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The History of Caliph Vathek by William Beckford

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This etext was prepared by David Price, email ccx074@coventry.ac.uk
from the 1887 Cassell and Company edition.



William Beckford, born in 1759, the year before the accession of
King George the Third, was the son of an Alderman who became twice
Lord Mayor of London. His family, originally of Gloucestershire,
had thriven by the plantations in Jamaica; and his father, sent to
school in England, and forming a school friendship at Westminster
with Lord Mansfield, began the world in this country as a merchant,
with inheritance of an enormous West India fortune. William
Beckford the elder became Magistrate, Member of Parliament,
Alderman. Four years before the birth of William Beckford the
younger he became one of the Sheriffs of London, and three years
after his son's birth he was Lord Mayor. As Mayor he gave very
sumptuous dinners that made epochs in the lives of feeding men.
His son's famous "History of the Caliph Vathek" looks as if it had
been planned for an Alderman's dream after a very heavy dinner at
the Mansion House. There is devotion in it to the senses, emphasis
on heavy dining. Vathek piqued himself on being the greatest eater
alive; but when the Indian dined with him, though the tables were
thirty times covered, there was still want of more food for the
voracious guest. There is thirst: for at one part of the dream,
when Vathek's mother, his wives, and some eunuchs "assiduously
employed themselves in filling bowls of rock crystal, and emulously
presented them to him, it frequently happened that his avidity
exceeded their zeal, insomuch that he would prostrate himself upon
the ground to lap up the water, of which he could never have
enough." And the nightmare incidents of the Arabian tale all
culminate in a most terrible heartburn. Could the conception of
Vathek have first come to the son after a City dinner?

Though a magnificent host, the elder Beckford was no glutton. In
the year of his first Mayoralty, 1763, Beckford, stood by the side
of Alderman Wilkes, attacked for his No. 45 of The North Briton.
As champion of the popular cause, when he had been again elected to
the Mayoralty, Beckford, on the 23rd of May, 1770, went up to King
George the Third at the head of the Aldermen and Livery with an
address which the king snubbed with a short answer. Beckford asked
leave to reply, and before His Majesty recovered breath from his
astonishment, proceeded to reply in words that remain graven in
gold upon his monument in Guildhall. Young Beckford, the author of
"Vathek," was then a boy not quite eleven years old, an only son;
and he was left three years afterwards, by his father's death, heir
to an income of a hundred thousand a year, with a million of cash
in hand.

During his minority young Beckford's mother, who was a
granddaughter of the sixth Earl of Abercorn, placed him under a
private tutor. He was taught music by Mozart; and the Earl of
Chatham, who had been his father's friend, thought him so fanciful
a boy--"all air and fire"--that he advised his mother to keep the
Arabian Nights out of his way. Happily she could not, for Vathek
adds the thousand and second to the thousand and one tales, with
the difference that it joins to wild inventions in the spirit of
the East touches of playful extravagance that could come only from
an English humourist who sometimes laughed at his own tale, and did
not mind turning its comic side to the reader. The younger William
Beckford had been born at his father's seat in Wiltshire, Fonthill
Abbey; and at seventeen amused himself with a caricature "History
of Extraordinary Painters," encouraging the house-keeper of
Fonthill to show the pictures to visitors as works of Og of Basan
and other worthies in her usual edifying manner.

Young Beckford's education was continued for a year and a half at
Geneva. He then travelled in Italy and the Low Countries, and it
was at this time that he amused himself by writing, at the age of
about twenty-two, "Vathek" in French, at a single sitting; but he
gave his mind to it and the sitting lasted three days and two
nights. An English version of it was made by a stranger, and
published without permission in 1784. Beckford himself published
his tale at Paris and Lausanne in 1787, one year after the death of
a wife to whom he had been three years married, and who left him
with two daughters.

Beckford went to Portugal and Spain; returned to France, and was
present at the storming of the Bastille. He was often abroad; he
bought Gibbon's library at Lausanne, and shut himself up with it
for a time, having a notion of reading it through. He was
occasionally in Parliament, but did not care for that kind of
amusement. He wrote pieces of less enduring interest than
"Vathek," including two burlesques upon the sentimental novel of
his time. In 1796 he settled down at Fonthill, and began to spend
there abundantly on building and rebuilding. Perhaps he thought of
Vathek's tower when he employed workmen day and night to build a
tower for himself three hundred feet high, and set them to begin it
again when it fell down. He is said to have spent upon Fonthill a
quarter of a million, living there in much seclusion during the
last twenty years of his life. He died in 1844.

The happy thought of this William Beckford's life was "Vathek." It
is a story that paints neither man nor outward nature as they are,
but reproduces with happy vivacity the luxuriant imagery and wild
incidents of an Arabian tale. There is a ghost of a moral in the
story of a sensual Caliph going to the bad, as represented by his
final introduction to the Halls of Eblis. But the enjoyment given
by the book reflects the real enjoyment that the author had in
writing it--enjoyment great enough to cause it to be written at a
heat, in one long sitting, without flagging power. Young and
lively, he delivered himself up to a free run of fancy, revelled in
the piled-up enormities of the Wicked Mother, who had not brought
up Vathek properly, and certainly wrote some parts of his nightmare
tale as merrily as if he were designing matter for a pantomime.

Whoever, in reading "Vathek," takes it altogether seriously, does
not read it as it was written. We must have an eye for the vein of
caricature that now and then comes to the surface, and invites a
laugh without disturbing the sense of Eastern extravagance bent
seriously upon the elaboration of a tale crowded with incident and
action. Taken altogether seriously, the book has faults of
construction. But the faults turn into beauties when we catch the
twinkle in the writer's eye.

H. M.


Vathek, ninth Caliph of the race of the Abassides, was the son of
Motassem, and the grandson of Haroun Al Raschid. From an early
accession to the throne, and the talents he possessed to adorn it,
his subjects were induced to expect that his reign would be long
and happy. His figure was pleasing and majestic; but when he was
angry one of his eyes became so terrible that no person could bear
to behold it, and the wretch upon whom it was fixed instantly fell
backward, and sometimes expired. For fear, however, of
depopulating his dominions and making his palace desolate he but
rarely gave way to his anger.

Being much addicted to women and the pleasures of the table, he
sought by his affability to procure agreeable companions; and he
succeeded the better as his generosity was unbounded, and his
indulgences unrestrained, for he was by no means scrupulous, nor
did he think with the Caliph Omar Ben Abdalaziz that it was
necessary to make a hell of this world to enjoy Paradise in the

He surpassed in magnificence all his predecessors. The palace of
Alkoremmi, which his father Motassem had erected on the hill of
Pied Horses, and which commanded the whole city of Samarah, was in
his idea far too scanty; he added therefore five wings, or rather
other palaces, which he destined for the particular gratification
of each of his senses.

In the first of these were tables continually covered with the most
exquisite dainties, which were supplied both by night and by day,
according to their constant consumption, whilst the most delicious
wines and the choicest cordials flowed forth from a hundred
fountains that were never exhausted. This palace was called "The
Eternal or Unsatiating Banquet."

The second was styled "The Temple of Melody, or the Nectar of the
Soul." It was inhabited by the most skilful musicians and admired
poets of the time, who not only displayed their talents within,
but, dispersing in bands without, caused every surrounding scene to
reverberate their songs, which were continually varied in the most
delightful succession.

The palace named "The Delight of the Eyes, or the Support of
Memory," was one entire enchantment. Rarities collected from every
corner of the earth were there found in such profusion as to dazzle
and confound, but for the order in which they were arranged. One
gallery exhibited the pictures of the celebrated Mani, and statues
that seemed to be alive. Here a well-managed perspective attracted
the sight; there the magic of optics agreeably deceived it; whilst
the naturalist on his part exhibited, in their several classes, the
various gifts that Heaven had bestowed on our globe. In a word,
Vathek omitted nothing in this palace that might gratify the
curiosity of those who resorted to it, although he was not able to
satisfy his own, for he was of all men the most curious.

"The Palace of Perfumes," which was termed likewise "The Incentive
to Pleasure," consisted of various halls, where the different
perfumes which the earth produces were kept perpetually burning in
censers of gold. Flambeaux and aromatic lamps were here lighted in
open day. But the too powerful effects of this agreeable delirium
might be avoided by descending into an immense garden, where an
assemblage of every fragrant flower diffused through the air the
purest odours.

The fifth palace, denominated "The Retreat of Joy, or the
Dangerous," was frequented by troops of young females beautiful as
the houris, and not less seducing, who never failed to receive with
caresses all whom the Caliph allowed to approach them; for he was
by no means disposed to be jealous, as his own women were secluded
within the palace he inhabited himself.

Notwithstanding the sensuality in which Vathek indulged, he
experienced no abatement in the love of his people, who thought
that a sovereign immersed in pleasure was not less tolerable to his
subjects than one that employed himself in creating them foes. But
the unquiet and impetuous disposition of the Caliph would not allow
him to rest there; he had studied so much for his amusement in the
lifetime of his father as to acquire a great deal of knowledge,
though not a sufficiency to satisfy himself; for he wished to know
everything, even sciences that did not exist. He was fond of
engaging in disputes with the learned, but liked them not to push
their opposition with warmth; he stopped the mouths of those with
presents whose mouths could be stopped, whilst others, whom his
liberality was unable to subdue, he sent to prison to cool their
blood: a remedy that often succeeded.

Vathek discovered also a predilection for theological controversy,
but it was not with the orthodox that he usually held. By this
means he induced the zealots to oppose him, and then persecuted
them in return; for he resolved at any rate to have reason on his

The great prophet Mahomet, whose vicars the caliphs are, beheld
with indignation from his abode in the seventh heaven the
irreligious conduct of such a vicegerent. "Let us leave him to
himself," said he to the genii, who are always ready to receive his
commands; "let us see to what lengths his folly and impiety will
carry him; if he run into excess we shall know how to chastise him.
Assist him, therefore, to complete the tower which, in imitation of
Nimrod, he hath begun, not, like that great warrior, to escape
being drowned, but from the insolent curiosity of penetrating the
secrets of Heaven; he will not divine the fate that awaits him."

The genii obeyed, and when the workmen had raised their structure a
cubit in the day-time, two cubits more were added in the night.
The expedition with which the fabric arose was not a little
flattering to the vanity of Vathek. He fancied that even
insensible matter showed a forwardness to subserve his designs, not
considering that the successes of the foolish and wicked form the
first rod of their chastisement.

His pride arrived at its height when, having ascended for the first
time the eleven thousand stairs of his tower, he cast his eyes
below, and beheld men not larger than pismires, mountains than
shells, and cities than bee-hives. The idea which such an
elevation inspired of his own grandeur completely bewildered him;
he was almost ready to adore himself, till, lifting his eyes
upward, he saw the stars as high above him as they appeared when he
stood on the surface of the earth. He consoled himself, however,
for this transient perception of his littleness with the thought of
being great in the eyes of others, and flattered himself that the
light of his mind would extend beyond the reach of his sight, and
transfer to the stars the decrees of his destiny.

With this view the inquisitive prince passed most of his nights on
the summit of his tower, till he became an adept in the mysteries
of astrology, and imagined that the planets had disclosed to him
the most marvellous adventures, which were to be accomplished by an
extraordinary personage from a country altogether unknown.
Prompted by motives of curiosity, he had always been courteous to
strangers, but from this instant he redoubled his attention, and
ordered it to be announced by sound of trumpet, through all the
streets of Samarah, that no one of his subjects, on peril of
displeasure, should either lodge or detain a traveller, but
forthwith bring him to the palace.

