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The Thousand and One Humbugs – 1855 – short stories
Dickens published this first in Apr 1855 in Household Words (Apr 1855 No 265; Apr 1855 No 266; May 1855 No 267 ).
This was essentially a parody of ‘The Merchant and the Genie’ from the ‘Arabian Nights’.
Grand Vizier Parmarstoon
Law, a Genie
Dickens starts by assuming everyboday is acquainted with that enchanting stories, the Thousand and One Nights, better known in England as the Arabian Nights’ Entertainments. He thanks M Gallard of France for his translations.
He suggest a manuscript in Arabic has fallen into their hands bearing stories similar to the Thousand and One Nights. Although these are ancient they have a significant bearing on things happening today.
The Oriental Scholars of England and France have been sent a copy and cannot explain it because it bears the word humbug in its title and the closest these people came to the meaning of the English word ‘humbug’ was ‘a camel made of sand’.
The manuscript talks of a Persian Sultan called Taxedtaurus or Fleeced Bull. He was rich and extravagant, but he easily lost interest in his playthings. The one unhappiness he had was that, while married many times, he could not find a wife to suit him. He found them to be unfaithful, brazen, talkative, idle, extravagant, inefficient and boastful.
Reefawm (meaning Light of Reason), the most beutiful of his wifes, had been promising but she too proved unsatisfactory. He fell into a melancholy and secluded himself, despairing of finding a Howsa Kummauns [sounds like House of Commons].
He overheard Reefawm and drew a scimitar to finish her, but the Grand Vizier Parmarstoon (or Twirling Peacock) had been watching him and intervened, The Vizier quoted the poet in mitigation ‘To hear is to obey’.
The Vizier tells the Sultan a story. In the kingdom of the Tartar an ignorant man was obliged to cross the Great Desert of Desolation, which can take upwards of three score and ten years. His route was steep and beset by vile serpents and creatures of horrible shapes, it was festooned with black bogs, into which he often fell.
He sat beside a foul well and cracked open a very hard nut, carelssly discarding the pieces. A Genie called Law appeared holding a large scimitar and accused him of hitting his ward, Prince Socieetee in the eye, The Genie threatens to kill him.
The man bowed to take the stroke but said ‘Dread Law, if thou
hadst taken half the pains to teach me to discern thy ward that thou hast taken to avenge him, thou hadst been spared the great account to which I summon thee!’
The Sultan asked quite what this had to do with his current situation, The Vizier suggest that his daughter, Hansardadade, had read of all the Howsa Kummauns and could relate many Legends to him, The Sultan spares the Vizier and orders him to bring his daughter to him.
The Vizier found his daughter surrounded by old women who consulted her. She was told of the order and dressed in her finest dress and a veil, and called her sister Brothartoon (or Chamber Candlestick) todo the same, They were accompanied by Mistaspeeka, a black mute.
The Sultan was sat with his advisors and he announced ‘Know that I have solemnly sworn that if Hansardadade’s stories fail to mitigate my wrath, I will have her burned and her ashes cast to the winds! Also, I will strangle thee and the present Howsa Kummauns, and will take a new one every day and strangle each, until I find a good and true one.
Hansardadade used a one-string lute to sing a song in prose, When she finished the Sultan and his court were in a state of rapture.
When they had recovered, Hansardadade asked if they wished to hear the story of the Wonderful Camp, or the story of the Talkative Barber, or the story of Scarli Tapa and the Forty Thieves? The Sultan asked for the ‘forty thieves’.
She started to tell it, but her sister interrupted to say it was past midnight and she should wait until morning. The Sultan reluctantly agreed.
When she returned Hansardadade tells the sory of a man who lived withing the realm of the Sultan of the Indies. He was called Scarli Tapa, He was the youngest son of an aged Dowajah, a voracious female who preyed upon Mankind. She had achieved a long age, thanks to a Genie who had used a talisman to put her upon the Penshunlist. But she died.
Scarla List had a rich elder brother called Cashim Tapa, he had married the daughter of a prosperous merchant and lived well, Scarli Tapa however could barely support his wife, despite or because of his gambling on horses and billiards. He was running into debt.
|He wandered into the neighbourhood of the Woods and Forests and saw an advancing cloud of dust. He climbed into the trees to watch. The cloud was being made by forty robbers mounted on bulls. They came to a halt beneath him and tethered their bulls to shrubs, then fed them.|
The leader approached an old rock which bore this message – O. F. F. I. C. E.. The leader said ‘Debrett’s Peerage Open Sesame’ and a door swung open, they all went in, their leader last, and then the door swayed closed.
