[Go back to The Grecian King and the Physician Douban (cont.) ]
As soon as the fisherman had concluded the history of the Greek king and his physician Douban, he made the application to the genie, whom he still kept shut up in the vessel. "If the Grecian king," said he, "had suffered the physician to live, God would have continued his life also; but he rejected his most humble prayers, and the case is the same with thee, O genie! Could I have prevailed with thee to grant me the favour I supplicated, I should now take pity on thee; but since, notwithstanding the extreme obligation thou west under to me, for having set thee at liberty, thou didst persist in thy design to kill me, I am obliged, in my turn, to be equally hard-hearted to thee."
"My good friend fisherman," replied the genie, "I conjure thee once more, not to be guilty of such cruelty; consider, that it is not good to avenge one's self, and that on the other hand, it is commendable to do good for evil; do not treat me as Imama formerly treated Ateca." "And what did Imama to Ateca?" enquired the fisherman. "Ho!" says the genie, "if you have a mind to be informed, open the vessel: do you think that I can be in an humour to relate stories in so strait a prison? I will tell you as many as you please, when you have let me out." "No," said the fisherman, "I will not let thee out; it is in vain to talk of it; I am just going to throw thee into the bottom of the sea." "Hear me one word more," cried the genie; "I promise to do thee no hurt; nay, far from that, I will shew thee a way to become exceedingly rich."
The hope of delivering himself from poverty, prevailed with the fisherman. "I could listen to thee," said he, "were there any credit to be given to thy word; swear to me by the great name of God, that you will faithfully perform what you promise, and I will open the vessel; I do not believe you will dare to break such an oath."
The genie swore to him, upon which the fisherman immediately took off the covering of the vessel. At that instant the smoke ascended, and the genie having resumed his form, the first thing he did was to kick the vessel into the sea. This action alarmed the fisherman. "Genie," said he, "will not you keep the oath you just now made? And must I say to you, as the physician Douban said to the Grecian king, suffer me to live, and God will prolong your days."
The genie laughed at the fisherman's fear, and answered, "No, fisherman, be not afraid, I only did it to divert myself, and to see if thou wouldst be alarmed at it: but to convince thee that I am in earnest, take thy nets and follow me." As he spoke these words, he walked before the fisherman, who having taken up his nets, followed him, but with some distrust. They passed by the town, and came to the top of a mountain, from whence they descended into a vast plain, which brought them to a lake, that lay betwixt four hills.
When they reached the side of the lake, the genie said to the fisherman, "Cast in thy nets, and catch fish; "the fisherman did not doubt of taking some, because he saw a great number in the water; but he was extremely surprised, when he found they were of four colours, that is to say, white, red, blue, and yellow. He threw in his nets, and brought out one of each colour. Having never seen the like before, he could not but admire them, and judging that he might get a considerable sum for them, he was very joyful. "Carry those fish," said the genie to him, "and present them to thy sultan; he will give thee more money for them. Thou mayest come every day to fish in this lake; but I give thee warning not to throw in thy nets above once a day, otherwise thou wilt repent." Having spoken thus, he struck his foot upon the ground, which opened, and after it had swallowed him up closed again.
The fisherman being resolved to follow the genie's advice, forbore casting in his nets a second time; and returned to the town very well satisfied; and making a thousand reflections upon his adventure. He went immediately to the sultan's palace, to offer his fish.
The sultan was much surprised, when he saw the four fish which the fisherman presented. He took them up one after another, and viewed them with attention; and after having admired them a long time, "Take those fish," said he to his vizier, "and carry them to the cook, whom the emperor of the Greeks has sent me. I cannot imagine but that they must be as good as they are beautiful."
The vizier, carried them as he was directed, and delivering them to the cook, said, "Here are four fish just brought to the sultan; he orders you to dress them:" he then returned to the sultan his master, who ordered him to give the fisherman four hundred pieces of gold of the coin of that country, which he did accordingly.
The fisherman, who had never seen so much money, could scarcely believe his good fortune, but thought the whole must be a dream, until he found it otherwise, by being able to provide necessaries for his family with the produce of his fish.
As soon as the sultan's cook had gutted the fish, she put them upon the fire in a frying-pan, with oil, and when she thought them fried enough on one side, she turned them upon the other; but, O monstrous prodigy! scarcely were they turned, when the wall of the kitchen divided, and a young lady of wonderful beauty entered from the opening. She was clad in flowered satin, after the Egyptian manner, with pendants in her ears, a necklace of large pearls, and bracelets of gold set with rubies, with a rod in her hand. She moved towards the frying-pan, to the great amazement of the cook, who continued fixed by the sight, and striking one of the fish with the end of the rod, said, "Fish, fish, are you in duty?" The fish having answered nothing, she repeated these words, and then the four fish lifted up their heads, and replied, "Yes, yes: if you reckon, we reckon; if you pay your debts, we pay ours; if you fly, we overcome, and are content." As soon as they had finished these words, the lady overturned the frying-pan, and returned into the open part of the wall, which closed immediately, and became as it was before.
