"'I asked him, therefore, whether he had heard of any valuable being missed from the old man's room, as he had questioned me about it.
"'"Not exactly that," he said. "A good deal of valuable property might have been taken, he supposed," and again he laughed, "from the old man's room, but he was not concerned about that."
"'"No," thought I, "for you probably know where to find it."
"'"What I wish to recover," continued the man, "is not an article of value at all, only a little brush that a friend of mine dropped in the confusion, and which he is very anxious to get again, because it belonged to his father and his grandfather before him."
"'"I fear," answered I, "that you will not find it in the old man's room, because I looked about the place, and I noticed a good many other keen eyes doing the same, and nothing of any kind was to be seen."
"'"No, there is no brush there now," said he; "you may be sure I have ascertained that for myself before applying to you. If you did not see it, I fear it is lost beyond recovery, and I would pay handsomely for it too, if I could find it."
"'"Why," said I, "as to that, you need make but little fuss over the loss of a little brush; a single dinar will buy you five score of them."
"'"True," said he, "but the little brush I am in search of was of a special make, such as men in these days know not how to fashion."
"'"After all," said I, "it is but a matter of shape and fancy, for there can be no great difference in value between two brushes of the same size."
"'"However that may be," said the man, "if by talking with your customers you can discover this little brush, and procure it for me, I will give you a good price for it."
"'"What do you call a good price?" I inquired.
"'"I will give you," he said, "ten dinars for it."
"'He looked at me very hard, to observe what effect this offer would produce, for no doubt, in spite of my denial, he suspected that I had picked up the brush. But I reflected that the brush must have some very special value, or he would not so readily have offered ten dinars for it. If I held back, by and by he would offer twenty.
"'I therefore answered quietly—"It is a large sum for a small brush, if I should hear of it I will let you know."
"'"In a week or ten days I will come again," he said, "perhaps by that time you may be able to find it."
"'He probably named a week or ten days in order not to appear too eager, and also to give me time to pretend to have succeeded in my search.
"'A week passed and a fortnight, and still he did not return. Indeed he never came back, and whether he was captured by the police—for I have no doubt he was one of the thieves who had robbed the old miser—or whether he and his gang had been obliged on account of some other crime to fly from Bagdad, I do not know; one thing only is certain, I have never seen him again.
"'Nearly three months had elapsed, and I had almost ceased to expect the reappearance of the man, and even to regret that I did not accept his offer of ten dinars for the brush at the time he made it, when one afternoon, a few days ago, a man came to me suffering from a growth or wen on the back of his neck, close to the spinal cord. He desired that I should paint this with a certain remedy or lotion I have for such tumours. Finding the lotion, which I had not used for some time, but not the brush with which I was accustomed to apply it, I took hold of the little brush which I had picked up, and made use of that. The hairs of this brush were so much longer than those in my old brush, that I had not proceeded far before I happened accidentally to pass the wet brush across the spine. Immediately the man became fixed in the attitude in which he happened to be as I was operating upon him. His features retained the expression precisely which they wore at the moment the wet brush had touched the spine, and, in short, the man was in a trance exactly similar to that in which I had found the old miser three months before.
"'I had discovered the virtues of the brush. At first I was a good deal frightened, not knowing how long the trance might continue. However, after the lapse of twelve hours, the man recovered consciousness again, and the complete use of all his faculties just as suddenly as the old miser had done three months previously.
"'I persuaded the man that he had fallen asleep during the operation of anointing his tumour, and that I had housed him for the night out of kindness. For this he thanked me sincerely, allowed me to bleed him for the good of his health, and to wash and shave him, and paying me handsomely for all I had done for him, departed with much satisfaction.
"'This morning, therefore, when I happened to give utterance to that rash boast of being able to shave successfully any living thing—a boast you so cleverly turned against me—I determined to make good my words by virtue of the camel's-hair brush.'"
"And what," asked Haroun of Sidi ibn Thalabi, "what has become of the brush? did you not buy it of the barber?"
"I endeavoured to do so," answered he, "but the barber declared that unless the Caliph himself seated upon his throne should demand it, he would never part with it on any terms to any man."
"I think, friend Sidi ibn Thalabi," said Haroun, "that the barber is right. But now that I have heard the story of the barber, which is a very strange story, and has interested me greatly, I must for the present leave you, and return to my house where my people will be anxiously awaiting me. I hope, however, to have the pleasure very shortly of receiving you in my own house, and till then I bid you farewell."
