The Book of the Thousand Nights and One Night/Abdallah the Fisherman and Abdallah the Merman

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
The Book of the Thousand Nights and One Night
Volume 8

by unknown author, translated by John Payne
Abdallah the Fisherman and Abdallah the Merman
2190595The Book of the Thousand Nights and One Night
Volume 8 — Abdallah the Fisherman and Abdallah the Merman
John PayneUnknown


There was once a fisherman named Abdallah, who had a wife and nine children and was very poor, owning nothing but his net. Every day he used to go to the sea to fish, and if he caught little, he sold it and spent the price on his children, after the measure of that which God vouchsafed him of provision; but, if he caught much, he would cook a good mess of meat and buy fruit and spend without stint till nothing was left him, saying in himself, ‘To-morrow’s provision will come to-morrow.’ Presently, his wife gave birth to another child, making ten in all, and it chanced that day that he had nothing at all; so she said to him, ‘O my master, see [and get] me wherewithal I may sustain myself.’ Quoth he, ‘Under favour of God the Most High, I am going to-day to the sea, to fish in the name of this new-born child, that we may see its luck.’ And she answered, ‘Put thy trust in God.’

So he took his net and went down to the sea-shore, where he cast it in the name of the little child, saying, ‘O my God, make his living easy, not hard, and abundant, not scant!’ Then he waited awhile and drew in the net, which came up full of rubbish and sand and pebbles and weeds, and he found therein no fish, neither much nor little. He cast it again and waited, then drew it in, but found no fish in it, and threw it a third and a fourth and a fifth time, with no better success. So he removed to another place, beseeching God the Most High to grant him his daily bread, and thus he did till the end of the day, but caught not so much as a sprat; whereat he fell a-marvelling in himself and said, ‘Hath God then created this new-born child, without [an appointed] provision? This may never be; He who slits the corners of the mouth hath engaged for its provision, for He is the Bountiful, the Provider!’ So saying, he shouldered his net and turned homeward, broken-spirited and heavy at heart for his family, for that he had left them without food, more by token that his wife was in the straw.

As he trudged along, saying in himself, ‘How shall I do and what shall I say to the children to-night?’ he came to a baker’s oven and saw a crowd about it; for it was a time of dearth and food was scant with the folk; so they were proffering the baker money, but he paid no heed to any of them, by reason of the much crowd. The fisherman stood looking and snuffing the smell of the hot bread,—and indeed his soul longed for it, by reason of his hunger,—till the baker caught sight of him and cried out to him, saying, ‘Come hither, O fisherman!’ So he went up to him, and the baker said to him, ‘Dost thou want bread?’ But he was silent. ‘Speak,’ said the baker, ‘and be not ashamed, for God is bountiful. If thou have no money, I will give thee [bread] and have patience with thee till good [fortune] betide thee.’ ‘By Allah, O master,’ replied Abdallah, ‘I have indeed no money! But give me bread enough for my family, and I will leave thee this net in pawn till the morrow.’ ‘Nay, good fellow,’ rejoined the baker, ‘this net is [as it were] thy shop and the means of thy livelihood;[1] so, if thou pawn it, wherewithal wilt thou fish? Tell me how much [bread] will suffice thee?’ ‘Ten paras’ worth,’ replied the fisherman.

So he gave him ten paras’ worth of bread and ten paras in money, saying, ‘Take these ten paras and cook thyself a mess of meat therewith; so wilt thou owe me twenty paras, for which bring me fish to-morrow; but, if thou catch nothing again, come and take thy bread and thy ten paras, Night dccccxli.and I will have patience with thee till better luck betide thee, when thou shalt bring me fish for all thou owest me.’ ‘May God the Most High reward thee,’ said the fisherman, ‘and requite thee for me with all good!’ Then he took the bread and the money and went away, glad at heart, and buying what he could [of meat and vegetables], returned to his wife, whom he found sitting up, soothing the children, who were weeping for hunger, and saying to them, ‘Your father will be here anon with what ye may eat.’ So he set the bread before them and they ate, whilst he told his wife what had befallen him, and she said, ‘God is bountiful.’

On the morrow, he shouldered his net and went forth of his house, saying, ‘I beseech thee, O Lord, to vouchsafe me this day what shall whiten my face with the baker!’ When he came to the sea-shore, he proceeded to cast his net and pull it in; but there came up no fish therein; and he toiled thus till ended day and caught nothing. Then he set out homeward, in sore concern, and the way to his house lay past the baker’s shop; so he said in himself, ‘How shall I go home? But I will hasten past that the baker may not see me.’ When he reached the shop, he saw a crowd about it and quickened his pace, being ashamed to face the baker; but the latter raised his eyes to him and cried out to him, saying, ‘Ho, fisherman! Come and take thy bread and spending-money. Meseems thou forgettest.’ ‘By Allah,’ answered Abdallah, ‘I had not forgotten; but I was ashamed to face thee, because I have caught no fish to-day.’ ‘Be not ashamed,  answered the baker. ‘Said I not to thee, “At thy leisure, till good hap betide thee?”’

