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- The Arabian Nights Entertainments vol. 1 - 20/63 -
and gave the corpse of his son a blow on the cheek.
I cannot adequately express how much I was astonished when I saw the sultan my uncle abuse his son thus after he was dead. "Sir," said I, "whatever grief this dismal sight has impressed upon me, I am forced to suspend it, to enquire of your majesty what crime the prince my cousin may have committed, that his corpse should deserve such indignant treatment?" "Nephew," replied the sultan, "I must tell you, that my son (who is unworthy of that name) loved his sister from his infancy, as she did him: I did not check their growing fondness, because I did not foresee its pernicious consequence. This tenderness increased as they grew in years, and to such a height, that I dreaded the end of it. At last, I applied such remedies as were in my power: I not only gave my son a severe reprimand in private, laying before him the horrible nature of the passion he entertained, and the eternal disgrace he would bring upon my family, if he persisted; but I also represented the same to my daughter, and shut her up so close that she could have no conversation with her brother. But that unfortunate creature had swallowed so much of the poison, that all the obstacles which by my prudence I could lay in the way served only to inflame her love.
"My son being persuaded of his sister's constancy, on presence of building a tomb, caused this subterraneous habitation to be made, in hopes of finding one day or other an opportunity to possess himself of that objets which was the cause of his flame, and to bring her hither. He took advantage of my absence, to enter by force into the place of his sister's confinement; but this was a circumstance which my honour would not suffer me to make public. And after so damnable an action, he came and shut himself up with her in this place, which he has supplied, as you see, with all sorts of provisions, that he might enjoy detestable pleasures, which ought to be a subject of horror to all the world; but God, who would not suffer such an abomination, has justly punished them both." At these words, he melted into tears, and I joined mine with his.
After a while, casting his eyes upon me, "Dear nephew," cried he, embracing me, "if I have lost that unworthy son, I shall happily find in you what will better supply his place." The reflections he made on the doleful end of the prince and princess his daughter made us both weep afresh.
We ascended the stairs again, and departed at last from that dismal place. We let down the trap door, and covered it with earth, and such other materials as the tomb was built of, on purpose to hide, as much as lay in our power, so terrible an effect of the wrath of God.
We had not been long returned to the palace, unperceived by any one, but we heard a confused noise of trumpets, drums, and other instruments of war. We soon understood by the thick cloud of dust, which almost darkened the air, that it was the arrival of a formidable army: and it proved to be the same vizier that had dethroned my father, and usurped his place, who with a vast number of troops was come to possess himself of that also of the sultan my uncle.
My uncle, who then had only his usual guards about him, could not resist so numerous an enemy; they invested the city, and the gates being opened to them without any resistance, soon became masters of it, and broke into the palace where my uncle defended himself, and sold his life at a dear rate. I fought as valiantly for a while; but seeing we were forced to submit to a superior power, I thought on my retreat, which I had the good fortune to effect by some back ways, and got to one of the sultan's servants on whose fidelity I could depend.
Being thus surrounded with sorrows and persecuted by fortune, I had recourse to a stratagem, which was the only means left me to save my life: I caused my beard and eye-brows to be shaved, and putting on a calender's habit, I passed, unknown by any, out of the city; after that, by degrees, I found it easy to quit my uncle's kingdom, by taking the bye-roads.
I avoided passing through towns, until I had reached the empire of the mighty governor of the Moosulmauns, the glorious and renowned caliph Haroon al Rusheed, when I thought myself out of danger; and considering what I was to do, I resolved to come to Bagdad, intending to throw myself at the feet of that monarch, whose generosity is renowned throughout the world. "I shall move him to compassion," said I to myself, "by the relation of my uncommon misfortunes, and without doubt he will take pity on a persecuted prince, and not suffer me to implore his assistance in vain."
In short, after a journey of several months, I arrived yesterday at the gate of this city, into which I entered about the dusk of evening ; and stopping a little while to consider which way I was to turn, another calender came up; he saluted me, and I him: "You appear," said I, "to be a stranger, as I am." "You are not mistaken," replied he. He had no sooner returned this answer, than a third calender overtook us. He saluted us, and told us he was a stranger newly come to Bagdad; so that as brethren we joined together, resolving not to separate from one another.
