Stories of Arabian Nights -
One thousand one Arabian Nights
The Fourth Voyage of Sindbad the Sailor
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Rich and happy as I was after my third voyage,
I could not make up my mind to stay at home altogether. My love of trading, and
the pleasure I took in anything that was new and strange, made me set my affairs
in order, and begin my journey through some of the Persian provinces, having
first sent off stores of goods to await my coming in the different places I
intended to visit. I took ship at a distant seaport, and for some time all went
well, but at last, being caught in a violent hurricane, our vessel became a
total wreck in spite of all our worthy captain could do to save her, and many of
our company perished in the waves. I, with a few others, had the good fortune to
be washed ashore clinging to pieces of the wreck, for the storm had driven us
near an island, and scrambling up beyond the reach of the waves we threw
ourselves down quite exhausted, to wait for morning.
At daylight we wandered inland, and soon saw some huts, to which we directed our
steps. As we drew near their black inhabitants swarmed out in great numbers and
surrounded us, and we were led to their houses, and as it were divided among our
captors. I with five others was taken into a hut, where we were made to sit upon
the ground, and certain herbs were given to us, which the blacks made signs to
us to eat. Observing that they themselves did not touch them, I was careful only
to pretend to taste my portion; but my companions, being very hungry, rashly ate
up all that was set before them, and very soon I had the horror of seeing them
become perfectly mad. Though they chattered incessantly I could not understand a
word they said, nor did they heed when I spoke to them. The savages now produced
large bowls full of rice prepared with cocoanut oil, of which my crazy comrades
ate eagerly, but I only tasted a few grains, understanding clearly that the
object of our captors was to fatten us speedily for their own eating, and this
was exactly what happened. My unlucky companions having lost their reason, felt
neither anxiety nor fear, and ate greedily all that was offered them. So they
were soon fat and there was an end of them, but I grew leaner day by day, for I
ate but little, and even that little did me no good by reason of my fear of what
lay before me. However, as I was so far from being a tempting morsel, I was
allowed to wander about freely, and one day, when all the blacks had gone off
upon some expedition leaving only an old man to guard me, I managed to escape
from him and plunged into the forest, running faster the more he cried to me to
come back, until I had completely distanced him.
For seven days I hurried on, resting only when the darkness stopped me, and
living chiefly upon cocoanuts, which afforded me both meat and drink, and on the
eighth day I reached the seashore and saw a party of white men gathering pepper,
which grew abundantly all about. Reassured by the nature of their occupation, I
advanced towards them and they greeted me in Arabic, asking who I was and whence
I came. My delight was great on hearing this familiar speech, and I willingly
satisfied their curiosity, telling them how I had been shipwrecked, and captured
by the blacks. "But these savages devour men!" said they. "How did you escape?"
I repeated to them what I have just told you, at which they were mightily
astonished. I stayed with them until they had collected as much pepper as they
wished, and then they took me back to their own country and presented me to
their king, by whom I was hospitably received. To him also I had to relate my
adventures, which surprised him much, and when I had finished he ordered that I
should be supplied with food and raiment and treated with consideration.
The island on which I found myself was full of people, and abounded in all sorts
of desirable things, and a great deal of traffic went on in the capital, where I
soon began to feel at home and contented. Moreover, the king treated me with
special favour, and in consequence of this everyone, whether at the court or in
the town, sought to make life pleasant to me. One thing I remarked which I
thought very strange; this was that, from the greatest to the least, all men
rode their horses without bridle or stirrups. I one day presumed to ask his
majesty why he did not use them, to which he replied, "You speak to me of things
of which I have never before heard!" This gave me an idea. I found a clever
workman, and made him cut out under my direction the foundation of a saddle,
which I wadded and covered with choice leather, adorning it with rich gold
embroidery. I then got a lock-smith to make me a bit and a pair of spurs after a
pattern that I drew for him, and when all these things were completed I
presented them to the king and showed him how to use them. When I had saddled
one of his horses he mounted it and rode about quite delighted with the novelty,
and to show his gratitude he rewarded me with large gifts. After this I had to
make saddles for all the principal officers of the king's household, and as they
all gave me rich presents I soon became very wealthy and quite an important
person in the city.
One day the king sent for me and said, "Sindbad, I am going to ask a favour of
you. Both I and my subjects esteem you, and wish you to end your days amongst
us. Therefore I desire that you will marry a rich and beautiful lady whom I will
find for you, and think no more of your own country."
As the king's will was law I accepted the charming bride he presented to me, and
lived happily with her. Nevertheless I had every intention of escaping at the
first opportunity, and going back to Bagdad. Things were thus going prosperously
with me when it happened that the wife of one of my neighbours, with whom I had
struck up quite a friendship, fell ill, and presently died. I went to his house
to offer my consolations, and found him in the depths of woe.
"Heaven preserve you," said I, "and send you a long life!"
"Alas!" he replied, "what is the good of saying that when I have but an hour
left to live!"
"Come, come!" said I, "surely it is not so bad as all that. I trust that you may
be spared to me for many years."
"I hope," answered he, "that your life may be long, but as for me, all is
finished. I have set my house in order, and to-day I shall be buried with my
wife. This has been the law upon our island from the earliest ages--the living
husband goes to the grave with his dead wife, the living wife with her dead
husband. So did our fathers, and so must we do. The law changes not, and all
must submit to it!"
As he spoke the friends and relations of the unhappy pair began to assemble. The
body, decked in rich robes and sparkling with jewels, was laid upon an open
bier, and the procession started, taking its way to a high mountain at some
distance from the city, the wretched husband, clothed from head to foot in a
black mantle, following mournfully.
