KHELIFEH THE FISHERMAN OF BAGHDAD.
There was once, of old days and in bygone ages and times, in the city of Baghdad, a fisherman called Khelifeh, a very poor man, who had never been married. It chanced, one day, that he took his net and went forth, according to his wont, to fish before the others came. When he reached the river, he girt himself and tucked up his skirts; then, stepping into the water, he spread his net and cast it once and again, but brought up nothing. He ceased not to throw it, till he had made ten casts, and still nothing came up in it; wherefore his breast was straitened and his mind perplexed concerning his case and he said, 'I crave pardon of God the Great, there is no god but He, the Living, the Eternal, and I repent unto Him. There is no power and no virtue save in God, the Most High, the Supreme! What He wills, is, and what He wills not, is not! Upon God (to whom belong might and majesty) dependeth provision! When He giveth to a creature, none denieth him, and when He denierth a creature, none giveth to him.' And of the excess of his chagrin, he recited the following couplet:If Fate with a calamity afflict thee, thou wert best Meet it with patience and oppose thereto an open breast;
Then he sat awhile, with his head bowed down, pondering his case, and recited these verses also:I rede thee, the sweet and the bitter of fortune with fortitude bear, And know, whatsoever betideth, that God of His purpose fails ne'er.
Then he said to himself, 'I will make this one more cast, trusting in God, so haply He may not disappoint my expectation.' So saying, he rose and casting the net as far as he could into the river, gathered the cords in his hands and waited awhile. Then he pulled at it and finding it heavy, handled it gently and drew it in, little by little, till he got it ashore, when he found in it a one-eyed, lame ape. Quoth Khelifeh, 'There is no power and no virtue but in God! Verily, we are God's and to Him we return! What miserable ill-luck and sorry fortune is this! What is come to me this blessed day? But all this is of the ordinance of God the Most High!' Then he bound the ape with a cord to a tree that grew on the river-bank, and taking a whip he had with him, raised it in the air, thinking to bring it down upon him, when God made the ape speak with a fluent tongue, saying, 'O Khelifeh, hold thy hand and beat me not, but leave me bounden to this tree and go down to the river and cast thy net, confiding in God, for He will give thee thy daily bread.'
So he went down to the river and casting his net, let the cords run out. Then he pulled it in and found it heavier than before; so he tugged at it, till he brought it to land, when, behold, there was another ape in it, with front teeth wide apart, (52) eyes pencilled with kohl and hands stained with henna; and he was laughing and wore a tattered waistcloth about his middle. Quoth Khelifeh, 'Praised be God who hath changed the fish of the river into apes!' Then, going up to the first ape, he said to him, 'See, O unlucky wretch, how foul was the counsel thou gavest me! None but thou made me light on this second ape: and for that thou gavest me good-morrow with thy one eye and thy lameness, (53) I am become distressed and weary, without dirhem or dinar.' So saying, he took a stick and flourishing it thrice in the air, was about to bring it down upon the lame ape, when it cried out for mercy and said to him, 'I conjure thee, by Allah, spare me for this my fellow's sake and seek of him thy need; for he will guide thee to thy desire!'
So he held his hand from him and throwing down the stick, went up to the second ape, who said to him, 'O Khelifeh, this [my] speech (54) will profit thee nothing, except thou hearken to what I say to thee; but, if thou do my bidding and cross me not, I will be the means of thine enrichment.' 'And what hast thou to say to me,' asked Khelifeh, 'that I may obey thee therein?' 'Go and cast thy net a third time,' replied the ape; 'and after I will tell thee what to do.' So he took his net and going down to the river, cast it once more and waited awhile. Then he drew it in and finding it heavy, laboured at it till he got it ashore, when he found in it yet another ape; but this one was red, with a blue waistcloth about his middle; his hands and feet were stained with henna and his eyes blackened with kohl.
When Khelifeh saw this, he exclaimed, 'Glory to God the Great! Extolled be the perfection of the Lord of Dominion! This is indeed a blessed day from first to last: its ascendant was fortunate in the countenance of the first age, and the book is known by its superscription! Verily, this is a day of apes: there is not a fish left in the river, and we are come out to-day but to catch apes!' Then he turned to the third ape and said, 'And what art thou for another unlucky wretch?' Quoth the ape, 'Dost thou not know me, O Khelifeh?' 'Not I,' answered the fisherman; and the ape said, 'I am the ape of Aboussaadat the Jew money-changer.' 'And what dost thou for him?' asked Khelifeh. Quoth the ape, 'I give him good-morrow every morning, and he gains five dinars; and again at the end of the day, I give him good-even and he gains other five dinars.' Whereupon Khelifeh turned to the first ape and said to him, 'See, O unlucky wretch, what fine apes other folk have! As for thee, thou givest me good-morrow with thy one eye and thy lameness and thine unlucky visnomy and I become poor and bankrupt and hungry!'
So saying, he took the stick and flourishing it thrice in the air, was about to come down with it on the first ape, when Aboussaadat's ape said to him, 'Hold thy hand from him, O Khelifeh, and come hither to me, that I may tell thee what to do.' So Khelifeh threw down the stick and said, 'And what hast thou to say to me, O prince of all apes?' 'Leave me and the other two apes here,' answered the ape, 'and take thy net and cast it into the river; and whatever comes up, bring it to me, and I will tell thee what shall pleasure thee.' 'I hear and obey,' answered the fisherman and took the net and gathered it on his shoulder, reciting the following verses:Whene'er my breast is straitened, for aid I supplicate A Maker who availeth to save from every strait;
And also these:Thou'rt He who dost the folk, indeed, cast into weariness And cares and woes, effect and cause, dispellest none the less.
Then he went down to the river and casting his net, waited awhile; after which he drew it up and found therein a fine perch, with a big head, a tale like a ladle and eyes like dinars. When Khelifeh saw this fish, he rejoiced, for he had never in his life caught its like, so he took it, marvelling, and carried it to the ape of Aboussaadat the Jew, as 'twere he had gotten possession of the whole world. Quoth the ape, 'O Khelifeh, what wilt thou do with this and with thine ape?' 'I will tell thee, O prince of apes,' answered the fisherman. 'First, I will cast about to make away with yonder accursed one, my ape, and take thee in his stead and give thee every day to eat of what thou wilt.' 'Since thou hast made choice of me,' rejoined the ape, 'I will tell thee how thou shalt do, wherein, if it please God the Most High, shall be the mending of thy fortune. Take another cord and tie me also to a tree, where leave me and go to the midst of the dyke and cast thy net into the Tigris. Then draw it up, after waiting awhile, and thou shalt find therein a fish, than which thou never sawest a finer in thy life. Bring it to me and I will tell thee how thou shalt do after this.'
So he rose forthright and casting his net into the Tigris, drew up a great shad, the bigness of a lamb; never had he set eyes on its like, for it was larger than the first fish. He carried it to the ape, who said to him, 'Gather some green grass and put half of it in a basket; lay the fish on it and cover it with the other half. Then shoulder the basket and leave us here tied and betake thee to Baghdad. If any bespeak thee or question thee by the way, answer him not, out fare on till thou comest to the market of the money-changers, at the upper end whereof thou wilt find the shop of Master Aboussaadat the Jew, Sheikh of the money-changers, and wilt see him sitting on a divan amiddleward his slaves and servants, black and white, with a cushion behind him and two coffers, one for gold and one for silver, before him.
