[Go back to The Story of the Second Calendar (cont.)]
My story, most honourable lady, very much differs from what you have already heard. The two princes who have spoken before me have each lost an eye by the pure effects of their destiny, but mine I lost through my own fault, and by hastening to seek my own misfortune, as you shall hear by the sequel of the story.
My name is Agib, and I am the son of a sultan who was called Cassib. After his death I took possession of his dominions, and continued in the city where he had resided. It is situated on the sea-coast, has one of the finest and safest harbours in the world, an arsenal capable of fitting out for sea one hundred and fifty men of war, besides merchantmen and light vessels. My kingdom is composed of several fine provinces upon the main land, besides a number of valuable islands, which lie almost in sight of my capital.
My first object was to visit the provinces: I afterwards caused my whole fleet to be fitted out, and went to my islands to gain the hearts of my subjects by my presence, and to confirm them in their loyalty. These voyages gave me some taste for navigation, in which I took so much pleasure, that I resolved to make some discoveries beyond my own territories; to which end I caused ten ships to be fitted out, embarked, and set sail.
Our voyage was very pleasant for forty days successively, but on the forty-first night the wind became contrary, and withal so boisterous that we were near being lost: about break of day the storm abated, the clouds dispersed, and the weather became fair. We reached an island, where we remained two days to take in fresh provisions; and then put off again to sea. After ten days' sail we were in hopes of seeing land, for the tempests we had experienced had so much abated my curiosity, that I gave orders to steer back to my own coast; but I perceived at the same time that my pilot knew not where we were. Upon the tenth day, a seaman being sent to look out for land from the mast head, gave notice that on starboard and larboard he could see nothing but sky and sea, but that right a-head he perceived a great blackness.
The pilot changed colour at this account, and throwing his turban on the deck with one hand, and beating his breast with the other, cried, "Oh, Sir, we are all lost; not one of us can escape; and with all my skill it is not in my power to effect our deliverance." Having spoken thus, he lamented like a man who foresaw unavoidable ruin; his despondence threw the whole ship's crew into consternation. I asked him what reason he had thus to despair? He exclaimed, "The tempest has brought us so far out of our course, that to-morrow about noon we shall be near the black mountain, or mine of adamant, which at this very minute draws all your fleet towards it, by virtue of the iron in your ships; and when we approach within a certain distance, the attraction of the adamant will have such force, that all the nails will be drawn out of the sides and bottoms of the ships, and fasten to the mountain, so that your vessels will fall to pieces and sink.
"This mountain," continued the pilot, "is inaccessible. On the summit there is a dome of fine brass, supported by pillars of the same metal, and on the top of that dome stands a horse, likewise of brass, with a rider on his back, who has a plate or lead fixed to his breast, upon which some talismanic characters are engraver. Sir, the tradition is, that this statue is the chief cause why so many ships and men have been lost and sunk in this place, and that it will ever continue to be fatal to all those who have the misfortune to approach, until it shall be thrown down."
The pilot having finished his discourse, began to weep afresh, and all the rest of the ship's company did the same. I had no other thought but that my days were there to terminate. In the mean time every one began to provide for his own safety, and to that end took all imaginable precaution; and being uncertain of the event, they all made one another their heirs, by virtue of a will, for the benefit of those that should happen to be saved.
The next morning we distinctly perceived the black mountain. About noon we were so near, that we found what the pilot had foretold to be true; for all the nails and iron in the ships flew towards the mountain, where they fixed, by the violence of the attraction, with a horrible noise; the ships split asunder, and their cargoes sunk into the sea. All my people were drowned, but God had mercy on me, and permitted me to save myself by means of a plank, which the wind drove ashore just at the foot of the mountain. I did not receive the least hurt, and my good fortune brought me to a landing place, where there were steps that led up to the summit of the mountain.
At the sight of these steps, for there was not a space of ground either on the right or left whereon a man could set his foot, I gave thanks to God; and recommended myself to his holy protection, as I began to ascend the steps, which were so narrow, that had the wind raged it would have thrown me into the sea. But, at last, I reached the top, without accident. I went into the dome, and kneeling on the ground, gave God thanks for his mercies.
I passed the night under the dome. In my sleep an old grave man appeared to me, and said, "Hearken, Agib; as soon as thou art awake dig up the ground under thy feet: thou wilt find a bow of brass, and three arrows of lead, that are made under certain constellations, to deliver mankind from the many calamities that threaten them. Shoot the three arrows at the statue, and the rider will fall into the sea, but the horse will fall by thy side; thou must bury it in the place where thou findest the bow and arrows: this being done, the sea will swell and rise to the foot of the dome. When it has come so high, thou wilt perceive a boat with one man holding an oar in each hand; this man is also of metal, but different from that thou hast thrown down; step on board, but without mentioning the name of God, and let him conduct thee. He will in ten days' time bring thee into another sea, where thou shalt find an opportunity to return to thy country, provided, as I have told thee, thou dost not mention the name of God during the whole voyage."
