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Scott: The Story Told By the Sultan of Casgar's Purveyor

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Sir, a person of quality invited me yesterday to his daughter's wedding. I went to his house in the evening at the hour appointed, and found there a large company of men of the law, ministers of justice, and others of the first rank in the city. After the ceremony was over, we partook of a splendid feast. Among other dishes set upon the table, there was one seasoned with garlic, which was very delicious, and generally relished. We observed, however, that one of the guests did not touch it, though it stood just before him. We invited him to taste it, but he intreated us not to press him. "I will take good care," said he, "how I touch any dish that is seasoned with garlic; I have not yet forgotten what the tasting of such a dish once cost me." We requested him to inform us what the reason was of his aversion to garlic. But before he had time to answer, the master of the house exclaimed, "Is it thus you honour my table? This dish is excellent, do not expect to be excused from eating of it; you must do me that favour as well as the rest." "Sir," said the gentleman, who was a Bagdad merchant, "I hope you do not think my refusal proceeds from any mistaken delicacy; if you insist on my compliance I will submit, but it must be on this condition, that after having eaten, I may, with your permission, wash my hands with alkali forty times, forty times more with ashes, and forty times again with soap. I hope you will not feel displeased at this stipulation, as I have made an oath never to taste garlic but on these terms."

As the master of the house, continued the purveyor of the sultan of Casgar, would not dispense with the merchant's partaking of the dish seasoned with garlic, he ordered his servants to provide a basin of water, together with some alkali, the ashes, and soap, that the merchant might wash as often as he pleased. After he had given these instructions, he addressed the merchant and said, "I hope you will now do as we do."

The merchant, apparently displeased with the constraint put upon him, took up a bit, which he put to his mouth trembling, and ate with a reluctance that astonished us. But what surprised us yet more was, that he had no thumb; which none of us had observed before, though he had eaten of other dishes. "You have lost your thumb," said the master of the house. "This must have been occasioned by some extraordinary accident, a relation of which will be agreeable to the company." "Sir," replied the merchant, "I have no thumb on either the right or the left hand." As he spoke he put out his left hand, and shewed us that what he said was true. "But this is not all," continued he: "I have no great toe on either of my feet: I was maimed in this manner by an unheard-of adventure, which I am willing to relate, if you will have the patience to hear me. The account will excite at once your astonishment and your pity. Only allow me first to wash my hands." With this he rose from the table, and after washing his hands a hundred and twenty times, reseated himself, and proceeded with his narrative as follows.

In the reign of the caliph Haroon al Rusheed, my father lived at Bagdad, the place of my nativity, and was reputed one of the richest merchants in the city. But being a man addicted to his pleasures, and neglecting his private affairs, instead of leaving me an ample fortune, he died in such embarrassed circumstances, that I was reduced to the necessity of using all the economy possible to discharge the debts he had contracted. I at last, however, paid them all; and by care and good management my little fortune began to wear a smiling aspect.

One morning, as I opened my shop, a lady mounted upon a mule, and attended by an eunuch and two slaves, stopped near my door, and with the assistance of the eunuch alighted. "Madam," said the eunuch, "I told you you would be too early; you see there is no one yet in the bazaar: had you taken my advice, you might have saved yourself the trouble of waiting here." The lady looked and perceiving no shop open but mine, asked permission to sit in it till the other merchants arrived. With this request I of course readily complied.

The lady took a seat in my shop, and observing there was no one in the bazaar but the eunuch and myself, uncovered her face to take the air. I had never beheld any thing so beautiful. I became instantly enamoured, and kept my eyes fixed upon her. I flattered myself that my attention was not unpleasant to her; for she allowed me time to view her deliberately, and only concealed her face so far as she thought necessary to avoid being observed.