Go up to him and set the basket before him, saying, "O Aboussaadat, I went out to-day to fish and cast my net in thy name, and God the Most High sent me this fish." He will say, "Hast thou shown it to any but me?" And do thou answer, "No, by Allah!" Then will he take it of thee and give thee a dinar. Give it him back and he will give thee two dinars; but do thou return them also and take nothing from him, though he give thee the fish's weight in gold. Then will he say to thee, "Tell me what thou wouldst have." And do thou reply, 'By Allah, I will not sell the fish save for two words!" He will ask, "What are they?" And do thou answer, "Stand up and say, 'Bear witness, O ye who are present in the market, that I give Khelifeh the fisherman my ape in exchange for his ape and that I barter my lot for his lot and my luck for his luck.' This is the price of the fish, and I have no need of gold." If he do this, I will every day give thee good- morrow and good-even, and thou shalt gain ten dinars a day; whilst this one-eyed, lame ape shall daily give the Jew good-morrow, and God shall afflict him every day with an exaction, which he must needs pay, nor will he cease to be thus afflicted till he is reduced to beggary and hath nought. Hearken then to my words; so shalt thou prosper and be guided aright.'
Quoth Khelifeh, 'I accept thy counsel, O king of all apes! But, as for this unlucky wretch, may God not bless him! I know not what to do with him.' 'Let him go into the water,' said the ape, 'and let me go also.' 'I hear and obey,' answered Khelifeh and unbound the [three] apes, which went down into the river. Then he washed the shad and wrapping it in grass, laid it in the basket, and shouldering the latter, set out for Baghdad, chanting the following quatrain:Commit thy case to God and thou shalt have security: Do kindness ever, so thou shalt be from repentance free.
When he came to the city, the people knew him and cried out to him, saying, 'What hast thou there, O Khelifeh?' But he paid no heed to them and went on till he came to the money-changers' bazaar and passing between the shops, found the Jew seated at the upper end, with his servants in attendance upon him, as he were a king of the kings of Khorassan. So he went up to him and stood before him, whereupon Aboussaadat raised his eyes and knowing him, said, 'Welcome, O Khelifeh! What wantest thou? If any have missaid thee or picked a quarrel with thee, tell me and I will go with thee to the Master of Policed who shall do thee justice on him.' 'Nay, as thy head liveth, O chief of the Jews,' replied Khelifeh, 'none hath missaid me. But I went forth this morning and casting my net into the Tigris, in thy name, brought up this fish.'
Therewith he opened the basket and threw the fish before the Jew, who admired it and said, 'By the Pentateuch and the Ten Commandments, I dreamt last night that the Virgin (55) came to me and said, "Know, O Aboussaadat, that I have sent thee a fine present!" And doubtless it is this fish.' Then he turned to Khelifeh and said to him, 'Tell me, on thy faith, hath any seen it but I?' 'No, by Allah and by Abou Bekr the Truth-teller,' (56) answered Khelifeh, 'none hath seen it but thou, O chief of the Jews!' Whereupon the Jew turned to one of his servants and said to him, 'Carry this fish to my house and bid Saadeh dress it and fry and broil it, against I make an end of my business and come home.' And Khelifeh said, 'Go, boy; let the master's wife fry some of it and broil the rest.' 'I hear and obey, O my lord,' answered the boy, and taking the fish, went away with it to the house.
Then the Jew put out his hand and gave the fisherman a dinar, saying, 'Take this for thyself, O Khelifeh, and spend it on thy family.' When Khelifeh saw the dinar in his hand, he took it, saying, 'Glory to the Lord of Dominion!' as if he had never seen aught of gold in his life, and went away; but before he had gone far, he bethought him of the ape's injunction and turning back, threw the dinar to the Jew, saying, 'Take thy gold and give folk back their fish. Are folk a laughing-stock to thee?' The Jew thought he was jesting and offered him other two dinars, but he said, 'Without a joke, give me the fish. How knewst thou I would sell it at this price?' Whereupon the Jew gave him two more dinars and said, 'Take these five dinars for thy fish and leave covetise.' So Khelifeh took the five dinars and went away, rejoicing, looking and marvelling at the gold and saying, 'Glory be to God! There is not with the Khalif of Baghdad what is with me this day!'
Thep he went on till he came to the end of the market, when he remembered the ape's words and returning to the Jew, threw him back the gold. Quoth he, 'What ails thee, O Khelifeh? Dost thou want change for thy dinars in dirhems?' 'I want nor dirhems nor dinars,' answered the fisherman. 'I only want thee to give me back folk's fish.' With this the Jew was enraged and cried out at him, saying, 'O fisherman, thou bringest me a fish, that is not worth a dinar, and I give thee five for it; yet art thou not content! Art thou mad? Tell me for how much thou wilt sell it.' 'I will not sell it for silver nor gold,' answered Khelifeh, 'only for two words that thou shalt say to me.'
When the Jew heard this, he rolled his eyes and breathed hard and ground his teeth for rage (57) and said to him, 'O scum of the Muslims, wilt thou have me forswear my faith for the sake of thy fish, and wilt thou debauch me from my religion and my belief that I inherited from my forefathers?' Then he cried out to his servants, saying, 'Out on you! Baste me this unlucky rogue's back and drub him soundly!' So they fell on him and beat him till he fell downs beneath the shop, and the Jew said to them, 'Leave him and let him rise.' Whereupon Khelifeh sprang up, as if nothing ailed him, and the Jew said to him, 'Tell me what price thou askest for the fish and I will give it thee; for thou hast gotten but scurvy fare of us this day.' 'Have no fear for me, O master,' answered the fisherman, 'because of the beating; for I can eat ten asses' allowance of stick.'
The Jew laughed at his words and said, 'God on thee, tell me what thou wilt have and by the virtue of my faith, I will give it thee!' Quoth the fisherman, 'I will take nothing of thee save the two words I spoke of.' And the Jew said, 'Meseemeth thou wouldst have me become a Muslim.' 'By Allah, O Jew,' replied Khelifeh, 'if thou become a Muslim, it will neither advantage the Muslims nor hurt the Jews; and in like manner, if thou hold to thy heresy, it will neither damage the Muslims nor profit the Jews. But what I desire of thee is that thou rise to thy feet and say, "Bear witness against me, O people of the market, that I barter my ape for that of Khelifeh the fisherman and my lot in the world for his lot and my luck for his luck."' 'If that be all thou desirest,' said the Jew, 'it is lightly done.' So he rose forthright and standing on his feet, repeated the required words; after which he turned to the fisherman and said to him, 'Hast thou aught else to ask of me?' 'No,' answered he, and the Jew said, 'Go in peace.'
So Khelifeh took up his net and basket and returned straight to the Tigris, where he threw his net and pulled it in. He found it heavy and brought it not ashore but with difficulty, when he found it full of fish of all kinds. Presently, up came a woman with a dish, who gave him a dinar, and he gave her fish for it; and after her an eunuch, who also bought a dinar's worth of fish, and another and another, till he had sold ten dinars' worth. And he continued to sell ten dinars' worth of fish daily for ten days, till he had gotten a hundred dinars.
Now he dwelt in the Passage of the Merchants, and as he lay one night in his lodging, [drunken with hashish,] he said to himself, 'O Khelifeh, the folk all know thee for a poor fisherman, and now thou hast gotten a hundred dinars. The Commander of the Faithful will assuredly hear of this from some one, and mayhap he will be in need of money and will send for thee and say to thee, "I have occasion for a sum of money and I have been told that thou hast a hundred dinars: so do thou lend them to me." "O Commander of the Faithful," shall I answer, "I am a poor man, and whoever told thee that I had a hundred dinars lied against me; for I have nought of this." Thereupon he will commit me to the chief of the police, saying, "Strip him of his clothes and torment him with beating, till he confesses and gives up the hundred dinars in his possession." Wherefore meseems the best thing I can do, to provide against this predicament is to rise forthright and baste myself with the whip, so to use myself to beating.' And the fumes of the hashish [he had eaten] said to him, 'Rise, put off thy clothes.'
