There was once an honest journeyman tailor, by name Labakan, who learned his trade with an excellent master in Alexandria. It could not be said that Labakan was unhandy with the needle; on the contrary, he could make excellent work: moreover, one would have done him injustice to have called him lazy. Nevertheless, his companions knew not what to make of him, for he would often sew for hours together so rapidly that the needle would glow in his hand, and the thread smoke, and that none could equal him. At another time, however, (and this, alas! happened more frequently,) he would sit in deep meditation, looking with his staring eyes straight before him, and with a countenance and air so peculiar, that his master and fellow-journeymen could say of his appearance nothing else than, “Labakan has on again, his aristocratic face.”
On Friday, however, when others quietly returned home from prayers to their labor, Labakan would come forth from the mosque in a fine garment which with great pains he had made for himself, and walk with slow and haughty steps through the squares and streets of the city. At such times, if one of his companions cried, “Joy be with thee!” or, “How goes it, friend Labakan?” he would patronizingly give a token of recognition with his hand, or, if he felt called upon to be very polite, would bow genteelly with the head. Whenever his master said to him in jest, “Labakan, in thee a prince is lost,” he would be rejoiced, and answer, “Have you too observed it?” or, “I have already long thought it.”
In this manner did the honest journeyman tailor conduct himself for a long time, while his master tolerated his folly, because, in other respects, he was a good man and an excellent workman. But one day, Selim, the sultan’s brother, who was travelling through Alexandria, sent a festival-garment to his master to have some change made in it, and the master gave it to Labakan, because he did the finest work. In the evening, when the apprentices had all gone forth to refresh themselves after the labor of the day, an irresistible desire drove Labakan back into the workshop, where the garment of the sultan’s brother was hanging. He stood some time, in reflection, before it, admiring now the splendor of the embroidery, now the varied colors of the velvet and silk. He cannot help it, he must put it on; and, lo! it fits him as handsomely as if it were made for him. “Am not I as good a prince as any?” asked he of himself, as he strutted up and down the room. “Has not my master himself said, that I was born for a prince?” With the garments, the apprentice seemed to have assumed quite a kingly carriage; he could believe nothing else, than that he was a king’s son in obscurity, and as such he resolved to travel forth into the world, leaving a city where the people hitherto had been so foolish as not to discover his innate dignity beneath the veil of his inferior station. The splendid garment seemed sent to him by a good fairy; resolving therefore not to slight so precious a gift, he put his little stock of money in his pocket, and, favored by the darkness of the night, wandered forth from Alexandria’s gates.
The new prince excited admiration everywhere upon his route, for the splendid garment, and his serious majestic air, would not allow him to pass for a common pedestrian. If one inquired of him about it, he took care to answer, with a mysterious look, that he had his reasons for it. Perceiving, however, that he rendered himself an object of ridicule by travelling on foot, he purchased for a small sum an old horse, which suited him very well, for it never brought his habitual quiet and mildness into difficulty, by compelling him to show himself off as an excellent rider, a thing which in reality he was not.
One day, as he was proceeding on his way, step by step, upon his Murva, (thus had he named his horse,) a stranger joined him, and asked permission to travel in his company, since to him the distance would seem much shorter, in conversation with another. The rider was a gay young man, elegant and genteel in manners. He soon knit up a conversation with Labakan, with respect to his whence and whither, and it turned out that he also, like the journeyman tailor, was travelling without purpose, in the world. He said his name was Omar, that he was the nephew of Elfi Bey, the unfortunate bashaw of Cairo, and was now on his way to execute a commission which his uncle had delivered to him upon his dying-bed. Labakan was not so frank with respect to his circumstances; he gave him to understand that he was of lofty descent, and was travelling for pleasure.
The two young men were pleased with each other, and rode on in company. On the second day, Labakan interrogated his companion Omar, respecting the commission with which he was charged, and to his astonishment learned the following. Elfi Bey, the bashaw of Cairo, had brought up Omar from his earliest childhood; the young man had never known his parents. But shortly before, Elfi Bey, having been attacked by his enemies, and, after three disastrous engagements, mortally wounded, was obliged to flee, and disclosed to his charge that he was not his nephew, but the son of a powerful lord, who, inspired with fear by the prophecy of his astrologer, had sent the young prince away from his court, with an oath never to see him again until his twenty-second birthday. Elfi Bey had not told him his father’s name, but had enjoined upon him with the greatest precision, on the fourth day of the coming month Ramadan, on which day he would be two-and-twenty years old, to repair to the celebrated pillar El-Serujah, four days’ journey east of Alexandria: there he should offer to the men who would be standing by the pillar, a dagger which he gave him, with these words, “Here am I, whom ye seek!” If they answered, “Blessed be the Prophet, who has preserved thee!” then he was to follow them—they would lead him to his father.
