Haddad-Ben-Ahab the Traveller by John Galt

H

ADDAD-BEN-AHAB was a very wise man, and he had several friends, men of discernment, and partakers of the wisdom of ages; but they were not all so wise as Haddad-Ben-Ahab. His sentences were short, but his knowledge was long, and what he predicted generally came to pass, for he did not pretend to the gift of prophecy. The utmost he ever said in that way was, that he expected the sun to rise to-morrow, and that old age was the shadow of youth.

Besides being of a grave temperament, Haddad-Ben-Ahab was inclined to obesity; he was kindly and good-natured to the whole human race; he even carried his benevolence to the inferior creation, and often patted his dogs on the head and gave them bones; but cats he could not abide. Had he been a rat he could not have regarded them with more antipathy; and yet Haddad-Ben-Ahab was an excellent man, who smoked his chibouque with occasional cups of coffee and sherbet, interspersed with profound aphorisms on the condition of man, and conjectures on the delights of paradise.

With his friends he passed many sunbright hours; and if much talk was not heard among them on these occasions, be it remembered that silence is often wisdom. The scene of their social resort was a little kiosk in front of one of the coffee-houses on the bank of the Tigris. No place in all Bagdad is so pleasantly situated. There the mighty river rolls in all the affluence of his waters, pure as the unclouded sky, and speckled with innumerable boats, while the rippling waves, tickled, as it were, by the summer breezes, gambol and sparkle around.

The kiosk was raised two steps from the ground; the interior was painted with all the most splendid colors. The roof was covered with tiles that glittered like the skin of the Arabian serpent, and was surmounted with a green dragon, which was painted of that imperial hue, because Haddad-Ben-Ahab was descended from the sacred progeny of Fatima, of whom green is the everlasting badge, as it is of nature. Time cannot change it, nor can it be impaired by the decrees of tyranny or of justice.

One beautiful day Haddad-Ben-Ahab and his friends had met in this kiosk of dreams, and were socially enjoying the fragrant smoke of their pipes, and listening to the refreshing undulations of the river, as the boats softly glided along,—for the waters lay in glassy stillness,—the winds were asleep,—even the sunbeams seemed to rest in a slumber on all things. The smoke stood on the chimney-tops as if a tall visionary tree grew out of each; and the many-colored cloths in the yard of Orooblis, the Armenian dyer, hung unmolested by a breath. Orooblis himself was the only thing, in that soft and bright noon, which appeared on the land to be animated with any purpose.

Orooblis was preparing a boat to descend the Tigris, and his servants were loading it with bales of apparel and baskets of provisions, while he himself was in a great bustle, going often between his dwelling-house and the boat, talking loud and giving orders, and ever and anon wiping his forehead, for he was a man that delighted in having an ado.

Haddad-Ben-Ahab, seeing Orooblis so active, looked at him for some time; and it so happened that all the friends at the same moment took their amber-headed pipes from their lips, and said,—

"Where can Orooblis, the Armenian dyer, be going?"

Such a simultaneous interjection naturally surprised them all, and Haddad-Ben-Ahab added,—

"I should like to go with him, and see strange things, for I have never been out of the city of Bagdad, save once to pluck pomegranates in the garden of Beys-Addy-Boolk." And he then rose and went to the boat which Orooblis was loading, and spoke to him; and when it was ready they seated themselves on board and sailed down the Tigris, having much pleasant discourse concerning distant lands and hills whose tops pierced the clouds, and were supposed to be the pillars that upheld the crystal dome of the heavens.

Haddad-Ben-Ahab rejoiced greatly as they sailed along, and at last they came to a little town, where Orooblis, having business in dyestuffs to transact, went on shore, leaving his friend. But in what corner of the earth this little town stood Haddad-Ben-Ahab knew not; for, like other travellers, he was not provided with much geographical knowledge.

But soon after the departure of Orooblis he thought he would also land and inquire. Accordingly, taking his pipe in his hand, he stepped out of the boat and went about the town, looking at many things, till he came to a wharf where a large ship was taking merchandise on board; and her sailors were men of a different complexion from that of the watermen who plied on the Tigris at Bagdad.

Haddad-Ben-Ahab looked at them, and as he was standing near to where they were at work, he thought that this ship afforded a better opportunity than he had enjoyed with Orooblis to see foreign countries. He accordingly went up to the captain and held out a handful of money, and indicated that he was desirous to sail away with the ship.

When the captain saw the gold he was mightily civil, and spoke to Haddad-Ben-Ahab with a loud voice, perhaps thinking to make him hear was the way to make him understand. But Haddad-Ben-Ahab only held up the forefinger of his right hand and shook it to and fro. In the end, however, he was taken on board the ship, and no sooner was he there than he sat down on a sofa, and drawing his legs up under him kindled his pipe and began to smoke, much at his ease, making observations with his eyes as he did so.

The first observation Haddad-Ben-Ahab made was, that the sofa on which he had taken his place was not at all like the sofas of Bagdad, and therefore when he returned he would show that he had not travelled without profit by having one made exactly similar for his best chamber, with hens and ducks under it, pleasantly feeding and joyously cackling and quacking. And he also observed a remarkable sagacity in the ducks, for when they saw he was a stranger, they turned up the sides of their heads and eyed him in a most curious and inquisitive manner,—very different, indeed, from the ducks of Bagdad.

When the ship had taken on board her cargo she spread her sails, and Haddad-Ben-Ahab felt himself in a new situation; for presently she began to lie over, and to plunge and revel among the waves like a glad creature. But Haddad-Ben-Ahab became very sick, and the captain showed him the way down into the inside of the vessel, where he went into a dark bed, and was charitably tended by one of the sailors for many days.

