THE HISTORY OF AL-BUNDUKANI
THE CALIPH HARUN AL-RASHID AND THE DAUGHTER OF KING KISRA.
In the name of Allah the Compassionating, the Compassionate, we here indite, by the aidance of the Almighty and His furtherance, the History of the Caliph Harun Al-Rashid and of the Daughter of Kisra the King. [FN#90]
It is related (but Allah is all-knowing of His secrets and all-kenning in whatso hath passed and preceded and preterlapsed of the annals of folk), [FN#91] that the Caliph (by whom I mean Harun al-Rashid) was sitting on the throne of his kingdom one chance day of the days which happened to be the fête of 'Arafát. [FN#92] And as he chanced to glance at Ja'afar the Barmaki, he said to him, "O Wazir, I desire to disguise myself and go down from my palace into the streets and wander about the highways of Baghdad that I may give alms to the mesquin and miserable and solace myself with a sight of the folk: so do thou hie with me nor let any know of our faring forth." "With love and good will," quoth Ja'afar. So his lord arose and passed from the audience-room into the inner palace where the two donned disguise and made small their sleeves and breasts [FN#93] and issued forth to circle about the thorough-fares of Baghdad and her market-streets, distributing charity to the poor and the paupers, until the last of the day. And whilst so doing, the Commander of the Faithful chanced to espy a woman seated at the head of a highway who had extended the hand of beggary, showing at the same time her wrist and crying, "Give me somewhat for the sake of Allah Almighty!" Hereat he considered her nicely and saw that her palm and her wrist were like whitest crystal and yet more brilliant in brightness. So he wondered thereat, and presently pulling a dinar from his breast-pocket he handed it to Ja'afar and said, "Bestow it upon yonder woman." The Minister took the ducat and leaving his lord went up to her and placed it in her palm; and, when she closed her fingers thereupon, she felt that the coin was bigger than a copper or a silverling, so she looked thereat and saw that it was of gold. Hereupon she called after Ja'afar who had passed onwards, saying, "Ho, thou fair youth!" and when he came back to her she continued, "The dinar wherewith thou hast gifted me, is it for Allah's sake or for other service?" Said he, "'Tis not from me, nay 'twas given by yonder Youth who sent it through me." "Ask him," she rejoined, "and tell me what may be his purport." Ja'afar hied him back to the Caliph and reported her words, whereat his lord commanded him, "Go back and say thou to her 'tis for Almighty Allah's sake." The Minister did his master's bidding when she replied "His reward be upon the Almighty." Then the Wazir returned and reported the woman's prayer to the Commander of the Faithful, who cried, "Hie thee to her and enquire an she be married or virginal; and, if she be unwedded, do thou ask her an she be willing to wive with me." [FN#94] So Ja'afar fared to her and questioned her, whereat she answered, "A spinster." Quoth he, "The Youth who sent the dinar to thee desireth to mate with thee;" and quoth she, "An he can pay me my dower and my money down, [FN#95] I will become his bride." Hereat Ja'afar said in his thought, "whence can the Prince of True Believers find her dower and her money down? Doubtless we shall have to ask a loan for him;" [FN#96] and presently he enquired of her what might be the amount of both. Replied she, "As for the pin-money, this shall be the annual revenue of Ispahán, and the income of Khorásán-city shall form the settlement." So Ja'afar wagged his head and going back to the Commander of the Faithful repeated her terms; wherewith Harun was satisfied and bespake him, "Hie thee to her and say, 'He hath accepted this and thou hast professed thyself contented.'" Hearing his words she rejoined, "What be his worth, yonder man, and how may he attain unto such sum?" and he retorted, "Of a truth he is the Commander of the Faithful, Harun al-Rashid." When this reply reached her ears she veiled her hands and feet crying, "To Allah be laud and gratitude;" adding to Ja'afar, "An he be the Prince of True Believers, I am satisfied therewith." Accordingly the Wazir returned to the Caliph and reported her consent, whereafter the twain repaired homewards and the Caliph despatched to her a duenna and a train of handmaidens who went and bore her to the Hammam within the palace and bathed her. Then they brought her out and robed her in sumptuous raiment, such as becometh the women of the Kings, and ornaments and jewellery and what not: after which they led her to a fine apartment which was set apart and private for her wherein also were meat and drink and furniture, arras [FN#97] and curtains and all necessaries of such sort. In fine they fared to the Caliph and apprized him of what they had done and he presently gave command to summon the four Kazis who wrote her marriage-lines. When it was night he paid her the first visit and taking seat opposite her he asked, "Daughter of whom mayst thou be amongst the folk that thou demandedst of me this dower?" "Allah advance in honour the Commander of the Faithful," answered she; "verily thy hand-maid is of the seed of Kisrà Anushirwán; but the shifts of time and tide brought me down and low down." Replied he, "They relate that thine ancestor, the Chosroë, wronged his lieges with mighty sore wronging;" [FN#98] and she rejoined, "Wherefor and because of such tyranny over the folk hath his seed come to beg their bread at the highway-heads." Quoth he, "They also make mention of him that in after-times he did justice to such degree that he decided causes between birds and beasts;" and quoth she, "Wherefor hath Allah exalted his posterity from the highway-head and hath made them Harím to the Prince of True Believers." Hearing this the Caliph was wroth with mighty great wrath [FN#99] and sware that he would not go in unto her for full told year, and arising forthright went forth from her. But when the twelvemonth had passed and the fête-day of Arafat came round again, the Commander of the Faithful donned disguise and taking with him Ja'afar and Masrúr the Eunuch, strolled out to wander about the streets of Baghdad and her highways. And as they walked along, the Caliph looked about him and beheld a booth wherein a man was turning out Katífah-cakes [FN#100] and he was pleased to admire his dexterity to such degree that, returning to the Palace, he sent him one of his Eunuchs with the message, "The Prince of True Believers requireth of thee an hundred pancakes, and let each one of them, when filled and folded, fit into the hollow of a man's hand." So the Castrato went and gave the order as we have related and paid the price and, when the pastrycook had made his requirement, he carried it away to the presence. Then the Caliph took seat and bade bring sugar and pistachios and all other such needs wherewith he fell to stuffing the pancakes with his own hands and placing in each and every a golden dinar. When this was done he despatched the same Eunuch to Kisra's daughter with the message, "This night the Commander of the Faithful proposeth to visit thee, the year of his oath having expired, and he sendeth to thee saying, 'What is it thy heart coveteth that he may forward it to thee?'" The Castrato set forth upon this errand and received for all reply, "Say him my heart desireth naught, for that all I require is with me nor is there aught of deficiency." Accordingly, he returned and repeated her words to the Caliph who bade him fare forth again to her and say the same to her a second time, whenas she, "Let him send me a thousand dinars and a duenna in whom he confideth, so that I may disguise myself and go down with her and distribute gold to the mean and the mesquin." Presently back came the slave bearing this reply, whereat the Caliph ordered the moneys be sent to her and the woman required; and the twain, Princess and duenna, went forth and threaded the lanes of Baghdad and her great thoroughfares whilst the young lady distributed her charity to the Fakirs and the paupers. But when all the gold with her had been expended and naught of it remained, they turned homewards making for the Palace; and, the day being sultry, drowthiness befel the young lady. So she said to her companion, "O mother mine, I am athirst and want a draught of water to drink;" and said the other, "We will call aloud to the Water-carrier [FN#101] who shall give thee thy need." Replied the Princess, "Drinking from the Waterman's jar will not be pleasant to my heart; nor will I touch it, for 'tis like the whore [FN#102] whereinto some man goeth every hour: let the draught of water be from a private house and suffer that it be given by way of kindness." Hereupon the old woman looked in front of her and saw a grand gateway with a door of sandal-wood over which a lamp hung by a silken cord [FN#103] and a curtain was drawn across it and it had two benches of marble, the whole under the charge of a goodly concierge. Then quoth she, "From this house I will ask a drink for thee." So the two women went forward and stood before the door and the duenna advancing rapped a light rap with the ring, when behold, the entrance was opened and came forth a young man in