ADVENTURE OF A COURTIER, RELATED BY HIMSELF TO HIS PATRON, AN AMEER OF EGYPT.
It is related by an historian that there was an ameer of the land of Egypt, whose mind being one night unusually disturbed, he sent for one of his courtiers, a convivial companion, and said to him, "To-night my bosom, from what cause I know not, is uncommonly restless, and I wish thee to divert me by some amusing narrative." The courtier replied, "To hear is to obey: I will describe an adventure which I encountered in the youthful part of my life."
When a very young man I was deeply in love with a beautiful Arab maiden, adorned by every elegance and grace, who resided with her parents; and I used frequently to visit their camp, for her family was one of the desert tribes. One day my mind felt uncommonly anxious concerning her, and I resolved to seek relief by a visit; but when I reached the spot found neither my beloved nor any of her kindred. I questioned some passengers, who informed me that the family had removed their encampment from scarcity of forage for their herds and camels. I remained for some time on the ground; but observing no signs of their return, my impatience of absence became intolerable, and my love compelled me to travel in search of my charmer. Though the shades of evening were falling, I replaced the saddle upon my camel, put on my vestments, and girding on my sabre proceeded. I had advanced some distance, when the night became dismally black, and from the darkness I now sunk into sands and hollows, and now ascended declivities, while the yells of wild beasts resounded on every quarter. My heart beat with apprehension, and my tongue did not cease to repeat the attributes of the Almighty, our only defender in time of need. At length stupor overcame my senses, and I slept; while my camel quitted the track, and wandered from the route I had meant to pursue all night. Suddenly my head was violently intercepted by the branch of a tree, and I was awakened by the blow, which gave me infinite pain. As I recovered myself I beheld trees, verdure sprinkled with flowers, and a clear rivulet; also a variety of birds, whose notes were melodiously sweet. I alighted from my camel, and laid the bridle on my arm, as the underwood of the thicket was closely entwined.
I did not cease leading my camel till I was out of the thicket, when I remounted; but at a loss which way to go, and unknowing where Providence might direct me, I reached the desert, and cast my eyes over the expanse; when, lo! at length a smoke appeared in the midst of it. I whipped my camel, and at length reached a fire, and near it observed a handsome tent, before which was a standard planted, surrounded by spears, horses picketted, and camels grazing. I said to myself, "What can mean this tent, which has a grand appearance, in so solitary a plain?" I then went to the rear of the tent, and exclaimed, "Health to you, O inhabitants of this tent, and may the Almighty to you be merciful!" Upon this there advanced from it a youth, seemingly about nineteen, who appeared graceful as the rising moon, and valour and benevolence gleamed upon his aspect. He returned my salutation, and said, "Brother Arab, perchance thou hast missed thy way." I answered, "Yes, shew it, and may God requite thee!" upon which he replied, "My dwelling, brother Arab, is at present in this wild spot; but the night is dreary, and shouldst thou proceed there is no surety against wild beasts tearing thee in pieces. Lodge, then, at present with me in safety, and repose, and when day shall appear I will direct thee on thy way." I alighted, when he took my camel, picketted her, and gave her water and fodder. He then retired for a while; but returned with a sheep, which he killed, flayed, and cut up; then lighted a fire, and when it was of a proper glow broiled part of the sheep, which he had previously seasoned with sundry dried herbs, seeds, and spices, and when ready presented his cookery to me.
During his hospitalities I observed that my kind host sometimes beat his breast and wept, from which I guessed that he was in love, and a wanderer, like myself. My curiosity was raised; but I said within myself, "I am his guest, why should I intrude upon him by painful questions?" and refrained from inquiry. When I had eaten as much as sufficed me, the youth arose, went into his tent, and brought out a basin and ewer, with a napkin embroidered with silk and fringed with gold; also a cruet of rose water, in which musk had been infused. I was astonished at his proceedings, and the politeness of his demeanour, and exclaimed inwardly, "How wonderful is the abode of so accomplished a personage in this wild desert." We made our ablutions, and conversed awhile upon various subjects; after which my gentle host went to his tent, from whence he brought out a piece of red silk damask, which he divided between us, saying, "Brother Arab, go into my tent and choose thy place of repose, for last night and to-day great must have been thy hardship and fatigue."
I entered the tent, and in one partition of it found a mattress of green damask: upon which, having pulled off my upper garments, I lay down, and slept so soundly that I never enjoyed, before or since, so refreshing a repose. At length I awoke, when night was far advanced, and became involved in thought respecting my hospitable host; but knew not what to conjecture, and was sinking again into slumber, when, lo! gentle murmurs struck my ears, than which I never heard sound more soft or tenderly affecting. I lifted up the curtain of my partition, and looked around, when I beheld a damsel more beautiful than any I had ever seen, seated by the generous owner of the tent. They wept and complained of the agonies of love, of separation and interruptions to their desire of frequent meetings. Then I said within myself, "There is a wonderfully dignified appearance in this amiable youth, yet he lives alone, and I have seen no other tent on the plain. What can I conjecture, but that this damsel must be a daughter of one of the good genii, who has fallen in love with him, and upon her account he has retired to this solitary spot?" Respect for their love made me drop the curtain; I drew the coverlid over me, and again fell asleep.
