"'It is well, get from him another hundred, and your case may be managed.'
"But, sir," said Suleiman to the Caliph, "I will take no further coin from you, for the rapacity of the Governor is like a bottomless pit that would swallow all that you have."
What Suleiman told him agreed perfectly with the report of the officer whom Haroun had sent to Ali that morning.
"Suleiman," said the Caliph, "I believe you are right; moreover, I think I can forward your suit better than by sending any more gold pieces to Ali. To-morrow morning one of my slaves will bring you a bundle of clothes: dress yourself in them, and in the evening come boldly to the house of the Governor, and bring with you the ring I now place upon your finger. When you arrive give the ring to one of the Governor's officers with this message: The bearer of this ring demands an audience of the owner of it. Meanwhile here are ten pieces of gold to relieve you of the necessity of going out fishing till I see you again."
Suleiman thanked Haroun warmly for his generosity and kindness, and the Caliph and Giafer returned to the palace.
The following morning the Caliph sent an officer to the Governor of Bagdad with a message informing him that Haroun would sup with him that evening. Delighted with such a mark of royal favour and condescension, Ali ibn Moulk prepared a most sumptuous entertainment; he had a great tent erected in the garden of his palace, and singing women and dancing girls in readiness to amuse his august guest.
In the evening Haroun Alraschid arrived in state at the palace of the Governor, and found the gardens illuminated with thousands of small lights, and every conceivable preparation made to receive him.
Seated on a splendid divan in the great tent in the garden, the Caliph listened sometimes to the songs of a number of the best singers of Bagdad, who were stationed a short distance away and out of sight, and conversing sometimes with the Grand Vizier, the Governor of Bagdad, and other great officials who were with him in the tent. After he had been seated thus for some time, an officer of the Governor's household came into the tent and said a few words to him in an undertone.
"What is that?" demanded the Caliph. "Officer," said he, "do you not know that where I am present no message can be brought except to me?"
The officer bowed, and said at once, "A man in the uniform of an officer of the guard gave me this ring and bade me bring it in and say, 'The bearer of the ring is here, and demands an audience of the owner of it.'"
The Caliph asked for the ring; then putting it on his finger, he said, "The ring is mine, admit the man who brought it."
Amidst the silence of all, the officer returned immediately with Suleiman leaning on his arm, the tall, dignified form of the old soldier showing to great advantage in the splendid uniform in which he was now attired.
"Suleiman," said the Caliph, as he entered, "you are welcome."
"Ah," said Suleiman, "my friend, you are here; and you will speak to my lord the Governor on my behalf."
All present were so much astonished to hear this old blind officer addressing the Caliph in that frank, bold way as "my friend," that they knew not what to say.
The Caliph looked at the Governor of Bagdad, who was speechless with terror, and said fiercely, "You hear this man!"
The officer on whose arm Suleiman was leaning whispered to him hurriedly, "It is the Caliph; it is Haroun himself."
"Ah," said Suleiman, aloud, "then my cause is safe; I need say no more."
"Ali ibn Moulk," continued the Caliph, in a voice thick with passion, "Governor of Bagdad, into your hands has been committed the task of doing justice in this city. What then shall be done to him who denies justice and who takes bribes; who takes the last coin from the poor and the oppressed, and yet gives no heed to their petitions for redress? Allah pay me for it if I permit such iniquity." Then turning to Mesrur, who stood behind him, he said, "Take him out."
Mesrur with his assistants immediately seized Ali, and, taking him out into the garden, severed his head from his shoulders with one blow of his sword.
When the Governor of Bagdad had been taken out of the tent, the Caliph said, "Bring in now Moussa the Cadi."
Moussa, who had during the evening been arrested by order of the Caliph, and had been brought to the palace of the Governor of Bagdad, was now brought in under guard.
Haroun ordered the Cadi at once to make over formally the whole of his property to his two brothers, Suleiman and Mohammed, the Caliph adding with his usual grim humour, "As you are a man of the law, it is fit that you do justice in a legal way." And then added, addressing Mesrur, who had just entered, "And now impale him."
Mesrur immediately advanced towards the Cadi to take him out and execute the doom pronounced by the Caliph.
But Suleiman said, "He is my brother, the son of my father; let me pray you at least to spare his life."
Then the Caliph said, "For thy sake, Suleiman, I spare him; let him be sent to the army in the field and enrolled as a common soldier. Thus, at any rate," he added, "he may earn an honest living."
"Emir," said the Caliph to Suleiman, in conclusion, "for such is your rank henceforth, your brother Mohammed has been conveyed by my order in a litter to your house, and there you will find him duly provided for. And I desire that you yourself attend me at the palace three times a week at least, that I may have the benefit of your conversation and counsel."
The blind fisherman, now a rich Emir and a prime favourite with the Caliph, saluted his sovereign and was silent.
The Caliph and Abdurrahman.
When seated in his palace at Bagdad, Haroun Alraschid could look across the river Tigris, down to which his garden sloped, and could watch the bustle, the arrival and departure of soldiers, courtiers, and citizens, which was incessantly taking place in the courtyard of the Grand Vizier's palace, which was situated opposite to him on the other side of the river.
Sometimes, when he was tired of the occupations and amusements offered by his own palace and gardens, he would, instead of sending for Giafer to come to him, mount his horse and proceed to pay an informal visit to the Grand Vizier.
On one of these occasions, when Haroun was seated in the audience-chamber of the Grand Vizier's palace, he said, "I have more than once, when on my way to visit you here, remarked a certain small house and garden situated near the river, and the walls being low I have while riding past observed an old man sitting in the garden, whose appearance has attracted my attention. He is a fine tall man, with a long white beard and a handsome benevolent cast of countenance, but what has chiefly struck me is the look of calm and serene cheerfulness and contentment which he always wears, although he is old, and, judging by the place he lives in, by no means rich. He interests me, I feel curious to hear the story of his life, which I do not doubt would contain many strange and noteworthy incidents, therefore bring him this afternoon with you to my palace that I may question him and satisfy my curiosity concerning him."
Giafer of course promised to obey the royal command, and accordingly on the same afternoon when proceeding to the Caliph's palace he called at the little house which had been indicated to him and asked to see the owner. The slave who opened the door was greatly surprised and not a little frightened when he recognized the officer on horseback with his numerous attendants, who inquired for his master, as no less a personage than the Grand Vizier himself.
Giafer dismounted, and being shown at once into the little garden, discovered sitting there placidly enough the venerable form of the old man of whom the Caliph had spoken.
"Sir," said Giafer, "our master, the Caliph, has ordered me to bring you with me to-day to the palace, as he wishes to speak with you. I have therefore brought with me a led horse, so that if it should not be too fatiguing for you to mount you may ride with me to the palace."
"My lord," said the old man, who was quite unembarrassed, and who was strong, and stooped but little in spite of his years, "I accept, with many thanks, your kind offer of a horse, and will accompany you at once to wait upon the Prince of the Faithful, since he so wills it."
The mounting was somewhat difficult, but when once seated on horseback, the old man rode so well and with such an aspect of ease and natural dignity, that he pleased his escort and astonished his neighbours, who watched his departure, much marvelling for what purpose he had been sent for to the palace.
On his arrival he was received very graciously by the Caliph, who told him that he had frequently observed him sitting in his little garden, and desired that he would relate the particulars of his life and fortune.
"Sire," said the old man, "I have but little to tell your Majesty, and scarcely anything that deserves your notice; but at your command I will with pleasure narrate the few noteworthy incidents of my life, and that as briefly and faithfully as possible."
"My name," said the old man, "is Abdurrahman, and fourscore and three years ago I was born in this city, not very far from the spot where I now dwell. My father, who was a merchant, and fairly prosperous, furnished me, when I was twenty years of age, with a stock of goods with which to commence to trade, and, as young merchants are wont to do, I departed to try my fortune in foreign countries.
"The first country I visited was Persia, and arriving at Shiraz, the capital, I remained for many months engaged in selling, at the best profit I could obtain for them, the goods I had brought with me from Bagdad.
"At length, having disposed of almost all my stock, I began to consider what kind of merchandize it would be most advisable that I should buy to take back with me, and trade with on my return.
"But as I sat one day in the shop of a jeweller of my acquaintance in the bazaar, a circumstance occurred which at once put to flight all ideas of an early return to my native land.
