THE LOVERS OF THE BANU UZRAH. [FN#125]



Quoth Masrur the Eunuch, "The Caliph Harun Al-Rashid was very wakeful one night and said to me, 'See which of the poets is at the door to-night.' So I went out and finding Jamíl bin Ma'amar al-Uzrí [FN#126] in the antechamber, said to him, 'Answer the Commander of the Faithful.' Quoth he, 'I hear and I obey,' and going in with me, saluted the Caliph, who returned his greeting and bade him sit down. Then he said to him, 'O, Jamil, hast thou any of thy wonderful new stories to tell us?' He replied, 'Yes, O Commander of the Faithful: wouldst thou fainer hear that which I have seen with mine eyes or that which I have only heard?' Quoth the Caliph, 'Tell me something thou hast actually beheld.' Quoth Jamil, ''Tis well, O Prince of True Believers; incline thy heart to me and lend me thine ears.' The Caliph took a bolster of red brocade, purfled with gold and stuffed with ostrich-feathers and, laying it under his thighs, propped up both elbows thereon; then he said to Jamil, 'Now [FN#127] for thy tale, O Jamil!' Thereupon he begun, 'Know, O Commander of the Faithful, that I was once desperately enamoured of a certain girl and used to pay her frequent visits.'"--And Shahrazad perceived the dawn of day and ceased saying her permitted say.

When it was the Six Hundred and Eighty-ninth Night,

She pursued, It hath reached me, O auspicious King, that when the Caliph had propped his elbows upon the brocaded cushion, he said, "Out with thy tale, O Jamil!" and the poet begun:--Know, O Commander of the Faithful, I was desperately in love with a girl and used often to visit her, because she was my desire and delight of all the things of this world. After a while, her people removed with her, by reason of scarcity of pasture, and I abode some time without seeing her, till I grew restless for desire and longed for her sight and the flesh [FN#128] urged me to journey to her. One night, I could hold out no longer; so I rose and saddling my she-camel, bound on my turban and donned my oldest dress. [FN#129] Then I baldricked myself with my sword and slinging my spear behind me, mounted and rode forth in quest of her. I fared on fast till, one night, it was pitch dark and exceeding black, yet I persisted in the hard task of climbing down Wadys and up hills, hearing on all sides the roaring of lions and howling of wolves and the cries of the wild beasts. My reason was troubled thereat and my heart sank within me; but for all that my tongue ceased not to call on the name of Almighty Allah. As I went along thus, sleep overtook me and the camel carried me aside out of my road, till, presently, something [FN#130] smote me on the head, and I woke, startled and alarmed, and found myself in a pasturage full of trees and streams and birds on the branches, warbling their various speech and notes. As the trees were tangled I alighted and, taking my camel's halter in hand, fared on softly with her, till I got clear of the thick growth and came out into the open country, where I adjusted her saddle and mounted again, knowing not where to go nor whither the Fates should lead me; but, presently, peering afar into the desert, I espied a fire in its middle depth. So I smote my camel and made for the fire. When I drew near, I saw a tent pitched, and fronted by a spear stuck in the ground, with a pennon flying [FN#131] and horses tethered and camels feeding, and said in myself, "Doubtless there hangeth some grave matter by this tent, for I see none other than it in the desert." So I went up thereto and said, "Peace be with you, O people of the tent, and the mercy of Allah and His Blessing!" Whereupon there came forth to me a young man as youths are when nineteen years old, who was like the full moon shining in the East, with valour written between his eyes, and answered, saying, "And with thee be the Peace, and Allah's mercy and His blessing! O brother of the Arabs, methinks thou hast lost thy way?" Replied I, "Even so, direct me right, Allah have mercy on thee!" He rejoined, "O brother of the Arabs, of a truth this our land is infested with lions and the night is exceeding dark and dreary, beyond measure cold and gloomy, and I fear lest the wild beasts rend thee in pieces; wherefore do thou alight and abide with me this night in ease and comfort, and to-morrow I will put thee in the right way." Accordingly, I dismounted and hobbled my she-camel with the end of her halter; [FN#132] then I put off my heavy upper clothes and sat down. Presently the young man took a sheep and slaughtered it and kindled a brisk fire; after which he went into the tent and bringing out finely powdered salt and spices, fell to cutting off pieces of mutton and roasting them over the fire and feeding me therewith, weeping at one while and sighing at another. Then he groaned heavily and wept sore and improvised these couplets,

"There remains to him naught save a flitting breath * And an eye whose babe ever wandereth.
There remains not a joint in his limbs, but what * Disease firm fixt ever tortureth.
His tears are flowing, his vitals burning; * Yet for all his tongue still he silenceth.
All foemen in pity beweep his woes; * Ah for freke whom the foeman pitieth!"

