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    15- The Story of Zobeide

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    Chapter 16
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    Commander of the faithful, the relation which I am about to give
    your majesty is singularly extraordinary. The two black bitches
    and myself are sisters by the same father and mother; and I shall
    acquaint you by what strange accident they came to be
    metamorphosed. The two ladies who live with me, and are now here,
    are also my sisters by the father's side, but by another mother:
    she that has the scars upon her breast is named Amene; the name
    of the other is Safie, and my own Zobeide.

    After our father's death, the property that he left was equally
    divided among us, and as soon as these two sisters received their
    portions, they left me to live with their mother. My other two
    sisters and myself stayed with our mother, who was then alive,
    and who when she afterwards died left each of us a thousand
    sequins. As soon as we had received our portions, the two eldest
    (for I am the youngest) married, and left me alone. Some time
    after, my eldest sister's husband sold all that he had, and with
    that money and my sister's portion they went both into Africa,
    where her husband, by riotous living and debauchery' spent all;
    and finding himself reduced to poverty, found a pretext for
    divorcing my sister, and put her away.

    She returned to this city, and having suffered incredible
    hardships by the way, came to me in so lamentable a condition
    that it would have moved the hardest heart to compassion to
    behold her. I received her with every possible tenderness, and
    inquiring into the cause of her distress, she told me with tears
    how inhumanly her husband had behaved towards her. Her
    misfortunes affected me: and I mingled my tears with hers. I took
    her to a bath, clothed her with my own apparel, and thus
    addressed her: "Sister, you are the elder, and I esteem you as my
    mother: during your absence, God has blest the portion that fell
    to my share, and the employment I follow of breeding silk-worms.
    Assure yourself there is nothing I have but is at your service,
    and as much at your disposal as my own."

    We lived very comfortably together for some months. As we were
    one day conversing about our third sister, and wondering we
    received no intelligence of her, she came in as bad a condition
    as the eldest: her husband had treated her after the same manner;
    and I received her likewise with the same affection as I had done
    the former.

    Some time after, my two sisters, on presence that they would not
    be chargeable to me, told me they intended to marry again. I
    observed, that if putting me to expense was the only reason, they
    might lay those thoughts aside, and be welcome to remain: for
    what I had would be sufficient to maintain us all three, in a
    manner answerable to our condition. "But," I added, "I rather
    believe you wish to marry again; I shall feel much surprised if
    such be the case. After the experience you have had of the little
    satisfaction there is in wedlock, is it possible you dare venture
    a second time? You know how rare it is to meet with a husband
    perfectly virtuous and deserving. Believe what I say, and let us
    live together as comfortably as we can." All my persuasion was in
    vain; they were resolved to marry, and soon accomplished their
    wishes. But after some months were past, they returned again, and
    begged my pardon a thousand times for not following my advice.
    "You are our youngest sister," said they, "but abundantly more
    wise than we; if you will vouchsafe to receive us once more into
    your house, and account us your slaves, we shall never commit a
    similar fault again." My answer was, "Dear sisters, I have not
    altered my mind with respect to you since we last parted: come
    again, and take part of what I have." Upon this I embraced them,
    and we lived together as before.

    We continued thus a whole year in perfect love and harmony.
    Seeing that God had increased my small stock, I projected a
    voyage, to embark some of it in a commercial speculation. To this
    end, I went with my two sisters to Bussorah, where I bought a
    ship ready fitted for sea, and laded her with such merchandise as
    I had carried with me from Bagdad. We set sail with a fair wind,
    and soon cleared the Persian gulf; when we had reached the open
    sea, we steered our course to the Indies; and the twentieth day
    saw land. It was a very high mountain, at the bottom of which we
    perceived a great town: having a fresh gale, we soon reached the
    harbour, and cast anchor.

    I had not patience to wait till my sisters were dressed to go
    along with me, but went ashore alone in the boat. Making directly
    to the gate of the town, I saw there a great number of men upon
    guard, some sitting, and others standing with sticks in their
    hands; and they had all such dreadful countenances that I was
    greatly alarmed; but perceiving they remained stationary, and did
    not so much as move their eyes, I took courage, and went nearer,
    when I found they were all turned into stones. I entered the town
    and passed through several streets, where at different intervals
    stood men in various attitudes, but all motionless and petrified.
    In the quarter inhabited by the merchants I found most of the
    shops shut, and in such as were open I likewise found the people

    Having reached a vast square, in the heart of the city, I
    perceived a large folding gate, covered with plates of gold,
    which stood open; a curtain of silk stuff seemed to be drawn
    before it: a lamp hung over the entrance. After I had surveyed
    the building, I made no doubt but it was the palace of the prince
    who reigned over that country: and being much astonished that I
    had not met with one living creature, I approached in hopes to
    find some. I lifted up the curtain, and was surprised at
    beholding no one but the guards in the vestibule all petrified;
    some standing, some sitting, and some lying.

