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Scott: The Story of Mahummud, Sultan of Cairo

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At my first outset in the world I was an indigent man, and possessed none of the conveniences of life, till at length I became possessed of ten pieces of silver, which I resolved to expend in amusing myself. With this intention, I one day walked into the principal market, intending first to purchase somewhat delicate to feast upon. While I was looking about me, a man passed by, with a great crowd following and laughing at him, for he led in an iron chain a monstrous baboon, which he cried for sale at the price of ten pieces of silver. Something instinctively impelled me to purchase the creature, so I paid him the money, and took my bargain to my lodging; but on my arrival, was at a loss how to procure a meal for myself or the baboon. While I was considering what I should do, the baboon having made several springs, became suddenly transformed into a handsome young man, beautiful as the moon at the fourteenth night of its appearance, and addressed me, saying, "Shekh Mahummud, thou hast purchased me for ten pieces of silver, being all thou hadst, and art now thinking how thou canst procure food for me and thyself." "That is true," replied I; "but in the name of Allah, from whence dost thou come?" "Ask no questions," replied my companion, "but take this piece of gold, and purchase us somewhat to eat and drink." I took the gold, did as he had desired, and we spent the evening merrily together in feasting and conversation, till it was time to repose.

In the morning the young man said, "My friend, this lodging is not fitting for us; go, and hire a better." "To hear is to obey," replied I, and departed to the principal serai, where I hired an upper apartment, to which we removed. He then gave me ten deenars, with orders to purchase carpets and cushions, which I did, and on my return found before him a package, containing princely vestments. These he gave to me, desiring that I would go to the bath, and, after bathing, put them on. I obeyed his commands, dressed myself, and found in each pocket a hundred deenars. I was not a little proud of my improved appearance in the rich robes. On my return, he praised my figure, and seated me by him, when we refreshed ourselves, and chatted on various subjects. At length he gave me a bundle, desiring that I would present it to the sultan, and at the same time demand his daughter in marriage for myself, assuring me that my request would meet a ready compliance.

The young man commanded a slave he had bought to attend me, who carried the bundle, and I set out for the palace; near which I found a great crowd of grandees, officers, and guards, who seeing me so richly habited, inquired respectfully what I wanted. Upon my replying that my business was with the sultan, they informed the ushers, who introduced me to the presence. I made the customary obeisance, and the sultan returned my salute; after which I presented the bundle before him, saying, "Will my lord accept this trifle, becoming my humble situation to offer, but certainly not worthy the royal dignity to receive?" The sultan commanded the package to be opened; when, lo! it contained a complete dress of royal apparel, richer than had ever been before seen, at which the sultan was astonished, and exclaimed, "Heavens! I have nothing like this, nor ever possessed so magnificent a suit; it shall be accepted: but inform me, Shekh, what thou requirest in return for so valuable an offering." "Mighty sovereign," replied I, "my wish is to become thy relation by espousing that precious gem of the casket of beauty, thy incomparable daughter."

When the sultan had heard this request, he turned towards his vizier and said, "Advise me how I should act in this affair." Upon which the minister replied, "Shew him, my lord, your most valuable diamond, and inquire if he has any one equally precious to match it as a marriage present for your daughter." The sultan did so; when I said, "If I present two, will you give me your daughter?" To which he assented, and I took my leave, carrying with me the diamond, to shew the young man as a model. Upon my arrival at our serai, I informed him of what passed, when he examined the diamond, and said, "The day is now far spent, but tomorrow I will procure ten like it, which thou shalt present to the sultan." Accordingly in the morning he walked out, and in the space of an hour returned with ten diamonds, which he gave me, and I hastened with them to the sultan. When he beheld the precious stones he was enraptured at their brilliancy, and again consulted his vizier how he should act in this business. "My lord," replied the minister, "you only required one diamond of the Shekh, and he has presented you with ten: it is therefore incumbent upon you to give him your daughter."

The sultan now sent for the cauzees and effendis, who drew up the deed of espousals, which they gave me, when I returned to our serai, and shewed it to the young man, who said, "It is well; go and complete thy marriage; but I entreat that thou wilt not consummate thy nuptials till I shall give thee permission." "To hear is to obey," replied I. When it was night I entered the princess's apartment, but sat down at a distance from her, and did not speak till morning, when I bade her farewell, and took my leave for the day. I observed the same conduct the second night and the third, upon which, offended at my coldness, she complained to her mother, who informed the sultan of my affronting behaviour.