 The Caliph was commonly so designated by the vulgar.
 A common Arab practice.
The Caliph and Sidi ibn Thalabi
On the next morning after Haroun Alraschid had given the customary audiences to his Viziers and the great officers of his kingdom, he ordered Mesrur to send and fetch Kaseem, the barber whose story Sidi ibn Thalabi had related to him.
Kaseem, on being introduced into the audience-chamber, and seeing the Caliph in his royal robes seated upon the throne, made no doubt but that he was in truth the same man as that Sidi ibn Thalabi who had rescued him from the mob, and to whom he had spoken on board the boat.
When, therefore, Haroun said to him, "Kaseem, I have been told that you have a certain small brush of potent virtue. Give it to me."
Kaseem answered, smiling, "Your Majesty is, I know, very well informed indeed as to all the circumstances concerning that brush, and I am very happy, not only from loyalty, but also from gratitude to one Sidi ibn Thalabi, whom may Allah bless and reward, to be able to present to your Majesty a thing which you desire to possess."
Saying this, he offered the little brush, which Haroun took with his own hands.
Then the Caliph, turning to the Grand Vizier, said:
"I appoint Kaseem to be the Court Barber; see that he has robes and utensils given him suited to his office, and pay him every month a fee of one hundred dinars."
The Caliph, having ordered further an immediate present of a thousand dinars to be given to Kaseem, sent him away very well satisfied.
Haroun next commanded Giafer to prepare in the splendid house and garden which had belonged to Abou Hassan, the Fortunate Merchant, a great banquet and entertainment to be given that evening, and to which Sidi ibn Thalabi and his brother-in-law, Abraha, were to be invited by Hamad and Yussuf, the names assumed by himself and Giafer. All those who were invited to meet Sidi ibn Thalabi were informed that it was Haroun's pleasure to give this entertainment in the assumed character of a merchant, and that he would be known and was to be addressed as Hamad, and Giafer as Yussuf.
Among the guests were Murad Essed, the Unfortunate Merchant whom Haroun had met, and whose story he had heard in this very house.
Murad Essed, like Sidi ibn Thalabi and Abraha, knew Haroun only in his assumed character as a merchant. There were, however, other guests who were very well acquainted with both the Caliph and the Grand Vizier. There was, for instance, the singer and composer, Ishak ibn Ibrahim el Mosili, a great favourite of Haroun's; and the blind poet, Abu 'Atahiyeh, with several others.
The splendid saloon, with its open arcade on one side, looking out over the charming central garden, held on this evening a very merry party. Never since the time of its late owner, Abou Hassan, the Fortunate Merchant, had it beheld a scene so gay.
The banquet was varied and well served, the wines of the rarest vintages, and the hours passed speedily and pleasantly enough, enlivened by a constant succession of tales and songs.
Murad Essed was the first that was called upon by Haroun as the host to relate a story to the company.
"Murad Essed," said Haroun, "there are, I think, none here present beside you, myself, and my friend Yussuf, who are acquainted with the story of Abou Hassan, the Fortunate Merchant, the former owner of this house. Will you, therefore, oblige us by relating it to us?"
When Murad Essed had, in response to this invitation, related the story of the Fortunate Merchant and his tragical fate, Haroun addressed himself to Abu 'Atahiyeh, and said: "Abu 'Atahiyeh, do you now compose a few verses, and Ishak ibn Ibrahim el Mosili shall sing them."
Abu 'Atahiyeh, who was sitting next to Ishak, having dictated some lines, and Ishak having written them down, the latter sang them to a favourite air of Haroun's, being accompanied on the lute by Isaac, the most famous of all the players on that instrument.
The lines were these:
"O, LOVELY STARS!"
"O lovely stars! O lovely stars! O lovely stars in the sky! Your eyes are bright, your eyes are bright, and yet you are wondrous shy!
You none are men, you none are men, but every one a she; And but at night, and but at night, your beauty we men may see!
The staring gaze, the staring gaze, of insolent Day you shun; In veils of light, in veils of light, hid from the face of the Sun.
The swarthy Night, the swarthy Night, he alone may be your spouse; His harem wide, his harem wide, no other lover allows.
The Caliph's self, the Caliph's self, has no bevy one half so fair; Nor lodged so well, nor lodged so well, as ye in your palace of air!"