After she had again lowered her veil, she told me she wanted several sorts of the richest and finest stuffs, and asked me if I had them. "Alas! madam," I replied, "I am but a young man just beginning the world; I have not capital sufficient for such extensive traffic. I am much mortified not to be able to accommodate you with the articles you want. But to save you the trouble of going from shop to shop, when the merchants arrive, I will, if you please, go and get those articles from them, and ascertain the lowest prices." She assented to this proposal, and entered into conversation with me, which I prolonged, making her believe the merchants that could furnish what she wanted were not yet come.

I was not less charmed with her wit than I had been before with the beauty of her face; but was obliged to forego the pleasure of her conversation. I ran for the stuffs she wanted, and after she had fixed upon what she liked, we agreed for five thousand dirhems of coined silver; I wrapped up the stuffs in a small bundle, and gave it to the eunuch, who put it under his arm. She then rose and took leave. I followed her with my eyes till she had reached the bazaar gate, and even after she had remounted her mule.

The lady had no sooner disappeared, than I perceived that love had led me to a serious oversight. It had so engrossed my thoughts, that I did not reflect that she went away without paying, and that I had not informed myself who she was, or where she resided. I soon felt sensible, however, that I was accountable for a large sum to the merchants, who, perhaps, would not have patience to wait for their money: I went to them, and made the best excuse I could, pretending that I knew the lady; and then returned home, equally affected with love, and with the burden of such a heavy debt.

I had desired my creditors to wait eight days for their money: when this period had elapsed, they did not fail to dun me. I then intreated them to give me eight days more, to which they consented; but the next day I saw the lady enter the bazaar, mounted on her mule, with the same attendants as before, and exactly the same hour of the day.

She came straight to my shop. "I have made you wait some time," said she, "but here is your money at last; carry it to the banker, and see that it is all good and right." The eunuch who carried the money went along with me to the banker, and we found it quite right. I returned, and had the happiness of conversing with the lady till all the shops of the bazaar were open. Though we talked but of ordinary things, she gave them such a turn, that they appeared new and uncommon; and convinced me that I was not mistaken in admiring her wit at our first interview.

As soon as the merchants had arrived and opened their shops, I carried to the respective owners the money due for their stuffs, and was readily intrusted with more, which the lady had desired to see. She chose some from these to the value of one thousand pieces of gold, and carried them away as before without paying; nay, without speaking a word, or informing me who she was. What distressed me was the consideration that while at this rate she risked nothing, she left me without any security against being made answerable for the goods in case she did not return. "She has paid me," thought I, "a considerable sum; but she leaves me responsible for a greater, Surely she cannot be a cheat. The merchants do not know her, they will all come upon me." In short, my love was not so powerful as to stifle the uneasiness I felt, when I reflected upon the circumstances in which I was placed. A whole month passed before I heard any thing of the lady again; and during that time my alarm increased. The merchants were impatient for their money, and to satisfy them, I was going to sell off all I had, when one morning the lady returned with the same equipage as before.

"Take your weights," said she, "and weigh the gold I have brought you." These words dispelled my fear, and inflamed my love. Before we counted the money, she asked me several questions, and particularly if I was married. I answered I never had been. Then reaching out the gold to the eunuch, "Let us have your interposition," said she, "to accommodate our matters." Upon which the eunuch fell a laughing, and calling me aside, made me weigh the gold. While I was thus occupied, the eunuch whispered in my ear, "I know by your eyes you love this lady, and I am surprised that you have not the courage to disclose your passion. She loves you more ardently than you do her. Do not imagine that she has any real occasion for your stuffs. She only makes this her presence to come here, because you have inspired her with a violent passion. It was for this reason she asked you if you were married. It will be your own fault, if you do not marry her." "It is true," I replied, "I have loved her since I first beheld her; but I durst not aspire to the happiness of thinking my attachment could meet her approbation. I am entirely hers, and shall not fail to retain a grateful sense of your good offices in this affair."

I finished weighing the gold, and while I was putting it into the bag, the eunuch turned to the lady, and told her I was satisfied; that being the word they had agreed upon between themselves. Presently after, the lady rose and took her leave; telling me she would send her eunuch to me, and that I had only to obey the directions he might give me in her name.

