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Burton: The Man who Never Laughed During the Rest of His Days

[Go back to The Goldsmith and the Cashmere Singing-Girl]

There was once a man who was rich in lands and houses and monies and goods, eunuchs and slaves, and he died and went to the mercy of Allah the Most High; leaving a young son, who, when he grew up, gave himself to feasting and carousing and hearing music and singing and the loud laughter of parasites; and he wasted his substance in gifts and prodigality till he had squandered all the money his father left him, --And Shahrazad perceived the dawn of day and ceased to say her permitted say.

When it was the Five Hundred and Eighty-eighth Night,

She said, It hath reached me, O auspicious King, that the young man, when he had squandered all the money his father had left him and naught thereof remained to him, betook himself to selling his slaves and handmaids, lands and houses and spent the proceeds on like wise, till he was reduced to beggary and must needs labour for his living. He abode thus a year's space, at the end of which time he was sitting one day under a wall, awaiting who should hire him when behold, there came up to him an old man of comely aspect and apparel and saluted him. The young man asked, "O uncle, hast thou known me aforetime?" and the other answered, "Not so, O my son, I know thee not at all, at all; but I see the trace of gentle breeding on thee despite thy present case." "O uncle, " rejoined the poor man, "needs must Fate and Fortune be accomplished; but, O uncle, O bright of blee, hast thou any occasion wherein thou wouldst employ me?" Said the other, "I wish, O my son, to employ thee in a slight matter." "What is it?" quoth the young man, and quoth the stranger, "We are eleven old men in one house, but we have none to serve us; so an thou wilt stay and take service with us, thou shalt have food and clothing to thy heart's content, besides what cometh to thee of coin and other good; and haply Allah will restore thee thy fortune by our means." Replied the youth, "Hearkening and obedience!" "But I have a condition to impose on thee." "What is that?" "O my son, it is that thou keep our secret in what thou seest us do, and if thou see us weep, that thou question us not of the cause of our weeping." "It is well, O uncle;" "Come with me, O my son, with the blessing of Allah Almighty." So he followed him to the bath, where the old man caused cleanse his body of the crusted dirt, after which he sent one to fetch a handsome garment of linen and clad him therein. Then he carried him to his company which was in his domicile and the youth found a house lofty and spacious and strongly builded, wherein were sitting-chambers facing one another; and saloons, in each one a fountain of water, with the birds warbling over it, and windows on every side, giving upon a fair garden within the house. The old man brought him into one of the parlours, which was variegated with many-coloured marbles, the ceiling thereof being decorated with ultramarine and glowing gold; and the floor bespread with silken carpets. Here he found ten Shaykhs in mourning apparel, seated one opposite other, weeping and wailing. He marvelled at their case and purposed to ask the reason, when he remembered the condition and held his peace. Then he who had brought him delivered to him a chest containing thirty thousand dinars and said to him, "O my son, spend freely from this chest what is fitting for our entertainment and thine own; and be thou faithful and remember that wherewith I charged thee." "I hear and I obey, " answered he and served them days and nights, till one of them died, whereupon his fellows washed him and shrouded him and buried him in a garden behind the house, nor did death cease to take them, one after other, till there remained but the Shaykh who had hired the youth for service. Then the two men, old and young, dwelt together in that house alone for years and years, nor was there with them a third save Allah the Most High, till the elder fell sick; and when the younger despaired of his life, he went up to him and condoling with him, said, "O nuncle mine, I have waited upon you twelve years and have not failed of my duties a single hour, but have been loyal and faithful to you and served you with my might and main." "Yes, O my son," answered the old man, "thou hast served us well until all my comrades are gone to the mercy of Allah (to whom belong honour and glory!) and needs must I die also." "O my lord," said the other, "thou art in danger of death and I would fain have thee acquaint me with the cause of your weeping and wailing and of your unceasing mourning and lamentation and regrets." "O my son," answered the old man, "it concerns thee not to know this, so importune me not of what I may not do: for I have vowed to Almighty Allah that I would acquaint none of His creatures with this, lest he be afflicted with what befel me and my comrades. If, then, thou desire to be delivered from that into which we fell, look thou open not yonder door, " and pointed to a certain part of the house; "but, if thou have a mind to suffer what we have suffered, then open it and thou shalt learn the cause of that thou hast seen us do; and whenas thou knowest it, thou shalt repent what time repentance will avail thee not."--And Shahrazad perceived the dawn of day and ceased saying her permitted say.

