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Payne: Story of Nimeh Ben er Rebya and Num his Slave Girl

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There lived once in the city of Cufa a man called Er Rebya ben Hatim, who was one of the chief men of the town, rich in goods and prosperous, and God had vouchsafed him a son, whom he named Nimet Allah. One day, being in the slave-dealers' mart, he saw a female slave exposed for sale, with a little girl of wonderful beauty and grace in her hand. So he beckoned to the broker and said to him, "What is the price of this woman and her child?" "Fifty dinars," answered he. "Write the contract of sale," said Er Rebya, "and take the money and give it to her owner." Then he gave the broker the price and his brokerage and taking the woman and her child, carried them to his house. When his wife saw the slave, she said to her husband (who was the son of her father's brother), "O my cousin, what is this damsel?" Quoth he, "I bought her for the sake of the little one on her arm, for know that, when she grows up, there will not be her like for beauty, either in the land of the Arabs or elsewhere." "It was well seen of thee," answered his wife. Then said she to the woman, "What is thy name?" "O my lady," replied she, "my name is Taufic." "And what is thy daughter's name?" asked she. "Saad," answered the slave. "Thou sayst sooth," rejoined her mistress. "Thou art indeed happy, and happy is he who hath bought thee." Then said she to her husband, "O my cousin, what wilt thou call her?" "What thou choosest," answered he. "Then let us call her Num," quoth she, and he said, "Good." The little Num was reared with Er Rebya's son Nimeh in one cradle and each grew up handsomer than the other. They were wont to call each other brother and sister, till they came to the age of ten, when Er Rebya said to Nimeh, "O my son, Num is not thy sister, but thy slave. I bought her in thy name, whilst thou wast yet in the cradle; so call her no more 'sister' from this day forth." "If that be so," quoth Nimeh, "I will take her to wife." Then he went to his mother and told her of this, and she said to him, "O my son, she is thy handmaid." So he went in to Num and loved her and two years passed over them, whilst Num grew up, nor was there in all Cufa a fairer or sweeter or more graceful girl than she. She learnt the Koran and all manner of knowledge and excelled in music and singing and playing upon all kinds of instruments, so that she surpassed all the folk of her time. One day, as she sat with her husband in the wine-chamber, she took the lute and tuning it, sang the following verses:

Since thou'rt my lord, by whose good grace I live in fair estate, A sword wherewith I smite in twain the neck of adverse fate, No need is mine to have recourse to Amr or to Zeid, Nor any but thyself, an if the ways on me grow strait.

Nimeh was charmed with these verses and said to her, "I conjure thee, by my life, O Num, sing to us with the tambourine and other instruments!" So she sang the following verses to a lively air:

By him whose hand possesses the reins of my affair, On passion's score, I swear it, my enviers I'll dare. Yea, I will vex my censors and thee alone obey And sleep and ease and solace, for thy sweet sake, forswear And dig midmost my entrails, to hold the love of thee, A grave, of which not even my heart shall be aware.

And Nimeh exclaimed, "Gifted of God art thou, O Num!"