This was the substance of the old man's discourse. When I awoke I felt much comforted by the vision, and did not fail to observe everything that he had commanded me. I took the bow and arrows out of the ground, shot at the horseman, and with the third arrow I overthrew him; he fell into the sea, and the horse fell by my side; I buried it in the place whence I took the bow and arrows. In the mean time, the sea swelled and rose up by degrees. When it came as high as the foot of the dome upon the top of the mountain, I saw, afar off, a boat rowing towards me, and I returned God thanks that everything succeeded according to my dream.
At last the boat made land, and I perceived the man was made of metal, as I had dreamt. I stept aboard, and took great heed not to pronounce the name of God, neither spoke I one word. I sat down, and the man of metal began to row off from the mountain. He rowed without ceasing till the ninth day, when I saw some islands, which gave me hopes that I should escape all the danger that I feared. The excess of my joy made me forget what I was forbidden: "Blessed be God," said I; "God be praised."
I had no sooner spoken these words, than the boat sunk with the man of metal, leaving me upon the surface. I swam the remaining part of the day towards that land which appeared nearest. A very dark night succeeded, and not knowing where I was, I swam at random. My strength at last began to fail, and I despaired of being able to save myself, but the wind began to blow hard, and a wave vast as a mountain threw me on a flat, where it left me, and retreated. I made haste ashore, fearing another wave might wash me back. The first thing I did was to strip, wring the water out of my clothes, and lay them on the dry sand, which was still warm from the heat of the day.
Next morning the sun dried my clothes; I put them on, and went forward to discover what sort of country I was in. I had not walked far before I found I was upon a desert, though a very pleasant, island, as it displayed several sorts of trees and wild shrubs bearing fruit; but I perceived it was far from the continent, which much diminished the joy I felt at having escaped the danger of the seas. Nevertheless, I recommended myself to God and prayed him to dispose of me according to his will. Immediately after, I saw a vessel coming from the main land, before the wind, directly towards the island. I doubted not but they were coming to anchor there; and being uncertain what sort of people they might be, whether friends or foes, I thought it not safe to be seen. I got up into a very thick tree, from whence I might safely view them. The vessel came into a little creek, where ten slaves landed, carrying a spade and other instruments for digging up the ground. They went towards the middle of the island, where I saw them stop, and dig for a considerable time, after which I thought I perceived them lift up a trap door. They returned again to the vessel, and unloaded several sorts of provisions and furniture, which they carried to the place where they had been digging: they then descended, which made me suppose it led to a subterraneous dwelling.
I saw them once more go to the ship, and return soon after with an old man, who led in his hand a handsome lad of about fourteen or fifteen years of age. They all descended when the trap door had been opened. After they had again come up, they let down the trap door, covered it over with earth, and returned to the creek where the ship lay, but I saw not the young man in their company. This made me believe that he had staid behind in the subterraneous place, a circumstance which exceedingly surprised me.
The old man and the slaves went on board, and getting the vessel under weigh, steered their course towards the main land. When I perceived they had proceeded to such a distance that I could not be seen by them, I came down from the tree, and went directly to the place where I had seen the ground broken. I removed the earth by degrees, till I came to a stone that was two or three feet square. I lifted it up, and found that it covered the head of a flight of stairs, which were also of stone. I descended, and at the bottom found myself in a large room, furnished with a carpet, a couch covered with tapestry, and cushions of rich stuff, upon which the young man sat, with a fan in his hand. These things, together with fruits and flower-pot standing about him, I saw by the light of two wax tapers. The young man, when he perceived me was considerably alarmed; but to quiet his apprehensions, I said to him as I entered, "Whoever you are, Sir, do not fear; a sultan, and the son of a sultan, as I am, is not capable of doing you any injury: on the contrary, it is probable that your good destiny may have brought me hither to deliver you out of this tomb, where it seems you have been buried alive, for reasons to me unknown. But what surprises me (for you must know that I have been witness to all that hath passed since your coming into this island), is, that you suffered yourself to be entombed in this place without any resistance."
The young man felt assured at these words, and with a smiling countenance requested me to take a seat by him. When I had complied, he said "Prince, I am to acquaint you with what will surprise you by its singularity.
"My father is a merchant jeweller, who, by his industry and professional skill, has acquired considerable property. He has many slaves, and also agents, whom he employs as supercargoes in his own ships, to maintain his correspondence at the several courts, which he furnishes with precious stones.
"He had been long married without having issue, when it was intimated to him in a dream that he should have a son, though his life would be but short; at which he was much concerned when he awoke. Some days after, my mother acquainted him that she was with child, and what she supposed to be the time of her conception agreed exactly with the day of his dream. At the end of nine months she was brought to bed of me; which occasioned great joy in the family.
