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Scott: The Story of Zobeide

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Commander of the faithful, the relation which I am about to give your majesty is singularly extraordinary. The two black bitches and myself are sisters by the same father and mother; and I shall acquaint you by what strange accident they came to be metamorphosed. The two ladies who live with me, and are now here, are also my sisters by the father's side, but by another mother: she that has the scars upon her breast is named Amene; the name of the other is Safie, and my own Zobeide.

After our father's death, the property that he left was equally divided among us, and as soon as these two sisters received their portions, they left me to live with their mother. My other two sisters and myself stayed with our mother, who was then alive, and who when she afterwards died left each of us a thousand sequins. As soon as we had received our portions, the two eldest (for I am the youngest) married, and left me alone. Some time after, my eldest sister's husband sold all that he had, and with that money and my sister's portion they went both into Africa, where her husband, by riotous living and debauchery' spent all; and finding himself reduced to poverty, found a pretext for divorcing my sister, and put her away.

She returned to this city, and having suffered incredible hardships by the way, came to me in so lamentable a condition that it would have moved the hardest heart to compassion to behold her. I received her with every possible tenderness, and inquiring into the cause of her distress, she told me with tears how inhumanly her husband had behaved towards her. Her misfortunes affected me: and I mingled my tears with hers. I took her to a bath, clothed her with my own apparel, and thus addressed her: "Sister, you are the elder, and I esteem you as my mother: during your absence, God has blest the portion that fell to my share, and the employment I follow of breeding silk-worms. Assure yourself there is nothing I have but is at your service, and as much at your disposal as my own."

We lived very comfortably together for some months. As we were one day conversing about our third sister, and wondering we received no intelligence of her, she came in as bad a condition as the eldest: her husband had treated her after the same manner; and I received her likewise with the same affection as I had done the former.

Some time after, my two sisters, on presence that they would not be chargeable to me, told me they intended to marry again. I observed, that if putting me to expense was the only reason, they might lay those thoughts aside, and be welcome to remain: for what I had would be sufficient to maintain us all three, in a manner answerable to our condition. "But," I added, "I rather believe you wish to marry again; I shall feel much surprised if such be the case. After the experience you have had of the little satisfaction there is in wedlock, is it possible you dare venture a second time? You know how rare it is to meet with a husband perfectly virtuous and deserving. Believe what I say, and let us live together as comfortably as we can." All my persuasion was in vain; they were resolved to marry, and soon accomplished their wishes. But after some months were past, they returned again, and begged my pardon a thousand times for not following my advice. "You are our youngest sister," said they, "but abundantly more wise than we; if you will vouchsafe to receive us once more into your house, and account us your slaves, we shall never commit a similar fault again." My answer was, "Dear sisters, I have not altered my mind with respect to you since we last parted: come again, and take part of what I have." Upon this I embraced them, and we lived together as before.

We continued thus a whole year in perfect love and harmony. Seeing that God had increased my small stock, I projected a voyage, to embark some of it in a commercial speculation. To this end, I went with my two sisters to Bussorah, where I bought a ship ready fitted for sea, and laded her with such merchandise as I had carried with me from Bagdad. We set sail with a fair wind, and soon cleared the Persian gulf; when we had reached the open sea, we steered our course to the Indies; and the twentieth day saw land. It was a very high mountain, at the bottom of which we perceived a great town: having a fresh gale, we soon reached the harbour, and cast anchor.

I had not patience to wait till my sisters were dressed to go along with me, but went ashore alone in the boat. Making directly to the gate of the town, I saw there a great number of men upon guard, some sitting, and others standing with sticks in their hands; and they had all such dreadful countenances that I was greatly alarmed; but perceiving they remained stationary, and did not so much as move their eyes, I took courage, and went nearer, when I found they were all turned into stones. I entered the town and passed through several streets, where at different intervals stood men in various attitudes, but all motionless and petrified. In the quarter inhabited by the merchants I found most of the shops shut, and in such as were open I likewise found the people petrified.