Then he gave him the bread and the ten paras and he returned and told his wife, who said, ‘God is bountiful. If it please the Most High, good luck shall yet betide thee and thou shalt give the baker his due.’ On this wise he did forty days, betaking himself daily to the sea, from the rising of the sun to the going down thereof, and returning [at nightfall], without fish; and still he took bread and spending-money of the baker, who never named the fish to him nor neglected him nor kept him waiting, like the folk,[2] but gave him the bread and the ten paras [forthright]. Whenever the fisherman said to him, ‘O my brother, reckon with me,’ he would say, ‘Go thy ways; this is no time for reckoning. [Wait] till good luck betide thee, and then I will reckon with thee.’ And the fisherman would go away, blessing and thanking him.

On the one-and-fortieth day, he said to his wife, ‘I have a mind to tear up the net and be quit of this life.’ ‘Why wilt thou do this?’ asked she. And he said, ‘Meseems there is an end of my getting my living from the sea. How long shall this last? By Allah, I am consumed with shame before the baker and I will go no more to the sea, so I may not pass by his shop, for I have no other way home; and every time I pass, he calls me and gives me the bread and the ten paras. How much longer shall I run in debt to him?’ ‘Praised be God the Most High,’ replied his wife, ‘who hath inclined his heart to thee, so that he giveth thee our daily bread! What mislikest thou in this?’ Quoth he, ‘I owe him now a great sum of money, and he will without fail demand his due.’ ‘Hath he vexed thee with words?’ asked his wife. ‘Nay,’ answered Abdallah; ‘on the contrary, he still refuses to reckon with me, saying, “[Wait] till good luck betide thee.”’ And his wife said, ‘If he press thee, say to him, “[Wait] till there come the good luck for which we hope, thou and I.”’ ‘And when will the good luck come that we hope for?’ asked the fisherman. ‘God is bountiful,’ answered she; and he said, ‘Thou sayst sooth.’

Then he shouldered his net and went down to the sea-side, saying, ‘O Lord, provide Thou me, though but with one fish, that I may give it to the baker!’ And he cast his net into the sea and pulling it in, found it heavy; so he tugged at it till, after sore travail, he got it ashore and found in it a dead ass, swollen and stinking; whereat his soul sickened and he freed it from the net, saying, ‘There is no power and no virtue save in God the Most High, the Supreme! Verily, I can no more! I say to yonder woman,[3] “There is no more provision for me in the sea; let me leave this craft.” And she still answers me, “God is bountiful: good will betide thee.” Is this dead ass the good of which she speaks?’ And he was sore chagrined.

Then he removed to another place, so he might be quit of the stench of the dead ass, and cast his net there. He waited awhile, then drew it in and found it heavy; whereupon quoth he, ‘Good; we are hauling up all the dead asses in the sea and ridding it of its rubbish.’ However he gave not over tugging at the net, till the blood streamed from the palms of his hands, and when he got it ashore, he saw a man in it and took him for one of the Afrits of the lord Solomon, whom he was wont to imprison in vessels of brass and cast into the sea, supposing that the vessel had burst for length of years and that the Afrit had come forth and fallen into the net; wherefore he fled from him, crying out and saying, ‘Mercy, mercy, O Afrit of Solomon!’ But the creature called out to him from within the net and said, ‘Come hither, O fisherman, and flee not from me; for I am a human being like thyself. Release me, so thou mayst get a recompense for me [of God].’

So the fisherman took heart and coming up to him, said to him, ‘Art thou not an Afrit of the Jinn?’ ‘Nay,’ replied the other, ‘I am a mortal and a believer in God and His Apostle.’ ‘Who threw thee into the sea?’ asked the fisherman; and he answered, ‘I am of the children of the sea and was going about therein, when thou castest the net over me. We are people who obey God’s commandments and show loving-kindness unto the creatures of the Most High, and but that I fear and dread to be of the disobedient, I had rent thy net; but I accept that which God hath decreed unto me; wherefore thou art become my owner and I thy captive. Wilt thou then set me free for the love of God the Most High and make a covenant with me and become my friend? I will come to thee every day in this place, and do thou come to me and bring me a gift of the fruits of the land. For with you are grapes and figs and melons and peaches and pomegranates and what not else, and all thou bringest me will be acceptable unto me. Moreover, with us are coral and pearls and chrysolites and emeralds and rubies and other precious stones, and I will fill thee the basket, wherein thou bringest me the fruit, with precious stones of the jewels of the sea. What sayst thou to this, O my brother?’

Quoth the fisherman, ‘Be the first chapter of the Koran between thee and me upon this.’ So they recited the Fatiheh,[4] [in token of their agreement], and the fisherman loosed the merman from the net and said to him, ‘What is thy name?’ ‘My name is Abdallah of the sea,’ answered he; ‘and if thou come hither and see me not, do thou call out and say, “Where art thou, O Abdallah, O merman?” And I will be with thee presently. Night dccccxlii.But thou, what is thy name?’ ‘My name also is Abdallah,’ answered the fisherman. Quoth the other, ‘Thou art Abdallah of the land and I am Abdallah of the sea; but abide here till I go and fetch thee a present.’ And the fisherman said, ‘I hear and obey.’

Then the merman went down into the sea [and disappeared]; whereupon the fisherman repented him of having released him and said in himself, ‘How know I that he will come back to me? Indeed, he beguiled me, so that I released him, and now he will laugh at me. Had I kept him, I might have made a show of him for the diversion of the people of the city and taken money from all the folk and entered with him the houses of the great.’ And he repented him of having let him go and said, ‘Thou hast let thy prey go from thy hand.’ But, as he was thus bemoaning his credulity, behold, the merman returned to him, with his hands full of pearls and coral and emeralds and rubies and other jewels, and said to him, ‘Take these, O my brother, and excuse me, for I had no basket that I might fill it for thee.’

