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The Story Of Sidi-nouman

from The Arabian Nights Entertainments





The Caliph, Haroun-al-Raschid, was much pleased with the tale of the
blind man and the dervish, and when it was finished he turned to the
young man who had ill-treated his horse, and inquired his name also.
The young man replied that he was called Sidi-Nouman.

"Sidi-Nouman," observed the Caliph, "I have seen horses broken all my
life long, and have even broken them myself, but I have never seen any
horse broken in such a barbarous manner as by you yesterday. Every one
who looked on was indignant, and blamed you loudly. As for myself, I
was so angry that I was very nearly disclosing who I was, and putting a
stop to it at once. Still, you have not the air of a cruel man, and I
would gladly believe that you did not act in this way without some
reason. As I am told that it was not the first time, and indeed that
every day you are to be seen flogging and spurring your horse, I wish
to come to the bottom of the matter. But tell me the whole truth, and
conceal nothing."

Sidi-Nouman changed colour as he heard these words, and his manner grew
confused; but he saw plainly that there was no help for it. So he
prostrated himself before the throne of the Caliph and tried to obey,
but the words stuck in his throat, and he remained silent.

The Caliph, accustomed though he was to instant obedience, guessed
something of what was passing in the young man's mind, and sought to
put him at his ease. "Sidi-Nouman," he said, "do not think of me as
the Caliph, but merely as a friend who would like to hear your story.
If there is anything in it that you are afraid may offend me, take
courage, for I pardon you beforehand. Speak then openly and without
fear, as to one who knows and loves you."

Reassured by the kindness of the Caliph, Sidi-Nouman at length began
his tale.

"Commander of the Faithful," said he, "dazzled though I am by the
lustre of your Highness' presence, I will do my best to satisfy your
wishes. I am by no means perfect, but I am not naturally cruel,
neither do I take pleasure in breaking the law. I admit that the
treatment of my horse is calculated to give your Highness a bad opinion
of me, and to set an evil example to others; yet I have not chastised
it without reason, and I have hopes that I shall be judged more worthy
of pity than punishment."

Commander of the Faithful, I will not trouble to describe my birth; it
is not of sufficient distinction to deserve your Highness' attention.
My ancestors were careful people, and I inherited enough money to
enable me to live comfortably, though without show.

Having therefore a modest fortune, the only thing wanting to my
happiness was a wife who could return my affection, but this blessing I
was not destined to get; for on the very day after my marriage, my
bride began to try my patience in every way that was most hard to bear.

Now, seeing that the customs of our land oblige us to marry without
ever beholding the person with whom we are to pass our lives, a man has
of course no right to complain as long as his wife is not absolutely
repulsive, or is not positively deformed. And whatever defects her
body may have, pleasant ways and good behaviour will go far to remedy
them.

The first time I saw my wife unveiled, when she had been brought to my
house with the usual ceremonies, I was enchanted to find that I had not
been deceived in regard to the account that had been given me of her
beauty. I began my married life in high spirits, and the best hopes of
happiness.

The following day a grand dinner was served to us but as my wife did
not appear, I ordered a servant to call her. Still she did not come,
and I waited impatiently for some time. At last she entered the room,
and she took our places at the table, and plates of rice were set
before us.

I ate mine, as was natural, with a spoon, but great was my surprise to
notice that my wife, instead of doing the same, drew from her pocket a
little case, from which she selected a long pin, and by the help of
this pin conveyed her rice grain by grain to her mouth.

"Amina," I exclaimed in astonishment, "is that the way you eat rice at
home? And did you do it because your appetite was so small, or did you
wish to count the grains so that you might never eat more than a
certain number? If it was from economy, and you are anxious to teach
me not to be wasteful, you have no cause for alarm. We shall never
ruin ourselves in that way! Our fortune is large enough for all our
needs, therefore, dear Amina, do not seek to check yourself, but eat as
much as you desire, as I do!"

In reply to my affectionate words, I expected a cheerful answer; yet
Amina said nothing at all, but continued to pick her rice as before,
only at longer and longer intervals. And, instead of trying the other
dishes, all she did was to put every now and then a crumb, of bread
into her mouth, that would not have made a meal for a sparrow.

I felt provoked by her obstinacy, but to excuse her to myself as far as
I could, I suggested that perhaps she had never been used to eat in the
company of men, and that her family might have taught her that she
ought to behave prudently and discreetly in the presence of her
husband. Likewise that she might either have dined already or intend
to do so in her own apartments. So I took no further notice, and when
I had finished left the room, secretly much vexed at her strange
conduct.