I carried each of the merchants their money, and waited some days with impatience for the eunuch. At last he came.

I received the eunuch very kindly, and inquired after his mistress's health. "You are," said he, "the happiest lover in the world; she is impatient to see you; aud were she mistress of her own conduct, would not fail to come to you herself, and willingly pass in your society all the days of her life." "Her noble mien and graceful carriage," I replied, "convinced me, that she was a lady beyond the common rank." "You have not erred in your judgment on that head," said the eunuch; "she is the favourite of Zobeide the caliph's wife, who is the more affectionately attached to her from having brought her up from her infancy, and intrusts her with all her affairs. Having a wish to marry, she has declared to her mistress that she has fixed her affections upon you, and has desired her consent. Zobeide told her, she would not withhold her consent; but that she would see you first, in order to judge if she had made a good choice; in which case she meant herself to defray the expenses of the wedding. Thus you see your felicity is certain; since you have pleased the favourite, you will be equally agreeable to the mistress, who seeks only to oblige her, and would by no means thwart her inclination. All you have to do is to come to the palace. I am sent hither to invite you." "My resolution is already formed," said I, "and I am ready to follow you whithersoever you please." "Very well," said the eunuch; "but you know men are not allowed to enter the ladies' apartments in the palace, and you must be introduced with great secrecy. The favourite lady has contrived the matter well. On your side you must act your part discreetly; for if you do not, your life is at stake."

I gave him repeated assurances punctually to perform whatever he might require. "Then," said he, "in the evening, you must be at the mosque built by the caliph's lady on the bank of the Tigris, and wait there till somebody comes to conduct you." To this I agreed; and after passing the day in great impatience, went in the evening to the prayer that is said an hour and a half after sun-set in the mosque, and remained there after all the people had departed.

Soon after I saw a boat making up to the mosque, the rowers of which were all eunuchs, who came on shore, put several large trunks into the mosque, and then retired. One of them stayed behind, whom I perceived to be the eunuch that had accompanied the lady, and had been with me that morning. I saw the lady also enter the mosque; and approaching her, told her I was ready to obey her orders. "We have no time to lose," said she; and opening one of the trunks, desired me to get into it, that being necessary both for her safety and mine. "Fear nothing," added she, "leave the management of all to me." I considered with myself that I had gone too far to recede, and obeyed her orders; when she immediately locked the trunk. This done, the eunuch her confidant called the other eunuchs who had brought in the trunks, and ordered them to carry them on board again. The lady and the eunuch re-embarked, and the boatmen rowed to Zobeide's apartment.

In the meantime I reflected very seriously upon the danger to which I had exposed myself, and made vows and prayers, though it was then too late.

The boat stopped at the palace-gate, and the trunks were carried into the apartment of the officer of the eunuchs, who keeps the key of the ladies' apartments, and suffers nothing to enter without a narrow inspection. The officer was then in bed, and it was necessary to call him up.

The officer of the eunuchs was displeased at having his rest disturbed, and severely chid the favourite lady for coming home so late. "You shall not come off so easily as you think," said he: "not one of these trunks shall pass till I have opened it." At the same time he commanded the eunuchs to bring them before him, and open them one by one. The first they took was that wherein I lay, which put me into inexpressible fear.

The favourite lady, who had the key, protested it should not be opened. "You know very well," said she, "I bring nothing hither but what is for the use of Zobeide, your mistress and mine. This trunk is filled with rich goods, which I purchased from some merchants lately arrived, besides a number of bottles of Zemzem water sent from Mecca; and if any of these should happen to break, the goods will be spoiled, and you must answer for them; depend upon it, Zobeide will resent your insolence." She insisted upon this in such peremptory terms, that the officer did not dare to open any of the trunks. "Let them go," said he angrily; "you may take them away." Upon this the door of the women's apartment was opened, and all the trunks were carried in.

