The Story of the King Bedreddin-Lolo and of his Vizir Atalmulc, surnamed the Sad Vizir

BEDREDDIN-LOLO, King of Damascus, had as his grand vizir a man of wealth —so says the history of his time.

This minister, who was named Atalmulc, which means a Present to the Kingdom, was very worthy of the fine name he bore. His zeal in the king’s service was indefatigable, his vigilance would not be deceived, his genius was penetrating and far-reaching, and with all this his disinterestedness was the admiration of all; but he was surnamed the Sad Vizir, for he usually appeared plunged in pro­found melancholy.

He was always serious, whatever absurd action he saw take place at court; he never laughed, how­ever amusing a thing was said before him.

One day the king was conversing with him in private, and related to him, laughing heartily, an adventure he had just heard; the vizir listened so seriously that Bedreddin was disconcerted. ‘Atal­mulc,’ he said, ‘you are a strange character, you always look sombre and sad; for all the years you have been with me I have never seen on your face the least expression of joy.’

‘My lord,’ replied the vizir, ‘your majesty should not be astonished at it; everyone has his troubles; there is no man on earth who is exempt from grief.’

‘Your answer is not correct,’ replied the king; ‘because you have doubtless some secret trouble, on that account must all men have one too? Do you really believe what you say?’

‘Yes, my lord,’ replied Atalmulc, ‘such is the condition of the children of Adam, our hearts cannot know entire satisfaction. Judge of others by yourself, sire: is your majesty perfectly con­tent?’

‘Oh! as for me,’ cried Bedreddin, ‘I cannot be so. I have enemies. I am bowed down with the weight of an empire, a thousand cares occupy my mind and trouble the tranquillity of my life; but I am persuaded that there are in the world endless private persons whose happy days are spent in pleasure unmixed with bitterness, and at least, if no one is exempt from grief, everyone is not, like you, absorbed in his affliction. You rouse, I admit, in me a keen curiosity to know what makes you so dreamy and sad. Tell me why you are so insensible to smiles, which form the sweetest charm of society.’

‘I will obey you, my lord,’ replied the vizir, ‘and discover to you the cause of my secret troubles by relating to you the story of my life.’


‘I am the only son of a rich jeweller of Bagdad. My father, who was called Coaja-Abdallah, spared nothing for my education; he gave me, almost from my infancy, masters who taught me all sorts of sciences, such as philosophy, law, theology; and, above all, he made me learn all the different languages spoken in Asia, so that if at any time I travelled in that part of the world they might be useful to me on my travels.

‘I had a natural taste for pleasure and expendi­ture. My father perceived it with grief; he even tried by wise remonstrances to destroy this inclina­tion in me; but what impression can the sensible advice of a father make on a libertine son? I paid no attention to that of Abdallah, and imputed it to the chagrin caused by old age. One day that I was walking with him in the garden of our house and that he, as usual, was chiding my conduct, he said to me: “O, my son ! I have remarked that till now my reprimands have only wearied you; but you will soon be relieved of an importunate censor; the Angel of Death is hovering over me, I am about to descend into the abyss of eternity and leave you great wealth; take care not to put it to a bad use, or, at least, if you are unfortunate enough to dissipate it foolishly, do not fail to have recourse to that tree which you see in the middle of the garden; attach a fatal rope to one of its branches and prevent thereby all the evils which accompany poverty.”

