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Payne: The Lady and Her Five Suitors

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A certain woman of the daughters of the merchants was married to a man who was a great traveller. It chanced once that he set out for a far country and was absent so long that his wife, for pure weariness, fell in love with a handsome young man of the sons of the merchants, who returned her passion, and they loved each other with an exceeding love. One day, the youth fell out with another man, who lodged a complaint against him with the chief of the police, and he cast him into prison. When the news came to his mistress, she well-nigh lost her wits and rising, donned her richest clothes and repaired to the house of the chief of the police, whom she saluted and presented with a petition to the effect that the prisoner was her brother, who had been unjustly accused and condemned on false witness, and that she had none other to come in to her nor to provide for her support and beseeching him of his grace to release him. When the magistrate had read the petition, he cast his eyes on her and fell in love with her; so he said to her, "Go into the house, till I bring him before me; then will I send for thee and thou shalt take him." "O my lord," answered she, "I have none save God the Most High. Indeed, I am a stranger and may not enter any one's house." Quoth the chief of the police, "I will not let him go, except thou enter my house and I take my will of thee." "If it must be so," rejoined she, "thou must come to my house and sit and sleep and rest the whole day there." "And where is thy house?" asked he. "In such a place," answered she and appointed him for such a time.

Then she went out from him, leaving his heart taken with love of her, and repaired to the Cadi of the city, to whom said she, "O my lord the Cadi, look into my case, and thy reward be with God the Most High!" Quoth he, "Who hath wronged thee?" and she answered, saying, "O my lord, I have a brother and I have none but him, and it is on his account that I come to thee; for that the chief of the police hath imprisoned him for a wrong-doer, on the evidence of false witnesses. [Indeed, he is wronged] and I beseech thee to intercede for him with the chief of the police." When the Cadi looked on her, he fell in love with her and said to her, "Enter the house and rest awhile with my women, whilst I send to the chief of the police to release thy brother. If I knew the forfeit that is upon him, I would pay it out of my own monies, so I may have my desire of thee, for thou pleasest me with thy sweet speech." Quoth she, "If thou, O my lord, do thus, we must not blame others." But the Cadi answered, saying, "An thou wilt not come in, go thy ways." Then said she, "If thou wilt have it so, O my lord, it will be safer and better in my house than in thine, for here are slave-girls and servants and goers-in and corners-out, and indeed I am a woman who knows nought of this fashion; but necessity compels." "And where is thy house?" asked the Cadi. "In such a place," answered she and appointed him for the same time as the chief of the police.

Then she went to the Vizier, to whom she preferred her petition for the release of her [pretended] brother from prison: but he also required her of herself, saying, " Suffer me to have my desire of thee and I will set thy brother free." Quoth she, "If thou wilt have it so, be it in my House, for there it will be safer both for me and for thee. It is not far distant and thou knowest that which behoveth us [women] of cleanliness and elegance." "Where is thy house?" asked he. "In such a place," answered she and appointed him for the same time as the two others.

Then she went out from him to the King of the city and told him her story and sought of him her brother's release. "Who imprisoned him?" asked he; and she replied, "The chief of the police." When the King heard her speech, it transfixed his heart with the arrows of love and he bade her enter the palace with him, that he might send to the Cadi and release her brother. "O King," answered she, "this thing is easy to thee, whether I will or not; and if the King will indeed have this of me, it is of my good fortune; but, if he will come to my house, he will do me the more honour, even as saith the poet:

      Friends, have ye seen or heard o' the visit of a wight Whose virtues are indeed illustrious in my sight?"

Quoth the King, "We will not cross thee in this." So she told him where her house was and appointed him for the same time as the three others.

