TALES OF THE CALIPH
H. N. CRELLIN
'ROMANCES OF THE OLD SERAGLIO,' 'THE NAZARENES,' ETC.
A NEW EDITION
CHATTO & WINDUS, PICCADILLY
THE CALIPH AND THE PIRATES The Arab Merchant's Story
THE CALIPH AND THE BLIND FISHERMAN The History of the Blind Fisherman and his Brother
THE CALIPH AND ABDURRAHMAN Abdurrahman's Story
THE CALIPH AND THE FIRST JAR OF OINTMENT First Adventure: The Caliph and the Emir
THE CALIPH AND THE FIRST JAR OF OINTMENT Second Adventure: The Caliph and Abou Hassan The Story of Murad Essed, the Unfortunate Merchant The Story of Abou Hassan, the Fortunate Merchant
THE CALIPH AND THE SECOND JAR OF OINTMENT The Story of Hunoman
THE CALIPH AND THE SLAVE MERCHANTS The Narrative of Sidi ibn Thalabi The Barber's Story
THE CALIPH AND SIDI IBN THALABI—THE BANQUET The Story of Mubarek, as told by Abu 'Atahiyeh
THE CALIPH AND THE MAGIC TUBE
TALES OF THE CALIPH.
That stories such as those in the "Arabian Nights," and fairy tales of every kind, should delight us all, men and women no less than boys and girls, is very natural. We find it charming to escape for a period, however brief, from all the familiar surroundings of modern life, and on opening a volume to pass at once into another region, where all is strange, and where the sceptical glances of science never intrude to banish magic and the supernatural.
Emboldened by these reflections, we may forthwith commence the narration of certain noteworthy occurrences concerning the celebrated Caliph Haroun Alraschid. He was in the habit, as every one knows, of wandering very frequently through the town after nightfall in various disguises to see for himself that justice was done, and also, it may be confessed, by no means loth to encounter such adventures as he might meet with. Many of these have been already related, but others, no whit less interesting and extraordinary, remain still untold.
Some of these adventures were very diverting and naturally pleasing, but others involved so many dangers and such hardships that it is indeed surprising that the Caliph should ever again have ventured on these nocturnal ramblings.
An adventure of the latter and more serious description happened as follows, and may be entitled:
The Caliph and the Pirates.
The Caliph, being on a tour of inspection through the various provinces of his empire, chanced on a certain occasion to be stopping at Bussora. And one evening, disguised, as was his wont, as a merchant, and, as usual, accompanied only by his faithful Grand Vizier, Giafer, he strolled through the bazaars silent and observant. Meeting with nothing worthy of arresting his particular attention, he wandered on until he came at length to some very narrow and mean lanes near the waterside. In one of these, and when passing the door of a low caravanserai, or public-house, frequented chiefly by sailors, they noticed some men approaching, who were carrying great sacks quite full, and so heavy that each sack was carried by two men, who, on reaching the door of the caravanserai, entered. The Caliph, tired with his ramble, and curious to learn what might be in the sacks, beckoned to Giafer and followed the men into the caravanserai. The interior was so dark, being lit only by a few small oil lamps, that it was at first difficult to distinguish objects clearly. However, their eyes having become accustomed to the gloom after a few minutes, the Caliph and his Vizier, who had entered quietly and unobserved, and had seated themselves on a low sofa or divan which ran round the sides of the apartment, perceived that the company were all rough, seafaring men of a very fierce and truculent aspect. Among them one was seated, who appeared by his dress and demeanour to be the chief or captain of the band. This man, addressing those who had brought in the sacks, asked them what they had there. To which they replied, "Things from Abbas Bey." At this answer the Caliph's interest increased, inasmuch as Abbas Bey was a palace official; and because many things had lately been stolen from the palace, but although many suspected persons had been punished and dismissed, yet the thefts had not been certainly traced to any one. These great sacks contained, therefore, without doubt, all kinds of valuable property from the palace, and Abbas Bey was the traitor who had delivered it to the thieves. The anger of the Caliph, who was a man prone to the fiercest bursts of passion, could scarcely be restrained. Nevertheless, he managed to preserve silence and a calm demeanour, the more especially since he desired to learn what would next be done. He had not long to wait, for, some wine having been given to the men who brought the sacks, the captain ordered them to go at once on board, as he should set sail that very night. The Caliph hearing this, whispered to Giafer that he should go out with the men as they left with the sacks, and that he should instantly proceed to the nearest guard-house and fetch a company of soldiers, with whom he should surround the house and take all within prisoners. Giafer, doing as he was bid, left the house with the men as they came out again with the sacks, and hastened to fetch the guard as the Caliph had ordered.
Unluckily, it happened that the captain of the pirates—for such they were—being more alert and observant than his men, had noticed the presence of the two strangers, and had remarked the Caliph whisper to his companion, and the departure of the latter. Instantly divining that their proceedings had been discovered, and that the man who went out had gone to betray them to the authorities, the captain whispered an order to the two or three who sat nearest to him, and immediately they rose, fell upon the Caliph, gagged and bound him; and all so suddenly and swiftly that he had no time to offer any kind of resistance. Then the captain, commanding his men to bring their prisoner in the midst of them, proceeded at once to their vessel, which lay at no great distance. The night was dark, and that band of well-armed, resolute men could not easily have been overpowered, even had there been any to attempt such a thing. But, in fact, they met no one on their short journey from the caravanserai to the waterside. In a few minutes, therefore, after the departure of the trusty Giafer, the Caliph found himself lying bound and helpless on board a ship, which at once set sail and carried him he knew not whither.
The next day one of the crew came and removed the cloth they had tied over his mouth to gag him, and brought him some food. Then the unhappy Caliph declared to the man who he was, and demanded that the captain should be brought before him. But the fellow only laughed, and going afterwards to the captain, said: "The merchant you have taken has lost his wits, and he proclaims himself to be the Commander of the Faithful, and says that we are but his slaves." The captain laughed heartily and said, "Nevertheless, he is stout and strong, and may be sold for a fair price when we come to the port we are bound for."
Leaving the Caliph to proceed on the voyage he had begun so unwillingly, we must return to the Grand Vizier, who, as soon as he found himself outside the caravanserai, had hastened to the nearest guard-house, and, calling the captain of the guard, had ordered him to assemble his men and accompany him immediately.
When he got back to the caravanserai he posted his men so that none of the inmates should escape, and then, entering with the captain and ten soldiers, was aghast to find the place empty. At once he hastened with his whole force to the waterside; but too late! Nothing could be seen of the pirate ship, which was already lost in the darkness.
Fortunately the Vizier, always a reticent and prudent man, had not mentioned the Caliph, and he now ordered the company to return to their guard-house, merely remarking that the robbers had for this time escaped him.
Returning to the palace, he was for some time lost in doubt as to the best course for him to pursue under the circumstances. That the Caliph should escape from the clutches of the desperate gang who had carried him off seemed little likely. And yet so many and such strange adventures had been experienced by them both, and they had found their way out of so many dangerous scrapes into which the Caliph's curiosity and daring had involved them, that no good fortune seemed impossible.
Moreover, he reflected that Haroun had at this time no son old enough to succeed him, while Ibrahim, his half-brother, and next heir according to Moslim usage, was the Vizier's declared enemy. His accession to the throne would therefore mean infallibly the destruction of the Vizier and his whole family.
He resolved, after much consideration, to take the boldest course as being really the safest, as indeed it frequently is.
Taking with him a small escort, he left Bussora at daybreak, and proceeded as fast as the horses would carry them to Bagdad. On his arrival he wrote immediately a note to Zobeideh, Haroun's favourite wife; told her that the Caliph, while engaged in one of his usual nocturnal rambles, had temporarily disappeared, and suggested, in the interest of herself and her son, that she should give out that, being indisposed, the Caliph had retired for a short time to one of his palaces in the provinces, and had confided the government meanwhile into the hands of his old and trusty Vizier. In this way, and with the connivance of Zobeideh, the astute Giafer managed to retain without question the government of the country during the absence of the Caliph.
To return to the Caliph. For three days the pirate ship pursued her course in fair weather, and without incident. On the fourth day she sighted a merchantman, to whom she gave chase. But the captain of the merchantman, seeing his danger, crowded on every stitch of canvas he possessed, and having a fair wind, and an uncommonly fast ship, he kept so far ahead that, the sun going down, the pirate lost sight of him, and he escaped.