"My father, who had observed the very moment of my birth, consulted astrologers about my nativity; and was answered, ‘Your son shall live happily till the age of fifteen, when his life will be exposed to a danger which he will hardly be able to escape. But if his good destiny preserve him beyond that time, he will live to a great age. It will be' (said they) ‘when the statue of brass, that stands upon the summit of the mountain of adamant, shall be thrown into the sea by prince Agib, son of king Cassib; and, as the stars prognosticate, your son will be killed fifty days afterwards by that prince.'
"My father took all imaginable care of my education until this year, which is the fifteenth of my age. He had notice given him yesterday, that the statue of brass had been thrown into the sea about ten days ago. This news alarmed him much.
"Upon the prediction the astrologers, he sought by all means possible to falsify my horoscope, and to preserve my life. He took the precaution to form this subterranean habitation to hide me in, till the expiration of the fifty days after the throwing down of the statue; and therefore, as it is ten days since this happened, he came hastily hither to conceal me, and promised at the end of forty days to return and fetch me away. For my own part I am sanguine in my hopes, and cannot believe that prince Agib will seek for me in a place under ground, in the midst of a desert island."
While the jeweller's son was relating this story, I laughed at the astrologers who had foretold that I should take away his life; for I thought myself so far from being likely to verify their prediction, that he had scarcely done speaking, when I told him with great joy, "Dear Sir, trust in the goodness of God, and fear nothing; consider it as a debt you had to pay; but that you are acquitted of it from this hour. I rejoice that after my shipwreck I came so fortunately hither to defend you against all who would attempt your life. I will not leave you till the forty days have expired, of which the foolish astrologers have made you apprehensive; and in the mean while I will do you all the service in my power: after which, with leave of your father and yourself, I shall have the benefit of getting to the main land in your vessel; and when I am returned into my kingdom, I will remember the obligations I owe you, and endeavour to demonstrate my gratitude by suitable acknowedgments."
This discourse encouraged the jeweller's son, and inspired him with confidence. I took care not to inform him I was the very Agib whom he dreaded, lest I should alarm his fears, and used every precaution not to give him any cause to suspect who I was. We passed the time in various conversation till night came on. I found the young man of ready wit, and partook with him of his provisions, of which he had enough to have lasted beyond the forty days, though he had had more guests than myself. After supper we conversed for some time; and at last retired to bed.
The next morning, when he arose, I held the basin of water to him; I also provided dinner, and at the proper time placed it on the table: after we had dined I invented a play for our amusement, not only for that day, but for those that followed. I prepared supper after the same manner as I had done the dinner; and having supped, we retired to bed as before. We had sufficient time to contrast mutual friendship and esteem for each other. I found he loved me; and I on my part regarded him with so much affection, that I often said to myself, "Those astrologers who predicted to his father that his son should die by my hand were impostors; for it is not possible that I could commit so base a crime." In short, madam, we spent thirty-nine days in the pleasantest manner possible in this subterraneous abode.
The fortieth day appeared: and in the morning, when the young man awoke, he said to me with a transport of joy that he could not restrain, "Prince, this is the fortieth day, and I am not dead, thanks to God and your good company. My father will not fail to make you, very shortly, every acknowledgment of his gratitude for your attentions, and will furnish you with every necessary accommodation for your return to your kingdom: but," continued he, "while we are waiting his arrival, I beg you will provide me some warm water in that portable bath, that I may wash my body and change my dress, to receive my father with the more respect."
I set the water on the fire, and when it was hot poured it into the moveable bath; the youth went in, and I both washed and rubbed him. At last he came out, and laid himself down in his bed that I had prepared. After he had slept a while, he awoke, and said, "Dear prince, pray do me the favour to fetch me a melon and some sugar, that I may eat some to refresh me."
Out of several melons that remained I took the best, and laid it on a plate; and as I could not find a knife to cut it with, I asked the young man if he knew where there was one. "There is one," said he, "upon this cornice over my head:" I accordingly saw it there, and made so much haste to reach it, that, while I had it in my hand, my foot being entangled in the carpet, I fell most unhappily upon the young man, and the knife pierced his heart.
At this spectacle I cried out with agony. I beat my head, my face, and breast; I tore my clothes; I threw myself on the ground with unspeakable sorrow and grief! "Alas!" I exclaimed, "there were only some hours wanting to have put him out of that danger from which he sought sanctuary here; and when I thought the danger past, then I became his murderer, and verified the prediction. But, O Lord!" said I, lifting up my face and my hands to heaven, "I intreat thy pardon, and if I be guilty of his death, let me not live any longer."
After this misfortune I would have embraced death without any reluctance, had it presented itself to me. But what we wish, whether it be good or evil, will not always happen according to our desire. Nevertheless, considering that all my tears and sorrows would not restore the young man to life, and, the forty days being expired, I might be surprised by his father, I quitted the subterranean dwelling, laid down the great stone upon the entrance, and covered it with earth.
