|A manuscript of 1001 Nights|
Stories from the Thousand and One Nights.
Vol. 16, pp. 120-133 of The Harvard Classics
A handsome young man was seen to eat only with his left hand, which was contrary to the customs of Arabia. The youth, when urged, told why he used only his left hand, and revealed a story of love and adventure and the lover's need for gold - all happening in ancient Cairo.
The Story Told by the Christian Broker
He was absent from me a month, at the expiration of which he came and said to me, Where is the money? I answered, Here it is, ready. And he said, Keep it until I come to thee to receive it. And I remained expecting him; but he was absent from me another month; after which he came again, and said, Where is the money? Whereupon I arose and saluted him, and said to him, Wilt thou eat something with us? He, however, declined, and said, Keep the money until I shall have gone and returned to receive it from thee. He then departed; and I arose; and prepared for him the money, and sat expecting him; but again he absented himself from me for a month, and then came and said, After this day I will receive it from thee. And he departed, and I made ready the money for him as before, and sat waiting his return. Again, however, he remained a month absent from me, and I said within myself, Verily this young man is endowed with consummate liberality! After the month he came, attired in rich clothing, and resembling the full moon, appearing as if he had just come out of the bath, with red cheek and fair forehead, and a mole like a globule of ambergris. When I beheld him I kissed his hand, and invoked a blessing upon him, and said to him, O my master, wilt thou not take thy money?—Have patience with me, he answered, until I shall have transacted all my affairs, after which I will receive it from thee. And so saying, he departed; and I said within myself, By Allah, when he cometh I will entertain him as a guest, on account of the profit which I have derived from his money; for great wealth hath accrued to me from it.
At the close of the year he returned, clad in a dress richer than the former; and I swore to him that he should alight to be my guest.—On the condition, he replied, that thou expend nothing of my money that is in thy possession. I said, Well:—and, having seated him, prepared what was requisite of meats and drinks and other provisions, and placed them before him, saying, In the name of Allah! And he drew near to the table, and put forth his left hand, and thus ate with me: so I was surprised at him; 3 and when we had finished he washed his hand, and I gave him a napkin with which to wipe it. We then sat down to converse, and I said, O my master, dispel a trouble from my mind. Wherefore didst thou eat with thy left hand? Probably something paineth thee in thy right hand?—On hearing these words, he stretched forth his arm from his sleeve, and behold, it was maimed—an arm without a hand! And I wondered at this; but he said to me, Wonder not; nor say in thy heart that I ate with thee with my left hand from a motive of self—conceit; for rather to be wondered at is the cause of the cutting off of my right hand. And what, said I, was the cause of it? He answered thus:—
Know that I am from Baghdad: my father was one of the chief people of that city; and when I had attained the age of manhood, I heard the wanderers and travellers and merchants conversing respecting the land of Egypt, and their words remained in my heart until my father died, when I took large sums of money, and prepared merchandise consisting of the stuffs of Baghdad and of El-Mosil, and similar precious goods, and, having packed them up, journeyed from Baghdad; and God decreed me safety until I entered this your city. And so saying, he wept, and repeated these verses:—
The blear-eyed escapeth a pit into which the clear-sighted falleth;
And the ignorant, an expression by which the shrewd sage is ruined.
The believer can scarce earn his food, while the impious infidel is favoured.
What art or act can a man devise? It is what the Almighty appointeth!
