THE LOVES OF JUBEIR BEN UMEIR AND THE LADY BUDOUR
It is related the Khalif Haroun er Reshid was restless one night and could not sleep; so that he ceased not to toss from side to side for very restlessness, till, growing weary of this, he called Mesrour and said to him, 'O Mesrour, look what may solace me of this my restlessness.' 'O Commander of the Faithful,' answered Mesrour, 'wilt thou walk in the garden of the palace and divert thyself with the sight of its flowers and gaze upon the stars and note the beauty of their ordinance and the moon among them, shining on the water?' 'O Mesrour,' replied the Khalif, 'my heart inclines not to aught of this.' 'O my lord,' continued Mesrour, 'there are in thy palace three hundred concubines, each of whom hath her separate lodging. Do thou bid retire each into her own apartment and then go thou about and divert thyself with gazing on them, without their knowledge.' 'O Mesrour,' answered Haroun, 'the palace is mine and the girls are my property: moreover, my soul inclineth not to aught of this.' 'O my lord,' said Mesrour, 'summon the doctors and sages and poets and bid them contend before thee in argument and recite verses and tell thee tales and anecdotes.' 'My soul inclines not to aught of this,' answered the Khalif; and Mesrour said, 'O my lord, bid the minions and wits and boon-companions attend thee and divert thee with witty sallies.' 'O Mesrour,' replied the Khalif, 'indeed my soul inclineth not to aught of this.' 'Then, O my lord,' rejoined Mesrour, 'strike off my head; maybe, that will dispel thine unease and do away the restlessness that is upon thee.'
At this the Khalif laughed and said, 'See which of the boon-companions is at the door.' So Mesrour went out and returning, said, 'O my lord, he who sits without is Ali ben Mensour of Damascus, the Wag.' 'Bring him to me,' quoth Haroun; and Mesrour went out and returned with Ibn Mensour, who said, on entering, 'Peace be on thee, O Commander of the Faithful!' The Khalif returned his salutation and said to him, 'O Ibn Mensour, tell us one of thy stories.' 'O Commander of the Faithful,' said the other, 'shall I tell thee what I have seen with my eyes or what I have only heard tell?' 'If thou have seen aught worth telling,' replied the Khalif, 'let us hear it; for report is not like eye-witness.' 'O Commander of the Faithful,' said Ibn Mensour, 'lend me thine ear and thy heart.' 'O Ibn Mensour,' answered the Khalif, 'behold, I am listening to thee with mine ears and looking at thee with mine eyes and attending to thee with my heart.'
'Know then, O Commander of the Faithful,' began Ibn Mensour, 'that I receive a yearly allowance from Mohammed ben Suleiman el Hashimi, Sultan (27) of Bassora; so I went to him, once upon a time, as usual, and found him about to ride out a-hunting. I saluted him, and he returned my salute and would have me mount and go a-hunting with him; but I said, "O my lord, I cannot ride; so do thou stablish me in the guest-house and give thy chamberlains and officers charge over me." And he did so and departed for the chase. His officers entreated me with the utmost honour and hospitality; but I said in myself, "By Allah, it is a strange thing that I should have used so long to come from Baghdad to Bassora, yet know no more of the town than from the palace to the garden and back again! When shall I find an occasion like this to view the different parts of Bassora? I will rise at once and walk forth alone and divert myself and digest what I have eaten."
So I donned my richest clothes and went out a-walking in Bassora. Now it is known to thee, O Commander of the Faithful, that it hath seventy streets, each seventy parasangs long of Irak measure; and I lost myself in its by-streets and thirst overcame me. Presently, as I went along, I came to a great door, on which were two rings of brass, with curtains of red brocade drawn before it. Over the door was a trellis, covered with a creeping vine, that hung down and shaded the doorway; and on either side the porch was a stone bench. I stood still, to gaze upon the place, and presently heard a sorrowful voice, proceeding from a mourning heart, warbling melodiously and chanting the following verses:My body is become th' abode of sickness and dismay, By reason of a fawn, whose land and stead are far away.