But whilst they led thus the most delightsome life, El Hejjaj, [the governor of Cufa, heard of Num and] said in himself, "Needs must I make shift to take this girl Num and send her to the Commander of the Faithful Abdulmelik ben Merwan, for he hath not in his palace her like for beauty and sweet singing." Then, calling an old woman, one of his body-servants, he said to her, "Go to Er Rebya's house and foregather with the girl Num and cast about to steal her away, for her like is not to be found on the face of the earth." She promised to do his bidding; so next morning she donned clothes of wool and threw round her neck a rosary of thousands of beads; then, taking in her hand a staff and water-bottle of Yemen make, went forth, exclaiming, "Glory be to God! Praised be God! There is no god but God! God is most great! There is no power and no virtue but in God the Most High, the Supreme!" Nor did she leave making devout ejaculations, whilst her heart was full of craft and fraud, till she came to Nimeh's house, at the hour of noonday-prayer, and knocked at the door. The doorkeeper opened and said to her, "What dost thou want?" Quoth she, "I am a poor pious woman, whom the time of noonday-prayer hath overtaken, and I would fain pray in this blessed place." "O old woman," answered the porter, "this is no mosque nor oratory, but the house of Nimeh ben er Rebya." "I know there is neither mosque nor oratory like the house of Nimeh ben er Rebya," rejoined she. "I am a chamberwoman of the palace of the Commander of the Faithful and am come out upon a pilgrimage of devotion." But the porter replied, "Thou canst not enter;" and many words passed between them, till at last she caught hold of him, saying, "Shall the like of me, who have free access to the houses of Amirs and grandees, be denied admission to the house of Nimeh ben er Rebya?" Presently, out came Nimeh and hearing their dispute, laughed and bade the old woman enter. So she followed him into the presence of Num, whom she saluted after the goodliest fashion; and when she looked on her, she was confounded at her exceeding beauty and said to her, "O my lady, I commend thee to the safeguard of God, who made thee and thy lord to accord in beauty and grace!" Then she stood up in the prayer-niche and betook herself to inclination and prostration and prayer, till the day departed and the night came with the darkness, when Num said to her, "O my mother, rest thy feet awhile." "O my lady," answered the old woman, "whoso seeketh the world to come must weary himself in this world, and whoso wearieth not himself in this world shall not attain the dwellings of the just in the world to come." Then Num brought her food and said to her, "O my mother, eat of my victual and pray that God may relent towards me and have mercy on me." But she replied, "O my lady, I am fasting. As for thee, thou art but a girl and it befits thee to eat and drink and make merry. May God be indulgent to thee! Quoth the Most High, '(None shall be saved) except those that repent and believe and work the works of righteousness.'" Num sat awhile, conversing with the old woman, and presently said to Nimeh, "O my lord, conjure this old woman to sojourn with us awhile, for piety is imprinted on her face." Quoth he, "Set apart for her a chamber, where she may do her devotions, and let none go in to her: peradventure God (glorified and exalted be He!) shall prosper us by the blessing of her presence and part us not." The old woman passed the night in prayer and recitation, till daybreak, when she went in to Nimeh and Num and giving them good morning, said to them, "I pray God to have you in His holy keeping!" "Whither away, O my mother?" said Num. "My lord hath bidden me set apart for thee a chamber, where thou mayst retire for thy devotions." "God give him long life," replied the old woman, "and continue His favour to you both! I would have you charge the doorkeeper not to stay my coming in to you, and (God willing) I will go the round of the Holy Places and pray for you at the end of my devotions every day and night." Then she went out (whilst Num wept for parting with her, knowing not the purpose of her coming) and returned to El Hejjaj, who said to her, "What news?" She answered, "I have seen the girl, and indeed never bore woman of her day a lovelier than she." And El Hejjaj said to her, "So thou do my bidding, thou shalt have of me abundant good." Quoth she, "I ask of thee a month's time." And he replied, "It is well." Then she fell to paying frequent visits to Nimeh and