When the morning dawned I awoke, dressed, and having performed my ablutions and prayers, said to the young man, who had already risen, "Brother Arab, if in addition to thy hospitalities already shewn thou wilt put me in my way, my obligations will be complete. "He looked kindly, and said, "If convenient, my brother, let me entertain thee as my guest for three days." I could not refuse his hospitable request, and abode with him. On the third day I ventured to inquire his name and family, when he replied, "I am of the noble tribe of Azzra," and I discovered that he was the son of my father's brother. "Son of my uncle," exclaimed I, "what can have induced thee to court the seclusion of this desert spot, and to quit thy kinsmen, neighbours, and dependents?"
Upon hearing these words, the eyes of the youth became suffused with tears, he sighed, and said, "Ah! my cousin, I passionately admired the daughter of my uncle, and was so devoted to her love that I asked her in marriage; but he refused me, and wedded her to another of our tribe richer than myself, who carried her to his abode. When she was thus torn from me, despair agitated my soul, I quitted my relations, friends, and companions, became enamoured of solitude, and retired to this lonely spot."
When he had finished his communication, I said, "But where is the abode of thy beloved and thy successful rival?" He replied, "Near the summit of yonder mountain, from whence, as frequently as opportunity will allow, in the stillness of night, when sleep hath overpowered the eyes of the village, she ventures to my tent, and we enjoy the company of each other; but believe me, my brother, our passion is innocent as devotional love. Hence I dwell here in the manner you have witnessed, and while she visits me delightful will pass the hours, until Allah shall execute his appointed decrees, and reward our constancy in this world, or consign us to the grave together."
When the unfortunate youth had concluded his narration, at which I was affected with sincere compassion for his circumstances, an eager desire to relieve the lovers from their oppressors occupied my mind, and after much consideration I addressed him thus: "If thou choosest, I think I can point out a plan which, under the blessing of Allah, may end the sufferings of thyself and thy beloved." He replied, "O son of my uncle, reveal it to me!" and I continued, saying, "When night shall arrive, and the damsel cometh, let us seat her upon my camel; for she is sure-footed and swift of pace; do thou then mount thy steed, and I will accompany you upon one of your camels. We will travel all night, and ere morning shall have passed the forest, when you will be safe, and thy heart will be rendered happy with thy beloved. The land of God is wide enough to afford us an asylum; and by Heaven I swear, that while life remains I will be thy friend." The youth replied, "Son of my uncle, I will consult upon thy plan with my beloved, for she is prudent and well-informed."
When night had shut in, and the usual hour of the damsel's coming approached, my kind host impatiently expefted her arrival; but in vain, for she did not appear. He rose, stood in the doorway of the tent, opened his mouth, and drew in the exhalations of the gale, then returned, sat down pensively for a few minutes, and at last bursting into tears, exclaimed, "Ah! my cousin, there are no tidings of the daughter of my uncle, some, mishap must have befallen her. Remain here while I go in search of intelligence." Having said thus, he took up his sabre, his lance, and departed.
When somewhat more than an hour had elapsed, I heard his footstep, and soon perceived him advancing, bearing something bulky in his arms, while he called loudly upon me in a distressful tone. I hastened towards him, and upon my arrival he exclaimed, "Alas, alas! the beloved daughter of my uncle is no more, and I bear her remains. She was hastening, as usual, to my tent, when suddenly a lion sprung upon her in the path, and tore her in pieces. These relics are all that remain of my beloved." He then laid them down, and, lo! the thigh bones of the damsel and part of her ribs. He wept piteously, and said, "Remain here till I return;" after which he departed with the swiftness of an arrow. In about an hour he returned, and in his hand was the head of the lion, which he threw down, and asked eagerly for water, which I brought him. He then washed his hands, cleansed the mouth of the lion, which he rapturously kissed, and wept bitterly for some moments. He then exclaimed, "By Allah, I conjure thee, O son of my uncle, and by the ties of relationship between us, that thou observe my will; for within this hour I shall follow my beloved; be thou our mourner, and bury her remains with mine in the same grave." Having said this, he retired into the sleeping partition of the tent; where he remained at his devotions for an hour, then came out, beat his breast, sighed deeply, and at length heaved his expiring groan, saying, "I come, I come, my beloved, I come!" and his pure soul took flight for the mansions of Paradise.
When I beheld his corpse, sad indeed was my condition, and from excess of sorrow I found it difficult to perform my promise; but at length I arose, washed, enshrouded, and laid the remains of these constant lovers in the same grave, near which I remained for three days in prayer and lamentation; after which I departed homewards: but have not failed annually to visit the spot, to bedew their grave with my tears, and pray for the mercy of Allah to their souls and my own errors.