By this I knew, O Commander of the Faithful, that the youth was a distracted lover (for none knoweth passion save he who hath tasted the passion-savour), and quoth I to myself, "Shall I ask him?" But I consulted my judgment and said, "How shall I assail him with questioning, and I in his abode?" So I restrained myself and ate my sufficiency of the meat. When we had made an end of eating, the young man arose and entering the tent, brought out a handsome basin and ewer and a silken napkin, whose ends were purfled with red gold and a sprinkling-bottle full of rose-water mingled with musk. I marvelled at his dainty delicate ways and said in my mind, "Never wot I of delicacy in the desert." Then we washed our hands and talked a while, after which he went into the tent and making a partition between himself and me with a piece of red brocade, said to me, "Enter, O Chief of the Arabs, and take thy rest; for thou hast suffered more of toil and travel than sufficeth this night and in this thy journey." So I entered and finding a bed of green brocade, doffed my dress and passed a night such as I had never passed in my life.--And Shahrazad perceived the dawn of day and ceased to say her permitted say.

When it was the Six Hundred and Ninetieth Night,

She resumed, It hath reached me, O auspicious King, that Jamil spoke, saying:--Never in my life passed I a night like that. I pondered the young man's case, till the world was dark and all eyes slept, when I was aroused by the sound of a low voice, never heard I a softer or sweeter. I raised the curtain which hung between us and saw a damsel (never beheld I a fairer of face), by the young man's side and they were both weeping and complaining, one to other of the pangs of passion and desire and of the excess of their longing for union. [FN#133] Quoth I, "By Allah, I wonder who may be this second one! When I entered this tent, there was none therein save this young man." And after reflection I added, "Doubtless this damsel is of the daughters of the Jinn and is enamoured of this youth; so they have secluded themselves with each other in this solitary place." Then I considered her closely and behold, she was a mortal and an Arab girl, whose face, when she unveiled, shamed the shining sun, and the tent was lit up by the light of her countenance. When I was assured that she was his beloved, I bethought me of lover-jealousy; so I let drop the curtain and covering my face, fell asleep. As soon as it was dawn I arose and donning my clothes, made the Wuzu-ablution and prayed such prayers as are obligatory and which I had deferred. Then I said, "O brother of the Arabs, wilt thou direct me into the right road and thus add to thy favours?" He replied, "At thy leisure, O chief of the Arabs, the term of the guest-rite is three days, [FN#134] and I am not one to let thee go before that time." So I abode with him three days, and on the fourth day as we sat talking, I asked him of his name and lineage. Quoth he "As for my lineage, I am of the Banu Odhrah; my name is such an one, son of such an one and my father's brother is called such an one." And behold, O Commander of the Faithful, he was the son of my paternal uncle and of the noblest house of the Banú Uzrah. Said I, "O my cousin, what moved thee to act on this wise, secluding thyself in the waste and leaving thy fair estate and that of thy father and thy slaves and handmaids?" When he heard my words, his eyes filled with tears and he replied, "Know, O my cousin, that I fell madly in love of the daughter of my father's brother, fascinated by her, distracted for her, passion-possessed as by a Jinn, wholly unable to let her out of my sight. So I sought her in marriage of her sire, but he refused and married her to a man of the Banu Odhrah, who went in to her and carried her to his abiding-place this last year. When she was thus far removed from me and I was prevented from looking on her, the fiery pangs of passion and excess of love-longing and desire drove me to forsake my clan [FN#135] and friends and fortune and take up my abode in this desert, where I have grown used to my solitude." I asked, "Where are their dwellings?" and he answered, "They are hard by, on the crest of yonder hill; and every night, at the dead time, when all eyes sleep, she stealeth secretly out of the camp, unseen of any one, and I satisfy my desire of her converse and she of mine. [FN#136] So I abide thus, solacing myself with her a part of the night, till Allah work out that which is to be wrought; either I shall compass my desire, in spite [FN#137] of the envious, or Allah will determine for me and He is the best of determinators." Now when the youth told me his case, O Commander of the Faithful, I was concerned for him and perplexed by reason of my jealousy for his honour; so I said to him, "O son of my uncle, wilt thou that I point out to thee a plan and suggest to thee a project, whereby (please Allah) thou shalt find perfect welfare and the way of right and successful issue whereby the Almighty shall do away from thee that thou dreadest?" He replied, "Say on, O my cousin"; and quoth I, "When it is night and the girl cometh, set her on my she-camel which is swift of pace, and mount thou thy steed, whilst I bestride one of these dromedaries. So will we fare on all night and when the morrow morns, we shall have traversed wolds and wastes, and thou wilt have attained thy desire and won the beloved of thy heart. The Almighty's earth is wide, and by Allah, I will back thee with heart and wealth and sword."--And Shahrazad perceived the dawn of day and ceased saying her permitted say.

