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Khalifah The Fisherman of Baghdad

Then said the Caliph: "O Ja’afar, I swear by my holy forefathers and by my kinship to Hamzah and Akil, that I mean to summon the fisherman and bid him take one of these papers, whose contents none knoweth save thou and I. And whatsoever is written in the paper which he shall choose, I will give it to him. Though it be the Caliphate, I will divest myself thereof and invest him therewith and grudge it not to him. And on the other hand, if there be written therein hanging or mutilation or death, I will execute it upon him. Now go and fetch him to me." When Ja’afar heard this, he said to himself: "There is no Majesty and there is no Might save in Allah, the Glorious, the Great’ It may be somewhat will fall to this poor wretch’s lot that will bring about his destruction and I shall be the cause. But the Caliph hath sworn, so nothing remains now but to bring him in, and naught will happen save whatso Allah willeth." Accordingly he went out to Khalifah the fisherman and laid hold of his hand, to carry him in to the Caliph, whereupon his reason fled and he said in himself: "What a stupid I was to come after yonder ill-omened slave, Tulip, whereby he hath brought me in company with Bran-belly!" Ja’afar fared on with him, with Mamelukes before and behind, whilst he said, "Doth not arrest suffice, but these must go behind and before me, to hinder my making off?" till they had traversed seven vestibules, when the Wazir said to him: "Mark my words, O Fisherman! Thou standest before the Commander of the Faithful and Defender of the Faith!"
Then he raised the great curtain and Khalifah’s eyes fell on the Caliph, who was seated on his couch, with the lords of the realm standing in attendance upon him. As soon as he knew him, he went up to him and said: "Well come, and welcome to thee, O piper! ’Twas not right of thee to make thyself a fisherman and go away, leaving me sitting to guard the fish, and never to return! For, before I was aware, there came up Mamelukes on beasts of all manner colors, and snatched away the fish from me, I standing alone. And this was all of thy fault, for hadst thou returned with the frails forthright, we had sold a hundred dinars’ worth of fish. And now I come to seek my due, and they have arrested me. But thou, who hath imprisoned thee also in this place?" The Caliph smiled, and raising a corner of the curtain, put forth his head and said to the fisherman, "Come hither and take thee one of these papers." Quoth Khalifah the fisherman: "Yesterday thou wast a fisherman, and today thou hast become an astrologer, but the more trades a man hath, the poorer he waxeth." Thereupon Ja’afar said: "Take the paper at once, and do as the Commander of the Faithful biddeth thee, without prating."
So he came forward and put forth his hand saying, "Far be it from me that this piper should ever again be my knave and fish with me!" Then, taking the paper, he handed it to the Caliph, saying: "O piper, what hath come out for me therein? Hide naught thereof." So Al-Rashid received it and passed it on to Ja’afar and said to him, "Read what is therein." He looked at it and said, "There is no Majesty and there is no Might save in Allah, the Glorious, the Great!" Said the Caliph: "Good news, O Ja’afar? What seest thou therein?" Answered the Wazir: "O Commander of the Faithful there came up from the paper, ’Let the Fisherman receive a hundred blows with a stick.’" So the Caliph commanded to beat the Fisherman and they gave him a hundred sticks, after which he rose, saying: "Allah damn this, O Branbelly! Are jail and sticks part of the game?"
Then said Ja’afar: " O Commander of the Faithful, this poor devil is come to the river, and how shall he go away thirsting? We hope that among the alms deeds of the Commander of the Faithful he may have leave to take another paper, so haply somewhat may come out wherewithal he may succor his poverty." Said the Caliph: "By Allah, O Ja’afar, if he take another paper and death be written therein, I will assuredly kill him, and thou wilt be the cause." Answered Ja’afar, "If he die he will be at rest." But Khalifah the fisherman said to him: "Allah ne’er, gladden thee with good news! Have I made Baghdad strait upon you, that ye seek to slay me?" Quoth Ja’afar, "Take thee a paper, and crave the blessing of Allah Almighty!"