Having reached a vast square, in the heart of the city, I perceived a large folding gate, covered with plates of gold, which stood open; a curtain of silk stuff seemed to be drawn before it: a lamp hung over the entrance. After I had surveyed the building, I made no doubt but it was the palace of the prince who reigned over that country: and being much astonished that I had not met with one living creature, I approached in hopes to find some. I lifted up the curtain, and was surprised at beholding no one but the guards in the vestibule all petrified; some standing, some sitting, and some lying.

I came to a large court, where I saw before me a stately building, the windows of which were inclosed with gates of messy gold: I concluded it to be the queen's apartments. I entered; and in a large hall I found several black eunuchs turned into stone. I went from thence into a room richly furnished, where I perceived a lady in the same situation. I knew it to be the queen, by the crown of gold on her head, and a necklace of pearls about her neck, each of them as large as a nut; I approached her to have a nearer view of it, and never beheld a finer objets.

I stood some time admiring the riches and magnificence of the room; but above all, the carpet, the cushions, and the sofas, which were all ornamented with Indian stuff of gold, and representations of men and beasts in silver, admirably executed.

I quitted the chamber where the petrified queen was, and passed through several other apartments and closets richly furnished, and at last came into a large room, where there was a throne of massive gold, raised several steps above the floor, and enriched with large enchased emeralds, and upon the throne there was a bed of rich stuff embroidered with pearls. What surprised me most was a sparkling light which came from above the bed. Being curious to know whence it proceeded, I ascended the steps, and lifting up my head, saw a diamond as large as the egg of an ostrich, lying upon a low stool; it was so pure, that I could not find the least blemish in it, and it sparkled with so much brilliancy, that when I saw it by day-light I could not endure its lustre.

At the head of the bed there stood on each side a lighted flambeau, but for what use I could not comprehend; however, it made me imagine that there was some living creature in this place; for I could not believe that the torches continued thus burning of themselves. Several other rarities detained my curiosity in this room, which was inestimable in value, were it only for the diamond I mentioned.

The doors being all open, or but half shut, I surveyed some other apartments, that were as beautiful as those I had already seen. I looked into the offices and store-rooms, which were full of riches. In short, the wonders that everywhere appeared so wholly engrossed my attention, that I forgot my ship and my sisters, and thought of nothing but gratifying my curiosity. In the mean time night came on, which reminded me that it was time to retire. I proposed to return the way I had entered, but I could not find it; I lost myself among the apartments; and perceiving I was come back again to the large room, where the throne, the couch, the large diamond, and the torches stood, I resolved to take my night's lodging there, and to depart the next morning early, to get aboard my ship. I laid myself down upon a couch, not without some dread to be alone in a desolate place; and this fear hindered my sleep.

About midnight I heard a voice like that of a man reading the Koraun, after the same manner, and in the same tone as it is read in our mosques. Being extremely glad to hear it, I immediately arose, and taking a torch in my hand, passed from one chamber to another on that side from whence the sound proceeded. I came to the closet-door, and stood still, not doubting that it came from thence. I set down my torch upon the ground, and looking through a window, found it to be an oratory. It had, as we have in our mosques, a niche, to direct us whither we are to turn to say our prayers: there were also lamps hung up, and two candlesticks with large tapers of white wax burning.

I saw a little carpet laid down like those we have to kneel upon when we say our prayers, and a comely young man sat on this carpet reading with great devotion the Koraun, which lay before him on a desk. At this sight I was transported with admiration. I wondered how it came to pass that he should be the only living creature in a town where all the people were turned into stones, and I did not doubt but there was something in the circumstance very extraordinary.

The door being only half shut, I opened it, went in, and standing upright before the niche, I repeated this prayer aloud: "Praise be to God, who has favoured us with a happy voyage, and may he be graciously pleased to protect us in the same manner, until we arrive again in our own country. Hear me, O Lord, and grant my request."

The young man turned his eyes towards me, and said, "My good lady, pray let me know who you are, and what has brought you to this desolate city? And, in return, I will you who I am, what has happened to me, why the inhabitants of this city are reduced to the state you see them in, and why I alone am safe in the midst of such a terrible disaster."

