IBRAHIM BEN EL MEHDI AND THE BARBER-SURGEON.
When the Khalifate fell to El Mamoun the son of Haroun er Reshid, the latter's brother Ibrahim, son of El Mehdi, refused to acknowledge his nephew and betook himself to Er Rei, (130) where he proclaimed himself Khalif and abode thus a year and eleven months and twelve days. Meanwhile Mamoun remained awaiting his return to allegiance, till, at last, despairing of this, he mounted with his horsemen and footmen and repaired to Er Rei in quest of him. When the news came to Ibrahim, he found nothing for it but to flee to Baghdad and hide there, fearing for his life; and Mamoun set a price of a hundred thousand dinars upon his head.
(Quoth Ibrahim) 'Now when I heard of this price being set upon my head, I feared for myself and knew not what to do: so I disguised myself and went forth of my house at midday, knowing not whither I should go. Presently, I entered a street that had no issue and said in myself, "Verily, we are God's and to Him we return! I have exposed myself to destruction. If I retrace my steps, I shall arouse suspicion." Then I espied, at the upper end of the street, a negro standing at his door; so I went up to him and said to him, "Hast thou a place where I may abide awhile of the day?" "Yes," answered he, and opening the door, admitted me into a decent house, furnished with carpets and mats and cushions of leather. Then he shut the door on me and went away; and I misdoubted me he had heard of the reward offered for me and said in myself, "He has gone to inform against me." But, as I sat pondering my case and boiling like the pot over the fire, my host came back, followed by a porter loaded with meat and bread and new cooking-pots and goblets and a new jar and other needful gear. He took them from the porter and dismissing him, said to me, "I make myself thy ransom! I am a barber-surgeon, and I know it would mislike thee to eat with me, because of the way in which I get my Iiving; so do thou shift for thyself with these things whereon no hand hath fallen." Now I was anhungred; so I cooked me a pot of meat, whose like I mind me not ever to have eaten; and when I had done my desire, he said to me, "O my lord, God make me thy ransom! Art thou for wine? Indeed, it gladdens the soul and does away care." "I have no objection," replied I, being desirous of his company; so he brought me new flagons of glass, that no hand had touched, and a jar of excellent wine, and said to me, "Mix for thyself, to thy liking." So I cleared the wine and mixed myself a most pleasant draught. Then he brought me a new cup and fruits and flowers in new vessels of earthenware; after which he said to me, "Wilt thou give me leave to sit apart and drink of wine of my own by myself, of my joy in thee and for thee?" "Do so." answered I. So we drank, he and I, till the wine began to take effect upon us, when he rose and going to a closet, took out a lute of polished wood and said to me, "O my lord, it is not for the like of me to ask thee to sing, but it behoves thine exceeding generosity to render my respect its due; so, an thou see fit to honour thy slave, thine is the august decision." Quoth I (and indeed I thought not that he knew me), "How knowest thou that I excel in song?" "Glory be to God!" answered he. "Our lord is too well renowned for that! (131) Thou art my lord Ibrahim, son of El Mehdi, our Khalif of yesterday, he on whose head Mamoun hath set a price of a hundred thousand dinars: but thou art in safety with me." When I heard him say this, he was magnified in my eyes and his loyalty was certified to me; so I complied with his wish and took the lute and tuned it. Then I bethought me of my severance from my children and my family and sang the following verses:It may be that He, who restored his folk to Joseph of old And raised him to high estate from the prison where in bonds he lay,
When the barber heard this, exceeding delight took possession of him and he was of great good cheer; (for it is said that when Ibrahim's neighbours heard him [but] say, "Ho, boy, saddle the mule!" they were filled with delight). Then, being overborne by mirth, he said to me (continues Ibrahim), "O my lord, wilt thou give me leave to say what is come to my mind, for all I am not of the folk of the craft?" "Do so," answered I; "this is of thy great courtesy and kindness." So he took the lute and sang the following verses:Unto our loved ones we made our moan of our nights so long and drear; And lo, "How short is the night with us!" quoth they we hold so dear.
