Tales of Old Lusitania/The Tower of Babylon
THE TOWER OF BABYLON.
Once upon a time there lived a hardy fisherman, who had three daughters. One day, when he had cast his nets into the sea and was drawing them in, he found them so heavy to draw that he believed he had a great catch of fish, and was already beginning to rejoice at his good fortune. Great was his surprise when he found he had only one large fish in his nets, and greater still was his astonishment when he heard the huge sea-monster speak and say to him: "My good man, go and seek your eldest daughter, and when you have found her, bring her to me. But let me warn you that unless you obey me in this, you will always be unlucky; you will lead a miserable life, and never improve your position."
The poor fisherman returned home with a heavy heart. He told his daughter what had occurred to him and what the large fish had demanded. But the girl, not wishing to see her dear father miserable on her account, promptly decided to give herself up to the great fish and thus avert any greater evils from her family. She at once got ready to go with her father, who took her and delivered her up to the sea monster, for he believed himself in the fish's power, and dared not disobey him.
His difficulties, however, were not destined to end there, for every time he let down his nets into the sea no other fish came into the nets but this great monster, who each time demanded another of his daughters until he had carried away the three.
When the fish found himself in possession of the fisherman's three daughters, he loaded him in return with riches and many costly gifts. He was now a wealthy man, and lived at ease; but if ever he happened to ply his old craft by way of amusement, he was never able to catch any other fish but this same huge monster, who, no doubt, took great pleasure in visiting his old friend the fisherman.
After several years had elapsed, a son was born to the fisherman, which was a great happiness to him and his desolate wife, who had had their family so cruelly torn from them, and who had no children with whom to share their wealth.
When the boy had grown up to manhood, he recollected how he had often been told when a child that his father had once been very poor, but had sold his daughters in exchange for his present wealth.
One day he went to his father, and said: "Father, is it true that you once sold your daughters in order to become rich?"
In reply to his question, the father related to him, with tears in his eyes, all the particulars of that sad event. And when the son had heard the whole melancholy story, he stood for some time wrapped in thought, and then he said: "Father, I can bear this no longer. I am determined to go and seek my sisters, and find out, if I can, what has become of them. If they are unhappy or badly treated, I may be able to rescue them from their tormentors."
In vain did the father try to dissuade him; nothing could shake his determination. He accordingly started on his journey at hap-hazard, striking into the first turning that offered—a zig-zag path along the course of a mountain stream.
He had not travelled many leagues when fortune already began to favour him. He met three boys, fighting and quarrelling, and fearing from their angry words and blows they might come to harm, he went up to them and endeavoured to pacify them. He asked them the reason of their angry contention, and they, in reply, said to him: "Sir, we are brothers. Our good father has just died and left us as inheritance this pair of boots, cloak, and key, and our quarrel arose because each one of us wishes to possess the boots."
The fisherman's son then said: "How is it that you prize these things so much, which seem to me so common and to be easily had?"
"Oh," said they, "these boots will convey the fortunate possessor of them as quick as lightning to wherever he wishes to be, however far or inaccessible the place may be to ordinary mortals. The cloak, when put on, will at once make the wearer invisible, whilst the key will fit any lock."
When the young man heard this, he coveted to possess such useful treasures, and he therefore offered the three brothers a large sum of money if they would part with them. To this they readily agreed, as the best means of settling their dispute.
Our traveller took the boots, cloak, and key, and very contentedly gave the boys the sum of money agreed upon, which was a very large sum indeed. And when they had parted company, he put on the boots, saying: "Boots, take me to my eldest sister's home, wherever that may be."
No sooner said than done. He crossed the sea without getting wet, and instantly found himself in the midst of a magnificent park with fine old trees, the foliage tempering the sun's rays, and which extended for miles along the beach. He saw all along the sea-shore a luminous band of little marine animals, which had the power of emitting light. Further out in the sea were myriads of other little creatures, which, congregating together, resembled short bits of shining thread, whilst others again were in the form of rings, stars, and globes, and as these tiny animals moved or crawled they left behind them a luminous track, which continued to shine for some time after the animal had passed. Our traveller stood entranced with delight at the fairy scene as the fire-flies and glow-worms of the ocean flashed and sparkled over the water; he felt as if he breathed a different atmosphere, such as was breathed by naiads and mermaids and other nymphs.
