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Burton: The Sandal-Wood Merchant and the Sharpers

[Go back to The King's Son and the Ifrit's Mistress]

There once lived an exceeding rich merchant, who was a great traveller and who visited all manner of places. One day, being minded to journey to a certain city, he asked those who came thence, saying, "What kind of goods brought most profit there?" and they answered, "Chanders-wood; for it selleth at a high price." So he laid out all his money in sandal and set out for that city; and arriving there at close of day, behold, he met and old woman driving her sheep. Quoth she to him, "Who art thou, O man? and quoth he, "I am a stranger, a merchant." "Beware of the townsfolk," said she, "for they are cheats, rascals, robbers who love nothing more than imposing on the foreigner that they may get the better of him and devour his substance. Indeed I give thee good counsel." Then she left him and on the morrow there met him one of the citizens who saluted him and asked him, "O my lord, whence comest thou?" Answered the merchant, "From such a place." "And what merchandise hast thou brought with thee?" enquired the other; and replied he, "Chanders-wood, for it is high of price with you." Quoth the townsman, "He blundered who told thee that; for we burn nothing under our cooking-pots save sandal-wood, whose worth with us is but that of fuel." When the merchant heard this he sighed and repented and stood balanced between belief and unbelief. Then he alighted at one of the khans of the city, and, when it was night, he saw a merchant make fire of chanders-wood under his cooking pot. Now this was the man who had spoken with him and this proceeding was a trick of his. When the townsman saw the merchant looking at him, he asked, "Wilt thou sell me thy sandal-wood for a measure of whatever thy soul shall desire?" "I sell it to thee," answered the merchant; and the buyer transported all the wood to his own house and stored it up there; whilst the seller purposed to take an equal quantity of gold for it. Next morning the merchant, who was a blue-eyed man, went out to walk in the city but, as he went along, one of the townsfolk, who was blue-eyed and one-eyed to boot, caught hold of him, saying, "Thou are he who stole my eye and I will never let thee go." The merchant denied this, saying, "I never stole it: the thing is impossible." Whereupon the folk collected round them and besought the one-eyed man to grant him till the morrow, that he might give him the price of his eye. So the merchant procured one to be surety for him, and they let him go. Now his sandal had been rent in the struggle with the one-eyed man; so he stopped at a cobbler's stall and gave it to him, saying, "Mend it and thou shalt have of me what shall content thee." Then he went on, till he came to some people sitting at play of forfeits and sat down with them, to divert his cark and care. They invited him to play with them and he did so; but they practised on him and overcoming him, offered him his choice, either to drink up the sea or disburse all the money he had. "Have patience with me till to-morrow," said he, and they granted him the delay he sought; whereupon he went away, sore concerned for what had betided him and knowing not how he should do, and sat down in a solitary place heart-heavy, care- full, thought-opprest. And behold, the old woman passed by and seeing him thus, said to him, "Peradventure the townsfolk have gotten the better of thee, for I see the troubled at that which hath befallen thee: recount to me what aileth thee." So he told her all that had passed from first to last, and she said, "As for him who diddled thee in the matter of the chanders-wood, thou must know that with us it is worth ten gold pieces a pound. But I will give thee a rede, whereby I trust thou shalt deliver thyself; and it is this. Go to such and such a gate whereby lives a blind Shaykh, a cripple, who is knowing, wise as a wizard and experienced; and all resort to him and ask him what they require, when he counsels them what will be their advantage; for he is versed in craft and magic and trickery. Now he is a sharper and the sharpers resort to him by night; therefore, I repeat, go thou to his lodging and hide thyself from thine adversaries, so thou mayst hear what they say, unseen of them; for he telleth them which party got the better and which got the worse; and haply thou shalt learn from them some plan which may avail to deliver thee from them." --And Shahrazad perceived the dawn of day and ceased to say her permitted say.