The same thing occurred at supper, and all through the next day,
whenever we ate together. It was quite clear that no woman could live
upon two or three bread-crumbs and a few grains of rice, and I
determined to find out how and when she got food. I pretended not to
pay attention to anything she did, in the hope that little by little
she would get accustomed to me, and become more friendly; but I soon
saw that my expectations were quite vain.

One night I was lying with my eyes closed, and to, all appearance sound
asleep, when Amina arose softly, and dressed herself without making the
slightest sound. I could not imagine what she was going to do, and as
my curiosity was great I made up my mind to follow her. When she was
fully dressed, she stole quietly from the room.

The instant she had let the curtain fall behind her, I flung a garment
on my shoulders and a pair of slippers on my feet. Looking from a
lattice which opened into the court, I saw her in the act of passing
through the street door, which she carefully left open.

It was bright moonlight, so I easily managed to keep her in sight, till
she entered a cemetery not far from the house. There I hid myself
under the shadow of the wall, and crouched down cautiously; and hardly
was I concealed, when I saw my wife approaching in company with a
ghoul--one of those demons which, as your Highness is aware, wander
about the country making their lairs in deserted buildings and
springing out upon unwary travellers whose flesh they eat. If no live
being goes their way, they then betake themselves to the cemeteries,
and feed upon the dead bodies.

I was nearly struck dumb with horror on seeing my wife with this
hideous female ghoul. They passed by me without noticing me, began to
dig up a corpse which had been buried that day, and then sat down on
the edge of the grave, to enjoy their frightful repast, talking quietly
and cheerfully all the while, though I was too far off to hear what
they said. When they had finished, they threw back the body into the
grave, and heaped back the earth upon it. I made no effort to disturb
them, and returned quickly to the house, when I took care to leave the
door open, as I had previously found it. Then I got back into bed, and
pretended to sleep soundly.

A short time after Amina entered as quietly as she had gone out. She
undressed and stole into bed, congratulating herself apparently on the
cleverness with which she had managed her expedition.

As may be guessed, after such a scene it was long before I could close
my eyes, and at the first sound which called the faithful to prayer, I
put on my clothes and went to the mosque. But even prayer did not
restore peace to my troubled spirit, and I could not face my wife until
I had made up my mind what future course I should pursue in regard to
her. I therefore spent the morning roaming about from one garden to
another, turning over various plans for compelling my wife to give up
her horrible ways; I thought of using violence to make her submit, but
felt reluctant to be unkind to her. Besides, I had an instinct that
gentle means had the best chance of success; so, a little soothed, I
turned towards home, which I reached about the hour of dinner.

As soon as I appeared, Amina ordered dinner to be served, and we sat
down together. As usual, she persisted in only picking a few grains of
rice, and I resolved to speak to her at once of what lay so heavily on
my heart.

"Amina," I said, as quietly as possible, "you must have guessed the
surprise I felt, when the day after our marriage you declined to eat
anything but a few morsels of rice, and altogether behaved in such a
manner that most husbands would have been deeply wounded. However I
had patience with you, and only tried to tempt your appetite by the
choicest dishes I could invent, but all to no purpose. Still, Amina,
it seems to me that there be some among them as sweet to the taste as
the flesh of a corpse?"

I had no sooner uttered these words than Amina, who instantly
understood that I had followed her to the grave-yard, was seized with a
passion beyond any that I have ever witnessed. Her face became purple,
her eyes looked as if they would start from her head, and she
positively foamed with rage.

I watched her with terror, wondering what would happen next, but little
thinking what would be the end of her fury. She seized a vessel of
water that stood at hand, and plunging her hand in it, murmured some
words I failed to catch. Then, sprinkling it on my face, she cried
madly:

"Wretch, receive the reward of your prying, and become a dog."

The words were not out of her mouth when, without feeling conscious
that any change was passing over me, I suddenly knew that I had ceased
to be a man. In the greatness of the shock and surprise--for I had no
idea that Amina was a magician--I never dreamed of running away, and
stood rooted to the spot, while Amina grasped a stick and began to beat
me. Indeed her blows were so heavy, that I only wonder they did not
kill me at once. However they succeeded in rousing me from my stupor,
and I dashed into the court-yard, followed closely by Amina, who made
frantic dives at me, which I was not quick enough to dodge. At last
she got tired of pursuing me, or else a new trick entered into her
head, which would give me speedy and painful death; she opened the gate
leading into the street, intending to crush me as I passed through.
Dog though I was, I saw through her design, and stung into presence of
mind by the greatness of the danger, I timed my movements so well that
I contrived to rush through, and only the tip of my tail received a
squeeze as she banged the gate.

