ISAAC OF MOSUL.



Quoth Isaac of Mosul, [FN#175] "I went out one night from Al Maamun's presence, on my way to my house; and, being taken with a pressing need to make water, I turned aside into a by-street and stood in the middle fearing lest something might hurt me, if I squatted against a wall. [FN#176] Presently, I espied something hanging down from one of the houses; so I felt it to find out what it might be and found that it was a great four-handled basket, [FN#177] covered with brocade. Said I to myself, 'There must be some reason for this,' and knew not what to think; then drunkenness led me to seat myself in the basket, and behold, the people of the house pulled me up, thinking me to be the person they expected. Now when I came to the top of the wall; lo! four damsels were there, who said to me, 'Descend and welcome and joy to thee!' Then one of them went before me with a wax candle and brought me down into a mansion, wherein were furnished sitting-chambers, whose like I had never seen save in the palace of the Caliphate. So I sat down and, after a while, the curtains were suddenly drawn from one side of the room and, behold, in came damsels walking in procession and hending hand lighted flambeaux of wax and censers full of Sumatran aloes-wood, and amongst them a young lady as she were the rising full moon. So I stood up to her and she said, 'Welcome to thee for a visitor!' and then she made me sit down again and asked me how I came thither. Quoth I, 'I was returning home from the house of an intimate friend and went astray in the dark; then, being taken in the street with an urgent call to make water, I turned aside into this lane, where I found a basket let down. The strong wine which I had drunk led me to seat myself in it and it was drawn up with me into this house, and this is my story.' She rejoined, 'No harm shall befall thee, and I hope thou wilt have cause to praise the issue of thine adventure.' Then she added, 'But what is thy condition?' I said, 'A merchant in the Baghdad bazar' and she, 'Canst thou repeat any verses?' 'Some small matter,' quoth I. Quoth she 'Then call a few to mind and let us hear some of them.' But I said, 'A visitor is bashful and timid; do thou begin.' 'True,' replied she and recited some verses of the poets, past and present, choosing their choicest pieces; and I listened not knowing whether more to marvel at her beauty and loveliness or at the charm of her style of declamation. Then said she, 'Is that bashfulness of thine gone?' and I said, 'Yes, by Allah!' so she rejoined, 'Then, if thou wilt, recite us somewhat.' So I repeated to her a number of poems by old writers, and she applauded, saying, 'By Allah, I did not think to find such culture among the trade folk, the sons of the bazar!' Then she called for food" Whereupon quoth Shahrazad's sister Dunyazad, "How pleasant is this tale and enjoyable and sweet to the ear and sound to the sense!" But she answered, "And what is this story compared with that which thou shalt hear on the morrow's night, if I be alive and the King deign spare me!" Then Shahrazad perceived the dawn of day and ceased saying her permitted say.

When it was the Two Hundred and Eightieth Night,

She said, It hath reached me, O auspicious King, that Isaac of Mosul continued, "Then the damsel called for food and, when it was served to her, she fell to eating it and setting it before me; and the sitting room was full of all manner sweet-scented flowers and rare fruits, such as are never found save in Kings' houses. Presently, she called for wine and drank a cup, after which she filled another and gave it to me, saying, 'Now is the time for converse and story-telling.' So I bethought myself and began to say, 'It hath reached me that such and such things happened and there was a man who said so and so,' till I had told her a number of pleasing tales and adventures with which she was delighted and cried, ''Tis marvellous that a merchant should bear in memory such store of stories like these, for they are fit for Kings.' Quoth I, 'I had a neighbour who used to consort with Kings and carouse with them; so, when he was at leisure, I visited his house and he hath often told me what thou hast heard.' Thereupon she exclaimed 'By my life, but thou hast a good memory!' So we continued to converse thus, and as often as I was silent, she would begin, till in this way we passed the most part of the night, whilst the burning aloes-wood diffused its fragrance and I was in such case that if Al-Maamun had suspected it, he would have flown like a bird with longing for it. Then said she to me, 'Verily, thou art one of the most pleasant of men, polished, passing well-bred and polite; but there lacketh one thing.' 'What is that?' asked I, and she answered, If thou only knew how to sing verses to the lute!' I answered, 'I was passionately fond of this art aforetime, but finding I had no taste for it, I abandoned it, though at times my heart yearneth after it. Indeed, I should love to sing somewhat well at this moment and fulfil my night's enjoyment.' Then said she, 'Meseemeth thou hintest a wish for the lute to be brought?' and I, 'It is thine to decide, if thou wilt so far favour me, and to thee be the thanks.' So she called for a lute and sang a song in a voice whose like I never heard, both for sweetness of tone and skill in playing, and perfection of art. Then said she, Knowest thou who composed this air and whose are the words of this song?' "No," answered I; and she said, The words are so and so's and the air is Isaac's.' I asked 'And hath Isaac then (may I be thy sacrifice!) such a talent?' She replied, 'Bravo! [FN#178] Bravo, Isaac! indeed, he excelleth in this art.' I rejoined, 'Glory be to Allah who hath given this man what he hath vouchsafed unto none other!' Then she said 'And how would it be, an thou heard this song from himself?' This wise we went on till break of day dawn, when there came to her an old woman, as she were her nurse, and said to her, 'Verily, the time is come.' So she rose in haste and said to me, 'Keep what hath passed between us to thyself; for such meetings are in confidence;' "--And Shahrazad perceived the dawn of day and ceased saying her permitted say.

