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Payne: The House With the Belvedere

[Go back to Prince Behram of Persia and the Princess Ed Detma]

There was once a wealthy merchant, who had a son who was very dear to him, and the latter said to him one day, "O my father, I have a boon to ask of thee." Quoth the merchant, "O my son, what is it, that I may give it thee and bring thee to thy desire, though it were the light of mine eyes." "Give me money," rejoined the youth, "that I may journey with the merchants to the city of Baghdad and see its sights and look upon the palace of the Khalifs; for the sons of the merchants have described these things to me and I long to see them for myself." "O my child, O my little son," answered his father, "how can I endure to part from thee?" But the youth said, "I have said my say and needs must I journey to Baghdad with or without thy consent; for such a longing for its sight hath fallen upon me as can only be assuaged by the going thither."

When the merchant saw that there was no help for it, he provided his son with goods to the value of thirty thousand dinars and gave him in charge to certain merchants in whom he trusted. Then he took leave of the youth, who journeyed with his friends the merchants till they reached Baghdad, the Abode of Peace, where he entered the market and wishing to hire a house, was shown one so handsome and spacious and elegant that he well-nigh lost his wits for admiration; for therein were gardens and fountains and running waters and pavilions facing one another, with floors of coloured marbles and ceilings inlaid with gold and lapis lazuli, and its gardens were full of warbling birds. So he asked the porter what was its rent, and he replied, "Ten dinars a month." Quoth the young man, "Speakest thou truly or dost thou jest with me?" "By Allah," answered the porter, "I speak nought but the truth, for none who taketh up his abode in this house lodgeth in it more than a week or two." "And how is that?" asked the other. "O my son," replied the porter, "whoso taketh this house cometh not forth of it, except sick or dead, wherefore it is known among the folk of Baghdad, so that none offereth to take it, and thus cometh it that its rent is fallen so low." At this the young merchant marvelled exceedingly, saying, "Needs must there be some reason for this." However, after considering awhile and seeking refuge with God from Satan the Stoned, he rented the house and took up his abode there. Then he put away apprehension from his thought and busied himself with selling and buying; and some time passed over him without any ill case befalling him.

One day, as he sat at the door, there came up a grizzled old woman, as she were a speckled snake, calling aloud on the name of God and magnifying Him at a great rate and at the same time putting away the stones and other obstacles from the path. Seeing the youth sitting there, she looked at him and marvelled at his case; whereupon quoth he to her, "O old woman, dost thou know me or am I like any thou knowest?" When she heard him speak, she hastened up to him and saluting him, said, "How long hast thou dwelt in this house?" "Two months, O my mother," answered he. And she said, "O my son, it was at this that I marvelled; for I know thee not, neither dost thou know me, nor yet are thou like unto any one I know; but I marvelled for that none other than thou hath taken up his abode in this house but hath gone forth from it, dead or sick, saving thee alone. Doubtless thou hast not gone up to the upper story neither looked out from the belvedere there." So saying, she went her way and he fell a-pondering her words and said, "I have not gone up to the top of the house; nor did I know that there was a belvedere there."

Then he arose forthright and going in, searched the house, till he espied, in a corner among the trees, a narrow door, over which the spider had spun its webs, and said in himself "Belike the spider hath not spread its web over the door, but because death is within." However, he heartened himself with the saying of God the Most High, "Say, nought shall befall us save what God hath prescribed unto us;" and opening the door, ascended a narrow flight of stairs, till he came to the top, where he found a belvedere, in which he sat down to rest and enjoy the view. Presently, he caught sight of an elegant house hard by, surmounted by a lofty belvedere, overlooking the whole of Baghdad, in which sat a damsel fair as a houri. No sooner had he set eyes on her, than her beauty took possession of his whole heart and made away with his reason, afflicting him with the pains of Job and the grief of Jacob. Fire was lighted in his entrails and he said, "They say that whoever takes up his abode in this house dies or falls sick. If this be so, this damsel is assuredly the cause. Would I knew how I shall win free of this affair, for my senses are gone!"