I had scarcely done, when, casting my eyes upon the sea towards the main land, I perceived the vessel coming to fetch away the young man. I began then to consider what I had best do. I said to myself, "If I am seen by the old man, he will certainly seize me, and perhaps cause me to be massacred by his slaves, when he has discovered that his son is killed: all that I can allege to justify myself will not convince him of my innocence. It is better then to withdraw while it is in my power, than to expose myself to his resentment."
There happened to be near a large tree thick with leaves, which I ascended in hopes of concealment, and was no sooner fixed in a place where I could not be perceived, than I saw the vessel come to the creek where she lay the first time.
The old man with his slaves landed immediately, and advanced towards the subterranean dwelling, with a countenance that shewed some hope; but when they saw the earth had been newly removed, they changed colour, particularly the old man. They lifted up the stone, and went down; they called the young man by his name, but he not answering, their fears increased. They proceeded to seek him; and at length found him lying upon the bed with the knife in his heart, for I had not power to take it out. At this sight they cried out lamentably, which increased my sorrow: the old man fell down in a swoon. The slaves, to give him air, brought him up in their arms, and laid him at the foot of the tree where I was concealed; but notwithstanding all the pains they took to recover him, the unfortunate father continued a long while insensible, and made them more than once despair of his life; but at last he came to himself. The slaves then brought up his son's corpse, dressed in his best apparel, and when they had made a grave they buried it. The old man, supported by two slaves, and his face covered with tears, threw the first earth upon the body, after which the slaves filled up the grave.
This being done, all the furniture was brought up, and, with the remaining provisions, put on board the vessel. The old man, overcome with sorrow, and not being able to stand, was laid upon a litter, and carried to the ship, which stood out to sea, and in a short time was out of sight.
After the old man and his slaves were gone, I was left alone upon the island. I lay that night in the subterranean dwelling, which they had shut up, and when the day came, I walked round the island, and stopped in such places as I thought most proper for repose.
I led this wearisome life for a whole month. At the expiration of this time I perceived that the sea had receded; that the island had increased in dimensions; the main land too seemed to be drawing nearer. In fact, the water sunk so low, that there remained between me and the continent but a small stream, which I crossed, and the water did not reach above the middle of my leg. I walked so long a way upon the slime and sand that I was very weary: at last I got upon more firm ground, and when I had proceeded some distance from the sea, I saw a good way before me something that resembled a great fire, which afforded me some comfort; for I said to myself, I shall find here some persons, it not being possible that this fire should kindle of itself. As I drew nearer, however, I found my error, and discovered that what I had taken for a fire was a castle of red copper, which the beams of the sun made to appear at a distance like flames.
I stopped in the neighbourhood of the castle, and sat down to admire its noble structure, and to rest myself. Before I had taken such a view of this magnificent building as it deserved, I saw ten handsome young men coming along, as if they had been taking a walk; but what surprised me was, that they were all blind of the right eye. They were accompanied by an old man, who was very tall, and of a venerable aspect.
I could not suppress my astonishment at the sight of so many half blind men in company, and every one deprived of the same eye. As I was conjecturing by what adventure these men could come together, they approached, and seemed glad to see me. After the first salutations, they inquired what had brought me thither. I told them my story would be somewhat tedious, but if they would take the trouble to sit down, 1 would satisfy their curiosity. They did so, and I related to them all that had happened to me since I had left my kingdom, which filled them with astonishment.
After I had concluded my account, the young gentlemen prayed me to accompany them into the castle. I accepted their offer, and we passed through a great many halls, ante-chambers, bed-chambers, and closets, very well furnished, and came at last into a spacious hall, where there were ten small blue sofas set round, separate from one another, on which they sat by day and slept at night. In the middle of this circle stood an eleventh sofa, not so high as the rest, but of the same colour, upon which the old man before-mentioned sat down, and the young gentlemen occupied the other ten. But as each sofa could only contain one man, one of the young men said to me, "Comrade, sit down upon that carpet in the middle of the room, and do not inquire into anything that concerns us, nor the reason why we are all blind of the right eye; be content with what you see, and let not your curiosity extend any farther."
The old man having sat a short time, arose, and went out; but he returned in a minute or two, brought in supper, distributed to each man separately his proportion, and likewise brought me mine, which I ate apart, as the rest did; and when supper was almost ended, he presented to each of us a cup of wine.
They thought my story so extraordinary, that they made me repeat it after supper, and it furnished conversation for a good part of the night. One of the gentlemen observing that it was late, said to the old man, "You do not bring us that with which we may acquit ourselves of our duty." At these words the old man arose, and went into a closet, and brought out thence upon his head ten basins, one after another, all covered with blue stuff; he placed one before every gentleman, together with a light.