"Bravo, bravo! well worded and well sung, by Allah!" cried Haroun, as Ishak ibn Ibrahim el Mosili concluded the verses. Then taking two splendid golden goblets which stood before him, he commanded them to be filled with wine, and presented one to Abu 'Atahiyeh, and the other to Ishak ibn Ibrahim el Mosili.
"Take each of you," said the generous Caliph, "the goblet that I send you; it is yours. And, by Allah and the beard of the Prophet! if I could but find twenty such poets and singers, most willingly would I find twenty such goblets for them."
The other guests were no less pleased than the host himself with the verses of Abu 'Atahiyeh, and the singing of Ishak ibn Ibrahim el Mosili.
Presently the Caliph, addressing Abu 'Atahiyeh, said: "You have made us some verses, now tell us a tale, for I know that your store of tales is without end."
THE STORY OF MUBAREK,
AS TOLD BY ABU 'ATAHIYEH.
"There once lived a young man whose name was Mubarek. He was the only son of a rich merchant at Bagdad, commonly known as Bereydah abou Mubarek.
"To the great grief of his father, Mubarek, when he was twenty-three years of age, developed such a longing to travel and visit those foreign countries of which he had so often heard from other merchants—his father's friends—that nothing could persuade him to remain quietly in Bagdad. Bereydah abou Mubarek, having therefore furnished his son with such sorts of merchandize as would be most suitable to trade with in the countries he was about to visit, took leave of him with much emotion and many injunctions both as to his personal conduct, and the management of his affairs.
"After passing through several countries most frequently traversed by caravans belonging to the merchants of this city, and where he saw nothing but what is familiarly known to all here present, and met with no adventure I need pause to describe, he set sail in a merchantman, bound for the coast of India.
"He had not been at sea more than three days when a violent storm arose, and the force of the hurricane, driving the ship altogether out of her course, she found herself at length off a coast altogether unknown to the captain, and in spite of his exertions she was blown in shore, and became very shortly a total wreck.
"Mubarek, who fortunately succeeded in reaching the land, although with the loss of all that he possessed, wandered about for some time in a most forlorn and starving condition. At length, meeting some natives of the country, he was conducted by them to a large town on the coast, which was the capital of the kingdom. Here, in a very magnificent palace situated in the midst of extensive and fragrant gardens, lived Ahesha the Queen. An idolater, like all her subjects, she was, although an exceedingly beautiful woman, cruel, vindictive, and a proficient in all the arts of magic.
"Mubarek, as a stranger, being brought before her, as the laws of that kingdom required, she immediately fell violently in love with him, which was the less to be wondered at, inasmuch as he was a young man of pleasant features, a striking figure, and considerable personal attractions.
"Ahesha, having commanded the stranger to be led to the bath, and arrayed in rich robes appropriate to one occupying the position of a Vizier or Prince, she invited him to join her in partaking of a sumptuous repast, and afterwards to accompany her in strolling through the charming gardens which surrounded her palace.
"Mubarek, consoled for the hardship and dangers of the shipwreck and the loss of his merchandize by so flattering and distinguished a reception, and by the society of a woman and Queen of so much beauty, wandered with her alone through the most retired walks of the garden.
"Coming at length to a grassy seat in the cool shade of a spreading tree, they sat down.
"'Tell me,' said she, 'whether you are capable of loving a woman like me, as a woman and a Queen should be loved?'
"'I love you,' he replied, 'with all the passion of youth, with all my soul.'
"'But,' said she, 'a Queen must be loved alone. She cannot consent to divide the love of a man with any other woman.'
"'My charming and incomparable Queen,' he exclaimed, 'by Allah and the Prophet of God! there is no woman that can stand beside you. The man who is so happy as to possess you can want no other woman.'
"Ahesha laughed scornfully, and said, 'What an oath is that which you use! I laugh at your Allah and his Prophet.'
"Mubarek was a young man of very hot blood and fierce passions, and being brought up a strict Moslim, he was so much enraged at the Queen's scoff, that no sooner were the words out of her mouth, than drawing instantly a jewelled dagger which she wore at her girdle, he plunged it into her heart.
"Then seeing the Queen lying at his feet with the blood gushing out of her breast, he repented of his hasty act, but it was too late. He perceived moreover that should he be discovered in that situation by the enraged attendants of the beautiful Queen, he would be put to death, probably with torture. At the same time, he knew neither where he could find a place of safety nor how he should manage to obtain food for the support of life in the midst of that city of idolaters.
