In order, madam, to explain how I
came to lose my right eye, and to wear the dress of
a Calender, you must first know that I am the son of
a king. My father’s only brother reigned
over the neighbouring country, and had two children,
a daughter and a son, who were of the same age as
As I grew up, and was allowed more
liberty, I went every year to pay a visit to my uncle’s
court, and usually stayed there about two months.
In this way my cousin and I became very intimate, and
were much attached to each other. The very last
time I saw him he seemed more delighted to see me
than ever, and gave a great feast in my honour.
When we had finished eating, he said to me, “My
cousin, you would never guess what I have been doing
since your last visit to us! Directly after
your departure I set a number of men to work on a building
after my own design. It is now completed, and
ready to be lived in. I should like to show
it to you, but you must first swear two things:
to be faithful to me, and to keep my secret.”
Of course I did not dream of refusing
him anything he asked, and gave the promise without
the least hesitation. He then bade me wait an
instant, and vanished, returning in a few moments with
a richly dressed lady of great beauty, but as he did
not tell me her name, I thought it was better not
to inquire. We all three sat down to table and
amused ourselves with talking of all sorts of indifferent
things, and with drinking each other’s health.
Suddenly the prince said to me, “Cousin, we
have no time to lose; be so kind as to conduct this
lady to a certain spot, where you will find a dome-like
tomb, newly built. You cannot mistake it.
Go in, both of you, and wait till I come. I
shall not be long.”
As I had promised I prepared to do
as I was told, and giving my hand to the lady, I escorted
her, by the light of the moon, to the place of which
the prince had spoken. We had barely reached
it when he joined us himself, carrying a small vessel
of water, a pickaxe, and a little bag containing plaster.
With the pickaxe he at once began
to destroy the empty sepulchre in the middle of the
tomb. One by one he took the stones and piled
them up in a corner. When he had knocked down
the whole sepulchre he proceeded to dig at the earth,
and beneath where the sepulchre had been I saw a trap-door.
He raised the door and I caught sight of the top of
a spiral staircase; then he said, turning to the lady,
“Madam, this is the way that will lead you down
to the spot which I told you of.”
The lady did not answer, but silently
descended the staircase, the prince following her.
At the top, however, he looked at me. “My
cousin,” he exclaimed, “I do not know how
to thank you for your kindness. Farewell.”
“What do you mean?” I cried. “I
“No matter,” he replied, “go back
by the path that you came.”
He would say no more, and, greatly
puzzled, I returned to my room in the palace and went
to bed. When I woke, and considered my adventure,
I thought that I must have been dreaming, and sent
a servant to ask if the prince was dressed and could
see me. But on hearing that he had not slept
at home I was much alarmed, and hastened to the cemetery,
where, unluckily, the tombs were all so alike that
I could not discover which was the one I was in search
of, though I spent four days in looking for it.
You must know that all this time the
king, my uncle, was absent on a hunting expedition,
and as no one knew when he would be back, I at last
decided to return home, leaving the ministers to make
my excuses. I longed to tell them what had become
of the prince, about whose fate they felt the most
dreadful anxiety, but the oath I had sworn kept me
On my arrival at my father’s
capital, I was astonished to find a large detachment
of guards drawn up before the gate of the palace; they
surrounded me directly I entered. I asked the
officers in command the reason of this strange behaviour,
and was horrified to learn that the army had mutinied
and put to death the king, my father, and had placed
the grand-vizir on the throne. Further,
that by his orders I was placed under arrest.
Now this rebel vizir had hated
me from my boy-hood, because once, when shooting at
a bird with a bow, I had shot out his eye by accident.
Of course I not only sent a servant at once to offer
him my regrets and apologies, but I made them in person.
It was all of no use. He cherished an undying
hatred towards me, and lost no occasion of showing
it. Having once got me in his power I felt he
could show no mercy, and I was right. Mad with
triumph and fury he came to me in my prison and tore
out my right eye. That is how I lost it.
My persecutor, however, did not stop
here. He shut me up in a large case and ordered
his executioner to carry me into a desert place, to
cut off my head, and then to abandon my body to the
birds of prey. The case, with me inside it,
was accordingly placed on a horse, and the executioner,
accompanied by another man, rode into the country until
they found a spot suitable for the purpose. But
their hearts were not so hard as they seemed, and
my tears and prayers made them waver.
