Home - FAQ - Images - Bibliography | complete versions by Burton - Dixon - Lang - Payne - Scott

Scott: The Three Sharpers and the Sultan

[Go back to The Sultan of Yemen and His Three Sons]

Three very ingenious sharpers who associated together, being much distressed, agreed, in hopes of obtaining immediate relief, that they would go to the sultan, and pretend each to superior ability in some occupation. Accordingly they proceeded to the metropolis, but found admission to the presence difficult; the sultan being at a garden palace surrounded by guards, who would not let them approach. Upon this they consulted, and agreed to feign a quarrel, in hopes that their clamour would draw the notice of the sultan. It did so: he commanded them to be brought before him, inquired who they were, and the cause of their dispute. "We were disputing," said they, "concerning the superiority of our professions; for each of us possesses complete skill in his own." "What are your professions?" replied the sultan. "I am," said one, "O sovereign, a lapidary of wonderful skill." "I fear thou art an astonishing rascal," exclaimed the sultan.

"I am," said the second sharper, "a genealogist of horses." "And I," continued the third, "a genealogist of mankind, knowing every one's true descent; an art much more wonderful than that of either of my companions, for no one possesses it but myself, nor ever did before me." The sultan was astonished, but gave little credit to their pretensions: yet he said to himself, "If these men speak truth, they are worthy of encouragement. I will keep them near me till I have occasion to try them; when, if they prove their abilities, I will promote them; but if not, I will put them to death." He then allotted them an apartment, with an allowance of three cakes of bread and a mess of pottage daily; but placed spies over them, fearing lest they might escape.

Not long after this, a present of rarities was brought to the sultan, among which were two precious stones; one of them remarkably clear in its water, and the other with a flaw. The sultan now bethought himself of the lapidary, and sent for him to his presence, when he gave him the clear jewel to examine, and demanded what he thought it was worth.

The sharper took the stone, and with much gravity turned it backwards and forwards in his hands, examining it with minute attention on every part; after which he said, "My lord, this jewel has a flaw in the very centre of it." When the sultan heard this, he was enraged against the sharper, and gave orders to strike off his head; saying, "This stone is free from blemish, and yet thou pretendest it hath a flaw." The executioner now advanced, laid hold of the sharper, bound him, and was going to strike, when the vizier entered, and seeing the sultan enraged, and the sharper under the cimeter, inquired the cause. Being informed, he advanced towards the sultan, and said, "My lord, act not thus, but first break the stone: should a flaw appear in it, the words of this man are true; but if it be found free from blemish, put him to death." The sultan replied, "Thy advice is just:" and broke it in two with his mace. In the middle he found a flaw, at which he was astonished, and exclaimed to the sharper, "By what means couldst thou discover the blemish?" He replied, "By the acuteness of my sight." The sultan then released him, and said, "Take him back to his companions, allow him a mess of pottage to himself, and two cakes of bread."

Some time after this a tribute came from one of the provinces, part of which consisted of a beautiful black colt, in colour resembling the hue of the darkest night. The sultan was delighted with the animal, and spent whole days in admiring him. At length he bethought himself of the sharper who had pretended to be a genealogist of horses, and commanded him to his presence. When he appeared, the sultan said, "Art thou a judge of horses?" He replied, "Yes, my lord: "upon which the sultan exclaimed," It is well! but I swear by him who appointed me guardian of his subjects, and said to the universe, Be! and it was, that should I find untruth in thy declaration, I will strike off thy head." The man replied, "To hear is to submit." After this they brought out the colt, that he might examine him.

The sharper desired the groom to mount the colt and pace him before him, which he did backwards and forwards, the fiery animal all the while plunging and rearing. At length the genealogist said, "It is enough:" and turning to the sultan exclaimed, "My lord, this colt is singularly beautiful, of true blood by his sire, his paces exquisite and proportions just; but in him there is one blemish; could that be done away, he would be all perfection; nor would there be upon the face of the earth his equal among all the various breeds of horses." "What can that blemish be?" said the sultan. "His sire," rejoined the genealogist, "was of true blood, but his dam of another species of animal; and, if commanded, I will inform you." "Speak," said the sultan. "The dam of this beautiful colt," continued the genealogist, "was a buffalo."

