At this the old man gave a loud yell, and calling out "Thieves, thieves, they are robbing me! they are robbing me!" began to scramble about after the scattered coins.
Abou Hassan, springing upon him and whispering fiercely, "Villain! wretch! who is robbing thee? Wouldst thou bring the neighbours upon me?" pulled out a dagger, and would in his fury have stabbed his father had not the Caliph at that instant made a sign to Mesrur, who seized his arm and held him fast. But Abou Hassan, who was a young and very vigorous man, struggled violently, and, managing for one moment to free his right arm, he stabbed himself to the heart.
Thus perished the Fortunate Merchant, closing, as so many do, a life of crime by a death of violence.
The next day the Caliph ordered Abou Hassan's house and all that he had possessed to be confiscated. The house and gardens, which were exceedingly magnificent, he retained for his own occasional use, while the immense quantities of valuable goods stored in the warehouses belonging to Abou Hassan he ordered to be sold, and the proceeds to be distributed, one half to the mosques of the city, and the other half to the poor.
Upon the old beggar and miser, who steadfastly refused to take any part of his son's great wealth, the Caliph conferred a small pension, sufficient to provide for the few wants of one so long accustomed to a life of hardship. Indeed, so strong is the force of habit, that at his death, a few years later, he was found to have saved a considerable portion even of this small annuity.
The Caliph and the Second Jar of Ointment
Finding that but little of the ointment was left in the first and larger of the two jars which he had purchased of Abdurrahman, Haroun Alraschid put it away in his cabinet, determining to use no more of it until some occasion of pressing need should arise. And sending for his treasurer he commanded him to produce the second and smaller of the two jars, that he might open it and ascertain the virtue possessed by the ointment in that jar.
As in the case of the former jar, he found immediately within the second jar when he opened it a narrow strip of parchment, on which was written:
"Hail to thee, purchaser of this ointment most marvellous and magical! Rub but a little of it behind each of thine ears and thou shalt forthwith understand the language of all birds and beasts, even as Solomon, the great king and the wisest of men, understood them. Nevertheless, at the first word of human speech that thou utterest after thou hast applied the ointment the power of understanding the speech of birds and of beasts shall depart from thee. For so it is decreed by the maker of the ointment according to the nature of the magical art in conformity with which it is compounded."
When the Caliph had read these words and reflected how small a quantity of ointment the little jar contained, and how precarious was the power it conferred, liable as it was to be extinguished at any moment by a hasty word, he determined to refrain from testing it until a suitable occasion should present itself. Placing it therefore in a small chest or coffer, he entrusted it to a certain slave, whom he ordered to carry it carefully and be in attendance with it at all times, so that whenever the opportunity of making trial of its virtue should arrive the ointment might be at hand and in readiness.
About this time it happened that Zobeideh, Haroun's favourite wife, had prepared a magnificent entertainment at the splendid palace which the Caliph had erected for her. And, as it happened, the next evening after Haroun had opened the second jar of ointment, he attended Zobeideh's entertainment. As he entered the gardens of the palace he perceived Zobeideh seated on a raised seat or throne in the middle of the garden, with groups of her women in their most gorgeous apparel surrounding her. They all rose and went forward to meet the Caliph as he entered, while others, scattered in parties about the grounds, made a concert of vocal and instrumental music for his diversion. As he seated himself on the throne with Zobeideh by his side the scene was very charming. The arcades enclosing the gardens with their marble and gilded columns were festooned with many coloured lights, lanterns hung in the trees, illuminating the gardens and the lofty fountains, which broke into ten thousand sparkling jewels and fell splashing into the wide marble basins at their base.
After sitting for some time watching this brilliant scene the Caliph rose and wandered slowly through the grounds, until at length he came to a grove of trees, so artfully enclosed by gilded lattice work concealed by climbing plants that it formed an aviary vast in size and filled with birds of every kind and hue. In this delightful retreat a natural concert greeted him of feathered songsters darting to and fro and singing lustily.
Two little silktails perched upon a neighbouring branch particularly attracted his attention. He had seated himself on a mossy bank in a retired nook, close by the spot chosen by the chatterers for their lively and very animated conversation. Being curious to know what they were talking of, and convinced that the present offered as favourable an opportunity for listening to bird-talk as any he was likely to meet with, the Caliph ordered the slave who carried it to bring him at once the little jar of ointment, and applying some behind each ear as the writing contained in the jar had directed, he prepared to maintain a strict silence and listen attentively. As soon as he had applied the ointment he found that he understood the conversation of his little neighbours as clearly as though they had been expressing themselves in the purest Arabic.
"What!" said the one bird to the other, "is it possible that you can be so deluded and mistaken? Desire to be a man! I am truly surprised and shocked at so absurd and degrading a notion. If now you had expressed a wish to be one of the nobler animals, a lion or a tiger, for instance, I might have excused you. But a man! Only consider how low in the scale of creation the creature is! Not only is he confined to the earth like other animals, and unable to range as we do through the air, but consider how miserable a slave he is, how he has to toil from morning to night to supply his mere necessities. No wonder his throat gives forth only harsh and unmeaning sounds, instead of the nobler roar of the lion or the bright and cheering song notes of us birds! Moreover, the unfortunate creature is evidently cursed by Allah, being alone among all creatures left naked and defenceless. The beasts have warm and beautiful coats of fur provided for them, and they find their food without work or toil. While as for ourselves, we find insects and grubs and worms all delicious eating, and that without stint or trouble; and as regards the covering of our bodies, I think without vanity these lovely feathers are not only as warm as the fur of animals, but much prettier and more becoming."
Saying this, the silktail looked back over her glossy and radiant plumage with such a self-satisfied glance as made the Caliph smile.
"Whereas," she continued, "that unfortunate creature, man, being left by bountiful Nature naked and cold, has to cover himself as best he may with a sorry patchwork of shreds and tatters such as he can contrive to procure either from vegetable fibres, the tissue of silkworms, or the furs or feathers he is driven to secure by force or stratagem either from beasts or from ourselves. In almost every particular the wretched creature is a mere drudge, slaving continually for others and getting nothing by his toil for himself. Who planted this charming grove, who waters and tends it? Man. And who enjoys the use and benefit of it? Surely ourselves. Who made the pretty lattice-work that encloses it?"
"And shuts us in," said the other.
"And shuts the falcon and the vulture out," continued the first speaker; "why, our poor friend and servant, man. And do you desire to share that servitude?"
"My dear mother," replied the other bird, "I admit that what you say of man is for the most part very true; in many things he appears to act with great stupidity. For instance, he has planted this pleasant grove and supplies it with water, and has fenced it in very carefully, and for no purpose apparently or any use that it is to him. He comes now and then and looks at his work without uttering a sound, as mute as a fish and not half so active and joyous. And yet, though he is a melancholy drudge enough, he effects great things. By his very weakness and his naturally defenceless condition he has been rendered so cunning and so full of contrivances that he manages to subdue even those free and noble animals, the lion, the tiger, and the leopard, and to capture and destroy even such mighty birds of prey as the vulture and the eagle. See, too, what huge and surprising nests he is able to fashion, such as that hard by this very grove."
"My child," said the mother bird, "you confuse the ruler of these animals with those over whom he rules. The one has indeed a fine nest and an easy life, but the others are lodged very differently, and labour from morning till night."
"I confess," said the younger bird, "that it was rather of the prince than of his subjects that I was thinking when I wished to be a man. Only consider how enviable a position he enjoys, with so many beings under his command, and with so many fine gardens to live and take his pleasure in."
"And with so charming and faithful a wife to prepare entertainments for him," said the older bird, sarcastically. "I wonder how the prince you foolishly envy would have looked if he had seen her only yesterday evening as we did with another man at her feet?"
"Allah! is it true?" thundered out Haroun Alraschid, in a terrible rage.
The sudden movement and exclamation frightened the little birds, who flew swiftly away. A matter of the less consequence, as the Caliph had by speaking destroyed the spell, and could have understood no more of the dialogue even had it continued. But he was in fact far too angry and excited at the moment to notice this or anything else.
Clapping his hands to summon his slaves and attendants, he commanded the palace of Zobeideh to be instantly surrounded, and all who might be found therein at once to be made prisoners. This hasty measure produced, as might have been expected, no results. No one was arrested but those belonging to Zobeideh's household, and all, as a matter of course, professed entire ignorance of the entrance at any time whatever of any man within the sacred precincts of Zobeideh's palace.
Haroun, in the first transports of his rage, contemplated ordering every man in Bagdad between fifteen and fifty years of age to be executed. But the Grand Vizier having hinted that some difficulty might be experienced in executing so wholesale an order, and, moreover, that the actual culprit might very probably even in that case manage to effect his escape, the Caliph decided to cause Zobeideh to be brought before him that he might interrogate her himself.
When that unhappy princess entered, and, throwing herself at his feet, asked him in what way she had offended or aggrieved his Majesty, Haroun reproached her bitterly.
"Woman," said he, "have I not loaded you with favours, and bestowed upon you with unstinting hand all that your imagination could fancy or your heart desire? Ungrateful, like all your race; faithless, like all your sex; you have fawned upon me to my face, and betrayed me behind my back. Say, is it not so?"
