Once upon a time, there marched through the wilderness a large Caravan. Upon the vast plain, where one sees nothing but sand and heaven, were heard already, in the far distance, the little bells of the camels, and the silver-toned ones of the horses; a thick cloud of dust, which preceded them, announced their approach, and when a gale of wind separated the clouds, glittering weapons and brilliant dresses dazzled the eye.

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Such was the appearance of the Caravan to a man who was riding up towards it in an oblique direction. He was mounted on a fine Arabian courser, covered with a tiger-skin; silver bells were suspended from the deep-red stripe work, and on the head of the horse waved a plume of heron feathers. The rider was of majestic mien, and his attire corresponded with the splendor of his horse: a white turban, richly inwrought with gold, adorned his head, his habit and wide pantaloons were of bright red, and a curved sword with a magnificent handle hung by his side. He had arranged the turban far down upon his forehead; this, together with the dark eyes which gleamed forth from under his bushy brows, and the long beard which hung down under his arched nose, gave him a wild, daring expression. When the horseman had advanced fifty paces farther, the foremost line of the Caravan was near, and putting spurs to his steed, in the twinkling of an eye he was at the head of the procession. It was so unusual a thing to see a solitary rider travelling through the desert, that the guard, apprehending an attack, put their lances in rest.

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“What mean you?” exclaimed the horseman, as he saw himself received in so hostile a manner. “Do you imagine that a single man would attack your Caravan?”

Ashamed of their precipitation, the guards lowered their lances, and their leader rode forth to the stranger, and asked to know his pleasure.

“Who is the lord of this Caravan?” inquired the cavalier.

“It belongs to no single lord,” answered the interrogated one; “but to several merchants, who march from Mecca to their native country, and whom we escort through the desert; for oftentimes scoundrels of every kind alarm those who travel here.”

“Then lead me to the merchants,” responded the stranger.

“That cannot be now,” rejoined the other, “for we must proceed without delay, and the merchants are at least a quarter of a mile behind; if, however, you would like to ride along with me until we halt to take our siesta, I will execute your desire.”

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The stranger said nothing further; he drew forth a long pipe which he had attached to his saddle, and began to smoke with slow puffs, as he rode along by the leader of the van. The latter knew not what to make of the stranger, and ventured not to ask his name in so many words; but when he artfully endeavored to weave up a conversation, the cavalier, to his remarks, “You smoke there a good tobacco,” or, “Your horse has a brave gait,” constantly replied with only a brief “Yes, yes!” At last they arrived at the place where they were to halt for the siesta: the chief sent his people forward to keep a look-out, while he remained with the stranger to receive the Caravan. First, thirty camels passed by, heavily laden, guided by armed drivers. After these, on fine horses, came the five merchants to whom the Caravan belonged. They were, for the most part, men of advanced age, of grave and serious aspect; one, however, seemed much younger, as well as more gay and lively than the rest. A large number of camels and pack-horses closed the procession.

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Tents were pitched, and the camels and horses fastened around. In the midst was a large pavilion of blue silk, to which the chief of the escort conducted the stranger. When they reached the entrance, they saw the five merchants seated on gold-embroidered cushions; black slaves were carrying around to them food and drink. “Whom bringest thou hither to us?” exclaimed the young merchant unto the leader: before, however, the latter could reply, the stranger spoke.

“I am called Selim Baruch, and am from Bagdad; I was taken captive by a robber-horde on a ride to Mecca, but three days ago managed to free myself from confinement. The mighty Prophet permitted me to hear, in the far distance, the little bells of your Caravan, and so I came to you. Allow me to ride in your company; you will grant your protection to no unworthy person; and when we reach Bagdad, I will reward your kindness richly, for I am the nephew of the Grand Vizier.”

The oldest of the merchants took up the discourse: “Selim Baruch,” said he, “welcome to our protection! It affords us joy to be of assistance to thee. But first of all, sit down, and eat and drink with us.”

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Selim Baruch seated himself among the merchants, and ate and drank with them. After the meal, the slaves removed the table, and brought long pipes and Turkish sherbet. The merchants sat for some time in silence, while they puffed out before them the bluish, smoke-clouds, watching how they formed circle after circle, and at last were dissipated in the ambient air. The young merchant finally broke the silence. “Here sit we for three days,” said he, “on horseback, and at table, without doing any thing to while away the time. I feel this tediousness much, for I am accustomed after dinner to see dancers, or to hear singing and music. Know you nothing, my friends, that will pass away the time for us?”

The four elder merchants smoked away, and seemed to be seriously reflecting, but the stranger spoke: “If it be allowed me, I will make a proposition to you. I think one of us, at this resting-place, could relate something for the amusement of the rest: this, certainly, would serve to pass the time.”

“Selim Baruch, thou hast well spoken,” said Achmet, the oldest of the merchants; “let us accept the proposal.”

“I am rejoiced that it pleases you,” answered Selim; “and, in order that you may see that I desire nothing unreasonable, I will myself begin.” The five merchants, overjoyed, drew nearer together, and placed the stranger in their midst. The slaves replenished their cups, filled the pipes of their masters afresh, and brought glowing coals for a light. Selim cleared his voice with a hearty draught of sherbet, smoothed back the long beard from his mouth, and said, “Listen then to the History of Caliph Stork.”

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