Stories from the Thousand and One Nights. The Harvard Classics. 190914.
The Story of the Second of the Three Ladies of Baghdad
PRINCE OF THE FAITHFUL, my father, at his death, left considerable property; and soon after that event I married to one of the wealthiest men of the age, who, when I had lived with him a year, died, and I inherited from him eighty thousand pieces of gold, the portion that fell to me according to the law; with part of which I made for myself ten suits of clothing, each of the value of a thousand pieces of gold. And as I was sitting one day, there entered my apartment an old woman, disgustingly ugly, who saluted me, and said, I have an orphan daughter whose marriage I am to celebrate this night, and I would have thee obtain a reward and recompense in heaven by thy being present at her nuptial festivity; for she is broken-hearted, having none to befriend her but God, whose name be exalted. She then wept, and kissed my feet; and, being moved with pity and compassion, I assented, upon which she desired me to prepare myself, telling me that she would come at the hour of nightfall and take me; and so saying, she kissed my hand, and departed.
I arose immediately, and attired myself, and when I had completed my preparations, the old woman returned, saying, O my mistress, the ladies of the city have arrived, and I have informed them of thy coming, and they are waiting with joy to receive thee:so I put on my outer garments, and, taking my female slaves with me, proceeded until we arrived at a street in which a soft wind was delightfully playing, where we saw a gateway over-arched with a marble vault, admirably constructed, forming the entrance to a palace which rose from the earth to the clouds. On our arrival there, the old woman knocked at the door, and, when it was opened, we entered a carpeted passage, illuminated by lamps and candles, and decorated with jewels and precious metals. Through this passage we passed into a saloon of unequalled magnificence, furnished with mattresses covered with silk, lighted by hanging lamps and by candles, and having, at its upper end, a couch of alabaster decorated with pearls and jewels, and canopied by curtains of satin, from which there came forth a lady beautiful as the moon, who exclaimed to me, Most welcome art thou, O my sister: thou delightest me by thy company, and refreshest my heart. She then sat down again, and said to me, O my sister, I have a brother who hath seen thee at a festivity: he is a young man, more handsome than myself, and, his heart being violently inflamed with love of thee, he hath bribed this old woman to go to thee, and to employ this artifice in order to obtain for me an interview with thee. He desireth to marry thee according to the ordinance of God and his Apostle, and in that which is lawful there is no disgrace.When I heard these words, and saw myself thus confined in the house so that I could not escape, I replied, I hear, and obey:and the lady, rejoicing at my consent, clapped her hands, and opened a door, upon which there came out from it a young man so surpassingly handsome, that my heart immediately inclined to him. No sooner had he sat down than the Kadi and four witnesses entered, and saluted us, and proceeded to perform the ceremony of the marriage-contract between me and the young man; which having done, they departed; and when they had retired, the young man looked towards me, and said, May our night be blessed. He then informed me that he desired to impose a covenant upon me, and, bringing a copy of the Kuran, said, Swear that thou wilt not indulge a preference, nor at all incline, to any man but me:and when I had sworn to this effect he rejoiced exceedingly, and embraced me; and the love of him took entire possession of my heart.
We lived together in the utmost happiness for the space of a month, after which I begged that he would allow me to go to the bazar, in order to purchase some stuffs for dress, and, having obtained his permission, went thither in company with the old woman, and seated myself at the shop of a young merchant with whom she was acquainted, and whose father, as she informed me, had died, and left him great wealth. She desired him to shew me his most costly stuffs; and while he was occupied in doing so, she began to utter various flattering expressions in praise of him; but I said to her, We have no concern with the praises that thou bestowest upon him; we desire only to make our purchase, and to return home. Meanwhile he produced to us what we wanted, and we handed him the money: he refused, however, to take it, saying, It is an offer of hospitality to you for your visit this day:whereupon I said to the old woman, If he will not take the money, return to him his stuff. But he would not receive it again, and exclaimed, By Allah, I will take nothing from you: all this is a present from me for a single kiss, which I shall value more than the entire contents of my shop.What will a kiss profit thee? asked the old woman. Then, turning to me, she said, O my daughter, thou hast heard what the youth hath said: no harm will befall thee if he give thee a kiss, and thou shalt take what thou wantest.Dost thou not know, said I, that I have taken an oath? She answered, Let him kiss thee then without thy speaking, and so it will be of no consequence to thee, and thou shalt take back thy money. Thus she continued to palliate the matter until I put my head (as it were) into the bag, and consented: so I covered my eyes, and held the edge of my veil in such a manner as to prevent the passengers from seeing me, whereupon he put his mouth to my cheek beneath the veil, but instead of merely kissing me, he lacerated my cheek by a violent bite. I fell into a swoon from the pain, and the old woman laid me on her lap till I recovered, when I found the shop closed, and the old woman uttering expressions of grief, and saying, What God hath averted would have been a greater calamity; let us return home, and do thou feign to be ill, and I will come to thee and apply a remedy that shall cure the wound, and thou wilt quickly be restored.