I was safe, but my tail hurt me horribly, and I yelped and howled so
loud all along the streets, that the other dogs came and attacked me,
which made matters no better. In order to avoid them, I took refuge in
a cookshop, where tongues and sheep's heads were sold.

At first the owner showed me great kindness, and drove away the other
dogs that were still at my heels, while I crept into the darkest
corner. But though I was safe for the moment, I was not destined to
remain long under his protection, for he was one of those who hold all
dogs to be unclean, and that all the washing in the world will hardly
purify you from their contact. So after my enemies had gone to seek
other prey, he tried to lure me from my corner in order to force me
into the street. But I refused to come out of my hole, and spent the
night in sleep, which I sorely needed, after the pain inflicted on me
by Amina.

I have no wish to weary your Highness by dwelling on the sad thoughts
which accompanied my change of shape, but it may interest you to hear
that the next morning my host went out early to do his marketing, and
returned laden with the sheep's heads, and tongues and trotters that
formed his stock in trade for the day. The smell of meat attracted
various hungry dogs in the neighbourhood, and they gathered round the
door begging for some bits. I stole out of my corner, and stood with
them.

In spite of his objection to dogs, as unclean animals, my protector was
a kind-hearted man, and knowing I had eaten nothing since yesterday, he
threw me bigger and better bits than those which fell to the share of
the other dogs. When I had finished, I tried to go back into the shop,
but this he would not allow, and stood so firmly at the entrance with a
stout stick, that I was forced to give it up, and seek some other home.

A few paces further on was a baker's shop, which seemed to have a gay
and merry man for a master. At that moment he was having his
breakfast, and though I gave no signs of hunger, he at once threw me a
piece of bread. Before gobbling it up, as most dogs are in the habit
of doing, I bowed my head and wagged my tail, in token of thanks, and
he understood, and smiled pleasantly. I really did not want the bread
at all, but felt it would be ungracious to refuse, so I ate it slowly,
in order that he might see that I only did it out of politeness. He
understood this also, and seemed quite willing to let me stay in his
shop, so I sat down, with my face to the door, to show that I only
asked his protection. This he gave me, and indeed encouraged me to
come into the house itself, giving me a corner where I might sleep,
without being in anybody's way.

The kindness heaped on me by this excellent man was far greater than I
could ever have expected. He was always affectionate in his manner of
treating me, and I shared his breakfast, dinner and supper, while, on
my side, I gave him all the gratitude and attachment to which he had a
right.

I sat with my eyes fixed on him, and he never left the house without
having me at his heels; and if it ever happened that when he was
preparing to go out I was asleep, and did not notice, he would call
"Rufus, Rufus," for that was the name he gave me.

Some weeks passed in this way, when one day a woman came in to buy
bread. In paying for it, she laid down several pieces of money, one of
which was bad. The baker perceived this, and declined to take it,
demanding another in its place. The woman, for her part, refused to
take it back, declaring it was perfectly good, but the baker would have
nothing to do with it. "It is really such a bad imitation," he
exclaimed at last, "that even my dog would not be taken in. Here
Rufus! Rufus!" and hearing his voice, I jumped on to the counter. The
baker threw down the money before me, and said, "Find out if there is a
bad coin." I looked at each in turn, and then laid my paw on the false
one, glancing at the same time at my master, so as to point it out.

The baker, who had of course been only in joke, was exceedingly
surprised at my cleverness, and the woman, who was at last convinced
that the man spoke the truth, produced another piece of money in its
place. When she had gone, my master was so pleased that he told all
the neighbours what I had done, and made a great deal more of it than
there really was.

The neighbours, very naturally, declined to believe his story, and
tried me several times with all the bad money they could collect
together, but I never failed to stand the test triumphantly.

Soon, the shop was filled from morning till night, with people who on
the pretence of buying bread came to see if I was as clever as I was
reported to be. The baker drove a roaring trade, and admitted that I
was worth my weight in gold to him.

Of course there were plenty who envied him his large custom, and many
was the pitfall set for me, so that he never dared to let me out of his
sight. One day a woman, who had not been in the shop before, came to
ask for bread, like the rest. As usual, I was lying on the counter,
and she threw down six coins before me, one of which was false. I
detected it at once, and put my paw on it, looking as I did so at the
woman. "Yes," she said, nodding her head. "You are quite right, that
is the one." She stood gazing at me attentively for some time, then
paid for the bread, and left the shop, making a sign for me to follow
her secretly.

