[Go back to The Third Voyage of Sindbad the Sailor]
I had not long been in the enjoyment of ease and repose, after my return from my third voyage, when a company of merchants entered Baghdad and foregathering with me, talked with me of foreign travel and traffic, till my soul yearned to go with them and divert itself with the sight of strange countries, and I longed for the society of the various races of mankind and for traffic and gain. So I resolved to travel with them and providing myself with great store of costly goods, more than ever before, transported them to Bassora, where I took ship with the merchants in question, who were of the chief of the town.
We set out, trusting in the blessing of God the Most High, and sailed, with a favouring breeze, from island to island and sea to sea, till, one day, there arose against us a contrary wind and the captain cast out his anchors and brought the ship to a standstill, fearing lest she should founder in mid-ocean. Then we all fell to prayer and humbling ourselves before God the Most High; but, as we were thus engaged, there smote us a furious squall, which tore the sails to rags; the cable parted and [the ship, capsizing,] cast us all into the sea. I kept myself afloat half the day, till, when I had given myself up for lost, God threw in my way one of the planks of the ship, on which I and some others of the merchants clambered and paddled with our feet in the sea. We abode thus a day and a night, the wind and waves helping us on, till, on the forenoon of the second day, the breeze freshened and the waves rose and cast us upon an island, well-nigh dead for cold and weariness and fear and hunger and thirst and lack of sleep. We walked about the shore and found abundance of herbs and roots, of which we ate and stayed our failing spirits, then lay down and slept till morning.
As soon as it was light, we arose and walked about the island, till we came in sight of [what seemed] an inhabited house afar off. So we made towards it, but no sooner had we reached the door thereof; than a number of naked men issued from it and without word said, laid hold of us and carried us to their king, who signed to us to sit. So we sat down and they set food before us, whose like we had never seen in all our lives. My companions ate of it, for stress of hunger, but my stomach revolted from it and I would not eat; and my refraining from it was, by God's favour, the cause of my being alive till now: for no sooner had my comrades tasted of it than their reason fled and their condition changed and they began to eat like madmen. Then the savages gave them to drink of cocoa-nut oil and anointed them therewith; and no sooner had they drunken thereof, than their eyes turned in their heads and they fell to eating greedily against their wont. When I saw this, I was confounded and grieved for them, nor was I less concerned for myself, for fear of the savages. So I watched them narrowly, nor was it long before I discovered them to be a tribe of cannibals. All who fell in their way they brought to their king and fed them upon this food and anointed them with cocoa-nut oil, whereupon their bellies expanded that they might eat amain, whilst their reason fled and they lost the power of thought and became idiots. Then they stuffed them with cocoa-nut oil and the aforesaid food, till they grew fat and stout, when they slaughtered them and roasted them for their king's eating: but, as for the savages themselves, they ate human flesh raw.
When I was aware of this, I was sore dismayed for mysel and my comrades, who were now become so brutalized that they knew not what was done with them and the savages committed them to one, who used every day to lead them out and pasture them on the island like cattle. As for me, I wasted away and became sickly for fear and hunger and my flesh shrivelled on my bones; which when the savages saw, they left me alone and took no thought of me, so that one day I gave them the slip and made for the beach, where I espied a man seated on a high place. I looked at him and knew him for the herdsman, who had charge of my fellows, and with him were great plenty of others like unto them. As soon as he saw me, he knew me to be in possession of my reason and signed to me from afar, as who should say, "Turn back and take the right-hand road, for that will lead thee into the king's highway." So I turned back, as he bade me, and followed the right hand road, now running for fear and now slackening pace, to rest me, till I was out of his sight. By this time, the sun had gone down and the darkness set in; so I sat down to rest and would have slept, but sleep came not to me that night, for stress of fear and hunger and weariness. When the night was half spent I rose and walked on, till the day broke and the sun rose over hill and plain. Now I was weary and hungry and thirsty; so I ate my fill of the herbs and roots that grew in the island and stayed my stomach, after which I set out again.
I fared on thus, night and day, seven days and nights, staying my hunger with roots and herbs, till, on the morning of the eighth day, I caught sight of something moving in the distance. So I made for it, though my heart quaked for all I had suffered first and last, and found that it was a company of men gathering pepper. As soon as they saw me, they hastened up to me and surrounding me on all sides, asked me who I was and whence I came. I acquainted them with my case and all the hardships and perils I had suffered and how I had escaped from the savages, whereat they marvelled and gave me joy of my safety, saying, "By Allah, it is wonderful that thou shouldst have escaped from these blacks, who swarm in the island and devour all who fall in with them, nor is any safe from them."
