Stories from the Arabian Nights - Amy Steedman




The Fourth Voyage

"I was so rich and happy after my third voyage that you will wonder that I was not content to stay at home and enjoy my riches. But my love for travel and adventures would not suffer me to rest.

"I again purchased much merchandise, and once more set sail, with many other merchants, to trade with foreign lands.

"We had visited many places, and made great gains, when one day a terrible storm arose, and although the captain did all he could to save the ship, he was powerless in the great hurricane. The wind tore the sails into ribands, and the waves washed over the deck until the ship was swamped and began to sink. Most of the crew and passengers were drowned, but a few of us managed to cling to some planks, and after a dreadful night of peril we were cast ashore upon an island.

"More dead than alive, we lay there until morning, and then we went inland, hoping to find some sort of food. We had not gone far when we were met by a crowd of black savages, who surrounded us, and led us to their huts.

"First of all they prepared for us a meal, of which my companions ate eagerly, but I, being more cautious, only pretended to eat. For I had watched the savages, and noticed that they ate none of the food themselves.

"Allah be thanked that I had been so careful! No sooner had my companions swallowed the food than they seemed to lose their senses, and became as madmen. This was evidently what the savages expected, for they next prepared a great meal of rice and cocoanut oil, which my companions ate greedily, and I soon saw that the savages meant to fatten them, and then kill and eat them.

"This frightened me so much, that I would scarcely eat anything, and I became so thin that no one took any notice of me, and one day, when I was left in charge of an old savage, I easily managed to escape. I made my way with all speed into the forest, and for seven days I scarcely stopped to rest, but ran on and on, until I arrived at the opposite side of the island. There, to my joy, upon the seashore I found a party of white men gathering pepper. Their astonishment was great when they saw me, and greater still when I told them of my adventure.

"'These savages kill and eat every man who falls into their hands,' they said, 'thou alone hast lived to escape from them.'

"Then they took me aboard their ship, and carried me off with them to their own country, where they presented me to their King.

I was treated with great kindness, and as the King showed me special favour, I was considered a person of great importance. The island was a very rich one, and there was much trade carried on in the capital, so that I soon grew happy and contented. One thing astonished me a good deal, and this was that although the people all rode well, and had splendid horses, no one used a saddle, stirrup, or bridle.

"'Your Majesty,' I ventured to say one day to the King, 'why is it that no one in thy kingdom uses a saddle?'

"'What may that be?' asked the King with interest. 'I have never even heard the word.'

"Then I sought out a clever workman in leather, and directed him how to make a splendid saddle. I also had stirrups, spurs, and a bridle made, and when they were all ready, I presented them to the King, and showed him how to use them. As soon as he had tried them, he was delighted with them, and all the nobles begged that I would make saddles for them also.

"So I became more and more important and rich, until one day the King told me that it was his wish that I should marry a beautiful maiden, and settle down to stay always in the island.

"When I had seen the maiden, I willingly did as the King commanded, and we lived so happily and contentedly together that I began to forget that I had any other home. But one day came a rude awakening.

"I had made great friends with one of my neighbours, and was much distressed one day to hear that his wife was dead. I went to him at once, and tried to comfort him in his sorrow.

"'May Allah preserve thee, and grant thee a long life!' I began when I saw him.

"But he never raised his eyes from the ground.

"'Alas!' he replied, 'how canst thou wish me a long life, when in a few hours I shall be buried with my wife. Dost thou not know it is a law in this country, that when a wife dies her husband is buried with her, and if he should die first, then his wife is buried with him?'

"'How terrible 1' I cried, 'I cannot believe this.' I spoke to the King about it, but he only told me that it had always been the law of the land, and no one seemed to think it strange.

"Judge then of my feelings, when one day my own wife fell ill, and after a short illness she, also, died.

"They dressed her in all her most costly garments, and decked her with jewels, and then we all set out towards a high mountain. When we reached it, a stone was rolled away from the mouth of a deep pit, and into this pit the body of my wife was lowered.

"I begged and prayed for my life, but no one paid any heed to what I said. They were busy preparing seven small loaves of bread and a jug of water, and these they lowered with me into the dark pit. Then the stone was rolled back and I was left alone.

"I sat and wailed, and bemoaned my fate, but that of course did me no good. For seven days I lived on the loaves, and drank sparingly of the water; and when it was all done, I made up my mind that I must die. Then suddenly I saw something moving in the far side of the cavern, and a small grey object flitted past me.

"In an instant I jumped to my feet, and followed it, until it disappeared into a crevice of the rock. Still I followed it, squeezing myself into the narrow passage, and when I had gone some distance, I felt the fresh sea-air fanning my hot cheeks, and in another moment I was upon the seashore under the blue sky, free from the horrible cavern. The thing I had followed must have been some little animal that had found its way in, and so showed me the way of escape.

"I then made up my mind to return along the passage and gather up the jewels which were strewn over the floor of the cave. This I did, and having fastened them into bales, I sat upon the shore, waiting for a ship to pass.

"All that day I sat and watched, and next morning, to my joy, I saw a sail. I waved my turban, and did all I could to make them see me, and soon a boat was put off to fetch me.

"'How camest thou here?' asked the sailors in astonishment. 'We have never seen living man on this shore before.'

"Now I did not care to tell them where I had really come from, in case they should decide to carry me back.

"'I was shipwrecked here some time ago,' I said, 'and these bales are my goods which I managed to save.'

"To my great relief the sailors asked no more questions, and quickly rowed me anti my bales back to the ship.

"So I returned home in safety with more riches than ever, and with great thankfulness in my heart for having escaped such dreadful dangers."

Here Sindbad paused, and Hindbad was again dismissed with a hundred gold pieces, and bidden to return next night, this time to hear the story of the Fifth Voyage.