"A young lady entered, whose fine apparel and elegant bearing immediately attracted my attention. Two slaves waited on her, and stopped outside the shop while she entered.
"Why I should have been especially attracted by this young lady I should probably have found it difficult at that moment to explain. But my eyes were no longer under my control, and I thought surely no one ever moved more gracefully. I was young then, and a young man's imagination, like a high-mettled steed, soon runs away with him. Yet, being young, and probably in those days not altogether ill-looking, it is not unlikely that the lady was, on her side, not at all displeased to observe my very evident admiration; and taking pity upon me, or rather, I should say, determined instantly to complete her conquest, she contrived, as though by accident, to remove her veil for one moment, exposing thus to my astonished gaze a countenance of the most surpassing beauty.
"After purchasing sundry articles from my friend the jeweller, and giving them to her slaves to carry home for her, she left the shop, not without bestowing upon me a parting glance, which penetrated my heart and filled me with the most delicious and indescribable excitement.
"As soon as she was gone I inquired eagerly of my friend who this dazzling young beauty was, and whereabouts she lived.
"'She is,' he said, 'the daughter of Mazoudi Khan, a very rich man, who lives in a fine house not far from the palace of the Shah himself. I should advise you,' he added, 'to forget as soon as possible that you have ever seen her, for you know the proverb, "He who lifts his eyes too high, is apt to fall and break his neck."'
"The advice was no doubt good, but as well might a man in a fever be advised to keep cool. As well might a man parched with thirst be advised to shun water and to think no more of it. I had seen her face, the face of the first beautiful woman it had ever been my lot to behold. I was twenty-one years of age, and my prudent acquaintance advised me to forget her!
"My lord, you may guess how I lay awake all that night, and how I returned as early next day as I decently could to the shop of my friend, in the ardent, if rash, hope of again meeting the object that now constantly engrossed me.
"The young lady, who was nowise disposed to avoid me or break my heart, came to the shop still earlier than on the previous day, and, while examining some jewels, she listened, without any sign of disapproval, to the few but passionate words of admiration and love which I ventured to address to her.
"'Sir,' she answered, 'if I should say that I feel displeased at what you tell me, it would not be true; but, alas! it is useless for you thus to address me. My father is about to marry me to a friend of his, who is very rich and nearly as old as himself.'
"With that the lovely creature shed tears, and presently choosing some jewels, she went away, leaving me full of grief and distracted with anger and jealousy.
"After this I met her again several times in the same place, and, to my utmost consternation, learned at length that her marriage with Mirza Aga, her father's old friend, would take place in a fortnight.
"At first I implored her in my desperation to fly with me from Persia, and accompany me to my home at Bagdad. But with much good sense she pointed out that this was impossible; that we should both infallibly be caught before we could get three parasangs away from Shiraz, and be brought back to certain death.
"I was altogether at a loss what to do, but finally I bought a large, old-fashioned house, situated in a very retired and lonely position in the suburbs of the city, and determined, if possible, to persuade my charmer to retire with me to that retreat, where I doubted not we might remain undiscovered until the fury of her father should abate.
"The house I bought was surrounded by a very high wall, and had a large quadrangle within laid out as a garden, with fruit-trees and fountains of clear water. I furnished the place handsomely, and bought several slaves to attend upon us. But, alas! I could find no opportunity to take the lady thither, she being always accompanied by at least two of her father's slaves, who jealously guarded her.
"The day fixed for her marriage with the ancient bridegroom having arrived, I loitered about ready to follow and observe the bridal procession, being in a state of mingled rage and despair not easy to describe.
"Now among the Persians it is the custom when the wedding-day arrives that the friends of the bride shall escort her from her home towards the house of her husband, while he, on his part, comes with his friends to meet her. As soon as he sees his bride he throws an orange or other fruit at her, and rides off again towards his house, and whosoever catches him before he arrives there, is entitled to his horse and clothes or a ransom in lieu of them.
"The distance which the bridegroom thus advances to meet his bride, varies in each case according to circumstances.
"The lady Perizadeh, being the daughter of so influential a man as Mazoudi Khan, it was arranged that Mirza Aga, who was her inferior in rank, should advance two-thirds of the distance that had to be traversed.
"It thus happened that when the two cavalcades encountered each other, and the bridegroom, according to custom, threw the orange and rode off, he had some considerable distance to ride. As your Majesty is aware, the Persians are to be reckoned among the best horsemen in the world; but Mirza Aga was no longer young; and whether it were owing to that, or whether his horse was in fault, I know not, but before he had ridden far, with all the members of the two parties pursuing him at the top of their speed, his horse suddenly stumbled, and he was thrown upon his head and killed on the spot.
"During the scene of confusion which followed, while all were crowding round the fallen man, to render help or to endeavour to ascertain the nature and extent of his injuries, the bride was left for the moment alone and unguarded. Seizing the opportunity, I sprang up behind her on her horse, and turning at once down a side street, was in a few seconds out of sight, and reached in safety the house I had bought, and which I had, as I have said, prepared for our reception.
"As soon as the bride was missed—which, owing to the excitement and confusion, did not occur immediately—it was of course assumed that she had, when frightened by the accident, turned round and ridden back again to her father's house. Mazoudi Khan therefore went home at once to see and console her; but when he found that she had not returned, he despatched his whole retinue in different directions, to scour the country in search of the robbers who had, as he supposed, carried off his daughter.
"Even when his followers came back unsuccessful, he still expected shortly to recover his child, as he entertained no doubt that the bandits would find means before long to communicate with him respecting her ransom.
"Meanwhile, we lived with the utmost privacy in the house I had purchased, never going outside the walls, or doing anything whatever to attract attention to us.
"In this way a whole year passed by. A son was born to us, and I named him Diraz. And the lovely Perizadeh and myself continued as enamoured of each other, and as happy in each other's society, as we had been at first.
"About a twelvemonth after the day—ever memorable to me—on which I had effected the capture of the destined bride of the unfortunate Mirza Aga, I happened to hear that Mazoudi Khan was seriously ill, the loss of his daughter, whom he tenderly loved, having depressed his spirits to an alarming degree.
"After much debate we determined that Perizadeh, taking her baby with her, should go to her father and implore his forgiveness for both of us. I sent her, clad as handsomely as I could afford, with a slave to carry the baby, and two other slaves to attend upon her; and I waited the result of the interview between her and her father with no little anxiety.
"I knew that a proud and wealthy man like Mazoudi Khan would have rejected, with much disdain, a young and unknown merchant like myself, had I demanded his daughter in marriage; but I hoped now, that the sight of his child whom he mourned as lost, and of his grandchild—towards whom a grandfather's heart is always especially open—would soften him, and cause him to relent. In this I was not disappointed.
"He sent for me, forgave me, welcomed me as his son-in-law, and appointed us a house near to his own.
"And not long afterwards he obtained for me an official post at the Persian Court, where I remained happy and contented for the space of twenty years.
"By that time, both my father-in-law and my lovely Perizadeh had died, and my son Diraz, now grown a fine young man, was entered as a gholam, that is, one of the royal body-guard.
"Ten years more passed by uneventfully, and I looked forward confidently hoping to see my son appointed to the government of a province, or some other position of dignity and emolument. But, alas! just when this seemed most certain, an indiscretion, an act of madness on the part of my unhappy son, brought ruin on us both.
"Among the women at that time in the harem of his Majesty the Shah, was a very beautiful slave, who had been captured during a war which had been waged against an infidel nation, whose territory extends beyond the northern frontier of the Shah's dominions.
"This slave, beautiful as the full moon, Diraz, rash and presumptuous youth that he was, managed to catch sight of, and immediately he became desperately, recklessly enamoured of her.
"Forgetting the duty we owed to our master the Shah, and taking advantage of his official position as gholam shahee, which enabled and authorized him to travel by post at speed, pressing horses as he went, he managed to steal the beautiful slave, and got such a start before her loss and his absence were discovered, that he was not overtaken, but escaped with her out of the kingdom.
"When the Shah heard of the matter, he very naturally was furious——"
"Very naturally, indeed," said the Caliph, with a grim smile.