youthful favour fair and robed in raiments pure and rare and said, "'Tis well!" Hereat the governante addressed him, "O my son, indeed this my daughter is athirst and I crave of thy kindness that thou give her a draught of water, seeing that she will not drink from the Watercarrier." He replied, "With love and goodwill;" and going within brought out what was required and handed the cup to the old woman. She took it and passed it on to her mistress and the young lady turning her face to the wall raised her veil and drank her sufficiency without showing a single feature. [FN#104] After this she returned the cup to the old woman who took it and handed it back to the young man saying, "Allah requite thee with all of weal, O my son!" whereto he replied, "Health to you and healing!" [FN#105] And the two went their way and returned to the Palace and entered therein. On such wise fared it with these twain but as regards the Caliph, when he had finished filling the pancakes, he ranged them in a large charger of porcelain; then, summoning the Eunuch he said to him, "Take up this and carry it to the daughter of Kisra and say her, 'Here be the sweetmeats of peace,' and let her know that I will night with her this night." The Castrato did his lord's bidding; and carrying the charger to the Princess's apartment handed it to the duenna and delivered the message, whereupon she blessed and prayed for the Commander of the Faithful and the slave departed. Now he was angry and disappointed for that he could not eat one pancake of them all because they had become big by stuffing and he feared that if he touched any thereof its place would show void. Presently it so befel that the young lady said to the old woman, her governante, "Do thou take up this charger and carry it to the youth who gave us the draught of water with the intent that he may not claim an obligation or have aught to desire of us." Accordingly, the ancient dame took the charger and walked off with it. But on her way she longed for a Katifah and put forth her hand to one and took it up when she saw that it left in the line of pancakes a gap big as a man's palm. Hereat she feared to touch it and replaced it saying, "'Twill be known that I carried off one of them." Then after returning the pancake to its place she passed on with the charger to the door of that young man whom she suddenly sighted as he sat at the gateway. She saluted him with the salam which he returned, and then said she, "O my son, the young lady who drank the water hath sent thee all these cates in acknowledgment for the draught thou gavest her to drain." Said he, "Set it down on the door-bench;" and when she did his bidding, he expressed his thanks to her and she ganged her gait. Now as the youth still sat there, the Watchman of the Ward suddenly stood before him blessing him and saying, "O my lord, this be Arafat-day and to-night will be the Eve of the 'I'd, or Greater Festival; so I hope from the beneficence of my master the Chamberlain and Emir Alaeddin (whom Allah Almighty keep and preserve!) that he will deign order me a largesse befitting the Fête wherewith I may buy sweetmeats for my wife and children." The other replied, "Take this charger and wend thy ways therewith;" so the Watchman kissed his hand and carrying it off went home and showed it to his wife. But she cried, "O thou miserable, [FN#106] whence gottest thou this charger: hast thou wilfully stolen it or suddenly snatched it?" [FN#107] Replied her mate, "This be the property of the Emir Alaeddin, the Chamberlain (whom Allah preserve!), and he gave it to me as an alms-gift; so come hither all of you that we eat, for the pancakes look toothsome." Rejoined his wife, "Art thou Jinn-mad? Up with thee and sell the charger and cates, for the worth must be some thirty to forty dirhams which we will lay out for the benefit of the little ones." He retorted, "O woman, suffer us eat of this food wherewith the Almighty would feed us;" but she fell to wailing and crying out, "We will not taste thereof while the children lack caps and slippers." [FN#108] and she prevailed over him with her opinion, for indeed women are mostly the prevailers. So taking up the charger he fared with it to the market-place and gave it for sale to a broker, and the man began crying, "Who will buy this charger with whatso is thereon?" Hereat up came the Shaykh of the Bazar who bid forty dirhams therefor, and a second merchant raised its price to eighty, when a third hent it in hand and turning it about espied graven upon the edge, "Made by commandment of Harun al-Rashid, Commander of the Faithful." Hereat the trader's wits fled him and he cried to the broker, "Hast thou a will to work for my hanging in this matter of the charger?" Quoth the other, "What may be the meaning of these words?" and quoth the merchant, "This charger is the property of the Prince of True Believers." The broker, dying of dread, took the charger and repaired therewith to the Palace of the Caliphate where he craved leave to enter; and, when this was accorded, he went in and kissed ground before the presence and blessed the Commander of the Faithful and lastly showed to him the charger. But when the Caliph looked at it and considered it carefully, he recognised it with its contents and he waxed wroth with exceeding wrath and said in himself, "When I make aught for the eating of my household, shall it be sent out and hawked about for sale?" adding to the broker, "Who gave thee this charger?" "O my lord, 'twas the Watchman of one of the wards," replied he; and Harun rejoined, "Bring him to me hither." So they fared forth and fetched him bound in cords and saying in his mind, "The whore would not suffer us eat of that was in the charger and enjoy its sweetness, so this happened which hath happened to us; we have eaten naught and have fallen into misfortune." But when they set him between the hands of the Caliph the latter asked him, "Where haddest thou yon charger? say me sooth or I will smite thy neck!" The Watchman answered, "Allah prolong the life of our liege lord! verily as regards this charger it was given to me by the Lord Alaeddin, the junior Chamberlain." Hereat the Prince of True Believers redoubled in rage and cried, "Bring me that Emir with his turband in tatters, and drag him along on his face and plunder his home." Accordingly the magnates fared forth with their pages; and, reaching the house, knocked at the door, when the owner came out and, seeing the officials, asked, "What is to do?" "'Tis against thee," replied some of the Grandees, whereto the Chamberlain rejoined, "Hearkening and obeying Allah and then the Commander of the Faithful!" After this they bore him to the Palace of the Caliphate and an Emir of them put forth his hand to the Chamberlain's coat and tare it and rent his turband adown his neck saying, "O Alaeddin, [FN#109] this is the behest of the Prince of True Believers who hath enjoined that we do with thee on such wise and we despoil thy house: yet there is bread and salt between us albe we must do as we are bidden, for obedience to royal behest is of the ways of good breeding." Then they carried him into the presence of the Caliph and he, after he was made to stand between the Sovran's hands, kissed ground and blessed Harun and said, "Allah give aidance to our liege lord and have him in His holy keeping: what may be the offence of thine humble slave that he hath merited such treatment as this?" Harun raised his head and asked, "Say me, knowest thou yon fellow?" and the other looked and seeing the guardian of the gates corded and pinioned made answer, "Yes indeed, I know him and he is the Watchman of our ward." The Caliph resumed, "Whence came to thee this charger?" and the Chamberlain replied, "Let the Commander of the Faithful (to whom Almighty Allah vouchsafe furtherance!) learn that I was sitting at home when there rapped a rap at the door; and I, going forth to open, beheld an ancient dame who said to me, 'O my son, this my daughter is athirst and I beg thee of thy bounty to give her a draught of water for she will not take drink from the public Sakká.' So I brought them out their requirement and they satisfied themselves and went their ways. After an hour or so I came forth and took seat by my house-door when behold, up came the old woman bearing in hand yon charger and said, 'O my son, the person to whom thou suppliedest drink hath sent this to thee in requital for that thou gavest her of water inasmuch as she is unwilling to be under an obligation.' Quoth I, 'Set it down'; when she placed it upon the edge of the Mastabah-bench and left me. Thereupon suddenly came up this Watchman and craved from me the Sweetmeat of the Festival, whereto I answered, 'Do thou take this charger and its contents' (whereof by the bye I had not tasted aught); and he did so and departed. This is all I know and--The Peace." Now when the Commander of the Faithful heard this from the Chamberlain, his heart was gladdened and he enquired, "O Alaeddin, what time the young lady drank the draught of water didst thou see her face or not?" and the Chamberlain replied in haste, "O Prince of True Believers, indeed I did see it." Hereat Harun was wroth with exceeding wrath and bade summon the daughter of Kisra and