The Story of the Barber’s Fifth Brother
As long as our father lived Alnaschar was very idle. Instead of working for his bread he was not ashamed to ask for it every evening, and to support himself next day on what he had received the night before. When our father died of old age, he only left seven hundred silver coins to be divided amongst us, which made one hundred for each son. Alnaschar, who had never had so much money in his life, was quite puzzled to know what to do with it. After thinking about the matter for some time he decided to buy glasses, bottles, and things of that sort, which he would buy from a wholesale merchant. Having bought his stock he next went to look for a small shop in a good position, where he sat down at the open door, his goods being piled up in an uncovered basket in front of him, waiting for a customer among the passers-by.
He remained seated, his eyes fixed on the basket, but his thoughts far away. Unknown to himself he began to talk out loud, and a tailor, whose shop was next door to his, heard quite plainly what he was saying.
“This basket,” said Alnaschar to himself, “has cost me a hundred silver coins and is all that I possess in the world. Now in selling the contents I shall make two hundred, and with this money I shall again buy more glass, which will produce four hundred. By this means I shall, in the course of time, make four thousand silver coins, which will easily double themselves. When I have got ten thousand I will give up the glass trade and become a jeweler, and spend all my time trading in pearls, diamonds, and other precious stones. At last, having all the wealth that the heart can desire, I will buy a beautiful country house, with horses and slaves, and then I will lead a merry life and entertain my friends. At my feasts I will send for musicians and dancers from the neighboring town to amuse my guests. In spite of my riches I shall not, however, give up trade till I have a hundred thousand silver coins, when, I shall request the hand of the grand-vizier’s daughter, taking care to inform the father that I have heard favourable reports of her beauty and wit, and that I will pay down on our wedding day three thousand gold pieces. Should the vizier refuse my proposal, which after all is hardly to be expected, I will seize him by the beard and drag him to my house.”
When I shall have married his daughter I will give her ten of the best servants that can be found for her service. Then I shall put on my most beautiful robes, and mounted on a horse with a saddle of fine gold, and blazing with diamonds, followed by a line of slaves, I shall present myself at the house of the grand-vizier, the people bowing low as I pass by. At the foot of the grand-vizier’s staircase I shall dismount, and while my servants stand in a row I shall climb the stairs, at the head of which the grand-vizier will be waiting to receive me. He will then embrace me as his son-in-law. Then two of my servants will enter, each carrying a purse containing a thousand pieces of gold. One of these I shall present to him saying, “Here are the thousand gold pieces that I offered for your daughter’s hand, and here,” I shall continue, holding out the second purse, “are another thousand to show you that I am a man who is better than his word.” After hearing of such generosity the world will talk of nothing else.
I shall return home in the same way as I set out. I shall never allow my wife to leave her rooms for any reason without my permission. No house will be better ordered than mine, and I shall take care always to be dressed in a manner suitable to my position. In the evening, when we retire to our rooms, I shall sit in the place of honour, where I shall speak little, gazing straight before me, and when my wife, lovely as the full moon, stands humbly in front of my chair I shall pretend not to see her. Then her women will say to me, “Respected lord and master, your wife and slave is before you waiting to be noticed. She is horrified that you never look her way; she is tired of standing so long. Let her, we beg you, to be seated.” Of course I shall give no signs of even hearing this speech, which will upset them greatly. They will throw themselves at my feet crying, and at last I will raise my head and throw a glance at her. The women will think that I am displeased at my wife’s dress and will lead her away to put on a finer one, and I shall replace the one I am wearing with another yet more splendid. They will then return, but this time it will take much longer before they persuade me even to look at my wife. It is good to begin on my wedding-day as I mean to go on for the rest of our lives.
The next day she will complain to her mother of the way she has been treated, which will fill my heart with joy. Her mother will come to seek me, and, kissing my hands with respect, will say, “My lord, do not, I beg you, refuse to look upon my daughter or to approach her. She only lives to please you, and loves you with all her soul.” But I shall pay no more attention to my mother-in-law’s words than I did to those of the women. Again she will beg me to listen to her, throwing herself this time at my feet, but all in vain. Then, putting a glass of wine into my wife’s hand, she will say to her, “There, present that to him yourself, for he cannot have the cruelty to reject anything offered by so beautiful a hand,” And my wife will take it and offer it to me trembling with tears in her eyes, but I shall look in the other direction. This will cause her to weep still more, and she will hold out the glass crying, “Adorable husband, never shall I stop my prayers till you have done me the favour to drink.” Sick of her begging, these words will drive me to fury. I shall give an angry look at her and then a sharp blow on the cheek, at the same time giving her a kick so violent that she will stagger across the room and fall onto the sofa.
