THE BEDOUIN AND HIS WIFE.

The Khalif Muawiyeh was sitting one day in his palace at Damascus, in a room the windows whereof were open on all four sides, that the breeze might enter from all quarters. Now it was a day of excessive heat, with no air stirring, and in the middle of the day, when the heat was at its sultriest, the Khalif, chancing to look forth, saw a man coming along, scorched by the heat of the ground and limping, as he fared on barefoot. Muawiyeh considered him awhile and said to his courtiers, 'Hath God [may He be blessed and glorified!] created any more wretched than he who needs must stir abroad at such an hour and in such weather as this?' Quoth one of them, 'Peradventure, he seeketh the Commander of the Faithful.' 'By Allah,' exclaimed the Khalif, 'if he seek me, I will assuredly give to him, and if he be wronged, I will succour him. Ho, boy I Stand at the door, and if yonder Arab seek to come in to me, forbid him not therefrom.'

So the page went out and presently the Arab came up to him and he said, 'What dost thou want?' 'I want the Commander of the Faithful,' answered the other, and the page said, 'Enter.' So he entered and saluted the Khalif, who said to him, 'Who art thou?' 'I am a man of the Benou Temim,' answered the Arab. 'And what brings thee here at this season?' asked Muawiyeh. Quoth the Arab, 'I come to thee, complaining to thee and imploring thy protection.' 'Against whom?' asked the Khalif 'Against Merwan ben el Hekem, (61) thy deputy,' answered the man and recited the following verses:

      Muawiyeh, pitiful, munificent and kind, Thou in whom righteousness and grace and wisdom are combined,
      I come to thee for that my way on earth is strait on me: O help! nor cut thou off my hope, but justice let me find.
      Vouchsafe thou me redress 'gainst him, the tyrant who hath wrought Me such unright as death itself were lighter to my mind.
      Unjustly hath he dealt by me and tyrant-wise bereft Me of my wife, of Suad, dear to me o'er all her kind.
      Yea, he in truth hath gone about to slay me, ere my tale Of days be told or come the term to me of God assigned.

When Muawiyeh heard him recite these verses, with the fire flashing from his mouth, he said to him, 'Thou art welcome, O brother of the Arabs! Tell me thy tale and expound to me thy case.' 'O Commander of the Faithful,' replied the Arab, 'I had a wife, whom I loved passing dear and who was the solace of my eyes and the delight of my heart; and I had a herd of camels, with whose produce I made shift to maintain my condition; but there came upon us a year [of calamity], which killed off hoof and horn and bereft me of all I had. When what was in my hand failed me and I fell into evil case, I became abject and burdensome to those who had used to wish to visit me; which when my wife's father knew, he took her from me and abjured me and drove me forth without pity.

So I repaired to thy deputy, Merwan ben el Hekem, and sought succour of him. He summoned my father-in-law and questioned him, and he denied any knowledge of me. "May God amend the Amir!" said I. "If it please him to send for the woman and question her of her father's saying, the truth will appear." So he sent for her; but no sooner had he set eyes on her than he fell passionately in love with her and becoming my rival, denied me succour and was wroth with me. Moreover, he sent me to prison, and I became as I had fallen from heaven and the wind had cast me down in a far country. Then said Merwan to my father-in-law, "Wilt thou give her to me to wife, at a [present] dowry of a thousand diners and [a contingent one of] ten thousand dirhems, and I will engage to quit her of yonder Arab?" Her father was seduced by the bribe and agreed to the bargain; whereupon Merwan sent for me and looking at me like an angry lion, said to me, "O Arab, put away Suad." "I will not put her away," answered I; but he set on me a company of his servants, who tortured me with all manner tortures, till I found no help for it but to do as he bade. So I divorced her and he sent me back to prison, where I abode till the days of her purification were accomplished, when he married her and set me free. So now I come to thee, hoping in thee, and imploring thy succour and throwing myself on thy protection.' And he recited the following verses:

      A fire is in the heart of me, That flameth still unquenchably.
      My body's sick and leaches all Are baffled by my malady.
      Yea, and live coals, that cast forth sparks, For ever in mine entrails be:
      Mine eyes rain tears without relent That down my cheeks in torrents flee
      Nor have I hope of help except In God my Lord and eke in thee.

