Wednesday, March 17, 2021

The History Of Agib

The History Of Agib [Fairy Tales From The Arabian Nights]

The History Of Agib [Fairy Tales From The Arabian Nights]

My name is Agib, and I am the son of a king called Cassib. After his death I took possession of his dominions, and resided in the same city. This city is situated on the sea coast; it has one of the finest and safest harbours in the world, an arsenal capable of fitting out for sea one hundred and fifty men of war that are always ready, and fifty merchant men, besides light frigates and pleasure-boats. My kingdom consists of several fine provinces upon the main land, and a number of spacious islands, every one of which lies almost in sight of my capital.

The first thing I did was to visit the provinces: I afterwards caused the whole fleet to be fitted out and manned, and went to the islands to gain the hearts of my subjects by my presence, and to confirm them in their loyalty; and after some time I went thither again. These voyages gave me some taste for navigation, and I took so much pleasure in it that I resolved to make some discoveries beyond my islands; to which end I caused only ten ships to be fitted out, embarked, and set sail.

Our voyage was very successful for forty days together, but on the forty-first night the wind become contrary, and so boisterous that we were nearly lost in the storm. About break of day the wind grew calm, the clouds dispersed, and, the sun having brought back fair weather, we came close to an island, where we remained for two days to take in fresh provisions; after which we put off again to sea. After ten days' sail we were in hopes of seeing land, for the tempests we had gone through had so much abated my curiosity that I gave orders to steer back to my own coast; but I perceived at the same time that the pilot knew not where we were. Upon the tenth day a seaman being sent to look out for land from the main-mast head, gave notice that on starboard and larboard he could see nothing but the sky and the sea, which bounded the horizon; but that just before us he saw a great blackness.

At this the pilot changed colour and, throwing his turban on the deck with one hand, and beating his breast with the other, cried, 'Oh, sir, we are all lost; not one of us will escape; and with all my skill it is not in my power to prevent it.' Having spoken thus, he fell a-crying like a man who foresaw unavoidable ruin: his despair put the whole ship's crew in fear. I asked him the reason. He told me that the tempest, which we had outlived, had brought us so far out of our course that to- morrow about noon we should come near to the black place, which was nothing else than the black mountain. 'That,' said he, 'is a mine of adamant, which at this very minute is drawing all your fleet towards it, by virtue of the iron and the nails that are in your ships; and when we come to-morrow within a certain distance, the adamant will have such a force that all the nails will be drawn out of the sides and bottom of the ships, and fasten to the mountain, so that your vessel will fall to pieces, and sink to the bottom: and as the adamant draws all iron to it, this mountain on the side of the sea is covered over with nails, drawn out of an infinite number of vessels that have perished here.

'The mountain,' continued the pilot, 'is very rugged; on the top of it there is a dome of fine brass, supported by pillars of the same, and upon the top of that dome there stands a horse of the same metal, with a rider on his back, who has a plate of lead fixed to his breast, upon which some talismanic characters are engraver. Sir, the tradition is that this statue is the chief reason why so many ships and men have been lost and sunk in this place, and that it will ever continue to be fatal to all who have the misfortune to come near to it, until it is thrown down.'

The pilot, having ended his explanation, began to weep afresh, and all the rest of the ship's company did the like. I had no other thought but that my days were then and there to have an end. In the meantime every one began to provide for his own safety, and took all imaginable precautions, and all made one another their heirs, by virtue of a will, for the benefit of those that should happen to be saved.

The next morning we perceived the black mountain very plainly, and the idea we had formed of it made it appear more frightful than it was. About noon we had come so near that we found what the pilot had foretold to be true; for we saw all the nails and iron about the ships fly towards the mountain, where they fixed, by the violence of the attraction, with a horrible noise: the ships split asunder, and sank into the sea, which was so deep about the place that we could not sound it. All my people were drowned; but I was permitted to save myself by means of a plank, which the wind drove ashore just at the foot of the mountain. I did not receive the least hurt; and my good fortune brought me to a landing-place, where there were steps that went up to the top of the mountain.

At the sight of these steps, for there was not a bit of ground on either the right or the left whereon a man could set his foot, I gave thanks to God, and recommended myself to His holy protection. I then began to mount the steps, which were so narrow, rugged, and hard to get up that, had the wind blown ever so little, it would have thrown me down into the sea. But at last I got up to the top without any accident.