"Thou hast acquitted thee rarely, O my friend," said I, "and hast done away from me the pangs of sorrow. Let me hear more trifles of thy fashion." So he sang these verses:So a man's honour be unstained and free of all impair, Lo, every garment that he dights on him is fit and fair.
When I heard this, I was filled with delight and marvelled exceedingly. Then I slept and awoke not till past nightfall, when I washed my face, with a mind full of the high worth of this barber-surgeon; after which I aroused him and taking out a purse I had with me, containing a considerable sum of money, threw it to him, saying, "I commend thee to God, for I am about to go forth from thee, and beg thee to spend what is in this purse on thine occasions; and thou shalt have an abounding reward of me, when I am quit of my fear." But he returned it to me, saying, "O my lord, poor wretches like myself are of no value in thine eyes; but how, for mine own dignity's sake, can I take a price for the boon which fortune hath vouchsafed me of thy favour and company? By Allah, if thou repeat thy words and throw the purse to me again, I will kill myself." So I put the purse in my sleeve (and indeed its weight was irksome to me) and would have gone away; but when I came to the door of the house, he said to me, "O my lord, this is a safer hiding-place for thee than another, and thy keep is no burden to me; so do thou abide with me, till God grant thee relief." So I turned back, saying, "On condition that thou spend of the money in this purse." He let me believe that he consented to this, and I abode with him some days in the utmost comfort; but, perceiving that he spent none of the contents of the purse, I revolted at the idea of abiding at his charge and thought shame to be a burden on him; so I disguised myself in women's apparel, donning walking-boots and veil, and left his house.
When I found myself in the street, I was seized with excessive fear, and going to pass the bridge, came to a place sprinkled with water, where a trooper, who had been in my service, saw me and knowing me, cried out, saying, "This is he whom Mamoun seeks!" Then he laid hold of me, but the love of life lent me strength and I gave him a push, which threw him and his horse down in that slippery place, so that he became an example to those who will take warning and the folk hastened to him. Meanwhile, I hurried on over the bridge and entered a street, where I saw the door of a house open and a woman standing in the vestibule. So I said to her, "O my lady, have pity on me and save my life; for I am a man in fear." Quoth she, "Enter and welcome;" and carried me into an upper chamber, where she spread me a bed and brought me food, saying, "Calm thy fear, for not a soul shall know of thee." As she spoke, there came a loud knocking at the door; so she went and opened, and lo, it was my friend whom I had thrown down on the bridge, with his head bound up, the blood running down upon his clothes and without his horse. "O so and so," said she, "what hath befallen thee?" Quoth he, "I made prize of the man [whom the Khalif seeks] and he escaped from me." And told her the whole story. So she brought out tinder and applying it to his head, bound it up with a piece of rag; after which she spread him a bed and he lay sick. Then she came up to me and said, "Methinks thou art the man in question?" "I am," answered I, and she said, "Fear not: no harm shall befall thee," and redoubled in kindness to me.
I abode with her three days, at the end of which time she said to me, "I am in fear for thee, lest yonder man happen upon thee and betray thee to what thou dreadest; so save thyself by flight." I besought her to let me tarry till nightfall, and she said, "There is no harm in that." So, when the night came, I put on my woman's attire and taking leave of her, betook me to the house of a freed woman, who had once been mine. When she saw me, she wept and made a show of affliction and praised God the Most High for my safety. Then she went forth, as if she would go to the market, in the interests of hospitality, and I thought no harm; but, ere long, I espied Ibrahim el Mausili (132) making for the house, with his servants and troopers, led by a woman whom I knew for the mistress of the house. She brought them to my hiding-place and delivered me into their hands, and I saw death face to face. They carried me, in my woman's attire, to Mamoun, who called a general council and let bring me before him. When I entered I saluted him by the title of Khalif, saying, "Peace be on thee, O Commander of the Faithful!" and he replied, "May God neither give thee peace nor bless thee!" "At thy leisure, O Commander of the Faithful!" rejoined I. "It is for him in whose hand is revenge (133) to decree retaliation or forgiveness; but forgiveness is nigher to the fear of God, and God hath set thy forgiveness above all other, even as He hath made my sin to excel all other sin. So, if thou punish, it is of thy right, and if thou pardon, it is of thy bounty." And I repeated the following verses:Great is my sin, in sooth, 'gainst thee, But thou art greater still, perdie.
