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There was once a man who was rich in lands and houses and goods and slaves, and he died and went to the mercy of God the Most High, leaving a young son, who, when he grew up, gave himself to feasting and hearing music and singing and wasted his substance in gifts and prodigality, till he had squandered all the money his father left him. Then he betook himself to selling his slaves and lands and houses and spent the proceeds on like wise, till he was reduced to beggary and must needs labour for his living. He abode thus a year's space, at the end of which time he was sitting one day under a wall, awaiting who should hire him, when there came up to him a man of comely aspect and apparel and saluted him. "O uncle," said the young man, "hast thou known me aforetime?" "Not so, O my son," replied the other, "I know thee not at all; but I see the trace of gentle breeding on thee, despite thy present case." "O uncle," rejoined the poor man, "needs must Fate and fore-ordained fortune be accomplished; but, O uncle, bright of face, hast thou any occasion wherein thou wouldst employ me?" "Yes," said the other, "I wish to employ thee in an easy matter." "What is it?" asked the young man, and the stranger, "I have with me ten old men in one house, but we have none to serve us; so, if thou wilt take service with us, thou shalt have food and clothing to thy heart's content, besides what cometh to thee of money and other goods, and haply God will restore thee thy fortune by our means." "With all my heart," replied the youth. " But," said the other, "I have a condition to impose on thee." Quoth he, "What is that?" And the old man said, "O my son, it is that thou keep our secret in what thou seest us do, and if thou see us weep, that thou question us not of the cause of our weeping." "It is well, O uncle," replied the young man; whereupon the other bade him, "Come with me, O my son, with the blessing of God the Most High!"
So he followed him to the bath, where he caused cleanse his body of the crusted dirt, after which he sent for a handsome garment of linen and clad him therein. Then he carried him to a lofty and spacious house, wherein were sitting-chambers facing one another and saloons, in each a fountain of water, with the birds warbling over it, and windows on every side, giving upon a fair garden within the house. The old man brought him into one of the sitting-chambers, which was paved and lined with vari coloured marble and spread with silken carpets, and the roof thereof decorated with ultramarine and glittering gold; and here he found ten old men in mourning apparel, seated opposite one another, weeping and wailing. He marvelled at their case and was about to ask the reason, when he remembered the condition and held his peace. Then he who had brought him delivered to him a chest containing thirty thousand dinars and said to him, "O my son, spend from this chest what is fitting for our entertainment and thine own; and be thou faithful and remember that wherewith I charged thee as to secrecy." "I hear and obey," answered he and served them days and nights, till one of them died, whereupon his fellows washed him and shrouded him and buried him in a garden behind the house; nor did death cease to take them, one after another, till there remained but he who had hired the youth.
Then the two dwelt together alone for years and years, nor was there with them a third save God the Most High, till the old man fell sick; and when the other despaired of his life, he went up to him and condoling with him, said, "O uncle, I have served you twelve years and have not failed of your service a single hour, but have been loyal and faithful to you and served you with my might." "Yes, O my son," answered the old man, "thou hast served us [well; but now] my comrades are gone to the mercy of God (to whom belong might and majesty) and needs must I die also." "O my lord," said the other, "thou art in danger of death and I would fain have thee acquaint me with the cause of your weeping and wailing and of your unceasing mourning and lamentation." "O my son," answered the old man, "it concerns thee not to know this, so importune me not of what I may not do: for I have vowed to God the Most High that I would acquaint none of His creatures with this, lest he be afflicted with what befell me and my comrades. If, then, thou desire to be delivered from that into which we fell, look thou open not yonder door," and pointed to a certain part of the house; "but, if thou have a mind to suffer what we have suffered, then open it and thou shalt learn the cause of that which thou hast seen us do; and whenas thou knowest it, thou wilt repent, what time repentance will avail thee not." Then his sickness increased on him and he accomplished his term [of life] and departed to the presence of his Lord; and the young man washed him with his own hands and shrouded him and buried him with his comrades; after which he abode alone in the house and took possession of all that was therein.
