THE STORY OF ABOU HASSAN, OR THE SLEEPER AWAKENED.
In the reign of the caliph Haroon al Rusheed, there lived at Bagdad a very rich merchant, who, having married a woman advanced in years, had but one son, whom he named Abou Hassan, and educated with great restraint: when his son was thirty years old, the merchant dying, left him his sole heir, and master of great riches, amassed together by much frugality and close application to business. Abou Hassan, whose views and inclinations were very different from those of his father, determined to make another use of his wealth; for as his father had never allowed him any money but what was just necessary for subsistence, and he had always envied those young persons of his age who wanted for nothing, and who debarred themselves from none of those pleasures to which youth are so much addicted, he resolved in his turn to distinguish himself by extravagancies proportionable to his fortune. To this end he divided his riches into two parts; with one half he bought houses in town, and land in the country, with a resolution never to touch the income of his real estate, which was considerable enough to live upon .very handsomely, but lay it all by as he received it. With the other half, which consisted of ready money, he designed to make himself amends for the time he had lost by the severe restraint in which his father had always kept him.
With this intent, Abou Hassan formed a society with youths of his own age and condition, who thought of nothing but how to make their time pass agreeably. Every day he gave them splendid entertainments, at which the most delicate viands were served up, and the most exquisite wines flowed in profusion, while concerts of the best vocal and instrumental music by performers of both sexes heightened their pleasures, and this young band of debauchees with the glasses in their hands, joined their songs with the music. These feasts were accompanied by ballets, for which the best dancers of both sexes were engaged. These entertainments, renewed every day, were so expensive to Abou Hassan, that he could not support the extravagance above a year: and the great sum which he had appropriated to this prodigality and the year ended together. As soon as he discontinued keeping this table, his friends forsook him; whenever they saw him they avoided him, and if by chance he met any of them, and went to stop them, they always excused themselves on some presence or other.
Abou Hassan was more affected by this behaviour of his friends, who had forsaken him so basely and ungratefully, after all the protestations they had made him, of inviolable attachment, than by the loss of all the money he had so foolishly squandered. He went melancholy and thoughtful, his countenance expressive of deep vexation, into his mother's apartment, and sat down on the end of a sofa at a distance from her. "What is the matter with you, son?" said his mother, seeing him thus depressed. "Why are you so altered, so dejected, and so different from yourself? You could not certainly be more concerned, if you had lost all you had. I know you have lived very extravagantly, and believe all your money is spent; you have still, however, a good estate; and the reason that I did not so much oppose your irregular way of living was, that I knew the wise precaution you had taken to preserve half your property. I do not, therefore, see why you should plunge yourself into this deep melancholy."
At these words Abou Hassan melted into tears; and in the midst of his sighs exclaimed, "Ah! mother, I see at last how insupportable poverty must be; I am sensible that it deprives us of joy, as the setting of the sun does of light. As poverty makes us forget all the commendations passed upon us before our fall, it makes us endeavour to conceal ourselves, and spend our nights in tears and sorrow. In short, a poor man is looked upon, both by friends and relations, as a stranger. You know, mother, how I have treated my friends for this year past; I have entertained them with all imaginable generosity, till I have spent all my money, and now they have left me, when they suppose I can treat them no longer. For my real estate, I thank heaven for having given me grace to keep the oath I made not to encroach upon that. I shall now know how to use what is left. But I will, however, try how far my friends, who deserve not that I should call them so, will carry their ingratitude. I will go to them one after another, and when I have represented to them what I have done on their account, ask them to make up a sum of money, to relieve me, merely to try if I can find any sentiment of gratitude remaining in them."
"I do not pretend, son," said Abou Hassan's mother, "to dissuade you from your design; but I can tell you beforehand, that you have no ground for hope. Believe me, you will kind no relief but from the estate you have reserved. I see you do not, but will soon, know those people, who, among persons of your sort, are generally called friends, and I wish to heaven you may know it in the manner I desire, for your own good." "Mother," replied Abou Hassan, "I am persuaded of the truth of what you say, but shall be more certain of a fact which concerns me so nearly, when I shall have informed myself fully of their baseness and insensibility." Abou Hassan went immediately to his friends, whom he found at home; represented to them the great need he was in, and begged of them to assist him. He promised to give bonds to pay them the money they might lend him; giving them to understand at the same time, that it was, in a great measure, on their account that he was so distressed. That he might the more powerfully excite their generosity, he forgot not to allure them with the hopes of being once again entertained in the same manner as before.
Not one of his companions was affected with the arguments which the afflicted Abou Hassan used to persuade them; and he had the mortification to find, that many of them told him plainly they did not know him.
He returned home full of indignation; and going into his mother's apartment, said, "Ah! madam, you were right; instead of friends, I have found none but perfidious ungrateful wretches, who deserve not my friendship; I renounce them, and promise you I will never see them more." He resolved to be as good as his word, and took every precaution to avoid falling again into the inconvenience which his former prodigality had occasioned; taking an oath never to give an inhabitant of Bagdad any entertainment while he lived. He drew the strong box into which he had put the rents received from his estates from the recess where he had placed it in reserve, put it in the room of that he had emptied, and resolved to take out every day no more than was sufficient to defray the expense of a single person to sup with him, who, according to the oath he had taken, was not of Bagdad, but a stranger arrived in the city the same day, and who must take his leave of him the following morning.
Conformably to this plan, Abou Hassan took care every morning to provide whatever was necessary, and towards the close of the evening, went and sat at the end of Bagdad bridge; and as soon as he saw a stranger, accosted him civilly invited him to sup and lodge with him that night, and after having informed him of the law he had imposed upon himself, conducted him to his house. The repast with which Abou Hassan regaled his guests was not costly, but well dressed, with plenty of good wine, and generally lasted till the night was pretty far advanced; instead of entertaining his guests with the affairs of state, his family, or business, as is too frequent, he conversed on different agreeable subjects. He was naturally of so gay and pleasant a temper, that he could give the most agreeable turns to every subject, and make the most melancholy persons merry. When he sent away his guest the next morning, he always said, "God preserve you from all sorrow wherever you go; when I invited you yesterday to come and sup with me, I informed you of the law I have imposed on myself; therefore do not take it ill if I tell you that we must never see one another again, nor drink together, either at home or any where else, for reasons best known to myself: so God conduct you."
Abou Hassan was very exact in the observance of this oath, and never looked upon or spoke to the strangers he had once entertained; if he met them afterwards in the streets, the squares, or any public assemblies, he affected not to see them, and turned away to avoid them, that they might not speak to him, or he have any communication with them. He had acted for a long time in this manner, when, one afternoon, a little before sunset, as he sat upon the bridge according to custom, the caliph Haroon al Rusheed came by, but so disguised that it was impossible to know him; for that monarch, though his chief ministers and officers of justice acquitted themselves of their duty very punctually, would nevertheless inform himself of every thing, and for that purpose often disguised himself in different ways, and walked through the city and suburbs of Bagdad, sometimes one way and sometimes another. That day, being the first of the month, he was dressed like a merchant of Moussul, and was followed by a tall stout slave.
As the caliph had in his disguise a grave and respectable appearance, Abou Hassan, who thought him to be a Moussul merchant, rose up, and after having saluted him with a graceful air, said to him, "Sir, I congratulate you on your happy arrival in Bagdad, I beg you to do me the honour to sup with me, and repose yourself at my house for this night, after the fatigue of your journey." He then told him his custom of entertaining the first stranger he met with. The caliph found something so odd and singular in Abou Hassan's whim, that he was very desirous to know the cause; and told him that he could not better merit a civility, which he did not expect as a stranger, than by accepting the obliging offer made him; that he had only to lead the way, and he was ready to follow him.
Abou Hassan treated the caliph as his equal, conducted him home, and led him into a room very neatly furnished, where he set him on a sofa, in the most honourable place. Supper was ready, and the cloth laid. Abou Hassan's mother, who took upon herself the care of the kitchen, sent up three dishes; the first contained a capon and four large pullets, which was set in the middle; and the second and third, placed on each side, contained, one a fat roasted goose, and the other broiled pigeons. This was all; but they were good of the kind and well flavoured, with proper sauces.
Abou Hassan sat down opposite his guest, and he and the caliph began to eat heartily of what they liked best, without speaking or drinking, according to the custom of the country. When they had done eating, the caliph's slave brought them water to wash their hands: and in the mean time Abou Hassan's mother cleared the table, and brought up a dessert of all the various sorts or fruits then in season; as grapes, peaches, apples, pears, and various pastes of dried almonds, &c. As soon as it grew dark, wax candles were lighted, and Abou Hassan, after requesting his mother to take care of the caliph's slave, set on bottles and glasses.
Abou Hassan sitting down with the pretended Moussul merchant again, filled out a glass of wine before he touched the fruit; and holding it in his hand, said to the caliph, "You know, sir, that the cock never drinks before he calls to his hens to come and drink with him; I invite you to follow my example. I do not know what you may think; but, for my part, I cannot reckon him a wise man who does not love wine. Let us leave that sort of people to their dull melancholy humours, and seek for mirth, which is only to be found in a bumper."
While Abou Hassan was drinking' the caliph taking the glass that was set for him, said, "You are an honest fellow; I like your pleasant temper, and expect you will fill me as much." Abou Hassan, as soon as he had drunk, filled the caliph's glass, and giving it to him, "Taste this wine, sir," said he, "I will warrant it good." "I am well persuaded of that," replied the caliph, laughing, "you know how to choose the best." "O," replied Abou Hassan, while the caliph was drinking his glass, "one need only look in your face to be assured that you have seen the world, and know what good living is. If," added he in Arabic verse, "my house could think and express its joy, how happy would it be to possess you, and, bowing before you, would exclaim, 'How overjoyed am I to see myself honoured with the company of so accomplished and polite a personage, and for meeting with a man of your merit.'"
The caliph, naturally fond of merriment, was highly diverted with these sallies of Abou Hassan, and artfully promoted drinking, often asking for wine, thinking that when it began to operate, he might from his talkativeness satisfy his curiosity. He asked him his name, his business, and how he spent his life. "My name, sir," replied he, "is Abou Hassan. I lost my father, who was a merchant of Bagdad, and though not the richest, yet lived very comfortably. When he died, he left me money enough to live free from business; but as he always kept a very strict hand over me, I was willing, when he was gone, to make up for the time I thought I had lost. Notwithstanding this," continued Abou Hassan, "I was more prudent than most young people who give themselves up to debauchery, without any thought, pursue it till they reduce themselves to the utmost poverty, and are forced to do penance during the rest of their lives. To avoid this misfortune, I divided what I had left me into two parts, landed estate and ready money. I destined the ready money to supply the expenses of entertaining my acquaintance. I meditated, and took a fixed resolution not to touch my rents. I associated with young people of my own age, and with my ready money, which I spent profusely, treated them splendidly every day; and in short, spared for no sort of pleasure. But this course did not last long; for by the time the year was out, I had got to the bottom of my box, and then all my table-friends vanished. I made a visit to every one of them successively, and represented to them the miserable condition I was in, but none of them offered to relieve me. Upon this I renounced their friendship, and retrenched so far, as to live within the compass of my income, bound myself to keep company with none but the first stranger I might meet with coming every day into Bagdad, and to entertain him but one day and one night. I have told you the rest before; and I thank my good fortune this day for having met with a stranger of so much worth."
The caliph was well satisfied with this information, and said to Abou Hassan, "I cannot enough commend the measures you have taken, and the prudence with which you have acted, by forsaking your debauchery; a conduct rarely to be met with in young persons; and I esteem you the more for being steady to your resolution. It was a slippery path you trod in, and I cannot but admire your self-command, that, after having seen the end of your ready money, you could so far refrain as not to enter upon your rents, or even your estate. In short, I must own, I envy your situation. You are the happiest man in the world, to enjoy every day the company of some one with whom you can discourse freely and agreeably, and to whom you give an opportunity to declare, wherever he goes, how handsome he was received by you. But we talk too long without drinking; come, drink, and pour out a glass for me."
In this manner the caliph and Abou Hassan conversed together, drinking and talking of indifferent subjects, till the night was pretty far advanced; when the caliph, pretending to be fatigued after his journey, told his host he stood in need of a little rest. "But," added he, "as I would not deprive you of yours on my account, before we part (because to-morrow I may be gone before you are stirring), I should be glad to shew you how sensible I am of your civility, and the good cheer and hospitality you have strewn me. The only thing that troubles me is, that I know not which way to make you any acknowledgment. I beg of you, therefore, to let me understand how I may do it' and you shall see I will not be ungrateful; for it is impossible but a man like you must have some business, some want, or wish for something agreeable to you. Speak freely, and open your mind; for though I am but a merchant, it may be in my power to oblige you myself, or by some friend."
To these offers of the caliph, Abou Hassan, taking him still for a Moussul merchant, replied, "I am very well persuaded, sir, that it is not out of compliment that you make me these generous tenders; but upon the word of an honest man, I assure you, I have nothing that troubles me, no business, nor desires, and I ask nothing of any body. I have not the least ambition, as I told you before; and am satisfied with my condition: therefore, I can only thank you for your obliging proffers, and the honour you have done me in condescending to partake of my frugal fare. Yet I must tell you," pursued Abou Hassan, "there is one thing gives me uneasiness, without, however, disturbing my rest. You must know the town of Bagdad is divided into quarters, in each of which there is a mosque with an imaum to perform service at certain hours, at the head of the quarter which assembles there. The imaum of the division I live in is a surly curmudgeon, of an austere countenance, and the greatest hypocrite in the world. Four old men of this neighbourhood, who are people of the same stamp, meet regularly every day at this imaum's house. There they vent their slander, calumny, and malice against me and the whole quarter, to the disturbance of the peace of the neighbourhood, and the promotion of dissension. Some they threaten, others they frighten; and, in short, would be lords paramount, and have every one govern himself according to their caprice, though they know not how to govern themselves. Indeed, I am sorry to see that they meddle with any thing but their Koraun, and will not let the world live quietly."
"Well, I suppose," said the caliph, "you wish to have a stop put to this disorder?" "You have guessed right," answered Abou Hassan; "and the only thing I should pray for, would be to be caliph but for one day, in the stead of our sovereign lord and master Haroon al Rusheed, commander of the faithful." "What would you do if you were?" said the caliph. "I would make examples of them," answered Abou Hassan, "to the satisfaction of all honest men. I would punish the four old men with each a hundred bastinadoes on the soles of their feet, and the imaum with four hundred, to teach them not to disturb and abuse their neighbours in future."
