THE MOCK KHALIF.
It is related that the Khalif Haroun er Reshid, being one night troubled with a persistent restlessness, summoned his Vizier Jaafer the Barmecide and said to him, 'My heart is straitened and I have a mind to divert myself tonight by walking about the streets of Baghdad and looking into the affairs of the folk; but we will disguise ourselves as merchants, that none may know us.' 'I hear and obey,' answered Jaafer. So they rose at once and putting off the rich clothes they wore, donned merchants' habits and sallied forth, the Khalif and Jaafer and Mesrour the headsman. They walked from place to place, till they came to the Tigris and saw an old man sitting in a boat; so they went up to him and saluting him, said, 'O old man, we desire thee of thy favour to carry us a-pleasuring down the river, in this thy boat, and take this dinar to thy hire.' 'Who may go a-pleasuring on the Tigris?' replied the boatman. 'Seeing that the Khalif every night comes down the stream in his barge, and with him one crying aloud, "Ho, all ye people, great and small, gentle and simple, men and boys, whoso is found in a boat on the Tigris [by night], I will strike off his head or hang him to the mast of his boat!" And ye had well-nigh met him; for here comes his barge.' But the Khalif and Jaafer said, 'O old man, take these two dinars, and when thou seest the Khalif's barge approaching, run us under one of the arches, that we may hide there till he have passed. 'Hand over the money,' replied the boatman; 'and on God the Most High be our dependence!' So they gave him the two dinars and embarked in the boat; and he put off and rowed about with them awhile, till they saw the barge coming down the river in mid-stream, with lighted flambeaux and cressets therein. Quoth the boatman, 'Did I not tell you that the Khalif passed every night? O Protector, remove not the veils of Thy protection!' So saying, he ran the boat under an arch and threw a piece of black cloth over the Khalif and his companions, who looked out from under the covering and saw, in the bows of the barge, a man holding a cresset of red gold and clad in a tunic of red satin, with a muslin turban on his head. Over one of his shoulders hung a cloak of yellow brocade, and on the other was a green silk bag full of Sumatran aloes-wood, with which he fed the cresset by way of firewood. In the stern stood another man, clad like the first and bearing a like cresset, and in the barge were two hundred white slaves, standing right and left about a throne of red gold, on which sat a handsome young man, like the moon, clad in a dress of black, embroidered with yellow gold. Before him they saw a man, as he were the Vizier Jaafer, and at his head stood an eunuch, as he were Mesrour, with a drawn sword in his hand, besides a score of boon-companions. When the Khalif saw this, he turned to Jaafer and said to him, 'Belike this is one of my sons, El Amin or El Mamoun.' Then he examined the young man that sat on the throne, and finding him accomplished in beauty and grace and symmetry, said to Jaafer, 'Verily, this young man abates no jot of the state of the Khalifate! See, there stands before him one as he were thyself, O Jaafer; yonder eunuch is as he were Mesrour and those boon-companions as they were my own. By Allah, O Jaafer, my reason is confounded and I am filled with amazement at this thing!' 'And I also, by Allah, O Commander of the Faithful,' replied Jaafer. Then the barge passed on and disappeared from sight; whereupon the boatman pushed out again into the stream, saying, 'Praised be God for safety, since none hath fallen in with us!' 'O old man,' said Er Reshid, 'doth the Khalif come down the river every night?' 'Yes, O my lord,' answered the boatman; 'he hath done so every night this year past.' 'O old man,' rejoined Er Reshid, 'we wish thee of thy favour to await us here to-morrow night, and we will give thee five dinars, for we are strangers, lodging at El Khendek, and we have a mind to divert ourselves.' 'With all my heart,' replied the boatman. Then the Khalif and Jaafer and Mesrour returned to the palace, where they put off their merchants' habits and donning their apparel of state, sat down each in his several room. Then came the amirs and viziers and chamberlains and officers, and the Divan assembled as of wont.
