The Story Of The Barber's Sixth Brother
: The Arabian Nights Entertainments
There now remains for me to relate to you the story of my sixth
brother, whose name was Schacabac. Like the rest of us, he inherited a
hundred silver drachmas from our father, which he thought was a large
fortune, but through ill-luck, he soon lost it all, and was driven to
beg. As he had a smooth tongue and good manners, he really did very
well in his new profession, and he devoted himself specially to making
with the servants in big houses, so as to gain access to their
One day he was passing a splendid mansion, with a crowd of servants
lounging in the courtyard. He thought that from the appearance of the
house it might yield him a rich harvest, so he entered and inquired to
whom it belonged.
"My good man, where do you come from?" replied the servant. "Can't you
see for yourself that it can belong to nobody but a Barmecide?" for the
Barmecides were famed for their liberality and generosity. My brother,
hearing this, asked the porters, of whom there were several, if they
would give him alms. They did not refuse, but told him politely to go
in, and speak to the master himself.
My brother thanked them for their courtesy and entered the building,
which was so large that it took him some time to reach the apartments
of the Barmecide. At last, in a room richly decorated with paintings,
he saw an old man with a long white beard, sitting on a sofa, who
received him with such kindness that my brother was emboldened to make
"My lord," he said, "you behold in me a poor man who only lives by the
help of persons as rich and as generous as you."
Before he could proceed further, he was stopped by the astonishment
shown by the Barmecide. "Is it possible," he cried, "that while I am
in Bagdad, a man like you should be starving? That is a state of
things that must at once be put an end to! Never shall it be said that
I have abandoned you, and I am sure that you, on your part, will never
"My lord," answered my brother, "I swear that I have not broken my fast
this whole day."
"What, you are dying of hunger?" exclaimed the Barmecide. "Here,
slave; bring water, that we may wash our hands before meat!" No slave
appeared, but my brother remarked that the Barmecide did not fail to
rub his hands as if the water had been poured over them.
Then he said to my brother, "Why don't you wash your hands too?" and
Schacabac, supposing that it was a joke on the part of the Barmecide
(though he could see none himself), drew near, and imitated his motion.
When the Barmecide had done rubbing his hands, he raised his voice, and
cried, "Set food before us at once, we are very hungry." No food was
brought, but the Barmecide pretended to help himself from a dish, and
carry a morsel to his mouth, saying as he did so, "Eat, my friend, eat,
I entreat. Help yourself as freely as if you were at home! For a
starving man, you seem to have a very small appetite."
"Excuse me, my lord," replied Schacabac, imitating his gestures as
before, "I really am not losing time, and I do full justice to the
"How do you like this bread?" asked the Barmecide. "I find it
particularly good myself."
"Oh, my lord," answered my brother, who beheld neither meat nor bread,
"never have I tasted anything so delicious."
"Eat as much as you want," said the Barmecide. "I bought the woman who
makes it for five hundred pieces of gold, so that I might never be
After ordering a variety of dishes (which never came) to be placed on
the table, and discussing the merits of each one, the Barmecide
declared that having dined so well, they would now proceed to take
their wine. To this my brother at first objected, declaring that it
was forbidden; but on the Barmecide insisting that it was out of the
question that he should drink by himself, he consented to take a
little. The Barmecide, however, pretended to fill their glasses so
often, that my brother feigned that the wine had gone into his head,
and struck the Barmecide such a blow on the head, that he fell to the
ground. Indeed, he raised his hand to strike him a second time, when
the Barmecide cried out that he was mad, upon which my brother
controlled himself, and apologised and protested that it was all the
fault of the wine he had drunk. At this the Barmecide, instead of
being angry, began to laugh, and embraced him heartily. "I have long
been seeking," he exclaimed, "a man of your description, and henceforth
my house shall be yours. You have had the good grace to fall in with
my humour, and to pretend to eat and to drink when nothing was there.
Now you shall be rewarded by a really good supper."
Then he clapped his hands, and all the dishes were brought that they
had tasted in imagination before and during the repast, slaves sang and
played on various instruments. All the while Schacabac was treated by
the Barmecide as a familiar friend, and dressed in a garment out of his
Twenty years passed by, and my brother was still living with the
Barmecide, looking after his house, and managing his affairs. At the
end of that time his generous benefactor died without heirs, so all his
possessions went to the prince. They even despoiled my brother of
those that rightly belonged to him, and he, now as poor as he had ever
been in his life, decided to cast in his lot with a caravan of pilgrims
who were on their way to Mecca. Unluckily, the caravan was attacked
and pillaged by the Bedouins, and the pilgrims were taken prisoners.