I entered Cairo, continued the young man, and deposited the stuffs in the Khan of Mesrur, 4and, having unbound my packages and put them in the magazines, gave to the servant some money to buy for us something to eat, after which I slept a little; and when I arose, I went to Beyn El-Kasreyn. I then returned, and passed the night; and in the morning following, I opened a bale of stuff, and said within myself, I will arise and go through some of the market-streets, and see the state of the mart. So I took some stuff, and made some of my servants carry it, and proceeded until I arrived at the Keysariyeh 5 of Jaharkas, where the brokers came to me, having heard of my arrival, and took from me the stuff, and cried it about for sale; but the price bidden amounted not to the prime cost. And upon this the Sheykh of the brokers said to me, O my master, I know a plan by which thou mayest profit; and it is this: that thou do as other merchants, and sell thy merchandise upon credit for a certain period, employing a scrivener and a witness and a money-changer, and receive a portion of the profits every Thursday and Monday; so shalt thou make of a very piece of silver two; and besides that, thou wilt be able to enjoy the amusements afforded by Egypt and its Nile.—The advice is judicious, I replied: and accordingly I took the brokers with me to the Khan, and they conveyed the stuffs to the Keysariyeh, where I sold it to the merchants, writing a bond in their names, which I committed to the money-changer, and taking from him a corresponding bond. I then returned to the Khan, and remained there some days; and every day I took for my breakfast a cup of wine, and had mutton and sweet-meats prepared for me, until the month in which I became entitled to the receipt of the profits, when I seated myself every Thursday and Monday at the shops of the merchants, and the money-changer went with the scrivener and brought me the money.
Thus did I until one day I went to the bath and returned to the Khan, and, entering my lodging, took for my breakfast a cup of wine, and then slept; and when I awoke I ate a fowl, and perfumed myself with essence, and repaired to the shop of a merchant named Bedr-ed-Din the Gardener, who, when he saw me, welcomed me, and conversed with me a while in his shop; and as we were thus engaged, lo, a female came and seated herself by my side. She wore a headkerchief inclined on one side, and the odours of sweet perfumes were diffused from her, and she captivated my reason by her beauty and loveliness as she raised her izar and I beheld her black eyes. She saluted Bedr-ed-Din, and he returned her salutation, and stood conversing with her; and when I heard her speech, love for her took entire possession of my heart. She then said to Bedr-ed-Din, Hast thou a piece of stuff woven with pure gold thread? And he produced to her a piece; and she said, May I take it and go, and then send thee the price? But he answered, It is impossible, O my mistress; for this is the owner of the stuff, and I owe him a portion of the profit.—Woe to thee! said she: it is my custom to take of thee each piece of stuff for a considerable sum of money, giving thee a gain beyond thy wish, and then to send thee the price.—Yes, he rejoined; but I am in absolute want of the price this day. And upon this she took the piece and threw it back to him upon his breast, saying, Verily your class knows not how to respect any person’s rank! And she arose, and turned away. I felt then as if my soul went with her, and, rising upon my feet, I said to her, O my mistress, kindly bestow a look upon me, and retrace thine honoured steps. And she returned, and smiled and said, For thy sake I return. And she sat opposite me upon the seat of the shop; and I said to Bedr-ed-Din, What is the price that thou hast agreed to give for this piece? He answered, Eleven hundred pieces of silver. And I said to him, Thy profit shall be a hundred pieces of silver: give me then a paper, and I will write for thee the price upon it. I then took the piece of stuff from him, and wrote him the paper with my own hand, and gave the piece of stuff to the lady, saying to her, Take it and go; and if thou wilt, bring the price to me in the market; or, if thou wilt, it shall be my present to thee. She replied, God recompense thee, and bless thee with my property, and make thee my husband; and may God accept this prayer!—O my mistress, said I, let this piece of stuff be thine, and another like it, and permit me to see thy face. And upon this she raised her veil; and when I beheld her face, the sight drew from me a thousand sighs, and my heart was entangled by her love, so that I no longer remained master of my reason. She then lowered the veil again, and took the piece of stuff, saying, O my master, leave me not desolate. So she departed, while I continued sitting in the market-street until past the hour of afternoon-prayer, with wandering mind, overpowered by love. In the excess of my passion, before I rose I asked the merchant respecting her; and he answered me, She is a rich lady, the daughter of a deceased Emir, who left her great property.