Then he was convulsed, and his teeth chattered and he fell down in a fit, writhing like a slain snake. When Muawiyeh heard his story, he said, 'Verily, Merwan ben el Hekem hath transgressed against the laws of the Faith and hath done oppression and violated the harem of a true believer! O Arab, thou comest to me with a story, the like whereof I never heard!' Then he called for inkhorn and paper and wrote to Merwan as follows: 'It hath reached me that thou transgressest the laws of the Faith with regard to thy subjects. Now it behoves him who is a governor to keep his eyes from their lusts and restrain his soul from its delights.' And after he wrote many words, which [quoth he who tells the tale] I omit, for brevity's sake, and amongst them these verses:

      Thou wast invested with a rule whereto thou art unapt: Ask pardon [out on thee!] of God for thine adulterous deed.
      Lo, the unhappy man to us complaining came of thee; Of severance he made his moan and for redress did plead.
      Hark ye, I've ta'en an oath to God, I'll not be false unto, Nay, I will quit me of what's due unto my faith and creed;
      An if thou cross me in this thing I write to thee, I swear, Vultures and eagles presently upon thy flesh shall feed.
      Divorce Suad and by Kumeit and Nesr ben Dhiban Unto my presence all equipped, despatch her with all speed.

Then he folded the letter and sealing it with his seal, delivered it to El Kumeit and Nesr ben Dhiban [whom it was his wont to employ on matters of weight, because of their trustiness] who took the letter and carried it to Medina, where they went in to Merwan and saluting him, delivered to him the letter and told him how the case stood. He read the letter and fell a-weeping; but it was not in his power to refuse obedience to the Khalif; so he went in to Suad and acquainting her with the case, divorced her in the presence of Kumeit and Nesr; after which he equipped her and delivered her to them, together with a letter to the Khalif, under his own hand and seal, to the following purport:

      Prince of the Faithful, hasten not: with a good grace thy vow I will accomplish, nor constraint to force me dost thou need
      Why styl'st thou me adulterer and traitor? If she pleased My fancy, 'twas in me no sin, as eke thou wilt concede;
      For lo, there comes to thee a sun; amongst all folk that be, Mortals or Jinn, there's none may match with her in very deed.

So the messengers returned with Suad to Damascus and delivered to Muawiyeh the letter, which when he had read, he said, 'Verily, he hath obeyed handsomely, but he is extravagant in his praise of the woman.' Then he called for her and found her such a beauty as he had never seen, for grace and elegance and symmetry; moreover, he talked with her and found her fluent of speech and happy in diction and expression. Quoth he, 'Bring me the Arab.' So they fetched the man, who came, sore disordered for the evil dealing of fortune, and Muawiyeh said to him, 'O Arab, if thou wilt give her up to me, I will give thee in her stead three slave-girls, high-bosomed maids like moons, and a thousand dinars with each. Moreover, I will assign thee on the treasury such an annual sum as shall content and enrich thee.' When the Arab heard this, he gave a groan [and swooned away], so that Muawiyeh thought he was dead. When he revived, the Khalif said to him, 'What ails thee?' And the Arab answered, 'With heavy heart and in sore need, I appeal to thee from the injustice of Merwan ben el Hekem; but to whom shall I appeal from thine injustice?' And he recited the following verses:

      God save the Khalif! Make me not, as one, I prithee, who For succour from the burning sands unto the fire doth sue.
      Suad restore to one distraught, afflicted, morn and eve In memory who passeth still and anguish ever new.
      Loose thou my bonds and give her back, nor grudge her unto me. Thou'lt find me no ungrateful one, if thus with me thou do.

Then said he, 'O Commander of the Faithful, wert thou to give me all the riches of the Khalifate, yet would I not take them without Suad.' And he recited this verse:

      My heart to love other than Suad to me Denies, for my drink and my victual is she.

Quoth the Khalif, 'Thou confessest to having divorced her and Merwan hath done the like; so now we will give her her choice. If she choose other than thee, we will marry her to him, and if she choose thee, we will restore her to thee.' 'Be it so,' replied the Arab. So Muawiyeh said to her, 'What sayst thou, O Suad? Which dost thou choose? The Commander of the Faithful, with his power and glory and dominion and palaces and treasures and all else thou seest at his command, or Merwan ben el Hekem, with his violence and tyranny, or this Arab, with his hunger and poverty?' So she recited the following verses:

      This man, for all he be in hunger and distress, Dearer to me than folk and neighbour is, nathelesse;
      Yea, he is more to me than he who wears the crown, Merwan his governor and all who wealth possess.

Then said she, 'O Commander of the Faithful, I will not forsake him by reason of the shifts of fortune or the perfidies of Fate, for there is between us old companionship, that may not be forgotten, and love beyond proof; and indeed it is but just that I should have patience with him in his stress, even as I shared fair fortune with him in better days.' The Khalif marvelled at her wit and love and constancy and ordering her ten thousand dirhems, delivered her to the Arab, who took his wife and went away.




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