This had been scarcely accomplished, when I heard the people cry, "Here is the caliph! Here comes the caliph!" This put me in such alarm, that I wonder I did not die upon the spot; for as they announced, it proved to be the caliph. "What hast thou got in these trunks?" said he to the favourite. "Some stuffs," she replied, "lately arrived, which the empress wishes to see." "Open them," cried he, "and let me see them." She excused herself, alleging the stuffs were only proper for ladies, and that by opening them, his lady would be deprived of the pleasure of seeing them first. "I say open them," resumed the caliph; "I will see them." She still represented that her mistress would be angry with her, if she complied: "No, no," said he, "I will engage she shall not say a word to you. Come, come, open them, and do not keep me waiting."

It was necessary to obey, which gave me such alarm, that I tremble every time I recollect my situation. The caliph sat down; and the favourite ordered all the trunks to be brought before him one after another. She opened some of them; and to lengthen out the time, displayed the beauties of each particular stuff, thinking in this manner to tire out his patience; but her stratagem did not succeed. Being as unwilling as myself to have the trunk where I lay opened, she left that to the last. When all the rest were viewed, "Come," said the caliph, "let us see what is in that." I am at a loss to tell you whether I was dead or alive that moment; for I little thought of escaping such imminent danger.

When Zobeide's favourite saw that the caliph persisted in having this trunk opened: "As for this," said she, "your majesty will please to dispense with the opening of it; there are some things in it which I cannot shew you without your lady be present." "Well, well," said the caliph, "since that is the case, I am satisfied; order the trunks to be carried away." The words were no sooner spoken than they were moved into her chamber, where I began to revive again.

As soon as the eunuchs, who had brought them, were gone, she opened the trunk in which I was confined. "Come out," said she; "go up these stairs that lead to an upper room, and wait there till I come to you." The door, which led to the stairs, she locked after me; and that was no sooner done, than the caliph came and sat down on the very trunk which had been my prison. The occasion of this visit did not respect me. He wished to question the lady about what she had seen or heard in the city. So they conversed together some time; he then left her, and retired to his apartment.

When she found the coast clear, she came to the chamber where I lay concealed, and made many apologies for the alarms she had given me. "My uneasiness," said she, "was no less than yours; you cannot well doubt of that, since I have run the same risk out of love to you. Perhaps another person in my situation would not, upon so delicate an occasion, have had the presence of mind to manage so difficult a business with so much dexterity; nothing less than the love I had for you could have inspired me with courage to do what I have. But come, take heart, the danger is now over." After much tender conversation, she told me it was time to go to rest, and that she would not fail to introduce me to Zobeide her mistress, some hour on the morrow, "which will be very easy," added she; "for the caliph never sees her but at night." Encouraged by these words, I slept very well, or if my sleep was interrupted, it was by agreeable disquietudes, caused by the hopes of possessing a lady blest with so much wit and beauty.

The next day, before I was introduced to Zobeide, her favourite instructed me how to conduct myself, mentioning what questions she would probably put to me, and dictating the answers I was to return. She then carried me into a very magnificent and richly furnished hall. I had no sooner entered, than twenty female slaves, advanced in age, dressed in rich and uniform habits, came out of Zobeide's apartment, and placed themselves before the throne in two equal rows; they were followed by twenty other younger ladies, clothed after the same fashion, only their habits appeared somewhat gayer. In the middle of these appeared Zobeide with a majestic air, and so laden with jewels, that she could scarcely walk. She ascended the throne, and the favourite lady, who had accompanied her, stood just by her right hand; the other ladies, who were slaves, being placed at some distance on each side of the throne.