When it was the Six Hundred and Ninety-first Night,

She said, It hath reached me, O auspicious King, that when Jamil advised the elopement and night journey, promising his aid as long as he lived, the youth accepted and said, "O cousin, wait till I take counsel with her, for she is quick-witted and prudent and hath insight into affairs." So (continued Jamil) when the night darkened and the hour of her coming arrived, and he awaiting her at the appointed tide, she delayed beyond her usual time, and I saw him go forth the door of the tent and opening his mouth, inhale the wafts of breeze that blew from her quarter, as if to snuff her perfume, and he repeated these two couplets:--

"Breeze of East who bringest me gentle air * From the place of sojourn where dwells my fair:
O Breeze, of the lover thou bearest sign, * Canst not of her coming some signal bear?"

Then he entered the tent and sat weeping awhile; after which he said to me, "O my cousin, some mischance must have betided the daughter of mine uncle, or some accident must have hindered her from coming to me this night," presently adding, "But abide where thou art, till I bring thee the news." And he took sword and shield and was absent a while of the night, after which he returned, carrying something in hand and called aloud to me. So I hastened to him and he said, "O my cousin, knowest thou what hath happened?" I replied, "No, by Allah!" Quoth he, "Verily, I am distraught concerning my cousin this night; for, as she was coming to me, a lion met her in the way and devoured her, and there remaineth of her but what thou seest." So saying, he threw down what he had in his hand, and behold, it was the damsel's turband and what was left of her bones. Then he wept sore and casting down his bow, [FN#138] took a bag and went forth again saying, "Stir not hence till I return to thee, if it please Almighty Allah." He was absent a while and presently returned, bearing in his hand a lion's head, which he threw on the ground and called for water. So I brought him water, with which he washed the lion's mouth and fell to kissing it and weeping; and he mourned for her exceedingly and recited these couplets,

"Ho thou lion who broughtest thyself to woe, * Thou art slain and worse sorrows my bosom rend!
Thou hast reft me of fairest companionship, * Made her home Earth's womb till the world shall end.
To Time, who hath wrought me such grief, I say, * 'Allah grant in her stead never show a friend!'"

Then said he to me, "O cousin, I conjure thee by Allah and the claims of kindred and consanguinity [FN#139] between us, keep thou my charge. Thou wilt presently see me dead before thee; whereupon do thou wash me and shroud me and these that remain of my cousin's bones in this robe and bury us both in one grave and write thereon these two couplets,

'On Earth surface we lived in rare ease and joy * By fellowship joined in one house and home.
But Fate with her changes departed us, * And the shroud conjoins us in Earth's cold womb.'"

Then he wept with sore weeping and, entering the tent, was absent awhile, after which he came forth, groaning and crying out. Then he gave one sob and departed this world. When I saw that he was indeed dead, it was grievous to me and so sore was my sorrow for him that I had well-nigh followed him for excess of mourning over him. Then I laid him out and did as he had enjoined me, shrouding his cousin's remains with him in one robe and laying the twain in one grave. I abode by their tomb three days, after which I departed and continued to pay frequent pious visits [FN#140] to the place for two years. This then is their story, O Commander of the Faithful! Al-Rashid was pleased with Jamil's story and rewarded him with a robe of honour and a handsome present. And men also tell a tale concerning