STORY OF ALI BEN BEKKAR AND SHEMSENNEHAR.
There lived once [at Baghdad] in the days of the Khalif Haroun er Reshid a merchant named Aboulhusn Ali ben Tahir, who was great of goods and grace, handsome and pleasant-mannered, beloved of all. He used to enter the royal palace without asking leave, for all the Khalif's concubines and slave-girls loved him, and he was wont to company with Er Reshid and recite verses to him and tell him witty stories. Withal he sold and bought in the merchants' bazaar, and there used to sit in his shop a youth named Ali ben Bekkar, a descendant of the ancient kings of Persia, who was fair of face and elegant of shape, with rosy cheeks and joined eyebrows, sweet of speech and laughing-lipped, a lover of mirth and gaiety. It chanced one day, as they sat laughing and talking, there came up ten damsels like moons, every one of them accomplished in beauty and symmetry, and amongst them a young lady riding on a mule with housings of brocade and golden stirrups. She was swathed in a veil of fine stuff, with a girdle of gold-embroidered silk, and was even as says the poet:She hath a skin like very silk and a soft speech and sweet; Gracious to all, her words are nor too many nor too few.
The lady alighted at Aboulhusn's shop and sitting down there, saluted him, and he returned her salute. When Ali ben Bekkar saw her, she ravished his understanding and he rose to go away; but she said to him, 'Sit in thy place. We came to thee and thou goest away: this is not fair.' 'O my lady,' answered he, 'by Allah, I flee from what I see; for the tongue of the case saith:She's the sun and her dwelling's in heaven on high; Look, then, to thine heart thou fair patience commend.
When she heard this, she smiled and said to Aboulhusn, 'What is the name of this young man?' 'He is a stranger,' answered he. 'What countryman is he?' asked she, and the merchant replied, 'He is a descendant of the (ancient) kings of Persia; his name is Ali ben Bekkar, and indeed it behoves us to use strangers with honour.' 'When my damsel comes to thee,' rejoined she, 'come thou at once to us and bring him with thee, that we may entertain him in our abode, lest he blame us and say, "There is no hospitality in the people of Baghdad:" for niggardliness is the worst fault that a man can have. Thou hearest what I say to thee and if thou disobey me, thou wilt incur my displeasure and I will never again visit thee or salute thee.' 'On my head and eyes,' answered Aboulhusn; 'God preserve me from thy displeasure, fair lady!' Then she rose and went away, leaving Ali ben Bekkar in a state of bewilderment. Presently, the damsel came and said to the merchant, 'O my lord Aboulhusn, my lady Shemsennehar, the favourite of the Commander of the Faithful Haroun er Reshid, bids thee to her, thee and thy friend, my lord Ali ben Bekkar.' So he rose and taking Ali with him, followed the girl to the Khalif's palace, where she carried them into a chamber and made them sit down. They talked together awhile, till she set trays of food before them, and they ate and washed their hands. Then she brought them wine, and they drank and made merry; after which she bade them rise and carried them into another chamber, vaulted upon four columns and adorned and furnished after the goodliest fashion with various kinds of furniture and decorations, as it were one of the pavilions of Paradise. They were amazed at the rarities they saw and as they were gazing at these marvels, up came ten damsels, like moons, with a proud and graceful gait, dazzling the sight and confounding the wit, and ranged themselves in two ranks, as they were of the houris of Paradise. After awhile, in came ten other damsels, with lutes and other instruments of mirth and music in their hands, who saluted the two guests and sitting down, fell to tuning their instruments. Then they rose and standing before them, played and sang and recited verses: and indeed each one of them was a seduction to the faithful. Whilst they were thus occupied, there entered other ten damsels like unto them, high-bosomed and of an equal age, with black eyes and rosy cheeks, joined eyebrows and languorous looks, a seduction to the faithful and a delight to all who looked upon them, clad in various kinds of coloured silks, with ornaments that amazed the wit. They took up their station at the door, and there succeeded them yet other ten damsels, fairer than they, clad in gorgeous apparel, such as defies description; and they also stationed themselves by the door. Then in came a band of twenty damsels and amongst them the lady Shemsennehar, as she were the moon among the stars, scarved with the luxuriance of her hair and dressed in a blue robe and a veil of silk, embroidered with gold and jewels. About her middle she wore a girdle set with various kinds of precious stones, and she advanced with a graceful and coquettish gait, till she came to the couch that stood at the upper end of the chamber and seated herself thereon. When Ali ben Bekkar saw her, he repeated the following couplets:Yes, this is she indeed, the source of all my ill, For whom with long desire I languish at Love's will.
Then said he to Aboulhusn, 'Thou hadst dealt more kindly with me to have forewarned me of these things; that I might have prepared my mind and taken patience to support what hath befallen me ;' and he wept and groaned and complained. 'O my brother,' replied Aboulhusn, 'I meant thee nought but good; but I feared to tell thee of this, lest such transport should overcome thee as might hinder thee from foregathering with her and intervene between thee and her: but take courage and be of good heart, for she is well disposed to thee and inclineth to favour thee.' 'What is the lady's name?' asked Ali ben Bekkar. 'She is called Shemsennehar,' answered Aboulhusn 'she is one of the favourites of the Commander of the Faithful Haroun er Reshid and this is the palace of the Khalifate.' Then Shemsennehar sat gazing upon Ali ben Bekkar's charms and he upon hers, till each was engrossed with love of the other. Presently, she commanded the damsels to sit; so they sat down, each in her place, on a couch before one of the windows, and she bade them sing; whereupon one of them took a lute and sang the following verses:Twice be the message to my love made known, And take the answer from his lips alone.
Her singing charmed Ali ben Bekkar, and he said to her, 'Sing me more of the like of these verses.' So she struck the strings and sang as follows:By excess of estrangement, beloved mine, Thou hast taught long weeping unto my eyne.
When she had finished, Shemsennehar said to another damsel, 'Sing us somewhat, thou.' So she played a lively measure and sang the following verses:His looks 'twas made me drunken, in sooth, and not his wine; And the grace of his gait has banished sleep from these eyes of mine.
When Shemsennehar heard this, she sighed heavily, and the song pleased her. Then she bade another damsel sing; so she took the lute and chanted the following:A face that vies, indeed, with heaven's lamp, the sun; The welling of youth's springs upon him scarce begun.
When she had finished, Ali Ben Bekkar. said to the damsel nearest him, 'Sing us somewhat, thou.' So she took the lute and sang these verses:The time of union's all too slight For coquetry and prudish flight.
Ali ben Bekkar followed up her song with plentiful tears; and when Shemsennehar saw him weeping and groaning and lamenting, she burned with love-longing and desire and passion and transport consumed her. So she rose from the couch and came to the door of the alcove, where Ali met her and they embraced and fell down a-swoon in the doorway; whereupon the damsels came to them and carrying them into the alcove, sprinkled rose-water upon them. When they revived, they missed Aboulhusn, who had hidden himself behind a couch, and the young lady said, 'Where is Aboulhusn?' So he showed himself to her from beside the couch, and she saluted him, saying, 'I pray God to give me the means of requiting thee thy kindness!' Then she turned to Ali ben Bekkar and said to him, 'O my lord, passion has not reached this pass with thee, without doing the like with me; but there is nothing for it but to bear patiently what hath befallen us.' 'By Allah, O my lady,' rejoined he, 'converse with thee may not content me nor gazing upon thee assuage the fire of my heart, nor will the love of thee, that hath mastered my soul, leave me, but with the passing away of my life.' So saying, he wept and the tears ran down upon his cheeks, like unstrung pearls. When Shemsennehar saw him weep, she wept for his weeping; and Aboulhusn exclaimed, 'By Allah, I wonder at your plight and am confounded at your behaviour; of a truth, your affair is amazing and your case marvellous. If ye weep thus, what while ye are yet together, how will it be when ye are parted? Indeed, this is no time for weeping and wailing, but for foregathering and gladness; rejoice, therefore, and make merry and weep no more.' Then Shemsennehar signed to a damsel, who went out and returned with handmaids bearing a table, whereon were silver dishes, full of all manner rich meats. They set the table before them, and Shemsennehar began to eat and to feed Ali ben Bekkar, till they were satisfied, when the table was removed and they washed their hands. Presently the waiting-women brought censors and casting bottles and sprinkled them with rose-water and incensed them with aloes and ambergris and other perfumes; after which they set on dishes of graven gold, containing all manner of sherbets, besides fruits and confections, all that the heart can desire or the eye delight in, and one brought a flagon of carnelian, full of wine. Then Shemsennehar chose out ten handmaids and ten singing-women to attend on them and dismissing the rest to their apartments, bade some of those who remained smite the lute. They did as she bade them and one of them sang the following verses:My soul be a ransom for him who returned my salute with a smile And revived in my breast the longing for union after despair!
When she had finished, Shemsennehar rose and filling a. cup, drank it off, then filled it again and gave it to Ali ben Bekkar; after which she bade another damsel sing; and she sang the following verses:My tears, as they flow, are alike to my wine, as I brim it up! For my eyes pour forth of their lids the like of what froths in my cup. (6)
Then Ali ben Bekkar drank off his cup and returned it to Shemsennehar. She filled it again and gave it to Aboulhusn, who drank it off. Then she took the lute, saying, 'None shall sing over my cup but myself.' So she tuned the strings and sang these verses:The hurrying tears upon his cheeks course down from either eye' For very passion, and love's fires within his heart flame high.