I told him in a few words whence I had come, what had made me undertake the voyage, and how I safely arrived at the port after twenty days' sailing; when I had done, I prayed him to perform his promise, and told him how much I was struck by the frightful desolation which I had seen in the city.

"Lady," said the young man, "have patience for a moment." At these words he shut the Koraun, put it into a rich case, and laid it in the niche. I took that opportunity to observe him, and perceiving in him so much good nature and beauty, I felt emotions I had never known before. He made me sit down by him, and before he began his discourse, I could not forbear saying, with an air that discovered the sentiments I felt, "Amiable sir, dear object of my soul, I can scarcely have patience to wait for an account of all these wonderful objects that I have seen since I came into your city; and my curiosity cannot be satisfied too soon: therefore pray, sir, let me know by what miracle you alone are left alive among so many persons that have died in so strange a manner."

"Madam," said the young man, "by the prayer you just now addressed to him, you have given me to understand that you have a knowledge of the true God. I will acquaint you with the most remarkable effect of his greatness and power. You must know, that this city was the metropolis of a mighty kingdom, over which the sultan my father reigned. That prince, his whole court, the inhabitants of the city, and all his other subjects, were magi, worshippers of fire, and of Nardoun, the ancient king of the giants, who rebelled against God.

"But though I was born of an idolatrous father and mother, I had the good fortune in my youth to have a governess who was a good Moosulmaun. ‘Dear prince,' would she oftentimes say, ‘there is but one true God; take heed that you do not acknowledge and adore any other.' She taught me to read Arabic, and the book she gave me to study was the Koraun. As soon as I was capable of understanding it, she explained to me all the passages of this excellent book, and infused piety into my mind, unknown to my father or any other person. She happened to die, but not before she had perfectly instructed me in all that was necessary to convince me of the truth of the Moosulmaun religion. After her death I persisted with constancy in the belief of its divinity: and I abhor the false god Nardoun, and the adoration of fire.

"About three years and some months ago, a thundering voice was suddenly sounded so distinctly, through the whole city, that nobody could miss hearing it. The words were these: ‘Inhabitants, abandon the worship of Nardoun, and of fire, and worship the only God who shews mercy.'

"This voice was heard three years successively, but no one was converted. On the last day of that year, at four o'clock in the morning, all the inhabitants were changed in an instant into stone, every one in the condition and posture they happened to be in. The sultan, my father, shared the same fate, for he was metamorphosed into a black stone, as he is to be seen in this palace, and the queen, my mother, had the like destiny.

"I am the only person who did not suffer under that heavy judgment, and ever since I have continued to serve God with more fervency than before. I am persuaded, dear lady, that he has sent you hither for my comfort, for which I render him infinite thanks; for I must own that this solitary life is extremely irksome."

All these expressions, and particularly the last, greatly increased my love for him. "Prince," said I, "there is no doubt but Providence has brought me into your port, to afford you an opportunity of withdrawing from this dismal place. The ship I came in may serve in some measure to convince you that I am in some esteem at Bagdad, where I have left considerable property; and I dare engage to promise you sanctuary there, until the mighty commander of the faithful, vicegerent to our prophet whom you acknowledge, shew you the honour that is due to your merit. This renowned prince lives at Bagdad, and as soon as he is informed of your arrival in his capital, you will find that it is not in vain to implore his assistance. It is impossible you can stay any longer in a city where all the objects you behold must renew your grief: my vessel is at your service, where you may absolutely command as you shall think fit." He accepted the offer, and we conversed the remainder of the night concerning our embarkation.

As soon as it was day we left the palace, and went aboard my ship, where we found my sisters, the captain, and the slaves, all much troubled at my absence. After I had presented my sisters to the prince, I told them what had hindered my return the day before, how I had met with the young prince, his story, and the cause of the desolation of so fine a city.

The seamen were taken up several days in unlading the merchandize I brought with me, and embarking in its stead all the precious things in the palace, such as jewels, gold, and money. We left the furniture and goods, which consisted of an infinite quantity of plate, &c., because our vessel could not carry it, for it would have required several vessels more to convey to Bagdad all the riches that we might have chosen to take with us.

