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Payne: The Porter and the Three Ladies of Baghdad

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There was once a porter of Baghdad who was a bachelor. One day, as he stood in the market, leant upon his basket, there came to him a lady, swathed in a wrapper of gold embroidered muslin, fringed with gold lace, and wearing embroidered boots and floating tresses plaited with silk and gold. She stopped before him and raising her kerchief, showed a pair of languishing black eyes of perfect beauty, bordered with long drooping lashes. Then she turned to the porter and said, in a clear sweet voice, 'Take thy basket and follow me.' No sooner had she spoken than he took up his basket in haste, saying, 'O day of good luck! O day of God's grace!' and followed her till she stopped and knocked at the door of a house, when there came out a Nazarene, to whom she gave a dinar, and he gave her in return an olive-green bottle, full of wine, which she put into the basket, saying to the porter, 'Hoist up and follow me.' Said he, 'By Allah, this is indeed a happy and fortunate day!' And shouldering the basket, followed her till she came to a fruiterer's, where she bought Syrian apples and Turkish quinces and Arabian peaches and autumn cucumbers and Sultani oranges and citrons, beside jessamine of Aleppo and Damascus water-lilies and myrtle and basil and henna-blossoms and blood-red anemones and violets and sweet-briar and narcissus and camomile and pomegranate flowers, all of which she put into the porter's basket, saying, 'Hoist up!' So he shouldered the basket and followed her, till she stopped at a butcher's shop and said to him, 'Cut me off ten pounds of meat.' He gave her the meat, wrapped in a banana leaf, and she put it in the basket, saying, 'Hoist up, O porter!' and went on to a grocer's, of whom she took pistachio kernels and shelled almonds and hazel-nuts and walnuts and sugar cane and parched peas and Mecca raisins and all else that pertains to dessert. Thence to a pastry-cook's, where she bought a covered dish and put therein open-work tarts and honey-fritters and tri-coloured jelly and march-pane, flavoured with lemon and melon, and Zeyneb's combs and ladies' fingers and Cadi's mouthfuls and widow's bread and meat-and-drink and some of every kind of sweetmeat in the shop and laid the dish in the basket of the porter, who said to her, 'Thou shouldst have told me, that I might have brought a mule or a camel to carry all these good things.' She smiled and gave him a tap on the nape, saying, 'Make haste and leave chattering and God willing, thou shalt have a good wage.' She stopped next at the shop of a druggist, where she bought rose-water and water-lily water and orange-flower water and willow-flower water and six other kinds of sweet waters and a casting bottle of rose-water mingled with musk, besides two loaves of sugar and frankincense and aloes-wood and ambergris and musk and saffron and candles of Alexandrian wax, all of which she put into the basket. Then she went on to a greengrocer's, of whom she bought pickled safflower and olives, in brine and fresh, and tarragon and juncates and Syrian cheese and put them all into the basket and said to the porter, 'Take up thy basket and follow me.' So he shouldered his load and followed her till she came to a tall handsome house, with a spacious court before it and a two-leaved door of ebony, inlaid with plates of glittering gold. The lady went up to the door and throwing back her kerchief, knocked softly, whilst the porter stood behind her, musing upon her beauty and grace. After awhile the door opened and both the leaves swung back; whereupon he looked to see who opened it, and behold, it was a damsel of dazzling beauty and symmetry, high-bosomed, with flower-white forehead and rosy cheeks, eyes like those of gazelles or wild oxen and eyebrows like the crescent of the new moon of Ramazan, cheeks like blood-red anemones, mouth like Solomon's seal, lips red as coral and teeth like clustered pearls or camomile-petals, neck like an antelope's and bosom like a fountain, breasts like double pomegranates, belly like brocade and navel holding an ounce of benzoin ointment, even as says of her the poet:

Look at her, with her slender shape and radiant beauty! this Is she who is at once the sun and moon of palaces! Thine eyes shall ne'er see grace combine so featly black and white As in her visage and the locks that o'er her forehead kiss. She in whose cheeks the red flag waves, her beauty testifies Unto her name, if that to paint her sweet seductions miss. With swimming gait she walks: I laugh for wonder at her hips, But weep to see her waist, that all too slight to bear them is.

When the porter saw her, his mind and heart were taken by storm, so that he well-nigh let fall the basket and exclaimed, 'Never in all my life saw I a more blessed day than this!' Then said the portress to the cateress, 'O my Sister, why tarriest thou? Come in from the gate and ease this poor man of his burden.' So the cateress entered, followed by the portress and the porter, and went on before them to a spacious saloon, elegantly built and handsomely decorated with all manner of colours and carvings and geometrical figures, with balconies and galleries and cupboards and benches and closets with curtains drawn before them. In the midst was a great basin of water, from which rose a fountain, and at the upper end stood a couch of juniper wood, inlaid with precious stones and surmounted by a canopy of red satin, looped up with pearls as big as hazel-nuts or bigger. Thereon sat a lady of radiant countenance and gentle and demure aspect, moonlike in face, with eyes of Babylonian witchcraft and arched eyebrows, sugared lips like cornelian and a shape like the letter I. The radiance of her countenance would have shamed the rising sun, and she resembled one of the chief stars of heaven or a pavilion of gold or a high-born Arabian bride on the night of her unveiling, even as says of her the poet:

Her teeth, when she smiles, like pearls in a cluster show, Or shredded camomile-petals or flakes of snow: Her ringlets seem, as it were, the fallen night, And her beauty shames the dawn and its ruddy glow.

