The Adventures of Said by W. Hauff

IN the time of Haroun Al-Raschid, ruler of Bagdad, there lived in Balsora a man Benezar by name. His means enabled him to live quietly and comfortably, without carrying on a business or trade; and when a son was born to him he made no change in his manner of living, "For," said he, "what will feed two will feed three." Said, for so they called the boy, soon made a name for himself among his playmates as a lusty fighter, and was surpassed by none in riding or swimming.

When he was eighteen, his father sent him on a pilgrimage to Mecca, and before he started gave him much good advice, and provided him with money for his journey. Lastly he said:

"There is something more I must tell you, my boy. I am not the man to believe that fairies and enchanters, whatever they may be, have any influence over the fate of mankind; that sort of nonsense is only good for whiling away the time; but your mother believed in them as firmly as in the Koran. She even told me, after making me swear never to reveal the secret except to her child, that she herself was under the protection of a fairy. I always laughed at her, but still I must confess that some very strange events happened at your birth. It rained and thundered all day, and the heavens were black with clouds.

"When they told me that I had a little son, I hastened to see and bless my first-born, but I found my wife's door shut, and all her attendants standing outside. I knocked, but with no result. While I was waiting there, the sky cleared just over Balsora, although the lightning still flashed and writhed round the blue expanse. As I was gazing in astonishment at this spectacle, your mother's door flew open and I went in alone. On entering the room, I perceived a delicious odour of roses, carnations, and hyacinths. Your mother Zemira showed me a tiny silver whistle, that was hanging round your neck by a gold chain as fine as silk. 'This is the fairy's gift to our boy,' she said. 'Well,' I laughed, 'I think she might have given him something better than that—a purse of gold, for instance, or a horse.'

"But Zemira begged me not to anger the good fairy, for fear she might turn her blessing to a curse; so, to please her, the matter was never mentioned again till she was dying. Then she gave me the whistle, telling me never to part with you till you were twenty, when the whistle was to be yours. But I see no objection to your going away now. You have common sense, and can defend yourself as well as any man of four-and-twenty. Go in peace, my son. Think ever of your father in good fortune or in ill, and may Heaven defend you from that last."

Said took an affectionate farewell of his father, and placing the chain round his neck, sprang lightly into his saddle, and went off to join the caravan for Mecca. At last they were all assembled, and Said rode gaily out of Balsora. Just at first the novelty of his position and surroundings occupied his thoughts, but as they drew near to the desert he began to consider his father's words. He drew out the whistle and put it to his lips, but wonder of wonders, no matter how hard he blew, not a sound came out! This was disappointing, and Said impatiently thrust the whistle back into his girdle; still the marvellous had a strange attraction for him, and he spent the whole day in building his airy castles.

Said was a fine-looking fellow, with a distinguished face, and a bearing which, young as he was, marked him out as one born to command. Every one was attracted to him, and especially was this the case with an elderly man, who rode near him. They entered into conversation, and it was not long before the mysterious power of fairies was mentioned.

"Do you believe in fairies?" asked Said, at last.

"Well," replied the other, stroking his beard thoughtfully, "I should not like to say that there are no such beings, although I have never seen one." And then he began to relate such wonderful stories, that Said felt that his mother's words must have been true, and when he went to sleep was transported to a veritable fairyland.

The next day the travellers were dismayed to see a band of robbers swooping down on them. All was confusion in an instant, and they had scarcely had time to place the women and children in the centre, when the Arabs were upon them. Bravely as the men acquitted themselves, all was in vain, for the robbers were more than four hundred strong. At this dreadful moment Said bethought him of his whistle; but, alas! it remained dumb as before, and poor Said, dropping it hastily, fired on a man, who seemed from his dress to be of some importance.

"What have you done?" cried the old man, who was fighting at his side. "There is no hope for us now."

And so, indeed, it seemed—for the robbers, maddened by the death of the man, pressed so closely on the youth that they broke down even his sturdy resistance. The others were soon overcome or slain, and Said found himself on horseback, bound and guarded by armed men. These treated him with roughness, and the only drop of comfort in his cup was that his old friend was riding near. You may be sure his thoughts were not very pleasant—slavery or death was all he had to look forward to.