This chase had carried the pirates far out of their course, and on the next day a great storm arose, and they were obliged to shorten sail and run before the wind. At length one huge wave which broke over the ship, having swept no less than eight of the crew overboard, the captain, who found himself short-handed, gave orders that the prisoner should be released, that he might do his part in the endeavour to save the ship and all their lives. The ship having sprung a leak—or, indeed, more probably several, for the water poured in upon them apace—the crew, including the Caliph himself, became exhausted with continuous pumping, and the captain, therefore, descrying a coast-line, determined to run the ship boldly ashore, in the hope that some of them at least might be saved. And in fact, although the ship when she touched the beach was stove in and broken up by the force of the waves, yet the Caliph, the captain, and three of his men were washed ashore, and lay on the beach in a very faint and exhausted condition.
Here they were found by certain natives of that region, who gave them food and drink to revive them. Then, without either binding or in any way ill-treating them, they conducted them along a broad and level road which ran inland towards the capital of the country.
In about an hour's time, being all wearied and thirsty, the sun being now very fierce, they descried with great pleasure a village at no great distance, which was very pleasantly situated at the foot of a steep hill, in the shadow of which it lay, embowered in a profusion of palms and date-trees. Here the villagers were scattered in groups, feasting and merry-making, it being a festival held in honour of some local magnate, whose daughter had that day been married. The villagers received their fellow-countrymen, as also the Caliph and the pirates, with every demonstration of good-will, bringing them fresh milk to drink, and bread, made of a mixture of rye and oats, with plenty of dates, to eat.
Here the whole party rested for some hours, but when their conductors wished again to resume their journey, the three pirates flatly refused to depart, saying that they were well off where they were, and would go no further—at least for that day. It was intimated to them that the king of that country would suffer no stranger to dwell there unless he had first seen him and granted his permission. However, all was in vain; they no longer regarded the authority of their captain, and, being three men to one, he could not compel them to obey. Leaving them, therefore, the Caliph and the captain set out again, hoping before nightfall to reach the town where the king, who had already been informed of their arrival, was expecting them.
For some distance their road lay through a pleasant and well-cultivated country, dotted at intervals by hamlets and scattered cottages, which were surrounded by groves of orange-trees or clumps of dates and palms. At length, as they advanced, the ground became broken and hilly, the road was steep, and far in the distance they saw, on a great plateau or table-land, the sparkling domes and minarets of a majestic city.
The sun was already low as they drew near to the city, and they were congratulating themselves on being able to enter the town before the darkness should be upon them, when suddenly they came to the edge of a vast and precipitous abyss, which completely severed the country they had been traversing from the heights on which the city had been built. The road they could see continued its course on the other side, but, spanning the dizzy chasm, the only bridge was the trunk of a gigantic tree, which lay stretched across it. Without hesitation or difficulty the natives of the country passed over, trusting themselves without apparent concern to walk at that tremendous height along the rough surface of the primitive bridge, which afforded so uncertain and precarious a foothold. The captain, having the nerves and nimbleness of a sailor, followed them fearlessly and safely. But for the Caliph the adventure was extremely perilous. However, seeing the others cross, with his wonted intrepidity and hardihood he ventured to follow them. But on reaching the middle of the narrow and uneven footway, and looking down into the tremendous depths below, becoming giddy he threatened to fall headlong, and only by a strong effort of the resolute will that distinguished him, and steadying himself by looking earnestly at a fixed spot in front of him, he succeeded in reaching the other side in safety.
Shortly after passing over this dangerous bridge they began to find themselves in the suburbs of the city. On either side the road there were fine houses situated in beautiful gardens, and they had not proceeded far before a guard met them, sent by Selim Sadek, the king.
Selim was very desirous to see and speak with the two brave men who unaided had crossed the tree-bridge in safety—a feat no stranger previously had succeeded in accomplishing.
When they reached the palace—which was a noble and imposing pile of buildings, situated on a steep hill, and overlooking not only the city, but extensive plains and lakes stretching away as far as the eye could see—they were shown into apartments where baths and food were prepared for them. After bathing and enjoying an excellent repast, they retired to rest, being greatly fatigued with their journey.
The Grand Chamberlain, after he had seen that the king's orders had been duly carried out, and that the strangers had been properly received and lodged, hastened to report to his master what had been done. Selim, on receiving his report, inquired what his guests were like. The Chamberlain replied, "Both of them, your Majesty, are fine, well-built men; and both are exceptionally brave, as their bearing, when they came to the bridge, amply proved; but in all other respects they are very unlike. The one is but a rough fellow, probably a sea captain, who stared about him in astonishment when he came into the halls of your palace, although they are by no means the best. We noticed, also, that he eyed the plate, although it was but silver, not only with admiration, but somewhat greedily, as though he would, if opportunity had offered, have gladly seized and gone off with it. The other stranger, on the contrary, seemed to view the magnificence of the palace with the greatest indifference, and took everything, even to the attendance of the attendants and great officers, so much as a matter of course, that I feel persuaded," said the Chamberlain, "that he must be a very great personage, perhaps even a king, in his own country."
This account of the strangers given by his Grand Chamberlain inflamed the curiosity of Selim to the highest degree, and the next morning early he seated himself on his throne in the great audience-chamber of his palace, and commanded that the two strangers should be brought before him.
When they were come he inquired who they were, and where they were going when they encountered the storm that had wrecked their vessel. To this the Caliph, who in the new robes that had been supplied them looked a man of great dignity and good breeding, replied by announcing that he was the Caliph Haroun Alraschid, and relating all that had occurred from the time he entered the caravanserai at Bussora until the time when the pirate ship was wrecked.
When King Selim heard that the man before him was the renowned Caliph Haroun Alraschid, whose fame had spread throughout all the world, he, being a good Moslim, came down off his high throne, and, making obeisance to the Commander of the Faithful—"Sire," said he, "a happy day is this for your servant that he should be privileged to see your face or to do aught for your illustrious Majesty. And first, say by what death does it please you that this vile pirate and traitor shall die?"
The captain, who from conversations he had held with the Caliph during their journey since the wreck had become convinced of the true position and rank of his captive, stood silent with bowed head awaiting his sentence.
King Selim having led Haroun Alraschid up the steps of the throne and seated him upon it, would himself have stood upon the steps, but the Caliph bade him come up and be seated by his side.
Then, looking towards the captain of the pirates, who had already been seized by the king's officers, he said, "Although this man has committed that which is very worthy of death, yet because God, the most Merciful, has spared him in the tempest and the wreck, I also will spare him this once; therefore give him a hundred pieces of gold that he may not be tempted by poverty further to do wrong, and let him go."
When this magnanimous sentence had been pronounced, the pirate captain laid his hand upon his beard and, bowing his head, said to the Caliph, "O Commander of the Faithful, and you, King Selim, if from this time forth I rob any more, I shall deserve mercy from neither God nor man."
Then said King Selim: "Since the Commander of the Faithful has pardoned thee, and that thou mayest not further be tempted, I enrol thee, as thou art a brave man, among the officers of my guard."
Therefore they invested him with the robes of his office and gave him a hundred pieces of gold as the Caliph had commanded, and thenceforth he became one of the bravest and most trustworthy officers of King Selim.
On the next day the Caliph inquired of the king respecting the three men who had remained behind at the village festival. But Selim informed him that they had a law in that country prohibiting any stranger from dwelling with the people of the land until the king had granted his permission. Therefore, when the men had been found by the officials of government living at that village without having first obtained leave and authority so to do, they would be led immediately to execution.
"Then," said the Caliph, "by this wholesome law your people are protected from the evil influence of villains, and in this case we are rid of three men who were not only thieves and pirates, but lazy, worthless, and mutinous fellows, who refused to obey and follow even their own captain. The action of your law has but forestalled what would have been my own sentence upon them."
The Caliph remained a whole month with King Selim, accompanying him on grand hunting expeditions, and being entertained with all the magnificent and varied pleasures the royal court could devise.
At the end of that period he had intended to have set out on his return to Bagdad. But just at that moment a messenger arrived from a neighbouring king with a very insolent message for Selim and a declaration of war. This king, whose name was Gorkol, had asked the daughter of Selim in marriage for his son. But King Selim, being a good Moslim, had refused to give his daughter in marriage to the son of a heathen, and one, moreover, who was reported to be proficient in the vilest arts of magic. Hence the declaration of war. The Caliph, being naturally of a very fierce and hasty temper, resented hotly this insult to his host. He therefore announced his intention to accompany the latter, who gathered together an army to chastise the insolent heathen.