When it was the Five Hundred and Eighty-ninth Night,

She said, It hath reached me, O auspicious King, that the surviving Shaykh of the ten said to the youth, "Beware how thou open yonder door or thou shalt repent what time repentance will avail thee not." Then his sickness grew on him and he accomplished his term and departed life to the presence of his Lord; and the young man washed him with his own hands and shrouded him and buried him by the side of his comrades; after which he abode alone in the place and took possession of whatsoever was therein. Withal he was uneasy and troubled concerning the case of the old men, till, one day, as he sat pondering the words of his dead master and his injunction not to open the door, he suddenly bethought himself to go and look for it. So he rose up and repaired to the part whither the dead man had pointed and sought till, in a dark unfrequented corner, he found a little door, over which the spider had spun her webs and which was fastened with four padlocks of steel. Seeing this he recalled the old man's warning and restrained himself and went away; and he held aloof from it seven days, whilst all the time his heart prompted him to open it. On the eighth day his curiosity got the better of him and he said, "Come what will, needs must I open the door and see what will happen to me therefrom. Nothing can avert what is fated and fore-ordained of Allah the Most High; nor doth aught befal but by His will." So saying, he rose and broke the padlocks and opening the door saw a narrow passage, which he followed for some three hours when lo! he came out on the shore of a vast ocean and fared on along the beach, marvelling at this main, whereof he had no knowledge and turning right and left. Presently, a great eagle swooped down upon him from the lift and seizing him in its talons, flew away with him betwixt heaven and earth, till it came to an island in the midst of the sea, where it cast him down and flew away. The youth was dazed and knew not whither he should wend, but after a few days as he sat pondering his case, he caught sight of the sails of a ship in the middlemost of the main, as it were a star in the sky; and his heart clave to it, so haply his deliverance might be therein. He continued gazing at the ship, until it drew nigh, when he saw that it was a foyst builded all of ivory and ebony, inlaid with glistening gold made fast by nails of steel, with oars of sandal and lign-aloes. In it were ten damsels, high-bosomed maids, as they were moons; and when they saw him, they came ashore to him and kissed his hands, saying, "Thou art the King, the Bridegroom!" Then there accosted him a young lady, as she were the sun shining in sky serene bearing in hand a silken napkin, wherein were a royal robe and a crown of gold set with all manner rubies and pearls. She threw the robe over him and set the crown upon his head, after which the damsels bore him on their arms to the foyst, where he found all kinds of silken carpets and hangings of various colours. Then they spread the sails and stretched out into mid-ocean. Quoth the young man, "Indeed, when they put to sea with me, meseemed it was a dream and I knew not whither they were wending with me. Presently, we drew near to land, and I saw the shore full of troops none knoweth their number save Allah (extolled and exalted be He!) and all were magnificently arrayed and clad in complete steel. As soon as the vessel had made fast to the land, they brought me five marked horses of noble breeds, housed and saddled with gold, inlaid with all manner pearls and high-priced bezel stones. I chose out one of them and mounted it, whilst they led the four others before me. Then they raised the banners and the standards over my head, whilst the troops ranged themselves right and left, and we set out, with drums beating and cymbals clashing, and rode on; whilst I debated in myself whether I were in sleep or on wake; and we never ceased faring, I believing not in that my estate, but taking all this for the imbroglio of a dream, till we drew near to the green mead, full of palaces and gardens and trees and streams and blooms and birds chanting the praises of Allah the One, the Victorious. Hereupon, behold, an army sallied out from amid the palaces and gardens, as it were the torrent when it poureth down, and the host overflowed the mead. These troops halted at a little distance from me and presently there rode forth from amongst them a King, preceded by some of his chief officers on foot." When he came up to the young man (saith the tale-teller) he dismounted also, and the two saluted each other after the goodliest fashion. Then said the King, "Come with us, for thou art my guest." So they took horse again and rode on stirrup touching stirrup in great and stately procession, conversing as they went, till they came to the royal palace, where they alighted together.--And Shahrazad perceived the dawn of day and ceased to say her permitted say.