After riding for some time, they saw in the far distance trees and tents, and in a short time they were met by bands of women and children, who had no sooner heard the news than they began to throw sticks and clods of earth at Said, shrieking, "That is the man who killed the great Almansor, bravest of men; he must die, and we will throw his body to the jackals."

They became so threatening that the bandits interfered and, bearing off their prisoner, led him bound into one of the tents. Here was seated an old man, evidently the leader of the band. His head was bent.

"The weeping of the women has told me all—Almansor is dead," said he.

"Almansor is dead," answered the robbers, "O Mighty One of the Desert, but here is his murderer. Only speak the word. Shall his doom be to be shot, or to be hanged from the nearest tree?"

But the aged Selim questioned Said, and found that his son had been slain in fair fight. "He has done, then, no more than we ourselves should have done. Loose his bonds. The innocent shall not die," cried Selim, in his sternest tones, seeing his men's reluctance and discontent. As for Said, the very fulness of his heart closed his lips, and he could not find words in which to thank his deliverer. From this time he lived in Selim's tent, almost taking the place of that son whose death he had caused.

But sedition was rife among the robbers. Their beloved Prince had been murdered, and his murderer was shielded by the father! Many were the execrations hurled at Said, as he walked in the camp; indeed, several attempts were made on his life. At length Selim perceived that soon even his influence would not be sufficient to guard the young man, and so he sent him away with an escort, saying that his ransom had been paid. But before they started he bound the robbers by a dreadful oath that they would not kill Said.

It was indeed a terrible ride! Said saw that his guides were performing their task with great reluctance, and soon they began to whisper together. He nerved himself to listen, and what he heard did not tend to reassure him.

"This is the very spot," said one. "I shall never forget it."

"And to think that his murderer still lives!"

"Ah! if his father had not made us take that oath!"

"Stay," cried the most forbidding-looking of all, "we have not sworn to bring this fellow to the end of his journey. We will leave him his life, but the scorching sun and the sharp teeth of the jackal shall perform our vengeance. Let us bind him and leave him here."

Said, hearing this brutal suggestion, made a desperate effort for his life. Spurring his horse, he rode off at full speed; but the bandits soon recovered from their amazement, and, giving chase, had him at their mercy. Tears, prayers, even bribes were of no avail, and the wretched Said was left to face death in its most painful form. Higher and higher mounted the sun, and Said tried to roll over to obtain some small relief. In doing this the whistle attracted his notice, and he contrived to get it between his lips; but for the third time it refused its office, and Said, overcome by the heat and the horror of his situation, fainted. After several hours he awoke to see, not the dreaded beast of prey but a human being.

This was a little man with small eyes and a long beard, who informed Said, when the latter had somewhat recovered, that he was Kalum Bek, a merchant, and that he was on a business expedition when he found him lying half dead in the sand. Said thanked the little man, and gratefully accepted a seat on his camel. As they were journeying the merchant related many stories in praise of the justice and acuteness of the Father of the Faithful.

"My cousin Messour," he said, "is his Lord Chamberlain, and he has often told me how the Caliph is wont to sally forth at night, attended by himself alone, to see how his people are cared for. And so, when we go about the streets at night, we have to be polite to every idiot we meet, for it is as likely to be the Caliph as some dog of an Arab from the desert."

Hearing such accounts as these, Said thought himself a lucky fellow to have the chance of seeing Bagdad and the renowned Al-Raschid. When they arrived in the city, Kalum invited Said to accompany him home. The next day the youth had just dressed himself in his most magnificent clothes, thinking of the sensation he would cause, when the merchant entered, and, looking at him scornfully, said: "That is all very fine, my young sir, but it seems to me you are a great dreamer. Have you the money to keep up that style?"

"It is true, sir," said Said, blushing, "that I have no money; but perhaps you will be kind enough to lend me sufficient to travel home with, for my father is sure to repay you."

"Your father, boy," laughed the merchant. "I really think the sun must have affected your brain. You don't suppose, do you, that I believe the fable you made up for my benefit? I know all the rich men in Balsora, but no Benezar. Besides, do you think the disappearance of a whole caravan would pass unnoticed? And then, you bare-faced liar, that story about Selim! Why, that man is noted for his cruelty; and do you mean to tell me that he allowed the murderer of his son to go free—and that, too, without ransom? Oh, you shameless liar!"

"Indeed, I have spoken the truth," cried Said. "I have no proof of my words, and can only swear to you that I have spoken no falsehood. If you will not help me then I must appeal to the Caliph."

