ISAAC OF MOSUL AND THE MERCHANT

(Quoth Ishac ben Ibrahim el Mausili), One day, being weary of assiduous attendance upon the Khalif, I mounted my horse and went forth, at break of day, having a mind to ride out and take my pleasure in the open country, and I said to my servant, "If there come a messenger from the Khalif or another, say that I set out at daybreak, upon a pressing business, and that thou knowest not whither I am gone." So I rode forth alone and went round about the city, till the sun grew hot, when I halted in a street, known as El Herem, and stood my horse under the spacious jutting porch of one of the houses there, to shelter me from the glare of the sun.

I had not stood long, before there came up a black slave, leading an ass with jewelled housings, on which sat a damsel, clad in the richest of clothes, richness can go no farther; and I saw that she was elegantly made, with languorous looks and graceful carriage. I asked one of the passers-by who she was, and he said, "She is a singer." And I fell in love with her at sight, so that I could scarce keep my seat on my horse's back. She entered the house at whose gate I stood; and as I cast about for a device to gain access to her, there came up two comely young men, who sought admission, and the master of the house gave them leave to enter. So they alighted and entered, and I with them, they supposing that the master of the house had invited me; and we sat awhile, till food was brought and we ate. Then they set wine before us, and the damsel came out, with a lute in her hand. She sang and we drank, till I rose to do an occasion. During my absence, the host questioned the two others of me, and they replied that they knew me not; whereupon quoth he, "This fellow is a spunger, but he is well-bred and pleasant; so entreat him fairly." Then I came back and sat down in my place, whilst the damsel sang the following verses to a pleasing air:

      Say thou unto the she-gazelle, who yet is no gazelle, And the wild heifer, languorous-eyed, who yet no heifer is,
      "One, who in dalliance affects the male, no female is, And he who is effeminate of step's no male, ywis."

She sang it excellent well, and the company drank and her song pleased them. Then she sang various songs to rare tunes, and amongst the rest one of mine, to the following words:

      The pleasant girls have gone and left The homesteads empty and bereft
      Of their sweet converse, after cheer, All void and ruined by Time's theft.

She sang this even better than the first; then she sang other rare songs, old and new, and amongst them, another of mine, with the following words:

      To the loved one, who turneth in anger away And vrithdraweth himself far apart from thee, say,
      "The mischief thou wroughtest, thou wroughtest indeed, For all, per-adventure, thou west but in play."

I asked her to repeat the song, that I might correct it for her; whereupon one of the men turned to me and said, "Never saw I a more brazen-faced parasite than thou. Art thou not content with spunging, but thou must meddle, to boot? Verily, in thee is the saying made true, 'A parasite and a meddler.'" I hung down my head for shame and made him no answer, whilst his companion would have restrained him from me; but he would not be restrained. Presently, they rose to pray, but I hung behind a little and taking the lute, tuned it after a particular fashion and stood up to pray with the rest. When we had made an end of prayer, the same man fell again to flouting and reviling me and persisted in his churlishness, whilst I held my peace. Then the damsel took the lute and touching it, knew that it was other than as she had left it and said, "Who hath touched my lute?" Quoth they, "None of us hath touched it." "Nay, by Allah," rejoined she, "some one hath touched it, and he a past master in the craft; for he hath ordered the strings and tuned them after the fashion of one who is right skilled in the art." Quoth I, "It was I tuned it." "Then, God on thee," answered she, "take it and play on it!" So I took it and playing a rare and difficult measure, that came nigh to deaden the live and raise the dead, sang thereto the following verses:

      I had a heart, wherewith of yore I lived: 'Twas seared with fire and all consumed indeed.
      Her love, alack I was not vouchsafed to me; Unto the slave 'twas not of Heaven decreed.
      If what I taste be passion's very food, Then all who love upon its like must feed.

When I had finished, there was not one of the company but sprang from his place and sat down before me, (147) saying "God on thee, O our lord, sing us another song." "With all my heart," said I and playing another measure in masterly fashion, sang thereto the following:

      O thou whose heart, for fortune's blows, is all consumed and sped, Sorrows with whom from every side have taken up their stead,
      Unlawful unto her, my heart who pierces with her shafts, Is that my blood which, breast-bones 'twixt and vitals, (148) she hath shed.
      'Twas plain, upon the parting day, that her resolve, our loves To sunder, unto false suspect must be attributed.
      She pours forth blood she had not shed, if passion had not been. Will none my murderess ensue and wreak me on her head?

When I had made an end of this song, there was not one of them but rose to his feet and threw himself to the ground, for excess of delight. Then I cast the lute from my hand; but they said, "Allah on thee, let us hear another song, so God increase thee of His bounty!" "O folk," replied I, "I will sing you another song and another and another and will tell you who I am. Know that I am Ishac ben Ibrahim el Mausili, and by Allah, I bear myself haughtily to the Khalif, when he seeks me. Ye have today made me hear [abuse from] an unmannerly fellow such as I loathe; and by Allah, I will not speak a word nor sit with you, till ye put yonder quarrelsome churl out from among you!" Quoth the latter's companion to him, "This is what I feared and warned thee against." So they took him by the hand and put him out; and I took the lute and sang over again the songs of my fashion that the damsel had sung. Then I whispered the host that she had taken my heart and that I had no patience to endure from her. Quoth he, "Thou shalt have her and all that pertains to her of clothes and jewels, on one condition." "What is that?" asked I. "It is," answered he, "that thou abide with me a month." "It is well," rejoined I; "I will do this." So I abode with him a whole month, whilst none knew where I was and the Khalif sought me everywhere, but could come by no news of me; and at the end of this time, the merchant delivered to me the damsel, together with all that pertained to her of things of price and an eunuch to attend her.

I brought her to my lodging, feeling as I were lord of the whole world, for stress of delight in her; then rode forthright to El Mamoun. When he saw me, he said, "Out on thee, O Isaac, where hast thou been all this while?" I acquainted him with the story and he said, "Bring me the man at once." So I told him where he dwelt, and he sent and fetched him and questioned him of the case; whereupon he repeated the story and the Khalif said to him, "Thou art a man of a generous mind, and it is just that thou be upheld in thy generosity." Then he ordered him a hundred thousand dirhems and said to me, "O Isaac, bring me the damsel." So I brought her to him, and she sang and delighted him. He was greatly gladdened by her and ordered her fifty thousand dirhems, saying to me, "I appoint her of service every Thursday, when she must come and sing to me from behind the curtain." So, by Allah, this ride of mine was a source of profit both to me and to others.




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