The caliph was extremely pleased with this thought of Abou Hassan's; and as he loved adventures, resolved to make this a very singular one. "Indeed," said he, "I approve much of your wish, which proceeds from an upright heart, that cannot bear the malice of such officious hypocrites; I could like to see it realized, and it is not so impossible as you may imagine. I am persuaded that the caliph would willingly put his authority for twenty-four hours into your hands if he knew your intentions, and the good use you would make of it. Though a foreign merchant, I have credit enough to contribute in some degree to the execution of this plan." "I see," said Abou Hassan, "you laugh at my foolish fancy, and the caliph himself would laugh at my extravagance if he knew it: yet it would be a means of informing him of the behaviour of the imaum and his companions, and induce him to chastise them."
"Heaven forbid," replied the caliph, "that I, who have been so handsomely entertained by you, should laugh at you; neither do I believe, as much a stranger as I am to you, that the caliph would be displeased: but let us leave off talking; it is almost midnight, and time to go to bed." "With all my heart," said Abou Hassan; "I would not be any hindrance to your going to rest; but there is still some wine in the bottle, and if you please we will drink it off first, and then retire. The only thing that I have to recommend to you is, that when you go out in the morning, if I am not up, you will not leave the door open, but give yourself the trouble of shutting it after you." This the caliph promised to do: and while Abou Hassan was talking, took the bottle and two glasses, filled his own first, saying, "Here is a cup of thanks to you," and then filling the other, put into it artfully a little opiate powder, which he had about him and giving it to Abou Hassan, said, "You have taken the pains to fill for me all night, and it is the least I can do to save you the trouble once: I beg you to take this glass; drink it off for my sake."
Abou Hassan took the glass, and to shew his guest with how much pleasure he received the honour, drank it off at once; but had scarcely set the glass upon the table, when the powder began to operate; he fell into so sound a sleep, and his head knocked against his knees so suddenly, that the caliph could not help laughing. The caliph commanded the slave he had brought with him, who entered the room as soon as he had supped, and had waited to receive orders, to take Abou Hassan upon his back, and follow him; but to be sure to observe the house, that he might know it again. In this manner the caliph, followed by the slave with his sleeping load, went out of the house, but without shutting the door after him as he had been desired, went directly to his palace, and by a private door into his own apartment, where the officers of his chamber were in waiting, whom he ordered to undress Abou Hassan, and put him into his bed, which they immediately performed.
The caliph then sent for all the officers and ladies of the palace, and said to them, "I would have all those whose business it is to attend my levee wait to-morrow morning upon the man who lies in my bed, pay the same respect to him as to myself, and obey him in whatever he may command; let him be refused nothing that he asks, and be addressed and answered as if he were the commander of the faithful. In short, I expect that you attend to him as the true caliph, without regarding me; and disobey him not in the least circumstance."
The officers and ladies, who understood that the caliph meant to divert himself, answered by low bows, and then withdrew, every one preparing to contribute to the best of their power to perform their respective parts adroitly.
The caliph next sent for the grand vizier: "Jaaffier," said he, "I have sent for you to instruct you, and to prevent your being surprised to-morrow when you come to audience, at seeing this man seated on my throne in the royal robes: accost him with the same reverence and respect as you pay to myself: observe and punctually execute whatever he bids you do, the same as if I commanded you. He will exercise great liberality, and commission you with the distribution of it. Do all he commands; even if his liberality should extend so far as to empty all the coffers in my treasury; and remember to acquaint all my emirs, and the officers without the palace, to pay him the same honour at audience as to myself, and to carry on the matter so well, that he may not perceive the least thing that may interrupt the diversion which I design myself."
After the grand vizier had retired, the caliph went to bed in another apartment, and gave Mesrour, the chief of his eunuchs, the orders which he was to execute, that every thing should succeed as he intended, so that he might see how Abou Hassan would use the power and authority of the caliph for the short time he had desired to have it. Above all, he charged him not to fail to awaken him at the usual hour, before he awakened Abou Hassan, because he wished to be present when he arose.
Mesrour failed not to do as the caliph had commanded, and as soon as the caliph went into the room where Abou Hassan lay, he placed himself in a little raised closet, from whence he could see all that passed. All the officers and ladies, who were to attend Abou Hassan's levee, went in at the same time, and took their posts according to their rank, ready to acquit themselves of their respective duties, as if the caliph himself had been going to rise.
As it was just day-break, and time to prepare for the morning prayer before sun rise, the officer who stood nearest to the head of the bed put a sponge steeped in vinegar to Abou Hassan's nose, who immediately turning his head about, without opening his eyes, discharged a kind of phlegm, which was received in a little golden basin before it fell on the carpet. This was the usual effect of the caliph's powder, the sleep lasting longer or shorter, in proportion to the dose. When Abou Hassan laid down his head on the bolster, he opened his eyes; and by the dawning light that appeared, found himself in a large room, magnificently furnished, the ceiling of which was finely painted in Arabesque, adorned with vases of gold and silver, and the floor covered with a rich silk tapestry. He saw himself surrounded by many young and handsome ladies, many of them having instruments of music in their hands, and black eunuchs richly clothed, all standing with great modesty and respect. After casting his eyes on the covering of the bed, he perceived it was cloth of gold richly embossed with pearl and diamonds; and near the bed lay, on a cushion, a habit of tissue embroidered with jewels, with a caliph's turban.
At the sight of these glittering objects, Abou Hassan was in the most inexpressible amazement, and looked upon all he saw as a dream; yet a dream he wished it not to be. "So," said he to himself, "I am caliph; but," added he, recollecting himself, "it is only a dream, the effect of the wish I entertained my guest with last night ;" and then he turned himself about and shut his eyes to sleep. At the same time the eunuch said very respectfully, "Commander of the faithful, it is time for your majesty to rise to prayers, the morning begins to advance."
These words very much surprised Abou Hassan. "Am I awake, or do I sleep?" said he to himself. "Ah, certainly I am asleep!" continued he, keeping his eyes shut; "there is no reason to doubt of it."
Immediately the eunuch, who saw he had no inclination to get up, said again, "Your majesty must permit me to repeat once more that it is time to rise to morning prayer, unless you choose to let it pass; the sun is just rising, and you never neglect this duty." "I am mistaken," said Abou Hassan immediately, "I am not asleep, but awake; for those who sleep do not hear, and I hear somebody speak to me;" then opening his eyes again, he saw plainly by broad day-light, what he had seen but indistinctly before; and started up, with a smiling countenance, like a man overjoyed at sudden promotion. The caliph, from his recess, penetrated his thoughts with great delight.
The young ladies of the palace now prostrated themselves with their faces to the ground before Abou Hassan, and those who had instruments of music in their hands wished him a good morrow, by a concert of soft flutes, hautboys, theorboes, and other harmonious instruments, with which he was enchanted, and in such an ecstacy, that he knew not whether he was himself; but reverting to his first idea, he still doubted whether what he saw and heard was a dream or reality. He clapped his hands before his eyes, and lowering his head, said to himself, "What means all this? Where am I? and to whom does this palace belong? What can these eunuchs, handsome well-dressed officers, beautiful ladies, and musicians mean: How is it possible for me to distinguish whether I am in my right senses or in a dream?"
When he took his hands from his eyes, opened them, and lifted up his head, the sun shone full in at the chamber window; and at that instant Mesrour, the chief of the eunuchs, came in, prostrated himself before Abou Hassan, and said, "Commander of the faithful, your majesty will excuse me for representing to you, that you used not to rise so late, and that the time of prayer is over. If your majesty has not had a bad night, it is time to ascend your throne and hold a council as usual; all your generals, governors, and other great officers of state, wait your presence in the council-hall."
At this discourse, Abou Hassan was persuaded that he was neither asleep nor in a dream; but at the same time was not less embarrassed and confused under his uncertainty what steps to take: at last, looking earnestly at Mesrour, he said to him in a serious tone, "Whom is it you speak to, and call the commander of the faithful? I do not know you, and you must mistake me for somebody else."
Any person but Mesrour would have been puzzled at these questions of Abou Hassan; but he had been so well instructed by the caliph, that he played his part admirably. "My imperial lord and master," said he, "your majesty only speaks thus to try me. Is not your majesty the commander of the faithful, monarch of the world from east to west, and vicar on earth to the prophet sent of God? Mesrour, your poor slave, has not forgotten you, after so many years that he has had the honour and happiness to serve and pay his respects to your majesty. He would think himself the most unhappy of men, if he has incurred your displeasure, and begs of you most humbly to remove his fears; but had rather suppose that you have been disturbed by some troublesome dream."
Abou Hassan burst out laughing at these words, and fell backwards upon the bolster, which pleased the caliph so much that he would have laughed as loud himself, if he had not been afraid of putting a stop too soon to the pleasant scene he had promised himself.
Abou Hassan, when he had tired himself with laughing, sat up again, and speaking to a little eunuch that stood by him, black as Mesrour, said, "Hark ye, tell me whom I am?" "Sir," answered the little boy, modestly, "your majesty is the commander of the believers, and God's vicar on earth." "You are a little liar, black face," said Abou Hassan. Then he called the lady that stood nearest to him; "Come hither, fair one," said he, holding out his hand, "bite the end of my finger, that I may feel whether I am asleep or awake."
The lady, who knew the caliph saw all that passed, was overjoyed to have an opportunity of strewing her power of diverting him, went with a grave countenance, and putting his finger between her teeth, bit it so hard that she put him to violent pain. Snatching his hand quickly back again, he said, "I find I am awake and not asleep. But by what miracle am I become caliph in a night's time! this is certainly the most strange and surprising event in the world!" Then addressing himself to the same lady, he said, "I conjure you, by the protection of God, in whom you trust as well as I, not to hide the truth from me; am I really the commander of the faithful?" "It is so true," answered the lady, "that we who are your slaves are amazed to find that you will not believe yourself to be so." "You are a deceiver," replied Abou Hassan: "I know very well who I am."
As the chief of the eunuchs perceived that Abou Hassan now wished to rise, he offered him his hand, and helped him to get out of bed. No sooner were his feet set on the floor, than the chamber rang with the repeated acclamations of the officers and ladies, who cried out all together, "Commander of the faithful, God give your majesty a good day." "O heaven!" cried Abou Hassan, "what a strange thing this is! Last night I was Abou Hassan, and this morning I am the commander of the believers! I cannot comprehend this sudden and surprising change." Presently some of the officers began to dress him; and when they had done, Mesrour led him through all the eunuchs and ladies, who were ranged on both sides, quite to the council chamber door, which was opened by one of the officers. Mesrour walked before him to the foot of the throne, where he stopped, and putting one hand under one arm, while another officer who followed did the same by the other, they helped him to ascend the throne. Abou Hassan sat down amidst the acclamations of the officers, who wished him all happiness and prosperity, and turning to the right and left he saw the officers of the guards ranged in order, and making a fine appearance.
The caliph in the mean time came out of the closet, and went into another, which looked into the hall, from whence he could see and hear all that passed in council, where his grand vizier presided in his place. What pleased him highly, was to see Abou Hassan fill his throne with almost as much gravity as himself.
As soon as Abou Hassan had seated himself, the grand vizier prostrated himself at the foot of the throne, and rising, said, "Commander of the faithful, God shower down blessings on your majesty in this life, receive you into his paradise in the other world, and confound your enemies."
Abou Hassan, after all that had happened that morning, at these words of the grand vizier, never doubted but that he was caliph, as he wished to be; and without examining any farther, how or by what adventure, or sudden change of fortune, he had become so, immediately began to exercise his power, and looking very gravely at the vizier, asked him what he had to say? "Commander of the faithful," replied the grand vizier, "the emirs, Vizier, and other officers of your council, wait without till your majesty gives them leave to pay their accustomed respects." Abou Hassan ordered the door to be opened, and the grand vizier addressing himself to the officers in waiting, said, "Chief of the door-keepers, the commander of the faithful orders you to do your duty."
When the door was opened, the viziers, emirs, and principal officers of the court, all dressed magnificently in their habits of ceremony, went in their order to the foot of the throne, paid their respects to Abou Hassan; and bowing their heads down to the carpet, saluted him with the title of commander of the faithful, according to the instructions of the grand vizier, and afterwards took their seats.
When this ceremony was over, and they were all placed, there was a profound silence. The grand vizier always standing before the throne, began according to the order of papers in his hand to make his report of affairs, which at that time were of very little consequence. Nevertheless, the caliph could not but admire how Abou Hassan acquitted himself in his exalted station without the least hesitation or embarrassment, and decided well in all matters, as his own good sense suggested. But before the grand vizier had finished his report, Abou Hassan perceived the judge of the police, whom he knew by sight, sitting in his place. "Stop," said he, to the grand vizier, interrupting him; "I have an order of consequence to give to the judge of the police." The judge of the police perceiving that Abou Hassan looked at him, and hearing his name mentioned, arose from his seat, and went gravely to the foot of the throne, where he prostrated himself with his face to the ground. "Judge of the police," said Abou Hassan, "go immediately to such a quarter, where you will find a mosque, seize the imaum and four old grey beards, give each of the old men a hundred bastinadoes, and the imaum four hundred. After that, mount them all five, clothed in rags, on camels, with their faces to the tails, and lead them through the whole city, with a crier before them, who shall proclaim with a loud voice, 'This is the punishment of all those who trouble their heads with other people's affairs, make it their business to create disturbances and misunderstandings in families in their neighbourhood, and do them all the mischief in their power.' My intention is also, that you enjoin them to leave that quarter, and never to set foot in it more: and while your lieutenant is conducting them through the town, return, and give me an account of the execution of my orders." The judge of the police laid his hand upon his head, to shew his obedience, and prostrating himself a second time retired to execute the mandate.
The caliph was highly pleased at the firmness with which this order was given, and perceived that Abou Hassan was resolved not to lose the opportunity of punishing the imaum and the other four old hypocrites of his quarter. In the mean time the grand vizier went on with his report, and had just finished, when the judge of the police came back from executing his commission. He approached the throne with the usual ceremony, and said, "Commander of the faithful, I found the imaum and his four companions in the mosque, which your majesty pointed out; and as a proof that I have punctually obeyed your commands, I have brought an instrument signed by the principal inhabitants of the ward." At the same time he pulled a paper out of his bosom, and presented it to the pretended caliph.