So he arose and putting off his clothes, proceeded to belabour himself with a whip, laying every other blow upon a leathern pillow he had by him and roaring out the while, 'Alas! Alas! By Allah, O my lord, it is a false saying and they have lied against me; for I am a poor fisherman and have nought of the goods of the world!' The noise of the blows falling on the cushion and on his body resounded in the night and the folk heard it, and amongst others the merchants, and said, 'What can ail yonder poor fellow, that he crieth and we hear the noise of blows falling on him? It would seem robbers have broken in upon him and are tormenting him.' So they all came forth of their lodgings, at the noise of the blows and the crying, and repaired to Khelifeh's door, but found it locked and said to each other, 'Belike the robbers have come in upon him from the back of the [adjoining] saloon. It behoves us to climb over by the roofs.'
So they climbed over the roofs and coming down through the ventilator, saw him naked and flogging himself and said to him, 'What ails thee, O Khelifeh?' 'Know, O folk,' answered he, 'that I have gotten some dinars and fear lest my case be reported to the Commander of the Faithful and he send for me and demand them of me; whereupon I should deny, and I fear that, if I deny, he will torture me: so I am torturing myself, by way of using myself to what may come.' The merchants laughed at him and said, 'Leave this foolery, may God not bless thee and the dinars thou hast gotten! For thou hast disturbed us this night and troubled our hearts.'
So Khelifeh left flogging himself and slept till the morning, when he arose and would have gone about his business, but bethought him of his hundred dinars and laid in himself, 'If I leave them at home, thieves will steal them, and if I put them in a belt about my waist, belike some one will see me and lay in wait for me in some lonely place and slay me and take the money from me: but I have a device that should serve me right well.' So he made him a pocket in the collar of his gown and tying the hundred dinars up in a purse, laid them therein. Then he took his net and basket and staff and went down to the Tigris, where he cast his net, but brought up nothing. So he removed to another place and cast again, but still the net came up empty; and he went on removing from place to place and casting the net without better success, till he had gone half a day's journey from the city. So he said in himself 'By Allah, I will cast but this once more, whatever come of it!'
Then he cast the net with all his forte, of the excess of his vexation, and the purse flew out of his pocket and lighting in the middle of the stream, was carried away by the current; whereupon he threw down the net and pulling off his clothes, left them on the bank and plunged into the water after the purse. He dived for it nigh a hundred times, without chancing on it, till his strength was exhausted and he came up for sheer fatigue. When he despaired of finding the purse, he returned to the shore, where he saw nothing but his net and basket and staff and sought for his clothes, but could light on no trace of them: so he said to himself, 'O vilest of those whereon was made the byword, "The pilgrimage is not perfected but by swiving the camel!"' (58) Then he wrapped the net about him and taking the staff in one hand and the basket in the other, went trotting about like a camel in heat, running right and left and backward and forward, dishevelled and covered with dust, as he were a refractory Afrit let loose from Solomon's prison. (59)
Now the Khalif Haroun er Reshid had a friend, a jeweller called Ibn el Kirnas, and all the merchants and brokers and middle-men and other the folk knew him for the Khalif's merchant, wherefore there was nought sold in Baghdad, by way of rarities and things of price or slaves, male or female, but was first shown to him. As he sat one day in his shop, there came up to him the chief of the brokers, with a slave-girl, whose like eyes never saw, for she was of the utmost beauty and grace and symmetry, and among her excellences was that she knew all arts and sciences and could make verses and play upon all manner of instruments of music. So he bought her for five thousand dinars and clothed her with other thousand; after which he carried her to the Khalif, with whom she lay the night and who made trial of her in every kind of knowledge and accomplishment and found her versed in all manner arts and sciences, having no equal in her time. Her name was Cout el Culoub and she was even as saith the poet:I gaze on her, when she unveils, again and yet again: In her refusal of herself to sight are woes and bane.
And what is this beside the saying of another?Give me brunettes; the Syrian spears, so limber and so straight, Tell of the slender dusky maids, so lithe and proud of gait.
On the morrow, the Khalif sent for Ibn el Kirnas and ordered him ten thousand dinars to her price. And his heart was taken up with her and he forsook the princess Zubeideh bint (60) el Casim, for all she was his father's brother's daughter, (61) and all his favourites and abode a whole month without stirring from Cout el Culoub's side, save to go to the Friday prayers and return to her in haste. This was grievous to the grandees of the realm and they made their complaint thereof to the Vizier Jaafer the Barmecide, who waited till the next Friday, when he entered the congregational mosque and foregathering with the Khalif, related to him all that occurred to him of extraordinary stories concerning love, with intent to draw out what was in his mind. 'By Allah, O Jaafer,' said Haroun, 'this is not of my choice; but my heart is caught in the snare of love and I know not what is to be done!' 'O Commander of the Faithful,' replied Jaafer, 'this girl Cout el Culoub is become at thy disposal and of the number of thy servants, and that which the hand possesseth the soul coveteth not. Moreover, I will tell thee another thing and it is that the greatest glory of kings and princes is in hunting and the pursuit of sport and victory; and if thou apply thyself to this, belike it will divert thee from her, and it may be thou wilt forget her.' 'Thou sayest well, O Jaafer,' rejoined the Khalif. 'Come, let us go a-hunting forthright.'
Accordingly, as soon as the Friday prayers were over, they left the mosque and mounting their mules, rode forth to the chase. They fared on into the open country, engaged in talk, and their attendants outwent them. Presently the heat became oppressive and the Khalif said to his vizier, 'O Jaafer, I am sore athirst.' Then he looked round and espying a figure in the distance on a high mound, said to Jaafer, 'Seest thou what I see?' 'Yes, O Commander of the Faithful,' answered the vizier; 'I see a dim figure on a high mound; belike he is the keeper of a garden or of a cucumber-plot, and in either case, water will not be lacking in his neighbourhood. I will go to him and fetch thee some.' But Er Reshid said, 'My mule is swifter than thine; so do thou abide here, on account of the troops, whilst I go myself to him and get of him drink and return.'
So saying, he spurred his mule, which started off like fleeting wind or lapsing water and brought him, in the twinkling of an eye, to the mound, when he found the figure he had seen to be none other than Khelifeh the fisherman, naked and wrapped in the net; and indeed he was horrible to look upon, as he swayed to and fro, with eyes like flaming cressets for very redness and dishevelled hair, covered with dust, as he were an Afrit or a lion. The Khalif saluted him and he returned his salutation; and he was angry and fires might have been kindled at his breath. Quoth Er Reshid, 'O man, hast thou any water?' And Khelifeh answered, 'O fellow, art thou blind or mad? Get thee to the river Tigris, for it is behind this mound.'
So the Khalif turned the mound and going down to the river, drank and watered his mule: then he returned to Khelifeh and said to him, 'Harkye, sirrah, what ails thee to stand here, and what is thy calling?' Quoth the fisherman, 'This is a stranger question than that about the water. Seest thou not the tools of my craft on my shoulder?' 'Belike thou art a fisherman?' said the Khalif, and he answered, 'Yes.' 'Where is thy gown?' asked Er Reshid. 'And where are thy waistcloth and girdle and [the rest of] thy clothes?' Now these were the very things that Khelifeh had lost, like for like; so, when he heard the Khalif name them, he took it into his head that it was he who had stolen his clothes from the river bank and coming down from the top of the mound, swiftlier than the blinding lightning, laid hold of the mule's bridle, saying, 'Harkye, sirrah, give me back my things and leave jesting.' 'By Allah,' replied Er Reshid, 'I have not seen thy clothes, nor know I aught of them!'