Not long after this proclamation there arrived in his metropolis a
man so hideous that the very guards who arrested him were forced to
shut their eyes as they led him along. The Caliph himself appeared
startled at so horrible a visage, but joy succeeded to this emotion
of terror when the stranger displayed to his view such rarities as
he had never before seen, and of which he had no conception.

In reality, nothing was ever so extraordinary as the merchandise
this stranger produced; most of his curiosities, which were not
less admirable for their workmanship than splendour, had, besides,
their several virtues described on a parchment fastened to each.
There were slippers which enabled the feet to walk; knives that out
without the motion of a hand; sabres which dealt the blow at the
person they were wished to strike; and the whole enriched with gems
that were hitherto unknown.

The sabres, whose blades emitted a dazzling radiance, fixed more
than all the Caliph's attention, who promised himself to decipher
at his leisure the uncouth characters engraven on their sides.
Without, therefore, demanding their price, he ordered all the
coined gold to be brought from his treasury, and commanded the
merchant to take what he pleased; the stranger complied with
modesty and silence.

Vathek, imagining that the merchant's taciturnity was occasioned by
the awe which his presence inspired, encouraged him to advance, and
asked him, with an air of condescension, "Who he was? whence he
came? and where he obtained such beautiful commodities?" The man,
or rather monster, instead of making a reply, thrice rubbed his
forehead, which, as well as his body, was blacker than ebony, four
times clapped his paunch, the projection of which was enormous,
opened wide his huge eyes, which glowed like firebrands, began to
laugh with a hideous noise, and discovered his long amber-coloured
teeth bestreaked with green.

The Caliph, though a little startled, renewed his inquiries, but
without being able to procure a reply; at which, beginning to be
ruffled, he exclaimed: "Knowest thou, varlet, who I am? and at
whom thou art aiming thy gibes?" Then, addressing his guards,
"Have ye heard him speak? is he dumb?"

"He hath spoken," they replied, "though but little."

"Let him speak again, then," said Vathek, "and tell me who he is,
from whence he came, and where he procured these singular
curiosities, or I swear by the ass of Balaam that I will make him
rue his pertinacity."

The menace was accompanied by the Caliph with one of his angry and
perilous glances, which the stranger sustained without the
slightest emotion, although his eyes were fixed on the terrible eye
of the prince.

No words can describe the amazement of the courtiers when they
beheld this rude merchant withstand the encounter unshocked. They
all fell prostrate with their faces on the ground to avoid the risk
of their lives, and continued in the same abject posture till the
Caliph exclaimed in a furious tone, "Up, cowards! seize the
miscreant! see that he be committed to prison and guarded by the
best of my soldiers! Let him, however, retain the money I gave
him; it is not my intent to take from him his property; I only want
him to speak."

No sooner had he uttered these words than the stranger was
surrounded, pinioned with strong fetters, and hurried away to the
prison of the great tower, which was encompassed by seven
empalements of iron bars, and armed with spikes in every direction
longer and sharper than spits.

The Caliph, nevertheless, remained in the most violent agitation;
he sat down indeed to eat, but of the three hundred covers that
were daily placed before him could taste of no more than thirty-
two. A diet to which he had been so little accustomed was
sufficient of itself to prevent him from sleeping; what then must
be its effect when joined to the anxiety that preyed upon his
spirits? At the first glimpse of dawn he hastened to the prison,
again to importune this intractable stranger; but the rage of
Vathek exceeded all bounds on finding the prison empty, the gates
burst asunder, and his guards lying lifeless around him. In the
paroxysm of his passion he fell furiously on the poor carcases, and
kicked them till evening without intermission. His courtiers and
vizirs exerted their efforts to soothe his extravagance, but
finding every expedient ineffectual, they all united in one
vociferation: "The Caliph is gone mad! the Caliph is out of his

This outcry, which soon resounded through the streets of Samarah,
at length reaching the ears of Carathis, his mother, she flew in
the utmost consternation to try her ascendency on the mind of her
son. Her tears and caresses called off his attention, and he was
prevailed upon by her entreaties to be brought back to the palace.

Carathis, apprehensive of leaving Vathek to himself, caused him to
be put to bed, and seating herself by him, endeavoured by her
conversation to heal and compose him. Nor could any one have
attempted it with better success, for the Caliph not only loved her
as a mother, but respected her as a person of superior genius; it
was she who had induced him, being a Greek herself, to adopt all
the sciences and systems of her country, which good Mussulmans hold
in such thorough abhorrence. Judicial astrology was one of those
systems in which Carathis was a perfect adept; she began,
therefore, with reminding her son of the promise which the stars
had made him, and intimated an intention of consulting them again.

"Alas!" sighed the Caliph, as soon as he could speak, "what a fool
have I been! not for the kicks bestowed on my guards who so tamely
submitted to death, but for never considering that this
extraordinary man was the same the planets had foretold, whom,
instead of ill-treating, I should have conciliated by all the arts
of persuasion."

"The past," said Carathis, "cannot be recalled, but it behoves us
to think of the future; perhaps you may again see the object you so
much regret; it is possible the inscriptions on the sabres will
afford information. Eat, therefore, and take thy repose, my dear
son; we will consider to-morrow in what manner to act."

Vathek yielded to her counsel as well as he could, and arose in the
morning with a mind more at ease. The sabres he commanded to be
instantly brought, and poring upon them through a green glass, that
their glittering might not dazzle, he set himself in earnest to
decipher the inscriptions; but his reiterated attempts were all of
them nugatory; in vain did he beat his head and bite his nails, not
a letter of the whole was he able to ascertain. So unlucky a
disappointment would have undone him again had not Carathis by good
fortune entered the apartment.

"Have patience, son!" said she; "you certainly are possessed of
every important science, but the knowledge of languages is a trifle
at best, and the accomplishment of none but a pedant. Issue forth
a proclamation that you will confer such rewards as become your
greatness upon any one that shall interpret what you do not
understand, and what it is beneath you to learn; you will soon find
your curiosity gratified."

"That may be," said the Caliph; "but in the meantime I shall be
horribly disgusted by a crowd of smatterers, who will come to the
trial as much for the pleasure of retailing their jargon as from
the hope of gaining the reward. To avoid this evil it will be
proper to add that I will put every candidate to death who shall
fail to give satisfaction; for, thank Heaven! I have skill enough
to distinguish between one that translates and one that invents."

"Of that I have no doubt," replied Carathis; "but to put the
ignorant to death is somewhat severe, and may be productive of
dangerous effects; content yourself with commanding their beards to
be burnt--beards in a state are not quite so essential as men."

The Caliph submitted to the reasons of his mother, and sending for
Morakanabad, his prime vizir, said: "Let the common criers
proclaim, not only in Samarah, but throughout every city in my
empire, that whosoever will repair hither, and decipher certain
characters which appear to be inexplicable, shall experience the
liberality for which I am renowned; but that all who fail upon
trial shall have their beards burnt off to the last hair. Let them
add also that I will bestow fifty beautiful slaves, and as many
jars of apricots from the Isle of Kirmith, upon any man that shall
bring me intelligence of the stranger."

The subjects of the Caliph, like their Sovereign, being great
admirers of women and apricots from Kirmith, felt their mouths
water at these promises, but were totally unable to gratify their
hankering, for no one knew which way the stranger had gone.

As to the Caliph's other requisition, the result was different.
The learned, the half-learned, and those who were neither, but
fancied themselves equal to both, came boldly to hazard their
beards, and all shamefully lost them.

The exaction of these forfeitures, which found sufficient
employment for the eunuchs, gave them such a smell of singed hair
as greatly to disgust the ladies of the seraglio, and make it
necessary that this new occupation of their guardians should be
transferred into other hands.

At length, however, an old man presented himself whose beard was a
cubit and a half longer than any that had appeared before him. The
officers of the palace whispered to each other, as they ushered him
in, "What a pity such a beard should be burnt!" Even the Caliph,
when he saw it, concurred with them in opinion, but his concern was
entirely needless. This venerable personage read the characters
with facility, and explained them verbatim as follows: "We were
made where everything good is made; we are the least of the wonders
of a place where all is wonderful, and deserving the sight of the
first potentate on earth."

"You translate admirably!" cried Vathek; "I know to what these
marvellous characters allude. Let him receive as many robes of
honour and thousands of sequins of gold as he hath spoken words. I
am in some measure relieved from the perplexity that embarrassed

Vathek invited the old main to dine, and even to remain some days
in the palace. Unluckily for him, he accepted the offer; for the
Caliph, having ordered him next morning to be called, said: "Read
again to me what you have read already; I cannot hear too often the
promise that is made me, the completion of which I languish to

The old man forthwith put on his green spectacles, but they
instantly dropped from his nose on perceiving that the characters
he had read the day preceding had given place to others of
different import.

"What ails you?" asked the Caliph; "and why these symptoms of

"Sovereign of the world," replied the old man, "these sabres hold
another language to-day from that they yesterday held."

"How say you?" returned Vathek; "but it matters not! tell me, if
you can, what they mean."

"It is this, my lord," rejoined the old man: "Woe to the rash
mortal who seeks to know that of which he should remain ignorant,
and to undertake that which surpasseth his power!"

"And woe to thee!" cried the Caliph, in a burst of indignation;
"to-day thou art void of understanding. Begone from my presence;
they shall burn but the half of thy beard, because, thou wert
yesterday fortunate in guessing; my gifts I never resume."

The old man, wise enough to perceive he had luckily escaped,
considering the folly of disclosing so disgusting a truth,
immediately withdrew, and appeared not again.

But it was not long before Vathek discovered abundant reason to
regret his precipitation; for though he could not decipher the
characters himself, yet by constantly poring upon them he plainly
perceived that they every day changed, and unfortunately no other
candidate offered to explain them. This perplexing occupation
inflamed his blood, dazzled his sight, and brought on a giddiness
and debility that he could not support. He failed not, however,
though in so reduced a condition, to be often carried to his tower,
as he flattered himself that he might there read in the stars which
he went to consult something more congenial to his wishes: but in
this his hopes were deluded, for his eyes, dimmed by the vapours of
his head, began to subserve his curiosity so ill, that he beheld
nothing but a thick dun cloud, which he took for the most direful
of omens.

Agitated with so much anxiety, Vathek entirely lost all firmness; a
fever seized him, and his appetite failed. Instead of being one of
the greatest eaters, he became as distinguished for drinking. So
insatiable was the thirst which tormented him that his mouth, like
a funnel, was always open to receive the various liquors that might
be poured into it, and especially cold water, which calmed him more
than every other.

This unhappy prince being thus incapacitated for the enjoyment of
any pleasure, commanded the palaces of the five senses to be shut
up, forbore to appear in public, either to display his magnificence
or administer justice, and retired to the inmost apartment of his
harem. As he had ever been an indulgent husband, his wives,
overwhelmed with grief at his deplorable situation, incessantly
offered their prayers for his health, and unremittingly supplied
him with water.