They uncovered their basins, which contained ashes, coal-dust, and lamp-black; they mixed all together, and rubbed and bedaubed their faces with it in such a manner as to make themselves look very frightful. After having thus blackened themselves, they wept and lamented, beating their heads and breasts, and crying continually, "This is the fruit of our idleness and debauches."
They continued this strange employment nearly the whole of the night, and when they left off, the old man brought them water, with which they washed their faces and hands; they changed all their clothes, which were spoiled, and put on others; so that they exhibited no appearance of what they had been doing.
You may judge how uneasy I felt all this time. I wished a thousand times to break the silence which had been imposed upon me, and ask questions; nor was it possible for me to sleep that night.
The next day, soon after we had arisen, we went out to walk, and then I said to them, "Gentlemen, I declare to you, that I must renounce the law which you prescribed to me last night, for I cannot observe it. You are men of sense, you have convinced me that you do not want understanding; yet, I have seen you do such actions as none but madmen could be capable of. Whatever misfortune befalls me, I cannot forbear asking, why you bedaubed your faces with black? How it has happened that each of you has but one eye? Some singular circumstance must certainly be the cause; therefore I conjure you to satisfy my curiosity." To these pressing instances they answered only, that it was no business of mine to make such inquiries, and that I should do well to hold my peace.
We passed that day in conversation upon indifferent subjects; and when night was come and every man had supped, the old man brought in the blue basins, and the young gentlemen as before bedaubed their faces, wept and beat themselves, crying, "This is the fruit of our idleness and debauches," and continued the same actions the following night. At last, not being able to resist my curiosity, I earnestly prayed them to satisfy me, or to shew me how to return to my own kingdom; for it was impossible for me to keep them company any longer, and to see every night such an odd exhibition, without being permitted to know the reason.
One of the gentlemen answered on behalf of the rest, "Do not wonder at our conduit in regard to yourself, and that hitherto we have not granted your request: it is out of kindness, to save you the pain of being reduced to the same condition with ourselves. If you have a mind to try our unfortunate destiny, you need but speak, and we will give you the satisfaction you desire." I told them I was resolved on it, let what would be the consequence. "Once more," said the same gentleman, "we advise you to restrain your curiosity: it will cost you the loss of your right eye." "No matter," I replied; "be assured that if such a misfortune befall me, I will not impute it to you, but to myself."
He farther represented to me, that when I had lost an eye I must not hope to remain with them, if I were so disposed, because their number was complete, and no addition could be made to it. I told them, that it would be a great satisfaction to me never to part from such agreeable gentlemen, but if there were a necessity for it, I was ready to submit; and let it cost me what it would, I begged them to grant my request.
The ten gentlemen perceiving that I was so fixed in my resolution, took a sheep, killed it, and after they had taken off the skin, presented me with a knife, telling me it would be useful to me on an occasion which they would soon explain. "We must sew you in this skin," said they, "and then leave you; upon which a bird of a monstrous size, called a roc, will appear in the air, and taking you for a sheep, will pounce upon you, and soar with you to the sky: but let not that alarm you; he will descend with you again, and lay you on the top of a mountain. When you find yourself on the ground, cut the skin with your knife, and throw it off. As soon as the roc sees you, he will fly away for fear, and leave you at liberty. Do not stay, but walk on till you come to a spacious castle, covered with plates of gold, large emeralds, and other precious stones: go up to the gate, which always stands open, and walk in. We have each of us been in that castle; but will tell you nothing of what we saw, or what befell us there; you will learn by your own experience. All that we can inform you is, that it has cost each of us our right eye, and the penance which you have been witness to, is what we are obliged to observe in consequence of having been there. The history of each of us is so full of extraordinary adventures, that a large volume would not contain them. But we cannot explain ourselves farther."
When the gentleman had thus spoken, I wrapt myself in the sheep's skin, held fast the knife which was given me; and after the young gentlemen had been at the trouble to sew the skin about me, they retired into the hall, and left me alone. The roc they spoke of soon arrived; he pounced upon me, took me in his talons like a sheep, and carried me up the summit of the mountain.
When I found myself on the ground, I cut the skin with the knife, and throwing it off, the roc at the sight of me flew sway. This roc is a white bird, of a monstrous size; his strength is such, that he can lift up elephants from the plains, and carry them to the tops of mountains, where he feeds upon them.
Being impatient to reach the castle, I lost no time; but made so much haste, that I got thither in half a day's journey, and I must say that I found it surpassed the description they had given me of its magnificence.
The gate being open, I entered a square court, so large that there were round it ninety-nine gates of wood of sanders and aloes, and one of gold, without reckoning those of several superb staircases, that led to apartments above, besides many more which I could not see. The hundred doors I spoke of opened into gardens or store-houses full of riches, or into apartments which contained many things wonderful to be seen.