Now the Khalif had large cheeks and a small mouth; so Khelifeh said to him, 'Belike, thou art a singer or a piper by trade? But give me back my clothes, without more ado, or I will belabour thee with this staff till thou bepiss thyself and foul thy hose.' When Er Reshid saw the staff in the fisherman's hand and that he had the vantage of him, he said in himself, 'By Allah, I cannot brook half a blow of that staff from this mad beggar!' Now he had on a satin gown; so he pulled it off and gave it to Khelifeh, saying, 'Take this in place of thy clothes.' The fisherman took it and turned it about and said, 'My clothes are worth ten of this painted clout.' 'Put it on, till I bring thee thy clothes,' rejoined the Khalif. So Khelifeh donned the gown, but finding it too long for him, took a knife he had with him, tied to the handle of his basket, and cut off nigh a third of the skirts so that it [but] fell beneath his knees.
Then he turned to Er Reshid and said to him, 'God on thee, O piper, tell me what wage thou gettest every month from thy master, for thy craft of piping.' 'My wage is ten dinars a month,' replied the Khalif. And Khelifeh said, 'By Allah, my poor fellow, I am sorry for thee! Why, I make thy ten dinars every day! Hast thou a mind to take service with me and I will teach thee the art of fishing and share my gain with thee? So shalt thou earn five dinars a day and be my knave and I will protect thee against thy master with this staff.' 'I will well,' answered Er Reshid; and Khelifeh said, 'Then get off thy she-ass and tie her up, so she may serve us to carry the fish hereafter, and come hither, that I may teach thee to fish forthright.'
So the Khalif alighted and hobbling his mule, tucked his skirts into his girdle, and Khelifeh said to him, 'Harkye, piper, lay hold of the net thus and put it over thine arm thus and cast it into the Tigris thus.' Accordingly, Er Reshid took heart of grace and casting the net, as the fisherman showed him, pulled at it, but could not draw it up. So Khelifeh came to his aid and tugged at it with him; but the two together could not pull it up: whereupon, 'O piper of ill omen,' said the fisherman, 'I took thy gown in place of my clothes; but, if I find my net torn, I will have thine ass for it and will beat thee to boot, till thou bepiss and bemire thyself!' Quoth Er Reshid, 'Let us both pull at once.'
So they both pulled at once and succeeded with difficulty in dragging the net ashore, when they found it full of fish of all kinds and colours; and Khelifeh said to Er Reshid, 'By Allah, O piper, thou art an ugly fellow; but, if thou apply thyself to fishing, thou wilt make a fine fisherman. But now thou wert better mount thine ass and go to the market and fetch me a pair of frails, and I will take care of the fish, till thou return, when we will load it on thine ass's back. I have scales and weights and all we require, and thou wilt have nothing to do but to hold the scales and take the money; for we have here twenty dinars' worth of fish. So be quick with the frails and loiter not.'
'I hear and obey,' answered the Khalif and mounting, left him with the fish.
Then he spurred his mule, in great good humour, and ceased not laughing over his adventure with the fisherman, till he came up to Jaafer, who said to him, 'O Commander of the Faithful, belike, when thou wentest to drink, thou foundest a pleasant garden and enteredst and tookst thy pleasure therein alone?' At this Er Reshid fell a-laughing again and all the Barmecides rose and kissed the ground before him, saying, 'O Commander of the Faithful, may God make joys to endure for thee and do away troubles from thee! What was the cause of thy tarrying and what hath befallen thee?' 'Verily,' answered the Khalif 'a right rare and pleasant thing hath befallen me.' And he told them what had passed between himself and the fisherman, how he had accused him of stealing his clothes and he had given him his gown and how he had cut of a part of it, finding it too long for him. 'By Allah, O Commander of the Faithful,' said Jaafer, 'I had it in mind to beg the gown of thee: but now I will go straight to the fisherman and buy it of him.' 'By Allah,' answered the Khalif, 'he hath cut off a third part of the skirt and spoilt it! But, O Jaafer, I am tired with fishing in the river, for I have caught great store of fish, and my master Khelifeh is waiting with them on the river-bank for me to return to him with a couple of frails and a cleaver. (62) Then we are to go, he and I, to the market and sell the fish and share the price.'
'O Commander of the Faithful,' said Jaafer, 'I will bring you a purchaser for your fish.' And Er Reshid rejoined, 'O Jaafer, by the virtue of my holy forefathers, whoso bringeth me one of the fish that are before Khelifeh, who taught me to fish, I will give him a gold dinar for it!' So the crier proclaimed among the troops that they should go forth and buy fish for the Khalif, and they all arose and made for the river-side. So, while Khelifeh was awaiting for the Khalif's return with the two frails, the guards swooped down upon him like vultures and took the fish and wrapped them in gold-embroidered handkerchiefs, beating one another in their eagerness. Whereupon quoth Khelifeh, 'Doubtless these are of the fish of Paradise!' and taking two fish in each hand, plunged into the water up to his neck and fell a-saying, 'O God, by the virtue of these fish, let Thy servant the piper, my partner, come to me forthwith!'
At this moment up came the chief of the Khalif's black slaves, who had tarried behind the rest, by reason of his horse having stopped to stale by the way, and finding all the fish gone, looked right and left, till he espied Khelifeh standing in the water, with the fish in his hands, and said to him, 'Come hither, O fisherman!' But Khelifeh answered, 'Begone and meddle not with what doth not concern thee!' So the eunuch went up to him and said, 'Give me the fish and I will pay thee their price.' 'Art thou little of wit?' replied the fisherman. 'I will not sell them.' Therewith the eunuch drew his mace upon him, and Khelifeh cried out, saying, 'Hold thy hand, wretch that thou art! Better largesse than the mace.' (63) So saying, he threw the fish to the eunuch, who took them and hid them in his handkerchief. Then he put his hand in his pocket, but found not a single dirhem and said to Khelifeh, 'O fisherman, verily, thou art out of luck; for, by Allah, I have not a rap about me! But come to-morrow to the palace of the Khalifate and ask for the eunuch Sendel; whereupon the slaves will direct thee to me and thou shalt get what falleth to thy lot and go thy ways therewith.' Quoth Khelifeh, 'Indeed, this is a blessed day and its blessedness was manifest from the first of it!'
Then he shouldered his net and returned to Baghdad; and as he passed through the streets, the people saw the Khalif's gown on him and stared at him; [but he paid no heed to them and fared on] till he came to the gate of his quarter, by which was the shop of the Khalif's tailor. When the latter saw him wearing a dress of the apparel of the Khalif, worth a thousand dinars, he said to him, 'O Khelifeh, whence hadst thou that gown?' 'What ails thee to meddle?' replied the fisherman. '[An thou must know,] I had it of one whom I taught to fish and who is become my apprentice. Moreover, I forgave him the cutting-off of his hand, (64) for that he stole my clothes and gave me this clout in their place.' So the tailor knew that the Khalif had come upon him, as he was fishing, and jested with him and given him the gown; and Khelifeh went to his house.
Meanwhile, when the lady Zubeideh heard of the Khalif's devotion to Cout el Culoub, there took hold upon her the jealousy proper to women, so that she refused meat and drank and forswore the delight of sleep and awaited the Khalif's going forth on a journey or what not, that she might set a snare for the damsel in his absence. So, when she learnt that he was gone a-hunting, she caused her women furnish the palace and decorate it after the most magnificent manner and serve up viands and confections; and amongst the rest she made a china dish of the daintiest sweetmeats, in which she had put henbane.
Then she bade one of her eunuchs go to the damsel and bid her to eat with her, saying, 'The lady Zubeideh bint el Casim, the wife of the Commander of the Faithful, hath drunken medicine to-day and having heard tell of the sweetness of thy singing, is minded to divert herself with somewhat of thy fashion.' Cout el Culoub answered, 'Hearing and obedience [are due] to God and the lady Zubeideh,' and rose forthright, knowing not what was hidden for her in the secret purpose of God. Then she took with her what instruments she needed and accompanied the eunuch to the presence of the princess.
