« PreviousContinue »
their chief rode up to the stranger and asked him what his desire was. Who is the owner of the caravan ?" demanded the rider. "It does not belong to one person,' answered the interrogated one, "but to several merchants returning from Mecca to their homes, whom we are escorting through the desert, because travellers are frequently molested by all sorts of rabble." "Conduct me then to the merchants," demanded the stranger. "That cannot be just yet," replied the guide, "for we must go on without stopping, and besides, the merchants are at least a quarter of an hour in our rear; but if you will ride with me till we halt for the mid-day rest, I will comply with your wish.”
To this the stranger said nothing; but produced a long pipe which he had fastened on his saddle, and began to smoke in great puffs, as he rode along with the chief of the advanced guard. The latter did not know what to make of the stranger, and did not like to ask outright what his name was; however, he adroitly sought to commence a conversation; but to his "That is good tobacco you are smoking," or "Your horse paces well," the stranger had merely replied with a curt "Yes, yes!" At length they reached the place for the mid-day rest. The chief posted his men as sentinels; he himself kept by the side of the stranger, to allow the caravan to approach. Thirty camels, heavily laden, passed by accompanied by armed guides. After these followed, mounted on beautiful horses, the five merchants to whom the caravan belonged. They were mostly men of advanced age, earnest and grave in appearance, only one seemed much younger than his companions, as well as livelier and gayer. A great many camels and pack-horses brought up the rear.
The tents were pitched, and around them were ranged the camels and horses. In the centre stood a large tent of blue silk. The chief guide led the stranger into it. When they had passed under the curtain of the tent, they perceived the five merchants seated on gold-embroidered cushions; negro slaves were serving them with meats and drinks. "Whom do you bring us?" asked the young merchant of the guide. Before, however, the guide could answer, the stranger said: "My name is Selim Baruch,
and I am a native of Bagdad. I was seized by a robber tribe on a journey to Mecca, and I escaped three days ago secretly from my captivity. The Great Prophet allowed me to hear the bells of your caravan from afar, and thus came I to meet you. Allow me to travel in your company; you will not have protected an ingrate, and should you ever come to Bagdad, I will richly repay your kindness, for I am nephew to the Grand Vizier." The eldest of the merchants then addressed him: "Selim Baruch, be welcome to our shade. It gives us pleasure to succour thee, but before all, seat thyself and eat and drink with
Selim Baruch seated himself among the merchants, and ate and drank with them. After the repast the slaves removed the plates and brought long pipes and Turkish sherbet. Long sat the merchants, silently blowing before them the clouds of blue smoke, watching them as they wreathed and rose and finally vanished into the air. The young merchant at last broke the silence. "In this way we have sat these three days," said he, "in saddle and at table, without relieving our monotony. I begin to feel very lonely, for I am accustomed after dinner to see dancers or listen to song and music. Do you not know anything, friends, to while away the time?" The four elder merchants continued to smoke and seemed to be meditating seriously, but the stranger said: "With your permission, I will make you a proposal. I think at each encampment one of us might relate to the others some story, and so while away the hours pleasantly." "Selim Baruch, thou hast spoken well," said Achmet, the oldest of the merchants; "let us accept the offer." "I am glad the idea is welcome to you," said Selim, "and to show you that I do not demand anything unreasonable, I am willing to make a beginning."
Joyfully the five merchants drew closer together, and allowed the stranger to sit in their midst. The slaves refilled the cups, and also the pipes of their masters, bringing red-hot charcoal to light them. Selim however refreshed his voice with a mighty draught of sherbet, brushing away his long beard from his mouth, and said, "Now listen to the Story of the Caliph Stork."
THE STORY OF THE CALIPH STORK.
