The Book of the Thousand Nights and One Night/The Sandal-Wood Merchant and the Sharpers

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There was once a rich merchant, who was a great traveller. One day, being minded to journey to a certain city, he asked those who came thence what kind of goods brought most profit there, “Sandal-wood,” answered they; “for it sells at a high price.” So he laid out all his money in sandal-wood and set out for the city in question. When he arrived there, it was the close of the day, and he met an old woman driving her sheep. Quoth she to him, “Who art thou, O man?” and he answered, saying, “I am a stranger, a merchant.” “Beware of the townsfolk,” said she, “for they are cheats and robbers, who impose on strangers that they may get the better of them and devour their substance. Indeed, I give thee good counsel.”

Then she left him and on the morrow there met him a man, who saluted him and said to him, “O my lord, whence comest thou?” “From such a place,” answered the merchant. “And what merchandise hast thou brought with thee?” asked the other. “Sandal-wood,” replied he; “for I hear it is high of price with you.” Quoth the townsman, “He erred who told thee that; for we burn nothing but sandal-wood under our cooking-pots, and its value with us is but that of firewood.” When the merchant heard this, he sighed and repented and knew not whether to believe him or not. Then he alighted at one of the khans of the city and when it was night, he saw a merchant make a fire of sandal-wood under his cooking-pot. Now this was the man who had spoken with him and this was a trick of his. When the townsman saw the merchant [looking at him,] he said to him, “Wilt thou sell me thy sandal-wood for a measure of whatever thy soul shall desire?” “I sell it to thee,” answered the merchant, purposing to take gold, and the buyer transported all the wood to his own house and stored it up there.

Next morning, the merchant, who was a blue-eyed man, went out to walk in the city; but, as he went along, one of the townsfolk, who was also blue-eyed and had but one eye, caught hold of him, saying, “Thou art he who stole my eye and I will never let thee go [till thou restore it to me].” The merchant denied this, saying, “I never stole [thine eye]: the thing is impossible.” Whereupon the folk collected round them and besought the one-eyed man to grant him till the morrow, that he might give him the price of his eye. So the merchant procured one to be surety for him, and they let him go. Now his shoe had been rent in the struggle with the one-eyed man; so he stopped at a cobbler’s stall and bade him mend it, and he should have of him what would content him. Then he went on, till he came to some people sitting playing at forfeits and sat down with them, to divert his grief and anxiety. They invited him to play with them and he did so; but they practised on him and overcoming him, offered him his choice, either to drink up the sea or disburse all he had. “Have patience with me till to-morrow,” said he, and they granted him the delay he sought; whereupon he went away, sore concerned for what had betided him and knowing not how he should do, and sat down in a place [apart], heavy at heart and full of melancholy thought.

Presently, the old woman passed by and seeing him thus, said to him, “Meseems the townsfolk have gotten the better of thee, for I see thee troubled and heavy of heart. Tell me what ails thee.” So he told her all that had passed and she said. “As for him who cheated thee in the matter of the sandal-wood, thou must know that with us it is worth ten dinars a pound. But I will give thee a counsel, whereby I trust thou shalt deliver thyself; and it is this. By such and such a gate lives a blind sheikh, a cripple, who is knowing, wise and experienced, and all resort to him and ask him what they will, and he counsels them what will be for their advantage; for he is versed in craft and magic and trickery. Now he is a sharper and the sharpers resort to him by night [and recount to him the tricks they have played during the day], and he [passes judgment upon them and] tells them which got the better and which was bettered. So go thou to his lodging and hide thyself from thine adversaries, so thou mayst hear what they say, unseen of them; and haply thou shalt learn from the sheikh some subterfuge that may Night dciv.avail to deliver thee from them.”

So he went to the place in question and hid himself near the blind man. Before long, up came the latter’s company who were wont to take him as their judge, and amongst them the merchant’s four adversaries. They saluted the sheikh and each other and sat down round him, whereupon he set food before them and they ate. Then each began to tell what had befallen him that day, and amongst the rest came forward he of the sandal-wood and told how he had bought of one sandal-wood, below its price, and had agreed to pay for it a measure of whatever the seller should desire. Quoth the old man, “Thine opponent hath the better of thee.” “How can that be,” asked the other, “seeing that, if he say, ‘I will take the measure full of gold or silver,’ I will give it him and still be the gainer?” And the sheikh answered, “And if he say, ‘I will take the measure full of fleas, half male and half female,’ what wilt thou do?” So the sharper knew that he was beaten.

