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Abi Fressah's Feast

from Jewish Fairy Tales And Legends





There was not in the whole city of Bagdad a greedier man than Abi
Fressah, and you may be sure he was not popular. It was not that he
was rich and refused to give heed to the needs of the poor. He was, in
truth, a merchant in moderately affluent circumstances, and he did not
withhold charity from the deserving; but he was a man of enormous
appetite and did not scruple to descend to trickery to secure an
invitation to a meal.

So skilful, indeed, did he become in wheedling these favors from his
friends and from those with whom he traded, that he devoted the major
portion of each day to feeding and left himself little time to attend
to his business affairs. Moreover, he grew unpleasantly fat. His face
was red and bloated with much wine drinking. He was not a nice person
to look upon at all, and those who had aforetime been his friends came
to the conclusion that the day had arrived when he should be taught a
severe lesson.


cursing. (Page 110).]

And so it came to pass that when Abi Fressah was standing in the
bazaar at the hour of the mid-day meal and eagerly scanning the crowd
to discover some acquaintance whom he could induce to ask him to
dinner, he saw Ben Maslia, one of the wealthiest and most generous of
men in Bagdad.

"Ah, my excellent friend," Abi cried, warmly greeting Ben Maslia,
"'tis almost an eternity since my unworthy eyes were cast upon thy
pleasant countenance. Peace be on thee and thine unto the end of
days."

"Also to thee," returned Ben Maslia.

"And whence comest thou? And whither goest thou, oh most hospitable
friend?" Abi Fressah asked these questions hastily, his beady eyes
searching the other's face hungrily for a sign upon which he could
seize to invite himself to a meal. "It is the hour of the mid-day
meal. Goest thou, perchance, to thy pious home?"

"Thither go I," said Ben Maslia.

"My path lies in the same direction," said Abi Fressah. "It will be
pleasant to walk together. Come," and he grasped Ben Maslia by the
arm.

"It is kind of thee, friend Abi Fressah," rejoined the other, "but I
have built me a new abode on the other side of the city."

Abi Fressah's face fell for a moment, but he was clever enough to take
advantage of the news.

"A new dwelling erected by the wealthy Ben Maslia," he said,
winningly, "must be a building of magnificence, worth seeing."

"Indeed it is as thou sayest," cried the other enthusiastically, and
forthwith he launched into a lavish description of his residence.

Abi Fressah grew impatient when Ben Maslia began to describe each room
in detail, his hunger increased when, in glowing words, his friend
painted the gorgeous dining-room, and his mouth watered at the
information that the cellars were stocked with a thousand bottles of
wine.

"Blessings on thee and thy wine-cellar and thy house," murmured Abi
Fressah, when he could get in a word. "I have no business of
consequence to transact this afternoon. I could not pay thee a better
compliment than to spend it examining thy treasures."

"Of a certainty thou couldst not," assented the other, to his great
glee.

"Then let us proceed," said Abi Fressah.

So they set out, Ben Maslia still continuing his glowing account of
his wonderful house.

"It must be as spacious as a palace," put in Abi Fressah.

"Thou speakest truth," agreed Ben Maslia. "I will illustrate to thee
the vast expanse of my new residence."

He stopped in his walk, measured one hundred paces in the street, and
intimated that this represented the width of the central courtyard.

Abi Fressah was overwhelmed with surprise, but he was growing
momentarily hungrier, and it was with difficulty he could restrain his
impatience.

"Yes, yes," he said, "I would fain gaze upon the outer door of thy
dwelling."

"Such an outer door," said Ben Maslia, "hast thou never seen. Its
width...." and again he began to measure the street to indicate its
dimensions.

"And further," he added, calmly, either failing to notice, or
deliberately overlooking Abi Fressah's growing distress, "its shape
and design are...!" and he dragged the other through several streets
until he found a door to which he could point as being not altogether
unlike his own.

"But I weary thee," he said, suddenly, as if regretful of the time he
had wasted.

"Nay, nay, not at all," Abi Fressah assured him, although he was
inwardly fuming at the delay. "Thy descriptions delight me
immeasurably. Thou hast not yet unfolded to me the wonders of thy
dining-room."