When the sultan heard this he flew into a rage, and commanded an executioner to strike off the head of the sharper; exclaiming, "Thou accursed dog! how could a buffalo bring forth a colt?" "My lord," replied the sharper, "the executioner is in attendance; but send for the person who presented the colt, and inquire of him the truth. If my words prove just, my skill will be ascertained; but if what I have said be false, then let my head pay the forfeit for my tongue." Upon this the sultan sent for the master of the colt to attend his presence.

When the master of the colt appeared before him, the sultan inquired whether it was purchased of another person, or had been bred by himself? To which the man replied, "My lord, I will relate nothing but the truth. The production of this colt is surprising. His sire belonged to me, and was of the true breed of sea-horses: he was always kept in an enclosure by himself, as I was fearful of his being injured; but it happened one day in the spring, that the groom took him for air into the country, and picqueted him in the plain. By chance a cow-buffalo coming near the spot, the stallion became outrageous, broke his heel-ropes, joined the buffalo, which after the usual period of gestation, produced this colt, to our great astonishment."

The sultan was surprised at this relation. He commanded the genealogist to be sent for, and upon his arrival said, "Thy words have proved true, and thy wonderful skill in the breed of horses is ascertained; but by what mark couldst thou know that the dam of this colt was a buffalo?" The man replied, "My lord, the mark is visible in the colt itself. It is not unknown to any person of observation, that the hoof of a horse is nearly round, but the hoof of a buffalo thick and longish, like this colt's: hence I judged that the dam must certainly have been a buffalo." The sultan now dismissed him graciously, and commanded that he should be allowed daily a mess of pottage, and two cakes of bread.

Not long after this the sultan bethought himself of the third sharper, who pretended that he was the genealogist of man, and sent for him to the presence. On his appearance he said, "Thou canst trace the descent of man?" "Yes, my lord," replied the genealogist. Upon this the sultan commanded an eunuch to take him into his haram, that he might examine the descent of his favourite mistress. Upon his introduction, he looked at the lady on this side and on that, through her veil, till he was satisfied, when he came out; and the sultan exclaimed, "Well, what hast thou discovered in my mistress?" He replied, "My lord, she is all perfect in elegance, beauty, grace, stature, bloom, modesty, accomplishments, and knowledge, so that every thing desirable centres in herself; but still there is one point that disgraces her, from which if she was free, it is not possible she could be excelled in anything among the whole of the fair sex." When the sultan had heard this, he rose up angrily, and drawing his cimeter, ran towards the genealogist, intending to strike off his head.

Just as he was going to strike, some of the attendants said, "My lord, put not the man to death before thou art convinced of his falsehood." Upon which the sultan exclaimed, "What fault appeared to thee in my mistress?" "O sultan," replied the man, "she is, as to herself, all perfect; but her mother was a rope-dancer." Upon this the sultan immediately sent for the father of the lady, and said, "Inform me truly who was the mother of thy daughter, or I will put thee to death." "Mighty prince," replied the father, "there is no safety for man but in the truth. Her mother was a rope-dancer, whom I took when very young from a company of strolling mummers, and educated. She grew up most beautiful and accomplished: I married her, and she produced me the girl whom thou hast chosen."

When the sultan heard this, his rage cooled, but he was filled with astonishment; and said to the genealogist, "Inform me what could shew thee that my mistress was the daughter of a rope- dancer?" "My lord," replied the man, "this cast of people have always their eyes very black, and their eyebrows bushy; such are hers: and from them I guessed her descent." The sultan was now convinced of his skill, dismissed him graciously, and commanded that he should be allowed a mess of pottage and three cakes of bread daily, which was done accordingly.