Abou Hassan took the paper, and reading it over cautiously with the names of the witnesses, who were all people he knew, said to the judge of the police, smiling, "It is well; I am satisfied; return to your seat." "These old hypocrites," said he to himself, with an air of satisfaction "who thought fit to censure my actions, and find fault with my entertaining honest people, deserved this punishment." The caliph all the time penetrated his thoughts, and felt inconceivable delight at his frolic.
Abou Hassan, then addressing himself to the grand vizier, said, "Go to the high treasurer for a purse of a thousand pieces of gold, and carry it to the mother of one Abou Hassan, who is known by the name of the debauchee; she lives in the same quarter to which I sent the judge of the police. Go, and return immediately."
The grand vizier, after laying his hand upon his head, and prostrating himself before the throne, went to the high treasurer, who gave him the money, which he ordered a slave to take, and to follow him to Abou Hassan's mother, to whom he gave it, saying only, "The caliph makes you this present." She received it with the greatest surprise imaginable.
During the grand vizier's absence, the judge of the police made the usual report of his office, which lasted till the vizier returned. As soon as he came into the council-chamber, and had assured Abou Hassan that he had executed his orders, Mesrour, the chief of the eunuchs, made a sign to the viziers, the emirs, and other officers, that the council was over, and that they might all retire; which they did, by making the same prostration at the foot of the throne as when they entered.
Abou Hassan descended from the caliph's throne, and Mesrour went before him, to shew him the way into an inner apartment, where there was a table spread; several eunuchs ran to tell the musicians that the sham caliph was coming, when they immediately began a concert of vocal and instrumental music, with which Abou Hassan was so charmed and transported, that he could not tell what to think of all he saw and heard. "If this is a dream," said he, "it is a long one. But certainly," continued he, "it is no dream; for I can see and feel, walk and hear, and argue reasonably; whatever it is, I trust in God; I cannot but believe that I am the commander of the faithful, for no other person could live in this splendour. The honour and respect that has been strewn me, and the obedience paid to my commands, are sufficient proofs of my exaltation."
In short, Abou Hassan took it for granted that he was the commander of the faithful; but was still more convinced of it when he entered a magnificent and spacious hall, which was finely painted with the brightest colours intermixed with gold. Seven bands of female musicians, more beautiful than the others, were placed round the hall, and as many gold chandeliers hung from the ceiling, which was painted with blue and gold, intermixed with wonderful effect. In the middle of the hall was spread a table covered with massive gold plates and dishes, which scented the apartment with the spices and amber wherewith the meat was seasoned; and seven young and most beautiful ladies, dressed in the richest habits of the most vivid colours, stood round this table, each with a fan in her hand, to fan Abou Hassan when at dinner.
If ever mortal was charmed, Abou Hassan was when he entered this stately hall. At every step he took, he could not help stopping to contemplate at leisure all the wonders that regaled his eyes, and turned first to one side, and then to the other; which gave the caliph, who viewed him with attention, very great pleasure. At last he sat down at the table, and presently all the ladies began to fan the new caliph. He looked first at one, then at another, and admired the grace with which they acquitted themselves. He told them with a smile, that he believed one of them was enough to give him all the air he wanted, and would have six of the ladies sit at table with him, three on his right hand, and three on his left; and he placed them so, that as the table was round, which way soever he turned, his eyes might be saluted with agreeable objects.
The six ladies obeyed; and Abou Hassan taking notice, that out of respect they did not eat, helped them himself, and invited them to eat in the most pressing and obliging terms. Afterwards he asked their names, which they told him were Alabaster Neck, Coral Lips, Moon Face, Sunshine, Eye's Delight, Heart's Delight, and she who fanned him was Sugar Cane. The many soft things he said upon their names shewed him to be a man of sprightly wit, and it is not to be conceived how much it increased the esteem which the caliph (who saw every thing) had already conceived for him.
When the ladies observed that Abou Hassan had done eating, one of them said to the eunuchs who waited, "The commander of the faithful will go into the hall where the dessert is laid; bring some water;" upon which they all rose from the table, and taking from the eunuch, one a gold basin, another an ewer of the same metal, and a third a towel, kneeled before Abou Hassan, and presented them to him to wash his hands. As soon as he had done, he got up, and after an eunuch had opened the door, went, preceded by Mesrour, who never left him, into another hall, as large as the former, adorned with paintings by the best masters, and furnished with gold and silver vessels, carpets, and other rich furniture. There seven different bands of music began a concert as soon as Abou Hassan appeared. In this hall there were seven large lustres, a table in the middle covered with dried sweetmeats, the choicest and most exquisite fruits of the season, raised in pyramids, in seven gold basins; and seven ladies more beautiful than the others standing round it, each with a fan in her hand.
These new objects raised still greater admiration in Abou Hassan; who, after he had made a full stop, and given the most sensible marks of surprise and astonishment, went directly to the table, where sitting down, he gazed a considerable time at the seven ladies, with an embarrassment that plainly shewed he knew not to which to give the preference. At last he ordered them all to lay aside their fans and sit down, and eat with him, telling them that it was not so hot, but he could spare them that trouble.
When the ladies were all placed about him, the first thing he did was to ask their names, which were different from the other seven, and expressed some perfection of mind or body, which distinguished them from one another: upon which he took an opportunity, when he presented them with fruit, &c., to say something gallant. "Eat this fig for my sake," said he to Chain of Hearts, who sat on his right hand; "and render the fetters, with which you loaded me the first moment I saw you, more supportable." Then, presenting a bunch of grapes to Soul's Torment, "Take this cluster of grapes," said he, "on condition you instantly abate the torments which I suffer for your sake;" and so on to the rest. By these sallies Abou Hassan more and more amused the caliph, who was delighted with his words and actions, and pleased to think he had found in him a man who diverted him so agreeably.
After Abou Hassan had tasted all the fruits in the basin, he got up and followed Mesrour into a third hall, much more magnificently furnished than the other two; where he was received by the same number of musicians and ladies, who stood round a table covered with all manner of wet sweetmeats. After he had looked about him with new wonder, he advanced to the table, the music playing all the time till he sat down. The seven ladies, by his order, sat down with him, helped themselves, as he desired, to what they liked best; and he afterwards informed himself of their names, which pleased him as much as the others had done, and led him to say as many soft things to them, to the great diversion of the caliph, who lost not a word.
By this time the day beginning to close, Abou Hassan was conducted into a fourth hall, much more superb and magnificently furnished, lighted with wax in seven gold lustres, which gave a splendid light. Abou Hassan found the same number of musicians here as he had done in the three other halls, performing in concert in the most agreeable manner, and seeming to inspire greater joy; and he saw as many ladies standing round a table covered with seven gold basins filled with cakes, dried sweetmeats, and all such relishes as were calculated to promote drinking. There he saw, which he had not observed in any of the other halls, a sideboard set out with seven large silver flagons full of the choicest wines, and by them seven crystal glasses of the finest workmanship.
Hitherto, in the three first halls, Abou Hassan had drunk nothing but water, according to the custom observed at Bagdad, from the highest to the lowest and at the caliph's court, never to drink wine till the evening; all who transgress this rule being accounted debauchees, who dare not shew themselves in the day-time. This custom is the more laudable, as it requires a clear head to apply to business in the course of the day; and as no wine is drunk till evening, no drunken people are seen in the streets in open day creating disturbance in the city.
As soon as Abou Hassan entered the fourth hall, he went to the table, sat down, and was a long time in a kind of ecstasy at the sight of the seven ladies who surrounded him, and were much more beautiful than any he had beheld in the other halls. He was very desirous to know their names; but as the music played so loud, and particularly the tambour, that he could not hear them speak, he clapped his hands for the musicians to cease, when a profound silence ensued. Taking by the hand the lady who stood on the right next to him, he made her sit down by him, and presenting her with a cake, asked her name. "Commander of the faithful," said the lady, "I am called Cluster of Pearls." "No name," replied Abou Hassan, "could have more properly expressed your worth; and indeed your teeth exceed the finest pearls. Cluster of Pearls," added he, "since that is your name, oblige me with a glass of wine from your fair hand." The lady went to the sideboard and brought him a glass of wine, which she presented to him with a pleasant air. Abou Hassan took the glass with a smile, and looking passionately at her, said, "Cluster of Pearls, I drink your health; I desire you to fill out as much for yourself, and pledge me." She ran to the sideboard, and returned with a glass in her hand; but before she drank, she sung a song, which charmed him as much by the sweetness of her voice as by its novelty.
After Abou Hassan had drunk, he made another lady sit down by him, and presenting her with what she chose in the basins, asked her name, which she told him was Morning Star. "Your bright eyes," said he, "shine with greater lustre than that star whose name you bear. Do me the pleasure to bring me some wine," which she did with the best grace in the world. Then turning to the third lady, whose name was Day-light, he ordered her to do the same, and so on to the seventh, to the extreme satisfaction of the caliph.
When they had all filled him a glass round, Cluster of Pearls, whom he had just addressed, went to the sideboard, poured out a glass of wine, and putting in a pinch of the same powder the caliph had used the night before, presented it to Abou Hassan; "Commander of the faithful," said she, "Il beg of your majesty to take this glass of wine, and before you drink it, do me the favour to hear a song I have composed to-day, and which I flatter myself will not displease you. I never sung it before." "With all my heart," said Abou Hassan, taking the glass, "and, as commander of the faithful, I command you to sing it; for I am persuaded that so beautiful a lady cannot compose a song which does not abound with wit and pleasantry." The lady took a lute, and tuning it to her voice, sung with so much justness, grace, and expression, that Abou Hassan was in perfect ecstasy all the time, and was so much delighted, that he ordered her to sing it again, and was as much charmed with it as at first.
When the lady had concluded, Abou Hassan drank off his glass, and turned his head towards her to give her those praises which he thought she merited, but was prevented by the opiate, which operated so suddenly, that his mouth was instantly wide open, and his eyes close shut, and dropping his head on the cushions, he slept as profoundly as the day before when the caliph had given him the powder. One of the ladies stood ready to catch the glass, which fell out of his hand; and then the caliph, who enjoyed greater satisfaction in this scene than he had promised himself, and was all along a spectator of what had passed, came into the hall to them, overjoyed at the success of his plan. He ordered Abou Hassan to be dressed in his own clothes, and carried back to his house by the slave who had brought him, charging him to lay him on a sofa in the same room, without making any noise, and to leave the door open when he came away.
The slave took Abou Hassan upon his shoulders, carried him home by a back door of the palace, placed him in his own house as he was ordered, and returned with speed, to acquaint the caliph. "Well," said the caliph, "Abou Hassan wished only to be caliph for one day, to punish the imaum of the mosque of his quarter, and the four old men who had displeased him: I have procured him the means of doing this, and he ought to be content."
In the mean time, Abou Hassan, who was laid upon his sofa by the slave, slept till very late the next morning. When the powder was worked off, he awoke, opened his eyes, and finding himself at home, was in the utmost surprise. "Cluster of Pearls! Morning Star! Coral Lips! Moon Face!" cried he, calling the ladies of the palace by their names, as he remembered them; "where are you? come hither."
Abou Hassan called so loud, that his mother, who was in her own apartment, heard him, and running to him upon the noise he made, said "What ails you, son? what has happened to you?" At these words Abou Hassan lifted up his head, and looking haughtily at his mother, said, "Good woman! who is it you call son?" "Why you," answered his mother very mildly; "are not you Abou Hassan my son? It is strange that you have forgotten yourself so soon." "I your son! old bull!" replied Abou Hassan; "you are a liar, and know not what you say! I am not Abou Hassan, I tell you, but the commander of the faithful!"
"Hold your tongue, son," answered the mother "one would think you are a fool, to hear you talk thus." "You are an old fool yourself," replied Abou Hassan; "I tell you once more I am the commander of the faithful, and God's vicar on earth!" "Ah! child," cried the mother, "is it possible that I should hear you utter such words that shew you are distracted! What evil genius possesses you, to make you talk at this rate? God bless you, and preserve you from the power of Satan. You are my son Abou Hassan, and I am your mother."
After she had used all the arguments she could think of to bring him to himself, and to shew how great an error he was in, she said, "Do not you see that the room you are now in is your own, and is not like a chamber in a palace fit for the commander of the believers? and that you have never left it since you were born, but lived quietly at home with me. Think seriously of what I say, and do not fancy things that are not, nor ever can be. Once more, my son, think seriously of it."
Abou Hassan heard all these remonstrances of his mother very patiently, holding down his eyes, and clapping his hands under his chin, like a man recollecting himself, to examine the truth of what he saw and heard. At last, he said to his mother, just as if he was awaking out of a deep sleep, and with his hand in the same posture, "I believe you are right, methinks I am Abou Hassan, you are my mother, and I am in my own room." Then looking at her again, and at every object before him, he added, "I am Abou Hassan, there is no doubt of it, and I cannot comprehend how this fancy came into my head."
The mother really believed that her son was cured of the disorder of his mind, which she ascribed to a dream, began to laugh with him, and ask him questions about it; when suddenly he started up, and looking crossly at his mother, said, "Old sorceress, you know not what you say. I am not your son, nor you my mother. You deceive yourself and would deceive me. I tell you I am the commander of the faithful, and you shall never persuade me to the contrary!" "For heaven's sake, son," said the mother, "let us leave off this discourse; recommend yourself to God, for fear some misfortune should happen to us; let us talk of something else. I will tell you what happened yesterday in our quarter to the imaum of the mosque, and the four scheiks our neighbours: the judge of the police came and seized them, and gave each of them I know not how many strokes with a bastinado, while a crier proclaimed, 'That such was the punishment of all those who troubled themselves about other people's business, and employed themselves in setting their neighbours at variance:' he afterwards led them through all the streets, and ordered them never to come into our quarter again." Abou Hassan's mother little thought her son had any share in this adventure, and therefore had turned the discourse on purpose to put him out of the conceit of being the commander of the faithful; but instead of effacing that idea, she recalled it, and impressed the more deeply in his mind, that it was not imaginary but real.
