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Scott: The Story of the Barber's Third Brother

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Commander of the faithful, my third brother, whose name was Backbac, was blind, and his evil destiny reduced him to beg from door to door. He had been so long accustomed to walk through the streets alone, that he wanted none to lead him: he had a custom to knock at people's doors, and not to answer till they opened to him. One day he knocked thus, and the master of the house, who was alone, cried, "Who is there?" My brother made no answer, and knocked a second time: the master of the house asked again and again, "Who is there?" but to no purpose, no one answered; upon which he came down, opened the door, and asked my brother what he wanted? "Give me something for Heaven's sake," said Backbac. "You seem to be blind," replied the master of the house. "Yes, to my sorrow," answered my brother. "Give me your hand," resumed the master of the house. My brother did so, thinking he was going to give him alms; but he only took him by the hand to lead him up to his chamber. Backbac thought he had been carrying him to dine with him, as many other people had done. When they reached the chamber, the man let go his hand, and sitting down, asked him again what he wanted? "I have already told you," said Backbac, "that I want something for God's sake." "Good blind man," replied the master of the house, "all that I can do for you is to wish that God may restore you your sight." "You might have told me that at the door," replied my brother, "and not have given me the trouble to come up stairs." "And why, fool," said the man of the house, "do not you answer at first, when people ask you who is there? Why do you give any body the trouble to come and open the door when they speak to you?" "What will you do with me then?" asked my brother. "I tell you again," said the man of the house, "I have nothing to give you." "Help me down the stairs then, as you brought me up." "The stairs are before you," said the man of the house, "and you may go down by yourself if you will." My brother attempted to descend, but missing a step about the middle of the stairs, fell to the bottom and hurt his head and his back: he got up again with much difficulty, and went out cursing the master of the house. who laughed at his fall.

As my brother went out of the house, two blind men, his companions, were going by, knew him by his voice, and asked him what was the matter? He told them what had happened; and afterwards said, "I have eaten nothing to-day; I conjure you to go along with me to my house, that I may take some of the money that we three have in common to buy me something for supper." The two blind men agreed, and they went home with him.

You must know that the master of the house where my brother was so ill used was a robber, and of a cunning and malicious disposition. He overheard from his window what Backbac had said to his companions, and came down and followed them to my brother's house. The blind men being seated, Backbac said to them, "Brothers, we must shut the door, and take care there be no stranger with us." At this the robber was much perplexed, but perceiving a rope hanging down from a beam, he caught hold of it, and hung by it, while the blind men shut the door, and felt about the room with their sticks. When they had done, and had sat down again in their places, the robber left his rope, and seated himself softly by my brother, who thinking himself alone with his blind comrades, said to them, "Brothers, since you have trusted me with the money, which we have been a long time gathering, I will show you that I am not unworthy of the confidence you repose in me. The last time we reckoned, you know we had ten thousand dirhems, and that we put them into ten bags; I will shew you that I have not touched one of them:" having so said, he put his hand among some old clothes, and taking out the bags one after another, gave them to his comrades, saying, "There they are; you may judge by their weight that they are whole, or you may tell them if you please." His comrades answered there was no need, they did not mistrust him; so he opened one of the bags, and took out ten dirhems, and each of the other blind men did the like.

My brother put the bags into their place again: after which, one of the blind men said to him, "There is no need to lay out anything for supper, for I have collected as much victuals from good people as will serve us all." At the same time he took out of his bag bread and cheese, and some fruit, and putting all upon the table, they began to eat, The robber, who sat at my brother's right hand, picked out the best, and eat with them; but whatever care he took to make no noise, Backbac heard his chaps going, and cried out immediately, "We are undone, there is a stranger among us:" having so said, he stretched out his hand, and caught hold of the robber by the arm, cried out "Thieves!" fell upon him, and struck him. The other blind men fell upon him in like manner; the robber defended himself as well as he could, and being young and vigorous, besides having the advantage of his eyes, gave furious blows, sometimes to one, sometimes to another, and cried out "Thieves!" louder than they did. The neighbours came running at the noise, broke open the door, and had much ado to separate the combatants; but having at last succeeded, they asked the cause of their quarrel. My brother, who still had hold of the robber, cried out, "Gentlemen, this man I have hold of is a thief, and stole in with us on purpose to rob us of the little money we have." The thief, who shut his eyes as soon as the neighbours came, feigned himself blind, and exclaimed, "Gentlemen, he is a liar. I swear to you by heaven, and by the life of the caliph, that I am their companion, and they refuse to give me my just share. They have all three fallen upon me, and I demand justice." The neighbours would not interfere in their quarrel, but carried them all before the judge.