The fisherman rejoiced and took the jewels from the merman, who said to him, ‘Come hither every day, before sunrise,’ and taking leave of him, went down into the sea; whilst the other returned to the city, rejoicing, and stayed not till he came to the baker’s shop and said to him, ‘O my brother, good luck is come to us [at last]; so do thou reckon with me.’ ‘There needs no reckoning,’ answered the baker. ‘If thou have aught, give it me; and if not, take thy bread and spending-money and begone, against good betide thee.’ ‘O my friend,’ rejoined the fisherman, ‘indeed good hath betided me of God’s bounty, and I owe thee much money; but take this.’ So saying, he took up, at a handful, half of the pearls and coral and rubies and other jewels he had with him, and gave them to the baker, saying, ‘Give me some ready money to spend this day, till I sell these jewels.’

So the baker gave him all the money he had by him and all the bread in his basket and rejoiced in the jewels he had given him, saying, ‘I am thy slave and thy servant.’ Then he set all the bread on his head and following the fisherman home, gave it to his wife and children, after which he repaired to the market and fetched meat and vegetables and all kinds of fruit. Moreover, he left his shop and abode with Abdallah all that day, busying himself in his service and doing all his occasions. ‘O my brother,’ said the fisherman, ‘thou weariest thyself.’ ‘This is my duty,’ answered the baker; ‘for I am become thy servant and thou hast overwhelmed me with thy bounties.’ ‘Not so,’ rejoined the fisherman; ‘it is thou who wast my benefactor in the days of dearth and straitness.’ And the baker passed the night in feasting with him and became a faithful friend to him. Then the fisherman told his wife what had befallen him with the merman, whereat she rejoiced and said, ‘Keep thy secret, lest the magistrates come down upon thee.’ But he said, ‘Though I keep my secret from all the folk, yet will I not hide it from the baker.’

On the morrow, he rose before the sun and shouldering a basket, which he had filled overnight with all manner fruits, repaired to the sea-shore, where he set down the basket and called out, saying, ‘Where art thou, O Abdallah, O merman?’ And he answered, saying, ‘Here am I, at thy service;’ and came forth to him. The fisherman gave him the fruit and he took it and plunging into the sea with it, was absent awhile, after which he came up, with the basket full of all kinds of precious stones and jewels. The fisherman set it on his head and went away; and when he came to the baker’s shop, the latter said to him, ‘O my lord, I have baked thee forty brioshes and have sent them to thy house; and now I will bake wastel-bread, and as soon as it is done, I will bring it to the house and go and fetch thee meat and vegetables.’

Abdallah gave him three handsful of jewels out of the basket and going home, set it down there. Then he took a jewel of price of each sort and going to the jewel-bazaar, stopped at the Syndic’s shop and said to him, ‘Buy these jewels of me.’ ‘Show them to me,’ said the Syndic. So he showed them to him and the jeweller said, ‘Hast thou other than these?’ ‘Yes,’ answered Abdallah, ‘I have a basketful at home.’ ‘And where is thy house?’ asked the Syndic. ‘In such a quarter,’ replied the fisherman; whereupon the Syndic took the jewels from him and said to his servants, ‘Lay hold of him, for he is the thief who stole the queen’s jewels.’ And he bade beat him. So they beat him and bound his hands behind him; after which the Syndic and all the people of the jewel-market arose and set out [to carry him to the king], saying, ‘We have gotten the thief.’ Quoth one, ‘None robbed such an one but this knave,’ and another, ‘It was none but he stole all that was in such an one’s house;’ and some said this and some that.

But he was silent and spoke not a word nor answered any of them, till they brought him before the king, to whom said the Syndic, ‘O king of the age, when the queen’s necklace was stolen, thou sentest to acquaint us therewith, requiring of us the discovery of the culprit; wherefore I strove beyond the rest of the folk and have taken the thief for thee. Here he is before thee, and these jewels we have recovered from him.’ Thereupon the king said to the eunuch, ‘Carry these jewels to the queen and say to her, “Are these thy jewels that thou hast lost?”’ So the eunuch carried the jewels to the queen, who marvelled at them and sent to the king to say, ‘I have found my necklace in my own place and these jewels are not my property; nay, they are finer than those of my necklace. Night dccccxliii Wherefore oppress thou not the man; but, if he will sell them, buy them of him for thy daughter Umm es Suwood, that we may string them on a necklace for her.’

When the eunuch returned and told the king what the queen said, he cursed the Syndic of the jewellers and his company with the curse of Aad and Themoud,[5] and they said to him, ‘O king of the age, we knew this man for a poor fisherman and deemed these jewels too much for him [to come by honestly], so made sure that he had stolen them.’ ‘Wretches that ye are!’ cried the king. ‘Do ye begrudge a true-believer good fortune? Why did ye not question him? Peradventure God the Most High hath vouchsafed him these things from a source on which he did not reckon. Why did ye make him out a thief and dishonour him amongst the folk? Begone, and may God not bless you!’