And again:Our lives for thee, O cupbearer, O thou whom beauty's self From the bright parting of thy hair doth to the feet army!
When Ali and Aboulhusn and the bystanders heard Shemsennehar's song, they were transported and laughed and sported; but while they were thus engaged, up came a damsel, trembling for fear, and said, 'O my lady, Afif and Mesrour and Merjan and others of the Commander of the Faithful's eunuchs, whom I know not, are at the door.' When they heard this they were like to die of fright, but Shemsennehar laughed and said, 'Have no fear.' Then said she to the damsel, 'Hold them in parley, whilst we remove hence.' And she caused shut the doors of the alcove upon Ali and Aboulhusn and drew the curtains over them; after which she shut the door of the saloon and went out by the privy gate into the garden, where she seated herself on a couch she had there and bade one of the damsels rub her feet. Then she dismissed the rest of her women and bade the portress admit those who were at the door; whereupon Mesrour entered, he and his company, twenty men with drawn swords, and saluted her. Quoth she, 'Wherefore come-ye?' And they answered, 'The Commander of the Faithful salutes thee. He wearies for thy sight and would have thee to know that this with him is a day of great joy and gladness and he is minded to seal his gladness with thy present company: wilt thou then go to him or shall he come to thee?' At this she rose, and kissing the earth, said, 'I hear and obey the commandment of the Commander of the Faithful.' Then she summoned the chief (female) officers of her household and other damsels and made a show of complying with the Khalif's orders and commanding them to make preparations for his reception, albeit all was in readiness; and she said to the eunuchs, 'Go to the Commander of the Faithful and tell him that I await him after a little space, that I may make ready for him a place with carpets and so forth.' So they returned in haste to the Khalif, whilst Shemsennehar, doffing her (outer) clothing, repaired to her beloved Ali ben Bekkar and strained him to her bosom and bade him farewell, whereat he wept sore and said, 'O my lady. this leave-taking will lead to the ruin of my soul and the loss of my life; but I pray God to grant me patience to bear this my love, wherewith He hath smitten me!' 'By Allah, answered she, 'none will suffer perdition but I; for thou wilt go out to the market and company with those that will divert thee, and thine honour will be in safety and thy passion concealed; whilst I shall fall into trouble and weariness nor find any to console me, more by token that I have given the Khalif a rendezvous, wherein haply great peril shall betide me, by reason of my love and longing passion for thee and my grief at being parted from thee. For with what voice shall I sing and with what heart shall I present me before the Khalif and with what speech shall I entertain the Commander of the Faithful and with what eyes shall I look upon a place where thou art not and take part in a banquet at which thou art not present and with what taste shall I drink wine of which thou partakest not?' 'Be not troubled,' said Aboulhusn 'but take patience and be not remiss in entertaining the Commander of the Faithful this night, neither show him any neglect, but be of good courage.' At this juncture, up came a damsel, who said to Shemsennehar, 'O my lady, the Khalif's pages are come.' So she rose to her feet and said to the maid, 'Take Aboulhusn and his friend and carry them to the upper gallery giving upon the garden and there leave them, till it be dark; when do thou make shift to carry them forth.' Accordingly, the girl carried them up to the gallery and locking the door upon them, went away. As they sat looking on the garden, the Khalif appeared, preceded by near a hundred eunuchs with drawn swords and compassed about with a score of damsels, as they were moons, holding each a lighted flambeau. They were clad in the richest of raiment and on each one's head was a crown set with diamonds and rubies. The Khalif walked in their midst with a majestic gait, whilst Mesrour and Afif and Wesif went before him and Shemsennehar and all her damsels rose to receive him and meeting him at the garden door, kissed the earth before him; nor did they cease to go before him, till they brought him to the couch, whereon he sat down, whilst all the waiting-women and eunuchs stood before him and there came fair maids and slave-girls with lighted flambeaux and perfumes and essences and instruments of music. Then he bade the singers sit down, each in her room, and Shemsennehar came up and seating herself on a stool by the Khalif's side, began to converse with him, whilst Ali and the jeweller looked on and listened, unseen of the prince. The Khalif fell to jesting and toying with Shemsennehar and bade throw open the (garden) pavilion. So they opened the doors and windows and lighted the flambeaux till the place shone in the season of darkness even as the day. The eunuchs removed thither the wine-service and (quoth Aboulhusn), 'I saw drinking-vessels and rarities, whose like mine eyes never beheld, vases of gold and silver and all manner precious stones and jewels, such as beggar description, till indeed meseemed I was dreaming, for excess of amazement at what I saw!' But as for Ali ben Bekkar, from the moment Shemsennehar left him, he lay prostrate on the ground for excess of passion and desire and when he revived, he fell to gazing upon these things that had not their like, and saying to Aboulhusn, 'O my brother, I fear lest the Khalif see us or come to know of us; but the most of my fear is for thee. For myself, I know that I am surely lost past recourse, and the cause of my destruction is nought but excess of passion and love-longing and desire and separation from my beloved, after union with her; but I beseech God to deliver us from this predicament.' Then they continued to look on, till the banquet was spread before the Khalif, when he turned to one of the damsels and said to her, 'O Gheram, let us hear some of thine enchanting songs.' So she tool: the lute and tuning it, sang as follows:The longing of a Bedouin maid, whose folk are far away, Who yearns after the willow of the Hejaz and the bay,--
When Shemsennehar heard this, she slipped off the stool on which she sat and fell to the earth insensible; where upon the damsels came and lifted her up. When Ali ben Bekkar saw this from the gallery, he also fell down senseless, and Aboulhusn said, 'Verily Fate hath apportioned passion equally between you!' As he spoke, in came the damsel who had brought them thither and said to him, 'O Aboulhusn, arise and come down, thou and thy friend, for of a truth the world is grown strait upon us and I fear lest our case be discovered or the Khalif become aware of you: so, except you descend at once, we are dead folk. 'How shall this youth descend,' replied he, 'seeing that he hath not strength to rise?' With this she fell to sprinkling rose-water on Ali ben Bekkar, till he came to himself, when Aboulhusn lifted him up and the damsel stayed him. So they went down from the gallery and walked on awhile, till they came to a little iron door, which the damsel opened, and they found themselves on the Tigris' bank. Here they sat down on a stone bench, whilst the girl clapped her hands and there came up a man with a little boat, to whom said she, 'Carry these two young men to the other bank.' So they all three entered the boat and the man put off with them; and as they launched out into the stream, Ali ben Bekkar looked back towards the Khalif's palace and the pavilion and the garden and bade them farewell with these verses:I stretch forth a feeble hand to bid farewell to thee, With the other upon my burning breast, beneath the heart of me.
The damsel said to the boatman, 'Make haste with them.' So he plied his oars swiftly till they reached the opposite bank, where they landed, and she took lease of them, saying, 'It were my wish not to leave you, but I can go no farther than this.' Then she turned back, whilst Ali ben Bekkar lay on the ground before Aboulhusn and could not rise, till the latter said to him, 'This place is not sure and I am in fear of our lives, by reason of the thieves and highwaymen and men of lawlessness.' With this Ali arose and essayed to walk a little, but could not. Now Aboulhusn had friends in that quarter, so he made for the house of one of them, in whom he trusted and who was of his intimates, and knocked at the door. The man came out quickly and seeing them, bade them welcome and brought them into his house, where he made them sit down and talked with them and asked them whence they came. Quoth Aboulhusn 'We came out but now, being moved thereto by a man with whom I had dealings and who hath in his hands monies of mine. It was told me that he was minded to flee into foreign countries with my money; so I came out to-night in quest of him, taking with me this my friend Ali ben Bekkar for company but he hid from us and we could get no speech of him So we turned back, empty-handed, and knew not whither to go, for it were irksome to us to return home at this hour of the night; wherefore we came to thee, knowing thy wonted courtesy and kindness.' 'Ye are right welcome,' answered the host, and studied to do them honour. They abode with him the rest of the night, and as soon as it was day, they left him and made their way back to the city. When they came to Aboulhusn's house, the latter conjured his friend to enter; so they went in and lying down on the bed, slept awhile. When they awoke, Aboulhusn bade his servants spread the house with rich carpets saying in himself, 'Needs must I divert this youth and distract him from thoughts of his affliction, for I know his case better than another.' Then he called for water for Ali ben Bekkar, and the latter rose and making his ablutions, prayed the obligatory prayers that he had omitted for the past day and night; after which he sat down and began to solace himself with talk with his friend. When Aboulhusn saw this, he turned to him and said, 'O my lord, it were better for thy case that thou abide with me this night, so thy heart may be lightened and the anguish of love-longing that is upon thee be dispelled and thou make merry with us and haply the fire of thy heart be allayed.' 'O my brother,' answered Ali, 'do what seemeth good to thee; for I may not anywise escape from what hath befallen me.' Accordingly, Aboulhusn arose and bade his servants summon some of the choicest of his friends and sent for singers and musicians. Meanwhile he made ready meat and drink for them, and they came and sat eating and drinking and making merry till nightfall Then they lit the candles, and the cups of friendship and good fellowship went round amongst them, and the time passed pleasantly with them. Presently, a singing-woman took the lute and sang the following verses:Fate launched at me a dart, the arrow of an eye; It pierced me and cut off from those I love am I.
