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My eldest brother, whose name was Bacbouc the hump-back, was a tailor: when he came out of his apprenticeship, he hired a shop opposite a mill, and having but very little business, could scarcely maintain himself. The miller, on the contrary, was very wealthy, and had a handsome wife. One day as my brother was at work in his shop, he saw the miller's wife looking out of the window, and was charmed with her beauty. The woman took no notice of him, but shut her window, and made her appearance no more that day The poor tailor did nothing all day long but lift up his eyes towards the mill. He pricked his finger oftener than once, and his work was not very regular. At night, when he was to shut his shop, he could scarcely tell how to do it, because he still hoped the miller's wife would once more come to the window; but at last he was forced to shut up, and go home, where he passed but a very uncomfortable night. He arose betimes in the morning, and ran to his shop, in hopes to see his mistress; but he was no happier than the day before, for the miller's wife did not appear at the window above a minute in the course of the day, but that minute made the tailor the most amorous man that ever lived. The third day he had more ground of satisfaction, for the miller's wife cast her eyes upon him by chance, and surprised him as he was gazing at her, which convinced her of what passed in his mind.
No sooner did the miller's wife perceive my brother's inclination, than, instead of allowing it to excite her resentment, she resolved to divert herself with it. She looked at him with a smiling countenance, and my brother returned her smile, but in so ludicrous a way, that the miller's wife hastily shut her window, lest her loud laughter should make him sensible that she only ridiculed him. Poor Bacbouc interpreted her carriage to his own advantage, and flattered himself that she looked upon him with pleasure.
The miller's wife resolved to have sport with my brother: she had a piece of very fine stuff, with which she had a long time designed to make a vest; she wrapped it up in a fine embroidered silk handkerchief, and sent it to him by a young slave whom she kept; who being taught her lesson, went to the tailor's shop, and told him, "My mistress gives you her service, and prays you to make her a vest of this stuff according to this pattern; she changes her dress often, so that her custom will be profitable to you." My brother doubted not but the miller's wife loved him, and thought she had sent him work so soon after what had passed betwixt them, only to signify that she knew his mind, and convince him that he had obtained her favour. He charged the slave to tell her mistress, that he would lay aside all work for hers and that the vest should be ready next morning. He worked at it with so much diligence, that he finished it in the course of the same day. Next morning the young slave came to see if the vest was ready. Bacbouc delivered it to her neatly folded up, telling her, "I am too much concerned to please your mistress to neglect her work; I would engage her by my diligence to employ no other than myself for the time to come." The young slave went some steps as if she had intended to go away, and then coming back, whispered to my brother, "I had forgotten part of my commission; my mistress charged me to make her compliments to you, and to ask how you passed the night; as for her, poor woman, she loves you to that degree that she could not sleep." "Tell her," answered my silly brother, "I have so strong a passion for her, that for these four nights I have not slept one wink." After such a compliment from the miller's wife, my brother thought she would not let him languish long in expectation of her favours.
About a quarter of an hour after, the slave returned to my brother with a piece of satin: "My mistress," said she, "is very well pleased with her vest, nothing in the world can fit her better, and as it is very handsome, she will not wear it without a new pair of drawers; she prays you to make her one, as soon as you can, of this piece of satin." "Enough," said Bacbouc, "I will do it before I leave my shop: you shall have it in the evening." The miller's wife shewed herself often at her window, and was very prodigal of her charms, to encourage my brother. You would have laughed to see him work. The pair of drawers was soon made, and the slave came for it, but brought the tailor no money, neither for the trimming he had bought for the vest, nor for the making. In the mean time, this unfortunate lover, whom they only amused, though he could not see it, had eaten nothing all that day, and was forced to borrow money at night to buy his supper. Next morning, as soon as he arrived at his shop, the young slave came to tell him that the miller wanted to speak to him. "My mistress," said she, "spoke to him so much in your praise, when she shewed him your work, that he has a mind you should work for him also; she does this on purpose, that the connection she wishes to form betwixt you and him may crown your mutual wishes with success." My brother was easily persuaded, and went to the mill with the slave. The miller received him very kindly, and shewed him a piece of cloth, and told him he wanted shirts, bade him make it into twenty, and return him again what was left.
My brother had work enough for five or six days to make twenty shirts for the miller, who afterwards gave him another piece of cloth to make him as many pair of drawers. When they were finished, Bacbouc carried them to the miller, who asked him what he must have for his pains. My brother answered, he would be content with twenty dirhems of silver. The miller immediately called the young slave, and bade her bring him his weights to see if his money was right. The slave, who had her lesson, looked at my brother with an angry countenance, to signify to him, that he would spoil all if he took money. He knew her meaning, and refused to take any, though he wanted it so much that he was forced to borrow some to buy the thread to sew the shirts and drawers. When he left the miller, he came to me to borrow money to purchase provisions, and told me they did not pay him. I gave him some copper money I had in my purse, and upon that he subsisted for some days. It is true, indeed, he lived upon nothing but broth, nor had he his fill of that.
One day he went to the miller, who was busy at his work, and thinking my brother came for money, offered him some; but the young slave being present, made him another sign not to take it, which he complied with, and told the miller he did not come for his money, but only to know how he did. The miller thanked him, and gave him an upper garment to make. Bacbouc carried it to him the next day. When the miller drew out his purse, the young slave gave my brother the usual sign, on which he said to the miller, "Neighbour, there is no haste, we will reckon another time;" so that the poor ninny went to his shop again, with three terrible distempers, love, hunger, and an empty purse. The miller's wife was not only avaricious, but ill-natured; for, not content with cheating my brother of his due, she provoked her husband to revenge himself upon him for making love to her, which they accomplished thus. The miller invited Bacbouc one night to supper, and after giving him a very sorry treat, said to him, "Brother, it is too late for you to return home, you had better stay here all night," and then took him to a place in the mill, where there was a bed; there he left him, and went to bed with his wife. About the middle of the night, the miller came to my brother, and said, "Neighbour, are you asleep? My mule is ill, and I have a quantity of corn to grind; you will do me a great kindness if you will turn the mill in her stead." Bacbouc, to shew his good nature, told him, he was ready to do him that service, if he would shew him how. The miller tied him by the middle in the mule's place, and whipping him soundly over the back, said to him, "Go on, neighbour." "Ho!" exclaimed my brother, "why do you beat me?" "It is to make you brisk," replied the miller, "for without a whip my mule will not go." Bacbouc was amazed at this treatment, but durst not complain. When he had gone five or six rounds, he would fain have rested; but the miller gave him a dozen sound lashes, saying, "Courage, neighbour! do not stop, pray; you must go on without taking breath, otherwise you will spoil my meal."
The miller obliged my brother to turn the mill thus all night. About break of day he left him without untying him, and went to his wife's chamber. Bacbouc continued there for some time, and at last the young slave came and untied him. "Ah!" said the treacherous wretch, "how my mistress and I pitied you! We had no hand in this wicked trick which her husband has played you." The wretched Bacbouc answered not a word, he was so much fatigued with work and blows; but crept home to his house, resolving never to think more of the miller's wife.
The telling of this story, continued the barber, made the caliph laugh. "Go home," said he to me, "I have ordered something to be given you to make up for the loss of the good dinner you expected." "Commander of the faithful," I replied, "I pray your majesty to let me stay till I have told the story of my other brothers." The caliph having signified by his silence that he was willing to hear me, I went on thus.
[Go to The Story of the Barber's Second Brother]
Scott, Jonathan (1754-1829). The Arabian Nights Entertainments. London: Pickering and Chatto, 1890. 4 Volumes. Project Gutenberg.
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