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Scott: The Story of Syed Naomaun

[Go back to The Adventure of the Caliph Haroon Al Rusheed (cont.)]

I shall not trouble your majesty with my birth, which is not illustrious enough to merit your attention. For my situation, my parents, by their good economy, left me enough to live on like an honest man, free from ambition, or being burdensome to any one.

With these advantages, the only blessing I wanted to render my happiness complete was an amiable wife, who might share them with me; but that was a blessing it did not please God to grant me: on the contrary, it was my misfortune to have one, who, the very next day after our wedding, began to exercise my patience in a manner not to be conceived by any one who has not had the same trial.

As it is the custom for us to marry without seeing or knowing whom we are to espouse, your majesty is sensible that a husband has no reason to complain, when he finds that the wife who has been chosen for him is not horribly ugly and deformed, and that her carriage, wit, and behaviour make amends for any slight bodily imperfections.

The first time I saw my wife with her face uncovered, after she was brought home with the usual ceremonies to my house, I rejoiced to find that I had not been imposed upon in the description of her person, which pleased me, and she was perfectly agreeable to my inclination.

The next day after our wedding, when our dinner was served up, which consisted of several dishes, I went into the room where the cloth was ]aid, and not finding my wife there, ordered her to be called. After making me wait a long time, she came. I dissembled my impatience, we sat down, and I began with the rice, which I took up as usual.

On the other hand, my wife, instead of using her hand as everybody does, pulled a little case out of her pocket, and took out of it a kind of bodkin, with which she picked up the rice, and put it into her mouth, grain by grain.

Surprised at this manner of eating, I said to her, "Ameeneh," (which was her name,) "are you used to eat rice so in your family, or do you do it because you are a little eater, or would you count the grains, that you may not eat more at one time than another? If you do it out of frugality, or to teach me not to be extravagant, you have no reason to fear, as I can assure you we shall not ruin ourselves that way. We have, God be thanked! enough to live at our ease, without depriving ourselves of necessaries. Do not restrain yourself, my dear Ameeneh, but eat as you see me eat." The kind manner in which I made these remonstrances might have produced some obliging answer; but she, without saying a word, continued to eat as she had begun. At last, to make me the more uneasy, she ate a grain of rice at intervals only; and instead of eating any of the other meats with me, she only now and then put some crumbs of bread into her mouth, but not so much as a sparrow would have pecked.

I was much provoked at her obstinacy; but yet, to indulge and excuse her, I imagined that she had not been used to eat with men, before whom she might perhaps have been taught to restrain herself; but at the same time thought she carried it too far out of pure simplicity. I fancied again that she might have breakfasted late, or that she might have a wish to eat alone, and more at liberty. These considerations prevented me from saying more to her then, to ruffle her temper, by shewing any sign of dissatisfaction. After dinner I left her, but not with an air that shewed any displeasure. At supper, and the next day, and every time we ate together, she behaved herself in the same manner. I knew it was impossible for a woman to live on so little food as she took, and that there must be some mystery in her conduct, which I did not understand. This made me resolve to dissemble; I appeared to take no notice of her actions, in hopes that time would bring her to live with me as I desired she should. But my hopes were in vain, and it was not long before I was convinced they were so.

One night, when Ameeneh thought me fast asleep, she got out of bed softly, dressed herself with great precaution, not to make a noise for fear of awaking me. I could not comprehend her design, but curiosity made me feign a sound sleep. As soon as she had dressed herself, she went softly out of the room.

When she was gone, I arose, threw my cloak over my shoulders, and had time enough to see from a window that looked into my court- yard, that she opened the street-door and went out.

I immediately ran down to the door, which she had left half open, and followed her by moonlight, till I saw her enter a burying- ground just by our house. I got to the end of the wall, taking care not to be seen, and looking over, saw Ameeneh with a ghoul.

Your majesty knows that the ghouls of both sexes are wandering demons, which generally infest old buildings; from whence they rush out, by surprise, on people that pass by, kill them, and eat their flesh; and for want of such prey, will sometimes go in the night into burying-grounds, and feed on dead bodies which they dig up.

I was struck with astonishment and horror to see my wife with this ghoul. They dug up a dead body which had been buried but that day, and the ghoul cut off pieces of the flesh, which they ate together by the grave-side, conversing during their shocking and inhuman repast. But I was too far off to hear their discourse, which must have been as strange as their meal, the remembrance of which still makes me shudder.

When they had finished this horrible feast, they threw the remains of the dead body into the grave again, and filled it up with the earth which they had dug out. I left them at their work, made haste home, and leaving the door half open as I had found it, went into my chamber, and to bed again, where I pretended to be fast asleep.

