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Scott: The Story of the Retired Sage and His Pupil, Related to the Sultan by the Second Lunatic

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There was a learned and devout sage, who in order to enjoy his studies and contemplations uninterrupted, had secluded himself from the world in one of the cells of the principal mosque of the city, which he never left but upon the most pressing occasions. He had led this retired life some years, when a boy one day entered his cell, and earnestly begged to be received as his pupil and domestic. The sage liked his appearance, consented to his request, inquired who were his parents, and whence he came; but the lad could not inform him, and said, "Ask not who I am, for I am an orphan, and know not whether I belong to heaven or earth." The shekh did not press him, and the boy served him with the most undeviating punctuality and attention for twelve years, during which he received his instructions in every branch of learning, and became a most accomplished youth. At the end of the twelve years, the youth one day heard some young men praising the beauty of the sultan's daughter, and saying that her charms were unequalled by those of all the princesses of the age. This discourse excited his curiosity to behold so lovely a creature. He repaired to his master, saying, "My lord, I understand that the sultan hath a most beautiful daughter, and my soul longs ardently for an opportunity of beholding her, if only for an instant." The sage exclaimed, "What have such as we to do, my son, with the daughters of sovereigns or of others? We are a secluded order, and should refrain ourselves from associating with the great ones of this world." The old man continued to warn his pupil against the vanities of the age, and to divert him from his purpose; but the more he advised and remonstrated, the more intent the youth became on his object, which affected his mind so much, that he grew very uneasy, and was continually weeping.

The sage observing his distress was afflicted at it, and at length said to the youth, "Will one look at the princess satisfy thy wishes?" "It shall," replied the pupil. The sage then anointed one of his eyes with a sort of ointment; when lo! he became to appearance as a man divided into half, and the sage ordered him to go and hop about the city. The youth obeyed his commands, but he had no sooner got into the street than he was surrounded by a crowd of passengers, who gazed with astonishment at his appearance. The report of so strange a phenomenon as a half man soon spread throughout the city, and reached the palace of the sultan, who sent for the supposed monster to the presence. The youth was conveyed to the palace, where the whole court gazed upon him with wonder; after which he was taken into the haram, to gratify the curiosity of the women. He beheld the princess, and was fascinated by the brilliancy of her charms, insomuch, that he said to himself, "If I cannot wed her, I will put myself to death."

The youth being at length dismissed from the palace, returned home; his heart tortured with love for the daughter of the sultan. On his arrival, the sage inquired if he had seen the princess. "I have," replied the youth, "but one look is not enough, and I cannot rest until I shall sit beside her, and feast my eyes till they are wearied with gazing upon her." "Alas! my son," exclaimed the old man, "I fear for thy safety: we are religious men, and should avoid temptations; nor does it become us to have any thing to do with the sultan." To this the youth replied, "My lord, unless I shall sit beside her, and touch her neck with my hands, I shall, through despair, put myself to death."

At these words, the sage was alarmed for the safety of his pupil, and said to himself, "I will, if possible, preserve this amiable youth, and perchance Allah may gratify his wishes." He then anointed both his eyes with an ointment, which had the effect of rendering him invisible to human sight. After this, he said, "Go, my son, and gratify thy wishes, but return again, and be not too long absent from thy duty."

The youth hastened towards the royal palace, which he entered unperceived, and proceeded into the haram, where he seated himself near the daughter of the sultan. For some time he contented himself with gazing on her beauty, but at length extending his hands, touched her softly on the neck. As soon as she felt his touch, the princess, alarmed, shrieked out violently, and exclaimed, "I seek refuge with Allah, from Satan the accursed." Her mother and the ladies present, affrighted at her outcries, eagerly inquired the cause; when she said, "Eblees, or some other evil spirit, hath this instant touched me on the neck."