"My lord," she answered, "whoever has told you aught to my discredit has foully lied. I have ever been faithful to your Majesty, and happy is the man, be he prince or slave, who has a wife no less faithful than I have been."
"Accursed woman!" retorted Haroun, fiercely, "notwithstanding this confident tone on your part, I know you to be guilty; therefore tell me at once who was that man whom you dared to receive in your garden yesterday, or, by Allah! into the Tigris in a sack you shall go as though you were but the meanest of my slaves."
Zobeideh, perceiving from these words that concealment was impossible, and well knowing from the fiery temper of the Caliph that he was quite capable of executing his threat to the letter, replied as follows:
"Since the Commander of the Faithful has discovered, I know not how, that I gave audience to a man yesterday in the garden of my palace, I will confess to the Commander of the Faithful, to whom all things are revealed, the name of the man whom I saw. It was Hunoman, my foster-brother. He is the son of my nurse, and we were brought up together as young children, and loved each other as children love, the sister the brother, and the brother the sister. At seven years of age, his father having died, an uncle took him to India. Only two days since he returned, and, learning this from the old nurse, his mother, I became desirous to see once more the little playfellow of my childhood, to behold the man I had always thought of as a brother, and hear from his own lips an account of the countries and peoples he had visited, the dangers he had encountered, and the manner in which he had contrived to escape from them. I heard that he had brought some rare and valuable presents for me. I determined that he should present them in person. In this I did wrong, but, in the name of the most merciful God, I appeal to the Caliph for mercy, both for my foster-brother, who consented to see me only after much persuasion and with the utmost unwillingness, and also for myself, who am guilty of no other sin than the indulgence of curiosity, which is a sin that so magnanimous a king as your Majesty will be able to pardon in a woman."
Haroun, who thought that Zobeideh was now telling the truth, and who was in truth by no means displeased to find his suspicions concerning her conduct to be unfounded, asked with great calmness—
"What said you is the name of this man?"
"His name," said Zobeideh, "is Hunoman."
"And where is he to be found? for I must see him."
"He is staying at present with his mother, Siveree, my nurse, to whom I have given a small house near the river side."
The Caliph clapped his hands, and to the officer who entered he said—
"Go at once and bring Siveree, a woman belonging to the household of the Lady Zobeideh, and her son, who is called Hunoman, and who is at present staying with her."
The officer saluted and went out, saying to himself as he went, "The Lady Zobeideh he terms her. Her affairs go well. She is a clever woman and knows how to humour the Caliph. Soon she will be again the prime favourite, and more powerful than ever."
When the officer returned with Hunoman and his mother, the latter was conducted to an apartment in that part of the palace which was set apart for the women, while Hunoman himself was at once brought into the presence of the Caliph.
Haroun, looking sternly at Hunoman, who was a stout man of middle height, and not unprepossessing appearance, said—
"I have been informed of your temerity in entering a certain garden, into which you must have known very well that it was fatal to you to enter. But, before passing such a sentence upon you as you must feel that you deserve, I desire to hear the particulars of your career, and what you may have to urge in your defence."
Hunoman prostrated himself before the Commander of the Faithful and replied as follows:
THE STORY OF HUNOMAN.
"Oh, Prince of the Faithful, whose life may Allah prolong, the story of the life of your slave, who is incapable of even thinking of aught that should touch the honour of your Majesty, is very full of dangers and escapes.
"At the age of seven years I was taken by my uncle, Amanoolla, to the country of the Emperor of the Indies, from which I have but just returned.
"My uncle was a worker in gold and silver, and so expert at his craft that he never lacked work, and was enabled, not only to support his family with ease, but to save money. He had a son named Omeda, and as we grew up, Amanoolla taught us both the art of fashioning all kinds of ornaments in the precious metals. But beside his son Omeda, my uncle had also a daughter, Bebee, who was one of the most beautiful girls man can possibly imagine. From the time we were all children together I had entertained the hope or dream of one day making her my wife. Therefore, when I was already seventeen years of age and a good workman, I ventured to ask my uncle to give me Bebee, my cousin, for my wife. But my uncle was very wroth, and said—
"'My daughter, who is fourteen, and more beautiful than any young girl for fifty miles round, may expect to be the wife of a rajah or even of a sovereign prince, and not of a young workman without ten pieces of silver.'
"With that, Amanoolla, fearing to have me any longer so near his daughter, bade me begone and earn my living by my craft in some other part of the country.
"I departed, therefore, and leaving with sorrow my uncle and Omeda, and especially the neighbourhood of the charming Bebee, I travelled until I came to a town twenty days' journey from them, and there I remained working at my trade, very taciturn, very lonely, and unable to forget my disappointment.
"In the town in which I had settled there lived a wealthy Rajah, Gholab Khan, for whom I often made various ornaments both of gold and of silver.
"Thus it came to pass that Sojah, his principal wife, saw me through a lattice window on several occasions when I carried the ornaments I had made to the palace of the Rajah. And, unhappily, she took a most violent fancy to me.
"One day, as I sat at my work, a female slave entered, and said—
"'Hunoman, happy man that you are, listen to me. My mistress, who is no other than Sojah, the wife of Gholab Khan himself, has seen you and likes you. She has sent me, therefore, to say, to-morrow morning about the time of morning prayer two slaves will come to you bringing with them a large basket with hangings for one of the rooms in the palace. Get into the basket and fear nothing, for the slaves will bring you to me.'
"When the messenger from Sojah had gone I could do no more work that day for thinking of the adventure which awaited me on the morrow. I went out and wandered about the town until late, but even when at last I lay down for a long time I could get no sleep. However, when it became light I at last fell asleep, and so heavily that it was late when I woke.
"I was scarcely dressed, and it was nearly time to expect the slaves of Sojah with the big basket, when two slaves sent by the Rajah himself appeared, and saying their master wanted me, hurried me off to the palace. I was greatly frightened from apprehension that the Rajah had by some means discovered his wife's intention and was taking summary measures to defeat it. To my great relief, instead of being taken before the Rajah or ordered forthwith to execution, I was shown into a small room in which I sometimes worked, and told immediately to complete some repairs for some of the ladies of the household.
"At the time I congratulated myself that matters were no worse, but they were bad enough for me as the sequel proved. For when Sojah's two slaves got to the palace and informed their mistress that they had called for me as arranged, but that they could not find me, she became as furious as a tigress baulked of her prey. She did not doubt that I had slighted her and kept out of the way on purpose to avoid her messengers. She determined to be revenged.
"A few days afterwards, therefore, her two slaves with the large basket suddenly appeared at my shop, and seizing me, they instantly gagged me, bound me, threw me into the basket, and carried me off to their mistress.
"The two slaves knocked at a little door leading to a small garden attached to the harem of the Rajah's palace; and taking the basket into a secluded part of the garden they set it down, and lifting me out they laid me gagged and bound as I was upon the grass. They then retired; and Sojah, who had been watching all they did through a lattice, now came to me, and began to upbraid me as I lay gagged and helpless on the ground.
"'Wretch,' she said, 'who hast dared to slight a woman who deigned to condescend to take notice of so mean a thing as thou art, unworthy of the form of a man; I will instantly deprive thee of it! So saying, she took a handful of dust and, pronouncing over it the words: 'Kahoothie Kaventho,' she threw it upon me, exclaiming, 'Quit the shape of man and take that of a horse!'
"Immediately I was changed into the animal she mentioned, and calling her slaves, she commanded them to take me at once to the stable and there to secure me. And this cruel and vindictive woman, not content with having deprived me of human form and converted me into a four-footed dumb creature, would frequently come into the stable where I was, and after ordering her slaves to secure me firmly would beat me savagely, uttering all the time torrents of vituperation and abuse.
"For some months I had to endure all the miseries which the malignant humour of Sojah could inflict upon me. At length, seizing the first opportunity which offered for making my escape, I managed to throw the slave who was riding me, and fled with the speed of the wind. After galloping for many coss, I became completely exhausted, and lay down in an open field near the roadside to rest.
"I had not lain there many minutes, and was still panting and blown, when I saw a party of rough-looking men advancing. Two of them were mounted, and these rushing upon me before I could rise and make off, they easily secured me and took me along with them. The two mounted men having sold me to one of those on foot, soon afterwards left us, and I proceeded in company with the others, carrying my new master on my back.
"I soon discovered that the men who had seized me, and who took me home with them to their village, formed part of a gang belonging to a religious sect known in some parts of the country by the name of Thugs or deceivers, and in other parts of the country by the name of Phansigars or stranglers. I had thus an opportunity, such as no man in human form could have, of observing their idolatrous religion and revolting practices. These wretches worship a patron goddess, the deity of destruction, called Kalee. Their trade from father to son for generations is murder and robbery, and they believe that their goddess, to whom they offer part of their plunder, surrenders into their hands every one of their unhappy victims.