when she came bade the twain be beheaded saying, "Thou farest forth to do alms-deeds, and thou durst display thy features to this fellow when thou drankest water at his hand!" Hereat she turned her towards Alaeddin and replied, "Thou see my face! Nay, this is but a lie that may work my death." He rejoined, "The Reed-pen wrote what 'twas bidden write! [FN#110] I designed to say, 'Verily I beheld naught of her,' and my tongue ran as it did the sooner to end our appointed life-term." Then having set the twain upon the rug of blood the Sworder bound their hands and tearing off a strip from their skirts bandaged their eyes, whereafter he walked around them and said, "By leave of the Commander of the Faithful;" and Harun cried, "Smite!" Then the Headsman paced around them a second time saying, "By leave of the Commander of the Faithful," and Harun again cried, "Smite!" But when the executioner did in like manner for the third and last time [FN#111] quoth he to Alaeddin, "Hast thou haply in heart aught of regret or requirement that I may fulfil it to thee? Ask of me anything save release, ere the Commander of the Faithful say the word and forthright thy head fall before thy feet?" "I desire," quoth the Chamberlain, "that thou unbind this bandage from mine eyes so may I look one latest look at the world and at my friends, after which do thou work thy will." The Sworder granted this and Alaeddin glanced first to the right where he saw none to aidance dight, and then to the left where he found all favour reft; and the spectators each and every hung their heads groundwards for awe of the Caliph, nor did any take upon himself to utter a kindly word. Whereupon the Chamberlain cried out his loudest saying, "A counsel, O Commander of the Faithful!" and Harun regarding him asked, "What is it thou counsellest?" "A respite of three days' space," rejoined the condemned, "when thou shalt see a marvel, indeed a miracle of miracles;" and the Caliph retorted, "After the third day, an I see not as thou sayest, I will assuredly smite thy neck;" and bade them bear him back to gaol. But when the appointed term ended the Caliph sprang up and in his impatience to see what would befal him donned a dress distinctive of his new calling, [FN#112] and thrusting his feet into coarse shoon and high of heel [FN#113] and binding about his brows a honey-coloured turband [FN#114] he hent in hand a pellet-bow [FN#115] and slung its case over his shoulders: he also took gold in pouch and thus equipped he left the palace. Then, as he roamed about the lanes of Baghdad and her highways, giving alms and saying in his mind, "Haply may I sight the wonder which the Chamberlain Alaeddin announced to me," it befel about mid-forenoon (and he still walking) that behold, a man came forth from the Kaysaríyah [FN#116] or chief mart of the merchants crying aloud, "This be a marvel, nay a miracle of miracles." So the Caliph questioned him saying "What be this wonder thou hast seen?" and he answered, "Within yon Kaysariyah is a woman who reciteth the Koran even as it was brought down, [FN#117] and albeit she have not ceased declaiming from the hour of the dawn-prayer until this time, yet hath none given her a single dirham: no, nor even one mite; [FN#118] and what strangeness can be stranger than this I tell thee?" The Caliph, hearing his words, entered the mart wherein he descried an ancient dame sitting and reciting the Koran and she had well nigh reached the end thereof. He was charmed with the beauty of her lecture and stood there until she had finished it and had blessed the by-standers, but when he glanced round he saw nobody give her aught. So he thrust his hand into his pouch saying in his mind, "Whatso [FN#119] of coin remaineth in purse shall go to this woman." And he designed to gift her with the gold when suddenly the old dame sprang from her seat and going to a merchant's shop took seat beside the man and said to him, "O my son, dost thou accept of a fair young lady?" Said he, "Yea, verily," and she continued, "Up with thee and come that I show thee a thing whose like thou hast never seen." Now when the Caliph heard her words he said to himself, "Look at yon foul old crone who playeth bawd when I held her to be a devotee, a holy woman. Indeed I will not give her aught until I see what work is wrought by these twain." The trader then followed the old woman to her home wherein both, youth and crone, entered and the Caliph who pursued them also went in privily and took his station at a stead whence he could see without being seen. [FN#120] Then lo and behold! the old trot called to her daughter who came forth from the bower wherein she was, and the Caliph looking at this young lady owned that he had never sighted amongst his women aught fairer than this, a model of beauty and loveliness and brilliancy and perfect face and stature of symmetric grace. Her eyes were black and their sleepy lids and lashes were kohl'd with Babylonian witchery, and her eyebrows were as bows ready to shoot the shafts of her killing glances, and her nose was like unto the scymitar's edge, and her mouth for magical might resembled the signet-ring of Sulayman (upon whom be The Peace!), and her lips were carnelians twain, and her teeth union pearls and her mouth-dews sweeter than honey and more cooling than the limpid fount; with breasts strutting from her bosom in pomegranate-like rondure and waist delicate and hips of heavy weight, and stomach soft to the touch as sendal with plait upon plait, and she was one that excited the sprite and exalted man's sight even as said a certain poet in song of her like,
"Breeze-wavèd branch, full moon O' murk or sun of undurn sheeny bright, *
Which is she hight who all the three hath might to place in pauper plight, ah!
Where on the bending branch alight with grace of stature like to hers *
Tho' be the branch by Zephyr deckt and in its ornaments bedight, ah!
And how can fellowèd be her brow with fullest moon that lights the darks *
When sun must borrow morning light from that fair forehead dazzling bright, ah!
Were set in scales the fairest fair and balanced with a long compare *
heir boasts, thou haddest over-weight for beauty and their charms were light, ah!"
Now when he considered her straitly, she captured the whole of his heart. But the young lady had not upon her clothes enough for concealment, and here and there her body showed bare; so when she came forth and espied the young man standing by the old woman she withdrew into her bower and said to her mother, "Allah requite [FN#121] thee for that thou hast done. How can it be allowed thee by the Almighty to set me in this state before a stranger?" "Hold thy peace," said her parent; "man is allowed to look, and if he have any art or part in the object looked at 'tis well; but thereafter if he look without its being his lot, then 'twere unlawful. This youth hath gazed upon thee, and if he prove to have a portion in thee let him take it, otherwise he may wend his ways, nor is there a flaw in aught of legal observance." Hereat the Caliph's heart was cheered, for he knew that the ancient dame meant to marry the maid. Anon quoth the old mother to the merchant, "Hast thou seen her?" and quoth he, "Yes." "Did she please thee?" asked the crone, and he answered, "Yea verily," adding, "How much may be her actual marriage-settlement and her contingent dower?" She replied, "The first shall consist of four thousand dinars and the second shall be the same."' "This be overmuch," rejoined the youth, "and more than all my good; to wit, four thousand gold pieces, the gift of which will send me forth to beg; but do thou take of me a thousand dinars, and upon me be the arraying of the house and the maiden's raiment for another thousand; so will I do business and trade with the remainder." But the crone sware to him by Allah the Almighty, [FN#122] that an the four thousand failed of a single gold piece he should never see of the damsel a single hair. He replied, "I have no power thereto and--good day to both of you;" and he made for the door, but the Caliph forewent him to the street and standing in a corner suffered him to pass and gang his gait. After this Harun went back to the old woman, and entering salam'd to her and she, returning his salutation, asked him, "What dost thou want and what may be thy wish?" He answered, "The young trader who went forth hence sent me to say that he hath no intent to wed," and she rejoined, "On this mind the man hied away from us." Then quoth the Caliph, "I will marry the maid, and by me is all thou canst desire of gold and what not." She retorted, "O Robber, [FN#123] all I see upon thee is not worth two hundred dirhams: whence then canst thou procure four thousand dinars?" Quoth he, "Hast thou grapes to sell, or wishest thou only to breed a quarrel between me and the vineyard-keeper?" [FN#124] and quoth she, "Doubtless I have and hold the grapes." "Then, I possess all thou canst desire, said he, and said she, "Then, we will wed thee when thou shalt have weighed out the gold." The Caliph cried, "I accept;" and anon entering the lodging he took seat at the head of the chamber and in its place of honour, and said to the house-mistress, "Go thou to Kází Such-an-one and tell him that Al-Bundukáni requireth