HARUN AL-RASHID AND THE DAMSEL AND ABU NOWAS.
The Caliph, Commander of the Faithful, Harun al-Rashid, being one night exceedingly restless and thoughtful with sad thought, rose from his couch and walked about the by-ways of his palace, till he came to a chamber, over whose doorway hung a curtain. He raised that curtain and saw, at the upper end of the room, a bedstead whereon lay something black, as it were a man asleep, with a wax taper on his right hand and another on his left; and as the Caliph stood wondering at the sight, behold, he remarked a flagon full of old wine whose mouth was covered by the cup. The Caliph wondered even more at this, saying, "How came this black by such wine-service?" Then, drawing near the bedstead, he found that it was a girl lying asleep there, curtained by her hair; so he uncovered her face and saw that it was like the moon, on the night of his fulness. [FN#388] So the Caliph filled himself a cup of wine and drank it to the roses of her cheeks; and, feeling inclined to enjoy her, kissed a mole on her face, whereupon she started up from sleep, and cried out, "O Trusted of Allah, [FN#389] what may this be?" Replied he, "A guest who knocketh at thy door, hoping that thou wilt give him hospitality till the dawn;" and she answered; "Even so! I will serve him with my hearing and my sight." So she brought forward the wine and they drank together, after which she took the lute and tuning the strings, preluded in one-and-twenty modes, then returning to the first, played a lively measure and sang these couplets,
"The tongue of love from heart bespeaks my sprite, * Telling I love thee with love infinite:
I have an eye bears witness to my pain, * And fluttering heart sore hurt by parting-plight.
I cannot hide the love that harms my life; * Tears ever roll and growth of pine I sight:
I knew not what love was ere loving thee; * But Allah's destiny to all is dight."
And when her verses were ended she said, "O Commander of the Faithful, I have been wronged!"--And Shahrazad perceived the dawn of day and ceased to say her permitted say.
When it was the Three Hundred and Thirty-ninth Night,
She said, It hath reached me, O auspicious King, that the damsel cried, "O Commander of the Faithful, I have been wronged!" Quoth he, "How so, and who hath wronged thee?" Quoth she "Thy son bought me awhile ago, for ten thousand dirhams, meaning to give me to thee; but thy wife, the daughter of thine uncle, sent him the said price and bade him shut me up from thee in this chamber." Whereupon said the Caliph, "Ask a boon of me," and she, "I ask thee to lie with me to-morrow night." Replied the Caliph, "Inshallah!" and leaving her, went away. Now as soon as it was morning, he repaired to his sitting-room and called for Abu Nowas, but found him not and sent his chamberlain to ask after him. The chamberlain found him in a tavern, pawned and pledged for a score of a thousand dirhams, which he had spent on a certain beardless youth, and questioned him of his case. So he told him what had betided him with the comely boy and how he had spent upon him a thousand silver pieces; whereupon quoth the chamberlain, "Show him to me; and if he be worth this, thou art excused." He answered, "Patience, and thou shalt see him presently.' As they were talking together, up came the lad, clad in a white tunic, under which was another of red and under this yet another black. Now when Abu Nowas saw him, he sighed a loud sigh and improvised these couplets,
"He showed himself in shirt of white, * With eyes and eyelids languor-digit.
Quoth I, 'Doss pass and greet me not? * Though were thy greeting a delight?
Blest He who clothed in rose thy cheeks, * Creates what wills He by His might!'
Quoth he, 'Leave prate, forsure my Lord * Of works is wondrous infinite:
My garment's like my face and luck; * All three are white on white on white.' "
When the beardless one heard these words, he doffed the white tunic and appeared in the red; and when Abu Nowas saw him he redoubled in expressions of admiration and repeated these couplets,
"He showed in garb anemone-red, * A foeman 'friend' entituled:
Quoth I in marvel, 'Thou'rt full moon * Whose weed shames rose however red:
Hath thy cheek stained it red, or hast * Dyed it in blood by lovers bled?'
Quoth he, 'Sol gave me this for shirt * When hasting down the West to bed
So garb and wine and hue of cheek * All three are red on red on red.'"