When the night came and all the folk had dispersed and gone each his own way, the Khalif said to his Vizier, 'Come, O Jaafer, let us go and amuse ourselves by looking on the other Khalif.' At this, Jaafer and Mesrour laughed, and the three, donning merchants' habits, went out at the privy gate and made their way through the city, in great glee, till they came to the Tigris, where they found the boatman sitting, waiting for them. They embarked with him in the boat and had not sat long, before up came the mock Khalif's barge, with the cresset-bearers crying aloud as of wont, and in it two hundred white slaves other than those of the previous night. 'O Vizier,' exclaimed the Khalif, 'had I heard tell of this, I had not believed it; but I have seen it with my own eyes.' Then said he to the boatman, 'Take these ten dinars and row us along abreast of them, for they are in the light and we in the shade, and we can see them and divert ourselves by looking on them, but they cannot see us.' So he took the money and pushing off, followed in the shadow of the barge, till they came among the gardens and the barge cast anchor before a postern door, where they saw servants standing with a mule saddled and bridled. Here the mock Khalif landed and mounting the mule, rode away with his boon-companions, attended by his suite and preceded by the cresset-bearers crying aloud. Then Haroun and Jaafer and Mesrour landed also and making their way through the press of servants, walked on before them. Presently, the cresset-bearers espied them and seeing three strangers in merchants' habits, misdoubted of them; so they pointed them out and caused bring them before the mock Khalif, who looked at them and said, 'How come ye here at this hour?' 'O our lord,' answered they, 'we are foreign merchants, who arrived here this day and were out a-walking to-night, when ye came up and these men laid hands on us and brought us before thee.' Quoth the mock Khalif, 'Since you are strangers, no harm shall befall you; but had ye been of Baghdad, I had struck off your heads.' Then he turned to his Vizier and said to him, 'Take these men with thee; for they are our guests this night.' 'I hear and obey, O our lord,' answered he; and they followed him, till they came to a lofty and splendid palace of curious ordinance, such as no king possesses, rising from the dust and laying hold upon the marges of the clouds. Its door was of teak, inlaid with glittering gold, and by it one passed into a saloon, amiddleward which was a basin of water, with an artificial fountain rising from its midst. It was furnished with carpets and cushions and divans of brocade and tables and other gear such as amazed the wit and defied description. There, also, was a curtain drawn, and upon the door were written these two verses:A palace, upon it be blessing and greeting and grace! Fair fortune hath put off her beauty to brighten the place.
The mock Khalif entered with his company and sat down on a throne of gold, set with jewels and covered with a prayer-carpet of yellow silk; whilst the boon-companions took their seats and the sword-bearer stood before him. Then the servants laid the tables and they ate and washed their hands, after which the dishes were removed and the wine-service set on, with cups and flagons in due order. The cup went round till it came to Er Reshid, who refused it, and the mock Khalif said to Jaafer, 'What ails thy friend that he drinks not?' 'O our lord,' replied the Vizier, 'this long while he hath drunk no wine.' Quoth the mock Khalif, 'I have drink other than this, a kind of apple-wine, that will suit him.' So he let bring apple- sherbet and said to Haroun, 'Drink thou of this, as often as it comes to thy turn.' Then they continued to drink and make merry, till the wine rose to their heads and mastered their wits; and Haroun said to Jaafer, 'O Jaafer, by Allah, we have no such vessels as these. Would God I knew what manner of man this is!' Presently, the young man glanced at them and seeing them talking privily, said, 'It is unmannerly to whisper.' 'No rudeness was meant,' answered Jaafer. 'My friend did but say to me, "Verily, I have travelled in most countries and have caroused and companied with the greatest of kings and captains; yet never saw I a goodlier ordinance than this nor passed a more delightful night; save that the people of Baghdad say, 'Drink without music often leaves headache.'"' When the mock Khalif heard this, he smiled merrily and struck a gong (145) with a rod he had in his hand; whereupon a door opened and out came an eunuch, bearing a stool of ivory, inlaid with glittering gold, and followed by a damsel of surpassing beauty and symmetry. He set down the stool and the damsel seated herself on it, as she were the sun shining in the cloudless sky. In her hand she had a lute of Indian make, which she laid in her lap and bending over it as a mother bends over her child, preluded in four-and-twenty modes, amazing all wits. Then she returned to the first mode and sang the following verses to a lively measure:The tongue of passion in my heart bespeaketh thee of me And giveth thee to know that I enamoured am of thee.