I passed the night under the dome; and in my sleep a grave old man appeared to me, and said, 'Hearken, Agib; as soon as thou art awake, dig up the ground under thy feet: thou shalt find a bow of brass, and three arrows of lead, that are made under certain constellations, to deliver mankind from the many calamities that threaten them. Shoot the three arrows at the statue, and the rider will fall into the sea, but the horse will fall down by thy side. Thou must bury him in the place from whence thou tookest the bow and arrows: this being done, the sea will swell and rise up to the foot of the dome that stands upon the top of the mountain. When it comes up so high, thou shalt see a boat, with one man holding an oar in each hand; this man is also of metal, but different from the one thou hast thrown down; step on board to him, without mentioning the name of God, and let him conduct thee. In ten days' time he will bring thee into another sea, where thou shalt find an opportunity to get home to thy country safe and sound, provided, as I have told thee, thou dost not mention the name of God during the whole voyage.'

This was the substance of the old man's discourse. When I awoke I was very much comforted by the vision, and did not fail to observe everything that he had commanded me. I took the bow and arrows out of the ground, shot at the horseman, and with the third arrow I overthrew him: he fell into the sea, and the horse fell by my side, and I buried him in the place whence I took the bow and arrows. In the meantime the sea swelled and rose up by degrees: when it came as high as the foot of the dome that stood upon the top of the mountain, I saw, afar off, a boat rowing towards me, and I returned God thanks that everything had happened according to my dream.

At last the boat made for land, and I saw the man was made of metal, as I had dreamt. I stepped aboard, and took great heed not to pronounce the name of God, neither spoke I one word; I sat down, and the man of metal began to row off from the mountain. He rowed without ceasing till the ninth day, when I saw some islands, which gave me hope that I should escape all the danger that I feared. The excess of my joy made me forget what I was forbidden to do: 'Blessed be God,' said I, 'God be praised.'

No sooner had I spoken these words than the boat sank with the man of metal, leaving me upon the surface. I swam for the remaining part of the day towards that land which appeared nearest to me. A very dark night succeeded, and, not knowing where I was, I swam haphazard. My strength at last began to fail, and I despaired of being able to save myself, when the wind began to blow, and a wave, as big as a mountain, threw me on a flat coast, where it left me, and drew back. I made haste to get ashore, fearing another wave might wash me back again. The first thing I did was to strip and wring the water out of my clothes, and I then laid them out on the dry sand, which was still pretty warm from the heat of the day.

Next morning the sun dried my clothes early; I put them on, and went forward to see where I was. I had not walked very far before I found I was upon a little desert island, very pleasant, where there grew several sorts of trees and wild fruit; but I perceived it was very far from the continent, which much diminished my joy in having escaped the danger of the sea. I, notwithstanding, commended myself to God, and prayed Him to dispose of me according to His good will and pleasure. Just then I saw a vessel coming from the main land, before the wind, direct to the island. I doubted not that they were coming to anchor there, and being uncertain what sort of people they might be, whether friends or foes, I thought it not safe for me to be seen, so I got up into a very thick tree, from whence I might safely look at them. The vessel came into a little creek. Ten slaves landed, carrying a spade and other instruments for digging. They went towards the middle of the island, where I saw them stop and dig the ground for a long while, after which I thought I saw them lift up a trap-door. They returned again to the vessel, and unladed provisions and furniture, which they carried to the place where they had broken ground, and so went downward, which made me suppose it was a subterranean dwelling.

Once more I saw them go to the ship, and soon return with an old man, who led a very handsome lad by the hand, of about fourteen or fifteen years of age. They all went down at the trapdoor. When they came up again they let down the trap-door, and covered it over with earth, and returned to the creek where the ship lay. But I saw not the young man in their company; this made me believe that he remained behind in that place underground, at which I could not but be extremely astonished.

The old man and the slaves went aboard again, and the vessel being got under sail, steered its course towards the mainland. When they were too far off to see me, I came down from the tree, and went direct to the place where I had seen the ground broken. I removed the earth by degrees till I found a stone two or three feet square. I lifted it up, and saw that it covered the head of the stairs, which were also of stone. I went down, and came into a large room, where there was a carpet, and a couch covered with tapestry, and cushions of rich stuff, upon which the young man sat, with a fan in his hand. I saw all this, also the fruits and flower-pots he had standing about him, by the light of two tapers. The young lad was startled at the sight of me, but to rid him of his fear I said as I came in, 'Whoever you are, sir, do not fear anything: a king, and the son of a king, as I am, is not capable of doing you any harm. On the contrary, it is probable that your good destiny has brought me hither to deliver you out of this tomb, where it seems they have buried you alive, for reasons unknown to me. But what makes me wonder is that you have suffered yourself to be buried in this place without any resistance.'