When Ali ben Bekkar heard this, he fell to the earth in a swoon and abode thus till daybreak, and Aboulhusn despaired of him. But, with the dawning, he came to himself and sought to go home; nor could Aboulhusn deny him, for fear of the issue of his affair. So he made his servants bring a mule and mounting Ali thereon, carried him to his lodging, he and one of his men. When he was safe at home, the merchant thanked God for his deliverance from that peril and sat awhile with him, comforting him; but Ali could not contain himself, for the violence of his passion and love-longing. Presently Aboulhusn rose to take leave of him and Ali said, 'O my brother, leave me not without news.' 'I hear and obey, answered Aboulhusn, and repairing to his shop, opened it and sat there all day, expecting news of Shemsennehar; but none came. He passed the night in his own house and when it was day, he went to Ali ben Bekkar's lodging and found him laid on his bed, with his friends about him and physicians feeling his pulse and prescribing this or that. When he saw Aboulhusn, he smiled, and the latter saluting him, enquired how he did and sat with him till the folk withdrew, when he said to him, 'What plight is this?' Quoth Ali, 'It was noised abroad that I was ill and I have no strength to rise and walk, so as to give the lie to the report of my sickness, but continue lying here as thou seest. So my friends heard of me and came to visit me. But, O my brother, hast thou seen the damsel or heard any news of her?' 'I have not seen her,' answered Aboulhusn, 'since we parted from her on the Tigris' bank; but, O my brother, beware of scandal and leave this weeping.' 'O my brother,' rejoined Ali, 'indeed, I have no control over myself ;' and he sighed and recited the following verses:She giveth unto her hand that whereof mine doth fail, A dye on the wrist, wherewith she doth my patience assail
Then he said, 'O Aboulhusn, I am smitten with an affliction, from which I deemed myself in surety, and there is no greater ease for me than death.' 'Be patient,' answered his friend: 'peradventure God will heal thee.' Then he went out from him and repairing to his shop, opened it, nor had he sat long, when up came Shemsennehar's hand-maid, who saluted him. He returned her salute and looking at her, saw that her heart was palpitating and that she was troubled and bore the traces of affliction: so he said to her, 'Thou art welcome. How is it with Shemsennehar?' 'I will tell thee,' answered she; 'but first tell me how doth Ali ben Bekkar.' So he told her all that had passed, whereat she was grieved and sighed and lamented and marvelled at his case. Then said she, 'My lady's case is still stranger than this; for when you went away, I turned back, troubled at heart for you and hardly crediting your escape, and found her lying prostrate in the pavilion, speaking not nor answering any, whilst the Commander of the Faithful sat by her head, unknowing what aided her and finding none who could give him news of her. She ceased not from her swoon till midnight, when she revived and the Khalif said to her, "What ails thee, O Shemsennehar, and what has behllen thee this night?" "May God make me thy ransom, O Commander of the Faithful!" answered she. "Verily, bile rose in me and lighted a fire in my body, so that I lost my senses for excess of pain, and I know no more." "What hast thou eaten to-day?" asked the Khalif. Quoth she, "I broke my fast on something I had never before eaten." Then she feigned to be recovered and calling for wine, drank it and begged the Khalif to resume his diversion. So he sat down again on his couch in the pavilion and made her sit as before. When she saw me, she asked me how you fared; so I told her what I had done with you and repeated to her the verses that Ali ben BeLkar had recited at parting, whereat she wept secretly, but presently stinted. After awhile, the Khalif ordered a damsel to sing, and she chanted the following verses:Life, as I live, has not been sweet since I did part from thee; Would God I knew but how it fared with thee too after me!
When my lady heard this, she fell back on the sofa in a swoon, and I seized her hand and sprinkled rose-water on her face, till she revived, when I said to her, "O my lady, do not bring ruin on thyself and on all thy house-hold, but be patient, by the life of thy beloved!" "Can aught befall me worse than death?" answered she. "That, indeed, I long for, for, by Allah, my ease is therein." Whilst we were talking, another damsel sang the following words of the poet:Patience shall peradventure lead to solacement," quoth they; and I, "Where's patience to be had, now he is gone away?"
When Shemsennehar heard this, she swooned away once more, which when the Khalif saw, he came to her in haste and commanded the wine-service to be removed and each damsel to return to her chamber. He abode with her the rest of the night, and when it was day, he sent for physicians and men of art and bade them medicine her, knowing not that her sickness arose from passion and love-longing. He tarried with her till he deemed her in a way of recovery, when he returned to his palace, sore concerned for her illness, and she bade me go to thee and bring her news of Ali ben Bekkar. So I came, leaving with her a number of her bodywomen; and this is what has delayed me from thee.' When Aboulhusn heard her story, he marvelled and said, 'By Allah, I have acquainted thee with his whole case; so now return to thy mistress; salute her for me and exhort her to patience and secrecy and tell her that I know it to be a hard matter and one that calls for prudent ordering.' She thanked him and taking leave of him, returned to her mistress, whilst he abode in his place till the end of the day, when he shut the shop and betaking himself to Ali ben Bekkar's house, knocked at the door. One of the servants came out and admitted him; and when Ali saw him, he smiled and re-joiced in his coming, saying, 'O Aboulhusn, thou hast made a weary man of me by thine absence from me this day; for indeed my soul is pledged to thee for the rest of my days.' 'Leave this talk,' answered the other. 'Were thy healing at the price of my hand, I would cut it off, ere thou couldst ask me; and could I ransom thee with my life, I had already laid it down for thee. This very day, Shemsennehar's handmaid has been with me and told me that what hindered her from coming before this was the Khalif's sojourn with her mistress;' and he went on to repeat to him all that the girl had told him of Shemsennehar; at which Ali lamented sore and wept and said to him, 'O my brother, I conjure thee by God to help me in this mine affliction and teach me how I shall do! Moreover, I beg thee of thy grace to abide with me this night, that I may have the solace of thy company.' Aboulhusn agreed to this; so they talked together till the night darkened, when Ali groaned aloud and lamented and wept copious tears, reciting the following verses:My eye holds thine image ever; thy name in my mouth is aye And still in my heart is thy sojourn; so how canst thou absent be?
And also these:She cleft with the sword of her glance the helm of my courage in two And the mail of my patience she pierced with the spear of her shape through and through.
Then he gave a great cry and fell down in a swoon. Aboulhusn thought that his soul had departed his body and he ceased not from his swoon till daybreak, when he came to himself and talked with his friend, who sat with him till the forenoon. Then he left him and repaired to his shop. Hardly had he opened it, when the damsel came and stood before him. As soon as he saw her. she made a sign of salutation to him, which he returned; and she greeted him for her mistress, saying, 'How doth Ali ben BeLkar?' 'O good damsel,' replied he, 'ask me not how he doth nor what he suffers for excess of passion; for he sleeps not by night neither rests by day; wakefulness wasteth him and affliction hath gotten the mastery of him and his case is distressful to his friend.' Quoth she, 'My lady salutes thee and him, and indeed she is in worse case than he. She hath written him a letter and here it is. When she gave it me, she said to me, "Do not return save with the answer." So wilt thou go with me to him and get his reply?' 'I hear and obey,' answered Aboulhusn, and shutting his shop, carried her, by a different way to that by which he came, to Ali ben Bekkar's house, where he left her standing at the door and entered. When Ali saw him, he rejoiced, and Aboulhusn said to him, 'The reason of my coming is that such an one hath sent his handmaid to thee with a letter, containing his greeting to thee and excusing himself for that he hath tarried by reason of a certain matter that hath betided him. The girl stands even now at the door: shall she have leave to enter?' And he signed to him that it was Shemsennehar's slave-girl. Ali understood his sign and answered, 'Bring her in.' So she entered and when he saw her, he shook for joy and signed to her, as who should say, 'How doth thy lord, may God grant him health and recovery!' 'He is well,' answered she and pulling out the letter, gave it to him. He took it and kissing it, opened and read it; after which he handed it to Aboulhusn, who found written therein what follows:The messenger of me will give thee news aright; So let his true report suffice thee for my sight.
To proceed: I have written thee a letter without fingers and speak to thee without tongue; to tell thee my whole state, I have an eye from which sleeplessness is never absent and a heart whence sorrowful thought stirs not. It is with me as I had never known health nor let sadness, neither beheld a fair face nor spent an hour of pleasant life; but it is as I were made up of love-longing and of the pain of passion and chagrin. Sickness is unceasing upon me and my yearning redoubles ever; desire increases still and longing rages in my heart. I pray God to hasten our union and dispel the trouble of my mind: and I would fain have thee write me some words, that I may solace myself withal. Moreover, I would have thee put on a becoming patience, till God give relief; and peace be on thee.' When Ali ben Bekkar had read this letter, he said, 'With what hand shall I write and with what tongue shall I make moan and lament? Indeed she addeth sickness to my sickness and draweth death upon my death!' Then he sat up and taking inkhorn and paper, wrote the following reply: 'In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful. O my lady, thy letter hath reached me and hath given ease to a mind worn out with passion and desire and brought healing to a wounded heart, cankered with languishment and sickness; for indeed I am become even as saith the poet:Bosom contracted and grievous thought dilated, Eyes ever wakeful and body wearied aye;
Know that complaining quenches not the fire of calamity; but it eases him whom love-longing consumes and separation destroys; and so I comfort myself with the mention of the word "union;" for how well saith the poet:If love had not pain and pleasure, satisfaction and despite, Where of messengers and letters were for lovers the delight?'
