The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night

Tale of Mohsin and Musa.434

It fortuned once upon a time that two men went forth from the same place, one foregoing the other, and they forgathered by the way. Now each had a bag full of flour and a flask435 containing somewhat of water; and when they made acquaintance on the road the first of them said to his companion, “O my brother, what may be thy name?” and said the Second, “I am hight Mohsin, the Beneficent,436 and thou, what art thou called?” Quoth the other, “MúsB the Malignant.”437 So the two fared on in converse and whenever mealtime came round, each would bring out a portion of meal and knead it and make of it a scone,438 and light a fire and bake it thereon: after which they would satisfy their hunger. But Mohsin knew not that had been doomed for him by his companion Musa the Misdoer, so the twain would fare together and feed together. On the following day quoth Musa to Mohsin, “O my brother, I have with me a bag of flour and a flask of water and thou hast the same, and whenever eating-time cometh round each one bringeth out somewhat of his vivers. Now this is not right; ’twere the better way that we first eat that is with thee and when ’tis ended we use my provaunt.” “’Tis well, O my brother,” quoth Mohsin. They agreed upon this condition and whenever moved by appetite they ate of Mohsin’s viaticum until his bag of flour and his flask of water were clean emptied. But when the meal-hour came, Musa arose and made for him a single scone and no more, and baked it and ate it by himself, while Mohsin sat by looking on. This befel time after time for the first day and the second day until Mohsin waxed anhungered and famine wrung his vitals, so quoth he to Musa, “O my brother, give me somewhat of thy food that I may nourish myself therewith, for indeed I am empty exceedingly.” But Musa made reply, “By Allah, I will not give it to thee; no, not a single mouthful.” Rejoined Mohsin, “O my brother, we two made covenant that we should become brethren, and first eat of my provaunt and then of thine; now, however, thou art not pleased to grant me or bite or sup. This is not the act of an honest man.” He answered, “Be brief! an thou be hungry I will give thee half of my scone on condition that I pluck out thine eye.” “How so, O my brother?” rejoined Mohsin, “Wilt thou blind me of one eye for the sake of half a scone? better leave me to die with my sight as it is.” Said Musa, “At thy pleasure!”439 But on the third day Mohsin was like to sink for extreme hunger, and he cried, “There is no Majesty and there is no Might save in Allah, the Glorious, the Great. Do thou, O Musa, give the half-scone and pluck out one of mine eyes.” Musa did as he was bidden, and thrusting forth his finger gouged440 out the right eye, whereby Mohsin remained purblind, withal was he not filled by the half-scone. Now on the fourth day Mohsin waxed yet more ravenous and famine was right sore upon him, and he cried, “There is no Majesty! by Allah, O Musa, my brother, I am afamished, so pity me and the Lord shall pity thee.” Replied the other, “I will give thee nothing until I shall have gouged out thine other eye.” Quoth Mohsin, “Verily we are Allah’s and unto him we shall return! but, by the Almighty, famishing is bitter; so do thou with me, O Musa, what the Omniscient hath predestined as to the plucking out of my two eyes.” Accordingly the man gave him the half scone and plucked out his other eye; and on such wise made him stone blind. Hereupon Musa left his companion darkly tramping441 about the roads. Now in the neighbourhood of that place was a well full of water;442 so when Mohsin drew near knowing nothing thereof, Musa came up and pushed him thereinto; and while falling into the pit Mohsin said to himself, “O Lord, thou hast doomed me to blinding and at last Thou hast condemned me to drowning."— And Shahrazad was surprised by the dawn of day and fell silent and ceased to say her permitted say. Then quoth her sister Dunyazad, “How sweet is thy story, O sister mine, and how enjoyable and delectable!” Quoth she, “And where is this compared with that I would relate to you on the coming night an the King suffer me to survive?” Now when it was the next night and that was

434 MS. vi. 57-77, not translated by Scott, who entitles it (vi. 461) “Mhassun, the Liberal, and Mouseh, the treacherous Friend.” It is a variant of “The Envier and the Envied:” vol. i. 123.

435 The Arab. “Jarrah”: vol. viii. 177.

436 i.e. One who does good, a benefactor.

437 In the text “Músà wa Múzi,” the latter word==vexatious, troublesome. [I notice that in the MS. the name is distinctly and I believe purposely spelt with Hamzah above the Wáw and Kasrah beneath the Sín, reading “Muusí.” It is, therefore, a travesty of the name Músà, and the exact counterpart of “Muhsin”, being the active participle of “asáa”, 4th form of “sáa,"==he did evil, he injured, and nearly equivalent with the following “Muuzí.” The two names may perhaps be rendered: Muhsin, the Beneficent, and Muusí, the Malignant, the Malefactor. — ST.]

