THE LOVERS OF THE BENOU UDHREH.

(Quoth Mesrour the Eunuch), The Khalif Haroun er Reshid was very wakeful one night and said to me, 'See which of the poets is at the door to-night.' So I went out and finding Jemil ben Maamer el Udhri (58) in the ante-chamber, said to him, 'The Commander of the Faithful calls for thee.' Quoth he, 'I hear and obey,' and going in with me, saluted the Khalif, who returned his greeting and bade him sit down. Then he said to him, 'O Jemil, hast thou any new stories to tell us?' 'Yes, O Commander of the Faithful,' answered he. 'Whether wouldst thou liefer hear, that which I have seen with mine eyes or that which I have [but] heard tell?' 'Tell me something thou hast actually seen,' said the Khalif. Quoth Jemil, 'It is well, O Commander of the Faithful; incline thy heart to me and lend me thine ears.' The Khalif took a cushion of red brocade, embroidered with gold and stuffed with ostrich-feathers, and laying it under his thighs, propped up his elbows thereon; then he said to Jemil, 'Now for thy tale, O Jemil!'

'Know, O Commander of the Faithful,' answered he, 'that I was once desperately enamoured of a certain girl and used to pay her frequent visits, for that she was my desire and delight of all the things of this world. After awhile, her people removed with her, by reason of scarcity of pasture, and I abode some time without seeing her, till I grew restless for desire and longed for her sight and my soul urged me to journey to her. One night, I could hold out no longer; so I rose and saddling my she-camel, bound on my turban and donned my oldest clothes. Then I girt myself with my sword and slinging my spear behind me, mounted and rode forth in quest of her. I fared on diligently till, one night, it was pitch dark and exceeding black and I heard on all sides the roaring of lions and howling of wolves and the cries of the wild beasts; whereat my reason was troubled and my heart sank within me; but for all that I ceased not to press on, descending into valleys and climbing mountains, whilst my tongue ceased not to call on the name of God the Most High.

As I went along thus, sleep overtook me and the camel carried me aside out of my road, till, presently, something (59) smote me on the head, and I woke, startled and alarmed, and found myself in a meadow, (60) full of interlacing trees and streams and birds on the branches, warbling their various notes. So I alighted and taking my camel's halter in my hand, fared on softly with her, till I won clear of the trees and came out into the open country, where I adjusted her saddle and mounted again, knowing not where to go nor whither the fates should lead me; but, presently, peering into the desert, I espied a fire afar off. So I smote my camel and made toward the fire. When I drew near, I saw a tent pitched and thereby a spear stuck in the ground, with a pennon flying and horses tethered and camels feeding, and said in myself, "Doubtless there hangs some grave matter by this tent, for I see none other than it in the desert." So I went up to it and said, "Peace be upon you, O people of the tent, and the mercy of God and His blessings!" Whereupon there came forth to me a young man, nineteen years old, who was as the shining full moon, with valour written between his eyes, and answered, saying, "And on thee be peace, O brother of the Arabs, and God's mercy and blessing! Methinks thou hast lost thy way?" "Even so," replied I. "Direct me aright, God have mercy on thee!" "O brother of the Arabs," rejoined he, "of a truth this our land is infested with lions and the night is exceeding dark and cold and dreary, and I fear lest the wild beasts tear thee in pieces; wherefore do thou alight and abide with me this night in ease and comfort, and to-morrow I will put thee in the right way."

Accordingly, I alighted and hobbled my camel with the end of her halter; then I put off my heavy upper clothes and sat down. Presently the young man took a sheep and slaughtered it and kindled a brisk fire; after which he went into the tent and bringing out fine salt and powdered spices, fell to cutting off pieces of the flesh of the sheep and roasting them over the fire and feeding me therewith, weeping one while and sighing another. Then he groaned heavily and wept sore and recited the following verses:

      Nothing is left him but a fluttering spright, Ay, and an eye bereavéd of its light;
      Nor in his members is a single joint But sickness there is constant day and night.
      His tears flow ever and his heart burns aye; Yet for all this still silent is the wight.
      His foes weep, pitying him; alas for those Who pity in th' exultant foe excite!

By this I knew that the youth was a distracted lover, -- for none knoweth passion save he who hath tasted the savour thereof, -- and said to myself, "Shall I ask him?" But I bethought me and said, "How shall I intrude on him with questioning, and I in his abode?" So I restrained myself and ate my sufficiency of the meat. When we had made an end of eating, the young man arose and entering the tent, brought out an elegant basin and ewer and a silken napkin, fringed with broidery of red gold, and a casting-bottle full of rose-water, mingled with musk. I marvelled at his elegance and the daintiness of his fashion and said in myself, "Never knew I of elegance in the desert." Then we washed our hands and talked awhile, after which he went into the tent and making a partition between himself and me with a piece of red brocade, said to me, "Enter, O chief of the Arabs, and take thy rest; for thou hast suffered toil and travel galore this night and in this thy journey." So I entered and finding a bed of green brocade, pulled off my clothes and passed a night such as I had never passed in my life.

I lay, pondering the young man's case, till it was dark night and all eyes slept, when I was aroused by the sound of a low voice, never heard I a softer or sweeter. I raised the curtain and saw, by the young man's side, a damsel, never beheld I a fairer of face, and they were both weeping and complaining, one to the other, of the pangs of passion and desire and of the excess of their longing for each other's sight. "By Allah," quoth I, "I wonder who this can be! When I entered this tent, there was none therein but this young man. Doubtless this damsel is of the daughters of the Jinn and is enamoured of this youth; so they have secluded themselves with one another in this place." Then I considered her attentively and behold, she was a mortal and an Arab girl, whose face, when she unveiled it, put to shame the shining sun, and the tent was illumined by the light of her countenance. When I was assured that she was his mistress, I bethought me of a lover's jealousy; so I let fall the curtain and covering my face, fell asleep. As soon as it was day, I arose and donning my clothes, made the ablution and prayed such prayers as were due from me. Then I said to my host, "O brother of the Arabs, wilt thou add to thy favours by directing me into the right road?" "At thy leisure, O chief of the Arabs," answered he. "The time of a guest's stay is three days, and I am not one to let thee go before that time."