Quoth I to myself, "Verily, if the owner of this voice be fair, she unites beauty of person and eloquence and sweetness of voice." Then I drew near the door, and raising the curtain little by little, beheld a damsel, white as the moon, when it rises on its fourteenth night, with joined eyebrows and languorous eyelids, breasts like twin pomegranates and dainty lips like twin corn-marigolds, (28) mouth as it were Solomon's seal and teeth that sported with the reason of rhymester and proser, even as saith the poet:O mouth of the beloved, who set thy pearls arow And eke with wine fulfilled thee and camomiles like show,
And as saith another:O pearls of the teeth of my love, Have ruth on cornelian and spare To vie with it! Shall it not find You peerless and passing compare?
In fine, she comprised all manner of loveliness and was a ravishment to men and women, nor could the beholder satisfy himself with the sight of her beauty; for she was as the poet hath said of her:If, face to face, she do appear, unveiled, she slays; and if She turn her back, she makes all men her lovers far and near.
As I looked at her through the opening of the curtains, she turned and seeing me standing at the door, said to her maid, "See who stands at the door." So the maid came up to me and said, "O old man, hast thou no shame, or do gray hairs and impudence go together?" "O my mistress," answered I, "I confess to the gray hairs, but as for unmannerliness, I think not to be guilty of it." "And what can be more unmannerly," rejoined her mistress, "than to intrude thyself upon a house other than thy house and gaze on a harem other than thy harem?" "O my lady," said I, "I have an excuse." "And what is thine excuse?" asked she. Quoth I, "I am a stranger and well-nigh dead of thirst." "We accept thine excuse," answered she and calling one of her maids, said to her, "O Lutf, give him to drink in the golden tankard."
So she brought me a tankard of red gold, set with pearls and jewels, full of water mingled with odoriferous musk and covered with a napkin of green silk; and I addressed myself to drink and was long about it, casting stolen glances at her the while, till I could prolong it no longer. Then I returned the tankard to the maid, but did not offer to go; and she said to me, "O old man, go thy way." "O my lady," replied I, "I am troubled in mind." "For what?" asked she; and I answered, "For the uncertainty of fortune and the vicissitudes of events." "Well mayst thou be troubled thereanent," replied she, "for Time (29) is the mother of wonders. But what hast thou seen of them that thou shouldst muse upon?" Quoth I, "I was thinking of the former owner of this house, for he was my good friend in his lifetime." "What was his name?" asked she. "Mohammed ben Ali the Jeweller," answered I; "and he was a man of great wealth. Did he leave any children?" "Yes," said she; "he left a daughter, Budour by name, who inherited all his wealth." Quoth I, "Meseems thou art his daughter?" "Yes," answered she, laughing; then added, "O old man, thou hast talked long enough; go thy ways." "Needs must I go," replied I; "but I see thou art out of health. Tell me thy case; it may be God will give thee solace at my hands." "O old man," rejoined she, "if thou be a man of discretion, I will discover to thee my secret; but first tell me who thou art, that I may know whether thou art worthy of confidence or not; for the poet saith:None keepeth secrets but the man who's trusty and discreet: A secret's ever safely placed with honest fold and leal;
"O my lady," answered I, "an thou wouldst know who I am, I am Ali ben Mensour of Damascus, the Wag, boon-companion to the Khalif Haroun er Reshid." When she heard my name she came down from her seat and saluting me, said, "Welcome, O Ibn Mensour! Now will I tell thee my case and entrust thee with my secret. Know that I am a lover separated from her beloved." "O my lady," rejoined I, "thou art fair and shouldst love none but the fair. Whom then dost thou love?" Quoth she, "I love Jubeir ben Umeir es Sheibani, Prince of the Benou Sheiban;" (30) and she described to me a young man than whom there was none handsomer in Bassora. "O my lady," asked I, "have letters or interviews passed between you?" "Yes," answered she; "but his love for me was of the tongue, not of the heart; for he kept not his covenant nor was faithful to his troth." "And what was the cause of your separation?" asked I.
"I was sitting one day," replied she, "whilst my maid here combed my hair. When she had made an end of combing it, she plaited my tresses, and my beauty and grace pleased her; so she bent down to me and kissed my cheek. At that moment, he came in, unawares, and seeing her kiss my cheek, turned away in anger, vowing eternal separation and repeating the following verses:If any share with me in her I love, incontinent, I'll cast her off from me and be to live alone content.