Abou Hassan no sooner heard this relation, but he cried out, "I am neither thy son, nor Abou Hassan, but certainly the commander of the believers. I cannot doubt after what you have told me. Know then that it was by my order the imaum and the four scheiks were punished, and I tell you I am certainly the commander of the faithful: therefore say no more of its being a dream. I was not asleep, but as much awake as I am now. You do me much pleasure to confirm what the judge of the police told me he had executed punctually according to my order; I am overjoyed that the imaum and the four scheiks, those great hypocrites, were so chastised, and I should be glad to know how I came here. God be praised for all things! I am certainly commander of the faithful, and all thy arguments shall not convince me of the contrary."
The mother, who could not imagine why her son so strenuously and positively maintained himself to be caliph, no longer doubted but that he had lost his senses, when she found he insisted so much on a thing that was so incredible; and in this thought said, "I pray God, son, to have mercy upon you! Pray do not talk so madly. Beseech God to forgive you, and give you grace to talk more reasonably. What would the world say to hear you rave in this manner? Do you not know that 'walls have ears?'"
These remonstrances only enraged Abou Hassan the more; and he was so provoked at his mother, that he said, "Old woman, I have desired you once already to hold your tongue. If you do not, I shall rise and give you cause to repent all your lifetime. I am the caliph and the commander of the believers; and you ought to credit me when I say so."
The good woman supposing that he was more distracted than ever, abandoned herself to tears, and beating her face and breast, expressed the utmost grief and astonishment to see her son in such a state. Abou Hassan, instead of being appeased or moved by his mother's tears, lost all the respect due from a son to his mother. Getting up hastily, and laying hold of a switch, he ran to his mother in great fury, and in a threatening manner that would have frightened any one but a mother so partial to him, said, "Tell me directly, wicked woman, who I am." "I do not believe, son," replied she, looking at him tenderly, and without fear, "that you are so abandoned by God as not to know your mother, who brought you into the world, and to mistake yourself. You are indeed my son Abou Hassan, and are much in the wrong to arrogate to yourself the title which belongs only to our sovereign lord the caliph Haroon al Rusheed, especially after the noble and generous present the monarch made us yesterday. I forgot to tell you, that the grand vizier Jaaffier came to me yesterday, and putting a purse of a thousand pieces of gold into my hands, bade me pray for the commander of the faithful, who had sent me that present; and does not this liberality concern you more than me, who have but a short time to live?"
At these words Abou Hassan grew quite mad. The circumstance of the caliph's liberality persuaded him more than ever that he was caliph, remembering that he had sent the vizier. "Well, old hag," cried he, "will you be convinced when I tell you that I sent you those thousand pieces of gold by my grand vizier Jaaffier, who obeyed my commands, as I was commander of the faithful? But instead of believing me, you endeavour to distract me by your contradictions, and maintain with obstinacy that I am your son; but you shall not go long unpunished." After these words, he was so unnatural, in the height of his frenzy, as to beat her cruelly with his cane.
The poor mother, who could not have thought that her son would have come so soon from words to blows, called out for help so loud, that the neighbours ran in to her assistance. Abou Hassan continued to beat her, at every stroke asking her if he was the commander of the faithful? to which she always answered tenderly, that he was her son.
By the time the neighbours came in Abou Hassan's rage began to abate. The first who entered the room got between him and his mother, and taking the switch out of his hand, said to him, "What are you doing, Abou Hassan? have you lost all fear of God and your reason? Did ever a son so well brought up as you dare to strike his mother? are you not ashamed so to treat yours, who loves you so tenderly?" Abou Hassan, still full of fury, looked at him who spoke without returning an answer; and then staring on all the rest of his neighbours who had followed, said, "Who is that Abou Hassan you speak of? Is it me you call by that name?"
This question disconcerted the neighbours. "How!" said he who spoke first, "do not you know your mother who brought you up, and with whom you have always lived?" "Be gone, you are impertinent vagabonds," replied Abou Hassan; "I neither knew her nor you, and will not know her. I am not Abou Hassan; I am the commander of the faithful, and will make you feel it to your cost."
At this speech the neighbours no longer doubted that he was mad: and to prevent his repeating his outrages, seized him, notwithstanding his resistance, and bound him hand and foot, But though apparently disabled from doing any mischief, they did not choose to leave him alone with his mother. Two of them ran for the keeper of the hospital for insane persons, who came presently with chains, handcuffs, a bastinado, and many attendants. When they entered the room, Abou Hassan, who little expected such treatment, struggled to unloose himself; but after his keeper had given him two or three smart strokes upon the shoulders, he lay so quiet, that the keeper and his people did what they pleased with him. As soon as they had bound and manacled him, they took him with them to the hospital. When he was got out of the house into the street, the people crowded round him, one buffeted him, another boxed him, and others called him fool and madman. To all this treatment he replied, "There is no greatness and power but in God most high and almighty. I am treated as a fool, though I am in my right senses. I suffer all these injuries and indignities for the love of God." He was conducted to the hospital, where he was lodged in a grated cell; but before he was shut up, the keeper, who was hardened to such terrible execution, regaled him without pity with fifty strokes of the bastinado on his shoulders, which he repeated every day for three weeks, bidding him remember that he was not the commander of the faithful. "I am not mad," said Abou Hassan, "but if I wanted your assistance, nothing would so effectually make me mad as your cruel treatment. I want not your advice."
Abou Hassan's mother went every day to visit her son, and could not forbear weeping at beholding him fall away, and sigh and complain at the hardships he endured. In short, his shoulders, back, and sides were so black and bruised, that he could not turn himself. His mother would willingly have talked with him, to comfort him, and to sound him whether he still retained the notion of being caliph; but whenever she opened her mouth, he stopped her with so much fury, that she was forced to leave him, and return home inconsolable at his obstinacy.
By degrees, however, those strong and lively ideas, which Abou Hassan had entertained, of having been clothed in the caliph's habit, having exercised his authority, and been punctually obeyed and treated like the true caliph, the assurance of which had persuaded him that he was so, began to wear away. Sometimes he would say to himself, "If I was the caliph and commander of the believers, how came I, when I awoke, to find myself at home dressed in my own apparel? Why should I not have been attended by eunuchs, and their chief, and a crowd of beautiful ladies? Why should the grand vizier, and all those emirs and governors of provinces, who prostrated themselves at my feet, forsake me? Undoubtedly if I had any authority over them, they would have delivered me long ago out of the miserable condition I am in; certainly I ought to look upon all as a dream. It is true, however, that I commanded the judge of the police to punish the imaum, and the four old men his companions; I ordered the grand vizier to carry my mother a thousand pieces of gold; and my commands were executed. All these points are obstacles to my believing it a dream; but there are so many things that I cannot comprehend, nor ever shall, that I will put my trust in God, who knows all things."
Abou Hassan was taken up with these thoughts and reflections when his mother came to see him. She found him so much altered and emaciated that she shed a torrent of tears; in the midst of which she saluted him as she used to do, and he returned her salutation, which he had never done before since he had been in the hospital. This she looked upon to be a good sign. "Well, my son," said she, wiping her tears, "how do you do, and how do you find yourself? Have you renounced all those whims and fancies which the devil had put into your head?" "Indeed, mother," replied Abou Hassan, very rationally and calmly, and in a tone expressive of his grief for the excesses he had been transported to against her, "I acknowledge my error, and beg of you to forgive the execrable crime which I have been guilty of towards you, and which I detest. I ask pardon also of my neighbours whom I have abused. I have been deceived by a dream; but by so extraordinary a one, and so like to truth, that I venture to affirm any other person, to whom such a thing might have happened, would have been guilty of as great or greater extravagancies; and I am this instant so much perplexed about it, that while I am speaking I can hardly persuade myself but that what befell me was matter of fact, so like was it to what happens to people who are broad awake. But whatever it was, I do, and shall always regard it as a dream and an illusion. I am convinced that I am not that shadow of a caliph and commander of the faithful, but Abou Hassan your son, the son of a person whom I always honoured till that fatal day, the remembrance of which will cover me with confusion, and whom in future I shall honour and respect all my life as I ought."
At this rational declaration, the tears of sorrow and affliction which the mother of Abou Hassan had so long shed were changed into those of joy. "My son!" cried she, transported with pleasure, "my satisfaction and comfort to hear you talk so reasonably is inexpressible: and it gives me as much joy as if I had brought you into the world a second time; but I must tell you my opinion of this adventure, and observe one thing which you may not have noticed; the stranger whom you brought home the evening before your illness to sup with you went away without shutting your chamber-door after him, as you desired; which I believe gave the devil an opportunity to enter, and throw you into the horrible illusion you have been in: therefore, my son, you ought to return God thanks for your deliverance, and beseech him to keep you from falling again into the snares of the evil spirit."
"You have found out the source of our misfortunes," answered Abou Hassan. "It was that very night I had this dream which turned my brain. I bade the merchant expressly to shut the door after him; and now I find he did not do it. I am persuaded, as well as you, the devil finding it open came in, and filled my head full of these fancies. The people of Moussul, from whence this merchant came, may not know how we at Bagdad are convinced from experience that the devil is the cause of troublesome dreams when we leave our chamber-doors open. But since, mother, you see I am, by the grace of God, so well recovered, for God's sake get me out of this horrible place, which will infallibly shorten my days if I stay here any longer." The mother, glad to hear her son was so well cured of his foolish imagination of being caliph, went immediately to the keeper, and assuring him that he was very sensible and well, he came, examined, and released him in her presence.
When Abou Hassan came home, he stayed within doors some days to recover his health by better living than he had found at the hospital. But when he had recovered his strength, and felt no longer the effect of the harsh treatment he had suffered in his confinement, he began to be weary of spending his evenings alone. He accordingly entered again upon the same plan as he had before pursued; which was, to provide enough every day to regale a stranger at night.
The day on which Abou Hassan renewed his custom of going about sun-set to the end of Bagdad bridge to stop the first stranger thee offered, and invite him to do him the honour of supping with him, happened to be the first day of the month, that which the caliph always set apart to go in disguise out of some one of the gates to observe what was committed contrary to the good government of the city, as established and regulated at the beginning of his reign. Abou Hassan had not been long arrived at the bridge, when, looking about him, he perceived the Moussul merchant, followed by the same slave. Persuaded that all his misfortunes were owing to the merchant's having left his door open, he shuddered at the sight of him. "God preserve me," said he to himself; "if I am not deceived, there is again the magician who enchanted me!" He trembled with agitation, and looked over the side railing into the river, that he might not see him till he was past.
The caliph, who wished to renew the diversion he had received, had taken care to inform himself of all that had happened to Abou Hassan, and enjoyed much pleasure at the relation given him, especially at his being sent to a mad-house. But as this monarch was both just and generous, and had taken a great liking to Abou Hassan, as capable of contributing further to his amusement, and had doubted whether, after renouncing his frenzied character of a caliph, he would return to his usual manner of living; with a view therefore to bring him to his palace, he disguised himself again like a merchant of Moussul, the better to execute his plan. He perceived Abou Hassan at the same time that he saw him, and presently guessed by his action that he was angry, and wished to shun him. This made him walk close to the side railing; and when he came nigh him, he put his head over to look him in the face. "Ho, brother Abou Hassan," said he, "is it you? I greet you! Give me leave to embrace you?"
"Not I," replied Abou Hassan, pettishly, without looking at the pretended Moussul merchant; "I do not greet you; I will have neither your greeting nor your embraces. Go along!"
"What!" answered the caliph, "do you not know me? Do you not remember the evening we spent together at your house this day month, where you did me the honour to treat me very generously?" "No," replied Abou Hassan in the same tone, "I do not know you, nor what you talk about; go, I say again, about your business."
The caliph was not to be diverted from his purpose by this rude behaviour. He well knew the law Abou Hassan had imposed on himself, never to have commerce again with a stranger he had once entertained; but pretended to be ignorant of it. "I cannot believe," said he, "but you must know me again; it is not possible that you should have forgotten me in so short a time. Certainly some misfortune has befallen you, which inspires you with this aversion for me. However, you ought to remember, that I shewed my gratitude by my good wishes, and that I offered you my interest, which is not to be slighted, in an affair which you had much at heart."
"I do not know," replied Abou Hassan, "what your interest may be, and I have no desire to make use of it: but I am sensible the utmost of your good wishes ended in making me mad. In God's name, I say once more, go your way, and trouble me no more."
"Ah! brother Abou Hassan," replied the caliph, embracing him, "I do not intend to part with you thus, since I have had the good fortune to meet with you a second time; you must exercise the same hospitality towards me again that you shewed me a month ago, when I had the honour to drink with you."
"I have protested against this," said Abou Hassan, "and have so much power over myself, as to decline receiving a second time as my guest, a man like you who carries misfortunes with him. You know the proverb, 'Take up your drum and begone.' Make the application to yourself. How often must I repeat my refusal. God be with you! You have been the cause of my sufferings, and I will not trust myself with you again." "My good friend Abou Hassan," said the caliph, embracing him, "you treat me in a way I little expected. I beg of you not to speak to me thus harshly, but be persuaded of my friendship. Do me the favour to tell me what has happened to you; for I assure you I wished you well, and still do so; and would be glad of an opportunity to make you any amends for the trouble I have caused you, if it has been really my fault." Abou Hassan yielded to the solicitations of the caliph. "Your incredulity and importunity," said he, "have tired my patience; and what I am going to relate will shew you that I do not accuse you wrongfully."