The military display as the Caliph and the king left the capital was most imposing. The army consisted of twenty thousand men, half of whom were infantry and half cavalry. There were also elephants and camels with stores, and a great multitude of camp-followers.
For five days they marched through Selim's dominions, and on the sixth day entered the territory of King Gorkol. The frontier was marked by a range of hills, and the passage of so large a force over these was a toilsome and tedious operation. The Caliph and king had each a large tent for his own use, and a small army of officers and attendants to wait on him.
On the night of the seventh day, after a very exhausting march over difficult ground, the army encamped in a spacious valley into which they had descended just as night was approaching.
Whether the enemy managed to get at them unobserved, being stealthy and knowing every feature of the country, or whether the sentinels, being weary, slept at their post, is uncertain, but suddenly before daybreak the great army was awakened by shouts and blows to find the foe was upon them. In the darkness and the excitement of the moment all was confusion. Different parties of the royal troops starting hurriedly to arms, wildly attacked each other. The strife being furious and hand-to-hand was terrific and deadly; and when daylight appeared the enemy, pressing boldly forward to the centre of the camp, overcame all the resistance of which the thinned and disorganized army was capable, and captured both the king and the Caliph.
The two princes were carried with every mark of indignity into the presence of the heathen monarch, who, insulting them with references to their defeat, demanded of them that they should abandon the Moslem faith and worship the idols of the gods of his people, who had, he said, given his troops the victory.
But the Caliph answered that although Allah, whose name be praised, had permitted them to be worsted in the confusion of a night attack, yet they still trusted in him, and they would never vary in the least degree from the glorious words of the Prophet: "Allah is God, and there is no God but Allah."
Hearing this, King Gorkol ordered them to be confined separately in two dungeons of his castle, there to remain until a great festival of the gods which was approaching should arrive, when he would sacrifice them both to the gods whom they had dared to despise. Locked in the gloomy vaults, and seeing no one but the jailer who once a day brought them the scanty and hard fare necessary to keep them alive till the day of vengeance should come, their position seemed altogether desperate and their fate assured.
But in the case of King Selim he had, unknown to his captors and concealed in the folds of his turban, a ruby of great size and of immense value. With this he hoped to be able to bribe his jailer and effect his escape. And in fact so well did he manage that before a week was passed he was travelling homewards in the disguise of a merchant, accompanied by the jailer, who dared not remain in his own country in possession of the ruby because, according to the custom prevailing in that kingdom, all precious stones must be surrendered to the king under penalty of death by torture. He therefore fled with Selim, disguised as his slave.
The king had made great efforts to induce the jailer to effect the release of the Caliph at the same time as himself, but as Haroun Alraschid was in charge of another jailer, it could not be managed. Selim was obliged therefore, to his great grief, to leave the Caliph to his fate; but he hurried back to his own dominions with the utmost speed, determined to at once return with another army to avenge the death of the Caliph, whose life he could not hope to arrive in time to save.
The Caliph, having about him neither jewels nor money, had no means of propitiating his jailer or abating the rigour and severity of the treatment to which he was subjected. Once a day only, early in the morning, the jailer appeared, and, without opening the great heavy door of the dungeon, he opened one panel only, and through that opening handed to his prisoner the two small loaves, or rather, flat cakes, and the flask of water which must supply his wants till the following morning.
Five days had thus passed, and there seemed no possibility of the Caliph escaping the painful and humiliating death to which he was destined by the heathen king. The festival to be held in honour of the gods of the country was approaching, and two days hence the people, who were already becoming greatly excited, both by religious fury and also by drinking great quantities of a strong and fiery spirit which they distilled, were to be gratified by the sight of the sacrifice by horrible tortures of their unfortunate prisoners.
Just before daybreak on the sixth day, the same morning on which Selim and his jailer were effecting their escape, the Caliph awoke, and thoughts of the frightful situation in which he found himself prevented him from again falling asleep. In great distress of mind he prayed earnestly to God that strength might be given him to enable him to sustain with firmness and fortitude the pains he might be called upon to endure. After which prayer he felt calmer and more composed. Presently, being very hungry, he tried in the dim light to find a small piece of bread which he had not yet eaten. He had placed it on a narrow ledge near to the place where he slept, but in the darkness he pushed it with his hand before he had grasped it, and it fell upon the floor. Groping about to find it, his hand came suddenly upon something which felt soft and cool—an object apparently about the size and shape of a hen's egg, yet not hard like an egg-shell, but elastic and yielding readily to the pressure of the fingers. What it was the sense of touch did not enable him to guess, and as yet the light was insufficient to permit him to distinguish anything clearly. And, marvellous to relate, as the light increased, although all the objects around him became visible, yet this something which he had felt, and which he still felt to be grasped in his hand, was nevertheless not to be seen. This circumstance surprised the Caliph very much, and he sat cross-legged on the straw which had been placed in the corner of the dungeon for him to sleep on, just as he had been used to do on the splendid divan in his palace, still grasping the unknown object in his hand, and yet still unable to see what it was. After he had sat thus for some time cogitating what this might mean, the hour came round when the jailer should come and bring him his food for the day.
Now it so happened that the Caliph's jailer when bringing his food had to pass the dungeon in which Selim had been confined. This morning as he passed he was amazed to observe that the door was unfastened, and, looking in, he perceived that the vault was empty. Fearful that his prisoner might likewise have effected his escape, he hurriedly set down the food and ran on to the dungeon containing the Caliph.
The latter was surprised to hear his jailer running rapidly along the passage, and still more surprised when the man, after looking through the panel, withdrew the huge bolts and, opening the door, came into the great gloomy vault, looking excitedly about him. Then after a few moments, apparently bewildered and terror-struck, he turned about, went out, closed the door behind him, and, without waiting to replace the bolts, walked quickly along the passage and disappeared.
The Caliph, although unable to guess to what he owed his good fortune, did not neglect to avail himself of it. Pushing open the door, and stopping to close it and bolt it behind him, he walked down the corridor without knowing where and to what it might lead him. This passage or corridor seemed at first sight to terminate with a dead wall at the end of it. But, proceeding further along it, he presently perceived a side-passage turning out of it at right angles, and this smaller passage, which was short, terminated in a flight of steps leading evidently into the castle-yard. The door at the top of the steps was partly open, and when he reached it the Caliph could hear and catch glimpses of a group of soldiers standing and chatting together not far from the doorway. He stood for some moments uncertain what he should do. If he opened the door and went out, doubtless he would immediately be seized; on the other hand, to stay where he was meant no less certain destruction, as at any moment some one might enter and find him there. He had just determined to step out boldly and risk detection, in the hope that in the bustle of the castle-yard his exit might pass unnoticed, when a gust of wind blew the door wide open, and he stood face to face, not ten paces distant, with that group of soldiers he had heard conversing.
For a moment he stood horror-struck, expecting to see them rush forward and secure him. To his extreme surprise, none of them, not even those facing him, took the slightest notice of his presence. They appeared not even to see him, but perhaps they took him for one of the innumerable retainers of the Court; at any rate, the Caliph, plucking up courage, stepped out and walked quietly away.
As he was crossing the courtyard, a great mounted warrior on a powerful black steed came pounding along, and would apparently have ridden right over the Caliph just as though he was unaware of his existence, but Haroun drew quickly aside, and the horse shied, thereby drawing upon itself many hard blows from the fierce and haughty rider.
Passing out of the castle-gates, and turning eastward, as he judged, by the position of the sun, the Caliph proceeded in the direction which would enable him, he hoped, in due time, to reach his own country. He had not gone far when he met a rough country fellow who carried a long piece of wood on his shoulder, and Haroun would have been struck full in the face with it had he not stepped quickly on one side to avoid it. But the man, although he passed close by him, neither looked at nor spoke to him, and seemed altogether unconscious of his presence.
It now first dawned upon the Caliph that the strange and invisible substance which he had picked up in the dungeon, and which he still carried in his hand, possessed indeed the marvellous property of rendering him entirely invisible to other men. This accounted for the remarkable panic of his jailer, who, when he looked into, and even entered his dungeon, failed to see him; it explained why the soldiers had permitted him to leave the building unmolested, why the horseman had nearly ridden over him, and why the clown who had just passed had, without knowing it, nearly brained him with his load.
Much comforted and strengthened by the discovery of this wonderful exemption from observation which he now enjoyed, he walked on briskly, till the sun, being now high in the heavens, and the heat very great, he came to a village, and entering boldly an inn there, and passing through into an empty apartment, he lay down upon a not very soft divan he found in it, and straightway fell asleep.
