In a great and beautiful city that stood by the sea, an old man lay dying. Mar Shalmon was his name, and he was the richest man in the land. Propped up with pillows on a richly decorated bed in a luxurious chamber, he gazed, with tears in his eyes, through the open window at the setting sun. Like a ball of fire it sank lower and lower until it almost seemed to rest on the tranquil waters beyond the harbour. Suddenly, Mar Shalmon roused himself.

 

“Where is my son, Bar Shalmon?” he asked in a feeble voice, and his hand crept tremblingly along the silken coverlet of the bed as if in search of something.

 

“I am here, my father,” replied his son who was standing by the side of his bed. His eyes were moist with tears, but his voice was steady.

 

“My son,” said the old man, slowly, and with some difficulty, “I am about to leave this world.

 

My soul will take flight from this frail body when the sun has sunk behind the horizon. I have lived long and have amassed great wealth which will soon be thine. Use it well, as I have taught thee, for thou, my son, art a man of learning, as befits our noble Jewish faith. One thing I must ask thee to promise me.”

 

“I will, my father,” returned Bar Shalmon, sobbing.

 

“Nay, weep not, my son,” said the old man. “My day is ended; my life has not been ill-spent. I would spare thee the pain that was mine in my early days, when, as a merchant, I garnered my fortune. The sea out there that will soon swallow up the sun is calm now. But beware of it, my son, for it is treacherous. Promise me–nay, swear unto me–that never wilt thou cross it to foreign lands.”

 

Bar Shalmon placed his hands on those of his father.

 

“Solemnly I swear,” he said, in a broken voice, “to do thy wish–never to journey on the sea, but to remain here in this, my native land. ’Tis a vow before thee, my father.”

 

“’Tis an oath before heaven,” said the old man. “Guard it, keep it, and heaven will bless thee. Remember! See, the sun is sinking.”

 

Mar Shalmon fell back upon his pillows and spoke no more. Bar Shalmon stood gazing out of the window until the sun had disappeared, and then, silently sobbing, he left the chamber of death.

 

The whole city wept when the sad news was made known, for Mar Shalmon was a man of great charity, and almost all the inhabitants followed the remains to the grave. Then Bar Shalmon, his son, took his father’s place of honour in the city, and in him, too, the poor and needy found a friend whose purse was ever open and whose counsel was ever wisdom.

 

Thus years passed away.

 

One day there arrived in the harbour of the city a strange ship from a distant land. Its captain spoke a tongue unknown, and Bar Shalmon, being a man of profound knowledge, was sent for. He alone in the city could under-stand the language of the captain. To his astonishment, he learned that the cargo of the vessel was for Mar Shalmon, his father.

 

“I am the son of Mar Shalmon,” he said. “My father is dead, and all his possessions he left to me.”

 

“Then, verily, art thou the most fortunate mortal, and the richest, on earth,” answered the captain. “My good ship is filled with a vast store of jewels, precious stones and other treasures. And know you, O most favoured son of Mar Shalmon, this cargo is but a small portion of the wealth that is thine in a land across the sea.”

 

“’Tis strange,” said Bar Shalmon, in surprise; “my father said nought of this to me. I knew that in his younger days he had traded with distant lands, but nothing did he ever say of possessions there. And, moreover, he warned me never to leave this shore.”

 

The captain looked perplexed.

 

“I understand it not,” he said. “I am but performing my father’s bidding. He was thy father’s servant, and long years did he wait for Mar Shalmon’s return to claim his riches. On his death-bed he bade me vow that I would seek his master, or his son, and this have I done.”

 

He produced documents, and there could be no doubt that the vast wealth mentioned in them belonged now to Bar Shalmon.

 

“Thou art now my master,” said the captain, “and must return with me to the land across the sea to claim thine inheritance. In another year it will be too late, for by the laws of the country it will be forfeit.”

 

“I cannot return with thee,” said Bar Shalmon. “I have a vow before heaven never to voyage on the sea.”

 

The captain laughed.

 

“In very truth, I understand thee not, as my father understood not thine,” he replied. “My father was wont to say that Mar Shalmon was strange and peradventure not possessed of all his senses to neglect his store of wealth and treasure.”

 

With an angry gesture Bar Shalmon stopped the captain, but he was sorely troubled. He re-called now that his father had often spoken mysteriously of foreign lands, and he wondered, indeed, whether Mar Shalmon could have been in his proper senses not to have breathed a word of his riches abroad. For days he discussed the matter with the captain, who at last persuaded him to make the journey.

 

“Fear not thy vow,” said the captain. “Thy worthy father must, of a truth, have been bereft of reason in failing to tell thee of his full estate, and an oath to a man of mind unsound is not binding. That is the law in our land.”

 

“So it is here,” returned Bar Shalmon, and with this remark his last scruple vanished.

 

He bade a tender farewell to his wife, his child, and his friends, and set sail on the strange ship to the land beyond the sea.

 

For three days all went well, but on the fourth the ship was becalmed and the sails flapped lazily against the masts. The sailors had nothing to do but lie on deck and wait for a breeze, and Bar Shalmon took advantage of the occasion to treat them to a feast.

 

Suddenly, in the midst of the feasting, they felt the ship begin to move. There was no wind, but the vessel sped along very swiftly. The captain himself rushed to the helm. To his alarm he found the vessel beyond control.

