IBRAHIM BIN AL-MAHDI AND THE BARBER-SURGEON.


They relate that Ibrahím, son of al-Mahdí, [FN#148] brother of Harun al- Rashid, when the Caliphate devolved to Al-Maamun, the son of his brother Harun, refused to acknowledge his nephew and betook himself to Rayy [FN#149]; where he claimed the throne and abode thus a year and eleven months and twelve days. Meanwhile his nephew, Al-Maamun, awaited his return to allegiance and his accepting a dependent position till, at last, despairing of this, he mounted with his horsemen and footmen and repaired to Rayy in quest of him. Now when the news came to Ibrahim, he found nothing for it but to flee to Baghdad and hide there, fearing for his life; and Maamun set a price of a hundred thousand gold pieces upon his head, to be paid to whoso might betray him. (Quoth Ibrahim) "When I heard of this price I feared for my head"--And Shahrazad perceived the dawn of day and ceased to say her permitted say.

When it was the Two Hundred and Seventy-third Night,

She said, It hath reached me, O auspicious King, that Ibrahim continued, "Now when I heard of this price I feared for my head and knew not what to do: so I went forth of my house in disguise at mid-day, knowing not whither I should go. Presently I entered a broad street which was no thoroughfare and said in my mind, 'Verily, we are Allah's and unto Him we are returning! I have exposed my life to destruction. If I retrace my steps, I shall arouse suspicion.' Then, being still in disguise I espied, at the upper end of the street, a negro-slave standing at his door; so I went up to him and said to him, 'Hast thou a place where I may abide for an hour 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 to myself, 'He hath gone to inform against me.' But, as I sat pondering my case and boiling like cauldron over fire, behold, my host came back, accompanied by a porter loaded with bread and meat and new cooking-pots and gear and a new jar and new gugglets and other needfuls. He made the porter set them down and, dismissing him, said to me, 'I offer my life for thy ransom! I am a barber-surgeon, and I know it would disgust thee to eat with me' because of the way in which I get my livelihood; [FN#150] so do thou shift for thyself and do what thou please with these things whereon no hand hath fallen.' (Quoth Ibrahim), Now I was in sore need of food so I cooked me a pot of meat whose like I remember not ever to have eaten; and, when I had satisfied my want, he said to me, 'O my lord, Allah make me thy ransom! Art thou for wine?; for indeed it gladdeneth the soul and doeth away care.' 'I have no dislike to it,' replied I, being desirous of the barber's company; so he brought me new flagons of glass which no hand had touched and a jar of excellent wine, and said to me, 'Strain for thyself, to thy liking;' whereupon I cleared the wine and mixed me a most delectable 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 my own wine by myself, of my joy in thee and for thee?' 'Do so,' answered I. So I drank and he drank till the wine began to take effect upon us, when the barber 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 the like of thee to sing, but it behoveth thine exceeding generosity to render my respect its due; so, if thou see fit to honour thy slave, thine is the high decision.' Quoth I (and indeed I thought not that he knew me), 'How knowest thou that I excel in song?' He replied, 'Glory be to Allah, our lord is too well renowned for that! Thou art my lord Ibrahim, son of Al-Mahdi, our Caliph of yesterday, he on whose head Al-Maamun hath set a price of an hundred thousand dinars to be paid to thy betrayer: but thou art in safety with me.' (Quoth Ibrahim), When I heard him say this, he was magnified in my eyes and his loyalty and noble nature were certified to me; so I complied with his wish and took the lute and tuned it, and sang. Then I bethought me of my severance from my children and my family and I began to say,

'Belike Who Yúsuf to his kin restored * And honoured him in goal, a captive wight,
May grant our prayer to reunite our lots, * For Allah, Lord of Worlds, hath all of might.'

When the barber heard this, exceeding joy took possession of him. and he was of great good cheer; for it is said that when Ibrahim's neighbours heard him only sing out, 'Ho, boy, saddle the mule!' they were filled with delight. Then, being overborne by mirth, he said to me, 'O my lord, wilt thou give me leave to say what is come to my mind, albeit I am not of the folk of this craft?' I answered, 'Do so; this is of thy great courtesy and kindness.' So he took the lute and sang these verses,

'To our beloveds we moaned our length of night; * Quoth they, 'How short the nights that us benight!'
'Tis for that sleep like hood enveils their eyes * Right soon, but from our eyes is fair of flight:
When night-falls, dread and drear to those who love, * We mourn; they joy to see departing light:
Had they but dree'd the weird, the bitter dole * We dree, their beds like ours had bred them blight.'

(Quoth Ibrahim), So I said to him, 'By Allah, thou hast shown me a kindness, O my friend, and hast done away from me the pangs of sorrow. Let me hear more trifles of thy fashion.' So he sang these couplets,

'When man keeps honour bright without a stain, * Pair sits whatever robe to robe he's fain!
She jeered at me because so few we are; * Quoth I:--'There's ever dearth of noble men!'
Naught irks us we are few, while neighbour tribes * Count many; neighbours oft are base-born strain:
We are a clan which holds not Death reproach, * Which A'mir and Samúl [FN#151] hold illest bane:
Leads us our love of death to fated end; * They hate that ending and delay would gain:
We to our neighbours' speech aye give the lie, * But when we speak none dare give lie again.'

