The Story of the Barber’s Sixth Brother
Now let me tell you the story of my sixth brother, whose name was Schacabac. Like the rest of us, he inherited a hundred silver coins from our father, which he thought was a large fortune, but through ill-luck, he soon lost it all, and was forced to beg. As he was well spoken and had 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 he could meet their masters.
One day he was passing a splendid mansion, with a crowd of servants in the courtyard. He thought that from the appearance of the house it might be good for him, so he entered and asked 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 generosity. My brother, hearing this, started to beg from the servants. 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 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 asked him for help.
“My lord,” he said, “you see in me a poor man who only lives by the help of persons as rich and as generous as you.”
Before he could continue, he was stopped by the astonishment shown by the Barmecide. “Is it possible,” he cried, “that while I am in Baghdad, 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 eaten this whole day.”
“What, you are dying of hunger?” exclaimed the Barmecide. “Here, slave, bring water so that we may wash our hands before eating!” No slave appeared, but my brother noticed that the Barmecide rubbed 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, drew near, and imitated him.
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 put some food in his mouth, saying as he did so, “Eat, my friend, eat, please. Help yourself as if you were at home! For a starving man, you seem to have a very small appetite.”
“Excuse me, my lord,” replied Schacabac, imitating his gestures as before.”
“How do you like this bread?” asked the Barmecide. “I find it particularly good myself.”
“Oh, my lord,” answered my brother, who saw 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 each one, the Barmecide declared that having dined so well, they would now drink some wine. The Barmecide, however, pretended to fill their glasses so often, that my brother pretended to be drunk, 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 apologized and said 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 from now on my house shall be yours. You have had the good grace to go along with my joke, 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, slaves sang and played on various instruments. All the while Schacabac was treated by the Barmecide as a 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 friend died without heirs, so all his possessions went to the prince. They even took away from my brother those that rightly belonged to him, and he, now as poor as he had ever been in his life, decided to join a caravan of pilgrims who were on their way to a holy place. Unluckily, the caravan was attacked and robbed, and the pilgrims were taken prisoners. My brother became the slave of a man who beat him daily, hoping to make him offer a ransom, although, as Schacabac pointed out, it was quite useless trouble, as his relations were as poor as himself. At last the Bedouin grew tired of beating him, 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 Baghdad, told me where he was to be found, and I hurried to his rescue, and brought him in a poor condition back to the town.
The tailor then spoke.”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 remove suspicion from ourselves, we carried the body to the house of a physician. He placed it in the room of the supplier, and the supplier propped it up in the street, where it was thought to have been killed by the merchant.”
“This, Sire, is the story which I had 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 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 body 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 official go with you at once in search of him.”
The official 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 these three men, 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 ordered that the tale of the hunchback 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. 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 hunchback sneezed, stretched himself and opened his eyes.
The Sultan and all those who saw this operation did not know which to admire most, the health 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 ordered that the history of the hunchback should be written down, and placed in the royal library beside that of the barber. And he did not stop there. He ordered that the tailor, the doctor, the supplier and the merchant, should each be clothed with a robe from his own wardrobe before they returned home. As for the barber, he gave him a large pension, and kept him near.