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Scott: The Grecian King and the Physician Douban (cont.)

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"Sir," continued the Grecian king's vizier, "to return to the physician Douban, if you do not take care, the confidence you put in him will be fatal to you; I am very well assured that he is a spy sent by your enemies to attempt your majesty's life. He has cured you, you will say: but alas! who can assure you of that? He has perhaps cured you only in appearance, and not radically; who knows but the medicine he has given you, may in time have pernicious effects?"

The Grecian king was not able to discover the wicked design of his vizier, nor had he firmness enough to persist in his first opinion. This discourse staggered him: "Vizier," said he, "thou art in the right; he may be come on purpose to take away my life, which he may easily do by the smell of his drugs."

When the vizier found the king in such a temper as he wished, "Sir," said he, "the surest and speediest method you can take to secure your life, is to send immediately for the physician Douban, and order his head to be struck off." "In truth," said the king, "I believe that is the way we must take to frustrate his design." When he had spoken thus, he called for one of his officers, and ordered him to go for the physician; who, knowing nothing of the king's purpose, came to the palace in haste.

"Knowest thou," said the king, when he saw him, "why I sent for thee?" "No, Sir," answered he; "I wait till your majesty be pleased to inform me." "I sent for thee," replied the king, "to rid myself of thee, by taking away thy life."

No man can express the surprise of the physician, when he heard the sentence of death pronounced against him. "Sir," said he, "why would your majesty take my life? What crime have I committed?" "I am informed," replied the king, "that you came to my court only to attempt my life; but to prevent you, I will be sure of yours. Give the blow," said he to the executioner, who was present, "and deliver me from a perfidious wretch, who came hither on purpose to assassinate me."

When the physician heard this cruel order, he readily judged that the honours and presents he had received from the king had procured him enemies, and that the weak prince was imposed on. He repented that he had cured him of his leprosy; but it was now too late. "Is it thus," asked the physician, "that you reward me for curing you?" The king would not hearken to him, but a second time ordered the executioner to strike the fatal blow. The physician then had recourse to his prayers; "Alas, Sir," cried he, "prolong my days, and God will prolong yours; do not put me to death, lest God treat you in the same manner."

The fisherman broke off his discourse here, to apply it to the genie. "Well, genie," said he, "you see that what passed betwixt the Grecian king and his physician Douban is acted just now by us." The Grecian king, continued he, instead of having regard to the prayers of the physician, who begged him to spare his life, cruelly replied, "No, no; I must of necessity cut you off, otherwise you may assassinate with as much art as you cured me." The physician, without bewailing himself for being so ill rewarded by the king, prepared for death. The executioner tied his hands, and was going to draw his cimeter.

The courtiers who were present, being moved with compassion, begged the king to pardon him, assuring his majesty that he was not guilty of the crime laid to his charge, and that they would answer for his innocence: but the king was inflexible.

The physician being on his knees, his eyes tied up, and ready to receive the fatal blow, addressed himself once more to the king: "Sir," said he, "since your majesty will not revoke the sentence of death, I beg, at least, that you would give me leave to return to my house, to give orders about my burial, to bid farewell to my family, to give alms, and to bequeath my books to those who are capable of making good use of them. I have one particularly I would present to your majesty; it is a very precious book, and worthy of being laid up carefully in your treasury." "What is it," demanded the king, "that makes it so valuable?" "Sir," replied the physician, "it possesses many singular and curious properties; of which the chief is, that if your majesty will give yourself the trouble to open it at the sixth leaf, and read the third line of the left page, my head, after being cut off, will answer all the questions you ask it." The king being curious, deferred his death till next day, and sent him home under a strong guard.

The physician, during that time, put his affairs in order; and the report being spread, that an unheard of prodigy was to happen after his death, the viziers, emirs, officers of the guard, and, in a word, the whole court, repaired next day to the hall of audience, that they might be witnesses of it.

The physician Douban was brought in, and advancing to the foot of the throne, with a book in his hand, he called for a basin, and laid upon it the cover in which the book was wrapped; then presenting the book to the king, "Take this," said he, "and after my head is cut off, order that it be put into the basin upon that cover; as soon as it is placed there, the blood will stop; then open the book, and my head will answer your questions. But permit me once more to implore your majesty's clemency; for God's sake grant my request, I protest to you that I am innocent." "Your prayers," answered the king, "are in vain; and were it for nothing but to hear your head speak after your death, it is my will you should die." As he said this, he took the book out of the physician's hand, and ordered the executioner to do his duty.

The head was so dexterously cut off that it fell into the basin, and was no sooner laid upon the cover of the book than the blood stopped; then to the great surprise of the king, and all the spectators, its eyes, and said, "Sir, will your majesty be pleased to open the book?" The king proceeded to do so; but finding that the leaves adhered to each other, that he might turn them with more ease, he put his finger to his mouth, and wetted it with spittle. He did thus till he came to the sixth leaf, and finding no writing on the place where he was desired to look for it, "Physician," said he, "there is nothing written." "Turn over some more leaves," replied the head. The king went on, putting always his finger to his mouth, until the poison with which each leaf was imbued, coming to have its effect, the prince found himself suddenly taken with an extraordinary fit, his eye-sight failed, and he fell down at the foot of the throne in violent convulsions.

When the physician Douban, or rather his head, saw that the poison had taken effect, and that the king had but a few moments to live; "Tyrant," it cried, "now you see how princes are treated, who, abusing their authority, cut off innocent men: God punishes soon or late their injustice and cruelty." Scarcely had the head spoken these words, when the king fell down dead, and the head itself lost what life it had.

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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

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