[On an Arabian Traveler]

I shall here take upon me to relate, that once upon a time a native of Arabia, who had passed the age of forty, was brought to the metropolis for the purpose of being presented to me. When introduced to my presence, I observed that he had lost his arm close to the shoulder, and it occurred to me to ask him whether this was his condition from his birth, or whether it was an injury which he had received in battle. He seemed considerably embarrassed by the question; but stated that the accident which had deprived him of his arm was attended with circumstances so very extraordinary, as to be rather beyond credibility, and might perhaps expose him to some degree of ridicule: he had therefore made a vow never to describe it. On my importuning him further, however, and urging that there could exist no reason for concealment compatible with what he owed me for my protection, he finally relented, and related what follows.

“When I was about the age of fifteen, it happened to me to accompany my father on a voyage to India; and at the expiration of about sixty days, during which we had wandered in different directions through the ocean, we were as­sailed by a storm so dreadful, as to be for ever impressed upon my recollection. For three days and three nights successively it raged with such indescribable fury, the sea rose in such tremendous surges, the rain descended in such torrents, and the peals of thunder accompanied by lightning so incessant, as to be terrific in the utmost degree. To complete the horrors of our situation, the ship’s mast, which was as large in compass as two men with arms extended could encircle, snapped in the middle, and falling upon the deck, destroyed many of the crew. The vessel was therefore on the very verge of foundering; but the tempest sub­siding at the close of the third day, we were for the present preserved from destruction, although we were driven far from the course which led to the port of our destination.

“When, however, the ship had for some days been pursuing this uncertain course, we came in sight unexpectedly of what appeared to be a lofty mountain in the midst of the ocean; and as we neared the spot it was soon ascertained to be an island, covered with numerous buildings, and interspersed with trees and river streams in most agreeable variety. Our stock of water in the ship was nearly exhausted, and we therefore steered close in land; and from certain fishermen who were out in their boats we now learnt that the island was in pos­session of the Portuguese Franks; that it was extremely populous, and that there were no Mussulmen inhabitants; moreover, that they had no intercourse with strangers.

“To be as brief as possible: as soon as the ship had reached the anchoring ground and dropped her anchor, a Portuguese captain and another officer came on board; and instantly, without leaving even an infant child to take care of the ship, conveyed the whole of the ship’s company, passengers and all, in boats to the shore; desiring, at the same time, that we might not be under any appre­hensions, for that as soon as it could be discovered that there was among us a person that suited a particular purpose, which they did not chuse to explain, that one alone would be detained, and the others dismissed without injury. The port being theirs, and ourselves entirely at their mercy, we were compelled to submit to all they said; and accordingly the whole ship’s company, merchants, slaves, and mariners, to the number of twelve hundred persons, were all crowded into one house.

“From thence they sent for us one by one alternately, and stripping us stark-naked, one of their hakeims, or physicians, proceeded to make the minutest examination of our bodies, in every muscle, vein, and limb, telling each respec­tively after undergoing such examination, that he was at liberty to go about his business. This they continued to do until it came to the turn of myself and a brother who was with us; and what was our dismay and horror when, after the described examination, the hakeim delivered us into the custody of some of the people in attendance, with orders to place us behind the curtain; that is, where we should not be open to human intercourse. With the exception of my brother and myself, the whole of the ship’s company, on whose bodies they failed to discover the marks of which they were in search, were now dismissed. Neither could my father either by tears or remonstrances succeed in diverting them from their purpose; to his repeated demands to know in what his sons could have offended, that out of a ship’s company of twelve hundred persons they alone should be detained, they replied only by a frown, utterly disregarding every intreaty.

“They now conveyed my brother and myself to a part of the place where they lodged us in separate chambers, opposite however to each other. Every morning they brought us for food fowl kabaubs, honey, and white bread, and this continued for the space of ten days. At the expiration of that period the naokhoda (or commander of the ship), demanded permission to proceed on his voyage. My father implored that he would delay his departure, if it were only for two or three days longer, when peradventure the Portuguese might be induced to give up his sons. He presented himself to the ruler of the port, and again by the most humble intreaties endeavoured to obtain our release, but in vain.