In the meantime the Princess Carathis, whose affliction no words
can describe, instead of restraining herself to sobbing and tears,
was closeted daily with the Vizir Morakanabad, to find out some
cure or mitigation of the Caliph's disease. Under the persuasion
that it was caused by enchantment, they turned over together, leaf
by leaf, all the books of magic that might point out a remedy, and
caused the horrible stranger, whom they accused as the enchanter,
to be everywhere sought for with the strictest diligence.

At the distance of a few miles from Samarah stood a high mountain,
whose sides were swarded with wild thyme and basil, and its summit
overspread with so delightful a plain, that it might be taken for
the paradise destined for the faithful. Upon it grew a hundred
thickets of eglantine and other fragrant shrubs, a hundred arbours
of roses, jessamine, and honeysuckle, as many clumps of orange
trees, cedar, and citron, whose branches, interwoven with the palm,
the pomegranate, and the vine, presented every luxury that could
regale the eye or the taste. The ground was strewed with violets,
hare-bells, and pansies, in the midst of which sprang forth tufts
of jonquils, hyacinths, and carnations, with every other perfume
that impregnates the air. Four fountains, not less clear than
deep, and so abundant as to slake the thirst of ten armies, seemed
profusely placed here to make the scene more resemble the garden of
Eden, which was watered by the four sacred rivers. Here the
nightingale sang the birth of the rose, her well-beloved, and at
the same time lamented its short-lived beauty; whilst the turtle
deplored the loss of more substantial pleasures, and the wakeful
lark hailed the rising light that re-animates the whole creation.
Here more than anywhere the mingled melodies of birds expressed the
various passions they inspired, as if the exquisite fruits which
they pecked at pleasure had given them a double energy.

To this mountain Vathek was sometimes brought for the sake of
breathing a purer air, and especially to drink at will of the four
fountains, which were reputed in the highest degree salubrious and
sacred to himself. His attendants were his mother, his wives, and
some eunuchs, who assiduously employed themselves in filling
capacious bowls of rock crystal, and emulously presenting them to
him; but it frequently happened that his avidity exceeded their
zeal, insomuch that he would prostrate himself upon the ground to
lap up the water, of which he could never have enough.

One day, when this unhappy prince had been long lying in so
debasing a posture, a voice, hoarse but strong, thus addressed him:
"Why assumest thou the function of a dog, O Caliph, so proud of thy
dignity and power?"

At this apostrophe he raised his head, and beheld the stranger that
had caused him so much affliction. Inflamed with anger at the
sight, he exclaimed -

"Accursed Giaour! what comest thou hither to do? Is it not enough
to have transformed a prince remarkable for his agility into one of
those leather barrels which the Bedouin Arabs carry on their camels
when they traverse the deserts? Perceivest thou not that I may
perish by drinking to excess no less than by a total abstinence?"

"Drink then this draught," said the stranger, as he presented to
him a phial of a red and yellow mixture; "and, to satiate the
thirst of thy soul as well as of thy body, know that I am an
Indian, but from a region of India which is wholly unknown."

The Caliph delighted to see his desires accomplished in part, and
flattering himself with the hope of obtaining their entire
fulfilment, without a moment's hesitation swallowed the potion, and
instantaneously found his health restored, his thirst appeased, and
his limbs as agile as ever.

In the transports of his joy Vathek leaped upon the neck of the
frightful Indian, and kissed his horrid mouth and hollow cheeks as
though they had been the coral lips and the lilies and roses of his
most beautiful wives; whilst they, less terrified than jealous at
the sight, dropped their veils to hide the blush of mortification
that suffused their foreheads.

Nor would the scene have closed here, had not Carathis, with all
the art of insinuation, a little repressed the raptures of her son.
Having prevailed upon him to return to Samarah, she caused a herald
to precede him, whom she commanded to proclaim as loudly as
possible: "The wonderful stranger hath appeared again; he hath
healed the Caliph; he hath spoken! he hath spoken!"

Forthwith all the inhabitants of this vast city quitted their
habitations, and ran together in crowds to see the procession of
Vathek and the Indian, whom they now blessed as much as they had
before execrated, incessantly shouting: "He hath healed our
sovereign; he hath spoken! he hath spoken!" Nor were these words
forgotten in the public festivals which were celebrated the same
evening, to testify the general joy; for the poets applied them as
a chorus to all the songs they composed.

The Caliph in the meanwhile caused the palaces of the senses to be
again set open; and, as he found himself prompted to visit that of
taste in preference to the rest, immediately ordered a splendid
entertainment, to which his great officers and favourite courtiers
were all invited. The Indian, who was placed near the prince,
seemed to think that as a proper acknowledgment of so distinguished
a privilege he could neither eat, drink, nor talk too much. The
various dainties were no sooner served up than they vanished, to
the great mortification of Vathek, who piqued himself on being the
greatest eater alive, and at this time in particular had an
excellent appetite.

The rest of the company looked round at each other in amazement;
but the Indian, without appearing to observe it, quaffed large
bumpers to the health of each of them, sung in a style altogether
extravagant, related stories at which he laughed immoderately, and
poured forth extemporaneous verses, which would not have been
thought bad but for the strange grimaces with which they were
uttered. In a word, his loquacity was equal to that of a hundred
astrologers; he ate as much as a hundred porters, and caroused in

The Caliph, notwithstanding the table had been thirty times
covered, found himself incommoded by the voraciousness of his
guest, who was now considerably declined in the prince's esteem.
Vathek, however, being unwilling to betray the chagrin he could
hardly disguise, said in a whisper to Bababalouk, the chief of his
eunuchs: "You see how enormous his performances in every way are;
what would be the consequence should he get at my wives? Go!
redouble your vigilance, and be sure look well to my Circassians,
who would be more to his taste than all of the rest."

The bird of the morning had thrice renewed his song when the hour
of the Divan sounded. Vathek, in gratitude to his subjects, having
promised to attend, immediately rose from table and repaired
thither, leaning upon his vizir, who could scarcely support him, so
disordered was the poor prince by the wine he had drunk, and still
more by the extravagant vagaries of his boisterous guest.

The vizirs, the officers of the crown and of the law, arranged
themselves in a semicircle about their sovereign, and preserved a
respectful silence, whilst the Indian, who looked as cool as if
come from a fast, sat down without ceremony on the step of the
throne, laughing in his sleeve at the indignation with which his
temerity had filled the spectators.

The Caliph, however, whose ideas were confused and his head
embarrassed, went on administering justice at haphazard, till at
length the prime vizir, perceiving his situation, hit upon a sudden
expedient to interrupt the audience and rescue the honour of his
master, to whom he said in a whisper: "My Lord, the Princess
Carathis, who hath passed the night in consulting the planets,
informs you that they portend you evil, and the danger is urgent.
Beware lest this stranger, whom you have so lavishly recompensed
for his magical gewgaws, should make some attempt on your life; his
liquor, which at first had the appearance of effecting your cure,
may be no more than a poison of a sudden operation. Slight not
this surmise; ask him at least of what it was compounded, whence he
procured it, and mention the sabres which you seem to have

Vathek, to whom the insolent airs of the stranger became every
moment less supportable, intimated to his vizir by a wink of
acquiescence that he would adopt his advice, and at once turning
towards the Indian, said: "Get up and declare in full Divan of
what drugs the liquor was compounded you enjoined me to take, for
it is suspected to be poison; add also the explanation I have so
earnestly desired concerning the sabres you sold me, and thus show
your gratitude for the favours heaped on you."

Having pronounced these words in as moderate a tone as a caliph
well could, he waited in silent expectation for an answer. But the
Indian, still keeping his seat, began to renew his loud shouts of
laughter, and exhibit the same horrid grimaces he had shown them
before, without vouchsafing a word in reply. Vathek, no longer
able to brook such insolence, immediately kicked him from the
steps; instantly descending, repeated his blow, and persisted with
such assiduity as incited all who were present to follow his
example. Every foot was aimed at the Indian, and no sooner had any
one given him a kick than he felt himself constrained to reiterate
the stroke.

The stranger afforded them no small entertainment; for, being both
short and plump, he collected himself into a ball, and rolled round
on all sides at the blows of his assailants, who pressed after him
wherever he turned with an eagerness beyond conception, whilst
their numbers were every moment increasing. The ball, indeed, in
passing from one apartment to another, drew every person after it
that came in its way, insomuch that the whole palace was thrown
into confusion, and resounded with a tremendous clamour. The women
of the harem, amazed at the uproar, flew to their blinds to
discover the cause; but no sooner did they catch a glimpse of the
ball, than feeling themselves unable to refrain, they broke from
the clutches of their eunuchs, who to stop their flight pinched
them till they bled, but in vain; whilst themselves, though
trembling with terror at the escape of their charge, were as
incapable of resisting the attraction.

The Indian, after having traversed the halls, galleries, chambers,
kitchens, gardens, and stables of the palace, at last took his
course through the courts; whilst the Caliph, pursuing him closer
than the rest, bestowed as many kicks as he possibly could, yet not
without receiving now and then one, which his competitors in their
eagerness designed for the ball.

Carathis, Morakanabad, and two or three old vizirs, whose wisdom
had hitherto withstood the attraction, wishing to prevent Vathek
from exposing himself in the presence of his subjects, fell down in
his way to impede the pursuit; but he, regardless of their
obstruction, leaped over their heads, and went on as before. They
then ordered the Muezzins to call the people to prayers, both for
the sake of getting them out of the way and of endeavouring by
their petitions to avert the calamity; but neither of these
expedients was a whit more successful: the sight of this fatal
ball was alone sufficient to draw after it every beholder. The
Muezzins themselves, though they saw it but at a distance, hastened
down from their minarets and mixed with the crowd, which continued
to increase in so surprising a manner, that scarce an inhabitant
was left in Samarah, except the aged, the sick confined to their
beds, and infants at the breast, whose nurses could run more nimbly
without them. Even Carathis, Morakanabad, and the rest were all
become of the party.

The shrill screams of the females, who had broken from their
apartments, and were unable to extricate themselves from the
pressure of the crowd, together with those of the eunuchs jostling
after them, terrified lest their charge should escape from their
sight, increased by the execrations of husbands urging forward and
menacing both, kicks given and received, stumblings and overthrows
at every step; in a word, the confusion that universally prevailed
rendered Samarah like a city taken by storm and devoted to absolute

At last the cursed Indian, who still preserved his rotundity of
figure, after passing through all the streets and public places,
and leaving them empty, rolled onwards to the plain of Catoul, and
traversed the valley at the foot of the mountain of the Four

As a continual fall of water had excavated an immense gulf in the
valley, whose opposite side was closed in by a steep acclivity, the
Caliph and his attendants were apprehensive lest the ball should
bound into the chasm, and, to prevent it, redoubled their efforts,
but in vain. The Indian persevered in his onward direction, and,
as had been apprehended, glancing from the precipice with the
rapidity of lightning, was lost in the gulf below.