Now my thoughts were always running on some means of shaking off the
spell laid on me, and noticing the way in which this woman had looked
at me, the idea entered my head that perhaps she might have guessed
what had happened, and in this I was not deceived. However I let her
go on a little way, and merely stood at the door watching her. She
turned, and seeing that I was quite still, she again beckoned to me.

The baker all this while was busy with his oven, and had forgotten all
about me, so I stole out softly, and ran after the woman.

When we came to her house, which was some distance off, she opened the
door and then said to me, "Come in, come in; you will never be sorry
that you followed me." When I had entered she fastened the door, and
took me into a large room, where a beautiful girl was working at a
piece of embroidery. "My daughter," exclaimed my guide, "I have
brought you the famous dog belonging to the baker which can tell good
money from bad. You know that when I first heard of him, I told you I
was sure he must be really a man, changed into a dog by magic. To-day
I went to the baker's, to prove for myself the truth of the story, and
persuaded the dog to follow me here. Now what do you say?"

"You are right, mother," replied the girl, and rising she dipped her
hand into a vessel of water. Then sprinkling it over me she said, "If
you were born dog, remain dog; but if you were born man, by virtue of
this water resume your proper form." In one moment the spell was
broken. The dog's shape vanished as if it had never been, and it was a
man who stood before her.

Overcome with gratitude at my deliverance, I flung myself at her feet,
and kissed the hem of her garment. "How can I thank you for your
goodness towards a stranger, and for what you have done? Henceforth I
am your slave. Deal with me as you will!"

Then, in order to explain how I came to be changed into a dog, I told
her my whole story, and finished with rendering the mother the thanks
due to her for the happiness she had brought me.

"Sidi-Nouman," returned the daughter, "say no more about the obligation
you are under to us. The knowledge that we have been of service to you
is ample payment. Let us speak of Amina, your wife, with whom I was
acquainted before her marriage. I was aware that she was a magician,
and she knew too that I had studied the same art, under the same
mistress. We met often going to the same baths, but we did not like
each other, and never sought to become friends. As to what concerns
you, it is not enough to have broken your spell, she must be punished
for her wickedness. Remain for a moment with my mother, I beg," she
added hastily, "I will return shortly."

Left alone with the mother, I again expressed the gratitude I felt, to
her as well as to her daughter.

"My daughter," she answered, "is, as you see, as accomplished a
magician as Amina herself, but you would be astonished at the amount of
good she does by her knowledge. That is why I have never interfered,
otherwise I should have put a stop to it long ago." As she spoke, her
daughter entered with a small bottle in her hand.

"Sidi-Nouman," she said, "the books I have just consulted tell me that
Amina is not home at present, but she should return at any moment. I
have likewise found out by their means, that she pretends before the
servants great uneasiness as to your absence. She has circulated a
story that, while at dinner with her, you remembered some important
business that had to be done at once, and left the house without
shutting the door. By this means a dog had strayed in, which she was
forced to get rid of by a stick. Go home then without delay, and await
Amina's return in your room. When she comes in, go down to meet her,
and in her surprise, she will try to run away. Then have this bottle
ready, and dash the water it contains over her, saying boldly, "Receive
the reward of your crimes." That is all I have to tell you."

Everything happened exactly as the young magician had foretold. I had
not been in my house many minutes before Amina returned, and as she
approached I stepped in front of her, with the water in my hand. She
gave one loud cry, and turned to the door, but she was too late. I had
already dashed the water in her face and spoken the magic words. Amina
disappeared, and in her place stood the horse you saw me beating
yesterday.

This, Commander of the Faithful, is my story, and may I venture to hope
that, now you have heard the reason of my conduct, your Highness will
not think this wicked woman too harshly treated?

"Sidi-Nouman," replied the Caliph, "your story is indeed a strange one,
and there is no excuse to be offered for your wife. But, without
condemning your treatment of her, I wish you to reflect how much she
must suffer from being changed into an animal, and I hope you will let
that punishment be enough. I do not order you to insist upon the young
magician finding the means to restore your wife to her human shape,
because I know that when once women such as she begin to work evil they
never leave off, and I should only bring down on your head a vengeance
far worse than the one you have undergone already."





Next: The Story Of Ali Colia Merchant Of Bagdad

Previous: The Story Of The Blind Baba-abdalla



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