The young man recovered himself at these words, and begged me, with a smiling countenance, to sit down by him. 'Prince,' he said, 'I will tell you something so extraordinary that it cannot but surprise you.'

'My father is a merchant jeweller, who, through skill in his calling, has acquired great wealth. He has many slaves, and also deputies, whom he employs to go as supercargoes to sea with his own ships, to maintain the connection he has at several courts, which he furnishes with such precious stones as they want.

'He had been married a long while, without children, when he understood by a dream that he would have a son, though his life would be but short, at which he was very much concerned when he awoke. But when I was born there was great joy in the family.

'My father, who had observed the very moment of my birth, consulted astrologers about my nativity. They told him: "Your son shall live very happily till the age of fifteen, when he will be in danger of losing his life, and hardly be able to escape, but if his good destiny should preserve him beyond that time, he will live to grow very old. It will be," said they, "when the statue of brass, that stands upon the top of the mountain of adamant, is thrown down into the sea by Prince Agib, son of King Cassib, and, as the stars prognosticate, your son will be killed fifty days afterwards by that prince."

'As this part of the prediction about the statue agrees exactly with my father's dream, it distressed him so much, and he was struck to the very heart. In the meantime, he took all imaginable care of my education until this present year, which is the fifteenth of my age, and he had notice given him yesterday that the statue of brass had been thrown into the sea about ten days ago, by that same prince I told you of. This news has cost him so many tears and has alarmed him so much, that he does not look like himself.

'Since these predictions of the astrologers, he has sought by all possible means to falsify my horoscope, and to preserve my life. It is not long since he took the precaution to build me this subterranean place to hide in, till the end of the fifty days after the throwing down of the statue; and therefore, since it was ten days ago that this happened, he came hastily hither to hide me to-day, and promised at the end of forty days to come again and fetch me out. For my own part I am in good hope, for I cannot believe that prince Agib will come to look for me in a place underground, in the midst of a desert island.'

While the jeweller's son was telling me this story, I laughed in myself at those astrologers who had foretold that I should take away his life. I thought myself so far from being likely to verify what they said that he had scarcely done speaking when I told him, with great joy, 'Dear sir, put your trust in the goodness of God, and fear nothing. I am glad that after my shipwreck I came so fortunately hither to defend you against all that would attempt your death. I will not leave you till the forty days of which the foolish astrologers have made you apprehensive are ended; and in the meanwhile I will do you all the service that lies in my power.'

This encouraged the jeweller's son, and inspired him with confidence in me. I took care not to tell him I was the very Agib whom he dreaded, lest I should put him into a fright, and took as much care not to give him any cause to suspect it. We passed the time in talking till night came on. I found the young lad of ready wit, and shared in his provisions, of which he had enough to have lasted beyond the forty days, even if he had had more guests than myself. After supper we went to bed.

The next day, when we got up, I held the basin and water for him to wash himself; I also provided dinner, and set it on the table in due time; and after we had done, I invented a game to amuse ourselves, not only for that day but for those that followed. I prepared supper as I had prepared dinner. We had time enough to contract a friendship. I found the boy loved me; and for my part, I had so great a respect for him that I often said to myself, 'Those astrologers who predicted to his father that his son should die by my hand were impostors; for it is not possible that I could commit so base an action.' In short, we spent thirty-nine days in the pleasantest manner that could be in a place like that underground.

The fortieth day appeared; and in the morning, when the young man awoke, he said to me, with a joy that he could not restrain, 'Prince, this is the fortieth day, and I am not dead, thanks to God and your good company. My father will not fail to be here anon, and shall furnish you with all that is necessary for your return to your kingdom. But in the meantime,' said he, 'I beg you to get ready some water very warm that I may wash my whole body in that portable bath, and change my clothes to receive my father.'

I set the water on the fire, and when it was hot, put it into the bath; the youth got in, and I myself washed and rubbed him. Then he laid himself down in his bed, and I covered him with his bedclothes. After he had slept awhile, he awoke, and said, 'Dear Prince, pray do me the favour to fetch me a melon and some sugar, that I may eat some, and be refreshed.'

Out of several melons that remained I took the best, and laid it on a plate; and because I could not find a knife to cut it with, I asked the young man if he knew where there was one. 'There is one,' said he, 'upon this cornice over my head.' I made so much haste to reach it, that while I had it in my hand, my foot became entangled in the bedclothes, and I fell most unhappily upon the young man, and the knife ran into his heart in a minute.