It was now late, and we knew not where to seek a lodging in the city, where we had never been before. But good fortune having brought us to your gate, we made bold to knock, when you received us with so much kindness, that we are incapable of rendering suitable thanks. "This, madam," said he, "is, in obedience to your commands, the account I was to give how I lost my right eye, wherefore my beard and eye-brows are shaved, and how I came to be with you at this time."
"It is enough," said Zobeide; "you may retire to what place you think fit." The calender begged the ladies' permission to stay till he had heard the relations of his two comrades, "Whom I cannot," said he, "leave with honour;" and that he might also hear those of the three other persons in company.
The story of the first calender seemed wonderful to the whole company, but especially to the caliph, who, notwithstanding the slaves stood by with their cimeters drawn, could not forbear whispering to the vizier "Many stories have I heard, but never any that equalled in surprising incident that of the calender." Whilst he was saying this, the second calender began, addressing himself to Zobeide.
The Story of the Second Calender.
Madam, to obey your commands, and to shew you by what strange accident I became blind of the right eye, I must of necessity give you the account of my life.
I was scarcely past my infancy, when the sultan my father (for you must know I am a prince by birth) perceived that I was endowed with good natural ability, and spared nothing proper for improving it.
No sooner was I able to read and write, but I learned the Koraun from beginning to end by heart, that admirable book, which contains the foundation, the precepts, and the rules of our religion; and that I might be thoroughly instructed in it, I read the works of the most approved divines, by whose commentaries it had been explained. I added to this study, that of all the traditions collected from the mouth of our prophet, by the great men that were contemporary with him. I was not satisfied with the knowledge of all that had any relation to our religion, but made also a particular search into our histories. I made myself perfect in polite learning, in the works of poets, and versification. I applied myself to geography, chronology, and to speak the Arabian language in its purity; not forgetting in the meantime all such exercises as were proper for a prince to understand. But one thing which I was fond of, and succeeded in, was penmanship; wherein I surpassed all the celebrated scribes of our kingdom.
Fame did me more honour than I deserved, for she not only spread the renown of my talents through all the dominions of the sultan my father, but carried it as far as the empire of Hindoostan, whose potent monarch, desirous to see me, sent an ambassador with rich presents: my father, who rejoiced at this embassy for several reasons, was persuaded, that nothing could be more improving to a prince of my age than to travel and visit foreign courts; and he wished to gain the friendship of the Indian monarch. I departed with the ambassador, but with no great retinue.
When we had travelled about a month, we discovered at a distance a cloud of dust, and under that we saw very soon fifty horsemen well armed, who were robbers, advancing towards us at full speed.
As we had ten horses laden with baggage, and presents to the sultan of Hindoostan, from my father, and my retinue was but small, you may easily judge that these robbers came boldly up to us; and not being in a posture to make any opposition, we told them, that we were ambassadors, and hoped they would attempt nothing contrary to the respect due to such sacred characters, thinking by this means to save our equipage and our lives: but the robbers most insolently replied, "For what reason would you have us shew any respect to the sultan your master? We are none of his subjects, nor are we upon his territories:" having spoken thus, they surrounded and fell upon us: I defended myself as long as I could; but finding myself wounded, and seeing the ambassador with his attendants and mine lying on the ground, I made use of what strength was yet remaining in my horse, who was also very much wounded, and rode away as fast as he could carry me; but he shortly after, from weariness and the loss of blood, fell down dead. I cleared myself from him unhurt, and finding that I was not pursued, judged the robbers were not willing to quit the booty they had obtained.
Here you see me, alone, wounded, destitute of help, and in a strange country. I durst not take the high road, fearing I might fall again into the hands of these robbers. When I had bound up my wound, which was not dangerous, I walked on the rest of the day, and arrived at the foot of
mountain, where I perceived a passage into a cave; I went in, and staid there that night with little satisfaction, after I had eaten some fruits that I had gathered by the way.
I continued my journey for several days following, without
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