WOMEN'S CRAFT.

It is told that there was once, in the city of Baghdad, a comely and well-bred youth, fair of face, tall of stature and slender of shape. His name was Alaeddin and he was of the chiefs of the sons of the merchants and had a shop wherein he sold and bought One day, as he sat in his shop, there passed by him a girl of the women of pleasure, (253) who raised her eyes and casting a glance at the young merchant, saw written in a flowing hand on the forepart (254) of the door of his shop, these words, "VERILY, THERE IS NO CRAFT BUT MEN'S CRAFT, FORASMUCH AS IT OVERCOMETH WOMEN'S CRAFT." When she beheld this, she was wroth and took counsel with herself, saying, "As my head liveth, I will assuredly show him a trick of the tricks of women and prove the untruth of (255) this his inscription!"

So, on the morrow, she made her ready and donning the costliest of apparel, adorned herself with the most magnificent of ornaments and the highest of price and stained her hands with henna. Then she let down her tresses upon her shoulders and went forth, walking along with coquettish swimming gait and amorous grace, followed by her slave-girls, till she came to the young merchant's shop and sitting down thereat, under colour of seeking stuffs, saluted him and demanded of him somewhat of merchandise. So he brought out to her various kinds of stuffs and she took them and turned them over, talking with him the while. Then said she to him, "Look at the goodliness of my shape and my symmetry. Seest thou in me any default?" And he answered, "No, O my lady." "Is it lawful," continued she, "in any one that he should slander me and say that I am humpbacked?"

Then she discovered to him a part of her bosom, and when he saw her breasts, his reason took flight from his head and he said to her, "Cover it up, so may God have thee in His safeguard!" Quoth she, "Is it fair of any one to missay of my charms?" And he answered, "How shall any missay of thy charms, and thou the sun of loveliness?" Then said she, "Hath any the right to say of me that I am lophanded? "And tucking up her sleeves, showed him forearms, as they were crystal; after which she unveiled to him a face, as it were a full moon breaking forth on its fourteenth night, and said to him, "Is it lawful for any to missay of me [and avouch] that my face is pitted with smallpox or that I am one-eyed or crop-eared?" And he answered her, saying, "O my lady, what is it moveth thee to discover unto me that lovely face and those fair members, [of wont so jealously] veiled and guarded? Tell me the truth of the matter, may I be thy ransom!" And he recited the following verses:


          A white one, from her sheath of tresses now laid bare And now again concealed in black, luxuriant hair; (256)
          As if the maid the day resplendent and her locks The night that o'er it spreads its shrouding darkness were.

"Know, O my lord," answered she, "that I am a maiden oppressed of my father, for that he misspeaketh of me and saith to me, 'Thou art foul of favour and it befitteth not that thou wear rich clothes; for thou and the slave-girls, ye are equal in rank, there is no distinguishing thee from them.' Now he is a rich man, having wealth galore, [and saith not on this wise but] because he is a niggard and grudgeth the spending of a farthing; [wherefore he is loath to marry me,] lest he be put to somewhat of charge in my marriage, albeit God the Most High hath been bountiful to him and he is a man puissant in his time and lacking nothing of the goods of the world." "Who is thy father," asked the young merchant, "and what is his condition?" And she replied, "He is the Chief Cadi of the Supreme Court, under whose hand are all the Cadis who administer justice in this city."

The merchant believed her and she took leave of him and went away, leaving in his heart a thousand regrets, for that the love of her had gotten possession of him and he knew not how he should win to her; wherefore he abode enamoured, love-distraught, unknowing if he were alive or dead. As soon as she was gone, he shut his shop and going up to the Court, went in to the Chief Cadi and saluted him. The magistrate returned his salutation and entreated him with honour and seated him by his side. Then said Alaeddin to him, "I come to thee, a suitor, seeking thine alliance and desiring the hand of thy noble daughter." "O my lord merchant," answered the Cadi, "indeed my daughter beseemeth not the like of thee, neither sorteth she with the goodliness of thy youth and the pleasantness of thy composition and the sweetness of thy discourse;" but Alaeddin rejoined, saying, "This talk behoveth thee not, neither is it seemly in thee; if I be content with her, how should this irk thee?" So they came to an accord and concluded the treaty of marriage at a dower precedent of five purses (257) paid down then and there and a dower contingent of fifteen purses, (258) so it might be uneath unto him to put her away, forasmuch as her father had given him fair warning, but he would not be warned.