Soon afterwards Ameeneh returned without the least noise, undressed herself, and came to bed, rejoicing, as I imagined, that she had succeeded so well without being discovered.

My mind was so full of the idea of such an abominable action as I had witnessed, that I felt great reluctance to lie by a person who could have had any share in the guilt of it, and was a long time before I could fall asleep. However, I got a short nap; but waked at the first call to public prayers at day-break, got up, dressed myself, and went to the mosque.

After prayers I went out of the town, spent the morning in walking in the gardens, and thinking what I should do to oblige my wife to change her mode of living. I rejected all the violent measures that suggested themselves to my thoughts, and resolved to use gentle means to cure her unhappy and depraved inclination. In this state of reverie I insensibly reached home by dinner- time.

As soon as Ameeneh saw me enter the house, she ordered dinner to be served up; and as I observed she continued to eat her rice in the same manner, by single grains, I said to her, with all the mildness possible, "You know, Ameeneh, what reason I had to be surprised, when the day after our marriage I saw you eat rice in so small a quantity, and in a manner which would have offended any other husband but myself: you know also, I contented myself with telling you that I was uneasy at it, and desired you to eat of the other meats, which I had ordered to be dressed several ways to endeavour to suit your taste, and I am sure my table did not want for variety: but all my remonstrances have had no effect, and you persist in your sullen abstemiousness. I have said nothing, because I would not constrain you, and should be sorry that any thing I now say should make you uneasy; but tell me, Ameeneh, I conjure you, are not the meats served up at my table better than the flesh of a human corpse?"

I had no sooner pronounced these words than Ameeneh, who perceived that I had discovered her last night's horrid voraciousness with the ghoul, flew into a rage beyond imagination. Her face became as red as scarlet, her eyes ready to start out of her head, and she foamed with passion.

The terrible state in which she appeared alarmed me so much, that I stood motionless, and was not able to defend myself against the horrible wickedness she meditated against me, and which will surprise your majesty. In the violence of her passion, she dipped her hand into a basin of water, which stood by her, and muttering between her teeth some words, which I could not hear, she threw some water in my face, and exclaimed, in a furious tone, "Wretch, receive the punishment of thy prying curiosity, and become a dog!"

Ameeneh, whom I did not before know to be a sorceress, had no sooner pronounced these diabolical words, than I was immediately transformed into a dog. My amazement and surprise at so sudden and unexpected a metamorphosis prevented my thinking at first of providing for my safety. Availing herself of this suspense, she took up a great stick, with which she laid on me such heavy blows, that I wonder they did not kill me. I thought to have escaped her rage, by running into the yard; but she pursued me with the same fury, and notwithstanding all my activity I could not avoid her blows. At last, when she was tired of running after and beating me, and enraged that she had not killed me, as she desired, she thought of another method to effect her purpose: she half opened the street-door, that she might endeavour to squeeze me to death, as I ran out to preserve my life. Dog as I was, I instantly perceived her pernicious design; and as present danger inspires a presence of mind, to elude her vigilance I watched her face and motions so well, that I took my opportunity, and passed through quick enough to save myself and escape her malice, though she pinched the end of my tail.

The pain I felt made me cry out and howl as I ran along the streets, which collected all the dogs about me, and I got bit by several of them; but to avoid their pursuit, I ran into the shop of a man who sold boiled sheep's heads, tongues, and feet, where I saved myself.

The man at first took my part with much compassion, by driving away the dogs that followed me, and would have run into his house. My first care was to creep into a corner to hide myself; but I found not the sanctuary and protection I hoped for. My host was one of those extravagantly superstitious persons who think dogs unclean creatures, and if by chance one happens to touch them in the streets, cannot use soap and water enough to wash their garments clean. After the dogs who chased me were all dispersed and gone, he did all he could to drive me out of his house, but I was concealed out of his reach, and spent that night in his shop in spite of him; and indeed I had need of rest to recover from Ameeneh's ill-treatment.

Not to weary your majesty with trifling circumstances, I shall not particularize the melancholy reflections I made on my metamorphosis; but only tell you, that my host having gone out the next morning to lay in a stock of sheep's heads, tongues, and trotters, when he returned, he opened his shop, and while he was laying out his goods, I crept from my corner, and got among some other dogs of the neighbourhood, who had followed my host by the scent of his meat, and surrounded the shop, in expectation of having some offal thrown to them. I joined them, and put myself among them in a begging posture. My host observing me, and considering that I had eaten nothing while I lay in the shop, distinguished me from the rest, by throwing me larger pieces of meat, and oftener than the other dogs. After he had given me as much as he thought fit, I looked at him earnestly, and wagged my tail, to shew him I begged he would repeat his favours. But he was inflexible, and opposed my entrance with a stick in his hand, and with so stern a look, that I felt myself obliged to seek a new habitation.