Some time after this the sultan reflected on the three sharpers, and said to himself, "These men have proved their skill in whatever I have tried them. The lapidary was singularly excellent in his art, the horse genealogist in his, and the last has proved his upon my mistress. I have an inclination to know my own descent beyond a doubt." He then ordered the genealogist into his presence, and said, "Dost thou think thou canst prove my descent?" "Yes, my lord," replied the man, but on condition that you spare my life after I shall have informed you; for the proverb says, ‘When the sultan is present, beware of his anger, as there is no delay when he commands to strike.'" "There shall be safety for thee," exclaimed the sultan," in my promise, an obligation that can never be forfeited."

"O sultan," continued the genealogist, "when I shall inform thee of thy parentage and descent, let not there be any present who may hear me." "Wherefore?" replied the sultan. "My lord," answered the sharper, "you know the attributes of the Deity should be veiled in mystery." The sultan now commanded all his attendants to retire, and when they were alone, the genealogist advanced and said, "Mighty prince, thou art illegitimate, and the son of an adulteress."

As soon as the sultan heard this, his colour changed, he turned pale, and fainted away. When he was recovered, he remained some time in deep contemplation, after which he exclaimed, "By him who constituted me the guardian of his people, I swear that if thy assertion be found true I will abdicate my kingdom, and resign it to thee, for royalty cannot longer become me; but should thy words prove void of foundation, I will put thee to instant death." "To hear is to assent," replied the sharper.

The sultan now arose, entered the haram, and bursting into his mother's apartment with his cimeter drawn, exclaimed, "By him who divided the heavens from the earth, shouldst thou not answer faithfully to what I shall inquire, I will cut thee to pieces with this cimeter." The queen, trembling with alarm, said, "What dost thou ask of me?" "Inform me," replied the sultan, "of whom am I the son?" "Since truth only can save me," cried the princess, "know that thou art the offspring of a cook. My husband had no children either male or female, on which account he became sad, and lost his health and appetite. In a court of the haram we had several sorts of birds, and one day the sultan fancying he should relish one of them, ordered the cook to kill and dress it. I happened then to be in the bath alone.

"As I was in the bath," continued the sultana, "I saw the cook endeavouring to catch the birds. At that instant it occurred to my mind from the instigation of Satan, that if I bore not a son, after the death of the sultan my influence would be lost. I tempted the man, and thou art the produce of my crime. The signs of my pregnancy soon appeared; and when the sultan was informed of them, he recovered his health, and rejoiced exceedingly, and conferred favours and presents on his ministers and courtiers daily, till the time of my delivery. On that day he chanced to be upon a hunting excursion at a country palace; but when intelligence was brought him of the birth of a son, he instantly returned to me, and issued orders for the city to be decorated, which was done for forty days together, out of respect to the sultan. Such was my crime, and such was thy birth."

The sultan now returned to the adventurer, and commanded him to pull off his clothes, which he did; when the sultan, disrobing himself, habited him in the royal vestments, after which he said, "Inform me whence thou judgest that I was a bastard?"

"My lord," replied the adventurer, "when each of us shewed our skill in what was demanded, you ordered him only an allowance of a mess of pottage and three cakes of bread. Hence I judged you to be the offspring of a cook, for it is the custom of princes to reward the deserving with wealth and honours, but you only gratified us with victuals from your kitchen." The sultan replied, "Thou hast spoken truly." He then made him put on the rest of the royal robes and ornaments, and seated him upon the throne; after which he disguised himself in the habit of a dervish, and wandered from his abdicated dominions. When the lucky adventurer found himself in possession of the throne, he sent for his companions; and finding they did not recognize him in his royal habiliments, dismissed them with liberal presents, but commanded them to quit his territories with the utmost expedition, lest they should discover him. After this, with a satisfied mind, he fulfilled the duties of his new station with a liberality and dignity that made the inhabitants of the metropolis and all the provinces bless him, and pray for the prolongation of his reign.

[Go to The Adventures of the Abdicated Sultan]

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

powered by FreeFind