So they went out in affright and the king said to Abdallah, ‘O man, (may God bless thee in that He hath bestowed on thee!) no harm shall befall thee; but tell me truly, whence gottest thou these jewels; for I am a king and have not the like of them.’ ‘O king of the age,’ answered the fisherman, ‘I have a basketful of them at home.’ And he told him of his friendship with the merman, adding, ‘We have made a covenant together that I shall bring him every day a basketful of fruit and that he shall fill me the basket with these jewels.’ ‘O man,’ said the king, ‘this is thy lot; but wealth hath need of station.[6] I will protect thee for the nonce against men’s usurpations; but it may be I shall be deposed or die and another be made king in my stead, and he shall put thee to death, because of his love of the things of this world and his covetousness. Wherefore I am minded to marry thee to my daughter and make thee my vizier and bequeath thee the kingdom after me, so none may oppress thee after my death.’

Then said he to his officers, ‘Carry this man to the bath.’ So they carried him to the bath and washed his body and clad him in royal apparel, after which they brought him back to the king, and he made him his vizier and sent to his house couriers and the soldiers of his guard and all the wives of the notables, who clad his children in royal apparel and mounting the former in a horse-litter, with the little child in her lap, carried her to the palace, whilst the guards and couriers and Cadis walked before her. Moreover, they brought her elder children in to the king, who made much of them, taking them in his lap and seating them by his side; for they were nine male children and the king had no [male] offspring, nor had he been blessed with any child, save this one daughter, Umm es Suwood. Meanwhile the queen entreated Abdallah’s wife with honour and bestowed favours on her and made her her vizieress. Then the king commanded to draw up the contract of marriage between his daughter and the fisherman, who assigned to her, as her dower, all the precious stones and jewels in his possession, and they opened the chapter of festivity. Moreover, the king made proclamation, commanding to decorate the city, in honour of his daughter’s wedding, and Abdallah went in to the princess and did away her maidenhead.

Next morning, the king looked out of window and saw Abdallah carrying on his head a basket full of fruit. So he said to him, ‘What hast thou there, O my son-in-law, and whither goest thou?’ ‘I go to my friend Abdallah the merman,’ answered the fisherman; and the king said, ‘O my son-in-law, this is no time to go to thy friend.’ Quoth Abdallah, ‘Indeed, I fear to break tryst with him, lest he reckon me a liar and say, “The things of the world have distracted thee from me.”’ ‘True,’ rejoined the king. ‘Go to thy friend and God help thee!’ So he passed through the city on his way to the sea-shore, and as he went, he heard those who knew him say, ‘There goes the king’s son-in-law to exchange fruit for jewels;’ whilst those who knew him not said, ‘Harkye, how much a pound? Come, sell to me.’ And he answered, saying, ‘Wait till I come back to thee,’ for that he would not vex any.

Then he fared on till he came to the sea-shore and foregathered with his friend the merman, to whom he delivered the fruit, receiving jewels in return. As he passed by the shop of the baker, on his return, he saw it closed; and thus he did ten days, during which time the shop abode shut and he saw nothing of the baker. So he said in himself, ‘This is a strange thing! I wonder what is come of the baker!’ Then he enquired of his neighbour, saying, ‘O my brother, where is thy neighbour the baker and what hath God done with him?’ ‘O my lord,’ answered he, ‘he is sick and cometh not forth of his house.’ ‘Where is his house?’ asked Abdallah; and the other replied, ‘In such a quarter.’

So he went thither and enquired of him; but, when he knocked at the door, the baker looked out of window and seeing his friend the fisherman, with a full basket on his head, came down and opened the door to him. Abdallah entered and throwing himself on the baker, embraced him and wept, saying, ‘How dost thou, O my friend? Every day, I pass by thy shop and see it closed; so I asked thy neighbour, who told me that thou wast sick; and I enquired for thy house, that I might see thee.’ ‘God requite thee for me with all good!’ answered the baker. ‘Nothing ails me; but it was told me that the king had taken thee, for that certain of the folk had lied against thee and accused thee of being a thief; wherefore I feared and shut my shop and hid myself.’ ‘It is well,  said Abdallah and told him all that had befallen him with the king and the Syndic of the jewellers, adding, ‘Moreover, the king hath given me his daughter to wife and made me his vizier: so do thou take what is in this basket to thy share and fear nothing.’

Then he left him, after having done away his fear from him, and returned with the empty basket to the king, who said to him, ‘O my son-in-law, it would seem thou hast not foregathered with thy friend the merman to-day.’ ‘I went to him,’ replied Abdallah; ‘but that which I got of him I gave to my friend the baker, to whom I owe kindness.’ ‘Who is this baker?’ asked the king; and the fisherman answered, ‘He is a benevolent man, who did with me thus and thus in the days of my poverty and never neglected me a single day nor vexed my spirit.’ Quoth the king, ‘What is his name?’ ‘His name is Abdallah the baker,’ replied the fisherman; ‘and my name is Abdallah of the land and that of my friend the merman Abdallah of the sea.’ ‘And my name, also, is Abdallah,’ rejoined the king; ‘and the servants of God[7] are all brethren. So send and fetch thy friend the baker, that I may make him my vizier of the left.’

So he sent for the baker and the king invested him with the vizier’s habit and made him vizier of the left, making Abdallah of the land his vizier of the right. On this wise the fisherman abode a whole year, Night dccccxliv.every day carrying the merman the basket full of fruit and receiving it back, full of jewels; and when fruit failed from the gardens, he carried him raisins and almonds and hazel-nuts and walnuts and figs and so forth; and all that he brought him the merman accepted and returned him the basket full of jewels, as of wont.

