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Payne: The Controller's Story

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I was the night before last in company with a number of persons who were assembled for the purpose of hearing a recitation of the Koran. The doctors of the law attended, and when the readers had made an end of reading, the table was spread, and amongst other things they set before us a ragout flavoured with cumin-seed. So we sat down to eat it; but one of our number held back and abstained from eating. We conjured him to eat of the ragout; but he swore that he would not, and we pressed him till he said, "Press me not; what has already befallen me through eating of this dish suffices me." And he repeated the following verses:

Shoulder thy tray, 'fore God, and get thee gone with it, And to thine eyes apply such salve as thou deem'st fit.

"For God's sake," said we, "tell us the reason of thy refusal to eat of the ragout!" "If I must eat of it," replied he, "I will not do so, except I may wash my hands forty times with soap, forty times with potash and forty times with galingale, in all a hundred and twenty times." So the master of the house ordered his servants to bring water and all that he required; and the young man washed his hands as he had said. Then he sat down, as if afraid, and dipping his hand into the ragout, began to eat, though with evident repugnance and as if doing himself violence, whilst we regarded him with the utmost wonder; for his hand trembled and we saw that his thumb had been cut off and he ate with his four fingers only. So we said to him, "God on thee, what has become of thy thumb? Is thy hand thus by the creation of God or has it been mutilated by accident?" "O my brothers, answered he, "it is not this thumb alone that has been cut off, but also that of the other hand and the great toe of each of my feet, as ye shall see." Then he bared his left hand and his feet, and we saw that the left hand was even as the right and that each of his feet lacked the great toe. At this sight, our amazement increased and we said to him, "We are impatient to know thy history and the manner of the cutting off of thy thumbs and great toes and the reason of thy washing thy hands a hundred and twenty times." "Know then," answered he, "that my father was chief of the merchants of Baghdad in the time of the Khalif Haroun er Reshid; but he was given to drinking wine and listening to the lute and other instruments, so that when he died, he left nothing. I buried him and had recitations of the Koran made over him and mourned for him days and nights. Then I opened his shop and found he had left little but debts. However, I compounded with his creditors for time to pay and betook myself to buying and selling, paying them something week by week on account, till at last I succeeded in clearing off the debts and began to add to my capital. One day, as I sat in my shop, there came up to the entrance of the bazaar a lady, than whom my eyes never saw a fairer, richly clad and decked and riding on a mule, with one slave walking before and another behind her. She halted the mule at the entrance of the bazaar and entered, followed by an eunuch, who said to her, 'O my lady, come out, without telling any one, or thou wilt bring us into trouble.' And he stood before her, whilst she looked at the shops. She found no shop open but mine, so came up, with the eunuch behind her, and sitting down in my shop, saluted me; never did I hear aught sweeter than her voice or more pleasant than her speech. Then she unveiled her face and I saw she was like the moon and stole at her a glance that cost me a thousand sighs. My heart was captivated with her love and I could not take my eyes off her face; and I repeated the following verses:

Say to the fairest fair, her in the dove-coloured veil, "Death would be welcome to me, to save me from thy bale: Grant me thy favours, I pray! so I may live perchance. Lo! I stretch forth my palm: let not thy bounties fail."

When she heard this, she answered me by repeating the following verses:

Power to forget thee, for desire, fails even unto me: My heart and all my soul will love none other after thee. If my eyes ever look on aught except thy loveliness, May union after severance ne'er brighten them with glee! I've sworn an oath by my right hand ne'er to forget thy grace. My sad heart pineth for thy love and never may win free. Passion hath given me to drink a brimming cup of love; Would it had given the self-same draught to drink, dear heart, to thee! If thou shouldst ask me what I'd crave most earnestly of God, "The Almighty's favour first, then thine," I'd say, "my prayer shall be."