Num, who redoubled in honour and kindness to her, and she used to go in to them morning and evening, and all in the house welcomed her, till, one day, being alone with Num, she said to her, "By Allah, O my lady, when I go to the Holy Places, I will pray for thee; but I should love thee to go thither with me, that thou mightest look on the Elders of the Faith that resort thither, and they should pray for thee, according to thy desire." "O my mother," said Num, "I conjure thee by Allah, take me with thee!" "Ask leave of thy mother-in-law," replied the old woman, "and I will take thee." So Num said to her mother-in-law, "O my lady, ask my master to let us go, thee and me, one day, with this my old mother, to pray and worship with the fakirs in the Holy Places." Presently, Nimeh came in and sat down, whereupon the old woman went up to him and would have kissed his hand, but he forbade her; so she called down blessings on him and left the house. Next day, she came again, in the absence of Nimeh, and said to Num, "We prayed for thee yesterday; but arise now and divert thyself and return ere thy lord come home." So Num said to her mother-in-law, "I beseech thee, for God's sake, let me go with this pious woman, that I may look upon the friends of God in the Holy Places and return speedily, ere my lord come." Quoth Nimeh's mother, "I fear lest thy lord know." "By Allah," said the old woman, "I will not let her sit down; but she shall look, standing on her feet, and not tarry." So on this wise she took the damsel by guile and carrying her to El Hejjaj's palace, bestowed her in a privy chamber and told him of her coming; whereupon he went in to her and looking upon her, saw her to be the loveliest of the people of the day, never had he beheld her like. When Num saw him, she veiled her face from him; but he left her not till he had called his chamberlain, whom he commanded to take fifty horsemen and mounting the damsel on a swift dromedary, carry her to Damascus and there deliver her to the Commander of the Faithful, Abdulmelik ben Merwan. Moreover, he gave him a letter for the Khalif, saying, "Bear him this letter and bring me his answer in all haste." So the chamberlain took the damsel, all tearful for separation from her lord, and setting out with her for Syria, gave not over journeying till he reached Damascus and sought an audience of the Commander of the Faithful, to whom he delivered the damsel and the letter. The Khalif appointed her a separate apartment and going into his harem, said to his wife, "El Hejjaj has bought me a female slave of the daughters (descendants) of the (ancient) Kings of Cufa, for ten thousand dinars, and has sent her to me with this letter." "May God increase thee of his favour!" answered she. Then the Khalif's sister went into Num and when she saw her, she said, "By Allah, happy the man who hath thee in his house, were thy cost a hundred thousand dinars!" "O fair-faced one," said Num, "what King's palace is this?" "This is the city of Damascus," answered the princess, "and the palace of my brother, the Commander of the Faithful, Abdulmelik ben Merwan. Didst thou not know this?" "By Allah, O my lady," said Num, "I had no knowledge of this!" "And he who sold thee and took thy price," asked the princess, "did he not tell thee that the Khalif had bought thee?" When Num heard this, she wept and said in herself, "I have been cozened; but, if I speak, none will credit me; so I will hold my peace and take patience, knowing that the relief of God is near." Then she bent her head for shame, and indeed her cheeks were tanned with the journey and the sun. So the Khalif's sister left her that day and returned to her on the morrow with clothes and necklaces of jewels and dressed her; after which the Khalif came in to her and sat down by her side, and his sister said to him, "Look on this damsel, in whom God hath united every perfection of beauty and grace." So he said to Num, "Draw back the veil from thy face;" but she would not unveil, and he beheld not her face. However, he saw her wrists and love of her entered his heart; and he said to his sister, "I will not go in to her for three days, till she be cheered by thy converse." Then he left her, but Num ceased not to brood over her case and sigh for her separation from Nimeh, till, at eventide, she fell sick of a fever and ate not nor drank; and her face grew pale and her charms faded. They told the Khalif of this, and it grieved him; so he visited her with physicians and men of skill, but none could come at a cure for her.

