Stories from the Thousand and One Nights. The Harvard Classics. 190914.
The Barbers Story of His First Brother
KNOW, O Prince of the Faithful, that the first (who was named El-Bakbuk) was the lame one. He practised the art of a tailor in Baghdad, and used to sew in a shop which he hired of a man possessing great wealth, who lived over the shop, and who had, in the lower part of his house, a mill. And as my lame brother was sitting in his shop one day, sewing, he raised his head, and saw a woman like the rising full moon, at a projecting window of the house, looking at the people passing by; and as soon as he beheld her, his heart was entangled by her love. He passed that day gazing at her, and neglecting his occupation, until the evening; and on the following morning he opened his shop, and sat down to sew; but every time that he sewed a stitch, he looked towards the window; and in this state he continued, sewing nothing sufficient to earn a piece of silver.
On the third day he seated himself again in his place, looking towards the woman; and she saw him, and, perceiving that he had become enslaved by her love, laughed in his face, and he, in like manner, laughed in her face. She then disappeared from before him, and sent to him her slave-girl, with a wrapper containing a piece of red flowered silk; and the girl, coming to him, said to him, My mistress saluteth thee, and desireth thee to cut out for her, with the hand of skill, a shirt of this piece, and to sew it beautifully. So he answered, I hear and obey:and he cut out for her the shirt, and finished the sewing of it on that day; and on the following day the slave-girl came to him again, and said to him, My mistress saluteth thee, and saith to thee, How didst thou pass last night?for she tasted not sleep, from her passion for thee.She then placed before him a piece of yellow satin, and said to him, My mistress desireth thee to cut out for her, of this piece, two pairs of trousers, and to make them this day. He replied, I hear and obey. Salute her with abundant salutations, and say to her, Thy slave is submissive to thine order, and command him to do whatsoever thou wilt.He then busied himself with the cutting out, and used all diligence in sewing the two pairs of trousers; and presently the woman looked out at him from the window, and saluted him by a sign, now casting down her eyes, and now smiling in his face, so that he imagined he should soon obtain possession of her. After this, she disappeared from before him, and the slave-girl came to him; so he delivered to her the two pairs of trousers, and she took them and departed: and when the night came, he threw himself upon his bed, and remained turning himself over in restlessness until the morning.
On the following day, the master of the house came to my brother, bringing some linen, and said to him, Cut out and make this into shirts for me. He replied, I hear and obey:and ceased not from his work until he had cut out twenty shirts by the time of nightfall, without having tasted food. The man then said to him, How much is thy hire for this?but my brother answered not; and the damsel made a sign to him that he should receive nothing, though he was absolutely in want of a single copper coin. For three days he continued scarcely eating or drinking anything, in his diligence to accomplish his work, and when he had finished it, he went to deliver the shirts.
Now the young woman had acquainted her husband with the state of my brothers mind, but my brother knew not this; and she planned with her husband to employ him in sewing without remuneration, and moreover to amuse themselves by laughing at him: so, when he had finished all the work that they gave him, they contrived a plot against him, and married him to their slave-girl; and on the night when he desired to introduce himself to her, they said to him, Pass this night in the mill, and to-morrow thou shalt enjoy happiness. My brother, therefore, thinking that their intention was good, passed the night in the mill alone. Meanwhile, the husband of the young woman went to the miller, and instigated him by signs to make my brother turn the mill. The miller, accordingly, went in to him at midnight, and began to exclaim, Verily this bull is lazy, while there is a great quantity of wheat, and the owners of the flour are demanding it: I will therefore yoke him in the mill, that he may finish the grinding of the flour:and so saying, he yoked my brother, and thus he kept him until near morning, when the owner of the house came, and saw him yoked in the mill, and the miller flogging him with the whip; and he left him, and retired. After this, the slave-girl to whom he had been contracted in marriage came to him early in the morning, and, having unbound him from the mill, said to him, Both I and my mistress have been distressed by this which hath befallen thee, and we have participated in the burden of thy sorrow. But he had no tongue wherewith to answer her, by reason of the severity of the flogging. He then returned to his house; and lo, the sheykh who had performed the marriage-contract came and saluted him, saying. May God prolong thy life! May thy marriage be blessed!May God not preserve the liar! returned my brother: thou thousandfold villain! By Allah, I went only to turn the mill in the place of the bull until the morning.Tell me thy story, said the sheykh: and my brother told him what had happened to him: upon which the sheykh said, Thy star agreeth not with hers: but if thou desire that I should change for thee the mode of the contract, I will change it for another better than it, that thy star may agree with hers.See then, replied my brother, if thou hast any other contrivance to employ.
My brother then left him, and repaired again to his shop, hoping that somebody might give him some work, with the profit of which he might obtain his food; and lo, the slave-girl came to him. She had conspired with her mistress to play him this trick, and said to him, Verily, my mistress is longing for thee, and she hath gone up to look at thy face from the window. And my brother had scarcely heard these words when she looked out at him from the window, and, weeping, said, Wherefore hast thou cut short the intercourse between us and thee? But he returned her no answer: so she swore to him that all that had happened to him in the mill was not with her consent: and when my brother beheld her beauty and loveliness, the troubles that had befallen him became effaced from his memory, and he accepted her excuse, and rejoiced at the sight of her. He saluted her, therefore, and conversed with her, and then sat a while at his work; after which the slave-girl came to him, and said, My mistress saluteth thee, and informeth thee that her husband hath determined to pass this next night in the house of one of his intimate friends; wherefore, when he hath gone thither, do thou come to her.Now the husband of the young woman had said to her, How shall we contrive when he cometh to thee that I may take him and drag him before the Wali? She replied, Let me then play him a trick, and involve him in a disgrace for which he shall be paraded throughout this city as an example to others;and my brother knew nothing of the craftiness of women. Accordingly, at the approach of evening, the slave-girl came to him, and, taking him by the hand, returned with him to her mistress, who said to him, Verily, O my master, I have been longing for thee.Hasten then, said he, to give me a kiss, first of all. And his words were not finished when the young womans husband came in from his neighbours house, and, seizing my brother, exclaimed to him, By Allah, I will not loose thee but in the presence of the chief magistrate of the police. My brother humbled himself before him; but, without listening to him, he took him to the house of the Wali, who flogged him with whips, and mounted him upon a camel, and conveyed him through the streets of the city, the people crying out, This is the recompense of him who breaketh into the harims of others!and he fell from the camel, and his leg broke: so he became lame. The Wali then banished him from the city; and he went forth, not knowing whither to turn his steps: but I, though enraged, overtook him, and brought him back; and I have taken upon myself to provide him with meat and drink unto the present day.
The Khalifeh laughed at my story, and exclaimed, Thou hast spoken well:but I replied, I will not accept this honour until thou hast listened to me while I relate to thee what happened to the rest of my brothers; and think me not a man of many words.Tell me, said the Khalifeh, what happened to all thy brothers, and grace my ears with these nice particulars: I beg thee to employ exuberance of diction in thy relation of these pleasant tales.