The robbers stayed for a long time and Scarli Tapa, several times, considered descending, But he feared they might return and capture him. At last they emerged, the leader first, and when he saw they had all emerged he said ‘Debrett’s Peerage.
Shut Sesame!’ They all mounted their bulls, each holding a sack of gold, silver and jewels, and rode off the way they had come.
Once their dust had receded Scarli Tapa, he came down and approached the door and said ‘Debrett’s Peerage Open Sesame’ and the door swung open. He went in and found an exceedingly agreeable vista of rooms that were full of wheaten loaves, and riches lying there to be taken. He took as much as he could, closed the door and returned home.
His wife seeing the riches assumed he had stolen them, so he explained what had happened. She was overjoyed and shared the news with her sister-in-law, wife to Cashim. The wife was jealous and chided Cashim that. as the elder brother, he should have the riches that Scarli had. Cashim feigned fraternal interest to Scarli, who shared his news with his brother.
Cashim went to the rock but was caught be the robbers who condemned him to the cave forever. Scarla went to see Cashim’s servant, Jobbiaua, who devised a plan.
Jobbiaua bribed a cobbler to come with her, and be subject to being blindfolded and have his hands tied, as he went to a house and did a job. He agreed and she had him create shoes for Cashim. They did so and she rewarded him.
Yawyawah, the Captain of the Robbers, was sauntering through the city and met the cobbler. He talked of his skills and Yawyawah guessed of what he referred and blindfolded him so he could identify the house that had commissioned him. The Captain made a mark on the house. But Jobbiaua seeing this marked twenty other houses with the same mark.
The Captain disguised himself as a trader in soft-soap, and his men hid in thirty-nine jars that purported to hold his wares. He approached Scarli and asked to store his goods with him.
Jobbiaua was preparing a bath for Scarli and realised they had no soft soap, so she went to one of the jars. The bandit within asked her, thinking it was the leader, if it was time to come out. Realisng the danger she said ‘No’, and quickly went to the other jars and had the same conversation. She brewed up some soothing syrup and poured a little into each jar, putting each occupant into a state of insensibility or submission.
She danced as an entertainer for Scarli’s guest but then revealed him and his plan. Scarli suggested a coalition, and the Leader agreed. As there was plenty in the cave, they would share the cave between them and permit no other.
In gratitude he arranged freedom of the City for Jobbiaua, and arranged for her to marry his son. The coalition prospered such that in the Sultanmate of the Indies and the three great races of the Scarli Tapas, the Yawyawahs, and the Jobbianas maintained possession of the talisman.
Hansardadade concluded the story of the Forty Thieves, She began another tale when Brothartoon interrupted suggesting it be held for the nxt day.
Hansardadade returned the next night and told the story of the talkative barber.
The location was a city in the mountains of Casgar, and of a lame young man, called Publeek. He was made welcomed to an entertainment. But when he saw a barber he was repelled.
Asked to explain he made an oath against all barbers, he said this was in return for all I have endured from his intolerable levity, and from his talk never being to the point or purpose!
When pressed he explained the Barber was the cause of his being crippled. On his travels he had seen a beautiful girl, called Fair Guvanment, daughter of the chief Cadi.
He was in such turmoil but an old lady told him it was love and arranged a meeting with the girl. He dressed carefully and then arranged for a barber who could prepare him fully.
The barber was called Praymiah who was apparently well appointed to do the job, at least he said he was, and he pulled out a showy case of instruments. But he prattled and prevaricated rather than getting on with the shave.
The young man left his house unshaven and went to he house of Cadi to meet his beauty. But he was pursued by the barber and his friends. They attacked him and this resulted in his crippling. He finished his tale and left.
Challenged the barber responded with the story of the Barmecide Feast. His tale was of the crippled young man’s twin brother Guld Publeek. Who met up with Barmecide, a near relation of the barber and a fellow barber.
(A long and torturous tale ensued.)
Hansardadade having made an end of the discourse of the loquacious Barber, would have instantly begun another story, had not Brothartoon shut her up and suggested they come back the next day.
(And so it went on…)
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