Stories from the Thousand and One Nights. The Harvard Classics. 190914.
The Barbers Story of Himself
I WAS living in Baghdad, in the reign of the Prince of the Faithful El-Muntasir bi-llah1, who loved the poor and indigent, and associated with the learned and virtuous; and it happened, one, day, that he was incensed against ten persons, in consequence of which, he ordered the chief magistrate of Baghdad to bring them to him in a boat. I saw them, and I said within myself, These persons have assembled for nothing but an entertainment, and, I suppose, will pass their day in this boat eating and drinking; and none shall be their companion but myself:so I embarked, and mixed myself among them; and when they had landed on the opposite bank, the guards of the Wali came with chains, and put them upon their necks, and put a chain upon my neck also.Now this, O people, is it not a proof of my generosity, and of my paucity of speech? For I determined not to speak.They took us, therefore, all together, in chains, and placed us before El-Muntasir bi-llah, the Prince of the Faithful; whereupon he gave orders to strike off the heads of the ten; and the executioner struck off the heads of the ten, and I remained. The Khalifeh then turning his eyes, and beholding me, said to the executioner, Wherefore dost thou not strike off the heads of all the ten? He answered, I have beheaded every one of the ten.I do not think, rejoined the Khalifeh, that thou hast beheaded more than nine; and this who is before me is the tenth. But the executioner replied, By thy beneficence, they are ten.Count them, said the Khalifeh. And they counted them; and lo, they were ten. The Khalifeh then looked towards me, and said, What hath induced thee to be silent on this occasion; and how hast thou become included among the men of blood?And when I heard the address of the Prince of the Faithful, I said to him, O Prince of the Faithful, that I am the sheykh Es-Samit (the Silent): I possess, of science, a large stock; and as to the gravity of my understanding, and the quickness of my apprehension, and the paucity of my speech, they are unbounded: my trade is that of a barber; and yesterday, early in the morning, I saw these ten men proceeding to the boat; whereupon I mixed myself with them, and embarked with them, thinking that they had met together for an entertainment; but soon it appeared that they were criminals; and the guards came to them, and put chains upon their necks, and upon my neck also they put a chain; and from the excess of my generosity I was silent, and spoke not; my speech was not heard on that occasion, on account of the excess of my generosity; and they proceeded with us until they stationed us before thee, and thou gavest the order to strike off the heads of the ten, and I remained before the executioner, and acquainted you not with my case. Was not this great generosity which compelled me to accompany them to slaughter? But throughout my life I have acted in this excellent manner.
When the Khalifeh heard my words, and knew that I was of a very generous character, and of few words, and not inclined to impertinence as this young man, whom I delivered from horrors, asserteth, he said, Hast thou brothers? I answered, Yes: six;And are thy six brothers, said he, like thyself, distinguished by science and knowledge, and paucity of speech? I answered, They lived not so as to be like me: thou hast disparaged me by they supposition, O Prince of the Faithful, and it is not proper that thou shouldst compare my brothers to me; for through the abundance of their speech, and the smallness of their generous qualities, each of them experienced a defect: the first was lame; the second, deprived of many of his teeth; the third, blind; the fourth, one-eyed; the fifth, cropped of his ears; and the sixth had both his lips cut off: and think not, O Prince of the Faithful, that I am a man of many words: nay, I must prove to thee that I am of a more generous character than they; and each of them met with a particular adventure, in consequence of which he experienced a defect: if thou please, I will relate their stories to thee.