I then took leave of him, and returned to the Khan, and the supper was placed before me; but, reflecting upon her, I could eat nothing. I laid myself down to rest; but sleep came not to me, and I remained awake until the morning, when I arose and put on a suit of clotting different from that which I had worn the day before; and, having drunk a cup of wine, and eaten a few morsels as my breakfast, repaired again to the shop of the merchant, and saluted him, and sat down with him. The lady soon came, wearing a dress more rich than the former, and attended by a slave-girl; and she seated herself, and saluted me instead of Bedr-ed-Din, and said, with an eloquent tongue which I had never heard surpassed in softness or sweetness, Send with me some one to receive the twelve hundred pieces of silver, the price of the piece of stuff.—Wherefore, said I, this haste? She replied, May we never lose thee! And she handed to me the price; and I sat conversing with her, and made a sign to her, which she understood, intimating my wish to visit her: whereupon she rose in haste, expressing displeasure at my hint. My heart clung to her, and I followed in the direction of her steps through the market-street; and lo, a slave-girl came to me, and said, O my master, answer the summons of my mistress. Wondering at this, I said, No one here knoweth me.—How soon, she rejoined, hast thou forgotten her! My mistress is she who was to-day at the shop of the merchant Bedr-ed-Din,—So I went with her until we arrived at the money-changer’s; and when her mistress, who was there, beheld me, she drew me to her side, and said, O my beloved, thou hast wounded my heart, and love of thee hath taken possession of it; and from the time that I first saw thee, neither sleep nor food nor drink hath been pleasant to me. I replied, And more than that do I feel; and the state in which I am needs no complaint to testify it.—Then shall I visit thee, O my beloved, she asked, or wilt thou come to me? [For our marriage must be a secret.]—I am a stranger, I answered, and have no place of reception but the Khan; therefore, if thou wilt kindly permit me to go to thine abode, the pleasure will be perfect.—Well, she replied; but to-night is the eve of Friday, and let nothing be done till to-morrow, when, after thou hast joined in the prayers, do thou mount thine ass, and inquire for the Habbaniyeh; and when thou hast arrived there, ask for the house called the Ka’ah of Barakat the Nakib, 6 known by the surname of Abu-Shameh; for there do I reside; and delay not; for I shall be anxiously expecting thee.
On hearing this I rejoiced exceedingly, and we parted; and I returned to the Khan in which I lodged. I passed the whole night sleepless, and was scarcely sure that the daybreak had appeared when I rose and changed my clothes, and, having perfumed myself with essences and sweet scents, took with me fifty pieces of gold in a handkerchief, and walked from the Khan of Mesrur to Bab Zuweyleh, 7 where I mounted an ass, and said to its owner, Go with me to the Habbaniyeh. And in less than the twinkling of an eye he set off, and soon he stopped at a by-street called Darb El-Munakkiri, when I said to him, Enter the street, and inquire for the Ka’ah of the Nakib. He was absent but a little while, and, returning, said, Alight.—Walk on before me, said I, to the Ka’ah. And he went on until he had led me to the house; whereupon I said to him, Tomorrow come to me hither to convey me back.—In the name of Allah, he replied: and I handed to him a quarter of a piece of gold, and he took it and departed. I then knocked at the door, and there came forth to me two young virgins in whom the forms of womanhood had just developed themselves, resembling two moons, and they said, Enter; for our mistress is expecting thee, and she hath not slept last night from her excessive love for thee. I entered an upper saloon with seven doors: around it were latticed windows looking upon a garden in which were fruits of every kind, and running streams and singing birds: it was plastered with imperial gypsum, in which a man might see his face reflected: its roof was ornamented with gilding, and surrounded by inscriptions in letters of gold upon a ground of ultramarine: it comprised a variety of beauties, and shone in the eyes of beholders: the pavement was of coloured marbles, having in the midst of it a fountain, with four snakes of red gold casting forth water from their mouths like pearls and jewels at the corners of the pool; and it was furnished with carpets of coloured silk, and mattresses.