Vathek would have followed the perfidious Giaour, had not an
invisible agency arrested his progress. The multitude that pressed
after him were at once checked in the same manner, and a calm
instantaneously ensued. They all gazed at each other with an air
of astonishment; and, notwithstanding that the loss of veils and
turbans, together with torn habits and dust blended with sweat,
presented a most laughable spectacle, there was not one smile to be
seen; on the contrary, all, with looks of confusion and sadness,
returned in silence to Samarah, and retired to their inmost
apartments, without ever reflecting that they had been impelled by
an invisible power into the extravagance for which they reproached
themselves; for it is but just that men, who so often arrogate to
their own merit the good of which they are but instruments, should
attribute to themselves the absurdities which they could not

The Caliph was the only person that refused to leave the valley.
He commanded his tents to be pitched there, and stationed himself
on the very edge of the precipice, in spite of the representations
of Carathis and Morakanabad, who pointed out the hazard of its
brink giving way, and the vicinity to the magician that had so
severely tormented him. Vathek derided all their remonstrances,
and, having ordered a thousand flambeaux to be lighted, and
directed his attendants to proceed in lighting more, lay down on
the slippery margin, and attempted, by help of this artificial
splendour, to look through that gloom which all the fires of the
empyrean had been insufficient to pervade. One while he fancied to
himself voices arising from the depth of the gulf; at another he
seemed to distinguish the accents of the Indian, but all was no
more than the hollow murmur of waters, and the din of the cataracts
that rushed from steep to steep down the sides of the mountain.

Having passed the night in this cruel perturbation, the Caliph at
daybreak retired to his tent, where, without taking the least
sustenance, he continued to doze till the dusk of evening began
again to come on. He then resumed his vigils as before, and
persevered in observing them for many nights together. At length,
fatigued with so successless an employment, he sought relief from
change. To this end he sometimes paced with hasty strides across
the plain, and, as he wildly gazed at the stars, reproached them
with having deceived him; but, lo! on a sudden the clear blue sky
appeared streaked over with streams of blood, which reached from
the valley even to the city of Samarah. As this awful phenomenon
seemed to touch his tower, Vathek at first thought of re-pairing
thither to view it more distinctly, but feeling himself unable to
advance, and being overcome with apprehension, he muffled up his
face in his robe.

Terrifying as these prodigies were, this impression upon him was no
more than momentary, and served only to stimulate his love of the
marvellous. Instead, therefore, of returning to his palace, he
persisted in the resolution of abiding where the Indian vanished
from his view. One night, however, while he was walking as usual
on the plain, the moon and the stars at once were eclipsed, and a
total darkness ensued; the earth trembled beneath him, and a voice
came forth, the voice of the Giaour, who, in accents more sonorous
than thunder, thus addressed him: "Wouldest thou devote thyself to
me? Adore then the terrestrial influences, and abjure Mahomet. On
these conditions I will bring thee to the palace of subterranean
fire; there shalt thou behold in immense depositories the treasures
which the stars have promised thee, and which will be conferred by
those Intelligences whom thou shalt thus render propitious. It was
from thence I brought my sabres, and it is there that Soliman Ben
Daoud reposes, surrounded by the talismans that control the world."

The astonished Caliph trembled as he answered, yet in a style that
showed him to be no novice in preternatural adventures: "Where art
thou? be present to my eyes; dissipate the gloom that perplexes me,
and of which I deem thee the cause; after the many flambeaux I have
burnt to discover thee, thou mayst at least grant a glimpse of thy
horrible visage."

"Abjure, then, Mahomet," replied the Indian, "and promise me full
proofs of thy sincerity, otherwise thou shalt never behold me

The unhappy Caliph, instigated by insatiable curiosity, lavished
his promises in the utmost profusion. The sky immediately
brightened; and by the light of the planets, which seemed almost to
blaze, Vathek beheld the earth open, and at the extremity of a vast
black chasm, a portal of ebony, before which stood the Indian,
still blacker, holding in his hand a golden key that caused the
lock to resound.

"How," cried Vathek, "can I descend to thee without the certainty
of breaking my neck? come, take me, and instantly open the portal."

"Not so fast," replied the Indian, "impatient Caliph! Know that I
am parched with thirst, and cannot open this door till my thirst be
thoroughly appeased. I require the blood of fifty of the most
beautiful sons of thy vizirs and great men, or neither can my
thirst nor thy curiosity be satisfied. Return to Samarah, procure
for me this necessary libation, come back hither, throw it thyself
into this chasm, and then shalt thou see!"

Having thus spoken, the Indian turned his back on the Caliph, who,
incited by the suggestion of demons, resolved on the direful
sacrifice. He now pretended to have regained his tranquillity, and
set out for Samarah amidst the acclamations of a people who still
loved him, and forbore not to rejoice when they believed him to
have recovered his reason. So successfully did he conceal the
emotion of his heart, that even Carathis and Morakanabad were
equally deceived with the rest. Nothing was heard of but festivals
and rejoicings; the ball, which no tongue had hitherto ventured to
mention, was again brought on the tapis; a general laugh went
round, though many, still smarting under the hands of the surgeon
from the hurts received in that memorable adventure, had no great
reason for mirth.

The prevalence of this gay humour was not a little grateful to
Vathek, as perceiving how much it conduced to his project. He put
on the appearance of affability to every one, but especially to his
vizirs and the grandees of his court, whom he failed not to regale
with a sumptuous banquet, during which he insensibly inclined the
conversation to the children of his guests. Having asked with a
good-natured air who of them were blessed with the handsomest boys,
every father at once asserted the pretensions of his own, and the
contest imperceptibly grew so warm that nothing could have
withholden them from coming to blows but their profound reverence
for the person of the Caliph. Under the pretence, therefore, of
reconciling the disputants, Vathek took upon him to decide; and
with this view commanded the boys to be brought.

It was not long before a troop of these poor children made their
appearance, all equipped by their fond mothers with such ornaments
as might give the greatest relief to their beauty or most
advantageously display the graces of their age. But whilst this
brilliant assemblage attracted the eyes and hearts of every one
besides, the Caliph scrutinized each in his turn with a malignant
avidity that passed for attention, and selected from their number
the fifty whom he judged the Giaour would prefer.

With an equal show of kindness as before, he proposed to celebrate
a festival on the plain for the entertainment of his young
favourites, who he said ought to rejoice still more than all at the
restoration of his health, on account of the favours he intended
for them.

The Caliph's proposal was received with the greatest delight, and
soon published through Samarah; litters, camels, and horses were
prepared. Women and children, old men and young, every one placed
himself in the station he chose. The cavalcade set forward,
attended by all the confectioners in the city and its precincts;
the populace following on foot composed an amazing crowd, and
occasioned no little noise; all was joy, nor did any one call to
mind what most of them had suffered when they first travelled the
road they were now passing so gaily.

The evening was serene, the air refreshing, the sky clear, and the
flowers exhaled their fragrance; the beams of the declining sun,
whose mild splendour reposed on the summit of the mountain, shed a
glow of ruddy light over its green declivity and the white flocks
sporting upon it; no sounds were audible save the murmurs of the
Four Fountains, and the reeds and voices of shepherds calling to
each other from different eminences.

The lovely innocents proceeding to the destined sacrifice added not
a little to the hilarity of the scene; they approached the plain
full of sportiveness, some coursing butterflies, others culling
flowers, or picking up the shining little pebbles that attracted
their notice. At intervals they nimbly started from each other,
for the sake of being caught again, and mutually imparting a
thousand caresses.

The dreadful chasm at whose bottom the portal of ebony was placed
began to appear at a distance; it looked like a black streak that
divided the plain. Morakanabad and his companions took it for some
work which the Caliph had ordered; unhappy men! little did they
surmise for what it was destined.

Vathek, not liking they should examine it too nearly, stopped the
procession, and ordered a spacious circle to be formed on this
side, at some distance from the accursed chasm. The body-guard of
eunuchs was detached to measure out the lists intended for the
games, and prepare ringles for the lines to keep off the crowd.
The fifty competitors were soon stripped, and presented to the
admiration of the spectators the suppleness and grace of their
delicate limbs; their eyes sparkled with a joy which those of their
fond parents reflected. Every one offered wishes for the little
candidate nearest his heart, and doubted not of his being
victorious; a breathless suspense awaited the contest of these
amiable and innocent victims.

The Caliph, awaiting himself of the first moment to retire from the
crowd, advanced towards the chasm, and there heard, yet not without
shuddering, the voice of the Indian, who, gnashing his teeth,
eagerly demanded: "Where are they? where are they? perceivest thou
not how my mouth waters?"

"Relentless Giaour!" answered Vathek, with emotion, "can nothing
content thee but the massacre of these lovely victims! Ah! wert
thou to behold their beauty it must certainly move thy compassion."

"Perdition on thy compassion, babbler!" cried the Indian. "Give
them me, instantly give them, or my portal shall be closed against
thee for ever!"

"Not so loudly," replied the Caliph, blushing.

"I understand thee," returned the Giaour, with the grin of an ogre;
"thou wantest to summon up more presence of mind; I will for a
moment forbear."

During this exquisite dialogue the games went forward with all
alacrity, and at length concluded just as the twilight began to
overcast the mountains. Vathek, who was still standing on the edge
of the chasm, called out, with all his might: "Let my fifty little
favourites approach me separately, and let them come in the order
of their success. To the first I will give my diamond bracelet, to
the second my collar of emeralds, to the third my aigret of rubies,
to the fourth my girdle of topazes, and to the rest each a part of
my dress, even down to my slippers."

This declaration was received with reiterated acclamations, and all
extolled the liberality of a prince who would thus strip himself
for the amusement of his subjects and the encouragement of the
rising generation.

The Caliph in the meantime undressed himself by degrees, and,
raising his arm as high as he was able, made each of the prizes
glitter in the air; but whilst he delivered it with one hand to the
child, who sprang forward to receive it, he with the other pushed
the poor innocent into the gulf, where the Giaour, with a sullen
muttering, incessantly repeated, "More! more!"

This dreadful device was executed with so much dexterity that the
boy who was approaching him remained unconscious of the fate of his
forerunner; and as to the spectators, the shades of evening,
together with their distance, precluded them from perceiving any
object distinctly. Vathek, having in this manner thrown in the
last of the fifty, and expecting that the Giaour on receiving them
would have presented the key, already fancied himself as great as
Soliman, and consequently above being amenable for what he had
done: when, to his utter amazement, the chasm closed, and the
around became as entire as the rest of the plain.

No language could express his rage and despair. He execrated the
perfidy of the Indian, loaded him with the most infamous
invectives, and stamped with his foot as resolving to be heard; he
persisted in this demeanour till his strength failed him, and then
fell on the earth like one void of sense. His vizirs and grandees,
who were nearer than the rest, supposed him at first to be sitting
on the grass at play with their amiable children; but at length,
prompted by doubt, they advanced towards the spot, and found the
Caliph alone, who wildly demanded what they wanted.

"Our children! our children!" cried they.

"It is assuredly pleasant," said he, "to make me accountable for
accidents; your children while at play fell from the precipice that
was here, and I should have experienced their fate had I not been
saved by a sudden start back."

At these words the fathers of the fifty boys cried out aloud, the
mothers repeated their exclamations an octave higher, whilst the
rest, without knowing the cause, soon drowned the voices of both
with still louder lamentations of their own.

"Our Caliph," said they--and the report soon circulated--"Our
Caliph has played us this trick to gratify his accursed Giaour.
Let us punish him for his perfidy! let us avenge ourselves! let us
avenge the blood of the innocent! let us throw this cruel prince
into the gulf that is near, and let his name be mentioned no more!"

At this rumour and these menaces, Carathis, full of consternation,
hastened to Morakanabad, and said: "Vizir, you have lost two
beautiful boys, and must necessarily be the most afflicted of
fathers, but you are virtuous; save your master."