After remaining there some time longer, I rose, and, in a state of great uneasiness and fear, returned to the house, and professed myself ill; upon which my husband came in to me, and said, What hath befallen thee, O my mistress, during this excursion? I answered, I am not well.And what is this wound, said he, that is upon thy cheek, and in the soft part? I answered, When I asked thy permission, and went out to-day to purchase some stuff for dress, a camel loaded with firewood drove against me in the crowd, and tore my veil, and wounded my cheek as thou seest, for the streets of this city are narrow.To-morrow, then, he exclaimed, I will go to the governor, and make a complaint to him, and he shall hang every seller of firewood in the city.By Allah, said I, burden not thyself by an injury to any one; for the truth is, that I was riding upon as ass, which took fright with me, and I fell upon the ground, and a stick lacerated my cheek.If it be so, then, he replied, I will go to-morrow to Jafar El-Barmeki, and relate the matter to him, and he shall kill every ass-driver in this city.Wilt thou, said I, kill all those men on my account when this which befell me was decreed by God?Undoubtedly, he answered; and, so saying, he seized me violently, and then sprang up, and uttered a loud cry, upon which the door opened, and there came forth from it seven black slaves, who dragged me from my bed, and threw me down in the middle of the apartment; whereupon he ordered one of them to hold me by my shoulders, and to sit upon my head; and another to sit upon my knees and to hold my feet. A third then came, with a sword in his hand, and said, O my lord, shall I strike her with the sword, and cleave her in twain, that each of these may take a half and throw it into the Tigris for the fish to devour? For such is the punishment of her who is unfaithful to her oath and to the laws of love.My husband answered, Strike her O Saad:And the slave, with the drawn sword in his hand, said, Repeat the profession of the faith, and reflect what thou wouldst have to be done, that thou mayest give thy testamentary directions, for this is the end of thy life.Good slave, I replied, release me for a while that I may do so:and I raised my head, and weeping as I spoke, addressed my husband with these verses:
You render me lovelorn, and remain at ease. You make my wounded eyelids to be restless, and you sleep.
Your abode is between my heart and my eyes; and my heart will not relinquish you, nor my tears conceal my passion.
You made a covenant with me that you would remain faithful; but when you had gained possession of my heart you deceived me.
Will you not pity my love for you and my moaning? Have you yourself been secure from misfortunes?
I conjure you, by Allah, if I die, that you write upon my tombstone, This was a slave of love.
That, perchance, some mourner who hath felt the same flame may pass by the lovers grave, and pity her.
But on hearing these verses, and witnessing my weeping, he became more incensed, and replied in the words of this couplet:
I reject not the beloved of my heart from weariness: her own guilty conduct is the cause of her punishment.
She desired that another should share with me her love; but the faith of my heart inclineth not to partnership.