And from that time to this, O Ibn Mensour," continued she, "he hath neither written to me nor answered my letters." "And what thinkest thou to do?" asked I. Quoth she, "I have a mind to send him a letter by thee. If thou bring me back an answer, thou shalt have of me five hundred dinars; and if not, then a hundred for thy pains." "Do what seemeth good to thee," answered I. So she called for inkhorn and paper and wrote the following verses:Whence this estrangement and despite, beloved of my soul? Whither have kindliness and love between us taken flight?
Then she sealed the letter and gave it to me. I took it and carried it to the house of Jubeir ben Umeir, whom I found absent hunting. So I sat down, to wait for him, and presently he returned; and when I saw him come riding up, my wit was confounded by his beauty ands grace. As soon as he saw me sitting at the door, he dismounted and coming up to me, saluted and embraced me; and meseemed I embraced the world and all that therein is. Then he carried me into his house and seating me on his own couch, called for food. So they brought a table of khelenj (32) wood of Khorassan, with feet of gold, whereon were all manner of meats, fried and roasted and the like. So I seated myself at the table and examining it, found the following verses engraved upon it:Weep for the cranes that erst within the porringers did lie And for the stews and partridges evanished heave a sigh!
Then said Jubeir, "Put thy hand to our food and ease our heart by eating of our victual." "By Allah," answered I, "I will not eat a mouthful, till thou grant me my desire." "What is thy desire?" asked he. So I brought out the letter and gave it to him; but, when he had read it, he tore it into pieces and throwing it on the floor, said to me, "O Ibn Mensour, I will grant thee whatever thou askest, save this that concerns the writer of this letter, for I have no answer to make to her." At this, I rose in anger; but he caught hold of my skirts, saying, "O Ibn Mensour, I will tell thee what she said to thee, for all I was not present with you." "And what did she say to me?" asked I. "Did she not say to thee," rejoined he, 'If thou bring me back an answer, thou shalt have of me five hundred dinars; and if not, a hundred for thy pains?'" "Yes," answered I; and he said, "Abide with me this day and eat and drink and make merry, and thou shalt have five hundred dinars."
So I sat with him and ate and drank and made merry and entertained him with converse; after which I said to him, "O my master, is there no music in thy house?" "Indeed," answered he, "we have drunk this long while without music." Then he called out, saying, "Ho, Shejeret ed Durr!" Whereupon a slave-girl answered him from her chamber and came in to us, with a lute of Indian make, wrapped in a silken bag. She sat down and laying the lute in her lap, preluded in one-and-twenty modes, then, returning to the first, sang the following verses to a lively measure:Who hath not tasted the sweet and the bitter of passion, I trow, The presence of her whom he loves from her absence he hardly shall know.
Hardly had she made an end of these verses, when Jubeir gave a great cry and fell down in a swoon; whereupon, "May God not punish thee, O old man!" exclaimed the damsel. "This long time have we drunk without music, for fear the like of this should befall our master. But go now to yon chamber and sleep there." So I went to the chamber in question and slept till the morning, when a page brought me a purse of five hundred dinars and said to me, "This is what my master promised thee; but return thou not to her who sent thee and let it be as if neither thou nor we had heard of this affair." "I hear and obey," answered I and taking the purse, went my way.
However, I said in myself, "The lady will have expected me since yesterday; and by Allah, I must needs return to her and tell her what passed between me and him; or she will curse me and all who come from my country." So I went to her and found her standing behind the door; and when she saw me, she said, "O Ibn Mensour, thou hast gotten me nought." "Who told thee of this?" asked I; and she answered, "O Ibn Mensour, yet another thing hath been revealed to me; and it is that, when thou gavest hum the letter, he tore it in pieces and throwing it on the floor, said to thee, 'O Ibn Mensour, ask me anything but what relates to the writer of this letter; for I have no reply to make to her.' Then didst thou rise from beside him in anger; but he laid hold of thy skirts, saying, 'Abide with me to-day, for thou art my guest, and eat and drink and make merry; and thou shalt have five hundred dinars.' So thou didst sit with him, eating and drinking and making merry, and entertainedst him with converse; and a slave-girl sand such an air and such verses, whereupon he fell down in a swoon." Quoth I, "Wast thou then with us?" "O Ibn Mensour," replied she, "hast thou not heard the saying of the poet:The heart of the lover hath eyes, well I wot, That see what the eyes of beholders see not.
