Told in the Coffee House: Turkish Tales | Annotated Tale

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Who Was the Thirteenth Son

IN THE town of Adrianople there lived an Armenian Patriarch, Munadi Hagop by name, respected and loved alike by Mussulman and Christian. He was a man of wide reading and profound judgment. The Ottoman Governor of the same place, Usref Pasha, happened also to be a man of considerable acquirements and education. The Armenian and the Turk associated much together. In fact, they were always either walking out together or visiting, one at the residence of the other. This went on for some time, and the twelve wise men who were judges in the city thought that their Governor was doing wrong in associating so much with a dog of a Christian; so they resolved to call him to account.

               This resolution taken, the entire twelve proceeded to the house of the Governor and told him that he was setting a bad example to his subjects. They feared, too, that the salvation of his own soul and of his posterity was in danger, should this Armenian in any way influence his mind.

               "My friends," answered the Governor, "this man is very learned, and the only reason why we so often come together is because a great sympathy exists between us, and much mutual pleasure is derived from this friendship. I ask his advice, and he gives me a clear explanation. He is my friend, and I would gladly see him your friend."

               "Oh," said the spokesman of the judges, "it is his wise answers that act as magic upon you? We will give him a question to answer, and if he solves this to our satisfaction, he will then in reality be a great man."

               "I am sure you will not be disappointed!" said the Pasha. "He has never failed me, and I have sometimes put questions to him which appeared unanswerable. He will surely call to-morrow. Shall I send him to you or bring him myself?"

               "We wish to see him alone," said the judges.

               "I shall not fail to send him to you to-morrow, after which I am sure you will often seek his company."

               On the following day the Pasha told the Patriarch how matters stood, and begged him to call on the gentlemen who took so lively an interest in their friendly association.

               The Patriarch, never dreaming of what would happen, called on the twelve wise men and introduced himself. They were holding the Divan, and the entrance of the Patriarch gave considerable pleasure to them. On the table lay a turban and a drawn sword.

               The customary salutations having been duly exchanged, the Patriarch seated himself, and at once told them that his friend the Governor had asked him to call, and he took much pleasure in making their acquaintance, adding that he would be happy to do anything in his power that they might wish.

               The spokesman of the Divan rose and said: "Effendi, our friend the Governor has told us of your great learning, and we have decided to put a question to you. The reason of our taking this liberty is because the Governor told us that he had never put a question to you which had remained unanswered."

               And as he spoke he moved toward the table.

               "Effendi, our question will consist of only a few words." And laying his right hand on the turban and his left hand on the sword, he said: "Is this the right, or is this the right?"

               The Patriarch paused aghast at the terrible feature of the interrogation. He saw destruction staring him in the face. Nevertheless he said to them with great composure: "Gentlemen, you have put an exceedingly difficult question to me, the most difficult that could be put to man. However, it is a question put, and now, according to your laws, cannot be recalled."

               "No," answered the twelve wise men, rubbing their hands, "it cannot be recalled."

               "I will but say that it grieves me much to have to reply to this," the Patriarch continued, "and I cannot do so without continued prayers for guidance. Therefore I beg to request a week's time before giving my answer."

               To this no objection was made, and the Patriarch prepared to go. Respectfully bowing to all present, as if nothing out of the common had happened, he slowly moved toward the door apparently in deep thought.

               Just as he reached the door he turned back and addressing the judges, said:

               "Gentlemen, one of the reasons I had great pleasure in meeting you to-day was because I wished to have your advice on a difficult legal problem which has been presented to me by some members of my community. Knowing your great wisdom, I thought you might assist me, and as you are now sitting in lawful council I shall, if agreeable to you, put the case before you and be greatly pleased to learn your opinion."

               The judges, whose curiosity was aroused, and who were flattered that a man of such reputation for wisdom should submit a matter to them for their opinion, signified to him to proceed.

               "Gentlemen and wise men," began the Patriarch, "there was once a father, and this father had thirteen sons, who were esteemed by all who knew them. As time with sure hand marked its progress on the issue of this good man, and the children grew into youth, they one by one went into the world, spreading to the four known quarters of the globe, and carrying with them the good influence given by their father. Through them the name of the father spread, causing a great moral and mental revolution throughout the world. The father in his native home, however, saw that his days were few, that he had well-nigh turned the leaves of the book of life, and yearned to see his sons once more. He accordingly sent messengers all over the world, saying: 'Come, my sons, and receive your father's blessing; he is about to depart this life, come and get each one your portion of the worldly possessions I have, together with my blessing, and again go forth, doing each your duty to God and man.'