I saw a door standing open just before me, through which I entered into a large hall. Here I found forty young ladies of such perfect beauty as imagination could not surpass: they were all most sumptuously appareled. As soon as they saw me they arose, and without waiting my salutations, said to me, with demonstrations of joy, "Noble Sir, you are welcome." And one thus addressed me in the name of the rest, "We have long been in expectation of such a gentleman as you; your mien assures us, that you are master of all the good qualities we can desire; and we hope you will not find our company disagreeable or unworthy of yours."
They obliged me, notwithstanding all the opposition I could make, to sit down on a seat that was higher than their own; and when I expressed my uneasiness, "That is your place," said they, "you are at present our lord, master, and judge, and we are your slaves, ready to obey your commands."
Nothing, madam, so much astonished me, as the solicitude and eagerness of those fair ladies to do me all possible service. One brought hot water to wash my feet, a second poured sweet scented water on my hands; others brought me all kinds of necessaries, and change of apparel; others again brought in a magnificent collation; and the rest came with glasses in their hands to fill me delicious wines, all in good order, and in the most charming manner possible. I ate and drank; after which the ladies placed themselves about me, and desired an account of my travels. I gave them a full relation of my adventures, which lasted till night came on.
When I had finished my narrative to the forty ladies, some of them who sat nearest me staid to keep me company, whilst the rest, seeing it was dark, rose to fetch tapers. They brought a prodigious number, which by the wonderful light they emitted exhibited the resemblance of day, and they disposed them with so much taste as to produce the most beautiful effect possible.
Other ladies covered a table with dry fruits, sweetmeats, and everything proper to relish the liquor; a side-board was set out with several sorts of wine and other liquors. Some of the ladies brought in musical instruments, and when everything was ready, they invited me to sit down to supper. The ladies sat down with me, and we continued a long while at our repast. They that were to play upon the instruments and sing arose, and formed a most charming concert. The others began a kind of ball, and danced two and two, couple after couple, with admirable grace.
It was past midnight ere these amusements ended. At length one of the ladies said to me, "You are doubtless wearied by the journey you have taken to-day; it is time for you to retire to rest; your lodging is prepared: but before you depart choose which of us you like best to be your bedfellow." I answered, "That I knew not how to make my own choice, as they were all equally beautiful, witty, and worthy of my respects and service, and that I would not be guilty of so much incivility as to prefer one before another."
The lady who had spoken to me before answered, "We are very well satisfied of your civility, and find it is your fear to create jealousy among us that occasions your diffidence; but let not this hinder you. We assure you, that the good fortune of her whom you choose shall cause no feeling of the kind; for we are agreed among ourselves, that every one of us shall in her turn have the same honour; and when forty days are past, to begin again; therefore make your selection, and lose no time to take the repose you need." I was obliged to yield to their entreaties, and offered my hand to the lady who spoke, and who, in return, gave me hers. We were conducted to a sumptuous apartment, where they left us; and then every one retired to her own chamber.
I was scarcely dressed next morning, when the other thirty-nine ladies came into my chamber, all in different dresses from those they had worn the day before: they bade me good-morrow, and inquired after my health. After which they conveyed me to a bath, where they washed me themselves, and whether I would or no, served me with everything I needed; and when I came out of the bath, they made me put on another suit much richer than the former.
We passed the whole day almost constantly at table; and when it was bed-time, they prayed me again to make choice of one of them for my companion In short, madam, not to weary you with repetitions, I must tell you that I continued a whole year among those forty ladies, and received them into my bed one after another: and during all the time of this voluptuous life, we met not with the least kind of trouble. When the year was expired, I was greatly surprised that these forty ladies, instead of appearing with their usual cheerfulness to ask me how I did, entered my chamber one morning all in tears. They embraced me with great tenderness one after another, saying, "Adieu, dear prince, adieu! for we must leave you." Their tears affected. I prayed them to tell me the reason of their grief, and of the separation they spoke of. "Fair ladies, let me know," said I, "if it be in my power to comfort you, or if my assistance can be any way useful to you." Instead of returning a direct answer, "Would," said they, "we had never seen or known you! Several gentlemen have honoured us with their company before you; but never one of them had that comeliness, that sweetness, that pleasantness of humour, and that merit which you possess; we know not how to live without you." After they had spoken these words, they began to weep bitterly. "My dear ladies," said I, "have the kindness not to keep me any longer in suspense: tell me the cause of your sorrow." "Alas!" said they, "what but the necessity of parting from you could thus afflict us? Perhaps we shall never see you more; but if it be your wish we should, and if you possess sufficient self-command for the purpose, it is not impossible but that we may again enjoy the pleasure of your company." "Ladies," I replied, "I understand not what you mean; pray explain yourselves more clearly."
"Well," said one of them, "to satisfy you, we must acquaint you that we are all princesses, daughters of kings. We live here together in the manner you have seen; but at the end of every year we are obliged to be absent forty days upon indispensable duties, which we are not permitted to reveal: and afterwards we return again to this castle. Yesterday was the last of the year; to day we must leave you, and this circumstance is the cause of our grief. Before we depart we will leave you the keys of everything, especially those of the hundred doors, where you will find enough to satisfy your curiosity, and to relieve your solitude during our absence. But for your benefit, and our own personal interests, we recommend you to forbear opening the golden door; for if you do we shall never see you again; and the apprehension of this augments our grief. We hope, nevertheless, that you will attend to our advice; your own peace, and the happiness of your life, depends upon your compliance; therefore take heed. If you suffer yourself to be swayed by a foolish curiosity, you will do yourself a considerable injury. We conjure you to avoid the indiscretion, and to give us the satisfaction finding you here again at the end of forty days. We would willingly take the key of the golden door with us; but that it would be an affront to a prince like you to question your discretion and firmness."
This speech of the fair princesses grieved me extremely. I omitted not to declare how much their absence would afflict me. I thanked then for their good advice, assuring them that I would follow it, and expressed my willingness to perform what was much more difficult, to secure the happiness of passing the rest of my days with ladies of such beauty and accomplishments. We separated with much tenderness, and after I had embraced them all, they departed, and I remained alone in the castle.
The agreeableness of their company, their hospitality, their musical entertainments, and other amusements, had so much absorbed my attention during the whole year, that I neither had time nor desire to see the wonders contained in this enchanted palace. I did not even notice a thousand curious objects that every day offered themselves to my view, so much was I charmed by the beauty of those ladies, and the pleasure they seemed to take in promoting my gratification. Their departure sensibly afflicted me; and though their absence was to be only forty days, it seemed to me an age to live without them.
I determined not to forget the important advice they had given me, not to open the golden door; but as I was permitted to satisfy my curiosity in everything else, I took the first of the keys of the other doors, which were hung in regular order.
I opened the first door, and entered an orchard, which I believe the universe could not equal. I could not imagine any thing to surpass it, except that which our religion promises us after death. The symmetry, the neatness, the admirable order of the trees, the abundance and diversity of unknown fruits, their freshness and beauty, delighted my senses.
Nor must I omit to inform you, that this delicious orchard was watered in a very particular manner. There were channels so artificially and proportionately dug, that they carried water in considerable quantities to the roots of such trees as required much moisture. Others conveyed it in smaller quantities to those whose fruits were already formed: some carried still less to those whose fruits were swelling, and others carried only so much as was just requisite to water those which had their fruits come to perfection, and only wanted to be ripened. They far exceeded in size the ordinary fruits of our gardens. Lastly, those channels that watered the trees whose fruit was ripe had no more moisture than just what would preserve them from withering.
I should never have tired in examining and admiring so delightful a place; nor have left it, had I not conceived a still higher idea of the other things which I had not seen. I went out at last with my mind filled with the wonders I had viewed: I shut the door, and opened the next.
Instead of an orchard, I found here a flower garden, which was no less extraordinary in its kind. It contained a spacious plot, not watered so profusely as the former, but with greater niceness, furnishing no more water than just what each flower required. The roses, jessamines, violets, daffodils, hyacinths, anemonies, tulips, pinks, lilies, and an infinite number of flowers, which do not grow in other places but at certain times, were there flourishing all at once, and nothing could be more delicious than the fragrant smell which they emitted.
I opened the third door, and found a large aviary, paved with marble of several fine and uncommon colours. The trellis work was made of sandal wood and wood of aloes. It contained a vast number of nightingales, gold-finches, canary birds, larks, and other rare singing-birds, which I had never heard of; and the vessels that held their seed and water were of the most precious jasper or agate.
Besides, this aviary was so exceedingly neat, that, considering its extent, I judged there must be not less than a hundred persons to keep it clean; but all this while not one appeared, either here or in the gardens I had before examined; and yet I could not perceive a weed, or any thing superfluous or offensive to sight. The sun went down, and I retired, charmed with the chirping notes of the multitude of birds, who then began to perch upon such places as suited them for repose during the night. I went to my chamber, resolving on the following days to open all the rest of the doors, excepting that of gold.
The next day I opened the fourth door. If what I had seen before was capable of exciting my surprise, what I now beheld transported me into perfect ecstacy. I entered a large court surrounded with buildings of an admirable structure, the description of which I will omit, to avoid prolixity.