Thereupon Ben Maslia took up the tale of the dining-room and its
furniture, and he dragged his companion half a mile out of their path
to show him the furniture emporium where he had purchased the tables
and the couches. Then he retraced his steps to point out a building
from which he had borrowed certain ideas of decoration.

Abi Fressah's fat body was unused to such exertion. He perspired
freely, his legs tottered beneath him, and his tongue was parched. He
was really very uncomfortable, and the pangs of hunger from which he
suffered were not lessened when Ben Maslia stopped outside a
restaurant to speak to a friend who was just going in.

The conversation was prolonged, and all the time Abi Fressah's nose
was tickled by the smell of the cooking. He endured agonies,
especially when the friend invited Ben Maslia to dine with him, and
Ben Maslia, after a few moment's hesitation, firmly declined.

"I must apologize to thee for this delay," said Ben Maslia, when at
length he left his friend, "but the matter was urgent. I will make up
to thee by the magnificence of the feast."

Abi Fressah thanked him cordially for his consideration, but his pain
was intense when Ben Maslia insisted on giving him fullest particulars
of all the dishes he would enjoy.

"Yes, yes," Abi kept saying, but Ben Maslia stayed his interruptions.

"Thy dwelling is far from the center of the city," Abi Fressah managed
to say at last.

"That is a virtue," commented Ben Maslia, and he followed it up with
the advice given to him by a renowned physician that a house was
healthiest when it stood alone, away from the busy haunts of men. To
all this and more, Abi Fressah was compelled to listen. His whole fat
body ached with weariness, he was tortured by a raging thirst, and he
fancied he felt himself growing thinner--so fearfully hungry was he.

The sun was sinking when at last they reached the house, and Abi
Fressah was afraid for a moment that his host would enlarge upon its
architecture. To his relief, however, they entered straightway, and
Ben Maslia said to him, "Thou must be fatigued after thy walk. Rest
awhile."

Abi Fressah was truly grateful, and taking off his shoes he stretched
himself on a comfortable couch. He dozed for a while, but was awakened
by the noise of clattering dishes and the smell of savory cooking. He
almost forgot his unpleasant afternoon in the prospect of the coming
feast, but Ben Maslia came not. Abi Fressah soon felt angry. He could
not restrain himself from banging a big brass gong to summon a
servant. But although he banged several times, no servant answered the
call. Abi Fressah nearly shed tears in his despair.

Suddenly Ben Maslia appeared before him.

"I thought I would give thee ample rest," he said suavely. "Come, we
must perform our ablutions."

Abi Fressah would have preferred to have dispensed with this ceremony,
but he could not offend his host by declining to conform to the custom
of the period. Ben Maslia led the way to the bath-chamber, and there
they spent quite an hour. Then, thoroughly refreshed, the host said,
"Now I will show thee the wonders and beauties of my domain."

Abi Fressah was almost stupified with hunger, but he had to permit
himself to be led through each room and to hear again the praises that
had already been poured into his ears all the afternoon. Only the
smell of the cooking fortified his spirit and enabled him to undergo
the ordeal. He seemed to wake up from a stupor when his host opened a
door and exclaimed, "This is the feasting-chamber."

A scene of splendor burst upon the eyes of Abi Fressah. He rubbed his
hands in glee and was ready to forget and forgive the discomforts of
the past few hours. The dining-room presented a magnificent
appearance, with its gorgeous hangings, its many lamps, and its marble
floor. But these things Abi Fressah scarcely noted. His gaze was
promptly directed on the table.

It was spread with the most sumptuous repast that ever he had seen.
There were dishes upon dishes of tasty sweetmeats, huge platters of
luscious fruits, many bottles of wine, and covered bowls from which
arose the most appetizing aroma. Abi Fressah's mouth began to twitch
and his eyes glowed. He moved forward to a seat.

"Good friend," said his host, "let me first introduce to your notice
my staff of servants."

He clapped his hands, and immediately, in quite startling fashion, a
dozen servants stepped from behind the hangings which had hidden them
and bowed before their master. With a dozen attendants to wait upon
him, Abi Fressah saw that he was going to enjoy a meal worthy of the
occasion. He looked upon the slaves with satisfaction.

