Stories from the Thousand and One Nights. The Harvard Classics. 190914.
The Barbers Story of His Sixth Brother
MY sixth brother (Shakalik), O Prince of the Faithful, had his lips cut off. He was in a state of extreme poverty, possessing nothing of the goods of this perishable world; and he went forth one day to seek for something with which to stay his departing spirit, and on his way he beheld a handsome house, with a wide and lofty vestibule, at the door of which were servants, commanding and forbidding; whereupon he inquired of one of the persons standing there, who answered, This house belongeth to a man of the sons of the Barmekis. My brother, therefore, advanced to the doorkeepers, and begged them to give him something; and they said, Enter the door of the house, and thou wilt obtain what thou desirest of its master. So he entered the vestibule, and proceeded through it a while until he arrived at a mansion of the utmost beauty and elegance, having a garden in the midst of it, unsurpassed in beauty by anything that had ever been seen: its floors were paved with marble, and its curtains were hanging around. He knew not in which direction to go; but advanced to the upper extremity; and there he beheld a man of handsome countenance and beard, who, on seeing my brother, rose to him, and welcomed him, inquiring respecting his circumstances. He accordingly informed him that he was in want; and when the master of the house heard his words, he manifested excessive grief, and, taking hold of his own clothes, rent them, and exclaimed, Am I in the city, and thou in it hungry? It is a thing that I cannot endure!Then promising him every kind of happiness, he said, Thou must stay and partake of my salt. But my brother replied, O my master, I have not patience to wait; for I am in a state of extreme hunger.
Upon this, the master of the house called out, Boy, bring the basin and ewer!and he said, O my guest, advance, and wash thy hand. He then performed the same motions as if he were washing his hand; and called to his attendants to bring the table; whereupon they began to come and go as though they were preparing it; after which the master of the house took my brother, and sat down with him at this imaginary table, and proceeded to move his hands and lips as if he were eating; saying to my brother, Eat, and be not ashamed, for thou art hungry, and I know how thou art suffering from the violence of thy hunger. My brother, therefore, made the same motions, as if he also were eating, while his host said to him, Eat, and observe this bread and its whiteness. To this, my brother at first made no reply; but observed in his own mind, Verily this is a man who loveth to jest with others:so he said to him, O my master, in my life I have never seen bread more beautifully white than this, or any of sweeter taste:on which the host rejoined, This was made by a female slave of mine whom I purchased for five hundred pieces of gold. He then called out, Boy, bring to us the sikbaj,1 the like of which is not found among the dishes of Kings!and, addressing my brother, he said, Eat, O my guest; for thou art hungry, vehemently so and in absolute want of food. So my brother began to twist about his mouth, and to chew, as in eating. The master of the house now proceeded to demand different kinds of viands, one after another; and, though nothing was brought, he continued ordering my brother to eat. Next he called out, Boy, place before us the chickens stuffed with pistachio-nuts:and said to his guest, Eat that of which thou hast never tasted the like.O my master, replied my brother, verily this dish hath not its equal in sweetness or flavour:and the host, thereupon, began to put his hand to my brothers mouth as though he were feeding him with morsels; and proceeded to enumerate to him the various different kinds of viands, and to describe their several excellencies; while his hunger so increased that he longed for a cake of barley-bread. The master of the house then said to him, Hast thou tasted anything more delicious than the spices in these dishes?No, O my master, answered my brother.Eat more then, resumed the host; and be not ashamed.I have eaten enough of the meats, replied the guest. So the man of the house called to his attendants to bring the sweets; and they moved their hands about in the air as if they were bringing them; whereupon the host said to my brother, Eat of this dish; for it is excellent; and of these kataif,2 by my life! and take this one before the sirup runs from it.May I never be deprived of thee, O my master! exclaimed my brother, proceeding to inquire of him respecting the abundance of musk in the kataif.This, answered the host, is my usual custom in my house: they always put for me, in each of the kataif, a mithkal3 of musk, and half a mithkal of ambergris.All this time my brother was moving his head and mouth, and rolling about his tongue between his cheeks, as if he were enjoying the sweets. After this, the master of the house called out to his attendants, Bring the dried fruits!and again they moved about their hands in the air as though they were doing what he ordered; when he said to my brother, Eat of these almonds, and of these walnuts, and of these raisins;and so on; enumerating the various kinds of dried fruits; and added again, Eat, and be not ashamed.O my master, replied my brother, I have had enough, and have not power to eat anything more:but the host rejoined, If thou desire, O my guest, to eat more, and to delight thyself with extraordinary dainties, by Allah! by Allah! remain not hungry.