Then he descended from the turret, pondering his case, and sat down in the house, but could not rest. So, after awhile, he went out and sat at the door, absorbed in melancholy thought, and presently up came the old woman, praising and magnifying God [aloud], as she went. When he saw her, he rose and accosting her courteously, said to her, "O my mother, I was in health and well-being, till thou madest mention to me of the belvedere; so I found the door and ascending to the top of the house, saw thence what took away my senses; and now methinks I am a lost man, and I know no physician for me but thyself." When she heard this, she laughed and said, "No harm shall befall thee, so God please." Whereupon he went into the house and coming back with a hundred dinars in his sleeve, said to her, "Take this, O my mother, and deal with me as lords with slaves and succour me quickly; for, if I die, my blood will be laid to thy charge at the Day of Resurrection." "With all my heart," answered she; "but, O my son, thou must lend me thine aid in some small matter, whereby hangs the accomplishment of thy desire." Quoth he, "What would thou have me do, O my mother?" "Go to the silk-market," said she, "and enquire for the shop of Aboul Feth ben Caidam. Sit down by him and salute him and say to him, 'Give me the face-veil thou hast by thee, figured with gold:' for he hath none handsomer in his shop. Then buy it of him at his own price and keep it till I come to thee to-morrow, God willing." So saying, she went away and he passed the night [as] upon coals of tamarisk wood.

Next morning, he took a thousand dinars in his pocket and repairing to the silk-market, sought cut the shop of Aboul Feth, whom he found a man of dignified aspect, surrounded by servants and attendants; for he was a merchant of great wealth and consideration, and of the goods that God the Most High had bestowed upon him was the damsel who had ravished the young man's heart. She was his wife and had not her match for beauty, nor was her like to be found with any of the sons of the kings. So he saluted him and Aboul Feth returned his salute and bade him be seated. Accordingly, he sat down by him and said to him, "O merchant, I wish to look at such a face-veil." So he bade his servants bring him a parcel of silk from the inner shop and opening it, brought out a number of veils, whose beauty amazed the youth. Among them was the veil he sought; so he bought it for fifty dinars and bore it home, well pleased.

Hardly had he reached his house when up came the old woman, to whom he gave the veil. She bade him bring a live coal, with which she burnt one of the corners of the veil, then folded it up as before and repairing to Aboul Feth's house, knocked at the door. Quoth the damsel, "Who is there?" And she answered, "I, such an one." Now the damsel knew her for a friend of her mother, so, when she heard her voice, she came out and opening the door to her, said, "What dost thou want, O my mother? My mother has left me and gone to her own house." "O my daughter," answered the old woman, "I know thy mother is not with thee, for I have been with her in her house, and I come not to thee, but because I fear to miss the hour of prayer; wherefore I desire to make my ablutions with thee, for I know thou art clean and thy house pure." The damsel admitted her and she saluted her and called down blessings upon her. Then she took the ewer and went into the lavatory, where she made her ablutions and prayed in a place there. Presently, she came out again and said to the damsel, "O my daughter, I doubt thy servants have been in yonder place and defiled it; so do thou show me another place where I may pray, for the prayer I have prayed I account void." Thereupon the damsel took her by the hand and said to he; " O my mother, come and pray on my carpet, where my husband sits." So she stood there and prayed and worshipped and bowed and prostrated herself; and presently, she took the damsel unawares and made shift to slip the veil under the cushion, unseen of her. Then she prayed for her and went away.

At nightfall, Aboul Feth came home and sat down upon the carpet, whilst his wife brought him food and he ate what sufficed him and washed his hands; after which he leant back upon the cushion. Presently, he caught sight of a corner of the veil protruding from under the cushion; so he pulled it out and knowing it for that he had sold to the young man, at once suspected his wife of unchastity. So he called her and said, "Whence hadst thou this veil?" And she swore an oath to him [that she knew not whence it came,] saying, "None hath come to me but thou." Then he was silent for fear of scandal, and said in himself; "If I open up this chapter, I shall be put to shame before all Baghdad;" for he was one of the intimates of the Khalif and had nothing for it but to hold his peace. So he asked no questions, but said to his wife, whose name was Muhziyeh, "I hear that thy mother lies ill of heart-ache and all the women are with her, weeping over her; so do thou go to her." Accordingly, she repaired to her mother's house and found her well, ailing nothing; and the latter said to her, "What brings thee here at this hour?" So she told her what her husband had said and sat with her awhile; but, presently, up came porters, who brought all her clothes and paraphernalia and what not else belonged to her of goods and vessels from her husband's house and deposited them in that of her mother. When the latter saw this, she said to her daughter, "Tell me what hath passed between thee and thy husband, to bring about this." But she swore to her that she knew not the cause thereof and that there had befallen nothing between them, to call for this conduct. Quoth her mother, "Needs must there be a cause for this." And she answered, saying, "I know of none, and after this, with God the Most High be it to make provision!", Whereupon her mother fell a-weeping and lamented her daughter's separation from the like of this man, by reason of his sufficiency and fortune and the greatness of his rank and estate.