"I had not long been with them before a day was appointed for the celebration of one of their religious, or rather superstitious, rites. This was the consecration of the holy pickaxe, the implement always used by these men for burying those whom they have slain. A fakir, versed in all the learning of the Thugs, was seated, when the auspicious day arrived, with his face turned to the west, and placed the pickaxe in a brass dish which was set before him. In this he proceeded to wash the axe, with four solemn and several washings. First, in water; secondly, in a mixture of sugar and water; thirdly, in sour milk; and fourthly, in spirit. These four ablutions being finished, the fakir replaced in the brass dish the pickaxe together with a cocoa-nut, some cloves, white sandal-wood, and sugar. Then kindling a fire of dried cow-dung and mango-wood, the fakir taking the pickaxe, and holding it in both hands, passed it seven times through the fire.
"The pickaxe, being now duly consecrated, was taken by Jowahir, my master, who, holding it by the point, said, 'Thugs, shall I strike?' then as they said, 'Strike, Jemadar!' he struck the cocoa-nut with the butt end of the pickaxe and broke the nut in pieces. This was hailed by all as a propitious omen from the great Bhowanee or goddess, and a part of the nut having been burnt in the fire, portions of the rest of it were given to all the men present, and the rite was at an end.
"The pickaxe having thus been prepared, it only remained to make use of it; and accordingly, on the following day in the morning, Jowahir as their leader, holding the pickaxe to his breast by the left hand, and a brass jug filled with water in his right hand, moved slowly in the direction indicated by the fakir, to a field outside the village, and there standing with his gang assembled about him, he lifted his eyes toward heaven, and said: 'Great Goddess, universal mother! if this our meditated expedition be fitting in thy sight, vouchsafe us help, and the signs of thy approbation.' All present repeated this prayer after Jowahir, and then waited for the omens or auspices.
"Within a quarter of an hour the omen on the left hand, which must be first heard, and which they term Pilhaoo, was vouchsafed to them. An ass brayed, which they took to be a very good omen. And when very soon afterwards another ass brayed upon the right hand, furnishing them with Thibaoo, or the omen on the right hand, their satisfaction was very great, for they said openly that after omens so favourable success was absolutely assured.
"Jowahir now put down the jug containing water upon the ground, and sitting down beside it remained in that posture, and with his face turned in the direction in which they were to proceed, for the space of seven hours, during which time the others made all things ready for the journey.
"When at length they started Jowahir mounted on my back, and I being the only horse they had, the rest of the party walked.
"For two days they proceeded on their journey without meeting any travellers; and on the second day, therefore, they detached two of the gang, Bular and Khosala, to act as their Bykureea or spies, to endeavour to discover any parties of travellers who might be staying at the serais or inns, or traversing the roads in that neighbourhood.
"In the afternoon the spies returned, and reported that in a serai not far off they had found a party of three travellers who were resting, and proposed to start the next morning at daybreak to proceed on their journey along the highroad to the north.
"Upon receiving this intelligence, Jowahir himself and Oozerah, another of the band, went forward to the serai to act the part of Sothas or inveiglers, and try and persuade the travellers to leave the high-road and take some other road leading through the jungle, and more suited to the Thugs' atrocious designs.
"When we arrived at the serai Jowahir saluted the travellers, one of whom was an old man, while the other two were men in the prime of life.
"Jowahir, after conversing some time upon indifferent subjects, said, that he was journeying northwards, and that he had intended to have proceeded along the direct road to Oulinpore, the next large town; but that he had been told by some merchants who had just come southwards by that road, that provisions were so dear and water so scarce, that he had determined to make a slight detour to avoid that part of the road. The three merchants, who had themselves intended to proceed by the direct road to Oulinpore, were naturally interested in Jowahir's decision, and began to discuss warmly the merits of the two routes.
"As they were talking the rest of the gang made their appearance, and acted as though entire strangers to Jowahir and Oozerah as well as the others. The two younger travellers agreed with Jowahir that it would be wiser to avoid the direct road to Oulinpore; but the old man was for keeping to that road as they had intended to do. When the rest of the gang arrived, they were informed of the question in dispute, and they at first supported the old man's view energetically, and declared that they were resolved like him to keep to the direct road.
"At length, however, after much talking they affected to give in and to become convinced by Jowahir's representations and arguments. Seeing them all now united against him, the old man could hold out no longer, and submitted his judgment to that of the others. It was late before this agreement was arrived at, and all lay down to rest, promising to start together at daybreak next morning.
"Very early indeed, and long before daybreak, Jowahir roused the whole party, and persuading them that being tired they had overslept themselves, and that the day was just about to break, he got them at once on the way.
"He confessed after a while that he must have been in error, and that it was really earlier than he had supposed. 'No matter,' said he, 'we shall have made all the better progress by the time the sun has risen.'
"In fact, before the sun was hot upon them, they had got far into the jungle, and were at a great distance from any other human beings.
"At length, when they approached the half-dried-up bed of a stream through which they must ford, Jowahir proposed that they should first sit down by the margin and rest and eat before proceeding further. This proposal was readily agreed to by all. But by the side of each of the three hapless and unsuspicious travellers, there sat down in apparent amity and good fellowship two members of the gang, one of whom was really the Ghumgeea or holder of hands, while the other was the Phansigar or strangler.
"Suddenly, and without affording the poor wretches a moment's warning, on a sign from Jowahir, the holder of hands seized on the man with whom he was amicably conversing, and the strangler, passing the roomal round his neck with the speed of lightning, strangled him in an instant."
"What," asked the Caliph, "is a roomal?"
"It is," replied Hunoman, "simply a strip of cloth. Although the stranglers are termed Phansigars, from phansee, a noose of cord, yet in practice they scarcely ever use a cord, which if it were found upon them would at once betray and convict them; they employ instead, to effect their murderous purpose, the roomal, a strip of cloth which appears innocent and harmless enough—it might be a turban or a waist cloth—but which in their expert and practised hands is equally effectual.
"After killing the travellers, stripping them, and burying the bodies, the murderers and thieves divided the few coins and other property found upon them. But when making this division in certain proportions according to their usage, these strange monsters did not neglect to set apart a small sum as an offering to Kalee their goddess; and when, after this and several other murders, all characterized by similar features of treachery and baseness, they returned to their village, they proceeded at once to celebrate Tapoonee, or a solemn rite of their most vile idolatry.
"A cloth was spread upon a clean spot of ground. Upon this cloth was placed the consecrated pickaxe and a piece of silver as an offering to the goddess. On the cloth Jowahir took his place, and seated with him also on the cloth were seven Phansigars or stranglers, no Ghumgeea, or any member of the gang of a grade inferior to an actual and experienced strangler, being admitted to sit on the cloth.
"Jowahir then took some goor or sugar, which had been purchased with that part of the plunder set apart for the goddess, and placed it reverently in a hole in the ground. Having so done, he clasped his hands devoutly and prayed as follows: 'Great Goddess, we pray thee to grant us plunder, as thou hast to our fathers before us, and fulfil our desires.'
"All repeated this prayer, and a portion of the goor or sacred sugar having been given to each of those who sat on the cloth, Jowahir gave the signal for strangling, as though a murder were about to be committed, upon which they eat in solemn silence the portions of goor they had received, washing it down with a draught of water. Thus ended the Tapoonee or sacred feast.
"I will not weary and disgust your Majesty by relating all the series of monotonous crimes or superstitious observances which I saw during the two years I remained with these people.
"When that period had elapsed, and while engaged in prosecuting the third expedition which they had undertaken since I had been with them, a circumstance occurred which resulted in freeing me from my miserable and degraded condition, and restoring me to the form and dignity of a human being.
"One day, a day ever memorable to me, the spies returned and announced to Jowahir the Jemadar and our gang of bandits, that they had met advancing along the road towards our present encampment a party of travellers whose appearance promised a rich booty. These travellers consisted of a Rajah, whose name they had ascertained to be Gholab Khan, who was on a journey accompanied by his wife and about a dozen servants.
"This news, which powerfully affected me, was the occasion of a vast deal of discussion and recrimination among the band of Thugs. Some were for awaiting the arrival of the Rajah, and requesting to be allowed to travel in his company for the sake of protection, after which the first favourable opportunity might be taken to murder the whole party and seize all the money and rich clothes and stores they would be sure to have with them. As far as numbers were concerned, this enterprise was quite feasible, for the gang of Jowahir Jemadar, or our gang, as I may term it, had met with and joined the gang of Ramphul Jemadar, and together they counted nearly thirty men.
"But the two Jemadars differed entirely as to the course to be pursued. While Ramphul advocated joining and murdering the Rajah and his party, Jowahir, on the other hand, contended that as it was absolutely forbidden by the principles of their religion to kill a woman, therefore, the wife of the Rajah being with him, the party ought to be permitted to escape.
"'If once,' he said, 'Phansigars, abandoning their immemorial traditions, took to killing women, or disregarding omens, what good luck could they expect, or how could they escape capture and destruction?'
"The dispute waxed hot, and continued until the spies announced the near approach of the Rajah and his party, on which they hurriedly agreed as a compromise that they should join if possible the Rajah's party, and afterwards either slay or spare them as might be by further discussion determined.