When he had made an end of this letter, he gave it to Aboulhusn, saying, 'Read it and give it to the damsel.' So he took it and read it and its words stirred his soul and its meaning wounded his vitals. Then he gave it to the girl, and Ali said to her, 'Salute thy lady for me and tell her of my passion and longing and how love is blent with my flesh and my bones; and say to her that I need one who shall deliver me from the sea of destruction and save me from this dilemma; for of a truth fortune oppresseth me with its vicissitudes; and is there any helper to free me from its defilements?' So saying, he wept and the damsel wept for his weeping. Then she took leave of him and Aboulhusn went out with her and bade her farewell. So she went her way and he returned to his shop, which he opened, and sat down there, according to his wont; but as he sat, he found his bosom straitened and his heart oppressed and was troubled about his case. He ceased not from melancholy thought the rest of that day and night, and on the morrow he betook himself to Ali ben Bekkar, with whom he sat till the folk withdrew, when he asked him how he did. Ali began to complain of passion and descant upon the longing and distraction that possessed him, ending by repeating the following words of the poet:Folk have made moan of passion before me of past years, And live and dead for absence have suffered pains and fears;
And also these:I've suffered for thy love what Caïs, that madman (16) hight, Did never undergo for love of Leila bright.
Quoth Aboulhusn, 'Never did I see or hear of one like unto thee in thy love! If thou sufferest all this transport and sickness and trouble, being enamoured of one who returns thy passion, how would it be with thee, if she whom thou lovest were contrary and perfidious? Meseems, thy case will be discovered, if thou abide thus.' His words pleased Ali ben Bekkar and he trusted in him and thanked him.
Now Aboulhusn had a friend, to whom he had discovered his affair and that of Ali ben Bekkar and who knew that they were close friends; but none other than he was acquainted with what was betwixt them. He was wont to come to him and enquire how Ali did and after a little, he began to ask about the damsel; but Aboulhusn put him off, saying, 'She invited him to her and there was between him and her what passeth words, and this is the end of their affair; but I have devised me a plan which I would fain submit to thy judgment.' 'And what is that?' asked his friend. 'O my brother,' answered Aboulhusn, 'I am a man well known, having much dealing among the notables, both men and women, and I fear lest the affair of these twain get wind and this lead to my death and the seizure of my goods and the ruin of my repute and that of my family. Wherefore I purpose to get together my property and make ready forthright and repair to the city of Bassora and abide there, till I see what comes of their affair, that none may know of me, for passion hath mastered them and letters pass between them. Their go-between and confidant at this present is a slave-girl, who hath till now kept their counsel, but I fear lest haply she be vexed with them or anxiety get the better of her and she discover their case to some one and the matter be noised abroad and prove the cause of my ruin; for I have no excuse before God or man.' 'Thou acquaintest me with a perilous matter,' rejoined his friend, 'and one from the like of which the wise and understanding will shrink in affright. May God preserve thee and avert from thee the evil thou dreadest! Assuredly, thy resolve is a wise one.' So Aboulhusn returned home and betook himself to setting his affairs in order and preparing for his journey; nor had three days elapsed ere he made an end of his business and departed for Bassora. Three days after, his friend came to visit him, but finding him not, asked the neighbours of him; and they answered, 'He set out three days ago for Bassora, for he had dealings with merchants there and is gone thither to collect his debts; but he will soon return.' The man was confounded at the news and knew not whither to go; and he said in himself, 'Would I had not parted with Aboulhusn!' Then he bethought him how he should gain access to Ali ben Bekkar and repairing to the latter's lodging, said to one of his servants, 'Ask leave for me of thy master that I may go in and salute him.' So the servant went in and told his master and presently returning, invited the man to enter. So he went in and found Ali ben Bekkar lying back on the pillow and saluted him. Ali returned his greeting and bade him welcome; whereupon the other began to excuse himself for having held aloof from him all this while and added, 'O my lord, there was a close friendship between Aboulhusn and myself, so that I used to trust him with my secrets and could not brook to be severed from him an hour. It chanced but now that I was absent three days' space on certain business with a company of my friends, and when I came back, I found his shop shut; so I asked the neighbours of him and they replied, "He is gone to Bassora." Now I know he had no surer friend than thou; so I conjure thee, by Allah, to tell me what thou knowest of him.' When Ali heard this, his colour changed and he was troubled and answered, 'I never heard of his departure till this day, and if it be as thou sayest, weariness is come upon me.' And he repeated the following verses:Whilom I wept for what was past of joy and pleasant cheer, Whilst yet the objects of my love were unremoved and near;
Then he bent his head awhile in thought and presently raising it, said to one of his servants, 'Go to Aboulhusn'' house and enquire whether he be at home or gone on a journey. If they say, "He is abroad;" ask whither.' The servant went out and presently returning, said to his master, 'When I asked after Aboulhusn, his people told me that he was gone on a journey to Bassora; but I saw a damsel standing at the door, who knew me, though I knew her not, and said to me, "Art thou not servant to Ali ben Bekkar?', "Yes," answered I. And she said, "I have a message for him from one who is the dearest of all folk to him." So she came with me and is now at the door.' Quoth Ali, 'Bring her in.' So the servant went out and brought her in, and the man who was with Ali ben Bekkar looked at her and found her comely. She came up to Ali and saluting him, talked with him privily; and he from time to time exclaimed with an oath and swore that he had not done as she avouched. Then she took leave of him and went away. When she was gone, Aboulhusn's friend, who was a jeweller, took occasion to speak and said to Ali ben Bekkar, 'Doubtless, the women of the palace have some claim upon thee or thou hast dealings with the Khalif's household?' 'Who told thee of this?' asked Ali. 'I know it by yonder damsel,' replied the jeweller, 'who is Shemsennehar's slave-girl; for she came to me awhile since with a written order for a necklace of jewels; and I sent her a costly one.' When Ali heard this, he was greatly troubled, so that the jeweller feared for his life, but after awhile he recovered himself and said, 'O my brother, I conjure thee by Allah to tell me truly how thou knowest her.' 'Do not press me as to this,' replied the other; and Ali said, 'Indeed, I will not desist from thee till thou tell me the truth.' 'Then,' said the jeweller, 'I will tell thee all, that thou mayst not distrust me nor be alarmed at what I said, nor will I conceal aught from thee, but will discover to thee the truth of the matter, on condition that thou possess me with the true state of thy case and the cause of thy sickness.' Then he told him all that had passed between Aboulhusn and himself, adding that he had acted thus only out of friendship for him and of his desire to serve him and assuring him that he would keep his secret and venture life and goods in his service. So Ali in turn told him his story and added, 'By Allah, O my brother, nought moved me to keep my case secret from thee and others but my fear lest the folk should lift the veils of protection from certain persons.' 'And I,' rejoined the jeweller, 'desired not to foregather with thee but of the great affection I bear thee and my zeal for thee in every case and my compassion for the anguish thy heart endureth for severance. Haply, I may be a comforter to thee in the room of my friend Aboulhusn, during his absence. So take heart and be of good cheer.' Ali thanked him and repeated the following verses:If, 'I am patient,' I say, since forth from me he went, My tears give me the lie and the stress of my lament.
Then he was silent awhile, and presently said to the jeweller, 'Knowest thou what the girl whispered to me?' 'Not I, by Allah, O my lord,' answered he. Quoth Ali, 'She would have it that I had counselled Aboulhusn to go to Bassora and that I had used this device to put a stop to our correspondence and intercourse. I swore to her that this was not so: but she would not credit me and went away to her mistress, persisting in her injurious suspicions; and indeed I know not what I shall do without Aboulhusn, for she inclined to him and gave ear to his word.' 'O my brother,' answered the jeweller, 'I guessed as much from her manner; but, if it please God the Most High, I will help thee to thy desire.' 'Who can help me,' rejoined Ali, 'and how wilt thou do with her, when she takes umbrage like a wilding of the desert?' 'By Allah,' exclaimed the jeweller, 'needs must I do my utmost endeavour to help thee and contrive to make her acquaintance, without exposure or mischief!' Then he asked leave to depart, and Ali said, 'O my brother, see thou keep my counsel' And he looked at him and wept. The jeweller bade him farewell and went away, knowing not what he should do to further his wishes; but as he went along pondering the matter, he spied a letter lying in the road, and taking it up, found that it bore the following superscription, 'From the least worthy of lovers to the most excellent of beloved ones.' He opened it and found these words written therein:'The messenger brought me a promise of union and delight; But yet that he had mistaken 'twas constant in my spright.
To proceed: Know, O my lord, that I am ignorant of the cause of the breaking off of the correspondence between thee and me: but if it arise from cruelty on thy part, I will meet it with fidelity, and if love have departed from thee, I will remain constant to my love in absence for I am with thee even as says the poet:Be haughty and I will be patient; capricious, I'll bear; turn away, I'll draw near thee; be harsh, I'll be abject; command, I'll give ear and obey.