The Caliph being tired with the walk and the excitement of the morning, slept so long and soundly that it was night and quite dark when he awoke. And being even then but half awake he did not realize that he was no longer in the castle-dungeon; therefore, perceiving that it was not yet light, he turned over and went to sleep again. In a few hours' time, in the midst of a dream that he was in his own palace at Bagdad and presiding at some great feast, he awoke once more, saw that it was beginning to be light, remembered where he was, and found himself exceedingly hungry. Going, therefore, very quietly into the next apartment, he found the innkeeper lying there soundly asleep, and on the table the remains of a substantial supper. At once seating himself, the Caliph was not long in finishing the repast and assuaging the pangs of hunger.
Having all his life been used to eat and drink whatever he required, without any thought of payment, it is very likely that he might have eaten his meal and departed without the least concern or thought of the fact that he possessed at that moment nothing to pay for it. However, it so fell out that he was enabled to recompense his involuntary host very handsomely. For after he had finished eating, and before he rose from his seat, he heard a slight rustling sound outside the room, as though some one were stealthily approaching.
Now the Caliph, before lying down to rest on the previous afternoon, had taken the precaution to bestow the mysterious and wonderful charm he had picked up, in a place of safety. He had put it inside his turban, in such a way that he could feel it pressing like a soft elastic pad upon his forehead. And therefore, in virtue of his contact with that charm, he was still invisible to every other human being.
Such being the case, the thief peering into the room saw no one but the keeper of the inn, who was sleeping very soundly. Entering, therefore, with noiseless tread, his feet being bare, he approached the sleeper, and extracted very dexterously a small packet of coin which he carried secreted in his girdle. With this packet the thief glided from the room, and stopping outside but a single instant to place it inside the folds of his own turban, he walked briskly away.
The Caliph followed him closely. About a hundred yards from the door of the inn there flowed a small stream or brook, across which the only bridge was a couple of planks. Just as they arrived at this point the Caliph took off the fellow's turban, and, with a push from behind, threw him into the water. The stream was neither deep nor swift, and the thief soon picked himself up, scrambled to the other side, and then, without once looking back, took to his heels, being fully persuaded that it was the man he had just robbed who had pursued and overtaken him. The Caliph, after taking the parcel of coin out of the turban, which he then threw away, walked quietly back towards the inn, without deigning to bestow another thought on the thief whom he had thrown into the water.
Before he reached the door of the inn, he saw the innkeeper, who had awoke and discovered his loss, rush out of the house wild and bareheaded, his turban having tumbled or been knocked off in his excitement. Running past the invisible Caliph, and loudly cursing all villains and robbers, and especially that one who had just taken his money, he caught sight of the thief himself, scrambling up, dripping wet, on to the opposite bank of the stream, and, with much vociferation, he continued in hot pursuit. The noise he made brought out, of course, all those who had been passing the night at the inn, and very naturally they all commenced at once to follow the pursuer and pursued.
The Caliph then quietly entered the deserted house, and placing the packet of money carefully in the innkeeper's turban, where he would be sure to find it on his return from the chase, he left, and taking another road, and one leading, as far as he could judge, in the direction of his own dominions, he continued his journey.
He walked along for some hours without meeting any one except a few peasants, or encountering any noteworthy incident whatsoever.
At length he became tired with his long march, and the heat of the noontide sun became so oppressive, that, espying a thick clump of trees at a short distance from the road, he gladly made his way to that pleasant shelter, lay down on a grassy bank, with a log for his pillow, and composed himself to rest and sleep.
On waking, after two or three hours of very sound and refreshing sleep, he found that owing to some change in his position his turban had fallen off. This, in itself not very serious or remarkable accident, gave him on the present occasion much apprehension and concern. For in his turban he had placed, as has been mentioned, the invisible object, whatever it might be, which had in some inexplicable manner conferred upon him also, while he was in contact with it, the condition of invisibility.
He took up the turban most carefully, he felt in it, he put it on, but nowhere could he encounter the soft, cool sensation with which he had become familiar. He groped laboriously all round the spot where he had been lying, but in vain. Whether the object had rolled away, or whether it had been carried to a distance by the breeze, or possibly had even been dissipated altogether, he could not determine. One thing only was clear and beyond conjecture—the charm was lost for ever.
Coming at last most unwillingly to that conclusion, he sat down cross-legged upon the grass as on a divan, resting his elbow upon the log which had served him for a pillow, and began to consider how he should manage to make his way back to his own dominions through that land of idolaters. He had no idea of the distance to be traversed, but he reflected that, having no longer the aid and protection of being invisible, and being possessed of no money, his difficulties must necessarily be great. Moreover, he was not without considerable anxiety as to what might have occurred at Bagdad while he had been absent. Giafer, indeed, to whom all the details of the government of the country had practically been confided for many years, he could thoroughly trust. But Ibrahim, who would probably have succeeded to the Caliphate, was known to hate the Grand Vizier, and would not only put him to death, but might also, not improbably, have taken measures to rid himself of Zobeideh and her son. Oppressed by these gloomy thoughts the Caliph sat for a long time without moving.
At length, hearing the tramp of horses in the distance, he looked up, and was overjoyed to behold two men coming along the road, whom he at once knew by their dress to be Arab merchants. Each was on horseback, and they had with them, besides several other horses, some mules and asses laden with packages. And there was also a kind of closed carriage or palanquin, borne by some slaves, in which no doubt was conveyed a lady or female slave of great value.
Now, when the Caliph saw these men approaching, he rose up quickly and went to meet them. When he drew near, he saluted them and inquired whither they went.
To which they replied: "To Bagdad." And they inquired of him how it came to pass that he should be on foot and alone in that pagan kingdom, seeing it was evident by his dress that he was a Moslim.
Now, the Caliph had already learnt by experience that to proclaim his true rank would be only to court a suspicion of madness, therefore he replied briefly, that he too was from Bagdad and was returning thither, but that unhappily he had been taken prisoner by the idolaters, and robbed of all that he had, except only the clothes upon his back. He begged them, therefore, to lend him a horse and to take him with them to Bagdad, in which city he had plenty both of friends and funds, and where he would reward them handsomely for their kindness.
To this they answered that since he was in distress he was very welcome to come with them, and that without any claim on their part for fee or reward, the more especially as they would be glad, while travelling through that wild and lawless country, to have another strong man of their party. With that they lent him a horse, and he, nothing loth, but glad enough to get his feet off the ground and his face turned towards home, rode cheerfully along with them.
The Caliph soon discovered that the two merchants were very intelligent men and agreeable fellow-travellers. The name of the one was Abdallah, and of the other Ahmed.
After the Caliph had been some time in their company, and their conversation had become more intimate and familiar, he ventured to inquire how they had fared on their present expedition, and in what sort of merchandize they had embarked their fortune.
"You must know," said Abdallah, who was always the chief speaker, "that both Ahmed and myself are well acquainted with several of the officers in the Palace of the Commander of the Faithful, whom Allah exalt, and also of some in the Palace of Zobeideh, his favourite wife. We always endeavour therefore, when trading in foreign countries, to buy such things as will sell well at court. The prices we get for our goods are in that way very satisfactory, although the profit we actually make is less than you might suppose, because all those officials who gain us an introduction to the palaces must have rich presents and high fees to recompense them for their trouble."
"And the Caliph, what sort of a man is he?" asked Haroun.
"He is," answered Abdallah, "a just man, and very brave, but fierce, hot-tempered, and hasty. And as he is very apt to lose his temper, those who have to do with him are very liable to lose their heads."
"But sometimes he is no doubt very much provoked," said Haroun.
"Nay," said Abdallah, "when he is in an ill-humour, he would order your head to be struck off as readily as he would order his dinner."
"I can scarcely believe that," answered Haroun. "Did you not say that he loves justice?"
"Undoubtedly," answered Abdallah, "he is anxious to have a just administration of the laws, and I have been told that in order to see for himself what goes on, he frequently walks through the city disguised as a merchant."
"And that," said Ahmed, "I consider to be by no means commendable."
"On what account?" demanded Haroun.
"Because," said Ahmed, "if on one of those excursions any accident should happen to the Commander of the Faithful, the State would lose more than ever it gained from all his rambles and inquiries."
Haroun could not but admit to himself the justice of this observation, and yet he was by no means pleased with it, as one never is with any reflection on our own conduct. Therefore, when Abdallah said, that for his part he thought the Caliph did quite right in determining to see things with his own eyes, and that a man ought not to weigh too scrupulously the dangers which might lie in the way of doing his duty, Haroun could have embraced him in the fulness of his satisfaction.