"I will brave every hazard," replied the vizir, "to rescue him from
his present danger, but afterwards will abandon him to his fate.
Bababalouk," continued he, "put yourself at the head of your
eunuchs; disperse the mob, and, if possible, bring back this
unhappy prince to his palace." Bababalouk and his fraternity,
felicitating each other in a low voice on their disability of ever
being fathers, obeyed the mandate of the vizir; who, seconding
their exertions to the utmost of his power, at length accomplished
his generous enterprise, and retired as he resolved, to lament at
his leisure.

No sooner had the Caliph re-entered his palace than Carathis
commanded the doors to be fastened; but, perceiving the tumult to
be still violent, and hearing the imprecations which resounded from
all quarters, she said to her son: "Whether the populace be right
or wrong, it behoves you to provide for your safety; let us retire
to your own apartment, and from thence through the subterranean
passage, known only to ourselves, into your tower; there, with the
assistance of the mutes who never leave it, we may be able to make
some resistance. Bababalouk, supposing us to be still in the
palace, will guard its avenues for his own sake; and we shall soon
find, without the counsels of that blubberer Morakanabad, what
expedient may be the best to adopt."

Vathek, without making the least reply, acquiesced in his mother's
proposal, and repeated as he went: "Nefarious Giaour! where art
thou! hast thou not yet devoured those poor children? where are thy
sabres? thy golden key? thy talismans?"

Carathis, who guessed from these interrogations a part of the
truth, had no difficulty to apprehend in getting at the whole, as
soon as he should be a little composed in his tower. This princess
was so far from being influenced by scruples that she was as wicked
as woman could be, which is not saying a little, for the sex pique
themselves on their superiority in every competition. The recital
of the Caliph, therefore, occasioned neither terror nor surprise to
his mother; she felt no emotion but from the promises of the
Giaour, and said to her son: "This Giaour, it must be confessed,
is somewhat sanguinary in his taste, but the terrestrial powers are
always terrible; nevertheless, what the one hath promised and the
others can confer will prove a sufficient indemnification; no
crimes should be thought too dear for such a reward! forbear then
to revile the Indian; you have not fulfilled the conditions to
which his services are annexed; for instance, is not a sacrifice to
the subterranean Genii required? and should we not be prepared to
offer it as soon as the tumult is subsided? This charge I will
take on myself, and have no doubt of succeeding by means of your
treasures, which, as there are now so many others in store, may
without fear be exhausted."

Accordingly the princess, who possessed the most consummate skill
in the art of persuasion, went immediately back through the
subterranean passage; and presenting herself to the populace, from
a window of the palace, began to harangue them with all the address
of which she was mistress, whilst Bababalouk showered money from
both hands amongst the crowd, who by these united means were soon
appeased; every person retired to his home, and Carathis returned
to the tower.

Prayer at break of day was announced, when Carathis and Vathek
ascended the steps which led to the summit of the tower, where they
remained for some time, though the weather was lowering and wet.
This impending gloom corresponded with their malignant
dispositions; but when the sun began to break through the clouds
they ordered a pavilion to be raised, as a screen from the
intrusion of his beams. The Caliph, overcome with fatigue, sought
refreshment from repose, at the same time hoping that significant
dreams might attend on his slumbers; whilst the indefatigable
Carathis, followed by a party of her mutes, descended to prepare
whatever she judged proper for the oblation of the approaching

By secret stairs, known only to herself and to her son, she first
repaired to the mysterious recesses in which were deposited the
mummies that had been brought from the catacombs of the ancient
Pharaohs; of these she ordered several to be taken. From thence
she resorted to a gallery where, under the guard of fifty female
negroes, mute and blind of the right eye, were preserved the oil of
the most venomous serpents, rhinoceros' horns, and woods of a
subtle and penetrating odour procured from the interior of the
Indies, together with a thousand other horrible rarities. This
collection had been formed for a purpose like the present by
Carathis herself, from a presentment that she might one day enjoy
some intercourse with the infernal powers to whom she had ever been
passionately attached, and to whose taste she was no stranger.

To familiarise herself the better with the horrors in view, the
princess remained in the company of her negresses, who squinted in
the most amiable manner from the only eye they had, and leered with
exquisite delight at the skulls and skeletons which Carathis had
drawn forth from her cabinets, whose key she entrusted to no one;
all of them making contortions, and uttering a frightful jargon,
but very amusing to the princess; till at last, being stunned by
their gibbering, and suffocated by the potency of their
exhalations, she was forced to quit the gallery, after stripping it
of a part of its treasures.

Whilst she was thus occupied, the Caliph, who, instead of the
visions he expected, had acquired in these insubstantial regions a
voracious appetite, was greatly provoked at the negresses; for,
having totally forgotten their deafness, he had impatiently asked
them for food, and seeing them regardless of his demand, he began
to cuff, pinch, and push them, till Carathis arrived to terminate a
scene so indecent, to the great content of these miserable
creatures, who, having been brought up by her, understood all her
signs, and communicated in the same way their thoughts in return.

"Son! what means all this?" said she, panting for breath. "I
thought I heard as I came up the shrieks of a thousand bats tearing
from their crannies in the recesses of a cavern; and it was the
outcry only of these poor mutes, whom you were so unmercifully
abusing. In truth you but ill deserve the admirable provision I
have brought you."

"Give it me instantly," exclaimed the Caliph; "I am perishing for

"As to that," answered she, "you must have an excellent stomach if
it can digest what I have been preparing."

"Be quick," replied the Caliph; "but, oh, heavens! what horrors!
what do you intend?"

"Come, come," returned Carathis, "be not so squeamish, but help me
to arrange everything properly, and you shall see that what you
reject with such symptoms of disgust will soon complete your
felicity. Let us get ready the pile for the sacrifice of to-night,
and think not of eating till that is performed; know you not that
all solemn rites are preceded by a rigorous abstinence?"

The Caliph, not daring to object, abandoned himself to grief and
the wind that ravaged his entrails, whilst his mother went forward
with the requisite operations. Phials of serpents' oil, mummies,
and bones were soon set in order on the balustrade of the tower;
the pile began to rise, and in three hours was as many cubits high.
At length darkness approached, and Carathis, having stripped
herself to her inmost garment, clapped her hands in an impulse of
ecstasy and struck light with all her force. The mutes followed
her example; but Vathek, extenuated with hunger and impatience, was
unable to support himself, and fell down in a swoon. The sparks
had already kindled the dry wood, the venomous oil burst into a
thousand blue flames, the mummies dissolving emitted a thick dun
vapour, and the rhinoceros' horns beginning to consume, all
together diffused such a stench, that the Caliph, recovering,
started from his trance, and gazed wildly on the scene in full
blaze around him. The oil gushed forth in a plenitude of streams;
and the negresses, who supplied it without intermission, united
their cries to those of the princess. At last the fire became so
violent, and the flames reflected from the polished marble so
dazzling, that the Caliph, unable to withstand the heat and the
blaze, effected his escape, and clambered up the imperial standard.

In the meantime the inhabitants of Samarah, scared at the light
which shone over the city, arose in haste, ascended their roofs,
beheld the tower on fire, and hurried half naked to the square.
Their love to their sovereign immediately awoke; and, apprehending
him in danger of perishing in his tower, their whole thoughts were
occupied with the means of his safety. Morakanabad flew from his
retirement, wiped away his tears, and cried out for water like the
rest. Bababalouk, whose olfactory nerves were more familiarised to
magical odours, readily conjecturing that Carathis was engaged in
her favourite amusements, strenuously exhorted them not to be
alarmed. Him, however, they treated as an old poltroon, and
forbore not to style him a rascally traitor. The camels and
dromedaries were advancing with water, but no one knew by which way
to enter the tower. Whilst the populace was obstinate in forcing
the doors a violent east wind drove such a volume of flame against
them, as at first forced them off, but afterwards re-kindled their
zeal; at the same time the stench of the horns and mummies
increasing, most of the crowd fell backward in a state of
suffocation; those that kept their feet mutually wondered at the
cause of the smell, and admonished each other to retire.
Morakanabad, more sick than the rest, remained in a piteous
condition; holding his nose with one hand, he persisted in his
efforts with the other to burst open the doors and obtain
admission. A hundred and forty of the strongest and most resolute
at length accomplished their purpose; having gained the staircase
by their violent exertions, they attained a great height in a
quarter of an hour.

Carathis, alarmed at the signs of her mutes, advanced to the
staircase, went down a few steps, and heard several voices calling
out from below: "You shall in a moment have water!" Being rather
alert, considering her age, she presently regained the top of the
tower, and bade her son suspend the sacrifice for some minutes,
adding: "We shall soon be enabled to render it more grateful;
certain dolts of your subjects, imagining no doubt that we were on
fire, have been rash enough to break through those doors which had
hitherto remained inviolate, for the sake of bringing up water;
they are very kind, you must allow, so soon to forget the wrongs
you have done them, but that is of little moment. Let us offer
them to the Giaour; let them come up; our mutes, who neither want
strength nor experience, will soon despatch them, exhausted as they
are with fatigue."

"Be it so," answered the Caliph, "provided we finish and I dine."

In fact, these good people, out of breath from ascending eleven
thousand stairs in such haste, and chagrined at having spilt by the
way the water they had taken, were no sooner arrived at the top
than the blaze of the flames and the fumes of the mummies at once
overpowered their senses. It was a pity; for they beheld not the
agreeable smile with which the mutes and the negresses adjusted the
cord to their necks; these amiable personages rejoiced, however, no
less at the scene; never before had the ceremony of strangling been
performed with so much facility; they all fell without the least
resistance or struggle, so that Vathek in the space of a few
moments found himself surrounded by the dead bodies of his
faithfullest subjects, all which were thrown on the top of the

Carathis, whose presence of mind never forsook her, perceiving that
she had carcases sufficient to complete her oblation, commanded the
chains to be stretched across the staircase, and the iron doors
barricaded, that no more might come up.

No sooner were these orders obeyed than the tower shook, the dead
bodies vanished in the flames, which at once changed from a swarthy
crimson to a bright rose colour; an ambient vapour emitted the most
exquisite fragrance, the marble columns rang with harmonious
sounds, and the liquefied horns diffused a delicious perfume.
Carathis, in transports, anticipated the success of her enterprise,
whilst her mutes and negresses, to whom these sweets had given the
colic, retired to their cells grumbling.

Scarcely were they gone when, instead of the pile, horns, mummies,
and ashes, the Caliph both saw and felt, with a degree of pleasure
which he could not express, a table covered with the most
magnificent repast; flagons of wine and vases of exquisite sherbet
floating on snow. He availed himself without scruple of such an
entertainment and had already laid hands on a lamb stuffed with
pistachios, whilst Carathis was privately drawing from a filigree
urn a parchment that seemed to be endless, and which had escaped
the notice of her son; totally occupied in gratifying an
importunate appetite he left her to peruse it without interruption,
which, having finished, she said to him in an authoritative tone,
"Put an end to your gluttony, and hear the splendid promises with
which you are favoured!" She then read as follows: "Vathek, my
well-beloved, thou hast surpassed my hopes; my nostrils have been
regaled by the savour of thy mummies, thy horns, and still more by
the lives devoted on the pile. At the full of the moon cause the
bands of thy musicians and thy tymbals to be heard; depart from thy
palace surrounded by all the pageants of majesty; thy most faithful
slaves, thy best beloved wives, thy most magnificent litters, thy
richest leaden camels, and set forward on thy way to Istakhar;
there await I thy coming; that is the region of wonders; there
shalt thou receive the diadem of Gian Ben Gian, the talismans of
Soliman, and the treasures of the Preadamite Sultans; there shalt
thou be solaced with all kinds of delight. But beware how thou
enterest any dwelling on thy route, or thou shalt feel the effects
of my anger."