At this I cried out most hideously; I beat my head, my face, and breast; I tore my clothes; I threw myself on the ground with unspeakable sorrow and grief. 'Alas!' I cried, 'there were only some hours wanting to have put him out of that danger from which he sought sanctuary here; and now that I myself thought the danger past, I have become his murderer, and verified the prediction. But, O Lord!' said I, lifting up my face and hands to heaven, 'I entreat thy pardon, and if I be guilty of his death, let me not live any longer.'

After this misfortune, I would have embraced death without any reluctance. But what we wish for ourselves, whether good or bad, will not always happen. Nevertheless, considering that all my tears and sorrow would not bring the young man to life again, and the forty days being ended, I might be surprised by his father, I quitted the subterranean dwelling, laid down the great stone upon the entry of it, and covered it with earth.

I had scarcely done when, casting my eyes upon the sea towards the main land, I perceived the vessel coming to fetch the young man home. I began then to consider what I had better do. I said to myself, 'If I am seen by the old man, he will certainly lay hold of me, and perhaps cause me to be massacred by his slaves, when he has seen that his son is killed: all that I can allege to justify myself will not persuade him of my innocence. It is better for me to withdraw, since it is in my power, than to expose myself to his resentment.'

There happened to be near the subterranean habitation a large tree with thick leaves, which I thought fit to hide in. I got up into it, and was no sooner settled in a place where I could not be seen than I saw the vessel come to the same place as before.

The old man and his slaves landed immediately, and advanced towards the subterranean dwelling, with a countenance that showed some hope; but when they saw that the earth had been newly removed, they changed colour, particularly the old man. They lifted up the stone and went down; they called the young man by his name, but as he did not answer, their fears increased. They went down to seek him, and at length found him lying upon the bed with the knife in his heart, for I had not power to draw it out. At this sight they cried out lamentably, which increased my sorrow; and the old man fell down in a swoon. To give him air the slaves brought him up in their arms, and laid him at the foot of the tree where I was; but notwithstanding all the pains they took to revive him, the unfortunate father continued insensible a long while, and made them oftener than once despair of his life; but at last he came to himself. Then the slaves brought up his son's corpse, dressed in his best apparel; they made a grave, and put him into it. The old man, supported by two slaves, and his face wet with tears, threw the first earth upon him, after which the slaves filled up the grave.

This being done, all the furniture was brought up from underground, and, with the remaining provisions, put on board the vessel. The old man, overcome with sorrow, and not being to stand, was laid upon a sort of litter, and carried to the ship, which stood out to sea, and in a short time was out of sight.

After the old man and his slaves had gone in the vessel, I was left alone upon the island. I slept that night in the subterranean dwelling, which they had shut up; and when the daylight came I walked round the island, and stopped in various places to rest.

I led this wearisome life for a whole month; after which I perceived the sea to have greatly fallen, the island to be much larger, and the mainland to be drawing near me. At last the water sank so low that there was but a small stream between me and the mainland. I crossed it, and the water did not come above the middle of my leg. I walked so long upon the slime and sand that I was very weary; at last I got upon firm ground, and, when at a good distance from the sea, I saw in the distance before me something like a great fire, which gave me comfort. 'For,' I said to myself, 'I shall find somebody or other, it not being possible that this fire should kindle of itself.' But when I came nearer I found my error, and saw that what I had taken for a fire was a castle of red copper, which the beams of the sun made to look, at a distance, as if it had been in flames.

I stopped near the castle, and sat down to admire its structure, and to rest awhile. I had not taken such a full view of this magnificent building as it deserved when I saw ten handsome young men coming along, as if they had been taking a walk. But what most surprised me was that they were all blind of the right eye. They accompanied an old man, who was very tall, and of a venerable aspect.

I could not but wonder at the sight of so many half-blind men all together, and every one blind of the same eye. As I was thinking they came up to me, and seemed very glad to see me. After the first compliments, they inquired what had brought me thither. I told them my story would be somewhat tedious, but if they would take the trouble to sit down, I would satisfy their request. They did so, and I related to them all that had happened since I left my kingdom, which filled them with astonishment.