"Well, very naturally also," continued Abdurrahman, "his Majesty sent for me, upbraided me for having such a son, and ordering all that I had to be confiscated, commanded me to leave his kingdom forthwith, and find and bring back my son and his slave.
"In great grief I retraced my steps mechanically to my house, but a gholam, bearing the royal edict, had arrived there before me, and my own slave repulsed me from my own door.
"I set out, therefore, at once on my journey northwards, travelling not like my son had done, by relays of the swiftest horses that could be forced into the service, but slowly and wearily on foot. It took me many weeks to accomplish the distance he had traversed in a few days; but not to inflict upon you the tedious incidents of my journey, I will only say that I arrived at length in that region to which I believed my son had carried the beautiful slave. Not without considerable risk, on account of the hatred felt by all the people of that infidel nation, against true believers, I succeeded in reaching the capital, where I soon learnt on inquiry, that a gholam of the Shah of Persia had arrived recently, bringing with him a lady of extreme beauty, who was, it appeared, the daughter of the king of that country.
"The king had received his daughter, and my son also for her sake, with every demonstration of joy and satisfaction. And the young people, married, and very happy, were now living in the royal palace.
"I managed soon to let my son know of my arrival, and he came at once to the khan where I was staying, and welcomed me with much affectionate delight; all the more because since his departure from Shiraz he had begun too late to consider the vengeance with which the incensed Shah might only too probably visit me in consequence of his misdoing.
"He conducted me forthwith to the palace, and introduced me to my daughter-in-law, the beautiful slave with whom he had eloped; and also to his father-in-law, the king of that country, who received me very graciously, and bestowed upon me, in recompense for the loss I had sustained, a fine house and a thousand purses of gold.
"The country in which we now were was a mountainous one, and very bleak and cold in the winter; and my son Diraz had not been there six months before he took so violent a chill that he died after a few days' illness.
"About a month later the princess, my daughter-in-law, gave birth to a female child. Nothing now was so dear to me as my little granddaughter, and when, five years afterwards, both my daughter-in-law and the king her father were carried off by a fever which was very prevalent and fatal in that country, I determined to return with my grandchild to my native city, there to spend my remaining years in peace.
"We journeyed very slowly, stopping for months together in many of the cities on our way. At length we arrived safely in Bagdad, and settled down in the little house and garden by the river, where I live in peace and contentment with my granddaughter as my only companion; she is my treasure and the brightness of my house."
"The young lady," said the Caliph, "must by this time be old enough to be married: if I find her a husband will you provide her a dower?"
"Sire," said Abdurrahman, "when I die, and I am now old, what little I have will be hers, but till then her only dower consists of two small jars of ointment."
"What jars are those?" asked the Caliph; "and where did you get them?"
"The jars," answered Abdurrahman, "were entrusted to me by my daughter-in-law just before her death.
"'Preserve them carefully,' she said, 'and unopened, for the ointment they contain is most precious, and of a rare and even magical efficacy. When my little girl is old enough for marriage offer them for sale, but take not less than a thousand pieces of gold for the one jar, and not less than ten thousand pieces for the other. If no one can be found willing to pay that price for them do not part with them, keep them rather, and direct that they be buried with you.'
"I have never yet," continued the old man, "offered the jars of ointment for sale, and truly it seems so improbable that any one will ever be inclined to pay so preposterous a price for them, that doubtless they will be interred with me as the princess, my daughter-in-law, requested."
"By Allah, not so!" said the Caliph; "I will buy them myself. And your granddaughter, who I take it on your word is a very charming young lady, I give with her dower of eleven thousand pieces of gold to the son of Giafer."
The Grand Vizier and Abdurrahman bowed and touched their foreheads in token of entire submission to the will of the Prince of the Faithful.
The Caliph then dismissed them with the injunction to make preparations for solemnizing the marriage as soon as possible.
The Caliph and the First Jar of Ointment.
THE CALIPH AND THE EMIR.
A few days after the marriage of Abdurrahman's daughter with the son of the Grand Vizier, the Caliph ordered his treasurer to bring him the two jars of ointment which he had bought of Abdurrahman.
When he saw them they were so very small that he could not avoid an exclamation of surprise.
"By Allah," said Haroun, "but the old man has had a good price!"
Although the jars were both very small, yet they were not of the same size, one being half as large again as the other.
"And," said Giafer, "I must inform your Majesty that the larger jar is that which cost a thousand pieces of gold, and the smaller ten thousand pieces."
"Hand them to me," said the Caliph, "that I may see them more closely."
Then holding the jars in his hands, he read the inscription on the larger jar: "The Ointment Marvellous. This jar to be opened by no one but the purchaser thereof, who will be informed by a writing contained in the jar of the uses and wonderful properties of the ointment." On the smaller jar were the words, "Most Marvellous Ointment," and following those words an inscription precisely similar to that on the larger jar: "This jar to be opened by no one but the purchaser thereof, who will be informed by a writing contained in the jar of the uses and wonderful properties of the ointment."
When he had read the inscriptions on the jars, the Caliph handed back the smaller jar to the Grand Vizier, and ordered him to return it to the treasurer to be carefully preserved until he should require it.
Then opening the larger jar, he took out a writing he found immediately inside. This was folded, and upon the outside was written, "To be read by the purchaser of the ointment only."
The Caliph therefore opened it and read these words: "Whosoever thou art who hast bought this small jar of ointment for the price of one thousand pieces of gold, being as yet ignorant of the power and virtues of the ointment, rejoice, for thy faith and liberality are not wasted. Whensoever thou shalt anoint thine eyes with the ointment in this jar, for the space of three hours afterwards thou shalt see through all solid substances that lie fifty feet in front of thee as though, instead of being opaque and dense as stone or brick, they were clear and translucent as a diamond of the first water. But of this power tell no man anything, lest thou lose it."
When the Caliph had read these words, he sat some time silent. The Grand Vizier standing beside him was curious to learn the secret of the ointment, and wondered at the long silence of his master.
At length the Caliph rose, and placed the jar of ointment with his own hands in a cabinet which he locked, and of which he himself kept the key.
Giafer, whose curiosity was fully aroused by the taciturnity of Haroun on this occasion, could not help asking, "Is your Majesty satisfied or disappointed with your purchase of the ointment?"
"It remains to be proved," said the Caliph, smiling, "whether the ointment is as valuable as is asserted. When the proper opportunity presents itself, I will test it. Meanwhile, Grand Vizier, the proverb is never to be forgotten, 'The inquisitive are ever in danger.'"
After this Giafer perceived that it would be wiser to say no more.
They then conversed some time on various public questions and State affairs, and at length, when dismissing Giafer, the Caliph said, "Do not fail to come at the usual hour this evening that we may wander disguised through Bagdad, as I have already arranged to do."
Giafer arrived at the palace punctually at the hour appointed by the Caliph, and, disguised in the habits of merchants, Haroun and his Vizier sallied forth according to their wont, accompanied only by Mesrur, who followed them at a short distance.
Before leaving the palace, Haroun Alraschid, retiring for a few moments from his attendants, had applied to his eyes some of the ointment out of the jar he had placed in his cabinet.
On reaching the streets and looking about him, he discovered to his great joy and contentment that the efficacy of the ointment had been nowise exaggerated by what was stated in the writing which he had found within the jar.
Wherever they went he could see, instead of the mere blank outer walls, the interior of the dwellings, and the inhabitants of every house employed in any avocation that they might happen at that moment to be engaged in. In one room he would see three or four men seated together, the evening meal being finished, and discussing quietly the occupations of the day or the prospects of the future. In another room the women of the family would be visible to him, with their faces uncovered; thought of horror and insult for the men could they but have guessed it! Here, some were eating sweetmeats, sipping sherbet and gossiping. There, others were engaged adding to their charms by staining their eyelids, dyeing their hair, or other adornments of the toilet which it is not lawful for men to imagine, much less to behold.
The Caliph walked along this evening looking first on this side, then on that, and appeared so much interested with all he saw that he seemed altogether oblivious of Giafer's existence, and spoke to him never a word.
Giafer found the walk rather dull. And the more dull he found it the more surprised he was at the unusual patience exhibited by the Commander of the Faithful, who uttered no impatient exclamations, but whose countenance bore an expression of satisfaction and interest far enough removed from any kind of irritability or ill-humour.