‘He died shortly afterwards, as he had predicted. I gave him a superb funeral and then took pos­session of all his wealth. I found it so enormous that I thought I could with impunity indulge the inclination I had for pleasure. I increased the number of my servants, I gathered round me all the young men of the town. I kept open table and indulged in every kind of debauch, so that I insensibly consumed my patrimony. My friends immediately abandoned me, and all my servants left me one after the other. What a change in my fortune! my courage was destroyed by it. I remembered then, but too late, the last words of my father. “How fully I deserve the situation in which I am placed,” I said. “Why did I not profit by the advice of Abdallah? It was not without reason that he recommended me to be careful of my wealth. Is any state more terrible than that of a man who experiences want after having known abundance? Ah! at least I will not forget all his counsels. I have not forgotten that he advised me to terminate my life if misery befell me: it has befallen me. I will follow this advice, which is not less wise than the other; for when I shall have sold my house, the only thing remaining to me, and which would only suffice to keep me for a few years, what must become of me? I shall be reduced to beg or die of hunger. What an alter­native! I had better immediately hand myself. I cannot too soon free my mind from these cruel ideas.”

‘Thus saying, I went to buy a rope. I entered my garden, and approached the tree my father had indicated to me, and which seemed to me very well fitted for my design. I put two large stones at the foot of this tree, mounted them and proceeded to attach one end of the rope to a large branch; I made of the other a slip-knot, which I passed round my neck; then I sprang into the air from the two stones. The slip-knot, which I had made very well, was about to strangle me, when the branch to which the fatal rope was attached, yielding to the weight, broke off from the trunk, to which it only held feebly, and fell with me.

‘I was at first very mortified at having made a futile effort to hang myself; but, on looking at the branch which had served my despair so ill, I per­ceived with surprise that some diamonds fell from it, and that it was hollow as well as the whole trunk of the tree. I ran to seek a hatchet in the house, and cut down the tree, which I found full of rubies, emeralds and other precious stones. I quickly removed the slip-knot from my neck, and passed from despair to the keenest joy. Instead of abandoning myself to pleasure, and living as before, I resolved to embrace the profession of my father. I understood about precious stones, and I had reason to hope that I should not do badly in the business. I associated myself with two merchant-jewellers of Bagdad who were friends of Abdallah, and who were going to do business at Ormus.

‘We betook ourselves all three to Bassora. We chartered a vessel there and embarked upon the gulf named after this town. We lived happily together, and our vessel, impelled by a favourable wind, ploughed the waves lightly.

‘We passed our days enjoyably, and our voyage was about to finish as we wished, when my two associates caused me to recognise the fact that I was not in the society of very honest people. We were about to arrive at the head of the gulf and land, which put us in a good humour. In our joy we did not spare the exquisite wines, which we had been careful to make provision of at Bassora.

‘After having drunk well, I fell asleep in the middle of the night, quite dressed, on a sofa. Whilst I was sleeping profoundly my associates took me in their arms and threw me into the sea by a porthole of the vessel.

‘I thought to drown in the depths, and I do not understand how I am still alive after that adven­ture. But the sea was rough, and the waves, as if Heaven had forbidden them to swallow me up, bore me to the foot of a mountain which bordered the head of the gulf on one side. I even found myself safe and sound on the bank, where I passed the rest of the night in thanking God for my delivery, which I could not be sufficiently grateful for.

‘As soon as the day dawned I climbed with much trouble to the summit of the mountain, which was very jagged. I met several peasants of the neigh­bourhood, who were occupied in digging for crystal which they afterwards sold at Ormus. I related to them the danger to which my life had been exposed, and it seemed to them, as to me, that I had only escaped by a miracle. These good people took pity on me, they shared their pro­visions with me, which consisted of millet-seed and rice, and they conducted me to the great town of Ormus as soon as they had their loads of crystal. I went to lodge in a caravanserai, where the first thing I saw was one of my associates.

‘He seemed rather surprised to see a man whom he had thought had already served as prey to some marine monster: he ran to find his companion, to warn him of my arrival and to discuss the reception they should both give me. They had soon formed their decision. I saw them both a moment after: they entered the courtyard where I was, and presented themselves before me, without seeming to recognise me. “Ah! traitors,” I said, “Heaven rendered your treachery futile. I still live in spite of your barbarity; return me promptly all my precious stones. I wish no longer to associate with such bad men.” To this speech, which should have confused them, they had the impudence to reply thus: