THE MERCHANT OF CAIRO AND THE FAVOURITE OF THE KHALIF EL MAMOUN EL HAKIM BI AMRILLAH. (180)

As I sat one day in my shop, there came up to me a fair woman, as she were the moon at its rising, and with her a slave-girl. Now I was a handsome man in my time; so the lady sat down on [the bench before] my shop and buying stuffs of me, paid down the price and went away. I questioned the girl of her and she said, "I know not her name." Quoth I, "Where is her abode?" "In heaven," answered the slave-girl; and I said, "She is presently on the earth; so when doth she ascend to heaven and where is the ladder by which she goeth up?" Quoth the girl, "She hath her lodging in a palace between two rivers, (181) to wit, the palace of El Mamoun el Hakim bi Amrillah." (182) Then said I, "I am a dead man, without recourse; "but she replied, "Have patience, for needs must she return unto thee and buy stuffs of thee yet again." "And how cometh it," asked I, "that the Commander of the Faithful trusteth her to go out?" "He loveth her with an exceeding love," answered she, "and is wrapped up in her and gainsayeth her not."

Then the girl went away, running, after her mistress, whereupon I left the shop and set out after them, so I might see her abiding-place. I followed after them all the way, till she disappeared from mine eyes, when I returned to my place, with a heart on fire. Some days after, she came to me again and bought stuffs of me. I refused to take the price and she said, "We have no need of thy goods." Quoth I, "O my lady, accept them from me as a gift;" but she said, "[Wait] till I try thee and make proof of thee." Then she brought out of her pocket a purse and gave me therefrom a thousand dinars, saying, "Trade with this till I return to thee." So I took the purse and she went away [and returned not to me] till six months had passed by. Meanwhile, I traded with the money and sold and bought and made other thousand dinars profit [on it].

Presently, she came to me again and I said to her, "Here is thy money and I have gained [with it] other thousand dinars." Quoth she, "Keep it by thee and take these other thousand dinars. As soon as I have departed from thee, go thou to Er Rauzeh (183) and build there a goodly pavilion, and when the building thereof is accomplished, give me to know thereof." So saying, she left me and went away. As soon as she was gone, I betook myself to Er Rauzeh and addressed myself to the building of the pavilion, and when it was finished, I furnished it with the goodliest of furniture and sent to the lady to tell her that I had made an end of its building; whereupon she sent back to me, saying, "Let him meet me to-morrow at daybreak at the Zuweyleh gate and bring with him a good ass." So I got me an ass and betaking myself to the Zuweyleh gate, at the appointed time, found there a young man on horse- back, awaiting her, even as I awaited her.

As we stood, behold, up came the lady, and with her a slave-girl. When she saw the young man, she said to him, "Art thou here?" And he answered, "Yes, O my lady." Quoth she, "To-day I am bidden by this man. Wilt thou go with us?" And he replied, "Yes." Then said she, "Thou hast brought me [hither] against my will and perforce. Wilt thou go with us in any event?" (184) "Yes, yes," answered he and we fared on, [all three,] till we came to Er Rauzeh and entered the pavilion. The lady diverted herself awhile with viewing its ordinance and furniture, after which she put off her [walking-]clothes and sat down [with the young man] in the goodliest and chiefest place. Then I went forth and brought them what they should eat at the first of the day; moreover, I went out also and fetched them what they should eat at the last of the day and brought them wine and dessert and fruits and flowers. On this wise I abode in their service, standing on my feet, and she said not unto me, "Sit," nor "Take, eat" nor "Take, drink," what while she and the young man sat toying and laughing, and he fell to kissing her and pinching her and hopping about upon the ground and laughing.

They abode thus awhile and presently she said, "Up to now we have not become drunken; let me pour out." So she took the cup and gave him to drink and plied him with liquor, till he became drunken, when she took him and carried him into a closet. Then she came out, with his head in her hand, what while I stood silent, fixing not mine eyes on hers neither questioning her of this; and she said to me, "What is this?" "I know not," answered I; and she said, "Take it and cast it into the river." I obeyed her commandment and she arose and stripping herself of her clothes, took a knife and cut the dead man's body in pieces, which she laid in three baskets, and said to me, "Throw them into the river."