When she entered, she kissed the ground before her again and again, then rising to her feet, said, 'Peace be on the lady of the lofty curtain and the inaccessible majesty, the daughter of the house of Abbas and scion of the family of the Prophet! May God fulfil thee of peace and prosperity in the days and the years!' Then she stood with the rest of the women and eunuchs, and the lady Zubeideh looked at her and saw a damsel with smooth cheeks and breasts like pomegranates, moon- bright face, flower-white forehead and great black eyes. Languor sat on her eyelids and her face beamed with light. It seemed as if the sun rose from her forehead and the darkness of the night from her brow-locks. The fragrance of musk exhaled from her breath and flowers bloomed from her lovely face; the moon beamed from her forehead and the branches waved in her slender shape. She was like the full moon shining in the darkness of the night; her eyes wantoned, her eyebrows were arched like a bow and her lips moulded of coral. Her beauty amazed all who saw her and her glances enspelled all who looked on her. Glory be to Him who created and fashioned her and wrought her to perfection! Brief, she was even as saith the poet of one who favoured her:When she is wroth, I trow, thou seest folk slain and sped, And when she's pleased, their souls return unto their stead.
'Welcome and fair welcome to thee, O Cout el Culoub!' said Zubeideh. 'Sit and divert us with thine accomplishments and the goodliness of thy fashion.' 'I hear and obey,' answered the damsel and putting out her hand, took the tambourine, whereof one of its praisers speaks in the following verses:O thou o' the tabret, my heart for longing flies And whilst thou smitest, aloud for passion cries.
Then she smote the tambourine briskly and sang thereto, that she arrested the birds in the air and the place danced with them; after which she laid down the tambourine and took the flageolet, whereof it is said:Eyes hath she and the pupils thereunto that belong Are governed by the fingers to undiscordant song.
And as the poet also says:When it bringeth with fluting the songs to the goal, The time, for sheer gladness, yields solace of soul.
Then she laid down the flageolet, after she had charmed therewith all who were presents and took up the lute, whereof saith the poet:How many a tender branch a lute for singing-girl becomes, Whereto the hearts of erudite and generous are fain!
Then she turned its pegs and tuned its strings and laying it in her lap, bent over it as the mother bends over her child; and it seemed as it were of her and her lute that the poet spoke in the following verses:Featly she discourseth on the Persian string, Sense in him, who senseless was awakening.
Then she preluded in fourteen different modes and sang an entire piece to the lute, so as to confound the lookers- on and delight her hearers. After which she recited this couplet:Blest is the coming unto thee: New joys therein for ever be.
Then she rose and exhibited tricks of sleight of hand and legerdemain and all manner of pleasing arts, till the lady Zubeideh came near to fall in love with her and said in herself, 'Verily, my cousin Er Reshid is not to blame for loving her!' Then Cout el Culoub kissed the earth before Zubeideh and sat down, whereupon they set food before her. Then they brought her the drugged dish of sweetmeats and she ate thereof; and hardly had it settled in her stomach when her head fell backward and she sank on the ground, asleep. With this, Zubeideh said to her women, 'Carry her up to one of the clambers, till I call for her.' And they answered, 'We hear and obey.' Then she bade one of her eunuchs fashion her a chest and commanded to make the semblance of a tomb and to spread the report that Cout el Culoub had choked and died, warning her attendants that she would stake off the head of whoever should say, 'She is alive.'
Presently, the Khalif returned from the chase, and his first enquiry was for the damsel. So there came to him one of his eunuchs, whom Zubeideh had charged to say she was dead, if the Khalif should ask for her, and kissing the ground before him, said, 'May thy head live, O my lord! Know that Cout el Culoub choked in eating and is dead.' Whereupon, 'May God never gladden thee with good news, O wicked slave!' cried Er Reshid, and entered the palace, where he heard of her death from every one and said, 'Where is her tomb?' So they brought him to the burial-place and showed him the pretended tomb, saying, 'This is it.' When he saw it, he cried out and wept and embraced it, reciting the following verses:By Allah, O tomb, have her beauties ceased and disappeared from sight And is the countenance changed and wan, that shone so wonder-bright?
He abode awhile by the tomb, weeping sore for her, after which he arose and went away, in the utmost distress.
Meanwhile, Zubeideh, seeing that her plot had succeeded, sent for the damsel and locking her up in the chest, said to the eunuch, 'Make shift to sell this chest and make it a condition with the purchaser that he buy it locked; then give alms with the price.' So he took it and went forth, to do her bidding.
To return to Khelifeh the fisherman. When the morning arose and lighted [all things] with its radiance, he said to himself, 'I cannot do better to-day than visit the eunuch who bought the fish of me, for he appointed me to come to him in the palace of the Khalifate.' So he went forth of his lodging, intending for the palace, and when he came thither, he found eunuchs and slaves and servants black and white, sitting and standing, and looking at them, saw, seated amongst them, the eunuch who had bought the fish of him, with the others waiting on him. Presently, one of the servants called out to him; whereupon the eunuch turned to see who he was and knew him for the fisherman.
When Khelifeh was ware that he saw him and recognized him, he said to him, 'I have not failed [of my appointment], O Rosy-cheeks! (65) On this wise are men of their word.' 'By Allah, thou art right, O fisherman,' replied the eunuch, laughing, and put his hand to his pouch, to give him somewhat; but at that moment there arose a great clamour. So he raised his head to see what was to do and finding that it was the Vizier Jaafer the Barmecide coming forth from the Khalif's presence, rose and went before him, and they walked about, conversing, a long while. Khelifeh waited awhile; then, growing weary of standing and finding that the eunuch took no heed of him, he set himself in his way and beckoned to him from afar, saying, 'O my lord Rosy-cheeks, [give me my due and] let me go!'
The eunuch saw him, but was ashamed to answer him, because of the vizier's presence; so he went on talking with Jaafer and took no notice of the fisherman. Whereupon quoth Khelifeh, 'O tardy paymaster! May God put to shame all curmudgeons and all who take people's goods and baffle them! I appeal to thee, O my lord Paunch o'bran, (66) to give me my due and let me go!' The eunuch heard him, but was ashamed to answer him before Jaafer; and the latter saw the fisherman beckoning and talking to him, though he knew not what he said; so he said to Sendel, disliking his behaviour, 'O eunuch, what would yonder poor fellow with thee?' 'Dost thou not know him, O my lord the vizier?' asked Sendel; and Jaafer answered, 'By Allah, I know him not! How should I know a man l have never seen before?' 'O my lord,' rejoined the eunuch, 'this is the fisherman whose fish we seized on the banks of the Tigris. I came too late to get any and was ashamed to return to the Commander of the Faithful, empty- handed, when all the rest had some. Presently I espied the fisherman standing in mid-stream, calling on God, with four fish in his hands, and said to him, "Give me what thou hast there and take their price." So he gave me the fish and I put my hand into my pocket, to give him somewhat, but found it empty and said, "Come to me in the palace, and I will give thee wherewithal to succour thy poverty." Accordingly, he came to me to-day and I was putting my hand to my pouch, to give him somewhat, when thou camest forth and I rose to wait on thee and was diverted with thee from him, till he grew tired of waiting; and this is how he comes to be standing here.'