Then she rose and coming with a stately gait to meet her sisters in the middle of the saloon, said to them, 'Why stand ye still? Relieve this poor porter of his burden.' So the cateress came and stood before and the portress behind him and with the help of the third damsel, lifted the basket from his head and emptying it, laid everything in its place. Then they gave him two dinars, saying, 'Go, O porter!' But he stood, looking at the ladies and admiring, their beauty and pleasant manners, never had he seen goodlier, and wondering greatly at the profusion of wine and meat and fruits and flowers and so forth that they had provided and to see no man with them, and made no movement to go. So the eldest lady said to him, 'What ails thee that thou dost not go away? Belike, thou grudgest at thy pay?' And she turned to the cateress and said to her, 'Give him another dinar.' 'No, by Allah, O lady!' answered the porter. 'I do not indeed grudge at my pay, for my right hire is scarce two dirhems; but of a truth my heart and soul are taken up with you and how it is that ye are alone and have no man with you and no one to divert you, although ye know that women's sport is little worth without men, nor is an entertainment complete without four at the table, and ye have no fourth. What says the poet?

Dost thou not see that for pleasure four several things combine, Instruments four, harp, hautboy and gittern and psaltery? And unto these, four perfumes answer and correspond, Violets, roses and myrtle and blood-red anemone. Nor is our pleasure perfect, unless four things have we, Money and wine and gardens and mistress fair and free.

And ye are three and need a fourth, who should be a man, witty, sensible and discreet, one who can keep counsel.' When they heard what he said, it amused them and they laughed at him and replied, 'What have we to do with that, we who are girls and fear to entrust our secrets to those who will not keep them? For we have read, in such and such a history, what says Ibn eth Thumam:

Tell not thy secrets: keep them with all thy might. A secret revealed is a secret lost outright. If thine own bosom cannot thy secrets hold, Why expect more reserve from another wight?

Or, as well says Abou Nuwas on the same subject:

The fool, that to men doth his secrets avow, Deserves to be marked with a brand on the brow.'

'By your lives,' rejoined the porter, 'I am a man of sense and discretion, well read in books and chronicles. I make known what is fair and conceal what is foul, and as says the poet:

None keeps a secret but the man who's trusty and discreet. A secret's ever safely placed with honest folk and leal; And secrets trusted unto me are in a locked-up house Whose keys are lost and on whose door is set the Cadi's seal.

When the girls heard this, the eldest one said to him, 'Thou knowest that we have laid out much money in preparing this entertainment: hast thou aught to offer us in return? For we will not let thee sit with us and be our boon companion and gaze on our bright fair faces, except thou pay down thy share of the cost. Dost thou not know the saying:

Love without money Is not worth a penny?'

'If thou have aught, my friend,' added the portress, 'then art thou something: but if thou have nothing, be off without anything.' Here the cateress interposed, saying, 'O sisters, let him be: for by Allah, he has not failed us to-day: another had not been so patient with us. I will pay his share for him.' Whereupon the porter, overjoyed, kissed the earth and thanked her, saying, 'By Allah, it was thou didst handsel me this day! Here are the two dinars I had of you: take them and admit me to your company, not as a guest, but as a servant.' 'Sit down,' answered they; 'thou art welcome.' But the eldest lady said, 'By Allah, we will not admit thee to our society but on one condition; and it is that thou enquire not of what does not concern thee; and if thou meddle, thou shalt be beaten.' Said the porter, 'I agree to this, O my lady, on my head and eyes! Henceforth I am dumb.' Then arose the cateress and girding her middle, laid the table by the fountain and set out the cups and flagons, with flowers and sweet herbs and all the requisites for drinking. Moreover, she strained the wine and set it on; and they sat down, she and her sisters, with the porter, who fancied himself in a dream. The cateress took the flagon of wine and filled a cup and drank it off. Then she filled again and gave it to one of her sisters, who drank and filled another cup and gave it to her other sister: then she filled a fourth time and gave it to the porter, saying:

Drink and fare well and health attend thee still. This drink indeed's a cure for every ill.

He took the cup in his hand and bowed and returned thanks, reciting the following verses:

Quaff not the cup except with one who is of trusty stuff, One who is true of thought and deed and eke of good descent. Wine's like the wind, that, if it breathe on perfume, smells as sweet, But, if o'er carrion it pass, imbibes its evil scent.