“My brother,” said the barber, “was so much absorbed in his dreams that he actually did give a kick with his foot, which unluckily hit the basket of glass. It fell into the street and was instantly broken into a thousand pieces.”
His neighbor the tailor, who had been listening to his visions, broke into a loud fit of laughter as he saw this sight.
“Wretched man!” he cried, “You ought to die of shame at behaving so to a young wife who has done nothing to you. You must be too cruel for her tears and prayers not to touch your heart. If I were the grand-vizier I would order you a hundred blows from a whip, and would have you led round the town accompanied by a herald who should announce your crimes.”
The accident, had brought my brother to his senses, and seeing that the problem had been caused by his own pride, he tore his clothes and hair, and cried himself so loudly that the passers-by stopped to listen. It was a Friday, so there were more than usual. Some pitied Alnaschar, others only laughed at him, but the daydream had disappeared with his basket of glass. He was loudly crying of his foolishness when an important looking lady, rode by on a mule. She stopped and asked what the matter was, and why the man wept. They told her that he was a poor man who had spent all his money on this basket of glass, which was now broken. On hearing the cause of these loud cries the lady turned to her servant and said to him, “Give him whatever you have got with you.” The man obeyed, and placed in my brother’s hands a purse containing five hundred pieces of gold. Alnaschar almost died of joy on receiving it. He blessed the lady a thousand times, and, shutting up his shop where he had no longer anything to do, he returned home.
He was still thinking about his good fortune, when a knock came to his door, and on opening it he found an old woman standing outside.
“My son,” she said, “I have a favour to ask of you. It is the hour of prayer and I have not yet washed myself. Let me, I beg you, enter your house, and give me water.”
My brother, although the old woman was a stranger to him, did not hesitate to do as she wished. He gave her a basin of water and then went back to his place and his thoughts, and with his mind busy over his last adventure, he put his gold into a long and narrow purse, which he could easily carry in his belt. During this time the old woman was busy over her prayers, and when she had finished she came and bowed herself twice before my brother, and then rising called down blessings on him. Seeing her shabby clothes, my brother thought that her gratitude was in reality a hint that he should give her some money to buy some new ones, so he held out two pieces of gold. The old woman started back in surprise as if she had received an insult. “Good heavens!” she exclaimed, “What is the meaning of this? Is it possible that you take me, my lord, for one of those miserable creatures who force their way into houses to beg? Take back your money. I am thankful to say I do not need it, for I belong to a beautiful lady who is very rich and gives me everything I want.”
My brother was not clever enough to realize that the old woman had merely refused the two pieces of money he had offered her in order to get more, but he asked if she could give him the pleasure of seeing this lady.
“Willingly,” she replied, “And she will be happy to marry you, and to make you the master of all her wealth. So pick up your money and follow me.”
Delighted at the thought that he had found so easily both a fortune and a beautiful wife, my brother asked no more questions, but hiding his purse, with the money the lady had given him, in his pocket, he set out joyfully with the old lady.
They walked for some distance till the old woman stopped at a large house, where she knocked. The door was opened by a young Greek slave, and the old woman led my brother across a court into a hall. Here she left him to tell her mistress of his presence, and as the day was hot he flung himself on a pile of cushions and took off his heavy turban. In a few minutes there entered a lady, and my brother saw immediately that she was even more beautiful and more richly dressed than he had expected. He rose from his seat, but the lady told him to sit down again and placed herself beside him. After chatting a while she said, “We are not comfortable here, let us go into another room,” and entering a smaller room, she continued to talk to him for some time. Then rising quickly she left him, saying, “Stay where you are, I will come back in a moment.”
He waited as he was told, but instead of the lady there entered a huge black slave with a sword in his hand. Approaching my brother with an angry face he exclaimed, “What business have you here?” His voice and manner were so terrifying that Alnaschar could not reply, and allowed his gold to be taken from him, and even to be cut with the sabre without making any resistance. As soon as he was let go, he sank on the ground powerless to move. Thinking he was dead, the black ordered the Greek slave to bring him some salt, and between them they rubbed it into his wounds, thus causing him great pain, but he still pretended to be dead. They then left him, and their place was taken by the old woman, who dragged him to a trapdoor and threw him down into a room filled with the bodies of murdered men.
At first the fall caused him to lose consciousness, but little by little he regained his strength. At the end of two days he lifted the trapdoor during the night and hid himself in the courtyard till daybreak, when he saw the old woman leave the house in search of more victims. Luckily she did not notice him, and when she was out of sight he sneaked from this terrible place and stayed in my house.