When the mock Khalif heard this, he gave a great cry and rent his robe to the skirt, whereupon they let down a curtain over him and brought him a fresh robe, handsomer than the first. He put it on and sat as before, till the cup came round to him, when he struck the gong a second time and behold, a door opened and out came an eunuch with a chair of gold, followed by a damsel handsomer than the first, bearing a lute, such as mortified the heart of the envious. She sat down on the chair and sang to the lute these verses:Ah, how can I be patient, when longing in my soul Flames high and from mine eyelids the tears in torrents roll?
No sooner did the youth hear this than he gave a great cry and rent his clothes to the skirt; whereupon they let down the curtain over him and brought him another dress. He put it on and sitting up as before, fell again to cheerful talk, till the cup came round to him, when he smote once more upon the gong and out came an eunuch with a chair, followed by a damsel fairer than she who had foregone her. So she sat down on the chair, with a lute in her hand, and sang thereto the following verses:Have done with your disdain and leave to make me rue; For, by your life, my heart to you was ever true!
At this the young man gave a great cry and rent his clothes, whereupon they let fall the curtain over him and brought him other clothes. Then he returned to his former case with his boon-companions and the cup went round as before, till it came to him, when he struck the gong a fourth time and the door opening, out came a boy, bearing a chair and followed by a damsel. He set the chair for her and she sat down upon it and taking the lute, tuned it and sang to it these verses:When, when will separation and hatred pass away And what is past of joyance come back to make me gay?
When the mock Khalif heard the girl's song, he gave a great cry and tearing his clothes as before, fell down in a swoon; whereupon they would have let down the curtain over him, as of wont; but the cords stuck fast and Er Reshid, chancing to look at him, saw on his body the marks of beating with palm-rods and said to Jaafer, 'By Allah, he is a handsome youth, but a foul thief!' 'Whence knowest thou that, O Commander of the Faithful?' asked Jaafer, and the Khalif answered, 'Sawst thou not the marks of whips on his sides?' Then they let fall the curtain over him and brought him a fresh dress, which he put on and sat up as before with his courtiers. Presently, he saw the Khalif and Jaafer whispering together and said to them, 'What is the matter, gentlemen?' 'Nothing, my lord,' replied Jaafer, 'save that my friend here, who (as is not unknown to thee) is of the merchants and hath visited all the great cities and countries of the world and foregathered with kings and men of worth, saith to me, "Verily, that which our lord the Khalif hath done this night is beyond measure extravagant, never saw I any do the like of his fashion in any country; for he hath rent four dresses, each worth a thousand dinars, and this is surely excessive extravagance."' 'O man,' replied the youth, 'the money is my money and the stuff my stuff and this is by way of largesse to my servants and followers; for each suit that is rent belongeth to one of my boon-companions here present and I appoint him, in exchange therefor, [if it so like him,] the sum of five hundred dinars.' 'Well is that thou dost, O our lord!' answered Jaafer and recited the following verses:The virtues sure have built themselves a dwelling in thy palm; Thou hast thy wealth to all mankind made common property.
When the young man heard these verses, he ordered Jaafer a thousand dinars and a dress of honour. Then the cup went round among them and the wine was pleasant to them; but, after awhile, the Khalif said to Jaafer, 'Ask him of the marks on his ribs, that we may see what he will say.' 'Softly, O my lord,' replied Jaafer; 'be not hasty, for patience is more becoming.' ' By the life of my head and by the tomb of El Abbas,' (146) rejoined the Khalif, 'except thou ask him, I will assuredly make an end of thee!' With this the young man turned towards Jaafer and said to him, 'What ails thee and thy friend to be whispering together? Tell me what is to do with you.' ' It is nothing,' replied Jaafer; but the mock Khalif rejoined, 'I conjure thee, by Allah, tell me what ails you and hide from me nothing of your case.' 'O my lord,' answered the Vizier, 'my companion here saw on thy sides the marks of beating with whips and rods and marvelled thereat exceedingly, saying, "How came the Khalif to be beaten?" And he would fain know the cause of this.' When the youth heard this, he smiled and said, 'Know that my story is wonderful and my case extraordinary; were it graven with needles on the corners of the eye, it would serve as an admonition to him who can profit by admonition.' And he sighed and repeated the following verses:Strange is my story and outdoes all marvels that can be. By Love itself I swear, my ways are straitened upon me!