him." "O Robber," said she, "will the Kazi be content to come at thy bidding?" The Commander of the Faithful laughed at these words and said, "Do thou go without danger and bid him bring his ink-case and pens and paper." So she went off saying to herself, "Verily, an the Judge accompany me, this my son-in-law must be a Captain of Robbers." [FN#125] But when at last she arrived at the Kazi's mansion she saw him sitting in the middle of the room and surrounded by doctors of divinity and a host of learned wights: so she feared to enter, and fell to looking in through the doorway and she dreaded to fare farther and stepped backwards; withal she kept saying, "How shall I go home without speaking a word to the Kazi?" and the thought would hearten her heart, so she would return to the entrance and thrust in her head and then withdraw it. On such wise she had done many a time when the Kazi, catching sight of her, bade one of his messengers bring her within; so the man went to her and said, "Bespeak the Kazi!" So she went in full of affright and salam'd to the Judge who, returning her salutation, asked her, "What is thy want, O woman?" She answered, "There is a young man in my house who desireth that thou come to him;" whereat he rejoined, "And who may be this youth that I in person should hie to him; and what may be his name?" She replied, "He pretendeth to the name of Al-Bundukani--the Arbalestrier" (which was a by-name of the Caliph kept concealed from the folk but well known to all officials). Hereat the Kazi sprang to his feet without stay or delay and said to her, "O my lady, do thou forego me," whilst all present asked him, "O our lord, whither away?" and he, answering them, "A need hath suddenly occurred," went forth. Then quoth the crone in her mind, "Hapless the Kazi who is a pleasant person, haply this son-in-law of mine hath given him to drink of clotted gore [FN#126] by night in some place or other and the poor man hath yet a fear of him; otherwise what is the worth of this Robber that the Judge should hie to his house?" When they reached the door, the Kazi bade the ancient dame precede him; [FN#127] so she went in and called to him and he on entering saw the Caliph seated at the head of the chamber. He would have kissed ground but Harun signed to him silence with a wink; so he made his salam and sat him down saying, "'Tis well, [FN#128] O my lord, what may be thy want?" The Prince of True Believers replied, "I desire thou marry me to the daughter of this ancient dame, so do thou write out the writ." Hereupon the Judge asked the assent of the old woman and of her daughter; and, when they both granted it, he enquired, "What may be the amount of the dower?" The mother replied, "Four thousand dinars of gold and the like sum in ready coin." "Dost thou accept?" quoth the Kazi to the Caliph, and quoth he, "Yes." Accordingly, the Judge wrote out the writ upon the skirt of his Farajiyah-robe for in his agitation he had forgotten to bring paper, and he set down the name of the Sovran and his father and his grandfather without question for that he knew them well; after which he enquired of the old woman her daughter's name [FN#129] and that of her sire and grandsire. She wailed and cried, "Why and wherefore? [FN#130] Oh miserable that we are! Had her father been living how would this Robber have availed to stand at our door, much less to marry her? but 'twas Death that did with us this deed." "Allah bless the wronged," [FN#131] quoth the Kazi and busied himself with writing out the writ; but whatever question he put to the crone, she wailed in reply and buffeted her cheeks, whilst the Judge wagged his head and his heart was like to burst and the Caliph laughed long and loud. And when the writ was written and finished, the writer cut off from the skirt of his gown according to the measure of the writing and gave it to Harun; then he rose up to fare forth but he was ashamed to wear a robe in rags, so he stripped it off and said to the old woman, "O my mother, present this to anyone deserving it." And so saying he left the house. Hereupon quoth the old woman to the Caliph, "Dost thou not pay unto the Kazi his fee for coming to thee in person and writing the writ upon his robe which he was obliged to throw away?" "Let him go," said the Caliph, "I will not give him aught." Cried she, "And why? Oh, how greedy are these robbers! the man came to us in hopes of gain and we have stripped him instead of robing him." Harun laughed again, then he arose and said to her, "I now hie me home to fetch thee the gold and the stuffs wherewith to clothe my bride," and the crone cried out, "Robber, whence shalt thou find cloth and coin? unhappy some one whom thou designest to seize and deprive of his daily bread and reduce to poverty and penury!" The Commander of the Faithful held his peace and went forth intending for his Palace, where he donned the royal robes and taking seat upon his throne bade summon marble-cutters and carpenters and plasterers and house-painters. Then, as they came to the presence and kissed ground and blessed him and prayed for the permanence of his empire, he had them thrown and bade administer to them a bastinado of two hundred sticks a head. [FN#132] And when they prayed for mercy and said to him, "O our lord, the Commander of the Faithful, what be our crime?" he said to the artizans, "The hall such-and-such in the Darb-al-Záji, [FN#133] do ye wot it well?" They replied, "Yes," and he resumed, "I desire that ye fare thither forthright and ye repair the walls with marble-slabs and should mid-afternoon come on and ye leave unfinished a place as big as a man's palm, I will hack off your hands and place them in lieu thereof." "O Prince of True Believers," asked they, "how shall we do seeing that we have no marble?" [FN#134] He answered, "Take it from the government stores [FN#135] and collect each and every stone-cutter in Baghdad. But do you all bear in mind that, if the household enquire who sent you, ye must reply, 'Thy son-in-law;' and should they demand, 'What is his craft,' say, 'We ken not;' and when they require to know his name declare it to be Al-Bundukani. And whoso of you shall speak aught beyond this him will I crucify." So the master-mason went forth and gathered together the stone-cutters and took marble and ashlar from the stores and set the material on the backs of beasts with all other needs and he repaired to the hall, [FN#136] and entered with his company. Hereat the old woman asked "What is't ye want?" "We would slab the floors and walls of this dwelling with marble!" "And who was it sent you?" "Thy son-in-law!" "And what may be his business?" "We know not." "Then what is his name?" "A1-Bundukani," they replied. So she said to herself, "He is naught but a Robber and Captain of thieves." Then the masons divided and marked out the ground, and each found that each and every had to pave and slab a surface of a cubit or less. Such was their case; but as concerneth the Caliph, he turned him to the chief Carpenter, and looking at him keenly said, "Go thou likewise and assemble all thy fellows in the capital: then do thou repair to the dwelling of Such-an-one and make the doors and so forth, in fact everything needed of carpentry and joinery, taking thee all the requisites from the public warehouses; nor let the afternoon come on ere thou shalt have finished, and if all be not done I will strike thy neck." He also charged them even as he had charged the marble-cutters never to divulge his dignity or even his name other than Al-Bundukani. So the chief Carpenter went and, gathering his craftsmen, took planks and nails and all his needs, after which they repaired to the lodging and entered, and setting up their scaffoldings [FN#137] fell to work while the head man marked off a task for each hand. But the crone was consterned and cried to the men, "And why? Who hath sent you?" "Thy son-in-law!" "And what may be his trade?" "We know not." "Then what may be his name?" "Al-Bundukani." So they pushed on their work, each urging his fellow, whilst the old woman well-nigh waxed Jinn-mad, [FN#138] and said to herself, "This my son-in-law, the Robber, is naught save a viceroy of the Jánn; and all this is of their fear, so that none dareth or deemeth it safe to disclose the craft or even the name of him, so much do they hold him in awe." Lastly, the Caliph bade the plasterers and house-painters call a meeting of their brother-craftsmen and go to the government stores and thence take all their requirements of quicklime and hemp [FN#139] and so forth; and lastly, charging them as he had charged the others who forewent them, he said, "As soon as the Izán of mid-afternoon prayer shall be cried, if any one of you shall have left in the lodging work unwrought, be it only the size of a man's palm, I will hack off his hand and set it upon the unfinished stead." Accordingly, they kissed ground and fared forth carrying with them all their requirements; and, repairing to the tenement, entered therein and slaked their lime and set up their ladders, and four or five artificers fell to working at every wall whilst the house-painters followed them. But when the ancient dame beheld this, her wits were wildered and she was utterly bedazed: so said