IBRAHIM BIN AL-MAHDI AND THE MERCHANT'S SISTER.



The Caliph Al-Maamún once said to his uncle Ibrahim bin Al-Mahdí, "Tell us the most remarkable thing that thou hast ever seen." Answered he: "I hear and obey, O Commander of the Faithful. Know that I rode out one day, a-pleasuring, and my ride brought me to a place where I smelt the reek of food. So my soul longed for it and I halted, O Prince of True Believers, perplexed and unable either to go on or to go in. Presently, I raised my eyes and lo! I espied a lattice-window and behind it a wrist, than which I never beheld aught lovelier. The sight turned my brain and I forgot the smell of the food and began to plan and plot how I should get access to the house. After awhile, I observed a tailor hard by and going up to him, saluted him. He returned my salam and I asked him, 'Whose house is that?' And he answered, 'It belongeth to a merchant called such an one, son of such an one, who consorteth with none save merchants.' As we were talking, behold, up came two men, of comely aspect with intelligent countenances, riding on horseback; and the tailor told me that they were the merchant's most intimate friends and acquainted me with their names. So I urged my beast towards them and said to them, 'Be I your ransom! Abu Fulán [FN#409] awaiteth you!'; and I rode with them both to the gate, where I entered and they also. Now when the master of the house saw me with them he doubted not but I was their friend; so he welcomed me and seated me in the highest stead. Then they brought the table of food and I said in myself, 'Allah hath granted me my desire of the food; and now there remain the hand and the wrist.' After awhile, we removed for carousel to another room, which I found tricked out with all manner of rarities; and the host paid me particular attention, addressing his talk to me, for that he took me to be a guest of his guests; whilst in like manner these two made much of me, taking me for a friend of their friend the house-master. Thus I was the object of politest attentions till we had drunk several cups of wine and there came into us a damsel as she were a willow wand of the utmost beauty and elegance, who took a lute and playing a lively measure, sang these couplets,

'Is it not strange one house us two contain * And still thou draw'st not near, or talk we twain?
Only our eyes tell secrets of our souls, * And broken hearts by lovers' fiery pain;
Winks with the eyelids, signs the eyebrow knows; * Languishing looks and hand saluting fain.'

When I heard these words my vitals were stirred, O Commander of the Faithful, and I was moved to delight, for her excessive loveliness and the beauty of the verses she sang; and I envied her her skill and said, 'There lacketh somewhat to thee, O damsel!' Whereupon she threw the lute from her hand in anger, and cried, 'Since when are ye wont to bring ill-mannered louts into your assemblies?' Then I repented of what I had done, seeing the company vexed with me, and I said in my mind, 'My hopes are lost by me'; and I weeted no way of escaping blame but to call for a lute, saying, 'I will show you what escaped her in the air she played.' Quoth the folk, 'We hear and obey'; so they brought me a lute and I tuned the strings and sang these verses,

'This is thy friend perplexed for pain and pine, * Th' enamoured, down whose breast course drops of brine:
He hath this hand to the Compassionate raised * For winning wish, and that on hearts is lien:
O thou who seest one love-perishing, * His death is caused by those hands and eyne!' [FN#410]

Whereupon the damsel sprang up and throwing herself at my feet, kissed them and said, 'It is thine to excuse, O my Master! By Allah, I knew not thy quality nor heard I ever the like of this performance!' And all began extolling me and making much of me, being beyond measure delighted' and at last they besought me to sing again. So I sang a merry air, whereupon they all became drunken with music and wine, their wits left them and they were carried off to their homes, while I abode alone with the host and the girl. He drank some cups with me and then said, 'O my lord, my life hath been lived in vain for that I have not known the like of thee till the present. Now, by Allah, tell me who thou art, that I may ken who is the cup-companion whom Allah hath bestowed on me this night.' At first I returned him evasive answers and would not tell him my name; but he conjured me till I told him who I was, whereupon he sprang to his feet"--And Shahrazad perceived the dawn of day and ceased saying her permitted say.

When it was the Three Hundred and Forty-seventh Night,

She said, It hath reached me, O auspicious King, that Ibrahim son of Al-Mahdi continued: "Now when the housemaster heard my name he sprang to his feet and said, 'Indeed I wondered that such gifts should belong to any but the like of thee; and Fortune hath done me a good turn for which I cannot thank her too much. But, haply, this is a dream; for how could I hope that one of the Caliphate house should visit my humble home and carouse with me this night?' I conjured him to be seated; so he sat down and began to question me as to the cause of my visit in the most courteous terms. So I told him the whole affair, first and last, hiding naught, and said to him, 'Now as to the food I have had my will, but of the hand and wrist I have still to win my wish.' Quoth he, 'Thou shalt have thy desire of the hand and wrist also, Inshallah!' Then said he to the slave-girl, 'Ho, such an one, bid such an one come down.' And he called his slave-girls down, one by one and showed them to me; but I saw not my mistress among them, and he said, 'O my lord, there is none left save my mother and sister; but, by Allah, I must needs have them also down and show them to thee.' So I marvelled at his courtesy and large heartedness and said, 'May I be thy sacrifice! Begin with the sister;' and he answered, 'With joy and goodwill.' So she came down and he showed me her hand and behold, she was the owner of the hand and wrist. Quoth I, 'Allah make me thy ransom! this is the damsel whose hand and wrist I saw at the lattice.' Then he sent his servants without stay or delay for witnesses and bringing out two myriads [FN#411] of gold pieces, said to the witnesses, 'This our lord and master, Ibrahim son of Al-Mahdi, paternal-uncle of the Commander of the Faithful, seeketh in marriage my sister such an one; and I call you to witness that I give her in wedlock to him and that he hath settled upon her ten thousand dinars.' And he said to me, 'I give thee my sister in marriage, at the portion aforesaid.' 'I consent,' answered I, 'and am herewith content.' Whereupon he gave one of the bags to her and the other to the witnesses, and said to me, 'O our lord, I desire to adorn a chamber for thee, where thou mayst sleep with thy wife.' But I was abashed at his generosity and was ashamed to lie with her in his house; so I said, 'Equip her and send her to my place.' And by thy being, O Commander of the Faithful, he sent me with her such an equipage that my house, for all its greatness, was too strait to hold it! And I begot on her this boy that standeth in thy presence." Then Al-Maamun marvelled at the man's generosity and said, "Gifted of Allah is he! Never heard I of his like." And he bade Ibrahim bin al-Mahdi bring him to court, that he might see him. He brought him and the Caliph conversed with him; and his wit and good breeding so pleased him that he made him one of his chief officers. And Allah is the Giver, the Bestower! Men also relate the tale of