THE SCAVENGER AND THE NOBLE LADY OF BAGHDAD.
At Mecca, one day, in the season of pilgrimage, whilst the people were making the enjoined circuits about the Holy House and the place of compassing was crowded, a man laid hold of the covering of the Kaabeh and cried out, from the bottom of his heart, saying, 'I beseech Thee, O God, that she may once again be wroth with her husband and that I may lie with her!' A company of the pilgrims heard him and falling on him, loaded him with blows and carried him to the governor of the pilgrims, to whom said they, 'O Amir, we found this man in the Holy Places, saying thus and thus.' The governor commanded to hang him; but he said, 'O Amir, I conjure thee, by the virtue of the Prophet (whom God bless and preserve), hear my story and after do with me as thou wilt.' 'Say on,' quoth the Amir. 'Know then, O Amir,' said the man, 'that I am a scavenger, who works in the sheep-slaughterhouses and carries off the blood and the offal to the rubbish-heaps. (144) One day, as I went along with my ass loaded, I saw the people running away and one of them said to me, "Enter this alley, lest they kill thee." Quoth I, "What ails the folk to run away?" And he answered, "It is the eunuchs in attendance on the wife of one of the notables, who drive the people out of her way and beat them all, without distinction." So I turned aside with the ass and stood, awaiting the dispersal of the crowd. Presently up came a number of eunuchs with staves in their hands, followed by nigh thirty women, and amongst them a lady as she were a willow-wand or a thirsty gazelle, perfect in beauty and elegance and amorous grace. When she came to the mouth of the passage where I stood, she turned right and left and calling one of the eunuchs, whispered in his ear; whereupon he came up to me and laying hold of me, bound me with a rope and haled me along after him, whilst another eunuch took my ass and made off with it. I knew not what was to do and the people followed us, crying out, "This is not allowed of God! What has this poor scavenger done that he should be bound with ropes?" and saying to the eunuchs, "Have pity on him and let him go, so God have pity on you!" And I the while said in myself, "Doubtless the eunuch seized me, because his mistress smelt the offal and it sickened her. Belike she is with child or ailing; but there is no power and no virtue save in God the Most High, the Supreme!" So I walked on behind them, till they stopped at the door of a great house and entering, brought me into a great hall, I know not how I shall describe its goodliness, furnished with magnificent furniture. The women withdrew to the harem, leaving me bound with the eunuch and saying in myself, "Doubtless they will torture me here till I die, and none know of my death." However, after a while, they carried me into an elegant bathroom, adjoining the hall; and as I sat there, in came three damsels, who seated themselves round me and said to me, "Strip off thy rags." So I pulled off my threadbare clothes, and one of them fell a-rubbing my feet, whilst another washed my head and the third scrubbed my body. When they had made an end of washing me, they brought me a parcel of clothes and said to me, "Put these on." "By Allah," answered I, "I know not how!" So they came up to me and dressed me, laughing at me the while; after which they brought casting-bottles, full of rose-water, and sprinkled me therewith. Then I went out with them into another saloon, by Allah, I know not how to set out its goodliness, for the much paintings and furniture therein; and here I found the lady seated on a couch of Indian cane with ivory feet and before her a number of damsels. When she saw me, she rose and called to me; so I went up to her and she made me sit by her side. Then she called for food, and the damsels brought all manner rich meats, such as I never saw in all my life; I do not even know the names of the dishes. So I ate my fill and when the dishes had been taken away and we had washed our hands, she called for fruits and bade me eat of them; after which she bade one of the waiting-women bring the wine-service. So they set on flagons of divers kinds of wine and burned perfumes in all the censers, what while a damsel like the moon rose and served us with wine, to the sound of the smitten strings. We sat and drank, the lady and I, till we were warm with wine, whilst I doubted not but that all this was an illusion of sleep. Presently, she signed to one of the damsels to spread us a bed in such a place, which being done, she took me by the hand and led me thither. So I lay with her till the morning, and as often as I pressed her in my arms, I smelt the delicious fragrance of musk and other perfumes that exhaled from her and could think no otherwise but that I was in Paradise or in the mazes of a dream. When it was day, she asked me where I lodged and I told her, "In such a place;" whereupon she gave me a handkerchief gold and silver wrought, with somewhat tied in it, and bade me depart, saying, "Go to the bath with this." So I rejoiced and said to myself, "If there be but five farthings here, it will buy me the morning meal." Then I left her, as I were leaving Paradise, and returned to my lodging, where I opened the handkerchief and found in it fifty dinars of gold. I buried them in the ground and buying two farthings' worth of bread and meat, sat down at the door and breakfasted; after which I sat pondering my case till the time of afternoon-prayer, when a slave-girl accosted me, saying, "My mistress calls for thee." So I followed her to the house aforesaid and she carried me in to the lady, before whom I kissed the earth, and she bade me sit and called for meat and wine as on the previous day; after which I again lay with her all night. On the morrow, she gave me a second handkerchief, with other fifty dinars therein, and I took it and going home, buried this also.
Thus did I eight days running, going in to her at the hour of afternoon-prayer and leaving her at daybreak; but, on the eighth night, as I lay with her, one of her maids came running in and said to me, "Arise, go up into yonder closet." So I rose and went into the closet, which was over the gate and had a window giving upon the street in front of the house. Presently, I heard a great clamour and tramp of horse, and looking out of the window, saw a young man, as he were the rising moon on the night of her full, come riding up, attended by a number of servants and soldiers. He alighted at the door and entering, found the lady seated on the couch in the saloon. So he kissed the earth before her, then came up to her and kissed her hands; but she would not speak to him. However, he ceased not to soothe her and speak her fair, till he made his peace with her, and they lay together that night. Next morning, the soldiers came for him and he mounted and rode away; whereupon she came in to me and said, "Sawst thou yonder man?" "Yes," answered I; and she said, "He is my husband, and I will tell thee what befell me with him.
It chanced one day that we were sitting, he and I, in the garden within the house, when he rose from my side and was absent a long while, till I grew tired of waiting and said to myself, 'Most like, he is in the wardrobe.' So I went thither, but not finding him there, went down to the kitchen, where I saw a slave-girl, of whom I enquired for him, and she showed him to me lying with one of the cook-maids. When I saw this, I swore a great oath that I would do adultery with the foulest and filthiest man in Baghdad; and the day the eunuch laid hands on thee, I had been four days going round about the town in quest of one who should answer this description, but found none fouler nor more filthy than thee. So I took thee and there passed between us that which God fore-ordained to us; and now I am quit of my oath. But," added she, "if my husband return yet again to the cook-maid and lie with her, I will restore thee to thy late place in my favours."
When (continued the scavenger) I heard these words from her lips, what while she transfixed my heart with the arrows of her glances, my tears streamed forth, till my eyelids were sore with weeping, and I repeated the saying of the poet:Vouchsafe me the kiss of thy left hand, I prithee, And know that it's worthier far than thy right;
Then she gave me other fifty dinars (making in all four hundred dinars I had of her) and bade me depart. So I went out from her and came hither, that I might pray God (blessed and exalted be He!) to make her husband return to the cook-maid, so haply I might be again admitted to her favours.' When the governor of the pilgrims heard the man's story, he set him free and said to the bystanders, 'God on you, pray for him, for indeed he is excusable.'