When they heard this, Jaafer swore to him a dissembling oath that they were not those he named; whereupon he laughed and said, 'Know, O my lords, that I am not the Commander of the Faithful and that I do but style myself thus, to get my will of the people of the city. My real name is Mohammed Ali son of Ali the Jeweller and my father was one of the chief men [of the city]. When he died, he left me great store of gold and silver and pearls and coral and rubies and chrysolites and other jewels, besides houses and lands and baths and gardens and orchards and shops and brickfields and slaves, male and female. One day, as I sat in my shop, surrounded by my slaves and servants, there came up a young lady, riding on a mule and attended by three damsels like moons. She alighted at my shop and seating herself by me, said to me, "Art thou Mohammed the jeweller?" "Yes," answered I, "I am he, at thy service." "Hast thou a necklace of jewels fit for me?" asked she, and I replied, "O my lady, I will show thee what I have; and if any please thee, it will be of thy slave's good luck; if not, of his ill-fortune." I had by me a hundred necklaces and showed them all to her; but none of them pleased her and she said, "I want a better than those I have seen." Now I had a small necklace, that my father had bought for a hundred thousand dinars and the like whereof was not to be found with any of the great kings; so I said to her, "O my lady, I have yet one necklace of fine stones, whose like none possesseth, great or small." "Show it me," said she. So I showed it her and she said, "This is what I sought and what I have wished for all my life. What is its price?" Quoth I, "It cost my father a hundred thousand dinars;" and she said, "I will give thee five thousand dinars to thy profit." "O my lady," answered I, "the necklace and its owner are at thy service and I cannot gainsay thee [in aught]." "Not so," rejoined she; "needs must thou have the profit, and I am still much beholden to thee." Then she rose and mounting the mule in haste, said to me, "O my lord, in God's name, favour us with thy company, to receive the money; for this thy day is a milk-white day (148) with us." So I shut the shop and accompanied her, in all security, till we came to a house, on which were manifest the signs of fortune. Its door was wrought with gold and silver and lapis lazuli, and thereon were written these verses:Nay mourning never enter thee, I pray, O house, nor fortune e'er thy lord bewray!
She dismounted and entered the house, bidding me sit down on the stone bench at the door, till the money-changer should come. So I sat awhile, till presently a damsel came out to me and said, "Q my lord, enter the vestibule; for it is not seemly that thou shouldst sit at the door." Accordingly, I entered the vestibule and sat down on the settle there. As I sat, another damsel came out and said to me, "O my lord, my mistress bids thee enter and sit down at the door of the saloon, to receive thy money." So I entered and sat down, nor had I sat a moment, before a curtain of silk was drawn aside and I saw the lady seated on a throne of gold, with the necklace about her neck, unveiled and showing a face as it were the round of the moon. At this sight, my wit was troubled and my mind confounded, by reason of her exceeding beauty and grace; but, when she saw me, she rose and coming up to me, said, "O light of mine eyes, is every handsome one like thee pitiless to his mistress?" "O my lady," answered I, "beauty, all of it, is in thee and is one of thine attributes." "O jeweller," rejoined she, "know that I love thee and can hardly credit that I have brought thee hither." Then she bent to me and I kissed her, and she kissed me, and drawing me towards her, pressed me to her bosom. She knew by my case that I had a mind to enjoy her; so she said to me, "O my lord, dost thou think to foregather with me unlawfully? By Allah, may he not live who would do the like of this sin and who takes pleasure in foul talk! I am a clean virgin, whom no man hath approached, nor am I unknown in the city. Knowest thou who I am?" "No, by Allah, O my lady!" replied I. Quoth she, "I am the lady Dunya, daughter of Yehya ben Khalid the Barmecide and sister of Jaafer, the Khalif's Vizier." When I heard this, I drew back from her, saying, "O my lady, it is no fault of mine if I have been over-bold with thee; it was thou didst encourage me to aspire to thy love, by giving me access to thee." "No harm shall befall thee," answered she; "and needs must thou attain thy desire in the way that is pleasing to God. I am my own mistress and the Cadi shall act as my guardian, in consenting to the marriage-contract; for it is my will that I be thy wife and thou my husband." Then she sent for the Cadi and the witnesses and busied herself with the necessary preparations. When they came, she said to them, "Mohammed Ali ben Ali the jeweller seeks me in marriage and hath given me the necklace to my dowry; and I accept and consent." So they drew up the contract of marriage between us; after which the servants brought the wine-service and the cups passed round, after the goodliest ordinance: and when the wine mounted to our heads, she ordered a damsel, a lute-player, to sing. So she took the lute and sang thereto the following verses:He comes and shows me, all in one, fawn, moon and sapling slight: Foul fall the heart for thought of him that watches not the night!
