THE FAVOURITE AND HER LOVER. (174)
One day, a day of excessive heat, as I stood at the door of my house, I saw a fair woman approaching, and with her a slave-girl carrying a parcel. They gave not over going till they came up to me, when the woman stopped and said to me, 'Hast thou a draught of water?' 'Yes,' answered I. 'Enter the vestibule, O my lady, so thou mayst drink.' Accordingly, she entered and I went up into the house and fetched two mugs of earthenware, perfumed with musk (175) and full of cold water. She took one of them and discovered her face, [that she might drink]; whereupon I saw that she was as the shining sun or the rising moon and said to her, 'O my lady, wilt thou not come up into the house, so thou mayst rest thyself till the air grow cool and after go away to thine own place?' Quoth she, 'Is there none with thee?' 'Indeed,' answered I, 'I am a [stranger] and a bachelor and have none belonging to me, nor is there a living soul in the house.' And she said, 'An thou be a stranger, thou art he in quest of whom I was going about.'
Then she went up into the house and put off her [walking] clothes and I found her as she were the full moon. I brought her what I had by me of meat and drink and said to her, 'O my lady, excuse me: this is that which is ready.' Quoth she, 'This is abundant kindness and indeed it is what I sought' And she ate and gave the slave-girl that which was left; after which I brought her a casting-bottle of rose-water, mingled with musk, and she washed her hands and abode with me till the season of afternoon-prayer, when she brought out of the parcel that she had with her a shirt and trousers and an upper garment (176) and a kerchief wroughten with gold and gave them to me; saying, 'Know that I am one of the favourites of the Khalif, and we are forty favourites, each one of whom hath a lover who cometh to her as often as she would have him; and none is without a lover save myself, wherefore I came forth to-day to find me a gallant and behold, I have found thee. Thou must know that the Khalif lieth each night with one of us, whilst the other nine-and-thirty favourites take their ease with the nine-and-thirty men, and I would have thee be with me on such a day, when do thou come up to the palace of the Khalif and wait for me in such a place, till a little eunuch come out to thee and say to thee a [certain] word, to wit, "Art thou Sendel?" And do thou answer, "Yes," and go with him.'
Then she took leave of me and I of her, after I had strained her to my bosom and embraced her and we had kissed awhile. So she went away and I abode expecting the appointed day, till it came, when I arose and went forth, intending for the trysting-place; but a friend of mine met me by the way [and would have me go home with him. So I accompanied him to his house] and when I came up [into his sitting-chamber] he locked the door on me and went forth to fetch what we might eat and drink. He was absent till mid-day, then till the hour of afternoon-prayer, whereat I was sore disquieted. Then he was absent till sundown, and I was like to die of chagrin and impatience; [and indeed he returned not] and I passed my night on wake, nigh upon death, for that the door was locked on me, and my soul was like to depart my body on account of the tryst.
At daybreak, my friend returned and opening the door, came in, bringing with him meat-pottage (177) and fritters and bees' honey, (178) and said to me, 'By Allah, thou must needs excuse me, for that I was with a company and they locked the door on me and have but now let me go.' But I returned him no answer. Then he set before me that which was with him and I ate a single mouthful and went out, running, so haply I might overtake that which had escaped me. (179) When I came to the palace, I saw over against it eight-and-thirty gibbets set up, whereon were eight-and-thirty men crucified, and under them eight-and-thirty concubines as they were moons. So I enquired of the reason of the crucifixion of the men and concerning the women in question, and it was said unto me, 'The men [whom thou seest] crucified the Khalif found with yonder damsels, who are his favourites.' When I heard this, I prostrated myself in thanksgiving to God and said, 'God requite thee with good, O my friend!' For that, had he not invited me [and kept me perforce in his house] that night, I had been crucified with these men, wherefore praise be to God!
Thus," continued Shehrzad, "none is safe from the calamities of fortune and the vicissitudes of time, and [in proof of this], I will relate unto thee yet another story still rarer and more extraordinary than this. Know, O King, that one said to me, 'A friend of mine, a merchant, told me the following story. Quoth he,