"Wandering about the extensive gardens and groves surrounding the palace, and expecting every moment to fall in with some party of the royal guards who would seize him and take him prisoner, he came at length, in a very retired part of the woods, to a small cavern or grotto, and being very tired, he there laid himself down and very soon fell asleep.
"When he awoke the air was cool and fresh. The stars, still discernible, were fading in the light of the approaching dawn; and as he left the grotto he hastened, drawn by an indefinable and insensible impulse, to seek the place where he had left the body of the heathen Queen.
"With some difficulty he again found the spot which had been the scene of the love-making and the sudden tragedy on the previous day. The body of the Queen was no longer there. It had evidently been discovered and removed by her people. But precisely where her blood had streamed out upon the ground a small shrub was growing, which already bore a great number of bunches or clusters of a small fruit resembling currants. Feeling very hungry he gathered a quantity of this fruit and eat it as he walked. To his great surprise, notwithstanding that he had but just risen from a long rest and sound sleep, he began to feel excessively drowsy, and selecting a secluded and shady nook, he lay down and at once again fell asleep.
"He must have slept several hours, as when he recovered consciousness the sun was high in the heavens. But although it was apparently about midday he presently noticed that he did not experience any sensation of heat. It gradually dawned upon him, moreover, that, although perfectly conscious and able to reason and reflect and to distinguish clearly everything around him, this state of consciousness was wholly separate from and disconnected with the body. In fact, looking down he perceived his body lying stretched upon the grass, and still wrapped apparently in the total oblivion of the profoundest sleep.
"While he was yet lost in astonishment at the marvel of this strange condition, a fairy or spirit of the air stood beside him, and addressing him said—
"'Mubarek, why do you stand thus gazing upon the ground? Say, to what place shall we go? With so many lovely and charming scenes to which we can resort, we need not remain fettered to this earth.'
"'Fairy,' answered Mubarek, 'the choice rests with you. Take me with you wheresoever you will.'
"'Mubarek,' said the fairy, 'look up and tell me which star we shall visit.'
"Mubarek, looking up, found that the brightness of the noonday sun no longer obscured his vision, but that the stars also appeared clearly to him sparkling in all their myriad hosts throughout the heaven. Selecting modestly one of the smaller stars, a mere point of light glistening in the distance, he said—
"'We will go there.'
"In a moment, not with the speed of lightning, for the lightning lags and travels slowly, but in a moment and with the speed of thought, the swiftest of all travellers known to man, they passed at once through all the vast immeasurable space which lay between that little world and this.
"On their arrival, after they had time to look about them and realize the peculiarities of their novel surroundings, Mubarek perceived that in this strange world the light was not derived from any one fixed point, such as our sun, but came in a steady and evenly diffused brightness from every part of the clear and luminous vault of heaven. But, notwithstanding that the heat under that cloudless sky and glowing firmament must have been very great, yet to the inhabitants of that world, whose bodies are composed of quite other elements than ours and have a much higher temperature, the atmosphere, hot as it would appear to us, seems always cool and refreshing.
"At the place where Mubarek and his fairy companion had alighted there was situated a great and populous city. Its arrangements and magnificence were such that no city that has ever existed on our earth could be compared with it. In its wide thoroughfares and ample squares, planted with fine trees, gay with an infinite variety of many-tinted flowers, and adorned with lofty and ever-springing fountains of cool and sparkling liquid, which, as Mubarek afterwards discovered, was not water but the purest liquid glass, every dwelling was a palace. In that happy country there were no mean and squalid houses and no poor people.
"Mubarek and the fairy alighted in one of the noble squares of this great city, and after they had been standing only a few minutes looking about them in unfeigned wonder and admiration at all they saw, several of the inhabitants approached them, and bidding them welcome, offered to conduct them to the mansion which had been prepared for their reception.
"'How,' asked Mubarek, 'is it possible that any house can have been prepared for me, seeing that until this moment I have had no idea or intention of coming hither?'
"'Let not that surprise you,' said one of those who had addressed them: 'Allah, whose power and beneficence extends to every place, has ordained that we who are privileged to live in this delightful world, where it is always light, and where we are never weary and want for nothing that is necessary for our subsistence, should ever occupy ourselves with the happy task of preparing, not only all the luxuries and conveniences which we ourselves may desire, but also fair abodes for those whom he may from time to time allow to come among us.'
"Saying this, they conducted Mubarek and the fairy to a spacious and beautiful palace which stood not far from the spot where they were standing.
