Stories from the Thousand and One Nights. The Harvard Classics. 190914.
The Story Told by the Jewish Physician
THE MOST wonderful of the events that happened to me in my younger days was this:I was residing in Damascus, where I learnt and practised my art; and while I was thus occupied, one day there came to me a memluk from the house of the governor of the city: so I went forth with him, and accompanied him to the abode of the governor. I entered, and beheld, at the upper end of a saloon, a couch of alabaster overlaid with plates of gold, upon which was reclining a sick man: he was young; and a person more comely had not been seen in his age. Seating myself at this head, I ejaculated a prayer for his restoration; and he made a sign to me with his eye. I then said to him, Op my master, stretch forth to me the hand:whereupon he put forth to me his left hand; and I was surprised at this, and said within myself, What self-conceit! I felt his pulse, however, and wrote a prescription for him, and continued to visit him for a period of ten days, until he recovered his strength; when he entered the bath, and washed himself, and came forth: and the governor conferred upon me a handsome dress of honour, and appointed me superintendent of the hospital of Damascus. But when I went him into the bath, which they had cleared of all other visitors for us alone, and the servants had brought the clothes, and taken away those which he had pulled off within, I perceived that his right hand had been cruelly amputated; at the sight of which I wondered, and grieved for him; and looking at his skin, I observed upon him marks of beating with mikrahs, which caused me to wonder more. The young man then turned towards me, and said, O doctor of the age, wonder not at my case; for I will relate to thee my story when we have gone out from the bath:and when we had gone forth, and arrived at the house, and had eaten some food, and rested, he said to me, Hast thou a desire to divert thyself in the supper-room? I answered, Yes:and immediately he ordered the slaves to take up thither the furniture, and to roast a lamb and bring us some fruit. So the slaves did as he commanded them: and when they had brought the fruit, and we had eaten, I said to him, Relate to me thy story:and he replied, O doctor of the age, listen to the relation of the events which have befallen me.
Know that I am of the children of El-Mosil. My paternal grandfather died leaving ten male children, one of whom was my father: he was the eldest of them, and they all grew up and married; and my father was blest with me; but none of his nine brothers was blest with children. So I grew up among my uncles, who delighted in me exceedingly; and when I had attained to manhood, I was one day with my father in the chief mosque of El-Mosil. The day was Friday; and we performed the congregational prayers, and all the people went out, except my father and my uncles, who sat conversing together respecting the wonders of various countries, and the strange sights of different cities, until they mentioned Egypt; when one of my uncles said, The travellers assert, that there is not on the face of the earth a more agreeable country than Egypt with its Nile:and my father added, He who hath not seen Cairo hath not seen the world: its soil is gold; its Nile is a wonder; its women are like the black-eyed virgins of Paradise; its houses are palaces; and its air is temperate; its odour surpassing that of aloes-wood, and cheering the heart: and how can Cairo be otherwise when it is the metropolis of the world? Did ye see its gardens in the evening (he continued), with the shade obliquely extending over them, ye would behold a wonder, and yield with ecstasy to their attractions.
When I heard these descriptions of Egypt, my mind became wholly engaged by reflections upon the country; and after they had departed to their homes, I passed the night sleepless from my excessive longing towards it, and neither food nor drink was pleasant to me. A few days after, my uncles prepared to journey thither, and I wept before my father that I might go with them, so that he prepared a stock of merchandise for me, and I departed in their company; but he said to them, Suffer him not to enter Egypt, but leave him at Damascus, that he may there sell his merchandise.
I took leave of my father, and we set forth from El-Mosil, and continued our journey until we arrived at Aleppo, where we remained some days; after which we proceeded thence until we came to Damascus; and we beheld it to be a city with trees and rivers and fruits and birds, as though it were a paradise, containing fruits of every kind. We took lodgings in one of the Khans, and my uncles remained there until they had sold and bought; and they also sold my merchandise, gaining, for every piece of silver, five, so that I rejoiced at my profit. My uncles then left me, and repaired to Egypt, and I remained and took up my abode in a handsome Kaah, such as the tongue cannot describe; the monthly rent of which was two pieces of gold.