We were ravished by the sweet music she made and the beauty of the verses she sang and the other damsels went on to sing, one after another, till ten had done so; when the lady Dunya took the lute and playing a lively measure, sang these verses:By the softness of thy graceful-gaited shape I swear, For estrangement from thy presence the pangs of hell I bear.
When she had finished, I took the lute and playing a quaint prelude, sang the following verses:Glory to Him who gave thee all beauty in earth and skies So I'm become of thy bondsmen for ever and thy prize.
When she heard this, she rejoiced with an exceeding joy; then, dismissing her women, she brought me to a most goodly place, where they had spread us a bed of various colours. She did off her clothes and I had a lover's privacy of her and found her an unpierced pearl and a filly no man had ridden. So I rejoiced in her and repeated the following verses:Stay with us, Night, I prithee! I want no morning white; The face of my beloved sufficeth me for light.
Never in my life knew I a more delightful night than this, and I abode with her a whole month, forsaking shop and home and family, till one day she said to me, "O light of my eyes, O my lord Mohammed, I have a mind to go to the bath to-day; so sit thou on this couch and budge not from thy place, till I return to thee." "I hear and obey," answered I, and she made me swear to this; after which she took her women and went off to the bath. But, by Allah, O my brothers, she had not reached the end of the street, when the door opened and in came an old woman, who said to me, "O my lord Mohammed, the lady Zubeideh bids thee to her, for she hath heard of thine elegance and accomplishments and skill in singing." "By Allah," answered I, "I will not rise from my place, till the lady Dunya come back." "O my lord," rejoined the old woman, "do not anger the lady Zubeideh with thee and make an enemy of her. Come, speak with her and return to thy place." So I rose and followed her into the presence of the princess, who said to me, "O light of the eye, art thou the lady Dunya's beloved?" "At thy service," answered I. Quoth she, "He spoke sooth who reported thee possessed of grace and beauty and good breeding and all good qualities; indeed, thou surpassest report; but now sing to me, that I may hear thee." "I hear and obey," answered I. So she brought me a lute, and I sang the following verses:The heart of the lover is weary with loving and striving in vain, And even as a spoil is his body in the hands of sickness and pain.
When I had finished, she said to me, "God assain thy body and sweeten thy voice! Verily, thou art perfect in beauty and good breeding and singing. But now rise and return to thy place, ere the lady Dunya come back, lest she find thee not and he wroth with thee." So I kissed the earth before her and the old woman forewent me to the door whence I came. I entered and going up to the couch, found that my wife had come back and was lying asleep there. So I sat down at her feet and rubbed them; whereupon she opened her eyes and seeing me, drew up her feet and gave me a kick that threw me off the couch, saying, "O traitor, thou hast been false to thine oath and hast perjured thyself. Thou sworest to me that thou wouldst not stir from thy place; yet didst thou break thy promise and go to the lady Zubeideh. By Allah, but that I fear scandal, I would pull down the palace over her head!" Then said she to her black slave, "Harkye, Sewab, arise and strike off this lying traitor's head, for we have no further need of him." So the slave came up to me and tearing a strip from his skirt, bound my eyes with it and would have cut off my head; but all her women, great and small, came up to her and said to her, "O our lady, this is not the first who hath erred: indeed, he knew not thy humour and hath done nothing deserving of death." "By Allah," replied she, "I must needs set my mark on him." And she bade beat me; so they beat me on my sides, and the marks ye saw are the scars of that beating. Then she bade them put me out, and they carried me to a distance from the house and cast me down. I rose and dragged myself little by little to my own house, where I sent for a surgeon, who dressed my wounds and comforted me. As soon as I was recovered and my pains and sickness had left me, I went to the bath and thence betaking myself to my shop, sold all that was therein. With the proceeds, I bought four hundred white slaves, such as no king ever got together, and caused two hundred of them ride out with me every day. Then I made me yonder barge, on which I spent five thousand dinars, and styled myself Khalif and appointed each of my servants to the charge and clad him in the habit of some one of the Khalif's officers. Moreover, I let cry abroad, "Whoso goeth a-pleasuring on the Tigris [by night], I will strike off his head without mercy;" and on this wise have I done this whole year past, during which time I have heard no news of the lady neither happened upon any trace of her.' And he wept copiously and repeated the following verses:By Allah, I will never all my life long forget her, my dear; And those only will I tender, who shall bring her to me to draw near.