Then came forward the one-eyed man and said, “O Sheikh, I met a blue-eyed man to-day, a stranger to the town; so I picked a quarrel with him and caught hold of him, saying, ‘It was thou robbedst me of my eye;’ nor did I let him go, till some became surety for him that he should return to me to-morrow and satisfy me for my eye.” Quoth the sheikh, “If he will, he may have the better of thee.” “How so?” asked the sharper; and the sheikh said, “He may say to thee, ‘Pluck out thine eye, and I will pluck out one of mine; then will we weigh them both, and if thine eye be of the same weight as mine, thou speakest truth in what thou avouchest.’ So wilt thou owe him the price of his eye and be stone blind, whilst he will still see with his other eye.” So the sharper knew that the merchant might baffle him with this subterfuge.

Then came the cobbler and said, “O Sheikh, a man brought me his shoe to-day, saying, ‘Mend this shoe and thou shalt have of me what will content thee.’ Now nothing will content me but all he hath.” Quoth the sheikh, “If he will, he may take his shoe from thee and give thee nothing.” “How so?” asked the cobbler, and the sheikh, “He has but to say to thee, ‘The sultan’s enemies are put to the rout; his foes are become weak and his children and helpers are multiplied. Art thou content or no?’” “If thou say, ‘I am content,’ he will take his shoe and go away; and if thou say, ‘I am not content,’ he will take his shoe and beat thee therewith over the face and neck.” So the cobbler owned himself beaten.

Then came forward the gamester and said, “O Sheikh, I played at forfeits with a man to-day and beat him and adjudged him to drink up the sea or give up to me all his wealth.” “If he will,” replied the sheikh, “he may baffle thee.” “How so?” asked the sharper, and the sheikh, “He has but to say, ‘Take the mouth of the sea in thine hand and give it me and I will drink it.’ But thou wilt not be able to do this; so he will baffle thee with this subterfuge.” When the merchant heard this, he knew how it behoved him to deal with his adversaries. Then the sharpers went their way and the merchant returned to his lodging.

On the morrow, the gamester came to him and summoned him to redeem his forfeit; so he said to him, “Give me the mouth of the sea and I will drink it up.” Whereupon he confessed himself beaten and redeemed his forfeit by paying a hundred dinars. Then came the cobbler and sought of him what should content him. Quoth the merchant, “Our lord the Sultan hath overcome his foes and put his enemies to nought and his children are multiplied. Art thou content or no?” “I am content,” replied the cobbler aud giving up the shoe without payment, went away. Next came the one-eyed man and demanded the price of his eye. “Pluck out thine eye,” said the merchant, “and I will pluck out one of mine. Then will we weigh them, and if they are equal in weight, I will acknowledge the truth of thine avouchment and pay thee the price of thine eye; but, if they differ, thou liest and I will sue thee for the price of my eye.” Quoth the one-eyed man, “Grant me time;” but the merchant answered, saying, “I am a stranger and grant time to none, nor will I part from thee, [till thou satisfy me].” So the sharper ransomed his eye by paying him a hundred dinars and went away. Last of all came the buyer of the sandal-wood and said, “Take the price of thy ware.” “What wilt thou give me?” asked the merchant, and the other, “We agreed for a measure of whatever thou shouldst desire; so, if thou wilt, take it full of gold and silver.” “Not I,” answered the merchant. “Nothing will serve me but I must have it full of fleas, half male and half female.” “This is a thing none may avail unto,” said the sharper, and confessing himself beaten, returned him his sandal-wood and redeemed himself from him with a hundred dinars, to be off his bargain. Then the merchant sold the sandal-wood at his own price Night dcv.and returned to his own country.

Return to The Malice of Women.

Copyright.svg PD-icon.svg This work is a translation and has a separate copyright status to the applicable copyright protections of the original content.

This work was published before January 1, 1925, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.


This work was published before January 1, 1925, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.