So I abode with him three days, and on the fourth day, as we sat talking, I asked him of his name and lineage. Quoth he, "As for my lineage, I am of the Benou Udhreh; my name is such an one, son of such an one and my father's brother is called such an one." And behold, O Commander of the Faithful, he was the son of my father's brother and of the noblest house of the Benou Udhreh. "O my cousin," said I, "what moved thee to leave thy fair estate and that of thy fathers and thy slaves and handmaids and seclude thyself alone in this desert?" When he heard my words, his eyes filled with tears and he replied, saying, "Know, O my cousin, that I was passionately enamoured of the daughter of my father's brother and distracted for love of her; so I sought her in marriage of her father, but he refused and married her to a man of the Benou Udhreh, who went in to her and carried her to his abiding-place this last year. When she became thus removed from me and I was prevented from looking on her, the pangs of passion and excess of love-longing and desire drove me to forsake my people and friends and fortune and take up my abode in this desert, where I have grown used to my solitude." "Where are their dwellings?" asked I. And he said, "They are hard by, on the top of yonder hill; and every night, at the dead time when all eyes sleep, she steals secretly out of the camp, unseen of any, and I satisfy my desire of her converse and she of mine." So I abide thus, comforting [or solacing] myself with her [company] a part of the night, till God accomplish that which is to be; either I shall compass my desire, in spite of the envious, or God will determine for me, and He is the best of those that determine."

When I knew his case, O Commander of the Faithful, I was concerned for him and perplexed by reason of [my] jealousy [for his welfare]; so I said to him, "O my cousin, wilt thou that I counsel thee a plan, wherein, if it please God, thou shalt find a source of amendment and the way of advisement and success and whereby God shall do away from thee that thou dreadest?" "Say on, O my cousin," answered he. Quoth I, "When it is night and the girl cometh, set her on my camel; for she is swift of going, and mount thou thy courser, whilst I mount one of these she-camels. So will we fare on with her all night and by the morrow, we shall have traversed deserts and plains, and thou wilt have attained thy desire and won the beloved of thy heart. God's earth is wide, and by Allah, I will succour thee with heart and wealth and sword, as long as I live!" "O cousin," answered he, "wait till I take counsel with her, for she is prudent and quick-witted and hath insight into affairs."

When the night darkened and the hour of her coming arrived, and he awaiting her at the appointed season, she delayed beyond her usual time, and I saw him go forth the door of the tent and opening his mouth, inhale the wafts of air that came from her quarter, as if to snuff her odour, and he repeated the following verses:

      Wind of the East, thou waftest a gentle air to me, From out the loved one's country, the place where sojourns she.
      O wind, thou bear'st a token from her I hold so dear: Canst thou not give me tidings when will her coming be?

Then he entered the tent and sat awhile, weeping; after which he said to me, "O my cousin, some mischance must have betided the daughter of my uncle, to hinder her from coming to me this night. But abide where thou art, till I bring thee news." And he took his sword and buckler and was absent awhile of the night, after which he returned, carrying something, and called to me. So I hastened to him and he said, "O my cousin, knowst thou what hath happened?" "No, by Allah!" answered I. Quoth he, "Verily, I am smitten with mourning for my cousin this night; for she was coming to me, as of wont, when a lion met her in the way and rent her, and there remaineth of her but what thou seest." So saying, he threw down what he had in his hand, and behold, it was the damsel's turban and what was left of her bones. Then he wept sore and casting down his shield, took a bag and went forth again, saying, "Stir not hence, till I return to thee, if it please God the Most High."

He was absent awhile and presently returned, bearing in his hand a lion's head, which he threw on the ground and called for water. So I brought him water, with which he washed the lion's mouth and fell to kissing it and weeping: and he mourned for her passing sore and recited the following verses:

      O lion, that thyself indeed didst on perdition throw, Perished hast thou and for her loss hast filled my heart with woe.
      Thou hast bereaved me of my love and eke the cold earth's womb Hast made her dwelling till the day that calls up high and low.
      To Fate, that with the loss of her afflicteth me, quoth I, "Now God forbid that one to take her place to me thou show!"

Then said he to me, "O cousin, I conjure thee by Allah and the rights of kindred and sympathy betwixt us, keep my charge. Thou wilt presently see me dead before thee, whereupon do thou wash me and shroud me and these that remain of my cousin's bones in this mantle and bury us both in one grave and write thereon these verses:

      Upon the earth a fire we lived of solace and delight; In land and house foregathered we full many a day and night.
      But fortune and the shifts of time did rend our loves apart And now within its bosom strait the shroud doth us unite.

Then he wept sore and entering the tent, was absent awhile, after which he came forth, groaning and crying out. Then he gave one sob and departed this world. When I saw that he was indeed dead, it was grievous to me and so sore was my sorrow for him that I had well nigh followed him for excess of lamentation over him. Then I laid him out and did as he had enjoined me, shrouding the damsel's remains with him in one garment and burying them in one grave. I abode by their grave three days, after which I departed and continued to pay frequent visits to the place for two years. This then is their story, O Commander of the Faithful.'

The Khalif was pleased with Jemil's story and rewarded him with a dress of honour and a handsome present.




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