and he put his finger into my right eye and pulled it out; and thenceforward I became one-eyed as ye see me. Then he caused me to be bound hand and foot and put in a chest and said to the headsman, "Take this fellow and carry him forth of the city and slay him and leave him for the beasts and birds to eat." So the headsman carried me without the city to the midst of the desert, where he took me out of the chest, bound hand and foot as I was, and would have bandaged my eyes, that he might slay me. But I wept sore till I made him weep, and looking at him, repeated the following verses:

I counted on you as a coat of dart-proof mail toward The foeman's arrows from my breast. Alas! ye are his sword! I hoped in you to succour me in every evil chance, Although my right hand to my left no more should help afford. Yet stand aloof nor cast your lot with those who do me hate, And let my foemen shoot their shafts against your whilom lord! If you refuse to succour me against my enemies, At least be neutral, nor to me nor them your aid accord.

And these also:

How many of my friends, methought, were coats of mail! And so they were, indeed, but on my foeman's part. Unerring shafts and true I deemed them; and they were Unerring shafts, indeed, alas, but in my heart!

When the headsman heard this (now he had been my father's headsman and I had done him kindness) he said, "O my lord what can I do, being but a slave commanded?" Then he said, "Fly for thy life and never return to this country, or thou art lost and I with thee." As says one of the poets:

Escape with thy life, if oppression betide thee, And let the house tell of its builder's fate! Country for country thou'lt find, if thou seek it; Life for life never, early or late. It is strange men should dwell in the house of abjection, When the plain of God's world is so wide and so great!