"But," said Haroun, to turn the conversation, "you have not yet told me what good or ill-fortune you have met with on this expedition, nor what ventures you are bringing back with you to Bagdad."
As Haroun said this, his eye rested upon the palanquin which was being carried by the slaves, and Abdallah, noticing his glance, and guessing that he was curious to learn something of the occupant, began as follows:
THE ARAB MERCHANT'S STORY.
"Before setting out on the expedition from which we are now returning, Ahmed and I consulted long as to the countries we should visit, and what sort of goods it would be most profitable to bring back with us. We at length agreed to journey through Egypt into the central parts of Africa, and bring from thence some of those large and rare specimens of precious stones of which we had often heard. And we did not doubt if we could secure some of these that we should be able to dispose of them to such advantage at the Court of the Caliph as at one stroke to make our fortune.
"Having agreed upon this plan we purchased and took with us such articles of merchandize as we judged would sell to the best advantage in Egypt. In fact, on arriving at Cairo, we remained some time doing a very profitable trade.
"At length, when the proper time of year came round for commencing our journey into the interior, we provided ourselves with the articles most likely to find favour with the natives, and after two months, during which we travelled very slowly, and suffered many hardships, we reached the country of a great nation or tribe of Ethiopians, at whose chief town, Daarkol, we halted awhile, and did some trade by barter, but not much, the people possessing few things of any value to us except small quantities of gold dust.
"What we sought of them most eagerly was information concerning that tribe of whom we had heard, in whose country were found the diamonds, rubies, sapphires, and other precious stones, to obtain which was the object of our journey.
"That tribe lived, it appeared, still several hundreds of miles further up the country, but what annoyed us much more was the information that they would exchange their precious stones for nothing else than ivory, of the exact value of which they were very well acquainted.
"This altogether extinguished the hope with which we had started of making our fortunes by importing to Bagdad splendid specimens of various precious stones. For when we considered the vast expense of procuring large quantities of tusks, the difficulty of getting slaves to carry them up the country, and of feeding those slaves on so long a journey, together with the danger of being robbed of such cumbersome and valuable property by some of the many wild tribes through whose territories we must pass, we were fain to conclude that we must needs abandon that part of our enterprise.
"As we were one day sitting in a very gloomy mood discussing this matter, an African merchant with whom we had become acquainted, and who happened to be passing, saluted us; and we, having invited him to be seated with us, 'What,' he asked, 'is that which you cannot do? for as I came up I heard you pronounce these words: "No, it is not possible to do it."'
"With that I explained to him, without mentioning particularly the country of the precious stones, that Ahmed and myself had intended to proceed still further into the interior to trade with the people, but many of them, as we were now informed, exchanged only against ivory. And it appeared to us impossible to do any profitable trade if we must convey such a heavy and valuable commodity as ivory over long distances.
"The African merchant, when he heard this, smiled, and asked, 'What would you give now to anyone who should get you out of this difficulty?'
"I answered that, as it was a difficulty which we had often discussed, but could see no way out of, and as it threatened to make our journey into Africa comparatively unprofitable, we should be very willing to give any man who could render us effectual assistance a hundred pieces of gold for his trouble.
"'No,' said he, 'you offer too little. I can myself most effectually aid you, but I must have five hundred pieces of gold.'
"We protested that we could not give so much, that we had it not, that it would ruin us; in short, all the pleas that merchants, as you knew, advance when they are chaffering with each other. But after several days, seeing that the African merchant stood quite firm and would abate nothing from his price, we agreed to give him the five hundred pieces of gold for the secret he was to discover to us, namely, of how we should provide ourselves with ivory for trading with the tribes, no matter how far up the country they might be situated.
"We having on our part produced five bags containing one hundred gold pieces in each, which we counted out to him, he produced and gave to us in return five small jars, each containing about two quarts of a seed about twice as large as a bean.
"'Take these,' said he, 'with you; they are small and not heavy to carry. And when you are come near to the country of that people with whom you wish to trade, select a piece of land about two or three acres in extent, and plant these seeds singly and about ten feet apart. In about a month great tubers will be observed swelling out of the ground which by the end of the second month will have increased to hemispheres four or five feet in diameter. From each of these bulbs or tubers as a base great projections will be thrown out, which in five or six weeks will attain the size and appearance exactly of huge tusks of the finest ivory. Cutting these, and stacking them for a short time to dry, you will then be provided with what appears to be a splendid lot of tusks not far from the place where you require them. And should you experience any difficulty in transporting them, you may apply for labourers from the tribe you are about to visit, on the plea that your carriers who have brought them so far have deserted and gone back.'
"Perceiving now that our African merchant was a proficient in all the magical arts of his country, we wished to decline his aid, and have nothing further to do with him; but he flatly refused to restore our money, and left us not without uttering some threats of vengeance upon us.
"As we had bought the seeds at so high a price, we carried them with us, without, however, intending to make use of them; for we thought that as true believers we ought to shun every product of the accursed magic of Africa.
"But after some time had elapsed, and when at the end of a long and difficult journey we approached at last the borders of that country where the people dwelt who possessed the precious stones, we halted, and determined at least to plant those seeds, and ascertain whether they would indeed grow in the wonderful way the African merchant had told us.
"Selecting, therefore, a suitable piece of ground, we planted the seeds, setting each singly about ten feet apart every way. And the ground being damp and marshy, we soon perceived the bulbs showing above ground, and they grew apace, so that in three or four weeks after their first appearance they became great semi-spherical projections, like huge round balls half embedded in the earth. Or they might be compared to very gigantic onions; and about the end of six or seven weeks after the seed was sown we had our ground covered with regular rows of them; and then from the centre of each bulb a slight projection like the tip of a small horn might be observed to rise. These grew and increased very rapidly, so that within a few weeks they had attained the imposing proportions of immense tusks.
"Cutting them and stacking them to dry, by placing ten or a dozen of them together like sheaves of corn, we found that upon the most careful inspection they did not in any respect differ in appearance from tusks of the finest ivory; while their great size and symmetry of form could seldom be equalled by what may be termed elephant ivory.
"It now became a question whether we should use them for the purpose of barter to obtain the precious stones. Our first sentiment, as I have said, was that we, as good Moslems, would have nothing to do with the productions of the infernal magic of the African. But our interest and the desire to accomplish the object of our journey by getting the precious stones finally prevailed. We argued that as we had fairly bought the seed, and had planted and prepared the vegetable tusks by our own exertions, therefore we were fairly entitled to make use of them, and we decided to continue our journey to Behar, the country inhabited by the tribe which possessed the precious stones.
"When we arrived there we were conducted before Amavaroo, the king of Behar, to whom we presented ourselves as ivory merchants who had visited his country desiring to exchange ivory for precious stones. The king readily gave us permission to barter with his people, the more especially because we had brought with us as a present for himself two or three of the tusks, than which he had never beheld any finer. He was lost in admiration and delighted to obtain such splendid specimens; and he inquired eagerly where we had left our stock.
"Acting on the suggestion made to us by the African merchant, we said that it lay about three days' journey behind us. That we had left it there because our carriers who had brought it so far had deserted; and we prayed him, therefore, to supply us with carriers to bring it into his kingdom.
"The trouble always experienced by merchants trading in those regions in obtaining, and especially in retaining carriers, was so well known that the king was by no means surprised at our predicament, but ordered a sufficient number of his people to accompany us and transport our ivory.
"The most common mode of carriage with these people is to place the load upon the head and, balancing it there, to walk away merrily under their burthen. And it is surprising how heavy a load they will thus carry. But they could not manage to take our tusks in that fashion. They carried them on their shoulders, four men to a tusk, three near to the thick or butt end, and one near the point. In this way we brought all our ivory to Behar, and the tusks were so perfect and exceptional in size that we could obtain almost any equivalent we pleased for them. And in fact of such marvellous size and beauty were most of the gems that we got in exchange that our fortune on our return to Bagdad threatened to be fabulous, and it seemed evident that it would be necessary for us to wander over the whole world to the capital of every great king in order to find purchasers of such superb and unique specimens.
"As we had presented many of the tusks to the king and his principal chiefs we had become exceedingly popular—the happy possessors of our ivory being, no less satisfied with their bargains than we felt with ours. So that when at the end of two months we wished to depart, having bartered or given away all our stock, they would not let us go, but insisted that we should prolong our stay for another month, during which they feasted and entertained us to the best of their ability.