And when the verses came to an end, the beardless one doffed the red tunic and stood in the black; and, when Abu Nowas saw him, he redoubled in attention to him and versified in these couplets,
"He came in sable-hued sacque * And shone in dark men's heart to rack:
Quoth I, 'Doss pass and greet me not? * Joying the hateful envious pack?
Thy garment's like thy locks and like * My lot, three blacks on black on black.' "
Seeing this state of things and understanding the case of Abu Nowas and his love-longing, the Chamberlain returned to the Caliph and acquainted him therewith; so he bade him pouch a thousand dirhams and go and take him out of pawn. Thereupon the Chamberlain returned to Abu Nowas and, paying his score, carried him to the Caliph, who said, "Make me some verses containing the words, O Trusted of Allah, what may this be?" Answered he, "I hear and I obey, O Commander of the Faithful."--And Shahrazad perceived the dawn of day and ceased saying her permitted say.
When it was the Three Hundred and Fortieth Night,
She said, it hath reached me, O auspicious King, that Abu Nowas answered, "I hear and I obey, O Commander of the Faithful!" and forthwith he improvised these couplets,
"Long was my night for sleepless misery; * Weary of body and of thought ne'er free:
I rose and in my palace walked awhile, * Then wandered thro' the halls of Haremry:
Till chanced I on a blackness, which I found * A white girl hid in hair for napery:
Here to her for a moon of brightest sheen! * Like willow-wand and veiled in pudency:
I quaffed a cup to her; then drew I near, * And kissed the beauty-spot on cheek had she:
She woke astart, and in her sleep's amaze, * Swayed as the swaying branch in rain we see;
Then rose and said to me, 'O Trusted One * Of Allah, O Amin, what may this be?
Quoth I, 'A guest that cometh to thy tents * And craves till morn thy hospitality.
She answered, 'Gladly I, my lord, will grace * And honour such a guest with ear and eye.'"
Cried the Caliph, "Allah strike thee dead! it is as if thou hadst been present with us.'' [FN#390] Then he took him by the hand and carried him to the damsel and, when Abu Nowas saw her clad in a dress and veil of blue, he expressed abundant admiration and improvised these couplets,
"Say to the pretty one in veil of blue, * 'By Allah, O my life, have ruth on dole!
For, when the fair entreats her lover foul, * Sighs rend his bosom and bespeak his soul
By charms of thee and whitest cheek I swear thee, * Pity a heart for love lost all control
Bend to him, be his stay 'gainst stress of love, * Nor aught accept what saith the ribald fool.'"
Now when he ended his verse, the damsel set wine before the Caliph; and, taking the lute, played a lively measure and sang these couplets,
"Wilt thou be just to others in thy love, and do * Unright, and put me off, and take new friend in lieu?
Had lovers Kazi unto whom I might complain * Of thee, he'd peradventure grant the due I sue:
If thou forbid me pass your door, yet I afar * Will stand, and viewing you waft my salams to you!"
The Caliph bade her ply Abu Nowas with wine, till he lost his right senses, thereupon he gave him a full cup, and he drank a draught of it and held the cup in his hand till he slept. Then the Commander of the Faithful bade the girl take the cup from his grasp and hide it; so she took it and set it between her thighs, moreover he drew his scymitar and, standing at the head of Abu Nowas, pricked him with the point; whereupon he awoke and saw the drawn sword and the Caliph standing over him. At this sight the fumes of the wine fled from his head and the Caliph said to him, "Make me some verses and tell me therein what is become of thy cup; or I will cut off thy head." So he improvised these couplets,
"My tale, indeed, is tale unlief; * 'Twas yonder fawn who play'd the thief!
She stole my cup of wine, before * The sips and sups had dealt relief,
And hid it in a certain place, * My heart's desire and longing grief.
I name it not, for dread of him * Who hath of it command-in-chief."
Quoth the Caliph, "Allah strike thee dead! [FN#391] How knewest thou that? But we accept what thou sayst." Then he ordered him a dress of honour and a thousand dinars, and he went away rejoicing. And among tales they tell is one of