The caliph seated himself by Abou Hassan, while he told him all that had happened to him, from his waking in the palace to his waking again in his own house, all which he described as a mere dream, and recounted all the circumstances, which the caliph knew as well as himself, and which renewed his pleasure. He enlarged afterwards on the impression which the dream of being caliph and commander of the faithful had made upon him, which, he said, threw him into such extravagancies, that his neighbours were obliged to carry him to a mad-house, where he was treated in a manner which he deemed most barbarous and inhuman. "But," said he, "what will surprise you, and what you little think of, is, that it was altogether your fault that these things happened to me; for, if you remember, I desired you to shut the door after you, which you neglected, and the devil, finding it open, entered and put this dream into my head, which, though it was very agreeable, was the cause of the misfortune I complain of: you therefore, for your negligence, are answerable for the horrid and detestable crime I have committed in lifting my hand against my mother, whom I might have killed (I blush for shame when I think of it), because she said I was her son, and would not acknowledge me for commander of the faithful, as I thought and positively insisted on to her that I was. You are the cause of the offence I have given my neighbours, when, running in at the cries of my poor mother, they surprised me in the horrid act of felling her at my feet; which would never have happened, if you had taken care to shut my door when you went away, as I desired you. They would not have come into my house without my leave; and, what troubles me most of all, they would not have been witnesses of my folly. I should not have been obliged to strike them in my own defence, and they would not have bound and fettered me, to carry and shut me up in the hospital for madmen, where I assure you every day that I remained confined in that hell, I received a score of strokes with a bastinado." Abou Hassan recounted his complaints with great warmth and vehemence to the caliph, who knew as well as himself what had passed, and was delighted to find that he had succeeded so well in his plan to throw him into the vagaries from which he still was not entirely free. He could not help laughing at the simplicity wherewith he related them.
Abou Hassan, who thought that his story should rather have moved compassion, and that every one ought to be as much concerned at it as himself, warmly resented the pretended Moussul merchant's laughter. "What!" said he, "do you make a jest of me and laugh in my face, or do you believe I laugh at you when I speak seriously? If you want proof of what I advance, look yourself and see whether or no I tell you the truth ;" with that, stooping down and baring his shoulders, he shewed the caliph the scars and weals which the bastinado had left.
The caliph could not behold these marks of cruelty without horror. He pitied Abou Hassan, and felt sorry he had carried the jest so far. "Come, rise, dear brother," said he to him eagerly, and embracing Abou Hassan heartily in his arms; "let me go to your house, and enjoy the happiness of being merry with you to-night; and to-morrow, if it please God, all things will go well."
Abou Hassan, notwithstanding his resolution never to admit the same stranger a second time, could not resist the caresses of the caliph, whom he still took for a merchant of Moussul. "I will consent," said he, "if you will swear to shut my door after you, that the devil may not come in to distract my brain again." The caliph promised that he would; upon which they both arose, walked towards the city, and, followed by the caliph's slave, reached Abou Hassan's house by the time it was dark.
The caliph, the more to blind Abou Hassan, said to him, "Place confidence in me; I promise you on my honour I will not break my word. You need not hesitate to trust a person who wishes you all happiness and prosperity, of which confidence you will see the effects." "I desire not that," said Abou Hassan, stopping him short. "I yield to your importunity; but I dispense with your good wishes, and beg you in God's name to form none for me. All the mischief that has hitherto befallen me arose from those you expressed for me, and from your leaving the door open." "Well," replied the caliph, still laughing at the misguided imagination of Abou Hassan, "since you will have it so, I promise you I will form none." "You give me pleasure by speaking so," said Abou Hassan; "I desire no more; I shall be more than satisfied provided you keep your word, and I shall forgive you all the rest."
As soon as Abou Hassan entered his house, he called for his mother and for candles, desired his guest to sit down upon a sofa, and then placed himself by him. A little time after, supper was brought up, and they both began to eat without ceremony. When they had done, Abou Hassan's mother cleared the table, set on a small dessert of fruit, wine, and glasses by her son, then withdrew, and appeared no more. Abou Hassan first filled out his own glass, and then the caliph's: and after they had drunk some time, and talked of indifferent matters, the caliph, perceiving that his host grew warm with liquor, began to talk of love, and asked him if he had ever felt that passion.
"Brother," replied Abou Hassan, familiarly thinking his guest was his equal, "I never looked upon love or marriage but as a slavery, to which I was always unwilling to submit; and must own to you, that I never loved any thing but good cheer and good wine; in short, to divert and entertain myself agreeably with my friends. Yet I do not tell you that I am indifferent to marriage, or incapable of attachment, if I could meet with a woman of such beauty and sweetness of temper as her I saw in my dream that fatal night in which I first received you into my house, and you, to my misfortune, left my door open, who would pass the whole night with me drinking, singing, and playing on some instrument, and in agreeable conversation, and who would study to please and divert me: I believe, on the contrary, I should change all my indifference into a perfect attachment to such a person, and, I think, should live very happily with her. But where is such a woman to be found except in the caliph's palace, or in those of the grand vizier or some great lords of the court, who want not money to provide them? I choose therefore to stick to my bottle, which is a much cheaper pleasure, and which I can enjoy as well as the greatest." Saying these words, he filled out his own and the caliph's glass, and said, "Come, take your glass, and let us pursue this charming pleasure."
When they had drunk off their wine, "It is great pity," said the caliph, "that so gallant a man as you, who owns himself not insensible of love, should lead so solitary a life." "I prefer the easy quiet life I live," replied Abou Hassan, "before the company of a wife, whose beauty might not please me, and who, besides, might create me a great deal of trouble by her imperfections and ill-humour." The conversation lasted a long time, and the caliph seeing Abou Hassan had drunk to the pitch he desired, said, "Let me alone, since you have the same good taste as every other honest man, I warrant you I will find you a wife that shall please you." Then taking Abou Hassan's glass, and putting a pinch of the same powder into it, filled him up a bumper, and presenting it to him, said, "Come, let us drink beforehand the fair lady's health, who is to make you happy. I am sure you will like her."
Abou Hassan took the glass laughing, and shaking his head, said, "Be it so; since you desire it, I cannot be guilty of so great a piece of incivility, nor disoblige a guest of so much merit in such a trifling matter. I will drink the health of the lady you promise me, though I am very well contented as I am, and do not rely on your keeping your word." No sooner had Abou Hassan drank off his bumper, than he was seized with as deep a sleep as before; and the caliph ordered the same slave to take him and carry him to the palace. The slave obeyed, and the caliph, who did not intend to send back Abou Hassan as before, shut the door after him, as he had promised, and followed.
When they arrived at the palace, the caliph ordered Abou Hassan to be laid on a sofa, in the fourth hall, from whence he had been carried home fast asleep a month before; but first he bade the attendants to put him on the same habit in which he had acted the caliph, which was done. He then charged all the eunuchs, officers, ladies, and musicians who were in the hall, when he drank the last glass of wine which had put him to sleep, to be there by daybreak, and to take care to act their parts well when he should awake. He then retired to rest, charging Mesrour to awake him before they went into the hall, that he might conceal himself in the closet as before.
Mesrour, at the hour appointed, awakened the caliph, who immediately rose, and went to the hall where Abou Hassan lay still asleep, and when he had placed himself in his closet, Mesrour and the other officers, ladies, and musicians, who waited for him, went in, and placed themselves about the sofa, so as not to hinder the caliph from seeing what passed, and noticing all his actions.
Things being thus disposed, and the caliph's powder having had its effect, Abou Hassan began to awake without opening his eyes, and threw off the phlegm, which was received in a gold basin as before. At that instant, the seven bands of singers joined their voices to the sound of hautboys, fifes, flutes, and other instruments, forming a very agreeable concert. Abou Hassan was in great surprise to hear the delightful harmony; but when he opened his eyes, and saw the ladies and officers about him, whom he thought he recognized, his amazement increased. The hall that he was in seemed to be the same he had seen in his first dream, and he observed the same lustres, and the same furniture and ornaments.
The concert ceased, to give the caliph an opportunity of attending to the countenance of his guest, and all that he might say in his surprise. The ladies, Mesrour, and all the officers of the chamber, waited in profound and respectful silence. Abou Hassan bit his finger, and cried loud enough for the caliph to hear him, "Alas! I am fallen again into the same dream and illusion that happened to me a month ago, and must expect again the bastinado and grated cell at the mad-house. Almighty God," added he, "I commit myself into the hands of thy divine providence. He was a wicked man that I entertained at my house last night, who has been the cause of this illusion, and the hardships I must again undergo. The base wretch swore to shut the door after him, but did not, and the devil came in and has turned my brain with this wicked dream of being commander of the faithful, and other phantoms which bewitch my eyes. God confound thee, Satan? and crush thee under some mountain of stones."
After these words, Abou Hassan closed his eyes, and remained some time thoughtful and much perplexed; then opening them again, and looking about him, cried out a second time with less surprise, and smiling at the various objects before him, "Great God! I commit myself into the hands of thy providence, preserve me from the temptation of Satan." Then shutting them again, he said, "I will go to sleep until Satan leaves me, and returns as he came, were I to wait till noon." They did not give him time to go to sleep again as he promised himself; for Strength of Hearts, one of the ladies whom he had seen before, approached, and sitting down on the sofa by him, said to him respectfully, "Commander of the faithful, I entreat your majesty to forgive me for taking the liberty to tell you not to go to sleep; day appears, and it is time to rise." "Begone, Satan!" answered Abou Hassan, raising his voice; but looking at the lady, he said, "Is it me you call the commander of the faithful? Certainly you take me for somebody else." "It is to your majesty I give that title," replied the lady, "to whom it belongs, as you are sovereign of the world, and I am your most humble slave. Undoubtedly," added she, "your majesty means to divert yourself by pretending to have forgotten yourself, or this is the effect of some troublesome dream; but if you would but open your eyes, the mists which disturb your imagination would soon be dispelled, and you would find yourself in your own palace, surrounded by your officers and slaves, who all wait your commands: and that your majesty may not be surprised to find yourself in this hall, and not in bed, I beg leave to inform you, that you fell so suddenly asleep last night, that we were unwilling to awake you, to conduit you to your chamber, but laid you carefully upon this sofa." In short, she said to him so many things which appeared probable, that at last he sat up, opened his eyes, and recollected her and all the ladies again. They all approached him, and she who spoke first, resuming the discourse, said, "Commander of the faithful, and vicar of the prophet on earth, be not displeased if I acquaint your majesty once more that it is time to rise, for day appears."
"You are very troublesome and importunate," replied Abou Hassan, rubbing his eyes; "I am not the commander of the faithful, but Abou Hassan; I know it well, and you shall not persuade me otherwise." "We do not know that Abou Hassan you majesty speaks of, nor desire to know him," answered the lady; "but we know you to be the commander of the believers, and you cannot persuade us to the contrary."
Abou Hassan looking about, and finding himself in the same hall, attributed all he saw and heard to such a dream as he had had before, and greatly feared the dreadful consequences. "Allah have mercy on me!" said he, lifting up his hands and eyes, like a man who knew not where he was; "I commit myself into his hands. I cannot doubt, after what I have seen, but that the devil, who came into my chamber, possesses me, and fills my imagination full of all these visions."
The caliph, who saw him all the time, and heard these exclamations, began to shake so heartily, that he had much difficulty to forbear bursting into loud laughter.
Abou Hassan laying himself down again, and shutting his eyes, the same lady said, "Commander of the faithful, since your majesty does not rise, after we have, according to our duty, informed you it is day, and the dispatch of business requires your presence, we shall use the liberty you give us in such cases." Then taking him by one arm, and calling to one of the other ladies to do the same by the other, they lifted him up, and carried him into the middle of the hall, where they seated him, and all taking hands, danced and skipped round him while the music played and sounded loudly in his ears.
Abou Hassan was in inexpressible perplexity, and exclaimed, "What! am I indeed caliph, and commander of the faithful!" And in his uncertainty, would have said more, but the music was so loud, that he could not be heard. At last he made a sign to String of Pearls and Morning Star, two of the ladies who were dancing, that he wanted to speak with them; upon which they forbore, and went to him. "Do not lie now," said he, "but tell me truly who I am?"
"Commander of the faithful," replied Morning Star, "your majesty means either to surprise us, by asking this question, as if you did not know that you are commander of the faithful, and vicar on earth of the prophet of God, master of both worlds, that whereon we now are and that to come after death, or else you must have had some extraordinary dream that has made you forget who you are; which may well be, considering that your majesty has slept longer than ordinary; however, if you will give me leave, I will refresh your memory with what passed yesterday." She then told him how he went to council, punished the imaum, and the four old men, and had sent a present by his grand vizier of a thousand pieces of gold to the mother of one Abou Hassan; what he did in the inner part of the palace, and what passed at the three meals which he took in the three halls, adding, "In the fourth your majesty did us the honour to make us sit down by you, to hear our songs, and received wine from our hands, until your majesty fell asleep, as Strength of Hearts has told you. From that time your majesty has continued, contrary to custom, in a sound sleep until now. Strength of Hearts, all your other slaves, and the officers present, can confirm what I say, and it is now time you should go to prayers."
"Very well," replied Abou Hassan, shaking his head, "you would have me believe all this; but I tell you, you are all fools, or mad, and that is great pity, for you are very handsome. Since I saw you I have been at home, where I used my mother so ill that they sent me to a mad-house, and kept me there three weeks against my will, beat me unmercifully every day, and yet you would make me believe all this to be a dream." "Commander of the faithful," answered Morning Star, "you are mistaken, we are ready to swear by all your majesty holds most dear, that all you relate can be only a dream. You have never stirred out of this hall since yesterday, but slept here all night."
The confidence with which the lady assured Abou Hassan that all she said was truth, and that he had never been out of the hall since that time, bewildered his senses so that he was at a loss what to believe. "O Heaven!" said he to himself, "am I Abou Hassan, or the commander of the faithful! Almighty God, enlighten my understanding, and inform me of the truth, that I may know what to trust." He then uncovered his shoulders, and shewed the ladies the livid weals of the blows he had received. "Look," said he, "judge whether these strokes could come to me in a dream, or when I was asleep. For my part, I can affirm, that they were real blows; I feel the smart of them yet, and that is a testimonial there is no room to doubt. Now if I received these strokes in my sleep, it is the most extraordinary thing in the world, and surpasses my comprehension."
In this uncertainty Abou Hassan called to one of the officers that stood near him: "Come hither," said he, "and bite the tip of my ear, that I may know whether I am asleep or awake." The officer obeyed, and bit so hard, that he made him cry out loudly with the pain; the music struck up at the same time, and the officers and ladies all began to sing, dance, and skip about Abou Hassan, and made such a noise, that he was in a perfect ecstasy, and played a thousand ridiculous pranks. He threw off his caliph's habit, and his turban, jumped up in his shirt and drawers, and taking hold of two of the ladies' hands, began singing, jumping and cutting capers, so that the caliph could not contain himself, but burst into such violent laughter, that he fell backwards, and was heard above the noise of all the musicians. He was so long before he could check himself, that it had like to have been fatal. At last he got up, opened the lattice, and putting out his head, cried "Abou Hassan, Abou Hassan, have you a mind to kill me with laughing?"