"Having despatched about half their men in advance, that their numbers might not appear too formidable and perhaps alarm the travellers, the two Jemadars waited, in their assumed character of peaceful and timid merchants, the arrival of Gholab Khan.
"On seeing him they saluted him respectfully, and, professing great uneasiness concerning the lonely and little-frequented character of that part of the country which lay immediately before them, they begged as a great favour to be allowed to join his party.
"To this request Gholab Khan very readily acceded, and the united party proceeded amicably together, the Rajah and the two Jemadars riding and conversing with each other, while the rest of the Thugs accompanied and made themselves very agreeable to the Rajah's followers. The latter were armed, whereas the peaceful and inoffensive-looking Thugs carried no weapon, but had with them only the innocent roomal, which they knew how to wield when the moment should arrive with such swift and fatal dexterity.
"Now when Sojah, the Rajah's wife, peeping from her palanquin, saw me, she instantly recognized me, and telling her husband that she had taken a great fancy to the merchant's horse, because it so much resembled one she had lost two years previously, she begged him to buy it for her.
"The Rajah, always anxious to oblige his wife, who had great influence over him, began at once to negotiate with Jowahir. And the latter, who wished to keep on good terms with his destined victim, was persuaded very easily to exchange me for another horse offered him by the Rajah and ten pieces of silver. I thus passed once more into the possession of the cruel and vindictive Sojah.
"This filled me with despair, and I looked forward with dread to a repetition of the barbarous treatment I had before endured at her hands. But time had apparently softened her resentment, and changed her feelings towards me. Perhaps she thought that the misery I had undergone during more than two years would render me more complaisant and ready to yield to her desires; at any rate, she received me with joy and treated me with kindness, and, taking an opportunity that same evening to come alone to the place where I was picketed with the other horses, she stooped down, and taking a handful of dust she threw it over me, pronouncing the same magical formula as before, and then bade me leave that form of a horse and resume my own proper shape as a man.
"Immediately the transformation took place. But, well knowing that the Rajah and his whole party were doomed to almost inevitable destruction by the large gang of Thugs in whose company they then were, I perceived that my only chance of escape lay in turning the magical art of this vile woman against herself. Therefore, no sooner had I resumed my natural shape, and stood before her once more in the form of a man, than I bowed low as though to salute her with the greatest deference, and suddenly seizing a handful of dust I threw it over her, pronounced the magical words: 'Kahoothie Kaventho,' and said, before she could recover from her surprise, 'Quit the shape of woman of which you are unworthy and take that of a mare.' What the nature of the charm might be, or by the aid of what demon the change took place, I know not; at any rate the incantation was effectual, and as I pronounced the words, Sojah disappeared and a beautiful mare stood before me.
"Without the loss of a moment I saddled and bridled her, and rode off, at first slowly and quietly, but afterwards as fast as possible along the road we had just come, and in the opposite direction to that which was to be taken early next morning by the Rajah and my late master, Jowahir.
"I had been riding for more than an hour, and was still proceeding very rapidly, when my mare suddenly stumbled and threw me over her head on to the ground. I fell heavily and must have remained a long time unconscious, for when I came to myself I found myself lying on a soft rug in a small apartment in which two other men were sitting. These men, as I afterwards discovered, were priests of one of the heathen religions of that country, and the house in which I now lay was close to the temple containing the idol or image of the god whom they worshipped. The name of the older of these priests was Soobulda, and that of the younger, Esuree; and although idolaters, they saved my life, and showed me as long as I was with them no little kindness.
"They had found me lying senseless on the road, and had carried me to their house which was close by, and on my recovering consciousness they invited me to stay for some days until I should desire to resume my journey. I accepted their invitation all the more gladly because I had no money and knew not where to go.
"But what chiefly troubled me, as it would have done your Majesty or any true believer, was to see these men prostrate themselves before the wooden image which was their idol.
"One night, therefore, while Soobulda and Esuree slept, I went into the temple and threw down the idol.
"Next morning early, Soobulda came to me and said, 'A great calamity has befallen us, for the god is wroth, and his image is cast down and lies upon the floor of the temple.'
"Then I answered, comforting Soobulda, and said, 'It is no matter, only take the image and put it in its place again, and all will be well.'
"Three times I threw down the image, and three times Soobulda came in the morning, and told me what had been done. The third time Soobulda and Esuree came both of them together, and accused me of having thrown it down.
"Then I said: 'Why, what sort of a feeble creature must this god of yours be, if these three times I can cast down his image, and he remain unable to prevent me or to punish me?'
"After that I told them of Allah, the true God, and of Mohammed, the Prophet of God. And the two priests believed, and left the idol lying on the ground where I had thrown it down.
"Fearing to remain any longer in that part of the country, Soobulda and Esuree left their house a few days afterwards, and agreed to go with me to visit my Uncle Amanoolla, whom I had not seen for a long time, and whose daughter Bebee I had not forgotten.
"We travelled slowly, stopping from time to time at various towns on our way, in some of which I got work at my craft, and thus earned money to help us to continue our journey.
"All this time I told Soobulda and Esuree much concerning the Moslem faith, and they assumed the garb and practised the ablutions, and recited the prayers of true believers."
"In that, by Allah, you did right," exclaimed the Caliph, "and I grant you your life for so doing."
Hunoman bowed and continued:
"At one town where we stayed, it happened that when the morning came on which we had arranged to depart, I had still some work by me which I had not finished, and I agreed therefore with Soobulda and Esuree, that they should start first and proceed leisurely, and that I would hasten after them and overtake them at their first halting-place.
"This was done, and when soon after midday I came up with them, I found, that having enjoyed a meal and two hours' rest, they were just preparing to resume their journey. At the little serai or inn where they were, they had met with ten other travellers, and the whole party were now about to set out together.
"Hastily eating some food I had brought with me, I started with the others, and falling into conversation with our fellow-travellers, we formed a very sociable gathering.
"But during the afternoon, and when we had been some time in company, I happened to overhear one of our fellow-travellers say a few words in a low tone to another, which I instantly recognized as being of the peculiar dialect used by the Phansigars. We were in the hands of a party of Thugs, and escape seemed impossible.
"I looked round at my friends, desiring to warn them of our desperate situation; but even that was not feasible, for each was surrounded by two or three of the strangers, so that I could say nothing to them which would not be overheard.
"However, it mattered little, for even had they known of our danger what could be done? Three men against ten desperate ruffians would have no chance, and on the least indication of suspicion on our part they would, I knew, attack and kill us at once, at all hazards. The only hope remaining for us seemed to me to be that we should meet some other party of travellers, whose protection we might claim. Of this, however, there would appear to be but very faint hope indeed.
"Our road passed through a jungle, wild and desolate, where we might perhaps disturb a tiger, but could hardly expect to come upon a man. The air was hot and sultry, it seemed to me more oppressive than I had ever before experienced. Everything around us was still, and as we trod along the sandy road even our footsteps made scarcely a sound that could be heard.
"Soobulda and Esuree chatted pleasantly with their companions, suspecting nothing. As for me, I had become silent and thoughtful, and prayed inwardly to Allah to deliver us from this danger.
"At length one of those who walked with me, and whom I took to be the leader of the band, proposed that as I had had no rest and seemed to be tired, we should halt and rest by the side of a small stream we were then passing. I perceived at once that we had arrived at the bele, or place of execution. The Phansigars always send a man on to choose the bele carefully beforehand. No place could be more suited to their purpose. It was lonely as a desert; so remote from every human track or habitation that no shriek of a victim could be heard by any one, and the loose sand by the margin of the stream would yield readily to the sacred pickaxe when the roomal had done its fatal work.
"We sat down, and beside each of us three sat three others, two of whom were the holders of hands, while the third was the Bhurtote or strangler, as I knew only too well.
"The leader strolled carelessly to and fro, preparing to give the signal. Already I seemed to feel the pressure of the strip of cloth about my neck, to anticipate the short and ineffectual struggles of the unfortunate victims, to feel the kicks of those wretches on my back, and then in a few moments all would be over.
"At this critical moment, just as the leader paused in his walk and opened his lips to pronounce the words which would have been the signal to his followers, and would have sealed our doom—he sneezed. I saw a look of mingled rage and disgust pass round the party. One of the most stringent and disabling of all omens had occurred. No Thug would despatch his victim after such a manifestation of the wrath of the great Bhowanee. Our lives would be spared, held sacred indeed for this time, by these ruthless murderers.
"Very shortly afterwards, the gang, on some pretext of having to take another road, separated from us, and we pursued our way without further incident to the dwelling of my Uncle Amanoolla.
"Arrived there, I found that my Cousin Bebee had been married some time since to a rich merchant in the neighbourhood. My uncle received me gladly, and made my two friends, Soobulda and Esuree, welcome for my sake, and for the sake of the true faith of Islam which they had adopted. He had prospered greatly since I left him, and had acquired much wealth, so that at his death, which happened about six months after my return, he left me a considerable sum with which to commence to trade.
"I had, however, a great desire to revisit the land of my birth; I bought, therefore, many things which would be esteemed rare and valuable in Bagdad, where about a week ago I arrived safely.
