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Burton: The Barber's Tale of his First Brother

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Know then, O Commander of the Faithful, that my first brother, Al Bakbuk, the Prattler, is a Hunchback who took to tailoring in Baghdad, and he used to sew in a shop hired from a man of much wealth, who dwelt over the shop, and there was also a flour-mill in the basement. One day as my brother, the Hunchback, was sitting in his shop a tailoring, he chanced to raise his head and saw a lady like the rising full moon at a balconied window of his landlord's house, engaged in looking out at the passers by. When my brother beheld her, his heart was taken with love of her and he passed his whole day gazing at her and neglected his tailoring till eventide. Next morning he opened his shop and sat him down to sew; but, as often as he stitched a stitch, he looked to the window and saw her as before; and his passion and infatuation for her increased. On the third day as he was sitting in his usual place gazing on her, she caught sight of him and, perceiving that he had been captivated with love of her, laughed in his face and he smiled back at her. Then she disappeared and presently sent her slave girl to him with a bundle containing a piece of red cowered silk. The handmaid accosted him and said, "My lady salameth to thee and desireth thee, of thy skill and good will, to fashion for her a shift of this piece and to sew it handsomely with thy best sewing. He replied, "Hearkening and obedience"; and shaped for her a chemise and finished sewing it the same day. When the morning morrowed the girl came back and said to him, "My lady salameth to thee and asks how thou hast passed yesternight; for she hath not tasted sleep by reason of her heart being taken up with thee. Then she laid before him a piece of yellow satin and said, My lady biddeth thee cut her two pair of petticoat trousers out of this piece and sew them this very day." "Hearkening and obedience!' replied he, "greet her for me with many greetings and say to her, Thy slave is obedient to thine order; so command him as thou wilt." Then he applied himself to cutting out and worked hard at sewing the trousers; and after an hour the lady appeared at the lattice and saluted him by signs, now casting down her eyes, then smiling in his face, and he began to assure himself that he would soon make a conquest. She did not let him stir till he had finished the two pair of trousers, when she with drew and sent the handmaid to whom he delivered them; and she took them and went her ways. When it was night, he threw himself on his carpet bed, and lay tossing about from side to side till morning, when he rose and sat down in his place. Presently the damsel came to him and said, "My master calleth for thee." Hearing these words he feared with exceeding fear; but the slave girl, seeing his affright, said to him, "No evil is meant to thee: naught but good awaiteth thee. My lady would have thee make acquaintance with my lord." So my brother the tailor, rejoicing with great joy, went with her; and when he came into the presence of his landlord, the lady's husband, he kissed the ground before him, and the master of the house returned his greeting and gave him a great piece of linen saying, "Shape me shirts out of this stuff and sew them well;" and my brother answered, "To hear is to obey." Thereupon he fell to work at once, snipping, shaping and sewing till he had finished twenty shirts by supper time, without stopping to taste food. The house master asked him, "How much the wage for this?"; and he answered, "Twenty dirhams." So the gentleman cried out to the slave girl, "Bring me twenty dirhams," and my brother spake not a word; but the lady signed, "Take nothing from him;' whereupon my brother said, "By Allah I will take naught from thy hand. And he carried off his tailor's gear and returned to his shop, although he was destitute even to a red cent. Then he applied himself to do their work; eating, in his zeal and diligence, but a bit of bread and drinking only a little water for three days. At the end of this time came the handmaid and said to him, "What hast thou done?" Quoth he, "They are finished," and carried the shirts to the lady's husband, who would have paid him his hire: but he said, "I will take nothing," for fear of her and, returning to his shop, passed the night without sleep because of his hunger. Now the dame had informed her husband how the case stood (my brother knowing naught of this); and the two had agreed to make him tailor for nothing, the better to mock and laugh at him. Next morning he went to his shop, and, as he sat there, the handmaid came to him and said, "Speak with my master." So he accompanied her to the husband who said to him, "I wish thee to cut out for me five long sleeved robes." So he cut them out and took the stuff and went away. Then he sewed them and carried them to the gentleman, who praised his sewing and offered him a purse of silver. He put out his hand to take it, but the lady signed to him from behind her husband not to do so, and he replied, "O my lord, there is no hurry, we have time enough for this." Then he went forth from the house meaner and meeker than a donkey, for verily five things were gathered together in him viz.: love, beggary, hunger, nakedness and hard labour. Nevertheless he heartened himself with the hope of gaining the lady's favours. When he had made an end of all their jobs, they played him another trick and married him to their slave girl; but, on the night when he thought to go in to her, they said to him, "Lie this night in the mill; and to morrow all will go well." My brother concluded that there was some good cause for this and nighted alone in the mill. Now