When it was the Five Hundred and Ninetieth Night,

She said, It hath reached me, O auspicious King, that the two rode together in stately procession till they entered the palace, when the King taking the young man by the hand, led him into a domed room followed by his suite, and making him sit down on a throne of gold, seated himself beside him. Then he unbound the swathe from his lower face; and behold, the King was a young lady, like the splendid sun shining in the sheeny sky, perfect in beauty and loveliness, brilliancy and grace, arrogance and all perfection. The youth looked upon this singular blessing and embodied boon and was lost in wonder at her charms and comeliness and seemlihead and at the splendour and affluence he saw about him, when she said "Know, O King, that I am the Queen of this land and that all the troops thou hast seen, whether horse or foot, are women, there is no man amongst them; for in this our state the men delve and sow and ear and occupy themselves with the tillage of the earth and the building of towns and other mechanical crafts and useful arts, whilst the women govern and fill the great offices of state and bear arms." At this the youth marvelled with exceeding marvel and, as they were in discourse, behold, in came the Wazir who was a tall gray-haired old woman of venerable semblance and majestic aspect, and it was told him that this was the Minister. Quoth the Queen to her, "Bring us the Kazi and witnesses." So she went out to do this, and the Queen, turning to him, conversed with him in friendly fashion, and enforced herself to reassure his awe of her and do away his shame with speech blander than the zephyr, saying, "Art thou content to be to me baron and I to thee feme?" Thereupon he arose and would have kissed ground between her hands, but she forbade him and he replied, saying, "O my lady, I am the least of thy slaves who serve thee." "Seest thou all these servants and soldiers and riches and hoards and treasures?" asked she, and he answered, "Yes!" Quoth she, "All these are at thy commandment to dispose of them and give and bestow as seemeth good to thee." Then she pointed to a closed door and said, "All these things are at thy disposal, save yonder door; that shalt thou not open, and if thou open it thou shalt repent when repentance will avail thee naught. So beware! and again I say, beware!" Hardly had she made an end of speaking when the Waziress entered followed by the Kazii and witnesses, all old women, with their hair streaming over their shoulders and of reverend and majestic presence; and the Queen bade them draw up the contract of marriage between herself and the young man. Accordingly, they performed the marriage-ceremony and the Queen made a great bride-feast, to which she bade all the troops; and after they had eaten and drunken, he went in unto his bride and found her a maid virginal. So he did away her hymen and abode with her seven years in all joyance and solace and delight of life, till, one day of the days, he bethought himself of the forbidden door and said in himself, "Except there were therein treasures greater and grander than any I have seen, she had not forbidden me therefrom." So he rose and opened the door, when, lo! behind it was the very bird which had brought him from the sea-shore to the island, and it said to him, "No welcome to a face that shall never prosper!" When he saw it and heard what it said, he fled from it; but it followed him and seizing him in its talons, flew with him an hour's journey betwixt heaven and earth, till it set him down in the place whence it had first carried him off and flew away. When he came to his senses, he remembered his late estate, great, grand and glorious, and the troops which rode before him and his lordly rule and all the honour and fair fortune he had lost and fell to weeping and wailing. He abode two months on the sea-shore, where the bird had set him down, hoping yet to return to his wife, till, as he sat one night wakeful, mourning and musing, behold, he heard one speaking, albeit he saw no one, and saying, "How great were the delights! Alas, far from thee is the return of that which is past!" When he heard this, he redoubled in his regrets and despaired of recovering his wife and his fair estate that was; so he returned, weary and broken-hearted, to the house where he had dwelt with the old men and knew that they had fared even as he and that this was the cause of their shedding tears and lamenting their lot; wherefore he ever after held them excused. Then, being overcome with chagrin and concern, he took to his chamber and gave himself up to mourning and lamentation; and he ceased not crying and complaining and left eating and drinking and pleasant scents and merriment; nor did he laugh once till the day of his death, when they buried him beside the Shaykhs. "See, then, O King," continued the Wazir "what cometh of precipitance; verily, it is unpraiseworthy and bequeatheth repentance; and in this I give thee true advice and loyal counsel." When the King heard this story, he turned from slaying his son;--And Shahrazad perceived the dawn of day and ceased saying her permitted say.

When it was the Five Hundred and Ninety-first Night,

She said, It hath reached me, O auspicious King, that when the King heard this story he turned from slaying his son; but, on the sixth day, the favourite came in to him hending a naked knife in hand, and said to him, "Know, O my lord, that except thou hearken to my complaint and protect thy right and thine honour against these thy Ministers, who are banded together against me, to do me wrong, I will kill myself with this knife, and my blood will testify against thee on the Day of Doom. Indeed, they pretend that women are full of tricks and malice and perfidy; and they design thereby to defeat me of my due and hinder the King from doing me justice; but, behold, I will prove to thee that men are more perfidious than women by the story of a King among the Kings and how he gained access to the wife of a certain merchant." "And what passed between them?" asked the King, and she answered, "I have heard tell, O august King, a tale of...

[Go to The King's Son and the Merchant's Wife]


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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