    I came to a large court, where I saw before me a stately
    building, the windows of which were inclosed with gates of messy
    gold: I concluded it to be the queen's apartments. I entered; and
    in a large hall I found several black eunuchs turned into stone.
    I went from thence into a room richly furnished, where I
    perceived a lady in the same situation. I knew it to be the
    queen, by the crown of gold on her head, and a necklace of pearls
    about her neck, each of them as large as a nut; I approached her
    to have a nearer view of it, and never beheld a finer objets.

    I stood some time admiring the riches and magnificence of the
    room; but above all, the carpet, the cushions, and the sofas,
    which were all ornamented with Indian stuff of gold, and
    representations of men and beasts in silver, admirably executed.

    I quitted the chamber where the petrified queen was, and passed
    through several other apartments and closets richly furnished,
    and at last came into a large room, where there was a throne of
    massive gold, raised several steps above the floor, and enriched
    with large enchased emeralds, and upon the throne there was a bed
    of rich stuff embroidered with pearls. What surprised me most was
    a sparkling light which came from above the bed. Being curious to
    know whence it proceeded, I ascended the steps, and lifting up my
    head, saw a diamond as large as the egg of an ostrich, lying upon
    a low stool; it was so pure, that I could not find the least
    blemish in it, and it sparkled with so much brilliancy, that when
    I saw it by day-light I could not endure its lustre.

    At the head of the bed there stood on each side a lighted
    flambeau, but for what use I could not comprehend; however, it
    made me imagine that there was some living creature in this
    place; for I could not believe that the torches continued thus
    burning of themselves. Several other rarities detained my
    curiosity in this room, which was inestimable in value, were it
    only for the diamond I mentioned.

    The doors being all open, or but half shut, I surveyed some other
    apartments, that were as beautiful as those I had already seen. I
    looked into the offices and store-rooms, which were full of
    riches. In short, the wonders that everywhere appeared so wholly
    engrossed my attention, that I forgot my ship and my sisters, and
    thought of nothing but gratifying my curiosity. In the mean time
    night came on, which reminded me that it was time to retire. I
    proposed to return the way I had entered, but I could not find
    it; I lost myself among the apartments; and perceiving I was come
    back again to the large room, where the throne, the couch, the
    large diamond, and the torches stood, I resolved to take my
    night's lodging there, and to depart the next morning early, to
    get aboard my ship. I laid myself down upon a couch, not without
    some dread to be alone in a desolate place; and this fear
    hindered my sleep.

    About midnight I heard a voice like that of a man reading the
    Koraun, after the same manner, and in the same tone as it is read
    in our mosques. Being extremely glad to hear it, I immediately
    arose, and taking a torch in my hand, passed from one chamber to
    another on that side from whence the sound proceeded. I came to
    the closet-door, and stood still, not doubting that it came from
    thence. I set down my torch upon the ground, and looking through
    a window, found it to be an oratory. It had, as we have in our
    mosques, a niche, to direct us whither we are to turn to say our
    prayers: there were also lamps hung up, and two candlesticks with
    large tapers of white wax burning.

    I saw a little carpet laid down like those we have to kneel upon
    when we say our prayers, and a comely young man sat on this
    carpet reading with great devotion the Koraun, which lay before
    him on a desk. At this sight I was transported with admiration. I
    wondered how it came to pass that he should be the only living
    creature in a town where all the people were turned into stones,
    and I did not doubt but there was something in the circumstance
    very extraordinary.

    The door being only half shut, I opened it, went in, and standing
    upright before the niche, I repeated this prayer aloud: "Praise
    be to God, who has favoured us with a happy voyage, and may he be
    graciously pleased to protect us in the same manner, until we
    arrive again in our own country. Hear me, O Lord, and grant my

    The young man turned his eyes towards me, and said, "My good
    lady, pray let me know who you are, and what has brought you to
    this desolate city? And, in return, I will you who I am, what has
    happened to me, why the inhabitants of this city are reduced to
    the state you see them in, and why I alone am safe in the midst
    of such a terrible disaster."