The journeyman tailor, Labakan, was much astonished at this information; from this time he looked upon Prince Omar with envious eyes, irritated because fortune conferred upon him, though already he passed for the nephew of a mighty bashaw, the dignity of a king’s son; but on him, whom she had endowed with all things necessary for a prince, bestowed in ridicule, an obscure lineage, and an every-day vocation. He instituted a comparison between himself and the prince. He was obliged to confess that the latter was a man of very lively aspect; that fine sparkling eyes belonged to him, a boldly-arched nose, a gentlemanly, complaisant demeanor, in a word, all the external accomplishments, which every one is wont to commend. But numerous as were the charms he found in his companion, still he was compelled to acknowledge to himself, that a Labakan would be no less acceptable to the royal father than the genuine prince.
These thoughts pursued Labakan the whole day; with them he went to sleep in the nearest night-lodgings; but when he awoke in the morning, and his eye rested upon Omar sleeping near him, who was reposing so quietly, and could dream of his now certain fortune, then arose in him the thought of gaining, by stratagem or violence, what unpropitious destiny had denied him. The dagger, the returning prince’s token of recognition, hung in the sleeper’s girdle; he softly drew it forth, to plunge it in the breast of its owner. Nevertheless, the peaceable soul of the journeyman recoiled before thoughts of murder; he contented himself with appropriating the dagger, and bridling for himself the faster horse of the prince; and, ere Omar awoke to see himself despoiled of all his hopes, his perfidious companion was several miles upon his way.
The day on which Labakan robbed the prince was the first of the holy month Ramadan, and he had therefore four days to reach the pillar El-Serujah, the locality of which was well known to him. Although the region wherein it was situated could at farthest be at a distance of but four days’ journey, still he hastened to reach it, through a constant fear of being overtaken by the real prince.
By the end of the second day, he came in sight of the pillar El-Serujah. It stood upon a little elevation, in the midst of an extensive plain, and could be seen at a distance of two or three leagues. Labakan’s heart beat high at the sight: though he had had time enough on horseback, for the last two days, to think of the part he was to play, still a consciousness of guilt made him anxious; the thought that he was born for a prince, however, encouraged him again, and he advanced towards the mark with renewed confidence.
The country around the pillar was uninhabited and desert, and the new prince would have experienced some difficulty in finding sustenance, if he had not previously supplied himself for several days. He lay down beside his horse beneath some palm-trees, and there awaited his distant destiny.
Towards the middle of the next day, he saw a large procession of horses and camels crossing the plain in the direction of the pillar El-Serujah. It reached the foot of the hill, on which the pillar stood; there they pitched splendid tents, and the whole looked like the travelling-suite of some rich bashaw or sheik. Labakan perceived that the numerous train which met his eye, had taken the pains to come hither on his account, and gladly would he that moment have shown them their future lord; but he mastered his eager desire to walk as prince; for, indeed, the next morning would consummate his boldest wishes.
The morning sun awoke the too happy tailor to the most important moment of his life, which would elevate him from an inferior situation, to the side of a royal father. As he was bridling his horse to ride to the pillar, the injustice of his course, indeed, occurred to him; his thoughts pictured to him the anguish of the true prince, betrayed in his fine hopes; but the die was cast: what was done could not be undone, and self-love whispered to him that he looked stately enough to pass for the son of the mightiest king. Inspirited by these reflections, he sprang upon his horse, and collecting all his courage to bring him to an ordinary gallop, in less than a quarter of an hour, reached the foot of the hill. He dismounted from his horse, and fastened it to one of the shrubs that were growing near; then he drew the dagger of Prince Omar, and proceeded up the hill. At the base of the pillar six persons were standing around an old gray-haired man, of lofty king-like aspect. A splendid caftan of gold cloth surrounded by a white Cashmere shawl, a snowy turban spangled with glittering precious stones, pointed him out as a man of opulence and nobility. To him Labakan proceeded, and bowing low before him, said, as he extended the dagger—
“Here am I, whom you seek.”
“Praise to the Prophet who has preserved thee!” answered the gray-haired one, with tears of joy. “Omar, my beloved son, embrace thine old father!” The good tailor was deeply affected by these solemn words, and sank, with mingled emotions of joy and shame, into the arms of the old noble.
But only for a moment was he to enjoy the unclouded delight of his new rank; raising himself from the arms of the king, he saw a rider hastening over the plain in the direction of the hill. The traveller and his horse presented a strange appearance; the animal, either from obstinacy or fatigue, seemed unwilling to proceed. He went along with a stumbling gait, which was neither a pace nor a trot; but the rider urged him on, with hands and feet, to a faster run. Only too soon did Labakan recognise his horse Murva, and the real Prince Omar. But the evil spirit of falsehood once more prevailed within him, and he resolved, come what might, with unmoved front to support the rights he had usurped. Already, in the distance, had they observed the horseman making signs; at length, in spite of Murva’s slow gait, having reached the bottom of the hill, he threw himself from his horse, and began rapidly to ascend.