So he put out his hand, and taking a paper, gave it to Ja’afar, who read it and was silent. The Caliph asked, "Why art thou silent, O son of Yahya?" and he answered: "O Commander of the Faithful, there hath come out on this paper, ’Naught shall be given to the fisherman."’ Then said the Caliph: "His daily bread will not come from us. Bid him fare forth from before our face." Quoth Ja’afar: "By the claims of thy pious forefathers, let him take a third paper. It may be it will bring him alimony," and quoth the Caliph, "Let him take one and no more."
So he put out his hand and took a third paper, and behold, therein was written, "Let the Fisherman be given one dinar." Ja’afar cried to him, "I sought good fortune for thee, but Allah willed not to thee aught save this dinar." And Khalifah answered: "Verily, a dinar for every hundred sticks were rare good luck. May Allah not send thy body health!" The Caliph laughed at him and Ja’afar took him by the hand and led him out. When he reached the door, Sandal the eunuch saw him and said to him: "Hither, O Fisherman! Give us portion of that which the Commander of the Faithful hath bestowed on thee whilst jesting with thee." Replied Khalifah: "By Allah, O Tulip, thou art right! Wilt thou share with me, O nigger? Indeed, I have eaten stick to the tune of a hundred blows and have earned one dinar, and thou art but too welcome to it." So saying, he threw him the dinar and went out, with the tears flowing down the plain of his cheeks.
When the eunuch saw him in this plight, he knew that he had spoken sooth and called to the lads to fetch him back. So they brought him back and Sandal, putting his hand to his pouch, pulled out a red purse, whence he emptied a hundred golden dinars into the fisherman’s hand, saying, "Take this gold in payment of thy fish, and wend thy ways." So Khalifah, in high good humor, took the hundred ducats and the Caliph’s one dinar and went his way, and forgot the beating.
Now as Allah willed it for the furthering of that which He had decreed, he passed by the mart of the handmaidens, and seeing there a mighty ring where many folks were forgathering, said to himself, "What is this crowd?" So he brake through the merchants and others, who said, "Make wide the way for Skipper Rapscallion, and let him pass." Then he looked, and behold, he saw a chest, with a eunuch seated thereon and an old man standing by it,-and the Sheikh was crying: "O merchants, O men of money, who will hasten and hazard his coin for this chest of unknown contents from the palace of the Lady Zubaydah bint al-Kasim, wife of the Commander of the Faithful? How much shall I say for you? Allah bless you all!" Quoth one of the merchants; "By Allah, this is a risk! But I will say one word, and no blame to me. Be it mine for twenty dinars." Quoth another, "Fifty," and they went on bidding, one against other, till the price reached a hundred ducats.
Then said the crier, "Will any of you bid more, O merchants?" And Khalifah the fisherman said, "Be it mine for a hundred dinars and one dinar." The merchants, hearing these words, thought he was jesting and laughed at him, saying, "O Eunuch, sell it to Khalifah for a hundred dinars and one dinar!" Quoth the eunuch: "By Allah, I will sell it to none but him! Take it, O Fisherman. The Lord bless thee in it, and here with thy gold." So Khalifah pulled out the ducats and gave them to the eunuch, who, the bargain being duly made, delivered to him the chest and bestowed the price in alms on the spot, after which he returned to the palace and acquainted the Lady Zubaydah with what he had done, whereat she rejoiced. Meanwhile the fisherman hove the chest on shoulder, but could not carry it on this wise for the excess of its weight, so he lifted it onto his head and thus bore it to the quarter where he lived. Here he set it down, and being weary, sat awhile bemusing what had befallen him and saying in himself, "Would Heaven I knew what is in this chest!"
Then he opened the door of his lodging and haled the chest till he got it into his closet, after which he strove to open it, but failed. Quoth he: "What folly possessed me to buy this chest? There is no help for it but to break it open and see what is herein." So he applied himself to the lock, but could not open it, and said to himself, "I will leave it till tomorrow." Then he would have stretched him out to sleep, but could find no room, for the chest filled the whole closet. So he got upon it and lay him down. But when he had lain awhile, behold, he felt something stir under him, whereat sleep forsook him and his reason fled. So he arose and cried: "Meseems there be Jinns in the chest. Praise to Allah Who suffered me not to open it! For had I done so, they had risen against me in the dark and slain me, and from them would have befallen me naught of good."