As for Nimeh, when he returned home, he sat down on his bed and cried, "Ho, Num!" But she answered not; so he rose in haste and called out, but none came to him, for all the women in the house had hidden themselves, for fear of him. Then he went in to his mother, whom he found sitting with her cheek on her hand, and said to her, "O my mother, where is Num?" "O my son," answered she, "she is with one who is worthier than I to be trusted with her, namely, the devout old woman; she went forth with her to visit the fakirs and return." "Since when has this been her wont," asked Nimeh, "and at what hour went she forth?" Quoth his mother, "She went out early in the morning." "And how camest thou to give her leave for this?" said he, and she replied, "O my son, it was she persuaded me." "There is no power and no virtue but in God the Most High, the Supreme!" exclaimed Nimeh and going forth, in a state of distraction, repaired to the chief of the police, to whom said he, "Dost thou practice on me and steal my slave-girl away from me? I will assuredly complain of thee to the Commander of the Faithful." "Who has taken her?" asked the chief of the police, and Nimeh answered, "An old woman of such and such a favour, clad in woollen raiment and carrying a rosary of thousands of beads." "Find me the old woman," rejoined the other, "and I will get thee back thy slave-girl." "Who knows the old woman?" said Nimeh. "And who knows the hidden things save God, may He be glorified and exalted?" replied the official, who knew her for El Hejjaj's agent. Quoth Nimeh, "I look to thee for my slave-girl, and El Hejjaj shall judge between thee and me." And the master of police answered, "Go to whom thou wilt." Now Nimeh's father was one of the chief men of Cufa; so he went to the palace of the governor, whose chamberlain went in to him and told him what was to do. El Hejjaj bade admit him and enquired his business. Quoth Nimeh, "Such and such things have befallen me." And the governor said, "Bring me the chief of the police, and we will bid him seek for the old woman." Now he knew that the chief of the police knew her; so, when he came, he said to him, "I wish thee to make search for the slave-girl of Nimeh ben er Rebya." And he answered, "None knoweth the hidden things save God the Most High." "Thou must send out horsemen," rejoined El Hejjaj, "and look for the damsel in all the roads and towns." Then he turned to Nimeh and said to him, "An thy slave-girl return not, I will give thee ten slave-girls from my house and ten from that of the chief of the police." And he said to the latter, "Go and seek for the girl." So he went out and Nimeh returned home, full of trouble and despairing of life. He had now reached the age of fourteen and there was yet no hair on his cheeks. He shut himself up from his household and ceased not to weep and lament, he and his mother, till the morning, when his father came in to him and said, "O my son, El Hejjaj hath put a cheat on the damsel and stolen her away; but from hour to hour God giveth relief." But grief redoubled on Nimeh, so that he knew not what he said nor who came in to him, and indeed his charms were changed and he was in sorry case. In this plight he abode three months, till his father despaired of him, and the physicians visited him and said, "There is no cure for him but the damsel." One day, Er Rebya heard tell of a skilful Persian physician, whom the folk gave out for accomplished in medicine and astrology and geomancy. So he sent for him and seating him by his side, entreated him with honour and said to him, "Look into my son's case." So he said to Nimeh, "Give me thy hand." Accordingly, the young man gave him his hand and he felt his pulse and his joints and looked in his face; then he laughed and turning to Er Rebya, said, "Thy son's only ailment is in his heart." "Thou sayst sooth, O sage," answered Er Rebya; "but apply thy skill to the consideration of his state and case and acquaint me with the whole thereof and hide nought from me." Quoth the Persian, "He is enamoured of a girl, who is either in Bassora or Damascus; and there is no cure for him but reunion with her." "An thou bring them together," said Er Rebya, "thou shalt have of me what will rejoice thee and shalt live all thy life in wealth and delight." "This is an easy matter," answered the Persian, "and soon brought about;" and he turned to Nimeh and said to him, "Fear not; no hurt shall befall thee; so take heart and be of good cheer." Then said he to Er Rebya, "Give me four thousand dinars of your money." So he gave them to him, and he said, "I wish to carry thy son with me to Damascus, and God willing, we will not return thence but with the damsel." Then said he to the youth, "What is thy name?" And he answered, "Nimeh." "O Nimeh," said the Persian, "sit up and be of good heart, for God will reunite thee with the damsel. So put thy trust in Him and eat and drink and be cheerful and fortify thyself for travel, for we set out for Damascus this very day." So he sat up whilst the Persian made his preparations and took of Er Rebya, in all, the sum of ten thousand dinars, together with horses and camels and beasts of burden such as he needed for the journey. Then Nimeh took leave of his father and mother and journeyed with the physician to Aleppo. They could get no news of Num there, so fared on to Damascus, where they abode three days, after which the Persian took a shop and adorned its shelves with gilding and stuffs of price and stocked them with vessels of costly porcelain, with covers of silver. Moreover, he set before himself vases and flagons of glass full of all manner ointments and syrups, surrounded by cups of crystal, and donning a physician's habit, took his seat in the shop, with his astrolabe and geomantic tablet before him. Then he clad Nimeh in a shirt and gown of silk and girding his middle with a silken kerchief embroidered with gold, made him sit before himself, saying to him, "O Nimeh, henceforth thou art my son; so call me nought but father and I will call thee son." And he replied, "I hear and obey." The people of Damascus flocked to gaze on the youth's goodliness and the beauty of the shop and its contents, whilst the physician spoke to Nimeh in Persian and he answered him in the same tongue, for he knew the language, after the wont of the sons of the notables. The Persian soon became known among the townsfolk and they began to resort to him and acquaint him with their ailments, for which he prescribed. Moreover, they brought him the water of the sick in phials, and he would examine it and say, "He, whose water this is, is suffering from such and such a disease." And the patient would say, "Verily, this physician says sooth." So he continued to do the occasions of the folk and they to flock to him, till his fame spread throughout the city and into the houses of the great. One day, as he sat in his shop, there came up an old woman riding on an ass with housings of brocade, embroidered with jewels, and drawing bridle before his shop, beckoned to him, saying, "Take my hand." So he took her hand, and she alighted and said to him, "Art thou the Persian physician from Irak?" "Yes," answered he, and she said, "Know that I have a sick daughter." Then she brought out to him a phial and he looked at it and said to her, "Tell me thy daughter's name, that I may calculate her horoscope and learn the hour in which it will befit her to take medicine." "O brother of the Persians," answered she, "her name is Num." When he heard this, he fell to calculating and writing on his hand and presently said to her, "O my lady, I cannot prescribe for the girl, till I know what countrywoman she is, because of the difference of climate: so tell me where she was brought up and what is her age." "She is fourteen years old," replied the old woman, "and was brought up in Cufa of Irak." "And how long," asked he, "has she sojourned in this country?" "But a few months," answered she. When Nimeh heard the old woman's words and the name of his slave-girl, his heart fluttered and he was like to swoon. Then said the Persian to the old woman, "Such and such medicines will suit her case;" and she rejoined, "Then make them up and give them to me, with the blessing of God the Most High!" So saying, she threw him ten dinars, and he bade Nimeh prepare the necessary drugs; whereupon she looked at the youth and exclaimed, "God have thee in His holy keeping, O my son! Verily, she is like thee in age and favour." Then said she to the physician, "O brother of the Persians, is this thy slave or thy son?" "He is my son," answered he. So Nimeh made up the medicine and laying it in a little box, took a piece of paper and wrote thereon the following verses:

So Num but vouchsafe me a glance, to gladden my heart and my mind, Let Suada unfavouring prove and Juml, an't please her, unkind. "Forget her," quoth they unto me, "And thou shalt have twenty like her." I will not forget her, I swear, for never her like should I find.

He put the paper in the box and sealing it up, wrote on the cover the following words in the Cufic character, "I am Nimeh ben er Rebya of Cufa." Then he gave it to the old woman, who bade them farewell and returning to the Khalif's palace, went in to Num, to whom she delivered the box, saying, "O my lady, know that there is lately come to our town a Persian physician, than whom I never saw a more skilful nor a better versed in matters of sickness. I showed him the phial and told him thy name, and he knew thine ailment and prescribed a remedy. Then, by his order, his son made thee up this medicine; and there is not in Damascus a comelier or more elegant youth than this son of his nor hath any the like of his shop." Num took the box and seeing the names of her lord and his father written thereon, changed colour and said to herself, "Doubtless, the owner of this shop is come in search of me." So she said to the old woman, "Describe this youth to me." "His name is Nimeh," answered the old woman; "he is richly clad and perfectly handsome and has a mole on his right eyebrow." "Give me the medicine," cried Num, "and may the blessing and help of God the Most High attend it!" So she drank off the potion and said, laughing, "Indeed, it is a blessed medicine." Then she sought in the box and finding the paper, read it and knew that this was indeed her lord, whereat her heart was solaced and she rejoiced. When the old woman saw her laughing, she exclaimed, "This is indeed a blessed day!" And Num said, "O nurse, I have a mind to eat and drink." So the old woman said to the serving-women, "Bring a tray of dainty viands for your mistress;" whereupon they set food before her and she sat down to eat. Presently, in came the Khalif and seeing her sitting eating, rejoiced; and the old woman said to him, "O Commander of the Faithful, I give thee joy of thy slave's recovery! Know that there is lately come to our city a physician, than whom I never saw a better versed in diseases and their cure. I fetched her medicine from him and she has taken of it but once and is restored to health." Quoth he, "Take a thousand dinars and provide for her treatment, till she be completely recovered." And he went away, rejoicing in the damsel's recovery, whilst the old woman betook herself to the physician, to whom she delivered the thousand dinars and a letter that Num had written, giving him to know that she was become the Khalif's slave. He gave the letter to Nimeh, who knew her hand and fell down in a swoon. When he came to himself, he opened the letter and found these words written therein: "From the slave despoiled of her delight, her whose reason hath been beguiled and who is separated from the beloved of her heart. Thy letter hath reached me and hath dilated my bosom and rejoiced my heart, even as saith the poet:

The letter reached me, never may the fingers fail thee aught, That traced its characters, until with sweetest scent they're fraught! 'Twas as unto his mother's arms when Moses was restored Or as to blind old Jacob's hands when Joseph's coat was brought."