"The house, like all those in this city, appeared to be composed of immense blocks of crystal or translucent marble of many hues. The great pillars that supported the arches, the massive walls, the glistening roof with its domes and minarets, all were composed of the same unique and costly material.
"Entering the hall of the palace through the wide portal, on each side of which, standing open, were two curiously carved doors of some substance resembling mother-of-pearl, they passed through the various apartments of the palace—all large, stately, and furnished handsomely.
"One peculiarity of this building which immediately attracted their attention was that there were no windows, sufficient of the perpetual and never-clouded brightness of the heavens passing through the semi-translucent substance of the walls to afford a subdued and pleasant light to those within them.
"Mubarek, seating himself, at the invitation of his friendly conductors, on a couch covered with a fine soft fabric of a kind such as he had never seen before, expected that the slaves who attended in this superb palace would shortly appear to do his bidding, and prepare some kind of refreshment for himself and those who had brought him thither, and who declared him to be the owner of the place and themselves to be his guests.
"As, however, after sitting and conversing for some time, no servant made his appearance, he imagined that perhaps in that country no slave would dare to present himself even to tender his services without awaiting the signal from his lord. Mubarek therefore clapped his hands to summon the attendants. No one appeared, however, and those who sat with him looked surprised, and said—
"'What is the meaning of that action? Why do you clap your hands?'
"'I wish,' said he, 'to call the slaves, who, no doubt, are in attendance in some ante-chamber.'
"'What,' asked the others, 'are slaves?'
"'The servants, the attendants,' explained Mubarek, 'those who do the work of the house, who wait upon us, who cook our food and bring it to us.'
"'There are,' said the others, smiling, 'no such creatures in this world. All the inhabitants of these houses, no matter how large or fine they may be—and all our dwellings are spacious and magnificent—do whatever work may be necessary, and are ever ready to exert themselves in the interest both of themselves and of others. Besides,' the speaker continued, 'we have so many forces and contrivances, unknown perhaps in the region whence you come, that, although we have plenty of work, without which we might be dull, we have no drudgery.'
"'That is all very easy to say,' replied Mubarek, 'but who then kills the animals you eat, cooks them, and serves your table?'
"'What!' exclaimed the other, in surprise, 'do you kill and devour each other?'
"'No,' answered Mubarek; 'not each other, but other animals, such as the camel, the sheep, and the goat.'
"They heard this avowal with almost the same disgust as we should an avowal of man-eating, and explained that in their world they neither killed nor ate any living thing.
"'We have,' they said, 'fruits pleasing to the palate and nourishing to the body. These we gather, each one for himself, and should regard a man who required some one to gather his food for him very much as you would regard a man so lazy as to want some one to put it into his mouth for him.'
"Saying this, they rose, and Mubarek and the fairy with them, and taking each a plate or dish, every one of which was fashioned out of a single piece of the same beautiful and many-tinted crystal as composed the walls of their dwellings, they proceeded to gather in the garden which surrounded the palace all kinds of fruit.
"This fruit seemed to Mubarek to consist of all sorts of precious stones—the topaz, the jasper, the onyx, the carbuncle, the emerald, the ruby, and many others, and having brought their plates filled with this fruit into the house, these strange people sat down and ate them with much relish, praising highly their delicious flavour and nutritious qualities.
"They then replaced the plates, unsoiled by the repast they had contained, and prepared to show Mubarek and the fairy the beauties of their marvellous city.
"Instead of mounting on horseback like men, or being carried in litters like women, these singular beings had but to press a knob or spring on a pillar standing before the house, and straightway a gentle breeze arose and carried them smoothly, and swiftly or slowly as they pleased, whithersoever they desired to go.
"In this easy and pleasant manner they journeyed through the city and were received by all they met with the most friendly and affectionate greetings. In every house they entered they were welcomed with frank cordiality, and at once, without ceremony or embarrassment, fell to assisting the host in any work at which he might chance to be engaged, or discussing any topic of interest that might occur to them.
"After paying many of these visits and admiring the extraordinary richness and variety of architecture, furniture and utensils to be observed in every one of the dwellings of this happy and intelligent race, Mubarek said with some astonishment—
"'In all this vast and incomparable city through which you have so long conducted me, one thing I observe to be lacking. Among all this multitude of houses, every one of which is well worthy of being styled a palace, I have not seen, and you have not shown me, a single mosque, a single building that is,' he explained, 'dedicated to the service of Allah.'