But," added she, "day and night alternate not upon aught, but they change it." Then she raised her eyes to heaven and said, "O my God and my Master and my Lord, like as Thou hast afflicted me with love of Jubeir ben Umeir, even so do Thou afflict him with love of me and transfer the passion from my heart to his!" Then she gave me a hundred dinars for my pains and I took it and returned to the palace, when I found the Sultan come back from hunting; so I took my pension of him and made my way back to Baghdad.
Next year, I repaired to Bassora, as usual, to seek my pension, and the Sultan paid it to me; but as I was about to return to Baghdad, I bethought me of the lady Budour and said to myself, "By Allah, I must needs go and see what hath befallen between her and her lover!" So I went to her house and finding the porch swept and sprinkled and slaves and servants and pages standing before the door, said to myself, "Most like grief hath broken the lady's heart and she is dead, and some Amir or other hath taken up his abode in her house." So I went on to Jubeir's house, where I found the benches of the porch broken down and no pages at the door, as of wont, and said to myself, "Belike he too is dead." Then I took up my station before the door of his house and with my eyes running over with tears, bemoaned it in the following verses:Lords, that are gone, but whom my heart doth evermore ensue, Return; so shall my festal says return to me with you.
As I was thus bewailing the folk of the house, there came a black slave thereout and said to me, "Hold thy peace, O old man! May thy mother be bereft of thee! What ails thee to bemoan the house thus?" Quoth I, "I knew it of yore, when it belonged to a good friend of mine." "What was his name?" asked the slave. And I answered, "Jubeir ben Umeir the Sheibani." "And what hath befallen him?" rejoined he. "Praised be God, he is yet in the enjoyment of wealth and rank and prosperity, except that God hath stricken him with love of a damsel called the lady Budour; and he is overcome with love of her, that, for the violence of his passion and torment, he is like a great rock overthrown. If he hunger, he saith not, 'Feed me;' nor, if he thirst, doth he say, 'Give me to drink.'" Quoth I, "Ask leave me to go in to him." "O my lord," said the slave, "Wilt thou go in to him who understands or to him who understands not?" "I must needs see him, whatever be his case," answered I.
Se he went in and presently returned with permission for me to enter, whereupon I went in to Jubeir and found him like a rock overthrown, understanding neither sign nor speech. I spoke to him, but he answered me not; and one of his servants said to me, "O my lord, if thou know aught of verse, repeat it, and raise thy voice; and he will be aroused by this and speak with thee." So I recited the following verses:Budour's love hast thou forgotten or art deaf still to her sighs? Wak'st anights, or do thine eyelids close upon thy sleeping eyes?
When he heard this, he opened his eyes and said, "Welcome, O Ibn Mensour! Verily, the jest is become earnest." "O my lord," said I, "is there aught thou wouldst have me do for thee?" "Yes," answered he; "I would fain write her a letter and send it to her by thee. If thou bring me back an answer, thou shalt have of me a thousand dinars; and if not, two hundred for thy pains." "Do what seemeth good to thee," said I. So he called to one of his slave- girls for inkhorn and paper and wrote the following verses:By Allah, O my lady, have ruth on me, I pray! For all my wit by passion is ravished quite away.
Then he sealed the letter and gave it to me. I took it and repairing to Budour's house, raised the curtain of the door, little by little, as of wont, and looking in, saw ten damsels, high-bosomed maids, like moons, and the lady Budour sitting in their midst, as she were the full moon among stars or the sun, when it is clear of clouds; nor was there on her any trace of pain or care. As I looked and marvelled at her case, she turned and seeing me standing at the gate, said to me, "Welcome and fair welcome to thee, O Ibn Mensour! Come in." So I entered and saluting her, gave her the letter. She read it and laughing, said to me, "O Ibn Mensour, the poet lied not when he said:The love of thee I will endure with patient constancy, Till such time as a messenger shall come to me from thee.
O Ibn Mensour," added thee, "I will write thee an answer that he may give thee what he promised thee." "May God requite thee with good!" answered I. So she called for inkhorn and paper and wrote the following verses:How comes it my vows I fulfilled and thou, thou wast false to thy plight? Thou sawst me do justice and truth, and yet thou thyself didst unright.
"By Allah, O my lady," said I, "there needs but the reading of this letter, to kill him!" So I tore it in pieces and said to her, "Write him other than this." "I hear and obey," answered she and wrote the following:Indeed, I am consoled and sleep is pleasant to mine eyes; For I have heard what came of prate of slanderers and spies.