"Of the command I received through my mother from Zobeideh, to appear before her and relate my adventures, I have already informed your Majesty, and have now only to await the sentence which the Commander of the Faithful may see fit to pronounce upon me."
"I have already," said Haroun, "granted you your life because you have led two men to embrace the true faith of Islam. But moreover, since I am not used to send away those I pardon with empty hands, I appoint you Governor of my province of Egypt. Giafer shall immediately prepare the patent of investiture, and you are to start at once."
Hunoman thanked the Commander of the Faithful for his munificence, and promised instant obedience to this and every order he should receive.
Thus the Caliph pardoned and rewarded Hunoman, the foster-brother of his favourite wife, Zobeideh; but perhaps he was not unwilling to separate them as far as Bagdad is from Cairo.
The Caliph and the Slave Merchants
The consequences which had resulted from the first and only trial which he had made of the magical and marvellous properties of the ointment contained in the second jar had been so little pleasing to the Caliph, and had so nearly caused the death of his favourite wife Zobeideh, that he had no inclination to test it further at present. He placed it, therefore, in his cabinet, together with the other jar, until some occasion should arise on which he might desire to make use of them. Yet, although he was prejudiced against making further trial of the ointments, he continued to undertake from time to time his occasional nocturnal rambles in company with Giafer.
One evening, after they had wandered for a long time in their usual disguise as merchants through the streets and bazaars of the city, they turned into a large caravanserai, and sat down to rest themselves. There was a great number of merchants collected within the hospitable walls of the caravanserai, and close by the Caliph and Giafer sat two men, with whom they were destined to become better acquainted.
Not long after the Caliph and his companion had entered and seated themselves, one of these two men by a glance drew the attention of his friend to the new-comers, and they began very shortly a dispute, which appeared to wax very warm indeed, respecting the merits of two female slaves which they possessed, and as to the pre-eminence of whose rival attractions they were quite unable to agree. They vociferated and gesticulated and appeared to get so angry with each other, that in their mutual fury they seemed ready to tear each other to pieces.
At length the Caliph interposed with a good-humoured smile, and said—
"Gentlemen, if you will pardon a stranger for interfering in your dispute, I would suggest that the best and most effectual mode of deciding as to the relative merits and value of your two slaves would be to call in some disinterested man as umpire between you. Now I and my friend are merchants, not only very well qualified to judge of the beauty and accomplishments of your slaves, but also quite ready to offer you a good price for them, because, as we have the entrance to the palace of the Caliph, the Grand Vizier, and other great personages, we are in a position to bring them to the very best market, and obtain a higher price for them than any one else."
The two merchants who had acted their parts in the pretended quarrel with no other object than to elicit some such proposal, now willingly accepted it.
"Come with us then," they exclaimed, "and your verdict shall decide our dispute. The slave for whom you are willing to bid the highest price, she shall be judged to be incontestably the better."
On this the two merchants rose, and conducting the Caliph and Giafer through many narrow streets and lanes in a part of the town they did not remember to have been in before, they stopped at length before a great gateway, on the door of which they gave three peculiar knocks. The door was opened by a huge black African slave, who grinned horribly as he saw his masters and the two strangers, and who, having admitted them, carefully closed and fastened the door behind them.
They were ushered at first into a large room, having a wide and handsome divan, on which the merchants begged them to be seated. Another African slave, as large, black, and, if possible, even more hideous than the first, brought them refreshments and sweetmeats, together with silver goblets, into which he poured very good wine.
After they had sat some time in this room, the Caliph proposed that they should proceed to inspect and pass judgment on the two beautiful female slaves. The slave merchants therefore conducted the Caliph and Giafer to a smaller apartment elegantly fitted up, where, on a divan of the richest materials and most exquisite workmanship, was seated an Indian slave of the rarest beauty.
The Caliph, who was ever an enthusiastic admirer of lovely women, stood for some moments lost in astonishment and delight.
"Surely," said he, at length, "you have nothing more beautiful that you can show us. I must have this slave, and will give you ten thousand pieces of gold for her."
"If you are pleased with this slave," said one of the merchants, without noticing the Caliph's offer, "what will you say of the other?"
Then leading the way from the room of the beautiful Indian, which was splendidly upholstered with hangings and furniture in crimson and gold, he led the way through a short passage to another room, where all the fittings were of silver and dark blue. In this room, instead of the black-haired and dark-eyed Indian, sat a Persian beauty, whose hair was light and fine as new spun silk, and whose lustrous blue eyes and absolutely perfect form defy description.
The Caliph stood entranced at the sight. At length he exclaimed—
"From what country does that lovely creature come? Is she really a woman, or is she not rather a fairy whom some enchantment has brought among us?"
"If," said the slave merchant, "you bid me ten thousand pieces of gold for the slave in the other room, how much will you offer for this?"
"I will give you," said the Caliph, "forty thousand dinars, and not think her dear at that price."
"Asmut," said the merchant to his companion, "did I not tell you that my slave girl was better than yours? And behold this honest merchant offers four times as much for her as for your Indian."
"It is easy enough," retorted the other, "for some fellow you pick up in the bazaar, and who has not probably a thousand dinars in the world, to talk of ten thousand for this slave, and forty thousand for that. It will be time to defer to his opinion, I think, when we see the thousands he talks of so glibly."
"Without doubt," said the first speaker, "this honourable merchant would not offer a price, however large, for the slaves, unless he were able to find the money. If he has not so much he can probably borrow a part of it. Therefore, let both of these merchants lodge here with us to-night, and to-morrow they may either fetch or send for the gold, and the bargain may be concluded."
But the Caliph exclaimed with his usual impetuosity—
"By Allah, there shall be no to-morrow in the matter. I will send for the money at once, and the slaves shall be mine."
To this Asmut replied, "By your leave, not so fast. We desired, indeed, that you should set a price on each of the slaves that we might decide our dispute as to which of them is the better. But I by no means intended or bound myself to accept any sum you might mention for the slaves, whom I am in no hurry to dispose of."
"Very well," said the Caliph, who was quite unused to the chaffering of merchants, although he had assumed the garb of one, "if the price I have named does not content you, name your own price, for, in short, the slaves I will have."
Asmut, after a few moments' consideration as to the highest sum he could ask without going beyond what it seemed possible to obtain from this very frank and eager buyer, said—
"The prices you have named, although no doubt large, are, in my opinion, so much below the real value of two beauties of such surpassing excellence, that I must insist on twice as much as you have offered, namely, twenty thousand dinars for the one and eighty thousand for the other."
The Caliph laughed and said, "Verily you are not a merchant for naught, and you do not underestimate the worth of your own wares. Nevertheless, I will give you your price."
The slave merchants could make no objection to this prompt agreement to their terms; on the contrary, it suited their plans very well. Yet, in order to appear indifferent and little anxious to conclude the business with any undue haste and precipitancy, Asmut said—
"To-morrow, however, will be early enough to produce the money. It is now dark and grows late, and besides, whom can you send?"
"I have a man whom I can send," said the Caliph, "for my servant will have followed us here, and I will despatch him at once for the money."
And in fact Giafer, going to the gate, beckoned to Mesrur, who had followed them as usual, and who was waiting for them outside, and not far from the house he had seen them enter.
The Caliph, taking out his tablets, wrote a few words to his treasurer, bidding him send at once by Mesrur, and in the hands of two slaves, the sum of one hundred thousand dinars. This note he delivered to Mesrur, who saluted his master and immediately departed on his errand.
The Caliph and Giafer then seated themselves on the divan in the large apartment into which they had been shown on first entering the house, and, together with the slave merchants, passed the time in conversing and discussing again the unique beauty of the two ladies whom the Caliph was to purchase.
When Mesrur returned, bringing with him two slaves carrying the hundred thousand dinars in fifty bags, there being two thousand dinars in a bag, they were shown at once into the large room where the merchants and the Caliph were sitting.
As the slaves deposited the bags on the floor the slave merchants, as also the Caliph and Giafer, rose and stood by them, Asmut so placing the lamp as that they could all see him count the money as they stood together.
He proposed to count the money in one of the bags, and that he should then proceed to weigh the other bags against that which had been counted. While all were watching him as he poured out and counted the money with much noise and many loud exclamations from both merchants as to the lightness of some of the coins, neither the Caliph, Giafer, Mesrur, nor either of the slaves, perceived that behind them, barefoot and noiseless as camels, a number of huge and powerful black slaves had entered the room.
Suddenly Asmut, seizing the empty bag and dashing it on the floor, exclaimed, "I will count no more!"
This being the signal, no sooner had he uttered the words than the slaves seized the Caliph and his companions, threw them down, and before they could either struggle or cry out had securely bound and gagged them.
"A good haul for one night's fishing," said Asmut, coolly; "a hundred thousand dinars and five men, who will doubtless sell very well after taking a voyage, that is not so bad."
Then ordering some of the slaves to be ready to take the prisoners down to the river as soon as the dawn should appear, Asmut and his partner personally superintended the removal from the room of the bags of gold.
Very early in the morning, as soon as it began to be light, a party of the black slaves who had bound the Caliph and his followers came to them, and unbinding their legs escorted them down to the river, where a ship belonging to the slave merchants lay ready to receive them.
