Jewish Fairy Tales and Legends, by Aunt Naomi (pseud. Gertrude Landa), , at sacred-texts.com
"Rabba, Rabba, silly, silly Rabba, have you caught another whale to-day?"
With this strange cry a number of children followed an elderly man through the streets of a town in the East. Their parents looked on in amusement and some of them called after the man as the little ones did. Rabba, however, took no notice, but walked straight on with a faraway look in his eyes, as if his thoughts were elsewhere. Presently, on turning the corner of a street, he nearly ran into an Arab coming in the opposite direction. As soon as the children saw the Arab they turned and fled.
"Ali Rabba is coming," they cried to one another in warning, and as fast as their legs would carry them they made off to their homes.
The Arab shook his fist threateningly after the children. Then he turned to the man whom they had followed.
"It is a shame," he said, hotly, "that the impudent
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They saw the land rise up like a huge mountain and a tremendous stream of water gush forth. (Page 138).
ragamuffins of the town should be allowed to cast words of disrespect in the public streets at my sainted master, Rabba bar Chana, the man of profound learning and the famous traveller--"
"Be gentle, good Ali," interrupted Rabba. "Remember they are little more than babes and have not full understanding. And how can they be respectful when their parents, who should have wisdom and faith, accept not our stories of the many adventures we have had? Yesterday, I told them of the day when our ship had been surrounded by five thousand whales, each a mile long, and they jeered and cried 'Impossible!'"
"Impossible!" echoed Ali, in a rage. "Was I not there with thee, my master? Did I not count every single whale myself? Who dares to doubt my word? Have I not, for years, been thy faithful guide on thy marvelous journeys? Bah! What know these town fools, whose lives are no wider than the narrow streets in which they dwell, of the wonders of the vast world beyond the seas? Fools, ignorant fools, every one of them, my good master. Why stay you here with them and brook their insults and their sneers? Let us journey forth again this very day. A good ship waits in the harbor."
Ali's voice grew louder as his rage became stronger and a crowd was collecting. Rabba hurried him away and together they made for the harbor. There they were soon engaged in earnest conversation with the captain of a vessel that had come from a distant land.
"I shall be glad to have two such famous travelers on my ship," said the captain. "I have heard of your adventures, and in my country ’tis said that only those meet with wonders who dare to seek them and believe in them. I, too, would see the wonders of the world, and gladly will I give you passage on my ship."
Next day Rabba and Ali stood on the deck of the vessel as the sail was hoisted, and it moved slowly from the harbor to the accompaniment of cheering and some laughter from a crowd on shore.
"Silly Rabba and Ali Rabba, don't forget to bring back the moon," they cried. "Find out where it goes when it is not here."
Soon the land was out of sight, and scudding before favorable breezes the ship made good progress. In ten days it had reached a sea in which no vessel had ever sailed before. Ali said he could tell this because the fishes behaved queerly. They poked their heads out of the
water to gaze at the ship and then darted swiftly out of sight again. It was quite plain that they had never before seen a ship, and they evidently mistook it for some strange sea monster. Every day the fishes grew larger, but no land was sighted until another five days had passed. Then a desert island appeared straight ahead, and the captain steered toward it. A few blades of grass grew here and there, and Rabba determined to land and explore the island.
Accompanied by his faithful Ali, he entered a small boat and was rowed to the shore. They found a few vegetables growing that they had never seen before, and so, collecting twigs from the short, stumpy bushes, they made a fire to cook them. While the vegetables were cooking they looked around.
"It seems a vast land," said Rabba, "and yet over there, about three or four miles away, I think I see water."
"I think so, too," said Ali. "This must be the width of the land, but in the other directions I can see no end. But hark! What sound is that?"
"’Tis like the rumbling of an earthquake," said Rabba, "and I am sure I felt the ground move. Indeed, it seems to me as if it is heaving up and down, like a living thing."
A shout from the boat caused them to look in that direction, and they saw their comrades pointing wildly and calling upon them to come back. Looking in the direction indicated, they saw the land rise up like a huge mountain and a tremendous stream of water gush forth.
"This is not land; this is a whale," cried Rabba, in alarm. "Our fire has wakened it from slumber. Let us hasten to the ship before the monster plunges and drowns us."
They hurried back to the boat and boarded the ship just as the whale began to move. It sank below the waves to quench the fire on its back, but it rose again, and then the vessel found itself in a new danger. It was lying between the body of the monster and one of its fins.
"Let me take command," said Ali. "I know best how to act in times of danger like this. We must avoid being struck by the fin, or we shall be destroyed. We must find which way the monster is moving and go in the opposite direction; otherwise we shall be wrecked when we come to the place where the fin joins the body."
There was no sleep for the crew that night. Everyone watched carefully, for the least false move may have meant instant disaster. Luckily the whale began to move on the surface of the
sea against the wind, so that the ship, traveling in the opposite direction, had the wind behind it. Swiftly flew the ship before the breeze, but the fin seemed to have no end, although the whale was traveling fast, too. Three days and three nights the ship continued before it came to the end of the fin. Then everyone on board breathed more freely.