"By Allah, O my lady," said I, "when he reads these verses, his soul will depart his body!" "O Ibn Mensour," quoth she, "is passion indeed come to such a pass with him as thou sayst?" "Had I said more than this," replied I, "it were but the truth: but clemency is of the nature of the noble." When she heard this, her eyes filled with tears and she wrote him a letter, O Commander of the Faithful, there is none in thy court could avail to write the like of it; and therein were these verses:How long shall this despite continue and this pride? My enviers' spite on me thou sure hast satisfied.
Then she sealed it and gave it to me; and I said, "O my lady, this thy letter will heal the sick and ease the thirsting soul." Then I took it and was going away, when she called me back and said to me, "Tell me that I will be his guest this night." At this I rejoiced greatly and carried the letter to Jubeir, whom I found with his eyes fixed on the door, expecting the reply. I gave him the letter and he opened and read it, then gave a great cry and fell down in a swoon. When he came to himself, he said to me, "O Ibn Mensour, did she indeed write this letter with her hand and touch it with her fingers?" "O my lord," answered I, "do folk write with their feet?" And by Allah, O Commander of the Faithful, I had not done speaking, when we heard the chink of her anklets in the vestibule and she entered.
When he saw her, he sprang to his feet, as thou there ailed him nought, and embraced her as the letter Lam embraces Alif, (34) and the malady, that would not depart, ceased from him. Then he sat down, but she abode standing and I said to her, "O my lady, why dost thou not sit?" Quoth she, "I will not sit, O Ibn Mensour, save on a condition that is between us." "And what is that?" asked I. "None may know lovers' secrets," answered she and putting her mouth to Jubeir's ear, whispered to him; whereupon, "I hear and obey," replied he and rising, said somewhat privily to one of his slaves, who went out and returned, in a little, with a Cadi and two witnesses. Then Jubeir rose and taking a bag containing a hundred thousand dinars, said, "O Cadi, marry me to this young lady and write this sum to her dowry." Quoth the Cadi to her, "Say, 'I consent to this.'" "I consent to this," said she, whereupon he drew up the contract of marriage, and she opened the bag and taking out a handful of gold, gave it to the Cadi and the witnesses and handed the rest to Jubeir.
Then the Cadi and the witnesses withdrew, and I sat with them, in mirth and delight, till the most part of the night was past, when I said in myself, "These are lovers and have been this long while separated. I will go now and sleep in some place afar from them and leave them to be private, one with the other." So I rose, but she laid hold of my skirts, saying, "What thinkest thou to do?" "So and so," answered I. But she rejoined, "Sit still, when we would be rid of thee, we will send thee away." So I sat with them till near daybreak, when she said to me, "O Ibn Mensour, go to yonder chamber; for we have furnished it for thee, and it is thy sleeping-place." So I went thither and slept till morning, when a page brought me basin and ewer, and I made the ablution and prayed the morning-prayer. Then I sat down and presently, Jubeir and his mistress came out of the bath in the house, wringing their locks.
I wished them good morning and gave them joy of their safety and reunion, saying to Jubeir, "That which began with constraint hath ended in contentment." "Thou sayst well," replied he; "and indeed thou deservest largesse." And he called his treasurer and bade him fetch three thousand dinars. So he brought a purse containing that sum, and Jubeir gave it to me, saying, "Favour us by accepting this." "I will not take it," answered I, "till thou tell me the manner of the transfer of love from her to thee, after so great an aversion." "I hear and obey," said he. "Know that we have a festival, called the festival of the New Year, when all the people use to take boat and go a-pleasuring on the river. So I went out, with my comrades, and saw a boat, wherein were half a score damsels like moons, and amongst them, the lady Budour, with her lute in her hand. She preluded in eleven modes, then returning to the first, sang the following verses:Fire is not so fierce and so hot as the fires in my heart that glow, And granite itself is less hard than the heart of my lord, I trow.
Quoth I to her, 'Repeat the verses and the air.' But she would not; so I bade the boatmen pelt her with oranges, and they pelted her till we feared her boat would sink. Then she went her way, and this is how the love was transferred from her breast to mine.' So I gave them joy of their reunion and taking the purse, with its contents, returned to Baghdad.
When the Khalif heard Ibn Mensour's story, his heart was lightened and the restlessness and oppression from which he suffered forsook him.