Then she said to me, 'O youth, hast thou any handsome stuffs?' 'O my lady,' answered I, 'thy slave is poor: but wait till the merchants open their shops, and I will get thee what thou wilt.' Then we sat talking, she and I, whilst I was drowned in the sea of her love and dazed with passion for her, till the merchants opened their shops, when I rose and fetched her all she sought, to the value of five thousand dirhems. She gave the stuffs to the slave and leaving the bazaar, mounted the mule and rode away, without telling me whence she came, and I was ashamed to ask her. So I became answerable to the merchants for the price of the goods and thus took on myself a debt of five thousand dirhems. Then I went home, drunken with love of her, and they set the evening-meal before me. I ate a mouthful and lay down to rest, musing upon her beauty and grace: but sleep came not to me. A week passed thus, and the merchants sought their money of me, but I persuaded them to wait another week, at the end of which time she came up, riding on the mule and attended by an eunuch and two slaves. She saluted me and said, 'O my lord, we have been long in bringing thee the price of the stuffs; but now fetch a money-changer and take the amount.' So I sent for the money-changer, and the eunuch counted me out the money, and we sat talking, the lady and I, till the market opened, when she said to me, 'Get me this and this.' So I got her from the merchants what she wanted, and she took it and went away, without saying a word to me about the price. As soon as she was out of sight, I repented me of what I had done, for the price of what I had bought for her was a thousand dinars, and I said to myself, 'What doting is this? She has brought me five thousand dirhems, and taken a thousand dinars' worth of goods.' And I feared lest I should be beggared, through having to pay the merchants their money, and said, 'They know none but me and this woman is none other than a cheat, who hath cozened me with her beauty and grace, for she saw that I was young and laughed at me; and I did not ask her address.' She did not come again for more than a month, and I abode in constant distress and perplexity, till at last the merchants dunned me for their money and pressed me so that I put up my property for sale and looked for nothing but ruin. However, as I was sitting in my shop, one day, absorbed in melancholy thought, she rode up and dismounting at the gate of the bazaar, came in and made towards me. When I saw her, my anxiety ceased and I forgot my troubles. She came up to me and greeting me with her pleasant speech, said to me, 'Fetch the money-changer and take thy money.' So she gave me the price of the goods I had gotten for her and more, and fell to conversing freely with me, till I was like to die of joy and delight. Presently, she said to me, 'Hast thou a wife?' 'No,' answered I; 'I have never known woman.' And fell a-weeping. Quoth she, 'Why dost thou weep?' 'It is nothing,' replied I; and giving the eunuch some of the dinars, begged him to use his influence with her for me; but he laughed and said, 'She is more in love with thee than thou with her. She had no occasion for the stuffs she bought of thee and did all this but out of love for thee. So ask of her what thou wilt; she will not deny thee.' When she saw me give the eunuch money, she returned and sat down again; and I said to her, 'Be charitable to thy slave and pardon him what he is about to say.' Then I told her what was in my mind, and she assented and said to the eunuch, 'Thou shalt carry my message to him.' Then to me, 'Do as the eunuch bids thee.' Then she rose and went away, and I paid the merchants what I owed them, and they all profited; but as for me, I gained nought but regret for the breaking off of our intercourse. I slept not all that night; but before many days were past, the eunuch came to me, and I made much of him and asked after his mistress. 'She is sick for love of thee,' replied he; and I said, 'Tell me who she is.' Quoth he, 'She is one of the waiting-women of the Lady Zubeideh, the wife of the Khalif Haroun er Reshid, who brought her up and advanced her to be stewardess of the harem and granted her the right of going in and out at will. She told her mistress of thee and begged her to marry her to thee; but she said, "I will not do this, till I see the young man; and if he be worthy of thee, I will marry thee to him." So now we wish to bring thee into the palace at once and if thou succeed in entering without being seen, thou wilt win to marry her; but if the affair get wind, thou wilt lose thy head. What sayst thou?' And I answered, 'I will go with thee and abide the risk of which thou speakest.' Then said he, 'As soon as it is night, go to the mosque built by the Lady Zubeideh on the Tigris and pray and pass the night there.' 