WARDAN [FN#430] THE BUTCHER; HIS ADVENTURE WITH THE LADY AND THE BEAR.



There lived once in Cairo, in the days of the Caliph Al-Hákim bi' Amri'llah, a butcher named Wardán, who dealt in sheep's flesh; and there came to him every day a lady and gave him a dinar, whose weight was nigh two and a half Egyptian dinars, saying, "Give me a lamb." So he took the money and gave her the lamb, which she delivered to a porter she had with her; and he put it in his crate and she went away with him to her own place. Next day she came in the forenoon and this went on for a long time, the butcher gaining a dinar by her every day, till at last he began to be curious about her case and said to himself, "This woman buyeth of me a ducat-worth of meat every morning, paying ready money, and never misseth a single day. Verily, this is a strange thing!" So he took an occasion of questioning the porter, in her absence, and asked him, "Whither goest thou every day with yonder woman?"; and he answered, "I know not what to make of her for surprise; inasmuch as every day, after she hath taken the lamb of thee, she buyeth necessaries of the table, fresh and dried fruits and wax-candles a dinar's worth, and taketh of a certain person, which is a Nazarene, two flagons of wine, worth another dinar; and then she leadeth me with the whole and I go with her to the Wazir's Gardens, where she blindfoldeth me, so that I cannot see on what part of earth I set my feet; and, taking me by the hand, she leadeth me I know not whither. Presently, she sayeth, 'Set down here;' and when I have done so, she giveth me an empty crate she hath ready and, taking my hand, leadeth me back to the Wazir's Gardens, the place where she bound my eyes, and there removeth the bandage and giveth me ten silver bits." "Allah be her helper!" quoth Wardan; but he redoubled in curiosity about her case; disquietude increased upon him and he passed the night in exceeding restlessness. And quoth the butcher, "Next morning she came to me as of custom and taking the lamb, for which she paid the dinar, delivered it to the porter and went away. So I gave my shop in charge to a lad and followed her without her seeing me;"--And Shahrazad perceived the dawn of day and ceased to say her permitted say.

When it was the Three Hundred and Fifty-fourth Night,

She said, It hath reached me, O auspicious King, that Wardan the butcher continued: "So I gave my shop in charge to a lad and followed her without her seeing me; nor did I cease to keep her in sight, hiding behind her, till she left Cairo and came to the Wazir's Gardens. Then I hid myself whilst she bandaged the porter's eyes and followed her again from place to place till she came to the mountain [FN#431] and stopped at a spot where there was a great stone. Here she made the porter set down his crate, and I waited whilst she conducted him back to the Wazir's Gardens, after which she returned and, taking out the contents of the basket, instantly disappeared. Then I went up to that stone and wrenching it up entered the hole and found behind the stone an open trap-door of brass and a flight of steps leading downwards. So I descended, little by little, till I came to a long corridor, brilliantly lighted and followed it, till I made a closed door, as it were the door of a saloon. I looked about the wall sides near the doorway till I discovered a recess, with steps therein; then climbed up and found a little niche with a bulls-eye giving upon a saloon. Thence I looked inside and saw the lady cut off the choicest parts of the lamb and laying them in a saucepan, throw the rest to a great big bear, who ate it all to the last bite. Now when she had made an end of cooking, she ate her fill, after which she set on the fruits and confections and brought out the wine and fell to drinking a cup herself and giving the bear to drink in a basin of gold. And as soon as she was heated with wine, she put off her petticoat-trousers and lay down on her back; whereupon the bear arose and came up to her and stroked her, whilst she gave him the best of what belongeth to the sons of Adam till he had made an end, when he sat down and rested. Presently, he sprang upon her and rogered her again; and when he ended he again sat down to rest, and he ceased not so doing till he had futtered her ten times and they both fell to the ground in a fainting-fit and lay without motion. Then quoth I to myself, 'Now is my opportunity,' and taking a knife I had with me, that would cut bones before flesh, [FN#432] went down to them and found them motionless, not a muscle of them moving for their hard swinking and swiving. So I put my knife to the bear's gullet and pressed upon it, till I finished him by severing his head from his body, and he gave a great snort like thunder, whereat the lady started up in alarm; and, seeing the bear slain and me standing whittle in hand, she shrieked so loud a shriek that I thought the soul had left her body. Then she asked, 'O Wardan, is this how thou requites me my favours?' And I answered, 'O enemy of thine own soul, is there a famine of men [FN#433] that thou must do this damnable thing?' She made no answer but bent down over the bear, and looked fondly upon him; then finding his head divided from his body, said to me, 'O Wardan, which of the two courses wouldst thou take; either obey me in what I shall say and be the means of thine own safety'"--And Shahrazad perceived the dawn of day and ceased saying her permitted say.