As soon as the caliph's lady was seated, the slaves who came in first made a sign for me to approach. I advanced between the two rows they had formed, and prostrated myself upon the carpet that was under the princess's feet. She ordered me to rise, did me the honour to ask my name, my family, and the state of my fortune; to all which I gave her satisfactory answers, as I perceived, not only by her countenance, but by her words. "I am glad," said she, "that my daughter," (so she used to call the favourite lady,) "for I look upon her as such after the care I have take of her education, has made this choice; I approve of it, and consent to your marriage. I will myself give orders for having it solemnized; but I wish my daughter to remain with me ten days before the solemnity; in that time I will speak to the caliph, and obtain his consent: mean while do you remain here; you shall be taken care of."

Pursuant to the commands of the caliph's lady, I remained ten days in the women's apartments, and during that time was deprived of the pleasure of seeing the favourite lady: but was so well used by her orders, that I had no reason to be dissatisfied.

Zobeide told the caliph her resolution of marrying the favourite lady; and the caliph leaving to her the liberty to act in the business as she thought proper, granted the favourite a considerable sum by way of settlement. When the ten days were expired, Zobeide ordered the contract of marriage to be drawn up and brought to her, and the necessary preparations being made for the solemnity, the musicians and the dancers, both male and female, were called in, and there were great rejoicings in the palace for nine days. The tenth day being appointed for the last ceremony of the marriage, the favourite lady was conducted to a bath, and I to another. At night I had all manner of dishes served up to me, and among others, one seasoned with garlic, such as you have now forced me to eat. This I liked so well, that I scarcely touched any of the other dishes. But to my misfortune, when I rose from table, instead of washing my hands well, I only wiped them; a piece of negligence of which I had never before been guilty.

As it was then night, the whole apartment of the ladies was lighted up so as to equal the brightness of day. Nothing was to be heard through the palace but musical instruments, dances, and acclamations of joy. My bride and I were introduced into a great hall, where we were placed upon two thrones. The women who attended her made her robe herself several times, according to the usual custom on wedding days; and they shewed her to me every time she changed her habit.

All these ceremonies being over, we were conducted to the nuptial chamber: as soon as the company retired, I approached my wife; but instead of returning my transports, she pushed me away, and cried out, upon which all the ladies of the apartment came running in to inquire the cause: and for my own part, I was so thunderstruck, that I stood like a statue, without the power of even asking what she meant. "Dear sister," said they to her, "what has happened since we left you? Let us know, that we may try to relieve you." "Take," said she, "take that vile fellow out of my sight." "Why, madam?" I asked, "wherein have I deserved your displeasure?" "You are a villain," said she in a furious passion, "to eat garlic, and not wash your hands! Do you think I would suffer such a polluted wretch to poison me? Down with him, down with him on the ground," continued she, addressing herself to the ladies, "and bring me a bastinado." They immediately did as they were desired; and while some held my hands, and others my feet, my wife, who was presently furnished with a weapon, laid on me as long as she could stand. She then said to the ladies, "Take him, send him to the judge, and let the hand be cut off with which he fed upon the garlic dish."

"Alas!" cried I, "must I be beaten unmercifully, and, to complete my affliction, have my hand cut off, for partaking of a dish seasoned with garlic, and forgetting to wash my hands? What proportion is there between the punishment and the crime? Curse on the dish, on the cook who dressed it, and on him who served it up."

"All the ladies who had seen me receive the thousand strokes, took pity on me, when they heard the cutting off of my hand mentioned. "Dear madam, dear sister," said they to the favourite lady, "you carry your resentment too far. We own he is a man quite ignorant of the world, of your quality, and the respect that is due to you: but we beseech you to overlook and pardon his fault." "I have not received adequate satisfaction," said she; "I will teach him to know the world; I will make him bear sensible marks of his impertinence, and be cautious hereafter how he tastes a dish seasoned with garlic without washing his hands." They renewed their solicitations, fell down at her feet, and kissing her fair hands, said, "Good madam, moderate your anger, and grant us the favour we supplicate." She made no reply, but got up, and after uttering a thousand reproaches against me, walked out of the chamber: all the ladies followed her, leaving me in inconceivable affliction.