The sultan sent for me to his presence, and with much anger threatened, if I should continue my coldness to the princess another evening, that he would put me to death. Upon this I hastened to inform my friend at the serai, who commanded, that when I should next be alone with my wife I should demand of her a bracelet which she wore upon her right arm, and bring it to him, after which I might consummate my nuptials. I replied, "To hear is to obey;" and the next evening, when I entered the apartment, said to my wife, "If thou desirest that we should live happily together, give me the bracelet on thy right arm." She did so immediately, when I carried it to the young man, and, returning to the palace, slept, as I supposed, with the princess till morning. Guess, however, what was my surprise, when on awaking I found myself lying in my first humble lodging, stripped of my rich vestments, and saw on the ground my former mean attire; namely, an old vest, a pair of tattered drawers, and a ragged turban, as full of holes as a sieve. When I had somewhat recovered my senses, I put them on and walked out in a melancholy mood, regretting my lost happiness, and not knowing what I should do to recover it. As I strolled towards the palace, I beheld sitting in the street a fortune-teller, who had some written papers before him, and was casting omens for the bystanders. I advanced, and made him a salute, which he returned kindly; and after looking attentively in my face, exclaimed, "What! has that accursed wretch betrayed thee, and torn thee from thy wife?" I replied, "Yes." Upon this he desired me to wait a little, and seated me by him. When his employers were departed, he said, "My friend, the ape which you purchased for ten pieces of silver, and who soon after was transformed into a young man, is not of human race, but a genie deeply in love with the princess whom you married. However, he could not approach her while she wore the bracelet, containing a powerful charm, upon her right arm, and therefore made use of thee to obtain it. He is now with her, but I will soon effect his destruction, that genii and men may be secure from his wickedness, for he is one of the rebellious and accursed spirits who disobeyed our lord Solomon, son of David."

After this, the fortune-teller wrote a note, which having sealed and directed, he gave it to me, saying, "Go to a certain spot, wait there, and observe those who may approach. Fortify thy mind, and when thou shall see a great personage attended by a numerous train, present to him this letter, when he will accomplish thy desires." I took the note, immediately departed for the place to which the fortune-teller had direfted me, and after travelling all night and half the next day reached it, and sat down to wait for what might happen. The evening shut in, and about a fourth part of the night had passed, when a great glare of lights appeared advancing towards me from a distance; and as it shone nearer, I perceived persons carrying flambeaux and lanterns, also a numerous train of attendants, as if belonging to some mighty sultan. My mind was alarmed, but I recovered myself, and resolved to stay where I was. A great concourse passed by me, marching two and two, and at length there appeared a sultan of the genii, surrounded by a splendid attendance; upon which I advanced as boldly as I could, and having prostrated myself, presented the letter, which he opened, and read aloud, as follows:

"Be it known unto thee, O sultan of the genii, that the bearer of this is in distress, from which thou must relieve him by destroying his enemy. Shouldst thou not assist him, beware of thy own safety. Farewell."

When the sultan of the genii had read the note, he called out to one of his messengers, who immediately attended before him, and commanded him to bring into his presence without delay the genie who had enchanted the daughter of the sultan of Cairo. "To hear is to obey," replied the messenger, and instantly disappearing, was absent for about an hour, when he returned with the criminal, and placed him before the sultan of the genii, who exclaimed, "Accursed wretch, hast thou ill-treated this man?"

"Mighty sovereign," replied the genie, "my crime proceeded from love of the princess, who wore a charm in her bracelet which prevented my approaching her, and therefore I made use of this man. He procured me the charm, and I now have her in my power; but I love her tenderly, and have not injured her." "Return the bracelet instantly," replied the sultan of the genii, "that the man may recover his wife, or I will command an executioner to strike off thy head." The offending genie, who was of an accursed and obstinate race, upon hearing these words was inflamed with passion, and insolently cried out, "I will not return the bracelet, for no one shall possess the princess but myself." Having said thus, he attempted to fly away, but in vain.

The sultan of the genii now commanded his attendants to bind the criminal in chains, which they did, and having forced the bracelet from him, struck off his head. The sultan then presented me the charm, which was no sooner in my hand than all the genii vanished from my sight, and I found myself dressed as before, in the rich habit given me by the pretended young man. I proceeded to the city, which I entered, and when I came near the palace was recognized by the guards and courtiers, who cried out in raptures of joy, "Our lost prince is at length returned." They paid their respects, and I entered the apartment of the princess, whom I found in a deep sleep, in which state she had been ever since my departure. On my replacing the bracelet on her arm, she awoke. After this we lived together in all happiness till the death of her father, who appointed me his successor, having no son, so that I am what I am.

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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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