"That was a lucky escape," said the captain to Rabba.
"Speak not too soon," replied the latter. "I have fears yet. We must hasten to get completely away from this monster, but the wind does not favor any alteration of our course."
Even as he spoke there was a great commotion in the water, and the whale began to move back-ward at so fearful a speed that they could scarcely see it. The water was violently agitated and the ship was tossed about as if it were a mere cork. A whole day this lasted. Then the motion grew slower as the head of the whale came past the ship.
"See," cried Ali, excitedly. "A small fish has stuck in the nostril of the monster. That is the cause of this commotion. The monster will surely be killed."
The agitation of the water now died down,
and it was seen that the whale was beginning to turn over.
"The monster is dead," said Rabba. "It will float on the waves like a vast desert land and will be a danger to ships."
For several days the vessel was compelled to follow the dead whale. Whenever an attempt was made to move away, the current or the wind changed and the carcass of the monster followed the ship. The captain did not like this at all, for it was dangerous in the extreme. He was afraid that the dead whale would strike the vessel and wreck it.
At last land was sighted. Not even Rabba and Ali could recognize the country. They said they had never seen it before. Beautiful cities dotted the shore, but to everybody's alarm, the body of the whale began to float toward the land.
To make matters worse, a storm arose, and the monster rose and fell with each motion of the angry waves.
"The cities will be destroyed if the whale strikes them," cried Rabba, "and it is impossible for us to warn the people."
Nearer and nearer the whale was driven, while the captain of the ship did his utmost to keep away so as not to be struck by the backwash.
At length, with a tremendous crash, the monster was flung by the waves, which had increased to a great height, against the shore. Above the shrieking of the wind could be heard the noise of falling buildings and the wild cries of the people. A huge wave caught the ship and carried it a mile out to sea and then whirled it back again at a speed that made the crew hold their breath in awe.
It seemed certain that the vessel would be dashed to pieces on the land, and the crew, with cries of warning and alarm, made haste to lash themselves to the masts. The mighty wave swept over the land, over the ruins of the towns, carrying the ship with it, and finally deposited it among the trees of a dense forest a mile from the shore.
"At least we are safe for the present," said Rabba, when he had recovered from the shock and the surprise. "We are more fortunate than the poor people who have been overwhelmed by this strange disaster."
"I should like to know how I am going to get my ship back to the sea," said the captain. "I never heard of such a predicament before."
Rabba merely shrugged his shoulders, and with Ali he walked to the shore. An extraordinary sight met their gaze. Thousands of people were
rushing madly to the forests. Everywhere was ruin and desolation. All the towns along the coast, sixty in number they learned afterward, had been destroyed by the stranding of the monster and the tidal wave that followed, and what had not been leveled and swept out to sea had been carried inland to the forests and beyond. All along the coast, as far as the eye could see, lay the body of the whale like a mountain range, and hundreds of people ran up and down, weeping bitterly and wringing their hands.
Rabba gathered as many of them as he could together and addressed them.
"Good people," he said, "ye are the victims of a terrible calamity that has robbed you at one cruel blow of your homes, and many of you of your families. But ye that have survived have duties to yourselves and to the future. In this hour of grief, despair not. There lies the fearful monster that has been your destruction. It shall also be your salvation. Its body can supply you all with food. What you cannot eat, you can salt and store for the future. Thousands of casks of oil can be obtained from its blubber, and with this ye can trade. Then, too, its bones are valuable."
The people thanked Rabba for his good advice,
and immediately they set about doing what he bade them. They told him this was a bewitched land, the country of Kishef, abounding with terrible monsters both on land and in the sea, and ruled over by a malignant jinn, named Hormuz, who gave them no peace. They asked Rabba to try and kill this sprite who said that only a stranger to the land could do him harm, and so Rabba and his faithful All, mounted on horses, set forth on their adventures.
"I think I know this country," said Ali. "I believe I landed once on the other shore. We cannot be far from the wilderness in which the Israelites wandered."
For several days they journeyed through forests and across plains and nothing happened. At last they came to a broad, high wall which barred their progress. They could find no opening through which to pass, and while they were wondering what to do, a strange figure suddenly appeared on the wall. One of his legs was longer than the other, and his arms were also of different length. His ears and eyes were also unequal, and he hopped and bounded along the wall at amazing speed.
"My name is Hormuz," he cried. "Who are ye?"
"Strangers," called Rabba, and as soon as he heard the word, the sprite darted swiftly off along the top of the wall. But although the horses ran at topmost speed, they could not over-take him, and he quickly disappeared. Where he was lost to sight, however, there was a hole in the wall, and through this Rabba and Ali just managed to take their horses. A vast wilderness lay before them.
Ali picked up two clods of earth and smelt them.
"As I thought," he said, "this is the wilderness of the Israelites. Come, I will show thee strange sights."
Before nightfall, they came to a place where the bodies of a large number of men lay strewn on the ground.