It chanced one day that he carried him the basket, full of dry[8] fruits, according to custom, and his friend took them from him. Then they sat down to converse, the fisherman on the beach and the merman in the water, near the shore, and conversed; and the talk went round between them, till it fell upon the subject of tombs; whereupon quoth the merman, ‘O my brother, they say that the Prophet (whom God bless and preserve!) is buried with you on the land. Knowest thou his tomb?’ ‘Yes,’ answered Abdallah. ‘It lies in a city called Yethrib.’[9] ‘And do the people of the land visit it?’ asked the merman. ‘Yes,’ replied the fisherman, and the other said, ‘I give you joy, O people of the land, of visiting [the tomb of] that noble and compassionate prophet, which whoso visits merits his intercession! Hast thou visited it, O my brother?’ ‘No,’ answered the fisherman; ‘for I was poor and had not what to spend by the way, nor have I been at my ease but since I knew thee and thou bestowedst on me this good fortune. But it behoves me to visit it, after I have made the pilgrimage to the Holy House of God,[10] and nought withholds me therefrom but my love for thee, for I cannot leave thee for one day.’

‘And dost thou set the love of me,’ rejoined the merman, ‘before the visitation of the tomb of Mohammed (whom God bless and preserve!), who shall intercede for thee on the day of appearance before God and shall save thee from the fire and through whose intercession thou shalt enter Paradise? And dost thou, for the love of the world, leave to visit the tomb of thy Prophet Mohammed, whom God bless and preserve?’ ‘No, by Allah,’ replied Abdallah. ‘I set the visitation of the Prophet’s tomb above all else, and I crave thy leave to visit it this year.’ ‘I grant thee leave,’ answered the merman; ‘but I have a trust to give thee; so come thou with me into the sea, that I may carry thee to my city and my house and entertain thee there and give thee a deposit; and when thou standest by the Prophet’s tomb, do thou lay it thereon, saying, “O apostle of God, Abdallah the merman salutes thee and sends thee this present, imploring thine intercession to save him from the fire.”’

‘O my brother,’ said the fisherman, ‘thou wast created in the water and it is thine abiding-place and doth thee no hurt; but, if thou shouldst come forth to the land, would any harm betide thee?’ ‘Yes,’ answered the merman; ‘my body would dry up and the breezes of the land would blow upon me and I should die.’ ‘And I, in like manner,’ rejoined the fisherman, ‘was created on the land and it is my abiding-place; but, if I went down into the sea, the water would enter my belly and choke me and I should die.’ ‘Have no fear for that,’ replied the other; ‘for I will bring thee an ointment, wherewith when thou hast anointed thy body, the water will do thee no hurt, though thou shouldst pass the rest of thy life going about in the sea; and thou shalt lie down and rise up in the sea and nought shall harm thee.’ ‘If the case be so,’ said the fisherman, ‘well and good; but bring me the ointment, so I may make proof of it.’ ‘So be it,’ answered the merman and taking the basket, disappeared in the sea.

After awhile, he returned with an ointment, as it were the fat of oxen, yellow as gold and sweet of savour. ‘What is this, O my brother?’ asked the fisherman. ‘It is the liver-fat of a kind of fish called the dendan,’[11] answered the merman, ‘which is the biggest of all fish and the fellest of our foes. Its bulk is greater than that of any beast of the land, and were it to meet a camel or an elephant, it would swallow it at one mouthful.’ ‘O my brother,’ asked Abdallah, ‘what eateth this baleful [beast]?’ ‘It eateth of the beasts of the sea,’ replied the merman. ‘Hast thou not heard the byword, “Like the fishes of the sea: the strong eateth the weak?”’

‘True,’ answered the fisherman; ‘but have you many of these dendans in the sea?’ And the other said, ‘Yes, there be many of them with us. None can tell their tale save God the Most High.’ Quoth Abdallah, ‘Verily, I fear lest, if I go down with thee into the sea, one of these beasts fall in with me and devour me.’ ‘Have no fear,’ replied the merman. ‘When it sees thee, it will know thee for a son of Adam and will fear thee and flee. It feareth none in the sea as it feareth a son of Adam; for that, if it eat him, it dieth forthright, because his flesh is a deadly poison to this kind of creature; nor do we gather its liver-fat save by means of a man, when he falleth into the sea and is drowned; for that his favour becometh changed and ofttimes his flesh is torn; so the dendan eateth him, deeming him of the beasts of the sea, and dieth. Then we light upon it dead and take the fat of its liver. Moreover, wherever there is a son of Adam, though there be in that place a hundred or two hundred or a thousand or more of these beasts, if they but hear him cry once, Night dccccxlv.they all die forthwith and not one of them can avail to remove from its place; wherefore, whenas a son of Adam falleth into the sea, we take him [ere he can drown] and anoint him with this fat and go round about the sea with him, and whenever we see a dendan or two or three or more, we bid him cry out and they all die forthright for his once crying.’

Quoth the fisherman, ‘I put my trust in God,’ and putting off his clothes, buried them in a hole, which he dug in the beach; after which he rubbed his body from top to toe with the ointment. Then he descended into the water and diving, opened his eyes and the water did him no hurt. So he walked right and left, and if he would, he rose [to the surface] and if he would, he sank to the bottom. And he saw the water of the sea vaulted over him, as it were a tent; yet it did him no hurt. Then said the merman to him, ‘What seest thou, O my brother?’ ‘O my brother,’ answered Abdallah, ‘I see [that which is] good; and indeed thou spokest truth in that which thou saidst to me; for the water doth me no hurt.’ Quoth the merman, ‘Follow me.’