They made me sit by them, till they had made an end of their work, and brought me good food, of which I ate, for I was hungry, and rested awhile; after which they took ship with me and carrying me to the island where they abode, brought me before their king, who received me kindly and questioned me of my case; whereupon I told him all that had befallen me, from the day of my leaving Baghdad. He wondered greatly at my adventures, he and his courtiers, and made me sit by him; then he called for food and I ate with him and washed my hands and returned thanks to God the most High for all His mercies. Then I left the King and walked about the city, which I found rich and populous, abounding in markets well stocked with food and merchandise and full of buyers and sellers. So I gave myself joy of having reached so pleasant a place and took my ease there after my fatigues; and I made friends with the townsfolk, nor was it long before I became better considered and more in favour with them and their King than any of the chief men of the realm.
Now I saw that all the people, great and small, rode handsome thorough-bred horses barebaeked and without saddles, at which I wondered and said to the King, "O my lord, why dost thou not ride with a saddle? Therein is ease for the rider and increase of power." "What manner of thing is a saddle?" asked he. "I never saw nor used one in all my life." "With thy permission," rejoined I, "I will make thee a saddle, that thou mayst ride on it and see the comfort thereof." And he said, "Do so." So I asked him for wood, which being brought me, I sought out a skilful carpenter and showed him how to make the saddle-tree, portraying him the fashion thereof in ink on the wood. Then I took wool and carded it and made felt of it and covering the saddle-tree with leather, stuffed it and burnished it and bound on the girth and stirrup-leathers; after which I fetched a blacksmith and described to him the fashion of the stirrups and bridle-bit. So he forged a fine pair of stirrups and a bit, and I filed them smooth and tinned them. Moreover, I made fast to them fringes of silk and fitted bridle-leathers to the bit. Then I fetched one of the best of the royal horses and saddling and bridling him, hung the stirrups to the saddle and led him to the King. The thing took his fancy and he thanked me; then he mounted and rejoiced greatly in the saddle and rewarded me handsomely. When the King's Vizier saw the saddle, he sought of me the like and I made it for him. Moreover, all the grandees and officers of state sought saddles of me; so I fell to making saddles, with the help of the carpenter and blacksmith, whom I had taught the craft, and selling them to all who sought, till I amassed great wealth and became in high honour and favour with the King and his household and officers.
I abode thus till, one day, as I was sitting with the King, in all honour and contentment, he said to me, "Hark ye, such an one! Thou art become one of us and we hold thee in such honour and affection that we cannot part with thee now nor suffer thee to leave our city; wherefore I have somewhat to require of thee, in which I will not have thee gainsay me. "O King," answered I, "what is it thou desirest of me? Far be it from me to gainsay thee in aught, for I am indebted to thee for many favours and bounties and much kindness, and (praised be God!) I am become as one of thy servants." Quoth he, "I have a mind to marry thee to a rich, handsome and agreeable wife, so thou mayst be domiciled with us and I will lodge thee with me in my palace; wherefore gainsay me not neither cross me in this." When I heard this, I was abashed and held my peace nor could make him any answer, by reason of my much bashfulness before him. Quoth he, "Why dost thou not answer me, O my son?" And I answered, saying, "O King of the age, it is thine to command." So he summoned the Cadi and the witnesses and married me straightway to a noble lady of surpassing beauty, high descent and great wealth. Then he gave me a great and goodly house, together with slaves and officers, and assigned me stipends and allowances. So I became in all delight and ease and contentment and forgot all that had befallen me of weariness and trouble and hardship; for I loved my wife dearly and she loved me no less, and we were at one and abode in the utmost comfort and happiness. And I said in myself, "When I return to my native land, I will carry her with me." But whatever is decreed to a man, needs must it be, and none knoweth what shall befall him.
We lived thus a great while, till God the Most High bereft a neighbour of mine of his wife. Now he was a friend of mine; so I went in to condole with him on his loss and found him in very ill plight, full of trouble and weary of heart and mind. I condoled with him and comforted him, saying, "Mourn not for thy wife; God will surely give thee a better in her stead, and thy life shall be long, so it please the Most High." But he wept sore and replied, "O my friend, how can I marry another wife and how shall God replace her to me with a better than she, seeing that I have but one day left to live?" "O my brother," said I, return to thy senses and forebode not thine own death, for thou art well and in good health and case." "By thy life, O my friend," rejoined he, "to-morrow thou wilt lose me and wilt never see me again till the Day of Resurrection." "How so?" asked I, and he said, "This very day they bury my wife, and me with her in one tomb; for it is the custom with us, if the wife die first, to bury the husband alive with her, and in like manner the wife, if the husband die first; so that neither may enjoy life after the other." "By Allah," cried I, "this is a most vile custom and not to be endured of any!"