(Quoth Ibrahim), When I heard these lines, I was filled with huge delight and marvelled with exceeding marvel. Then I slept and awoke not till past night-fall, when I washed my face, with a mind full of the high worth of this barber-surgeon and his passing courtesy; after which I wakened him and, taking out a purse I had by me containing a number of gold pieces, threw it to him, saying, 'I commend thee to Allah, for I am about to go forth from thee, and pray thee to expend what is in this purse on thine requirements; and thou shalt have an abounding reward of me, when I am quit of my fear.' (Quoth Ibrahim), But he resumed the bag to me, saying, 'O my lord, paupers like myself are of no value in thine eyes; but how, with due respect to my own generosity, can I take a price for the boon which fortune hath vouchsafed me of thy favour and thy visit to my poor abode? Nay, if thou repeat thy words and throw the purse to me again I will slay myself.' So I put in my sleeve [FN#152] the purse whose weight was irksome to me."--And Shahrazad perceived the dawn of day and ceased saying her permitted say.

When it was the Two Hundred and Seventy-fourth Night,

She said, It hath reached me, O auspicious King, that Ibrahim son of Al-Mahdi continued, "So I put in my sleeve the purse whose weight was irksome to me; and turned to depart, but when I came to the house door he said, 'O my lord, of a truth this is a safer hiding-place for thee than any other, and thy keep is no burden to me; so do thou abide with me, till Allah be pleased grant thee relief.' Accordingly, I turned back, saying, 'On condition that thou spend of the money in this purse.' He made me think that he consented to this arrangement, 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 it shame to be a burthen on him; so I left the house disguised in women's apparel, donning short yellow walking-boots [FN#153] and veil. Now as soon as I found myself in the street, I was seized with excessive fear, and going to pass the bridge behold, I came to a place sprinkled with water, [FN#154] where a trooper, who been in my service, looked at me and knowing me, cried out, saying, 'This is he whom Al-Maamun wanteth.' Then he laid hold of me but the love of sweet life lent me strength and I gave him and his horse a push which threw them down in that slippery place, so that he became an example to those who will take example; and the folk hastened to him. Meanwhile, I hurried my pace over the bridge and entered a main street, where I saw the door of a house open and a woman standing upon the threshold. 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 dining-room, 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 lo! there came a loud knocking at the door; so she went and opened, and suddenly, my friend, whom I had thrown down on the bridge, appeared with his head bound up, the blood running down upon his clothes and without his horse. She asked, 'O so and so, what accident hath befallen thee?'; and he answered, 'I made prize of the young man whom the Caliph seeketh and he escaped from me;' whereupon he told her the whole story. So she brought out tinder [FN#155] and, putting it into a piece of rag bandaged his head; 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?' 'Even so,' answered I, and she said, 'Fear not: no harm shall befall thee,' and redoubled in kindness to me. So I tarried 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 stay till nightfall, and she said, 'There is no harm in that.' So, when the night came, I put on my woman's gear and betook me to the house of a freed-woman who had once been our slave. When she saw me she wept and made a show of affliction and praised Almighty Allah for my safety. Then she went forth, as if she would go to market intent on hospitable thoughts, and I fancied all was right; but, ere long, suddenly I espied Ibrahim al-Mosili [FN#156] for the house amongst his troopers and servants, and led by a woman on foot; and looking narrowly at her behold, she was the freed-woman, the mistress of the house, wherein I had taken refuge. So she delivered me into their hands, and I saw death face to face. They carried me, in my woman's attire, to Al-Maamun who called a general-council and had me brought before him. When I entered I saluted him by the title of Caliph, saying, 'Peace be on thee, O Commander of the Faithful!' and he replied, 'Allah give thee neither peace nor long life.' I rejoined, 'According to thy good pleasure, O Commander of the Faithful!; it is for the claimant of blood-revenge [FN#157] to decree punishment or pardon; but mercy is nigher to piety; and Allah hath set thy pardon above all other pardon, even as He made my sin to excel all other sin. So, if thou punish, it is of thine equity, and if thou pardon, it is of thy bounty.' And I repeated these couplets,

'My sin to thee is great,   *  But greater thy degree:
So take revenge, or else *  Remit in clemency:
An I in deeds have not*  Been generous, generous be!

(Quoth Ibrahim), At this Al-Maamun raised his head to me and I hastened to add these two couplets,

'I've sinned enormous sin, *  But pardon in thee lies:
If pardon thou, 'tis grace;  * Justice an thou chastise!'

Then Al-Maamun bowed his head and repeated,

'I am (when friend would raise a rage that mote * Make spittle choke me, sticking in my throat)
His pardoner, and pardon his offense, * Fearing lest I should live a friend without.'