Upon this, the mother was alarmed and sent for her nurse, who, when informed of what had happened, declared, "That nothing was so specific to drive away evil spirits as the smoke of camel's hair;" a quantity of which was instantly brought, and being set fire to, the smoke of it filled the whole apartment, and so affected the eyes of the young man, that they watered exceedingly, when he unthinkingly wiped them with his handkerchief, so that with his tears the ointment was soon washed off.

The ointment was no sooner wiped away from his eyes than the young man became visible, and the princess, her mother, and the ladies, all at once uttered a general cry of astonishment and alarm; upon which the eunuchs rushed into the apartment. Seeing the youth, they surrounded him, beat him unmercifully, then bound him with cords, and dragged him before the sultan, whom they informed of his having been found in the royal haram. The sultan, enraged, sent for an executioner, and commanded him to seize the culprit, to clothe him in a black habit patched over with flame colour, to mount him upon a camel, and after parading with him through the streets of the city, to put him to death.

The executioner took the young man, dressed him as he had been directed, placed him upon the camel, and led him through the city, preceded by guards and a crier, who bawled out, "Behold the merited punishment of him who has dared to violate the sanctuary of the royal haram." The procession was followed by an incalculable crowd of people, who were astonished at the beauty of the young man, and the little concern he seemed to feel at his own situation.

At length the procession arrived in the square before the great mosque, when the sage, disturbed by the noise and concourse of the people, looked from the window of his cell, and beheld the disgraceful situation of his pupil. He was moved to pity, and instantly calling upon the genii (for by his knowledge of magic and every abstruse science he had them all under his control), commanded them to bring him the youth from the camel, and place in his room, without being perceived, some superannuated man. They did so, and when the multitude saw the youth, as it were, transformed into a well-known venerable shekh, they were stricken with awe, and said, "Heavens! the young man turns out to be our reverend chief of the herb-sellers;" for the old man had long been accustomed to dispose of greens and sugarcane at the college gate near the great mosque, and was the oldest in his trade.

The executioner, on beholding the change of appearance in his prisoner, was confounded. He returned to the palace with the old man upon the camel, and followed by the crowd. He hastened or contrive my death." to the sultan, and said, "My lord, the young man is vanished, and in his room became seated upon the camel this venerable shekh, well known to the whole city." On hearing this, the sultan was alarmed, and said to himself, "Whoever has been able to perform this, can do things much more surprising He may depose me from my kingdom,

The sultan's fears increased so much, that he was at a loss how to act. He summoned his vizier, and said, "Advise me what to do in the affair of this strange youth, for I am utterly confounded." The vizier for some time inclined his head towards the ground in profound thought, then addressing the sultan, said, "My lord, no one could have done this but by the help of genii, or by a power which we cannot comprehend, and he may possibly, if irritated, do you in future a greater injury respecting your daughter. I advise, therefore, that you cause it to be proclaimed throughout the city, that whoever has done this, if he will appear before you shall have pardon on the word of a sultan, which can never be broken. Should he then surrender himself, espouse him to your daughter, when perhaps his mind may be reconciled by her love. He has already beheld her, and seen the ladies of the haram, so that nothing can save your honour but his union with the princess."

The sultan approved the advice of his vizer, the proclamation was issued, and the crier proceeded through several streets, till at length he reached the square of the great mosque. The pupil hearing the proclamation, was enraptured, and running to his patron, declared his intention of surrendering himself to the sultan. "My son," said the sage, "why shouldst thou do so? Hast thou not already suffered sufficiently?" The youth replied, "Nothing shall prevent me." Upon which the sage exclaimed, "Go then, my son, and my midnight prayers shall attend thee."

The youth now repaired to the hummaum, and having bathed, dressed himself in his richest habit; after which he discovered himself to the crier, who conducted him to the palace. He made a profound obeisance to the sultan, at the same time uttering an eloquent prayer for his long life and prosperity. The sultan was struck with his manly beauty, the gracefulness of his demeanour, and the propriety of his delivery, and said, "Young stranger, who art thou, and from whence dost thou come?" "I am," replied the youth, "the half man whom you saw, and have done what you are already acquainted with."