When Er Reshid heard the young man's story and knew the passion and transport and love-longing that afflicted him, he was moved to compassion and wonder and said, 'Glory be to God who hath appointed to every thing a cause!' Than they craved the young man's leave to depart; which being granted, they took leave of him, the Khalif purposing to do him justice and entreat him with the utmost munificence, and returned to the palace of the Khalifate, where they changed their clothes for others befitting their station and sat down, whilst Mesrour stood before them. After awhile, the Khalif said to Jaafer, 'O Vizier, bring me the young man with whom we were last night.' 'I hear and obey,' answered Jaafer, and going to the youth, saluted him, saying, 'The Commander of the Faithful calls for thee.' So he returned with him to the palace, in great concern by reason of the summons, and going in to the Khalif, kissed the earth before him. Then said he, 'Peace be on thee, O Commander of the Faithful and Protector of the people of the Faith!' And offered up a prayer for the endurance of his glory and prosperity, for the accomplishment of his desires and the continuance of his bounty and the cessation of evil and punishment, ordering his speech as best he might and ending by repeating the following verses:Still may thy threshold as a place of adoration (149) Be sought and on men's brows its dust bespeak prostration,
The Khalif smiled in his face and returned his salute, looking on him with the eye of favour. Then he bade him draw near and sit down before him and said to him, 'O Mohammed Ali, I wish thee to tell me what befell thee last night, for it was rare and passing strange.' 'Pardon, O Commander of the Faithful!' replied the youth. 'Give me the handkerchief of immunity, that my trouble may be appeased and my heart set at rest.' Quoth the Khalif, 'Thou art safe from fear and trouble.' So the young man told him his story from first to last, whereby the Khalif knew him to be a lover and severed from his beloved and said to him, 'Wilt thou that I restore her to thee?' 'This were of the bounty of the Commander of the Faithful,' answered the youth and repeated the following verses:Kiss thou his finger-tips, for no mere fingers they, But keys to all the goods by God to men assigned;
Thereupon the Khalif turned to Jaafer and said to him, 'Bring me thy sister the lady Dunya.' 'I hear and obey,' answered he and fetched her forthright. When she stood before the Khalif, he said to her, 'Dost thou know who this is?' 'O Commander of the Faithful,' answered she, 'how should women have knowledge of men?' The Khalif smiled and said, 'O Dunya, this is thy beloved, Mohammed ben Ali the jeweller. We are acquainted with his case, for we have heard the whole story, from beginning to end, and apprehended its inward and its outward; and it is no more hidden, for all it was kept secret.' 'O Commander of the Faithful,' rejoined she, 'this was written in the book of destiny. I crave the forgiveness of the Most High God for that which I have done and beseech thee to pardon me of thy favour.' At this the Khalif laughed and summoning the Cadi and the witnesses, renewed the marriage- contract between Dunya and her husband, whereby there betided them the utmost of felicity and those who envied them were mortified. Moreover, he made Mohammed Ali one of his boon-companions, and they abode in joy and cheer and gladness, till there came to them the Destroyer of Delights and the Sunderer of Companies.