After I had ended, the young gentlemen begged me to go with them into the castle. I accepted the offer, and we passed through a great many halls, antechambers, and bedchambers, very well furnished, and came at last into a spacious hall, where there were ten small blue sofas set round, separate from one another, upon which they sat by day, and slept by night. In the middle of this circle stood an eleventh sofa, not so high as the rest, but of the same colour, upon which the old man before mentioned sat down, and the young gentlemen made use of the other ten; but as each sofa could only contain one man, one of the young men said to me, 'Comrade, sit down upon that carpet in the middle of the room, and do not inquire into anything that concerns us, nor the reason why we are all blind of the right eye; be content with what you see, and let not your curiosity go any further.'

The History Of Agib [Fairy Tales From The Arabian Nights]

The old man, having sat a little while, rose up and went out; but he returned in a minute or two, brought in supper to the ten gentlemen, distributed to each man his portion by himself, and likewise brought me mine, which I ate by myself, as the rest did; and when supper was almost ended he presented to each of us a cup of wine.

They thought my story so extraordinary that they made me repeat it after supper, and it furnished conversation for a good part of the night. One of the gentlemen, observing that it was late, said to the old man, 'You see it is time to go to bed, and you do not bring us that with which we may do our duty.' At these words the old man arose and went to a cupboard, from whence he brought out upon his head ten basins, one after another, all covered with blue stuff; he set one before every gentleman, together with a light.

They uncovered their basins, in which there were ashes, coal-dust, and lamp-black; they mixed all together, and rubbed and bedaubed their faces with it in such a manner that they looked very frightful. After having thus blackened themselves, they fell a-weeping and lamenting, beating their heads and breasts, and crying continually, 'This is the fruit of our idleness and wickedness.'

They continued thus almost the whole night, and when they left off the old man brought them water, with which they washed their faces and hands; they changed all their clothes, which were spoiled, and put on others; so that they did not look in the least as if they had been doing so strange an action.

It may be imagined how uneasy I was all the while; I wished a thousand times to break the silence which those young gentlemen had imposed upon me, and to ask questions; nor was it possible for me to sleep that night.

After we got up the next day we went out for a walk, and then I told them, 'Gentlemen, I declare to you that I must renounce that law which you prescribed to me last night, for I cannot observe it. You are men of sense, and do not lack brains; you have convinced me of this; yet I have seen you do such actions as none but madmen could be capable of. Whatever misfortune may befall me, I cannot forbear to ask why you bedaubed your faces with black. How is it that each of you has but one eye? Some singular thing must certainly be the cause of it; therefore I implore you to satisfy my curiosity.' To this they only answered that it was no business of mine to ask such questions, and that I should do well to hold my peace.

We passed that day in conversation on indifferent subjects; and when night was come and every man had finished his supper, the old man brought in the blue basins, and the young gentlemen bedaubed their faces, wept and beat themselves, crying, 'This is the fruit of our idleness and wickedness,' as before, and continued the same actions the following night. At last, not being able to resist my curiosity, I earnestly prayed them to satisfy me, or to show me how to return to my own kingdom; for it was impossible for me to keep them company any longer, and to see every night such an odd spectacle, without being permitted to know the reason.

One of the gentlemen answered in behalf of the rest, 'Do not wonder at our conduct in regard to yourself, and that hitherto we have not granted your request. It is out of mere kindness, to save you from the pain of being reduced to the same condition. If you have a mind to try our unfortunate fate, you need but speak, and we will give you the satisfaction you desire.' I told them I was resolved on it, let what would be the consequence. 'Once more,' said the same gentleman, 'we advise you to restrain your curiosity; it will cost you the loss of your right eye.'

'No matter,' said I; 'I declare to you, that if such a misfortune does befall me, I will impute it not to you, but to myself.'

He further represented to me that when I had lost an eye, I must not hope to stay with them, if I were so minded, because their number was complete, and no addition could be made to it. I told them that it would be a great satisfaction to me never to part from such pleasant gentlemen, but if necessary I was ready to submit; and, let it cost me what it would, I begged them to grant my request.

The ten gentlemen, perceiving that I was so fixed in my resolulution, took a sheep and killed it, and after they had taken off the skin, presented me with a knife, saying it would be useful to me on a certain occasion, which they would tell me of presently. 'We must sew you into this skin,' said they, ' and then leave you; upon which a fowl of a monstrous size, called a roe, will appear in the air, and taking you to be a sheep, will come down upon you, and carry you up to the very sky. But let not that frighten you; he will come down again, and lay you on the top of a mountain. When you find yourself upon the ground, cut the skin with the knife, and throw it off. As soon as the roc sees you, he will fly away in fear, and leave you at liberty: do not stay, but walk on till you come to a prodigiously large castle, covered with plates of gold, large emeralds, and other precious stones. Go up to the gate, which always stands open, and walk in. We were in the castle as long as we have been here; we will tell you nothing of what we saw, or what befell us there; you will learn it yourself; all that we can inform you is that it has cost each of us his right eye, and the penance which you have been witness to is what we are obliged to do because we have been there. The history of each of us is so full of extraordinary adventures that a large volume would not contain them. But we must explain ourselves no further.'

