WERDAN THE BUTCHER HIS ADVENTURE WITH THE LADY AND THE BEAR

There lived once in Cairo, in the days of the Khalif El Hakim bi Amrillah, a butcher named Werdan, who dealt in sheep's flesh; and there came to him every forenoon a lady and gave him a diner, whose weight was nigh two and a half Egyptian diners, saying, 'Give me a lamb.' So he took the money and gave her the lamb, which she delivered to a porter she had with her; and he put it in his basket and she went away with him to her own place. This went on for some time, the butcher profiting a dinar by her every day, till at last he began to be curious about her and said to himself, 'This woman buys a diner's worth of meat of me every day, paying ready money, and never misses a day. Verily, this is a strange thing!' So he took an occasion of questioning the porter, in her absence, and said to him, 'Whither goest thou every day with yonder woman?' 'I know not what to make of her,' answered the porter; 'for, every day, after she hath taken the lamb of thee, she buys fresh and dried fruits and wax candles and other necessaries of the table, a dinar's worth, and takes of a certain Nazarene two flagons of wine, for which she pays him another diner. Then she loads me with the whole and I go with her to the Vizier's Gardens, where she blindfolds me, so that I cannot see where I set my feet, and taking me by the hand, leads me I know not whither. Presently, she says, "Set down here;" and when I have done so, she gives me an empty basket she has ready and taking my hand, leads me back to the place, where she bound my eyes, and there does off the bandage and gives me ten dirhems.' 'God be her helper!' quoth Werdan; but he redoubled in curiosity about her case; disquietude increased upon him and he passed the night in exceeding restlessness.

Next morning, [quoth Werdan,] she came to me as of wont and taking the lamb, delivered it to the porter and went away. So I gave my shop in charge to a boy and followed her, unseen of her; nor did I cease to keep her in sight, hiding behind her, till she left Cairo and came to the Vizier's Gardens. Then I hid, whilst she bound the porter's eyes, and followed her again from place to place, till she came to the mountain and stopped at a place where there was a great stone. Here she made the porter set down his crate, and I waited, whilst she carried him back to the Vizier's Gardens, after which she returned and taking out the contents of the basket, disappeared behind the stone. Then I went up to the stone and pulling it away, discovered behind it an open trap-door of brass and a flight of steps leading downward. So I descended, little by little, into a long corridor, brilliantly lighted, and followed it, till I came to a [closed] door, as it were the door of a room. I looked about till I discovered a recess, with steps therein; then climbed up and found a little niche with an opening therein giving upon a saloon.

So I looked in and saw the lady cut off the choicest parts of the lamb and laying them in a saucepan, throw the rest to a huge great bear, who ate it all to the last bit. When she had made an end of cooking, she ate her fill, after which she set on wine and fruits and confections and fell to drinking, using a cup herself and giving the bear to drink in a basin of gold, till she was heated with wine, when she put off her trousers and lay down. Thereupon the bear came up to her and served her, whilst she gave him the best of what belongeth to mankind, till he had made an end, when he sat down and rested. Presently, he sprang to her and served her again; and thus he did, till he had furnished half a score courses, and they both fell down in a swoon and abode without motion.

Then said I to myself, "Now is my opportunity," and taking a knife I had with me, that would cut bones before flesh, went down to them and found them motionless, not a muscle of them moving for their much swink. So I put my knife to the bear's gullet and bore upon it, till I severed his head from his body, and he gave a great snort like thunder, whereat she started up in alarm and seeing the bear slain and me standing with the knife in my hand, gave such a shriek that I thought the soul had left her body. Then said she, "O Werdan, is this how thou requitest me my favours?" "O enemy of thine own soul," replied I, "dost thou lack of men that thou must do this shameful thing?" She made me no answer, but bent down to the bear, and finding his head divided from his body, said to me, "O Werdan, which were the liefer to thee, to hearken to what I shall say to thee and be the means of thine own safety and enrichment to the end of thy days, or gainsay me and so bring about thine own destruction?" "I choose rather to hearken unto thee," answered I. "Say what thou wilt." "Then," said she, "kill me, as thou hast killed this bear, and take thy need of this treasure and go thy way." Quoth I, "I am better than this bear. Return to God the Most High and repent, and I will marry thee. and we will live on this treasure the rest of our lives." "O Werdan," rejoined she, "far be it from me! How shall I live after him? An thou kill me not, by Allah, I will assuredly do away thy life! So leave bandying words with me, or thou art a lost man. This is all I have to say to thee and peace be on thee." Then said I, "I will slay thee, and thou shalt go to the malediction of God." So saying, I caught her by the hair and cut her throat; and she went to the malediction of God and of the angels and of all mankind.

Then I examined the place and found there gold and pearls and jewels, such as no king could bring together. So I filled the porter's crate with as much as I could carry and covered it with the clothes I had on me. Then I shouldered it and going up out of the underground place, set out homeward and fared on, till I came to the gate of Cairo, where I fell in with ten of the Khalif's body-guard,  followed by El Hakim (67) himself, who said to me. "Ho, Werdan!" "At thy service, O King," replied I. "Hast thou killed the woman and the bear?" asked he and I answered, "Yes." Quoth he, "Set down the basket and fear naught, for all the treasure thou hast with thee is thine, and none shall dispute it with thee." So I set down the basket, and he uncovered it and looked at it; then said to me, "Tell me their case, though I know it, as if I had been present with you." So I told him all that had passed and he said, "Thou hast spoken the truth, O Werdan. Come now with me to the treasure."

So I returned with him to the cavern, where he found the trap-door closed and said to me, "O Werdan, lift it; none but thou can open the treasure, for it is enchanted in thy name and favour." "By Allah," answered I, "I cannot open it;" but he said, "Go up to it, trusting in the blessing of God." So I called upon the name of God the Most High and going up to the trap-door, put my hand to it; whereupon it came up, as it had been the lightest of things. Then said the Khalif, "Go down and bring up what is there; for none but one of thy name and favour and quality hath gone down there since the place was made, and the slaying of the bear and the woman was appointed to be at thy hand. This was recorded with me and I was awaiting its fulfilment." Accordingly, I went down and brought up all the treasure, whereupon the Khalif sent for beasts of burden and carried it away, after giving me the porter's crate, with what was therein. So I carried it home and opened me a shop in the market. And [quoth he who tells the tale] this market is still extant and is known as Werdan's Market.




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