she to her daughter, "This son-in-law of mine is none save one whose word is heard, and folk abide in awe of him; otherwise who could work all this work in a single day whenas none other than himself could have wrought the same within a twelve-month? But pity 'tis he be a Robber." Anon she went to the plasterers and said, "Who was it sent you?" "Thy son-in-law!" "And what may be his trade?" "We know not." "Then what is his name?" "Al-Bundukani." After this she passed on to the house-painters and asked the same question and receiving the same reply, quoth she to one of them, "I demand of thee, by God the Great, O my son, why thou wilt not disclose to me concerning my son-in-law his name and his craft?" Thereupon quoth the wight addressed, "No man hath power to speak out, otherwise his life is lost;" and she repeated to herself, "Indeed he is none but a mighty Robber, for that the Moslems one and all dread him and his mischief." [FN#140] Now when mid-afternoon came, the artizans had done the whole of their work; so they donned their outer dresses and went forth intending for the Commander of the Faithful, Harun the Orthodox. And when they entered all kissed ground and said, "Under the good auspices of our lord the Prince of True Believers we have wroughten the work of the house." So he bestowed robes of honour upon them and gave them gifts that contented them, after which they fared forth about their business. Then the Caliph summoned Hammáls or porters and set in their crates articles of furniture such as carpets and counterpanes and sofa-cushions and hangings of arras and prayer-rugs, besides gear of brass and all such necessaries for the household; and to this he added two baskets containing body-raiment and kimcob or gold cloth and stuffs inworked and studded with gems; also jewellery and precious stones, pearls and what not: nor did he forget a coffer containing the eight thousand pieces of gold. [FN#141] Then he sent them upon their errand, saying, "Take up all this and bear it to such a house in the Darb al-Zaji and make it over to the ancient dame who owneth the hall; and when she asketh, 'Who was it sent you?' do ye answer, 'Thy son-in-law;' and should she enquire, 'What is his craft?' respond, 'We know it not;' and should she demand the name, declare, 'Al-Bundukani.' Accordingly the porters fared forth, and reaching the tenement rapped at the door, when the old woman came out and cried, "Who knocketh here?" and they replied "Open and take what we have brought of cloth and clothes and so forth." But when she looked upon the loads she wailed and cried, "Indeed ye have wandered from the way: whence could all this prosperity have befallen us? return with it to the owner thereof." They asked her, "Is not this hall that which was builded this day?" And when she answered, "Yes," quoth they, "Then 'twas hither thy son-in-law sent us." With these words they went in and set down whatso was with them, but the old woman wailed and cried aloud, "'Tis not for us: ye have wandered from your way." "It is for you, indeed," they rejoined, "and thy son-in-law saith, 'Adorn your dwelling and don the stuffs and dress therewith whomso you choose:' as for him, he hath much business yet will he come to you what time the folk sleep." "Yes, indeed," quoth she to herself, "Robbers never do come save by night." And when the Hammals went their ways the old woman fared forth to her neighbours and summoned them to assist her in ranging the furniture and vaiselle; [FN#142] so they gathered together and entered; and, when they beheld what had befallen, their eyes were dazed and dazzled by seeing the restoration of the hall and by the stuffs and vases therein. So they asked her, "Whence camest thou by all this, and who set for thee this dwelling in such condition and at what time? Yesterday 'twas a ruin and showed neither marble nor whitewash nor stencilling. Can it not be that we are sleeping and haply that we see a dream-house?" She replied, "No vision is this, but evidence of eye-sight: and what work ye behold was wrought by my son-in-law during this one day and to-day also he sent me these stuffs and other matters whereon ye look." "And who may be thy son-in-law?" asked they, "and when didst thou wed thy daughter while we wotted naught thereof?" Answered she, "To-day all this happened;" and they rejoined, "And what may be the bridegroom's calling? haply he is a mighty merchant or an Emir." "Nor merchant nor Emir," quoth she, "but a Robber and the Head and Captain of Bandits!" Hereat the women were startled and cried, "Allah upon thee, do thou charge him anent us that he plunder not aught from our houses, seeing that we have a claim of neighbourhood and gossipry upon you." "Never fear," she replied, "he is not wont to take aught of neighbours albeit he be a Viceregent of the Jann." So their hearts were heartened, and they fell to ordering the furniture and decorations; and, when they had ended the ordinance of the house, they applied themselves to dressing the bride; and they brought her a tirewoman and robed her in the finest robes and raiment and prepared her and adorned her with the choicest ornaments. And while they did thus behold, up came other porters carrying crates of meat, such as pigeon-poults and poultry, Katás, [FN#143] and quails, [FN#144] lambs and butcher's meat, clarified butter and other cooking material, with all manner of edibles and delicacies such as sugar and Halwá-confections and the like thereof. The Hammals then said to the household, "'Take ye this which your son-in-law hath sent to you saying, 'Do ye eat and feed your neighbours and whomso ye please.'" Quoth the old woman, "I ask you, for Allah's sake, to let me know what may be my son-in-law's craft and his name;" and quoth they, "His name is Al-Bundukani, but what his business may be we know not;" and so saying they went their ways. Hereupon exclaimed certain of the women who were present, "By the Apostle, he is naught but a robber;" while others who had claims upon the old housemistress cried, "Be whatever may be, before the man who can do after this fashion all the folk in Baghdad are helpless." Presently they served the provision and all ate their sufficiency; then they removed the trays and set on others loaded with the confections which they also enjoyed; and at last after dividing the orts amongst the neighbours they reserved some of the best of meats and sweetmeats for the bridegroom's supper. In due time a report was bruited about the quarter that the old woman had wedded her daughter with a robber who had enriched them with what booty he had brought them. And these tidings spread from folk to folk till they reached the young merchant of whom mention hath been made, the same who had sought the maiden to wife and who had not wedded her because refused by her mother. Also he was told that the damsel had been married to a robber who had rebuilt the hall with marble, and the plasterers and painters and carpenters and joiners had wrought therein works which astounded the beholders; moreover that the bridegroom had sent them of stuffs and jewellery a matter beyond count or compute. Hearing this report he found the matter grievous on him and the fire of envy flamed in his heart and he said to himself, "Naught remaineth to me except that I wend me to the Wálí [FN#145] and tempt him with promises and thereby work the ruin of this robber and take the damsel to myself." With these words he rose up sans stay or delay and, going to the Chief of Police related to him all that occurred and promised him a muchel of money, saying, "Whatso thou wantest can be gotten from this robber inasmuch as he owneth good galore." The Wali rejoiced and replied, "Be patient until after supper-tide when the thief shall have returned home and we will go and catch him and thou shalt carry away the young lady." So the trader blessed him and took himself off and waited at home until it was supper-time and the streets were void of folk. Presently Názúk [FN#146] the Wali mounted horse with four hundred headsmen and smiters of the sword, link-boys and low fellows, [FN#147] bearing cressets and paper-lanthorns under four head constables and rode to the house of the old woman. Now all the gossips had departed to their abodes and were dispersed, nor did one of them remain behind; but the household had lighted wax candles and was expecting the bridegroom with bolted doors when behold, the Chief of Police came up and finding all shut bade his men knock with an easy rap. This was heard by those within the hall and the ancient dame sprang up and went to the entrance, whence she espied gleams of light athwart the door-chinks and when she looked out of the window she saw the Wali and his merry men crowding the street till the way was cut. Now the Chief had a lieutenant Shamámah [FN#148] hight, which was a meeting-place of ill manners and morals; for naught was dearer to him save the straitening of a Moslem, nor was there upon his body a single hair which affected or aided the veiling of Allah. [FN#149] Brief he was, even as the poet said,
"Whoreson and child of thousand pagans twain; * Son of the Road to lasting sin and bane;
The Lord of Ruth ne'er grew him e'en a hair * Was not with this or that of contact fain!" [FN#150]