I stopped at the shop of a baker in the neighbourhood, who was of a lively gay temper, quite the reverse of the offal butcher. He was then at breakfast, and though I made no sign that I wanted any thing, threw me a piece of bread. Instead of catching it up greedily, as dogs usually do, I looked at him, moving my head and wagging my tail, to shew my gratitude; at which he was pleased, and smiled. Though I was not hungry, I ate the piece of bread to please him, and I ate slowly to shew him that it was out of respect to him. He observed this, and permitted me to continue near the shop. I sat down and turned myself to the street, to shew him I then only wanted his protection; which he not only granted, but by his caresses encouraged me to come into the house. This I did in a way that shewed it was with his leave. He was pleased, and pointed me out a place where to lie, of which I took possession, and kept while I lived with him. I was always well treated; and whenever he breakfasted, dined, or supped, I had my share of provisions; and, in return, I loved him, and was faithful, as gratitude required of me. I always had my eyes upon him, and he scarcely stirred out of doors, or went into the city on business, but I was at his heels. I was the more exact, because I perceived my attention pleased him; for whenever he went out, without giving me time to see him, he would call Chance, which was the name he gave me.

At this name I used to spring from my place, jump, caper, run before the door, and never cease fawning on him, till he went out; and then I always either followed him, or ran before him, continually looking at him to shew my joy.

I had lived some time with this baker, when a woman came one day into the shop to buy some bread, who gave my master a piece of bad money among some good, which he returned, and requested her to exchange.

The woman refused to take it again, and affirmed it to be good. The baker maintained the contrary, and in the dispute told the woman, he was sure that the piece of money was so visibly bad, that his dog could distinguish it; upon which he called me by name. I immediately jumped on the counter, and the baker throwing the money down before me, said, "See, and tell me which of these pieces is bad?" I looked over all the pieces of money, and then set my paw upon that which was bad, separated it from the rest, looking in my master's face, to shew it him.

The baker, who had only called me to banter the woman, was much surprised to see me so immediately pitch upon the bad money. The woman thus convicted had nothing to say for herself, but was obliged to give another piece instead of the bad one. As soon as she was gone, my master called in some neighbours, and enlarged very much on my capacity, telling them what had happened.

The neighbours desired to make the experiment, and of all the bad money they shewed me, mixed with good, there was not one which I did not set my paw upon, and separate from the rest.

The woman also failed not to tell everybody she met what had happened; so that the fame of my skill in distinguishing good money from bad was not only spread throughout the neighbourhood, but over all that part of the town, and insensibly through the whole city.

I had business enough every day; for I was obliged to shew my skill to all customers who came to buy bread of my master. In short, my reputation procured my master more business than he could manage, and brought him customers from the most distant parts of the town; this run of business lasted so long, that he owned to his friends and neighbours, that I was a treasure to him.

My little knowledge made many people envy my master's good fortune, and lay snares to steal me away, which obliged him always to keep me in his sight. One day a woman came like the rest out of curiosity to buy some bread, and seeing me sit upon the counter, threw down before me six pieces of money, among which was one that was bad. I separated it presently from the others, and setting my paw upon it, looked in the woman's face, as much as to say, "Is it not so?" The woman looking at me replied, "Yes, you are in the right, it is bad:" and staying some time in the shop, to look at and admire me, at last paid my master for his bread, but when she went out of the shop, made a sign, unknown to him, for me to follow her.

I was always attentive to any means likely to deliver me out of so strange a metamorphosis, and had observed that the woman examined me with an extraordinary attention. I imagined that she might know something of my misfortune, and the melancholy condition I was reduced to: however, I let her go, and contented myself with looking at her. After walking two or three steps, she turned about, and seeing that I only looked at her, without stirring from my place, made me another sign to follow her.

Without deliberating any longer, and observing that my master was busy cleaning his oven, and did not mind me, I jumped off the counter, and followed the woman, who seemed overjoyed.

After we had gone some way, she stopped at a house, opened the door, and called to me to come in, saying, "You will not repent following me." When I had entered, she shut the door, and conduded me to her chamber, where I saw a beautiful young lady working embroidery. This lady, who was daughter to the charitable woman who had brought me from the baker's, was a very skilful enchantress, as I found afterwards.