I did as she bade me and when I returned, she said to me, "Sit, so I may relate to thee yonder fellow's case, lest thou be affrighted at that which hath befallen him. Thou must know that I am the Khalif's favourite, nor is there any more in honour with him than I; and I am allowed six nights in each month, wherein I go down [into the city and take up my abode] with my [former] mistress, who reared me; and when I go down thus, I dispose of myself as I will. Now this young man was the son of neighbours of my mistress, when I was a virgin girl. One day, my mistress was [engaged] with the chief [officers] of the palace and I was alone in the house. When the night came on, I went up to the roof, so I might sleep there, and before I was aware, this youth came up from the street and falling upon me, knelt on my breast. He was armed with a poniard and I could not win free of him till he had done away my maidenhead by force; and this sufficed him not, but he must needs disgrace me with all the folk, for, as often as I came down from the palace, he would lie in wait for me by the way and swive me against my will and follow me whithersoever I went. This, then, is my story, and as for thee, thou pleasest me and thy patience pleaseth me and thy good faith and loyal service, and there abideth with me none dearer than thou." Then I lay with her that night and there befell what befell between us till the morning, when she gave me wealth galore and fell to coming to the pavilion six days in every month.

On this wise we abode a whole year, at the end of which time she was absent (185) from me a month's space, wherefore fire raged in my heart on her account. When it was the next month, behold, a little eunuch presented himself to me and said, "I am a messenger to thee from such an one," [naming my mistress], "who giveth thee to know that the Commander of the Faithful hath sentenced her to be drowned, her and those who are with her, six-and-twenty slave-girls, on such a day at Deir et Tin, (186) for that they have confessed against one another of lewdness, and she biddeth thee look how thou mayst do with her and how thou mayst contrive to deliver her, even if thou gather together all her money and spend it upon her, for that this is the time of manhood." (187) Quoth I, "I know not this woman; belike it is other than I [to whom this message is addressed]; so beware, O eunuch, lest thou cast me into stress." Quoth he, "Behold, I have told thee [that which I had to say,"] and went away, leaving me in concern [on her account].

[When the appointed day arrived], I arose and changing my clothes and favour, donned sailor's apparel; then I took with me a purse full of gold and buying good [victual for the] morning-meal, accosted a boatman [at Deir et Tin] and sat down and ate with him; after which said I to him, "Wilt thou hire me thy boat?" Quoth he, "The Commander of the Faithful hath commanded me to be here;" and he told me the story of the concubines and how the Khalif purposed to drown them that day. When I heard this from him, I brought out to him half a score dinars and discovered to him my case, whereupon quoth he to me, "O my brother, get thee empty calabashes, and when thy mistress cometh, give me to know of her and I will contrive the trick."

I kissed his hand and thanked him, and as I was walking about, [waiting,] up came the guards and eunuchs with the women, who were weeping and crying out and taking leave of one another. The eunuchs cried out to us, whereupon we came with the boat, and they said to the boatman, "Who is this?" "This is my mate," answered he, "[whom I have brought,] to help me, so one of us may keep the boat, whilst another doth your service." Then they brought out to us the women, one by one, saying, "Throw them [in] by the Island;" and we answered, "It is well." Now each of them was shackled and they had made a jar of sand fast about her neck. We did as the eunuchs bade us and ceased not to take the women, one after another, and cast them in, till they gave us my mistress and I winked to my comrade. So we took her and carried her out into mid-stream, where I gave her the empty calabashes (188) and said to her, "Wait for me at the mouth of the canal." Then we cast her in, after we had loosed the jar of sand from her neck and done off her fetters, and returned.

Now there remained one after her; so we took her and drowned her and the eunuchs went away, whilst we dropped down the river with the boat till we came to the mouth of the canal, where I saw my mistress awaiting me. So we took her up into the boat and returned to our pavilion on Er Rauzeh. Then I rewarded the boatman and he took his boat and went away; whereupon quoth she to me, "Thou art indeed a friend in need." (189) And I abode with her some days; but the shock wrought upon her so that she sickened and fell to wasting away and redoubled in languishment and weakness till she died. I mourned for her with an exceeding mourning and buried her; after which I removed all that was in the pavilion to my own house [and abandoned the former].

Now she had brought to the pavilion aforetime a little brass coffer and laid it in a place whereof I knew not; so, when the inspector of inheritances (190) came, he searched the pavilion and found the coffer, with the key in the lock. So he opened it and finding it full of jewels and jacinths and earrings and seal-rings and precious stones, such as are not found save with kings and sultans, took it, and me with it, and ceased not to put me to the question with beating and torment till I confessed to them the whole affair from beginning to end, whereupon they carried me to the Khalif and I told him all that had passed between me and her; and he said to me, "O man, depart from this city, for I acquit thee for thy valiance sake and because of thy [constancy in] keeping thy secret and thy daring in exposing thyself to death." So I arose forthright and departed his city; and this is what befell me.'"




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