Now this man, who was standing beside the Chief of Police, seized the opportunity of saying, "O Emir, what booteth our standing idle in this stead? Better 'twere that we break down the door and rush in upon them and snatch what we want and loot all the stuffs in the house." Hereat came forward another lieutenant who was called Hasan [FN#151]--the Handsome--for that his face was fair and his works were fairer and he was a meeting-place of fairest deeds; and the same was wont to stand at the Wali's door as a symbol of ruth to mankind. So he came forward and said, "O Emir, this were not the rede which is right and yonder man's words lack good counsel, seeing that none hath complained against this folk and we know not an the accused be a thief or not: furthermore we fear consequences for that haply this merchant speaketh with an object, they having forbidden his marrying the girl: do not therefore cast thyself into that shall harm thee, but rather let us enquire anent the matter openly and publicly; and should it prove to be as reported, then the Emir's opinion shall prevail." All this took place while the old woman heard from behind the door whatso they said. Hereat she dried up with dread and affright and going within acquainted her daughter with what had occurred and ended with, "The Wali still is standing at the door." The young lady was sore terrified and said to her mother, "Do thou bar [FN#152] the entrance till Allah haply deign bring us comfort." So the old woman fared forth and bolted and barred it yet more straitly; and when they knocked a second time she acknowledged the rap by "Who is at the door?" and the lieutenant Shamamah replied to her and said, "O ill-omened old woman, O accomplice of robbers, knowest thou not that he who rappeth is the Master of Police and his young men? So open to us forthright." Quoth she, "We be Haríms and ne'er a man with us, therefore we will not open to any;" and quoth he, "Open, or we will break it down." The old woman made no reply but returning to her daughter within said to her, "Now look at this Robber and how from the first of this night we have been humbled for his sake: yet had he fallen into this trap his life had been taken, and would Heaven he may not come now and be made prisoner by them. Ah me! Were thy father on life the Wali never had availed to take station at our house-door or the door of any other." "Such be our lot," replied the girl, and she went to the casement that she might espy what was doing. This is how it fared with them; but as concerneth the Caliph, when the folk had finished crowding the streets he disguised himself and hending in hand his pellet-bow and slinging his sword over his shoulder he went forth intending for his bride. But when reaching the head of the street he saw lanthorns and stir of crowd: [FN#153] so he approached to look and he espied the Wali and his men with the merchant standing by the Chief's side together with the lieutenants, all save one shouting, "Break down the door and rush in and seize the old woman: then let us question her with torture until she confess where be her Robber of a son-in-law." But Hasan the fourth officer dissuaded them saying, "O good folk, do ye fear Almighty Allah and be not over hasty, saving that hurry is of old Harry. These be all women without a man in the house; so startle them not; and peradventure the son-in-law ye seek may be no thief and so we fall into an affair wherefrom we may not escape without trouble the most troublous." Thereupon Shamamah came up and cried out, "O Hasan, it ill becometh thee to stand at the Wali's door: better 'twere for thee to sit on the witness-bench; for none should be gate-keepers to a head policeman save they who have abandoned good deeds and who devour ordure [FN#154] and who ape the evil practices of the populace." All this and the Caliph overheard the fellow's words and said to himself, "'Tis well! I will indeed gladden thee, O Accurst." Then he turned and espied a street which was no thoroughfare, and one of its houses at the upper end adjoined the tenement wherein was his bride; so he went up to it and behold, its gateway showed a curtain drawn across and a lamp hung up and an Eunuch sitting upon the door-bench. Now this was the mansion of a certain noble who was lord over a thousand of his peers and his name was the Emir Yúnas: [FN#155] he was an angry man and a violent; and on the day when he had not bastinado'd some wight he would not break his fast and loathed his meat for the stress of his ill-stomach. But when the Eunuch saw the Caliph he cried out at him and sprang up to strike him exclaiming, "Woe to thee! art thou Jinn-mad? whither going?" But the Commander of the Faithful shouted at him saying, "Ho! thou ill-omened slave!" and the chattel in his awe of the Caliphate fancied that the roar was of a lion about to rend him and he ran off and entered the presence of his owner quivering with terror. "Woe to thee!" said his master; "what hath befallen thee?" and he, "O my lord, the while I was sitting at the gate suddenly a man passed up the street and entered the house-door; and, when I would have beaten him, he cried at me with a terrible voice saying, 'Ho, thou ill-omened slave!' So I fled from him in affright and came hither to thee." Now when the Emir Yunas heard his words, he raged with such excessive rage that his soul was like to leave his body and he cried out saying, "Since the man addressed thee as 'ill-omened slave,' and thou art my chattel, I therefore am servile and of evil-omen. But indeed I will show him his solace!" He then sprang to his feet and hent in hand a file-wrought mace [FN#156] studded with fourteen spikes, wherewith had he smitten a hill he had shivered it; and then he went forth into the street muttering, "I, ill-omened!" [FN#157] But the Caliph seeing him recognised him straitway and cried, "Yunas!" whereat the Emir knew him by his voice, and casting the mace from his hand kissed ground and said, "'Tis well, O Commander of the Faithful!" Harun replied, "Woe to thee, dog! whilst thou art the Chief of the Emirs shall this Wali, of men the meanest, come upon thy neighbours and oppress them and terrify them (these being women and without a man in the house), and yet thou holdest thy peace and sittest in ease at home nor goest out to him and ejectest him by the foulest of ejections?" Presently the other replied, "O Prince of True Believers, but for the dread of thee lest thou say, 'This be the warder of the watch, why hast thou exceeded with him?' I would have made for him a night of the fulsomest, for him and for those with him. But an the Caliph command I will forthright break them all to bits nor leave amongst them a sound man; for what's the worth of this Wali and all his varlets?" "First admit us to thy mansion," quoth the Commander of the Faithful; so they passed in and the housemaster would have seated his visitor for the guest-rite but he refused all offers and only said, "Come up with us to the terrace-roof." Accordingly they ascended and found that between it and the dwelling of the bride was but a narrow lane; whereupon quoth the Caliph, "O Yunas, I would find a place whence I can look down upon these women." "There is no other way," quoth the other, "save herefrom; and, if thou desire, I will fetch thee a ladder [FN#158] and plant it in such wise that thou canst pass across." "Do so," rejoined the other, and the Emir bringing a ladder disposed it after bridge fashion that the Caliph crossed over the lane to the house on the other side. Then quoth he, "Go sit thee in thy stead, and when I want thee I will call." Yunas did as he was bidden and remained on the watch for his lord's summons. But the Prince of True Believers walked over the terrace-roof with the lightest tread and not audible, lest his footsteps frighten the inmates, till he came to the parapet [FN#159] and looking adown therefrom upon the hall he saw a site like the Garden of Paradise which had been newly pranked and painted, whilst the lighted wax-candles and candelabra showed the young lady, the bride, sitting upon her bedstead adorned with gems and jewellery. She was like a Sun shedding sheen in sky serene, or a full moon at the fullest seen, with brow flower-bright and eyes black and white and beauty-spots fresh as greenth to the sight; brief she was as one of whom the poet saith,
"She's a wonder! her like none in universe see, * For beauty and graces and softest blee:
That fairest of blossoms she blooms on earth * Than gardens the sheeniest sheenier she:
And soft is the rose of her cheek to the touch * 'Twixt apple's and Eglantine's lenity,
And the forelock-falls on the brow of her * Death-doom to the World and the Faith decree;
And she shames the branchlet of Basil when * She paces the Garden so fair and free.
An water doubted her soft sweet gait * She had glided with water o'er greenery:
When she walketh the world like the Húr al-Ayn [FN#160] * By the tongue of looks to her friends say we:--
'O Seeker, an soughtest the heart of me * Heart of other thou never hadst sought for thee:
O lover, an filled thee my love thou ne'er * 'Mid lovers hadst dealt me such tyranny.
Praise Him who made her an idol for man * And glory to Him who to her quoth 'BE'!'"
