THE LOVES OF ABOU ISA AND CURRET EL AIN

(Quoth Amr ben Mesaadeh (163)), Abou Isa, son or Er Reshid and brother to El Mamoun, was enamoured of a girl called Curret el Ain, belonging to Ali ben Hisham, (164) and she also loved him; but he concealed his passion, complaining of it to none neither discovering his secret to any, of his pride and magnanimity; and he had used his utmost endeavour to buy her of her lord, but in vain. At last, when his patience failed him and his passion was sore on him and he was at his wits' end concerning her affair, he went in, one day of state, to El Mamoun, after the folk had retired, and said to him, "O Commander of the Faithful, if thou wilt this day make trial of thy governors, (165) by visiting them unawares, thou wilt the men of worth from those that lack of it and note each one's [due] place, after the measure of his faculties." (But he purposed, in saying this, to win to sit with Curret el Ain in her lord's house.) El Mamoun approved his proposal and bade make ready a barge, called the Flyer, in which he embarked, with his brother and a party of his chief officers. The first house he visited was that of Hemid et Tawil of Tous, whom he found seated on a mat and before him singers and players, with lutes and hautboys and other instruments of music in their hands. El Mamoun sat with him awhile, and presently he set before him dishes of nothing but flesh-meat, with no birds among them. The Khalif would not taste thereof and Abou Isa said to him, "O Commander of the Faithful, we have taken the owner of this place unawares, and he knew not of thy coming; but now let us go to another place, that is prepared and fitted for thee."

So the Khalif arose and betook himself, with his brother and his suite, to the abode of Ali ben Hisham, who, on hearing of their approach, came out and received them after the goodliest fashion, and kissed the earth before El Mamoun. Then he brought them into his palace and opened to them a saloon, than which never saw eyes a goodlier. Its floors and walls and columns were of vari- coloured marble, adorned with Greek paintings: it was spread with Indian matting, on which were carpets and divans of Bassora make, fitted to the length and breadth of the room. The Khalif sat awhile, examining the house and its roof and walls, then said, "Give us to eat." So they brought him forthwith nigh upon a hundred dishes of fowls, besides other birds and brewises and fricassees and marinades. When he had eaten, he said, "Give us to drink, O Ali;" and the latter set before him raisin-wine, boiled with fruits and spices, in vessels of gold and silver and crystal, served by boys like moons, clad in garments of Alexandrian cloth of gold and bearing on their breasts flagons of crystal, full of rose-water mingled with musk. El Mamoun marvelled exceedingly at all this and said, "Harkye, Aboulhusn!" (166) Whereupon Ali sprang to the carpet [on which the Khalif was seated] and kissing it, said, "At thy service, O Commander of the Faithful!" and stood before him. Quoth El Mamoun, "Let us hear some pleasant songs." "I hear and obey, O Commander of the Faithful," replied Ali and said to one of his servants, "Fetch the singing-women."

So he went out and returned in a moment, followed by ten eunuchs, bearing ten golden stools, which they set down; and these in their turn were followed by ten damsels, as they were shining full moons or flowerful gardens, clad in black brocade, with crowns of gold on their heads. They sat down on the stools and sang various songs. Then El Mamoun looked at one of them and captivated by her elegance and the beauty of her aspect, said to her, "What is thy name, O damsel?" "My name is Sejahi, O Commander of the Faithful," answered she; and he said, "Sing to us, O Sejahi!" So she took the lute and playing a lively measure, sang the following verses:

      Right stealthily, for fearfulness, I fare, the weakling's gait, Who sees unto the watering-place two lion-whelps draw near,
      With cloak, instead of sword, begirt and bosom love-distraught And heart for eyes of enemies and spies fulfilled of fear,
      Till in to one at last I come, a loveling delicate, Like to a desert antelope, that's lost its younglings dear.

"Well done, O damsel!" said the Khalif. "Whose is this song?" "The words are by Amr ben Madi Kerib er Zubeidi," (167) answered she, "and the air is Mabid's." (168) Then the Khalif and Ali and Abou Isa drank and the damsels went away and were succeeded by other ten, clad in flowered silk of Yemen, brocaded with gold, who sat down on the chairs and sang various songs. The Khalif looked at one of them, who was like a wild cow of the desert, and said to her, "What is thy name, O damsel?" "My name is Zebiyeh, O Commander of the Faithful," answered she. "Sing to us, O Zebiyeh," said he; so she warbled some roulades and sang the following verses:

      Houris, noble ladies, that reck not of disquiet, Like antelopes of Mecca, forbidden to be slain;
      Of their soft speech, they're taken for courtezans; but Islam Still makes them from unseemliness and lewdness to refrain.

When she had finished, "Bravo!" cried the Khalif. "Whose is this song?" "The words are by Jerir," (169) answered she, "and the air by Suraij." Then the Khalif and his company drank, whilst the girls went away and there came yet another ten, as they were rubies, bareheaded and clad in red brocade, gold inwoven and broidered with pearls and jewels, who sat down on the stools and sang various airs. The Khalif looked at one of them, who was like the sun of the day, and said to her, "What is thy name?" "O Commander of the Faithful," answered she, "my name is Fatin." "Sing to us, O Fatin," quoth he. So she played a lively measure and sang the following verses:

      Vouchsafe me of thy grace; 'tis time to yield consent: Enough have I endured of absence and lament.
      Thou'rt he whose face unites all charms, on whose account My patience have I lost, for very languishment.
      I've spent my life for love of thee; ah, would to God I might receive return for that which I have spent!

