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Story of the first calender.
From Arabian Nights Entertainments by Andrew Lang.
Start of Story
Age Rating 8 Plus.
After all I had gone through, and my fear of being recognised by some
enemy, I could only travel very slowly and cautiously, generally
resting in some out-of-the-way place by day, and walking as far as I
was able by night, but at length I arrived in the kingdom of my uncle,
of whose protection I was sure.
I found him in great trouble about the disappearance of his son, who
had, he said, vanished without leaving a trace; but his own grief did
not prevent him sharing mine. We mingled our tears, for the loss of
one was the loss of the other, and then I made up my mind that it was
my duty to break the solemn oath I had sworn to the prince. I
therefore lost no time in telling my uncle everything I knew, and I
observed that even before I had ended his sorrow appeared to be
lightened a little.
"My dear nephew," he said, "your story gives me some hope. I was aware
that my son was building a tomb, and I think I can find the spot. But
as he wished to keep the matter secret, let us go alone and seek the
He then bade me disguise myself, and we both slipped out of a garden
door which opened on to the cemetery. It did not take long for us to
arrive at the scene of the prince's disappearance, or to discover the
tomb I had sought so vainly before. We entered it, and found the
trap-door which led to the staircase, but we had great difficulty in
raising it, because the prince had fastened it down underneath with the
plaster he had brought with him.
My uncle went first, and I followed him. When we reached the bottom of
the stairs we stepped into a sort of ante-room, filled with such a
dense smoke that it was hardly possible to see anything. However, we
passed through the smoke into a large chamber, which at first seemed
quite empty. The room was brilliantly lighted, and in another moment
we perceived a sort of platform at one end, on which were the bodies of
the prince and a lady, both half-burned, as if they had been dragged
out of a fire before it had quite consumed them.
This horrible sight turned me faint, but, to my surprise, my uncle did
not show so much surprise as anger.
"I knew," he said, "that my son was tenderly attached to this lady,
whom it was impossible he should ever marry. I tried to turn his
thoughts, and presented to him the most beautiful princesses, but he
cared for none of them, and, as you see, they have now been united by a
horrible death in an underground tomb." But, as he spoke, his anger
melted into tears, and again I wept with him.
When he recovered himself he drew me to him. "My dear nephew," he
said, embracing me, "you have come to me to take his place, and I will
do my best to forget that I ever had a son who could act in so wicked a
manner." Then he turned and went up the stairs.
We reached the palace without anyone having noticed our absence, when,
shortly after, a clashing of drums, and cymbals, and the blare of
trumpets burst upon our astonished ears. At the same time a thick
cloud of dust on the horizon told of the approach of a great army. My
heart sank when I perceived that the commander was the vizir who had
dethroned my father, and was come to seize the kingdom of my uncle.
The capital was utterly unprepared to stand a siege, and seeing that
resistance was useless, at once opened its gates. My uncle fought hard
for his life, but was soon overpowered, and when he fell I managed to
escape through a secret passage, and took refuge with an officer whom I
knew I could trust.
Persecuted by ill-fortune, and stricken with grief, there seemed to be
only one means of safety left to me. I shaved my beard and my
eyebrows, and put on the dress of a calender, in which it was easy for
me to travel without being known. I avoided the towns till I reached
the kingdom of the famous and powerful Caliph, Haroun-al-Raschid, when
I had no further reason to fear my enemies. It was my intention to
come to Bagdad and to throw myself at the feet of his Highness, who
would, I felt certain, be touched by my sad story, and would grant me,
besides, his help and protection.
After a journey which lasted some months I arrived at length at the
gates of this city. It was sunset, and I paused for a little to look
about me, and to decide which way to turn my steps. I was still
debating on this subject when I was joined by this other calender, who
stopped to greet me. "You, like me, appear to be a stranger," I said.
He replied that I was right, and before he could say more the third
calender came up. He, also, was newly arrived in Bagdad, and being
brothers in misfortune, we resolved to cast in our lots together, and
to share whatever fate might have in store.
By this time it had grown late, and we did not know where to spend the
night. But our lucky star having guided us to this door, we took the
liberty of knocking and of asking for shelter, which was given to us at
once with the best grace in the world.
This, madam, is my story.
"I am satisfied," replied Zobeida; "you can go when you like."
The calender, however, begged leave to stay and to hear the histories
of his two friends and of the three other persons of the company, which
he was allowed to do.