"Really!" scoffed the little man; "you will beg, then, from no less exalted a person than our gracious ruler! Just consider that the Caliph can only be approached through my cousin Messour, and that with a word I could——But I pity your youth. You are not too old yet for reformation. You shall serve in my shop for a year, and then, if you wish to leave me, I will pay you your wages, and let you go whither you will. I give you till mid-day to think over it. If you refuse, I will seize your clothes and possessions to pay myself for your passage, and throw you on the streets."

Said was indeed in difficulties; bad luck seemed to press upon him at every turn. There was no escaping from the room, for the windows were barred and the door locked. After cudgelling his brains for some time, he saw that he must submit to the indignity imposed upon him by the villainous little man, and so the next day he followed him to the shop in the bazaar. His duty was to stand (his gallant attire a thing of the past) in the doorway, a veil or a shawl in either hand, and cry his wares to the passers-by.

Said soon saw why Kalum had been so anxious to retain him as a servant. No one wished to do business with the hateful old man, but when the salesman was a handsome youth it was a different matter altogether. One especially busy day all the porters were employed, when an elderly lady entered and made some purchases. After she had bought all she wanted she demanded some one to carry her parcels home for her. In vain did the merchant promise to send them in half an hour—she would have them then or never; and her eye falling on Said, she wanted to know why he should not accompany her. After much remonstrance Kalum had to give in, and Said found himself following in the wake of the lady, who stopped at last before a magnificent house. She knocked and they were admitted, and after mounting a wide marble staircase, Said found himself in a lofty hall, far grander than he had ever seen before. Here he was relieved of his burden, and was just going out at the door, when—

"Said," cried a sweet voice behind him. He turned round quickly, and saw to his amazement a daintily beautiful lady surrounded by attendants, instead of the old lady he had followed.

"Said, my dear boy," she said, "it is a great misfortune that you left Balsora before you were twenty; but here in Bagdad there is some chance for you. Have you still your little whistle?"

"Indeed I have," he cried gladly; "perhaps you are the kindly fairy who befriended my mother?"

"Yes, and as long as you are good I will help you. But, alas! I cannot even deliver you from that wretch, Kalum Bek, for he is protected by your most powerful enemy."

"But can we do nothing? Can I not go to the Caliph? He is a just man and will help me."

"Haroun is indeed just, but he is greatly influenced by Messour, who, a model of uprightness himself, has been already primed by Kalum with his version of your story. But there are other ways of getting at the Caliph, and it is written in the stars that you will obtain his favour."

"I am to be pitied if I have to stay much longer with that rascal of a shopkeeper. But there is one favour I beg of you, most gracious of fairies. Jousts are held every week, but only for the freeborn. Couldn't you manage to give me equipments, and make my face so that no one would know me?"

"That is a wish worthy of a brave man, and I will grant it. Come here each week, and you will find everything you want. And now, farewell. Be cautious and virtuous. In six months your whistle will sound, and Zulima will answer its appeal."

Said took leave of his protectress, and, taking note of the position of the house, made his way back to the shop. He arrived there in the very nick of time, for Kalum was surrounded by a crowd of jeering neighbours, and was literally dancing with rage. This was what had happened. Two men had asked the merchant if he could direct them to the shop of the handsome salesman.

"Well! well!" said the old man, smiling, "Heaven has guided you to the right place this time. What do you want, a shawl or a veil?"

This to the men seemed nothing short of insolence, and they fell upon him tooth and nail, the neighbours refusing to help the old skinflint. But Said, seeing his master in such distress, strode to the rescue, and one of the assailants soon found himself on the ground. Under the influence of his flashing eyes the crowd soon melted away, for violence on the wrong side was not to their taste.

"Oh, you prince of shopmen, that is what I call interfering to some purpose! Didn't he lie on the ground as if he had never used his legs? I should have lost my beard for ever if you had not come up. How shall I reward you?"