When the gentleman had ended, I wrapt myself in the sheep's skin, and held fast the knife which was given me; and after the young gentleman had taken the trouble to sew the skin about me, they retired into the hall, and left me on the spot. The roc they spoke of was not long in coming; he fell upon me, took me in his talons like a sheep, and carried me up to the top of the mountain.

When I found myself upon the ground, I made use of the knife, cut the skin, and threw it off; the roc at the sight of me flew away. This roc is a white bird, of a monstrous size; his strength is so great that he can lift up elephants from the plains, and carry them to the tops of the mountains, where he feeds upon them.

Being impatient till I reached the castle, I lost no time, but made so much haste that I got thither in half a day's journey; and I must say that I found it surpass the description they had given me.

The gate being open, I entered into a court which was square, and so large that there was round it ninety-nine gates of wood of sanders and aloes, with one of gold, without reckoning those of several magnificent staircases that led to the apartments above, besides many more which I could not see. The hundred doors I spoke of opened into gardens or store-houses full of riches, or into places which contained things wonderful to see.

I saw a door standing open just before me, through which I entered into a large hall, where I found forty young ladies of such perfect beauty that imagination could not surpass it; they were all most sumptuously apparelled. As soon as they saw me, they rose up, and said, with demonstrations of joy, 'Noble sir, you are very welcome.' Then one spoke to me in the name of the rest and said: 'We have been in expectation a long while of such a gentleman as you; your face assures us that you are master of all the good qualities we can wish for; and we hope you will not find our company disagreeable or unworthy of yours.'

They forced me, notwithstanding all the opposition I could make, to take a seat that was higher than their own, and though I signified that I was uncomfortable, 'That is your place,' said they; 'you are at present our lord, master, and judge, and we are your slaves, ready to obey your commands.'

Nothing in the world so much astonished me as the passionate eagerness of those fair ladies to do me all possible service. One brought me hot water to wash my feet, a second poured sweet-scented water on my hands; others brought me all sorts of necessaries, and change of apparel; others brought in a magnificent meal; and the rest came with glasses in their hands to pour out delicious wines, all in good order, and in the most charming manner possible. I ate and drank; after which the ladies placed themselves round me, and desired an account of my travels. I gave them a full history of my adventures, which lasted till night came on.

When I had made an end of my story, some of the forty ladies stayed to keep me company, whilst the rest, seeing that it was dark, rose up to fetch tapers. They brought a prodigious quantity, which made a wonderful light as if it had been day, and they were so well arranged that nothing could be more beautiful.

Other ladies covered a table with dry fruits, sweetmeats, and everything suitable. Some of the ladies came in with musical instruments, and formed a most charming concert. The others began a sort of ball, and danced two and two, one after another, with wonderful grace.

It was past midnight ere all this ended. At length one of the ladies said to me, 'You are doubtless wearied by the journey you have taken to-day; it is time for you to go to rest; your lodging is prepared.'

I was scarcely dressed the next morning when the ladies came in, all in different dresses from those they had on the day before; they bade me good-morrow, and inquired after my health. I continued a whole year among those forty ladies. When the year was ended I was strangely surprised that, instead of appearing with their usual cheerfulness, they entered one morning all in tears. They embraced me with great tenderness one after another, saying, 'Farewell, dear prince, farewell, for we must leave you.' Their tears affected me; I prayed them to tell me the reason of their grief, and of the separation they spoke of. 'Fair ladies, let me know,' said I, 'if it be in my power to comfort you, or if my assistance can be in any way useful to you.' Instead of returning a direct answer, 'Ah,' said they, 'that we had never seen or known you! Several gentlemen have honoured us with their company before; but never one of them had that comeliness, that sweetness, that pleasantness of temper, and that merit which you possess; we know not how to live without you.' After they spoke these words they began to weep bitterly. 'My dear ladies,' said I, 'be so kind as not to keep me in suspense any longer; tell me the cause of your sorrow.'