Here I indulged myself with eating and drinking, squandering away the money that was in my possession; and as I was sitting one day at the door of the Kaah, a damsel approached me, attired in clothing of the richest description, such as I had never seen surpassed in costliness, and I invited her to come in; whereupon, without hesitation, she entered; and I was delighted at her compliance, and closed the door upon us both. She then uncovered her face, and took off her izar, and I found her to be so surprisingly beautiful that love for her took possession of my heart: so I went and brought a repast consisting of the most delicious viands and fruit and everything else that was requisite for her entertainment, and we ate and sported together; after which we drank till we were intoxicated, and fell asleep, and so we remained until the morning, when I handed her ten pieces of gold; but she swore that she would not accept them from me, and said, Expect me again, O my beloved, after three days: at the hour of sunset I will be with thee: and do thou prepare for us, with these pieces of gold, a repast similar to this which we have just enjoyed. She then gave me ten pieces of gold, and took leave of me, and departed, taking my reason with her. And after the three days had expired, she came again, decked with embroidered stuffs and ornaments and other attire more magnificent than those which she wore on the former occasion. I had prepared for her what was required previously to her arrival; so we now ate and drank and fell asleep as before; and in the morning she gave me again ten pieces of gold, promising to return to me after three more days. I therefore made ready what was requisite, and after the three days she came attired in a dress still more magnificent than the first and second, and said to me, O my master, am I beautiful?Yea, verily, I answered.Wilt thou give me leave, she rejoined, to bring with me a damsel more beautiful than myself, and younger than I, that she may sport with us, and we may make merry with her? For she hath requested that she may accompany me, and pass the night in frolicking with us.And so saying, she gave me twenty pieces of gold, desiring me to prepare a more plentiful repast, on account of the lady who was to come with her; after which, she bade me farewell, and departed.
Accordingly, on the fourth day, I procured what was requisite, as usual, and soon after sunset she came, accompanied by a female wrapped in an izar, and they entered, and seated themselves. I was rejoiced, and lighted the candles, and welcomed them with joy and exultation. They then took off their outer garments, and when the new damsel uncovered her face, I perceived that she was like the full moon: I never beheld a person more beautiful. I arose immediately, and placed before them the food and drink, and we ate and drank, while I continued caressing the new damsel, and filling the wine-cup for her, and drinking with her: but the first lady was affected with a secret jealousy.By Allah, she said, verily this girl is beautiful! Is she not more charming than I?Yea, indeed, I answered.Soon after this I fell asleep, and when I awoke in the morning, I found my hand defiled with blood, and opening my eyes, perceived that the sun had risen; so I attempted to rouse the damsel, my new companion, whereupon her head rolled from her body. The other damsel was gone, and I concluded, therefore, that she had done this from her jealousy; and after reflecting a while, I arose, and took off my clothes, and dug a hole in the Kaah, in which I deposited the murdered damsel, afterwards covering her remains with earth, and replacing the marble pavement as it was before. I then dressed myself again, and, taking the remainder of my money, went forth, and repaired to the owner of the Kaah, and paid him a years rent, saying to him, I am about to journey to my uncles in Egypt.
So I departed to Egypt, where I met with my uncles, and they were rejoiced to see me. I found that they had concluded the sale of their merchandise, and they said to me, What is the cause of thy coming? I answered, I had a longing desire to be with you, and feared that my money would not suffice me.For a year I remained with them, enjoying the pleasures of Egypt and its Nile; and I dipped my hand into the residue of my money, and expended it prodigally in eating and drinking until near the time of my uncles departure, when I fled from them: so they said, Probably he hath gone before us and returned to Damascus:and they departed. I then came forth from my concealment, and remained in Cairo three years, squandering away my money until scarcely any of it remained: but meanwhile I sent every year the rent of the Kaah at Damascus to its owner: and after three years my heart became contracted, for nothing remained in my possession but the rent for the year.
I therefore journeyed back to Damascus, and alighted at the Kaah. The owner was rejoiced to see me, and I entered it, and cleansed it of the blood of the murdered damsel, and, removing a cushion, I found, beneath this, the necklace that she had worn that night. I took it up and examined it, and wept a while. After this I remained in the house two days, and on the third day I entered the bath, and changed my clothes. I now had no money left; and I went one day to the market, where (the Devil suggesting it to me, in order to accomplish the purpose of destiny) I handed the necklace of jewels to a broker; and he rose to me, and seated me by his side: then having waited until the market was replenished, he took it, and announced it for sale secretly, without my knowledge. The price bidden for it amounted to two thousand pieces of gold; but he came to me and said, This necklace is of brass, of the counterfeit manufacture of the Franks, and its price hath amounted to a thousand pieces of silver. I answered him, Yes: we had made it for a woman, merely to laugh at her, and my wife has inherited it, and we desire to sell it: go, therefore, and receive the thousand pieces of silver. Now when the broker heard this, he perceived that the affair was suspicious, and went and gave the necklace to the chief of the market, who took it to the Wali, and said to him, This necklace was stolen from me, and we have found the thief, clad in the dress of the sons of the merchants. And before I knew what had happened, the officers had surrounded me, and they took me to the Wali, who questioned me respecting the necklace. I told him, therefore, the same story that I had told to the broker; but he laughed, and said, This is not the truth:and instantly his people stripped me of my outer clothing, and beat me with mikraahs all over my body, until, through the torture that I suffered from the blows, I said, I stole it:reflecting that it was better I should say I stole it, than confess that its owner was murdered in my abode; for then they would kill me to avenge her: and as soon as I had said so, they cut off my hand, and scalded the stump with boiling oil, and I swooned away. They then gave me to drink some wine, by swallowing which I recovered my senses; and I took my amputated hand, and returned to the Kaah; but its owner said to me, Since this hath happened to thee, leave the Kaah, and look for another abode; for thou art accused of an unlawful act.O my master, I replied, give me two or three days delay that I may seek for a lodging:and he assented to this and departed and left me. So I remained alone, and sat weeping, and saying, How can I return to my family with my hand cut off. He who cut it off knoweth not that I am innocent: perhaps, then, God will bring about some event for my relief.
