ISAAC OF MOSUL AND THE MERCHANT.
Quoth Ishak bin Ibrahim al Mausili, "It so chanced that, one day feeling weary of being on duty at the Palace and in attendance upon the Caliph, I mounted horse and went forth, at break of dawn, having a mind to ride out in the open country and take my pleasure. So I said to my servants, 'If there come a messenger from the Caliph or another, say that I set out at day break, upon a pressing business, and that ye know not whither I am gone.' Then I fared forth alone and went round about the city, till the sun waxed hot, when I halted in a great thoroughfare known as Al Haram,"--And Shahrazad perceived the dawn of day and ceased to say her permitted say.
When it was the Four Hundred and Eighth Night,
She said, It hath reached me, O auspicious King, that Ishak bin Ibrahim the Mausili continued: "When the sun waxed hot I halted in a great thoroughfare known as Al-Haram, to take shelter in the shade and found it in a spacious wing of a house which projected over the street. And I stood there but a little while before there came up a black slave, leading an ass bestridden by a damsel; and under her were housings set with gems and pearls and upon her were the richest of clothes, richness can go no farther; and I saw that she was elegant of make with languorous look and graceful mien. I asked one of the passers by who she was, and he said, 'She is a singer,' so I fell in love with her at first sight: hardly could I keep my seat on horseback. She entered the house at whose gate I stood; and, as I was planning a device to gain access to her, there came up two men young and comely who asked admission and the housemaster gave them leave to enter. So they alighted and I also and they entered and I with them, they supposing that the master of the house had invited me; and we sat awhile, till food was brought and we ate. Then they set wine before us, and the damsel came out, with a lute in her hand. She sang and we drank, till I rose to obey a call of nature. Thereupon the host questioned the two others of me, and they replied that they knew me not; whereupon quoth he, 'This is a parasite [FN#187]; but he is a pleasant fellow, so treat him courteously.' Then I came back and sat down in my place, whilst the damsel sang to a pleasing air these two couplets,
'Say to the she gazelle, who's no gazelle, *
And Kohl'd ariel who's no ariel. [FN#188]
Who lies with male, and yet no female is, *
Whose gait is female most unlike the male.'
She sang it right well, and the company drank and her song pleased them. Then she carolled various pieces to rare measures, and amongst the rest one of mine, which consisted of this distich,
'Bare hills and campground desolate *
And friends who all have ganged their gait.
How severance after union leaves *
Me and their homes in saddest state!'
Her singing this time was even better than the first; then she chanted other rare pieces, old and new, and amongst them, another of mine with the following two couplets,
'Say to angry lover who turns away, *
And shows thee his side whatso thou
'Thou wroughtest all that by thee was wrought, *
Albe 'twas haply thy sport and play.'
I prayed her to repeat the song, that I might correct it for her; whereupon one of the two men accosted me and said, 'Never saw we a more impudent lick platter than thou. Art thou not content with sponging, but thou must eke meddle and muddle? Of very sooth, in thee is the saying made true, Parasite and pushing wight.' So I hung down my head for shame and made him no answer, whilst his companion would have withheld him from me, but he would not be restrained. Presently, they rose to pray, but I lagged behind a little and, taking the lute, screwed up the sides and brought it into perfect tune. Then I stood up in my place to pray with the rest; and when we had ended praying, the same man fell again to blaming me and reviling me and persisted in his rudeness, whilst I held my peace. Thereupon the damsel took the lute and touching it, knew that it had been altered, and said, 'Who hath touched my lute?' Quoth they, 'None of us hath touched it.' Quoth she, 'Nay, by Allah, some one hath touched it, and he is an artist, a past master in the craft; for he hath arranged the strings and tuned them like one who is a perfect performer.' Said I, 'It was I tuned it;' and said she, 'Then, Allah upon thee, take it and play on it!' So I took it; and, playing a piece so difficult and so rare, that it went nigh to deaden the quick and quicken the dead, I sang thereto these couplets,
'I had a heart, and with it lived my life: *
'Twas seared with fire and burnt with loving-lowe:
I never won the blessing of her love; *
God would not on His slave such boon bestow:
If what I've tasted be the food of Love, *
Must taste it all men who love food would know.'"
--And Shahrazad perceived the dawn of day and ceased to say her permitted say.
When it was the Four Hundred and Ninth Night,
She said, It hath reached me, O auspicious King, that Ishak of Mosul thus continued: "Now when I had finished my verse, there was not one of the company but sprang from his place and sat down like schoolboys before me, saying, 'Allah upon thee, O our lord, sing us another song.' 'With pleasure,' said I, and playing another measure in masterly fashion, sang thereto these couplets,
'Ho thou whose heart is melted down by force of Amor's fire, *
And griefs from every side against thy happiness conspire:
Unlawful is that he who pierced my vitals with his shaft, *
My blood between my midriff and my breast bone [FN#189] he desire,
'Twas plain, upon our severance day, that he had set his mind *
On an eternal parting, moved by tongue of envious liar:
He sheds my blood he ne'er had shed except by wound of love, *
Will none demand my blood of him, my wreck of him require?'
When I had made an end of this song, there was not one of them but rose to his feet and threw himself upon the ground for excess of delight. Then I cast the lute from my hand, but they said, 'Allah upon thee, do not on this wise, but let us hear another song, so Allah Almighty increase thee of His bounty!' Replied I, 'O folk, I will sing you another song and another and another and will tell you who I am. I am Ishak bin Ibrahim al Mausili, and by Allah, I bear myself proudly to the Caliph when he seeketh me. Ye have today made me hear abuse from an unmannerly carle such as I loathe; and by Allah, I will not speak a word nor sit with you, till ye put yonder quarrelsome churl out from among you!' Quoth the fellow's companion to him, 'This is what I warned thee against, fearing for thy good name.' So they hent him by the hand and thrust him out; and I took the lute and sang over again the songs of my own composing which the damsel had sung. Then I whispered the host that she had taken my heart and that I had no patience to abstain from her. Quoth he 'She is thine on one condition.' I asked, 'What is that?' and he answered, 'It is that thou abide with me a month, when the damsel and all belonging to her of raiment and jewellery shall be thine.' I rejoined, 'It is well, I will do this.' So I tarried with him a whole month, whilst none knew where I was and the Caliph sought me everywhere, but could come by no news of me; and at the end of this time, the merchant delivered to me the damsel, together with all that pertained to her of things of price and an eunuch to attend upon her. So I brought all that to my lodging, feeling as I were lord of the whole world, for exceeding delight in her; then I rode forthright to Al-Maamun. And when I stood in the presence, he said, 'Woe to thee, O Ishak, where hast thou been?' So I acquainted him with the story and he said, 'Bring me that man at once.' Thereupon I told him where he lived and he sent and fetched him and questioned him of the case; when he repeated the story and the Caliph said to him, 'Thou art a man of right generous mind, and it is only fitting that thou be aided in thy generosity.' Then he ordered him an hundred thousand dirhams and said to me, 'O Ishak, bring the damsel before me.' So I brought her to him, and she sang and delighted him; and being greatly gladdened by her he said to me, 'I appoint her turn of service every Thursday, when she must come and sing to me from behind the curtain.' And he ordered her fifty thousand dirhams, so by Allah, I profited both myself and others by my ride." And amongst the tales they tell is one of