Hatim’s perilous journey to the city of Karam— His attainment of the object of his desire, and safe return to Shahabad.

WE are informed by the learned, that when Hatim left Shahabad, he prosecuted his journey for several stages, till at length he came to the foot of a lofty mountain. There he observed at some distance what he conceived to be a spring of water; but what must have been his surprise when, on a nearer approach, he found streaming with blood! He stood bewildered, and unable to account for a phenomenon such as he had never witnessed. Wearied and disappointed, he at length resumed his journey, and in the course of two days his attention was drawn to a tree of uncommon size, which towered far above the surrounding objects. He quickly bent his steps towards this stately tree; but when he reached it, what an appalling sight! To every branch of it was suspended a human head; and at the foot of it was a lake of a crimson hue, from which a stream of blood issued in the direction of the desert.

Hatim sat down underneath the tree, and viewed with wonder and awe the spectacle before him; when all at once the deadly silence of the place was broken by a peal of laughter from the suspended heads. He started up in ten­fold astonishment, for to him it seemed utterly unaccount­able that human heads severed from the body should still preserve their risible faculties. With no less wonder he saw that the blood constantly flowed into the lake from the opened veins of those heads. In deep reflexion, he was considering how to unfold this fearful mystery when his eye was attracted by the head which stood highest on the tree. The moment he beheld the enchanting smile of that angelic countenance, he felt as if his soul would quit its frame, and senseless he fell upon the earth. After some hours his recollection was restored, and he sat up wondering within himself what could have been the cause of so strange an occurrence, and why so many beautiful damsels had been doomed to so cruel a fate.

Hatim considered it as unworthy of himself to pass on and take no further notice of what he had just seen, for in that case he should still remain in ignorance. He resolved therefore to stop for a few days in that place, in order, if possible, to discover the nature of the mystery. When the shades of night were about to fall, he withdrew into a sheltered spot on the banks of the lake, and there betook himself to rest. But ere he closed his eyelids in sleep a change came over the scene before him, which further served to increase his astonishment. When the last ray of twilight had vanished, he observed that on a sudden all the heads dropped from the tree into the lake, which in an instant was transformed into a palace splendidly adorned with gorgeous couches, and in the midst a throne of burnished gold. Shortly after entered a train of damsels of fairy form, and amongst them one of surpassing beauty, who occupied the throne while the rest sat down on the surrounding couches.

When this brilliant assembly was seated, Hatim took a thorough view of the queen upon the throne,and was convinced that her head was the same that he had seen highest upon the tree, and the countenance was that of which the beauty had already ravished his heart. Amongst those who sat on the couches or stood in attendance on the queen, he could also perceive many faces already familiar to him. A select number of those heart ravishing damsels had musical instru­ments, the melodious sounds of which charmed the ear, while the eye was delighted with the graceful movements of others who danced. Thus passed the first half of the night, while Hatim looked on with a feeling of wonder and delight, uncertain whether he was in a dream or enjoying a scene of reality.

About the hour of midnight, tables were spread, and the choicest viands of every description were brought in and laid down. Meanwhile she who occupied the throne issued orders to those in waiting to place a table and food before the stranger who sat retired on the border of the lake. The servants speedily obeyed; and having brought the table and food to Hatim, requested him to eat, as such was the will of their queen. “And what,” asked Hatim, “is the name of your fair and hospitable sovereign?” — “Ask no questions,” replied the attendant damsels, “as we are not at liberty to satisfy your curiosity. Accept the bounty thus offered you, and trouble not your­self with the name of the giver, being a matter of no moment to you.”— “What you state,” rejoined Hatim, “is very reasonable; but unless you inform me of your sovereign’s name, be assured that I will not taste of her food.”

The fairy attendants returned to their queen, and informed her of the stranger’s obstinate refusal of her bounty, whereupon she again sent one of them to Hatim, requesting him in the meantime to eat of her food, and that to-morrow he should know all. Hatim still persisted in his previous request, and endeavoured to lay hold of the fair messenger: but she flew beyond his reach, and took up her station at the foot of the throne in the humble posture of the other attendants. Again the song and dance were resumed, and thus the fair assembly passed the remainder of the night.

When the first rays of dawn began to emerge from the east, the whole scene vanished as it were into the bottom of the lake. Instantly the severed heads again rose from the water, and took their station on the branches of the tree, each in the place it had occupied the preceding day. Hatim now quitted the spot where he had spent the night, and once more sat down underneath the tree with his eyes fixed upon the heads, but chiefly upon that of the queen. Various were the plans he suggested to himself, though none of them seemed to promise success. He resolved, however, to use every exertion in the unfolding of this mystery, and if possible break the spell of the enchant­ment, whereupon he should claim the queen as his bride.

Thus another day passed by, and again the veil of darkness overshadowed the earth, when all the heads dropped from the tree into the lake, and the same scene which he had witnessed the preceding night was again presented to his view. He sat on the banks of the lake as before, and waited in anxious expectation the fulfilment of the queen’s promise. When midnight came he was presented with a table and food by the damsel whom he had addressed the preceding night. He reminded her of the queen’s promise, but was requested to eat of the food and ask no idle questions. “Never,” replied Hatim, “will I taste of your mistress’s bounty till you have fully informed me of her name.” The messenger returned to the queen, and told her of the result. Her Majesty requested Hatim first to taste of her bounty and then to come before her, when he should receive the information he desired.