Said had only acted upon the impulse of the moment; indeed, he now felt rather sorry that he had deprived the scoundrel of a well-deserved thrashing. He seized the opportunity, however, and asked for an evening a week in which to take a walk. This was granted him, and the next Wednesday he set out for the fairy's house. Here he found everything as Zulima had promised. First the servants gave him a wash, which changed him from a stripling to a black-bearded man, whose face was bronzed by exposure to the sun. Then he was led into a second room, where he saw a dress that would not have been put to shame by the State robes of the Caliph. He hastily donned this, and, magnificently equipped, descended the stairs. As he reached the door, a servant handed him a silk handkerchief with which to wipe his face when he wished to rid himself of his disguise. In the court were standing three horses; two were ridden by squires, but the most magnificent was for his own use. When Said arrived on the plain set apart for the jousts, all eyes turned on him, and curiosity was rife as to who the unknown knight could be; that he was distinguished and of high family none doubted.

When Said entered the lists he gave his name as Almansor of Cairo, and said that he had come to Bagdad because of the fame of the youths of that city. The sides were chosen, and the opposing parties charged. Said's horse was as swift as an eagle, and his prowess with the sword was so great that even the bravest shunned meeting him, and the Caliph's brother, who had been on his side, challenged him to single combat. The two fought, but were so equal that the contest had to be postponed till the next meeting. On the following day all Bagdad was ringing with the praises of the gallant young knight; and little did the people guess that he was then serving in a shop in the bazaar.

At the next tournament Said carried all before him, and received from the Caliph a golden medallion hanging from a gold chain. This aroused the envy of the other youths. Was a stranger to come to Bagdad and rob them of their honour? Said noticed the signs of discontent, and observed that all viewed him askance, except the brother and son of the Caliph. By a strange chance the one most bitter against him was the man he had knocked down before Kalum Bek's shop. Led by this man, the others made a sudden attack on Said, who must have fallen if the Royal combatants had not rushed to his aid.

For more than four months he continued to fight in the lists, but one night as he was going home he noticed four men who were walking slowly before him. To his astonishment, he found they were speaking in the dialect used by Selim's band. He suspected that they were after no good, and so he crept nearer to hear what they were saying.

"He will be in the street to the right of the bazaar to-night, attended by the Grand Vizier," said one.

"That is good," answered the other; "there is no fear of the Grand Vizier, but I am not so sure of the Caliph—there might be some of his guard near."

"No, there won't," broke in a third; "he is always alone at night."

"I think it would be best to throw a lasso over his head," said the first.

"Very well, an hour after midnight;" and with these words they separated.

"Well, I have discovered a pretty plot," thought Said, and his first idea was to go at once to the Caliph; but he remembered how Kalum had maligned him to Messour, and stopped. No, the only way was for him to defend the Caliph in person. Accordingly, when night came on, he betook himself to the appointed street, and waited to see what was going to happen. Soon the men came and concealed themselves in different parts of the street. All was quiet for half an hour, and at the end of that time one of the robbers gave a sign, for the Caliph was in sight. With one accord the band rushed upon him, but Said rose from his hiding-place, and laid about him with such hearty goodwill that they were soon glad to take to their heels with all speed.

"My rescue," said the Caliph, "is no less wonderful than the attack made upon me. How did you know who I was? How did you get to know of the plot?"

Said then told how he had followed the men, and, hearing their plans, determined to frustrate their villainous intention.

"Receive my thanks," said the Caliph, "and accept this ring. Present it to-morrow at the palace, and we will see what can be done for you."

The Vizier, too, gave him a ring, together with a heavy purse.

Mad with joy, Said hurried home, but here Kalum was awaiting him, anxious lest he should have lost his handsome servant. The little man raved at Said, but the latter had seen that his purse was full of money, and told him flatly that he would stay there no longer. He strode out at the door, leaving Kalum staring after him in open-mouthed astonishment. The next morning the merchant set the police on his track, and they brought him word that his quondam servant, dressed in a most magnificent fashion, was just setting out with a caravan.

"He has stolen money from me, the thief!" Kalum shrieked, and ordered the constable to arrest Said. As Kalum was known to be related to Messour, his commands were promptly attended to, and poor Said found himself condemned, unheard, as having stolen the purse from his master. He was sentenced to life-long banishment on a desert island, and all his protestations of innocence were of no avail. The poor fellow was in despair, and even the stony-hearted merchant put in a plea for him. He was thrown into a filthy dungeon, together with nineteen others. He comforted himself with the thought that his life would be more endurable on board ship, but here he was mistaken. The atmosphere was foul, and the men fought like wild beasts for the best places. Food and water were handed out to them once a day, and at the same time the men who had died were hauled out.

