Rich and happy as I was after my third voyage, I could not stay at home. My love of trading, and the pleasure I took in anything that was new and strange, made me begin my journey through some of the Persian provinces, having first sent off stores of goods to await my coming in the different places I intended to visit. I took ship at a distant seaport, and for some time all went well, but at last, being caught in a violent hurricane, our vessel became a total wreck in spite of all our good captain could do to save her, and many of our company perished in the waves. I, with a few others, had the good fortune to be washed ashore clinging to pieces of the wreck. The storm had driven us near an island and scrambling up we lay ourselves down quite exhausted, to wait for morning.
At daylight we wandered inland, and soon saw some huts. As we drew near their black inhabitants emerged in great numbers, surrounded us, and taken prisoner we were led to their houses, I with five others was taken into a hut, where we were made to sit upon the ground, and certain herbs were given to us, which the blacks made signs to us to eat. Seeing that they themselves did not touch them, I was careful only to pretend to taste it but my companions, being very hungry, foolishly ate up all that was given them. Very soon I had the horror of seeing them become perfectly mad. Though they chattered non stop I could not understand a word they said, nor did they listen when I spoke to them. The savages now produced large bowls full of rice prepared with cocoanut oil, of which my crazy friends ate eagerly, but I only tasted a few grains, understanding clearly that the object of our captors was to fatten us speedily for their own eating, and this was exactly what happened. My unlucky companions having become crazy, felt neither anxiety nor fear, and ate greedily all that was offered them. So they were soon fat and that was the end of them, but I grew thinner day by day, for I ate only a little. However, as I wasn’t worth eating, I was allowed to wander about freely, and one day, when all the blacks had gone off upon some expedition leaving only an old man to guard me, I managed to escape from him and fled into the forest, running faster the more he cried to me to come back, until I had completely outdistanced him.
For seven days I hurried on, resting only when the darkness stopped me, and living mainly upon coconuts, and on the eighth day I reached the seashore and saw a party of white men gathering pepper, which grew abundantly. I advanced towards them and they greeted me in Arabic, asking who I was and where I came from. I was delighted to hear them speak my language, and I willingly answered their questions, telling them how I had been shipwrecked, and captured by the blacks. “But these savages devour men!” they said. “How did you escape?” I repeated to them what I have just told you, at which they were astonished. I stayed with them until they had collected as much pepper as they wished, and then they took me back to their own country and presented me to their king, by whom I was warmly welcomed. I had to tell of my adventures, which surprised him much, and when I had finished he ordered that I should be supplied with food and clothing and treated well.
The island on which I found myself was full of people, and had much wonderful merchandise. A great deal of business went on in the capital, so I soon began to feel at home and contented. Moreover, the king treated me with special favour, and because of this everyone tried to make life pleasant for me. One thing which I thought very strange was that, from the most important people to the least, all men rode their horses without bridle or stirrups. I one day asked his majesty why he did not use them, to which he replied, “You speak of things which I have never heard of!” This gave me an idea. I found a clever workman, and made him cut out a saddle, which I covered with good leather. I then got a blacksmith to make me a bit and a pair of spurs after a pattern that I drew for him, and when all these things were completed I presented them to the king and showed him how to use them. When I had saddled one of his horses he mounted it and rode about quite delighted with it, and to show his gratitude he rewarded me with large gifts. After this I had to make saddles for all the officers of the king’s household, and as they all gave me rich presents I soon became very wealthy and quite an important person in the city.
One day the king sent for me and said, “Sinbad, I am going to ask a favour of you. Both I and my subjects value you, and wish you to live amongst us. Therefore I ask that you marry a rich and beautiful lady whom I will find for you, and forget your own country.”
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 Baghdad. Things were going well for me when it happened that the wife of one of my neighbours, with whom I had a friendship, fell ill, and presently died. I went to his house to offer my condolences, and found him in despair.
“Heaven keep you,” said I, “and let you have a long life!”
“Alas!” he replied, “What is the good of saying that when I have only an hour left to live!”
