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Short Stories

      The Mountain of Death   (The Fourth Voyage of Sinbad the Sailor)

All the things were thus going very comfortably with me when it since happened that the wife of one of my neighborhood, with whom I was a quite a friend, fell ill, and at the moment died in a sudden. I went to his house to support him for his sadness, and found him in the depths of despair.

"May God save you," I said, "and send you a long life!"

"Alas!" he replied, "but what is the good of saying that when I have an hour left to live!"

"Come-on!" I said, "surely it is not so bad as all that happened just now I trust that you may be secure to me for many years."

"I hope," answered he, "that your life may be long, but to me, everything is at all finished. I have set my house in order, and today itself I shall be buried with my wife. This has been the law upon our island from the thousands of years ago, that the living husband goes to the die with his dead wife, and the living wife with her dead husband. So how our fathers did, and so must we do. The law never changes, and all must agree towards it!"

As he spoke all of his friends and relations began to assemble on the place where they were to be buried. The body, decorated in rich fine clothes and sparkling with jewels, was laid upon an open bier, and the procession started, they went in the way to a high mountain at some distance from the city, the depressed husband, clothed from head to foot in a black covering, followed unwillingly.

When the place of burial was reached the dead body was lowered, just as it was, into a deep hollow. Then the husband, said a good-bye to all his friends, placed himself upon another bier, upon which the seven little pieces of breads were laid and a jug of water too, and he also was let down, down, down and down to the depths of the dark horrible hollow, and then a stone was placed over the opening, and the depressed company walked away in its way back to the city.

You may imagine that I was a bystander who did not moved out of these proceedings; to all the others it was a thing to which they had been practiced from their childhood; but I was so horrified that I could not help telling the king how it shocked me.

"Sir," I said, "I am more shocked than I can express to you at the strange practice which remain in your island of burying the living with the dead. In all my travels I have never before met with so cruel, unjust and horrible law."

"What would you have, Sinbad?" he replied. "It is the law for everybody. I myself should be buried with the Queen if she must be the first to die."

"But, your Majesty," I said, "dare I ask if this law is applicable to the foreigners also?"

"Why, yes," replied the king smiling, in what I could but judge a very heartless manner, "there are no protection for them if they have married in this country itself."

When I heard this I went home sadly, and from that time my mind was never easy. If only my wife's little finger ached it seemed to me as if she was about to die, and sure enough before very long she fell really ill and in a few days died.

My fear was great, for it seemed to me that to be buried alive was even a worse thing than to be kidnapped and killed by cannibals, none over there was no way to escape. The body of my wife, decorated in her richest robes and with all her jewels too, was laid upon the bier. I followed it all over in the same way as that man did, and after me came a great procession, headed by the king and all his companions, and in this order we reached the dangerous mountain, which was one of the bordering of the sea.

Here I made one more try over 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 use. No one spoke to me, they even appeared to speed up their horrible task, and I speedily found myself descending into the gloomy pit, with my seven pieces of bread and a jug of water beside me. Almost before I reached the bottom the stone was rolled into its place above my head, and there was no chance to be left.

A thin ray of light came into the hollow through some gaps, and when I had the courage to look about me I could see that I was in a huge tomb, full with bones and bodies of the dead. I even pretended that I heard the expiring cries of those who, like me, had come into this deadly place alive. Hopelessly  I yelled aloud with temper and pain, reproaching myself for the love of gain and adventure which had brought me to such a pass, but after a long time , growing calmer, I took up my bread and water, and wrapping my face in my mantle I searched for my way towards the end of the cavern, where the air was much fresher.

Here I lived in darkness and misery until my necessities were worn out, but just as I was about to be dead from starvation, the rock was rolled away overhead and I saw that a bier was being lowered into the cavern, and that the body upon it was a man. In a moment my mind was made up, the woman who followed had nothing to expect but a lasting death; I should be doing her a service if I shortened her depression.

Therefore when she was loaded downwards, already lacking from fear, I was ready with a huge bone, and gave one blow on her head from which left her dead, and I took up the bread and water which gave me a hope of life. Many times I did the same, and I do not know how long I had been a prisoner when one day I heard something near me, which breathed loudly. Turning to the place from which the sound came; I barely saw a shadow which run off at my movement, getting itself out through a gap in the wall.

I followed it as fast as I could, and found myself in a narrow gap among the rocks, along which I was just able to get my way out from this place. I followed it for what seemed to me many miles, and at last saw before me a ray of light which grew clearer every moment until I come into sight upon the sea shore with a joy which I cannot describe in my words. 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 ran away, showing me a means of escape which I could never have discovered for myself. I quickly look over at my surroundings, and saw that I was safe from all quest from the town.

The mountains sloped downright to the sea, and there was no road across them. Being guaranteed of this I returned to the cavern, and collected a rich treasure of diamonds, rubies, emeralds, and jewels of all kinds which covered the ground. These I made up into large amount, and stored them into a safe place upon the beach, and then waited for the passing of a ship.

I had searched out for two days, however, 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 by crying out loudly, I succeeded in attracting the attention of her sailors. A boat was sent off to me and I answer to the questions of the sailors as to how I came to be in such a place, I replied that I had been stuck two days before, but had managed to scramble ashore with the treasures 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 welcomed me back to the ship. Once on board, I soon saw that the captain was too much occupied with the difficulties of navigation to pay much attention to me, though he charitably made me welcome, and would not even accept the jewels with which I offered to pay my passage. Our journey was successful, and after visiting many lands, and collecting in each place great store of goodly merchandise, I found myself at last in Baghdad once more with unheard of riches of every description. Again I gave large sums of money to the poor, and enriched all the mosques in the city, after which I gave myself up to my friends and relations, with whom I passed my time in feasting and happiness.

Here Sinbad stopped, and all his hearers declared that the adventures of his fourth voyage had pleased them better than anything they had heard before. They then took their leave, followed by Hindbad, who had once more received a hundred tinsels, and with the rest had been bidden 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.