Story From Arabian Nights - Shipwrecked


Long long ago there lived a prosperous merchant in Israel. On his death bed, he told his son, "Make it a point to pay back whatever I owe to others." The son took a solemn oath to pay back all his father's debts. It so happened that a wicked fellow overheard the conversation between the father and the son. Soon after the father had closed his eyes for good, the fellow told his son, "Your father owed me ten thousand coins!" The young merchant had no means of knowing whether the fellow spoke true or not. But to be truthful to his father, he paid the fellow the money he demanded. The father owed very little to very few. But inspired by the wicked man's example, people lined up to meet the young merchant to present their false claims. The young merchant understood that he was being exploited by dishonest people. But he went on meeting their demands without a murmur. Soon he found himself left with nothing. He had to sell his house too.

However, he still possessed his father's ship. "If I live here, people will never stop pestering me. Let us sail for some distant land. We can sell the ship. With the money we get, we can make a fresh living," he told his wife. He had two little sons. The four set out for some distant port. On the high seas, the ship faced a terrible storm. Waves grew unruly. The wind tore the sails to shreds. Soon a wave as high as a hill lifted the ship to the height of a palm tree and then brought it crashing down. The ship fell into pieces. The merchant could not keep his wife and his sons together. They drifted apart. The merchant resting on a plank was tossed onto an island. He wept over the fate of his family and then addressed his prayers to God, leaving them to His care. He roamed about on the island. He found the land extremely fertile. It abounded in a variety of fruits and flowers. There were rivers and springs with sweet waters. But he did not see a single soul. At night he took abode in a cave. He dreamt of a tunnel that was filled with gold and diamonds. He woke up in the morning to discover that the cave itself led to a tunnel and that the tunnel was full of wealth. The next day a large ship anchored there. The passengers were the inhabitants of another island. A famine had visited that island. That is why they had deserted it. But they did not know where to go. The merchant invited them to settle down there. He selected some of them and asked them to sail to Israel for buying grain. He gave them enough gold.

He also started cultivation on the island. Soon more people came to settle down there. He was kind to all and gave each one suitable work. Needless to say, he was the acknowledged king of the island. He made a regular harbor where he had landed. Ships came there for rest and for gathering provision. Years passed. One day a young man met the king and offered his services to him. The king found the young man quite brilliant. He made him a member of his personal staff. Soon thereafter another young man too joined his staff. The king liked both of them very much. But as a principle he never asked anybody about his past, for his own past was so sad! One day a merchant from another land met the king and offered to sell him some special kinds of herbs. The king was interested in them. He asked the merchant to spend the night with him so that he could learn from him more about the herbs. "My lord, there is a reason for my returning to my ship to spend the night there," said the merchant. "May I know what the reason is?" asked the king.

"There is a holy woman in the ship. I look upon her as my sister. It is since her coming to live in my ship that I began to prosper. She lives with me on condition that nobody should insult her in any way," said the merchant. "Don't you worry. I shall send two of my most trusted officers to stand guard over her," said the king. He sent those two young members of his personal staff to the ship. The two young men strolled on the deck. One of them said to the other, "I am feeling sleepy. If you tell me a story, that will keep me awake." "I know hardly any story apart from the story of my life," said the other. He then narrated how, when very young, he boarded a ship with his parents and another brother and how shipwreck separated them and how he was luckily rescued by a boat. "Do you remember your father's name?" asked the other young man who was listening to the story with bated breath. "Of course I do!" said the first young man and he uttered the name. The second young man gave out a cry of joy and jumped to the other's arms and exclaimed, "Here am I, your lost brother!" The two brothers shed tears of joy as they recounted the faint memory of their childhood. 

The night passed for them happily. In the morning they saw the merchant returning to the ship. "We now leave!" they said addressing the woman whom they guarded but whom they did not see. She was in the ship's main cabin. Two hours later the merchant was back in the king's court, followed by the woman in a veil. "My lord," he said, "this is the woman whom I had rescued from the sea and whom I revere like an angel has something to demand of those two young men who stood guard over her at night." The two brothers were summoned. "I demand of them that they repeat their last night's conversation," said the woman. The two brothers narrated how they had come to recognize each other last night, and spoke out their father's name. The king jumped off his throne and hugged them. "My sons!" he exclaimed. "My sons!" exclaimed another voice. It was the woman's. She had shed her veil. The king's amazement was so great that he could not speak for a long time. The island went festive for days together to celebrate the reunion of the blessed family.  

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