On this wise, things abode some days, after which the old woman paid a visit to Muhziyeh in her mother's house and saluted her affectionately, saying, "What ails thee, O my daughter, O my beloved one? Indeed, thou hast troubled my mind." Then she went in to her mother and said to her, "O my sister, what is this about thy daughter and her husband? I hear he has put her away. What hath she done to call for this?" Quoth the mother, "Peradventure her husband will return to her by the virtue of thy prayers; so do thou pray for her, for thou art a constant faster and a stander up by night to pray." Then the three women fell to talking and the old woman said to the damsel, "O my daughter, have no care, for, God willing, I will make peace between thee and thy husband before many days." Then she left them and going to the young merchant, said to him, "Make ready a handsome entertainment for us, for I will bring her to thee this very night." So he rose and provided all that was fitting of meat and drink and so forth and sat down to await them; whilst the old woman returned to the girl's mother and said to her, "O my sister, we make a splendid bride-feast to-night; so let thy daughter go with me, that she may divert herself and make merry with us and forget her troubles; and I will bring her back to thee even as I took her away." So the mother dressed her daughter in her finest clothes and jewels and accompanied her to the door, where she commended her to the old woman's care, saying, "Look thou let none of the creatures of God the Most High see her, for thou knowest her husband's rank with the Khalif; and do not tarry, but bring her back to me as soon as possible."

The old woman carried the girl to the young man's house, and she entered, thinking it the place where the wedding was to be held: but, when she came into the saloon, the youth sprang up to her and embraced her and kissed her hands and feet. She was confounded at his beauty, as well as at the elegance of the place and the profusion of meat and drink and flowers and perfumes that she saw therein, and deemed all this but a dream. When the old woman saw her amazement, she said to her, "The name of God be upon thee, O my daughter! Fear not; I am here with thee and will not leave thee for a moment. Thou art worthy of him and he of thee." So the damsel sat down, in great confusion; but the young man jested and toyed with her and entertained her with stories and verses, till her breast dilated and she became at her ease. Then she ate and drank and growing warm with wine, took the lute and sang and inclined to the youth's beauty. When he saw this, he was drunken without wine and his life was a light matter to him [compared with her love].

Presently the old woman went out and left them alone together till the next morning, when she went in to them and gave them good morrow and said to the damsel, "How hast thou passed the night, O my lady?" "Well," answered the girl, "thanks to thine adroitness and the excellence of thine intermediation." Then said the old woman, "Come, let us go back to thy mother." But the young man pulled out a hundred dinars and gave them to her, saying, "Take this and leave her with me to-night." So she left them and repaired to the girl's mother, to whom quoth she, "Thy daughter salutes thee, and the bride's mother is instant with her to abide with her this night." "O my sister," replied the mother, "bear her my greeting, and if it please the girl, there is no harm in her staying the night; so let her do this and divert herself and come back to me at her leisure, for all I fear for her is chagrin on account of her husband."

The old woman ceased not to make excuse after excuse and to put off cheat upon cheat upon the girl's mother, till Muhziyeh had tarried seven days with the young man, of whom she took a hundred dinars each day for herself; but at the end of this time, the girl's mother said to her, "Bring my daughter back to me forthright; for I am uneasy about her, because she has been so long absent, and I misdoubt me of this." So the old woman went out, angered at her words, and going to the young man's house, took the girl by the hand and carried her away, leaving him lying asleep on his bed, for he was heavy with wine. Her mother received her with joy and gladness and rejoiced in her with an exceeding joy, saying, "O my daughter, my heart was troubled about thee, and in my uneasiness I offended against this my sister with an injurious speech, that wounded her." "Rise and kiss her hands and feet," replied Muhziyeh; "else art thou no mother of mine; for she hath been to me as a servant in doing all I needed." So the mother went up to the old woman and made her peace with her.