"Note, my worthy Abi Fressah," said Ben Maslia, "that this is no
ordinary retinue of servants. Each one comes from a different part of
the known world. Rosh, the big man there, head of them all, is the
only native of Bagdad. He has an interesting history. He has been in
my service since his birth. His father was likewise in the service of
my sainted father, and his grandfather.... But let that suffice. I
would not imprison thy appetite longer. Sheni--that is the second
servant, the big black Nubian there--bring hither the first dish."

Sheni took up one of the dishes from the table and placed himself by
the side of his master.

"Stands he not well?" asked Ben Maslia, in admiring tones. "He is a
descendant of kings. In ancient days his ancestors sat on a throne and
ruled over a huge territory beyond the deserts of Africa. I obtained
him during my journey in that country. And on that occasion I
discovered this beautiful rug in a shop in Cairo."

Saying which, Ben Maslia rose from his seat and fingered lovingly one
of the hangings of the room. Abi Fressah did not rise. He was trying
to keep his temper. The dish which Sheni held so tantalizingly under
his very nose made him mad with hunger and desire.

But Ben Maslia took no heed. He began to dilate upon the virtues of
another piece of tapestry.

"This," he said, "I bought in the famous bazaar of Damascus. It is
hundreds of years old. And in that city, too, I became possessed of my
third servant, Shelishi there, a true-born son of the Holy Land and
the keeper of my camels. Our meeting was an adventure...."

Abi Fressah was not listening. This was beyond endurance. He felt that
soon he would collapse in a faint on the floor. And still Ben Maslia
droned on. There was a servant from China and also a cunningly wrought
vase from that land; a brown page boy in a red turban from India from
which land his host had also brought the lamp standing in the center
of the table and some of the flowers which adorned the room.

"You would not guess," he was saying, "that many of these blooms are
not natural. They are artificial but mixed so skilfully with the real
that even experts would be deluded."

By this time Abi Fressah was beyond the power of speech. Two or three
times, he tried to speak but could not. He was really too weak. Never
in his life before had he been so hungry, so tortured. It was some
time, however, before Ben Maslia noticed his plight.

"Art thou ill?" he exclaimed. "That grieves me. But, fortunately, I
have in the house an experienced apothecary who can apply leeches and
relieve thee of foul blood."

"No, no," pleaded the unhappy Abi Fressah, finding his tongue at this
dismal prospect.

"Perchance a glass of rare cordial will revive thee," said Ben Maslia,
taking one of the bottles from the table.

Abi Fressah managed to gasp the word "Yes," and Rosh held a goblet
into which Ben Maslia poured a rich, red fluid.

"Drink this," he said kindly, holding the cup to his guest's lip.

"At last," thought Abi Fressah, as he opened his mouth.

The next moment he sprang from his stool with astonishing agility,
spluttering and cursing. The liquid was bitter in the extreme, the
taste it left in his mouth most horrid.

"Now I know I have been hoodwinked," he screamed in rage, and he
dashed toward the outer door.

"Stay, stay--what ails thee?" cried Ben Maslia.

"Stop, stop," echoed the servants, as Abi Fressah commenced to run.

The cry was taken up in the street by those who saw a fat man panting
along in the darkness, pursued by a number of servants.

"Stop thief!" was the cry of one man in his excitement. The town
guards heard, and without any ado they seized Abi Fressah and hauled
him off to the jail. In vain he begged for mercy and struggled for
freedom.

"If thou wilt not behave, we shall use force," the guards said, and
they beat him with staves.

At the jail, Abi Fressah was flung into a cell, and there, on a bed of
straw on the ground, he spent a horrible, sleepless night. He ached in
every bone in his body, he was bruised all over, and his hunger was
such that he felt he had never eaten in his life. His reflections were
sad, as you may well imagine, and they led him to a vow that never
again would he seek the hospitality of his friends. He realized at
last that he had made himself obnoxious and had been cleverly and
deservedly well punished.

Even yet his sufferings were not at an end, for next morning, when he
was released and sent for his physician, the latter prescribed a diet
of gruel and barley water for a whole week!


lying on the ground. (Page 115).]





Next: The Beggar King

Previous: The Star-child



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