“Come, come!” said I, “Surely it is not as bad as all that. I trust that you will live 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. As our fathers did, and so must we do. The law does not change and we must obey!”
As he spoke the friends and relations of the unhappy pair began to arrive. The body, in rich robes and sparkling with jewels, was laid upon an open board, 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 robe, following mournfully.
When the grave 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 board, upon which were laid seven little loaves of bread and a pitcher of water .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 made its way back to the city.
To all the others it was a thing to which they had been accustomed from their youth but I was so horrified that I could not help telling the king what I thought of it.
“Sir,” I said, “I am more astonished than I can express to you at the strange custom which exists in your country 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, Sinbad?” 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, “Does this law applies to foreigners also?”
“Why, yes,” replied the king smiling, in a very heartless manner, “If they have married in the country.”
When I heard this I went home much depressed, and from that time forward my mind was never easy. If only my wife’s little finger ached I imagined she was going to die, and sure enough before very long she fell really ill and in a few days passed away. 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, dressed in her richest robes and with all her jewels, was laid upon the board. 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 mountain.
Here I made one more frantic effort to seek the pity of the king and those who stood by, hoping to save myself even at this last moment, but it was of no use. No one spoke to me. They even appeared to rush in 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 small ray of light shone into the cavern through some crack, and when I had the courage to look about me I could see that I was in a vast cavern, covered with bones and bodies of the dead. In vain I shrieked aloud with rage and despair, scolding myself for the love of profit and adventure which had brought me to such a situation, but at last, growing calmer, I took up my bread and water, I made my way towards the end of the cavern, where the air was fresher.
Here I lived in darkness and misery until my food was all gone, but just as I was nearly dead from starvation the rock was rolled away overhead and I saw that a board 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 slow death; I would be helping if I shortened her misery. Therefore when she descended, mad from terror, I was ready armed with a huge bone, one blow from which left her dead and I got the bread and water which gave me a hope of life. Several times I did this desperate act, and I don’t know not how long I had been a prisoner when one day I thought 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 crack in the wall I pursued it as fast as I could, and found myself in a narrow crack among the rocks, along which I was just able to force my way. I followed it for what seemed to me many miles, and at last saw before me a glimmer of light which grew clearer every moment until I emerged upon the sea shore with a joy which I cannot describe. When I was sure that I was not dreaming, I realized that it was doubtless some little animal which had found its way into the cavern from the sea, and when disturbed had fled, showing me a means of escape which I could never have discovered for myself.
The mountains sloped straight down to the sea, and there was no road across them. Being sure of this I returned to the cavern, and gathered a rich treasure of diamonds, rubies, emeralds, and jewels of all kinds which covered the ground. These I made up into bundles, and stored them into a safe place upon the beach, and then waited hopefully for the passing of a ship. I had looked out for two days, before a single sail appeared, so it was with much delight that I at last saw a vessel not very far from the shore, and by waving my arms and uttering loud cries succeeded in attracting the attention of her crew. A boat was sent off to me and in answer to the questions of the sailors as to how I came to be in such a terrible situation, I replied that I had been shipwrecked two days before, but had managed to scramble ashore with the bundles which I pointed out to them. Luckily for me they believed my story, and without even looking at the place where they found me, took up my bundles, and rowed me back to the ship. Once on board, I soon saw that the captain was too busy to pay much attention to me, though he generously made me welcome, and would not even accept the jewels with which I offered to pay my fare. Our voyage was prosperous, and after visiting many lands, and collecting in each place good merchandise, I found myself at last in Baghdad once more with riches of every description. Again I gave large sums of money to the poor, after which I visited my friends and relations, with whom I passed my time in feasting and merriment.
Here Sinbad paused, and all his hearers declared that the adventures of his fourth voyage had pleased them better than anything they had heard before. They then left, followed by Hindbad, who had once more received a hundred gold coins, and with the rest had been asked to return next day for the story of the fifth voyage.
When the time came all were in their places, and when they had eaten and drunk of all that was set before them Sinbad began his tale.