438 In text “Fatír” for “Fatírah”==a pancake, before described.

439 In text “Bi-khátiri-k”==Thy will be done; the whole dialogue is in pure Fellah speech.

440 Supposed to be American, but, despite Bartlett, really old English from Lancashire, the land which has supplied many of the so-called “American” neologisms. A gouge is a hollow chisel, a scoop; and to gouge is to poke out the eye: this is done by thrusting the fingers into the side-hair thus acting as a base and by prising out the ball with the thumbnail which is purposely grown long.

441 [In the text: “Fa tarak-hu Muusí am’à dáir yaltash fí ‘l-Tarík.” Latash has the meaning of beating, tapping; I therefore think the passage means: “hereupon Muusí left him, blind as he was, tramping and groping his way” (feeling it with his hands or stick). -ST.]

442 In text “Biiru milyánah Moyah.” As a rule the Fellah of Egypt says “Mayyeh,” the Cairene “Mayya,” and the foreigner “Moyah”: the old Syrian is “Mayá,” the mod. “Moy,” and the classical dim. of “Má” is “Muwayy,” also written“Muwayy” and “Muwayhah.”

The Seven Hundred and Sixty-seventh Night,

Dunyazad said to her, “Allah upon thee, O my sister, an thou be other than sleepy, finish for us thy tale that we may cut short the watching of this our latter night!” She replied, “With love and good will!” It hath reached me, O auspicious King, the director, the right-guiding, lord of the rede which is benefiting and of deeds fair-seeming and worthy celebrating, that when Musa had thrust Mohsin into the well with intent to drown him, the blinded man cried, “O Lord thou hast doomed me to blinding, and at last Thou hast condemned me to drowning.” Then he struck out with hands and feet till he felt the walls of the well wherein he found two niches; so he set toes into one of them and there stood awaiting the salvation of Allah which was nearhand; and his heart was satisfied and he drank of the water. When the first night fell behold, two of the Jinns came to the pit and sat down in converse each with other, when quoth the first to the second, “Walláhi! O certain person, there is now to be found nor sage nor leach, and all of them are preposterous pretenders and barkers of man’s intent.” Quoth the other, “What may be these words?” and the former resumed, “By Allah, I have possessed the daughter of the Sultan and she is the dearling of my heart whom I love with dearest love; yet can none avail to unsorcel her of me.” Quoth his companion, “And what would expel thee?” And quoth he, “Naught will oust me save a black cock or a sable chicken; and whenas one shall bring such and cut his throat under her feet of a Saturday,443 I shall not have power to approach the city wherein she dwelleth.” “By Allah, O my brother,” said the other, “thou hast spoken sooth: there is in this land nor wizard nor mediciner who knoweth aught and all of them are liars and contradictors who lay claim to science without aught of intelligence; indeed there is not one of them who knoweth of this tree (which adjoineth our well) that whoso shall take the leaves thereof and plaster them upon his eyes, even though he be born blind he will be gifted with sight and wax sound after two or three days by the kind permission of Allah Almighty. Yet are the folk all heedless of such virtue in the tree.” Now Mohsin remained listening to these words and pondering them as he stood supported by the side-wall of the well, and when it was the last third of the night, the Jinns which were conversing at the mouth took leave each of other. And as soon as the day brake and the time waxed bright behold there came a Kafilah which passed by the pit seeking drink for themselves and water for their cattle. Presently they let down a bucket by a cord and when Mohsin felt the rope he caught hold thereof, whereat the caravan people cried, “We take refuge with Allah from Satan the Stoned,” and said one to other, “Verily in this well is a Satan!” Mohsin heard their words and answered them and said, “Yá‘llah444 Ho you, draw me out hence, for verily I am of mankind and not of Jinn-kind and being blind I fell yesterday into this hole.” Cried they, “Catch tight hold of the cord,” and when he did so they drew him out and finding him weak from famine they gave him a somewhat of food and he ate and drank. The caravan-folk on like guise drank from the well and watered their beasts; after which they would have led Mohsin away with them but he said, “O my brethren (whose weal Allah increase445 and whose grace may He reward!), I have a single want wherewith I fain ye would favour me!” Asked they, “And what may that be?” and he answered, “That ye direct me to the tree which adjoineth this well and lead me close thereto and God shall gar your good to grow!” Hereupon one hent him by the hand and after doing as he desired and setting him beside the tree returned to his own folk and the caravan loaded and left the place. Presently Mohsin swarmed up the trunk; and, taking seat upon a branch of its branches, fell to cropping the leaves and patching them upon either eye as he had heard the Jinni prescribe; and hardly had two days gone by when he felt healed of his hurt and opened his eyelids and saw what was around him. Then, after taking somewhat of its foliage, he came down from the tree and went on his wayfare until he entered a city and found him a lodging. When this was done he fell to threading the streets and ways crying aloud the while, “I am the Leach, the Healer!446 I am the Mediciner who can cure the blind!” whereat all the one-eyed and the sightless would summon him with outcries and he would apply to them somewhat of his leaves; and after two or three days (he superintending the while) they would open their eyes and see. On this wise went by a term of time until at last the King of that city heard rumour of a new leach; so he sent to him and summoned him and said to him, “Art thou a clever Medicine-man even as they have informed me concerning thee? I have a daughter ridden447 by a Jinni of the Jann and we desire of thee that thou unsorcel her.” “And if I avail not to free her?” asked Mohsin, and the King answered, “Then will I kill thee even as I have slain a many before thee who have looked upon the face of the Princess.” “And if I prove able to deliver her and fend her from further offence?” “I will give thee what thou askest of coin and hoards.” “No, O King of the Age; this condition I will not accept: if I free her I must take her to wife, for an I fail therein thou wilt slay me; and unless thou agree with me after I shall have saved her that thou e’en wed her to me”—448 “’Tis well, O Shaykh; and for releasing her I give thee a delay of three months for visiting and healing her."— And Shahrazad was surprised by the dawn of day and fell silent and ceased saying her permitted say. Then quoth her sister Dunyazad, “How sweet and tasteful is thy tale, O sister mine, and how enjoyable and delectable!” Quoth she, “And where is this compared with that I would relate to you on the coming night, an the Sovran suffer me to survive?” Now when it was the next night and that was