The Caliph, who, notwithstanding his habitual luxury, had never
before dined with so much satisfaction, gave full scope to the joy
of these golden tidings, and betook himself to drinking anew.
Carathis, whose antipathy to wine was by no means insuperable,
failed not to supply a reason for every bumper, which they
ironically quaffed to the health of Mahomet. This infernal liquor
completed their impious temerity, and prompted them to utter a
profusion of blasphemies; they gave a loose to their wit at the
expense of the ass of Balaam, the dog of the seven sleepers, and
the other animals admitted into the paradise of Mahomet. In this
sprightly humour they descended the eleven thousand stairs,
diverting themselves as they went at the anxious faces they saw on
the square through the oilets of the tower, and at length arrived
at the royal apartments by the subterranean passage. Bababalouk
was parading to and fro, and issuing his mandates with great pomp
to the eunuchs, who were snuffing the lights and painting the eyes
of the Circassians. No sooner did he catch sight of the Caliph and
his mother than he exclaimed, "Hah! you have then, I perceive,
escaped from the flames; I was not, however, altogether out of

"Of what moment is it to us what you thought, or think?" cried
Carathis; "go, speed, tell Morakanabad that we immediately want
him; and take care how you stop by the way to make your insipid

Morakanabad delayed not to obey the summons, and was received by
Vathek and his mother with great solemnity; they told him, with an
air of composure and commiseration, that the fire at the top of the
tower was extinguished; but that it had cost the lives of the brave
people who sought to assist them.

"Still more misfortunes," cried Morakanabad, with a sigh. "Ah,
Commander of the Faithful, our holy Prophet is certainly irritated
against us! it behoves you to appease him."

"We will appease him hereafter!" replied the Caliph, with a smile
that augured nothing of good. "You will have leisure sufficient
for your supplications during my absence; for this country is the
bane of my health; I am disgusted with the mountain of the Four
Fountains, and am resolved to go and drink of the stream of
Rocnabad; I long to refresh myself in the delightful valleys which
it waters. Do you, with the advice of my mother, govern my
dominions, and take care to supply whatever her experiments may
demand; for you well know that our tower abounds in materials for
the advancement of science."

The tower but ill suited Morakanabad's taste. Immense treasures
had been lavished upon it; and nothing had he ever seen carried
thither but female negroes, mutes, and abominable drugs. Nor did
he know well what to think of Carathis, who, like a chameleon,
could assume all possible colours; her cursed eloquence had often
driven the poor Mussulman to his last shifts. He considered,
however, that if she possessed but few good qualities, her son had
still fewer; and that the alternative on the whole would be in her
favour. Consoled, therefore, with this reflection, he went in good
spirits to soothe the populace, and make the proper arrangements
for his master's journey.

Vathek, to conciliate the Spirits of the subterranean palace,
resolved that his expedition should be uncommonly splendid. With
this view he confiscated on all sides the property of his subjects,
whilst his worthy mother stripped the seraglios she visited of the
gems they contained. She collected all the sempstresses and
embroiderers of Samarah and other cities to the distance of sixty
leagues, to prepare pavilions, palanquins, sofas, canopies, and
litters for the train of the monarch. There was not left in
Masulipatam a single piece of chintz, and so much muslin had been
bought up to dress out Bababalouk and the other black eunuchs, that
there remained not an ell in the whole Irak of Babylon.

During these preparations Carathis, who never lost sight of her
great object, which was to obtain favour with the Powers of
Darkness, made select parties of the fairest and most delicate
ladies of the city; but in the midst of their gaiety she contrived
to introduce serpents amongst them, and to break pots of scorpions
under the table; they all bit to a wonder; and Carathis would have
left them to bite, were it not that, to fill up the time, she now
and then amused herself in curing their wounds with an excellent
anodyne of her own invention, for this good princess abhorred being

Vathek, who was not altogether so active as his mother, devoted his
time to the sole gratification of his senses, in the palaces which
were severally dedicated to them; he disgusted himself no more with
the Divan or the Mosque. One half of Samarah followed his example,
whilst the other lamented the progress of corruption.

In the midst of these transactions the embassy returned which had
been sent in pious times to Mecca. It consisted of the most
reverend Moullahs, who had fulfilled their commission and brought
back one of those precious besoms which are used to sweep the
sacred Caaba: a present truly worthy of the greatest potentate on

The Caliph happened at this instant to be engaged in an apartment
by no means adapted to the reception of embassies, though adorned
with a certain magnificence, not only to render it agreeable, but
also because he resorted to it frequently, and stayed a
considerable time together. Whilst occupied in this retreat he
heard the voice of Bababalouk calling out from between the door and
the tapestry that hung before it: "Here are the excellent Mahomet
Ebn Edris al Shafei, and the seraphic Al Mouhadethin, who have
brought the besom from Mecca, and with tears of joy intreat they
may present it to your majesty in person."

"Let them bring the besom hither; it may be of use," said Vathek,
who was still employed, not having quite racked off his wine.

"How!" said Bababalouk, half aloud and amazed.

"Obey," replied the Caliph, "for it is my sovereign will; go
instantly, vanish; for here will I receive the good folk, who have
thus filled thee with joy."

The eunuch departed muttering, and bade the venerable train attend
him. A sacred rapture was diffused amongst these reverend old men.
Though fatigued with the length of their expedition, they followed
Bababalouk with an alertness almost miraculous, and felt themselves
highly flattered, as they swept along the stately porticoes, that
the Caliph would not receive them like ambassadors in ordinary in
his hall of audience. Soon reaching the interior of the harem
(where, through blinds of Persian, they perceived large soft eyes,
dark and blue, that went and came like lightning), penetrated with
respect and wonder, and full of their celestial mission, they
advanced in procession towards the small corridors that appeared to
terminate in nothing, but nevertheless led to the cell where the
Caliph expected their coming.

"What! is the Commander of the Faithful sick?" said Ebn Edris al
Shafei in a low voice to his companion.

"I rather think he is in his oratory," answered Al Mouhadethin.

Vathek, who heard the dialogue, cried out: "What imports it you
how I am employed? approach without delay."

They advanced, and Bababalouk almost sunk with confusion, whilst
the Caliph, without showing himself, put forth his hand from behind
the tapestry that hung before the door, and demanded of them the
besom. Having prostrated themselves as well as the corridor would
permit, and even in a tolerable semicircle, the venerable Al
Shafei, drawing forth the besom from the embroidered and perfumed
scarves in which it had been enveloped, and secured from the
profane gaze of vulgar eyes, arose from his associates, and
advanced, with an air of the most awful solemnity, towards the
supposed oratory; but with what astonishment! with what horror was
he seized! Vathek, bursting out into a villainous laugh, snatched
the besom from his trembling hand, and, fixing upon some cobwebs
that hung suspended from the ceiling, gravely brushed away till not
a single one remained. The old men, overpowered with amazement,
were unable to lift their heards from the ground; for, as Vathek
had carelessly left the tapestry between them half drawn, they were
witnesses to the whole transaction; their tears gushed forth on the
marble; Al Mouhadethin swooned through mortification and fatigue;
whilst the Caliph, throwing himself backward on his seat, shouted
and clapped his hands without mercy. At last, addressing himself
to Bababalouk: "My dear black," said he, "go, regale these pious
poor souls with my good wine from Shiraz; and, as they can boast of
having seen more of my palace than any one besides, let them also
visit my office courts, and lead them out by the back steps that go
to my stables." Having said this, he threw the besom in their
face, and went to enjoy the laugh with Carathis. Bababalouk did
all in his power to console the ambassadors, but the two most
infirm expired on the spot; the rest were carried to their beds,
from whence, being heart-broken with sorrow and shame, they never

The succeeding night Vathek, attended by his mother, ascended the
tower to see if everything were ready for his journey; for he had
great faith in the influence of the stars. The planets appeared in
their most favourable aspects. The Caliph, to enjoy so flattering
a sight, supped gaily on the roof, and fancied that he heard during
his repast loud shouts of laughter resound through the sky, in a
manner that inspired the fullest assurance.

All was in motion at the palace; lights were kept burning through
the whole of the night; the sound of implements and of artisans
finishing their work, the voices of women and their guardians who
sung at their embroidery, all conspired to interrupt the stillness
of nature and infinitely delight the heart of Vathek, who imagined
himself going in triumph to sit upon the throne of Soliman.

The people were not less satisfied than himself; all assisted to
accelerate the moment which should rescue them from the wayward
caprices of so extravagant a master.

The day preceding the departure of this infatuated prince was
employed by Carathis in repeating to him the decrees of the
mysterious parchment, which she had thoroughly gotten by heart, and
in recommending him not to enter the habitation of any one by the
way; "for well thou knowest," added she, "how liquorish thy taste
is after good dishes and young damsels; let me, therefore, enjoin
thee to be content with thy old cooks, who are the best in the
world, and not to forget that in thy ambulatory seraglio there are
three dozen pretty faces, which Bababalouk hath not yet unveiled.
I myself have a great desire to watch over thy conduct, and visit
the subterranean palace, which no doubt contains whatever can
interest persons like us; there is nothing so pleasing as retiring
to caverns; my taste for dead bodies and everything like mummy is
decided; and I am confident thou wilt see the most exquisite of
their kind. Forget me not, then, but the moment thou art in
possession of the talismans which are to open to thee the mineral
kingdoms and the centre of the earth itself, fail not to despatch
some trusty genius to take me and my cabinet, for the oil of the
serpents I have pinched to death will be a pretty present to the
Giaour, who cannot but be charmed with such dainties."

Scarcely had Carathis ended this edifying discourse when the sun,
setting behind the mountain of the Four Fountains, gave place to
the rising moon; this planet, being that evening at full, appeared
of unusual beauty and magnitude in the eyes of the women, the
eunuchs, and the pages, who were all impatient to set forward. The
city re-echoed with shouts of joy and flourishing of trumpets;
nothing was visible but plumes nodding on pavilions, and aigrets
shining in the mild lustre of the moon; the spacious square
resembled an immense parterre, variegated with the most stately
tulips of the East.

Arrayed in the robes which were only worn it the most distinguished
ceremonials, and supported by his Vizir and Bababalouk, the Caliph
descended the grand staircase of the tower in the sight of all his
people; he could not forbear pausing at intervals to admire the
superb appearance which everywhere courted his view, whilst the
whole multitude, even to the camels with their sumptuous burdens,
knelt down before him. For some time a general stillness
prevailed, which nothing happened to disturb but the shrill screams
of some eunuchs in the rear; these vigilant guards, having remarked
certain cages of the ladies swagging somewhat awry, and discovered
that a few adventurous gallants had contrived to get in, soon
dislodged the enraptured culprits. The majesty of so magnificent a
spectacle was not, however, violated by incidents like these.
Vathek meanwhile saluted the moon with an idolatrous air, that
neither pleased Morakanabad nor the Doctors of the Law, any more
than the vizirs and the grandees of his court, who were all
assembled to enjoy the last view of their sovereign.