“Forsake the kingdom instantly,”
said the executioner at last, “and take care
never to come back, for you will not only lose your
head, but make us lose ours.” I thanked
him gratefully, and tried to console myself for the
loss of my eye by thinking of the other misfortunes
I had escaped.
After all I had gone through, and
my fear of being recognised by some enemy, I could
only travel very slowly and cautiously, generally
resting in some out-of-the-way place by day, and walking
as far as I was able by night, but at length I arrived
in the kingdom of my uncle, of whose protection I
I found him in great trouble about
the disappearance of his son, who had, he said, vanished
without leaving a trace; but his own grief did not
prevent him sharing mine. We mingled our tears,
for the loss of one was the loss of the other, and
then I made up my mind that it was my duty to break
the solemn oath I had sworn to the prince. I
therefore lost no time in telling my uncle everything
I knew, and I observed that even before I had ended
his sorrow appeared to be lightened a little.
“My dear nephew,” he said,
“your story gives me some hope. I was aware
that my son was building a tomb, and I think I can
find the spot. But as he wished to keep the
matter secret, let us go alone and seek the place
He then bade me disguise myself, and
we both slipped out of a garden door which opened
on to the cemetery. It did not take long for
us to arrive at the scene of the prince’s disappearance,
or to discover the tomb I had sought so vainly before.
We entered it, and found the trap-door which led
to the staircase, but we had great difficulty in raising
it, because the prince had fastened it down underneath
with the plaster he had brought with him.
My uncle went first, and I followed
him. When we reached the bottom of the stairs
we stepped into a sort of ante-room, filled with such
a dense smoke that it was hardly possible to see anything.
However, we passed through the smoke into a large
chamber, which at first seemed quite empty.
The room was brilliantly lighted, and in another moment
we perceived a sort of platform at one end, on which
were the bodies of the prince and a lady, both half-burned,
as if they had been dragged out of a fire before it
had quite consumed them.
This horrible sight turned me faint,
but, to my surprise, my uncle did not show so much
surprise as anger.
“I knew,” he said, “that
my son was tenderly attached to this lady, whom it
was impossible he should ever marry. I tried
to turn his thoughts, and presented to him the most
beautiful princesses, but he cared for none of them,
and, as you see, they have now been united by a horrible
death in an underground tomb.” But, as
he spoke, his anger melted into tears, and again I
wept with him.
When he recovered himself he drew
me to him. “My dear nephew,” he
said, embracing me, “you have come to me to take
his place, and I will do my best to forget that I
ever had a son who could act in so wicked a manner.”
Then he turned and went up the stairs.
We reached the palace without anyone
having noticed our absence, when, shortly after, a
clashing of drums, and cymbals, and the blare of trumpets
burst upon our astonished ears. At the same time
a thick cloud of dust on the horizon told of the approach
of a great army. My heart sank when I perceived
that the commander was the vizir who had dethroned
my father, and was come to seize the kingdom of my
The capital was utterly unprepared
to stand a siege, and seeing that resistance was useless,
at once opened its gates. My uncle fought hard
for his life, but was soon overpowered, and when he
fell I managed to escape through a secret passage,
and took refuge with an officer whom I knew I could
Persecuted by ill-fortune, and stricken
with grief, there seemed to be only one means of safety
left to me. I shaved my beard and my eyebrows,
and put on the dress of a calender, in which it was
easy for me to travel without being known. I
avoided the towns till I reached the kingdom of the
famous and powerful Caliph, Haroun-al-Raschid,
when I had no further reason to fear my enemies.
It was my intention to come to Bagdad and to throw
myself at the feet of his Highness, who would, I felt
certain, be touched by my sad story, and would grant
me, besides, his help and protection.
After a journey which lasted some
months I arrived at length at the gates of this city.
It was sunset, and I paused for a little to look
about me, and to decide which way to turn my steps.
I was still debating on this subject when I was joined
by this other calender, who stopped to greet me.
“You, like me, appear to be a stranger,”
I said. He replied that I was right, and before
he could say more the third calender came up.
He, also, was newly arrived in Bagdad, and being
brothers in misfortune, we resolved to cast in our
lots together, and to share whatever fate might have
By this time it had grown late, and
we did not know where to spend the night. But
our lucky star having guided us to this door, we took
the liberty of knocking and of asking for shelter,
which was given to us at once with the best grace
in the world.
This, madam, is my story.
“I am satisfied,” replied Zobeida; “you
can go when you like.”
The calender, however, begged leave
to stay and to hear the histories of his two friends
and of the three other persons of the company, which
he was allowed to do.