I sat weeping violently; and when the owner of the Kaah had departed from me, excessive grief overcame me, and I was sick for two days; and on the third day, suddenly the owner of the Kaah came to me, with some officers of the police, and the chief of the market, and accused me again of stealing the necklace. So I went out to them, and said, What is the news?whereupon, without granting me a moments delay, they bound my arms behind me, and put a chain around my neck, saying to me, The necklace which was in thy possession hath proved to be the property of the governor of Damascus, its Wezir and its Ruler; it hath been lost from the governors house for a period of three years, and with it was his daughter.When I heard these words from them, my limbs trembled, and I said within myself, They will kill me! My death is inevitable! By Allah, I must relate my story to the governor; and if he please he will kill me, or if he please he will pardon me.And when we arrived at the governors abode, and they had placed me before him, and he beheld me, he said, Is this he who stole the necklace and went out to sell it? Verily ye have cut off his hand wrongfully.He then ordered that the chief of the market should be imprisoned, and said to him, Give to this person the compensatory fine for his hand, or I will hang thee and seize all thy property. And he called out to his attendants, who took him and dragged him away.
I was now left with the governor alone, after they had, by his permission, loosed the chain from my neck, and untied the cords which bound my arms; and the governor looking towards me, said to me, O my son, tell me thy story, and speak truth. How did this necklace come into thy possession?So I replied, O my lord, I will tell thee the truth:and I related to him all that had happened to me with the first damsel, and how she had brought to me the second, and murdered her from jealousy; on hearing which, he shook his head, and covered his face with his handkerchief, and wept. Then looking towards me, he said, Know, O my son, that the elder damsel was my daughter: I kept her closely; and when she had attained a fit age for marriage, I sent her to the son of her uncle in Cairo; but he died, and she returned to me, having learnt habits of profligacy from the inhabitants of that city; so she visited thee four times; and on the fourth occasion, she brought to thee her younger sister. They were sisters by the same mother, and much attached to each others; and when the event which thou hast related occurred to the elder, she imparted her secret to her sister, who asked my permission to go out with her; after which the elder returned alone; and when I questioned her respecting her sister, I found her weeping for her, and she answered, I know no tidings of her:but she afterwards informed her mother, secretly, of the murder which she had committed; and her mother privately related the affair to me; and she continued to weep for her incessantly, saying, By Allah, I will not cease to weep for her until I die. Thy account, O my son, is true; for I knew the affair before thou toldest it me. See then, O my son, what hath happened: and now I request of thee that thou wilt not oppose me in that which I am about to say; and it is this:I desire to marry thee to my youngest daughter; for she is not of the same mother as they were: she is a virgin, and I will receive from thee no dowry, but will assign to you both an allowance; and thou shalt be to me as an own son.I replied, Let it be as thou desirest, O my master. How could I expect to attain unto such happiness?The governor then sent immediately a courier to bring the property which my father had left me (for he had died since my departure from him), and now I am living in the utmost affluence.
I wondered, said the Jew, at his history; and after I had remained with him three days, he gave me a large sum of money; and I left him, to set forth on a journey; and, arriving in this your country, my residence here pleased me, and I experienced this which hath happened to me with the humpback.
The King, when he had heard this story, said, This is not more wonderful than the story of the humpback, and ye must all of you be hanged, and especially the tailor, who is the source of all the mischief. But he afterwards added, O tailor, if thou tell me a story more wonderful than that of the humpback, I will forgive you your offences. So the tailor advanced, and said,