When they came before the magistrate, the robber, without staying to be examined, cried out, still feigning himself blind, "Sir, since you are deputed to administer justice by the caliph, whom God prosper, I declare to you that we are equally criminal, my three comrades and I; but we have all engaged, upon oath, to confess nothing except we be bastinadoed; so that if you would know our crime, you need only order us to be bastinadoed, and begin with me." My brother would have spoken, but was not allowed to do so: and the robber was put under the bastinado.

The robber being under the bastinado, had the courage to bear twenty or thirty blows; when, pretended to be overcome with pain, he first opened one eve, and then the other, and crying out for mercy, begged the judge would put a stop to the blows. The judge perceiving that he looked upon him with his eyes open, was much surprised, and said to him, "Rogue, what is the meaning of this miracle?" "Sir," replied the robber, "I will discover to you an important secret, if you will pardon me, and give me, as a pledge that you will keep your word, the seal-ring which you have on your finger." The judge consented, gave him his ring, and promised him pardon. "Under this promise," continued the robber, "I must confess to you sir, that I and my three comrades do all of us see very well. We feigned ourselves to be blind, that we might freely enter people's houses, and women's apartments, where we abuse their weakness. I must farther confess to you, that by this trick we have gained together ten thousand dirhems. This day I demanded of my partners two thousand five hundred that belonged to my share, but they refused because I told them I would leave them; and they were afraid I should accuse them. Upon my pressing still to have my share, they fell upon me; for which I appeal to those people who brought us before you. I expect from your justice, sir, that you will make them deliver me the two thousand five hundred dirhems which is my due; and if you have a mind that my comrades should confess the truth, you must order them three times as many blows as I have had, and you will find they will open their eyes as well as I have done."

My brother and the other two blind men would have cleared themselves of this horrid charge, but the judge would not hear them: "Villains," said he, "do you feign yourselves blind then, and, under that pretext of moving their compassion, cheat people, and commit such crimes?" "He is an impostor," cried my brother, "and we take God to witness that none of us can see."

All that my brother could say was in vain, his comrades and he received each of them two hundred blows. The judge expected them to open their eyes, and ascribed to their obstinacy what really they could not do. All the while the robber said to the blind men, "Poor fools that you are, open your eyes, and do not suffer yourselves to be beaten to death." Then addressing himself to the judge, said, "I perceive, sir, that they will be maliciously obstinate to the last, and will never open their eyes. They wish certainly to avoid the shame of reading their own condemnation in the face of every one that looks upon them; it were better, if you think fit, to pardon them, and to send some person along with me for the ten thousand dirhems they have hidden."

The judge consented to give the robber two thousand five hundred dirhems, and kept the rest himself; and as for my brother and his two companions, he thought he shewed them pity by sentencing them only to be banished. As soon as I heard what had befallen my brother, I went to him; he told me his misfortune, and I brought him back secretly to the town. I could easily have justified him to the judge, and have had the robber punished as he deserved, but durst not make the attempt, for fear of bringing myself into danger of assassination. Thus I finished the sad adventure of my honest blind brother. The caliph laughed at it, as much as at those he had heard before, and ordered again that something should be given me; but without staying for it, I began the story of my fourth brother.

[Go to The Story of the Barber's Fourth Brother]

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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