Then he lay down again, when lo! the chest moved a second time, more than before, whereupon he sprang to his feet and said: "There it goes again. But this is terrible!" And he hastened to look for the lamp, but could not find it and had not the wherewithal to buy another. So he went forth and cried out, "Ho, people of the quarter!" Now the most part of the folk were asleep, but they awoke at his crying and asked, "What aileth thee, O Khalifah?" He answered, "Bring me a lamp, for the Jinn are upon me." They laughed at him and gave him a lamp, wherewith he returned to his closet. Then he smote the lock of the chest with a stone and broke it, and opening it, saw a damsel like a houri lying asleep within. Now she had been drugged with bhang, but at that moment she threw up the stuff and awoke. Then she opened her eyes, and feeling herself confined and cramped, moved. At this sight quoth Khalifah, "By Allah, O my lady, whence art thou?" and quoth she, "Bring me jessamine, and narcissus." And Khalifah answered, "There is naught here but henna flowers."
Thereupon she came to herself, and considering Khalifah, said to him, "What art thou?" presently adding, "And where am I?" He said, "Thou art in my lodging." Asked she, "Am I not in the palace of the Caliph Harun al-Rashid?" And quoth he: "What manner of thing is Al-Rashid? O madwoman, Thou art naught but my slave girl. I bought thee this very day for a hundred dinars and one dinar, and brought thee home, and thou wast asleep in this here chest." When she heard these words she said to him, "What is thy name?" Said he: "My name is Khalifah. How comes my star to have grown propitious, when I know my ascendant to have been otherwise?" She laughed and cried: "Spare me this talk! Hast thou anything to eat?" Replied he: "No, by Allah, nor yet to drink! I have not eaten these two days, and am now in want of a morsel." She asked, "Hast thou no money?" and he said: "Allah keep this chest which hath beggared me. I gave all I had for it and am become bankrupt."
The damsel laughed at him and said: "Up with thee and seek of thy neighbors somewhat for me to eat, for I am hungry." So he went forth and cried out, "Ho, people of the quarter!" Now the folk were asleep, but they awoke and asked, "What aileth thee, O Khalifah?" Answered he, "O my neighbors, I am hungry and have nothing to eat." So one came down to him with a bannock and another with broken meats and a third with a bittock of cheese and a fourth with a cucumber, and so on till his lap was full and he returned to his closet and laid the whole between her hands, saying, "Eat." But she laughed at him, saying: "How can I eat of this when I have not a mug of water whereof to drink? I fear to choke with a mouthful and die." Quoth he, "I will fill thee this pitcher." So he took the pitcher, and going forth, stood ’m the midst of the street and cried out, saying, "Ho, people of the quarter!" Quoth they, "What calamity is upon thee tonight, O Khalifah!" And he said, "Ye gave me food and I ate, but now I am athirst, so give me to drink."
Thereupon one came down to him with a mug and another with an ewer and a third with a gugglet, and he filled his pitcher, and bearing it back, said to the damsel, "O my lady, thou lackest nothing now." Answered she, "True, I want nothing more at this present." Quoth he, "Speak to me and say me thy story." And quoth she: "Fie upon thee! An thou knowest me not, I will tell thee who I am. I am Kut al-Kulub, the Caliph’s handmaiden, and the Lady Zubaydah was jealous of me, so she drugged me with bhang and set me in this chest," presently adding: "Alhamdolillah- praised be God- for that the matter hath come to easy issue and no worse! But this befell me not save for thy good luck, for thou wilt certainly get of the Caliph Al-Rashid money galore, that will be the means of thine enrichment." Quoth Khalifah, "Is not Al-Rashid he in whose palace I was imprisoned?" "Yes," answered she, and he said: "By Allah, never saw I more niggardly wight than he, that piper little of good and wit! He gave me a hundred blows with a stick yesterday and but one dinar, for all I taught him to fish and made him my partner, but he played me false." Replied she: "Leave this unseemly talk, and open thine eyes and look thou bear thyself respectfully whenas thou seest him after this, and thou shalt win thy wish."

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