"'Truly,' said they, looking upon him with amazement, 'some of your remarks and questions are more surprising to us than anything we can say or show can appear to you. Is it possible that any people can build any house that is not to be dedicated to the service of Allah, and if not, what can be the meaning or necessity of such a building as you allude to?'
"'Have you, then,' asked Mubarek, 'no religion?'
"'What is that?' said they; 'the word is new to us.'
"'Do you not,' asked Mubarek, 'serve God?'
"'Allah forbid that it should be otherwise,' said they. 'He has created us and placed us in this world, and what He wills we do. We do not comprehend your meaning.'
"Perceiving this to be indeed the case, Mubarek did not continue to speak of religion. With these people to do what they conceived to be right was part of their life, and to do either less or more was to them incomprehensible. Their life was their religion, their work was their prayer, and their enjoyment was their praise.
"Mubarek and the fairy spent a very long period in visiting and viewing all the beauties and wonders of this strange world. How long a period they had no means of estimating, since there light is perpetual as on one bright morning that never knows an end.
"At length, not because they were tired, for weariness is there unknown, Mubarek determined again to return to the house that had been given him. He desired to enter upon the regular performance and enjoyment of the duties of the new existence in this other world. But they were told that first each might select a wife or partner of his labours and his pleasures.
"For this purpose a great number of the women were assembled, each more lovely than the fairest woman man has ever seen, and all clad in such gauzelike glistening robes as would make the finest fabrics of this world look coarse and homely.
"In this regard alone, however, are the men in that world stinted. Each has but one wife. Mubarek found the difficulty great of choosing only one. Yet, having made his choice, he soon became contented with his lot. For in that bright world, where illness is unknown and labour never wearies, woman continues always gay and fresh and pleasant. She talks as much perhaps as her sisters in less-favoured worlds, but never learns to scold or grumble or complain.
"The fairy, however, or spirit of the air, who had brought Mubarek thither, would not accept a house or choose a wife or settle anywhere. A restless and inconstant being, it preferred to wander forth and view with never-sated curiosity the ever-varying marvels displayed by other worlds.
"A long time passed, a time unmarked by any of the changes and small vicissitudes that we encounter here. No night succeeding day, and bringing with it unconsciousness and rest. No procession of the seasons—autumn, winter, spring; but one long summer, whose heat, instead of seeming oppressive or exhausting, appeared ever cool, refreshing, and exhilarating, filled with a stream of life, not fluctuating and intermitting, but constant and untiring.
"Such then was the existence of Mubarek, till one day, happening to drop and dash in fragments a superb crystal vase which he himself had fashioned with much delightful labour as a present for his wife, the old fierce impatience of his native land and race caused him to break out into fearful imprecations.
"At once, as though on the involuntary rupture of some mysterious spell or charm, he found himself, with a rapidity equal to that by which he had mounted to that distant world, transported back to this. He was in his own body which he had left sleeping on the ground, and in the very spot at which he had left it sleeping.
"At first he was so dazed and confused by the recollection of all that he had experienced that he scarce remembered where he was. By and by becoming more composed, he recognized the danger of remaining in the grounds of the palace whose Queen he had stabbed, and making his way by paths as little frequented as he could find to the sea-coast, he beheld with joy a ship sailing at no great distance from the shore. Making signals of distress, they put out a small boat and brought him on board.
"The vessel chanced to be one bound for Bussora, whither in due time Mubarek arrived, and hastening to Bagdad, found his father, now an old man, and who had long mourned his death, still alive and overjoyed to again behold his son.
"Bereydah abou Mubarek dying not long after his son's return, Mubarek succeeded to his father's fortune and his father's house, and lived quietly and happily in Bagdad during the remainder of his days."
The story of Mubarek being ended, and the company having thanked Abu 'Atahiyeh for having related it to them, the Caliph, in his character as host, addressed himself to Sidi ibn Thalabi.
"Friend Sidi ibn Thalabi," he said, "none of the good company here present, excepting only ourselves, has heard the story of the barber and the camel's-hair brush; will you therefore do us the favour to tell it?"
"Friend Hamad," replied Sidi ibn Thalabi, "there is, I am persuaded, no one so churlish as to refuse to do aught that he may be requested to do, with the object of amusing your guests at this hospitable and magnificent banquet."
When Sidi ibn Thalabi had concluded the story of the barber and the camel's-hair brush, many of those present were as anxious as Haroun had been when he first heard it, to know what had become of the little brush, and whether Sidi ibn Thalabi had bought it of the barber.