When he read these verses, his eyes ran over with tears and the old woman said to him, "What ails thee to weep, O my son? May God never make thine eye to shed tears!" "O my lady," answered the Persian, "how should my son not weep, seeing that this is his slave-girl and he her lord Nimeh ben er Rebya of Cufa? Indeed, her recovery depends on her seeing him, for nought ails her but the love of him. So, O my lady, take these thousand dinars to thyself (and thou shalt have of me yet more than this) and look on us with eyes of compassion; for we know not how to bring this affair to a happy issue but through thee." Then she said to Nimeh, "Art thou indeed her lord?" "Yes," answered he, and she, "Thou sayst truly; for she ceases not to name thee." Then he told her all that had passed from first to last, and she said, "O youth, thou shalt owe thy reunion with her to none but me." So she mounted at once and returning to Num, looked in her face and smiled, saying, "O my daughter, it is just that thou weep and fall sick for thy separation from thy master Nimeh ben er Rebya of Cufa." Quoth Num, "Verily, the veil has been withdrawn for thee and the truth revealed to thee." "Be of good cheer," rejoined the old woman, "and take heart, for I will surely bring you together, though it cost me my life." Then she returned to Nimeh and said to him, "I have seen thy slave-girl and find that she longs for thee yet more than thou for her; for the Commander of the Faithful is minded to foregather with her, but she refuses herself to him. But if thou be stout of heart and firm of courage, I will bring you together and venture myself for you and make shift to bring thee to her in the Khalif's palace; for she cannot come forth." And Nimeh answered, "God requite thee with good!" Then she went back to Num and said to her, "Thy lord is indeed dying of love for thee and would fain see thee and foregather with thee. What sayst thou?" "And I also," answered Num, "am dying for his sight." So the old woman took a parcel of women's clothes and ornaments and repairing to Nimeh, said to him, "Come apart with me into a privy place." So he brought her into the room behind the shop, where she painted him and decked his wrists and plaited his hair, after which she clad him in a slave-girl's habit and adorned him after the fairest fashion of woman's adornment, till he was as one of the houris of Paradise; and when she saw him thus, she exclaimed, "Blessed be God, the most excellent Creator! By Allah, thou art handsomer than the damsel! Now, walk with thy left shoulder forward and swing thy buttocks." So he walked before her, as she bade him; and when she saw he had caught the trick of women's gait, she said to him, "Expect me to-morrow night, when, God willing, I will come and carry thee to the palace. When thou seest the chamberlains and the eunuchs, fear not, but bow thy head and speak not with any, for I will ward thee from their speech; and with God is success." Accordingly, on the morrow she returned at the appointed hour and carrying him to the palace, entered and he after her. The chamberlain would have stayed him, but the old woman said to him, "O most ill-omened of slaves, this is the handmaid of Num, the Khalif's favourite. How darest thou stay her?" Then said she, "Enter, O damsel!" And they went on, till they drew near the door leading to the inner court of the palace, when the old woman said to him, "O Nimeh, take courage and enter and turn to the left. Count five doors and enter the sixth, for it is that of the place prepared for thee. Fear nothing, and if any speak to thee, answer not neither stop." Then she went up with him to the door, and the chamberlain on guard hailed her, saying, "What damsel is that?" Quoth the old woman, "Our lady hath a mind to buy her." And he said, "None may enter save by leave of the Commander of the Faithful; so go thou back with her. I cannot let her pass, for thus am I commanded." "O chief chamberlain," replied the old woman, "use thy reason. Thou knowest that Num, the Khalif's slave-girl, of whom he is enamoured, is but now restored to health and the Commander of the Faithful hardly yet credits her recovery. Now she is minded to buy this girl; so oppose thou not her entrance, lest it come to Num's knowledge and she be wroth with thee and suffer a relapse and this bring thy head to be cut off." Then said she to Nimeh, "Enter, O damsel; pay no heed to what he says and tell not the princess that he opposed thine entrance." So Nimeh bowed his head and entered, but mistook and turned to his right, instead of his left, and meaning to count five doors and enter the sixth, counted six and entering the seventh, found himself in a place carpeted with brocade and hung with curtains of gold-embroidered silk. Here and there stood censers of aloes-wood and ambergris and sweet-scented musk, and at the upper end was a couch covered with brocade, on which he seated himself, marvelling at the exceeding magnificence of the place and knowing not what was appointed to him in the secret purpose of God. As he sat musing on his case, the Khalif's sister entered, followed by her handmaid, and seeing him seated there took him for a slave-girl and said to him, "What art thou, O damsel, and who brought thee hither?" He made no reply and she continued, "If thou be one of my brother's favourites and he be wroth with thee, I will intercede with him for thee." But he answered her not a word; so she said to her maid, "Stand at the door and let none enter." Then she went up to Nimeh and looking at him, was amazed at his beauty and said to him, "O lady, tell me who thou art and how thou camest here; for I have never seen thee in the palace." Still he answered not, whereat she was angered and putting her hand to his bosom, found no breasts and would have unveiled him, that she might know who he was; but he said to her, "O my lady, I am thy slave and cast myself on thy protection; do thou protect me." "No harm shall come to thee," said she; "but tell me who thou art and who brought thee into this my lodging." "O princess," answered he, "I am known as Nimeh ben er Rebya of Cufa, and I have ventured my life for my slave-girl Num, whom El Hejjaj took by sleight and sent hither." "Fear not," rejoined the princess; "no harm shall befall thee." Then, calling her maid, she said to her, "Go to Num's chamber and bid her to me."