Having entered, I seated myself; and scarcely had I done so when the lady approached me. She wore a crown set with pearls and jewels; her hands and feet were stained with henna; and her bosom was ornamented with gold. As soon as she beheld me she smiled in my face, and embraced me, saying, Is it true that thou hast come to me, or is this a dream?—I am thy slave, I answered: and she said, Thou art welcome. Verily, from the time when I first saw thee, neither sleep hath been sweet to me nor hath food been pleasant!—In such case have I been, I replied;—and we sat down to converse; but I hung down my head towards the ground, in bashfulness; and not long had I thus remained when a repast was placed before me, consisting of the most exquisite dishes, as fricandoes and hashes and stuffed fowls. I ate with her until we were satisfied; when they brought the basin and ewer, and I washed my hands; after which we perfumed ourselves with rose—water infused with musk, and sat down again to converse; expressing to each other our mutual passion; and her love took such possession of me that all the wealth I possessed seemed worthless in comparison. In this manner we continued to enjoy ourselves until, night approaching, the female slaves brought supper and wine, a complete service; and we drank until midnight. Never in my life had I passed such a night. And when morning came, I arose, and, having thrown to her the handkerchief containing the pieces of gold, I took leave of her and went out; but as I did so she wept, and said, O my master, when shall I see again this lovely face? I answered her, I will be with thee at the commencement of the night. And when I went forth, I found the owner of the ass, who had brought me the day before, waiting for me at the door; and I mounted, and returned with him to the Khan of Mesrur, where I alighted, and gave to him half a piece of gold, saying to him, Come hither at sunset. He replied, On the head be thy command.
I entered the Khan, and ate my breakfast, and then went forth to collect the price of my stuffs; after which I returned. I had prepared for my wife a roasted lamb, and purchased some sweetmeat; and I now called the porter, described to him the house, and gave him his hire. Having done this, I occupied myself again with my business until sunset, when the owner of the ass came, and I took fifty pieces of gold, and put them into a handkerchief. Entering the house, I found that they had wiped the marble and polished the vessels of copper and brass, and filled the lamps and lighted the candles, and dished the supper and strained the wine; and when my wife saw me, she threw her arms around my neck, and said, Thou hast made me desolate by thine absence! The tables were then placed before us, and we ate until we were satisfied, and the slave-girls took away the first table, and placed before us the wine; and we sat drinking, and eating of the dried fruits, and making merry, until midnight. We then slept until morning, when I arose and handed her the fifty pieces of gold as before, and left her.
Thus I continued to do for a long time, until I passed the night and awoke possessing not a piece of silver nor one of gold; and I said within myself, This is of the work of the Devil! And I repeated these verses:—
Poverty causeth the lustre of a man to grow dim, like the yellowness of the setting sun.
When absent, he is not remembered among mankind; and when present, he shareth not their pleasures.
In the market-streets he shunneth notice; and in desert places he poureth forth his tears.
By Allah! a man, among his own relations, when afflicted with poverty, is as a stranger!
With these reflections I walked forth into Beyn El-Kasreyn, and proceeded thence to Bab Zuweyleh, where I found the people crowding together, so that the gate was stopped up by their number; and, as destiny willed, I saw there a trooper, and, unintentionally pressing against him, my hand came in contact with his pocket, and I felt it, and found that it contained a purse; and I caught hold of the purse, and took it from his pocket. But the trooper felt that his pocket was lightened, and, putting his hand into it, found nothing; upon which he looked aside at me, and raised his hand with the mace, and struck me upon my head. I fell to the ground, and the people surrounded us, and seized the bridle of the trooper’s horse, saying, On account of the crowd dost thou strike this young man such a blow? But he called out to them and said, This is a robber! On hearing this I feared. The people around me said, This is a comely young man, and hath taken nothing. While some, however, believed this, others disbelieved; and after many words, the people dragged me along, desiring to liberate me: but, as it was predestined, there came at this moment the Wali and other magistrates entering the gate, and, seeing the people surrounding me and the trooper, the Wali said, What is the news? The trooper answered, By Allah, O Emir, this is a robber: I had in my pocket a blue purse containing twenty pieces of gold; and he took it while I was pressed by the crowd.—Was any one with thee? asked the Wali. The trooper answered, No. And the Wali called out to the chief of his servants, saying, Seize him and search him. So he seized me; and protection was withdrawn from me; and the Wali said to him, Strip him of all that is upon him. And when he did so, they found the purse in my clothes: and the Wali, taking it, counted the money, and found it to be twenty pieces of gold, as the trooper had said; whereupon he was enraged, and called out to his attendants, saying, Bring him forward. They, therefore, brought me before him, and he said to me, O young man, tell the truth. Didst thou steal this purse?—And I hung down my head towards the ground, saying within myself, If I answer that I did not steal it, it will be useless, for he hath produced it from my clothes; and if I say I stole it, I fall into trouble. I then raised my head, and said, Yes, I took it. And when the Wali heard these words, he wondered, and called witnesses, who presented themselves, and gave their testimony to my confession.—All this took place at Bab Zuweyleh.—The Wali then ordered the executioner to cut off my hand; and he cut off my right hand; but the heart of the trooper was moved with compassion for me, and he interceded for me that I should not be killed: so the Wali left me and departed. The people however continued around me, and gave me to drink a cup of wine; and the trooper gave me the purse, saying, Thou art a comely youth, and it is not fit that thou shouldst be a thief. And I took it from him, and addressed him with these verses:—
By Allah! good sir, I was not a robber; nor was I a thief, O best of mankind!