After we had laden the vessel with what we thought most desirable, we took such provisions and water aboard as were necessary for our voyage (for we had still a great deal of those provisions left that we had taken in at Bussorah); at last we set sail with a wind as favourable as we could wish.

The young prince, my sisters and myself, enjoyed ourselves for some time very agreeably. But alas! this good understanding did not last long, for my sisters grew jealous of the friendship between the prince and myself, and maliciously asked me one day, what we should do with him when we came to Bagdad? I perceived immediately that they put this question on purpose to discover my inclinations; therefore, resolving to put it off with a jest, I answered, "I will take him for my husband;" and upon that, turning myself to the prince, said, "Sir, I humbly beg of you to give your consent, for as soon as we come to Bagdad I desire to offer you my person to be your slave, to do you all the service that is in my power, and to resign myself wholly to your commands."

The prince replied, "I know not, madam, whether you be in jest or no; but for my part, I seriously declare before these ladies, your sisters, that from this moment I heartily accept your offer, not with any intention to have you as a slave, but as my lady and mistress: nor will I pretend to have any power over your actions." At these words my sisters changed colour, and I could perceive afterwards that they did not love me as before.

We entered the Persian gulf, and had come within a short distance of Bussorah (where I hoped, considering the fair wind, we might have arrived the day following), when in the night, while I was asleep, my sisters watched their opportunity, and threw me overboard. They did the same to the prince, who was drowned. I floated some minutes on the water, and by good fortune, or rather miracle, I felt ground. I went towards a dark spot, that, by what I could discern, seemed to be land, and proved to be a flat on the coast, which, when day appeared, I found to be a desert island, lying about twenty miles from Bussorah. I soon dried my clothes in the sun, and as I walked along I found several kinds of fruit, and likewise fresh water, which gave me some hopes of preserving my life.

I had just laid myself down to rest in a shade, when I perceived a very large winged serpent coming towards me, with an irregular waving movement, and hanging out its tongue, which induced me to conclude it had received some injury. I instantly arose, and perceived that it was pursued by a larger serpent which had hold of its tail, and was endeavouring to devour it. This perilous situation of the first serpent excited my pity, and instead of retreating I assumed courage to take up a stone that lay near me, and to throw it with all my strength at the other, which I hit upon the head and killed. The other, finding itself at liberty, took wing and flew away. I looked after it for some time till it disappeared. I then sought another shady spot for repose, and fell asleep.

Judge what was my surprise when I awoke, to see standing by me a black woman of lively and agreeable features, who held in her hand two bitches of the same colour, fastened together. I sat up, and asked her who she was? "I am," said she, "the serpent whom you lately delivered from my mortal enemy. I did not know in what way I could better requite the important services you have rendered me than by what I have just done. The treachery of your sisters was well known to me, and to avenge your wrongs, as soon as I was liberated by your generous assistance, I called together several of my companions, fairies like myself, conveyed into your storehouses at Bagdad all the lading of your vessel, and afterwards sunk it.

"These two black bitches are your sisters, whom I have transformed into this shape. But this punishment will not suffice; and my will is that you treat them hereafter in the way I shall direst."

As soon as she had thus spoken the fairy took me under one of her arms, and the two bitches under the other, and conveyed us to my house in Bagdad; where I found in my storehouses all the riches with which my vessel had been laden. Before she left me, she delivered to me the two bitches, and said, "If you would not be changed into a similar form, I command you, in the name of him that governs the sea, to give each of your sisters every night one hundred lashes with a rod, as the punishment of the crime they have committed against yourself, and the young prince, whom they have drowned." I was forced to promise obedience. Since that time I have whipped them every night, though with regret, whereof your majesty has been a witness. My tears testify with how much sorrow and reluctance I perform this painful duty; and in this your majesty may see I am more to be pitied than blamed. If there be any thing else relating to myself that you desire to know, my sister Amene will give you full information in the relation of her story.

After the caliph had heard Zobeide with much astonishment, he desired his grand vizier to request Amene to acquaint him wherefore her breast was disfigured with so many scars.

Amene addressed herself to the caliph, and began her story after this manner:

[Go to The Story of Amene]

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

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