Story of the Young Man who was taken
to the Land of Women

THERE was a man, possessed of great wealth and master of many slaves, who died, leaving his estates to an infant son. When he reached manhood, he engaged in pleasure and amusements, in feasting and drinking, in music and dancing, with profusion and ex­travagance, until he had expended the riches his father had left him. He then took to selling his effects and slaves and concubines, till at length, through distress, he was obliged to ply as a porter in the streets for a subsistence.

As he one day waited for an employer, an old man of portly and respectable appearance stopped, and looked earnestly at him for some time. At length the young man said: “Why, sir, do you so earnestly gaze at my countenance? Have you any occasion for my services?” The old man replied: “Yes, my son. We are ten old men, who live together in the same house,* and have at present no person to attend us. If thou wilt accept the office, I trust (God willing) it will afford thee much advantage.” The youth replied: “Most willingly and readily.” Then said the old man: “You shall serve us, but upon condition that you conceal our situation; and when you see us weep­ing and lamenting, that you ask not the cause.” The young man consented, whereupon his new master took him to a bath, and when he was cleansed, presented him with a handsome dress, and repaired with him to his own house. This proved to be a magnificent palace; its courts surrounded by galleries, and adorned with basins and fountains. All sorts of birds fluttered in the lofty trees which ornamented the gardens, and overshadowed the apartments.

The old man conducted him into one of the pavil­ions, which was laid over with silken carpets, rich masnads,* and superb cushions. In this pavilion sat nine venerable old men, all weeping and lamenting, at which he was astonished, but asked no questions. His master then took him to a large chest, pulled out of it a bag containing a thousand dīnars, and said: “My son, thou art entrusted by God with this treasure, to expend it upon us and thyself with integrity.” The young man replied: “To hear is to obey.” He now busied himself in providing for their wants, what was necessary for victuals and raiment, during three years. At length one of the old men died, and they washed his corpse, and buried it in the garden of the palace.

The young man continued to serve them, and the old men died one after another, until nine had de­parted, and he only remained who had hired him. At last he also fell sick, and the young man despaired of his recovery. So he said to himself: “My master will surely die, and why should I not ask him the cause of their bewailings?” Approaching the couch of the old man, who groaned in the agonies of death, he said: “O my master, I conjure thee by God to acquaint me with the reason of your constant lamentations.” “My son,” he replied, “there is no occasion for thee to know it, so do not importune me for what will not profit thee. Believe me, I have ever loved and com­passionated thee. I dread lest thou shouldst be punished as we have been punished, but wish thou mayest be preserved. Be advised, therefore, my son, and open not yonder locked door.” He then pointed out the door to him; after which his agonies increased, and he exclaimed: “I testify that there is no god but God, and that Muhammad is his servant and prophet!” Then his soul fluttered, he turned upon his side, and he was joined to his Lord. The young man washed the corpse, enshrouded it, and buried him by the side of his companions.

After this he took possession of the palace, and diverted himself for some time in examining the treasures it contained. At length his mind became restless for want of employment. He reflected upon the fate of the old men, and on the dying words of his master, and the charge he had given him. He exam­ined the door; his mind was overcome by curiosity to see what could be within it, and he did not weigh the consequences. Satan tempted him to open the door, and he exclaimed with the poet: “What is not to happen cannot be effected by human contrivance; but what is to be will be.” He now unlocked the door. It opened into a long dark passage, in which he wandered for three hours, when he came out upon the shore of the ocean. He was astonished, and gazed with wonder on all sides. He would have re­turned, but lo! a black eagle of monstrous size darted from the air, and seizing him in her talons, soared for some time between heaven and earth. At length it descended with him upon a small island in the ocean, and fled away.

The young man remained a while motionless with terror; but recovering, began to wander about the island. Suddenly a sail arose to his view on the waters, resembling a fleeting cloud in the heavens. He gazed, and the sail approached, till it reached the beach of the island, when he beheld a boat formed of ivory, ebony, and sandal, the oars of which were made of aloes-wood of Comorin, the sails were of white silk, and it was navigated by beautiful maidens, shining like moons. They advanced from the boat, and kissing his hands, said: “Our souls are refreshed at seeing thee, for thou art the master of our country and of our queen.” One of the ladies approached him with a parcel wrapped in rich damask, in which was a royal dress most superbly embroidered, and a crown of gold splendidly set with diamonds and pearls. She assisted him to dress; during which the youth said to himself: “Do I see this in a dream? or am I awake? The old man mentioned nothing of this. He must surely have forbade my opening the door out of envy.”

