THE DEVOUT TRAY-MAKER AND HIS WIFE.
There was once, among the Children of Israel, a man of the worthiest, who was strenuous in the service of his Lord and abstained from things worldly and drave them away from his heart. He had a wife who was a helpmate meet for him and who was at all times obedient to him. They earned their living by making trays [FN#474] and fans, whereat they wrought all through the light hours; and, at nightfall, the man went out into the streets and highways seeking a buyer for what they had made. They were wont to fast continually by day [FN#475] and one morning they arose, fasting, and worked at their craft till the light failed them, when the man went forth, according to custom, to find purchasers for his wares, and fared on till he came to the door of the house of a certain man of wealth, one of the sons of this world, high in rank and dignity. Now the tray-maker was fair of face and comely of form, and the wife of the master of the house saw him and fell in love with him and her heart inclined to him with exceeding inclination; so, her husband being absent, she called her handmaid and said to her, "Contrive to bring yonder man to us." Accordingly the maid went out to him and and called him and stopped him as though she would buy what he held in hand.--And Shahrazad perceived the dawn of day and ceased saying her permitted say.
When it was the Four Hundred and Sixty-ninth Night,
She said, It hath reached me, O auspicious King, that the maid-servant went out to the man and asked him, "Come in; my lady hath a mind to buy some of thy wares, after she hath tried them and looked at them." The man thought she spoke truly and, seeing no harm in this, entered and sat down as she bade him; and she shut the door upon him. Whereupon her mistress came out of her room and, taking him by the gaberdine, [FN#476] drew him within and said, "How long shall I seek union of thee? Verily my patience is at an end on thine account. See now, the place is perfumed and provision prepared and the householder is absent this night, and I give to thee my person without reserve, I whose favours kings and captains and men of fortune have sought this long while, but I have regarded none of them." And she went on talking thus to him, whilst he raised not his eyes from the ground, for shame before Allah Almighty and fear of the pains and penalties of His punishment; even as saith the poet,
"'Twixt me and riding many a noble dame, * Was naught but shame which kept me chaste and pure:
My shame was cure to her; but haply were * Shame to depart, she ne'er had known a cure."
The man strove to free himself from her, but could not; so he said to her, "I want one thing of thee." She asked, "What is that?": and he answered, "I wish for pure water that I may carry it to the highest place of thy house and do somewhat therewith and cleanse myself of an impurity, which I may not disclose to thee." Quoth she, "The house is large and hath closets and corners and privies at command." But he replied, "I want nothing but to be at a height." So she said to her slave-girl, "Carry him up to the belvedere on the house-terrace." Accordingly the maid took him up to the very top and, giving him a vessel of water, went down and left him. Then he made the ablution and prayed a two-bow prayer; after which he looked at the ground, thinking to throw himself down, but seeing it afar off, feared to be dashed to pieces by the fall. [FN#477] Then he bethought him of his disobedience to Allah, and the consequences of his sin; so it became a light matter to him to offer up his life and shed his blood; and he said, "O my God and my Lord, Thou seest that which is fallen on me; neither is my case hidden from Thee. Thou indeed over all things art Omnipotent and the tongue of my case reciteth and saith,
'I show my heart and thoughts to Thee, and Thou * Alone my secret's secrecy canst know.
If I address Thee fain I cry aloud; * Or, if I'm mute, my signs for speech I show.
O Thou to whom no second be conjoined! * A wretched lover seeks Thee in his woe.
I have a hope my thoughts as true confirm; * And heart that fainteth as right well canst trow.
To lavish life is hardest thing that be, * Yet easy an Thou bid me life forego;
But, an it be Thy will to save from stowre, * Thou, O my Hope, to work this work hast power!'"
Then the man cast himself down from the belvedere; but Allah sent an angel who bore him up on his wings and brought him down to the ground, whole and without hurt or harm. Now when he found himself safe on the ground, he thanked and praised Allah (to whom belong Majesty and Might!) for His merciful protection of his person and his chastity; and he went straight to his wife who had long expected him, and he empty-handed. Then seeing him, she asked him why he had tarried and what was come of that he had taken with him and why he returned empty-handed; whereupon he told her of the temptation which had befallen him, and she said, "Alhamdolillah--praised be God-for delivering thee from seduction and intervening between thee and such calamity!" Then she added, "O man, the neighbours use to see us light our oven every night; and, if they see us fireless this night, they will know that we are destitute. Now it behoveth in gratitude to Allah, that we hide our destitution and conjoin the fast of this night to that of the past and continue it for the sake of Allah Almighty." So she rose and, filling the oven with wood, lighted it, to baffle the curiosity of her woman-neighbours, reciting these couplets,
"Now I indeed will hide desire and all repine; * And light up this my fire that neighbours see no sign:
Accept I what befals by order of my Lord; * Haply He too accept this humble act of mine."
--And Shahrazad perceived the dawn of day and ceased to say her permitted say.
When it was the Four Hundred and Seventieth Night,
She said, It hath reached me, O auspicious King, that after the goodwife had lit the fire to baffle the curiosity of her women-neighbours, she and her husband made the Wuzu-ablution and stood up to pray, when behold, one of the neighbours' wives came and asked leave to take a fire-brand from the oven. "Do what thou wilt with the oven," answered they; but, when she came to the fire, she cried out, saying, "Ho, such an one (to the tray-maker's wife) take up thy bread ere it burn!" Quoth the wife to her husband, "Hearest thou what she saith?" Quoth he, "Go and look." So she went up to the oven, and behold, it was full of fine bread and white. She took up the scones and carried them to her husband, thanking Allah (to whom belong Majesty and Might!) for His abounding good and great bounty; and they ate of the bread and drank water and praised the Almighty. Then said the woman to her husband, "Come let us pray to Allah the Most Highest, so haply He may vouchsafe us what shall enable us to dispense with the weariness of working for daily bread and devote ourselves wholly to worshipping and obeying Him." The man rose in assent and prayed, whilst his wife said, "Amen," to his prayer, when the roof clove in sunder and down fell a ruby, which lit the house with its light. Hereat, they redoubled in praise and thanksgiving to Allah praying what the Almighty willed, [FN#478] and rejoiced at the ruby with great joy. And the night being far spent, they lay down to sleep and the woman dreamt that she entered Paradise and saw therein many chairs ranged and stools set in rows. She asked what the seats were and it was answered her, "These are the chairs of the prophets and those are the stools of the righteous and the pious." Quoth she, "Which is the stool of my husband such an one?"; and it was said to her, "It is this." So she looked and seeing a hole in its side asked, "What may be this hole?"; and the reply came, "It is the place of the ruby that dropped upon you from your house-roof." Thereupon she awoke, weeping and bemoaning the defect in her husband's stool among the seats of the Righteous; so she told him the dream and said to him, "Pray Allah, O man, that this ruby return to its place; for endurance of hunger and poverty during our few days here were easier than a hole in thy chair among the just in Paradise." [FN#479] Accordingly, he prayed to his Lord, and lo! the ruby flew up to the roof and away whilst they looked at it. And they ceased not from their poverty and their piety, till they went to the presence of Allah, to whom be Honour and Glory! And they also tell a tale of