"No, gentlemen," said Sidi ibn Thalabi; "the barber altogether refused to sell the brush on any terms, or at any price, and declared that he would never part with it unless the Caliph himself, seated upon his throne and arrayed in his royal robes, demanded it of him."
While Sidi ibn Thalabi was concluding his tale, the Caliph had observed that one of the black slaves in attendance was showing all the teeth he possessed—and a very sound white set they were—in a capacious grin of enjoyment of the circumstances that were being narrated. Therefore, taking the little brush, and moistening it in a vase of water that stood near, he handed it to Giafer, and bid him in a whisper apply it to the top of the fellow's spine.
Giafer, rising as though to leave the room, stole behind the black without being noticed by him, so absorbed was he in what was being said. Quickly passing the brush down the back of the neck, the African, in his attitude of rapt attention, and with his wide grin of unfeigned delight, became at once fixed and unchanging, as though he were an image in black marble.
Then Haroun, turning to Sidi ibn Thalabi, said: "There is one man at least whom you have delighted; behold the power of the brush!"
"What!" exclaimed Sidi ibn Thalabi, "is the barber present?"
"The barber is not present," said Haroun, "but only the brush."
As he said these words, Giafer, with a low bow, placed the brush again in his hands.
"Allah, be merciful to us!" exclaimed the astonished Sidi ibn Thalabi. "Why, it can be no other than the Caliph himself!"
"It is no other," said Haroun, "yet fear nothing; I have forgiven you any pranks in which you may have indulged in my name, but would have you discontinue them henceforth; therefore I appoint you Governor of Syria; the dawn will soon appear, start for your province in the morning."
Sidi ibn Thalabi having thanked his Majesty for his gracious and generous gifts, Haroun, turning to Murad Essed, the Unfortunate Merchant, said:
"This house, once your own, and all it contains, I give to you, and my treasurer shall to-morrow bring you ten thousand dinars, with which you may recommence to trade; may you be in the future more cautious and more lucky."
The guests then departed, and the entertainment of Hamad the Merchant was at an end.
The Caliph and the Magic Tube.
One day, as Haroun Alraschid sat in one of the apartments of his palace, which overlooked a great public square of the city, he observed a large crowd of people surrounding a man, who, sometimes looking through a small tube he held in his hand, and sometimes addressing the throngs around him, seemed to attract in a high degree their interest and attention.
After watching this scene for some little time, the Caliph became curious to learn what the properties or merits of the tube might be, and sent therefore to fetch the man into the palace. When he entered, Haroun saw that he was a fine young man, whose countenance bore a pleasing expression, while his dress, by its foreign and unusual character, plainly proclaimed him to be a traveller.
The Caliph demanding of him what might be the peculiarity of that tube which he had seen him exhibiting to the people, the man replied:
"This tube which I hold in my hand, although it is in appearance a very common, ordinary tube, possesses, in fact, powers so wonderful, that I doubt not but that your Majesty will be greatly astonished as I exhibit them to you.
"Having rendered an important service to a powerful Magician with whom I became acquainted while I was in India, he presented me with this tube, and initiated me into the proper manner of using it. By adjusting it in a particular way, the details of which I am not permitted to divulge to any one, I am enabled, on looking through the tube, to observe what is taking place either in distant parts of the world or even future events which shall take place in remote kingdoms after the lapse of many ages."
"Almirvan," said the Caliph—"for such is, I am told, your name—if your magical tube can disclose the distant scenes you speak of, it will interest me much, and you may expect with full confidence an adequate reward. But if your tube be in truth but a mystification for the vulgar, under cover of which you palm off the monstrous and incredible fictions of your imagination, why, you had better confess to me the truth at once, and depart, because, should I discover later that it is so, I will cause your tube to be broken and your head to be removed from your shoulders."
"Sire," replied Almirvan, "of the truth of that which my magic tube discloses to me I am fully persuaded, and am very willing to relate to your Majesty plainly, and without addition or concealment, whatever I may observe when I look through the tube. And first I must ask your Majesty to say whether the scene I am to witness is to be distant in space only, or also in time."
"Almirvan," said the Caliph, "I have already heard so much from the lips of so many travellers concerning the manners and customs of other, and even distant, countries, that your magic tube will probably have little that is new to inform me about them. Therefore, look far into the future, and tell me what you see; but once more I warn you to be careful that you add nothing for the purpose of astonishing. I am tired of hearing of men who walk with their heads under their arms—of men as tall as trees, or short as pigmies, or other such like travellers' monstrous stories."