"These men must have been giants," said Rabba, as Ali, with his spear uplifted, rode under the raised knee of one of the bodies. "These must be the bodies of the Ephraimites who left Egypt before the rest of the children of Israel and were slain."
He cut off a portion of a garment that still covered one of the bodies, but when he tried to move he could not. He seemed to be rooted to the spot. Nor could his horse move.
"Oh, oh," cried Ali, "my horse has lost its power to move. Thou must have taken something from the dead. Return it, good master, or we shall be held fast here until we perish."
Rabba returned the piece of garment, and they were able to move again. They hurried from the place and came to a chasm in the ground from which smoke was rising.
"This is the pit in which Korah and his children were swallowed," said Ali.
"That must have been a wonderful sight," said Rabba. "I have heard that the pit became like a funnel and that the air all about eddied and sucked in everything that belonged to Korah. Even the things that people had borrowed from him, such as dishes, rolled along the ground from a distance and into the pit. Come, let us hasten away.
They continued their journey for many days, but could not see the demon again. One day the desert ended and they came to the sea. They encamped for the night, and when morning broke Rabba was surprised to find that the basket, in which they kept their provisions, had disappeared.
"I think I can explain," said Ali. "No thieves have been here, but this is the end of the world,
the edge of the earth. Here, once in every twenty-four hours, the sky and the earth in their revolution, scrape together. The sky must have caught up your basket and carried it away. It will be returned at the same hour tomorrow morning."
Rabba awoke next morning before the sunrise and saw his basket floating down to earth on a cloud. Both he and All were overjoyed when they recovered it, for they were very hungry. While they were eating, the sky grew dark, and looking up they saw what appeared to be a great cloud above their heads. Out of the sea a mighty tree seemed suddenly to have grown. They moved cautiously forward to investigate.
"Take heed," cried a voice of thunder. "I am a bird standing in the water. It is so deep, with such swift currents, that seven years ago an axe fell in and has not yet reached the bottom."
Rabba and Ali crouched on the ground in great fear, until at last Rabba called: "Mighty bird, we seek your help. We are anxious to find the wicked jinn, Hormuz, and slay him so that people shall be free."
"Follow me," answered the bird, and like a spreading cloud it flew along the coast. Rabba and Ali followed on their horses.
"Look," cried Ali, suddenly, pointing out to sea.
A huge snake and dragon were fighting, and at last the sea-serpent, which was almost as big as the whale that had destroyed the towns, swallowed the dragon. No sooner had it done so, however, than the giant bird swooped down and gobbled up the snake.
"That was a good fat worm for breakfast," called the bird. "Now I shall rest."
It flew toward a gigantic tree which now appeared. So tall was it that its upper branches were lost in the clouds. The bird perched on a branch of the tree.
"Proceed along the coast until you come to two bridges," said the bird. "There you will find Hormuz. Give him two cups of wine to drink, then you can slay him. But be sure you take the diamond from his cap. I, the ziz, give you this warning."
Rabba thanked the bird for its information, and with Ali continued on his journey. After three days they came to a river crossed by two bridges, and with one foot on each stood Hormuz.
As soon as he saw them he began to run, but Rabba called after him, "We bring thee an offering of good wine," and he promptly returned.
[paragraph continues] Rabba filled the two cups which he had from a leathern bottle, and Hormuz took a cup in each hand, smacking his lips as he did so.
"See," he said, and he tossed the wine into the air, and the wine from the right hand cup fell into the left hand cup and that from the left hand cup into the right and not a drop was spilt. Then he swallowed them both at one gulp.
Almost immediately he fell down in a stupor, and Rabba stabbed him again and again with his spear. Yet, when he seemed quite dead, he jumped up again.
"The diamond," cried Rabba, excitedly, and Ali snatched it from the cap of Hormuz. Then the demon fell dead.
"We can return now," said Rabba, and they set out at once, taking the body with them. They halted only to take food, and the first time they did so a funny thing happened. Ali had killed an animal and Rabba had caught some fish, and, while these were cooking, Rabba took the jinn's diamond from his pocket and examined it. At once the fish and the animal came to life again, jumped out of the cooking pot and made off.
"This is a magic diamond," said Rabba, "that has the power to bring dead things to life. We must keep it covered when we wish to eat."
They did so, and after long journeying they came in sight of the great wall and at last reached the place from which they had started. They had been away twelve months in all, and the people were heartily glad to see them, especially when they heard that Hormuz had been killed and saw his body. They had worked hard on the carcass of the huge whale and were re-building the sixty towns and villages that had been destroyed, with the bones of the monster, using the skin as coverings for their tents.
With the help of the magic diamond, Rabba called the ziz, and it took the ship which had been carried into the forest in its beak and flew with it to the sea. Gathering their old comrades, Rabba and Ali set sail for home.
All the inhabitants stood on shore and cheered as long as the ship was in sight. They were sorry that Rabba was gone, but they felt certain now that Hormuz was dead, that nevermore would they be troubled by monsters which brought them such terrible disasters.