The sultan now requested him to sit in the most honourable place, and entered into conversation on various subjects. He put to him several difficult questions in science, to which the youth replied with such judgment, that his abilities astonished him, and he said to himself, "This young man is truly worthy of my daughter." He then addressed him, saying, "Young man, my wish is to unite thee to my daughter, for thou hast already seen her, also her mother, and after what has passed no one will marry her." The youth replied, "I am ready in obedience, but must advise with my friends." "Go then," said the sultan, "consult with thy friends, and return quickly."

The young man repaired to the sage, and having informed him of what had passed between himself and the sultan, signified his wish to marry the princess, when the shekh replied, "Do so, my son; there can be in the measure no crime, as it is a lawful alliance." "But I wish," said the youth, "to invite the sultan to visit you." "By all means," answered the sage. "My lord," rejoined the pupil, "since I first came, and you honoured me in your service, I have beheld you in no other residence but this confined cell, from which you have never stirred night or day. How can I invite the sultan here?" "My son," exclaimed the shekh, "go to the sultan, rely upon Allah, who can work miracles in favour of whom he chooseth, and say unto him, ‘My patron greets thee, and requests thy company to an entertainment five days hence.' "The youth did as he was directed, and having returned to his master, waited upon him as before, but anxiously wishing for the fifth day to arrive.

On the fifth day, the sage said to his impatient pupil, "Let us remove to our own house, that we may prepare for the reception of the sultan, whom you must conduct to me." They arose, and walked, till on coming to a ruinous building about the middle of the city, the walls of which were fallen in heaps, the shekh said, "My son, this is my mansion, hasten and bring the sultan." The pupil, in astonishment, exclaimed, "My lord, this abode is a heap of ruins, how can I invite the sultan here, it would only disgrace us?" "Go," repeated the sage, "and dread not the consequences." Upon this the youth departed, but as he went on could not help saying to himself, "Surely my master must be insane, or means to make a jest of us." When he had reached the palace he found the sultan expecting him; upon which he made his obeisance, and said, "Will my lord honour me by his company?"

The sultan arose, mounted his horse, and attended by his whole court, followed the youth to the place chosen by the venerable shekh. It now appeared a royal mansion, at the gates of which were ranged numerous attendants in costly habits, respectfully waiting. The young man, at sight of this transformed appearance, was confounded in such a manner that he could hardly retain his senses. He said to himself, "It was but this instant that I beheld this place a heap of ruins, yet now it is a palace far more magnificent than any belonging to this sultan. I am astonished, but must keep the secret to myself."

The sultan alighted, as did also his courtiers, and entered the palace. They were surprised and delighted at the splendour of the first court, but much more so at the superior magnificence of a second; into which they were ushered, and introduced into a spacious hall, where they found the venerable shekh sitting to receive them. The sultan made a low obeisance; upon which the sage just moved his head, but did not rise. The sultan then sat down, when the shekh greeted him, and they entered into conversation on various subjects; but the senses of the sultan were confounded at the dignified demeanour of his host, and the splendid objects around him. At length the shekh desired his pupil to knock at a door and order breakfast to be brought in, which he did: when lo! the door opened, and there entered a hundred slaves, bearing upon their heads golden trays, on which were placed dishes of agate, cornelian, and other stones, filled with various eatables, which they arranged in order before the sultan. He was astonished, for he had nothing so magnificent in his own possession. He then partook of the sumptuous collation, as did also the venerable shekh, and all the courtiers, till they were satisfied; after which they drank coffee and sherbets of various sorts, when the sultan and the sage conversed on religious and literary subjects, and the former was edified by the remarks of the latter.