A fortnight was passed in this misery, but one day they felt the ship was tossing more than usual, and their discomfort was increased. At last the survivors burst the hatches open, but to their despair they saw that the ship had been deserted by all the crew. The storm raged even more wildly, the ship rocked and settled deeper into the water. At last it went to pieces, and Said managed to cling to the mast. After he had floated for about half an hour, he suddenly remembered his whistle. It still hung round his neck, and holding on well with one hand to the mast, he put it to his mouth, and this time it did not fail him. At the sound of the clear, sweet note, the storm ceased as if by magic, and the sea became like glass, and, what was more wonderful still, the mast by which Said was supported was changed into a huge dolphin, to his no small terror. But he soon found there was no need for him to be afraid, for the fish bore him as swiftly as an arrow through the water.

After some time Said, remembering tales of enchanters, drew out his whistle, and blowing a shrill blast, wished for a meal. At once a table rose from the depths of the sea, and Said enjoyed the much-needed refreshment. The sun was just sinking, when he saw a large town in the distance which reminded him of Bagdad. The thought of Bagdad was not so very pleasant, but still he trusted that the fairy, who had guarded him so far, would not let him fall into the hands of Kalum Bek. As he drew nearer he noticed a large house on the bank of the river, the roof of which was crowded with men, who were all gazing in astonishment at himself. No sooner had Said set foot on the land, than the fish vanished, and at the same time the servants appeared to lead him before their master. On the roof were standing three men, who questioned him in a friendly way. Said at once began to relate his story, from the time when he left Balsora, and his listeners declared that they believed him; still, they asked if he could produce the golden chain and the rings of which he had spoken.

"Here they are," said Said. "I determined not to part with them while I had life to defend them."

"By the beard of the Prophet, this is my ring, Grand Vizier—our deliverer stands before us!"

Said was overcome by finding in whose presence he was, and flung himself at the Caliph's feet. But Haroun raised him, and overwhelmed him with praise and thanks. Nothing would do but that Said must return with them to the palace, where they would conceive some plan to bring the merchant Kalum to book. On the next day Kalum himself begged for admittance to the presence of Haroun. A dispute had arisen between himself and a man of Balsora, and he asked for judgment.

"I will hear him," said the Caliph. "Said," turning to the youth as the servant left the room, "this is no other than your father. Do you hide behind that curtain, and you, Grand Vizier, fetch the magistrate who condemned Said."

In a short time Kalum entered, accompanied by Benezar, and, after the Caliph had mounted his throne, began his complaint.

"I was standing at my door a few days ago, when this man Benezar came down the street, offering a purse of gold for news of Said. I at once claimed the money, and told him how his son, for so I found him to be, had suffered the penalty for stealing a purse from me. Then the madman demanded his money back, and wanted to make me responsible for his rascal of a son."

"Bring the magistrate who condemned the youth," commanded Haroun. He was produced as if by magic. After much questioning, the justice confessed that no witness had been brought forward except the purse.

"Why," shouted the Grand Vizier, "that is my purse, you scoundrel; and I gave it to the gallant youth who saved me."

"Then," thundered the Caliph, "you swore falsely, Kalum Bek. What was done to Said?"

"I sent him to a desert island," stammered the magistrate.

"Oh, Said, my son, my son!" wept the unhappy father.

"Stand forth, Said," said the Caliph.

Confronted by this apparition, Kalum and the justice flung themselves on their knees, crying, "Mercy! mercy!"

"Did you have mercy on the misfortunes of this unhappy boy? You, my best of judges, shall retire to a desert island, so that you may have an opportunity of studying justice. But, Kalum Bek, what am I to say to you? You shall pay Said for all the time he has served you, and," as Kalum was beginning to congratulate himself on coming so well out of the business, "for the perjury you shall receive a hundred strokes on the soles of your feet. Take the men away and carry out their sentence."

The wretched beings were led away, and the Caliph took Said and his father into another apartment. Here their conversation was interrupted by the yells of Kalum, who was undergoing punishment in the court outside. The Caliph invited Benezar to bring his goods and settle in Bagdad. He gladly consented, and Said spent his life in the palace built for him by the grateful Caliph—indeed, the proverb ran in Bagdad, "May I be as good and fortunate as Said, the son of Benezar."