I continued thus ten days, without seeing any body but an old female slave that brought me victuals. I asked her what was become of the favourite lady. "She is sick," said the old woman; "she is sick of the poisoned smell with which you infected her. Why did you not take care to wash your hands after eating of that cursed dish?" "Is it possible," thought I, "that these ladies can be so nice, and so vindictive for such a trifling fault!" I loved my wife notwithstanding all her cruelty, and could not help pitying her.

One day the old woman told me my spouse was recovered, and gone to bathe, and would come to see me the next day. "So," said she, "I would have you call up your patience, and endeavour to accommodate yourself to her humour. For she is in other respects a woman of good sense and discretion, and beloved by all the ladies about the court of our respected mistress Zobeide."

My wife accordingly came on the following evening, and accosted me thus: "You perceive that I must possess much tenderness to you, after the affront you have offered me: but still I cannot be reconciled till I have punished you according to your demerit, in not washing your hands after eating of the garlic dish." She then called the ladies, who, by her order, threw me upon the ground; and after binding me fast, she had the barbarity to cut off my thumbs and great toes herself, with a razor. One of the ladies applied a certain root to staunch the blood; but by bleeding and by the pain, I swooned away.

When I came to myself, they gave me wine to drink, to recruit my strength. "Ah! madam," said I to my wife, "if ever I again eat of a dish with garlic in it, I solemnly swear to wash my hands a hundred and twenty times with alkali, with ashes, and with soap." "Well," replied she, "upon that condition I am willing to forget what is past, and live with you as my husband."

"This," continued the Bagdad merchant, addressing himself to the company, "is the reason why I refused to eat of the dish seasoned with what is now on the table."

The ladies applied to my wounds not only the root I mentioned, but likewise some balsam of Mecca, which they were well assured was not adulterated, because they had it out of the caliph's own dispensatory. By virtue of that admirable balsam, I was in a few days perfectly cured, and my wife and I lived together as agreeably as if I had never eaten of the garlic dish. But having been all my lifetime used to enjoy my liberty, I grew weary of being confined to the caliph's palace; yet I said nothing to my wife on the subject, for fear of displeasing her. However, she suspected my feelings; and eagerly wished for liberty herself, for it was gratitude alone that made her continue with Zobeide. She represented to her mistress in such lively terms the constraint I was under, in not living in the city with people of my own rank, as I had always done, that the good princess chose rather to deprive herself of the pleasure of having her favourite about her than not to grant what we both equally desired.

A month after our marriage, my wife came into my room with several eunuchs, each carrying a bag of silver. When the eunuchs were gone; "You never told me," said she, "that you were uneasy in being confined to court; but I perceived it, and have happily found means to make you contented. My mistress Zobeide gives us permission to quit the palace; and here are fifty thousand sequins, of which she has made us a present, in order to enable us to live comfortably in the city. Take ten thousand of them, and go and buy us a house."

I quickly found a house for the money, and after furnishing it richly, we went to reside in it, kept a great many slaves of both sexes, and made a good figure. We thus began to live in a very agreeable manner: but my felicity was of short continuance; for at the end of a year my wife fell sick and died.

I might have married again, and lived honourably at Bagdad; but curiosity to see the world put me upon another plan. I sold my house, and after purchasing several kinds of merchandize, went with a caravan to Persia; from Persia I travelled to Samarcand, and from thence to this city.

"This," said the purveyor to the sultan of Casgar, "is the story that the Bagdad merchant related in a company where I was yesterday." "This story," said the sultan, "has something in it extraordinary; but it does not come near that of the little hunch-back." The Jewish physician prostrated himself before the sultan's throne, and addressed the prince in the following manner: "Sir, if you will be so good as to hear me, I flatter myself you will be pleased with a story I have to tell you." "Well spoken," said the sultan; "but if it be not more surprising than that of little hunch-back, you must not expect to live."

The Jewish physician, finding the sultan of Casgar disposed to hear him, gave the following relation.

[Go to The Story Told By the Jewish Physician]

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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