At this he raised his head to me and I hastened to add these verses:Indeed, I've offended full sore, But thou art disposed to forgive.
Then he bowed his head and repeated the following verses:Whenas a friend against me doth grievously offend And maketh me with anger to choke, yet in the end,
When I heard this, I scented the odour of mercy, knowing his disposition to clemency. Then he turned to his son El Abbas and his brother Abou Ishac and other his chief officers there present and said to them, "What deem ye of his case!" They all counselled him to slay me, but differed as to the manner of my death. Then said he to Ahmed ibn Ali Khalid, (134) "And what sayst thou, O Ahmed?" "O Commander of the Faithful," answered he, "if thou put him to death, we find thy like who hath slain the like of him; but, if thou pardon him, we find not the like of thee that hath pardoned the like of him." At this Mamoun bowed his head and repeated the following verse:The people of my tribe, they have my brother slain; But, an I shoot, my shaft reverts to me again.
And also these:Use not thy brother with despite, Although he mingle wrong with right,
When I heard this, I uncovered my head and cried out, saying, "God is most great! By Allah, the Commander of the Faithful pardons me!" Quoth he, "No harm shall come to thee, O uncle." And I, "O Commander of the Faithful, my offence is too great for me to attempt to extenuate it and thy pardon is too great for me to speak a word of thanks for it." And I chanted the following verses:Sure, He, who made the virtues all, stored them in Adam's loins For His high-priest, the seventh prince of Abbas' royal seed!
Quoth Mamoun, "I say, like our lord Joseph (on whom and on our Prophet be peace and blessing), 'There shall be no reproach on thee this day. God will forgive thee, for He is the Most Merciful of the Merciful ones.' (135) Indeed, I pardon thee, O uncle, and restore thee thy goods and lands, and no harm shall befall thee." So I offered up devout prayers for him and repeated the following verses:My wealth thou hast given me again and hast not begrudged it to me; Yea, and to boot, before this, my life and my blood thou didst spare.
Then Mamoun showed me honour and favour and said to me, "O uncle, Abou Ishac and Abbas counselled me to put thee to death." "And they counselled thee right loyally, O Commander of the Faithful," answered I; "but thou hast done after thine own nature and hast put away what I feared with what I hoped." "O uncle," rejoined he, "thou didst extinguish my rancour with the humbleness of thine excuse, and I pardon thee without making thee drink the bitterness of obligation to intercessors." Then he prostrated himself in prayer a long while, after which he raised his head and said to me, "O uncle, knowest thou why I prostrated myself?" "Haply," answered I, "thou didst this in thanksgiving to God, for that He hath given thee the mastery over thine enemy." "Not so," rejoined he, "but to thank Him for having inspired me to pardon thee and purified my mind towards thee. Now tell me thy story." So I told him all that had befallen me and he sent for the freed-woman, who was in her house, expecting the reward. When she came, he said to her, "What moved thee to deal thus with thy lord?" And she answered, "Lust of money." "Hast thou a child or a husband?" asked the Khalif; and she said, "No." So he bade give her a hundred blows with a whip and imprisoned her for life. Then he sent for the soldier and his wife and the barber-surgeon and asked the former what had moved him to do thus. "Lust of money," answered he; whereupon quoth the Khalif, "It befits that thou be a barber-surgeon," (136) and committed him to one whom he charged to place him in a barber's shop, where he might learn the craft. But his wife he entreated with honour and lodged in his palace, saying, "This is a woman of sense and apt for matters of moment." Then said he to the barber-surgeon, "Verily, what has come to light of thy worth and generosity calls for extraordinary honour." So he commanded the trooper's house and all that was therein to be given him and bestowed on him a dress of honour and fifteen thousand dinars.'