Meanwhile, the most part of the townsfolk came in and fell to condoling with my friend for his wife and himself. Presently, they laid the dead woman out and setting her on a bier, carried her and her husband without the city, till they came to a place in the side of a mountain by the sea, where they raised a great stone and discovered the mouth of a stone-lined pit or well, leading down into a vast underground cavern that ran beneath the mountain.Into this pit they threw the coffin, then tying a rope of palm-fibres under the husband's armpits, they let him down into the cavern, and with him a great pitcher of fresh water and seven cakes of bread. When he came to the bottom, he did himself loose from the rope and they drew it up; then stopping the mouth of the pit with the stone, they returned to the city, leaving my friend in the cavern with his dead wife. When I saw this, I said in myself, "By Allah, this kind of death is more horrible than the first." And I went in to the King and said to him, "O my lord, why do ye bury the live with the dead?" Quoth he, "It has been our custom, from time immemorial, if the husband die first, to bury his wife with him, and the like with the wife, if her husband die first, so we may not sever them, alive or dead." "O King of the age," asked I, "if the wife of a foreigner like myself die among you, deal ye with him as with yonder man?" "Assuredly," answered he; "we do with him even as thou hast seen." When I heard this, my gall-bladder was like to burst, for the violence of my dismay and concern for myself; my wit became dazed and I went in fear lest my wife should die before me and they bury me alive with her. However, after a while, I comforted myself, saying, "Haply I shall die before her, for none knoweth which shall go first and which follow."
Then I applied myself to diverting my mind from this thought with various occupations; but it was not long before my wife sickened and died, after a few days' illness, and the King and the rest of the folk came to condole with me and her family for her loss. Then they washed her and arraying her in her richest clothes and ornaments, laid her on the bier and carded her to the mountain aforesaid, where they lifted the cover of the pit and cast her in; after which all my friends and acquaintances came round me, to bid me farewell in my lifetime and condole with me for myself whilst I cried out amongst them, saying, "I am a foreigner and not subject to your custom!" They paid no heed to my words, but laying hold of me, bound me by force and let me down into the cavern, with a pitcher of fair water and seven cakes of bread, as of wont. When I came to the bottom, they called out to me to cast myself loose from the cords, but I refused to do so; so they threw them down on me and closing the mouth of the pit with the stone aforesaid, went their ways.
I found myself in a vast cavern under the mountain, full of dead bodies, that exhaled a fetid and loathsome smell, and fell to blaming myself for what I had done, saying, "By Allah, I deserve all that hath befallen me! What possessed me to take a wife in this city? There is no power and no virtue but in God the Most High, the Supreme! As often as I say, 'I have escaped from one calamity,' I fall into a worse. By Allah, this is a fearful death to die! Would I had been drowned at sea or perished in the mountains! It were better than to die this miserable death!" Then I threw myself down on the bones of the dead and lay there, imploring Gods help and in the violence of my despair, invoking death, which came not to me, till hunger well-nigh gnawed me in sunder and thirst consumed me, when I sat up and feeling for the bread, ate a morsel and drank a mouthful of water. After this, I arose and exploring the cavern, found that it extended a long way right and left, with hollow places in its sides; and its floor was strewn with dead bodies and rotten bones, that had lain there from of old time. So I made myself a place in the sides of the cavern, afar from the freshly buried dead, and there slept.
I abode thus a long while, knowing not night from day, eating not till I was well-nigh torn in pieces with hunger, neither drinking till driven thereto by excess of thirst, for fear my victual should fail me before my death; and my bread and water diminished, till I had but a little left, albeit I ate but a morsel every day or two and drank but a mouthful. One day, as I sat thus, pondering my case and bethinking me how I should do, when my store was exhausted, the stone that covered the opening was suddenly raised, and the light streamed down upon me. Quoth I, "I wonder what is to do!" Then I espied folk standing about the mouth of the pit, who presently let down a dead man and a live woman, weeping and bemoaning herself; and with her the usual pittance of bread and water. I saw her, but she saw me not; and they closed up the opening and went away. Then I took the thighbone of a dead man and going up to the woman, smote her on the crown of the head, and she fell down in a swoon. I smote her a second and a third time, till she was dead, when I laid hands on her bread and water and found on her great plenty of jewels and ornaments and rich apparel. I carried the victual to my niche in the side of the cavern and ate and drank of it sparingly, no more than sufficed to keep the life in me, lest it come speedily to an end and I perish of hunger and thirst.