In the midst of the park stood a splendid palace, surrounded by a most peculiar garden, in which only sea-weeds grew. These sea-weeds were of every colour, shade, and size, some with large fronds, others with tiny leaflets growing one inside the other. They grew by the side of deep red and rose-coloured coral reefs and pillars of sea shells and star-fish; in fact, all was enchanted ground and fairyland which surrounded him; and as he stood admiring the magic scene, he saw a lady walking in the garden attired like a queen. She had in her train a number of maids of honour, who all appeared to him very beautiful, though each of their faces had an expression like that of some fish or other.
When the queen saw the stranger approach the gate of the enclosed garden, she was much surprised at the intrusion; nevertheless she bent her steps most graciously towards him and inquired of him what motive had directed his steps to her palace, and how he had effected his entrance into the park.
"I am your brother," said he, in reply.
"I have no brother that I know of."
"When my father sold you to the great fish in exchange for riches, you had no brother; but I was born a few years after you left, and since I have come to years of discretion I have not ceased to feel anxious respecting your fate and that of my other sisters, and by the help of magic boots of which I am the fortunate possessor I find myself here, and have come to see you, my respected sister."
Great was the queen's joy at seeing a brother of whose existence she had no knowledge until then. She gave him a most affectionate welcome, and asked him to enter the palace with her. But as she entered the grand entrance, she suddenly turned round to him, and looking very sad, said: "You must know that I am the wife of the great king of fishes. Though he loves me and is kind, he is very jealous, and I fear that when he returns home and finds you here he will be very angry and may try to kill you."
"Do not let that trouble you in the least, my good sister, for I am the fortunate possessor of a magic cloak that renders me invisible the moment I put it on, and, therefore, when I wear it I can defy your husband's anger."
The queen being reassured that no danger could befall her brother by remaining in the palace, conducted him through several chambers whose walls were, some of coral, others of mother-of-pearl, whilst one in particular was panelled with beautiful transparent fish scales which reflected every colour. The audience hall was a cave which reached down to the bottom of the sea. It had bright stalactites hanging from the roof, from every point of which flashes and sparks flew like so many fireflies. The appearance of the ocean's bed was quite a marvel to the fisherman's son, who never remembered having seen any thing so wonderful. By large masses of coral of fanciful shapes, like a forest carved in stone, were seen sponges of beautiful growth, and graceful mauve plants, some spreading their gorgeous fronds in the transparent water, and affording a retreat for innumerable little creatures, which no doubt served as food, or at least as bonnes bouches for the great king of fishes. Once or twice he shuddered as he saw a huge serpent armed with silver scales, or some other sea monster of strange and appalling shape, plunge into the deep.
All at once a hollow rushing sound was heard as of a coming hurricane; and advancing from the same direction, on the surface of the water, the monster king of fishes was seen approaching the shore with eyes which glared like red and fiery lamps, and uttering a peculiar hoarse, rumbling sound, frightful to hear. When the queen heard her lord, she went out to meet him, and with gentle words and soothing tones caressed him. When the king had rested for a while on his coral throne, and the queen had succeeded in putting him in a good humour, she said, "My dear husband, I have a great piece of news to tell you."
To this the monster replied, "Who has been here to bring you news?"
"Do not be alarmed, for the piece of news I have to tell you concerns my dear brother, who is come to see me, and is actually here. As I feared you might wish to kill him for intruding here, I bade him hide from you."
When the monster king of fishes heard that, he growled at first, but after a few minutes' reflection, he said, "Tell him to come before my presence. I shall be glad to see him, and I promise you I shall not attempt to kill him."