"Daughter," said the mother, "I have brought you the much-talked- of baker's dog, that can tell good money from bad. You know I gave you my opinion respecting him when I first heard of him, and told you, I fancied he was a man changed into a dog by some wicked magician. To-day I determined to go to that baker for some bread, and was myself a witness of the wonders performed by this dog, who has made such a noise in Bagdad. What say you, daughter, am I deceived in my conjecture?" "Mother, you are not," answered the daughter, "and I will disenchant him immediately."

The young lady arose from her sofa, put her hand into a basin of water, and throwing some upon me, said, "If thou wert born a dog, remain so, but if thou wert born a man, resume thy former shape, by the virtue of this water." At that instant the enchantment was broken, and I became restored to my natural form.

Penetrated with the greatness of this kindness, I threw myself at my deliverer's feet; and after I had kissed the hem of her garment, said, "My dear deliverer, I am so sensible of your unparalleled humanity towards a stranger, as I am, that I beg of you to tell me yourself what I can do to shew my gratitude; or rather dispose of me as a slave, to whom you have a just right, since I am no more my own, but entirely yours: and that you may know who I am, I will tell you my story in as few words as possible."

After I had informed her who I was, I gave her an account of my marriage with Ameeneh, of the complaisance I had shewn her, my patience in bearing with her humour, her extraordinary behaviour, and the savage inhumanity with which she had treated me out of her inconceivable wickedness, and finished my story with my transformation, and thanking her mother for the inexpressible happiness she had procured me.

"Syed Naomaun," said the daughter to me, "let us not talk of the obligation you say you owe me; it is enough for me that I have done any service to so honest a man. But let us talk of Ameeneh your wife. I was acquainted with her before your marriage; and as I know her to be a sorceress, she also is sensible that I have some of the same kind of knowledge as herself, since we both learnt it of the same mistress. We often meet at the baths, but as our tempers are different, I avoid all opportunities of contracting an intimacy with her, which is no difficult matter, as she does the same by me. I am not at all surprised at her wickedness: but what I have already done for you is not sufficient; I must complete what I have begun. It is not enough to have broken the enchantment by which she has so long excluded you from the society of men. You must punish her as she deserves, by going home again, and assuming the authority which belongs to you. I will give you the proper means. Converse a little with my mother till I return to you."

My deliveress went into a closet, and while she was absent, I repeated my obligations to the mother as well as the daughter. She said to me, "You see my daughter has as much skill in the magic art as the wicked Ameeneh; but makes such use of it, that you would be surprised to know the good she has done, and daily does, by exercising her science. This induces me to let her practise it; for I should not permit her, if I perceived she made an improper application of it in the smallest instance."

The mother then related some of the wonders she had seen her perform: by this time the daughter returned with a little bottle in her hand. "Syed Naomaun," said she, "my books which I have been consulting tell me that Ameeneh is now abroad, but will be at home presently. They also inform me that she pretended before your servants to be very uneasy at your absence, and made them believe, that at dinner you recollected some business which obliged you to go out immediately; that as you went, you left the door open, and a dog running into the hall where she was at dinner, she had beaten him out with a great stick.

"Take this little bottle, go home immediately, and wait in your own chamber till Ameeneh comes in, which she will do shortly. As soon as she returns, run down into the court, and meet her face to face. In her surprise at seeing you so unexpectedly, she will turn her back to run away; have the bottle ready, and throw some of the liquor it contains upon her, pronouncing at the same time these words: ‘Receive the chastisement of thy wickedness.' I will tell you no more; you will see the effect."

After these instructions I took leave of my benefactress, and her mother, with all the testimonies of the most perfect gratitude, and a sincere protestation never to forget my obligation to them; and then went home.

All things happened as the beautiful and humane enchantress had foretold. Ameeneh was not long before she came home. As she entered the court, I met her with the bottle in my hand. Upon seeing me, she shrieked; and as she turned to run towards the door, I threw the liquor upon her, pronouncing the words which the young lady had taught me, when she was instantly transformed into the mare which your majesty saw me upon yesterday.

At that instant, owing to the surprise she was in, I easily seized her by the mane, and notwithstanding her resistance, led her into the stable, where I put a halter upon her head, and when I had tied her to the rack, reproaching her with her baseness, I chastised her with a whip till I was tired, and have punished her every day since in the manner which your majesty has witnessed.

"I hope, commander of the faithful," concluded Syed Naomaun, "your majesty will not disapprove of my conduct, but will rather think I have shewn so wicked and pernicious a woman more indulgence than she deserved."

[Resume The Adventure of the Caliph Haroon Al Rusheed]

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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