Yet he was uneasy and troubled concerning the case of the old man, till, one day, as he sat pondering the words of his dead master and his injunction not to open the door, he suddenly bethought himself to go and look for it. So he repaired to the part whither the dead man had pointed and sought till, in a dark and unfrequented corner, he found a little door, over which the spider had spun its webs and which was fastened with four locks of steel. Then he recalled the old man's warning and restrained himself and went away; and he held aloof from it seven days, whilst all the time his heart would have him open it. On the eighth day his curiosity got the better of him and he said, "Come what will, I must open the door and see what will happen to me. Nothing can avert what is decreed and fore-ordained of God the Most High nor doth aught befall but by His will." So saying, he rose and broke the locks and opening the door, found himself in a narrow passage, which he followed for three hours, at the end of which time he came out on the shore of a vast ocean and fared on along the beach, marvelling at this sea, [of which he had no knowledge] and turning right and left, till, presently, a great eagle swooped down upon him and seizing him in its talons, flew away with him betwixt heaven and earth, till it came to an island in the midst of the sea, where it cast him down and flew away, leaving him dazed and knowing not whither he should go.
After awhile, as he sat pondering his case, he caught sight of the sails of a ship in the midst of the sea, as it were a star in the mid-heaven; and his heart clave to it, so haply his deliverance might be therein. He continued gazing at the ship, till it drew near, when he saw that it was a galley builded all of ivory and ebony, inlaid with glittering gold, with oars of sandal and aloes-wood. In it were ten damsels, high-bosomed maids, as they were moons, who, when they saw him, came ashore to him and kissed his hands, saying, "Thou art the king, the bride-groom!" Then there came to him a young lady, as she were the sun shining in the cloudless sky, bearing a silken napkin, wherein were a royal robe and a crown of gold set with all manner rubies and pearls. She threw the robe over him and set the crown on his head, after which the damsels bore him in their arms to the galley, where he found all kinds of silken carpets and hangings of various colours. Then they spread the sails and stretched out into mid-ocean.
[Quoth the young man] Indeed, when they put to sea with me, meseemed it was a dream and I knew not whither they went with me. Presently, we drew near to land, and I saw the shore full of troops magnificently arrayed and clad in complete steel, none knoweth their number save God (blessed and exalted be He!) As soon as the galley had made fast to the land, they brought me five horses of noble breeds, housed and saddled with gold, inlaid with all manner pearls and precious stones. I chose out one of them and mounted it, whilst they led the four others before me. Then they raised the banners and the standards over my head, whilst the troops ranged themselves right and left, and we set out, with drums beating and cymbals clashing, and rode on,-- whilst I debated in myself whether I were on sleep or on wake, believing not in that my estate, but taking all this for the pageant of a dream,--till we drew near to a green champaign, full of palaces and gardens and trees and streams and flowers and birds chanting the praises of God, the One, the Victorious. At our approach, an army poured out from amid the palaces and gardens, as it were the torrent, when it pours down [from the mountains,] and overflowed the plain. The troops halted at a little distance from me and there rode forth from amongst them a king, preceded by some of his chief officers on foot.
He came up to the young man and dismounted, whereupon the latter dismounted also, and they saluted each other after the goodliest fashion. Then said the King, "Come with us, for thou art my guest." So they took horse again and rode on in great state, conversing as they went, till they came to the royal palace, where they alighted and the king taking the young man by the hand, led him into the palace, followed by his suite, and making him sit down on a throne of gold, seated himself beside him. Then he unbound the chinband from his face; and behold, the king was a young lady, like the sun shining in the cloudless sky, accomplished in beauty and elegance and amorous grace and all perfection. Quoth she to the young man, who was lost in wonder at her beauty and grace and at the splendour and affluence he saw about him, "Know, O King, that I am the queen of this country and that all the troops thou hast seen, whether horse or foot, are women, there is no man amongst them; for in this our state the men delve and sow and reap and occupy themselves with the tillage of the earth and other mechanical crafts and arts, whilst the women govern and fill the great offices of state and bear arms."
