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Sinbads fourth voyage.
From The Arabian Nights Entertainments
Start of Story
By Andrew Lang.
As the king's will was law I accepted the charming bride he presented
to me, and lived happily with her. Nevertheless I had every intention
of escaping at the first opportunity, and going back to Bagdad. Things
were thus going prosperously with me when it happened that the wife of
one of my neighbours, with whom I had struck up quite a friendship,
fell ill, and presently died. I went to his house to offer my
consolations, and found him in the depths of woe.
"Heaven preserve you," said I, "and send you a long life!"
"Alas!" he replied, "what is the good of saying that when I have but an
hour left to live!"
"Come, come!" said I, "surely it is not so bad as all that. I trust
that you may be spared to me for many years."
"I hope," answered he, "that your life may be long, but as for me, all
is finished. I have set my house in order, and to-day I shall be
buried with my wife. This has been the law upon our island from the
earliest ages--the living husband goes to the grave with his dead wife,
the living wife with her dead husband. So did our fathers, and so must
we do. The law changes not, and all must submit to it!"
As he spoke the friends and relations of the unhappy pair began to
assemble. The body, decked in rich robes and sparkling with jewels,
was laid upon an open bier, and the procession started, taking its way
to a high mountain at some distance from the city, the wretched
husband, clothed from head to foot in a black mantle, following
When the place of interment was reached the corpse was lowered, just as
it was, into a deep pit. Then the husband, bidding farewell to all his
friends, stretched himself upon another bier, upon which were laid
seven little loaves of bread and a pitcher of water, and he also was
let down-down-down to the depths of the horrible cavern, and then a
stone was laid over the opening, and the melancholy company wended its
way back to the city.
You may imagine that I was no unmoved spectator of these proceedings;
to all the others it was a thing to which they had been accustomed from
their youth up; but I was so horrified that I could not help telling
the king how it struck me.
"Sire," I said, "I am more astonished than I can express to you at the
strange custom which exists in your dominions of burying the living
with the dead. In all my travels I have never before met with so cruel
and horrible a law."
"What would you have, Sindbad?" he replied. "It is the law for
everybody. I myself should be buried with the Queen if she were the
first to die."
"But, your Majesty," said I, "dare I ask if this law applies to
"Why, yes," replied the king smiling, in what I could but consider a
very heartless manner, "they are no exception to the rule if they have
married in the country."
When I heard this I went home much cast down, and from that time
forward my mind was never easy. If only my wife's little finger ached
I fancied she was going to die, and sure enough before very long she
fell really ill and in a few days breathed her last. My dismay was
great, for it seemed to me that to be buried alive was even a worse
fate than to be devoured by cannibals, nevertheless there was no
escape. The body of my wife, arrayed in her richest robes and decked
with all her jewels, was laid upon the bier. I followed it, and after
me came a great procession, headed by the king and all his nobles, and
in this order we reached the fatal mountain, which was one of a lofty
chain bordering the sea.
Here I made one more frantic effort to excite the pity of the king and
those who stood by, hoping to save myself even at this last moment, but
it was of no avail. No one spoke to me, they even appeared to hasten
over their dreadful task, and I speedily found myself descending into
the gloomy pit, with my seven loaves and pitcher of water beside me.
Almost before I reached the bottom the stone was rolled into its place
above my head, and I was left to my fate. A feeble ray of light shone
into the cavern through some chink, and when I had the courage to look
about me I could see that I was in a vast vault, bestrewn with bones
and bodies of the dead.
I even fancied that I heard the expiring sighs
of those who, like myself, had come into this dismal place alive. All
in vain did I shriek aloud with rage and despair, reproaching myself
for the love of gain and adventure which had brought me to such a pass,
but at length, growing calmer, I took up my bread and water, and
wrapping my face in my mantle I groped my way towards the end of the
cavern, where the air was fresher.
Here I lived in darkness and misery until my provisions were exhausted,
but just as I was nearly dead from starvation the rock was rolled away
overhead and I saw that a bier was being lowered into the cavern, and
that the corpse upon it was a man. In a moment my mind was made up,
the woman who followed had nothing to expect but a lingering death; I
should be doing her a service if I shortened her misery. Therefore
when she descended, already insensible from terror, I was ready armed
with a huge bone, one blow from which left her dead, and I secured the
bread and water which gave me a hope of life. Several times did I have
recourse to this desperate expedient, and I know not how long I had
been a prisoner when one day I fancied that I heard something near me,
which breathed loudly. Turning to the place from which the sound came
I dimly saw a shadowy form which fled at my movement, squeezing itself
through a cranny in the wall.