Then she left him and betaking herself to a carpenter, said to him, "I would have thee make me a cabinet with four compartments, one above another, each with its door to lock up. Let me know thy hire and I will give it thee." "My hire will be four dinars," replied the man; "but, O noble lady, if thou wilt vouchsafe me thy favours, I will ask nothing else of thee." "If thou wilt have it so," rejoined she, "then make the cabinet with five compartments, each to lock up." "It is well," said he; "sit down, O my lady, and I will make it for thee forthright, and after I will come to thee at my leisure." So she sat down, whilst he fell to work on the cabinet, and when he had made an end of it, she carried it home and set it up in the sitting-chamber. Then she took four gowns and carried them to the dyer, who dyed them each of a different colour; after which she busied herself in making ready meat and drink and fruits and flowers and perfumes.

When it was the appointed time, she donned her costliest apparel and scented and adorned herself, then spread the room with various kinds of rich carpets and sat down to await who should come. The Cadi was the first to appear, and when she saw him, she rose and kissed the earth before him, then made him sit down by her on the couch and fell to jesting and toying with him. By and by, he would have her do his desire, but she said, "O my lord, put off thy clothes and turban and don this yellow cassock and this kerchief, whilst I bring thee meat and drink; and after thou shalt do thy desire." So saying, she took his clothes and turban and clad him in the yellow cassock and the kerchief; but hardly had she done this, when there came a knocking at the door. Quoth he, "Who is that at the door?" And she answered, "My husband." "What to be done?" said the Cadi; "and where shall I go?" "Fear nothing," replied she; "I will hide thee in this cabinet." Quoth he,"Do as seemeth good to thee." So she took him by the hand and pushing him into the lowest compartment, locked the door on him.

Then she went to the door, where she found the chief of the police; so she kissed the earth before him and brought him into the saloon, where she made him sit down and said to him, "O my lord, this is thy house and I am thy handmaid, and thou shalt pass all this day with me; wherefore do thou doff thy clothes and don this red gown, for it is a sleeping gown." So she took away his clothes and made him don the red gown and set on his head an old patched rag she had by her; after which she sat down by him on the couch and they sported awhile, till he put out his hand to her; but she said to him, "O my lord, this day is thine, all of it, and none shall share it with thee; but first, of thy favour and grace, write me an order for my brother's release, that my heart may be at ease." "I hear and obey," answered he; "on my head and eyes be it;" and wrote a letter to his treasurer, to the following effect: "As soon as this letter reaches thee, do thou, without delay and without fail, set such an one free, neither answer the bearer a word." Then he sealed it and she took it from him, after which she began again to toy with him on the couch, when, behold, some one knocked at the door. Quoth he, "Who is that?" "My husband," answered she. "What shall I do?" asked he, and she said, "Enter this cabinet. till I send him away and return to thee." So she clapped him into the second compartment and locked the door on him; and all this time the Cadi heard what they said and did.

Then she went to the door and opened it, whereupon the Vizier entered. She kissed the earth before him and received him with all worship, saying, "O my lord, thou honourest us by thy coming to our house; may God never deprive us of the light of thy countenance!" Then she seated him on the couch and said to him, "O my lord, these thy clothes and turban are the apparel of the vizierate; so leave them to their own time and don this light gown, which is better fitted for carousing and making merry and sleep." So he put off his clothes and turban and she dressed him in a blue cassock and a tall red cap, after which she began to toy with him and he with her, and he would have done his desire of her; but she put him off saying, "O my lord, this shall not escape us." Presently there came a knocking at the door, and the Vizier said to her, "Who is that?" "My husband," answered she. Quoth he, "What is to be done?" "Fear nothing," said she; "but enter this cabinet, till I get rid of him and come back to thee." So she put him in the third compartment and locked the door on him, after which she went out and opened the door and in came the King.

When she saw him, she kissed the earth before him, and taking him by the hand, led him into the saloon and seated him on the couch at the upper end. Then said she to him, "Verily, O King, thou dost us honour, and if we brought thee the whole world and all that therein is as a gift, it would not equal a single one of thy steps towards us: but give me leave to speak one word." "Say what thou wilt," answered he, and she said, "O my lord, take thine ease and put off thy clothes and turban." So he put off his clothes, which were worth a thousand dinars, and she clad him in a patched gown, not worth ten dirhems, and fell to talking and jesting with him, whilst the folk in the cabinet heard all that passed, but dared not say a word. Presently, the King put his hand to her neck and sought to do his desire of her; but she said, "This thing shall not escape us; but, first, I had promised myself to entertain thee in this sitting-chamber, and I have that which shall content thee." At that moment, some one knocked at the door and he said to her, "Who is that?" "My husband," answered she, and he, "Make him go away of his own accord, or I will go forth to him and send him away perforce." "Nay, O my lord," replied she; "have patience till I send him away by my skilful contrivance "And how shall I do?" asked the King; whereupon she took him by the hand and making him enter the fourth compartment of the cabinet, locked it upon him.