“Hold!” cried he. “Hold! whoever you may be, and suffer not yourselves to be deceived by a most infamous impostor! I am called Omar, and let no mortal venture to misuse my name!”
Great astonishment was depicted on the countenances of the bystanders at this turn of the affair; the old man, in particular, seemed to be much amazed, as he looked inquiringly on one and another. Thereupon Labakan spoke, with a composure gained only by the most powerful effort.
“Most gracious lord and father, be not led astray by this man. He is, as far as I know, a mad journeyman tailor of Alexandria, by name Labakan, who deserves rather our pity than our anger.”
These words excited the prince almost to phrensy. Foaming with passion, he would have sprung upon Labakan, but the bystanders, throwing themselves between, secured him, while the old man said: “Truly, my beloved son, the poor man is crazed. Let them bind him and place him on one of our dromedaries; perhaps we may be of some assistance to the unfortunate.”
The anger of the prince had abated; in tears, he cried out to the old man, “My heart tells me that you are my father; by the memory of my mother, I conjure you—hear me!”
“Alas! God guard us!” answered he: “already he again begins to talk wildly. How can the man come by such crazy thoughts?” Thereupon, seizing Labakan’s arm, he made him accompany him down the hill. They both mounted fine and richly-caparisoned coursers, and rode at the head of the procession, across the plain. They tied the hands of the unfortunate prince, however, and bound him securely upon a dromedary. Two horsemen rode constantly by his side, who kept a watchful eye upon his every movement.
The old prince was Saoud, sultan of the Wechabites. For some time had he lived without children; at last a prince, for whom he had so ardently longed, was born to him. But the astrologer, whom he consulted respecting the destiny of his son, told him that, until his twenty-second year, he would be in danger of being supplanted by an enemy. On that account, in order that he might be perfectly safe, had the sultan given him, to be brought up, to his old and tried friend, Elfi Bey; and twenty-two sad years had lived without looking upon him.
This did the sultan impart to his supposed son, and seemed delighted beyond measure with his figure and dignified demeanor.
When they reached the sultan’s dominions, they were everywhere received by the inhabitants with shouts of joy; for the rumor of the prince’s arrival had spread like wildfire through the cities and towns. In the streets through which they proceeded, arches of flowers and branches were erected; bright carpets of all colors adorned the houses; and the people loudly praised God and his prophet, who had discovered to them so noble a prince. All this filled the proud heart of the tailor with delight: so much the more unhappy did it make the real Omar, who, still bound, followed the procession in silent despair. In this universal jubilee, though it was all in his honor, no one paid him any attention. A thousand, and again a thousand, voices shouted the name of Omar; but of him who really bore this name, of him none took notice: at most, only one or two inquired whom they were carrying with them, so tightly bound, and frightfully in the ears of the prince sounded the answer of his guards, “It is a mad tailor.”
The procession at last reached the capital of the sultan, where all was prepared for their reception with still more brilliancy than in the other cities. The sultana, an elderly woman of majestic appearance, awaited them, with her whole court, in the most splendid saloon of the castle. The floor of this room was covered with a large carpet; the walls were adorned with bright blue tapestry, which was suspended from massive silver hooks, by cords and tassels of gold.
It was dark by the time the procession came up, and accordingly many globular colored lamps were lighted in the saloon, which made night brilliant as day; but with the clearest brilliancy and most varied colors, shone those in the farthest part of the saloon, where the sultana was seated upon a throne. The throne stood upon four steps, and was of pure gold, inlaid with amethysts. The four most illustrious emirs held a canopy of crimson silk over the head of their mistress; and the sheik of Medina cooled her with a fan of peacock feathers. Thus awaited the sultana her husband and son; the latter she had never looked on since his birth, but significant dreams had so plainly shown her the object of her longings, that she would know him out of thousands.
Now they heard the noise of the approaching troop; trumpets and drums mingled with the huzzas of the populace; the hoofs of the horses sounded on the court of the palace; steps came nearer and nearer; the doors of the room flew open, and, through rows of prostrate attendants, hastened the sultan, holding his son by the hand, towards the mother’s throne.
“Here,” said he, “do I bring to thee, him for whom thou hast so often longed.”
The sultana, however, interrupted him, crying: “This is not my son! These are not the features which the Prophet has shown me in my dreams!”
Just as the sultan was about to rebuke her superstition, the door of the saloon sprang open, and Prince Omar rushed in, followed by his guards, whom an exertion of his whole strength had enabled him to escape. Breathless, he threw himself before the throne, exclaiming:—
“Here will I die! Kill me, cruel father, for this disgrace I can endure no longer!”
All were confounded at these words; they pressed around the unfortunate one, and already were the guards, who had hurried up, on the point of seizing him and replacing his fetters, when the sultana, who had thus far looked on in mute astonishment, sprang from the throne.
