Stories of Arabian Nights -
One thousand one Arabian Nights
The Story of the Barber's Sixth Brother
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There now remains for me to relate to you the
story of my sixth brother, whose name was Schacabac. Like the rest of us, he
inherited a hundred silver drachmas from our father, which he thought was a
large fortune, but through ill-luck, he soon lost it all, and was driven to beg.
As he had a smooth tongue and good manners, he really did very well in his new
profession, and he devoted himself specially to making friends with the servants
in big houses, so as to gain access to their masters.
One day he was passing a splendid mansion, with a crowd of servants lounging in
the courtyard. He thought that from the appearance of the house it might yield
him a rich harvest, so he entered and inquired to whom it belonged.
"My good man, where do you come from?" replied the servant. "Can't you see for
yourself that it can belong to nobody but a Barmecide?" for the Barmecides were
famed for their liberality and generosity. My brother, hearing this, asked the
porters, of whom there were several, if they would give him alms. They did not
refuse, but told him politely to go in, and speak to the master himself.
My brother thanked them for their courtesy and entered the building, which was
so large that it took him some time to reach the apartments of the Barmecide. At
last, in a room richly decorated with paintings, he saw an old man with a long
white beard, sitting on a sofa, who received him with such kindness that my
brother was emboldened to make his petition.
"My lord," he said, "you behold in me a poor man who only lives by the help of
persons as rich and as generous as you."
Before he could proceed further, he was stopped by the astonishment shown by the
Barmecide. "Is it possible," he cried, "that while I am in Bagdad, a man like
you should be starving? That is a state of things that must at once be put an
end to! Never shall it be said that I have abandoned you, and I am sure that
you, on your part, will never abandon me."
"My lord," answered my brother, "I swear that I have not broken my fast this
"What, you are dying of hunger?" exclaimed the Barmecide. "Here, slave; bring
water, that we may wash our hands before meat!" No slave appeared, but my
brother remarked that the Barmecide did not fail to rub his hands as if the
water had been poured over them.
Then he said to my brother, "Why don't you wash your hands too?" and Schacabac,
supposing that it was a joke on the part of the Barmecide (though he could see
none himself), drew near, and imitated his motion.
When the Barmecide had done rubbing his hands, he raised his voice, and cried,
"Set food before us at once, we are very hungry." No food was brought, but the
Barmecide pretended to help himself from a dish, and carry a morsel to his
mouth, saying as he did so, "Eat, my friend, eat, I entreat. Help yourself as
freely as if you were at home! For a starving man, you seem to have a very small
"Excuse me, my lord," replied Schacabac, imitating his gestures as before, "I
really am not losing time, and I do full justice to the repast."
"How do you like this bread?" asked the Barmecide. "I find it particularly good
"Oh, my lord," answered my brother, who beheld neither meat nor bread, "never
have I tasted anything so delicious."
"Eat as much as you want," said the Barmecide. "I bought the woman who makes it
for five hundred pieces of gold, so that I might never be without it."
After ordering a variety of dishes (which never came) to be placed on the table,
and discussing the merits of each one, the Barmecide declared that having dined
so well, they would now proceed to take their wine. To this my brother at first
objected, declaring that it was forbidden; but on the Barmecide insisting that
it was out of the question that he should drink by himself, he consented to take
a little. The Barmecide, however, pretended to fill their glasses so often, that
my brother feigned that the wine had gone into his head, and struck the
Barmecide such a blow on the head, that he fell to the ground. Indeed, he raised
his hand to strike him a second time, when the Barmecide cried out that he was
mad, upon which my brother controlled himself, and apologised and protested that
it was all the fault of the wine he had drunk. At this the Barmecide, instead of
being angry, began to laugh, and embraced him heartily. "I have long been
seeking," he exclaimed, "a man of your description, and henceforth my house
shall be yours. You have had the good grace to fall in with my humour, and to
pretend to eat and to drink when nothing was there. Now you shall be rewarded by
a really good supper."
Then he clapped his hands, and all the dishes were brought that they had tasted
in imagination before and during the repast, slaves sang and played on various
instruments. All the while Schacabac was treated by the Barmecide as a familiar
friend, and dressed in a garment out of his own wardrobe.