As he was reading, up came the slave-girl, looking right and left, and seeing the letter in the jeweller's hand, said to him, 'O my lord, this letter is one I let fall.' He made her no answer, but walked on, and she followed him, till he came to his house, when he entered and she after him, saying, 'O my lord, give me back the letter, for it fell from me.' He turned to her and said, 'O good slave-girl, fear not, neither grieve, for verily God the Protector loves to protect [His creatures]; but tell me the truth of thy case, for I am one who keepeth counsel. I conjure thee by an oath to hide from me nothing of thy lady's affair; for haply God shall help me to further her wishes and make easy what is hard by my hand' 'O my lord,' answered she, 'indeed a secret is not lost whereof thou art the keeper; nor shall any affair come to nought for which thou strivest. Know that my heart inclines to thee, and do thou give me the letter.' Then she told him the whole story, adding, 'God is witness to what I say.' 'Thou hast spoken truly,' said the jeweller, 'for I am acquainted with the root of the matter.' Then he told her how he had come by Ali ben Bekkar's secret and related to her all that had passed, whereat she rejoiced; and they agreed that she should carry the letter to Ali and return and tell the jeweller all that passed. Accordingly he gave her the letter and she took it and sealed it up as it was before, saying, 'My mistress Shemsennehar gave it to me sealed; and when he hath read it and given me the reply, I will bring it to thee.' Then she repaired to Ali ben Bekkar, whom she found waiting, and gave him the letter. He read it and writing an answer, gave it to the damsel. She carried it to the jeweller, who broke the seal and read what was written therein, as follows:'Neglected are our messages, for lo, our go-between, That wont to keep our counsel erst, is wroth with us, I ween.
To proceed: Verily, I have not entered upon perfidy nor left fidelity; I have not used cruelty, neither have I put off loyalty nor broken faith. I have not ceased from affection nor severed myself from grief; neither have I found aught after separation but misery and ruin. I know nothing of that thou avouchest nor do I love aught but that which thou lovest. By Him who knoweth the secret of the hidden things, I have no desire but to be united with her whom I love and my one business is the concealment of my passion, though sickness consume me. This is the exposition of my case and peace be on thee.' When the jeweller read this letter, he wept sore and the girl said to him, 'Leave not this place, till I return to thee; for he suspects me of such and such things, in which he is excusable; so it is my desire to bring thee in company with my mistress Shemsennehar, howsoever I may contrive it. I left her prostrate, awaiting my return with the answer.' Then she went away and the jeweller passed the night in a state of agitation. On the morrow he prayed the morning prayer and sat awaiting the girl's coming. Presently she came in to him, rejoicing, and he said to her, 'What news, O damsel?' Quoth she, 'I gave my mistress Ali ben Bekkar's reply, and when she read it, she was troubled in her mind; but I said to her, "O my lady, have no fear of the hindrance of your affair by reason of Aboulhusn's absence, for I have found one to take his place, better than he and more of worth and apt to keep secrets." Then I told her what was between Aboulhusn and thyself and how thou camest by his confidence and that of Ali ben Bekkar and how I met with thee and showed her how matters stood betwixt thee and me. Now she is minded to have speech of thee, that she may be assured by thy words of the covenants between thee and him; so do thou make ready to go with me to her forthwith., When the jeweller heard the girl's words, he saw that what she proposed was a grave matter and a great peril, not lightly to be undertaken or entered upon, and said to her, 'O my stster, verily, I am of the common people and not like unto Aboulhusn; for he was of high rank and repute and was wont to frequent the Khalif's household, because of their need of his wares. As for me, he used to talk with me, and I trembled before him the while. So, if thy mistress would have speech of me, it must be in some place other than the Khalif's palace and far from the abode of the Commander of the Faithful; for my reason will not let me do what thou proposest.' Accordingly, he refused to go with her, and she went on to assure him of impunity, saying, 'Fear not,' and pressed him, till he consented to accompany her; but, when he would have risen, his legs bent under him and his hands trembled and he exclaimed, 'God forbid that I should go with thee! Indeed, I cannot do this.' 'Reassure thyself,' answered she; 'if it irk thee to go to the Khalif's palace and thou canst not muster up courage to accompany me, I will make her come to thee; so stir not from thy place till I return to thee with her.' Then she went away and returning after a little, said to the jeweller, 'Look that there be with thee neither slave-girl nor man-slave nor any other.' Quoth he, 'I have but an old negress-slave, who waits on me.' So she locked the door between the jeweller and his negress and sent his man-servants out of the house, after which she went out and presently returned, followed by a lady, who filled the house with the sweet scent of her perfumes. When the jeweller saw her, he sprang to his feet and set her a couch and a cushion, and she sat down. He seated himself before her and she abode awhile without speaking, till she was rested, when she unveiled her face and it seemed to the jeweller as if the sun had risen in his house. Then said she to her slave-girl, 'Is this the man of whom thou spakest to me?' 'Yes,' answered she; whereupon the lady turned to the jeweller and said to him, 'How is it with thee?' 'Well,' replied he. 'May God preserve thy life and that of the Commander of the Faithful!' Quoth she, 'Thou hast moved us to come to thee and possess thee with our secret.' Then she questioned him of his household and family; and he discovered to her all his circumstance and said to her, 'I have another house, which I have set
apart for entertaining my friends and brethren, and there is none there save the old negress, of whom I spoke to thy handmaid.' She asked him how he came first to know of the matter and what had made Aboulhusn absent himself. so he told her all and she bewailed the loss of Aboulhusn and said to the jeweller, 'Know that the minds of men are at one in desires, and however they may differ in estate, men are still men and have need one of the other: an affair is not accomplished without speech nor is a wish fulfilled save by endeavour: ease comes not but after weariness nor is succour compassed save by the help of the generous. Now I have trusted my secret to thee and it is in thy power to expose or shield us; I say no more, because of thy generosity of nature. Thou knowest that this my hand-maid keeps my counsel and is therefore in high favour with me and I have chosen her to transact my affairs of importance. So let none be worthier in thy sight than she and acquaint her with thine affair. Be of good cheer, for thou art safe from what thou fearest on our account, and there is no shut place but she shall open it to thee. She shall bring thee messages from me to Ali ben Bekkar, and thou shalt be our go-between.' So saying, she rose, scarcely able to stand, and the jeweller forewent her to the door of the house, after which he returned and sat down again in his place, having seen of her beauty what dazzled him and heard of her speech what confounded his wit and witnessed of her grace and courtesy what bewitched him. He sat musing on her perfections till his trouble subsided, when he called for food and ate enough to stay his stomach. Then he changed his clothes and repairing to Ali ben Bekkar's house, knocked at the door. The servants hastened to admit him and brought him to their master, whom he found laid upon his bed. When he saw the jeweller, he said to him, 'Thou hast tarried long from me and hast added concern to my concern.' Then he dismissed his servants and bade shut the doors, after which he said to the jeweller, 'By Allah, O my brother, I have not closed my eyes since I saw thee last; for the slave-girl came to me yesterday with a sealed letter from her mistress Shemsennehar;' and went on to tell him all that had passed, adding, 'Indeed, I am perplexed concerning mine affair and my patience fails me: for Aboulhusn was of comfort to me, because he knew the girl.' When the jeweller heard this, he laughed and Ali said, 'Why dost thou laugh at my words, thou in whom I rejoiced and to whom I looked for succour against the shifts of fortune?' Then he sighed and wept and repeated the following verses:Many an one laughs at my weeping, whenas he looks on my pain. Had he but suffered as I have, he, also, to weep would be fain.
When the jeweller heard this, he wept also and told him all that had passed betwixt himself and the slave-girl and her mistress, since he left him, whilst Ali gave ear to his speech, and at every fresh word his colour shifted 'twixt white and red and his body grew now stronger and now weaker, till he came to the end of his tale, when Ali wept and said to him, 'O my brother, I am a lost man in any event. Would my end were near, that I might be at rest from ail this! But I beg thee, of thy favour, to be my helper and comforter in all my affairs, till God accomplish
His will; and I will not gainsay thee in aught.' Quoth the jeweller, 'Nothing will quench the fire of thy passion save union with her whom thou lovest: and this must not be in this perilous place, but in a house of mine other than in which the girl and her mistress came to me. This place she chose for herself, to the intent that ye may there foregather and complain one to the other of what you have suffered from the pangs of love.' 'O my lord,' answered Ali ben Bekkar, 'do as thou wilt and may God requite thee for me! What thou deemest fit will be right: but be not long about it, lest I die of this anguish.' So I abode with him (quoth the jeweller) that night, entertaining him with converse, till daybreak, when I prayed the morning prayers and going out from him, returned to my house. Hardly had I done so, when the damsel came up and saluted me. I returned her greeting and told her what had passed between Ali ben Bekkar and myself; and she said, 'Know that the Khalif has left us and there is none in our lodging, and it is safer for us and better.' 'True,' replied I; 'yet it is not like my house yonder, which is both surer and fitter for us.' 'Be it as thou wilt,' rejoined she. 'I will go to my lady and tell her what thou sayest.' So she went away and presently returned and said to me, 'It is to be as thou sayest: so make us ready the place and expect us.' Then she took out a purse of diners and said to me, 'My lady salutes thee and bids thee take this and provide therewith what the case calls for.' But I swore that I would have nought of it; so she took the purse and returning to her mistress, said to her, 'He would not take the money, but gave it back to me.' 'No matter,' answered Shemsennehar. As soon as she was gone, I betook myself to my other house and transported thither all that was needful, by way of furniture and utensils and rich carpets and vessels of china and glass and gold and silver, and made ready meat and drink for the occasion. When the damsel came and saw what I had done, it pleased her and she bade me fetch Ali ben Bekkar; but I said, 'None shall fetch him but thou.' Accordingly she went to him and brought him back, dressed to perfection and looking his best. I met him and welcomed him and making him sit down on a couch befitting his condition, set before him sweet-scented flowers in vases of china and crystal of various colours. Then I set on a tray of vari-coloured meats, of such as rejoice the heart with their sight, and sat talking with him and diverting him, whi'st the girl went away and was absent till after sundown, when she returned with Shemsennehar, attended by two maids and no more. When Ali saw her, he rose and embraced her and they both fell down in a swoon. They lay awhile insensible, then, coming to themselves, began to complain to each other of the pains of separation. They sat awhile, conversing with eloquence and tenderness, after which they perfumed themselves and fell to thanking me for what I had done. Said I, 'Have ye a mind for food?' 'Yes,' answered they. So I set food before them, and they ate till they were satisfied and washed their hands, after which I carried them to another room and brought them wine. So they drank and grew merry with wine and inclined to one another, and Shemsennehar said to me, 'O my lord, complete thy kindness by bringing us a lute or other instrument of music that the measure of our joy may be filled.' 'On my head and eyes,' answered I and rising, brought her a lute. She took it and tuned it, then laying it in her lap, made masterly music, at once exciting to sorrowful thoughts and cheering the afflicted; after which she sang the following verses:I wake and I watch till it seemeth as I were in love with unrest And I waste and I languish, as sickness, meseemeth, were born in my breast.