“Hold!” she cried; “this, and no other, is my son! This is he, who, though my eyes have never seen him, is well known to my heart!” The guards had involuntarily fallen back from Omar, but the sultan, foaming with rage, commanded them to bind the madman.
“It is mine to decide,” he cried with commanding tone; “and here we will judge, not by a woman’s dreams, but by sure and infallible signs. This,” pointing to Labakan, “is my son, for he has brought me the dagger, the real token of my friend Elfi.”
“He stole it,” cried Omar; “my unsuspicious confidence has he treacherously abused!” But the sultan hearkened not to the voice of his son, for he was wont in all things obstinately to follow his own judgment. He bade them forcibly drag the unfortunate Omar from the saloon, and himself retired with Labakan to his chamber, filled with anger at his wife, with whom, nevertheless, he had lived in happiness for five-and-twenty years. The sultana was full of grief at this affair; she was perfectly convinced that an impostor had taken possession of the sultan’s heart, so numerous and distinct had been the dreams which pointed out the unhappy Omar as her son. When her sorrow had a little abated, she reflected on the means of convincing her husband of his mistake. This was indeed difficult, for he who had passed himself off as her son, had presented the dagger, the token of recognition, and had, moreover, as she learned, become acquainted with so much of Omar’s early life from the lips of the prince himself, as to be able to play his part without betraying himself.
She called to her the men who had attended the sultan to the pillar El-Serujah, in order to have the whole matter exactly laid before her, and then took counsel with her most trusty female slaves. She chose, and in a moment rejected, this means and that; at length, Melechsalah, an old and cunning Circassian, spoke.
“If I have heard rightly, honored mistress, the one who bore this dagger called him whom thou holdest to be thy son, a crazy tailor, Labakan?”
“Yes, it is so,” answered the sultana; “but what wilt thou make of that?”
“What think you,” proceeded the slave, “of this impostor’s having stitched his own name upon your son? If this be so, we have an excellent way of catching the deceiver, which I will impart to you in private.”
The sultana gave ear to her slave, and the latter whispered to her a plan which seemed to please her, for she immediately got ready to go to the sultan. The sultana was a sensible woman, and knew not only the weak side of her husband, but also the way to take advantage of it. She seemed therefore to give up, and to be willing to acknowledge her son, only offering one condition: the sultan, whom the outbreak between himself and his wife had grieved, agreed thereto, and she said:—
“I would fain have from each a proof of his skill; another, perhaps, would have them contend in riding, in single conflict, or in hurling spears: but these are things which every one can do; I will give them something which will require both knowledge and dexterity. It shall be this; each shall make a caftan, and a pair of pantaloons, and then will we see at once who can make the finest ones.”
The sultan laughingly answered, “Ah! thou hast hit on a fine expedient! Shall my son contend with a mad tailor, to see who can make the best caftan? No! that cannot be.” The sultana, however, cried out, that he had already agreed to the condition, and her husband, who was a man of his word, at length yielded, though he swore, should the mad tailor make his caftan ever so beautiful, he would never acknowledge him as his son.
The sultan thereupon went to his son, and entreated him to submit to the caprices of his mother, who now positively wished to see a caftan from his hands. The heart of the good Labakan laughed with delight; if that be all that is wanting, thought he to himself, then shall the lady sultana soon behold me with joy. Two rooms had been fitted up, one for the prince, the other for the tailor; there were they to try their skill, and each was furnished with shears, needles, thread, and a sufficient quantity of silk.
The sultan was very eager to see what sort of a caftan his son would bring to light, but the heart of the sultana beat unquietly, from apprehension lest her stratagem might be unsuccessful. Two days had they been confined to their work; on the third, the sultan sent for his wife, and when she appeared, dispatched her to the apartments to bring the two caftans and their makers. With triumphant air Labakan walked in, and extended his garment before the astonished eyes of the sultan.
“Behold, father,” said he, “look, mother! see if this be not a masterpiece of a caftan. I will leave it to the most skilful court-tailor, upon a wager, whether he can produce such another.”
The sultana, smiling, turned to Omar:— “And thou, my son, what hast thou brought?”
Indignantly he cast the silk and shears upon the floor.
“They have taught me to tame horses, and to swing my sabre; and my lance will strike you a mark at sixty paces. But the art of the needle is unknown to me; it were unworthy a pupil of Elfi Bey, the lord of Cairo!”
“Oh, thou true son of my heart!” exclaimed the sultana. “Ah, that I might embrace thee, and call thee, son! Forgive me, husband and master,” she continued, turning to the sultan, “for having set on foot this stratagem against you. See you not now who is prince, and who tailor? Of a truth the caftan which your lord son has made, is magnificent, and I would fain ask with what master he has learned!”