At length the clarions and trumpets from the top of the tower
announced the prelude of departure; though the instruments were in
unison with each other, yet a singular dissonance was blended with
their sounds; this proceeded from Carathis, who was singing her
direful orisons to the Giaour, whilst the negresses and mutes
supplied thorough-base without articulating a word. The good
Mussulmans fancied that they heard the sullen hum of those
nocturnal insects which presage evil, and importuned Vathek to
beware how he ventured his sacred person.

On a given signal the great standard of the Califat was displayed,
twenty thousand lances shone around it, and the Caliph, treading
loyally on the cloth of gold which had been spread for his feet,
ascended his litter amidst the general awe that possessed his

The expedition commenced with the utmost order and so entire a
silence, that even the locusts were heard from the thickets on the
plain of Catoul. Gaiety and good-humour prevailing, six good
leagues were past before the dawn; and the morning star was still
glittering in the firmament when the whole of this numerous train
had halted on the banks of the Tigris, where they encamped to
repose for the rest of the day.

The three days that followed were spent in the same manner; but on
the fourth the heavens looked angry, lightnings broke forth in
frequent flashes, re-echoing peals of thunder succeeded, and the
trembling Circassians clung with all their might to their ugly
guardians. The Caliph himself was greatly inclined to take shelter
in the large town of Gulchissar, the governor of which came forth
to meet him, and tendered every kind of refreshment the place could
supply; but, having examined his tablets, he suffered the rain to
soak him almost to the bone, notwithstanding the importunity of his
first favourites. Though he began to regret the palace of the
senses, yet he lost not sight of his enterprise, and his sanguine
expectations confirmed his resolution; his geographers were ordered
to attend him, but the weather proved so terrible that these poor
people exhibited a lamentable appearance; and, as no long journeys
had been undertaken since the time of Haroun al Raschid, their maps
of the different countries were in a still worse plight than
themselves; every one was ignorant which way to turn; for Vathek,
though well versed in the course of the heavens, no longer knew his
situation on earth; he thundered even louder than the elements, and
muttered forth certain hints of the bow-string, which were not very
soothing to literary ears. Disgusted at the toilsome weariness of
the way, he determined to cross over the craggy heights and follow
the guidance of a peasant, who undertook to bring him in four days
to Rocnabad. Remonstrances were all to no purpose; his resolution
was fixed, and an invasion commenced on the province of the goats,
who sped away in large troops before them. It was curious to view
on these half calcined rocks camels richly caparisoned, and
pavilions of gold and silk waving on their summits, which till then
had never been covered but with sapless thistles and fern.

The females and eunuchs uttered shrill wailings at the sight of the
precipices below them, and the dreary prospects that opened in the
vast gorges of the mountains. Before they could reach the ascent
of the steepest rock, night overtook them, and a boisterous tempest
arose, which, having rent the awnings of the palanquins and cages,
exposed to the raw gusts the poor ladies within, who had never
before felt so piercing a cold. The dark clouds that overcast the
face of the sky deepened the horrors of this disastrous night,
insomuch that nothing could be heard distinctly but the mewling of
pages and lamentations of sultanas.

To increase the general misfortune, the frightful uproar of wild
beasts resounded at a distance, and there were soon perceived, in
the forest they were skirting, the glaring of eyes which could
belong only to devils or tigers. The pioneers, who, as well as
they could, had marked out a track, and a part of the advanced
guard were devoured before they had been in the least apprized of
their danger. The confusion that prevailed was extreme; wolves,
tigers, and other carnivorous animals, invited by the howling of
their companions, flocked together from every quarter; the crashing
of bones was heard on all sides, and a fearful rush of wings
overhead, for now vultures also began to be of the party.

The terror at length reached the main body of the troops which
surrounded the monarch and his harem, at the distance of two
leagues from the scene. Vathek (voluptuously reposed in his
capacious litter upon cushions of silk, with two little pages
beside him of complexions more fair than the enamel of Franguestan,
who were occupied in keeping off flies) was soundly asleep, and
contemplating in his dreams the treasures of Soliman. The shrieks,
however, of his wives awoke him with a start, and, instead of the
Giaour with his key of gold, he beheld Bababalouk full of

"Sire," exclaimed this good servant of the most potent of monarchs,
"misfortune is arrived at its height; wild beasts, who entertain no
more reverence for your sacred person than for that of a dead ass,
have beset your camels and their drivers; thirty of the richest
laden are already become their prey, as well as your confectioners,
your cooks, and purveyors; and, unless our holy Prophet should
protect us, we shall have all eaten our last meal."

At the mention of eating the Caliph lost all patience; he began to
bellow, and even beat himself (for there was no seeing in the
dark). The rumour every instant increased, and Bababalouk, finding
no good could be done with his master, stopped both his ears
against the hurly-burly of the harem, and called out aloud: "Come,
ladies and brothers! all hands to work! strike light in a moment!
never shall it be said that the Commander of the Faithful served to
regale these infidel brutes."

Though there wanted not in this bevy of beauties a sufficient
number of capricious and wayward, yet on the present occasion they
were all compliance; fires were visible in a twinkling in all their
cages; ten thousand torches were lighted at once; the Caliph
himself seized a large one of wax; every person followed his
example, and, by kindling ropes' ends dipped in oil and fastened on
poles, an amazing blaze was spread. The rocks were covered with
the splendour of sunshine; the trails of sparks wafted by the wind
communicated to the dry fern, of which there was plenty. Serpents
were observed to crawl forth from their retreats with amazement and
hissings, whilst the horses snorted, stamped the ground, tossed
their noses in the air, and plunged about without mercy.

One of the forests of cedar that bordered their way took fire, and
the branches that overhung the path, extending their flames to the
muslins and chintzes which covered the cages of the ladies, obliged
them to jump out, at the peril of their necks. Vathek, who vented
on the occasion a thousand blasphemies, was himself compelled to
touch with his sacred feet the naked earth.

Never had such an incident happened before. Full of mortification,
shame, and despondence, and not knowing how to walk, the ladies
fell into the dirt. "Must I go on foot?" said one; "Must I wet my
feet?" cried another; "Must I soil my dress?" asked a third;
"Execrable Bababalouk!" exclaimed all; "Outcast of hell! what hadst
thou to do with torches? Better were it to be eaten by tigers than
to fall into our present condition! we are for ever undone! Not a
porter is there in the army, nor a currier of camels, but hath seen
some part of our bodies, and, what is worse, our very faces!" On
saying this the most bashful amongst them hid their foreheads on
the ground, whist such as had more boldness flew at Bababalouk; but
he, well apprized of their humour, and not wanting in shrewdness,
betook himself to his heels along with his comrades, all dropping
their torches and striking their tymbals.

It was not less light than in the brightest of the dog-days, and
the weather was hot in proportion; but how degrading was the
spectacle, to behold the Caliph bespattered like an ordinary
mortal! As the exercise of his faculties seemed to be suspended,
one of his Ethiopian wives (for he delighted in variety) clasped
him in her arms, threw him upon her shoulder like a sack of dates,
and finding that the fire was hemming them in, set off with no
small expedition, considering the weight of her burden. The other
ladies, who had just learnt the use of their feet, followed her,
their guards galloped after, and the camel-drivers brought up the
rear as fast as their charge would permit.

They soon reached the spot where the wild beasts had commenced the
carnage, and which they had too much spirit to leave,
notwithstanding the approaching tumult and the luxurious supper
they had made; Bababalouk nevertheless seized on a few of the
plumpest, which were unable to budge from the place, and began to
flay them with admirable adroitness. The cavalcade being got so
far from the conflagration as that the heat felt rather grateful
than violent, it was immediately resolved on to halt. The tattered
chintzes were picked up, the scraps left by the wolves and tigers
interred, and vengeance was taken on some dozens of vultures that
were too much glutted to rise on the wing. The camels, which had
been left unmolested to make sal ammoniac, being numbered, and the
ladies once more enclosed in their cages, the imperial tent was
pitched on the levellest ground they could find.

Vathek, reposing upon a mattress of down, and tolerably recovered
from the jolting of the Ethiopian, who to his feelings seemed the
roughest trotting jade he had hitherto mounted, called out for
something to eat. But, alas! those delicate cakes which had been
baked in silver ovens for his royal mouth, those rich manchets,
amber comfits, flagons of Schiraz wine, porcelain vases of snow,
and grapes from the banks of the Tigris, were all irremediably
lost! And nothing had Bababalouk to present in their stead but a
roasted wolf, vultures a la daube, aromatic herbs of the most acrid
poignancy, rotten truffles, boiled thistles, and such other wild
plants as most ulcerate the throat and parch up the tongue. Nor
was he better provided in the article of drink, for he could
procure nothing to accompany these irritating viands but a few
vials of abominable brandy, which had been secreted by the
scullions in their slippers.

Vathek made wry faces at so savage a repast, and Bababalouk
answered them with shrugs and contortions; the Caliph, however, ate
with tolerable appetite, and fell into a nap that lasted six hours.
The splendour of the sun reflected from the white cliffs of the
mountains, in spite of the curtains that enclosed him, at length
disturbed his repose; he awoke terrified, and stung to the quick by
those wormwood-coloured flies, which emit from their wings a
suffocating stench. The miserable monarch was perplexed how to
act, though his wits were not idle in seeking expedients, whilst
Bababalouk lay snoring amidst a swarm of those insects, that busily
thronged to pay court to his nose. The little pages, famished with
hunger, had dropped their fans on the ground, and exerted their
dying voices in bitter reproaches on the Caliph, who now for the
first time heard the language of truth.

Thus stimulated, he renewed his imprecations against the Giaour,
and bestowed upon Mahomet some soothing expressions. "Where am I?"
cried he; "what are these dreadful rocks? these valleys of
darkness? are we arrived at the horrible Kaf? is the Simurgh coming
to pluck out my eyes, as a punishment for undertaking this impious
enterprise!" Having said this, he bellowed like a calf and turned
himself towards an outlet in the side of his pavilion; but, alas!
what objects occurred to his view! on one side a plain of black
sand that appeared to be unbounded, and on the other perpendicular
crags, bristled over with those abominable thistles which had so
severely lacerated his tongue. He fancied, however, that he
perceived, amongst the brambles and briers, some gigantic flowers,
but was mistaken; for these were only the dangling palampores and
variegated tatters of his gay retinue. As there were several
clefts in the rock from whence water seemed to have flowed, Vathek
applied his ear, with the hope of catching the sound of some latent
runnel, but could only distinguish the low murmurs of his people,
who were repining at their journey, and complaining for the want of

"To what purpose," asked they, "have we been brought hither? Hath
our Caliph another tower to build? or have the relentless Afrits,
whom Carathis so much loves, fixed in this place their abode?"