"Now there was one circumstance concerning our vegetable ivory of which we were ignorant, viz., that just as it was produced quickly, so it decayed quickly. Three months had sufficed to raise it from the seed, and within three months from the time that they came to maturity, the apparent tusks begin to perish. Black spots and patches appear all over the surface, and in the course of a few weeks the entire tusk rots away and is destroyed.
"It thus happened that one morning, towards the end of our three months' sojourn at Behar, the chiefs who came as usual to our house or hut to greet us, wore no longer the pleasant and friendly aspect they were wont to do, but looked surly and fierce. And immediately seizing and binding us, they carried us before King Amavaroo, who, seated on the leopard's skin which served him for a throne, was looking as gloomy and morose as his followers.
"Then men came with the tusks they had received from us, one man following another with his purchases, and in every tusk the black spots and patches of decay were beginning to appear. To complete our ruin, when those tusks which we had presented to Amavaroo were brought into his presence, they each and all were found to be in a similar condition. Both the king and his people were very naturally furious. They took from us and out of our house all the jewels we had obtained, and gave them back to those who had exchanged them for the worthless ivory, and then, after holding a very stormy council, they conducted us with every kind of insult out of their town into the plains beyond. There, having stripped us naked, they beat us with branches of nettles and branches of prickly holly, and finally, tying our hands and feet together, they left us to be scorched by the sun during the day, and to be devoured by the wild beasts that prowled about at night. Here we lay all day in a most pitiable plight, and there undoubtedly we should have perished, had it not been for the gratitude and kindness of a slave whom, during our stay at Behar, we had many times befriended and protected, as far as lay in our power, against the tyranny of a very cruel bully, who was his master. This poor fellow stole away at sundown, came to us, freed us from our bonds, brought us some of our own clothes which he had managed to get hold of, and, going with us, became our guide on the slow and painful course of our journey northward. He brought us also a small packet of very handsome stones, which had been dropped by some one during the exciting events of the morning, and which he had seen and picked up on his way to us.
"This seemed at the time a perfect godsend. There were not many stones—about a dozen—and they not nearly so large as many of those we had received in exchange for our ivory. At the same time they were of the utmost value to us now, as we should be able to dispose of them at the first place where we might meet with Arab merchants, and we should thus provide ourselves at least with such things as were absolutely necessary for our return journey to Bagdad.
"Meanwhile, our progress was slow and our subsistence precarious, consisting chiefly of such roots, fruits, and insects, as we were able to discover. In this matter of catering the slave was much more proficient than we, and proved an invaluable aid to us.
"After many weeks of hardship and danger, we arrived at last in the neighbourhood of Daarkol, the town in which we had met the African merchant, from whom we had bought those accursed seeds. As the sun was intensely hot, and a couple of hours' walking would now bring us into the town, where we could sell some of the precious stones and relieve our most urgent necessities, we threw ourselves down under the shelter of a clump of trees and were soon fast asleep.
"It appears, although we had then no suspicion of such a thing, that the African merchant, who was a complete villain, had been diligently watching for our return. He had designed to surprise and overpower us, and take from us the precious stones we should have obtained for his fraudulent ivory, he getting thus at a stroke the fruits of the expedition without undergoing the fatigues, difficulties, and dangers it necessarily involved.
"Being informed, therefore, by one of his spies of our arrival, he stole upon us very quietly while we slept, and bringing with him a party of his slaves, he quickly overpowered us, and binding us hand and foot, he robbed us of the jewels we had, and that not without horrid imprecations because there were so few. After which he immediately departed, leaving us lying under the trees bound and helpless.
"Here we remained for more than two hours. At length, as the day wore on, and it became cooler, we perceived a party of merchants, with whom we had been very well acquainted when we were at Daarkol before, passing along the road which was distant about two or three hundred yards from the clump of trees where we lay. We shouted as loud as we could, and they, hearing the shouting, came presently towards us. They were truly surprised and concerned to find Ahmed and myself, whom they had known formerly as respectable and well-to-do merchants, lying bound, dirty, and ragged upon the ground. They freed us, and we told them of the villainy of the African merchant, and related to them all that had befallen us, from the time he sold us the seeds, until the assault he had made upon us and the robbery he had committed that afternoon. They advised us to lay our case before Lootzee, the king of that country, who lived in the town of Daarkol; although, as regards the African merchant, who was well known as a bad character, he would no doubt by this time have taken refuge in flight.
"This advice was good; but for men so completely destitute, as we now were, to obtain an audience of the king was no easy matter. Like most monarchs, he was surrounded by courtiers and state officials, who must be bribed with considerable presents before they would exert themselves on behalf of any suitor or complainant, no matter how real his grievance, or how urgent his case might be. It is quite possible, therefore, that we might have failed to obtain an audience, had it not happened, fortunately for us, that King Lootzee was attacked just at this time by a severe form of fever to which the natives of that part of Ethiopia are peculiarly liable. Hearing of the king's illness, and knowing of a certain herb which was a sovereign remedy in that disease, we procured some of the herb and prepared an infusion of it. We then borrowed of some merchants of our acquaintance such sums as they would lend us, and sending this as a present to the Vizier or chief officer of Lootzee, we asked audience of the king that we might present to him a medicine of great efficiency in his complaint. The Vizier submitting our petition to Lootzee, he gave orders to admit the merchant from Bagdad, and in short, after taking sundry doses of the medicine, the fever left him, and he was restored to his usual health.
"This cure so much delighted him, that he made us a present of the horses, mules, and all those things which you see we have with us, and in addition he gave us a sum of money that we might be enabled to purchase something to take back to Bagdad, so that we might not, after all our toil and risk, return altogether empty-handed.
"For a long time we doubted and debated what we should buy. But hearing one day that there was in the town a Circassian woman slave of surpassing beauty, who had been captured by some marauders from a caravan while on her way to Bagdad, we determined to purchase that slave in the hope of selling her for a great price to Haroun Alraschid, the Caliph, to whom may Allah be merciful, and for whom she was destined by those merchants who had been robbed of her."
Now when Haroun Alraschid had heard the story of Abdallah, the Arab merchant, and had learned that the occupant of the carriage or litter borne by the slaves was so lovely a creature, and, moreover, was a slave intended for himself, he would fain have seen her. In his character as a merchant he offered to buy her, and bid the great price of five thousand pieces of gold, to be paid immediately they should arrive in Bagdad. But Abdallah was resolute, and inflexible in his refusal to part with her, or let her be seen, saying that no man either had nor yet should see the face of the slave, until she should be presented in good time to the Caliph himself.
Haroun was sorely tempted to declare himself to be the Caliph, and to insist on seeing the beautiful captive, but reflecting both that it would be difficult to convince Abdallah of his rank at that time, and also being unwilling to lose the pleasure he anticipated in observing the merchant's astonishment, when he should discover his fellow-traveller to have been the Caliph, Haroun controlled his natural impatience, and that all the more readily because they were near their journey's end.
Leaving Abdallah and Ahmed with the Caliph in their company to continue their journey, we must return to Bagdad, and to the course of affairs in that city since the Caliph's disappearance.
Giafer, who had so long, as Grand Vizier, had the administration of the Empire in his hands, managed for the first month or six weeks to conduct the affairs of State as usual and with unquestioned authority.
But as week after week passed without tidings from the absent Caliph, not only did both Giafer and Zobeideh lose hope of his return, but ominous rumours began to circulate secretly among the Court and the people, regarding the cause of the Caliph's absence. As a matter of course, Ibrahim, the next heir according to Moslem usage, was especially active both in prosecuting inquiries as to the probable fate of Haroun, and also in concerting measures to effect his own accession to the throne.
Three months had elapsed since the disappearance of the Caliph, when one morning at the Grand Vizier's usual state reception of the Ulema and Emirs of the Empire, Ibrahim, addressing Giafer, said, "Grand Vizier, three months have now passed since we have had among us the glorious and august presence of the Commander of the Faithful; tell us, therefore, where he is, and why he no longer appears to give audience and render justice to his people?"
At this speech Giafer felt that his hour was come, for he knew that the prince would not have uttered those words until he had taken measures to seize upon the throne.
Therefore he answered, "I cannot tell where the Commander of the Faithful may be at this moment, but may all his subjects remain loyal to him, and Allah be his shield and preserver, wherever he be!"