    I told him in a few words whence I had come, what had made me
    undertake the voyage, and how I safely arrived at the port after
    twenty days' sailing; when I had done, I prayed him to perform
    his promise, and told him how much I was struck by the frightful
    desolation which I had seen in the city.

    "Lady," said the young man, "have patience for a moment." At
    these words he shut the Koraun, put it into a rich case, and laid
    it in the niche. I took that opportunity to observe him, and
    perceiving in him so much good nature and beauty, I felt emotions
    I had never known before. He made me sit down by him, and before
    he began his discourse, I could not forbear saying, with an air
    that discovered the sentiments I felt, "Amiable sir, dear object
    of my soul, I can scarcely have patience to wait for an account
    of all these wonderful objects that I have seen since I came into
    your city; and my curiosity cannot be satisfied too soon:
    therefore pray, sir, let me know by what miracle you alone are
    left alive among so many persons that have died in so strange a

    "Madam," said the young man, "by the prayer you just now
    addressed to him, you have given me to understand that you have a
    knowledge of the true God. I will acquaint you with the most
    remarkable effect of his greatness and power. You must know, that
    this city was the metropolis of a mighty kingdom, over which the
    sultan my father reigned. That prince, his whole court, the
    inhabitants of the city, and all his other subjects, were magi,
    worshippers of fire, and of Nardoun, the ancient king of the
    giants, who rebelled against God.

    "But though I was born of an idolatrous father and mother, I had
    the good fortune in my youth to have a governess who was a good
    Moosulmaun. ‘Dear prince,' would she oftentimes say, ‘there is
    but one true God; take heed that you do not acknowledge and adore
    any other.' She taught me to read Arabic, and the book she gave
    me to study was the Koraun. As soon as I was capable of
    understanding it, she explained to me all the passages of this
    excellent book, and infused piety into my mind, unknown to my
    father or any other person. She happened to die, but not before
    she had perfectly instructed me in all that was necessary to
    convince me of the truth of the Moosulmaun religion. After her
    death I persisted with constancy in the belief of its divinity:
    and I abhor the false god Nardoun, and the adoration of fire.

    "About three years and some months ago, a thundering voice was
    suddenly sounded so distinctly, through the whole city, that
    nobody could miss hearing it. The words were these: ‘Inhabitants,
    abandon the worship of Nardoun, and of fire, and worship the only
    God who shews mercy.'

    "This voice was heard three years successively, but no one was
    converted. On the last day of that year, at four o'clock in the
    morning, all the inhabitants were changed in an instant into
    stone, every one in the condition and posture they happened to be
    in. The sultan, my father, shared the same fate, for he was
    metamorphosed into a black stone, as he is to be seen in this
    palace, and the queen, my mother, had the like destiny.

    "I am the only person who did not suffer under that heavy
    judgment, and ever since I have continued to serve God with more
    fervency than before. I am persuaded, dear lady, that he has sent
    you hither for my comfort, for which I render him infinite
    thanks; for I must own that this solitary life is extremely

    All these expressions, and particularly the last, greatly
    increased my love for him. "Prince," said I, "there is no doubt
    but Providence has brought me into your port, to afford you an
    opportunity of withdrawing from this dismal place. The ship I
    came in may serve in some measure to convince you that I am in
    some esteem at Bagdad, where I have left considerable property;
    and I dare engage to promise you sanctuary there, until the
    mighty commander of the faithful, vicegerent to our prophet whom
    you acknowledge, shew you the honour that is due to your merit.
    This renowned prince lives at Bagdad, and as soon as he is
    informed of your arrival in his capital, you will find that it is
    not in vain to implore his assistance. It is impossible you can
    stay any longer in a city where all the objects you behold must
    renew your grief: my vessel is at your service, where you may
    absolutely command as you shall think fit." He accepted the
    offer, and we conversed the remainder of the night concerning our

    As soon as it was day we left the palace, and went aboard my
    ship, where we found my sisters, the captain, and the slaves, all
    much troubled at my absence. After I had presented my sisters to
    the prince, I told them what had hindered my return the day
    before, how I had met with the young prince, his story, and the
    cause of the desolation of so fine a city.

    The seamen were taken up several days in unlading the merchandize
    I brought with me, and embarking in its stead all the precious
    things in the palace, such as jewels, gold, and money. We left
    the furniture and goods, which consisted of an infinite quantity
    of plate, &c., because our vessel could not carry it, for it
    would have required several vessels more to convey to Bagdad all
    the riches that we might have chosen to take with us.