When it was the Two Hundred and Eighty-first Night,

She said, It hath reached me, O auspicious King, that the damsel whispered, "'Keep what hath passed between us to thyself, for such meetings are in confidence;' and I replied, 'May I be thy ransom! I needed no charge to this.' Then I took leave of her and she sent a handmaid to show me the way and open the house door; so I went forth and returned to my own place, where I prayed the morning prayer and slept. Now after a time there came to me a messenger from Al-Maamun, so I went to him and passed the day in his company. And when the night fell I called to mind my yesternight's pleasure, a thing from which none but an ignoramus would abstain, and betook myself to the street, where I found the basket, and seating myself therein, was drawn up to the place in which I had passed the previous night. When the lady saw me, she said, 'Indeed, thou hast been assiduous;' and I answered, 'Meseemeth rather that I am neglectful.' Then we fell to discoursing and passed the night as before in general-conversation and reciting verses and telling rare tales, each in turn, till daybreak, when I wended me home; and I prayed the dawn prayer and slept. Presently there came to me a messenger from Al-Maamun; so I went to him and spent my day with him till nightfall, when the Commander of the Faithful said to me, 'I conjure thee to sit here, whilst I go out for a want and come back.' As soon as the Caliph was gone, and quite gone, my thoughts began to tempt and try me and, calling to mind my late delight, I recked little what might befal me from the Prince of True Believers. So I sprang up and turning my back upon the sitting-room, ran to the street aforesaid, where I sat down in the basket and was drawn up as before. When the lady saw me, she said, 'I begin to think thou art a sincere friend to us.' Quoth I, 'Yea, by Allah!' and quoth she, 'Hast thou made our house thine abiding-place?' I replied, 'May I be thy ransom! A guest claimeth guest right for three days and if I return after this, ye are free to spill my blood.' Then we passed the night as before; and when the time of departure drew near, I bethought me that Al Maamun would assuredly question me nor would ever be content save with a full explanation: so I said to her, 'I see thee to be of those who delight in singing. Now I have a cousin, the son of my father's brother, who is fairer than I in face and higher of rank and better of breeding; and he is the most intimate of Allah's creatures with Isaac.' Quoth she, 'Art thou a parasite [FN#179] and an importunate one?' Quoth I, 'It is for thee to decide in this matter;' and she, 'If thy cousin be as thou hast described him, it would not mislike us to make acquaintance with him.' Then, as the time was come, I left her and returned to my house, but hardly had I reached it, ere the Caliph's runners came down on me and carried me before him by main force and roughly enough."--And Shahrazad perceived the dawn of day and ceased to say her permitted say.

When it was the Two Hundred and Eighty-second Night,

She said, It hath reached me, O auspicious King, that Isaac of Mosul continued, "And hardly had I reached my house ere the Caliph's runners came down upon me and carried me before him by main force and roughly enough. I found him seated on a chair, wroth with me, and he said to me, 'O Isaac, art thou a traitor to thine allegiance?' replied I, 'No, by Allah, O Commander of the Faithful!' and he rejoined, 'What hast thou then to say? tell me the whole truth;' and I, 'Yes, I will, but in private.' So he signed to his attendants, who withdrew to a distance, and I told him the case, adding, 'I promised her to bring thee,' and he said, 'Thou didst well.' Then we spent the day in our usual-pleasures, but Al-Maamun's heart was taken up with her, and hardly was the appointed time come, when we set out. As we went along, I cautioned him, saying, 'Look that thou call me not by my name before her; and I will demean myself like thine attendant.' And having agreed upon this, we fared forth till we came to the place, where we found two baskets hanging ready. So we sat down in them and were drawn up to the usual-place, where the damsel came forward and saluted us. Now when Al Maamun saw her, he was amazed at her beauty and loveliness; and she began to entertain him with stories and verses. Presently, she called for wine and we fell to drinking she paying him special attention and he repaying her in kind. Then she took the lute and sang these verses,

'My lover came in at the close of night, * I rose till he sat and remained upright;
And said 'Sweet heart, hast thou come this hour? * Nor feared on the watch and ward to 'light:'
Quoth he 'The lover had cause to fear, * But Love deprived him of wits and fright.'

And when she ended her song she said to me, 'And is thy cousin also a merchant?' I answered, 'Yes,' and she said, 'Indeed, ye resemble each other nearly.' But when Al-Maamun had drunk three pints, [FN#180] he grew merry with wine and called out, saying, 'Ho, Isaac!' And I replied, 'Labbayk, Adsum, O Commander of the Faithful,' whereupon quoth he, 'Sing me this air.' Now when the young lady learned that he was the Caliph, she withdrew to another place and disappeared; and, as I had made an end of my song, Al-Maamun said to me, 'See who is the master of this house', whereupon an old woman hastened to make answer, saying, 'It belongs to Hasan bin Sahl.' [FN#181] 'Fetch him to me,' said the Caliph. So she went away and after a while behold, in came Hasan, to whom said Al-Maamun 'Hast thou a daughter?' He said, 'Yes, and her name is Khadijah.' Asked the Caliph, 'Is she married?' Answered Hasan, 'No, by Allah!' Said Al-Maamun, Then I ask her of thee in marriage.' Replied her father, 'O Commander of the Faithful, she is thy handmaid and at thy commandment.' Quoth Al-Maamun, 'I take her to wife at a present settlement of thirty thousand dinars, which thou shalt receive this very morning, and, when the money has been paid thee, do thou bring her to us this night.' And Hasan answered, 'I hear and I obey.' Thereupon we went forth and the Caliph said to me, 'O Isaac, tell this story to no one.' So I kept it secret till Al-Maamun's death. Surely never did man's life gather such pleasures as were mine these four days' time, whenas I companied with Al-Maamun by day and Khadijah by night; and, by Allah, never saw I among men the like of Al-Maamun nor among women have I ever set eyes on the like of Khadijah; no, nor on any that came near her in lively wit and pleasant speech! And Allah is All knowing. But amongst stories is that of