"Bravo, O Fatin!" exclaimed the Khalif, when she had finished. "Whose song is that?" "The words are by Adi ben Zeid," answered she, "and the tune is an old one." Then they drank, whilst the damsels retired and were succeeded by other ten, as they were sparkling stars, clad in flowered silk, embroidered with gold, and girt with jewelled zones. They sat down and sang various airs; and the Khalif said to one of them, who was like a willow-wand, "What is thy name, O damsel!" "My name is Reshaa, O Commander of the Faithful," answered she. "Sing to us, O Reshaa," said he. So she played a lively measure and sang the following verses:

      There's a houri healing passion [with her kiss], Like a sapling or a wild gazelle at gaze.
      Wine I quaff unto the vision of her cheeks (170) And dispute the goblet with her, till she sways.
      Then she lies and sleeps the night long in my arms, And I say, "This is the wish of all my days."

"Well done, O damsel!" said the Khalif. "More." So she rose and kissing the ground before him, sang the following verse:

      She came out to gaze on the bridal at leisure, In a tunic with ambergris smeared, worth a treasure.

The Khalif was much pleased with this verse, which when Reshaa saw, she repeated it several times. Then said El Mamoun, "Bring up the barge," being minded to embark and depart: but Ali said to him, "O Commander of the Faithful, I have a slave-girl, whom I bought for ten thousand dinars; she hath taken my whole heart, and I would fain show her to the Commander of the Faithful. If she please him and he will accept of her, she is his: and if not, let him hear something from her." "Bring her to me," said the Khalif; and there came forth a damsel, as she were a willow-wand, with heart-seducing eyes and eyebrows like a double bow. On her head she wore a crown of red gold, set with pearls and jewels, under which was a fillet, wrought in letters of chrysolite with the following words:

      Behold, a Jinniyeh this is; and Jinn hath she also, I trow, Who teach her men's hearts to transfix, by means of a stringless bow.

She walked, with a gait like that of a fleeing gazelle, till she came to a chair, on which she seated herself. The Khalif marvelled at her beauty and grace; but when Abou Isa saw her, his colour changed and he was in ill case. "O Abou Isa," said the Khalif, "what ails thee, to change colour thus?" "O Commander of the Faithful," answered he, "it is because of pain that seizes me bytimes." "Hast thou known yonder damsel before to-day?" asked El Mamoun. "Yes, O Commander of the Faithful," answered he. "Can the moon be hidden?" Then said El Mamoun to her, "What is thy name, O damsel?" "My name is Curret el Ain, O Commander of the Faithful," replied she; and he said, "Sing to us, O Curret el Ain." So she sang the following verses:

      The loved ones passed from thee in middle midnight's shade And fared forth in the dawn, with the pilgrims' cavalcade.
      The tents of pride they pitched round their pavilions And veiled themselves about with hangings of brocade.

Quoth the Khalif, "Bravo, O Curret el Ain! Whose song is that?" "The words are by Dibil el Khuzai," answered she, "and the air by Zourzour es Seghir." Abou Isa looked at her and his tears choked him; so that the company marvelled at him. Then she turned to El Mamoun and said to him, "O Commander of the Faithful, wilt thou give me leave to change the words?" "Sing what thou wilt," answered the Khalif. So she played a lively measure and sang the following verses:

      If thou please me and he please thee in public, look thou hide And keep in secret straiter watch o'er love, lest ill betide.
      And disregard and put away the tales of slanderers; For seldom seeks the sland'rer aught but lovers to divide.
      They say that when a lover's near, he wearies of his love And that by absence passion's cured. 'Tis false; for I have tried
      Both remedies, but am not cured of that which is with me, Withal that nearness easier is than distance to abide.
      Yet nearness of abode, forsooth, may nowise profit thee, An If the grace of him thou lov'st be unto thee denied.

When she finished, Abou Isa said, "O Commander of the Faithful, we will be at peace, though we be dishonoured. Dost thou give me leave to reply to her?" "Yes," answered the Khalif. "Say what thou wilt to her." So he swallowed his tears and sang these verses:

      I held my peace nor said, "I am in love;" and eke The passion that I felt even from my heart hid I:
      And natheless, if my eyes do manifest my love, It is because they are the shining moon anigh.

Then Curret el Ain took the lute and rejoined with the following:

      If what thou dost pretend were very truth, Thou woulst not with mere wishing rest content,
      Nor couldst endure to live without a girl, In charms and beauty wonder excellent.
      But there is nought in that thou dost avouch, Save only idle talk and compliment.

When Abou Isa heard this, he fell a-weeping and lamenting and discovered the trouble and anguish of his soul. Then he raised his eyes to her and sighing, repeated the following:

      Under my wede there is a wasted body And in my soul an all-absorbing thought.
      I have a heart, whose suffering is eternal, and eyes with tears like torrents ever fraught.
      When a wise man meets me, he rebukes me, Chiding the love that thou in me hath wrought.
      Lord, I've no strength all this my dole to suffer; Prithee, come Death or quick relief be brought!

When he had ended, Ali ben Hisham sprang up and kissing his feet, said, "O my lord, God hath heard thy prayer and answered thy supplication, and consenteth to thy taking her with all her gear, so the Commander of the Faithful have no mind to her." "Had we a mind to her," answered the Khalif, "we would prefer Abou Isa before ourselves and help him to his desire." So saying, he rose and embarking, went away, whilst Abou Isa tarried for Curret al Ain, whom he took and carried to his own house, with a breast dilated for gladness. See then the generosity of Ali ben Hisham.




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