'Alas,' said they, 'what but the necessity of parting from you could be capable of grieving us? It may happen that we shall never see you again; but if you are so minded, and possess sufficient self-control, it is not impossible for us to meet.'

'Ladies,' said I, 'I understand not your meaning; pray explain yourselves more

'Then,' said one of them, 'we must tell you that we are all princesses, daughters of kings; we live here together, as you have seen. But at the end of every year we are obliged to be absent forty days upon indispensable duties, which we are not permitted to reveal, and afterwards we return again to this castle. Yesterday was the last day of the year, and we must leave you this day, which is the cause of our grief. Before we depart we will leave you the keys of everything, especially those belonging to the hundred doors, where you will find enough to satisfy your curiosity, and to sweeten your solitude during our absence; but for your own welfare we recommend you to forbear opening the golden door, for if you do we shall never see you again, and the fear of this increases our grief. We hope, nevertheless, that you will follow the advice we give you, as you value your own peace and the happiness of your life; therefore take heed that you do not give way to indiscreet curiosity, for you will do yourself considerable mischief. We implore you not to commit this fault, but let us have the satisfaction of finding you here again after forty days. We would willingly carry the key of the golden door away with us, but it would be an affront to a prince like you to question your discretion and modesty.'

This conversation with the fair princesses grieved me extremely. I omitted not to tell them how much their absence would trouble me. I thanked them for their good advice, and assured them that I would follow it, and willingly do what was much more difficult in order to secure the happiness of passing the rest of my days with ladies of such rare qualifications. We took leave of one another with much tenderness, and, after I had embraced them all, they departed, and I was left alone in the castle.

Their agreeable company, the good cheer, the music and other pleasures had so much occupied me during the whole year that I had neither time nor the least desire to see the wonderful things contained in this enchanted palace. I did not so much as take notice of a thousand rare objects that were every day in my sight; for I was so entranced with the charming beauty of the ladies, and took so much pleasure in seeing them, that their departure afflicted me very much, and though their absence was to last only forty days, it seemed to me an age to live without them.

I determined not to forget the important advice they had given me not to open the golden door, but as I was permitted to satisfy my curiosity in everything else, I took the first of the keys of the other doors, which were hung in good order.

I opened the first door, and came into an orchard, which, I believe, the universe could not equal. I could not imagine anything that could surpass it, but that which our religion promises us after death; the symmetry, the neatness, the admirable order of the trees, the abundance and diversity of a thousand unknown fruits, their freshness and beauty, ravished my sight.

This delicious orchard was watered in a very particular manner; there were channels artificially dug which carried water in abundance to the roots of such trees as wanted it for their leaves and flowers. Other channels carried it to those that had their fruit in bud; some carried it in lesser quantities to those whose fruits were swelling, and others only so much as was just requisite to water those which had their fruit come to perfection. They far exceeded the ordinary fruits of our gardens in size. Lastly, those channels that watered the trees whose fruit was ripe had no more moisture in them than just enough to preserve them from withering.

I could never have wearied of looking at and admiring so sweet a place; and I should never have left it, had I not formed a great idea of the other things which I had not seen. I went out at last with my mind filled with these wonders: I shut that door, and opened the next.

Instead of an orchard I found a flower-garden, which was no less extraordinary of its kind. It contained a spacious plot, not watered so profusely as the former, but with greater nicety, furnishing no more water than just what each flower required. The roses, jessamines, violets, daffodils, hyacinths, anemones, tulips, crowsfoots, pinks, lilies, and an infinite number of flowers which do not grow in other places except at certain times, were there flourishing all at once, and nothing could be more delicious than the fragrant scent of this garden.

I opened the third door, where I found a large aviary, paved with marble of several fine uncommon colours. The cage was made of sandal-wood and wood of aloes. It contained a vast number of nightingales, goldfinches, canary-birds, larks, and other rare singing-birds, which I never heard of; and the vessels that held their seed and water were of the most precious jasper or agate.

This aviary was so exceedingly neat that, considering its extent, one would think there must be not less than a hundred persons to keep it so clean; but all this while not one soul had appeared, either here or in the gardens where I had been; and yet I could not perceive a weed, or any superfluous thing there. The sun went down, and I retired, charmed with the chirping notes of the multitude of birds, who then began to perch upon such places as suited them to roost on during the night. I went to my chamber, resolving to open all the rest of the doors the days following, excepting the golden one.