The traveller, after muttering certain words of prayer or incantation, gazed for some time steadfastly through the tube, and then, as though describing slowly and with difficulty a scene upon which he was looking, he said—
"I see distant, far distant, by reason of the countless leagues and many centuries that intervene, a strange and populous country. The land is bright and pleasant, and verdant everywhere, for water is abundant; the white cliffs upon the frontier glisten in the water, the land is an island of the sea. The inhabitants are unbelievers evidently, and rude and barbarous, for their women go about with naked faces, and every man that passes may gaze upon the best of them. The dress of all, both men and women, is strange and hideous, and one looks in vain for the well-folded turban, or the decent modest yashmak.
"This odd people have horses, and very good ones, but seldom ride them; because for the most part they have machines like chariots, made with wheels and of many various shapes; and in these they sit, and cause the horses to draw them.
"But stranger than all this, they have a creature of amazing strength and huge size, which, though larger than an elephant, is swifter than a bird. On the back of this terrible creature, which is thirty or forty feet long, and whose stomach is like a fiery furnace, two or three men will stand without fear, even when it is running at its utmost speed. Most remarkable of all, they feed the creature from behind."
"What!" exclaimed the Caliph, "is this your travellers' tale?"
"Sire," said Almirvan, "it is truly wonderful, but I describe to you that only which I behold. At the back of the creature there plainly appears to be an opening, leading into its fiery stomach, and therein the men upon its back do place the food of the creature, which appears to consist of great blocks of black marble."
"Oh, Almirvan, unhappy traveller! what hast thou done that thou shouldest be tired of thy life?" said the Caliph. "What wouldest thou have me believe—that in the farthest islands of the sea, or in remotest ages yet to come, this monster of thine, huger than an elephant, fleeter than a bird, and swallowing great pieces of stone from behind, can by any possibility exist?"
"Your Majesty," answered Almirvan, "the people must without doubt be very skilful magicians. But most assuredly I affirm that I see them through this tube, doing not only all that I have related to you, but harnessing the creature to long strings of immense chariots, and causing it to convey in this way both themselves and their merchandize from place to place."
"At what speed didst thou say that the creature goes?" asked the Caliph.
"It goes with the speed of the wind," answered Almirvan.
"And therefore the people and their heavy merchandize go also with the speed of the wind? Is this your truthful tale? Why, every lie outstrips its predecessor."
"Your Majesty," said Almirvan, "I say but what I see."
"Almirvan," said the Caliph, "what further dost thou see?"
"I see," replied Almirvan, looking again through the magic tube, "many great and marvellous works erected in all parts of their country by this indefatigable and patient people. Many bridges spanning every stream, and others crossing even arms of the sea, and that at such a height that the largest ships can pass full sail beneath them. Great cities stud the land like jewels on the scabbard of the Caliph's scimitar. Fine palaces and noble mosques, or buildings of that character, abound, but most singular and beautiful of all is a palace formed entirely of crystal, which stands amid gardens adorned with fountains, and every facet of whose transparent walls glistens in the sun. But another circumstance that much attracts my notice is that all the country is covered with a marvellous network, like a gigantic spider's web, composed of fine metallic thread. By this means and by the aid of some incomprehensible magic the people communicate with each other with lightning-like rapidity, and no matter how great the distance that may separate them. But, indeed, this is less surprising than another contrivance that they have, by means of which two men as far apart as Bussora from Bagdad converse at their ease and by word of mouth, each evidently hearing the very voice and words of the other."
When the Caliph heard this statement, so astounding, so audacious, he was filled with rage.
"What!" he exclaimed, "can your magic tube, when it pretends to show us future times and other nations, invent no more probable and coherent wonders? What breath shall these men have, and what chests and throats must they be, if one man standing in Bagdad shall make another at Bussora hear him?"
"Take from him," said the Caliph to an officer in attendance, "his magic tube and break it in pieces. As for the fellow himself, let him be carried three times through the streets of the city mounted upon a camel and seated with his face to the tail, and let this proclamation be made by the criers: 'Thus shall it fare with the man who invents lying tales and wonders, deceiving the people and pretending to magical power which he does not possess.' After he has been carried three times round the city in this manner, let him be scourged and beheaded as a warning to others."
Thus perished miserably Almirvan, the owner of the magic tube. But whether he lied more than other men, and whether his punishment has effectually deterred others from following his pernicious example, we will not attempt to determine.