I abode thus a great while, killing all the live folk they let down into the cavern and taking their provision of meat and drink, till, one day, as I slept, I was awakened by something routing among the bodies in a corner of the cave, and said, "What can this be?" So I sprang up and seizing the thighbone aforesaid, made for the noise. As soon as the thing was ware of me, it fled from me into the inward of the cavern, and behold, it was a wild beast. However, I followed it to the further end, till I saw afar off a tiny point of light, like a star, now appearing and now disappearing. So I made for it, and as I drew near, it grew larger and brighter, till I was certified that it was a crevice in the rock, leading to the open country; and I said in myself, "There must be some reason for this opening; either it is the mouth of a second pit, such as that by which they let me down, or else it is a [natural] fissure in the rock." So I bethought me awhile and nearing the light, found that it came from a breach in the sea-wall of the mountain, which the wild beasts had made, that they might enter and feed upon the dead bodies. When I saw this, my spirits revived and hope came back to me and I made sure of life, after having looked for nothing but death. So I went on, as in a dream, and making shift to scramble through the breach, found myself on the slope of a high mountain, overlooking the salt sea and cutting off all access thereto from the island, so that none could come at that part of the beach from the city.
I praised God and thanked Him, rejoicing greatly in the prospect of deliverance; then I returned to the cavern and brought out all the food and water I had saved up and donned some of the dead folk's clothes over my own; after which I gathered together all the collars and necklaces of pearls and jewels and trinkets of gold and silver set with precious stones and other ornaments and valuables I could find upon the corpses, and making them into bales with the grave-clothes and raiment of the dead, carried them out to the sea-shore, where I established myself, purposing to wait there till it should please God the Most High to send me deliverance by means of some passing ship. I visited the cavern daily and as often as I found folk buried alive there, I killed them and took their victual and valuables.
Thus I abode awhile till, one day, as I sat on the beach, pondering my case, I caught sight of a ship passing in the midst of the surging sea, swollen with clashing billows. So I took a piece of a shroud I had with me and tying it to a staff, ran along the sea-shore, making signals therewith to the people in the ship, till they espied me and hearing my shouts, sent a boat to fetch me off. When it drew near, the crew called out to me, saying, "Who art thou and how camest thou in this place, where never saw we any in our lives?" I answered that I was a merchant, who had been wrecked and saved myself on one of the planks of the ship, with some of my goods, and that, by the blessing of God and my own strength and skill, I had succeeded after severe toil in landing with my gear in that place, where I waited for some one to pass and take me off. So they took me and the bales I had made of the jewels and valuables from the cavern, tied up in clothes and shrouds, and rowed back with me to the ship, where the captain said to me, "How camest thou to yonder place?" All my life I have sailed these seas and passed to and fro by this mountain; yet never saw I here any living thing save wild beasts and birds." I repeated to him the story I had told the sailors, but acquainted him with nothing of that whicn had befallen me in the city and the cavern, lest there should be any of the islanders in the ship. Then I took out some of the best of the jewels and ornaments and offered them to the captain, saying, "O my lord, thou hast been the means of my delivery; so take this from me in requital of thy good offices." But he refused to accept it, saying, "When we find a shipwrecked man on the sea-shore or on an island, we take him up and feed him, and if he be naked, we clothe him; nor take we aught from him, nay, when we reach a port of safety, we set him ashore with a present of our own money and entreat him kindly and charitably, for the love of God the Most High." So I prayed that his life might be long and rejoiced in my escape, trusting to be delivered from my stress.
Then we pursued our voyage and sailed from island to island and sea to sea, till, by God's grace, we arrived in safety at Bassora, where I tarried a few days, then went on to Baghdad and foregathered with my friends and family, who rejoiced in my happy return and gave me joy of my safety. I laid up in my storehouses all the goods I had brought with me, and gave alms and largesse and clothed the widow and the orphan. Then I gave myself up to pleasure and enjoyment, returning to my old merry way of life; but, whenever I call to mind my sojourn in the cavern among the dead, I am like to lose my reason. This, then, is the story of my fourth voyage, and to-morrow I will tell you that which befell me in my fifth voyage, which was yet rarer and more wonderful than those which forewent it.'
When Sindbad the Sailor had made an end of his story, he called for supper; so they spread the table and the guests ate the evening meal; after which he gave the porter an hundred dinars as usual, and he and the rest of the company went their ways, glad at heart and marvelling at what they had heard, for that each story was more extraordinary than that which forewent it. The porter passed the night in his own house, in all joy and cheer and wonderment, and next morning, as soon as it was day, he prayed the morning prayer and repaired to the house of Sindbad the Sailor, who welcomed him and made him sit with him till the rest of the company arrived, when they ate and drank and made merry and the talk went round amongst them. Presently, their host began the story of the fifth voyage and bespoke them, saying, 'Know, O my brethren, that...
[Go to The Fifth Voyage of Sindbad the Sailor]
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