So he followed him and they fared on from place to place, whilst Abdallah saw mountains of water before him and on his right and left and diverted himself by gazing thereon and on the various kinds of fish, some great and some small, that sported in the sea. Some of them were like unto buffaloes, others to oxen and others to dogs and yet others unto human beings; but all to which they drew near fled, whenas they saw the fisherman, who said to the merman, ‘O my brother, how is it that I see all the fish, to which we draw near, flee from us?’ ‘Because they fear thee,’ answered the other; ‘for all things that God hath made fear the son of Adam.’

The fisherman ceased not to gaze upon the marvels of the sea, till they came to a high mountain and fared on beside it. Presently, he heard a great cry and turning, sow some black thing, the bigness of a camel or bigger, coming down upon him from the mountain and crying out. So he said to his friend, ‘What is this, O my brother?’ ‘This is the dendan,’ answered the merman. ‘It cometh down in quest of me, seeking to devour me; so cry thou out at it, O my brother, ere it win to us; else will it snatch me up and devour me.’ So Abdallah cried out at it and it fell down dead; which when he saw, he said, ‘Extolled be the perfection of God and His praise! I smote it not with sword nor knife; how comes it, then, that, for all the vastness of the creature’s bulk, it could not endure my cry, but died?’ ‘Marvel not,’ replied the merman; ‘for, by Allah, O my brother, were there a thousand or two thousand of these creatures, yet could they not endure the cry of a son of Adam.’

Then they fared on, till they came to a city, whose inhabitants the fisherman saw to be all women, there being no male among them; so he said to his companion, ‘O my brother, what city is this and what are these women?’ ‘This is the city of women,’ answered the merman, ‘for its inhabitants are of the women of the sea.’ ‘Are there any males among them?’ asked the fisherman; and the merman said, ‘No.’ ‘Then how,’ said Abdallah, ‘do they conceive and bear young, without males?’ Quoth the other, ‘The king of the sea banishes them hither and they conceive not neither bear children. All the women of the sea, with whom he is wroth, he sends to this city and they cannot leave it; for, should one of them come forth therefrom, any of the beasts of the sea that saw her would devour her. But in the other cities of the sea there are both males and females.’

‘Are there then other cities than this in the sea?’ asked the fisherman, and the merman said, ‘There are many.’ ‘And is there a Sultan over you in the sea?’ asked the fisherman. ‘Yes,’ answered the merman. Then said Abdallah, ‘O my brother, I have indeed seen many marvels in the sea!’ ‘And what hast thou seen of the marvels [of the sea]?’ quoth the merman. ‘Hast thou not heard the saying, “The marvels of the sea are more in number than the marvels of the land?”’ ‘True,’ answered the fisherman and fell to gazing upon the women, whom he saw having faces like moons and hair like women’s hair, but their hands and feet were in their bellies and they had tails like fishes’ tails.

When the merman had shown him the people of the city, he carried him forth therefrom and forewent him to another city, which he found full of folk, both males and females, after the fashion of the women aforesaid and having tails; but there was neither selling nor buying amongst them, as with the people of the land, nor were they clothed, but went all naked and with their privities uncovered. ‘O my brother,’ said Abdallah, ‘I see males and females alike with their privities exposed.’ And the other said, ‘This is because the folk of the sea have no clothes.’ ‘And how do they, when they marry?’ asked the fisherman. ‘They do not marry,’ answered the merman; ‘but every one who hath a mind to a female doth his will of her.’ Quoth Abdallah, ‘This is unlawful. Why doth he not ask her in marriage and dower her and make her a wedding-festival and marry her, in accordance with that which is pleasing to God and His Apostle?’ ‘We are not all of one religion,’ answered his companion. ‘Some of us are Muslims, believers in the unity of God, others Jews and Christians and what not else; and each marries in accordance with the ordinances of his religion; but those of us who marry are mostly Muslims.’

Quoth the fisherman, ‘Ye are naked and have neither buying nor selling among you: of what then is your wives’ dowry? Do ye give them jewels and precious stones?’ ‘Jewels with us are but stones without value,’ answered the merman: ‘but upon him who is minded to marry they impose a dowry of a certain number of fish of various kinds, that he must catch, a thousand or two thousand, more or less, according to the agreement between himself and the bride’s father. As soon as he brings the required amount, the families of the bride and bridegroom assemble and eat the marriage-banquet; after which they bring him in to his bride, and he catches fish and feeds her; or, if he be unable, she catches fish and feeds him.’ ‘And how if a woman commit adultery?’ asked the fisherman. ‘If a woman be convicted of this case,’ answered the merman, ‘they banish her to the City of Women; and if she be with child, they leave her till she be delivered, when, if she give birth to a girl, they banish her with her, naming her adulteress, daughter of adulteress, and she abideth a maid till she die; but, if she give birth to a male child, they carry it to the Sultan of the Sea, who puts it to death.’

Abdallah marvelled at this and the merman carried him to another city and thence to another and another, till he had shown him fourscore cities, and he saw the people of each city to be different from those of every other. Then said he to the merman, ‘O my brother, are there yet other cities in the sea?’ ‘And what hast thou seen of the cities of the sea and its wonders?’ replied the other. ‘By the virtue of the noble prophet, the benign, the compassionate, were I to show thee a thousand cities a day for a thousand years, and in each city a thousand marvels, I should not have shown thee one carat of the four-and-twenty carats of the cities of the sea and its wonders! I have but shown thee our own province and country, nothing more.’