 

“The ship is bewitched,” he exclaimed. “There is no wind, and no current, and yet we are being borne along as if driven before a storm. We shall be lost.”

 

Panic seized the sailors, and Bar Shalmon was unable to pacify them.

 

“Someone on board has brought us ill-luck,” said the boatswain, looking pointedly at Bar Shalmon; “we shall have to heave him over-board.”

 

His comrades assented and rushed toward Bar Shalmon.

 

Just at that moment, however, the look-out in the bow cried excitedly, “Land ahead!”

 

The ship still refused to answer the helm and grounded on a sandbank. She shivered from stem to stern but did not break up. No rocks were visible, only a desolate tract of desert land was to be seen, with here and there a solitary tree.

 

“We seem to have sustained no damage,” said the captain, when he had recovered from his first astonishment, “but how we are going to get afloat again I do not know. This land is quite strange to me.”

He could not find it marked on any of his charts or maps, and the sailors stood looking gloomily at the mysterious shore.

 

“Had we not better explore the land?” said Bar Shalmon.

 

“No, no,” exclaimed the boatswain, excitedly. “See, no breakers strike on the shore. This is not a

human land. This is a domain of demons. We are lost unless we cast overboard the one who has brought on us this ill-luck.”

 

Said Bar Shalmon, “I will land, and I will give fifty silver crowns to all who land with me.”

 

Not one of the sailors moved, however, even when he offered fifty golden crowns, and at last Bar Shalmon said he would land alone, although the captain strongly urged him not to do so.

 

Bar Shalmon sprang lightly to the shore, and as he did so the ship shook violently.

 

“What did I tell you?” shouted the boat-swain. “Bar Shalmon is the one who has brought us this misfortune. Now we shall re-float the ship.”

 

But it still remained firmly fixed on the sand. Bar Shalmon walked towards a tree and climbed it. In a few moments he returned, holding a twig in his hand.

 

“The land stretches away for miles just as you see it here,” he called to the captain. “There is no sign of man or habitation.”

 

He prepared to board the vessel again, but the sailors would not allow him. The boatswain stood in the bow and threatened him with a sword. Bar Shalmon raised the twig to ward off the blow and struck the ship which shivered from stem to stern again.

 

“Is not this proof that the vessel is bewitched?” cried the sailors, and when the captain sternly bade them remember that Bar Shalmon was their master, they threatened him too.

 

Bar Shalmon, amused at the fears of the men, again struck the vessel with the twig. Once more it trembled. A third time he raised the twig.

 

“If the ship is bewitched,” he said, “something will happen after the third blow.”

 

“Swish” sounded the branch through the air, and the third blow fell on the vessel’s bow. Something did happen. The ship almost leaped from the sand, and before Bar Shalmon could realize what had happened it was speeding swiftly away.

 

“Come back, come back,” he screamed, and he could see the captain struggling with the helm. But the vessel refused to answer, and Bar Shalmon saw it grow smaller and smaller and finally disappear. He was alone on an uninhabited desert land.

 

“What a wretched plight for the richest man in the world,” he said to himself, and the next moment he realized that he was in danger indeed.

 

A terrible roar made him look around. To his horror he saw a lion making toward him. As quick as a flash Bar Shalmon ran to the tree and hastily scrambled into the branches. The lion dashed itself furiously against the trunk of the tree, but, for the present, Bar Shalmon was safe. Night, however, was coming on, and the lion squatted at the foot of the tree, evidently intending to wait for him. All night the lion remained, roaring at intervals, and Bar Shalmon clung to one of the upper branches afraid to sleep lest he should fall off and be devoured. When morning broke, a new danger threatened him. A huge eagle flew round the tree and darted at him with its cruel beak. Then the great bird settled on the thickest branch, and Bar Shalmon moved stealthily forward with a knife which he drew from his belt. He crept behind the bird, but as he approached it spread its big wings, and Bar Shalmon, to prevent himself being swept from the tree, dropped the knife and clutched at the bird’s feathers. Immediately, to his dismay, the bird rose from the tree. Bar Shalmon clung to its back with all his might.

 

Higher and higher soared the eagle until the trees below looked like mere dots on the land. Swiftly flew the eagle over miles and miles of desert until Bar Shalmon began to feel giddy. He was faint with hunger and feared that he would not be able to retain his hold. All day the bird flew without resting, across island and sea. No houses, no ships, no human beings could be seen. Toward night, however, Bar Shalmon, to his great joy, beheld the lights of a city surrounded by trees, and as the eagle came near, he made a bold dive to the earth. Headlong he plunged downward. He seemed to be hours in falling. At last he struck a tree. The branches broke beneath the weight and force of his falling body, and he continued to plunge downward. The branches tore his clothes to shreds and bruised his body, but they broke his terrible fall, and when at last he reached the ground he was not much hurt.

 

————————-

From: JEWISH FAIRY TALES AND LEGENDS

ISBN: 978-1-907256-14-1

http://www.abelapublishing.com/cg_jftl.html

 

A percentage of the profits will be donated to the CHRISTCHURCH EARTHQUAKE APPEAL.

 

Jewish Fairy Tales and Legends

Advertisements