At the name of Carathis Vathek recollected the tablets he had
received from his mother, who assured him they were fraught with
preternatural qualities, and advised him to consult them as
emergencies might require. Whilst he was engaged in turning them
over he heard a shout of joy and a loud clapping of hands; the
curtains of his pavilion were soon drawn back, and he beheld
Bababalouk, followed by a troop of his favourites, conducting two
dwarfs, each a cubit high, who brought between them a large basket
of melons, oranges, and pomegranates. They were singing in the
sweetest tones the words that follow:

"We dwell on the top of these rocks in a cabin of rushes and canes;
the eagles envy us our nest; a small spring supplies us with
Abdest, and we daily repeat prayers which the Prophet approves. We
love you, O Commander of the Faithful! our master, the good Emir
Fakreddin, loves you also; he reveres in your person the vicegerent
of Mahomet. Little as we are, in us he confides; he knows our
hearts to be good as our bodies are contemptible, and hath placed
us here to aid those who are bewildered on these dreary mountains.
Last night, whilst we were occupied within our cell in reading the
holy Koran, a sudden hurricane blew out our lights and rocked our
habitation; for two whole hours a palpable darkness prevailed, but
we heard sounds at a distance which we conjectured to proceed from
the bells of a Cafila passing over the rocks; our ears were soon
filled with deplorable shrieks, frightful roarings, and the sound
of tymbals. Chilled with terror, we concluded that the Deggial,
with his exterminating angels, had sent forth their plagues on the
earth. In the midst of these melancholy reflections we perceived
flames of the deepest red glow in the horizon, and found ourselves
in a few moments covered with flakes of fire; amazed at so strange
an appearance, we took up the volume dictated by the blessed
Intelligence, and, kneeling by the light of the fire that
surrounded us, we recited the verse which says: 'Put no trust in
anything but the mercy of Heaven; there is no help save in the holy
Prophet; the mountain of Kaf itself may tremble, it is the power of
Allah only that cannot be moved.' After having pronounced these
words we felt consolation, and our minds were hushed into a sacred
repose; silence ensued, and our ears clearly distinguished a voice
in the air, saying: 'Servants of my faithful servant! go down to
the happy valley of Fakreddin; tell him that an illustrious
opportunity now offers to satiate the thirst of his hospitable
heart. The Commander of true believers is this day bewildered
amongst these mountains, and stands in need of thy aid.' We obeyed
with joy the angelic mission, and our master, filled with pious
zeal, hath culled with his own hands these melons, oranges, and
pomegranates; he is following us with a hundred dromedaries laden
with the purest waters of his fountains, and is coming to kiss the
fringe of your consecrated robe, and implore you to enter his
humble habitation, which, placed amidst these barren wilds,
resembles an emerald set in lead." The dwarfs, having ended their
address, remained still standing, and, with hands crossed upon
their bosoms, preserved a respectful silence.

Vathek in the midst of this curious harangue, seized the basket,
and long before it was finished the fruits had dissolved in his
mouth; as he continued to eat his piety increased, and in the same
breath which recited his prayers he called for the Koran and sugar.

Such was the state of his mind when the tablets, which were thrown
by at the approach of the dwarfs, again attracted his eye; he took
them up, but was ready to drop on the ground when he beheld, in
large red characters, these words inscribed by Carathis, which were
indeed enough to make him tremble:

"Beware of thy old doctors, and their puny messengers of but one
cubit high; distrust their pious frauds, and, instead of eating
their melons, impale on a spit the bearers of them. Shouldst thou
be such a fool as to visit them, the portal of the subterranean
palace will be shut in thy face, and with such force as shall shake
thee asunder; thy body shall be spit upon, and bats will engender
in thy belly."

"To what tends this ominous rhapsody?" cries the Caliph. "And must
I then perish in these deserts with thirst, whilst I may refresh
myself in the valley of melons and cucumbers! Accursed be the
Giaour, with his portal of ebony! he hath made me dance attendance
too long already. Besides, who shall prescribe laws to me? I
forsooth must not enter any one's habitation! Be it so; but what
one can I enter that is not my own?"

Bababalouk, who lost not a syllable of this soliloquy, applauded it
with all his heart, and the ladies for the first time agreed with
him in opinion.

The dwarfs were entertained, caressed, and seated with great
ceremony on little cushions of satin. The symmetry of their
persons was the subject of criticism; not an inch of them was
suffered to pass unexamined; knick-knacks and dainties were offered
in profusion, but all were declined with respectful gravity. They
clambered up the sides of the Caliph's seat, and, placing
themselves each on one of his shoulders, began to whisper prayers
in his ears; their tongues quivered like the leaves of a poplar,
and the patience of Vathek was almost exhausted, when the
acclamations of the troops announced the approach of Fakreddin, who
was come with a hundred old grey-beards and as many Korans and
dromedaries; they instantly set about their ablutions, and began to
repeat the Bismillah; Vathek, to get rid of these officious
monitors, followed their example, for his hands were burning.

The good Emir, who was punctiliously religious, and likewise a
great dealer in compliments, made an harangue five times more
prolix and insipid than his harbingers had already delivered. The
Caliph, unable any longer to refrain, exclaimed -

"For the love of Mahomet, my dear Fakreddin, have done! let us
proceed to your valley, and enjoy the fruits that Heaven hath
vouchsafed you."

The hint of proceeding put all into motion; the venerable
attendants of the Emir set forward somewhat slowly, but Vathek,
having ordered his little pages in private to goad on the
dromedaries, loud fits of laughter broke forth from the cages, for
the unwieldy curvetting of these poor beasts, and the ridiculous
distress of their superannuated riders, afforded the ladies no
small entertainment.

They descended, however, unhurt into the valley, by the large steps
which the Emir had cut in the rock; and already the murmuring of
streams and the rustling of leaves began to catch their attention.
The cavalcade soon entered a path which was skirted by flowering
shrubs, and extended to a vast wood of palm-trees, whose branches
overspread a building of hewn stone. This edifice was crowned with
nine domes, and adorned with as many portals of bronze, on which
was engraven the following inscription: "This is the asylum of
pilgrims, the refuge of travellers, and the depository of secrets
for all parts of the world."

Nine pages, beautiful as the day, and clothed in robes of Egyptian
linen, very long and very modest, were standing at each door. They
received the whole retinue with an easy and inviting air. Four of
the most amiable placed the Caliph on a magnificent taktrevan, four
others, somewhat less graceful, took charge of Bababalouk, who
capered for joy at the snug little cabin that fell to his share;
the pages that remained waited on the rest of the train.

When everything masculine was gone out of sight the gate of a large
enclosure on the right turned on its harmonious hinges and a young
female of a slender form came forth; her light brown hair floated
in the hazy breeze of the twilight; a troop of young maidens, like
the Pleiades, attended her on tip-toe. They hastened to the
pavilions that contained the sultanas, and the young lady,
gracefully bending, said to them:

"Charming Princesses, everything is ready; we have prepared beds
for your repose, and strewed your apartments with jasmine; no
insects will keep off slumber from visiting your eyelids, we will
dispel them with a thousand plumes; come then, amiable ladies!
refresh your delicate feet and your ivory limbs in baths of rose
water; and, by the light of perfumed lamps your servants will amuse
you with tales."

The sultanas accepted with pleasure these obliging offers, and
followed the young lady to the Emir's harem, where we must for a
moment leave them, and return to the Caliph.

Vathek found himself beneath a vast dome, illuminated by a thousand
lamps of rock crystal; as many vases of the same material, filled
with excellent sherbet, sparkled on a large table, where a
profusion of viands were spread; amongst others were sweetbreads
stewed in milk of almonds, saffron soups, and lamb a la creme, of
all which the Caliph was amazingly fond. He took of each as much
as he was able, testified his sense of the Emir's friendship by the
gaiety of his heart, and made the dwarfs dance against their will,
for these little devotees durst not refuse the Commander of the
Faithful; at last he spread himself on the sofa, and slept sounder
than he had ever before.

Beneath this dome a general silence prevailed, for there was
nothing to disturb it but the jaws of Bababalouk, who had untrussed
himself to eat with greater advantage, being anxious to make amends
for his fast in the mountains. As his spirits were too high to
admit of his sleeping, and not loving to be idle, he proposed with
himself to visit the harem, and repair to his charge of the ladies,
to examine if they had been properly lubricated with the balm of
Mecca, if their eyebrows and tresses were in order, and, in a word,
to perform all the little offices they might need. He sought for a
long time together, but without being able to find out the door; he
durst not speak aloud, for fear of disturbing the Caliph, and not a
soul was stirring in the precincts of the palace; he almost
despaired of effecting his purpose, when a low whispering just
reached his ear; it came from the dwarfs who were returned to their
old occupation, and for the nine hundred and ninety-ninth time in
their lives, were reading over the Koran. They very politely
invited Bababalouk to be of their party, but his head was full of
other concerns. The dwarfs, though scandalised at his dissolute
morals, directed him to the apartments he wanted to find; his way
thither lay through a hundred dark corridors, along which he groped
as he went, and at last began to catch from the extremity of a
passage the charming gossiping of the women, which not a little
delighted his heart. "Ah, ha! what, not yet asleep!" cried he;
and, taking long strides as he spoke. "Did you not suspect me of
abjuring my charge? I stayed but to finish what my master had

Two of the black eunuchs, on hearing a voice so loud, detached a
party in haste, sabre in hand, to discover the cause; but presently
was repeated on all sides: "'Tis only Bababalouk! no one but
Bababalouk!" This circumspect guardian, having gone up to a thin
veil of carnation-coloured silk that hung before the doorway,
distinguished, by means of the softened splendour that shone
through it, an oval bath of dark porphyry, surrounded by curtains
festooned in large folds; through the apertures between them, as
they were not drawn close, groups of young slaves were visible,
amongst whom Bababalouk perceived his pupils, indulgingly expanding
their arms, as if to embrace the perfumed water and refresh
themselves after their fatigues. The looks of tender languor,
their confidential whispers, and the enchanting smiles with which
they were imparted, the exquisite fragrance of the roses, all
combined to inspire a voluptuousness, which even Bababalouk himself
was scarce able to withstand.

He summoned up, however, his usual solemnity, and, in the
peremptory tone of authority, commanded the ladies instantly to
leave the bath. Whilst he was issuing these mandates the young
Nouronihar, daughter of the Emir, who was sprightly as an antelope,
and full of wanton gaiety, beckoned one of her slaves to let down
the great swing, which was suspended to the ceiling by cords of
silk, and whilst this was doing, winked to her companions in the
bath, who, chagrined to be forced from so soothing a state of
indolence, began to twist it round Bababalouk, and tease him with a
thousand vagaries.

When Nouronihar perceived that he was exhausted with fatigue, she
accosted him with an arch air of respectful concern, and said: "My
lord, it is not by any means decent that the chief eunuch of the
Caliph, our Sovereign, should thus continue standing; deign but to
recline your graceful person upon this sofa, which will burst with
vexation if it have not the honour to receive you."

Caught by these flattering accents, Bababalouk gallantly replied:
"Delight of the apple of my eye! I accept the invitation of thy
honeyed lips; and, to say truth, my senses are dazzled with the
radiance that beams from thy charms."

"Repose, then, at your ease," replied the beauty, and placed him on
the pretended sofa, which, quicker than lightning, gave way all at
once. The rest of the women, having aptly conceived her design,
sprang naked from the bath, and plied the swing with such
unmerciful jerks, that it swept through the whole compass of a very
lofty dome, and took from the poor victim all power of respiration;
sometimes his feet rased the surface of the water, and at others
the skylight almost flattened his nose; in vain did he pierce the
air with the cries of a voice that resembled the ringing of a
cracked basin, for their peals of laughter were still more

Nouronihar, in the inebriety of youthful spirits, being used only
to eunuchs of ordinary harems, and having never seen anything so
royal and disgusting, was far more diverted than all of the rest;
she began to parody some Persian verses, and sang with an accent
most demurely piquant:

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