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"Just look, is not that our old man of the other day who is walking there? He knows everything, and is certainly able to give us an explanation about it. Heda! Old gentleman! Would you be good enough to come to us a little while." Thus they cried, and the old man noticing their signals, approached them, for he recognised them to be the same young men to whom he had spoken a few days since. They called his attention to the preparations which had been made in the Sheik's house, and asked him if he knew what distinguished guest the Sheik expected?
"I daresay you believe," he replied," Ali Banu is celebrating a great festival, or that some distinguished personage was about to honour his house with a visit? Such however, is not the case, but to-day is the twelfth day of the month of Ramadan, and, as you know, it was on this day that his son was taken away into the camp."
"But by the beard of the Prophet!" exclaimed one of the young men. "Everything here seems to point to some marriage or festivities, and yet it is his well-known day of mourning; how do you make that out? Tell us, is the Sheik after all in the full possession of his senses?"
"Do you still judge so hastily, my young friend? asked the old man smiling. And on this occasion your arrow has been very pointed and sharp, the strings of your bow drawn tightly, and yet you have shot far beyond your aim. Know, that the Sheik expects his son to-day.
"Has he been found?" exclaimed the young men, and they rejoiced.
"No, and it will be a long time before he will be found; but listen-some eight or ten years ago, when the Sheik was celebrating this day once again with weeping and lamenting, setting slaves at liberty, and giving meat and drink to the poor, it happened that a dervish who was lying tired and exhausted in the shadow of that house, was also given meat and drink. The dervish, however, was a holy man, and experienced in prophecies and astronomy. Having thus been refreshed by the kind hand of the Sheik, he stepped towards him and said: "I know the cause of your sorrow; is not to-day the twelfth of the month of Ramadan, and did you not lose your son on this
day? But be comforted, this day of sadness will change into a day of rejoicing; for, be it known to you on this day your son will return to you at some future time." Thus spoke the dervish. It would have been a sin for any Mussulman to have doubted the assertion of such a man; though Ali's sorrow was not thereby alleviated, but still he always waits on this day for the return of his son, and adorns his house, his hall, and his staircases, as if he might arrive at any moment.”
"Wonderful!" replied the scribe. "But, after all, I should like to see how everything has been so excellently prepared, how he himself mourns in this splendour, and especially I should like to listen when he orders one of his slaves to tell a story."
"There is nothing easier than this," replied the old man. "The overseer of the slaves of that house has been a friend of mine for many years, and always grants me a small space in the hall on this day, where a single one is not noticed amongst the number of servants and friends of the Sheik. I will speak to him, that he may allow you to enter; since you are only four it is easily done; come to this place at nine o'clock, and I will give you his reply."
Thus spoke the old man; but the young men thanked him and went away, eager to see how all would turn out. They came at the appointed hour to the place in front of the Sheik's house, and there they met the old man, who told them that the overseer of the slaves had given him permission to introduce them. He led the way, but not past the richly ornamented staircases and doors, but through a little side gate, which he locked again carefully. He then conducted them through several passages, until they came into the large hall. Here was a great crowd on all sides; splendidly dressed men, distinguished men of the town, and the Sheik's friends who had come to comfort him in his grief. There were slaves of all kinds, and of all nationalities; but they all wore a sorrowful look, for they loved their master, and mourned with him. At the end of the hall, upon a costly divan, sat Ali's most distinguished friends, who were waited upon by the slaves. Near them on the
floor sat the Sheik; for on account of his mourning for his son he was not permitted to sit upon the carpet of joy. He was resting his head on his hand, and seemed to pay little attention to the consolations which his friends whispered to him. In front of him sat some old and young men attired in slaves' dresses. The old man told his young friends that these were the slaves to whom Ali Banu was to grant their liberty on this day. There were also amongst them some Franks, and the old man called particular attention to one of them, who was very handsome, and still very young. The Sheik had only bought him a few days ago of a slave trader of Tunis for a large sum of money, but in spite of this he already gave him his liberty, because he believed the more Franks he sent back into their native land, the sooner would the Prophet free his son.
