Stories from the Thousand and One Nights. The Harvard Classics. 190914.
The Barbers Story of His Second Brother
SO I said, Know, O Prince of the Faithful, that my second brother, whose name was El-Heddar, was going one day to transact some business, when an old woman met him, and said to him, O man, stop a little, that I may propose to thee a thing, which, if it please thee, thou shalt do for me. My brother, therefore, stopped; and she said to him, I will guide thee to a thing, and rightly direct thee to it, on the condition that thy words be not many. So he said, Communicate what thou hast to tell me:and she proceeded thus:What sayest thou of a handsome house, with running water, and fruit of wine, and a beautiful face to behold, and a smooth cheek to kiss, and an elegant form to embrace; and to enjoy all these pleasures without interruption? Now, if thou wilt act agreeably with the condition that I have imposed upon thee, thou wilt see prosperity.When my brother had heard her words, he said to her, O my mistress, how is it that thou hast sought me out in preference to all the rest of the creation for this affair; and what is there in me that hath pleased thee? She replied, Did I not say to thee that thou must not be a person of many words? Be silent then, and come with me.
The old woman then went her way, my brother following her, eager to enjoy the pleasures which she had described to him, until they had entered a spacious house, when she went up with him to an upper story, and my brother perceived that he was in a beautiful palace, in which he beheld four damsels, than whom none more lovely had ever been seen, singing with voices that would charm a heart as insensible as stone. One of these damsels drank a cup of wine; and my brother said to her, May it be attended with health and vigour!and advanced to wait upon her; but she prevented his doing so, giving him to drink a cup of wine; and as soon as he had drunk it, she slapped him on his neck. When he found that she treated him thus, he went out from the chamber in anger, and with many words; but the old woman, following him, made a sign to him with her eye that he should return: so he returned, and seated himself, without speaking; and upon this, the damsel slapped him again upon the back of his neck until he became senseless; after which, recovering, he withdrew again. The old woman, however, overtook him, and said to him, Wait a little, and thou shalt attain thy wish.How many times, said he, shall I wait a little before I attain it? The old woman answered, When she hath become exhilarated with wine thou shalt obtain her favour. He therefore returned to his place, and resumed his seat. All the four damsels then arose, and the old woman directed them to divest my brother of his outer clothes, and to sprinkle some rose-water upon his face; and when they had done so, the most beautiful one among them said to him, May Allah exalt thee to honour! Thou hast entered my abode, and if thou have patience to submit to my requisitions, thou wilt attain thy wish.O my mistress, he replied, I am thy slave, and under thy authority.Know then, said she, that I am devotedly fond of frolic, and he who complieth with my demands will obtain my favour. Then she ordered the other damsels to sing; and they sang so that their hearers were in an ecstasy; after which the chief lady said to one of the other damsels, Take thy master, and do what is required, and bring him back to me immediately.
Accordingly, she took him away, ignorant of that which she was about to do; and the old woman came to him, and said, Be patient; for there remaineth but little to do. He then turned towards the damsel, and the old woman said to him, Be patient: thou hast almost succeeded, and there remaineth but one thing, which is, to shave thy beard.How, said he, shall I do that which will disgrace me among the people? The old woman answered, She desireth this only to make thee like a beardless youth, that there may be nothing on thy face to prick her; for her heart is affected with a violent love for thee. Be patient, therefore, and thou shalt attain thy desire.So my brother patiently submitted to the damsels directions: his beard was shaven, and he was shorn also of his eyebrows and mustaches, and his face was painted red, before the damsel took him back to the chief lady, who, when she saw him, was at first frightened at him, and then laughed until she fell backwards, and exclaimed, O my master, thou hast gained me by these proofs of thine amiable manners! She then conjured him by her life to arise and dance; and he did so; and there was not a single cushion in the chamber that she did not throw at him. In like manner also the other damsels threw at him various things, such as oranges, and limes, and citrons, until he fell down senseless from the pelting, while they slapped him incessantly upon the back of his neck, and cast things in his face. But at length the old woman said to him, Now thou hast attained thy wish. Know that there remaineth to thee no more beating, nor doth there remain for thee to do more than one thing, namely, this: it is her custom, when she is under the influence of wine, to suffer no one to come near her until she hath taken off her outer clothes: thou, being prepared in the like manner, must run after her, and she will run before thee as though she were flying from thee; but cease not to follow her from place to place until thou overtake her. He arose, therefore, and did so: the lady ran before, and as he followed her, she passed from chamber to chamber, and he still ran after her. At last he heard her utter a slight sound as she ran before him, and continuing his pursuit, he suddenly found himself in the midst of the street.
This street was in the market of the leather-sellers, who were then crying skins for sale; and when the people there collected saw him in this condition, almost naked, with shaven beard and eyebrows and mustaches, and with his face painted red, they shouted at him, and raised a loud laugh, and some of them beat him with the skins until he became insensible. They then placed him upon an ass, and conducted him to the Wali, who exclaimed, What is this?They answered, This descended upon us from the house of the Wezir, in this condition. And the Wali inflicted upon him a hundred lashes, and banished him from the city: but I went out after him, and brought him back privately into the city, and allotted him a maintenance. Had it not been for my generous disposition, I had not borne with such a person.