After a season there was much shouting on the deck of the ship, and Haddad-Ben-Ahab crawled out of his bed, and went to the sofa, and saw that the ship was near the end of her voyage.

When she had come to a bank where those on board could step out, Haddad-Ben-Ahab did so: and after he had seen all the strange things which were in the town where he thus landed, he went into a baker's shop,—for they eat bread in that town as they do in Bagdad,—and bought a loaf, which having eaten, he quenched his thirst at a fountain hard by, in his ordinary manner of drinking, at which he wondered exceedingly.

When he had solaced himself with all the wonders of that foreign city, he went to a fakier, who was holding two horses ready saddled; beautiful they were, and, as the fakier signified by signs, their hoofs were so fleet that they left the wind behind them. Haddad-Ben-Ahab then showed the fakier his gold, and mounted one of the horses, pointing with the shaft of his pipe to the fakier to mount the other; and then they both rode away into the country, and they found that the wind blew in their faces.

At last they came to a caravansary, where the fakier bought a cooked hen and two onions, of which they both partook, and stretching themselves before the fire which they had lighted in their chamber, they fell asleep and slept until the dawn of day, when they resumed their journey into remoter parts and nearer to the wall of the world, which Haddad-Ben-Ahab conjectured they must soon reach. They had not, however, journeyed many days in the usual manner when they came to the banks of a large river, and the fakier would go no farther with his swift horses. Haddad-Ben-Ahab was in consequence constrained to pay and part from him, and to embark in a ferry-boat to convey him over the stream, where he found a strange vehicle with four horses standing ready to carry him on towards the wall of the world, "which surely," said he to himself, "ought not to be now far off."

Haddad-Ben-Ahab showed his gold again, and was permitted to take a seat in the vehicle, which soon after drove away; and he remarked, in a most sagacious manner, that nothing in that country was like the things in his own; for the houses and trees and all things ran away as the vehicle came up to them; and when it gave a jostle, they gave a jump; which he noted as one of the most extraordinary things he had seen since he left Bagdad.

At last Haddad-Ben-Ahab came to the foot of a lofty green mountain, with groves and jocund villages, which studded it, as it were, with gems and shining ornaments, and he said, "This must be the wall of the world, for surely nothing can exist on the other side of these hills! but I will ascend them and look over, for I should like to tell my friends in Bagdad what is to be seen on the outside of the earth." Accordingly he ascended the green mountain, and he came to a thick forest of stubby trees: "This is surprising," said Haddad-Ben-Ahab, "but higher I will yet go." And he passed through that forest of trees and came to a steep moorland part of the hill, where no living thing could be seen, but a solitude without limit, and the living world all glittering at the foot of the mountain.

"This is a high place," said Haddad-Ben-Ahab, "but I will yet go higher," and he began to climb with his hands. After an upward journey of great toil he came to a frozen region, and the top of the wall of the world was still far above him. He was, however, none daunted by the distance, but boldly held on in the ascent, and at last he reached the top of the wall. But when he got there, instead of a region of fog and chaos, he only beheld another world much like our own, and he was greatly amazed, and exclaimed with a loud voice,—"Will my friends in Bagdad believe this?—but it is true, and I will so tell them." So he hastened down the mountain, and went with all the speed he could back to Bagdad; saying, "Bagdad," and giving gold to every man he met, until he reached the kiosk of dreams, where his friends were smoking and looking at the gambols of the Tigris.

When the friends of Haddad-Ben-Ahab saw him approach, they respectively took their pipes from their mouths and held them in their left hands, while they pressed their bosoms with their right, and received him with a solemn salaam, for he had been long absent, and all they in the mean time had heard concerning him was only what Orooblis, the Armenian dyer, on his return told them: namely, that he was gone to the wall of the world, which limits the travels of man. No wonder then that they rejoiced with an exceeding gladness to see him return and take his place in the kiosk among them, as if he had never been a day's journey away from Bagdad.

They then questioned him about his adventures, and he faithfully related to them all the wonders which have been set forth in our account of the journey; upon which they declared he had made himself one of the sages of the earth.

Afterward they each made a feast, to which they invited all the philosophers in Bagdad, and Haddad-Ben-Ahab was placed in the seat of honor, and being courteously solicited, told them of his travels, and every one cried aloud, "God is great, and Mahomet is his prophet!"

When they had in this manner banqueted, Haddad-Ben-Ahab fell sick, and there was a great talk concerning the same. Some said he was very ill; others shook their heads and spoke not; but the world is full of envy and hard-heartedness, and those who were spiteful because of the renown which Haddad-Ben-Ahab, as a traveller who had visited the top of the wall of the world with so much courage, had acquired, jeered at his malady, saying he had been only feasted overmuch. Nevertheless, Haddad-Ben-Ahab died; and never was such a funeral seen in all Bagdad, save that of the caliph Mahoud, commonly called the Magnificent. Such was the admiration in which the memory of the traveller was held, the poets made dirges on the occasion, and mournful songs were heard in the twilight from the windows of every harem. Nor did the generation of the time content itself with the ceremonies of lamentation: they caused a fountain to be erected, which they named the Fountain of Haddad-Ben-Ahab the traveller; and when the slaves go to fetch water, they speak of the wonderful things he did, and how he was on the top of the wall of the world, and saw the outside of the earth; so that his memory lives forever among them, as one of the greatest, the wisest, and the bravest of men.