'With all my heart,' answered I. So at nightfall I repaired to the mosque, where I prayed and passed the night. Just before daybreak, there came up some eunuchs in a boat, with a number of empty chests, which they deposited in the mosque and went away all, except one who remained behind and whom, on examination, I found to be he who served as our go-between. Presently, in came my mistress herself and I rose to her and embraced her. She kissed me, weeping, and we talked awhile; after which she made me get into one of the chests and locked it upon me. Then the eunuchs came back with a number of packages; and she fell to stowing them in the chests and locking the latter one by one, till she had filled them all. Then they embarked the chests in the boat and made for the Lady Zubeideh's palace. With this, reflection came to me and I said to myself, 'My lust will surely bring me to destruction, nor do I know whether I shall gain my end or no!' And I began to weep, shut up as I was in the chest, and to pray to God to deliver me from the peril I was in, whilst the boat ceased not going till it reached the palace gate, where they lifted out the chests and amongst them that in which I was. Then they carried them into the palace, passing through a troop of eunuchs, guardians of the harem and door-keepers, till they came to the post of the chief of the eunuchs, who started up from sleep and called out to the lady, saying, 'What is in those chests?' Quoth she, 'They are full of wares for the Lady Zubeideh.' 'Open them,' said he, 'one by one, that I may see what is in them.'--'Why wilt thou open them?' asked she: but he cried out at her, saying, 'Give me no words! They must and shall be opened.' Now the first that they brought to him to open was that in which I was: and when I felt this, my senses failed me and I bepissed myself for terror, and the water ran out of the chest. Then said she to the eunuch, 'O chief, thou hast undone me and thyself also, for thou hast spoiled that which is worth ten thousand dinars. This box contains coloured dresses and four flasks of Zemzem water; and now one of the bottles has broken loose and the water is running out over the clothes and their colours will be ruined.' Then said the eunuch, 'Take up thy chests and begone with God's malison!' So the slaves took up the chests and hurried on with them, till suddenly I heard a voice saying, 'Alas! Alas! the Khalif! the Khalif!' When I heard this, my heart died within me and I spoke the words which whoso says shall not be confounded, that is to say, 'There is no power and no virtue but in God the Most High, the Supreme! I have brought this affliction on myself.' Presently I heard the Khalif say to my mistress, 'Harkye, what is in those chests of thine ?' 'Clothes for the Lady Zubeideh,' answered she; and he said, 'Open them to me.' When I heard this, I gave myself up for lost and said, 'By Allah, this is the last of my worldly days!' and began to repeat the profession of the Faith. Then I heard the lady say to the Khalif, 'These chests have been committed to my charge by the Lady Zubeideh, and she does not wish their contents to be seen of any one.'--'No matter,' said he; 'I must open them and see what is in them.' And he cried out to the eunuchs saying, 'Bring them to me.' At this, I made sure of death and swooned away. Then the slaves brought the chests up to him and opened them, one after another, and he saw in them perfumes and stuffs and rich clothes, till none remained unopened but that in which I was. They put their hands to it to open it, but the lady made haste and said to the Khalif, 'This one thou shalt see in the Lady Zubeideh's presence, for that which is in it is her secret.' When he heard this, he ordered them to carry in the chests; so they took up that in which I was and carried it, with the rest, into the harem and set it down in the middle of the saloon; and indeed my spittle was dried up for fear. Then my mistress opened the chest and took me out, saying, 'Fear not: no harm shall befall thee, but be of good courage and sit down, till the Lady Zubeideh comes, and thou shalt surely win thy wish of me.' So I sat down, and after awhile, in came ten maidens like moons and ranged themselves in two rows, one facing the other, and after them other twenty, high-bosomed maids with the Lady Zubeideh, who could hardly walk for the weight of her dresses and ornaments. As she drew near, the damsels dispersed from around her, and I advanced and kissed the earth before her. She signed to me to be seated and questioned me of my condition and family, to which I made such answers as pleased her, and she said to my mistress, 'O damsel, our nurturing of thee has not been in vain.' Then she said to me, 'Know that this damsel is to us even as our own child, and she is a trust committed to thee by God.' I kissed the