When it was noon the shekh again desired his pupil to knock at another door, and order dinner to be brought in. He had no sooner done so, than immediately a hundred slaves, different from the former, entered, bearing trays of the richest viands. They spread the cloth before the sultan, and arranged the dishes, which were each thickly set with precious stones, at which he was more astonished than before. When all had eaten till they were satisfied, basins and ewers, some of gold and others of agate, were carried round, and they washed their hands; after which the shekh said to the sultan, "Have you fixed what my son must give as the dower of your daughter?" To this, the sultan replied, "I have already received it." This he said out of compliment; but the shekh replied, "My lord, the marriage cannot be valid without a dower." He then presented a vast sum of money, with many jewels, for the purpose to his pupil; after which he retired with the sultan into a chamber, and arrayed him in a splendid habit; rich dresses were also given to each of his attendants according to their rank. The sultan then took leave of the shekh, and returned with his intended son-in-law to the palace.

When evening arrived the young man was introduced into the apartment of the princess, which he found spread with the richest carpets, and perfumed with costly essences, but his bride was absent: at which he was somewhat surprised, but supposed her coming was put off till midnight, for which he waited with impatience. Midnight came, but no bride appeared; when a thousand uneasy sensations afflicted his mind, and he continued in restless anxiety till morning: nor were the father and mother of the princess less impatient; for supposing she was with her husband, they waited anxiously, and were mortified at the delay.

At daylight, the mother, unable to bear longer suspense, entered the chamber; when the young man, rather angrily, inquired what had delayed the coming of his bride. "She entered before thee," replied the mother. "I have not seen her," answered the bridegroom. Upon this the sultana shrieked with affright, calling aloud on her daughter, for she had no other child but her. Her cries alarmed the sultan, who rushing into the apartment, was informed that the princess was missing, and had not been seen since her entrance in the evening. Search was now made in every quarter of the palace, but in vain; and the sultan, sultana, and the bridegroom, were involved in the deepest distress.

To account for the sudden disappearance of the princess, be it known, that a genie used often to divert himself with visiting the haram of the sultan; and happening to be there on the marriage night, was so captivated by the charms of the bride, that he resolved to steal her away. Accordingly, having rendered himself invisible, he waited in the nuptial chamber, and upon her entering bore her off, and soared into the air. At length he alighted with his prey in a delightful garden, far distant from the city; placed the princess in a shady arbour, and set before her delicious fruits; but contented himself with gazing upon her beauty.

The young bridegroom, when recovered from his first alarm, bethought himself of his tutor, and, together with the sultan, repaired to the palace where the splendid entertainment had been given. Here they found every thing in the same order as on the day of festivity, and were kindly received by the venerable shekh; who on hearing of the loss of the princess, desired them to be comforted. He then commanded a chafing-dish of lighted charcoal to be set before him, and after some moments of contemplation, cast into it some perfumes, over which he pronounced incantations. He had scarcely ended them, when lo! the earth shook, whirlwinds arose, lightnings flashed, and clouds of dust darkened the air, from which speedily descended winged troops, bearing superb standards and massive spears. In the centre of them appeared three sultans of the genii, who bowing low before the shekh, exclaimed all at once, "Master, hail! we are come to obey thy commands."

The shekh now addressed them, saying, "My orders are, that you instantly bring me the accursed spirit who hath carried off the bride of my son;" when the genii replied, "To hear is to obey:" and immediately detached fifty of their followers to reconduct the princess to her chamber, and drag the culprit to the presence of the sage. These commands were no sooner issued than they were performed. Ten of the genii carefully conveyed the bride to her apartment, while the rest having seized the offending genie, dragged him before the sage, who commanded the three sultans to burn him to ashes, which was executed in an instant. All this was done in the presence of the sultan, who was wrapt in astonishment, and viewed with awe the tremendously gigantic figures of the genii, wondering at the submissive readiness with which they obeyed the commands of the venerable shekh. When the offending genie was consumed to ashes, the shekh renewed his incantations; during which the sultans of the genii, with their followers, bowed themselves before him, and when he had ended, vanished from sight.

