Nonfiction > Lionel Strachey, et al., eds. > The World’s Wit and Humor > Greek, Roman & Oriental
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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes.  1906.
Vol. XV: Greek—Roman—Oriental
 
The Barmecide’s Feast
By The Thousand and One Nights
 

MY brother Schacabac, the Hare-lipped, was at first sufficiently industrious to employ the money which he had inherited in a very advantageous manner; but at length, by reverse of fortune, he was reduced to the necessity of begging his bread. In this occupation he acquitted himself with great address, and his chief aim was to procure admission, by bribing the officers and domestics, into the houses of the great, and by having access to their persons to excite their compassion.
  1
  He one day passed a very magnificent building, through the door of which he observed a spacious court, where he saw a vast number of servants. He went up to one of them, and inquired to whom the house belonged. “My good man,” answered the domestic, “where can you come from, to ask such a question? Any one you met would tell you it belonged to a Barmecide.” Schacabac, to whom the liberal and generous dispositions of the Barmecides were well known, addressed himself to the porters, for there were more than one, and requested them to afford him some charity. “Come in,” answered they, “no one prevents you, and speak to our master; he will send you back well satisfied.”  2
  My brother did not expect so much kindness; and after returning many thanks to the porters, he, with their permission, entered the palace, which was so large that it took him some time to find the apartment belonging to the Barmecide. He at length came to a large square building in a most beautiful style of architecture, into which he entered by a vestibule that led to a fine garden, the walks of which were formed of stones of different colors very pleasant to the eye. The apartments which surrounded this building on the ground floor were almost all open, and shaded only by some large curtains in order to keep out the sun, and which were drawn aside to admit the fresh air when the heat began to subside.  3
  Schacabac would have been most highly delighted in so pleasant a spot, had his mind been sufficiently at ease to have enjoyed it. He advanced still farther, and entered a hall which was very richly furnished, and ornamented with foliage, painted in azure and gold. He perceived a venerable old man, whose beard was long and white, sitting on a sofa and in the most distinguished place. Hence he judged it was the master of the house. In fact, it was the Barmecide himself, who told him in an obliging manner that he was welcome, and asked him what he wished. “My lord,” answered my brother in a lamentable tone, in order to excite his pity, “I am a poor man, who stands very much in need of the assistance of such powerful and generous persons as yourself.” He could not have done better than address himself to the person he did, for he was possessed of a thousand amiable qualities.  4
  The Barmecide was much astonished at my brother’s answer; and putting both his hands to his breast, as if to tear his habit, as a mark of commiseration, “Is it possible,” he cried, “that I should live at Bagdad, and that such a man as you should be so much distressed as you say you are? I cannot suffer this.” At this exclamation my brother, thinking he was going to give him a singular proof of his liberality, wished him every blessing. “It shall never be said,” replied the Barmecide, “that I abandon you, nor do I intend that you shall again leave me.” “Sir,” replied my brother, “I swear to you that I have not eaten anything this day.” “What!” cried the Barmecide, “is it true that at this late hour you have not yet broken your fast? Alas! poor man, he will die with hunger! Here, boy,” added he, raising his voice, “bring us instantly a basin of water, that we may wash our hands.”  5
  Although no boy made his appearance, and my brother observed neither basin nor water, the Barmecide nevertheless began to rub his hands, as if some one held the water for him; and while he was doing this, he said to my brother, “Come close, and wash along with me.” Schacabac by this supposed that the Barmecide was fond of fun, and as he himself liked a little raillery, and was not ignorant of the submission the rich expected from the poor, he approached him and did the same.  6
  “Come,” said the Barmecide, “now bring us something to eat, and mind you do not keep us waiting.” He had no sooner said this than he began, although nothing had been brought to eat, as if he had taken something in his plate, and pretended to put it to his mouth and chew it, calling out at the same time to my brother, “Eat, I entreat you, my guest; make yourself quite at home. Eat, I beg of you; you seem, for a hungry man, to have but a very poor appetite.” “Pardon me, my lord,” replied Schacabac, imitating his motions at the same time very accurately, “you see I lose no time, and understand my business very well.” “What think you of this bread?” said the Barmecide; “don’t you find it excellent?” “In truth, my lord,” answered my brother, who in fact saw neither bread nor meat, “I never ate anything more white or delicate.” “Eat your fill, then,” rejoined the Barmecide; “the slave who made this excellent bread cost me, I assure you, five hundred pieces of gold.” Then continuing to praise the female slave who was his baker, and boasting of his bread, which my brother only devoured in idea, he said, “Boy, bring us another dish. Come, my friend,” he continued to my brother, though no other boy appeared, “taste this fresh dish, and tell me if you have ever eaten any boiled mutton and barley better dressed than this.” “Oh, it is admirable!” answered my brother; “I therefore, you see, help myself very plentifully.” “It affords me great pleasure,” added the Barmecide, “to see you; and I entreat you not to suffer any of these dishes to be taken away, since you find them so much to your taste.”  7