I bandaged his wounds and looked after him carefully, and when a month had passed he was as well as ever. His one thought was how to be revenged on that wicked old woman, and for this purpose he had a purse made large enough to contain five hundred gold pieces, but filled it instead with bits of glass. This he tied round him with his belt, and, disguising himself as an old woman, he took a sabre, which he hid under his dress.
One morning as he was walking through the streets he met his old enemy looking to see if she could find anyone to rob. He went up to her and, imitating the voice of a woman, he said, “Do you happen to have a pair of scales you could lend me? I have just come from Persia and have brought with me five hundred gold pieces, and I am anxious to see if they are the proper weight.”
“Good woman,” replied the old hag, “you could not have asked anyone better. My son is a money-changer, and if you will follow me he will weigh them for you himself. Only we must be quick or he will have gone to his shop.” So saying she led the way to the same house as before, and the door was opened by the same Greek slave.
Again my brother was left in the hall, and the false son appeared in the form of the black slave. “Miserable old woman,” he said to my brother, “Get up and come with me,” and turned to lead the way to the place of murder. Alnaschar rose too, and drawing the sabre from under his dress dealt the black such a blow on his neck that his head was severed from his body. My brother picked up the head with one hand, and seizing the body with the other dragged it to the vault, when he threw it in and sent the head after it. The Greek slave, supposing that all had passed as usual, shortly arrived with the basin of salt, but when she saw Alnaschar with the sabre in his hand she let the basin fall and turned to flee. My brother, however, was too quick for her, and in another instant her head was rolling from her shoulders. The noise brought the old woman running to see what the matter was, and he seized her before she had time to escape. “Wretch!” he cried, “do you know me?”
“Who are you, my lord?” she replied trembling all over. “I have never seen you before.”
“I am he whose house you entered to offer your prayers. Don’t you remember now?”
She flung herself on her knees to beg mercy, but he cut her into four pieces.
There remained only the lady, who didn’t know what was taking place around her. He searched for her through the house, and when at last he found her, she nearly fainted with terror at the sight of him. She begged hard for her life, which he was generous enough to give her, but he ordered her to tell him how she had got into partnership with the terrible creatures he had just put to death.
“I was once,” replied she, “the wife of an honest merchant, and that old woman, whose wickedness I did not know, used occasionally to visit me.’Madam,’ she said to me one day, ‘We have a grand wedding at our house today. If you would do us the honour to be present, I am sure you would enjoy yourself.’ I allowed myself to be persuaded, put on my best dress, and took a purse with a hundred pieces of gold. Once inside the doors I was kept by force by those dreadful people, and it is now three years that I have been here, to my great grief.”
“Those horrible people must have great wealth,” remarked my brother.
“Such wealth,” she replied, “that if you succeed in carrying it all away it will make you rich for ever. Come and let us see how much there is.”
She led Alnaschar into a room filled with gold, which he gazed at with an admiration. “Go,” she said, “and bring men to carry it away.”
My brother did not wait to be told twice, and hurried out into the streets, where he soon collected ten men. They all came back to the house, but what was his surprise to find the door open, and the room with the chests of gold quite empty. The lady had been cleverer than himself, and had made the best use of her time. However, he took all the beautiful furniture, which more than made up for the five hundred gold pieces he had lost.
Unluckily, on leaving the house, he forgot to lock the door, and the neighbours, finding the place empty, informed the police, who the next morning arrested Alnaschar as a thief. They tied his hands, and forced him to walk between them to a judge. When they had explained to the judge what he had done wrong, he asked Alnaschar where he had obtained all the furniture that he had taken to his house the day before.
“Sir,” replied Alnaschar, “I am ready to tell you the whole story, but promise that I shall not be punished.”
“That I promise,” said the judge. So my brother began at the beginning and told of all his adventures, and how he had avenged himself on those who had betrayed him. As to the furniture, he begged the judge at least to allow him to keep part to make up for the five hundred pieces of gold which had been stolen from him.
The judge, however, would say nothing about this, and immediately sent men to fetch away all that Alnaschar had taken from the house. When everything had been moved and placed under his roof he ordered my brother to leave the town and never more to enter it again or he would be put to death, because he feared that if he returned he might seek justice from the Caliph. Alnaschar obeyed, and was on his way to a neighbouring city when he met a band of robbers, who stripped him of his clothes and left him naked by the roadside. Hearing of his plight, I hurried after him to help, and to dress him in my best robe. I then brought him back disguised, at night, to my house, where I have since given him all the care I give my other brothers.