But fortune’s vicissitudes overthrew me suddenly, and anxiety and trouble and poverty overpowered me.
I cast it not; but it was the Deity who cast an arrow that threw down the kingly diadem from my head.
The trooper then left me and departed, after having given me the purse, and I went my way; but first I wrapped my hand in a piece of rag, and put it in my bosom. My condition thus altered, and my countenance pallid in consequence of my sufferings, I walked to the Ka’ah, and, in a disordered state of mind, threw myself upon the bed. My wife, seeing my complexion thus changed, said to me, What hath pained thee, and wherefore do I see thee thus altered? I answered her, My head acheth, and I am not well. And on hearing this she was vexed, and became ill on my account, and said, Burn not my heart, O my master! Sit up, and raise thy head, and tell me what hath happened to thee this day; for I read a tale in thy face.—Abstain from speaking to me, I replied. And she wept, and said, it seemeth that thou art tired of us; for I see thee to be conducting thyself in a manner contrary to thy usual habit. Then she wept again, and continued addressing me, though I made her no reply, until the approach of night, when she placed some food before me; but I abstained from it, fearing that she should see me eat with my left hand, and said, I have no desire to eat at present. She then said again, Tell me what hath happened to thee this day, and wherefore I see thee anxious and broken—hearted. I answered, I will presently tell thee at my leisure. And she put the wine towards me, saying, Take it; for it will dispel thine anxiety; and thou must drink, and tell me thy story. I replied, therefore, If it must be so, give me to drink with thy hand. And she filled a cup and drank it; and then filled it again and handed it to me, and I took it from her with my left hand, and, while tears ran from my eyes, I repeated these verses:—
When God willeth an event to befall a man who is endowed with reason and hearing and sight,
He deafeneth his ears, and blindeth his heart, and draweth his reason from him as a hair.
Till, having fulfilled his purpose against him, He restoreth him his reason that he may be admonished.
Having thus said, I wept again; and when she saw me do so, she uttered a loud cry, and said, What is the reason of thy weeping? Thou hast burned my heart! And wherefore didst thou take the cup with thy left hand?—I answered her, I have a boil upon my right hand.—Then put it forth, said she, that I may open it for thee.—It is not yet, I replied, the proper time for opening it; and continue not to ask me; for I will not put it forth at present. I then drank the contents of the cup, and she continued to hand me the wine until intoxication overcame me, and I fell asleep in the place where I was sitting; upon which she discovered that my right arm was without a hand, and, searching me, saw the purse containing the gold.