THE Caliph Chasid of Bagdad was sitting one fine
The Caliph, who had long desired to rejoice the heart of his Grand Vizier, ordered his black slave to fetch the pedlar. In a few moments the slave returned with him. He was a little stout man, swarthy in the face, and dressed in rags. He carried a box in which he had all sorts of wares, pearls, and rings, pistols with richlyinlaid stocks, goblets, and combs. The Caliph and his Vizier inspected everything, and the Caliph at last bought for himself and Vizier a pair of pistols, and for the Vizier's wife a comb. As the pedlar was about to close his box again, the Caliph caught sight of a little drawer, and asked whether it also contained some wares. The pedlar pulled out the drawer, and exhibited a snuff-box containing a black powder and a piece of paper with peculiar writing on it, which neither the Caliph nor Mansor could read. "These things were given to me one day by a merchant who found them in the streets of Mecca," said the pedlar
"I know not what they are; but you may have them for a small sum, for they are of no use to me.' The Caliph, who was very fond of having old manuscripts in his library, though unable to read them, bought both paper and box and dismissed the pedlar. The Caliph however thought he would like to know what the writing meant, and asked the Vizier if he did not know anybody who might decipher it. "Most gracious lord and master," answered the latter, "near the Great Mosque lives a man called Selim the learned; he knows all languages. Send for him; perhaps he can explain these mysterious signs."
The learned Selim soon arrived. "Selim," said the Caliph to him, "Selim, it is said thou art very learned. Just look at this writing whether thou canst read it; if thou canst read it, thou gettest a new role of honour from me; if thou canst not, thou gettest twelve boxes on the ears and twenty-five lashes on the soles of the feet, for having been called Selim the learned without cause. "Selim bowed and said: "Thy will be done, O Master! For a long time he looked at the writing; suddenly, however, he exclaimed: "That is Latin, O Master, or let me be hung!" 'Say what it means," demanded the Caliph, “if it is Latin."
Selim began to translate: "Man who findeth this, praise Allah for his goodness. He who takes a pinch of this powder in this box and therewith says Mutabor,' can change himself into any animal, and also understand the language of animals. If he afterwards wish to resume his human form, let him bow thrice to the East and say the same word. But beware when thou art changed, that thou laughest not, or the magic word departest from thy memory for ever, and thou remainest a beast."
When Selim the learned had read this, the Caliph was pleased beyond measure. He made the learned man swear not to reveal the secret to anyone, presented him with a splendid robe and dismissed him. Then turning to his Grand Vizier he said: "This I call getting a bargain, Mansor! How glad I am at being able to become an animal! Come thou to me to-morrow morning. We will then go together into the fields, take a pinch out of
the box and then listen to what is said in the air and the water, in wood and field."
Next morning, scarcely had the Caliph Chasid breakfasted and dressed himself, when already the Grand Vizier appeared as ordered, to accompany him on his walk. The Caliph put the box with the magic powder in his girdle, and after having ordered his suite to remain behind, he and the Grand Vizier set out alone on the journey. They first passed through the large gardens of the Caliph, but looked in vain for any living thing on which to try the experiment. The Vizier at last proposed to pursue their journey to a pond, where he had often seen many animals, especially storks, whose grave manners and clappings had always excited his attention.
The Caliph approved of the Vizier's proposal, and went with him towards the pond. Having arrived there, they saw a stork soberly pacing up and down looking for frogs, and chattering something now and then to itself. At the same moment they saw far up in the sky another stork hovering in this direction.
'I wager my beard, most gracious Master," said the Grand Vizier, "this long-legged pair are now having a pleasant talk. How would it be if we turned into storks?"
"Wisely spoken," replied the Caliph. But first, let us consider once more how we may become men again. It is easy enough! If we bow thrice to the east, and say Mutabor, I shall be Caliph and thou Vizier again. But for heaven's sake no laughing, or we are lost."
While the Caliph spoke thus, he saw the other stork hovering over their heads, and slowly alighting on the ground. Quickly he snatched the box from his girdle, took a hearty pinch, gave the box to the Grand Vizier, who did the like, and both exclaimed "Mutabor!"
Then their legs shrivelled and became thin and red, the beautiful yellow slippers of the Caliph and his Vizier changed into ugly storks' feet, their arms grew into wings, their necks shot up from their shoulders and reached a yard in length, their beards vanished and soft feathers covered their bodies.
"You have a pretty beak, Mr. Grand Vizier," said the