The Caliph was astonishment-struck at what he sighted of her beauty and loveliness whilst her mother stood before her saying, "O my child, how shall be our case with these tyrants, [FN#161] especially we being women and sans other recourse save Allah Almighty? Would Heaven I wot whence came to us this Robber who, had thy sire been on life, would have been far from able to stand at the door. But this is the doom of Destiny upon us by God's will." Replied the young lady, "O mother mine, and how long wilt thou put me to shame for this young man and call him 'Robber,' this whom the Almighty hath made my portion; and haply had he been a good man and no thief he had been given to some other? [FN#162] However he is my lot, and lauds to the Lord and gratitude for that He hath bestowed and made my portion." When the ancient dame heard these words she pursued, "I hope to Heaven, O my daughter, that thy portion may not come hither this night, otherwise sore I fear they will seize him and do him a harm and well-away for his lost youthtide!" All this took place between mother and daughter whilst the Caliph stood upon the terrace-roof listening to their say, and presently he picked up a pebble the size of a vetchling [FN#163] and, setting it between his thumb and forefinger, jerked it at the wax candle which burned before the young lady and extinguished the light. "Who put out yon taper?" cried the old woman, "and left the others afire?" and so saying she rose and lighted it again. But Harun took aim at that same and jerking another pebble once more extinguished it and made her exclaim, "Ah me! what can have put out this also?" and when the quenching and quickening were repeated for the third time she cried with a loud voice saying, "Assuredly the air must have waxed very draughty and gusty; so whenever I light a candle the breeze bloweth it out." Hereat laughed the young lady and putting forth her hand to the taper would have lit it a third time when behold, her finger was struck by a pebble and her wits fled her head. But as the mother turned towards the terrace-wall the first glance showed to her sight her son-in-law there sitting, so she cried to her daughter "O my child, behold thy bridegroom whence he cometh unto thee, but robbers arrive not save by the roof, and had he not been a housebreaker he would have entered by the door. However Alhamdolillah that he hath chosen the way of our terrace, otherwise they had captured him;" presently adding, "Woe to thee, O miserable, fly hence or the watch at the door shall seize thee and we women shall not avail to release thee after thou fallest into their hands; nor will any have ruth upon thee; nay, they will cut off at least one of thine extremities. So save thyself and vanish so as not to lapse into the grip of the patrol." But hearing these her words he laughed and said to her, "Do thou open to me the terrace-wicket that I come down to you and see how to act with these dogs and dog-sons." She replied, "Woe to thee, O miserable, deemest thou these be like unto that poor Kazi who snipped his gown in fear of thee: he who now standeth at the door is Nazuk Wali and hast thou authority over him also?" He repeated, "Open to me that I may come down, otherwise I will break in the door;" so she unbolted the terrace-wicket and he descended the stairs and entered the hall where he took seat beside his bride and said, "I am an-hungered; what have ye by way of food?" The ancient dame cried, "And what food shall go down grateful to thy stomach and pleasant when the police are at the door?" and he replied, "Bring me what ye have and fear not." So she arose and served up to him whatso remained of meat and sweetmeat and he fell to morselling [FN#164] them with mouthfuls and soothing them with soft words till they had their sufficiency of victual, after which she, the mother-in-law, removed the tray. Meanwhile the Chief of Police and his varlets stood shouting at the door and saying, "Open to us, otherwise we will break in." Presently quoth the Caliph to the old trot, "Take this seal-ring and go thou forth to them and place it in the Wali's hands. An he ask thee, 'Who is the owner of this signet?' answer thou, 'Here is he with me;' and if he enquire of thee, 'What doth he wish and what may he want?' do thou reply, 'He requireth a ladder of four rungs and its gear, not forgetting a bundle of rods; [FN#165] also do thou, O man, enter with four of thy lieutenants and see what else he demandeth.'" When the ancient dame heard this from him she exclaimed, "And doth the Wali also dread thee or fear this seal-ring? My only fear is that they may now seize me and throw me and beat me with a bastinado so painful that it will be the death of me, and they hearken not to a word of mine, nor suffer thee to avail me aught." Rejoined the Caliph, "Be not alarmed, he shall not be able to gainsay my word;" and she, "An the Wali fear thee and give ear to thee, then will I gird my loins and suffer thee to teach me something of thy craft even were it that of robbing slaves' shoon." "Go forth without affright," said he laughing at her words, whereupon she took the seal-ring and went as far as behind the door and no farther, muttering to herself, "I will not open it wholly but only a little so as to give them the signet; then if they hearken to what saith this Robber 'tis well, otherwise I will keep the bolt fastened as it was." Presently she went forward and addressed the watch saying, "What is it ye want?" and Shamamah cried in reply, "O ill-omened old baggage, O rider of the jar, [FN#166] O consorter of thieves, we want the robber who is in thy house that we may take him and strike off his hand and his foot; and thou shalt see what we will do with thee after that." She shrank from his words, but presently she heartened her heart and said to him, "Amongst you is there any who can read a whit?" "Yes," said the Wali, and she rejoined, "Take thou this seal-ring and see what be graven thereupon and what may be its owner's name." "Almighty Allah curse him," cried the lieutenant Shamamah, presently adding to the Wali, "O Emir, as soon as the old crone shall come forth I will throw her and flog her with a sore flogging; then let us enter the door and slay her and harry the house and seize the robber; after which I will inspect the signet and find out its owner and who sendeth it; then, if this be one of whom we stand in shame we will say, 'Indeed we read not its graving before the command was somewhat rashly carried out.' On this wise none may avail to molest us or thee." Hereupon he drew near the door and cried to her, "Show me that thou hast, and perhaps the sending it may save thee." So she opened one leaf of the door sufficient to thrust out her hand and gave him the ring which he took and passed to the Chief of Police. But when the Wali had considered and read the name engraved (which was that of the Commander of the Faithful, Harun the Orthodox), his colour waxed wan and his limbs quaked with fear. "What is to do with thee?" asked Shamamah, and the other answered, "Take and look!" The man hent the ring in hand and coming forward to the light read what was on it and understood that it was the signet of the Vicar of Allah. So a colick [FN#167] attacked his entrails and he would have spoken but he could stammer only "Bí, Bí, Bí" [FN#168] whereupon quoth the Master of Police, "The rods of Allah are descending upon us, O accurst, O son of a sire accurst: all this is of thy dirty dealing and thy greed of gain: but do thou address thy creditor [FN#169] and save thyself alive." Hereat quoth Shamamah "O my lady, what dost thou require?" and quoth she to herself, "Indeed I am rejoiced for that they dread my son-in-law;" and presently she spoke aloud to him and said, "The lord of the seal-ring demandeth of thee a ladder of four rungs, a bundle of rods and cords and a bag containing the required gear, [FN#170] also that the Wali and his four lieutenants go within to him" He replied, "O my lady chief of this household, and where is he the owner of the signet?" "Here is he seated in the hall," she replied and the Wali rejoined, "What was it he said to thee?" She then repeated the command about the Wali and the men and the bag, whereat he asked again concerning the whereabouts of the signet-owner and declared the gear to be ready, while all of them bepiddled their bag-trousers with fear. [FN#171] Then the Wali and his four lieutenants, amongst whom was Shamamah the Accurst, entered the house, and the Caliph commanded lieutenant Hasan (knowing him for a kindly man of goodly ways and loath to injure his neighbour as proved by his opposing the harshness of Shamamah), saying, "Hie thee, O Hasan, and summon forthright Yunas the Emir of a thousand!" So this lord came in all haste [FN#172] and was bidden to bastinado the Wali and Shamamah which he did with such good will that the nails fell from their toes; after which they were carried off and thrown into gaol. Then the Caliph largessed lieutenant Hasan; and, appointing him on the spot Chief of Police, dismissed the watch to their barracks. And when the street was cleared the old woman returning to the Harem said to her son-in-law, laughing the while, "There be none in this world to fellow thee as the Prince of Robbers! The Wali dreadeth thee and the Kazi dreadeth thee and all dread thee, whilst I gird my loins in thy service and become a she-robber amongst the women even as thou art a Robber amongst men, and indeed so saith the old saw, 'The slave is fashioned of his lord's clay and the son after the features of his sire.' Had this Wali, at his first coming, let break down the door and had his men rushed in upon us and thou not present, what would have been our case with them? But now to Allah be laud and gratitude!" The Caliph hearing these words laughed, and taking seat beside his bride, who rejoiced in him, asked his mother-in-law, "Say me, didst ever see a Robber who bore him on this wise with the Wali and his men?" and answered she, "Never, by the life of thee, but may Allah Almighty reprehend the Caliph for that he did by us and punish him for wronging us, otherwise who was it forwarded thee to us, O Robber?" Quoth the Commander of the Faithful in his mind, "How have I wronged this ill-omened old woman that she curseth me?" and presently he asked her, "And wherein hath the Caliph done thee an injury?" She replied, "And what hath the Caliph left us of livelihood and so forth when he marauded our mansion and seized all our seisins? Even this hall was part of the plunder and they laid it waste after taking from it all they could of marble and joinery and what-not; and they left us paupers, as thou sawest, without aught wherewith to veil us and naught to eat. So had it not been that Almighty Allah favoured us with thyself, O Robber, we had been of the destroyed