The queen's brother then came and stood before the great king of fishes, who received him with kindness, and was very gracious to him. After conversing for a short time the king told him he might leave the palace, and gave him a large sum of money, telling him that should he ever require assistance in any undertaking, he had only to say, "O king of the fishes, help me," and instantly he would find him by his side, ready to render assistance.
The fisherman's son left the palace well satisfied with the reception he had met with; and happy to have found his sister happy, and that she was living in such a delightful, fairylike place.
He once more put on his magic boots, saying, "Boots, take me to my second sister's home."
Hardly were the words out of his mouth, when, quick as thought, he crossed over great mountains, passed by the brinks of fearful precipices, and at last the boots deposited him on a bare rock. Looking down below he saw a lovely bay, whose waters were as transparent and smooth as crystal, in the midst of which rose an island surrounded on every side by steep cliffs. There was no visible harbour or beach, so that no mortal could land, unless helped by some sorcerer or magician. But the boots made no difficulty of the matter, they placed their wearer on the middle of the island, in a narrow pathway. He followed this path, which led him to a vast cavern, having three arched openings. There was a monotonous sort of organ music echoing through the cavern, which seemed to come from the tranquil bay. He entered one of the openings, and the first chamber that met his gaze was panelled with millions of yellow and scarlet sponges, among which were anemones of the rarest and richest kind—green, blue, dark brown, white, and scarlet were the prevailing colours. The young man was dazzled, and would have remained spell-bound to the spot had not an attendant, who was half a sea lion and half a man, and had claws of a crab instead of hands, appeared suddenly, and said, "What has brought you here?"
"I have come to visit my sister, who lives here."
At this the page went inside the cavern to take the message, but soon returned, saying, "The queen of this island, who you must know is the wife of the great king of sea lions, desires me to say that she was not aware that she had a brother. But, as she believes nothing but a fairy or mermaid can have placed you on this island, she has signified a wish to see you, and hear what you have to say for yourself. Follow me."
He was led into the audience chamber, which was solely lit up by glittering masses of little creatures which were attached to the walls and roof, and twinkled in flashes.
The queen was resting on a crystal throne, attired in a robe of seaweeds which resembled lace of the most exquisite pattern and texture. She was surrounded by mermaids, who formed her court. As the young man stood before the queen, she asked him the motive that had directed his steps to the royal abode.
"My anxiety to know your fate after my father sold you to the king of fishes has brought me here, my dearest sister."
"But I never knew a brother," was the queen's reply.
"I was born a few years after your gracious majesty left our father's house. And my life was not a happy one, because I did not know your fate."
"I thank you," replied the queen, "for your kind solicitude for my welfare, and I rejoice to see you here; but when my husband, the great king of sea lions, returns home, you must hide until I can put him in a good humour, for he generally comes tired and much fatigued after his day's labour among his unruly subjects, and is not disposed to see strangers."
"I have a cloak that renders me invisible when I wear it; therefore you need not be uneasy about me, for I shall put it on when I hear him coming."
Shortly after this the king of sea-lions was heard entering the cavern, filling the air with a roar like that of the king of the forest. When the young man heard the terrific noise, he was not disposed to face the monster that could utter such an angry sound; he at once put on his cloak, and remained with it on until he saw the great king pacified by the tender caresses of his good sister.
When the queen introduced him to her lord and husband, the king seemed pleased to see him, and asked him to remain with them a few days, that he might take him through his vast realm, and show him all the beautiful objects in it, and the number of subjects who owed him obedience. The young man, however, excused himself from remaining much longer, saying he must proceed in his search for his youngest sister.
As he was leaving the palace the king gave him a fine large sturgeon, that he might have food on his journey. He, at the same time, offered him his assistance in any difficult undertaking, in the same manner as the king of fishes had done.
The fisherman's son left the palace pleased with the reception he had met with; and, by the help of his magic boots, he soon reached the abode of his youngest sister—a fairy realm, quite distinct in all its features from that in which his elder sisters resided. This proved to be the kingdom of birds, where shrubberies, woodlands, lovely glens, and fine old trees were the homes of innumerable birds, who were busy making their nests, or collected together under rich foliage to chat about their little affairs, whilst others plumed their feathers in sunny ease.