443 “Sabt”==Sabbath, Saturday: vol. ii. 305, and passim.

444 i.e. “By Allah,” meaning “Be quick!”

445 For this well-nigh the sole equivalent amongst the Moslems of our “thank you,” see Vol. iv. 6. and v. 171.

446 In Arab. “Ana ‘l-Tabíb, al-Mudáwi.” In pop. parlance, the former is the scientific practitioner and the latter represents the man of the people who deals in simples, etc.

447 In text “Rákiba-há,” the technical term for demoniac insiliation or possession: the idea survives in our “succubi” and “incubi.” I look upon these visions often as the effects of pollutio nocturne. A modest woman for instance dreams of being possessed by some man other than her husband; she loves the latter and is faithful to him, and consequently she must explain the phenomena superstitiously and recur to diabolical agency. Of course it is the same with men, only they are at less trouble to excuse themselves.

448 The construction here, MS. p. 67, is very confused. [The speech of Muhsin seems to be elliptical. In Ar. it runs: “Li-anní izá, lam nukhullis-ha (or nukhlis-há, 2nd or 4th form) taktulní, wa aná iz lam tattafik ma’í anní izá khallastu-há tu’tí-há alayya” — which I believe to mean: “for if I do not deliver her, thou wilt kill me; so I (say) unless thou stipulate with me that when I have delivered her thou wilt give her to me in marriage —” supply: “well then I wash my hand of the whole business.” The Shaykh acts on the tit for tat principle in a style worthy of the “honest broker” himself. — ST.]

The Seven Hundred and Sixty-ninth Night,

Dunyazad said to her, “Allah upon thee, O my sister, an thou be other than sleepy, finish for us thy tale that we may cut short the watching of this our latter night!” She replied, “With love and good will!” It hath reached me, O auspicious King, the director, the right-guiding, lord of the rede which is benefiting and of deeds fair-seeming and worthy celebrating, that the King covenanted with the Mediciner that the unsorceling of the Princess should be within three months; after which he set apart an apartment for him with all the furniture and appurtenances thereof and appointed to him rations of meat and drink. So Mohsin abode with him the appointed time and he in the extreme of comfort and enjoyment; but when the three months were ended the Sultan sent for him and summoned him between his hands and said, “O Shaykh, the term is gone by.” Hereupon Shaykh Mohsin went forth and bought him a black cock and when Sabbath449 came round the Sultan presented him to his daughter whom he found in sore and sorrowful state, unknowing how the mishap had occurred to her. Now when he went in and looked upon her in such case, he drew near to her and fell to reciting Koranic versets which avert evil (the Sultan sitting beside them the while); and at the last he slaughtered the cock between her feet. Hereat the Princess recovered her senses and rose up and sat down450 forthright and called for meat and drink which were brought to her; then she ate and drank and besought for herself the guidance of God and said, “Alhamdolillah”— laud to the Lord — and presently she kissed the hand of her sire and of Shaykh Mohsin. Quoth the King, “O my daughter, art thou indeed well?” and quoth she, “At this present I feel naught of pain in my person nor do I sense anything of what hath been with me; and all this is by blessing of yonder Shaykh thou hast brought to me. But say me, O my father, what hast thou made over to him of money as a reward for unsorcelling me?” “O my dauvhter,” replied he, “I have offered him all he shall ask.” But when the Princess recovered from her malady and returned to self, she changed from mode to mode and she became as one cast in the mould of beauty and loveliness and Shaykh Mohsin looking upon her was dazed and amazed in his wits by cause of her exceeding comeliness and seemlihead. Presently the Princess addressed, “O Shaykh Mohsin, what thing dost thou ask of the King’s Majesty?” for indeed her heart was fulfilled of the love to him which had mastered her. Now the Wazir had a son and it was his aim that his heir should marry the King’s daughter, but this his wish was in vain; for when she was certified that her salvation was at the hand of Shaykh Mohsin, she said to her sire, “Do thou, O my father, largesse what is dearest to thee upon my healer.”451 Her design in these words was that the Sultan might bestow her to wife upon her deliverer, and she added, “Indeed our joyance hath been at his hands and he is deserving of munificence full and abundant.” But again the object of her speech was that her parent might espouse her to the Shaykh for the love to Mohsin which had mastered her heart. Quoth her father, “O my daughter we will give him a sumptuous robe of honour and ten purses;” but quoth she, “No, O my sire, this be not gift sufficient for the like of such service.” Now she was the sole prop of her parents who had no child save herself, so the King replied, “O my daughter, I will give him whatso thou shalt say.” Thereupon she asked him, “How many of the folk came in to me and uncovered my shame452 and were slain therefor?” and he answered, “Some fifty.” Then cried she, “Had not Shaykh Mohsin been able to exorcise me what hadst thou done with him?” “Indeed I had slain him.” “Then Alhamdolillah — Glory be to God — for that my deliverance was at his hand: so do thou bestow upon him thy best,” and so she spake for that she was ashamed to say her sire, “Wed me to him.” The King not understanding the hint she had hinted said to her, “All thou wishest I will largesse to him;” and she, “I have spoken to thee but thou hast not comprehended my words! All who have looked upon my shame and proved unable to deliver me thou wast wont to slay and this man hath been my salvation after seeing me unveiled: how then wilt thou gift him with money and means or condition with him when thou art unable to carry out thy compact?” Hereupon the King became ware of what was in his daughter’s mind and forthwith sending to summon the Kazi and witnesses he bade bind the marriage-bond between her and Shaykh Mohsin and in due time let them lead him to her in procession and suffer him go in unto her. So he cohabited with the Princess a while of time, after which the life-term of the Sultan drew near, and he fell sick of a sickness whereof he died. And when they had committed his remains to earth the Lords of the land and the Grandees of command forgathered and agreed in council that none should overrule them save the Shaykh Mohsin. So they invested him with the signet-ring of Sovranty and seated him upon the throne of Kingship and he became Sovereign and Sultan. Moreover Allah Almighty enlightened his heart in governance with justice and equity; and all the subjects with the Notables of the realm and the Rulers of high rank blessed him and prayed for him. Now one day of the days Sultan Mohsin felt desirous of solacing himself in the gardens; so he rode forth, he and his suite, when he suddenly sighted his whilome comrade, the same who had plucked out one eye for half a scone and had gouged out the other eye for the other half. He bade them bring the man to the presence and when they set him between his hands he asked him saying, “O Shaykh, what may be thy name?” and he answered, “I am hight Shaykh Mohammed.” So he carried him with his suite to the gardens where they abode until day ended, after which the Sultan rode back and entering his palace, bade bring Shaykh Mohammed whom he despatched to the House of Hospitality.453 On the third day he bade summon his guest after supper-tide and taking him by the hand led him into a cabinet and said, “O Shaykh Mohammed, do thou tell us a tale."— And Shahrazad was surprised by the dawn of day and fell silent and ceased to say her permitted say. Then quoth her sister Dunyazad, “How sweet is thy story, O sister mine, and how enjoyable and delectable!” Quoth she, “And where is this compared with that I would relate to you on the coming night an the King suffer me to survive?” Now when it was the next night and that was