She went on to sing song after song, choice words set to various airs, till our minds were bewitched and it seemed as if the very room would dance with excess of pleasure for the marvel of her sweet singing and there was nor thought nor reason left in us. When we had sat awhile and the cup had gone round amongst us, the damsel took the lute and sang the following verses to a lively measure:My love a visit promised me and did fulfil his plight One night that I shall reckon aye for many and many a night.
Whilst we were thus drowned in the sea of gladness, in came a little maid, trembling, and said, 'O my lady, look how you may go away, for the folk are upon us and have surrounded the house, and we know not the cause of this.' When I heard this, I arose in affright, and behold, in came a slave-girl, who said, 'Calamity hath overtaken you!' At the same moment, the door was burst open and there rushed in upon us half a score masked men, with poniards in their hands and swords by their sides, and as many more behind them. When I saw this, the world, for all its wideness, was straitened on me and I looked to the door, but saw no way out; so I sprang (from the roof) into the house of one of my neighbours and hid myself there. Thence I heard a great uproar in my house and concluded that the Khalif had gotten wind of us and sent the chief of the police to seize us and bring us before him. So I abode confounded and remained in my place, without daring to move, till midnight, when the master of the house became aware of me and being greatly affrighted, made at me with a drawn sword in his hand, saying, 'Who is this in my house?' Quoth I, 'I am thy neighbour, the jeweller;' and he knew me and held his hand. Then he fetched a light and coming up to me, said, 'O my brother, indeed that which hath befallen thee this night is grievous to me.' 'O my brother,' answered I, 'tell me who it was entered my house and broke in the door, for I fled to thee, not knowing what was the matter.' Quoth he, 'The robbers, who visited our neighbours yesterday and slew such an one and took his goods, saw thee yesterday bringing hither furniture and what not; so they broke in upon thee and stole thy goods and slew thy guests.' Then we arose, he and I, and repaired to my house, which I found empty and stripped of everything, whereat I was confounded and said to myself, 'I care not for the loss of the gear, though indeed I borrowed part thereof of my friends; yet is there no harm in that, for they know my excuse in the loss of my goods and the pillage of my house; but as for Ali ben Bekkar and the Khalif's favourite, I fear lest their case get wind and this cause the loss of my life.' So I turned to my neighbour and said to him, 'Thou art my brother and my neighbour and wilt cover my nakedness; what dost thou counsel me to do?' 'I counsel thee to wait,' answered he; 'for they who entered thy house and stole thy goods have murdered the better part of a company from the Khalif's palace, besides some of the police, and the Khalif's officers are now in quest of them on every side. Haply they will chance on them and so thy wish will come about without effort of thine.' Then I returned to my other house, that in which I dwelt, saying to myself, 'This that hath befallen me is what Aboulhusn feared and from which he fled to Bassora.' Presently the pillage of my pleasure-house was noised abroad among the folk, and they came to me from all sides, some rejoicing in my misfortune and others excusing me and condoling with me, whilst I bewailed myself to them and ate not neither drank for grief. As I sat, repenting me of what I had done, one of my servants came in to me and said, 'There is a man at the door, who asks for thee; and I know him not.' So I went out and found at the door a man whom I knew not. I saluted him, and he said to me, 'I have somewhat to say to thee privily.' So I brought him in and said to him, 'What hast thou to say to me?' Quoth he, 'Come with me to thine other house.' 'Doss thou then know my other house,' asked I. 'I know all about thee,' replied he, 'and I know that also wherewith God will dispel thy concern.' So I said to myself, 'I will go with him whither he will;' and we went out and walked on till we came to my other house, which when he saw, he said to me, 'It is without door or doorkeeper, and we cannot sit in it; so come thou with me to another house.' Accordingly, he went on from place to place and I with him, till the night overtook us. Yet I put no question to him and we ceased not to walk on, till we reached the open country. He kept saying, 'Follow me,' and quickened his pace, whilst I hurried after him, heartening myself to go on. Presently; we came to the river-bank, where he took boat with me, and the boatman rowed us over to the other side. Here my guide landed and I after him and he took my hand and led me to a street I had never before entered, nor do I know in what quarter it is. Presently he stopped at the door of a house, and opening, entered and made me enter with him; after which he bolted the door with a bolt of iron and carried me along the vestibule, till he brought me in presence of ten men, brothers, as they were one and the same man. We saluted them and they returned our greeting and bade us be seated; so we sat down. Now I was like to die for very weariness; so they brought rose-water and sprinkled it on my face, after which they gave me to drink and set food before me, of which some of them ate with me. Quoth I to myself, 'Were there aught of harm in the food, they would not eat with me.' So I ate, and when we had washed our hands, each of us returned to his place. Then said they to me, ' Dost thou know us?' 'I never in my life saw you nor this your abode,' answered I; 'nay, I know not even him who brought me hither.' Said they, 'Tell us thy case and lie not in aught.' 'Know then,' rejoined I, 'that my case is strange and my affair marvellous: but do you know aught of me?' 'Yes,' answered they; 'it was we took thy goods yesternight and carried off thy friend and her who was singing to him.' 'May God let down the veil of His protection over you! ' said I. 'But where is my friend and she who was singing to him?' They pointed to two doors and replied, 'They are yonder, each in a room apart; but, by Allah, O our brother, the secret of their case is known to none but thee, for from the time we brought them hither, we have not seen them nor questioned them of their condition, seeing them to be persons of rank and dignity. This it was that hindered us from putting them to death: so tell us the truth of their case and be assured of their safety and thine own.' When I heard this, I was like to die of fright and said to them, 'O my brethren, if generosity were lost, it would not be found save with you and had I a secret, which I feared to divulge, your breasts alone should have the keeping of it.' And I went on to expatiate to them in this sense, till I saw that frankness would profit me more than concealment; so I told them the whole story. When they heard it, they said, 'And is this young man Ali ben Bekkar and this damsel Shemsennehar?' 'Yes,' answered I. This was grievous to them and they rose and made their excuses to the two lovers. Then they said to me, 'Part of what we took from thy house is spent, but here is what is left of it.' So saying, they gave me back the most part of my goods and engaged to return them to my house and restore me
the rest. So my heart was set at ease, and some of them abode with me, whilst the rest fetched Ali ben Bekkar and Shemsennehar, who were well-nigh dead for excess of fear. Then they all sallied forth with us and I went up to the two lovers and saluting them, said to them, 'What became of the damsel and the two maids?' 'We know nothing of them,' answered they. Then we walked on till we came to the river-bank, where we all embarked in the boat that had brought me over before, and the boatman rowed us to the other side; but hardly had we landed and sat down on the bank to rest, when a troop of horse swooped down on us like eagles and surrounded us on all sides, whereupon the robbers with us sprang up in haste and the boatman, putting back for them, took them in and pushed off into mid-stream, leaving us on the bank, unable to move or abide still. The horseman said to us, 'Whence come ye?' And we were perplexed for an answer; but I said, 'Those ye saw with us are rogues: we know them not. As for us, we are singers, whom they would have taken to sing to them, nor could we win free of them, save by subtlety and fair words, and they have but now left us.' They looked at Ali and Shemsennehar and said to me, 'Thou hast not spoken sooth; but if thy tale be true, tell us who you are and whence you come and in what quarter you dwell.' I knew not what to answer, but Shemsennehar sprang up and approaching the captain of the troop, spoke with him privily, whereupon he dismounted and setting her on his steed, began to lead it along by the bridle. Two of his men did the like with Ali ben Bekkar and myself, and they fared on with us, till they reached a certain part of the river-bank, when the captain sang out in jargon and there came to us a number of men with two boats. The captain embarked with Shemsennehar in one boat and went his way, whilst the rest of his men put off in the other, with Ali ben Bekkar and myself, and rowed on with us, we the while enduring the agonies of death for excess of fear, till they came to a place whence there was a way to our quarter. Here we landed and walked on, escorted by some of the horsemen, till we came to Ali ben Bekkar's house, where they took leave of us and went their way. We entered the house and abode there, unable to stir and knowing not night from day, till nightfall of the next day, when I came to myself and saw Ali ben Bekkar stretched out without sense or motion, and the men and women of his household weeping over him. When they saw that I had recovered my senses, some of them came to me and helping me sit up, said to me, 'Tell us what hath befallen our son and how he came in this plight.' 'O folk,' answered I, 'hearken to me and importune me not; but be patient and he will come to himself and tell you his story for himself.' And I was round with them and made them afraid of a scandal between us; but as we were thus, behold, Ali ben Bekkar moved in his bed, whereat his friends rejoiced and the [most part of the] folk withdrew from him; but his people forbade me to go away. Then they sprinkled rose-water on his face, and he presently revived and breathed the air, whereupon they questioned him of his case. He essayed to answer them, but could not speak forthright and signed to them to let me go home. So they let me go, and I returned to my own house, supported by two men and hardly crediting my escape. When my people saw me thus, they fell a-shrieking and buffeting their faces; but I signed to them to hold their peace, and they were silent. Then the two men went their way and I threw myself down on my bed, where I lay the rest of the night and awoke not till the forenoon, when I found my people collected round me and they said, 'What hath befallen thee and what (evil) hath smitten thee with its mischief?' Quoth I, 'Bring me to drink.' So they brought me wine, and I drank what I would and said to them, 'Wine got the better of me and it was this caused the state in which ye saw me' Then they went away, and I made my excuses to my friends and asked if any of the goods that had been stolen from my other house had been returned.' 