Meanwhile, the old woman went to Num's bed-chamber and said to her, "Has thy lord come to thee?" "No, by Allah!" answered Num, and the other said, "Belike he hath gone astray and entered some chamber other than thine." "There is no power and no virtue but in God the Most High, the Supreme!" exclaimed Num. "Our last hour is come and we are all lost." As they sat, pondering, in came the princess's maid and saluting Num, said to her, "My lady bids thee to her entertainment." "I hear and obey," answered the damsel, and the old woman said, "Belike thy lord is with the Khalif's sister and the veil has been done away." So Num rose and betook herself to the princess, who said to her, "Here is thy lord sitting with me; it seems he has gone astray; but, please God, neither thou nor he has any cause for fear." When Num heard this, she took heart and went up to Nimeh, who rose to meet her, and they embraced and fell down in a swoon. As soon as they came to themselves, the princess said to them, "Sit down and let us take counsel for your deliverance from this your strait." And they answered, "O our lady, we hear and obey: it is thine to command." "By Allah," quoth she, "no harm shall befall you from us!" Then she called for meat and drink, and they sat down and ate till they had enough, after which they sat drinking. The cup went round amongst them and their cares ceased from them; but Nimeh said, "Would I knew how this will end!" "O Nimeh," quoth the princess, "dost thou love thy slave Num?" "O my lady," answered he, "it is my passion for her that has brought me thus in peril of my life." Then she said to the damsel, "O Num, dost thou love thy lord Nimeh?" And she replied, "O my lady, it is the love of him that has wasted my body and brought me to evil case." "By Allah," rejoined the princess, "since ye love each other thus, may he not live who would sunder you! Take heart and be of good cheer." At this they both rejoiced, and Num, calling for a lute, tuned it and preluded enchantingly, then sang the following verses:

Whenas, content with nothing less, the spies our sev'rance sought, Allbe no debt of blood they had 'gainst me or thee in aught, Whenas they poured upon our ears the hurtling din of war, Whilst helpers and protectors failed and succour came there nought, I fought the railers with my tears, my spirit and thine eyes; Yea, with the torrent, fire and sword, to fend them off I wrought.

Then she gave the lute to Nimeh, saying, "Sing thou to us." So he took it and playing a lively measure, sang these verses:

The moon were like thee at its full, were it of freckles free, And did it never brook eclipse, the sun would favour thee. Indeed, I marvel, (but in love how many a marvel is! Therein are passion and desire and cares and ecstasy,) Short seems the distance, when I fare towards my love's abode; But when I journey from her sight, the way is long to me.

When he had made an end of his song, Num filled the cup and gave it to him, and he drank it off; then she filled again and gave the cup to the princess, who took it and emptied it; after which she in her turn took the lute and sang as follows:

Mourning and grief possess my heart and in my breast The ardour of desire abideth as a guest. The wasting of my frame, alas! is manifest And all my soul is sick with passion and unrest.

Then she filled the cup and gave it to Num, who drank it off and taking the lute, sang the following verses:

O thou, upon whom I bestowed my soul and thou rack'dst it to death And I would have ta'en it again, but could not release it i' faith, Relent to a lover forlorn; vouchsafe him, I pray, ere he die, What may from perdition redeem, for this is the last of his breath.

They ceased not to sing and make merry and drink to the sweet sound of the strings, full of mirth and joyance and good cheer, till, behold, in came the Commander of the Faithful. When they saw him, they rose and kissed the ground before him; and he, seeing Num with the lute in her hand, said to her, "O Num, praised be God who hath done away from thee pain and affliction!" Then he looked at Nimeh (who was still disguised as a woman) and said to the princess, "O my sister, what damsel is this by Num's side?" "O Commander of the Faithful," answered she, "she is one of thy slave-girls and the bosom friend of Num, who will neither eat nor drink without her." And she repeated the words of the poet:

Two opposites, dissevered still in charms and straitly knit, And each one's beauty brightlier shows against its opposite.

"By the Great God," said the Khalif, "she is as handsome as Num, and to-morrow, I will appoint her a separate chamber beside that of Num and send her furniture and linen and all that befits her, in honour of Num." Then, the princess called for food and set it before her brother, who ate and filling a cup, signed to Num to sing. So she took the lute, after drinking two cups, and sang the following verses:

Whenas my cup-companion hath poured me out of wine Three foaming cups, brimmed over with nectar from the vine, I trail my skirts in glory all night, as if o'er thee, Commander of the Faithful, the empery were mine.

The Khalif was delighted and filling another cup, gave it to Num and bade her sing again. So she drank off the cup, and sweeping the strings of the lute, sang as follows:

O thou, the noblest man of men that live in this our day, Whose equal none may boast himself in power and mightiness, O all unpeered in pride of place, to whom munificence Is as a birthright, Lord and King, whom all in all confess, Thou, that dost lord it, sovran-wise, o'er all the kings of earth And without grudging or reproach, giv'st bountiful largesse, God have thee ever in His guard, despite thine every foe, And be thy fortune ever bright with victory and success!