Their prospects of escape out of the clutches of the slave merchants who had robbed and kidnapped them seemed slight indeed. Giafer and the faithful Mesrur being included in the capture, seriously diminished the chance of any effectual measures for their relief being promptly undertaken, and a fatal period of delay was rendered all the more probable in consequence of the Caliph's well-known fondness for seeking adventures in disguise. When the morning should come, and it was perceived that they had not returned to the palace, it was only too likely to be assumed that they were still engaged in the prosecution of some adventure in which the Caliph would not desire to be interrupted. Filled with these painful reflections, the Caliph, together with Giafer, Mesrur, and the two slaves, accompanied the black slaves who formed their guard, and proceeded towards the river.
They had nearly reached the bank of the stream, and their case seemed altogether hopeless, when suddenly they met advancing towards them from the river a man habited as a merchant, and in personal appearance curiously resembling the Caliph himself. He was accompanied by two companions, and seeing several men bound and gagged being marched along under charge of the black slaves, he stopped and demanded in a firm and authoritative tone who they were and whence they were going.
At the sight of this man the blacks appeared to be seized with a sudden panic; the Caliph heard them say to each other hurriedly and with terrified looks, "It is the son of a Slave himself." And immediately they turned about and fled at their utmost speed.
The stranger and his two companions at once released the prisoners, and inquired how it came to pass that they found them thus bound and gagged.
The Caliph answered him: "Sir, we have suffered this indignity and violence at the hands of two rascally and deceitful slave merchants. I will presently relate to you all the details of our adventure, but permit me first to despatch my servant on a piece of very urgent business."
Then turning to Mesrur he took him aside, and said, "Go instantly, seize the two slave merchants and execute them at once; send the slaves and plunder you find in their house to the palace, and raze their house to the ground."
Mesrur departed at once to the nearest guardhouse to procure help to carry out the orders of the Commander of the Faithful. And it need scarcely be said that he had never received a command from his Majesty which he executed with so much alacrity and good-will.
After having despatched Mesrur on this errand, the Caliph turned to the merchant and his companions, and said—
"It is now time, gentlemen, that I should thank you for your intervention on our behalf, and that I should explain to you how it came to pass that we found ourselves in the plight from which you released us."
Beginning, then, by saying that he and his friend had entered a certain caravanserai to rest themselves, and had there met the slave merchants, he related all that had befallen them, but said nothing to indicate his true rank as Caliph and Commander of the Faithful.
After Haroun had thus explained to the merchant, who both in dress and features so much resembled himself, the history of his own position, he asked him whether he could in any way account for the sudden panic which had seized upon the slaves directly he had appeared and addressed them.
The merchant, who resembled Haroun Alraschid, not only in personal appearance, but in a certain frank and bold bearing, laughed and said—
"My name is Sidi ibn Thalabi, and I am, as my dress bespeaks me, a merchant. But having the good fortune to be both in stature and features not only like yourself, which strange to say I certainly am, but also, which is more to the point, like our Caliph, God be his shield, I have been tempted in one thing to imitate his illustrious example. The Prince of the Faithful is in the habit, as I dare say you may have heard, of seeking adventures and seeing life in the disguise of a merchant. People, who would feel constrained in the presence of their sovereign, speak and act naturally in the presence of a simple merchant, the equal of themselves. This pleases the Caliph, and affords him the gratification and amusement of observing men as they are. As Prince of the Faithful he sees them only as they pretend to be. Well, I have the same fancy, only in the contrary direction. I know how men act when they accept me as their equal, I play at being their Prince and then watch their behaviour. Taking advantage of the Caliph's well-known fondness for masquerading as a merchant and of my personal likeness to him, it is very easy to allow the impression to get about that I am he. This accounts for the precipitate flight of the slaves. Having seen me no doubt on sundry occasions in my barge upon the Tigris, and having been told by some of those busy-bodies who affect to know every one and everything that I was the Caliph in disguise, they no sooner saw me just now and heard me demand who you were than they ran away, dreading the punishment they so richly deserve."
"It appears to me," said Haroun, "that the amusement in which you indulge is a somewhat dangerous one. The Caliph is, I am told, of a fierce and rather hasty temper; should he learn by chance of your pranks, it might cost you your head. However, that is your affair. For myself, I am indebted to your temerity for my liberty and probably for my life, therefore I have certainly no cause to quarrel with it. I shall be delighted to form one of your company in any further adventures you may undertake, and meanwhile should hear with pleasure an account of any that may have already befallen you."
To this Sidi ibn Thalabi replied, "I shall gladly conduct you to my boat on the Tigris, whither I was going when I had the good fortune to meet with you. And when we are seated there at our ease and have partaken of some food, of which you must stand greatly in need after your night's lodging with the slave merchants, I will tell you how it happened that I obtained the reputation of being the Prince of the Faithful, and some incidents that have occurred in consequence. But first," he continued, "let me introduce my friend and companion, who is indeed no other than my brother-in-law Abraha, but whom the people who take me to be the Caliph insist upon regarding as the Grand Vizier."
"Yussuf," said Haroun, addressing Giafer by that name in order to further their disguise and continue what gave promise of proving a very entertaining misunderstanding, "I am sure you will salute with due respect the person of this Grand Vizier, who is, I doubt not, as good a man or even a better than Giafer himself."
"Friend Hamad," replied Giafer, speaking to Haroun in the style and by the name they had previously agreed upon, "I salute with pleasure both our new acquaintances, and am ready to believe that Abraha is no less worthy to be really Grand Vizier than Sidi ibn Thalabi is to be really Caliph."
Haroun perceived both from the manner and the answer of Giafer that the sham Grand Vizier was a joke not quite to his liking. This amused Haroun not a little, and he employed the time as they walked towards the river in further light and playful discourse upon the topic.
Addressing Abraha, he said, "You must be pleased, sir, to excuse any roughness or want of good manners and politeness on the part of my friend Yussuf; he is perhaps a little bit jealous of the good fortune of one who has been regarded as the Grand Vizier."
Abraha, who was a rather dull and stolid personage, accepted these mock apologies with such imperturbable gravity and sincerity that Haroun was delighted with him.
Saluting Haroun very solemnly, the sham Grand Vizier said, "Sir, I beg that you will give yourself no concern respecting the language or demeanour of your friend Yussuf. I dare say he is a good plain man, however unused to the company of high personages, and in any case I am able to make allowances for any whiff of passing ill-humour or jealousy."
During this conversation between Haroun and Abraha, Giafer and Sidi ibn Thalabi had fallen a little way behind and were walking and talking together. A little way behind these came the two slaves whom Mesrur had brought to the slave merchants with him to carry the gold pieces.
When the party arrived at the bank of the Tigris, Haroun, stepping aside, beckoned the slaves to him and despatched them to the palace with a note addressed to the Grand Chamberlain.
In this note he informed that functionary that he should not return to the palace for some hours, and commanded him to send the two slaves at once, under guard and without allowing them to speak to any one, to a town fifty days' journey from Bagdad, he having no mind to entrust the secret of his last night's adventure to the indiscreet tongues of the slaves who had participated in it. Having thus got rid of the slaves, Haroun and Giafer accompanied their new acquaintances, Abraha and Sidi ibn Thalabi, on board the ship or pleasure barge belonging to the latter.
After they had been seated for some time, and had appeased their hunger by partaking of a very substantial breakfast, Haroun said to Sidi ibn Thalabi—
"I must now remind you of your promise to tell me something of your recent experience."
Upon which Sidi ibn Thalabi spoke as follows:
THE NARRATIVE OF SIDI IBN THALABI.
"I must first tell you, friend Hamad," he began, for Haroun and Giafer were known to him only by their assumed names of Hamad and Yussuf—"I must first tell you how it came about that I was induced to personate our sovereign lord, Haroun Alraschid, whom may Allah preserve, and from whose ears may the story of my presumption be hidden for ever."
"I should say," said Haroun, "that he is never likely to hear of it, unless you communicate it to him yourself."
"In that case I should be safe enough," said Sidi ibn Thalabi. "However, to resume, what put the idea into my head in the first instance was this. I was one day coming down to the river to spend the day on board my boat, when I called at the shop or stall of a fruit merchant in the bazaar to buy some fruit. I sat down in his shop while I selected what I required and bargained as to the price. I was surprised, in the first place, to find that instead of asking five or six times the value of the fruit and abating his demand by degrees, as is commonly the custom, the merchant, who treated me with extreme deference, begged me to choose whatever fruit I pleased and pay him for it as much as I might consider it to be worth."
"'What,' said I, 'do you leave the price to be fixed by me? Suppose I give you but half the value of it?'
"'Sir,' answered the man, 'Allah forbid that your slave should venture to put aside the veil in which you choose at this moment to envelop yourself. Nevertheless, I am very sensible of the honour you have done me in entering my shop and conversing familiarly with me, and truly the shop and all it contains are altogether at your service.'
"'For whom do you take me, or mistake me,' said I, 'that you treat me to so many compliments and good offers?'