As soon as the caliph's voice was heard, every body was silent, and Abou Hassan, among the rest, who, turning his head to see from whence the voice came, knew the caliph, and in him recognised the Moussul merchant, but was not in the least daunted; on the contrary he became convinced that he was awake, and that all that had happened to him had been real, and not a dream. He entered into the caliph's pleasantry. "Ha! ha!" said he, looking at him with good assurance, "you are a merchant of Moussul, and complain that I would kill you; you have been the occasion of my using my mother so ill, and of my being sent to a mad-house. It was you who treated the imaum and the four scheiks in the manner they were used, and not me; I wash my hands of it. It is you who have been the cause of all my disorders and sufferings: in short, you are the aggressor, and I the injured person."
"Indeed, you are in the right, Abou Hassan," answered the caliph, laughing all the while; "but to comfort you, and make you amends for all your troubles, I call Heaven to witness, I am ready and willing to make you what reparation you please to ask." After these words, he came out of the closet into the hall, ordered one of his most magnificent habits to be brought, commanded the ladies to dress Abou Hassan in it, and when they had done, he said, embracing him, "Thou art my brother; ask what thou wilt, and thou shalt have it."
"Commander of the faithful," replied Abou Hassan, "I beg of your majesty to do me the favour to tell me what you did to disturb my brain in this manner, and what was your design; for it is a thing of the greatest importance for me to know, that I may perfectly recover my senses."
The caliph was ready to give him this satisfaction, and said, "First, you are to know, that I often disguise myself, and particularly at night, to observe if all goes right in Bagdad; and as I wish to know what passes in its environs, I set apart the first day of every month to make an excursion, sometimes on one side, sometimes on another, and always return by the bridge. The evening that you invited me to supper, I was beginning my rounds, and in our conversation you told me, that the only thing you wished for was to be caliph for four-and-twenty hours, to punish the imaum of your mosque and his four counsellors. I fancied that this desire of yours would afford me diversion, and thought immediately how I might procure you the satisfaction you wished. I had about me a certain powder, which immediately throws the person who takes it into a sound sleep for a certain time. I put a dose of it, without being perceived by you, into the last glass I presented to you, upon which you fell fast asleep, and I ordered my slave to carry you to my palace, and came away without shutting the door. I have no occasion to repeat what happened when you awoke, nor during the whole day till evening, but after you had been regaled by my orders, one of the ladies put another dose of the same powder into a glass she gave you; you fell asleep as before, and the same slave carried you home, and left the door open. You have told me all that happened to you afterwards. I never imagined that you could have suffered so much as you have done. But as I have a great regard for you, I will do every thing to comfort you, and make you forget all your sufferings; think of what I can do to serve you, and ask me boldly what you wish."
"Commander of the faithful," replied Abou Hassan, "how great soever my tortures may have been, they are all blotted out of my remembrance, since I understand my sovereign lord and master had a share in them. I doubt not in the least of your majesty's bounty; but as interest never governed me, and you give me liberty to ask a favour, I beg that it may be that of having access to your person, to enjoy the happiness of admiring, all my lifetime, your virtues."
This proof of disinterestedness in Abou Hassan confirmed the esteem the caliph had entertained for him. "I am pleased with your request," said he, "and grant you free access to my person at all times and all hours." At the same time he assigned him an apartment in the palace, and, in regard to his pension, told him, that he would not have him apply to his treasurer, but come always to him for an order upon him, and immediately commanded his private treasurer to give him a purse containing a thousand pieces of gold. Abou Hassan made a low prostration, and the caliph left him to go to council.
Abou Hassan took this opportunity to go and inform his mother of his good fortune, and that what had happened was not a dream; for that he had actually been caliph, had acted as such, and received all the honours; and that she had no reason to doubt of it, since he had this confirmed by the caliph himself.
It was not long before this story of Abou Hassan was spread throughout Bagdad, and carried into all the provinces both far and near, without the omission of a single circumstance.
The new favourite Abou Hassan was always with the caliph; for, as he was a man of a pleasent temper, and created mirth wherever he went by his wit and drollery, the caliph formed no party of diversion without him, and sometimes carried him to visit his consort Zobeide, to whom he had related his story. Zobeide, who observed that every time he came with the caliph, he had his eyes always fixed upon one of her slaves, called Nouzhatoul-aouadat, resolved to tell the caliph of it. "Commander of the faithful," said she one day, "you do not observe that every time Abou Hassan attends you in your visits to me, he never keeps his eyes off Nouzhatoul-aouadat, and makes her blush, which is almost a certain sign that she entertains no aversion for him. If you approve of it, we will make a match between them."
"Madam," replied the caliph, "you remind me of what I ought to have done before. I know Abou Hassan's opinion respecting marriage from himself, and have always promised him a wife that should please him. I am glad you mentioned the circumstance; for I know not how I came to forget it. But it is better that Abou Hassan should follow his own inclination, and choose for himself. If Nouzhatoul-aouadat is not averse to it, we ought not to hesitate upon their marriage; and since they are both present, they have only to say that they consent."
Abou Hassan threw himself at the caliph's and Zobeide's feet, to shew the sense he had of their goodness; and rising up, said, "I cannot receive a wife from better hands, but dare not hope that Nouzhatoul-aouadat will give me her hand as readily as I give her mine." At these words he looked at the princess's slave, who shewed by her respectful silence, and the sudden blush that arose in her cheeks, that she was disposed to obey the caliph and her mistress Zobeide.
The marriage was solemnized, and the nuptials celebrated in the palace, with great rejoicings, which lasted several days. Zobeide made her slave considerable presents, and the caliph did the same to Abou Hassan. The bride was conducted to the apartment the caliph had assigned Abou Hassan, who waited for her with all the impatience of a bridegroom, and received her with the sound of all sorts of instruments, and musicians of both sexes, who made the air echo with their concert.
After these feasts and rejoicings, which lasted several days, the newly-married couple were left to pursue their loves in peace. Abou Hassan and his spouse were charmed with each other, lived together in perfect union, and seldom were asunder, but when either he paid his respects to the caliph, or she hers to Zobeide. Indeed, Nouzhatoul-aouadat was endued with every qualification capable of gaining Abou Hassan's love and attachment, was just such a wife as he had described to the caliph, and fit to sit at the head of his table. With these dispositions they could not fail to pass their lives agreeably. They kept a good table covered with the nicest and choicest rarities in season, by an excellent cook, who took upon him to provide every thing. Their sideboard was always stored with exquisite wines placed within their reach when at table, where they enjoyed themselves in agreeable conversation, and afterwards entertained each other with some pleasantry or other, which made them laugh more or less, as they had in the day met with something to divert them; and in the evenings, which they consecrated to mirth, they had generally some slight repast of dried sweetmeats, choice fruits, and cakes, and at each glass invited each other by new songs to drink, and sometimes accompanied their voices with a lute, or other instruments which they could both touch.
Abou Hassan and Nouzhatoul-aouadat led this pleasant life unattentive to expense, until at length the caterer, who had disbursed all his and their money for these expenses, brought them in a long bill in hope of having an advance of cash. They found the amount to be so considerable, that all the presents which the caliph and Zobeide had given them at their marriage were but just enough to pay him. This made them reflect seriously on what was passed, which, however, was no remedy for the present evil. But they agreed to pay the caterer; and having sent for him, gave him all they owed him, without considering the difficulty they should be in immediately after.
The caterer went away highly pleased at receiving so large a sum, though Abou Hassan and his wife were not so well satisfied with seeing the bottom of their purse, but remained a long time silent, and very much embarrassed, to find themselves reduced to poverty the very first year of their marriage. Abou Hassan remembered that the caliph, when he took him into the palace, had promised never to let him want. But when he considered how prodigal he had been of his money, was unwilling to expose himself to the shame of letting the caliph know the ill use he had made of his bounty, and that he wanted a supply. Besides, he had made over his patrimony to his mother, when the caliph had received him near his person, and was afraid to apply to her, lest she should discover that he had returned to the same extravagance he had been guilty of after his father's death. His wife, on the other hand, regarded Zobeide's generosity, and the liberty she had given her to marry, as more than a sufficient recompense for her service, and thought she had no right to ask more.
Abou Hassan at last broke silence, and looking at his wife, said, "I see you are in the same embarrassment as myself, and thinking what we must do in this unhappy juncture, when our money fails us so unexpectedly. I do not know what your sentiments may be; but mine are, let what will happen, not to retrench our expenses in the least; and I believe you will come into my opinion. The point is, how to support them without stooping to ask the caliph or Zobeide: and I think I have fallen on the means; but we must assist each other."
This discourse of Abou Hassan very much pleased his wife, and gave her some hopes. "I was thinking so as well as you," said she; "but durst not explain my thoughts, because I do not know how we can help ourselves; and must confess, that what you tell me gives me a revival of pleasure. Since you say you have found out a resource, and my assistance is necessary, you need but tell me in what way, and I will do all that lies in my power."
"I was sure," replied Abou Hassan, "that you would not fail me in a business which concerns us both; and therefore I must tell you, this want of money has made me think of a plan which will supply us, at least for a time. It consists in a little trick we must put, I upon the caliph and you upon Zobeide, and at which, as I am sure they will both be diverted, it will answer advantageously for us. You and I will both die." "Not I indeed," interrupted Nouzhatoul-aouadat; "you may die by yourself, if you please, but I am not so weary of this life; and whether you are pleased or not, will not die so soon. If you have nothing else to propose, you may die by yourself; for I assure you I shall not join you."
"You are a woman of such vivacity and wonderful quickness," replied Abou Hassan, "that you scarcely give me time to explain my design. Have but a little patience, and you shall find that you will be ready enough to die such a death as I intend; for surely you could not think I meant a real death?" "Well," said his wife, "if it is but a sham death you design, I am at your service, and you may depend on my zeal to second you in this manner of dying; but I must tell you truly, I am very unwilling to die, as I apprehended you at first."
"Be but silent a little," said Abou Hassan, "and I will tell you what I promise. I will feign myself dead, and you shall lay me out in the middle of my chamber, with my turban upon my face, my feet towards Mecca, as if ready to be carried out to burial. When you have done this, you must lament, and weep bitterly, as is usual in such cases, tear your clothes and hair, or pretend to do it, and go all in tears, with your locks dishevelled, to Zobeide. The princess will of course inquire the cause of your grief; and when you have told her, with words intermixed with sobs, she will pity you, give you money to defray the expense of my funeral, and a piece of good brocade to cover my body, that my interment may be the more magnificent, and to make you a new dress in the room of that you will have torn. As soon as you return with the money and the brocade, I will rise, lay you in my place, and go and act the same part with the caliph, who I dare say will be as generous to me as Zobeide will have been to you."
Nouzhatoul-aouadat highly approved the project, and said to Abou Hassan, "Come, lose no time; strip to your shirt and drawers, while I prepare a winding sheet. I know how to bury as well as any body; for while I was in Zobeide's service, when any of my fellow-slaves died, I had the conducting of the funeral." Abou Hassan did as his wife mentioned, and laid himself on the sheet which she had spread on the carpet in the middle of the room. As soon as he had crossed his arms, his wife wrapped him up, turned his feet towards Mecca, and put a piece of fine muslin and his turban upon his face, so that nothing seemed wanting but to carry him out to be buried. After this she pulled off her head-dress, and with tears in her eyes, her hair dishevelled, and seeming to tear it off, with a dismal cry and lamentation, beating her face and breast with all the marks of the most lively grief, ran across the court to Zobeide's apartments, who, hearing the voice of a person crying very loud, commanded some of her women to see who it was; they returned and told her that it was Nouzhatoul-aouadat, who was approaching in a deplorable condition.
The princess, impatient to know what had happened to her, rose up immediately, and went to meet her at the door of her ante-chamber. Nouzhatoul-aouadat played her part to perfection. As soon as she saw Zobeide, who held the door open, she redoubled her cries, tore her hair off by handfuls, beat her face and breast, and threw herself at her feet, bathing them with her tears.
Zobeide, amazed to see her slave in such extraordinary affliction, asked what had happened; but, instead of answering, she continued her sobs; and at last feigning to strive to check them, said, with words interrupted with sighs, "Alas! my most honoured lady and mistress, what greater misfortune could have befallen me than this, which obliges me to throw myself at your highness's feet)' God prolong your days, my most respectable princess, in perfect health, and grant you many happy years! Abou Hassan! poor Abou Hassan! whom you honoured with your esteem, and gave me for a husband, is no more!"
At these words Nouzhatoul-aouadat redoubled her tears and sighs, and threw herself again at the princess's feet. Zobeide was extremely concerned at this news. "Abou Hassan dead!" cried she; "that agreeable, pleasant man! I did not expect his death so soon; he seemed to promise a long life, and well deserved to enjoy it!" She then also burst into tears, as did all her women, who had been often witnesses of Abou Hassan's pleasantries when the caliph brought him to amuse the princess Zobeide, and all together continued for some time bewailing his loss. At length the princess Zobeide broke silence: "Wicked woman!" cried she, addressing herself to the false widow, "perhaps you may have occasioned his death. Your ill temper has given him so much vexation, that you have at last brought him to his grave." Nouzhatoul-aouadat seemed much hurt at the reproaches of Zobeide: "Ah, madam," cried she, "I do not think I ever gave your majesty, while I was your slave, reason to entertain so disadvantageous an opinion of my conduct to a husband who was so dear to me. I should think myself the most wretched of women if you were persuaded of this. I behaved to Abou Hassan as a wife should do to a husband for whom she has a sincere affection; and I may say, without vanity, that I had for him the same regard he had for me. I am persuaded he would, were he alive, justify me fully to your majesty; but, madam," added she, renewing her tears, "his time was come, and that was the only cause of his death."
Zobeide, as she had really observed in her slave a uniformly equal temper, mildness, great docility and zeal for her service, which shewed she was rather actuated by inclination than duty, hesitated not to believe her on her word, and ordered her treasurer to fetch a hundred pieces of gold and a piece of rich brocade.