This building had forty doors, all open, and through each of them was an entrance into a treasury: several of these treasuries contained as much wealth as the largest kingdoms. The first was stored with heaps of pearls: and, what is almost incredible, the number of those stones which are most precious, and as large as pigeons' eggs, exceeded the number of those of the ordinary size. In the second treasury, there were diamonds, carbuncles, and rubies; in the third, emeralds; in the fourth, ingots of gold; in the fifth, money; in the sixth, ingots of silver; and in the two following, money. The rest contained amethysts, chrysolites, topazes, opals, turquoises, and hyacinths, with all the other stones known to us, without mentioning agate, jasper, cornelian, and coral, of which there was a store house filled, not only with branches, but whole trees.
Filled with astonishment and admiration at the view of all these riches, I exclaimed, "If all the treasures of the kings of the universe were gathered together in one place, they could not equal the value of these. How fortunate am I to possess all this wealth with so many admirable princesses! "
I will not tire you, madam, with a detail of all the other objects of curiosity and value which I discovered on the following day. I shall only say, that thirty-nine days afforded me but just as much time as was necessary to open ninety-nine doors, and to admire all that presented itself to my view, so that there was only the hundredth door left, which I was forbidden to open.
The fortieth day after the departure of those charming princesses arrived, and had I but retained so much self-command as I ought to have had, I should have been this day the happiest of all mankind, whereas now I am the most unfortunate. They were to return the next day, and the pleasure of seeing them again ought to have restrained my curiosity: but through my weakness, which I shall ever repent, I yielded to the temptations of the evil spirit, who allowed me no rest till I had involved myself in the misfortunes I have since suffered.
I opened that fatal door! But before I had moved my foot to enter, a smell pleasant enough, but too powerful for my senses, made me faint away. However, I soon recovered: but instead of taking warning from this incident to close the door, and restrain my curiosity, after waiting some time for the external air to correct the effluvia of the place, I entered, and felt myself no longer incommoded. I found myself in a spacious vaulted apartment, the pavement of which was strewed with saffron. It was illuminated by several large tapers which emitted the perfume of aloes and ambergris, and were placed in candlesticks of solid gold. This light was augmented by gold and silver lamps, burning perfumed oils of various kinds.
Among the many objects that attracted my attention was a black horse, of the most perfect symmetry and beauty that ever was beheld. I approached in order the better to observe him, and found he had on a saddle and bridle of massive gold, curiously wrought. One part of his manger was filled with clean barley and sesame, and the other with rose-water. I laid hold of his bridle, and led him out to view him by daylight. I mounted, and endeavoured to make him move: but finding he did not stir, I struck him with a switch I had taken up in his magnificent stable. He had no sooner felt the blow, than he began to neigh in a most horrible manner, and extending his wings, which I had not before perceived, flew up with me into the air. My thoughts were fully in keeping my seat; and considering the fear that had seized me, I sat well. At length he directed his course towards the earth, and lighted upon the terrace of a castle, and, without giving me time to dismount, shook me out of the saddle with such force, as to throw me behind him, and with the end of his tail he struck out my eye.
Thus it was I became blind of one eye. I then recollected the predictions of the ten young gentlemen. The horse again took wing, and soon disappeared. I got up much vexed at the misfortune I had brought upon myself. I walked upon the terrace, covering my eye with one of my hands, for it pained me exceedingly, and then descended, and entered into a hall. I soon discoved by the ten sofas in a circle, and the eleventh in the middle, lower than the rest, that I was in the castle whence I had been carried by the roc.
The ten young gentlemen were not in the hall when I entered; but came in soon after, attended by the old man. They seemed not at all surprised to see me, nor at the loss of my eye; but said, "We are sorry that we cannot congratulate you on your return, as we could wish; but we are not the cause of your misfortune." "I should do you wrong," I replied, "to lay it to your charge; I have only myself to accuse." "If," said they, "it be a subject of consolation to the afflicted to know that others share their sufferings, you have in us this alleviation of your misfortune. All that has happened to you we have also endured; we each of us tasted the same pleasures during a year; and we had still continued to enjoy them, had we not opened the golden door, when the princesses were absent. You have been no wiser than we, and have incurred the same punishment. We would gladly receive you into our company, to join with us in the penance to which we are bound, and the duration of which we know not. But we have already stated to you the reasons that render this impossible: depart, therefore, and proceed to the court of Bagdad, where you will meet with the person who is to decide your destiny." After they had explained to me the road I was to travel, I departed.
On the road I caused my beard and eye-brows to be shaven, and assumed a calender's habit. I have had a long journey, but at last I arrived this evening, and met these my brother calenders at the gate, being strangers as well as myself. We were mutually surprised at one another, to see that we were all blind of the same eye; but we had not leisure to converse long on the subject of our misfortunes. We have only had time enough to bring us hither, to implore those favours which you have been generously pleased to grant us.
[Resume The Three Calenders, Sons of Sultans, and the Five Ladies of Baghdad]
Scott, Jonathan (1754-1829). The Arabian Nights Entertainments. London: Pickering and Chatto, 1890. 4 Volumes. Project Gutenberg.
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