"'Sir,' he replied, 'I have seen his Majesty the Caliph, whom may Allah protect, ride by so often, both when he is going to and returning from the Mosque, that it would be very strange if I could fail to recognize his features, no matter what disguise he may choose to assume. However, I will say no more, a merchant and no more than a merchant you are if you will it so. To what place does it please you that I should send you the fruit?'
"I denied again that I was the Commander of the Faithful, no matter how much my features might resemble his; but perceiving that the man retained his own opinion of my identity and received my disclaimers only out of politeness, I thought it not worth while to argue the question with him further, but desired him to send the fruit to me, Sidi ibn Thalabi, on board this boat. At the same time, I must confess that I so far yielded to the weakness of being flattered by being taken for the Caliph in disguise that I gave the fruit merchant two dinars for fruit which was not worth one quarter of that sum.
"On receiving the money, which he did with much humbleness and many profound salutations, the merchant said—
"'Sidi ibn Thalabi, as so you desire to be called, I give you many thanks for your liberality, and I pray you not to be offended with me if I seize the present opportunity to beg a favour of you.'
"'If,' said I, 'it is in my power to do what you wish, I assure you that, far from taking offence, I shall oblige you gladly.'
"'Your kind words,' said the merchant, 'fill me with joy, because my request is entirely within your power to grant. I have an only son, let him come to you and employ him in any office for which you may judge him to be fit.'
"'On condition,' I answered, 'that you bear in mind that I am simply Sidi ibn Thalabi and no one else, I am ready to see and employ your son if you so desire.'
"The fruit merchant vowed that no word of either himself or his son should betray the belief that I was any other than what I represented myself, namely, Sidi ibn Thalabi, a retired merchant taking his ease in his boat upon the Tigris. On this understanding the young man came to me, and finding him to be a very agreeable and well-educated young fellow, I have employed him in the office of my secretary.
"Being possessed of property at Bussora and other towns, I am often absent from Bagdad, and only occasionally take my pleasure here on my boat just as the humour seizes me. Whether misled by these absences, or whether accepting his father's opinion without question, I know not, but I soon discovered that, not only did my new secretary believe me to be the Caliph, but that he had spread this rumour of me among a great number of the river-side population. Perhaps he discovered that he himself was in consequence held in greater esteem, Allah alone knows—at any rate he hesitated not to spread the false report concerning me.
"It thus came to pass that, not only was I often received in any company in which I chanced to find myself with an amount of respect and deference to which I was really by no means entitled, but people who were strangers to me asked me to social gatherings and feasts under the mistaken notion that they were thereby securing themselves personal intercourse with the dreaded and illustrious Haroun Alraschid himself.
"As often as possible I refused these invitations, but could not avoid now and then coming into a mixed society, where I soon perceived that my fame had preceded me. On those occasions, should any dispute arise, it was not uncommon for my authority to be confidently appealed to, and my verdict to be implicitly accepted. This very naturally brought me more than once into a position of considerable difficulty. For, on the one hand, no disclaimer on my part would avail to convince those who appealed to me that I was not really the Caliph; and, on the other hand, I well knew myself to be quite powerless either to enforce my decision or to punish those who were clearly guilty, and both deserving and expecting to be sentenced.
"An incident that occurred only two days since will illustrate what I have been saying. I was on my way to the river accompanied by Abraha only, when passing through a street in the lower part of the town we came upon a crowd of people shouting and gesticulating and making a great hubbub. In the centre of the crowd there was one man who was dragging another along violently and crying out constantly, 'Come before the Cadi, you villain! come before the Cadi, you villain!' All the others, as is usual in such cases, were crying out some one thing, some another.
"When the crowd perceived us the hubbub was redoubled, and all we could gather from the confused noise was that they were appealing to me to arbitrate between them. I made a sign, therefore, that they should be silent, and there being at a short distance from the spot where we met the crowd a small open space with a fountain in the middle of it, I led the way thither, and seating myself on the steps of the fountain, the two men stood before me, and the crowd gathered round to hear what was said and witness what would take place, the people never doubting but that when I should have examined the case I should pronounce judgment on the offender.
"When I asked the man who had hold of the other, and who was evidently the complainant, to state what was the matter, he exclaimed very vehemently—
"'This man, this rascally barber, whom your Greatness sees here before you, has murdered my brother. He a barber! He is a plunderer! he is an assassin! Do justice upon him, therefore, and condemn the ignorant wretch to the punishment he so richly deserves.'
"'Not so fast, not so fast,' said I; 'tell me more calmly, and with particulars, in what way has this barber murdered your brother?'
"'Your Greatness,' said the man, 'it was in this wise. My brother had been working in the heat of the sun, and the sun had doubtless inflamed his blood so that he became stupefied and unconscious. I went, therefore, for a barber that he should come and bleed my brother, and restore his senses to him. Now as ill-luck would have it the first barber I lighted upon was this pestilent fellow. When I found him he was engaged in shaving a customer, and because that customer was a good one he would not leave him to attend to my brother, but first finished his shaving and then came with me. Having first delayed so long, when at last he was come he bled my brother not once but three times, and two hours afterwards my brother died. I say, therefore, truly that he has killed my brother, and deserves to be termed butcher rather than barber.'
"Having listened to this complaint, I said, addressing the barber, 'You hear what this man alleges; let me hear, therefore, what reply you can make and how you will defend yourself from the charge which has been brought against you.'
"The barber, who like most of his class did not lack assurance and had words at command, was not slow to answer.
"'Sir,' said he, 'the accusation which this man brings against me, and his assertion that I am ignorant and do not understand the duties of my office, are both of them groundless and absurd. I have not been a barber for fifteen years without knowing very well how to let blood as well as how to shave; and if this man's brother is dead, it is in spite of what I did for him, and not in consequence of it. As to what is alleged of my delay, I deny it altogether. I did but give three or four strokes of my razor, which was all that was needed to finish the operation of shaving in which I was engaged when this man called for me, and it is only his furious impatience that has magnified a few seconds into a serious delay. As to the bleeding, I did indeed take from him six ounces of blood; in one cup I received two ounces, in a second cup two ounces, and in a third cup two ounces. But that quantity was by no means too much. Moreover, that which was received into the first cup coagulated in twelve minutes, that which was received into the second cup in twenty-two minutes, while that which was in the third cup was not completely coagulated in thirty-five minutes; now what does that prove?'
"'It proves,' said the other, 'that you are, as I have told you already, a bungler and murderer, for is not my brother dead of your bleeding, and you deserve to lose your head?'
"'Sir,' said the barber to me, 'this man simply raves, as you will have observed. Every baker and tailor knows more in his own conceit of bleeding than a barber of fifteen years' experience like myself. They are able to pass judgment as to the question of too much or too little without hesitation and with the utmost exactness. It is a story as old as King Ad—the more ignorant they are the more sure they be. Presently they will discover that men should never be let blood at all, forgetting that we bleed our horses also, and find it does them good. And, for myself, I know after fifteen years' experience how much to take both from the healthy and from the sick.'
"'Accursed barber,' interrupted the other, fiercely, 'I believe verily that thou canst neither bleed without killing nor shave without cutting.'
'"As for my bleeding,' retorted the barber, in a rage, 'I have bled many score without accident or ill-result, excepting only your brother, who was a drunkard and as good as dead before ever I saw him; while as for my being able to shave without cutting, I will have you to know that there lives no creature on this earth, from an ape to the illustrious Caliph himself, whom may Allah preserve and exalt, that I will not shave without giving him so much as a scratch.'
"'That,' said I, willing to end the dispute between the two men, 'is a very bold challenge on the part of the barber. The Caliph indeed can be scarcely got to submit himself to the test, but we will get an ape, and if this honest man shaves him, as he says he can, without inflicting a scratch, I will adjudge him to be a very proficient barber and an adept in each branch of his trade, both bleeding and shaving.'
"The people, who are easily led and amused, received my decision with delight. They cried out, 'An ape! an ape!' All were desirous to see how the creature would submit himself to the operation of being shaved. Even the man who had lost his brother could not altogether refrain from a grin of satisfaction at the thought of the troublesome task the barber had before him."
Haroun Alraschid smiled and stroked his beard, saying, "Sidi ibn Thalabi, that was a happy inspiration, and extricated you cleverly from what threatened to become for you a rather embarrassing position."
Sidi ibn Thalabi acknowledged this compliment to his sagacity by a low bow, and continued—
"For the people to find an ape on which the barber could exhibit his skill was no easy matter, none knew where such an animal could be procured. However, I was able myself to get them out of this difficulty very speedily. A merchant of my acquaintance had I knew many strange birds and beasts which had been brought to him at sundry times by the various ships and caravans which conveyed his merchandize. To him I applied, stating what I required, and was able to purchase a little ape who appeared very suitable for our purpose.
"This little animal was really very young, as its constant and restless activity sufficiently proved, but it had the appearance of a small aged African, with deeply wrinkled forehead and cheeks and a sparse beard of short white hairs. When this creature was placed in the hands of the barber, its behaviour gave promise of affording us all the entertainment we could desire.