Grief, such as none else experienceth, overcome her at the sight; and she suffered incessant torment on my account until the morning, when I awoke, and found that she had prepared for me a dish composed of four boiled fowls, which she placed before me. She then gave me to drink a cup of wine; and I ate and drank, and put down the purse, and was about to depart; but she said, Whither wouldst thou go? I answered, To such a place, to dispel somewhat of the anxiety which oppresseth my heart.—Go not, said she; but rather sit down again. So I sat down, and she said to me, Hath thy love of me become so excessive that thou hast expended all thy wealth upon me, and lost thy hand? I take thee, then, as witness against me, and God also is witness, that I will never desert thee; and thou shalt see the truth of my words.—Immediately, therefore, she sent for witnesses, who came; and she said to them, Write my contract of marriage to this young man, and bear witness that I have received the dowry. And they did as she desired them; after which she said, Bear witness that all my property which is in this chest, and all my memluks and female slaves, belong to this young man. Accordingly, they declared themselves witnesses of her declaration, and I accepted the property, and they departed after they had received their fees. She then took me by my hand, and, having led me to a closet, opened a large chest, and said to me, See what is containeth in this chest. I looked, therefore; and lo, it was full of handkerchiefs; and she said, This is thy property, which I have received from thee: for every time that thou gavest me a handkerchief containing fifty pieces of gold, I wrapped it up, and threw it into this chest: take, then thy property; for God hath restored it to thee, and thou art now of high estate. Fate hath afflicted thee on my account so that thou hast lost thy right hand, and I am unable to compensate thee: if I should sacrifice my life, it would be but a small thing, and thy generosity would still have surpassed mine.—She then added, Now take possession of thy property. So I received it; and she transferred the contents of her chest to mine, adding her property to mine which I had given her. My heart rejoiced, my anxiety ceased, and I approached and kissed her, and made myself merry by drinking with her; after which she said again, Thou hast sacrificed all thy wealth and thy hand through love of me, and how can I compensate thee? By Allah, if I gave my life for love of thee, it were but a small thing, and I should not do justice to thy claims upon me.—She then wrote a deed of gift transferring to me all her apparel, and her ornaments of gold and jewels, and her houses and other possessions; and she passed that night in grief on my account, having heard my relation of the accident that had befallen me.
Thus we remained less than a month, during which time she became more and more infirm and disordered; and she endured no more than fifty days before she was numbered among the people of the other world. So I prepared her funeral, and deposited her body in the earth, and having caused recitations of the Kur’an to be performed for her, and given a considerable sum of money in alms for her sake, returned from the tomb. I found that she had possessed abundant wealth, and houses and lands, and among her property were the store-rooms of sesame of which I sold to thee the contents of one; and I was not prevented from settling with thee during this period but by my being busied in selling the remainder, the price of which I have not yet entirely received. Now I desire of thee that thou wilt not oppose me in that which I am about to say to thee; since I have eaten of thy food: I give thee the price of the sesame, which is in thy hands.—This which I have told thee was the cause of my eating with my left hand.
I replied, Thou hast treated me with kindness and generosity:—and he then said, Thou must travel with me to my country; for I have bought merchandise of Cairo and Alexandria. Wilt thou accompany me?—I answered, Yes:—and promised him that I would be ready by the first day of the following month. So I sold all that I possessed, and, having bought merchandise with the produce, travelled with the young man to this thy country, where he sold his merchandise and bought other in its stead, after which he returned to the land of Egypt: but it was my lot to remain here, and to experience that which hath befallen me this night during my absence from my native country.—Now is not this, O King of the age, more wonderful than the story of the humpback? The King replied, Ye must be hanged, all of you!—And upon this, the Sultan’s steward advanced towards the King, and said, If thou permit me, I will relate to thee a story that I happened to hear just before I found this humpback; and if it be more wonderful than the events relating to him, wilt thou grant us our lives?—The King answered, Tell thy story:—and he began thus:—
Note 1. In Cairo, nearly five bushels.
Note 2. “Gate of Victory or of Aid”: the easternmost of the northern gates of Cairo built in Iowa. The Khan referred to is mentioned by El-Makrizi as being situated at a short distance within the present gate and by the site of the older gate of the same name, and as existing in his time .
Note 3. The Arabs consider it indecorous to eat with the left hand.
Note 4. [In the Beyn El-Kasreyn or “Betwixt the Palaces,” by the present Suk En-Nahhasin. See Lane-Poole, Story of Cairo (1902), pp. 266–270.]
Note 5. A superior kind of suk or market.
Note 6. Chief.
Note 7. Or Zawileh, the southern gate of (the original) Cairo.