The ladies then conducted him to the boat, which he found spread with elegant carpets and cushions of brocade. They hoisted the sails, and rowed with their oars, while the youth could not divine what would be the end of his adventure. He continued in a state of bewilderment till they reached land, when behold! the beach was crowded with troops and attendants, gallant in appearance, and of the tallest stature. When the boat anchored, five principal officers of the army advanced to the young man, who was at first alarmed, but they paid their obeisance profoundly, and welcomed him in a tone shrill as the sound of silver. Then the drums beat, the trumpets sounded, and the troops arranged themselves on his right hand and on his left. They proceeded till they reached an extensive and ver­dant meadow, in which another detachment met them, numerous as the rolling billows or waving shadows.

Lastly appeared a young prince, surrounded by the nobles of his kingdom, but all wore veils, so that no part of them could be seen but their eyes. When the prince came near the young man, he and his company alighted, some of them embraced each other, and after conversing a while, remounted their horses. The cavalcade then proceeded, and did not halt till it came to the royal palace, when the young man was helped from his horse,* and the prince conducted him into a splendid hall, in which was the royal throne. The seeming prince ascended it and sat down; and on removing the veil from his face, the young man beheld a beautiful damsel in the supposed prince. While he gazed in astonishment, she said: “Young man, this country is mine, the troops are mine, and I am their queen; but when a man arriveth amongst us, he becomes my superior, and governs in my place.” The youth, upon hearing this, was wrapt still more in wonder. And while they were conversing, the vazīr en­tered, who was a stately looking matron, to whom the queen said: “Call the qāzī and the witnesses.” She replied: “To hear is to obey.”

The queen then said to the young man: “Art thou willing that I should be thy wife, and to be my hus­band?” Hearing this, and beholding her condescending demeanour, he rose up, and kissing the ground, said (as she would have prevented his prostration): “I am not worthy of such high honour, or even to be one of thy humblest attendants.” She replied: “My lord, all that thou hast beheld, and what remains unseen by thee of this country, its provinces, people, and treasures are thine, and I am thy handmaiden. Avoid only yonder door, which thou must not open: if thou dost, thou wilt repent when repentance will not avail.”—The vazīr, qāzī, and witnesses, who were all women, now entered, and they were married; after which the courtiers and people were introduced, and congrat­ulated them.

The young man remained for seven months* in the height of enjoyment, when one day he recollected his old master, and how he had warned him not to open the door in his palace, which though he had done, yet from his disobedience such unexpected good fortune had befallen him. His curiosity and Satan whispered to him, that within the door which the queen had for­bidden him to open, some important scenes must also be concealed. He advanced, opened it, and entered; but found a gloomy passage, in which he had not walked more than twenty steps, when light gleamed upon him. He advanced, and beheld the same eagle that had borne him away. He would now have re­treated, but the monster darted upon him, seized him in its talons, ascended, and put him down on the spot where it had first taken him up.

He regretted his lost grandeur, power, and dominion, exclaiming: “When I rode out, a hundred beautiful damsels surrounded me, and were flattered by being permitted to attend me. Alas! I was living in honour, until I rashly ventured upon what I have committed!” For two full months he lamented, crying out: “Alas! alas! if the bird would but once again return!” but in vain. Night and day, weeping, he would exclaim: “I was enjoying my ease until my imprudence ruined me.” At length one night, in a restless slumber, he heard a voice saying: “Alas! alas! what is past cannot be recovered,” upon which he despaired of seeing again his queen or his kingdom. He then entered the palace of his old masters by the dark passage, fatally convinced of what had occasioned their incessant lamentations. He employed himself in praying for their souls; and, like them, wept and lamented, until he died. [28]

“Observe, therefore, O sultan,” said the vazīr, “that precipitancy is of ill consequence, and I advise thee from experience.”—The sultan then refrained from executing his son.

On the sixth night the Damsel entered with a dagger in her hand, and said: “O sultan, wilt thou revenge me of thy son? If not, I will instantly put myself to death. Thy vazīrs pretend that woman is more artful than man, wishing to destroy my rights; but I assure thee that man is far more deceitful than woman, which is clear from what passed between a prince and a merchant's wife.