There stood a grim old ruin, with long narrow slits, once intended for windows, through which the chattering members of the feathered tribe went in and out unceasingly. On the battlements were a number of pigeons nestling together. Nothing was wanting here to make the inhabitants happy and comfortable; indeed it was a perfect paradise. There were lakes and ponds where they could bathe at their ease, lakelets hidden by reeds and long grasses, with small islets in their centres; a cool retreat for ducks and other waterfowl; and grassy slopes where they could rest and plume their feathers. Fruit trees loaded with ripe luscious fruits attracted hungry and greedy birds, and on the ground and on branches of trees were found worms, grubs, and insects, to supply more substantial food for the subjects of the king of birds.
The fisherman's son, whilst gazing in wonder at the magic scene around him, had his attention drawn to a shady path which led in to a grove. He followed this path, and as he entered the grove he was accosted by an attendant, having the head of a bird and the body of a man. He had large wings which he flapped as he spoke to the young man, asking him what had brought him there, to which he replied that he was seeking his youngest sister. The attendant then led him through the grove.
Within the grove was an enclosure, formed by several trees being joined together by a perfect mantle of creepers, which covered them from top to bottom. These creepers were in full blossom, and rich with their varied colours and perfumes. This enclosure was the palace of the king of birds, and was divided into different compartments and chambers by natural screens, woven of trailers twined together, and all covered with a glowing mass of flowers.
The queen, the young man's sister, was in one of these magic chambers when the page introduced him to her as her brother; and here the same surprise was expressed, and the same conversation ensued as when he visited his other sisters. The queen was rejoiced to see him, and gave him a most affectionate and cordial reception. She was much interested to hear all that her brother related to her of her parents and sisters, whom she had almost forgotten, as she was so young when she was taken from her home.
Presently the king of birds arrived, flapping his great wings. He was pleased to see his wife's brother, and entertained him sumptuously whilst he remained with them. As he left the realm of happy birds, the king gave him a beautiful feather from his great wing, saying, "If ever you are in trouble, remember to call me to your assistance and you will always find me ready to assist you."
When the young man left the palace he bent his steps towards home, rejoicing that he had discovered the homes of all his sisters, and that he left them happy and prosperous. He was also well satisfied with the reception accorded him by his brothers-in-law, and with the rich presents he had received. Proceeding on his journey he entered a forest and lost his way. After wandering a long time, unable to find his way out, he met a countryman, who put him in the right track. As soon as he was out of the forest he sighted a great tower, and having asked what that building was, a woman replied:—
Traveller, the tower thou gazest on
Is the great mystic Babylon.
Long shall the rash man rue the hour
That brings his foot within that tower:
There in dismal dungeon deep,
For ever shall he weep,
Where none his wailing hears,
None recks his tears.
The young man's curiosity was fairly roused, and he resolved at all hazards to explore the mysterious chambers of this tower, trusting that either his magic boots, cloak, or key would help him to avert any evil influence which the inhabitants of that haunted place might bring to bear against him. Besides, he remembered that he could always call up the friendly assistance of the kings—the husbands of his three sisters. "Boots," said he, "take me to yonder tower." Scarcely had he pronounced the words when instantly he found himself before the great edifice, and finding its massive gates wide open he entered.
His first sensation on entering was one of awe, for no human sound was heard to disturb the oppressive stillness and loneliness; while the dim lurid light that filled the place sent a chill to his heart. But, being fully determined to investigate the mysteries here hid from human sight, he took courage, and boldly strode along the first passage he came to. As he went along, peering into the different chambers, whose doors stood open with their hinges rusty from long disuse, great was his surprise to find some richly and comfortably furnished, and others in which were coffers filled with silver and gold, and other treasures collected from different parts of the world.