  He presently called for a goose with sweet sauce, and dressed with vinegar, honey, dried raisins, gray peas, and dried figs. This was brought in the same manner as the mutton had been. “This goose is nice and fat,” said the Barmecide; “here, take only a wing and a thigh, for you must nurse your appetite, as there are many more things yet to come.” In short, he called for many other dishes of different kinds, of which my brother, all the time dying with hunger, continued to pretend to eat. But what he boasted the most of was a lamb that had been fatted with pistachio-nuts, and which he ordered, and was served in the same manner as the other dishes had been. “Now this,” said he, “is a dish you never meet with anywhere but at my table, and I wish you to eat your fill of it.” As he said this, he pretended to take a piece in his hand, and putting it to my brother’s mouth, “Take and eat this,” he said, “and you will not think ill of my judgment in boasting of this dish.” My brother held his head forward, opened his mouth, pretended to take the piece, and to chew and swallow it with the greatest pleasure. “I was quite sure,” said the Barmecide, “you would think it excellent.” “Nothing can be more so,” replied Schacabac; “in short, no table can be more deliciously served than yours.” “Now bring me the ragout,” said the other; “and I do not think you will be less pleased with that than with the lamb. Well, what do you think of it?” “It is wonderful,” answered my brother; “we at the same time have in this the flavor of amber, cloves, nutmegs, ginger, pepper, and sweet herbs, and yet they are all so well balanced that the presence of one does not prevent the flavor of the rest. How delicious it is!” “Do justice to it, then,” cried the Barmecide, “and eat heartily, I beg. Hullo, boy,” cried he, raising his voice, “bring us a fresh ragout!” “Oh, no, if you please,” said Schacabac, “for in truth, my lord, I cannot indeed eat any more.”  8
  “Let the dessert, then,” said the Barmecide, “be served, and the fruit brought.” He then waited for a few moments, in order to give the servants time to change the dishes; then, resuming his speech, he said, “Taste these almonds; they are just gathered, and very good.” They then both pretended to take the skin off the almonds and eat them. The Barmecide after this invited my brother to partake of many other things. “Here are, you see,” said he, “all sorts of fruits, cakes, dried comfits, and preserves; take what you like.” Then stretching out his hand as if he was going to give him something, “Take this lozenge,” he said, “it is excellent to assist digestion.” Schacabac pretended to take and eat it. “Here is no want of musk in this, my lord.” “I have these lozenges made at home,” said the Barmecide; “and for these, as well as everything else in my house, nothing is spared.” He still continued to persuade my brother to eat. “For a man,” he said, “who was almost starving when he came here, you have really eaten hardly anything.” “My lord,” replied Schacabac, whose jaws were weary of chewing nothing, “I assure you I am so full that I cannot eat a morsel more.”  9
  “Well, then,” cried the Barmecide, “after having eaten so heartily, it is necessary to drink a little. You have no objection to good wine?” “My lord,” replied my brother, “if you will excuse me, I never drink wine, because it is forbidden me.” “Oh, you are too scrupulous,” said the other; “come, come, do as I do.” “To oblige you, then,” replied Schacabac, “I will; for I observe you do not like that anything should be omitted in our feast. But as I am not in the habit of drinking wine, I am fearful of being guilty of some fault against good breeding, and even against the respect that is due to you. It is for this reason that I still entreat you to excuse my drinking any wine; I shall be well satisfied with water.” “No, no,” said the Barmecide, “you must drink wine.” At the same time, he ordered some to be brought. But the wine, like the dinner and dessert, never in reality appeared. He then pretended to pour some out, and drank the first glass. After that he poured out another glass for my brother, and presenting it to him, “Come, drink my health,” he cried, “and tell me if you think the wine good!”  10
  My brother took the ideal glass, and first holding it up and looking to see if it were of a good bright color, he put it to his nose in order to examine if it had an agreeable perfume; he then, making a most profound reverence to the Barmecide, to show that he took the liberty to drink his health, drank it off, accompanied at the same time with proofs of receiving great pleasure from the draft. “My lord,” he said, “I find this wine excellent; but it does not seem to me quite strong enough.” “You have only to speak,” replied the other, “if you wish for any stronger. I have various sorts in my cellar. We will see if this will suit you better.” He then pretended to pour out some of another sort for himself, and also some for my brother. He did this so frequently that Schacabac, pretending that the wine had got into his head, feigned to be drunk. He raised his hand and gave the Barmecide such a violent blow that he knocked him down. He was going to strike him a second time, but the Barmecide, holding out his hand to avoid the blow, called out, “Are you mad?” My brother then recollecting himself, said, “My lord, you had the goodness to receive your slave into your house, and to make a great feast for him; you ought to have been satisfied with having made him eat, and not compelled him to drink wine. I told you at first that I should be guilty of some disrespect; I am very sorry for it, and ask you a thousand pardons.”  11
  He had hardly finished this speech before the Barmecide, instead of putting himself into a great passion and being angry, burst into a violent fit of laughter. “I have searched for a long time,” said he, “for a person of your disposition. I not only pardon the blow you have given me, but from this moment I wish to look upon you as one of my friends, and that you shall make no other house than mine your home. You have had the complaisance to accommodate yourself to my humor, and the patience to carry on the pleasantry to the end; but we will now eat in reality.”  12
  Having said this, he clapped his hands, when several slaves instantly appeared, whom he ordered to set out the table and serve up dinner. His commands were quickly obeyed, and my brother was now in reality treated with all the dishes he had before partaken of in idea. As soon as the table was cleared, they brought some wine; and a number of beautiful female slaves, most richly dressed, appeared, and began to sing some pleasant airs to the sound of instruments. Schacabac had in the end every reason to be satisfied with the kindness and civility of the Barmecide, who took a great fancy to him, and treated him in the most familiar manner. He also gave him a handsome dress from his own wardrobe  13
 
 
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