The slave soon returned with the purse and piece of brocade, which, by Zobeide's order, she delivered to Nouzhatoul-aouadat, who threw herself again at the princess's feet, and thanked her with great self-satisfaction at finding she had succeeded so well. "Go," said Zobeide, "use that brocade to cover the corpse of your husband, and with the money bury him handsomely, as he deserves. Moderate the transport of your afflictions: I will take care of you."
As soon as Nouzhatoul-aouadat got out of the princess's presence, she dried up her tears, and returned with joy to Abou Hassan, to give him an account of her good success. When she came home she burst out a laughing on seeing her husband still stretched out in the middle of the floor; she ran to him, bade him rise and see the fruits of his stratagem. He arose, and rejoiced with his wife at the sight of the purse and brocade. Unable to contain herself at the success of her artifice, "Come, husband," said she, laughing, "let me act the dead part, and see if you can manage the caliph as well as I have done Zobeide."
"That is the temper of all women," replied Abou Hassan, "who, we may well say, have always the vanity to believe they can do things better than men, though at the same time what good they do is by their advice. It would be odd indeed, if I, who laid this plot myself, could not carry it on as well as you. But let us lose no time in idle discourse; lie down in my place, and witness if I do not come off with as much applause."
Abou Hassan wrapped up his wife as she had done him, and with his turban unrolled, like a man in the greatest affliction, ran to the caliph, who was holding a private council with Jaaffier and other confidential viziers. He presented himself at the door, and the officer, knowing he had free access, opened it. He entered holding with one hand his handkerchief before his eyes, to hide the feigned tears, which trickled down his cheeks, and striking his breast with the other, with exclamations expressing extraordinary grief.
The caliph, always used to see Abou Hassan with a merry countenance, was very much surprised to behold him in so much distress. He interrupted the business of the council to inquire the cause of his grief. "Commander of the faithful," answered Abou Hassan, with repeated sighs and sobs, "God preserve your majesty on the throne, which you fill so gloriously! a greater calamity could not have befallen me than what I now lament. Alas! Nouzhatoul-aouadat whom you in your bounty gave me for a wife to gladden my existence, alas!" at this exclamation Abou Hassan pretended to have his heart so full, that he could not utter more, but poured forth a flood of tears.
The caliph, who now understood that Abou Hassan came to tell him of the death of his wife, seemed much concerned, and said to him with an air which shewed how much he regretted her loss, "God be merciful to her: she was a good slave, and we gave her to you with an intention to make you happy: she deserved a longer life." The tears then ran down his face, so that he was obliged to pull out his handkerchief to wipe them off. The grief of Abou Hassan, and the tears of the caliph, excited those of Jaaffier and the other viziers. They bewailed the death of Nouzhatoul- aouadat, who, on her part, was only impatient to hear how Abou Hassan succeeded.
The caliph had the same suspicion of the husband that Zobeide had of the wife, and imagined that he had occasioned her death. "Wretch!" said he, in a tone of indignation, "have not you been the cause of your wife's death by your ill treatment of her? You ought at least to have had some regard for the princess my consort, who loved her more than the rest of her slaves, yet consented to give her to you. What a return for her kindness!"
"Commander of the faithful," replied Abou Hassan, affecting to weep more bitterly than before, "can your majesty for a moment suppose that Abou Hassan, whom you have loaded with your favours and kindness, and on whom you have conferred honours he could never have aspired to, can have been capable of such ingratitude? I loved Nouzhatoul-aouadat my wife as much on these accounts, as for the many good qualities she possessed, and which drew from me all the attachment, tenderness, and love she deserved. But, my lord," added he, "she was to die, and God would no longer suffer me to enjoy a happiness for which I was indebted to your majesty and your beloved consort."
Abou Hassan dissembled so well, that the caliph, who had never heard how extravagantly he and his wife had lived, no longer doubting his sincerity, ordered his treasurer, who was present, to give Abou Hassan a purse of a hundred pieces of gold and a piece of brocade. Abou Hassan immediately cast himself at the caliph's feet, and thanked him for his present. "Follow the treasurer," said the monarch; "throw the brocade over the corpse, and with the money shew the last testimony of thy love for thy wife."
Abou Hassan made no reply to these obliging words of the caliph, but retiring with a low prostration, followed the treasurer; and as soon as he had got the purse and piece of brocade, went home, well pleased with having found out so quick and easy a way of supplying the necessity which had given him so much uneasiness.
Nouzhatoul-aouadat, weary with lying so long in one posture, waited not till Abou Hassan bade her rise; but as soon as she heard the door open, sprang up, ran to her husband, and asked him if he had imposed on the caliph as cleverly as she had done on Zobeide. "You see," said he, shewing her the stuff, and shaking the purse, "that I can act a sorrowful husband for a living wife, as well as you can a weeping widow for a husband not dead." Abou Hassan, however, was not without his fears that this double plot might be attended with some ill consequences. He thought it would not be amiss to put his wife on her guard as to what might happen, that they might aft in concert. "For," added he, "the better we succeed in embarrassing the caliph and Zobeide, the more they will be pleased at last, and perhaps may shew their satisfaction by greater liberality." This last consideration induced them to carry on their stratagem farther.
The caliph, though he had important affairs to decide, was so impatient to condole with the princess on the death of her slave, that he rose up as soon as Abou Hassan was gone, and put off the council to another day. "Follow me," said he to Mesrour, who always attended him wherever he went, and was in all his councils, "let us go and share with the princess the grief which the death of her slave Nouzhatoul-aouadat must have occasioned."
Accordingly they went to Zobeide's apartment, whom the caliph found sitting on a sofa, much afflicted, and still in tears. "Madam," said the caliph, going up to her, "it is unnecessary to tell you how much I partake with you in your affliction; since you must be sensible that what gives you pleasure or trouble, has the same effect on me. But we are all mortal, and must surrender up to God that life he has given us, when he requires it. Nouzhatoul-aouadat, your faithful slave, was endued with qualifications that deserved your esteem, and I cannot but approve your expressing it after her death; but consider all your grief will not restore her to life. Therefore, madam, if you love me, and will take my advice, be comforted for this loss, take care of a life which you know is precious to me, and constitutes all the happiness of mine. "
If the princess was charmed with these tender sentiments which the caliph expressed in his compliments, she was amazed to hear of Nouzhatoulaouadat's death. This news threw her into such astonishment, that she was not able to return an answer for some time. At last recovering, she replied with an air expressive of surprise, "Commander of the faithful, I am very sensible of all your tender sentiments; but give me leave to say, I cannot comprehend the news you tell me of the death of my slave, who is in perfect health. My affliction is for the death of Abou Hassan, her husband, your favourite, whom I esteemed, as much for the regard you had for him, as his having so often diverted me agreeably, and for whom I had as great a value as yourself. But the little concern you shew for his death, and your so soon forgetting a man in whose company you have so often told me you took so much pleasure, surprises me; and this insensibility seems the greater, from the deception you would put upon me in changing his death for that of my slave."
The caliph, who thought that he was perfectly well informed of the death of the slave, and had just reason to believe so, because he had both seen and heard Abou Hassan, laughed, and shrugged up his shoulders, to hear Zobeide talk in this manner. "Mesrour," said he, to the eunuch, "what do you think of the princess's discourse? Do not women sometimes lose their senses; for you have heard and seen all as well as myself?" Then turning to Zobeide, "Madam," said he, "shed no more tears for Abou Hassan, for I can assure you he is well; but rather bewail the death of your dear slave. It is not many moments since her husband came in the most inexpressible affliction, to tell me of the death of his wife. I gave him a purse of a hundred pieces of gold and a piece of brocade, to comfort him, and bury her; and Mesrour, who was present, can tell you the same."
The princess took this discourse of the caliph's to be all a jest, and thought he had a mind to impose upon her. "Commander of the faithful," replied she, "though you are used to banter, I must tell you, this is not a proper time for pleasantry. What I tell you is very serious; I do not talk of my slave's death, but of Abou Hassan's, her husband, whose fate I bewail, and so ought you too." "Madam," said the caliph, putting on a grave countenance, "I tell you without raillery that you are deceived; Nouzhatoul-aouadat is dead, and Abou Hassan is alive, and in perfect health."
Zobeide was much piqued at this dry answer of the caliph. "Commander of the faithful," replied she smartly, "God preserve you from continuing longer in this mistake, surely you would make me think your mind is not as usual. Give me leave to repeat to you once more, that it is Abou Hassan who is dead, and that my slave Nouzhatoul-aouadat, his widow, is living. It is not an hour since she went from hence. She came here in so disconsolate a state, that the sight of her was enough to have drawn tears from my eyes, if she had not told me her affliction. All my women, who wept with me, can bear me witness, and tell you also that I made her a present of a hundred pieces of gold and a piece of brocade; the grief which you found me in, was on account of the death of her husband; and just at the instant you entered, I was going to send you a compliment of condolence."
At these words of Zobeide, the caliph cried out in a fit of laughter, "This, madam, is a strange piece of obstinacy; but," continued he seriously, "you may depend upon Nouzhatoul-aouadat's being dead." "I tell you no, sir," replied Zobeide sharply; "it is Abou Hassan that is dead, and you shall never make me believe otherwise."
Upon this the caliph's anger rose in his countenance. He seated himself on the sofa at some distance from the princess, and speaking to Mesrour, said, "Go immediately, see which it is, and bring me word; for though I am certain that it is Nouzhatoul-aouadat, I would rather take this method than be any longer obstinately positive about the matter, though of its certainty I am perfectly satisfied." No sooner had the caliph commanded than Mesrour was gone. "You will see," continued he, addressing himself to Zobeide, "in a moment, which of us is right." "For my part," replied Zobeide, "I know very well that I am in the right, and you will find it to be Abou Hassan." "And for myself," returned the caliph, "I am so sure that it is Nouzhatoul-aouadat, that I will lay you what wager you please that Abou Hassan is well."
"Do not think to come off so," said Zobeide; "I accept your wager, and I am so well persuaded of his death, that I would willingly lay the thing dearest to me in the world against what you will, though it were of less value. You know what I have in my disposal, and what I value most; propose the bet, and I will stand to it."
"Since it is so," said the caliph, "I will lay my garden of pleasures against your palace of paintings, though the one is worth much more than the other." "Is the question at present," replied Zobeide, "if your garden is more valuable than my palace? That is not the point. You have made choice of what you thought fit belonging to me, as an equivalent against what you lay; I accept the wager, and that I will abide by it, I take God to witness." The caliph took the same oath, and both waited Mesrour's return.
While the caliph and Zobeide were disputing so earnestly, and with so much warmth, Abou Hassan, who foresaw their difference, was very attentive to whatever might happen. As soon as he perceived Mesrour through a window, at which he sat talking with his wife, and observed that he was coming directly to their apartment, he guessed his commission, and bade his wife make haste to act the dead part once more, as they had agreed, without loss of time; but they were so pressed, that Abou Hassan had much ado to wrap up his wife, and lay the piece of brocade which the caliph had given him upon her, before Mesrour reached the house. This done, he opened the door of his apartment, and with a melancholy, dejected countenance, and his handkerchief before his eyes, went and sat down at the head of the pretended deceased.
By the time he was seated, Mesrour came into the room. The dismal sight which met his eyes, gave him a secret joy on account of the errand the caliph had sent him on. Abou Hassan rose up to meet him, and kissing his hand out of respect, said, sighing and sobbing, "You see me under the greatest calamity that ever could have befallen me the death of my dear wife, Nouzhatoul-aouadat, whom you honoured with your favours."
Mesrour, affected by this discourse, could not refuse some tears to the memory of the deceased. He lifted up the cloth a little at the head, and peeping under it, let it down again, and said, with a deep sigh, "There is no other God but Allah, we must all submit to his will, and every creature must return to him. Nouzhatoul-aouadat, my good sister," added he, sighing, "thy days have been few: God have mercy on thee." Then turning to Abou Hassan, who was all the time in tears, "We may well say," added he, "that women sometimes have whims, and lose their senses in a most unpardonable manner; for Zobeide, good mistress as she is, is in that situation at present; she will maintain to the caliph that you are dead, and not your wife; and whatever the caliph can say to the contrary, he cannot persuade her otherwise. He called me to witness and confirm this truth; for you know I was present when you came and told him the sorrowful news: but all signifies nothing. They are both positive; and the caliph, to convince Zobeide, has sent me to know the truth, but I fear I shall not be believed; for when women once take up a thing, they are not to be beaten out of it."
"God keep the commander of the faithful in the possession and right use of his senses," replied Abou Hassan, still sighing and weeping; "you see how it is, and that I have not imposed upon his majesty. And I wish to Heaven," continued he, to dissemble the better, "that I had no occasion to have told him the melancholy and afflicting news. Alas! I cannot enough express my irreparable loss!" "That is true," replied Mesrour, "and I can assure you I take a great share in your affliction; but you must be comforted, and not abandon yourself to your grief. I leave you with reluctance, to return to the caliph; but I beg the favour of you not to bury the corpse till I come again; for I will assist at the interment, and accompany it with my prayers." Mesrour went to give an account of his visit. Abou Hassan attended him to the door, told him he did not deserve the honour he intended him: and for fear Mesrour should return to say something else, followed him with his eyes for some time, and when he saw him at a distance, returned to his wife and released her. "This is already," said he, "a new scene of mirth, but I fancy it will not be the last; for certainly the princess Zobeide will not believe Mesrour, but will laugh at him, since she has too substantial a reason to the contrary; therefore we must expect some new event." While Abou Hassan was talking thus, Nouzhatoul-aouadat had time to put on her clothes again, and both went and sat down on a sofa opposite to the window, where they could see all that passed.
In the mean time, Mesrour reached Zobeide's apartment, and going into her closet laughing, clapped his hands like one who had something very agreeable to tell.
The caliph, naturally impatient, and piqued a little at the princess's contradiction, as soon as he saw Mesrour, "Vile slave," said he, "is this a time to laugh? Why do not you tell me which is dead, the husband or the wife?"
"Commander of the faithful," answered Mesrour, putting on a serious countenance, "it is Nouzhatoul-aouadat who is dead, for the loss of whom About Hassan is as much afflicted as when he appeared before your majesty." The caliph not giving him time to pursue his story, interrupted him, and cried out, laughing heartily, "Good news! Zobeide, your mistress, was a moment ago possessed of the palace of paintings, and now it is mine. She staked it against my garden of pleasures, since you went; therefore you could not have done me greater pleasure. I will take care to reward you: but give me a true account of what you saw."