When it was the Six Hundred and Fourth Night,

She said, It hath reached me, O auspicious King, that the old woman said to the merchant, "Go this night to that expert who is frequented by the townsfolk and hide thine identity: haply shalt thou hear from him some plea which shall deliver thee from thine adversaries." So he went to the place she mentioned and hid himself albeit he took seat near the blind man. Before long, up came the Shaykh's company who were wont to choose him for their judge: they saluted the oldster and one another and sat down round him, whereupon the merchant recognised his four adversaries. The Chief set somewhat of food before them and they ate; then each began to tell what had befallen him during his day, and amongst the rest came forward he of the chanders-wood and told the Shaykh how he had bought of one man sandal below its price, and had agreed to pay for it a Sa'a or measure of whatever the seller should desire. Quoth the old man, "Thine opponent hath the better of thee." Asked the other, "How can that be?"; and the Shaykh answered, "What if he say, I will take the measure full of gold or silver, wilt thou give it to him?" "Yes," replied the other, "I will give it to him and still be the gainer." And the Shaykh answered, "And if he say, I will take the measure full of fleas, half male and half female, what wilt thou do?" So the sharper knew that he was worsted. Then came forward the one-eyed man and said, "O Shaykh, I met to-day a blue-eyed man, a stranger to the town; so I picked a quarrel with him and caught hold of him, saying, ''Twas thou robbedst me of my eye'; nor did I let him go, till some became surety for him that he should return to me to-morrow and satisfy me for my eye." Quoth the oldster, "If he will he may have the better of thee and thou the worse." "How so?" asked the sharper; and the Chief said, "he may say to thee, 'Pluck out thine eye, and I will pluck out one of mine; then we will weigh them both, and if thine eye be of the same weight as mine, thou sayest sooth in what thou avouchest.' So wilt thou owe him the legal price of his eye and be stone blind, whilst he will still see with his other eye." So the sharper knew that the merchant might baffle him with such plea. Then came the cobbler; and said, "O Shaykh, a man brought me his sandal-shoe to-day, saying, 'Mend this;' and I asked him, 'What wage wilt thou give me?'; when he answered, 'Thou shalt have of me what will content thee.' Now nothing will content me but all the wealth he hath." Quoth the oldster, "And he will, he may take his sandal from thee and give thee nothing." "How so?" quoth the cobbler, and quoth the Shaykh, "He has but to say to thee, 'The Sultan's enemies are put to the rout; his foes are waxed weak and his children and helpers are multiplied. Art thou content or no?' If thou say, 'I am content,' he will take his sandal and go away; and if thou say, 'I am not content,' he will take his sandal and beat thee therewith over the face and neck." So the cobbler owned himself worsted. Then came forward the gamester and said, "O Shaykh, I played at forfeits with a man to-day and beat him and quoth I to hime, 'If thou drink the sea I will give thee all my wealth; and if not I will take all that is thine.'" Replied the Chief, "An he will he may worst thee." "How so?" asked the sharper, and the Shaykh answered, "He hath but to say, 'Hold for me the mouth of the sea in thine hand and give it me and I will drink it.' But thou wilt not be able to do this; so he will baffle thee with this plea." When the merchant heard this, he knew how it behoved him to deal with his adversaries. Then the sharpers left the Shaykh and the merchant returned to his lodging. Now when morning morrowed, the gamester came to him and summoned him to drink the sea; so he said to him, "Hold for me its mouth and I will drink it up." Whereupon he confessed himself beaten and redeemed his foreit by paying an hundred gold pieces. Then came the cobbler and sought of him what should content him. Quoth the merchant, "Our lord the Sultan hath overcome his foes and hath destroyed his enemies and his children are multiplied. Art thou content or no?" "I am content," replied the cobbler and, giving up the shoe without wage, went away. Next came the one-eyed man and demanded the legal price of his eye. Said the merchant, "Pluck out thine eye, and I will pluck out mine: then we will weigh them, and if they are equal in weight, I will acknowledge thy truth, and pay thee the price of thine eye; but, if they differ, thou liest and I will sue thee for the price of mine eye." Quoth the one-eyed man, "Grant me time;" but the merchant answered, saying, "I am a stranger and grant time to none, nor will I part from thee till thou pay." So the sharper ransomed his eye by paying him an hundred ducats and went away. Last of all came the buyer of the chanders-wood and said, "Take the price of thy ware." Asked the merchant, "What wilt thou give me?"; and the other answered, "We agreed for a Sa'a-measure of whatever thou shouldst desire; so, if thou wilt, take it full of gold and silver." "Not I," rejoined the merchant, "Not I! nothing shall serve me but I must have it full of fleas, half male and half female." Said the sharper, "I can do nothing of the kind;" and, confessing himself beaten, returned him his sandal-wood and redeemed himself from him with an hundred sequins, to be off his bargain. Then the merchant sold the chanders-wood at his own price and, quitting the city of sharpers, returned to his own land, ---And Shahrazad perceived the dawn of day and ceased saying her permitted say.

When it was the Six Hundred and Fifth Night

She said, It hath reached me, O auspicious King, that when the merchant had sold his chanders-wood and had taken the money he quitted that city and returned to his own land. Then the Prince continued, "But this is not more wondrous than the tale of the three-year-old child." "What may that be?" asked the King, and the Prince answered, "I have heard tell this tale of...

[Go to The Debauchee and the Three-Year-Old Child]

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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