The Barber's Tale of his Sixth Brother
|The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night
Volume I , translated by Richard Francis Burton
The Barber's Tale of his Sixth Brother
|This is a fourth level tale included in The Barber's Tale of Himself
The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night (Arabic: كتاب ألف ليلة وليلة - kitāb 'alf layla wa-layla; Persian: هزار و یک شب - Hezār-o yek šab) is a collection of stories collected over many centuries by various authors, translators and scholars.
My sixth brother, O Commander of the Faithful, Shakashik, or Many-clamours, the shorn of both lips, was once rich and became poor; so one day he went out to beg somewhat to keep life in him. As he was on the road he suddenly caught sight of a large and handsome mansion, with a detached building wide and lofty at the entrance, where sat sundry eunuchs bidding and forbidding. My brother enquired of one of those idling there and he replied "The
- 1^ In popular literature "Schacabac.", And from this tale comes our saying "A Barmecide's Feast," i.e., an illusion.
- 2^ The Castrato at the door is still (I have said,) the fashion of Cairo and he acts "Suisse" with a witness.
palace belongs to a scion of the Barmaki house;" so he stepped up to the door-keepers and asked an alms of them. "Enter," said they, "by the great gate and thou shalt get what thou seekest from the Wazir our master." Accordingly he went in and, passing through the outer entrance, walked on a while and presently came to a mansion of the utmost beauty and elegance, paved with marble, hung with curtains and having in the midst of it a flower garden whose like he had never seen. My brother stood awhile as one bewildered not knowing whither to turn his steps; then, seeing the farther end of the sitting-chamber tenanted, he walked up to it and there found a man of handsome presence and comely beard. When this personage saw my brother he stood up to him and welcomed him and asked him of his case; whereto he replied that he was in want and needed charity. Hearing these words the grandee showed great concern and, putting his hand to his fine robe, rent it exclaiming, "What! am I in a City, and thou here an-hungered? I have not patience to bear such disgrace!" Then he promised him all manner of good cheer and said, "There is no help but that thou stay with me and eat of my salt." "O my lord," answered my brother, "I can wait no longer; for I am indeed dying of hunger." So he cried, "Ho boy! bring basin and ewer;" and, turning to my brother, said, "O my guest come forward and wash thy hands." My brother rose to do so but he saw neither ewer nor basin; yet his host kept washing his hands with invisible soap in imperceptible water and cried, "Bring the table!" But my brother again saw nothing. Then said the host, "Honour me by eating of this meat and be not ashamed." And he kept moving his hand to and fro as if he ate and saying to my brother, "I wonder to see thee eating thus sparely: do not stint thyself for I am sure thou art famished." So my brother began to make as
- 3^ As usual in the East, the mansion was a hollow square surrounding what in Spain is called Patio: the outer entrance was far from the inner, showing the extent of the grounds.
- 4^ "Nahnu málihín" = we are on terms of salt, said and say the Arabs. But the traveller must not trust in these days to the once sacred tie; there are tribes which will give bread with one hand and stab with the other. The Eastern use of salt is a curious contrast with that of Westerns, who made it an invidious and inhospitable distinction, e.g., to sit above the salt-cellar and below the salt. Amongst the ancients, however, "he took bread and salt" means he swore, the food being eaten when an oath was taken. Hence the "Bride cake" of salt, water and flour.
though he were eating whilst his host kept saying to him, "Fall to, and note especially the excellence of this bread and its whiteness!" But still my brother saw nothing. Then said he to himself, "This man is fond of poking fun at people;" and replied, "O my lord, in all my days I never knew aught more winsome than its whiteness or sweeter than its savour." The Barmecide said, "This bread was baked by a handmaid of mine whom I bought for five hundred dinars." Then he called out, "Ho boy, bring in the meat pudding for our first dish, and let there be plenty of fat in it;" and, turning to my brother said, "O my guest, Allah upon thee, hast ever seen anything better than this meat-pudding? Now by my life, eat and be not abashed." Presently he cried out again, "Ho boy, serve up the marinated stew with the fatted sand-grouse in it;" and he said to my brother, "Up and eat, O my guest, for truly thou art hungry and needest food." So my brother began wagging his jaws and made as if champing and chewing, whilst the host continued calling for one dish after another and yet produced nothing save orders to eat. Presently he cried out, "Ho boy, bring us the chickens stuffed with pistachio nuts;" and said to my brother, "By thy life, O my guest, I have fattened these chickens upon pistachios; eat, for thou hast never eaten their like." "O my lord," replied my brother, "they are indeed first-rate." Then the host began motioning with his hand as though he were giving my brother a mouthful; and ceased not to enumerate and expatiate upon the various dishes to the hungry man whose hunger waxt still more violent, so that his soul lusted after a bit of bread, even a barley-scone. Quoth the Barmecide, "Didst thou ever taste anything more delicious than the seasoning of these dishes?"; and quoth my brother, "Never, O my lord!" "Eat heartily and be not ashamed," said the host, and the guest,
- 5^ Arab. "Harísah," the meat-pudding before explained.
- 6^ Arab. "Sikbáj," before explained; it is held to be a lordly dish, invented by Khusraw Parwiz. "Fatted duck" says the Bresl. Edit. ii., 308, with more reason.
- 7^ I was reproved in Southern Abyssinia for eating without this champing, "Thou feedest like a beggar who muncheth silently in his corner;" and presently found that it was a sign of good breeding to eat as noisily as possible.
- 8^ Barley in Arabia is, like our oats, food for horses: it fattens at the same time that it cools them. Had this been known to our cavalry when we first occupied Egypt in 1883-4 our losses in horse-flesh would have been far less; but official ignorance persisted in feeding the cattle upon heating oats and the riders upon beef, which is indigestible, instead of mutton, which is wholesome.