    After we had laden the vessel with what we thought most
    desirable, we took such provisions and water aboard as were
    necessary for our voyage (for we had still a great deal of those
    provisions left that we had taken in at Bussorah); at last we set
    sail with a wind as favourable as we could wish.

    The young prince, my sisters and myself, enjoyed ourselves for
    some time very agreeably. But alas! this good understanding did
    not last long, for my sisters grew jealous of the friendship
    between the prince and myself, and maliciously asked me one day,
    what we should do with him when we came to Bagdad? I perceived
    immediately that they put this question on purpose to discover my
    inclinations; therefore, resolving to put it off with a jest, I
    answered, "I will take him for my husband;" and upon that,
    turning myself to the prince, said, "Sir, I humbly beg of you to
    give your consent, for as soon as we come to Bagdad I desire to
    offer you my person to be your slave, to do you all the service
    that is in my power, and to resign myself wholly to your

    The prince replied, "I know not, madam, whether you be in jest or
    no; but for my part, I seriously declare before these ladies,
    your sisters, that from this moment I heartily accept your offer,
    not with any intention to have you as a slave, but as my lady and
    mistress: nor will I pretend to have any power over your
    actions." At these words my sisters changed colour, and I could
    perceive afterwards that they did not love me as before.

    We entered the Persian gulf, and had come within a short distance
    of Bussorah (where I hoped, considering the fair wind, we might
    have arrived the day following), when in the night, while I was
    asleep, my sisters watched their opportunity, and threw me
    overboard. They did the same to the prince, who was drowned. I
    floated some minutes on the water, and by good fortune, or rather
    miracle, I felt ground. I went towards a dark spot, that, by what
    I could discern, seemed to be land, and proved to be a flat on
    the coast, which, when day appeared, I found to be a desert
    island, lying about twenty miles from Bussorah. I soon dried my
    clothes in the sun, and as I walked along I found several kinds
    of fruit, and likewise fresh water, which gave me some hopes of
    preserving my life.

    I had just laid myself down to rest in a shade, when I perceived
    a very large winged serpent coming towards me, with an irregular
    waving movement, and hanging out its tongue, which induced me to
    conclude it had received some injury. I instantly arose, and
    perceived that it was pursued by a larger serpent which had hold
    of its tail, and was endeavouring to devour it. This perilous
    situation of the first serpent excited my pity, and instead of
    retreating I assumed courage to take up a stone that lay near me,
    and to throw it with all my strength at the other, which I hit
    upon the head and killed. The other, finding itself at liberty,
    took wing and flew away. I looked after it for some time till it
    disappeared. I then sought another shady spot for repose, and
    fell asleep.

    Judge what was my surprise when I awoke, to see standing by me a
    black woman of lively and agreeable features, who held in her
    hand two bitches of the same colour, fastened together. I sat up,
    and asked her who she was? "I am," said she, "the serpent whom
    you lately delivered from my mortal enemy. I did not know in what
    way I could better requite the important services you have
    rendered me than by what I have just done. The treachery of your
    sisters was well known to me, and to avenge your wrongs, as soon
    as I was liberated by your generous assistance, I called together
    several of my companions, fairies like myself, conveyed into your
    storehouses at Bagdad all the lading of your vessel, and
    afterwards sunk it.

    "These two black bitches are your sisters, whom I have
    transformed into this shape. But this punishment will not
    suffice; and my will is that you treat them hereafter in the way
    I shall direst."

    As soon as she had thus spoken the fairy took me under one of her
    arms, and the two bitches under the other, and conveyed us to my
    house in Bagdad; where I found in my storehouses all the riches
    with which my vessel had been laden. Before she left me, she
    delivered to me the two bitches, and said, "If you would not be
    changed into a similar form, I command you, in the name of him
    that governs the sea, to give each of your sisters every night
    one hundred lashes with a rod, as the punishment of the crime
    they have committed against yourself, and the young prince, whom
    they have drowned." I was forced to promise obedience. Since that
    time I have whipped them every night, though with regret, whereof
    your majesty has been a witness. My tears testify with how much
    sorrow and reluctance I perform this painful duty; and in this
    your majesty may see I am more to be pitied than blamed. If there
    be any thing else relating to myself that you desire to know, my
    sister Amene will give you full information in the relation of
    her story.

    After the caliph had heard Zobeide with much astonishment, he
    desired his grand vizier to request Amene to acquaint him
    wherefore her breast was disfigured with so many scars.

    Amene addressed herself to the caliph, and began her story after
    this manner:
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