the husband had set on the miller to make the tailor turn the mill: so when night was half spent the man came in to him and began to say, "This bull of ours hath be come useless and standeth still instead of going round: he will not turn the mill this night, and yet we have great store of corn to be ground. However, I'll yoke him perforce and make him finish grinding it before morning, as the folk are impatient for their flour." So he filled the hoppers with grain and, going up to my brother with a rope in his hand, tied it round his neck and said to him, "Gee up! Round with the mill! thou, O bull, wouldst do nothing but grub and stale and dung!" Then he took a whip and laid it on the shoulders and calves of my brother, who began to howl and bellow; but none came to help him; and he was forced to grind the wheat till hard upon dawn, when the house master came in and, seeing my brother still tethered to the yoke and the man flogging him, went away. At day break the miller returned home and left him still yoked and half dead; and soon after in came the slave girl who unbound him, and said to him, "I and my lady are right sorry for what hath happened and we have borne thy grief with thee." But he had no tongue wherewith to answer her from excess of beating and mill turning. Then he retired to his lodging and behold, the clerk who had drawn up the marriage deed came to him and saluted him, saying, "Allah give thee long life! May thy espousal be blessed! This face telleth of pleasant doings and dalliance and kissing and clipping from dusk to dawn." "Allah grant the liar no peace, O thou thousandfold cuckold!", my brother replied, "by Allah, I did nothing but turn the mill in the place of the bull all night till morning!" "Tell me thy tale," quoth he; and my brother recounted what had befallen him and he said, "Thy star agrees not with her star; but an thou wilt I can alter the contract for thee," adding, "'Ware lest another cheat be not in store for thee." And my brother answered him, "See if thou have not another contrivance." Then the clerk left him and he sat in his shop, looking for some one to bring him a job whereby he might earn his day's bread. Presently the handmaid came to him and said, "Speak with my lady." "Begone, O my good girl," replied he, "there shall be no more dealings between me and thy lady." The handmaid returned to her mistress and told her what my brother had said and presently she put her head out of the window, weeping and saying, "Why, O my beloved, are there to be no more dealings 'twixt me and thee?" But he made her no answer. Then she wept and conjured him, swearing that all which had befallen him in the mill was not sanctioned by her and that she was innocent of the whole matter. When he looked upon her beauty and loveliness and heard the sweetness of her speech, the sorrow which had possessed him passed from his heart; he accepted her excuse and he rejoiced in her sight. So he saluted her and talked with her and sat tailoring awhile, after which the handmaid came to him and said, "My mistress greeteth thee and informeth thee that her husband purposeth to lie abroad this night in the house of some intimate friends of his; so, when he is gone, do thou come to us and spend the night with my lady in delightsomest joyance till the morning." Now her husband had asked her, "How shall we manage to turn him away from thee?"; and she answered, "Leave me to play him another trick and make him a laughing stock for all the town." But my brother knew naught of the malice of women. As soon as it was dusk, the slave girl came to him and carried him to the house, and when the lady saw him she said to him, "By Allah, O my lord, I have been longing exceedingly for thee." "By Allah," cried he, "kiss me quick before thou give me aught else." Hardly had he spoken, when the lady's husband came in from the next room and seized him, saying, "By Allah, I will not let thee go, till I deliver thee to the chief of the town watch." My brother humbled himself to him; but he would not listen to him and carried him before the Prefect who gave him an hundred lashes with a whip and, mounting him on a camel, promenaded him round about the city, whilst the guards proclaimed aloud, "This is his reward who violateth the Harims of honourable men!" Moreover, he fell off the camel and broke his leg and so became lame. Then the Prefect banished him from the city; and he went forth unknowing whither he should wend; but I heard of him and fearing for him went out after him and brought him back secretly to the city and restored him to health and took him into my house where he still liveth. The Caliph laughed at my story and said, "Thou hast done well, O Samit, O Silent Man, O spare of speech!"; and he bade me take a present and go away. But I said, "I will accept naught of thee except I tell thee what befell all my other brothers; and do not think me a man of many words." So the Caliph gave ear to...

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Burton, Richard (1821-1890). The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night. London. 1885-1888. Gutenberg Vol. I. Gutenberg Vol. II. Gutenberg Vol. III. Gutenberg Vol. IV. Gutenberg Vol. V. Gutenberg Vol. V. Gutenberg Vol. VII. Gutenberg Vol. VIII. Gutenberg Vol. IX. Gutenberg Vol. X. Please consult the Gutenberg edition for footnotes; the footnotes have not been included in this web version.


1001 Nights Hypertext. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. This website is licensed under a Creative Commons License. The texts presented here are in the public domain. Thanks to Gene Perry for his excellent help in preparing the texts for the web. Page last updated: January 1, 2005 10:46 PM


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