The sultan was lost in deep reflection, looking with distrust, now on his wife, now on Labakan, who vainly sought to conceal his blushes and consternation at having so stupidly betrayed himself. “This proof pleases me not,” said he; “but, Allah be praised! I know a means of learning whether I am deceived.” He commanded them to bring his swiftest horse, mounted, and rode to a forest, which commenced not far from the city. There, according to an old tradition, lived a good fairy, named Adolzaide, who had often before this assisted with her advice the monarchs of his family, in the hour of need: thither hastened the sultan.
In the middle of the wood was an open place, surrounded by lofty cedars. There, the story said, lived the fairy; and seldom did a mortal visit this spot, for a certain awe connected with it had, from olden time, descended from father to son. When the sultan had drawn near he dismounted, tied his horse to a tree, and placing himself in the middle of the open space, cried with loud voice:—
“If it be true that thou hast given good counsel to my fathers, in the hour of need, then disdain not the request of their descendant, and advise me in a case where human understanding is too short-sighted.”
Hardly had he uttered the last word, when one of the cedars opened, and a veiled lady, in long white garments, stepped forth.
“I know, Sultan Saoud, why thou comest to me; thy wish is fair, therefore shall my assistance be thine. Take these two chests; let each of the two who claim to be thy son, choose; I know that he who is the real one, will not make a wrong selection.” Thus speaking, the veiled lady extended to him two little caskets of ivory, richly adorned with gold and pearls: upon the lids, which he vainly sought to open, were inscriptions formed by inlaid diamonds.
As he was riding home, the sultan tormented himself with various conjectures, as to what might be the contents of the caskets, which, do his best, he could not open. The words on the outside threw no light upon the matter; for on one was inscribed, Honor and Fame; upon the other, Fortune and Wealth. Saoud thought it would be difficult to make choice between these two, which seemed equally attractive, equally alluring. When he reached the palace, he sent for his wife, and told her the answer of the fairy: it filled her with an eager hope, that he to whom her heart clung, might select the casket which would indicate his royal origin.
Two tables were brought in before the sultan’s throne; on these, with his own hand, Saoud placed the two boxes; then, ascending to his seat, he gave the signal to one of his slaves to open the door of the saloon. A brilliant throng of bashaws and emirs of the realm poured through the open door: they seated themselves on the splendid cushions, which were arranged around the walls. When they had done this, Saoud gave a second signal, and Labakan was introduced; with haughty step he walked through the apartment, and prostrated himself before the throne with these words:—
“What is the command of my lord and father?” The sultan raised himself in his throne, and said:—
“My son, doubts are entertained as to the genuineness of thy claims to this name; one of these chests contains the confirmation of thy real birth. Choose! I doubt not thou wilt select the right one!” Labakan raised himself, and advanced towards the boxes; for a long time he reflected as to which he should choose, at last he said:—
“Honored father, what can be loftier than the fortune of being thy son? What more noble than the wealth of thy favor? I choose the chest which bears the inscription, Fortune And Wealth.”
“We will soon learn whether thou hast made the right choice; meanwhile sit down upon that cushion, near the bashaw of Medina,” said the sultan, again motioning to his slaves.
Omar was led in; his eye was mournful, his air dejected, and his appearance excited universal sympathy among the spectators. He threw himself before the throne, and inquired after the sultan’s pleasure. Saoud informed him that he was to choose one of the chests: he arose, and approached the table. He read attentively both inscriptions, and said:—
“The few last days have informed me how insecure is fortune, how transient is wealth; but they have also taught me that, in the breast of the brave, lives what can never be destroyed, HONOR, and that the bright star of RENOWN sets not with fortune. The die is cast! should I resign a crown, Honor and Fame, you are my choice!” He placed his hand upon the casket that he had chosen, but the sultan commanded him not to unclose it, while he motioned to Labakan to advance, in like manner, before his table. He did so, and at the same time grasped his box. The sultan, however, had a chalice brought in, with water from Zemzem, the holy fountain of Mecca, washed his hands for supplication, and, turning his face to the East, prostrated himself in prayer:
“God of my fathers! Thou, who for centuries hast established our family, pure and unadulterated, grant that no unworthy one disgrace the name of the Abassidæ; be with thy protection near my real son, in this hour of trial.” The sultan arose, and reascended his throne. Universal expectation enchained all present; they scarcely breathed; one could have heard a mouse crawl over the hall, so mute and attentive were all. The hindmost extended their necks, in order to get a view of the chests, over the heads of those in front. The sultan spoke: “Open the chests;” and they, which before no violence could force, now sprang open of their own accord.
In the one which Omar had chosen, lay upon a velvet cushion, a small golden crown, and a sceptre: in Labakan’s, a large needle, and a little linen thread. The sultan commanded both to bring their caskets before him: he took the little crown from the cushion in his hand, and, wonderful to see! it became larger and larger, until it reached the size of a real crown. Placing it on his son Omar, who kneeled before him, he kissed his forehead, and bade him sit upon his right hand. To Labakan, however, he turned and said:—
“There is an old proverb, ‘Shoemaker, stick to thy last;’ it seems that thou shouldst stick to thy needle. Thou hast not, indeed, merited much mercy at my hands, but one has supplicated for thee, whom this day I can refuse nothing; therefore give I thee thy paltry life; but, if I may advise, haste thee to leave my land.”