“The same medical person on whose report we were detained now came with ten other Franks to the house or chamber where my brother was confined, and again stripping him naked, they laid him on his back on a board or table, where he was exposed to the same manual examination as before. They then left him and came to me, and stretching me out on a board in the same manner and plight, again examined my body in every part as before. Again they returned to my brother; for from the situation of our prisons, the doors being exactly opposite, I could distinctly observe all that passed. They sent for a large bowl and a knife, and placing my brother with his head over the bowl, and his cries and supplications all in vain, they struck him over the mouth, and with the knife actually severed his head from the body, both the head and his blood being received in the bowl. When the bleeding had ceased they took away the bowl of blood, which they immediately poured into a pot of boiling oil brought for the purpose, stirring the whole together with a ladle until both blood and oil became completely amalgamated. Will it be believed, that after this they took the head and again fixing it exactly to the body, they continued to rub the adjoining parts with the mixture of blood and oil until the whole had been applied. They left my brother in this state, closed the door, and went their way.

“At the expiration of three days from this, they sent for me from my place of confinement, and telling me that they had obtained at my brother’s expense all that was necessary to their purpose, they pointed out to me the entrance to a place under ground, which they said was the repository of gold and jewels to an incalculable amount. Thither they informed me I was to descend, and that I might bring away for myself as much of the contents as I had strength to carry. At first I refused all belief to their assertions, conceiving that doubt­less they were about to send me where I was to be exposed to some tremendous trial; but as their importunities were too well enforced, I had no alternative but submission.

“I entered the opening which led to the passage, and having descended a flight of stairs about fifty steps, I discovered four separate chambers. In the first chamber, to my utter surprise, I beheld my brother apparently restored to perfect health. He wore the dress and habiliments of the Ferenguies, or Portu­guese, had on his head a cap of the same people, profusely ornamented with pearl and precious stones, a sword set with diamonds by his side, and a staff similarly enriched under his arm. My surprise was not diminished when the moment he observed me I saw him turn away from me, as if under feelings of the utmost disgust and disdain. I became so alarmed at a reception so strange and unaccountable, that although I saw that it was my own brother, the very marrow in my bones seemed to have been turned into cold water. I ventured, however, to look into the second chamber, and there I beheld heaps upon heaps of diamonds and rubies, and pearl and emeralds, and every other description of precious stones, thrown one on the other in astonishing profusion. The third chamber into which I looked contained in similar heaps an immense profu­sion of gold; and the fourth chamber was strewed middle deep with silver.

“I had some difficulty in determining to which of these glittering deposits I should give the preference. At last I recollected that a single diamond was of greater value than all the gold I could gather into my robe, and I accordingly decided on tucking up my skirts and filling them with jewels. I put out my hand in order to take up some of these glittering articles, when from some invisible agent, perhaps it was the effect of some overpowering effluvia, I received a blow so stunning, that I found it impossible to stand in the place any longer. In my retreat, it was necessary to pass the chamber in which I had seen my brother. The instant he perceived me about to pass he drew his sword, and made a furious cut at me. I endeavoured to avoid the stroke by suddenly starting aside, but in vain; the blow took effect, and my right arm dropped from the shoulder-joint. Thus wounded and bleeding, I rushed from this deposit of treasure and horror, and at the entrance above found the physician and his associates, who had so mysteriously determined the destiny of my unhappy brother. Some of them went below and brought away my mutilated arm; and having closed up the entrance with stone and mortar, conducted me, together with my arm all bleeding as I was, to the presence of the Portuguese governor, men and women, and children, flocking to the doors to behold the extraordinary spectacle.

“The wound in my shoulder continued to bleed; but having received from the governor a compensation of three thousand tomauns, a horse with jewelled caparison, a number of beautiful female slaves, and many males, with the promise of future favour in reserve, the Portuguese physician was ordered to send for me, and applying some styptic preparation to the wound it quickly healed, and so perfectly, that it might be said I was thus armless from my birth. I was then dismissed, and having shortly afterwards obtained a passage in another ship, in about a month from my departure reached the port for which I was destined.”*

On the above relation, continues our imperial memorialist, I have to observe, that in all probability the extraordinary circumstances to which it refers were effected through the operations of chimia (‘alchemy’), known to be extensively practised among the Franks, and in which the jugglers from Bengal appear to have been very well instructed.