They had wandered in this way for a long time through many of the least-frequented and least-interesting thoroughfares of the city, the Grand Vizier scarcely knowing whether he were more bored by the walk or astonished at the evident satisfaction of his master, when suddenly the Caliph stood still, leaning against the wall of a house and staring intently at the blank wall of the house immediately opposite.
After they had stood thus for some minutes, the Caliph looking fixedly and with evidently increasing interest and excitement at the dead wall opposite, Giafer became seriously alarmed, fearing that his master had either lost his wits or was going to have a fit. He was, in fact, so much frightened by the extraordinary behaviour of the Caliph, which had continued all the evening, that he continued to stand beside him and watch him, himself motionless and speechless.
All at once the Caliph, still gazing intently before him, grasped Giafer by the arm and whispered to him as though others were present—
"Go, take Mesrur with you; go round that house, down the turning yonder, and arrest them as they come out of the gate."
For a moment Giafer, who seriously believed that the Caliph had become demented, hesitated. But the habit of obedience prevailed, and putting his hand to his head, the usual sign of implicit devotion to the royal will, he beckoned Mesrur, whose figure at a little distance from them was the only living object visible in the street, and they disappeared together down the narrow turning which the Caliph had indicated.
We must now explain what it was that caused the Caliph to remain so long gazing at the house before the outer wall of which he was standing.
As he came along the street he saw in the garden of the house, which lay immediately behind the high wall in front of him, a sight very different from any of those which had hitherto been disclosed to him.
Lying on the grass beneath a wide spreading tree in the middle of the garden was the apparently lifeless form of a very beautiful young lady. Her clothes were of the finest materials, and her neck, arms, and ankles were adorned with magnificent jewellery, composed of gold, diamonds, pearls, and other precious stones. Standing beside her, and looking down upon her with a disturbed and angry countenance, was an old man, richly dressed, and evidently the master of the house, whose face, now distorted with passion, must at all times have worn a fierce and malevolent expression. After thus standing and watching her for a few minutes the old man, stooping down, took hold of her hand, as though to ascertain that she were really dead; and when, as he released it, the arm fell heavily again to the earth, he again stood contemplating for some minutes the youthful and lovely figure at his feet. Presently he clapped his hands, and some slaves appearing, he gave them some brief directions, on receiving which they went again into the house, returning shortly with a great empty sack or bag. In this they placed gently and carefully enough the body of the young lady, and lifting the sack, carried it between them towards a side gate opening into a narrow lane that ran down by one side of the walled enclosure which formed the garden of the mansion.
The Caliph saw the old man point with his finger to this side gate, evidently bidding them carry forth their burden at that entrance.
It was at this moment that he had grasped the arm of the Grand Vizier, and had whispered to him the order to proceed at once with Mesrur and arrest the men he should find coming along the lane.
Giafer, as we have seen, after a brief hesitation went back to where Mesrur was standing, and acquainting him rapidly with the Caliph's order, they crossed the street and entered the lane as they had been commanded.
They had not proceeded many steps down the lane before they met the slaves bearing the great sack.
Giafer and Mesrur drawing their swords, demanded sternly what they had there, and whither they were going.
The slaves, when they saw two men with drawn swords barring the way, put down their burden quickly and would have fled, but Mesrur exclaimed—
"Stop, for I will cut down the first man among you that dares stir hand or foot."
Then one of the slaves answered and said, "Sirs, we are carrying this package by order of our master, therefore please to let us pass."
But Giafer said, "Slaves, who is your master? And what have you in this sack, and whither do you carry it? I command you, in the name of the Prince of the Faithful, to answer these questions truly."
"Sir," said the slave who had spoken already, "our master is the Emir Bargash ibn Beynin, who lives in this house at the side of which we are standing, and he will, if he chooses, tell you what is in the sack and whither it is going, but we dare not say anything."
The Grand Vizier might probably have returned a very rough answer to this speech, or even have cut down the slave who uttered it, but at that moment the Caliph himself entered the lane, accompanied by a guard of soldiers, who happened to be patrolling the city in that direction, and whom the Caliph had summoned to his assistance.
Directing some of the soldiers to escort the slaves and their burthen to the palace, he ordered the officer of the guard with the rest of his men to enter the house of the Emir, and to conduct him also at once to the palace. He furthermore strictly charged the officer to permit the master of the house to hold no communication whatever with any of its inmates before leaving, and as soon as possible to send a guard to seize and hold possession of the place until the Caliph's pleasure should be known concerning it. After giving these orders Haroun Alraschid returned with Giafer to the palace.
When he had changed his clothes and assumed his seat on the imperial divan, he commanded the Emir to be brought in before him. Then, addressing him, he said with a stern expression—
"This evening my officers have stopped and arrested a party of slaves belonging to your household, who were carrying in a sack the body of a young lady. They say that they carried it from your house by your command. Explain to me, therefore, who the lady is, and what your slaves were ordered to do with her."
The Emir Bargash ibn Beynin, having prostrated himself before the throne of the Caliph, replied—
"Prince of the Faithful, I hasten according to your command to declare to you the whole truth concerning the young lady whose body my slaves were carrying in the sack. That young lady was my niece. She was Persian by birth, my nephew having married her while staying in that country, and brought her back with him about a year ago, when he returned to his native land. For the last three or four months they have been staying with me in my house in this city. I must here inform your Majesty, though I say it with sorrow and regret, that my nephew, who is a man of violent passions, ever treated his young wife with scandalous severity and harshness. Often, but in vain, I have remonstrated with him as to his conduct. At length, this evening, when going into my garden, I found my niece lying there lifeless. Everywhere I sought my nephew, but could not find him. I was convinced that he had in some way been the cause of his wife's death, and that he had fled to escape the consequences of his barbarous act. But, being myself not a little apprehensive of the danger which might threaten myself if the dead body were discovered in my house, I confess that I ordered my slaves to remove it and place it in the river."
The Caliph listened with much attention to the account given him by the Emir. After the latter had finished his narration, Haroun Alraschid dismissed him with the injunction immediately to make diligent search for his nephew, and to arrest him and bring him at once to the palace as soon as he could find him.
The Caliph being now very tired retired to rest.
Meanwhile the body of the young lady, which had been carried to the palace, was taken to the women's apartments, the ladies of the harem being all of them devoured with curiosity to see the fair unknown. When the body had been taken out of the sack in which it had been placed, all were astonished at the extreme beauty of the stranger, and the richness and value of her dress and ornaments. At length one of the ladies who were gathered together around her declared, after looking at her attentively and placing her hand over her heart, that she was convinced that life was not yet extinct. Resorting to all the remedies of use in cases of prolonged fainting fits, consciousness was at last restored, and, after partaking of some slight nourishment, the lovely patient fell into a natural sleep, during which she was watched with sympathizing eyes by several eager volunteers.
Early next morning, as soon as the Caliph had risen and was dressed, one of the Chamberlains of the palace acquainted him with the recovery of the young lady, and that she was now so much better that she was sitting and conversing with the other ladies in the harem.
The Caliph immediately sent the Chamberlain to announce that his Majesty was about to pay them a visit. When the Caliph entered the apartment where she was, the young lady, with all the ladies of the harem who were sitting with her, rose to receive the Commander of the Faithful, and prostrated themselves before him.
Bidding them rise, and placing the young lady on the divan near to him, he inquired after her health; and when she answered that she was much better, and nearly recovered from her illness of the previous evening, he told her to relate to him the occasion of the serious and almost fatal fainting fit into which she had fallen.
"Sire," said the young lady, with tears in her eyes, "all my trouble, and the fact that I am now here, arises from the vile conduct of a relative, from whom I had every reason to expect very different treatment.
"My father was a wealthy merchant, living at Teheran, and I his only daughter. He gave me the name of Abadeh, and spared no expense to render his house and garden—where I lived until I was sixteen years of age—as bright and charming as it is possible for any young girl to desire.
"Nothing I wished for was denied me; and when one day, while on my way to the bath, I saw Suliman, the nephew of the Emir Bargash ibn Beynin of Bagdad, who was visiting Teheran, and could neither rest nor he happy because I was continually thinking of him, my dear father no sooner had learned the cause of my disquiet than he arranged a marriage between us, giving Suliman such a handsome dower with me as made him think himself a very fortunate young man."