Ashamed, ruined as he was, the poor tailor could answer nothing: he threw himself before the prince, and tears came into his eyes.
“Can you forgive me, prince?” he said.
“To be true to a friend, magnanimous to a foe, is the pride of the Abassidæ!” answered the prince, raising him. “Go in peace!”
“My true son!” cried the old sultan, deeply affected, and sinking upon Omar’s breast. The emirs and bashaws, and all the nobles of the realm, arose from their seats, to welcome the new prince, and amid this universal jubilee, Labakan, his chest under his arm, crept out of the saloon.
He went down into the sultan’s stable, bridled his horse Murva, and rode forth from the gate towards Alexandria. His whole career as prince recurred to him as a dream, and the splendid chest, richly adorned with pearls and diamonds, alone convinced him that it was not all an idle vision. Having at last reached Alexandria, he rode to the house of his old master, dismounted, and fastening his horse to the door, walked into the workshop. The master, who did not even know him, made a low bow and asked what was his pleasure: when, however, he had a nearer view of his guest, and recognised his old Labakan, he called to his journeymen and apprentices, and all precipitated themselves, like mad, upon poor Labakan, who expected no such reception; they bruised and beat him with smoothing-irons and yard-sticks, pricked him with needles, and pinched him with sharp shears, until he sank down, exhausted, on a heap of old clothes. As he lay there, the master ceased, for a moment, from his blows, to ask after the stolen garments: in vain Labakan assured him that he had come back on that account alone, to set all right; in vain offered him threefold compensation for his loss; the master and his journeymen fell upon him again, beat him terribly, and turned him out of doors. Sore and bruised, he mounted Murva, and rode to a caravansery. There he laid down his weary lacerated head, reflecting on the sorrows of earth, on merit so often unrewarded, and on the nothingness and transientness of all human blessings. He went to sleep with the determination to give up all hopes of greatness, and to become an honest burgher. Nor on the following day did he repent of his resolution, for the heavy hands of his master, and the journeymen, had cudgelled out of him all thoughts of nobility.
He sold his box to a jeweller for a high price, and fitted up a workshop for his business. When he had arranged all, and had hung out, before his window, a sign with the inscription, Labakan, Merchant Tailor, he sat down and began with the needle and thread he had found in the chest, to mend the coat which his master had so shockingly torn. He was called off from his work, but on returning to it, what a wonderful sight met his eyes! The needle was sewing industriously away, without being touched by any one; it took fine, elegant stitches, such as Labakan himself had never made even in his most skilful moments.
Truly the smallest present of a kind fairy is useful, and of great value! Still another good quality had the gift; be the needle as industrious as it might, the little stock of thread never gave out.
Labakan obtained many customers, and was soon the most famous tailor for miles around. He cut out the garments, and took the first stitch therein with the needle, and immediately the latter worked away, without cessation, until the whole was completed. Master Labakan soon had the whole city for customers, for his work was beautiful, and his charges low; and only one thing troubled the brains of the people of Alexandria, namely, how he finished his work entirely without journeymen, and with closed doors.
Thus was the motto of the chest which promised fortune and wealth undergoing its accomplishment. Fortune and Wealth accompanied, with gradual increase, the steps of the good tailor, and when he listened to the praises of the young sultan Omar, who lived in every mouth; when he heard that this brave man was the object of his people’s pride and love, the terror of his enemies; then would the quondam prince say to himself, “Still is it better that I remained a tailor, for Honor and Fame are ever accompanied by danger.”
Thus lived Labakan, contented with himself, respected by his fellow-burghers; and if the needle, meanwhile, has not lost her cunning, she is still sewing with the everlasting thread of the good Fairy Adolzaide.
At sundown the Caravan set out, and soon reached Birket-el-had, or “the Pilgrims’ Fountain,” whence the distance to Cairo was three leagues. The Caravan had been expected at this time, and the merchants soon had the pleasure of seeing their friends coming forth from the city to meet them. They entered through the gate Bebel-Falch, for it was considered a good omen for those who came from Mecca to enter by this gate, because the Prophet himself had passed through it.
At the market-place the four Turkish merchants took leave of the stranger and the Greek Zaleukos, and went home with their friends. Zaleukos, however, showed his companion a good caravansery, and invited him to dine with him. The stranger agreed, and promised to make his appearance as soon as he should have changed his dress. The Greek made every arrangement for giving a fine entertainment to the stranger, for whom, upon the journey, he had conceived a deep feeling of esteem; and when the meats and drink had been brought in in proper order, he seated himself, waiting for his guest.