Hatim then partook of the food offered him, and rose up to accompany the fairy attendant to the queen’s presence. The fairy plunged into the midst of the lake, and Hatim without hesitation followed her example. When his feet reached the bottom he opened his eyes, and beheld, not the lake, nor the stately tree, nor the fairy court, but a dreary waste which seemed to be the haunt of demons. His love for the fairy queen however was so powerful that he could think of nothing else. Forgetful of himself, he sorrowfully strayed through this wilderness for the space of seven days, when all at once he espied a man of venerable appearance dressed in green apparel, advancing towards him from the right hand side.

When Hatim saw this aged man, he stood still waiting his approach. The latter courteously saluted him, and expressed his surprise in finding him in that desert, which he said was called Jaras. “And how,” said Hatim, “have I chanced to come hither?”— “Did you not of your own accord,” replied the man in green, “plunge into the lake, though you must have known that all you beheld was enchant­ment? But at present you are a hundred farasangs distant from it!” Hatim, on receiving this information, threw himself upon the earth and wept aloud, saying, “Alas! how shall I be able to retrace my way? I must bid adieu to life, and yet attain not the object of my desire.”

The aged man, pitying Hatim, said to him, “What is your desire at present?”— “To return instantly,” replied Hatim, “to the place whence I came.” The old man holding up a staff, desired him to shut his eyes and seize it in his hand. This Hatim had no sooner done than he found himself in his old quarters on the banks of the lake where he beheld the tree with the heads suspended to its branches as formerly, but no trace of his venerable benefactor was to be found. He now sat down, thoughtfully contriving what course to adopt next, when all at once he resolved to climb the tree, and bring down the head of the queen. Thus determined he began to climb, but lo! the tree shook so violently that Hatim fell to the ground. Again he grasped the trunks of the tree, and finding that it ceased from shaking, he with great exertion climbed up about half way to its branches. But here a tremendous sound issued from the trunk of the tree, which was rent asunder, and Hatim was swallowed into the fissure, so that only half his body appeared without.

Hatim deeply repented his temerity, and said to him­self, “Now indeed my misery is complete! I have escaped from the enchanted desert, but this difficulty I see no possi­bility of overcoming.” In the agonies of despair, he exerted all his strength to release himself, but he found that his body every moment sunk deeper into the tree, till at length only his head and hands remained visible. In this state his breathing almost ceased, and he was about to close his eyes for ever on this world, when, behold! the aged man in green stood before him, and said, “Heedless youth, why have you involved yourself in this calamity? Are you in good truth tired of your life, that you thus so freely peril it?”

Hatim was in no condition to reply, so he remained silent. Meanwhile the aged man struck the tree with his staff, and instantly the parts of it where Hatim was incased became smooth as oil. The aged man took him by the hands and drew him from his fetters, but his strength was so exhausted that he fell at the foot of the tree. When he recovered his senses, the venerable sage said to him, “Tell me, young man, what have you to do with trunkless heads, that you should thus involve yourself in such calamities?”— “I should like,” replied Hatim, “to know the mysterious cause of their being suspended here.”— “Listen to me,” said the aged man, “and I will satisfy your curiosity.”

“There is a magician by name Sam Ahmar, and that head which you see highest on the tree is that of his daughter. This lady, who was exceedingly beautiful, fell in love with a youth about her own age, and wished to marry him. She requested her father’s consent, stating that she was now of age, and expected that her father would sanction the choice she had made. On hearing her declaration, the father became enraged, and inflicted this punishment upon his daughter. This tree, the lake, and all that you see before you, are the effects of his enchantment. The magician’s residence is in a mountain about a hundred farasangs distant, and the name of this daughter is Zarinposh. So powerful is he in his art, that when he pleases he transports himself hither in less than a day. The place of his abode is called the Red Mountain, and during his life no mortal can approach his daughter.

On receiving this information from his aged deliverer, Hatim said, “Father, I will instantly climb the tree, and rescue the daughter; even the fear of death shall not detain me.”— “If such is your resolution,” replied his sage monitor, “you are indeed exposing your life to perils; I warn you of the danger, and I advise you as friend to abandon such thoughts.”— “You say well,” rejoined Hatim, “but in this proceeding I am prepared for the worst.”— “And may I ask,” continued the old man, “what occasion have you to attempt a task which you are convinced to be fatal?”— “I am enamoured of the magician’s daughter,” replied Hatim, “and I will either rescue her or share her fate.”

The aged man still persisted in his salutary advice, and Hatim remained equally obstinate. At length the former said, “Young man, if you mind not my counsel, be assured that you will have cause for sorrow.”— “Alas,” said Hatim, “what is life to me without the object of my desire? As for sorrow, it is to me familiar, for the word was written on my forehead the day I first drew breath.” The old man, without further speech, struck the tree with his staff, and said to Hatim, “Come and ascend,” after which, he vanished from the place.