The cook was greatly frightened at what had happened, and coming a little to herself, went to take up the fish that had fallen on the hearth, but found them blacker than coal, and not fit to be carried to the sultan. This grievously troubled her, and she fell to weeping most bitterly. "Alas!" said she, "what will become of me? If I tell the sultan what I have seen, I am sure he will not believe me, but will be enraged against me."
While she was thus bewailing herself, the grand vizier entered, and asked her if the fish were ready? She told him all that had occurred, which we may easily imagine astonished him; but without speaking a word of it to the sultan, he invented an excuse that satisfied him, and sending immediately for the fisherman, bid him bring four more such fish, for a misfortune had befallen the others, so that they were not fit to be carried to the sultan. The fisherman, without saying any thing of what the genie had told him, in order to excuse himself from bringing them that day, told the vizier, he had a great way to go for them, but would certainly bring them on the morrow.
Accordingly the fisherman went away by night, and coming to the lake, threw in his nets betimes next morning, took four fish like the former, and brought them to the vizier, at the hour appointed. The minister took them himself, carried them to the kitchen, and shutting himself up with the cook, she gutted them, and put them on the fire, as she had done the four others the day before. When they were fried on one side, and she had turned them upon the other, the kitchen wall again opened, and the same lady came in with the rod in her hand, struck one of the fish, spoke to it as before, and all four gave her the same answer.
After the four fish had answered the young lady, she overturned the frying-pan with her rod, and retired into the wall. The grand vizier, being witness to what had passed: "This is too wonderful and extraordinary," said he, "to be concealed from the sultan; I will inform him of this prodigy."
The sultan, being much surprised, sent immediately for the fisherman, and said to him, "Friend, cannot you bring me four more such fish?" The fisherman replied, "If your majesty will be pleased to allow me three days, I will do it." Having obtained his time, he went to the lake immediately, and at the first throwing in of his net, he caught four fish, and brought them directly to the sultan; who was so much the more rejoiced, as he did not expect them so soon, and ordered him four hundred pieces of gold. As soon as the sultan had the fish, he ordered them to be carried into his closet, with all that was necessary for frying them; and having shut himself up with the vizier, the minister gutted them, put them into the pan, and when they were fried on one side, turned them upon the other; then the wall of the closet opened, but instead of the young lady, there came out a black, in the habit of a slave, and of a gigantic stature, with a great green staff in his hand. He advanced towards the pan, and touching one of the fish with his staff, said with a terrible voice, "Fish, are you in your duty?" At these words, the fish raised up their heads, and answered, "Yes, yes; we are: if you reckon, we reckon; if you pay your debts, we pay ours; if you fly, we overcome, and are content."
The fish had no sooner finished these words, than the black threw the pan into the middle of the closet, and reduced the fish to a coal. Having done this, he retired fiercely, and entering again into the aperture, it closed, and the wall appeared just as it did before.
"After what I have seen," said the sultan to the vizier, "it will not be possible for me to be easy: these fish, without doubt, signify something extraordinary." He sent for the fisherman, and when he came, said to him, "Fisherman, the fish you have brought us, make me very uneasy; where did you catch them?" "Sir," answered he, "I fished for them in a lake situated betwixt four hills, beyond the mountain that we see from hence." "Knowst thou not that lake?" said the sultan to the vizier. "No," replied the vizier. "I never so much as heard of it, although I have for sixty years hunted beyond that mountain." The sultan asked the fisherman, how far the lake might be from the palace? The fisherman answered, it was not above three hours journey; upon this assurance, the sultan commanded all his court to take horse, and the fisherman served them for a guide. They all ascended the mountain, and at the foot of it they saw, to their great surprise, a vast plain, that nobody had observed till then, and at last they came to the lake, which they found to be situated betwixt four hills as the fisherman had described. The water was so transparent, that they observed all the fish to be like those which the fisherman had brought to the palace.
The sultan stood upon the bank of the lake, and after beholding the fish with admiration, demanded of his courtiers, if it were possible they had never seen this lake, which was within so short a distance of the town. They all answered, that they had never so much as heard of it.
"Since you all agree that you never heard of it, and as I am no less astonished than you are, at this novelty, I am resolved not to return to my palace till I learn how this lake came here, and why all the fish in it are of four colours." Having spoken thus, he ordered his court to encamp; and immediately his pavilion and the tents of his household were planted upon the banks of the lake.
When night came, the sultan retired under his pavilion, and spoke to the grand vizier. thus: "Vizier, my mind is uneasy: this lake transported hither; the black that appeared to us in my closet, and the fish that we heard speak; all these things so much excite my curiosity, that I cannot resist my impatient desire to have it satisfied. To this end, I am resolved to withdraw alone from the camp, and I order you to keep my absence secret: stay in my pavilion, and to-morrow morning, when the emirs and courtiers come to attend my levee, send them away, and tell them, that I am somewhat indisposed, and wish to be alone; and the following days tell them the same thing, till I return."