When the vizier heard this, he smiled and said, 'O Eunuch, how is it that this fisherman cometh in his hour of need and thou fulfillest not his desire? Dost thou not know him, O chief of the eunuchs?' 'No,' answered Sendel, and Jaafer said, 'This is the master and partner of the Commander of the Faithful, and our lord the Khalif hath arisen this morning, strait of breast and heavy of heart, nor is there aught will lighten his breast like this fisherman. So let him not go, till I take the Khalif's pleasure concerning him and bring him before him; peradventure God will relieve him of his oppression and distract him from the loss of Cout el Culoub, by means of the fisherman's presence, and he will give him wherewithal to better himself; and thou wilt be the cause of this.' 'O my lord,' replied Sendel, 'do as thou wilt, and may God the Most High long continue thee a pillar of the dynasty of the Commander of the Faithful, whose shadow God perpetuate and prosper it, root and branch!'
Then the vizier went in to the Khalif and Sendel ordered the attendants not to leave the fisherman; whereupon, 'How goodly is thy bounty, O Rosy-cheeks!' cried Khelifeh. 'The seeker is become the sought. I come to seek my due, and they imprison me for arrears!' When Jaafer came in to the presence of the Khalif, he found him sitting with his head bowed down, sick at heart and absorbed in melancholy thought, chanting the verses of the poet:My censor bid me be consoled for her: what power, I pray, Over my heart have I, if it my hest will not obey?
Quoth Jaafer, 'Peace be upon thee, O Commander of the Faithful and Defender of the Faith and descendant of the uncle of the prince of Apostles, God bless him and gave him and all his family!' The Khalif raised his head and answered, 'And on thee be peace and the mercy of God and His blessings!' Quoth Jaafer; 'If it like the Commander of the Faithful, his servant will speak without restraint.' 'And when was restraint put upon thee in speech,' asked the Khalif, 'and thou the Prince of Viziers? Say what thou wilt.' 'O my lord,' answered Jaafer, 'when I went out from before thee, intending for my house, I saw thy master and teacher and partner, Khelifeh the fisherman, standing at the door, and he was aggrieved at thee and complaining of thee and saying, "Glory be to God! I taught him to fish and he went away to fetch me a pair of frails, but returned not: and this is not the way a partner should use his partner nor an apprentice his master." So, if thou hast a mind to partnership, well and good; and if not, tell him, that he may take another to partner.'
When the Khalif heard this, he smiled and his heart was lightened and he said, 'My life on thee, is this the truth thou sayest, that the fisherman standeth at the door?' 'By thy life, O Commander of the Faithful,' answered Jaafer, 'he standeth at the door.' Quoth the Khalif, 'O Jaafer, by Allah, I will do my best to give him his due! lf God send him, at my hands, misery, he shall have it; and if fortune, he shall have it.' Then he took a piece of paper and cutting it in pieces, said to the Vizier, 'O Jaafer, write down twenty sums of money, from one dinar to a thousand, and the names of all kinds of offices and dignities from the least employ to the Khalifate, also twenty kinds of punishment from the lightest beating to death.' 'I hear and obey, O Commander of the Faithful,' answered Jaafer and did as he was bidden.
Then said the Khalif, 'O Jaafer, I mean to summon the fisherman and bid him take one of these papers, whose contents none knoweth save thou and I; and I swear, by my holy forefathers and by my kinship to Hemzeh (67) and Akil, (68) that whatsoever is written in the paper he shall choose, I will give it to him; though it be the Khalifate, I will divest myself thereof and invest him therewith and grudge it not to him; and on the other hand, if there be written therein hanging or mutilation or death, I will execute it upon him. Now go and fetch him to me.' When Jaafer heard this, he said in himself, 'There is no power and no virtue save in God the Most High, the Supreme! It may be somewhat will fall to this poor wretch's lot that will bring about his destruction, and I shall be the cause. But the Khalif hath sworn; so there is nothing for it but to bring him in, and nought wilt happen save what God willeth.' So he went out to Khelifeh and laid hold of his hand, to carry him in to the Khalif, whereupon his reason fled and he said in himself, 'What a fool I was to come after yonder ill- omened slave, Rosy-cheeks, whereby he hath brought me in company with Bran-belly!'
Jaafer fared on with him, with guards before and behind him, whilst he said, 'Doth not arrest suffice, but these fellows must go before and behind me, to prevent my making off?' till they had traversed seven vestibules, when the vizier said to him, 'Harkye, fisherman! Thou standest before the Commander of the Faithful and Defender of the Faith!' Then he raised the great curtain and Khelifeh's eyes fell on the Khalif, who was seated on his couch, with the grandees of the realm standing in attendance upon him. As soon as he knew him, he went up to him and said, 'Welcome to thee, O piper! It was not well done of thee to make thyself a fisherman and go away, leaving me sitting guarding the fish, and never return! For, before I was aware, there came up slaves, on beasts of all manner colours, and snatched away the fish from me; and this was all of thy fault; for, hadst thou returned presently with the frails, we had sold a hundred dinars' worth of fish. And now I come to seek my due, and they have arrested me. But who hath imprisoned thee also in this place?'
The Khalif smiled and raising a corner of the curtain, said to the fisherman, 'Come hither and take one of these papers.' Quoth Khelifeh, 'Yesterday thou wast a fisherman, and now I find thee an astrologer: but the more trades a man hath, the poorer he is.' But Jaafer said, 'Do as the Commander of the Faithful bids thee and take the paper at once, without prating.' So he came forward, saying, 'God forbid that this piper should ever again be my journeyman and fish with me!' Then he put out his hand and taking a paper, handed it to the Khalif, saying, 'O piper, what hath come up for me therein. Hide nought thereof.' Er Reshid gave the paper to Jaafer and said to him, 'Read what is therein.' So he looked at it and said, 'There is no power and no virtue save in God the Most High, the Supreme!' '[God grant thou hast] good news, O Jaafer!' said the Khalif. 'What seest thou therein?' 'O Commander of the Faithful,' answered the vizier, 'there appeareth on the paper, "Let the fisherman receive a hundred blows with a stick."'
So the Khalif commanded to beat the fisherman and they gave him a hundred blows with a stick; after which he rose, saying, 'Confound this play. O Bran-belly! Are imprisonment and beating part of the game?' Then said Jaafer, 'O Commander of the Faithful, this poor wretch is come to the river, and how shall he go away thirsting? We hope of the charity of the Commander of the Faithful that he may have leave to take another paper, so haply he may happen upon somewhat wherewithal he may succour his poverty.' 'By Allah, O Jaafer,' said the Khalif, 'if he take another paper and "death" be written therein, I will assuredly kill him, and thou wilt be the cause.' 'If he die,' answered Jaafer, 'he will be at rest.' But Khelifeh said to him, 'May God never gladden thee with good news! Have I made Baghdad strait upon you, that you seek to kill me?' Quoth Jaafer, 'Take a paper and crave the blessing of God the Most High!'
So he put out his hand and taking a paper, gave it to Jaafer, who read it and was silent. 'Why art thou silent, O son of Yehya?' asked the Khalif. And he answered, 'O Commander of the Faithful, there is written on this paper, "The fisherman shall not be given aught."' Then said the Khalif, 'Bid him depart our presence, for there is no good fortune appointed to him from us.' 'By thy pious forefathers,' quoth Jaafer, 'let him take a third paper; it may be it will bring him good fortune.' 'Let him take one, then, and no more,' replied the Khalif. So he put out his hand and took a third paper, and behold, therein was written, 'Let the fisherman receive one dinar.' Quoth Jaafer to him, 'I sought good fortune for thee, but God willed to thee nought but this dinar.' And Khelifeh answered, 'Verily, a dinar for every hundred stripes were rare good luck, may God not send thy body health!'