               "One by one the sons of the aged father came, and once more were united in the ancient home of their childhood, with the exception of one son. The remaining days of the old man were spent with his twelve sons, and the brothers found that all of them had retained the teachings of infancy, and the pleasure was great. The reuniting of the family, though of comparatively short duration, was happier by far than the years of childhood and youth which they had spent together. Still the thirteenth son was not found. The messengers returned one after the other, bearing no tidings of him. The old father saw that he could wait no longer, that he must dispose of his worldly possessions, give his blessing to his twelve sons and rejoin his Father. So he called them to his side and thus spoke to them:

               "'My sons, as you have done may it be done unto you. You have cheered my last steps to the grave, and I bless you.'

               "And the father's blessing was bestowed on each.

               "'Of all I possess I give to each of you an equal share with my blessing. You are my offspring and the representatives of your father on earth. It is my will that you should continue as you have begun. You are my twelve sons, and I have no other. Your brother who was, is no longer. We have waited long, that he should take his portion and my blessing; but he has tarried elsewhere, and now the hand of my Father is on me, and as you have come to me, so I must go to show Him my work.'

               "So the father ordained that the twelve should be his heirs, and declared that any one coming after claiming to be his son, was an impostor. He also confirmed in the existing and competent courts that these alone were his representatives on earth. This was duly registered in conformity with the law, and the old father passed away to rejoin his forefathers.

               "The twelve sons again went forth into the world and carried with them the blessings and teachings of their father, and these teachings and ideas developed and grew, and the memory of their father was cherished and blessed.

               "Many years after, a person turned up claiming to be the missing son, and sought to obtain the part due to him. Not only did he wish his share, but he claimed the whole worldly possessions of his father, that he was the son blessed by his father, and exhorted all to follow his teachings. By those who knew the circumstances, he was not believed; but many were ignorant of the father, and also ignorant of the registering in the courts of law, and were inclined to believe in the impostor.

               "Now, gentlemen, this is the case that has troubled me much. As you are sitting in lawful council, it would give me much pleasure if you could cast light on the case. Your statement will help me, and I will be ever grateful to you. Had this son, the late returned person, any right to all the worldly possessions of the father, or, in fact, even any right to an equal share?"

               Thus having spoken he turned to the Hodjas with an inquiring look. They one and all, unanimously, and in a breath said, that all the legal formalities having been carried out, the will of the father was law, and the law he passed should be respected, therefore the thirteenth son was an impostor. On returning he should have gone to his brothers, and no doubt he would have been received as a brother, but he acted otherwise. He should receive nothing.

               "I am glad to see that you look at it in that light, and I will now say that that has always been my opinion, but your statement now adds strength to the conviction, and had there been any doubt on my part, your unanimous declaration would have dispelled it. I would further esteem it a great kindness and a favor if, as a reference and as a proof of my authority, or rather as a corroboration of many proofs, you would, as you are sitting in lawful Divan, give your signatures to the effect that the decision of the learned council was unanimous, and to this said effect, that the thirteenth son was an impostor, and had no right to any of the possessions he claimed."

               Flattered that their opinion had such weight, the judges also consented to do this, and the Patriarch set about drawing up the case. This he read to them, and each put his hand and seal to the document.

               The Patriarch thanked them and departed.

               A week had passed, and the judges had entirely forgotten the case that had been put to them, but they had not forgotten the Patriarch, and eagerly awaited his answer to their question which left no alternative, and which would cause his head to be separated from his body by a blow of the executioner. But the Patriarch did not make his appearance, and as the prescribed time had passed, the judges went to the Governor to see what steps should be taken.

               The Governor was deeply grieved when the judges told him of the terrible question they had put to the Patriarch, yet remembering leaving that morning the Patriarch who had been with him, and who seemed in no wise anxious, he said that he was convinced that either a satisfactory answer had been given or would be forthcoming. He questioned the Hodjas as to what had taken place, and they answered that nothing had been said beyond the question that had been put to him and his request for a week's time in which to answer.

               "Did he say nothing at all," asked the Pasha, "before he left?"

               "Nothing," said the spokesman of the judges, "except that he put to us a case which he had been called on to decide and asked our opinion."

               "What was this case?" asked the Pasha. And the judges recited it to him, told what opinion they had given, and stated that they had, at the Patriarch's request and for his use, placed their seal to this opinion.

               "Go home, you heads of asses," said the Governor, "and thank Allah that it is to a noble and a great man who would make no unworthy use of it that you have delivered a document testifying that Mohammed is an impostor. In future, venture not to enter into judgment with men whom it has pleased God to give more wit than to yourselves."

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Who Was the Thirteenth Son
Tale Author/Editor: Adler, Cyrus & Ramsay, Allan
Book Title: Told in the Coffee House: Turkish Tales
Book Author/Editor: Adler, Cyrus & Ramsay, Allan
Publisher: Macmillan & Co.
Publication City: London
Year of Publication: 1898
Country of Origin: Turkey
Classification: unclassified

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