"It was the duty of the barber to perform the various functions of his office in the customary manner. He had first to wash the head and face, and then to proceed to shave just as in the case of any one else. For this purpose the barber produced a metal basin, which he filled with water from the fountain; and the ape having been accommodated with a seat on a low bench in the middle of the open space round which the people were assembled, the barber set down the basin beside him. For a few moments the little creature sat regarding the basin with an expression of great gravity and wisdom, but just as the barber, having dipped a piece of cloth in the water, was wringing it out preparatory to commencing the operation of washing, the ape suddenly seized upon the basin with both hands and turned it upside down, apparently with childish curiosity to examine the other side.
"The effect of this movement was to pour all the contents of the basin over the ape's own legs, which disconcerted him very much, and the barber stooping down to pick up the basin which the ape had dropped, the little creature nimbly sprang upon his shoulders, and with its wet legs round the barber's neck he employed himself in taking off the man's turban, which he first placed on his own head and then immediately afterwards snatching it off again he threw it on the ground.
"At these antics the crowd of course laughed loudly, but the barber, who was a man of much good temper and self-control, simply took the ape off his shoulders, and having seated him again as at first, he proceeded to pick up and replace his turban, and refill the basin.
"Putting the water this time out of reach of the ape, the barber dipped his cloth into the basin and proceeded to wash the head and face of his unwilling and in every sense ugly customer. But directly the ape felt the wet cloth touch his skin he snatched it instantly from the hands of the barber and commenced tearing it in pieces. And before the barber could attempt to rescue even the fragments of his washing cloth the mischievous little creature slipped quickly off the bench on which he had been seated, and running rapidly on all fours among the crowd, suddenly jumped upon the back of a small boy who had been hitherto enjoying the fun and laughing very heartily at the antics of the monkey. This last prank, however, frightened the small boy very much, and he ran about wildly, with the ape seated on his shoulders, screaming loudly. As the monkey held on bravely, with each hand grasping firmly a handful of the boy's hair, the little fellow had some excuse for making an outcry. The barber, however, very soon recaptured his troublesome charge, and reseated him on the bench to undergo the usual barbarous routine of washing and shaving.
"Meanwhile the crowd beside laughing had, of course, encouraged the barber to pursue his task by many questions and exclamations, such as, 'Why don't you make haste to shave the gentleman?' 'Take care you don't cut his precious chin!' 'Barber, is your hand steady?' and so forth.
"In answer to all these jeers the barber only smiled and said, 'Patience, the little gentleman is somewhat scared by your noise and ugly faces, but he will sit quietly enough presently.'
"And marvellous to behold, when the barber had replaced him again the third time on the bench, the ape sat still, as solemn as the Cadi himself, and allowed himself to be both washed and shaved, moving no more than though he were dead and stuffed.
"This astonished the crowd very much and they applauded loudly, till the man who had at first accused the barber of murdering his brother cried out that it was sorcery, and that this accursed barber must be in fact a foul magician, since he could not only kill good Moslims, but shave misshapen apes. On this the fickle crowd were moved against the barber, and would have fallen upon him and done him an injury had I not interfered on his behalf.
"'Stop,' said I, 'I will inquire of the barber, and he shall confess to me by what means he has caused the ape to sit still and permit himself to be shaved. If he has employed magic he shall be dealt with accordingly, but if not, why should he be punished on the accusation of one who hates him and may be envious of his skill?'
"Speaking thus to the crowd I calmed them, then bringing the barber along with us we hastened at once to the river and came on board my barge.
"When we had safely arrived here, after giving the barber something to eat and drink, I pressed him to tell me how he had contrived to render the monkey suddenly so quiet and docile, a feat which had appeared as surprising and as inexplicable to me as to the others.
"'Sir,' said the barber, 'I have during my life travelled through many distant countries and taken part in many strange adventures, but I confess that among all the singular and marvellous things I have seen or have collected, nothing is more strange nor more valuable than that by means of which I have been enabled to exhibit to you the spectacle which you have witnessed this morning.'
"I pressed him once more to tell me what this rare and precious thing might be and how he became possessed of it. Upon which the barber, saluting me as his protector and deliverer, who had saved him from the fury of the crowd, consented readily to impart his secret to me, and spoke as follows:—
THE BARBER'S STORY.
"'It is now about three months since I was called early one morning to bleed a man who was reported to be insensible. Now, notwithstanding all that that fellow asserted in his rage this morning, I am a barber and the son of a barber, and understand my craft very thoroughly. Therefore, taking with me whatever I might be likely to require to let the man blood and restore him to consciousness, I started at once.
"'On arriving at the house, which was a very poor one, to which I had been summoned, I found the patient an old white-bearded man, and also a physician whom I knew very well, and who practised in that part of the town.
"'He had sent for me to bleed the man, but he was evidently puzzled extremely by many features of the case the like of which he had never before encountered. The patient was indeed unconscious, yet he exhibited few or none of the symptoms generally characteristic of that state. He was not lying down, but sitting up. His face wore the expression not of one dead or dying, but of a man transfixed with rage and horror. His eyes wide open were staring upon us with an expression of impotent rage, as though he were witnessing some outrage which he was powerless to prevent. His mouth was opened as though uttering a cry, but no cry came out of his mouth. He did not breathe heavily, he did not appear to breathe at all. He had the appearance of a man who in the midst of some violent emotion had suddenly been turned into stone, or rather into some plastic material possessing very peculiar properties. For we found that, while every limb yielded readily to pressure and could be placed easily in any posture we pleased, it did not on being released fall to the ground, but maintained the attitude in which it had been placed as though it were modelled in wax or carved in stone.
"'All this was so surprising that I suppose I ought not to have been surprised, as certainly I was, when I found that no blood flowed when I attempted to bleed him. The man seemed to be decidedly not dead—and yet decidedly not alive. We could make nothing of him. And after a while the physician being called away to attend to some one else, left me to watch this strange case, and act as I should see fit.
"'For a long time I sat and vigilantly observed the striking figure before me, in appearance so full of life and passion, in reality so completely inert.
"'As you may suppose, I was not alone. The small room was crowded with the neighbours of the old man, who had long known him, and among whom he was reported to be a miser, who though living in apparent poverty was really very rich. I could see that many did not confine their inquisitive glances to the old man himself, but looked eagerly about them to discover if possible in some corner of the mean apartment that store of hidden wealth which they had persuaded themselves that it contained. After a time these visitors departed one after the other, perceiving neither any alteration in the condition of the old man nor any signs of his reputed riches.
"'When they had all left, I still sat looking attentively at him, lost in astonishment and marvelling what would be the end of so singular and unheard-of a trance. Without the least warning, so suddenly that I was not a little startled, the full stream of life seemed to return upon him in an instant. It had been arrested as suddenly and for many hours—and now in a moment, before one could swallow one's spittle, it resumed its course as though the interruption had never taken place. To the mouth half opened all this time utterance was at length restored, and suddenly as I sat watching him he cried with a loud voice—
"'"Seize them! They have it! Ah, wretches! the curse of Allah be upon ye! To rob an old man! a poor man! Yes, they are gone, the robbers, the villains! My savings, my savings! The small savings of a long life. Ah! the cursed villains, the cursed villains! seize them, seize them!"
"'Thus the old fellow raved on, beating his breast, tearing his hair and his beard, and speedily recalling by his cries and lamentations all his neighbours who remained within hearing. Getting some of these to assist me, again I attempted to bleed him, and this time successfully. This quieted him, and presently we laid him down much calmer, though apparently extremely exhausted.
"'We could learn nothing more from him than that three men had entered his room on the previous evening and had robbed him of all that he possessed; but what became of them, or how he had fallen into the state of trance in which he had been discovered, he could not explain.
"'I had now given up much more time than I could afford, and seeing no chance of getting paid under the circumstances, and there being nothing further I could do for the unfortunate old creature, I left him in the hands of his neighbours and took my departure.
"'I had not gone far when I observed lying on the ground a small camel's-hair brush of very peculiar appearance. It was flat, in breadth about the width of two fingers, and the hairs of the brush as long as a man's little finger. I picked it up, wondering for what purpose it could be used, and thinking it might possibly prove of service on some future occasion, I carried it home with me.
"'Several days passed, and I had forgotten not only the little brush that I had picked up, but even the episode of the old man and his strange trance, when one afternoon a man presented himself to be shaved, who, after some desultory discourse on passing topics, mentioned that he had heard of my attendance on the old miser, and inquired as to the condition in which I had found him, and all the particulars of the affair.
"'When I had related to him the whole of the circumstances—excepting only the finding of the little brush as I came away, an incident so trifling that I no longer remembered it—he inquired, with some eagerness, I thought, whether I had found anything in the old man's room. I had picked up the brush not in the room, but outside the house, and the very fact that I had done so having for the moment escaped my recollection, I answered at once—"No, I found nothing; and, in truth, it seemed to me that some people had probably forestalled me, and left nothing for me or any one else to find." The man laughed at this, as though it were a very good joke. At that instant, the finding the little brush occurred to my mind, and I determined now in my turn to ascertain, if possible, whether it were that he was in search of.