ISAAC OF MOSUL AND HIS MISTRESS AND THE DEVIL

[Quoth Isaac ben Ibrahim el Mausili], I was in my house one night in the winter-time, when the clouds spread themselves [over the sky] and the rains poured down in torrents, as from the mouths of water-skins, and the folk forbore to come and go about the ways by reason of that which was therein of rain and mire. Now I was heavy at heart for that none of my brethren came to me nor could I go to them, for the mud and mire: so I said to my servant, 'Bring me wherewithal I may divert myself.' So he brought me meat and drink, but I had no heart to eat, without some one to bear me company, and I ceased not to look out of window and watch the ways till nightfall, when I bethought myself of a damsel belonging to one of the sons of El Mehdi, (68) of whom I was enamoured and who was skilled in singing and playing upon instruments of music, and said to myself, 'Were she here with us tonight, my joy would be complete and my night would be abridged of the melancholy and restlessness that are upon me.'

At this moment one knocked at the door, saying, 'Shall a beloved enter, who standeth at the door?' Quoth I, 'Meseems the plant of my desire hath fruited.' So I went to the door and found my mistress, with a long green skirt wrapped about her and a kerchief of brocade on her head, to fend her from the rain. She was covered with mud to her knees and all that was upon her was drenched with water from the gutters; in short, she was in a rare pickle. So I said to her, 'O my lady, what brings thee hither through all this mud?' Quoth she, 'Thy messenger came to me and set forth to me that which was with thee of love and longing, so that I could not choose but yield and hasten to thee.' I marvelled at this, but was ashamed to tell her that I had sent no messenger; so I said, 'Praised be God that He hath brought us together, after all I have suffered for the pangs of patience! Verily, hadst thou delayed an hour longer, I must have run to thee, because of my much love and longing for thee.'

Then I called to my boy for water, that I might better her plight, and he brought a kettle full of hot water. I bade them pour it over her feet, whilst I set to work to wash them myself; after which I made her doff what she had on and calling for one of my richest dresses, clad her therein. Then I would have called for food, but she refused and I said to her, 'Art thou for wine?' 'Yes,' answered she. So I fetched cups and she said to me, 'Who shall sing?' 'I, O my lady, answered I. But she said, 'I care not for that.' 'One of my damsels?' suggested I. 'I have no mind to that either" said she. 'Then,' quoth I, 'do thou sing thyself;' 'Not I,' replied she. 'Who then shall sing for thee ?' asked I. Quoth she, 'Go out and seek some one to sing for me.' So I went out, in obedience to her, though I despaired of finding any one at such a time, and fared on till I came to the main street, where I saw a blind man striking the earth with his staff and saying, 'May God not requite with good those with whom I was! When I sang, they hearkened not, and when I was silent, they despised me.' So I said to him, 'Art thou a singer?' 'Yes,' answered he. Quoth I, 'Wilt thou finish thy night with us and cheer us with thy company?' 'If it be thy will,' replied he, 'take my hand.'

So I took his hand and leading him to my house, said to the damsel, 'O my mistress, I have brought a blind singer, with whom we may take our pleasure and he will not see us.' 'Bring him to me,' said she. So I brought him in and invited him to eat. He ate a little and washed his hands, after which I brought him wine and he drank three cupsful. Then he said to me, 'Who art thou?' And I answered, 'I am Isaac ben Ibrahim el Mausili.' Quoth he, 'I have heard of thee and now I rejoice in thy company.' And I said, 'O my lord, I am glad in thy gladness.' 'O Isaac,' said he, 'sing to me.' So I took the lute, by way of jest, and said, 'I hear and obey.' When I had made an end of my song, he said to me, 'O Isaac, verily thou comest nigh to be a singer!' His words belittled me in mine own eyes and I threw the lute from my hand; whereupon he said, 'Hast thou not with thee some one who is skilled in singing?' 'I have a damsel with me,' answered I; and he said, 'Bid her sing.' Quoth I, 'Wilt thou sing, when thou hast had enough of her singing?' 'Yes,' answered he. So she sang and he said, 'Nay, thou hast achieved nought.' Whereupon she threw the lute from her hand in anger and said, 'We have done our best: if thou have aught, favour us with it.' Quoth he, 'Bring me a lute which no hand has touched.' So I bade the servant bring him a new lute and he tuned it and preluding in a mode I knew not, sang the following verses:

      Across the middle dusk of night a maid fares swift and straight, Who knows the visitation-tides, to where her love doth wait.
      'Twas but her greeting startled us and eke her voice that said, " Shall a beloved enter in who standeth at the gate?"

When she heard this, she looked at me askance and said, 'Could not thy breast hold the secret that was between us an hour, but thou must discover it to this man?' But I swore to her [that I had not told him] and excused myself to her and fell to kissing her hands and tickling her breasts and biting her cheeks, till she laughed and turning to the blind man, said to him, 'Sing, O my lord!' So he took the lute and sang as follows:

      How often have I visited the fair and side by side, With soft caressing hands have stroked the fingers henna-dyed!
      How often have I handled eke the breasts' pomegranates ripe And the plump apples of the cheeks with bites and kisses plied!

So I said to her, 'O my lady, who can have told him what we were about.' 'True,' answered she, and we removed to a distance from him. Presently quoth he, 'I have a need to make water.' And I said, 'O boy, take the candle and go before him.' Then he went out and tarried a long while. So we went in search of him, but could not find him; and behold, the doors were locked and the keys in the closet, and we knew not whether he had flown up to heaven or sunk into the earth. Wherefore I knew that he was Iblis and that he had done me a pander's office and returned, recalling to myself the words of Abou Nuwas in the following verses:

      I marvel at Iblis no less for his pride Than the lewdness and meanness that mark his intent.
      To Adam himself he refused to prostrate, Yet his lineage to serve as a pimp is content.



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