Haroun Alraschid, who was a very polite man among ladies, here interposed the remark that Suliman had much cause to consider himself fortunate, irrespective of the dower.
Abadeh, blushing at the Caliph's compliment, continued—
"For a whole year we lived very happily together, when, on the death of my dear father, my husband, no longer having any inducement to remain in Persia, determined to return to his native country.
"After a journey marked by no noteworthy incident, we arrived at length in Bagdad. Hiring a house next to that occupied by my husband's uncle, the Emir Bargash ibn Beynin, we have resided there now nearly a year, in the greatest contentment and happiness, and constantly visited by the Emir, who has always professed to be extremely pleased with our society.
"Yesterday evening, however, he sent one of his female slaves to bid me come at once to his house, as Suliman was suddenly taken ill.
"I was just dressed to receive my dear husband, whose return I every moment expected. I hurried down therefore from my chamber just as I was, forgetting even in my excitement to throw my yashmak over me, and crossing the narrow yard between our houses, I entered the Emir's garden.
"He met me in the midst of the garden, and in answer to my eager inquiry for my husband, he said: 'You cannot see him, it is too late; he is dead.'
"'Impossible!' I cried; 'it cannot be, take me to him at once. Let me at least try what can be done for him.'
"Then this Emir—this wicked, this infamous man—took me in his arms, in spite of my struggles, and kissed me and said: 'Think no more of Suliman, who is gone, and whom you will not see again. Now you belong to me—I love you, I have loved you for months, and never more shall we part.'
"As he said these things, and I perceived his villainy, which I had never even suspected until that moment, and thought how he had possibly murdered his nephew, of whom he had pretended to be so fond, I fainted off in the arms of the perfidious wretch, who, finding that I continued so long insensible, no doubt concluded that I was dead. Indeed, I remember nothing more until I found myself here in the palace, and most kindly tended and watched. What has become of my dear husband I know not; but oh, sir!" said she, falling down before the Caliph, "find him, find him for me again if it be possible, and punish the Emir as he deserves!"
"Rise," said the Caliph, "rise, beautiful lady, and be comforted. If Suliman be alive he shall be restored to you. And whether he be alive or dead the doom of the Emir is certain."
So saying, he at once went out of the harem, and summoning Giafer, he said: "Send at once and fetch the Emir Bargash ibn Beynin. And let some officers go also and bring hither, if they can find him, Suliman, the nephew of the Emir, who lived in the next house to him."
An hour afterwards the officers returned, and reported that they could find neither the Emir nor, his nephew. The former, taking some of his slaves with him, had left his home about an hour before the arrival of the officers sent to arrest him, and no one knew whither he had gone. While as for his nephew, Suliman, he had left home on the previous day, and had not since been heard of.
When this account was brought to the Caliph, he was furious.
"Go," said he, to the Grand Vizier, "destroy the house of that vile scoundrel, the Emir Bargash ibn Beynin; leave of it not one stick or stone upon another. And bring me both the Emir and his nephew—dead or alive I will have them. Two days I give you to seek them, and if you fail to find them, by Allah, your head shall not remain above your shoulders."
Giafer trembled at the rage of his master, and went forth out of the palace knowing no more where to look for the Emir and his nephew than did the Caliph himself.
At first he said to himself, "I may as well go home to my own house and set my affairs in order, for in two days I must die, for how can I find in this great kingdom the two men I am in search of? I might as well seek in a sand-heap two particular grains of sand."
However, as he rode along very slowly and moodily, it suddenly occurred to him—"It is at least my duty to do at once that part of the Caliph's order which is feasible." Therefore, sending for the proper workmen, he proceeded immediately to the Emir's house, and superintended its entire demolition.
After some hours' work the house was pulled down, and there remained only some small portion of a very thick wall, which separated the house from some out-buildings. While proceeding with the destruction of this, the workmen came upon a doorway or opening, which had but recently been bricked up, the cement being still damp; and when they had removed this, they discovered a small cell or chamber situated in the thickness of the wall, in which was seated a living man.
He, being brought to the Grand Vizier, declared that he was Suliman, the nephew of the Emir, and said that his uncle—for what cause he knew not—had barbarously caused him to be seized and buried alive where they had found him. He begged that he might be allowed at once to return to his own house, where his wife would be anxiously expecting him.
The Grand Vizier, overjoyed to have thus secured one at least of those whom he had been commanded to apprehend, would not lose sight of him for one moment, but carried him forthwith to the palace.
The Caliph was considerably mollified by the production of Suliman, in whose fate the narrative of Abadeh had so much interested him. He listened with rising indignation to the account Suliman gave of the behaviour of his uncle towards him, and once more ordering the Grand Vizier to find and arrest the Emir, he commanded the Grand Chamberlain to conduct Suliman to the apartment occupied by Abadeh.
That faithful wife was sitting disconsolate, scarcely daring to hope again to behold her husband, when the Grand Chamberlain, coming softly to the door, ushered in Suliman himself.
We will not attempt to intrude upon the transports of this happy pair in again rejoining each other. At length Suliman learnt from the lips of his wife the motive and object of his inhuman and treacherous uncle, in causing him to be immured in that fatal cell, from which he had been so marvellously released.
But while Suliman and Abadeh were thus discussing the conduct and perfidy of the Emir, the unhappy Grand Vizier had to resume the difficult and hazardous task of discovering his hiding-place. Two circumstances served to encourage him, and to make the execution of the Caliph's order seem somewhat less difficult than it had at first sight appeared. The first circumstance was the wonderful way in which Suliman had been delivered, as it were, into his hands, in the most strange and altogether unexpected manner; and the second circumstance was the fact of the Emir having taken certain slaves away with him. He had no doubt taken away those slaves who had been employed to immure his unfortunate nephew, and with the object of leaving no one who could throw any light on the fate of his victim. Why he had fled was not so clear, but probably some whisper of the resuscitation of his niece at the palace had come to his ears.
Cogitating these things the Grand Vizier returned to his palace, and immediately gave orders that the public criers should make proclamation in every part of the city, that a reward would be given to any one giving information leading to the capture of the Emir Bargash ibn Beynin, namely, two thousand pieces of gold if he were taken alive, and one thousand pieces on the recovery of his body if he were dead.
The next morning, soon after the Grand Vizier had risen, one of his officers came to him and said, "There is a man whom we found very early this morning at the Gate, who desires to speak with your Highness."
The Grand Vizier, divining at once that it might be one of the slaves of the Emir, said, "Bring him in."
When the man was brought in, he prostrated himself before the Grand Vizier, and said—
"I can tell your Highness where the Emir Bargash ibn Beynin has gone, but promise me first that no harm shall be done me."
"Cursed slave!" cried the Grand Vizier, in the utmost excitement, "inform me instantly where that villain your master is to be found, or by the life of the Caliph I will have you impaled upon the spot."
"My lord," answered the slave, terrified by the impetuosity and threats of the Grand Vizier, "have patience and hear me. Yesterday morning my master took me and three other slaves of his, and going to a khan in a remote part of the city he ordered us to lie down and sleep, or at any rate keep quiet till he called us. During the day he assumed the garb of a merchant, and we heard him arrange with some other merchants, whom he met at the khan, to leave with them very early this morning in a caravan, which sets out with the intention of proceeding towards Persia. Yesterday evening I heard the crier proclaim the reward that you offer for the capture of my master, and therefore during the night I made my escape, and came here. But again I implore you——"
"No more," said the Grand Vizier, interrupting him; "if the Emir escapes your life shall answer it, but if he is captured you shall have the reward, and free pardon for your crimes, be they what they may."
Then calling an officer he ordered him to take a score of horsemen, mounted on the swiftest steeds to be found in his stables, and bring back the master of this slave, and the other slaves that were with him.
The officer bowed and immediately departed, taking with him the slave, in order to be able more certainly to identify the man wanted by the Grand Vizier.
It was not long before the small and well-mounted body of cavalry overtook the caravan, which necessarily travelled very slowly. As soon as the Emir observed them approaching he guessed that they had been sent to apprehend him, and putting spurs to his horse, he attempted to seek safety in flight. The cavalry came on like the wind, the few foremost horsemen passed the caravan safely, but the others getting mixed up with the camels and asses, composing the train of the caravan, who straggled in all directions, being frightened by the noise of the pursuers, a scene of inextricable confusion for some time ensued.
Meanwhile the Emir, who was mounted on a powerful horse, which was fresh, while those of the soldiers were already considerably blown, kept the lead easily, and appeared to have every chance of distancing his pursuers altogether, and effecting his escape, when the Vizier's officer, reining in his horse, discharged an arrow, aimed so accurately that the Emir's horse was wounded. This changed the relative conditions, and before long the Emir, finding that his horse was disabled and could do no more, dismounted, and putting his back against a tree, drew his sword, and prepared to offer stubborn resistance. All his efforts were however in vain; being overpowered by numbers, he was seized and disarmed, but not before he had managed to inflict severe wounds upon two of his assailants.
Having bound him, they returned slowly to the spot where they had left the caravan. This was being gradually restored to order, and the officer collecting his men and securing the slaves and goods belonging to the Emir, left the caravan to proceed again on its way, and hastened back with his prisoner to Bagdad.
Directly the Grand Vizier was informed by a soldier, who was sent on in advance of the party, of the capture of the Emir, he went out at once to meet him, and conducted him straightway to the palace of the Caliph.
At the moment of the Grand Vizier's arrival, Haroun Alraschid was seated on his throne in the splendid chamber of audience, holding a public reception of the Imaums, Viziers, Emirs, Governors of Provinces, and other great functionaries of his kingdom.
When the Grand Vizier announced to the Caliph that the Emir Bargash ibn Beynin was a prisoner, and awaited under guard the commands of his Majesty, Haroun Alraschid, looking round the audience-chamber with a stern expression of countenance, said, "Let the Emir be conducted into our presence."
And when the Emir, preceded by the Marshal of the Palace and guarded by ten soldiers, entered the magnificent apartment, and stood before his sovereign in the midst of that illustrious assemblage, the Caliph thus addressed him:
"Emir! three times over you have forfeited the life whose opportunities you have abused and the station whose fair name and dignity you have disgraced. You have coveted and attempted to take the wife of your neighbour, and that neighbour a near relative of your own, whom you were bound in honour to cherish and protect. You have attempted to take the life of your nephew, and that in the most atrocious and cold-blooded way. And, finally, you have lied to me, and attempted to deceive your sovereign and the Head of your Faith. Now, therefore, in the face of this assembly I pronounce upon you my sentence. Your honours and your goods are forfeited, and I bestow them upon Suliman, your nephew, against whom you have acted so basely. For yourself, three times shall you ride through Bagdad with your face to the tail of the camel, while the criers make this announcement, 'Behold the reward of an assassin,' and after the third journey they shall smite off your head."
The Caliph then gave Mesrur the usual sign to remove the prisoner.
After being paraded three times through the streets of Bagdad in the manner the Caliph had ordained, the executioner struck off his head, and thus perished that vile and infamous miscreant, the Emir Bargash ibn Beynin.
The Caliph and the First Jar of Ointment
THE CALIPH AND ABOU HASSAN.
One evening not long after the execution of the Emir, Haroun Alraschid, when about to indulge in one of his nocturnal rambles, determined again to make trial of the marvellous properties of his magical ointment. Before sallying forth, therefore, with Giafer, always his faithful companion in these adventures, he retired privately to his cabinet and anointed his eyes with a small portion of the contents of the little jar.
Once more on passing through the streets of his capital the interior of the houses and the occupations and amusements of his subjects were revealed to him. In some houses he saw feasting and merriment, in some mourning and death. In the dwellings of the rich there was to be seen fine clothes and jewellery, in the hovels of the poor squalor and rags. And so constantly varied and animated were the scenes which by virtue of the ointment he was enabled to observe, that he walked on for more than an hour without experiencing either fatigue or weariness.
At length, as he was passing a certain mean-looking house in one of the less important thoroughfares, his attention was attracted to a scene which caused him to stop before the house; and, resting in the obscurity of a great recessed doorway on the opposite side of the way, to observe with much interest what took place in the room before him.
It was a large room, and but dimly lighted by a single oil lamp placed upon the table. A great number of packages were lying in a confused heap on one side of the room; and on a raised divan near to the table and facing the door of the apartment sat an old man of no very inviting appearance. About his head he wore an old turban, not very clean and put on in a careless and slovenly manner. His eyes were shielded and concealed by a large green shade, as though the light even of the one oil lamp were too strong for him. His clothes were plain, but much better than his head-gear; his form seemed slight and wiry, and Haroun noticed that his hands, which were small and plump, were adorned with several very handsome and valuable rings.
Between this large room occupied by the figure just described and the door in the wall of the house was a small ante-room or lobby, in which was seated on the bare floor a little ill-looking hump-backed slave, whom the Caliph, whose memory for faces was remarkable, immediately recognized as a mute who had been under the orders of Mesrur, and who, in consequence, it was supposed, of some punishment inflicted upon him, had fled from the palace some months previously. The sight of this slave caused Haroun to be additionally curious to learn what might be the business of his present master. The occupation of the mute was obvious. He sat in the lobby at the door of the house ready to open it for any one who might wish to enter.
The Caliph had but few moments to wait before the figure of a man carrying a small bundle crept stealthily up the street and stood at the door. Pressing what looked like the head of a large bolt on the surface of the door, a piece of wood on the inside was slightly raised. On this sign the mute rose, and opening the door just sufficiently wide to allow the man to enter, he closed it quickly, and immediately led the way into the large room where the old man sat by the lamp. The new-comer placed his bundle on the table, and having opened and displayed its contents, which consisted of some jewellery and some pieces of fine cloth, he packed it up again and deposited it with the other packages upon the floor.
The old man, who had sat quite motionless, and whose lips did not once move, proceeded to count out certain coins on to the table; these the other took, also apparently in silence, and forthwith departed, leaving the house and passing down the street in the same stealthy and furtive manner in which he had arrived.
The Caliph and Giafer remained some time concealed thus in the black shadow of the doorway where they were standing; Giafer being half asleep, and supposing his master to be resting where they were simply because he was tired. The Caliph, however, was watching the proceedings of the old man and his slave. One after another half a dozen visitors arrived, were admitted on giving the same signal, showed the contents of their several bundles, deposited them on the same heap, were paid in silence by the old man, and thereupon went their way.
There was no departure from the uniformity of this procedure, excepting that when any one arrived and gave the signal while another was still occupied with the old man, the mute took no notice whatever of the signal, and in every case the man wishing to enter seemed at once to understand why his signal remained unanswered, and waited patiently until the door was opened for the other to depart.
The Caliph, who had at first been somewhat puzzled by the strangely conducted traffic which he here observed, had guessed before long that the actual business of this disreputable old merchant was that of purchasing from the thieves, which always infest a large town, whatever plunder they might have to dispose of.
There was no haggling as to price. The terms on which the transaction was based were evidently very simple. The thief displayed his wares; the old man paid him what he chose, and clearly the thief, whose market for his ill-gotten goods was likely to be very limited, was satisfied to accept what the buyer chose to award.
The Caliph was not ill-pleased to have discovered the nefarious trade which was being here carried on, and determined to have the house closely watched in future, in the hope of thus noting and securing a great number of the most expert and artful thieves in Bagdad.
As he moved out of the obscurity of the doorway revolving these things in his mind, a ragged and decrepit beggar, who had just dragged himself with slow and weary steps to this spot, begged an alms in the professional whine common to his class. The Caliph gave him a small piece of silver, and then watched him as he crossed the road and entered a dilapidated and wretched hovel, which stood close by the outer wall of the house of the dealer in stolen goods.
The inside of the hovel consisted of one small room, containing no furniture of any kind but a litter of rags in one corner, which evidently served the old beggar as a bed.
The old man, when he had entered and lighted his lamp, pushed some of these rags aside with trembling hands, and raising a piece of the dirty and half-rotten flooring, he produced a stout and rather heavy hag. Out of this he took in succession several smaller hags, each evidently full of money; and having pleased himself with handling and gloating over his treasure, he added the coin which the Caliph had just given him, together with several others, the produce of that day's exertion, to the contents of one of the bags, and then carefully replaced the whole in its hiding-place, and covering the board again with the rags, lay down to sleep.
Three hours had now elapsed since the Caliph had anointed his eyes with the magical ointment, and the increased power of vision it conferred upon him began rapidly to vanish. Therefore he turned to go back to the palace, laughing within himself as he thought, "Thieves, beggars, and misers, a goodly company have I become acquainted with to-night!"
The streets were now silent and deserted, and all honest people were already in bed and asleep. But he had not proceeded far before he came to a door which was partly open, and through which he could see across a courtyard a great house brightly lighted, and could hear the voices of the guests within very merrily laughing and conversing. Moreover, a very delicious aroma of cooking assailed his nostrils, and reminded him that he was both hungry and tired. Bidding Giafer knock at the door, he told the slave who appeared to go to his master and say that two merchants, strangers in the town, and who had lost their way, craved to be partakers of his hospitality.
Returning shortly, the slave conducted them across the courtyard, and ushered them into a room handsomely furnished and brilliantly lighted, in which ten young men were seated, all very merry and evidently enjoying a plentiful supper, which they washed down with good wine.
One of the ten, evidently the host, a young man with finely formed features and black eyes, bright and piercing, addressed the Caliph and Giafer as they entered.
"Merchants and strangers," said he, "you are welcome to our party. Be seated, I pray you, and by your diligence in eating and drinking, endeavour to make up for the time you have lost."
Then the company having saluted them, and they having saluted the company, by placing their hands across the breast and bowing the head in the customary manner, the Caliph and Grand Vizier sat down, and the slaves who waited continued from time to time to bring them plenty both to eat and to drink.
When the slave who attended on the Caliph had set a handsome goblet of silver before him and had filled it with wine, the Caliph raised the goblet, and said—
"We thank you, gentlemen, and you, sir, especially, who are master of this house, for the welcome you have given us, and your kindness in admitting us to be partakers of your feast. And we beg that you will continue that merry conversation in which we heard you engaged when we ventured to interrupt you and to intrude on your agreeable society."
"Gentlemen," said the host, whose name was Abou Hassan, "you must know that during several evenings on which the present pleasant company have previously assembled, we have entertained each other by a relation of such parts of the history of each of us as the narrators have judged might prove interesting. Just before you entered the eighth of our party had finished an account of his experiences, which gave rise to the merry discussion which you heard. There now remain but two of us, Murad Essed and myself, who owe our stories to the company, and I will, therefore, by your leave, at once invite Murad to begin."
THE STORY OF MURAD ESSED, THE UNFORTUNATE MERCHANT.
The young man addressed as Murad, and who wore a frank and jovial expression of countenance, began as follows:
"It gives me much pleasure to relate to this good company those vicissitudes and misfortunes which have earned for me the designation of 'The Unfortunate Merchant,' because we shall then be favoured with an account of the history of our host, who has lately been known as 'The Fortunate Merchant.' His good fortune and his great wealth are indeed surprising, and are no more due to the inheritance bequeathed to him by his ancestors than my poverty is owing to what was bequeathed to me by mine. So far is that from being the case, that on the death of my father, who was one of the leading merchants of Bagdad, I found myself the possessor of an immense fortune. It was so large and I was so young and inexperienced that I imagined that it could never be exhausted. I bought a grand house, with fine rooms and wide gardens. Ah! my dear Abou Hassan, this very house where we now are was the house. I fitted it with all kinds of handsome and luxurious furniture. I bought slaves to wait on me, and in my harem; ah! gentlemen, in our dreams we picture nothing better. The Caliph himself might have envied me.
"Well, gentlemen, for two years I lived like a Sultan. I denied myself nothing, and never gave one thought to the expense. At length, one day after completing the sale of a large quantity of merchandize, which had been stored in his warehouses by my father, I was induced to consider the state of my affairs, and I found that in these two years I had expended the half of my fortune.
"This caused me to reflect seriously on my situation and mode of life. At this rate, what with women, wine, and gambling, I should soon have nothing left.
"I determined to reform. I sold a number of my slaves; I reduced my establishment; I became very economical; I gave my little wine parties, as some of you may remember, only once a week instead of every evening.
"But, besides effecting these little alterations, what I principally did was this: I divided my remaining fortune into two equal parts. With the one half I proposed to embark in trade, while I retained the other half to live upon and to provide against accidents.
"Well, the money I devoted to trade I invested in such sorts of merchandize as I judged to be most suitable, and shipping them in a vessel bound for Egypt, I sent with them a letter to an old friend of my father, a merchant living there, asking him to dispose of the goods to the best advantage, and forward to me in return, by the same vessel, such kinds of produce as he thought would prove most saleable in Bagdad.
"Six months passed and I had no tidings of my venture. A year elapsed, and still I heard nothing of it. But, in fine, and not to weary you, having written by another vessel to inquire of my friend, I learnt at length that my goods had arrived safely and had been sold to realize a considerable profit, and that other goods had been shipped to me in return, but the vessel bringing them has never more been heard of, and whether she foundered or was captured by pirates I know not.
"Thus I had spent and lost three-quarters of the fortune left to me by my father, and the remaining fourth was rapidly diminishing under the pressure of current expenses.
"It was at this time, when walking along one day very moodily and in ill-humour, lamenting my extravagance and losses, and cogitating how I might with the small remainder of my capital retrieve my position, that I was accosted by a Seyed Hajji.
"'Sir,' said he, 'I have for many months past often observed you as you walked this way, and during all that time your countenance has been unclouded and merry, but the past few days a great change has come over you, and you walk with downcast eyes, melancholy and preoccupied. If you will tell me what is the trouble that has befallen you, perhaps it may be in my power to render you some assistance.'
"'Holy pilgrim,' said I, laughing, for I was amused by the man's impertinent curiosity respecting my affairs, 'the trouble that has befallen me is very serious, being no other than the loss of the greater part of my fortune. If you can show me the way of so employing the remainder as to regain what is lost, you are indeed the prince of Hajjis, and such an one as a man can expect to meet with but seldom.'
"'My son,' said he, 'I pardon your incredulity, which is very natural. But you should reflect that youth knows less than age; and moreover, that a man like myself who has three times made the pilgrimage to the Holy Cities and to the Tomb of the Prophet, may have learnt some secrets which are hidden from those who have remained at home, and who have spent their time in dissipation and drinking.'
"'Holy pilgrim,' I answered, somewhat abashed, 'what you say is very true. Therefore, if you know of any magic or charm by which a man who is nearly ruined may retrieve his fortune, I pray you to disclose it.'
"'Gently, my son,' said the Hajji, 'the impulsiveness of youth hurries you too fast. I can tell you no more here in the open bazaar; but come to my house and you shall hear of a way of getting gold which will fairly astonish you.'
"I went, therefore, with the old man, and after passing through the worst part of the town, and along many narrow and dirty lanes, we came at length to a mean and ruinous hovel, into which the Hajji entered.
"When I looked round and saw the extreme poverty of the place, I could not help observing to my companion, that for one possessed of a marvellous method of getting gold, this lodging appeared somewhat unsuitable.
"'Do not,' said he, 'jump hastily to conclusions. Listen patiently to what I have to tell you, and this and much else will be explained.'
"Then taking a small flask from a shelf, he held it up before me, and exclaimed, 'Behold the magic water of wealth, by means of which palaces and slaves, and fair ladies, and all that man longs for may be obtained!'
"Then, in a more sober tone, he continued, 'Look, my son, the virtue of the water contained in this flask is such that any metal steeped in it is quickly converted into gold. Of this,' he said, 'I will give you speedy proof.' And so saying, he took a small piece of lead about two ounces in weight, and holding the flask which contained only a small quantity of liquid, at an angle, he slipped the lead in carefully, and setting the flask in a corner and covering it with a cloth to, exclude the light, he left it thus for about ten minutes, to allow the liquid to permeate the mass, and effect the marvellous transformation.
"Then uncovering the flask, he showed that the liquid had entirely disappeared, and in place of the lump of lead was a lump of pure gold of equal magnitude.
"I was, of course, greatly delighted with this easy process of converting lead into gold, and I demanded eagerly of the Hajji how much of this liquid he possessed, and what he demanded for it.