'Yes,' answered they. 'Some of them have come back: and the manner of their coming was that a man came and threw them down in the doorway and we saw him not.' So I comforted myself and abode two days, unable to rise, at the end of which time I began to regain strength and went to the bath, for I was worn out with fatigue and troubled at heart for Ali ben Bekkar and Shemsennehar, because I had no news of them all this time and could neither get to Ali's house nor rest in my own, out of fear for myself. And I repented to God the Most High of what I had done and praised Him for my safety. Then I bethought me to go to such and such a place and see the folk and divert myself; so I went to the stuff-market and sat awhile with a friend of mine there. When I rose to go, I saw a woman standing in my road; so I looked at her, and behold it was Shemsennehar's slave-girl. When I saw her, the world grew dark in my eyes and I hurried on. She followed me, but I was afraid and fled from her, trembling whenever I looked at her, whilst she pursued me, saying, 'Stop, that I may tell thee somewhat.' But I heeded her not and went on, till I reached a mosque in an unfrequented spot, and she said to me, 'Enter the mosque, that I may say a word to thee, and fear nothing.' And she conjured me: so I entered the mosque, and she after me. I prayed a two-bow prayer, after which I turned to her, sighing, and said, 'What dost thou want?' She asked me how I did, and I told her all that had befallen myself and Ali ben Bekkar and asked her for news of herself. 'Know,' answered she, 'that when I and the two maids saw the robbers break open thy door, we doubted not but they were the Khalif's officers and would seize us and our mistress and we perish forthright: so we fled over the roofs and casting ourselves down from a high place, took refuge with some people, who harboured us and brought us to the palace, where we arrived in the sorriest of plights. We concealed our case and abode on coals of fire till nightfall, when I opened the river-gate and calling the boatman who had carried us the night before, said to him, "I know not what is come of my mistress; so take me in thy boat, that we may seek her on the river: it may be I shall chance on some news of her." So he took me into the boat and rowed about with me till midnight, when I spied a boat making towards the water-gate, with one man rowing and another standing up and a woman lying prostrate between them. When they reached the shore and the woman landed, I looked at her, and behold, it was Shemsennehar. So I landed and joined her, dazed for joy, after having lost hope of her. When I came up to her, she bade me give the man who had brought her thither a thousand diners, and I and the two maids carried her in and laid her on her bed, and she at death's door. She abode thus all that day and the next day and I forbade the eunuchs and women to go in to her; but on the third day, she revived and I found her as she had come out of the grave. So I sprinkled rose-water upon her face and changed her clothes and washed her hands and feet, nor did I cease to persuade her, till I brought her to eat a little and drink some wine, though she had no mind to it. As soon as she had breathed the air and strength began to return to her, I fell to upbraiding her, saying, "Consider, O my lady, and have pity on thyself; thou seest what has betided us Surely, enough of evil hath befallen thee and thou hast been nigh upon death." "By Allah, O good damsel," replied she, "death were easier to me than what hath befallen me; for I had renounced all hope of deliverance and gave myself up for lost. When the robbers took us from the jeweller's house, they asked me who I was; I replied, 'I am a singing-girl,' and they believed me. Then they said to Ali ben Bekkar, 'And who art thou and what is thy condition?' And he answered, 'I am of the common people.' So they carried us to their abode, and we hurried on with them for fear; but when they had us with them in the house, they looked at me and seeing the clothes I wore and my necklaces and jewellery, believed me not and said to me, 'No singing-girl ever had such jewels as these; tell us the truth of thy case.' I returned them no answer, saying in myself, 'Now will they kill me for my clothes and ornaments;' and I spoke not a word. Then they turned to Ali ben Bekkar and said to him, 'And thou, who and whence art thou? For thy favour is not as that of the common folk.' But he was silent and we ceased not to keep our counsel and weep, till God inclined the rogues' hearts towards us and they said to us, 'Who is the owner of the house in which you were?' 'Such an one, the jeweller,' answered we; whereupon quoth one of them, 'I know him well and where he lives, and I will engage to bring him to you forthright.' Then they agreed to set me in a place by myself and Ali ben Bekkar in a place by himself, and said to us, 'Be at rest and fear not lest your secret be divulged; ye are safe from us.' Meanwhile their comrade went away and returned with the jeweller, who made known to them our case, and we joined company with him; after which one of the band fetched a boat, in which they embarked us all three and rowing us over the river, landed us on the opposite bank and went away; whereupon up came a horse-patrol and asked us who we were. So I spoke with the captain and said to him, 'I am Shemsennehar, the Khalif's favourite; I had drunken wine and went out to visit certain of my acquaintance of the wives of the Viziers, when yonder rogues laid hold of me and brought me hither; but when they saw you, they fled. I met these men with them; so do thou escort me and them to a place of safety and I will requite thee.' When the captain heard my speech, he knew me and alighting, mounted me on his horse; and in like manner did two of his men with Ali and the jeweller. And now my heart is on fire on their account, especially for Ali's friend the jeweller: so do thou go to him and salute him and ask him for news of Ali ben Bekkar." I spoke to her and blamed her and bade her beware, saying' "O my lady, have a care for thyself and give up this intrigue." But she was angered at my words and cried out at me. So I came forth in quest of thee, but found thee not and dared not go to Ali's house; so stood watching for thee, that I might ask thee of him and know how it is with him. And I beg thee, of thy favour, to take some money of me, for belike thou borrowedst of thy friends some of the goods, and as they are lost, it behoves thee to make them compensation.' 'I hear and obey,' answered I. 'Go on.' And I walked with her till we drew near my house, when she said to me, 'Wait till I return to thee.' So she went away and presently returned with a bag of money, which she handed to me, saying, ' O my lord, where shall we meet?' Quoth I, 'I will go to my house at once and suffer hardship for thy sake and contrive how thou mayst win to him, for access to him is difficult at this present.' 'Let me know where I shall come to thee,' said she, and I answered, 'In my other house; I will go thither forthright and have the doors repaired and the place made secure again, and henceforth we will meet there.' Then she took leave of me and went her way, whilst I carried the money home, and counting it, found it five thousand diners. I gave my people some of it and made good their loss to all who had lent me aught, after which I took my servants and repaired to my other house, with builders and carpenters, who restored it to its former state. Moreover, I placed my negress-slave there and forgot what had befallen me. Then I repaired to Ali ben Bekkar's house, where his servants accosted me, saying, 'Our lord calls for thee day and night and hath promised his freedom to whichever of us brings thee to him; so we have been in quest of thee everywhere, but knew not where to find thee. Our master is by way of recovery, but he has frequent relapses, and when he revives, he names thee and says, "Needs must ye bring him to me, though but for an instant," and sinks back into his torpor.' So I went in to Ali ben Bekkar and finding him unable to speak, sat down at his head, whereupon he opened his eyes and seeing me, wept and said, 'Welcome and fair welcome!' I raised him and making him sit up, strained him to my bosom, and he said, 'Know, O my brother, that, since I took to my bed, I have not sat up till now: praised be God that I see thee again!' Presently, little by little, I made him stand up and walk a few steps, after which I changed his clothes and he drank some wine. All this he did to please me. Then, seeing him to be somewhat restored, I told him what had befallen me with the slave-girl, none else hearing me, and said to him, 'I know what thou sufferest; but take heart and be of good courage; for henceforth nought shall betide thee, but what shall rejoice thee and ease thine heart.' He smiled and called for food, which being brought, he signed to his servants, and they withdrew. Then said he to me, 'O my brother, thou seest what hath befallen me;' and he made his excuses to me and enquired how I had fared all that while. I told him all that had befallen me, from first to last, at which he wondered and calling his servants, said, 'Bring me such and such things.' Accordingly, they brought in rich carpets and hangings and utensils of gold and silver, more than I had lost, and he gave them all to me; so I sent them to my house and abode with him that night. When the day began to break, he said to me, 'To everything there is an end, and the end of love is death or enjoyment. I am nearer unto death, would I had died ere this befell! For, had not God favoured us, we had been discovered and put to shame. And now I know not what shall deliver me from this my strait, and were it not that I fear God, I would hasten my own death; for know, O my brother, that I am like the bird in the cage and that my life is of a surety perished, by reason of the distresses that have befallen me; yet hath it a fixed period and an appointed term.' And he wept and groaned and repeated the following verses:Indeed, it sufficeth the lover the time that his tears have run; As for affliction, of patience it hath him all fordone.