Twenty years passed by, and my brother was still living with the Barmecide,
looking after his house, and managing his affairs. At the end of that time his
generous benefactor died without heirs, so all his possessions went to the
prince. They even despoiled my brother of those that rightly belonged to him,
and he, now as poor as he had ever been in his life, decided to cast in his lot
with a caravan of pilgrims who were on their way to Mecca. Unluckily, the
caravan was attacked and pillaged by the Bedouins, and the pilgrims were taken
prisoners. My brother became the slave of a man who beat him daily, hoping to
drive him to offer a ransom, although, as Schacabac pointed out, it was quite
useless trouble, as his relations were as poor as himself. At length the Bedouin
grew tired of tormenting, and sent him on a camel to the top of a high barren
mountain, where he left him to take his chance. A passing caravan, on its way to
Bagdad, told me where he was to be found, and I hurried to his rescue, and
brought him in a deplorable condition back to the town.
"This,"--continued the barber,--"is the tale I related to the Caliph, who, when
I had finished, burst into fits of laughter."
"Well were you called `the Silent,'" said he; "no name was ever better deserved.
But for reasons of my own, which it is not necessary to mention, I desire you to
leave the town, and never to come back."
"I had of course no choice but to obey, and travelled about for several years
until I heard of the death of the Caliph, when I hastily returned to Bagdad,
only to find that all my brothers were dead. It was at this time that I rendered
to the young cripple the important service of which you have heard, and for
which, as you know, he showed such profound ingratitude, that he preferred
rather to leave Bagdad than to run the risk of seeing me. I sought him long from
place to place, but it was only to-day, when I expected it least, that I came
across him, as much irritated with me as ever"-- So saying the tailor went on to
relate the story of the lame man and the barber, which has already been told.
"When the barber," he continued, "had finished his tale, we came to the
conclusion that the young man had been right, when he had accused him of being a
great chatter-box. However, we wished to keep him with us, and share our feast,
and we remained at table till the hour of afternoon prayer. Then the company
broke up, and I went back to work in my shop."
"It was during this interval that the little hunchback, half drunk already,
presented himself before me, singing and playing on his drum. I took him home,
to amuse my wife, and she invited him to supper. While eating some fish, a bone
got into his throat, and in spite of all we could do, he died shortly. It was
all so sudden that we lost our heads, and in order to divert suspicion from
ourselves, we carried the body to the house of a Jewish physician. He placed it
in the chamber of the purveyor, and the purveyor propped it up in the street,
where it was thought to have been killed by the merchant."
"This, Sire, is the story which I was obliged to tell to satisfy your highness.
It is now for you to say if we deserve mercy or punishment; life or death?"
The Sultan of Kashgar listened with an air of pleasure which filled the tailor
and his friends with hope. "I must confess," he exclaimed, "that I am much more
interested in the stories of the barber and his brothers, and of the lame man,
than in that of my own jester. But before I allow you all four to return to your
own homes, and have the corpse of the hunchback properly buried, I should like
to see this barber who has earned your pardon. And as he is in this town, let an
usher go with you at once in search of him."
The usher and the tailor soon returned, bringing with them an old man who must
have been at least ninety years of age. "O Silent One," said the Sultan, "I am
told that you know many strange stories. Will you tell some of them to me?"
"Never mind my stories for the present," replied the barber, "but will your
Highness graciously be pleased to explain why this Jew, this Christian, and this
Mussulman, as well as this dead body, are all here?"
"What business is that of yours?" asked the Sultan with a smile; but seeing that
the barber had some reasons for his question, he commanded that the tale of the
hunch-back should be told him.
"It is certainly most surprising," cried he, when he had heard it all, "but I
should like to examine the body." He then knelt down, and took the head on his
knees, looking at it attentively. Suddenly he burst into such loud laughter that
he fell right backwards, and when he had recovered himself enough to speak, he
turned to the Sultan. "The man is no more dead than I am," he said; "watch me."
As he spoke he drew a small case of medicines from his pocket and rubbed the
neck of the hunchback with some ointment made of balsam. Next he opened the dead
man's mouth, and by the help of a pair of pincers drew the bone from his throat.
At this the hunch-back sneezed, stretched himself and opened his eyes.
The Sultan and all those who saw this operation did not know which to admire
most, the constitution of the hunchback who had apparently been dead for a whole
night and most of one day, or the skill of the barber, whom everyone now began
to look upon as a great man. His Highness desired that the history of the
hunchback should be written down, and placed in the archives beside that of the
barber, so that they might be associated in people's minds to the end of time.
And he did not stop there; for in order to wipe out the memory of what they had
undergone, he commanded that the tailor, the doctor, the purveyor and the
merchant, should each be clothed in his presence with a robe from his own
wardrobe before they returned home. As for the barber, he bestowed on him a
large pension, and kept him near his own person.
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