The Khalif laughed at him and Jaafer took him by the hand and led him out. When he reached the door, Sendel the eunuch saw him and said to him, 'Hither, O fisherman! Give us largesse of that which the Commander of the Faithful hath bestowed on thee, whilst jesting with thee.' 'By Allah, O Rosy-cheeks,' replied Khelifeh, 'thou art right! Wilt thou share with me, blackskin? Indeed, I have eaten stick to the tune of a hundred blows and gotten one dinar, and thou art welcome to it.' So saying, he threw him the dinar and went out, with the tears running down his cheeks. When the eunuch saw him in this plight, he knew that he had spoken truth and called to the attendants to fetch him back: so they brought him back and Sendel putting his hand to his pouch, pulled out a red purse, whence he emptied a hundred dinars into the fisherman's hand, saying, 'Take this in payment of thy fish and go thy ways.'
So Khelifeh took the hundred dinars and the Khalif's one dinar and went his way, rejoicing, and forgot the beating. Now, as God willed it for the accomplishment of that which He had decreed, he passed by the slave- girls' market and seeing there a great crowd of people assembled in a ring, said to himself, 'What is this crowd?' So he elbowed his way through the merchants and others, who said, 'Make way for Captain Cullion!' and let him pass. Then he looked and saw a chest, with an eunuch seated thereon, and behind it an old man standing up and crying, 'O merchants, O men of wealth, who will venture his money for this chest [of] unknown [content,] from the palace of the Lady Zubeideh bint el Casim, wife of the Commander of the Faithful? What shall I say for you, may God bless you?'
'By Allah,' quoth one of the merchants, 'this is a risk! But I will say one word and no blame to me. Be it mine for twenty dinars.' Quoth another, 'Fifty,' and they went on bidding, one against the other, till the price reached a hundred dinars. Then said the crier, 'O merchants, will any of you bid more?' And Khelifeh said, 'Be it mine for a hundred dinars and one.' The merchants thought he was jesting and laughed at him, saying, 'O eunuch, sell it to Khelifeh for a hundred and one dinars!' Quoth the eunuch, 'By Allah, I will sell it to none but him! Take it, O fisherman, God bless thee in it, and hand over the money.' So Khelifeh pulled out the money and gave it to the eunuch, who delivered him the chest and bestowed the price in alms on the spot; after which he returned to the palace and told Zubeideh what he had done, whereat she rejoiced.
Meanwhile the fisherman shouldered the chest, but could not carry it [so,] of the excess of its weight; so he lifted it on to his head and carried it thus to the place where he lived. Here he set it down and being weary, sat awhile, considering what had befallen him and saying in himself, 'Would I knew what is in this chest!' Then he opened the door of his lodging and tugged at the chest, till he got it into his chamber; after which he strove to open it, but without success. Quoth he, 'What possessed me to buy this chest? There is nothing for it but to break it open and see what is therein.' So he applied himself to the lock, but could not open it, and said in himself, 'I will leave it till to-morrow.'
Then he would have lain down to sleep, but could find no room; for the chest filled the whole chamber. So he climbed up on to it and lay down to sleep; but, when he had lain awhile, he felt something stir in the chest, whereat he was affrighted and sleep forsook him and his reason fled. So he arose and said, 'Meseems there are Jinn in the chest. Praised be God who hindered me from opening it! For, had I done so, they had come upon me in the dark and made an end of me, and no good would have betided me from them.' Then he lay down again, when, behold, the chest moved a second time, more than before; whereupon he sprang up and said, 'There it is again: but this is terrible!' And he hastened to look for the lamp, but could not and it and had no money to buy another. So he went forth and cried out, saying, 'Ho, people of the quarter!'
Now the most part of the folk were asleep; but they awoke at his crying and said, 'What ails thee, O Khelifeh?' 'Bring me a lamp,' answered he; 'for the Jinn are upon me.' They laughed at him and gave him a lamp, with which he returned to his chamber. Then he beat upon the lock of the chest with a stone and broke it and opening it, saw a damsel like a houri lying asleep within. Now she had been drugged with henbane, but at that moment she threw up the henbane and awoke. Then she opened her eyes and feeling herself cramped, moved: whereupon quoth Khelifeh, 'By Allah, O my lady, whence art thou?' Quoth she, 'Bring me Jessamine and Narcissus.' (69) And Khelifeh answered, 'There is nought here but henna-bowers.' Thereupon she came to herself and looking at Khelifeh, said to him, 'What art thou and where am I?' He answered, 'Thou art in my lodging.' Quoth she, 'Am I not in the palace of the Khalif Haroun er Reshid?' 'O madwoman,' replied he, 'what manner of thing is Er Reshid? Thou art nought but my slave- girl; I bought thee this very day for a hundred dinars and one and brought thee home, and thou wast asleep in this chest.'
When she heard this, she said to him, 'What is thy name?' 'My name is Khelifeh,' answered he. 'How comes my star to have grown propitious, when I know it to have been otherwise?' She laughed and said, 'Spare me this talk. Hast thou anything to eat?' 'No, by Allah,' answered he, 'nor yet to drink! I have not eaten these two days and am now in want of a morsel.' 'Hast thou no money?' asked she; and he said, 'God keep this chest that hath beggared me! I gave all I had for it and am become bankrupt.' She laughed at him and said, 'Go and seek of thy neighbours somewhat for me to eat, for I am hungry.' So he went forth and cried out, saying, 'Ho, people of the quarter!'
Now they were asleep; but they awoke and said, 'What ails thee, O Khelifeh?' 'O my neighbours,' answered he, 'I am hungry and have nothing to eat.' So one came down to him with a cake of bread and another with broken meats and a third with a piece of cheese and a fourth with a cucumber, and so on till his lap was full and be returned to his chamber and laid the whole before her, saying, 'Eat.' But she laughed at him, saying, 'How can I eat of this, when I have not a drop of water to drink? I fear to choke with a mouthful and die.' Quoth he, 'I will fill thee this pitcher.' So he took the pitcher and going forth, stood in the midst of the street and cried out, saying, 'Ho, people of the quarter!' Quoth they, 'What a pest thou art to-night, O Khelifeh!' And he said, 'Ye gave me food and I ate; but now I am athirst; so give me to drink.'
So one came down to him with a jug and another with an ewer and a third with a gugglet; and he filled his pitcher and carrying it back to the damsel, said to her, 'O my lady, thou lackest nothing now.' 'True,' answered she; 'I want nothing more at present.' Quoth he, 'Speak to me and tell me thy story.' And she said, 'Harkye! If thou knowest me not, I will tell thee who I am. I am Cout el Culoub, the Khalif's slave-girl, and the lady Zubeideh was jealous of me; so she drugged me and put me in this chest. Praised be God for that the matter hath come to no worse issue! But this befell me not save for thy good luck, for thou wilt certainly get of the Khalif Er Reshid money galore, that will be the means of thine enrichment.' Quoth Khelifeh, 'Is not the Khalif he in whose palace I was imprisoned?' 'Yes,' answered she; and he said, 'By Allah, I never saw a stingier than he, that piper little of good and wit! He gave me a hundred blows with a stick yesterday and one poor dinar, for all I taught him to fish and made him my partner; but he played me false.' 'Leave this unseemly talk,' replied she, 'and open thine eyes and look thou bear thyself respectfully, whenas thou seest him after this, and thou shalt attain thy desire.'
When he heard her words it was as if he had been asleep and awoke; and God removed the veil from his judgment, because of his good luck, and he answered, 'On my head and eyes!' Then said he to her, 'Sleep, in the name of God.' So she lay down and fell asleep, and he slept at a distance from her, till the morning, when she sought of him inkhorn and paper and wrote to Ibn el Kirnas, acquainting him with her case and how she was with Khelifeh the fisherman, who had bought her. Then she gave him the letter, saying, 'Go to the jewel- market and enquire for the shop of Ibn el Kirnas the jeweller and give him this letter and speak not.' 'I hear and obey,' answered Khelifeh and going to the market, enquired for the shop of Ibn el Kirnas. They directed him thither and he saluted the merchant, who returned his greeting with an air of disdain and said to him, 'What dost thou want?'