When it was the Three Hundred and Fifty-fifth Night,

She said, It hath reached me, O auspicious King, that quoth the lady, " 'O Wardan, which of the two courses wouldst thou take; either obey me in what I shall say and be the means of thine own safety and competency to the end of thy days, or gainsay me and so cause thine own destruction?' [FN#434] Answered I, 'I choose rather to hearken unto thee: say what thou wilt.' Quoth she, 'Then slay me, as thou hast slain this bear, and take thy need of this hoard and wend thy ways.' Quoth I, 'I am better than this bear: so return thou to Allah Almighty and repent, and I will marry thee, and we will live on this treasure the rest of our lives.' She rejoined, 'O Wardan, far be it from me! How shall I live after him? By Allah, an thou slay me not I will assuredly do away thy life! So leave bandying words with me, or thou art a lost man: this is all I have to say to thee and peace be with thee!' Then said I, 'I will kill thee, and thou shalt go to the curse of Allah.' So saying, I caught her by the hair and cut her throat; and she went to the curse of Allah and of the angels and of all mankind. And after so doing I examined the place and found there gold and bezel-stones and pearls, such as no one king could bring together. So I filled the porter's crate with as much as I could carry and covered it with the clothes I had on me. Then I shouldered it and, going up out of the underground treasure-chamber, fared homewards and ceased not faring on, till I came to the gate of Cairo, where behold, I fell in with ten of the bodyguard of Al-Hakim bi' Amri'llah [FN#435] followed by the Prince himself who said to me, 'Ho, Wardan!' 'At thy service, O King,' replied I; when he asked, 'Hast thou killed the bear and the lady?' and I answered, 'Yes.' Quoth he, 'Set down the basket from thy head and fear naught, for all the treasure thou hast with thee is thine, and none shall dispute it with thee.' So I set down the crate before him, and he uncovered it and looked at it; then said to me, 'Tell me their case, albe I know it, as if I had been present with you.' So I told him all that had passed and he said, 'Thou hast spoken the truth,' adding, 'O Wardan, come now with me to the treasure.' So I returned with him to the cavern, where he found the trap-door closed and said to me, 'O Wardan, lift it; none but thou can open the treasure, for it is enchanted in thy name and nature.' [FN#436] Said I, 'By Allah, I cannot open it,' but he said, 'Go up to it, trusting in the blessing of Allah.' So I called upon the name of Almighty Allah and, advancing to the trap-door, put my hand to it; whereupon it came up as it had been of the lightest. Then said the Caliph, 'Go down and bring hither what is there; for none but one of thy name and semblance and nature hath gone down thither since the place was made, and the slaying of the bear and the woman was appointed to be at thy hand. This was chronicled with me and I was awaiting its fulfilment.' [FN#437] Accordingly (quoth Wardan) I went down and brought up all the treasure, whereupon the Caliph sent for beasts of burden and carried it away, after giving me my crate, with what was therein. So I bore it home and opened me a shop in the market." And (saith he who telleth the tale) "this market is still extant and is known as Wardan's Market." And I have heard recount another story of