"'My son,' said he, smiling, 'you are truly very simple. If I had plenty of this magic water, why should I live in the poor place in which you find me? Or why, if I had it, should I part with it for less than its weight in gold—which, indeed, is less than the worth of it? No; I have never had more than what was contained in this one small flask, and the last drop of that I have, as you see, now made use of. But although I have no more of the water, I have a secret of almost equal value. I know where the water came from, and whence it may be obtained. It springs from the bowels of the earth, in a sterile and uninhabited country more than a hundred days' journey from Bagdad. To get there will be both difficult and costly, as one must pass through the territory of a race of Infidels whom one must bribe freely in order to ensure one's safety. The question is, Dare you attempt it, and will you furnish the money for the enterprise?'
"I reflected some time on this proposition, and, finally, seeing no better way of recruiting my shattered fortune, I determined to accompany the Hajji to the country of the fountain of the water of gold.
"In order to raise the funds necessary for this expedition, I sold all that I had; the remainder of my merchandize, my slaves, my furniture, and my house. By this means I obtained a sum amounting to four thousand pieces of gold; and, taking with us only a few camels laden with water-skins to hold the magic water, and two slaves bought by the Hajji, we set out on our journey.
"For three days we pursued our way without incident, and on the evening of the third day after partaking of a good meal and some wine we had brought with us, which the Hajji, owing to his sacred character, would not touch, I laid down under some trees near which our horses and camels were picketed, and slept very soundly. So long did I sleep that when I awoke the sun was high in the heaven. The day was very hot, and the place was very quiet; for looking round I could see nothing of my Seyed Hajji, of the slaves, the horses, or the camels. All had disappeared, and with them had gone my money also.
"Thus, by the will of Allah, was I reduced to the utmost poverty.
"I made my way back to Bagdad slowly and suffering much hardship. But, thanks to the goodness of Allah, and to my friend Abou Hassan and some others, I lack neither good fellowship nor good living, and although I am styled the unfortunate merchant, I contrive to laugh and be merry in spite of fate, and shall listen with pleasure and without envy to the very different career of Abou Hassan, the fortunate merchant, and our munificent host."
THE STORY OF ABOU HASSAN, THE FORTUNATE MERCHANT.
When Murad Essed had finished speaking all eyes were fixed upon Abou Hassan, who said: "We have all listened with interest to the story of our friend Murad Essed, showing how a rich man may become poor; I have now in my turn to show you, by a relation of my own experience, how a poor man may become rich.
"But in telling you my history, I should weary you if I were to recall all the particulars of my early struggles. It will be sufficient to say that of all that I now possess I inherited nothing, and that only seven years ago I was as badly off as Murad Essed is at present. About that time I became acquainted with an old merchant who imparted to me the secret of the success I have since then obtained. This secret, you will be perhaps somewhat disappointed to learn, consists neither in a charm nor in any kind of magical art or sorcery. It is comprised simply in a particular mode of dealing, and one, in fact, completely opposed to that which is in general use.
"You know that it is the common habit of merchants when they buy anything to offer much less for it, and when they sell anything to ask more for it than the price which they think it is worth. And only after a long time spent in haggling and bargaining, they conclude their business.
"But by the advice of my old friend, the merchant, I adopted, and have constantly adhered to, a totally different plan. When I buy anything I name what I consider to be a fair price for it; the seller either accepts my offer at once and without discussion, or refuses. No man ever refuses the price I offer more than once, because it is my rule never to deal again with a man who has once refused to deal at my price. In like manner, when I sell anything, I fix the price I will accept and rather destroy the goods than part with them for any other price than that I have put upon them.
"This is the whole secret of my success. My story is, you see, a very brief one; the origin of my fortune appears very simple when I discover it to you; but that the plan, simple as it may seem, has its merits, you may convince yourselves by looking round you."
Abou Hassan, as he said this, waved his hand, indicating the handsome room in which they were sitting, and beyond it, seen through the gilded arches at the end of the apartment, the garden outside, where the moon, which had now risen, was illuminating with its enchanting light the trees, whose branches were heavy with various fruits, the fountains splashing into their marble basins, and, finally, in the distance, a group of girls of marvellous beauty who had just entered the garden dancing and singing.
"Behold," said he, rising, "the nymphs of paradise beckon us from the banquet and the wine bowl to other pleasures."
But the Caliph, when Abou Hassan and his other guests had risen from the banqueting-hall to go into the garden, sat lost in reverie.
As Abou Hassan had waved his hand to direct the attention of his guests to the splendid results of his new system of trading and his magnificent surroundings it flashed upon the mind of the Caliph that he had seen that hand before. The shapely fingers, and the rings containing many precious stones of unusual size and beauty, recalled to him irresistibly the hands of the old man with his face shielded by the huge green shade over his eyes, whom he had been watching earlier in the evening.
So Abou Hassan, the Fortunate Merchant, the young and sparkling host of this gay party, was identical with the villainous purchaser of stolen goods, whose base pursuits the ointment had revealed to him. The new plan of naming one price and taking no other had been practised only with those who feared justice and practised robbery.
The Caliph, absorbed in these thoughts, observed nothing that was going on about him until Abou Hassan approached him, and, addressing him, personally requested him to rise and accompany himself and his friends into the garden.
Then the Caliph, rising and thanking Abou Hassan for his hospitality, declared that now the moon was up he must pursue his journey, and, taking leave together with Giafer, he left the house of the Fortunate Merchant and returned immediately to the palace.
The next evening, being desirous to continue his observation of the prosperous though illicit trade of the Fortunate Merchant, the Caliph stationed himself as before with Giafer in the dark recess of the arched gateway opposite the room to which the thieves resorted.
At first the room was empty. A number of parcels still lay strewn upon the floor; the table was there, and the lamp stood upon it, burning with a small and dim flame that lighted the place badly, but the mysterious and silent figure with his slovenly turban, great green shade over the eyes, and with the small hands and bejewelled fingers, was absent. The Caliph could see the misshapen mute lying in the ante-room perfectly motionless and taking not the slightest notice of the usual signal given two or three times by men who came furtively to the door desiring to enter.
At length, just as the Caliph was beginning to speculate whether the man could possibly have become suspicious and have effected his escape, Abou Hassan came quickly along the street, hastening evidently to the house where he was to assume his disguise and enter on his business. As he arrived almost exactly opposite to the spot where Haroun and Giafer were standing in the obscurity of the great gateway, there approached from the right or opposite direction that same old beggar and miser who had accosted the Caliph on the previous evening. On perceiving some one before him he began immediately to solicit alms in the whining tone common to his class.
"An old man," he said, "a very old man, my lord, ragged, hungry, without shelter."
Abou Hassan, as he heard the voice, exclaimed—
"What! is it thou, my father? How often have I entreated thee to accept a provision for thine age which I can so well spare?"
"Speak no more of it, my son," said the old man with vehemence and in quite another tone of voice to that he had employed before. "I knew thee not, or would have asked nothing of thee, and will accept nothing from thee. From the hands of him whose lips are stained with wine, who has spurned the precepts of the Prophet and forgotten the lessons of his youth, I will accept no favour, and will give to him no blessing."
"Go, then, old precisian!" exclaimed Abou Hassan, fiercely; "cling to disgrace, and practise beggary; and yet, remember, one word can change your state, banish poverty, and summon plenty."
The old man proceeded on his way, muttering inaudibly, and Abou Hassan stood watching his retreating figure.
After a few moments of apparent indecision he followed the old man. When the latter entered the miserable hovel in which the Caliph had observed him on the previous evening, Abou Hassan, after a short pause, pushed open the door and entered also.
Haroun, who was curious to learn what passed between the beggar and his son, followed Abou Hassan along the street, and with Giafer and Mesrur entered the house immediately after him.
The old man, who was rather deaf, had not heard his son enter. And when the Caliph and his two companions followed noiselessly and stood in the deep shadow of the entry, they saw the old man kneeling on the floor, and holding in his trembling hands the bag containing his little hoard, to which he was adding some small coins received that day. Abou Hassan stood looking down upon him with an expression of contemptuous amusement.
After gazing silently for a few moments at the kneeling figure he exclaimed, "So, so, the beggar therefore plays the miser also! You spurn my offers, and, refusing gold and ease and leisure, hug that poor bag of worthless copper in this filthy den."
So saying, he kicked contemptuously the bag which the old man, terrified at the apparition of his son, still held in his hand, and its contents were thrown upon the floor.