(Quoth Ibrahim), Now when I heard these words I scented mercy, knowing his disposition to clemency. [FN#158] Then he turned to his son Al Abbas and his brother Abu Ishak and all his chief officers there present and said to them, 'What deem ye of his case?' They all counselled him to do me dead, but they differed as to the manner of my death. Then said he to his Wazir Ahmad bin al-Khálid, 'And what sayest thou, O Ahmad?' He answered, 'O Commander of the Faithful, an thou slay him, we find the like of thee who hath slain the like of him; but an thou pardon him, we find not the like of thee that hath pardoned the like of him.'"--And Shahrazad perceived the dawn of day and ceased to say her permitted say.

When it was the Two Hundred and Seventy-fifth Night,

She said, It hath reached me, O auspicious King, that when Al Maamun, Prince of the Faithful, heard the words of Ahmad bin al-Khálid, he bowed his head and began repeating,

"My tribe have slain that brother mine, Umaym, * Yet would shoot back what shafts at them I aim:
If I deal-pardon, noble pardon 'tis; * And if I shoot, my bones 'twill only maim." [FN#159]

And he also recited,

"Be mild to brother mingling * What is wrong with what is right:
Kindness to him continue * Whether good or graceless wight:
Abstain from all reproaching,   * An he joy or vex thy sprite:
Seest not that what thou lovest * And what hatest go unite?
That joys of longer life-tide  * Ever fade with hair turned white?
That thorns on branches growing * For the plucks fruit catch thy sight?
Who never hath done evil,* Doing good for sole delight?
When tried the sons of worldli-* ness they mostly work upright."

Quoth Ibrahim, "Now when I heard these couplets, I withdrew my woman's veil from my head and cried out, with my loudest voice, 'Allah is Most Great! By Allah, the Commander of the Faithful pardoneth me!' Quoth he, 'No harm shall come to thee, O uncle;' and I rejoined, 'O Commander of the Faithful, my sin is too sore for me to excuse it and thy mercy is too much for me to speak thanks for it.' And I chanted these couplets to a lively motive,

'Who made all graces all collected He * In Adam's loins, our Seventh Imam, for thee, [FN#160]
Thou hast the hearts of men with reverence filled, * Enguarding all with heart-humility
Rebelled I never by delusion whelmed * For object other than thy clemency ; [FN#161]
And thou hast pardoned me whose like was ne'er * Pardoned before, though no man pled my plea:
Hast pitied little ones like Katá's [FN#162] young, * And mother's yearning heart a son to see.'

Quoth Maamun, 'I say, following our lord Joseph (on whom and on our Prophet be blessing and peace!) let there be no reproach cast on you this day. Allah forgiveth you; for He is the most merciful of those who show mercy. [FN#163] Indeed I pardon thee, and restore to thee thy goods and lands, O uncle, and no harm shall befall thee.' So I offered up devout prayers for him and repeated these couplets,

'Thou hast restored my wealth sans greed, and ere * So didst, thou deignedest my blood to spare:
Then if I shed my blood and wealth, to gain * Thy grace, till even shoon from foot I tear,
Twere but repaying what thou lentest me, * And what unloaned no man to blame would care:
Were I ungrateful for thy lavish boons, * Baser than thou'rt beneficent I were!'

Then Al-Maamun showed me honour and favour and said to me, 'O uncle, Abu Ishak and Al-Abbas counselled me to put thee to death.' So I answered, 'And they both counselled thee right, O Commander of the Faithful, but thou hast done after thine own nature and hast put away what I feared with what I hoped.' Rejoined Al Maamun, 'O uncle, thou didst extinguish my rancour with the modesty of thine excuse, and I have pardoned 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?' Answered I, 'Haply thou didst this in thanksgiving to Allah, for that He hath given thee the mastery over thine enemy.' He replied, 'Such was not my design, but rather to thank Allah for having inspired me to pardon thee and for having cleared my mind towards thee. Now tell me thy tale.' So I told him all that had befallen me with the barber, the trooper and his wife and with my freed-woman who had betrayed me. So he summoned the freed-woman, who was in her house, expecting the reward to be sent to her, and when she came before him he said to her, 'What moved thee to deal thus with thy lord?' Quoth she, 'Lust of money.' Asked the Caliph 'Hast thou a child or a husband?'; and she answered 'No;' whereupon he bade them give her an hundred stripes with a whip and imprisoned her for life. Then he sent for the trooper and his wife and the barber-surgeon and asked the soldier what had moved him to do thus. 'Lust of money,' quoth he; whereupon quoth the Caliph, 'It befitteth thee to be a barber-cupper,' [FN#164] and committed him to one whom he charged to place him in a barber-cupper's shop, where he might learn the craft. But he showed honour to the trooper's wife and lodged her in his palace, saying, 'This is a woman of sound sense and fit for matters of moment.' Then said he to the barber-cupper, 'Verily, thou hast shown worth and generosity which call 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 in addition fifteen thousand dinars to be paid annually. And men tell the following tale concerning