"I have eaten my fill of meat;" So the entertainer cried, "Take away and bring in the sweets;" and turning to my brother said, "Eat of this almond conserve for it is prime and of these honey fritters; take this one, by my life, the syrup runs out of it." "May I never be bereaved of thee, O my lord," replied the hungry one and began to ask him about the abundance of musk in the fritters. "Such is my custom," he answered: "they put me a dinar-weight of musk in every honey-fritter and half that quantity of ambergris." All this time my brother kept wagging head and jaws till the master cried, "Enough of this. Bring us the dessert!" Then said he to him,' "Eat of these almonds and walnuts and raisins; and of this and that (naming divers kinds of dried fruits), and be not abashed." But my brother replied, "O my lord, indeed I am full: I can eat no more." "O my guest," repeated the host, "if thou have a mind to these good things eat: Allah! Allah! do not remain hungry;" but my brother rejoined, "O my lord, he who hath eaten of all these dishes how can he be hungry?" Then he considered and said to himself, "I will do that shall make him repent of these pranks." Presently the entertainer called out "Bring me the wine;" and, moving his hands in the air, as though they had set it before them, he gave my brother a cup and said, "Take this cup and, if it please thee, let me know." "O my lord," he replied, "it is notable good as to nose but I am wont to drink wine some twenty years old." "Knock then at this door," quoth the host "for thou canst not drink of aught better." "By thy kindness," said my brother, motioning with his hand as though he were drinking. "Health and joy to thee," exclaimed the house-master and feigned to fill a cup and drink it off; then he handed another to my brother who quaffed it and made as if he were drunken. Presently he took the host unawares; and, raising his arm till the white of his armpit appeared, dealt him such a cuff on the nape of his neck that the palace echoed to it. Then he came down upon him with a second cuff and the entertainer cried aloud, "What is this, O thou scum of the earth?" "O my lord," replied my brother, "thou hast shown much kindness to thy slave, and admitted him into thine abode and given him to eat of thy victual; then thou madest him drink of thine old wine till he
- 9^ i.e. "I conjure thee by God."
- 10^ i.e. "This is the very thing for thee."
became drunken and boisterous; but thou art too noble not to bear with his ignorance and pardon his offence." When the Barmaki heard my brother's words he laughed his loudest and said, "Long have I been wont to make mock of men and play the madcap among my intimates, but never yet have I come across a single one who had the patience and the wit to enter into all my humours save thyself: so I forgive thee, and thou shalt be my boon-companion in very sooth and never leave me." Then he ordered the servants to lay the table in earnest and they set on all the dishes of which he had spoken in sport; and he and my brother ate till they were satisfied; after which they removed to the drinking-chamber, where they found damsels like moons who sang all manner songs and played on all manner instruments. There they remained drinking till their wine got the better of them and the host treated my brother like a familiar friend, so that he became as it were his brother, and bestowed on him a robe of honour and loved him with exceeding love. Next morning the two fell again to feasting and carousing, and ceased not to lead this life for a term of twenty years; at the end of which the Barmecide died and the Sultan took possession of all his wealth and squeezed my brother of his savings, till he was left a pauper without a penny to handle. So he quitted the city and fled forth following his face; but, when he was half way between two towns, the wild Arabs fell on him and bound him and carried him to their camp, where his captor proceeded to torture him, saying, "Buy thy life of me with thy money, else I will slay thee!" My brother began to weep and replied, "By Allah, I have nothing, neither gold nor silver; but I am thy prisoner; so do with me what thou wilt." Then the Badawi drew a knife, broad-bladed and so sharp-grided that if plunged into a camel's throat it would sever it clean across from one jugular to the other, and cut off my brother's lips and waxed more instant in requiring money. Now this Badawi had a fair wife who in her husband's absence used to make advances to my brother and offer him her favours, but he held off from her. One day she began to tempt him as usual and he
- 11^ i.e., at random.
- 12^ This is the way of slaughtering the camel, whose throat is never cut on account of the thickness of the muscles. "Égorger un chameau" is a mistake often made in French books.
played with her and made her sit on his lap, when behold, in came the Badawi who, seeing this, cried out, "Woe to thee, O accursed villain, wouldest thou debauch my wife for me?" Then he took out a knife and cut off my brother's yard, after which he bound him on the back of a camel and, carrying him to a mountain, left him there. He was at last found by some who recognised him and gave him meat and drink and acquainted me with his condition; whereupon I went forth to him and brought him back to Baghdad where I made him an allowance sufficient to live on. This, then, O Commander of the Faithful, is the history of my six brothers, and I feared to go away without relating it all to thee and leave thee in the error of judging me to be like them. And now thou knowest that I have six brothers upon my hands and, being more upright than they, I support the whole family. When the Caliph heard my story and all I told him concerning my brothers, he laughed and said, "Thou sayest sooth, O Silent Man! thou art indeed spare of speech nor is there aught of forwardness in thee; but now go forth out of this city and settle in some other." And he banished me under edict. I left Baghdad and travelled in foreign parts till I heard of his death and the accession of another to the Caliphate. Then I returned to Baghdad where I found all my brothers dead and chanced upon this young man, to whom I rendered the kindliest service, for without me he had surely been killed. Indeed he slanders me and accuses me of a fault which is not in my nature; and what he reports concerning impudence and meddling and forwardness is idle and false; for verily on his account I left Baghdad and travelled about full many a country till I came to this city and met him here in your company. And was not this, O worthy assemblage, of the generosity of my nature?