Then they drew up the contract of marriage and the merchant said, "I desire to go in to her this night." So they carried her to him in procession that very night, and he prayed the prayer of eventide and entered the privy chamber prepared for him; but, when he lifted the veil from the face of the bride and looked, he saw a foul face and a blameworthy aspect; yea, he beheld somewhat the like whereof may God not show thee! loathly, dispensing from description, inasmuch as there were reckoned in her all legal defects. (259) So he repented, whenas repentance availed him not, and knew that the girl had cheated him. However, he lay with the bride, against his will, and abode that night sore troubled in mind, as he were in the prison of Ed Dilem. (260) Hardly had the day dawned when he arose from her and betaking himself to one of the baths, dozed there awhile, after which he made the ablution of defilement (261) and washed his clothes. Then he went out to the coffee-house and drank a cup of coffee; after which he returned to his shop and opening the door, sat down, with discomfiture and chagrin written on his face.

Presently, his friends and acquaintances among the merchants and people of the market began to come up to him, by ones and twos, to give him joy, and said to him, laughing, "God's blessing on thee! Where an the sweetmeats? Where is the coffee? (262) It would seem thou hast forgotten us; surely, the charms of the bride have disordered thy reason and taken thy wit, God help thee! Well, well; we give thee joy, we give thee joy." And they made mock of him, whilst he gave them no answer and was like to tear his clothes and weep for vexation. Then they went away from him, and when it was the hour of noon, up came his mistress, trailing her skirts and swaying in her gait, as she were a cassia-branch in a garden. She was yet more richly dressed and adorned and more bewitching (263) in her symmetry and grace than on the previous day, so that she made the passers stop and stand in ranks to look on her.

When she came to Alaeddin's shop, she sat down thereat and said to him, "May the day be blessed to thee, O my lord Alaeddin! God prosper thee and be good to thee and accomplish thy gladness and make it a wedding of weal and content!" He knitted his brows and frowned in answer to her; then said he to her, "Tell me, how have I failed of thy due, or what have I done to injure thee, that thou shouldst play me this trick?" Quoth she, "Thou hast no wise offended against me; but this inscription that is written on the door of thy shop irketh me and vexeth my heart. If thou wilt change it and write up the contrary thereof, I will deliver thee from thy predicament." And he answered, "This that thou seekest is easy. On my head and eyes be it." So saying, he brought out a ducat (264) and calling one of his mamelukes, said to him, "Get thee to such an one the scribe and bid him write us an inscription, adorned with gold and ultramarine, in these words, to wit, 'THERE IS NO CRAFT BUT WOMEN'S CRAFT, FOR THAT INDEED THEIR CRAFT IS A MIGHTY CRAFT AND OVERCOMETH AND HUMBLETH THE FABLES (265) OF MEN.'" And she said to the servant, "Go forthright."

So he repaired to the scribe, who wrote him the scroll, and he brought it to his master, who set it on the door and said to the damsel, "Art thou satisfied?" "Yes," answered she. "Arise forthright and get thee to the place before the citadel, where do thou foregather with all the mountebanks and ape-dancers and bear-leaders and drummers and pipers and bid them come to thee to-morrow early, with their drums and pipes, what time thou drinkest coffee with thy father-in-law the Cadi, and congratulate thee and wish thee joy, saying, 'A blessed day, O son of our uncle! Indeed, thou art the vein (266) of our eye! We rejoice for thee, and if thou be ashamed of us, verily, we pride ourselves upon thee; so, though thou banish us from thee, know that we will not forsake thee, albeit thou forsakest us.' And do thou fall to strewing dinars and dirhems amongst them; whereupon the Cadi will question thee, and do thou answer him, saying, 'My father was an ape-dancer and this is our original condition; but out Lord opened on us [the gate of fortune] and we have gotten us a name among the merchants and with their provost.'

