The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night

Story of the Two Lack-Tacts of Cairo and Damascus.593

Whilome in Cairo-city there was a man famed as a Lack-tact and another in Damascus was celebrated for the like quality. Each had heard of his compeer and longed to forgather with him and sundry folk said to the Syrian, “Verily the Lack-tact of Egypt is sharper than thou and a cleverer physiognomist and more intelligent, and more penetrating, and much better company; also he excelleth thee in debate proving the superiority of his lack of tact.” Whereto the Damascene would reply, “No, by Allah, I am more tasteful in my lack of tact than yon Cairene;” but his people ceased not to bespeak him on this wise until his heart was filled full of their words; so one day of the days he cried, “By Allah, there is no help for it but I fare for Cairo and forgather with her Lack-tact.” Hereupon he journeyed from Damascus and ceased not wayfaring till he reached Cairo. The time was about set of sun and the first who met him on the road was a woman; so he asked her concerning certain of the highways of the city and she answered, “What a Lack-tact thou must be to put such a question at such an hour! Whoso entereth a strange place in the morning enquireth about its highways, but whoso entereth at eventide asketh about its caravanserai594 wherein he may night.” “Sooth thou sayest,” rejoined he, “but my lack of tact hath weakened my wits.” He then sought news of the Khans and they showed him one whereto he repaired and passed the night; and in the morning — And Shahrazad perceived 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 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

593 MS. vol. vi. 262-271. Arab. “ ‘Adím al-Zauk” which the old Latin dictionaries translate “destitutus experientiû” and “expers desiderii,” and it is = to our deficient in taste, manners, etc. The term is explained in vol. ix. 266. Here it evidently denotes what we call “practical joking,” a dangerous form of fun, as much affected by Egyptians as by the Hibernians.

594 In text “Wakálah” = an inn: vol. i. 266.

The Eight Hundred and Thirty-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 the Lack-tact of Damascus passed the night in the Wakálah and in the morning he went forth and wandered about the highways of Cairo questing her Lack-tact; and, when they informed him of his rival’s whereabouts, he forgathered with him and was received with an honorable reception and was welcomed and kindly entreated and comfortably seated that the twain might talk over the news of the world. Presently quoth the Lack-tact of Damascus to the Lack-tact of Cairo, “I would that we two test each other’s quality by playing a prank in turn; and whoso shall be preferred by the testimony of the general, he shall lord it over his rival.” The Cairene asked, “Which of us shall begin?” and the Damascene answered, “I,” whereto the other rejoined, “Do whatso thou willest.” So the Syrian went forth and hired him an ass which he drove out of the city to a neighbouring clump of Ausaj-bushes595 and other thorns whereof he cut down a donkey-load, and setting the net-full upon the beast’s back returned to the city. He then made for the Báb al-Nasr,596 but he could not enter for the crowding of the folk frequenting it and the Cairene was gladdened by his doings: so the man stinted not standing there with his ass and load of thorns till morn was near, when he lost his temper and urged his beast close up to the gate. By so doing all the garments of the wayfarers which were caught by the Ausaj-thorns were torn to rags and tatters, and some of the people beat him and others buffetted him and others shoved him about saying, “What a superior Lack-tact thou art! Allah ruin thy natal realm! Thou hast torn folk’s dress to rags and tatters with that load of thorns.” Still he drave his donkey onwards albeit the people cried to him, “O man, withdraw thee, the passengers are all jammed at the gate;” but he would not retire and those present dealt him more blows and abuse. Hereat he only cried, “Let me pass through!” and pushed on whereby he obtained a severer beating. This lasted till mid-afternoon, for he could on nowise enter by reason of the crush at the Báb al-Nasr; but about sundown the crowd thinned and so he drove on his ass and passed the gate. Then quoth to him the Cairene, “What is this thou hast done? This is mere horseplay597 and not lack of tact.” Now on the morning of the next day the Lack-tact of Cairo was required to play his prank even as the Damascene had done; so he rose up and girded his loins and tucked up his sleeves and took up a tray — 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 Sovran suffer me to survive?” Now when it was the next night and that was

595 “ ‘Ausaj,” for which the dictionaries give only a thorny plant, a bramble.