Then said Ibrahim, "O Giafer, the blood of your master is upon your hands, where have you hidden him?" Turning to the guards, who entered as he clapped his hands, he ordered them to secure the Grand Vizier, and continued: "If you do not before this time to-morrow bring back Haroun Alraschid into this hall, I shall know what to think, and as surely as I am Caliph you shall die."
So saying the prince seated himself upon the royal divan, and forthwith appointed Hafiz, a favourite of his own, to be Grand Vizier. He next ordered the new Grand Vizier to put Zobeideh, Haroun's favourite wife, and Prince Emin, her son, in prison, and declared that on the morrow, when he judged Giafer, he would also pronounce sentence on the others.
That night the new Caliph spent in feasting and revelry, but Giafer, and Zobeideh and her son, Prince Emin, likewise spent the hours in depression and grief, looking forward to death in the morning.
When the day dawned, and the new Caliph, after morning prayers, had assumed his seat on the Imperial divan, he commanded Giafer to be brought before him. Then, with a sinister smile, he demanded of the prisoner, "Where is the most illustrious Caliph Haroun Alraschid? Say, Giafer, what hast thou done with him?"
To this Giafer replied, "Haroun Alraschid, my master, is in the hand of God. But where he may be at this moment, I have told you that I do not know."
"No one can know so well as thou where he is," said Ibrahim, "for did he not go to Bussora with thee and has never returned? Doubtless thou hast killed him, and hast hidden his body, otherwise he would be here, therefore thy life is forfeited," and with that he made a sign to the mutes, who immediately took Giafer and passed the fatal cord about his neck.
As they waited with trained docility for the usual sign from the Caliph to draw tight the silken cord and despatch their victim, a great shout was heard, and outside the palace acclamations filled the air, and cries of—"Haroun Alraschid returns! Welcome, Prince of the Faithful!"
Ibrahim hearing these words, after a few moments' hesitation, made the sign to the mutes, and Giafer's life would have ended, but on the instant an officer standing by, who owed his position to the Grand Vizier, cut through the cord with his sword. As he did so, Haroun, pale with anger and his eyes flashing, entered the door of the audience-chamber. Ibrahim, pale as ashes, sat on the throne petrified with terror. As Haroun's eyes fell upon the shrinking prince sitting on his throne, and on the form of Giafer kneeling with part of the severed cord still about his neck, the veins stood out upon his forehead, and rage rendered him speechless. He beckoned to Mesrur, the ever faithful, who instantly pulled Ibrahim from his seat, and, taking him aside into an antechamber, forthwith struck off his head.
That Haroun reinstated Giafer as Grand Vizier, and took Zobeideh and Prince Emin out of prison, needs hardly be said. That he received Abdallah and Ahmed very graciously, and that he bought the fair captive of them at a truly royal price, is not surprising. But it is perhaps somewhat surprising that all the dangers and hardships he underwent, in consequence of his capture by the pirates, did not suffice to wean him altogether from such perilous adventures in the future.
He was of so daring and fearless a temper, however, that it made no further difference than this, that ever afterwards when he wandered about in disguise Mesrur accompanied him as well as the Grand Vizier.
The Caliph and the Blind Fisherman.
One evening Haroun Alraschid sat in a splendid apartment of his palace in Bagdad. The evening meal was finished, and the slaves had carried away the magnificent service of gold plate on which it had been served. The Caliph was gloomy and ill-humoured, and the officers and attendants in waiting silent, vigilant, and not unapprehensive; for when the brow of the monarch was clouded none could tell when the storm might burst forth, nor whom the lightning of his wrath might strike. Before long, however, and much to their relief, Giafer was sent for, and the Caliph, rising and signing his officers to leave him, wandered out alone into the garden of his palace.
Here Giafer on his arrival found him. He was sitting moodily listening to a concert of vocal music performed by some of the ladies of his harem, who were posted out of sight and at some little distance in a small grove. Just as Giafer entered the garden the Caliph clapped his hands and said to a slave who ran to him, "Go, tell the singers to keep silence, for I am in no humour to listen to them." Then, perceiving the Grand Vizier, he said to him, "Giafer, I have sent for thee because I am restless and pleased with nothing this evening; suggest, therefore, what I shall do."
Then Giafer replied: "Prince of the Faithful, if you are tired of your palace and of the gardens and the singing of your women, and if you care not to view the dancers"—the Caliph shook his head—"nor to listen to the tales or the poems of Abu 'Atahiyeh——"
"Not this evening, though they are good," said Haroun.
"Then what say you to our sallying forth disguised into Bagdad," continued Giafer, "that we may observe what goes forward, and perchance meet with some adventure that may amuse you?"
"That is what I will do," said Haroun, brightening up at the suggestion; "come, Giafer, let us put on the garb of merchants and go out."
In a short time Haroun and Giafer sallied forth, with the faithful Mesrur following, also in disguise, not far behind them. They wandered through the bazaars until they had seen a great part of Bagdad; but they met with no adventure and saw nothing particularly strange or noteworthy throughout all their ramble. The Caliph, who had at first been much more cheerful, began at length to be tired with the walk, and again in a somewhat ill-humour.
Giafer, noticing this, proposed that they should take a short cut through the lower and meaner parts of the town, and so return to the palace.
As with this intent they passed the end of a narrow and steep street leading up from the river, they observed a man whose figure and condition at once arrested the Caliph's attention. He was a tall and handsome man with the upright, dignified bearing of a soldier; he had regular features, a large hooked nose, and a long black moustache now turning somewhat grey. His clothes were very old and ragged; over his left shoulder he carried a net, and in his right hand a bag evidently containing a few fish. He was obviously a fisherman just returning home from his work on the river's bank; but what particularly attracted the Caliph's attention was the fact that the man was blind. In his left hand he carried a stick with which he touched sometimes the path and sometimes the walls of the houses as he passed along, as though to assure himself of his position. And though he was thus evidently blind, yet he walked forward, not timidly or slowly, but boldly and steadily, as if he were very well acquainted with his route.
The Caliph at once approached him and entered into conversation. He asked him whether he, being blind, caught the fish himself, or whether he was aided by some one else; whether he had good fortune and caught much, and how many fish he now had in his bag.
To these inquiries the man replied that, although blind, yet he managed to fish very well, and usually had good fortune in the number of fish that he caught, but that on this day he had been unlucky, and had only five fish in his bag. Of these he said he should sell three, and two he should cook for the supper of himself and his brother.
"And what is the occupation of your brother?" asked the Caliph.
"He, alas!" said the man, "is of no occupation; his back is injured so that he cannot move from his bed."
"And you fish for the support of both?" said Haroun.
"Of course," replied the man, with grave simplicity.
"Fisherman," said the Caliph, "I will buy your three fish, and, since I am tired, we will come, I and my friend who is with me, and you shall cook all the five fish, and we will sup together."
"Sir," said the fisherman, "my poor hovel is not fitted to receive guests; yet, if you are content to take things in the rough as you will find them, come and be welcome."
"Fisherman," said Haroun, "soldiers should be able to accommodate themselves to circumstances, and I am a soldier, as I judge that you also have been."
"Commander," said the fisherman, "I have, as you suppose, served the Caliph, whom may Allah preserve and exalt, and in his service I lost my sight."
"Comrade," said Haroun, "when we have eaten your fish, and you have rested, you shall relate to us the story of your life, which I doubt not contains many stirring and noteworthy incidents."
As he was saying this they came to a very mean cottage in the narrow street, or rather lane, through which they were passing, and the old fisherman, entering, beckoned them with a sort of dignified politeness to follow him.
In the cottage, which was lit by the smoky flame of a single small lamp, they found, lying in a corner of the room on some rags, another tall, athletic-looking man, who appeared in every respect a very twin brother of their acquaintance the fisherman, except as regards the eyes, which were black, bright, and piercing.
"Mohammed," said the fisherman, addressing his brother, "I bring with me two gentlemen I have met with; they have bought three of the five fish I have caught, and they will join us in our supper. I smell the loaves that they are baked upon the hearth, and very quickly I will prepare and cook the fish."
"Gentlemen," said he, folding an old and tattered cloak and laying it on the floor, "there is no other divan I can offer you, therefore pray be seated upon this cloak, and I will hasten to make ready your fish."
The Caliph and Giafer, having seated themselves, conversed with Mohammed, who appeared to them, from the expression of his features, to be suffering much pain.
He was unable, he told them, to rise, owing to an injury to his back, and his brother Suleiman, although blind, not only supported them both by fishing, but cooked their food and attended to all necessary household duties.
The Caliph was much touched and interested by these two fine old fellows, their pitiable plight, their uncomplaining cheerfulness under such misfortunes, and their brotherly affection.