The sultan and the bridegroom having taken leave of the shekh, returned to the palace, where all was now gladness for the safe return of the princess. The marriage was consummated, and the young man was so happy with his bride, that he did not quit the haram for seven days. On the eighth, the sultan ordered public rejoicings to be made, and invited all the inhabitants of the city to feast at the royal cost; causing it to be proclaimed, that no one, either rich or poor, should for three days presume to eat at home, light a fire, or burn a lamp in his own house, but all repair to the nuptial festival of the daughter of the sultan. Ample provision was made for all comers in the courts of the palace, and the officers of the household attended day and night to serve the guests according to their quality. During one of the nights of this grand festival, the sultan being anxious to know if his proclamation was generally obeyed, resolved to walk through the city in disguise. Accordingly he and his vizier, in the habit of dervishes of Persia, having quitted the palace privately, began their excursion, and narrowly examined several streets. At length they came to a close alley, in one of the houses of which they perceived a light, and heard the sound of voices. When they had reached the door, they heard a person say to another, "Our sultan understands not how to treat properly, nor is he liberal, since the poor have it not in their option to partake of the costly feast he has prepared for his daughter's nuptials. He should have distributed his bounty among the wretched, who dare not presume to enter the palace in their ragged garments, by sending it to their home."

The sultan, upon hearing this, said to the vizier, "We must enter this house;" and knocked at the door, when a person cried out, "Who is there?" "Guests," replied the sultan. "You shall be welcome to what we have," answered the person, and opened the door. On entering, the sultan beheld three mean-looking old men, one of whom was lame, the second broken-backed, and the third wry-mouthed. He then inquired the cause of their misfortunes; to which they answered, "Our infirmities proceeded from the weakness of our understandings." The sultan upon this replied in a whisper to his vizier, that at the conclusion of the festival he should bring the three men to his presence, in order that he might learn their adventures.

When they had tasted of their homely fare, the sultan and vizier rose up, and having presented the three maimed companions with a few deenars, took leave and departed. They strolled onwards. It was now near midnight when they reached a house in which, through a lattice, they could perceive three girls with their mother eating a slender meal; during which, at intervals, one of them sung, and the other two laughed and talked. The sultan resolved to enter the house, and commanded the vizier to knock at the door, which he did; when one of the sisters cried out, "Who knocks at our door at this advanced time of night?" "We are two foreign dervishes," replied the vizier; to which the ladies answered, "We are women of virtue, and have no men in our house to whom you can be introduced: repair to the festival of the sultan, who will entertain you!" "Alas!" continued the vizier, "we are strangers unacquainted with the way to the palace, and dread lest the magistrate of the police should meet and apprehend us. We beg that you will afford us lodging till daylight: we will then depart, and you need not apprehend from us any improper behaviour."

When the mother of the ladies heard this she pitied the strangers, and commanded them to open the door: upon which the sultan and vizier having entered, paid their respects and sat down; but the former, on observing the beauty of the sisters and their elegant demeanour, could not contain himself, and said, "How comes it that you dwell by yourselves, have no husbands or any male to protect you?" The younger sister replied, "Impertinent dervish, withhold thy inquiries! our story is surprising; but unless thou wert sultan, and thy companion vizier, you could not appreciate our adventures." The sultan upon this remark became silent on the subject, and they discoursed upon indifferent matters till near daylight, when the pretended dervishes took a respectful leave, and departed. At the door the sultan commanded the vizier to mark it, so that he might know it again, being resolved, when the nuptial festivities should be concluded, to send for the ladies and hear their story.

On the last evening of the festival the sultan bestowed dresses of honour on all his courtiers; and on the following day, affairs returning to their usual course, he commanded his vizier to bring before him the three maimed men, and ordered them to relate the cause of their misfortunes, which they did as follows.

[Go to Story of the Broken-backed Schoolmaster]

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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