So he gave him the letter and he took it, but read it not, thinking the fisherman a beggar, who sought an alms of him, and said to one of his servants, 'Give him half a dirhem.' Quoth Khelifeh, 'I want no alms; read the letter.' So Ibn el Kirnas read the letter and no sooner knew its import than he rose and kissing it, laid it on his head and said to Khelifeh, 'O my brother, where is thy house?' 'What wantest thou with my house?' asked Khelifeh. 'Wilt thou go thither and steal my slave-girl?' 'Not so,' answered Ibn el Kirnas; 'on the contrary, I will buy somewhat whereof yon may eat, thou and she.' So he said, 'My house is in such a quarter.' And the merchant rejoined, 'Thou hast done well. May God not give thee health, O unlucky one!' (70)
Then he called two of his slaves and said to them, 'Carry this man to the shop of Muhsin the money-changer and bid him give him a thousand dinars and bring him back to me in haste.' So they carried him to the money- changer, who gave him the money, and returned with him to their master, whom they found mounted on a dapple mule, with slaves and servants about him, and by his side another mule like his own, saddled and bridled. Quoth the jeweller to Khelifeh, 'In the name of God, mount this mule.' 'Nay,' replied he; 'I fear lest she throw me.' 'By Allah,' said Ibn el Kirnas, 'but thou must mount!' So he came up and mounting her, face to crupper, caught hold of her tail and cried out; whereupon she threw him on the ground and they laughed at him: but he rose and said, 'Did I not tell thee I would not mount this great ass?' Ibn el Kienas left him in the market and repairing to the Khalif, told him of the damsel; after which he returned and removed her to his own house.
Meanwhile, Khelifeh went home to look after the damsel and found the people of the quarter assembled together, saying, 'Verily, Khelifeh is to-day altogether undone! Where can he have gotten this damsel?' Quoth one of them, 'He is a mad pimp: belike he found her by the way, drunk, and carried her to his own house, and his absence shows that he knows his crime.' As they were talking, up came Khelifeh, and they said to him, 'What a plight is thine, O unhappy wretch! Knowest thou not what is come to thee?' 'No, by Allah!' answered he. And they said, 'But now there came slaves and took away thy slave-girl, whom thou stolest, and sought for thee, but found thee not.' 'And how came they to take my slave-girl?' asked Khelifeh. And one said, 'Had he fallen in their way, they had slain him.' But he paid no heed to them and returned, running, to the shop of Ibn el Kirnas, whom he met riding, and said to him, 'By Allah, it was a scurvy trick of thee to amuse me and send thy servants meanwhile to take my slave-girl!' 'O madman,' replied the jeweller, 'hold thy peace and come with me.'
So he took him and carried him into a handsome house, where he found the damsel seated on a couch of gold, with ten slave-girls like moons round her. Ibn el Kirnas kissed the ground before her and she said, 'What hast thou done with my new master, who bought me with all he had?' 'O my lady,' answered he, 'I gave him a thousand dinars,' and related to her Khelifeh's history from first to last, at which she laughed and said, 'Blame him not; for he is but a common man. These other thousand dinars are a present from me to him and God willing, he shall get of the Khalif what shall enrich him.'
As they were talking, there came an eunuch from the Khalif, in quest of Cout el Culoub, for, when he knew that she was in Ibn el Kirnas's house, he could not restrain his impatience, but sent forthwith to fetch her. So she repaired to the palace, taking Khelifeh with her, and going in to the presence, kissed the ground before the Khalif, who rose to her, saluting and welcoming her, and asked her how she had fared with him who had bought her. 'He is a man named Khelifeh the fisherman,' answered she, 'and standeth presently at the door. He tells me that he hath an account to settle with the Commander of the Faithful, by reason of a partnership between him and the Khalif in fishing.' 'Is he at the door?' asked Er Reshid; and she answered, 'Yes.'
So the Khalif sent for him and he kissed the ground before him and wished him continuance of glory and prosperity. The Khalif marvelled at him and laughed at him and said to him, 'O fisherman, wast thou in very earnest my partner yesterday?' (71) Khelifeh took his meaning and summoning courage, replied, 'By Him who bestowed upon thee the succession to thine uncle's son, (72) I know her not in anywise and have had no commerce with her save by way of looking and talking!' Then he told him all that had befallen him, since he last saw him, whereat the Khalif laughed and his breast dilated and he said to Khelifeh, 'Ask of us what thou wilt, O thou that bringest folk their own!' But he was silent; so the Khalif ordered him fifty thousand dinars and a sumptuous dress of honour from the royal wardrobe and a mule, and gave him black slaves to wait on him, so that he became as he were one of the kings of the time.
The Khalif was rejoiced at the recovery of his favourite and knew that this was of the doing of his wife Zubeideh, wherefore he was sore enraged against her and held aloof from her a great while, visiting her not neither relenting to her. When she was certified of this, she was sore concerned for his anger and her face paled, that was wont to be rosy, till, when her patience was exhausted, she sent a letter to her cousin, the Commander of the Faithful, making her excuses to him and confessing her offences, and ending with these verses:I long once more thy sometime love and favour to regain, That therewithal I may assuage my sorrow and my pain.
When the Khalif read her letter and saw that she acknowledged her offence and sent to make her excuses to him therefor, he said, 'Verily, God pardoneth all offences; for He is the Forgiving, the Merciful.' (73) And he returned her an answer, containing [assurance of] satisfaction and pardon and forgiveness for what was past, whereat she rejoiced greatly.
As for Khelifeh, the Khalif assigned him a monthly allowance of fifty dinars, by way of recompense, and took him into his especial favour. Then he kissed the earth before the Commander of the Faithful and went forth with stately gait. When he came to the door, the eunuch Sendel saw him and knowing him, said to him, 'O fisherman, how camest thou by all this?' So he told him all that had befallen him, first and last, whereat Sendel rejoiced, in that he had been the cause of his enrichment, and said to him, 'Wilt thou not give me largesse of this wealth that is become thine?' So Khelifeh put his hand to his pouch and taking out a purse containing a thousand dinars, gave it to the eunuch, who said, 'Keep thy money and God bless thee in it!' and marvelled at his generosity and at the liberality of his soul, for all his [late] poverty.
Then he mounted his mule and rode, with the slaves' Hands on her crupper, till he came to his lodging, whilst the folk stared at him and marvelled at that which had betided him of advancement. When he alighted, they accosted him and enquired the cause of his change of fortune, and he told them all that had happened to him, from first to last. Then he bought a fine house and laid out much money thereon, till it was perfect in all respects. And he took up his abode therein and was wont to recite the following verses thereon:Behold a house that's like the Dwelling of Delight! (74) Its aspect heals the sick and banishes despite.
As soon as he was settled in his house, he sought in marriage a handsome girl, daughter of one of the chief men of the city, and went in to her and led a life of all delight and happiness and prosperity. So, when he found himself in this fortunate condition, he offered up thanks to God [blessed and gloried be He!] for the abounding wealth He had bestowed on him and for His continual favours, praising his Lord with the praise of the grateful and chanting the words of the poet:To Thee the praise, O Thou whose grace doth no remission know, Whose bounties all-embracing are and all things overflow!
He continued to pay frequent visits to the Khalif, with whom he found acceptance and who ceased not to overwhelm him with favours and bounty: and he abode in the enjoyment of the utmost honour and happiness and prospects and of all the delights and comforts of life, till there came to him the Destroyer of Delights and the Sunderer of Companies; and extolled be the perfection of Him to whom belong glory and permanence, the Living, the Eternal, who shall never die!