I continued to weep, and to endeavour to excite his compassion, saying within myself, I will humble me before him, and address him with soft words, that he may at least refrain from killing me, though he take all that I posses;but he cried out to the slave, Cleave her in twain; for she is no longer of any value to us.So the slave approached me, and I now felt assured of my death, and committed myself to God; but suddenly the old woman came and threw herself at my husbands feet, and, kissing them, exclaimed, O my son, by the care with which I nursed thee, I conjure thee to pardon this damsel, for she hath committed no offence that deserveth such a punishment: thou art young, and I fear the effect of the imprecations that she may utter against thee:and after she had thus addressed him, she wept, and continued to importune him, until, at length, he said, I pardon her, but must cause her to bear upon her person such marks of her offence as shall last for the remainder of her life. So saying he commanded the slaves to strip off my vest, and, taking a stick cut from a quince-tree, he beat me upon my back and my sides until I became insensible from the violence of the blows, and despaired of my life. He then ordered the slaves to take me away as soon as it was night, accompanied by the old woman, and throw me into my house in which I formerly resided. They accordingly executed their lords commands, and when they had deposited me in my house, I applied myself to the healing of my wounds; but, after I had cured myself, my sides still bore the appearance of having been beaten with mikraahs. I continued to apply remedies for four months before I was restored, and then repaired to view the house in which this event had happened; but I found it reduced to ruin, and the whole street pulled down; the site of the house I found occupied by mounds of rubbish, and I knew not the cause.
Under these circumstances, I went to reside with this my sister, who is of the same father as myself, and I found with her these two bitches. Having saluted her, I informed her of all that had befallen me; to which she replied, Who is secure from the afflictions of fortune? Praise be to God who terminated the affair with safety to thy life!She then related to me her own story, and that of her two sisters, and I remained with her, and neither of us ever mentioned the subject of marriage. Afterwards we were joined by this our other sister, the cateress, who every day goes out to purchase for us whatever we happen to want.
The Khalifeh was astonished at this story, and ordered it to be recorded in a book, as an authentic history, and deposited the book in his library. And he said to the first lady, Knowest thou where the Jinniyeh who enchanted thy sister is to be found? She answered, O Prince of the Faithful, she gave me a lock of her hair, and said, When thou desirest my presence, burn a few of these hairs, and I will be with thee quickly, though I should be beyond Mount Kaf.Bring then the hair, said the Khalifeh. The lady, therefore, produced it; and the Khalifeh, taking it, burned a portion of it, and when the odour had diffused itself, the palace shook, and they heard a sound of thunder, and lo, the Jinniyeh appeared before them. She was a Muslimeh, and therefore greeted the Khalifeh by saying, Peace be on thee, O Khalifeh of God!to which he replied, On you be peace, and the mercy of God, and his blessings!1 She then said, Know that his lady hath conferred on me a benefit for which I am unable to requite her; for she rescued me from death, by killing my enemy; and I, having seen what her sisters had done to her, determined to takes vengeance upon them; therefore I transformed them by enchantment into two bitches; and, indeed; I had wished rather to kill them, fearing lest they should trouble her; but now, if thou desire their restoration, O Prince of the Faithful, I will restore them, as a favour to thee and to her; for I am one of the true believers.Do so, said the Khalifeh; and then we will enter upon the consideration of the affair of the lady who hath been beaten, and examine her case, and if her veracity be established, I will take vengeance for her upon him who hath oppressed her. The Jinniyeh replied, O Prince of the Faithful, I will guide thee to the discovery of him who acted thus to this lady, and oppressed her, and took her property: he is thy nearest relation. She then took a cup of water, and, having pronounced a spell over it, sprinkled the faces of the two bitches, saying, Be restored to your original human forms!where-upon they became again two young ladies.Extolled be the perfection of their Creator! Having done this, the Jinniyeh said, O Prince of the Faithful, he who beat the lady is thy son El-Emin, who had heard of her beauty and loveliness:and she proceeded to relate what had happened. The Khalifeh was astonished, and exclaimed, Praise be to God for the restoration of these two bitches which hath been effected through my means!and immediately he summoned before him his son El-Emin, and inquired of him the history of the lady; and he related to him the truth. He then sent for Kadis and witnesses, and the first lady and her two sisters who had been transformed into bitches he married to the three mendicants who had related that they were the sons of Kings; and these he made chamberlains of his court, appointing them all that they required, and allotting them apartments in the palace of Baghdad. The lady who had been beaten he restored to his son El-Emin, giving her a large property, and ordering that the house should be rebuilt in a more handsome style. Lastly, the lady cateress he took as his own wife; he admitted her at once to his own apartment, and, on the following day, he appointed her a separate lodging for herself, with female slaves to wait upon her: he also allotted to her a regular income; and afterwards built for her a palace.