by famine and so forth." "And wherefore did the Caliph plunder you?" asked he, "and what was the cause of his so doing?" She answered, [FN#173] "My son was a Chamberlain of the Commander of the Faithful, and one day as he was sitting in this our home two women asked him for a draught of water which he gave to them. Presently the elder brought him a porcelain charger full of pancakes with the tidings that it had been sent as a return gift from the young lady her companion who had drunk from his hand; and he replied, 'Set it down and wend thy ways,' which she did. Presently as my son sat outside his door, the Watchman came up to offer blessings on the occasion of the Greater Festival and he gave him the charger and the man fared forth; but ere an hour had sped, folk came who marauded our mansion, and seizing my son, carried him before the Caliph, who demanded of him how the charger had come to his hands. He told him what I have told thee, and the Commander of the Faithful asked him, 'Say me sawest thou aught of the charms of the young lady?' Now my son had on his lips to say No, but his tongue foreran him and he stammered out, 'Yes, I espied her face,' without really having seen her at all, for that when drinking she had turned to the wall. The Caliph hearing this hapless reply summoned the lady and bade smite both their necks, but in honour of the Festival-eve he had them carried off to prison. Such be then the reason of the wrong by the Caliph wrought, and except for this injustice and his seizure of my son, O Robber, it had been long ere thou hadst wedded my daughter." When the Prince of True Believers heard the words of her, he said in his mind, "Verily I have oppressed these unhappiest" and he presently asked her, "What wilt thou say if I cause the Caliph to free thy son from gaol and robe him and return his fiefs to him and promote him in the Chamberlain's office and return him to thee this very night?" Hereat the old woman laughed and made answer, "Hold thy peace! This one is no Chief of Police that he fear thee and thou work on him whatso thou willest: this one is the Prince of True Believers Harun al-Rashid, whose behest is heard both in Orient and in Occident, the lord of hosts and armies, one at whose gate the lowest menial is higher in degree than the Wali. Be not therefore beguiled by whatso thou hast done, nor count the Caliph as one of these lest thou cast thyself into doom of destruction, and there be an end of thy affair, while we unfortunates abide without a man in the house, and my son fail of being righted by him who wronged him." But when the Commander of the Faithful heard these words, his eyes brimmed with tears for ruth of her; then, rising without stay or delay, he would have fared forth when the old woman and the young lady hung about his neck crying, "We adjure thee, by Almighty Allah, that thou draw back from this business, for that we fear greatly on thy account." But he replied, "There is no help therefor," and he made oath that perforce he must go. Then he fared for the Palace of his kingship, and seating himself upon the throne bade summon the Emirs and Wazirs and Chamberlains, who flocked into the presence and kissed ground and prayed for him saying, "'Tis well, Inshallah! and what may be the reason for calling us together at this time o' night?" Said he, "I have been pondering the affair of Alaeddin the Emir, the Chamberlain, how I seized him wrongfully and jailed him, yet amongst you all was not a single one to intercede for him or to cheer him with your companionship." They bussed ground and replied, "Verily we were awe-struck by the majesty of the Prince of True Believers; but now at this hour we implore of the Commander of the Faithful his mercy upon his slave and chattel;" and so saying, they bared their heads and kissing the floor did humble obeisance. He replied, "I have accepted [FN#174] your intercession on his account, and I have vouchsafed to him pardon; so hie ye to him and robe him with a sumptuous robe and bring him to me." They did the bidding of their lord and led the youth to the presence where he kissed ground and prayed for the permanence of the Caliph's rule; and the Sovran accepting this clothed him in a coat whereon plates of gold were hammered [FN#175] and binding round his head a turband of fine gauze with richly embroidered ends made him Chief Lord of the Right [FN#176] and said to him, "Hie thee now to thy home!" Accordingly he blessed the Prince and went forth accompanied by all the Emirs who rode their blood-steeds, and the Knights fared with him and escorted him in procession, with kettledrums and clarions, till they reached his mansion. Here his mother and his sister heard the hubbub of the multitude and the crash of the kettledrums and were asking, "What is to do?" when the bearers of glad tidings forewent the folk and knocked at the door saying, "We require of you the sweetmeats of good news, for the Caliph hath shown grace to Alaeddin the Chamberlain and hath increased his fiefs besides making him Chief Lord of the Right." Hearing this they rejoiced with joy exceeding and gave to the messengers what satisfied them, and while they were thus, behold, Alaeddin the son of the house arrived and entered therein. His mother and sister sprang up and saluted him throwing their arms round his neck and weeping for stress of gladness. Presently he sat down and fell to recounting to them what had befallen him; but chancing to look around he saw that the house had changed condition and had been renovated; so he said "O my mother, the time of my absence hath been short and when was this lodging made new?" She replied, "O my son, what day thou wast seized, they plundered our abode even to tearing up the slabs and the doors, nor did they leave us aught worth a single dirham: indeed we passed three days without breaking our fast upon aught of victual." Hearing this from her quoth he, "But whence cometh all this to you, these stuffs and vessels, and who was it rebuilded this house in a space so short? Or haply is all this I see in the land of dreams?" But quoth she, "Nay, 'tis no vision but an absolute reality and 'twas all done by my son-in-law in a single day." "And who may be my new brother-in-law?" he enquired, "and when didst thou give away my sister, and who married her without my leave?" [FN#177] "Hold thy peace, O my son," rejoined she, "but for him we had died of want and hunger!" "And what may be his calling?" the Emir asked, and she answered, "A Robber!" But when her son heard this he was like to choke with anger and he cried, "What degree hath this robber that he become my brother-in-law? Now by the tomb of my forbears I will assuredly smite his neck." "Cast away from thee such wild talk," cried she, "for the mischief of another is greater than thy mischief, withal naught thereof availed him [FN#178] with a man who wrought all thou seest in half a day." Then she related to her son what had befallen the Kazi and the Wali from the man and how he had bastinado'd the police, showing him as he spoke the blood which had poured from their bodies upon the floor for excess of flogging; and she continued, "Presently I complained to him of my case, how the Commander of the Faithful had seized thee and imprisoned thee when he said to me, 'At this very moment I fare to the Caliph and cause him to free thy son and suffer him to return home; also to robe him and to increase his fiefs;' whereupon he went from us and after an hour, lo and behold! thou appearedst; so but for him we had never seen thee any more." When her son heard these words, his wits were bewildered and he was confounded at his case, so he asked her, "What may this man be styled and what may be his name?" She answered, "We are ignorant an he have any name or not, for however much we enquired of the marble-cutters and master artificers and handi-craftsmen, they told us only that his bye-name [FN#179] is Al-Bundukani without letting us know any other. Moreover on like wise when he sent me to fetch the Kazi he bade me tell him that Al-Bundukani had summoned him." Now when the Emir Alaeddin heard her name Al-Bundukani he knew that it was the Commander of the Faithful, nor could he prevent himself springing to his feet and kissing ground seven times; but as his mother beheld this she laughed and cried, "O thou brawler, [FN#180] 'tis as if he had met thee in the street and had given thee to drink a draught of clotted blood, one beyond the common! [FN#181] What of thy brave words when anon thou saidst, 'I will smite his neck'?" "And dost thou know," quoth he, "who may be the person thou so callest?" and quoth she, "Who may he be?" "The Commander of the Faithful, the Caliph Harun al-Rashid in person," cried her son, "and what other could have done with the Kazi and the Wali and the rest what he did?" When she heard these words, she dried up with dread and cried, "O my son, set me in a place of safety, [FN#182] for he will suffer me no longer to cumber the face of earth by reason of my often speaking at him; nor did I ever cease to address him as 'Robber.'" Now whilst they were speaking behold, came up the Commander of the Faithful, whereat Alaeddin arose and kissed ground and blessed him, but the ancient dame took to flight and hid her in a closet. The Caliph seated himself, then he looked around and, not seeing his mother-in-law, said to the Chamberlain, "And where may be thy parent?" "She dreadeth," replied Alaeddin, 'and standeth in awe of the Caliph's majesty;" but Harun rejoined, "There is no harm for her." Then he bade her be summoned whereat she appeared and kissed ground and prayed for the permanency of his kingship, and he said to her, "Erewhiles thou girdest thy waist to aid me in stealing slaves' shoon and now thou fliest from thy teacher?" She blushed for shame and exclaimed, "Pardon, O Commander of the Faithful," and Harun al-Rashid [FN#183] replied, "May Allah pardon the Past." Presently he sent for the Princess, the daughter of the Chosroë and, summoning the Kazi, forthright divorced her and gave her in marriage to Alaeddin, his Chamberlain. Hereupon were spread bride-feasts which gathered together all the Lords of the Empire and the Grandees of Baghdad, and tables and trays of food were laid out during three successive days for the mesquin and the miserable. The visit of entrance was paid by the two bridegrooms on a single night when both went in unto their wives and took their joy of them, and made perfect their lives with the liveliest enjoyment. And ever after they passed the fairest of days till such time as came to them the Destroyer of delights and the Severer of societies and all passed away and died.
So praise be to the Ever-Living who dieth not!
Such is the tale which came down to us
in completion and perfection,
and glory be to God, the
Lord of the three Worlds.