As he walked through a corridor that led to a darkened chamber, suddenly a young and beautiful maiden glided past him, so slight, and pale, and wan that she seemed more like a fleeting shadow. He turned back and followed her until he overtook her, and addressed her thus: "Dear lady, allow me to address and ask you why you are here, a place in which I only expected to find witches or sorcerers, wandering through these dismal passages, busy with their spells?"
To this she replied, timidly at first, but soon reassured by the young man's appearence, "Stranger, from my infancy I have been kept enchanted in this tower, I know not why. And I have for my only companion an old decrepit man, who has some trouble which causes him great anguish and suffering. His continual sighs and groans give me much uneasiness, and it nearly breaks my heart to see him so unhappy. I have no one to commune with, or who can cheer me in my loneliness. Be not surprised, stranger, if I tell you that I hail your presence here with delight and joy. I feel that you are to me here like a ray of light piercing my dark dismal soul, and to part from you would be death to me. Leave me not, I pray you."
The young man had listened with eager curiosity to the girl's affecting story; his heart melted with compassion for one so young and beautiful, who was wasting her youth in loneliness and wretchedness, beside an old decrepit man; and he resolved to leave nothing undone to free her from her dreadful captivity. To his feelings of chivalrous compassion for one so innocent and youthful, were soon added those of admiration and love; and feeling conscious of a response in her warm heart, he proposed marriage to her, and made known to her his intention of rescuing her from her perilous position.
The joy and felicity of the until then unhappy maiden are not easy to express, and are better left to the imagination of the tender hearted.
The young man now advised her to question the old man and try to find out the cause of his trouble, to which he believed there must be some mystery attached.
The girl had always felt afraid of the old man, who excited in her a feeling of horror; but now, encouraged by her lover, she went in search of him, and having found him in the highest chamber of the tower, crouching in a corner groaning and sighing, she said, "Poor old man, tell me why you suffer so much, tell me the cause of your trouble, and if it be in my power to relieve you of it I will do so?"
When the old man heard her sweet voice and kind words he burst into tears and replied, "I have always been afraid to accost you, but since you seem to take an interest in me, and I know that no one can possibly penetrate within these walls, I will tell you all. You must know that there is a large chest at the bottom of the sea, which is the cause of all my sufferings. Every time this chest is touched, if only by a tiny fish, I at once feel it and am struck with such fear and dismay that death is preferable to me then than life, and yet if I were happy, and had no doom impending ever over my head, I could wish to live, for who is there that loves not life? I must also tell you that inside that chest there is a fish, and inside that fish there is a sea-lion, and inside that lion there is a bird, and in that bird there is an egg; and that egg, if once broken on my head, will cause my death. Thus, I am in continual dread and agony of mind and body, lest there should be a person who, knowing the consequences to me, and having sufficient power, should bring up that dreaded chest from the depth of the sea, which has lain hid so many years. I shudder at the tremendous blow by which I am doomed to be killed."
When the tender-hearted girl had heard the poor old man's story, she endeavoured to comfort him with kind sympathising words. But she took care not to tell him that there was a stranger actually in the tower, who had entered by some mysterious magic power.
She now hastened down stairs to acquaint her lover with what the old man had said; on hearing which he resolved at once to quit the tower, and endeavour to gain possession of that wonderful chest, and all it contained; and remembering the promised assistance of his three brothers-in-law, he called them to his aid.
Then those three mysterious beings dived down to the bottom of the sea, and between them they heaved up the heavy chest, and delivered it into the hands of the young man, who immediately opened it with his magical key. When he found himself in possession of the great egg, in the way described by the old man, he hastened to the tower, which immediately opened its gates in a mysterious manner. He found the old man, as usual, crouching in a corner, and broke the egg upon his head, and the shrieks he uttered were so loud and terrible that they shook both the sea and the land.
The moment the old man was dead the maiden was disenchanted; she appeared more beautiful than before, and her countenance beamed with joy and love. The fisherman's son removed her to his home and hearth, and married her.
Then he returned for his three sisters and brought them home, and they all lived together ever after, happy and prosperous.