The grand vizier. endeavoured to divert the sultan from this design; he represented to him the danger to which he might be exposed, and that all his labour might perhaps be in vain: but it was to no purpose; the sultan was resolved. He put on a suit fit for walking, and took his cimeter; and as soon as he found that all was quiet in the camp, went out alone, and passed over one of the hills without much difficulty; he found the descent still more easy, and when he came to the plain, walked on till the sun arose, and then he saw before him, at a considerable distance, a vast building. He rejoiced at the sight, in hopes of receiving there the information he sought. When he drew near, he found it was a magnificent palace, or rather a strong castle, of black polished marble, and covered with fine steel, as smooth as glass. Being highly pleased that he had so speedily met with something worthy his curiosity, he stopped before the front of the castle, and considered it with attention.
He then advanced towards the gate, which had two leaves, one of them open; though he might immediately have entered, yet he thought it best to knock. This he did at first softly, and waited for some time; but seeing no one, and supposing he had not been heard, he knocked harder the second time, and after that he knocked again and again, but no one yet appearing, he was exceedingly surprised; for he could not think that a castle in such repair was without inhabitants. "If there be no one in it," said he to himself, "I have nothing to fear; and if it be inhabited, I have wherewith to defend myself."
At last he entered, and when he came within the porch, he cried, "Is there no one here to receive a stranger, who comes in for some refreshment as he passes by?" He repeated the same words two or three times; but though he spoke very loud, he was not answered. The silence increased his astonishment: he came into a spacious court, and looked on every side for inhabitants, but discovered none.
The sultan entered the grand halls, which were hung with silk tapestry, the alcoves and sofas were covered with stuffs of Mecca, and the porches with the richest stuffs of India, mixed with gold and silver. He came afterwards into a superb saloon, in the middle of which was a fountain, with a lion of massy gold at each angle: water issued from the mouths of the four lions; and as it fell, formed diamonds and pearls, resembling a jet d'eau, which springing from the middle of the fountain, rose nearly to the top of a cupola painted in Arabesque.
The castle, on three sides, was encompassed by a garden, with parterres of flowers, shrubbery, and whatever could concur to embellish it; and to complete the beauty of the place, an infinite number of birds filled the air with their harmonious notes, and always remained there, nets being spread over the garden, and fastened to the palace to confine them. The sultan walked from apartment to apartment, where he found every thing rich and magnificent. Being tired with walking, he sat down in a verandah or arcade closet, which had a view over the garden, reflecting what he had already seen, and then beheld: when suddenly he heard the voice of one complaining, in lamentable tones. He listened with attention, and heard distinctly these words: "O fortune! thou who wouldst not suffer me longer to enjoy a happy lot, forbear to persecute me, and by a speedy death put an end to my sorrows. Alas! is it possible that I am still alive, after so many torments as I have suffered!"
The sultan rose up, advanced toward the place whence he heard the voice; and coming to the door of a great hall, opened it, and saw a handsome young man, richly habited, seated upon a throne raised a little above the ground. Melancholy was painted on his countenance. The sultan drew near, and saluted him; the young man returned his salutation by an inclination of his head, not being able to rise, at the same time saying, "My lord, I should rise to receive you; but am hindered by sad necessity, and therefore hope you will not be offended." "My lord," replied the sultan, "I am much obliged to you for having so good an opinion of me: as to the reason of your not rising, whatever your apology be, I heartily accept it. Being drawn hither by your complaints, and afflicted by your grief, I come to offer you my help; would to God that it lay in my power to ease you of your trouble! I would do my utmost to effect it. I flatter myself that you will relate to me the history of your misfortunes; but inform me first of the meaning of the lake near the palace, where the fish are of four colours? whose this castle is? how you came to be here? and why you are alone?"
Instead of answering these questions, the young man began to weep bitterly. "How inconstant is fortune!" cried he; "she takes pleasure to pull down those she had raised. Where are they who enjoy quietly the happiness which they hold of her, and whose day is always clear and serene?"
The sultan, moved with compassion to see him in such a condition, prayed him to relate the cause of his excessive grief. "Alas! my lord," replied the young man, "how is it possible but I should grieve, and my eyes be inexhaustible fountains of tears?" At these words, lifting up his robe, he shewed the sultan that he was a man only from the head to the girdle, and that the other half of his body was black marble.
The sultan was much surprised, when he saw the deplorable condition of the young man. "That which you shew me," said he, "while it fills me with horror, excites my curiosity, so that I am impatient to hear your history, which, no doubt, must be extraordinary, and I am persuaded that the lake and the fish make some part of it; therefore I conjure you to relate it. You will find some comfort in so doing, since it is certain, that the unfortunate find relief in making known their distress." "I will not refuse your request," replied the young man, "though I cannot comply without renewing my grief. But I give you notice before hand, to prepare your ears, your mind, and even your eyes, for things which surpass all that the imagination can conceive."
[Go to The Young King of the Black Isles]
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