At this he marvelled past measure and as they were in discourse, in came a tall gray-haired old woman of venerable and majestic aspect, and it was told him that this was the vizieress. Quoth the queen to her, "Bring me the Cadi and the witnesses." So she went out to do this, and the queen, turning to him, conversed with him in friendly fashion and enforced herself to reassure him and do away his shamefastness with speech blander than the zephyr, saying, "Art thou content to take me to wife? Thereupon he arose and would have kissed the earth before her; but she forbade him and he replied, saying, " O my lady, I am the least of thy servants." "Seest thou all these servants and soldiers and riches and treasures?" asked she; and he answered, "Yes." Quoth she, "All these are at thy commandment; dispose of them and give and bestow as seemeth good to thee." Then she pointed to a closed door and said, "All these things are at thy disposal, save yonder door; that shalt thou not open, else wilt thou repent, when repentance will avail thee not." Hardly had she made an end of speaking when the vizieress entered, followed by the Cadi and the witnesses, all old women of reverend and majestic aspect, with their hair streaming over their shoulders; and the queen bade them draw up the contract of marriage between herself and the young man. So they performed the marriage-ceremony and the queen made a great bride-feast, to which she bade all the troops; and after they had eaten and drunken, he went in to his bride and found her a clean maid.
So he did away her maidenhead and abode with her seven years in all delight and solace of life, till, one day, he bethought himself of the forbidden door and said in himself; "Except there were therein treasures greater and finer than any I have seen, she had not forbidden me therefrom." So he rose and opened the door, when, lo, behind it was the very bird that had brought him to the island, and it said to him, "An ill welcome to a face that shall never prosper!,' When he saw it and heard what it said, he fled from it; but it followed him and seizing him in its talons, flew with him an hour's journey betwixt heaven and earth, till it set him down in the place whence it had first carried him off and flew away. When he came to his senses, he called to mind his late great and glorious estate and all the honour and fair fortune he had lost and fell to weeping and wailing.
He abode two months on the sea-shore, where the bird had set him down, hoping yet to return to his wife, till, as he sat one night wakeful, mourning and musing, he heard one speaking and saying, "How great were the delights! Far, far from thee is the return of that which is past!" When he heard this, he redoubled in his regrets and despaired of recovering his wife and his late fair estate; so he returned, weary and broken-hearted, to the house where he had dwelt with the old men and knew that they had fared even as he and that this was the cause of their weeping and mourning; wherefore he held them excused. Then, being overcome with chagrin and regret, he took to his chamber and gave himself up to mourning and lamentation; and he ceased not to weep and lament and left eating and drinking and pleasant scents and laughter, till he died and they buried him beside the old men. See, then, O King,' continued the Vizier, 'what cometh of haste; verily, it is unpraiseworthy and begetteth repentance; and in this I give thee true and loyal counsel.'
When the King heard the Vizier's story, he turned from slaying his son; but, on the sixth day, the favourite came in to him with a naked knife in her hand and said to him,'Know, O my lord, that, except thou hearken to my complaint and protect thy right and thine honour against these thy viziers, who are banded together against me, to do me wrong, I will kill myself with this knife, [and my blood will testify against thee on the Day of Judgment]. Indeed, they pretend that women are full of tricks and malice and perfidy and design by this to defeat me of my right and hinder the King from doing me justice; but, behold, I will prove to thee that men are more perfidious than women by the story of a king of the kings and how he gained access to the wife of a certain merchant.' 'And what passed between them?' asked the King. 'I have heard tell, O august King,' replied she, 'that...
[Go to The King's Son and the Merchant's Wife]
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