After refreshments had been handed round everywhere, the Sheik made a sign to the overseer of the slaves. The latter arose, and deep silence prevailed in the hall. He stepped in front of the slaves, who were about to be set at liberty, and said in an audible voice: "You men, who will be set at liberty to-day by the grace of my Master Ali Banu, the Sheik of Alexandria, do as it is customary on this day in his house, and begin to relate a story." They whispered amongst themselves, when an old slave began to speak, and to relate the story of
THE DWARF LONG-NOSE.
"Sir! very wrong are those who believe that only at the time of Harun-Al-Raschid, the ruler of Bagdad, there were fairies and magicians; or those even who maintain that the accounts of the doings of genii and their Princes, which one hears from story-tellers in the market-places of towns, are not true. Even at the present day there are fairies, and it is not long since I myself was witness of an event in which genii were manifestly concerned, as I shall relate to you.
Many years ago, in an important town of my dear
native land, Germany, there lived plainly and virtuously a cobbler and his wife. During the daytime the cobbler sat at the corner of the street, mending shoes and slippers, and occasionally making new ones, if anyone trusted him with them; he had, however, to buy the leather first, for he was poor, and had no stock. His wife sold vegetables and fruits, which she cultivated in a little garden outside the town, and many people liked to buy of her, because she was clean and neatly dressed, and knew how to lay out and arrange her vegetables in an inviting manner.
These two people had a pretty boy, handsome in appearance, well built, and very tall for a boy of eight years of age. He generally used to sit with his mother in the vegetable market-place, and carry home some of the vegetables for the housewives or cooks, when they had bought a great deal from the cobbler's wife, and he seldom returned from such an errand without some pretty flower, or a little piece of money, or some cake; for the proprietors of the houses of these cooks were pleased, whenever the pretty boy came to their houses, and always rewarded him handsomely.
One day the cobbler's wife was again sitting as usual in the market-place; before her stood some baskets of cabbages and other vegetables, all sorts of herbs and seeds, and in one of the smaller baskets early pears, apples, and apricots. Little Jacob (that was the boy's name) was sitting beside her and calling out with a clear voice his wares: "This way, gentlemen; look what fine cabbages we have; and how sweetly scented these herbs are; early pears, ladies, early apples and apricots, who buys? my mother sells them cheap." In this way the boy was calling out, when an old woman walked across the market-place; she was dressed in rags and tatters, with a small pointed face, quite wrinkled with age, red eyes, and a sharp hooked nose stretching down to her chin, she leaned on a long stick and yet it was impossible to say how she went along; for she hobbled and stumbled, and waddled as though she had wheels in her legs, and was ready to break down any moment, and fall with her hooked nose upon thé pavement.
The cobbler's wife looked at this woman attentively. For the space of sixteen years she had now been sitting daily in the market-place, and never had she seen such a quaint figure before. She was startled however involuntarily, when the old woman hobbled towards her, and stopped short close to her baskets. "Are you Hannah, the fruiterer?' asked the old woman in an unpleasant and croaking voice, as she kept on nodding her head to and fro. "Yes, that is my name," replied the cobbler's wife. "What is it you wish to buy?" "Let me see, let me see! show me your herbs, show me your herbs. I wonder if you have anything I require," said the old woman bending down over the baskets; and putting her swarthy ugly hands into the basket of herbs, she picked up some, which had been so nicely and elegantly spread out, with her long spider fingers, and then put one after the other to her long nose, and smelled them all over. The heart of the cobbler's wife was well nigh in her mouth, as she saw the old woman handling her rare herbs in such a way; but she dare not say anything, for it was the buyer's privilege to examine the goods; and moreover, a peculiar dread of the woman seized her. After the latter had turned over the whole basket of herbs, she muttered: "Wretched stuff, bad herbs, there is nothing here that I want; it was much better fifty years ago. Wort less stuff, worthless stuff!”
These words annoyed little Jacob. Listen, you are an impudent old woman," he cried ill-humouredly; "first you put your ugly brown fingers into our beautiful herbs, squeezing them all up; then you hold them up to your long nose so that nobody would care to buy them who has watched you, and now you call our things worthless stuff as well, when even the duke's cook buys all he wants of us!"
The old woman stared at the brave boy, laughed odiously, and said in a hoarse voice: "My little son, my little son! do you like my nose, my nice long nose? You too shall have one right in the centre of your face, reaching far down to your chin." In saying this, she shuffled along to the other basket containing cabbages. She took up the finest white cabbage heads in her hand,