‘O my brother,’ said the fisherman, ‘since this is the case, what I have seen sufficeth me, for I am sick of eating fish, and these fourscore days I have been in thy company, thou hast fed me morning and night upon nothing but raw fish, neither broiled nor boiled.’ ‘And what is broiled and boiled?’ asked the merman. Quoth Abdallah, ‘We broil fish with fire and boil it [in water] and dress it in various ways and make many dishes of it.’ ‘And how should we come by fire in the sea?’ rejoined the other. ‘We know not broiled nor boiled nor aught else of the kind.’ Quoth the fisherman, ‘We also fry it in olive-oil and oil of sesame,’ and the merman said, ‘How should we come by olive-oil and oil of sesame in the sea? Verily we know nothing of that thou namest.’

‘True,’ said Abdallah, ‘but, O my brother, thou hast shown me many cities; yet hast thou not shown me thine own city.’ Quoth the merman, ‘As for mine own city, we passed it long since, for it is near the land whence we came, and I only left it and came with thee hither, thinking to divert thee with the sight of the [greater] cities of the sea.’ ‘That which I have seen of them sufficeth me,’ replied Abdallah; ‘and now I would have thee show me thine own city.’ ‘So be it,’ answered the other and returning on his traces, carried him back thither and said to him, ‘This is my city.’

Abdallah looked and saw a city small by comparison with those he had seen; then he entered with his companion and they fared on till they came to a cavern. Quoth the merman, ‘This is my house and all the houses in the city are on this wise, caverns, great and small, in the mountains; as likewise are those of all the other cities of the sea. For every one who is minded to make him a house repairs to the king and says to him, I wish to make me a house in such a place. Whereupon the king sends with him a band of the fish called peckers, which have beaks that crumble the hardest rock, appointing a certain dole of fish to their wage. They betake themselves to the mountain chosen by the owner of the house and hew therein the house, whilst the owner catches fish for them and feeds them, till the cavern is finished, when they depart and the owner of the house takes up his abode therein. After this wise do all the people of the sea; they traffic not with one another nor serve each other save by means of fish; and their food is fish and they themselves are a kind of fish.’

Then he said to him, ‘Enter.’ So Abdallah entered and the merman cried out, saying, ‘Ho, daughter mine!’ whereupon there came to him a damsel with a face like the round of the moon and long hair, heavy buttocks, languishing black eyes and slender waist; but she was naked and had a tail. When she saw the fisherman, she said to her father, ‘O my father, what is this lacktail thou hast brought with thee?’ ‘O my daughter,’ answered he, ‘this is my friend of the land, from whom I use to bring thee the fruits of the earth. Come hither and salute him.’ So she came forward and saluted the fisherman with eloquent tongue and fluent speech; and her father said to her, ‘Bring victual for our guest, by whose coming a blessing hath betided us:’ whereupon she brought him two great fishes, each the bigness of a lamb, and the merman said to him, ‘Eat.’ So he ate, in his own despite, for stress of hunger; because he was weary of eating fish and they had nothing else.

Before long, in came the merman’s wife, who was fair to look upon, and with her two children, each having in his hand a young fish, which he munched as a man would munch a cucumber. When she saw the fisherman with her husband, she said, ‘What is this lacktail?’ And she and her sons and daughter came up to him and fell to examining his breech and saying, ‘Yea, by Allah, he is tailless!’ And they laughed at him. So he said to the merman, ‘O my brother, hast thou brought me hither to Night dccccxlvi.make me a laughing-stock for thy wife and children?’ ‘Pardon, O my brother,’ answered the merman. ‘Those who have no tails are rare among us, and whenever one such is found, the Sultan taketh him, to make him sport, and he abideth a marvel amongst us, and all who see him laugh at him. But, O my brother, excuse these young children and this woman, for they lack understanding.’ Then he cried out to his family, saying, ‘Hold your peace!’ So they were afraid and kept silence; whilst he went on to soothe Abdallah’s mind.

Presently, as they were talking, in came half a score mermen, tall and strong and stout, and said to him, ‘O Abdallah, it hath reached the king that thou hast with thee a lacktail.’ ‘Yes,’ answered the merman, ‘and this is he; but he is not of us nor of the children of the sea. He is my friend of the land and hath come to me as a guest and I purpose to carry him back to the land.’ Quoth they, ‘We cannot depart without him; so, if thou have aught to say, arise and come with him to the king; and whatsoever thou wouldst say to us, that say thou to the king.’ Then said the merman to the fisherman, ‘O my brother, my excuse is manifest, and we may not gainsay the king: but go thou with me to him and I will do my endeavour to deliver thee from him, if it please God. Fear not, for he deemeth thee of the children of the sea; but, when he seeth thee, he will know thee to be of the children of the land, whereupon he will surely entreat thee with honour and restore thee to the land.’ ‘It is thine to decide,’ replied Abdallah. ‘I will put my trust in God and go with thee.’

So he took him and carried him to the king, who, when he saw him, laughed at him and said, ‘Welcome to the lacktail!’ And all who were about the king fell to laughing at him and saying, ‘Yea, by Allah, he is tailless!’ Then Abdallah of the sea came forward and acquainted the king with the fisherman’s case, saying, ‘This man is of the children of the land and he is my friend and cannot live amongst us, for that he loves not the eating of fish, except it be fried or boiled; wherefore I desire that thou give me leave to restore him to the land.’ ‘Since the case is so,’ answered the king, ‘I give thee leave to restore him to his place, after due entertainment. Bring him the guest-meal.’