My brother became the slave of a man who beat him daily, hoping to
drive him to offer a ransom, although, as Schacabac pointed out, it was
quite useless trouble, as his relations were as poor as himself. At
length the Bedouin grew tired of tormenting, and sent him on a camel to
the top of a high barren mountain, where he left him to take his
chance. A passing caravan, on its way to Bagdad, told me where he was
to be found, and I hurried to his rescue, and brought him in a
deplorable condition back to the town.
"This,"--continued the barber,--"is the tale I related to the Caliph,
who, when I had finished, burst into fits of laughter.
"Well were you called `the Silent,'" said he; "no name was ever better
deserved. But for reasons of my own, which it is not necessary to
mention, I desire you to leave the town, and never to come back."
"I had of course no choice but to obey, and travelled about for several
years until I heard of the death of the Caliph, when I hastily returned
to Bagdad, only to find that all my brothers were dead. It was at this
time that I rendered to the young cripple the important service of
which you have heard, and for which, as you know, he showed such
profound ingratitude, that he preferred rather to leave Bagdad than to
run the risk of seeing me. I sought him long from place to place, but
it was only to-day, when I expected it least, that I came across him,
as much irritated with me as ever"-- So saying the tailor went on to
relate the story of the lame man and the barber, which has already been
"When the barber," he continued, "had finished his tale, we came to the
conclusion that the young man had been right, when he had accused him
of being a great chatter-box. However, we wished to keep him with us,
and share our feast, and we remained at table till the hour of
afternoon prayer. Then the company broke up, and I went back to work
in my shop.
"It was during this interval that the little hunchback, half drunk
already, presented himself before me, singing and playing on his drum.
I took him home, to amuse my wife, and she invited him to supper.
While eating some fish, a bone got into his throat, and in spite of all
we could do, he died shortly. It was all so sudden that we lost our
heads, and in order to divert suspicion from ourselves, we carried the
body to the house of a Jewish physician. He placed it in the chamber
of the purveyor, and the purveyor propped it up in the street, where it
was thought to have been killed by the merchant.
"This, Sire, is the story which I was obliged to tell to satisfy your
highness. It is now for you to say if we deserve mercy or punishment;
life or death?"
The Sultan of Kashgar listened with an air of pleasure which filled the
tailor and his friends with hope. "I must confess," he exclaimed,
"that I am much more interested in the stories of the barber and his
brothers, and of the lame man, than in that of my own jester. But
before I allow you all four to return to your own homes, and have the
corpse of the hunchback properly buried, I should like to see this
barber who has earned your pardon. And as he is in this town, let an
usher go with you at once in search of him."
The usher and the tailor soon returned, bringing with them an old man
who must have been at least ninety years of age. "O Silent One," said
the Sultan, "I am told that you know many strange stories. Will you
tell some of them to me?"
"Never mind my stories for the present," replied the barber, "but will
your Highness graciously be pleased to explain why this Jew, this
Christian, and this Mussulman, as well as this dead body, are all here?"
"What business is that of yours?" asked the Sultan with a smile; but
seeing that the barber had some reasons for his question, he commanded
that the tale of the hunchback should be told him.
"It is certainly most surprising," cried he, when he had heard it all,
"but I should like to examine the body." He then knelt down, and took
the head on his knees, looking at it attentively. Suddenly he burst
into such loud laughter that he fell right backwards, and when he had
recovered himself enough to speak, he turned to the Sultan. "The man
is no more dead than I am," he said; "watch me." As he spoke he drew a
small case of medicines from his pocket and rubbed the neck of the
hunchback with some ointment made of balsam. Next he opened the dead
man's mouth, and by the help of a pair of pincers drew the bone from
his throat. At this the hunchback sneezed, stretched himself and
opened his eyes.
The Sultan and all those who saw this operation did not know which to
admire most, the constitution of the hunchback who had apparently been
dead for a whole night and most of one day, or the skill of the barber,
whom everyone now began to look upon as a great man. His Highness
desired that the history of the hunchback should be written down, and
placed in the archives beside that of the barber, so that they might be
associated in people's minds to the end of time. And he did not stop
there; for in order to wipe out the memory of what they had undergone,
he commanded that the tailor, the doctor, the purveyor and the
merchant, should each be clothed in his presence with a robe from his
own wardrobe before they returned home. As for the barber, he bestowed
on him a large pension, and kept him near his own person.