Stories from the Arabian Nights - Amy Steedman




The Sixth Voyage

"This time," began Sindbad, "I stayed at home for the space of a whole year, and then I prepared to set out on another voyage. My friends and relations did all in their power to prevent my going, but I could not be persuaded, and before long I set sail in a ship which was about to make a very long voyage.

"Nothing went well with us from the beginning. We were driven out of our course by storms and tempests, and the captain and pilot knew not where we were. When at last they found out in which direction we had drifted, things seemed in a worse state than ever. We were alarmed to see the captain suddenly pull off his turban, tear the hair from his beard, and beat his head as if he were mad.

"'What is the matter?' we asked, gathering round him.

"'Alas!' he cried, 'we are lost. The ship is now caught in a dangerous current from which nothing can save her and us. In a very few moments we shall all be dashed to pieces.'

"No sooner had he spoken than the ship was. carried along at a tremendous speed straight on to a rocky shore which lay at the foot of a steep mountain.

"But although the ship was dashed to pieces, we all managed to escape, and were thrown with our goods and some provisions high on to the rocky strip of shore. Here we found the scattered remains of many wrecks, and quantities of bones bleached white in the sun.

"'We may prepare ourselves for death,' said the captain mournfully. 'No man has ever escaped from this shore, for it is impossible to climb the mountain behind us, and no ship dare approach to save us.'

"But nevertheless he divided the provisions amongst us, that we might live as long as possible.

"One thing that surprised me greatly was a river of fresh water which flowed out of the mountain, and, instead of running into the sea, disappeared into a rocky cavern on the other side of the shore. As I gazed into the mouth of this cavern I saw that it was lined with sparkling gems, and that the bed of the river was studded with rubies and diamonds and all manner of precious stones. Great quantities of these were also scattered around, and treasures from the wrecked ships lay in every corner of the shore.

"One by one my companions died as they came to the end of their food, and one by one I buried them, until at last I was left quite alone. I was able to live on very little, and so my food had lasted longer.

"' Woe is me!' I cried, 'who shall bury me when I die? Why, oh 1 why was I not content to remain safe and happy at home?'

"As I bemoaned my evil fate I wandered to the banks of the river, and as I watched it disappear into the rocky cave a happy thought came to me. Surely if this stream entered the mountain it must have an opening somewhere, and if I could only follow its course I might yet escape.

"Eagerly I began to make a strong raft of the wood and planks which were scattered all over the shore. Then I collected as many diamonds and rubies and as much wrecked treasure as my raft would hold, and took my last little store of food. I launched the raft with great care, and soon found myself floating swiftly along until I disappeared into the dark passage of the cavern.

"On and on I went through the thick darkness, the passage seeming to grow smaller and narrower until I was obliged to lie flat on the raft for fear of striking my head. My food was now all gone, and I gave myself up for lost, and then mercifully I fell into a deep sleep which must have lasted many hours. I was awakened by the sound of strange voices, and jumping up, what was my joy to find I was once more in heaven's sunshine.

"The river was flowing gently through a green, pleasant land, and the sounds I had heard were the voices of a company of negroes who were gently guiding my raft to the bank.

"I could not understand the language these negroes spoke, until at last one of their number began to speak to me in Arabic.

"'Peace be to thee!' he said. 'Who art thou, and whence hast thou come? We are the people of this country, and were working in our fields when we found thee asleep upon the raft. Tell us, then, how thou hast come to this place.'

"'I pray thee, by Allah!' I cried, 'give me food, and then I will tell thee all.'

"Then the men gave me food, and I ate until my strength returned and my soul was refreshed, and I could tell them of all my adventures.

"' We must take him to the King,' they cried with one voice.

"Then they told me that the King of Serendib was the richest and greatest king on earth, and I went with them willingly, taking with me my bales and treasures.

"Never had I seen such splendour and richness as at the court of the King of Serendib, and great was his kindness towards me. He listened to the tale of my adventures with interest, and when I begged to be allowed to return home, he ordered that a ship should be made ready at once. Then he wrote a letter with his own hand to the Caliph, our sovereign lord, and loaded me with costly gifts.

"Thus, when I arrived at Bagdad, I went at once to the court of the Caliph, and presented! the letter and the gift which the King had sent.

"This gift was a cup made out of a single ruby lined inside with precious stones, also a skin of the serpent that swallows elephants, which had spots upon its back like pieces of gold, and which could cure all illnesses,

"The Caliph was delighted with the letter and the gift.

"'Tell me, O Sindbad,' he said, 'is this King as great and rich as it is reported of him?'

"'O my Lord,' I said, 'no words can give you an idea of his riches. His throne is set upon a huge elephant and a thousand horsemen ride around him, clad in cloth of gold. His mace is of gold studded with emeralds, and indeed his splendour is as great as that of King Solomon.'

"The Caliph listened attentively to my words, and then, giving me a present, he allowed me to depart. I returned home swiftly to my family and friends, and when I had sold my treasures and given much to the poor, I lived in such peace and happiness that my evil adventures soon seemed like a far-off dream."

So Sindbad finished the story of his Sixth Voyage, and bade his guests return the next evening as usual. And next day, when all the guests were once more seated at the table and had finished their feasting, Sindbad began the story of his Last Voyage.