Then will he say to thee, 'Then thou art an ape-leader of the tribe of the mountebanks?' And do thou reply, 'I may in nowise deny my origin, for the sake of thy daughter and in her honour.' The Cadi will say, 'It may not be that thou shalt be given the daughter of a sheikh who sitteth upon the carpet of the Law and whose descent is traceable by genealogy to the loins of the Apostle of God, (267) nor is it seemly that his daughter be in the power of a man who is an ape-dancer, a minstrel.' And do thou rejoin, 'Nay, O Effendi, she is my lawful wife and every hair of her is worth a thousand lives, and I will not let her go, though I be given the kingship of the world.' Then be thou persuaded to speak the word of divorce and so shall the marriage be dissolved and ye be delivered from each other."

Quoth Alaeddin, "Thou counsellest well," and locking up his shop, betook himself to the place before the citadel, where he foregathered with the drummers and pipers and instructed them how they should do, [even as his mistress had counselled him,] promising them a handsome reward. So they answered him with "Hearkening and obedience" and on the morrow, after the morning-prayer, he betook himself to the presence of the Cadi, who received him with obsequious courtesy and seated him beside himself. Then he turned to him and fell to conversing with him and questioning him of matters of selling and buying and of the price current of the various commodities that were exported to Baghdad from all parts, whilst Alaeddin replied to him of all whereof he asked him.

As they were thus engaged, behold, up came the dancers and mountebanks, with their pipes and drums, whilst one of their number forewent them, with a great banner in his hand, and played all manner antics with his voice and limbs. When they came to the Courthouse, the Cadi exclaimed, "I seek refuge with God from yonder Satans!" And the merchant laughed, but said nothing. Then they entered and saluting his highness the Cadi, kissed Alaeddin's hands and said, "God's blessing on thee, O son of our uncle! Indeed, thou solacest our eyes in that which thou dost, and we beseech God to cause the glory of our lord the Cadi to endure, who hath honoured us by admitting thee to his alliance and allotted us a part in his high rank and dignity." When the Cadi heard this talk, it bewildered his wit and he was confounded and his face flushed with anger and he said to his son-in-law, "What words are these?" Quoth the merchant, "Knowest thou not, O my lord, that I am of this tribe? Indeed this man is the son of my mother's brother and that other the son of my father's brother, and I am only reckoned of the merchants [by courtesy]!"

When the Cadi heard this, his colour changed and he was troubled and waxed exceeding wroth and was rike to burst for excess of rage. Then said he to the merchant, "God forbid that this should be! How shall it be permitted that the daughter of the Cadi of the Muslims abide with a man of the dancers and vile of origin? By Allah, except thou divorce her forthright, I will bid beat thee and cast thee into prison till thou die! Had I foreknown that thou wast of them, I had not suffered thee to approach me, but had spat in thy face, for that thou art filthier (268) than a dog or a hog." Then he gave him a push and casting him down from his stead, commanded him to divorce; but he said, "Be clement to me, O Effendi, for that God is clement, and hasten not. I will not divorce my wife, though thou give me the kingdom of Irak."

The Cadi was perplexed and knew that constraint was not permitted of the law; (269) so he spoke the young merchant fair and said to him, "Protect me, (270) so may God protect thee. If thou divorce her not, this disgrace will cleave to me till the end of time." Then his rage got the better of him and he said to him, "An thou divorce her not with a good grace, I will bid strike off thy head forthright and slay myself; rather flame (271) than shame." The merchant bethought himself awhile, then divorced her with a manifest divorcement (272) and on this wise he delivered himself from that vexation. Then he returned to his shop and sought in marriage of her father her who had played him the trick aforesaid and who was the daughter of the chief of the guild of the blacksmiths. So he took her to wife and they abode with each other and lived the most solaceful of lives, in all prosperity and contentment and joyance, till the day of death; and God [alone] is All-Knowing.




End of vol. II.




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