My brother now reflected upon his situation, and upon the manner in which this man was jesting with him, and said within himself, By Allah, I will do to him a deed that shall make him repent before God of these actions! The man of the house next said to his attendants, Bring us the wine:and, as before, they made the same motions with their hands in the air as if they were doing what he commanded; after which he pretended to hand to my brother a cup, saying, Take this cup, for it will delight thee:and his guest replied, O my master, this is of thy bounty:and he acted with his hand as though he were drinking it.Hath it pleased thee? said the host.O my master, answered my brother, I have never seen anything more delicious than this wine.Drink then, rejoined the master of the house, and may it be attended with benefit and health:and he himself pretended to drink, and to hand a second cup to my brother, who, after he had affected to drink it, feigned himself intoxicated, and, taking his host unawares, raised his hand until the whiteness of his arm-pit appeared, and struck him such a slap upon his neck that the chamber rang at the blow; and this he followed by a second blow; whereupon the man exclaimed, What is this, thou vilest of the creation?O my master, answered my brother, I am thy slave, whom thou hast graciously admitted into thine abode, and thou hast fed him with thy provisions, and treated him with old wine, and he hath become intoxicated, and committed an outrage upon thee; but thou art of too exalted dignity to be angry with him for his ignorance.
When the master of the house heard these words of my brother, he uttered a loud laugh, and said to him, Verily for a long time have I made game of men, and jested with all persons accustomed to joking and rudeness, but I have not seen among them any who could endure this trick, nor any who had sagacity to conform to all my actions, except thee: now therefore, I pardon thee; and be thou my companion in reality, and never relinquish me. He then gave orders to bring a number of the dishes above mentioned, and he and my brother ate together to satisfaction; after which they removed to the drinking-chamber, where female slaves like so many moons sang all kinds of melodies, and played on all kinds of musical instruments. There they drank until intoxication overcame them: the master of the house treated my brother as a familiar friend, became greatly attached to him, and clad him with a costly dress; and on the following morning they resumed their feasting and drinking. Thus they continued to live for a period of twenty years: the man then died, and the Sultan seized upon his property, and took possession of it.
My brother, upon this, went forth from the city, a fugitive; and upon his way, a party of Arabs came upon him. They made him a captive; and the man who captured him tortured him with beating, and said to him, By Allah, purchase thyself of me by wealth, or I will kill thee:but my brother, weeping, replied, By Allah, I possess nothing, O Sheykh of the Arabs; nor do I know the means of obtaining any property: I am thy captive; I have fallen into thy hands, and do with me what thou wilt. And immediately the tyrannical Bedawi drew forth from his girdle a broad-bladed knife (such as, if plunged into the neck of a camel, would cut it across from one jugular vein to the other) and, taking it in his right hand, approached my poor brother, and cut off with it his lips; still urging his demand.
Now this Bedawi had a handsome wife, who, when he was absent, used to manifest a strong affection for my brother; though he observed a proper decorum towards her, fearing God (whose name be exalted!), and it happened one day, that she had called him, and seated him with her; but while they were together, lo, her husband came in upon them; and when he beheld my brother, he exclaimed, Wo to thee, thou base wretch! Dost thou desire now to corrupt my wife?Then drawing his knife, he inflicted upon him another cruel wound; after which he mounted him upon a camel, and having cast him upon a mountain, left him there, and went his way. Some travellers, however, passed by him, and when they discovered him, they gave him food and drink, and acquainted me with his case, so I went forth to him, and conveyed him back into the city, and allotted him a sufficient maintenance.
Now I have come unto thee, O Prince of the Faithful, continued the barber, and feared to return to my house without relating to thee these facts; for to neglect doing so had been an error. Thus thou hast seen that, although having six brothers, I am of a more upright character than they.But when the Prince of the Faithful had heard my story, and all that I had related to him respecting my brothers, he laughed, and said, Thou hast spoken truth O Samit (O silent man); thou art a person of few words, and devoid of impertinence; now, however, depart from this city, and take up thine abode in another. So he banished me from Baghdad; and I journeyed through various countries, and traversed many regions, until I heard of his death, and of the succession of another Khalifeh; when returning to my city, I met with this young man, unto whom I did the best of deeds, and who, had it not been for me, had been slain: yet he hath accused me of that which is not in my character; for all that he hath related of me, with respect to impertinence, and loquacity, and dulness, and want of taste, is false, O people,
The tailor then proceeded thus:When we heard the story of the barber, and were convinced of his impertinence and loquacity, and that the young man had been treated unjustly by him, we seized hold upon him, and put him in confinement, and, seating ourselves to keep watch over him, ate and drank; and the feast was finished in the most agreeable manner. We remained sitting together until the call to afternoon-prayers, when I went forth, and returned to my house, but my wife looked angrily at me, and said, Thou hast been all the day enjoying thy pleasure while I have been sitting at home sorrowful; now if thou go not forth with me and amuse me for the remainder of the day, thy refusal will be the cause of my separation from thee. So I took her and went out with her, and we amused ourselves until nightfall, when, returning home, we met this humpback, full of drink, and repeating verses; upon which I invited him to come home with us and he consented. I then went forth to buy some fried fish, and having bought it and returned, we sat down to eat; and my wife took a morsel of bread and a piece of fish, and put them into his mouth, and choked him, so that he died; whereupon I took him up, and contrived to throw him into the house of this physician, and he contrived to throw him into the house of the steward, and the steward contrived to throw him in the way of the broker.This is the story of what happened to me yesterday. Is it not more wonderful than that of the humpback?
When the King had heard this story, he ordered certain of his chamberlains to go with the tailor, and to bring the barber; saying to them, His presence is indispensable, that I may hear his talk, and it may be the cause of the deliverance of you all: then we will bury this humpback decently in the earth, for he hath been dead since yesterday; and we will make him a monument round his grave, since he hath been the occasion of our acquaintance with these wonderful stories.
The chamberlains and the tailor soon came back, after having gone to the place of confinement and brought the barber, whom they placed before the King; and when the King beheld him, he saw him to be an old man, passed his ninetieth year, of dark countenance, and white beard and eyebrows, with small ears, and long nose, and a haughty aspect. The King laughed at the sight of him and said to him, O silent man, I desire that thou relate to me somewhat of thy stories.O King of the age, replied the barber, what is the occasion of the presence of this Christian and this Jew and this Muslim, and this humpback lying dead among you; and what is the reason of this assembly?Wherefore dost thou ask this? said the King. The barber answered, I ask it in order that the King may know me to be no impertinent person, nor one who meddleth with that which doth not concern him, and that I am free from the loquacity of which they accuse me: for I am fortunate in my characteristic appellation, since they have surnamed me Es-Samit; and, as the poet hath said,
Seldom hast thou seen a person honoured with a surname, but thou wilt find, if thou search, that his character is expressed by it.
The King therefore said, Explain to the barber the case of this humpback, and what happened to him yesterday evening, and explain to him also what the Christian hath related, and the Jew and the steward and the tailor. So they repeated to him the stories of all these persons.
The barber, thereupon, shook his head, saying, By Allah, this is a wonderful thing! Uncover this humpback that I may examine him.And they did so. He then seated himself at his head, and, taking it up, placed it upon his lap, and looked at his face, and laughed so violently that he fell backwards, exclaiming. For every death there is a cause; and the death of this humpback is most wonderful: it is worthy of being registered in the records, that posterity may be instructed by this event!The King, astonished at his words, said, O Samit, explain to us the reason of thy saying this.O King, replied the barber, by thy beneficence, life is yet in the humpback! He then drew forth from his bosom a pot containing some ointment, and with this he anointed the neck of the humpback; after which he covered it up until it perspired; when he took forth an iron forceps, and put it down his throat, and extracted the piece of fish with its bone, and all the people saw them. The humpback now sprang upon his feet, and sneezed, and, recovering his consciousness, drew his hands over his face, and exclaimed, There is no Deity but God! Mohammad is Gods Apostle! God bless and save him!and all who were present were astonished at the sight and the King laughed until he became insensible; as did also the other spectators. The King exclaimed, By Allah, this accident is wonderful! I have never witnessed anything more strange!and added, O Muslims! O assembly of soldiers! have ye ever in the course of your lives seen any one die and after that come to life? But had not God blessed him with this barber, the humpback had been to-day numbered among the people of the other world; for the barber hath been the means of restoring him to life.They replied, This is indeed a wonderful thing!
The King then gave orders to record this event; and when they had done so, he placed the record in the royal library; and he bestowed dresses of honour upon the Jew and the Christian and the steward; upon each of them, a costly dress; the tailor he appointed to be his own tailor, granting him regular allowances, and reconciling him and the humpback with each other: the humpback he honoured with a rich and beautiful dress, and with similar allowances, and appointed him his cup-companion; and upon the barber also he conferred the like favours, rewarding him with a costly dress of honour, regular allowances, and a fixed salary, and appointing him state-barber, and his own cup-companion: so they all lived in the utmost happiness and comfort until they were visited by the terminator of delights and the separator of friends.