When the place of interment was reached the corpse was lowered, just as it was,
into a deep pit. Then the husband, bidding farewell to all his friends,
stretched him-self upon another bier, upon which were laid seven little loaves
of bread and a pitcher of water, and he also was let down-down-down to the
depths of the horrible cavern, and then a stone was laid over the opening, and
the melancholy company wended its way back to the city.
You may imagine that I was no unmoved spectator of these proceedings; to all the
others it was a thing to which they had been accustomed from their youth up; but
I was so horrified that I could not help telling the king how it struck me.
"Sire," I said, "I am more astonished than I can express to you at the strange
custom which exists in your dominions of burying the living with the dead. In
all my travels I have never before met with so cruel and horrible a law."
"What would you have, Sindbad?" he replied. "It is the law for everybody. I
myself should be buried with the Queen if she were the first to die."
"But, your Majesty," said I, "dare I ask if this law applies to foreigners
"Why, yes," replied the king smiling, in what I could but consider a very
heartless manner, "they are no exception to the rule if they have married in the
When I heard this I went home much cast down, and from that time forward my mind
was never easy. If only my wife's little finger ached I fancied she was going to
die, and sure enough before very long she fell really ill and in a few days
breathed her last. My dismay was great, for it seemed to me that to be buried
alive was even a worse fate than to be devoured by cannibals, nevertheless there
was no escape. The body of my wife, arrayed in her richest robes and decked with
all her jewels, was laid upon the bier. I followed it, and after me came a great
procession, headed by the king and all his nobles, and in this order we reached
the fatal mountain, which was one of a lofty chain bordering the sea.
Here I made one more frantic effort to excite the pity of the king and those who
stood by, hoping to save myself even at this last moment, but it was of no
avail. No one spoke to me, they even appeared to hasten over their dreadful
task, and I speedily found myself descending into the gloomy pit, with my seven
loaves and pitcher of water beside me. Almost before I reached the bottom the
stone was rolled into its place above my head, and I was left to my fate. A
feeble ray of light shone into the cavern through some chink, and when I had the
courage to look about me I could see that I was in a vast vault, bestrewn with
bones and bodies of the dead. I even fancied that I heard the expiring sighs of
those who, like myself, had come into this dismal place alive. All in vain did I
shriek aloud with rage and despair, reproaching myself for the love of gain and
adventure which had brought me to such a pass, but at length, growing calmer, I
took up my bread and water, and wrapping my face in my mantle I groped my way
towards the end of the cavern, where the air was fresher.
Here I lived in darkness and misery until my provisions were exhausted, but just
as I was nearly dead from starvation the rock was rolled away overhead and I saw
that a bier was being lowered into the cavern, and that the corpse upon it was a
man. In a moment my mind was made up, the woman who followed had nothing to
expect but a lingering death; I should be doing her a service if I shortened her
misery. Therefore when she descended, already insensible from terror, I was
ready armed with a huge bone, one blow from which left her dead, and I secured
the bread and water which gave me a hope of life. Several times did I have
recourse to this desperate expedient, and I know not how long I had been a
prisoner when one day I fancied that I heard something near me, which breathed
loudly. Turning to the place from which the sound came I dimly saw a shadowy
form which fled at my movement, squeezing itself through a cranny in the wall. I
pursued it as fast as I could, and found myself in a narrow crack among the
rocks, along which I was just able to force my way. I followed it for what
seemed to me many miles, and at last saw before me a glimmer of light which grew
clearer every moment until I emerged upon the sea shore with a joy which I
cannot describe. When I was sure that I was not dreaming, I realised that it was
doubtless some little animal which had found its way into the cavern from the
sea, and when disturbed had fled, showing me a means of escape which I could
never have discovered for myself. I hastily surveyed my surroundings, and saw
that I was safe from all pursuit from the town.
The mountains sloped sheer down to the sea, and there was no road across them.
Being assured of this I returned to the cavern, and amassed a rich treasure of
diamonds, rubies, emeralds, and jewels of all kinds which strewed the ground.
These I made up into bales, and stored them into a safe place upon the beach,
and then waited hopefully for the passing of a ship. I had looked out for two
days, however, before a single sail appeared, so it was with much delight that I
at last saw a vessel not very far from the shore, and by waving my arms and
uttering loud cries succeeded in attracting the attention of her crew. A boat
was sent off to me, and in answer to the questions of the sailors as to how I
came to be in such a plight, I replied that I had been shipwrecked two days
before, but had managed to scramble ashore with the bales which I pointed out to
them. Luckily for me they believed my story, and without even looking at the
place where they found me, took up my bundles, and rowed me back to the ship.
Once on board, I soon saw that the captain was too much occupied with the
difficulties of navigation to pay much heed to me, though he generously made me
welcome, and would not even accept the jewels with which I offered to pay my
passage. Our voyage was prosperous, and after visiting many lands, and
collecting in each place great store of goodly merchandise, I found myself at
last in Bagdad once more with unheard of riches of every description. Again I
gave large sums of money to the poor, and enriched all the mosques in the city,
after which I gave myself up to my friends and relations, with whom I passed my
time in feasting and merriment.
Here Sindbad paused, and all his hearers declared that the adventures of his
fourth voyage had pleased them better than anything they had heard before. They
then took their leave, followed by Hindbad, who had once more received a hundred
sequins, and with the rest had been bidden to return next day for the story of
the fifth voyage.
When the time came all were in their places, and when they had eaten and drunk
of all that was set before them Sindbad began his tale.
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