When he had finished, I said to him, 'O my lord, I would fain return to my house; it may be the damsel will come back to me with news.' 'It is well,' answered he; 'go and return to me speedily with news, for thou seest my condition.' So I took leave of him and went home. Hardly had I sat down, when up came the damsel, choked with her tears. 'What is the matter?' asked I, and she said, 'O my lord, what we feared has fallen on us; for, when I returned yesterday to my lady, I found her enraged with one of the two maids who were with us the other night, and she ordered her to be beaten. The girl took fright and ran away; but one of the gate-keepers stopped her and would have sent her back to her mistress. However, she let fall some hints, which excited his curiosity; so he coaxed her and led her on to talk, and she acquainted him with our case. This came to the ears of the Khalif, who bade remove my mistress and all her gear to his own palace and set over her a guard of twenty eunuchs. Since then he has not visited her nor given her to know the cause of his action, but I suspect this to be the cause; wherefore I am in fear for myself and am perplexed, O my lord, knowing not what I shall do nor how I shall order my affair and hers, for she had none more trusted nor trustier than myself. So do thou go quickly to Ali ben Bekkar and acquaint him with this, that he may be on his guard; and if the affair be discovered, we will cast about for a means of saving ourselves.' At this, I was sore troubled and the world grew dark in my sight for the girl's words. Then she turned to go, and I said to her, 'What is to be done?' Quoth she, 'My counsel is that thou hasten to Ali ben Bekkar, if thou be indeed his friend and desire his escape; thine be it to carry him the news forthright, and be it mine to watch for further news.' Then she took her leave of me and went away. I followed her out and betaking myself to Ali ben Bekkar, found him flattering himself with hopes of speedy enjoyment and staying himself with vain expectations. When he saw me, he said, 'I see thou hast come back to me forthwith' 'Summon up all thy patience,' answered I, 'and put away thy vain doting and shake off thy preoccupation, for there hath befallen that which may bring about the loss of thy life and goods.' When he heard this, he was troubled and his colour changed and he said to me, 'O my brother, tell me what hath happened.' 'O my lord,' replied I, 'such and such things have happened and thou art lost without recourse, if thou abide in this thy house till the end of the day.' At this he was confounded and his soul well-nigh departed his body, but he recovered himself and said to me, 'What shall I do, O my brother, and what is thine advice?' 'My advice,' answered I, 'is that thou take what thou canst of thy property and whom of thy servants thou trustest and flee with me to a land other than this, ere the day come to an end.' And he said, 'I hear and obey.' So he rose, giddy and dazed, now walking and now falling down and took what came under his hand. Then he made an excuse to his household and gave them his last injunctions, after which he loaded three camels and mounted his hackney. I did the like and we went forth privily in disguise and fared on all day and night, till nigh upon morning, when we unloaded and hobbling our camels, lay down to sleep; but, being worn with fatigue, we neglected to keep watch, so that there fell on us robbers, who stripped us of all we had and slew our servants, when they would have defended us, after which they made off with their booty, leaving us naked and in the sorriest of plights. As soon as they were gone, we arose and walked on till morning, when we came to a village and took refuge in its mosque. We sat in a corner of the mosque all that day and the next night, without meat or drink; and at daybreak, we prayed the morning prayer and sat down again. Presently, a man entered and saluting us, prayed a two-bow prayer, after which he turned to us and said, 'O folk, are ye strangers?' 'Yes,' answered we, 'robbers waylaid us and stripped us, and we came to this town, but know none here with whom we may shelter.' Quoth he, 'What say you? Will you come home with me?' And I said to Ali ben Bekkar, 'Let us go with him, and we shall escape two evils; first, our fear lest some one who knows us enter the mosque and so we be discovered; and secondly, that we are strangers and have no place to lodge in.' 'As thou wilt,' answered he. Then the man said to us again, 'O poor folk, give ear unto me and come with me to my house.' 'We hear and obey,' answered I; whereupon he pulled off a part of his own clothes and covered us therewith and made his excuses to us and spoke kindly to us. Then we accompanied him to his house and he knocked at the door, whereupon a little servant came out and opened to us. We entered after our host, who called for a parcel of clothes and muslin for turbans, and gave us each a suit of clothes and a piece of muslin; so we made us turbans and sat down. Presently, in came a damsel with a tray of food and set it before us, saying, 'Eat.' We ate a little and she took away the tray; after which we abode with our host till nightfall, when Ali ben Bekkar sighed and said to me, 'Know, O my brother, that I am a dead man and I have a charge to give thee: it is that, when thou seest me dead, thou go to my mother and tell her and bid her come hither, that she may be present at the washing of my body and take order for my funeral; and do thou exhort her to bear my loss with patience.' Then he fell down in a swoon and when he revived, he heard a damsel singing afar off and addressed himself to give ear to her and hearken to her voice; and now he was absent from the world and now came to himself, and anon he wept for grief and mourning at what had befallen him. Presently, he heard the damsel sing the following verses:Parting hath wrought in haste our union to undo After the straitest loves and concord 'twixt us two.
When he heard this, he gave one sob and his soul quitted his body. As soon as I saw that he was dead, I committed his body to the care of the master of the house and said to him, 'I go to Baghdad, to tell his mother and kinsfolk, that they may come hither and take order for his burial' So I betook myself to Baghdad and going to my house, changed my clothes, after which I repaired to Ali ben Bekkar's lodging. When his servants saw me, they came to me and questioned me of him, and I bade them ask leave for me to go in to his mother. She bade admit me; so I entered and saluting her, said, 'Verily God orders the lives of all creatures by His commandment and when He decreeth aught, there is no escaping its fulfilment, nor can any soul depart but by His leave, according to the Writ which prescribeth the appointed terms.' She guessed by these words that her son was dead and wept sore, then she said to me, 'I conjure thee by Allah, tell me, is my son dead?' I could not answer her for tears and much grief, and when she saw me thus, she was choked with weeping and fell down in a swoon. As soon as she came to herself, she said to me, 'Tell me how my son died.' 'May God abundantly requite thee for him!' answered I and told her all that had befallen him, from first to last. 'Did he give thee any charge?' asked she. 'Yes,' answered I and told her what he had said, adding, 'Hasten to take order for his funeral.' When she heard this, she swooned away again; and when she recovered, she addressed herself to do as I bade her. Then I returned to my house; and as I went along, musing sadly upon his fair youth, a woman caught hold of my hand. I looked at her and behold, it was Shemsennehar's slave-girl, broken for grief. When we knew each other, we both wept and gave not over weeping till we reached my house, and I said to her, 'Knowest thou the news of Ali ben Bekkar?' 'No, by Allah,' replied she; so I told her the manner of his death and all that had passed, whilst we both wept; after which I said to her, 'And how is it with thy mistress?' Quoth she, 'The Khalif would not hear a word against her, but saw all her actions in a favourable light, of the great love he bore her, and said to her, "O Shemsennehar, thou art dear to me and I will bear with thee and cherish thee, despite thine enemies." Then he bade furnish her a saloon decorated with gold and a handsome sleeping-chamber, and she abode with him in all ease of life and high favour. One day, as he sat at wine, according to his wont, with his favourites before him, he bade them be seated in their places and made Shemsennehar sit by his side. (Now her patience was exhausted and her disorder redoubled upon her.) Then he bade one of the damsels sing: so she took a lute and tuning it, preluded and sang the following verses:One sought me of lore and I yielded and gave him that which he sought. And my tears write the tale of my transport in furrows upon my cheek.
When Shemsennehar heard these verses, she could not keep her seat, but fell down in a swoon, whereupon the Khalif threw the cup from his hand and drew her to him, crying out. The damsels clamoured and he turned her over and shook her, and behold, she was dead. The Khalif grieved sore for her death and bade break all the vessels and lutes and other instruments of mirth and music in the place; then carrying her body to his closet, he abode with her the rest of the night. When the day broke, he laid her out and commanded to wash her and shroud her and bury her. And he mourned very sore for her and questioned not of her case nor what ailed her. And I beg thee in God's name,' continued the damsel, 'to let me know the day of the coming of Ali ben Bekkar's funeral train, that I may be present at his burial.' Quoth I, 'For myself, thou canst find me where thou wilt; but thou, who can come at thee where thou art?' 'On the day of Shemsennehar's death,' answered she, 'the Commander of the Faithful freed all her women, myself among the rest; and we are now abiding at the tomb in such a place.' So I accompanied her to the burial-ground and visited Shemennehar's tomb; (18) after which I went my way and awaited the coming of Ali ben Bekkar's funeral. When it arrived, the people of Baghdad went forth to meet it and I with them; and I saw the damsel among the women and she the loudest of them in lamentation, crying out and wailing with a voice that rent the vitals and made the heart ache. Never was seen in Baghdad a greater funeral than his and we ceased not to follow in crowds, till we reached the cemetery and buried him to the mercy of God the most High; nor from that time to this have I ceased to visit his tomb and that of Shemsennehar." This, then, is their story, and may God the Most High have mercy upon them!