I failed not to open the fourth door next day, and, if what I had seen before was capable of surprising me, that which I saw then put me into a perfect ecstacy. I went into a large court surrounded with buildings of an admirable structure, the description of which I will pass by not to be tedious.

This building had forty doors, all open, and each of them was the entrance into a treasury, which would purchase the largest kingdoms. The first contained heaps of pearls. In the second treasury there were diamonds, carbuncles, and rubies; in the third, emeralds; in the fourth, ingots of gold; in the fifth, money; in the sixth, ingots of silver; in the two following there was also money. The rest contained amethysts, chrysolites, topazes, opals, turquoises, with other stones unknown to us, without mentioning agate, jasper, carnelian and coral, of which there was a storehouse filled, not only with branches but whole trees.

Transported with amazement and admiration, I cried out to myself, after having seen all these riches, 'If all the treasures of the kings of the universe were gathered together in one place, they could not come near this: what good fortune have I to possess all this wealth, with so many admirable princesses!'

I need not recount the particulars of all the other rare and precious things I saw the following days. I shall only say that thirty-nine days afforded me but just so much time as was necessary to open ninety-nine doors, and to admire all that presented itself to my view; so that there was only the hundredth door left, the opening of which was forbidden to me.

I had come to the fortieth day after the departure of those charming princesses, and had I but retained so much power over myself as I ought to have had, I should have been this day the happiest of all mankind, whereas now I am the most unfortunate. They were to return next day, and the pleasure of seeing them again ought to have restrained my curiosity: but through my weakness, which I shall ever repent, I yielded to the temptations of the Evil Spirit, who gave me no rest till I had involved myself in the misfortunes that I have since suffered.

I opened that fatal door, which I had promised not to meddle with, and had not moved my foot to go in when a smell that was pleasant enough, but contrary to my constitution, made me faint away. Nevertheless I came to myself again, and instead of taking notice of this warning to shut the door, and forbear to satisfy my curiosity, I went in after I had stood some time in the air, to carry off the scent, which did not upset me any more. I found a large place, well vaulted; the pavement was strewed over with saffron; several candlesticks of messy gold, with lighted tapers that smelled of aloes and ambergris, lighted the place; and this light was augmented by lamps of gold and silver, that burnt with oil made of sweet-scented materials.

Among a great many objects that arrested my attention was a black horse, of the handsomest and best form that ever was seen. I went nearer, the better to observe him, and found that he had a saddle and bridle of massive gold, curiously wrought. One side of his trough was filled with clean barley and sesame, and the other with rose-water: I took him by the bridle, and led him forth to look at him by a better light. I got on his back, and tried to make him move; but as he did not stir I whipped him with a switch I had taken up in his magnificent stable, and he had no sooner felt the stroke than he began to neigh with a horrible noise, and extending his wings, which I had not seen before, he flew up with me into the air, quite out of sight. I thought of nothing then but how to sit fast; and considering the fear that had seized upon me, I sat very well. He afterwards flew down again towards the earth, and lighting upon the terrace of a castle, without giving me any time to dismount, he shook me out of the saddle with such force that he threw me backwards, and with the end of his tail knocked out my eye.

Then I began to remember the predictions of the ten young gentlemen. The horse flew out of sight. I got up very much troubled at the misfortune I had brought upon myself; I walked upon the terrace, covering my eye with one of my hands, for it pained me exceedingly, and then came down and entered into a hall, which I knew immediately by the ten sofas in a circle, and the eleventh in the middle, lower than the rest, to be in the same castle from whence I had been taken away by the roc.

The ten half-blind gentlemen were not in the hall when I came in, but came soon after with the old man. They were not at all surprised to see me again, nor at the loss of my eye; but said, 'We are sorry that we cannot congratulate you upon your return, as we could have desired: but we are not the cause of your misfortune.' 'I should be in the wrong to accuse you,' said I; 'for I have brought it upon myself, and I can charge the fault upon no other person.' 'If it is any consolation to the unfortunate,' said they, 'to have companions, this example may afford us a subject of rejoicing. All that has happened to you, we have also undergone; we tasted all sorts of pleasure, during a whole year; and we should have continued to enjoy the same happiness had we not opened the golden door when the princesses were absent. You have been no wiser than we were, and have likewise had the same punishment. We would gladly receive you among us, to perform such penance as we do, though we know not how long it may continue: but we have already declared the reasons that hinder us; therefore depart from hence and begone.'

They told me the way I was to travel, and I left them, and returned to my kingdom, where I became a hermit.

The History Of Agib [Fairy Tales From The Arabian Nights]


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