earth again before her, well pleased that I should marry my mistress, and she bade me sojourn ten days in the palace. So I abode there ten days, during which time I saw not my mistress nor any one save a serving-maid, who brought me the morning and evening meals. After this the Lady Zubeideh took counsel with the Khalif on the marriage of her favourite, and he gave leave and assigned her a wedding portion of ten thousand dinars. So the Lady Zubeideh sent for the Cadi and the witnesses, and they drew up our marriage contract, after which the women made sweetmeats and rich viands and distributed them among the inmates of the harem. Thus they did other ten days, at the end of which time my mistress entered the bath. Meanwhile, they set before me a tray of food, on which was a basin containing a ragout of fricasseed fowls' breasts dressed with cumin-seed and flavoured with sugar and rose-water, mixed with musk, and many another dish, such as amazed the wit; and by Allah, I did not hesitate, but fell upon the ragout and ate my fill of it. Then I wiped my hands, but forgot to wash them and sat till it grew dark, when they lit the candles and the singing-women came with tambourines and proceeded to display the bride and carry her in procession from room to room, receiving largesse of gold and pieces of silk, till they had made the round of the palace. Then they brought her to me and disrobed her. When I found myself alone in bed with her, I embraced her, hardly believing in my good fortune; but she smelt the odour of the ragout on my hands and gave a loud cry, at which the maids came running to her from all sides. I was alarmed and trembled, not knowing what was the matter, and the girls said to her, 'What ails thee, O sister?' Quoth she, 'Take this madman away from me: methought he was a man of sense.' 'What makes thee think me mad?' asked I. 'O madman,' answered she, 'what made thee eat of ragout of cumin-seed, without washing thy hands? By Allah, I will punish thee for thy misconduct! Shall the like of thee come to bed to the like of me, with unwashed hands?' Then she took from her side a whip of plaited thongs and laid on to my back and buttocks till I swooned away for the much beating; when she said to the maids, 'Take him and carry him to the chief of the police, that he may cut off the hand wherewith he ate of the ragout and washed it not.' When I heard this, I said, 'There is no power and no virtue but in God! Wilt thou cut off my hand, because I ate of a ragout and did not wash?' And the girls interceded with her, saying, 'O our sister, forgive him this once!' But she said, 'By Allah, I must and will dock him of somewhat!' Then she went away and I saw no more of her for ten days, at the end of which time, she came in to me and said, 'O black-a-vice, I will not make peace with thee, till I have punished thee for eating ragout of cumin-seed, without washing thy hands!' Then she cried out to the maids, who bound me; and she took a sharp razor and cut off my thumbs and toes, as ye have seen. Thereupon I swooned away and she sprinkled the severed parts with a powder which staunched the blood; and I said, 'Never again will I eat of ragout of cumin-seed without washing my hands forty times with potash, forty times with galingale and forty times with soap!' And she took of me an oath to that effect. So when the ragout was set before me, my colour changed and I said to myself, 'It was this that was the cause of the cutting off of my thumbs and toes.' And when ye forced me, I said, 'I must needs fulfil the oath I have taken.'" "And what befell thee after this?" asked the others. "After this," replied he, "her heart was appeased and I lay with her that night. We abode thus awhile, till she said to me, one day, 'It befits not that we continue in the Khalif's palace: for none ever came hither but thou, and thou wonst not in but by the grace of the Lady Zubeideh. Now she has given me fifty thousand dinars; so take this money and go out and buy us a commodious house.' So I went forth and bought a handsome and spacious house, whither she transported all her goods and valuables." Then (continued the controller) we ate and went away: and after, there happened to me with the hunchback that thou wottest of. This then is my story and peace be on thee.' Quoth the King, 'This story is not more agreeable than that of the hunchback: on the contrary, it is less so, and you must all be hanged.' Then came forward the Jewish physician and kissing the earth, said, 'O King of the age, I will tell thee a story more wonderful than that of the hunchback.' 'Tell on,' answered the King; and the Jew said, 'The strangest adventure that ever befell me was as follows:...

[Go to The Jewish Physician's Story]

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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