So they brought him fish of various kinds and colours and he ate, in obedience to the king’s commandment; after which the latter said to him, ‘Ask a boon of me.’ Quoth he, ‘I ask of thee that thou give me jewels;’ and the king said, ‘Carry him to the jewel-house and let him choose that whereof he hath need.’ So his friend carried him to the jewel-house and he chose out what he would, after which the merman brought him back to his own city and pulling out a purse, said to him, ‘Take this deposit and lay it on the tomb of the Prophet, whom God bless and preserve!’ And he took it, knowing not what was therein.

Then the merman went forth with him, to bring him back to land, and by the way he heard singing and merry-making and saw a table spread with fish and folk eating and singing and holding high festival. So he said to his friend, ‘What ails these people to rejoice thus? Is there a wedding toward amongst them?’ ‘Nay,’ answered Abdallah of the sea; ‘only one of them is dead.’ ‘Do ye then,’ asked the fisherman, ‘when one dieth amongst you, rejoice for him and sing and feast?’ ‘Yes,’ replied the merman; ‘and ye of the land, what do ye!’ ‘When one dieth amongst us,’ said Abdallah, ‘we weep and mourn for him and the women buffet their faces and rend the bosoms of their garments, in token of mourning for the dead.’ The merman stared at him with wide eyes and said to him, ‘Give me the deposit.’ So he gave it to him.

Then he set him ashore and said to him, ‘Henceforward our love and our friendship are at an end, and thou shalt no more see me, nor I thee.’ ‘Why sayst thou this?’ asked the fisherman; and the other said, ‘Are ye not, O folk of the land, a deposit of God?’[12] ‘Yes,’ answered Abdallah. ‘Why then,’ asked the merman, ‘is it grievous to you that God should take back His deposit and wherefore weep ye over it? How can I entrust thee with a deposit for the Prophet, whom God bless and preserve, seeing that, when a child is born to you, ye rejoice in it, albeit God the Most High setteth the soul therein as a deposit; and yet, when He taketh it again, it is grievous to you and ye weep and mourn? Since it is uneath to thee to give up the deposit of God, how shall it be easy to thee to give up the deposit of the Prophet?[13] Wherefore we reck not of your companionship.’ So saying, he left him and disappeared in the sea.

The fisherman donned his clothes and taking the jewels, went up to the king, who received him with open arms and rejoiced at his return, saying, ‘How dost thou, O my son-in-law, and what is the cause of thine absence from me this while?’ So he told him his story and acquainted him with that which he had seen of marvels in the sea, whereat the king wondered. Moreover, he told him what the merman had said [anent the mourning for the dead]; and the king replied, ‘Indeed thou wast at fault to tell him this.’ Nevertheless, he continued for some time to go down to the sea-shore and call upon the merman; but he answered him not nor came to him; so, at last, he gave up hope of him and abode, he and the king his father-in-law and their families, in the happiest of case and the practice of righteousness, till there came to them the Destroyer of Delights and the Sunderer of Companies and they died all. And glory be to the [Ever-]Living One, who dieth not, whose is the empire of the Seen and the Unseen, who can all things and is gracious to His servants and knoweth all that pertaineth to them!

  1. Lit. the door of thy provision.
  2. It seems doubtful whether this phrase means, “He did not neglect him, as most folk would have done,” or “He did not keep him waiting, as he did the rest of the folk.”
  3. i.e. his wife.
  4. i.e. the first chapter of the Koran. See note, Vol. VI. p. 6.
  5. Two fabulous tribes of idolaters, repeatedly mentioned in the Koran as having been destroyed by thunder from heaven, for refusing to hearken to the prophets Houd and Salih.
  6. i.e. for the purpose of protecting its possessor from the greed and oppression of his fellows.
  7. Abdallah means “servant of God.”
  8. Lit. “dessert” (nucl); but this latter word properly includes dried (as well as dry) fruits and confections. The Arabs divide fruits into wet or fresh (i.e. soft-skinned or pulped, such as cherries and peaches) and dry (i.e. hard-skinned or shelled, such as nuts and almonds).
  9. The ancient name of the city of Medina, which latter name (abridged form of that of Medinet en Nebi, the city of the Prophet) was not given to it till after the Hegira. Thus the Breslau edition; but the Boulac and Calcutta texts read, “in a city called Teibeh.” Teibeh or Teyyibeh (the excellent) is one of the many names of honour of the Holy City and is rarely used, Yethrib being the common ancient and Medina the common modern name.
  10. At Mecca.
  11. The dictionaries are silent as to this fish, which appears to be a fabulous monster, partaking of the attributes of the shark and the cachalot or sperm-whale.
  12. i.e. is not the life (or soul) in you a deposit, etc.
  13. i.e. how shall I trust thee to deposit on the Prophet’s tomb the purse which I committed to thee, and how can I be sure that thou wilt not keep it for thyself?

 This work is a translation and has a separate copyright status to the applicable copyright protections of the original content.


This work was published before January 1, 1929, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.

Public domainPublic domainfalsefalse


This work was published before January 1, 1929, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.

Public domainPublic domainfalsefalse