He heard slow and heavy steps approaching through the gallery which led to their apartment. He arose in order to meet him as a friend, and welcome him upon the threshold; but, full of horror, he started back as the door opened—the same frightful Red-mantle walked in before him! His eyes were still turned upon him; it was no illusion: the same lofty, commanding figure, the mask, from beneath which shone forth the dark eyes, the red cloak with embroidery of gold—all were but too well known to him, impressed upon his mind as they had been during the most awful moments of his life.
The breast of Zaleukos heaved with contending emotions; he had long since felt reconciled towards this too-well-remembered apparition, and forgiven him; nevertheless his sudden appearance opened every wound afresh. All those torturing hours of anguish, that wo which had envenomed the bloom of his life, rushed back for a moment, crowding upon his soul.
“What wishest thou, terrible one?” cried the Greek, as the apparition still stood motionless upon the threshold. “Away with thee, that I may curse thee not!”
“Zaleukos!” said a well-known voice from under the mask: “Zaleukos! is it thus that you receive your guest?” The speaker removed the mask, and threw back his cloak: it was Selim Baruch, the stranger! But still Zaleukos seemed not at ease, for he too plainly recognised in him the Unknown of the Ponte Vecchio: nevertheless, old habits of hospitality conquered; he silently motioned to the stranger to seat himself at the table.
“I can guess your thoughts,” commenced the latter, when they had taken their places: “your eyes look inquiringly upon me. I might have been silent, and your gaze would never more have beheld me; but I owe you an explanation, and therefore did I venture to appear before you in my former guise, even at the risk of receiving your curse. You once said to me, ‘The faith of my fathers bids me love him; and he is probably more unhappy than myself:’ be assured of this, my friend, and listen to my justification.
“I must begin far back, in order that you may fully understand my story. I was born in Alexandria, of Christian parents. My father, the youngest son of an ancient illustrious French family, was consul for his native land in the city I have just mentioned. From my tenth year I was brought up in France, by one of my mother’s brothers, and left my fatherland for the first time a few years after the revolution broke out there, in company with my uncle, who was no longer safe in the land of his ancestors, in order to seek refuge with my parents beyond the sea. We landed eagerly, hoping to find in my father’s house the rest and quiet of which the troubles of France had deprived us. But ah! in my father’s house I found not all as it should be: the external storms of these stirring times had not, it is true, reached it; but the more unexpectedly had misfortune made her home in the inmost hearts of my family. My brother, a promising young man, first secretary of my father, had shortly before married a young lady, the daughter of a Florentine noble who lived in our vicinity: two days before our arrival she had suddenly disappeared, and neither our family nor her own father could discern the slightest trace of her. At last they came to the conclusion that she had ventured too far in a walk, and had fallen into the hands of robbers. Almost agreeable was this thought to my poor brother, when compared to the truth, which only too soon became known. The perfidious one had eloped with a young Neapolitan, with whom she had become acquainted in her father’s house. My brother, who was exceedingly affected by this step, employed every means to bring the guilty one to punishment; but in vain: his attempts, which in Naples and Florence had excited wonder, served only to complete his and our misfortune. The Florentine nobleman returned to his native land, under the pretence of seeing justice done to my brother, but with the real determination of destroying us all. He frustrated all those examinations which my brother had set on foot, and knew how to use his influence, which he had obtained in various ways, so well, that my father and brother fell under suspicion of their government, were seized in the most shameful manner, carried to France, and there suffered death by the axe of the executioner. My poor mother lost her mind; and not until ten long months had passed, did death release her from her awful situation, though for the few last days she was possessed of perfect consciousness. Thus did I now stand isolated in the world: one thought alone occupied my whole soul, one thought alone bade me forget my sorrows; it was the mighty flame which my mother in her last moments had kindled within me.
“In her last moments, as I said, recollection returned; she had me summoned, and spoke with composure of our fate, and her own death. Then she sent all out of the room, raised herself, with a solemn air, from her miserable bed, and said that I should receive her blessing, if I would swear to accomplish something with which she would charge me. Amazed at the words of my dying mother, I promised with an oath to do whatever she should tell me. She thereupon broke forth in imprecations against the Florentine and his daughter, and charged me, with the most frightful threats of her curse, to avenge upon him the misfortunes of my house. She died in my arms. This thought of vengeance had long slumbered in my soul; it now awoke in all its might. I collected what remained of my paternal property, and bound myself by an oath to stake it all upon revenge, and, rather than be unsuccessful, to perish in the attempt.