Then she went out and opened the door, when the carpenter entered and saluted her. Quoth she, "What manner of thing is this cabinet thou hast made me?" "What ails it, O my lady?" asked he, and she said, "The [top] compartment is too strait." "Not so," answered he; and she, "Go in thyself and see; it is not wide enough for thee." Quoth he, "It is wide enough for four," and entered the fifth compartment, whereupon she locked the door on him. Then she took the letter of the chief of the police and carried it to the treasurer, who kissed it and delivered her lover to her. She told him all that had passed and he said, "And how shall we do now?" Quoth she, "We will remove hence to another city, for there is no tarrying for us here after this." So they packed up their goods and loading them on camels, set out forthright for another city.

Meanwhile, the five abode in the cabinet three whole days, without eating or drinking, until at last the carpenter could retain his water no longer; so he made water on the King's head, and the King made water on the Vizier's head, and the Vizier on the Chief of the Police, who did the like with the Cadi; whereupon the latter cried out and said, "What filth is this? Doth not this strait that we are in suffice us, but you must make water upon us?" The Chief of the Police recognized the Cadi's voice and answered, saying, "God increase thy reward, O Cadi!" And when the Cadi heard him, he knew him for the Chief of the Police. Then the latter lifted up his voice and said, "What means this nastiness?" and the Vizier answered, saying, "God increase thy reward, O Chief of the Police!" whereupon he knew him to be the Vizier. Then the Vizier lifted up his voice and said, "What means this nastiness?" But when the King heard his Vizier's voice, he held his peace and concealed his affair. Then said the Vizier, "May God curse the woman for her dealing with us! She hath brought hither all the chiefs of the state, except the King." Quoth the King, "Hold thy peace, for I was the first to fall into the toils of this lewd baggage." "And I," cried the carpenter, "what have I done? I made her a cabinet for four dinars, and when I came to seek my hire, she tricked me into entering this compartment and locked the door on me." And they fell to talking with one another, to divert the King and do away his chagrin.

Presently the neighbours came up to the house and seeing it deserted, said to one another, "But yesterday our neighbour the wife of such an one was in it; but now there is no sound to be heard therein nor soul to be seen. Let us break open the doors and see how the case stands, lest it come to the ears of the King or the Chief of the Police and we be cast into prison and regret that we did not this thing before." So they broke open the doors and entered the saloon, where they saw the cabinet and heard the men within groaning for hunger and thirst. Then said one of them, "Is there a genie in the cabinet?" "Let us heap faggots about it," quoth another, "and burn it with fire." When the Cadi heard this, he cried out at them, saying, "Do it not!" And they said to one another, "Verily, the Jinn make believe to be mortals and speak with men's voices." Thereupon the Cadi repeated some verses of the sublime Koran and said to the neighbours, "Draw near to the cabinet." So they drew near, and he said, "I am so and so the Cadi, and ye are such an one and such an one, and we are here a company." Quoth the neighbours, "And how came ye here?" And he told them the whole case from beginning to end.

Then they fetched a carpenter, who opened the five doors and let out the Cadi and the Vizier and the Chief of the Police and the King and the Carpenter; and when they saw how they were accoutred, each fell a-laughing at the others. Now she had taken away all their clothes; so each of them sent to his people for fresh clothes and put them on and went out, covering himself therewith from the sight of the folk. See, therefore, O our lord the King,' said the vizier, 'what a trick this woman played off upon the folk! And I have heard tell also that...

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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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