I kissed his hands, hardly crediting my escape; and recked little of the loss of my eye, in consideration of my deliverance from death. Then I repaired to my uncle's capital and going in to him, told him what had befallen my father and myself; whereat he wept sore and said, "Verily, thou addest affliction to my affliction and sorrow to my sorrow; for thy cousin has been missing these many days; I know not what is become of him, and none can give me any news of him." Then he wept till he swooned away, and my heart was sore for him. When he revived, he would have medicined my eye, but found there was but the socket left and said, "O my son, it is well that it was thine eye and not thy life!" I could not keep silence about my cousin; so I told him all that had passed, and he rejoiced greatly at hearing news of his son and said, "Come, show me the tomb." "By Allah, O my uncle," answered I, "I know it not, for I went after many times to seek for it, but could not find it." However, we went out to the burial-ground and looked right and left, till at last I discovered the tomb. At this we both rejoiced greatly and entering, removed the earth, raised the trapdoor and descended fifty steps, till we came to the foot of the stair, where we were met by a great smoke that blinded our eyes: and my uncle pronounced the words, which whoso says shall never be confounded, that is to say, "There is no power and no virtue but in God the Most High, the Supreme!" Then we went on and found ourselves in a saloon, raised upon columns, drawing air and light from openings communicating with the surface of the ground and having a cistern in its midst. The place was full of crates and sacks of flour and grain and other victual; and at the upper end stood a couch with a canopy over it. My uncle went up to the bed and drawing the curtains, found his son and the lady in each other's arms; but they were become black coal, as they had been cast into a well of fire. When he saw this, he spat in his son's face and taking off his shoe, smote him with it, exclaiming, "Swine that thou art, thou hast thy deserts! This is thy punishment in this world, but there awaits thee a far sorer and more terrible punishment in the world to come!" His behaviour amazed me, and I mourned for my cousin, for that he was become a black coal, and said to the king, "O my uncle, is not that which hath befallen him enough, but thou must beat him with thy shoe?" "O son of my brother," answered my uncle, "this my son was from his earliest youth madly enamoured of his sister, and I forbade him from her, saying in myself, 'They are but children.' But, when they grew up, sin befell between them, notwithstanding that his attendants warned him to abstain from so foul a thing, which none had done before nor would do after him, lest the news of it should be carried abroad by the caravans and he become dishonoured and unvalued among kings to the end of time. I heard of this and believed it not, but took him and upbraided him severely, saying, 'Have a care lest this thing happen to thee; for I will surely curse thee and put thee to death.' Then I shut her up and kept them apart, but this accursed girl loved him passionately, and Satan got the upper hand of them and made their deeds to seem good in their eyes. So when my son saw that I had separated them, he made this place under ground and transported victual hither, as thou seest, and taking advantage of my absence a-hunting, came here with his sister, thinking to enjoy her a long while. But the wrath of God descended on them and consumed them; and there awaits them in the world to come a still sorer and more terrible punishment." Then he wept and I with him, and he looked at me and said, "Henceforth thou art my son in his stead." Then I bethought me awhile of the world and its chances and how the Vizier had slain my father and usurped his throne and put out my eye and of the strange events that had befallen my cousin and wept again, and my uncle wept with me. Presently we ascended, and replacing the trap-door, restored the tomb to its former condition. Then we resumed to the palace, but hardly had we sat down when we heard a noise of drums and trumpets and cymbals and galloping of cavalry and clamour of men and clash of arms and clank of bridles and neighing of horses, and the world was filled with clouds of dust raised by the horses' hoofs. At this we were amazed and knew not what could be the matter so we enquired and were told that the Vizier, who had usurped my father's throne, had levied troops and hired the wild Arabs and was come with an army like the sands of the sea, none could tell their number nor could any avail against them. They assaulted the city unawares, and the people, being unable to withstand them, surrendered the place to them. My uncle was slain and I took refuge in the suburbs, knowing that, if I fell into the Vizier's hands, he would put me to death. Wherefore trouble was sore upon me and I bethought me of all that had befallen me and my father and uncle and knew not what to do, for if I showed myself, the people of the city and my father's troops would know me and hasten to win the usurpers favour by putting me to death; and I could find no means of escape but by shaving my face. So I shaved off my beard and eyebrows and donning a Calender's habit, left the town, without being known of any, and made for this city, in the hope that perhaps some one would bring me to the presence of the Commander of the Faithful and Vicar of the Lord of the Two Worlds, that I might relate to him my story and lay my case before him. I arrived here today and was standing, perplexed where I should go, when I saw this second Calender; so I saluted him, saying "I am a stranger," and he replied, "And I also am a stranger." Presently up came our comrade, this other Calender, and saluted us, saying, "I am a stranger." "We also are strangers," answered we; and we walked on together, till darkness overtook us, and destiny led us to your house. This, then, is my history and the manner of the loss of my right eye and the shaving of my beard and eyebrows.' They all marvelled at his story, and the Khalif said to Jaafer, 'By Allah, I never heard or saw the like of what happened to this Calender.' Then the mistress of the house said to the Calender, 'Begone about thy business.' But he answered, 'I will not budge till I hear the others' stories.' Then came forth the second Calender and kissing the earth, said, 'O my lady, I was not born blind of one eye, and my story is a marvellous one; were it graven with needles on the corners of the eye, it would serve as a warning to those that can profit by example.

[Go to The Second Calender's Story]


Payne, John (1842-1916). The Book of the Thousand Nights and One Night. London. 1901. Gutenberg Vol. I. Gutenberg Vol. II. Gutenberg Vol. III. Gutenberg Vol. IV. Please consult the Gutenberg edition for footnotes; the footnotes have not been included in this web version. Wollamshram Vol. V. Wollamshram Vol. VI. Wollamshram Vol. VII. Wollamshram Vol. VIII. Wollamshram Vol. IX. Please consult the Wollamshram edition for footnotes; the footnotes have not been included in this web version.


1001 Nights Hypertext. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. This website is licensed under a Creative Commons License. The texts presented here are in the public domain. Thanks to Gene Perry for his excellent help in preparing the texts for the web. Page last updated: January 1, 2005 10:46 PM


powered by FreeFind