“I soon arrived in Florence, where I kept myself as private as possible; it was very difficult to put my plan in execution on account of the situation which my enemy occupied. The old Florentine had become governor, and thus had in his hand all the means of destroying me, should he entertain the slightest suspicion. An accident came to my assistance. One evening I saw a man in well-known livery, walking through the streets: his uncertain gait, his gloomy appearance, and the muttered ‘Santo sacramento,’ and ‘Maledetto diavolo,’ soon made me recognise old Pietro, a servant of the Florentine, whom I had formerly known in Alexandria. There was no doubt but that he was in a passion with his master, and I resolved to turn his humor to my advantage. He appeared much surprised to see me there, told me his grievances, that he could do nothing aright for his master since he had become governor, and my gold supported by his anger soon brought him over to my side. Most of the difficulty was now removed: I had a man in my pay, who would open to me at any hour the doors of my enemy, and from this time my plan of vengeance advanced to maturity with still greater rapidity. The life of the old Florentine seemed to me too pitiful a thing, to be put into the balance with that of my whole family. Murdered before him, he must see the dearest object of his love, and this was his daughter Bianca. It was she that had so shamefully wronged my brother, it was she that had been the author of our misfortunes. My heart, thirsting for revenge, eagerly drank in the intelligence, that Bianca was on the point of being married a second time; it was settled—she must die. But as my soul recoiled at the deed, and I attributed too little nerve to Pietro, we looked around for a man to accomplish our fell design. I could hire no Florentine, for there was none that would have undertaken such a thing against the governor. Thereupon Pietro hit upon a plan, which I afterwards adopted, and he thereupon proposed you, being a foreigner and a physician, as the proper person. The result you know: only, through your excessive foresight and honesty, my undertaking seemed, at one time, to be tottering; hence the scene with the mantle.
“Pietro opened for us the little gate in the governor’s palace; he would have let us out, also, in the same secret manner, if we had not fled, overcome by horror at the frightful spectacle, which, through the crack of the door, presented itself to our eyes. Pursued by terror and remorse, I ran on about two hundred paces, until I sank down upon the steps of a church. There I collected myself again, and my first thought was of you, and your awful fate, if found within the house.
“I crept back to the palace, but neither of Pietro nor yourself could I discover a single trace. The door, however, was open, and I could at least hope that you had not neglected this opportunity of flight.
“But when the day broke, fear of detection, and an unconquerable feeling of remorse, allowed me to remain no longer within the walls of Florence. I hastened to Rome. Imagine my consternation, when, after a few days, the story was everywhere told, with the addition that, in a Grecian physician, they had detected the murderer. In anxious fear, I returned to Florence; my vengeance now seemed too great: I cursed it again and again, for with your life it was purchased all too dearly. I arrived on the same day which cost you a hand. I will not tell you what I felt, when I saw you ascend the scaffold, and bear all with such heroism. But when the blood gushed forth in streams, then was my resolution taken, to sweeten the rest of your days. What has since happened you know; it only now remains to tell you, why I have travelled with you. As the thought that you had never yet forgiven me, pressed heavily upon me, I determined to spend some days with you, and at last to give you an explanation of what I had done.”
Silently had the Greek listened to his guest; with a kind look, as he finished, he offered him his right hand.
“I knew very well that you must be more unhappy than I, for that awful deed will, like a thick cloud, forever darken your days. From my heart I forgive you. But answer me yet one question: how came you under this form, in the wilderness? What did you set about, after purchasing my house in Constantinople?”
“I returned to Alexandria,” answered the guest. “Hate against all mankind raged in my bosom; burning hate, in particular, against that people, whom they call ‘the polished nation.’ Believe me, my Moslem friends pleased me better. Scarcely a month had I been in Alexandria, when the invasion of my countrymen took place. I saw in them only the executioners of my father and brother; I, therefore, collected some young people of my acquaintance, who were of the same mind as myself, and joined those brave Mamelukes, who were so often the terror of the French host. When the campaign was finished, I could not make up my mind to return to the peaceful arts. With my little band of congenial friends, I led a restless, careless life, devoted to the field and the chase. I live contented among this people, who honor me as their chief; for though my Asiatics are not quite so refined as your Europeans, yet are they far removed from envy and slander, from selfishness and ambition.”
Zaleukos thanked the stranger for his relation, but did not conceal from him, that he would find things better suited to his rank and education, if he would live and work in Christian, in European lands. With delight his companion looked upon him.
“I know by this,” said he, “that you have entirely forgiven me, that you love me: receive, in return, my heartfelt thanks.” He sprang up, and stood in full height before the Greek, whom the warlike air, the dark sparkling eyes, the deep mysterious voice of his guest, almost inspired with fear. “Thy proposal is intended kindly,” continued he; “for another it might have charms; but I—I cannot accept it. Already stands my horse saddled: already do my attendants await me. Farewell, Zaleukos!”
The friends whom destiny had so strangely thrown together, embraced at parting. “And how may I call thee? What is the name of my guest, who will forever live in my remembrance?” exclaimed the Greek.
The stranger gazed at him some time, and said, as he pressed his hand once more: “They call me ‘the lord of the wilderness;’ I am the Robber Orbasan!”
The Story of the False Prince – Arabic Folktales