THE BROKEN OATHS
THERE was a man who was very rich, and who had but one only son. He bestowed upon him every kind of instruction, so that he became very leaned and of great talent.
Before his death the old man gave a great entertainment, and invited all the chief people of the city; and when the entertainment was over, he called his son, and made him swear, in the name of the great God of the whole universe5 that he never would travel or go out of his own country. He then left him the whole of his riches on this condition, and made him sign a paper to that effect, with sufficient witnesses, in the presence of all that company, and he gave the paper into the custody of one of the principal persons.
Some years after the death of his father, there came a very large ship from India, laden with merchandise of great value. The captain when he arrived inquired after the father of this young man, and the people said unto him that he was dead, but that he had left a son, and. they conducted the captain to the young man's dwelling. The captain then said unto him, "Sir, I have brought hither much property belonging to thy father, and as there is much property of thy father's still remaining, if thou wilt come with me, thou wilt be able to obtain much riches, for thou canst recover all that is owing unto thy father." He made answer unto the captain and said, that he could not travel, as he had taken an oath unto his father that he never would go out of the country. The captain, however, ceased not every day to persuade him, until at length he gave him his word that he would go with him. He then went unto the learned Rabbin that were at that time, to see if they would give him absolution respecting the oath be had sworn unto his father. But they counselled him not to leave the country. But his eagerness to acquire more riches was so great, that he would not hearken unto the counsel of any one. So he finally took his resolution, and went away with the captain.
Now, when they were in the midst of the sea, lo! the ship went to pieces, and all the merchandise that was on board was lost, and all the people were drowned, save only this young man, who got upon a plank. And the water carried him about from one place unto another, until it cast him upon the land. But here he was in danger of starving, and had nothing to eat but the herbs of the field, or to drink but the running water.
One day an exceeding large eagle drew near unto him, and seated himself on the ground before him. As he was now reduced to despair, and had little hopes of being able to preserve his life, and knew not where be was, be resolved to mount this eagle, and to sit upon his back. He accordingly mounted the bird, and the eagle flew with him until he brought him unto a country that was inhabited, where he left him. [a] When he saw that he was in a land where there were people, he was greatly rejoiced, and he immediately inquired where the great Rabbi of that country dwelt. But all the people that were there stood mocking at him, and cursing him, and saying that he should die, because be had broken the oath he had sworn unto his father. When he heard this be was greatly astonished at their knowing it, but he went to the house of the chief person among them who said unto him that he should abide in his house until they did him justice, because in that country they were all Mazikeen, and they wanted to kill him because he deserved death on account of the oath to his father, which he had broken. "Therefore," said he, "when they will sentence thee, and will lead thee forth to punishment, cry aloud and say, I call for justice before God and the king! The king will then do his utmost to deliver thee out of their hands, and thou wilt remain alive."
Accordingly, when he was tried before the senate, and before their princes and great men, he was found guilty, and sentenced to death, according to the law of God. And when they led him forth to be slain, he put his fingers before God, and before his majesty the king. [b] When they heard this, they took him before the king, who examined him, and saw that, in justice, he was worthy of death. But the king asked him if he had studied or knew the law of Moses, or had studied the Talmud, and various authors; and he saw that he was very learned, and a great Rabbi, and it grieved him much that he should be put to death. The king, therefore, begged that they would defer his execution until the following day, for he wished to give his case a little further consideration. At this they all held their peace, and departed.
Next day all the senators, governors, chief men, and all the people of the city, came together to see and hear the sentence of the king, and also to behold the death of this man, as it would be for them a very curious sight. Now, while they were all standing there assembled, before the king came forth from his palace to give his judgement, he called for this man who was condemned to death, and asked him if he was willing to remain with him and teach his children what he knew, as, in such case, he would do his utmost to deliver him from death. He made answer that he was willing. The king then went forth from his palace, and seated himself upon his throne of judgement, and called all the chief men, and all the people, and spake unto them in this sort:--
"Sirs, it is a truth that you have adjudged this man to death, which he deserves: but there is no rule without an exception, and I believe that this man hath not yet come to his time that he should die. For if it was the will of God that he should die, he would have died along with the rest of the people who were on board the same ship with him when the ship went to pieces, and not have escaped as he hath done. Again, if it was the will of God that he should die, he would not have reached the land, and an eagle would not have come and brought him hither amongst us. In like manner, God hath delivered him from you, for he might have been slain by you. He hath thus been delivered out of these manifold and great perils, and it therefore seemeth unto me that he should live; as for the sin that he hath committed, in breaking his oath, it is between him and God, who shall reward him for it one day or other. He shall therefore be free from us; and I ordain that no one shall touch him, or do him any evil; and whosoever troubleth him shall be put to death."