Meanwhile, the young man recovered from his drunkenness and missed the damsel, but was content to have enjoyed his desire. Presently, the old woman came in to him and saluted him, saying, "What thinkest thou of my fashion?" Quoth he, "It was excellently well contrived of thee." Then said she, "Come, let us mend what we have marred and restore the girl to her husband, for we have been the cause of their separation." "How shall I do?" asked he, and she answered, "Go to Aboul Feth's shop and salute him and sit down by him, till thou seest me pass by, when do thou rise in haste and catch hold of my dress and revile me and rail at me, demanding of me the veil. And do thou say to the merchant, 'O my lord, thou knowest the face-veil I bought of thee for fifty dinars? I gave it to a slave-girl of mine, who burnt a corner of it by accident; so she gave it to this old woman, who took it, promising to get it darned and return it, and went away, nor have I seen her from that day to this.'" "With all my heart," replied the young man and rising forthrtght, repaired to the shop of the silk merchant, with whom he sat till he saw the old woman pass, telling her beads on a rosary she held in her hand; whereupon he sprang up and laying hold of her clothes, began to revile and rail at her, whilst she answered him with fair words, saying, "Indeed, my son, thou art excusable."

The people of the bazaar flocked round them, saying, "What is to do?" and he replied, "Know, O folk, that I bought a veil of this merchant for fifty dinars and gave it to my slave-girl, who wore it awhile, then sat down to fumigate it. Presently, a spark flew out of the chafing dish and lighting on the edge of the veil, burnt a hole in it. So we committed it to this pestilent old woman, that she might give it to who should darn it and return it to us, and we have never set eyes on her again till this day." "This young man speaks the truth," answered the old woman. "I did indeed have the veil of him, but I took it with me into one of the houses where I used to visit and forgot it there, nor do I know where I left it; and being a poor woman, I feared its owner and dared not face him."

Now the girl's husband was listening to all they said and when he heard the tale that the crafty old woman had contrived with the young man, he rose to his feet and said, "God is Most Great! I crave pardon of the Almighty for my offences and what my heart suspected!" And he praised God who had discovered to him the truth. Then he accosted the old woman and said to her, "Dost thou use to visit us?" "O my son," replied she, "I visit you and other than you, for the sake of alms; but from that day to this, none hath given me any news of the veil." Quoth the merchant, "Hast thou asked at my house?" "O my lord," answered she, "I did indeed go to thy house and ask; but they told me that the lady of the house had been divorced by her husband; so I asked no farther." With this, the merchant turned to the young man and said, "Let the old woman go her way; for the veil is with me." So saying, he brought it out from the shop and gave it to the darner before all the folk. Then he betook himself to the damsel and giving her some money, took her again to wife, after making abundance of excuses to her and asking pardon of God, because he knew not what the old woman had done. This then, O King,' said the Vizier, 'is an instance of the malice of women, and for another to the same purport, I have heard tell that...

[Go to The King's Son and the Afrit's Mistress]

Payne, John (1842-1916). The Book of the Thousand Nights and One Night. London. 1901. Gutenberg Vol. I. Gutenberg Vol. II. Gutenberg Vol. III. Gutenberg Vol. IV. Please consult the Gutenberg edition for footnotes; the footnotes have not been included in this web version. Wollamshram Vol. V. Wollamshram Vol. VI. Wollamshram Vol. VII. Wollamshram Vol. VIII. Wollamshram Vol. IX. Please consult the Wollamshram edition for footnotes; the footnotes have not been included in this web version.

1001 Nights Hypertext. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. This website is licensed under a Creative Commons License. The texts presented here are in the public domain. Thanks to Gene Perry for his excellent help in preparing the texts for the web. Page last updated: January 1, 2005 10:46 PM

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