"Suleiman," he said, "has promised after supper to relate to me your history; and I desire to hear it," he added, "not simply from motives of curiosity, but because I hope to be able to help you both and possibly to set right any wrongs or injustice from which you may have suffered."
The fish and hot cakes Haroun enjoyed more than all the sumptuous repasts which were prepared for him at his palace, novelty and fatigue giving a whet to his appetite. And these being consumed and the frugal meal finished, he reminded Suleiman of his desire to learn the particulars of his history.
Suleiman, saying that there was little to tell, but that he was quite willing to tell that little, began as follows:
THE HISTORY OF THE BLIND FISHERMAN AND HIS BROTHER.
"As poor as we now are," said Suleiman, "our father was an officer much trusted by El Hadi, the late Caliph."
At this name Haroun looked very black, for El Hadi had desired to set Haroun aside in favour of his own son Jaafer. However, the blind fisherman perceived nothing of this, but continued—
"Our father had three sons—myself, the eldest, and Mohammed, my brother here present, and by another wife, Moussa, his youngest boy, and, as often happens, his favourite. My father was but seldom in Bagdad, being almost constantly engaged abroad in one foreign war or another. Very early in life Mohammed and I accompanied him, and were entrusted with important posts under him in the armies he commanded.
"Not to weary you with a long catalogue of our battles, I tell you at once that about five years ago our father was killed in a very hotly contested fight, in which, just when our men were giving way before a furious charge of the enemy's cavalry, our father rallied them and led them in person against the foe, thereby securing victory for us, but falling himself in the very charge which secured it."
"Gallant man!" exclaimed the Caliph. "And what did El Hadi do for the sons?" Seeing that Suleiman did not answer—"Nothing!" he muttered, "and Haroun has never known of the matter."
"This battle," continued Suleiman, "having broken the power of the enemy, and the war being at an end, Mohammed and I returned to Bagdad, intending to share the property left by our father between ourselves and Moussa, our younger brother, in three parts or equal shares, as we had understood our father to desire.
"But on our return we found that Moussa, who holds the position of a Cadi, or judge, had already taken possession of the whole of the property, and he altogether refused to share it in any way with us, alleging that our father had promised to leave him all that he had.
"This assertion we knew to be false. And El Hadi having died just at that time, and the new Caliph being supposed to mislike both him and his adherents, we applied to Ali ibn Moulk, the Governor of Bagdad, asking him to consider our case and enforce a just division of our inheritance. But Ali, though he took whatever presents we could afford to give him, did nothing, having no doubt received from Moussa still handsomer presents than it was in our power to afford.
"Seeing that our cause in no way advanced, we, who had always been used to an active life, soon got tired of waiting in idleness the good pleasure of the Governor, and therefore applied for and obtained commands in an army sent by the new Caliph against a province that had revolted.
"For three years we were employed in distant expeditions, and at length, at the end of that time, when storming a fortress held by a body of insurgents, a splinter entering one of my eyes destroyed the sight of it, and the inflammation extending from it not long after destroyed the sight of the other, rendering me totally blind; while Mohammed, poor fellow, still more unfortunate, was hurled backwards from the walls of the same fortress and injured his back so severely, that he has been unable to get about, and has suffered constant pain ever since.
"When we got back to Bagdad from this most unlucky campaign, our money being almost exhausted, I called again upon Moussa, and, relating to him what had befallen us, I asked him once more to make a fair and equitable division of the inheritance with us. But he once more refused to do so, repeated his assertion that all the property had been left to him, offered me a hundred dinars, which I angrily refused, and sent a slave to guide me, as he said, into the quarter of the town where I was then living. He evidently made a sign to the slave whom he sent with me, for I quickly perceived that he was conducting me, not towards that part of the town in which my caravanserai was situated, but along the steep streets leading down to the river. When we got on to the bank of the stream, and almost at the water's edge, he said he must return to his master, telling me to continue straight forward, and that I should find the road all clear. Greatly incensed at the perfidy of this villainous slave, I suddenly seized him and flung him into the river before me.
"I was about to retrace my steps, when a voice near to me exclaimed: 'Halloo! some one has cast himself into the river, and my nets will be destroyed.'
"'Cannot you see,' I said, 'that I threw that scoundrel into the river?'
"'Nay,' said the voice, 'I cannot see, for I am blind.'
"'Allah be merciful to us!' I cried. 'Art thou also blind?' And I told him my history as you have heard it, and why I had flung the slave into the water. By the way, what became of the fellow I know not—he was probably carried away by the stream, for I heard no more of him.
"Then I asked the blind man what it was that he had said of his nets being broken.
"He answered, 'I am a fisherman, and I doubt not but the rascal will have destroyed some of my nets, but never mind that, so long as he got his deserts.'
"'What! can a man that is blind be a fisherman?' I exclaimed.
"'Certainly,' he replied; 'I have caught fish for my living this ten years, and I will teach you to fish, if you like.'
"I thanked him, and gratefully accepted his offer."
"And thus it came to pass," said Suleiman to Haroun and Giafer, "that I became a fisherman, and by this means have been enabled to maintain both Mohammed and myself for the last two years."
The emotions experienced by the Caliph and the Grand Vizier as they listened to Suleiman's narrative were not altogether the same.
Haroun was so infuriated when he heard of the hard-hearted iniquity of the Cadi, and the taking of bribes and refusal of justice by Ali ibn Moulk, the Governor of Bagdad, that he could scarcely restrain himself from summoning Mesrur and sending at once for their heads.
On the other hand, Giafer listened to the accusations against the Governor of Bagdad, who was a personal friend of his own, with the greatest consternation. Therefore, being anxious at any rate to gain time, Giafer, at the end of Suleiman's discourse, whispered to the Caliph, earnestly entreating him to preserve his incognito, and to suspend his decision at least for the present.
When they came out of the fisherman's cottage, having paid him for the fish, and promised to communicate with him again shortly, Giafer urged upon the Caliph the injustice of condemning the Governor of Bagdad, without giving him the opportunity to reply to the charge brought against him by Suleiman.
"Giafer," said the Caliph, "I hear what you say, and I grant your request. Ali ibn Moulk shall have the opportunity provided for him, to clear himself from this charge in the best possible way, viz., by actually refusing to take a bribe, and by actually executing justice on Moussa the Cadi. I will myself provide him with that opportunity. But look you, the Governor of Bagdad is your friend, I know; you gave him his office, did you not? and now you are pleading his cause. Very good so far, but see that no rumour of this night's story reaches his ears, neither by a message, nor by a little bird, nor even by a dream; for if he hear of it I will take off your head also, by Allah I will, by Allah I will, by Allah I will; therefore look to yourself, my Giafer."
When the Grand Vizier heard this burst of rage, his heart sank within him. He had undoubtedly intended to convey a friendly warning to Ali, but he felt now that it would be dangerous and useless, and he was completely convinced that Ali's fate was sealed.
Early next morning the Caliph sent for the Grand Vizier, and said to him—
"Giafer, go dress yourself as you were dressed last night, take a hundred pieces of gold with you and give them to Suleiman, and tell him to repair immediately to the Governor of Bagdad, and demand from him justice in the matter of his inheritance. And mind, not one word more nor less."
Giafer touched his head in token of implicit obedience to the commands of the Caliph, and going at once, carried to Suleiman the hundred pieces of gold, and the message that he should immediately make another application to the Governor of Bagdad.
Suleiman was very unwilling to go to the Governor, saying, that to seek for justice in that quarter was but like fishing in a gutter where a man could catch nothing, but must lose his time and his bait. "However," he concluded, "since your friend sends me this money, as you say for no other purpose, I will carry it to the Governor and bestow it as he desires."
Directly after the Caliph had despatched the Grand Vizier to Suleiman, he called an officer and sent him with a message to the Governor of Bagdad, instructing the officer to observe carefully any applications which might be made to the Governor for justice, and report the particulars on his return.
That evening Haroun again disguised himself, and went, with Giafer and Mesrur in attendance as before, to visit Suleiman and Mohammed.
On reaching the cottage he demanded of Suleiman how he had fared in his application to the Governor.
"At first," said Suleiman, "he received me very roughly, but when I produced the gold he became more civil, and promised to see what he could do for me. As he has told me the same on each previous occasion, I do not build many hopes on that promise," said Suleiman, smiling. "But he was very urgent to find out where I had obtained the money I gave him, and when I told him that a gentleman whom I had met had lent me the money, he said—