When they heard these words of the king, they all expressed themselves well pleased at his decision; and the man remained in the house of the king, teaching his children. He continued in the palace for three years, highly respected by every one, and greatly esteemed by the king for his talents and his capacity.
Now it came to pass that the king was obliged to set forth with an army, to war against one of the provinces of his kingdom which had rebelled. As he was on the point to set out, he called for this man, and gave him all the keys of his palaces and his treasures, and said unto him, "Behold! thou mayest view every thing that is in the land and in the palaces; but thou hast here a golden key of one palace which thou must beware of opening, for on the day that thou openest it I will slay thee." Then, charging the people to respect and attend to him, the king took his leave of him and departed. When the king was gone, he began to open and. examine all the palaces, and all the curiosities, which were such as he had never seen in his life, and all the treasures of the greatest riches that could be in the world; in short, he saw mountains upon mountains of diamonds of great weight, and. other things of various kinds, most admirable to behold. But when he had seen all, he was not satisfied; be wanted to see more. And as his desire was very great, he would open the other palace; and he thought he should suffer no injury thereby, so that he resolved to open it. Five or six times he drew nigh to open it, and as often he drew back in fear at length he took courage and opened it.
There were seven apartments, one within the other, and. every apartment was full of different rich and curious things. In the seventh apartment was the princess, with other women, all richly dressed, and very beautiful. When the princess saw him, she gave a sigh, and said, "Man, it grieveth me for thee! how art thou come hither? Where is thy regard for the advice of my father, who entreated thee not to open this palace, when he gave thee the keys of his palaces and his treasures, and straitly charged thee not to come hither? Know now that my father is coming, and that he will surely slay thee. But if thou wilt follow my counsel, and wilt espouse me, I will save thee; but thou must give unto me thy oath, that thou wilt do it." He replied that he would, and he aware unto her, and gave it unto her in writing. She then said. unto him, "When my father asketh thee why thou hast opened the palace, thou shalt make answer, and say that thou desirest to marry me, and then he will let thee escape, and not slay thee."
He had scarcely ended speaking with her, when the king entered, with his sword drawn in his hand, to slay him. Then he threw himself on the ground, and began to entreat him, and. said that he was desirous to marry the princess. When the king heard this, he was rejoiced that he would remain there, and so teach his children all the knowledge he possessed; for he was of great capacity in everything. He therefore told him, that he would leave it to his daughter, whether she would have him or not. The king then asked his daughter, and she replied, "What your majesty doth for me is well done." The king then gave his consent for her marriage with him. The contract was made, and. notice was given to all the chief persons of the city, and the wedding was appointed. to be in two months.
When the appointed. time was come, all the chief men of all the provinces of the kingdom were invited, and. a great feast was made to celebrate the marriage of the princess; and they were married to their great joy and. happiness.
On the first night of their marriage, when the husband and the wife were alone, she said unto him, "Behold! I am not like one of you, and thou seest that, thanks be unto God! there is no defect in my body; if therefore, though we have been publicly married with the consent of my father, thou art not content to live with me as husband and wife, thou art at liberty, and no one shall know it; but if thou art content with all thy will, thou must swear unto me that thou wilt never leave me." He replied, that he was well content with everything; and. he aware unto her, and wrote it down on paper, and signed it with his hand, and gave it unto her; and they lived happily as man and wife for many years, and they had children; and his first-born he named Solomon, after the name of king Solomon.
Immediately after the marriage, the king caused it to be proclaimed. that his son-in-law should be the second person in the kingdom to give judgement, and to punish such as should be deserving of punishment. This the king did. with the consent of all the great men of the country.
But, after some years, this man began to be very anxious and melancholy; and his wife asked him many times what it was that ailed. him, but he would never tell her the cause:
yet she persuaded him so much, that at length he told it unto her, and said, that when he looked upon his children he remembered the other children that he had, and his other wife, and that he yearned. to behold them once more. His wife replied, "My dear husband, let not this give thee any uneasiness, for if thou wishest to see them, thou canst see them." He answered, "If thou wilt do me this favour and grace, I shall thank thee much." She asked him how long he wished to stay with his wife and children, and he answered, three months; but she said, "No; I will give thee the space of a year, on condition, that as soon as the year is expired thou return again unto me." He answered, "If thou show me this favour, I will do all that thou wilt command me." She said, "Take an oath that thou wilt keep thy word." He then aware, and wrote it down on paper, and gave it unto her.