"Commander of the faithful," said Mesrour, "when I came to Abou Hassan's apartment, I found the door open, and he was bewailing the death of his wife. He sat at the head of the deceased, who was laid out in the middle of the room, with her feet towards Mecca, and was covered with the piece of brocade which your majesty presented to Abou Hassan. After I had expressed the share I took in his grief, I went and lifted up the pall at the head, and knew Nouzhatoul-aouadat, though hr face was much swelled and changed. I exhorted Abou Hassan in the best manner I could to be comforted; and when I came away, told him I would attend at his wife's funeral, and desired him not to remove the corpse till I came. This is all I can tell your majesty." "I ask no more," said the caliph, laughing heartily, "and I am well satisfied with your exactness." Then addressing himself to Zobeide, "Well, madam," said he, "have you yet any thing to say against so certain a truth? Will you still believe that Nouzhatoul-aouadat is alive, and that Abou Hassan is dead? And will you not own that you have lost your wager?"
"How, sir," replied Zobeide, who would not believe one word Mesrour said, "do you think that I regard that impertinent fellow of a slave, who knows not what he says? I am not blind or mad. With these eyes I saw Nouzhatoul-aouadat in the greatest affliction; I spoke to her myself, and she told me that her husband was dead." "Madam," replied Mesrour, "I swear to you by your own life, and that of the commander of the faithful, which are both dear to me, that Nouzhatoul-aouadat is dead, and Abou Hassan is living."
"Thou liest, base despicable slave," said Zobeide in a rage, "and I will confound thee immediately." Clapping her hands together, she called her women, who all approached. "Come hither," said the princess to them, "and speak the truth. Who was that who came and spoke with me a little before the caliph entered?" The women all answered that it was poor afflicted Nouzhatoul-aouadat. "And what," added she, addressing herself to her treasurer, "did I order you to give her?" "Madam," answered the treasurer, "I gave Nouzhatoul-aouadat, by your orders, a purse of a hundred pieces of gold and a piece of brocade, which she carried away with her." "Well, then, sorry slave," said Zobeide to Mesrour, in passion, "what have you to say to all this? Whom do you think now I ought to believe, you or my treasurer, my women, and myself?"
Mesrour did not want for arguments to contradict the princess; but, as he was afraid of provoking her too much, chose rather to be silent, though he was satisfied that the wife was dead, and not the husband.
During the whole of this dispute between Zobeide and Mesrour, the caliph, who heard the evidence on both sides, and was persuaded of the contrary of what the princess asserted, because he had himself seen and spoken to Abou Hassan, and from what Mesrour had told him, laughed heartily to see Zobeide so exasperated. "Madam," said he to her, "once more I repeat that I know not who was the author of that saying, that 'Women sometimes lose their wits,' but I am sure you make it good. Mesrour has just come from Abou Hassan's, and tells you that he saw Nouzhatoul-aouadat lying dead in the middle of the room, Abou Hassan alive, and sitting by her; and yet you will not believe this evidence, which nobody can reasonably refuse; I cannot comprehend this conduit."
Zobeide would not hear the caliph. "Pardon me, commander of the faithful," replied she, "if I suspect you: I see that you have contrived with Mesrour to vex me, and to try my patience. And as I perceive that this report was concerted between you, I beg leave to send a person to Abou Hassan's, to know whether or not I am in the wrong."
The caliph consented, and the princess charged with this important commission an old nurse, who had lived with her from her infancy. "Hark you nurse," said she, "you see my dispute with the commander of the faithful, and Mesrour; I need tell you no more. Go to Abou Hassan's or rather to Nouzhatoul-aouadat's, for Abou Hassan is dead, and clear up this matter for me. If you bring me good news, a handsome present is your reward: make haste, and return immediately."
The nurse set out, to the great joy of the caliph, who was delighted to see Zobeide in this embarrassment; but Mesrour, extremely mortified to find the princess so angry with him, did all he could to appease her, and to make her and the caliph both satisfied with him. He was overjoyed when Zobeide sent the nurse; because he was persuaded that the report she must make would agree with his, justify him, and restore him to her favour.
In the mean time Abou Hassan, who watched at the window, perceived the nurse at a distance, and guessing that she was sent by Zobeide, called his wife, and told her that the princess's nurse was coming to know the truth. "Therefore," said he, "make haste and lay me out." Accordingly Nouzhatoul-aouadat covered him with the brocade Zobeide had given her, and put his turban upon his face. The nurse, eager to acquit herself of her commission, hobbled as fast as age would allow her, and entering the room, perceived Nouzhatoul-aouadat in tears, her hair dishevelled, and seated at the head of her husband, beating her breast, with all the expressions of violent grief.
The good old nurse went directly to the false widow. "My dear Nouzhatoul-aouadat," said she, with a sorrowful countenance, "I come not to interrupt your grief and tears for a husband whom you loved so tenderly." "Ah! good mother," replied the counterfeit widow, "you see my misfortune, and how unhappy I am from the loss of my beloved Abou Hassan. Abou Hassan, my dear husband!" cried she, "what have I done that you should leave me so soon? Have I not always preferred your will to my own? Alas! what will become of poor Nouzhatoul-aouadat?"
"This black-faced Mesrour," cried the nurse, lifting up her hands, "deserves to be punished for having caused so great a difference between my good mistress and the commander of the faithful, by the falsehood he has told them. Daughter," continued she, "that villain Mesrour has asserted, with inconceivable impudence, before our good mistress, that you were dead, and Abou Hassan was alive."
"Alas! my good mother," cried Nouzhatoul-aouadat, "I wish to Heaven that it was true! I should not be in this sorrowful state, nor bewail a husband so dear to me!" At these words she wept afresh, and with redoubled tears and cries feigned the deepest sorrow.
The nurse was so much moved by her tears, that she sat down by her, and cried too. Then gently lifting up the turban and cloth, looked at the face of the corpse. "Ah! poor Abou Hassan," she cried, covering his face again, "God have mercy upon thee. Adieu, child," said she to Nouzhatoul-aouadat: "if I could stay longer with you, I would with all my heart; but I am obliged to return immediately, to deliver my mistress from the uneasiness that black villain has occasioned her, by his impudent lie, assuring her with an oath that you were dead."
As soon as the nurse was gone, Nouzhatoul-aouadat wiped her eyes and released Abou Hassan; they both went and sat down on a sofa against the window, expecting what would be the end of this stratagem, and to be ready to act according as circumstances might require.
The nurse, in the mean time, made all the haste she could to Zobeide. The pleasure of carrying the princess news favourable to her wager, but still more the hopes of a good reward, added wings to her feet, and running into the princess's closet quite out of breath, she gave her a true account of all she had seen. Zobeide hearkened to the old woman's relation with a most sensible pleasure; and when she had done, said, with a tone which shewed triumph at having, as she supposed, won her wager: "Repeat it once more before the caliph, who looks upon us all to be fools, would make us believe we have no sense of religion, nor fear of God; and tell your story to that wicked black slave, who had the insolence to assert a wilful falsehood."
Mesrour, who expected the nurse's report would prove favourable on his side, was much mortified to find it so much the contrary, and so vexed at the anger Zobeide expressed against him, for a thing which he thought himself surer of than any body, that he was glad of an opportunity of speaking his mind freely to the old women, which he durst not do to the princess. "Old toothless," said he to the nurse, "you are a liar, and there is no truth in what you say; for I saw with my own eyes Nouzhatoul-aouadat laid out in the middle of the room."
"You are a notorious liar yourself," replied the nurse, with an insulting air, "to dare maintain so great a falsity before my face, who am just come from seeing Abou Hassan dead, laid out, and have left his wife alive." "I am not an impostor," replied Mesrour; "it is you who endeavour to lead us all into error."
"What impudence," said the nurse, "to dare tell me I lie in the presence of their majesties, when I saw just now with my own eyes what I have had the honour to tell them." "Indeed, nurse," answered Mesrour again, "you had better hold your tongue, for you certainly doat."
Zobeide, who could no longer endure this want of respect in Mesrour, who, without any regard to her, treated her nurse so injuriously in her presence, without giving the old lady time to reply to so gross an affront, said to the caliph, "Commander of the faithful, I demand justice for this insolence to us both." She was so enraged she could say no more, but burst into tears.
The caliph, who had heard all the dispute, thought it very intricate. He mused some time, and could not tell what to think of so many contradictions. The princess on her part, as well as Mesrour, the nurse, and all the women slaves, who were present, were as much puzzled, and remained silent. At last the caliph, addressing himself to Zobeide, said, "I see we are all liars; myself first, then you, Mesrour, and you, nurse; or at least it seems not one can be believed more than the other; therefore let us go ourselves to examine the truth, for I can see no other way to clear up these doubts."
So saying, the caliph arose, the princess followed him, and Mesrour went before to open the doors. "Commander of the faithful," said he, "I am overjoyed that your majesty has taken this course; and shall be much more, when I shall make it plainly appear to the nurse, not that she doats, since the expression is unfortunately displeasing to my good mistress, but that her report is not true."
The nurse wanted not a reply; "Hold your tongue, black face," said she; "you doat yourself."
Zobeide, who was much provoked at Mesrour, could not bear to hear him attack her nurse again without taking her part: "Vile slave," said she, "say what you will, I maintain my nurse speaks the truth, and look upon you as a mere liar." "Madam," replied Mesrour, "if nurse is so very certain that Nouzhatoul-aouadat is alive, and Abou Hassan dead, I will lay her what she dares of it." The nurse was as ready as he; "I dare," said she, "take you at your word: let us see if you dare unsay it." Mesrour stood to his word; and they laid a piece of gold brocade with silver flowers before the caliph and the princess.
The apartment from which the caliph and Zobeide set out, though distant from Abou Hassan's, was nevertheless just opposite, so that he perceived them coming, and told his wife that he was much mistaken if the caliph and Zobeide, preceded by Mesrour, and followed by a great number of women, were not about to do them the honour of a visit. She looked through a lattice and saw them, seemed frightened, and cried out, "What shall we do? we are ruined." "Fear nothing," replied Abou Hassan. "Have you forgotten already what we agreed on? We will both feign ourselves dead, and you shall see all will go well. At the slow rate they are coming, we shall be ready before they reach the door." Accordingly, Abou Hassan and his wife wrapped up and covered themselves with the pieces of brocade, and waited patiently for their visitors.
Mesrour, who came first, opened the door, and the caliph and Zobeide, followed by their attendants, entered the room; but were struck with horror, and stood motionless, at the spectacle which presented itself to their view, not knowing what to think. At length Zobeide breaking silence, said to the caliph, "Alas! they are both dead! You have done much," continued she, looking at the caliph and Mesrour, "to endeavour to make me believe that my dear slave was dead, and I find it is true: grief at the loss of her husband has certainly killed her." "Say rather, madam," answered the caliph, prepossessed to the contrary, that Nouzhatoul-aoudat died first, "the afflicted Abou Hassan sunk under his grief, and could not survive his dear wife; you ought, therefore, to confess that you have lost your wager, and that your palace of paintings is mine."
"Hold there," answered Zobeide, warmed at being contradicted by the caliph; "I will maintain you have lost your garden of pleasures. Abou Hassan died first; since my nurse told you, as well as me, that she saw her alive, and weeping for the death of her husband."
The dispute of the caliph and Zobeide brought on another between Mesrour and the nurse, who had wagered as well as they; each affirmed to have won, and at length they proceeded to abuse each other very grossly.
At last the caliph, reflecting on what had passed, began to think that Zobeide had as much reason as himself to maintain that she had won. In this embarrassment of not being able to find out the truth, he advanced towards the corpses, and sat down at the head, searching for some expedient that might gain him the victory over Zobeide. "I swear," cried he presently after, "by the holy name of God, that I will give a thousand pieces of gold to him who can tell me which of these two died first."
No sooner were these words out of the caliph's mouth, than he heard a voice under Abou Hassan's piece of brocade say, "Commander of the faithful, I died first, give me the thousand pieces of gold." At the same instant Abou Hassan threw off the piece of brocade, and springing up, prostrated himself at his feet, while his wife did the same to Zobeide, keeping on her piece of brocade out of decency. The princess at first shrieked out, but recovering herself, expressed great joy to see her dear slave rise again, just when she was almost inconsolable at having seen her dead. "Ah! wicked Nouzhatoul-aouadat," cried she, "what have I suffered for your sake? However, I forgive you from my heart, since you are not dead."
The caliph was not so much surprised, when he heard Abou Hassan's voice: but thought he should have died with laughing at this unravelling of the mystery, and to hear Abou Hassan ask so seriously for the thousand pieces of gold. "What, Abou Hassan," said he, continuing to laugh aloud, "hast thou conspired against my life, to kill me a second time with laughing? How came this thought into your head, to surprise Zobeide and me thus, when we least thought of such a trick?"
"Commander of the faithful," replied Abou Hassan, "I will declare to your majesty the whole truth, without the least reserve. Your majesty knows that I always loved to eat and drink well' and the wife you gave me rather increased than restrained this propensity. With these dispositions your majesty may easily suppose we might spend a good estate; and to make short of my story, we were not sparing of what your majesty so generously gave us. This morning, accounting with our caterer, who took care to provide every thing for us, and paying what we owed him, we found we had nothing left. Then, reflections on what was past, and resolutions to manage better for the future, crowded into our thoughts; we formed a thousand projects, all of which we rejected. At last, the shame of seeing ourselves reduced to so low a condition, and not daring to tell your majesty, made us contrive this stratagem to relieve our necessities, and to divert you, which we hope your majesty will be pleased to pardon."
The caliph was satisfied with Abou Hassan's sincerity, and Zobeide, who had till now been very serious, began to laugh at the thought of Abou Hassan's scheme. The caliph, who had not ceased laughing at the singularity of the adventure, rising, said to Abou Hassan and his wife, "Follow me; I will give you the thousand pieces of gold I promised, for joy to find you are not dead." Zobeide desired him to let her make her slave a present of the same sum, for the same reason. By this means Abou Hassan and his wife Nouzhatoul-aouadat preserved the favour of the caliph Haroon al Rusheed and the princess Zobeide, and by their liberalities were enabled to pursue their pleasures.