596 The grand old Eastern or Desert-gate of Cairo: see vol. vi. 234.

597 Arab. “Thakálah,” lit. = heaviness, dullness, stupidity.

The Eight Hundred and Thirty-eighth Night,

Dunyazad said to her, “Allah upon thee, O my sister, an thou be not sleeping, 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 Egyptian rose up and girded his loins and tucked up his sleeves, and taking him a tray said to the Syrian, “Up and after me and see what I shall do.” Then he went out tray on head, and foregoing the Damascene to a flower-garden he gathered a bundle of blooms and sweet-scented herbs, pinks and roses and basil and pennyroyal598 and marjoram and other such, until the tray was filled, after which he turned to town. About noontide he repaired to one of the Cathedral-mosques and entered the lavatory,599 around which were some fifteen privies:600 so he stood amiddlemost the floor considering the folk as they entered the jakes to do their jobs in private lest the bazar-people come upon them during their easement. And all were sore pressed wanting to pass urine or to skite; so whenever a man entered the place in a hurry he would draw the door to. Then the Lack-tact of Cairo would pull the door open, and go in to him carrying a posy of perfumed herbs, and would say, “Thy favour!601 O my brother,” and the man would shout out saying, “Allah ruin thy natal realm, are we at skite or at feast?” whereat all standing there would laugh at him. Suddenly one rushed into the lavatory sore pressed and hanging an arse602 and crying aloud in his grievous distress, “O Allah, O His Prophet, aid me!” for that he feared to let fly in his bag-trousers. Then the Lack-tact would accost him holding in hand his posy of perfumed herbs, and softly saying, “Bismillah-take it, and give me thy favour;” and the man would roar at the top of his voice, “Allah disappoint thee! what a Lack-tact thou art: I am sore pressed; get thee out.” And the further that man would fare away from him the closer he would follow him saying, “Thy favour! Take it! Smell it!” Now at that time all the cabinets of easement were full of people, nor did one remain vacant, and the distressed man stood there expecting someone to issue that he might enter; but in his condition the delay was over-long — And Shahrazad perceived 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 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

598 This is a mere shot: the original has “Baítharán.”

599 Arab. “Mayzah” = the large hall with a central fountain for ablution attached to every great Mosque.

600 In the text “Shashmah,” from Pers. “Chashmah” a fountain; applied in Egypt to the small privies with slab and hole; vol. i. 221.

601 [In Ar. “Unsak,” an expression principally used when drinking to one’s health, in which sense it occurs, for instance, in the Bresl. ed. of The Nights, i. 395, 7.-ST.]

602 Arab. “Mutáti bi zahri-h”: our ancestors’ expression was not polite, but expressive and picturesque.

The Eight Hundred and Thirty-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 Cairene Lack-tact kept bespeaking that sorely distressed man and following him as he fled, crying out to him and saying, “Away from me, am I not this moment about to skite or am I at a feast?” till at last the excess of weight in his arse-gut caused him to let fly in his bag-trousers and bewray all his behind. And during this time none came out of the jakes, so the unhappy sat in his unease and all the folk seeing him conskite himself fell to laughing at him as he sat there, and the Lack-tact of Cairo continued offering him the posy, saying, “Thy favour!” and the other continned shouting his loudest, “Am I at skite or at a feast?” Thereupon the Lack-tact of Damascus turned to his rival and cried, “The Fátihah603 is in thy books, O Chief Joker of Cairo. By Allah (and the Almighty grant thee length of life!) thou hast excelled me in everything, and they truly say that none can surpass or overcome the Cairene and men have agreed to declare that the Syrian winneth his wish and gaineth only blame, while the Egyptian winneth not his wish and gaineth thanks and praise.” And amongst other things it happened604 that a Cairene went to borrow a donkey from another man, a Damascene, wishing to ride it to a wedding, and when he met his friend he saluted him and said, “Ho Such-an-one, lend me thine ass for such a purpose.” Now when the owner of the animal heard these words he smote hand upon hand and cried, “O worshipper of Allah,605 a little while ere thou camest to me, a man urgently asked it of me and took it on loan: haddest thou been somewhat earlier I would have lent it to thee. Verily I am put to shame by thee as thou goest from me without thy need.” The Egyptian said in his mind, “By Allah, this one speaketh sooth, and had the donkey been in his house assuredly he would have lent it to me.” But the owner of the animal said to himself, “Certainly Such-an-one begged it of me, but the rest is a lie, for the beast is shut up in the stable.” However the Syrian who owned the beast went to his gossip, the man who had begged a loan of it, and entering the house salam’d to him and said, “Give me the donkey, O Such-an-one;"— 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 enjoy able 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

603 The normal pun: “Fátihah,” fem. of “fátih” = an opener, a conqueror, is the first Koranic chapter, for which see iv. 36.

604 This appears to be a kind of padding introduced to fill up the Night. The loan of an ass is usually granted gratis in Fellah villages and Badawi camps. See Matth. xxi. 2, 3; Mark xi. 2-6, and Luke xix. 30-34.

605 i.e. O Moslem, opposed to Enemy of Allah = a non-Moslem. In text Yá ‘Ibád, plur. for sing.

The Eight Hundred and Fortieth 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 Syrian went to his gossip saying, “Give me the ass;” and when the other heard this he showed his teeth606 and cried, “Allah disappoint the donkey and the owner of the donkey and whoso rideth the donkey,” and flying into an exceeding fury at last said, “Go, O my lord, and take it from the stable, and may Allah never bring back nor thee nor the beast.” So the Syrian went from him saying in himself, “Allah disappoint this fellow, why did he not give me the ass at first and then he had not had occasion to abuse and curse himself and to revile me also.” But they say and say truly, “The Syrian winneth his wish, but gaineth only blame while the Egyptian winneth not his wish and gaineth thanks and praise!”

606 Arab. “Kashshara” = grinned a ghastly smile; it also means laughing so as to show the teeth.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:31