She then called one of her servants, and ordered him to convey him to his own house with all the speed he could make; and in the space of a few minutes he found himself in his own house with, his wife and children. The man then asked him if he had any commands for his lady? He replied, "I have nothing to do with thee or thy lady. I am now with my wife and. children; I know no other, and therefore I have no message to give." The servant then returned to his mistress; and. she asked him what his master had said, and if he had given him any message. He answered, "Madam, if I tell thee what he hath said, thou wilt not 'believe me." She then pressed. him, and he told her all. She said, "It doth not signify."
He remained, then, very happy with his family; but at the end of the year his wife sent a messenger unto him to call him back unto her, as the year was expired. But he answered that he would not, and. that he had nothing to do with them, as he was a man, and had nothing more to say with them. The messenger returned and. told his mistress, and she sent other messengers of greater dignity, for she said this one is not sufficient for him.. But he made the same reply that he had made unto the first. She then sent greater still, three or four times; and at last she was obliged to send her son Solomon. When he saw his son he embraced him, and asked him what he wanted. He told him that his mother had sent him, that he might come back with him, and that if he would not, she would come and avenge herself upon him. His father replied, that he had. no mind to depart from his house; that he would stay with his wife and children, who were human beings like himself. So when his son saw that there was no remedy, and. that he would not come with him, he returned unto his mother, and related the whole unto her.
His mother was then obliged to go herself with her great army. When they arrived at the city where the man dwelt, they said unto the princess that they would go up and slay the man that was her husband, and all the people of the city; but she answered, "No; they had. not permission to kill any one, as all the Hebrews, when they lie down to sleep at night, make their prayers unto God to protect and guard. them from all Mazikeen; so that we have no right or permission to touch them; and if we do them a mischief, we shall be chastised. for it by the God of Israel, who governeth the whole world. Do you, therefore, bide here without the city, and in the morning I and my son Solomon will arise and go unto the school of the Rabbin and the Sanhedrim, and if they will do me justice with him, well; if not, I will avenge myself upon him and upon them." They all made answer and said, "It is well said."
In the morning she arose with her son Solomon, and went unto the great school, where the divine Law was taught. They were consulting, when they heard the voice of one crying aloud, and saying, "Sirs, justice before God, and before you, upon such a one, my husband;" and all the people were amazed, and. were in astonishment when they heard the voice three times, and saw no one. They then sent for the man, who came unto them and. related the whole story, and said that he had no mind to go with her. They again heard the voice, which said, "Sirs, here are his oaths, signed. by himself, which he sware and. signed each time;" and then three written papers fell before them. They read them, and asked him if that was his signature. He said it was. They said unto him, "It is ill done to break so many oaths," and that there was no remedy, but that he should go with her to where he had lived so many years with her, and where she had saved him from death, and he had had children by her. "As for us, we advise thee to go with her, and if thou dost not, it will not come to good; for she is not an ordinary person, but is a princess, and merits attention, more especially as she hath right on her side." He answered. that he would give her Guet (a bill of divorce); but she made answer, that that would not be for her honour. In fine, he refused absolutely to go with her.
After a great deal of argument, and when she saw that there were no means to persuade him, she said, "Sirs, I am highly obliged and grateful to you; for I see that you do me the justice of God, and he will not accept it. You are free, and the sin will be upon his soul. Wherefore, sirs, since there is no remedy with him, I entreat that he will suffer me to take leave of him, and to embrace him." He replied that she might, and as soon as she embraced him she drew out his soul, and he died.. She then said, "Sirs, here is his son Solomon, who is one of yourselves. I will give him sufficient riches, and he shall be heir along with the children of his other wife, and you will make him among you a great Rabbi; for he is of sufficient ability, as you may see if you will examine him. Farewell." So saying, she departed with her army. [c]
[a] Comp. Lane, Thousand and One Nights, iii. p. 91.
[b] To signify that he appealed to them.
[c] From a rabbinical book called Mahasee Yerusalemee, i. e. History of a Hebrew of Jerusalem.--" Very old," says Moses Edrebi, "and known by the Hebrews to be true." "Moreover;' saith he of another tale, "it really happened, because every thing that is written in the Jewish books is true; for no one can print any new book without its being examined and approved of by the greatest and chiefest Rabbin and wise men of that time and city, and the proofs must be very strong and clear; so that all the wonderful stories in these hooks are true." The Jews are not singular in this mode of vouching for the truth of wonderful stories.