449 In text “Yaum Sabt” again.

450 As has been said (vol. ii. 112) this is a sign of agitation. The tale has extended to remote Guernsey. A sorcier named Hilier Mouton discovers by his art that the King’s daughter who had long and beautiful tresses was dying because she had swallowed a hair which had twined round her praecordia. The cure was to cut a small square of bacon from just over the heart, and tie it to a silken thread which the Princess must swallow, when the hair would stick to it and come away with a jerk. See (p. 29) “Folk-lore of Guernsey and Sark,” by Louise Lane-Clarke, printed by E. Le Lievre, Guernsey, 1880; and I have to thank for it a kind correspondent, Mr. A. Buchanan Brown, of La Coûture, p. 53, who informs us why the Guernsey lily is scentless, emblem of the maiden who sent it from fairy-land.

451 The text says only, “O my father, gift Shaykh Mohsin.”

452 Her especial “shame” would be her head and face: vol. vi. 30, 118.

453 In northern Africa the “Dár al-Ziyáfah” was a kind of caravanserai in which travellers were lodged at government expense. Ibn Khaldún (Fr. Transl. i. 407).

The Seven Hundred and Seventy-first Night

Dunyazad said to her, “Allah upon thee, o my sister, an thou be other than sleepy, finish for us thy tale that we may cut short the watching of this our latter night!” She replied, “With love and good will!” It hath reached me, O auspicious King, the director, the right-guiding, lord of the rede which is benefiting and of deeds fair-seeming and worthy celebrating, that when the King entered the closet leading Mohammed by the hand he said to him, “Do thou, O Shaykh, tell us a tale.” “By Allah, O our lord,” quoth the other, “I know naught of stories.” Whereupon the Sultan rejoined, “If so it be, I will relate to thee, O Shaykh Mohammed, an adventure of my own and ’tis as follows:— Once upon a time a man went forth his town and he made companionship with another upon the way, and each one of them bore with him a bag of meal and a flask of water.” On this wise the Sultan continued recounting to him the real history of Mohsin and Musa the Malignant, till at the end of the tale he said, “And Musa, after gouging out both eyes of Mohsin for the sake of a single scone, thrust him into a well designing to drown him therein, but Allah Almighty preserved his life and brought him forth the pit and our Lord favoured him and restored to him his two eyes and empowered him over the kingdom and thus did he become Sovran and Sultan. Now the prosperity of that Shaykh Mohsin was from the well whereinto Musa had thrust him.” Presently he added, “An this tale be soothfast, then am I Mohsin and thou art Musa the Malignant. I am able at this moment to slay thee but I will spare thee and moreover counsel thee as follows:— Do thou go to the well and haply Almighty Allah shall thereby grant to thee some good, for that the root of my fair fortune was from that same pit.” Now when the first third of the night had sped, Musa arose and repaired to the pit and descended therein when behold, the same two Jinnis had forgathered beside the wellmouth at that same hour and were seated together conversing each with other. Quoth the first, “What is thy case this day?” and quoth the second, “By Allah, O my brother, my condition is ill-conditioned ever since a certain night when we met in this place and talked together. And so it hath continued until the present time, for that I have been unable to approach the city wherein dwelleth the Sultan’s daughter: and someone that was in the well must have overheard us whilst we knew naught of him and he must have acted according to our words and slaughtered the black cock; after which I have been unable to near her abode.” Quoth the other, “By Allah, O my brother, thou hast spoken sooth; but our ill-constraint is from this well.” Hereupon the Jinni put forth his hand about the pit454 and finding Musa the Misdoer snatched him up and seizing him between his palms tore his body into four pieces and cast away the quarters in some desert stead. And this (said Shahrazad) is the award of whoso betrayeth his fellow man. And they also relate the adventure of

454 In most of these tales the well is filled in over the intruding “villain” of the piece. Ibn Khaldun (ii. 575) relates a “veritable history” of angels choking up a well; and in Mr. Doughty (ii. 190) a Pasha-governor of Jiddah does the same to a Jinni-possessed pit.

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