When the Khalif heard this, he exclaimed, "By Allah, it is good! By Allah, it is excellent! Verily, God hath been good to thee, O Num! How sweet is thy voice and how clear thy speech!" They passed the time thus in mirth and good cheer, till midnight, when the Khalif's sister said to him, "O Commander of the Faithful, give ear to a tale I have read in books of a certain man of rank." "And what is this tale?" asked he. "Know," said she, "that there lived once in the city of Cufa, a youth called Nimeh ben er Rebya, and he had a slave-girl whom he loved and who loved him. They had been reared in one bed; but when they grew up and mutual love took possession of them, fate smote them with its calamities and decreed separation unto them. For designing folk enticed her by sleight forth of his house and stealing her away from him, sold her to one of the Kings for ten thousand dinars. Now the girl loved her lord even as he loved her; so he left house and home and fortune and setting out in quest of her, made shift, at the peril of his life, to gain access to her; but they had not been long in company, when in came the King, who had bought her of her ravisher, and hastily bade put them to death, without waiting to enquire into the matter, as was just. What sayest thou, O Commander of the Faithful, of this King's conduct?" "This was indeed a strange thing," answered the Khalif; "it behoved the King to use his power with clemency, and he should have considered three things in their favour; first, that they loved one another; secondly, that they were in his house and under his hand; and thirdly, that it behoves a King to be deliberate in judging between the folk, and how much more so when he himself is concerned! Wherefore the King in this did unkingly." Then said his sister, "O my brother by the Lord of heaven and earth, I conjure thee, bid Num sing and give ear to that she shall sing!" And he said, "O Num, sing to me." So she played a lively measure and sang the following verses:

Fortune hath played the traitor; indeed, 'twas ever so, Transpiercing hearts and bosoms and kindling care and woe And parting friends in sunder, that were in union knit, So down their cheeks thou seest the tears in torrents flow. They were, and I was with them, in all delight of life, And fortune did unite us full straitly whiles ago. So gouts of blood, commingled with tears, both night and day I'll weep, my sore affliction for loss of thee to show.

When he heard this, he was moved to great delight, and his sister said to him, "O my brother, he who decideth in aught against himself, it behoveth him to abide by it and do according to his word; and thou hast by this judgment decided against thyself." Then said she, "O Nimeh, stand up, and do thou likewise, O Num!" So they stood up and she continued, "O Commander of the Faithful, she who stands before thee is Num, whom El Hejjaj ben Yousuf eth Thekefi stole and sent to thee, falsely pretending in his letter to thee that he had bought her for ten thousand dinars. This other is her lord, Nimeh ben er Rebya; and I beseech thee, by the honour of thy pious forefathers and by Hemzeh and Akil and Abbes, to pardon them and bestow them one on the other, that thou mayst earn the recompense in the next world of thy just dealing with them; for they are under thy hand and have eaten of thy meat and drunken of thy drink; and behold, I make intercession for them and beg of thee the boon of their lives." "Thou sayst sooth," replied the Khalif, "I did indeed give judgment as thou sayst, and I use not to go back on my word." Then said he, "O Num, is this thy lord?" And she answered, "Yes, O Commander of the Faithful." "No harm shall befall you," said he; "I give you to one another." Then he said to the young man, "O Nimeh, who told thee where she was and taught thee how to get at her?" "O Commander of the Faithful," replied he, "give ear to my story; for by the virtue of thy pious forefathers, I will hide nothing from thee!" And he told him all that had passed between himself and the Persian physician and the old woman and how she had brought him into the palace and he had mistaken one door for another; whereat the Khalif wondered exceedingly and said, "Fetch me the Persian." So they fetched him and he made him one of his chief officers. Moreover, he bestowed on him robes of honour and ordered him a handsome present, saying, "Him, who has shown such good sense and skill in his ordinance, it behoves us to make one of our chief officers." He also loaded Nimeh and Num with gifts and honours and rewarded the old woman; and they abode with him in joy and content and all delight of life seven days; at the end of which time Nimeh craved leave to return to Cufa with his slave-girl. The Khalif gave leave and they departed accordingly and arrived in due course at Cufa, where Nimeh foregathered with his father and mother, and they abode in the enjoyment of all the delights and comforts of life, till there came to them the Destroyer of Delights and the Sunderer of Companies.'

[Resume Kemeezzeman and Boudour]

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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