And again:

Drink not of wine except at the hands of a maiden fair, Who, like unto thee and it, is joyous and debonair.

Then he kissed their hands and drank and was merry with wine and swayed from side to side and recited the following verses:

Hither, by Allah, I conjure thee! Goblets that full of the grape juice be! And brim up, I prithee, a cup for me, For this is the water of life, perdie!

Then the cateress filled the cup and gave it to the portress, who took it from her hand and thanked her and drank. Then she filled again and gave it to the eldest, who filled another cup and handed it to the porter. He gave thanks and drank and recited the following verses:

It is forbidden us to drink of any blood Except it be of that which gushes from the vine. So pour it out to me, an offering to thine eyes, To ransom from thy hands my soul and all that's mine.

Then he turned to the eldest lady, who was the mistress of the house, and said to her, 'O my lady, I am thy slave and thy servant and thy bondman!' And repeated the following verses:

There is a slave of all thy caves now standing at thy gate Who ceases not thy bounties all to sing and celebrate. May he come in, O lady fair, to gaze upon thy charms? Desire and I from thee indeed may never separate.

And she said to him, 'Drink, and health and prosperity attend thee!' So he took the cup and kissed her hand and sang the following verses:

I brought my love old wine and pure, the likeness of her cheeks, Whose glowing brightness called to mind a brazier's heart of red. She touched the wine-cup with her lips, and laughing roguishly, "How canst thou proffer me to drink of my own cheeks?" she said. "Drink!" answered I, "it is my tears; its hue is of my blood; And it was heated at a fire that by my sighs was fed."

And she answered him with the following verse:

If, O my friend, thou hast indeed wept tears of blood for me, I prithee, give them me to drink, upon thine eyes and head!

Then she took the cup and drank it off to her sisters' health; and they continued to drink and make merry, dancing and laughing and singing and reciting verses and ballads. The porter fell to toying and kissing and biting and handling and groping and dallying and taking liberties with them: whilst one put a morsel into his mouth and another thumped him, and this one gave him a cuff and that pelted him with flowers; and he led the most delightful life with them, as if he sat in paradise among the houris. They ceased not to drink and carouse thus, till the wine sported in their heads and got the better of their senses, when the portress, arose, and putting off her clothes, let down her hair over her naked body, for a veil. Then she threw herself into the basin and sported in the water and swam about and dived like a duck and took water in her mouth and spurted it at the porter and washed her limbs and the inside of her thighs. Then she came up out of the water and throwing herself into the porter's lap, pointed to her commodity and said to him, 'O my lord O my friend, what is the name of this?' 'Thy kaze,' answered he; but she said, 'Fie! art thou not ashamed!' And cuffed him on the nape of the neck. Quoth he, 'Thy catso.' And she dealt him a second cuff, saying, 'Fie! what an ugly word! Art thou not ashamed?' 'Thy commodity,' said he; and she, 'Fie! is there no shame in thee?' And thumped him and beat him. Then said he, 'Thy coney.' Whereupon the eldest fell on him and beat him, saying, 'Thou shalt not say that.' And whatever he said, they beat him more and more, till his neck ached again; and they made a laughing-stock of him amongst them, till he said at last, 'Well, what is its name amongst you women?' 'The sweet basil of the dykes,' answered they. 'Praised be God for safety!' cried he. 'Good, O sweet basil of the dikes!' Then they passed round the cup and presently the cateress rose and throwing herself into the porter's lap, pointed to her kaze and said to him, 'O light of mine eyes, what is the name of this?' 'Thy commodity,' answered he. 'Art thou not ashamed?' said she, and dealt him a buffet that made the place ring again, repeating, 'Fie! Fie! art thou not ashamed?' Quoth he, 'The sweet basil of the dykes.' 'No! No!' answered she, and beat him and cuffed him on the nape. Then said he, 'Thy kaze, thy tout, thy catso, thy coney.' But they replied, 'No! No!' And he said again, 'The sweet basil of the dykes.' Whereupon they laughed till they fell backward and cuffed him on the neck, saying, 'No; that is not its name.' At last he said, 'O my sisters, what is its name?' And they answered, 'What sayest thou to the peeled barleycorn?' Then the cateress put on her clothes and they sat down again to carouse, whilst the porter lamented over his neck and shoulders. The cup passed round among them awhile, and presently the eldest and handsomest of the ladies rose and put off her clothes; whereupon the porter took his neck in his hand and said, 'My neck and shoulders are in the way of God!' Then she threw herself into the basin and plunged and sported and washed; whilst the porter looked at her, naked, as she were a piece of the moon or the full moon when she waxes or the dawn at its brightest, and noted her shape and breasts and her heavy quivering buttocks, for she was naked as God created her. And he said, 'Alack!' Alack!' and repeated the following verses:

If to the newly-budded branch thy figure I compare, I lay upon my heart a load of wrong too great to bear; For that the branch most lovely is, when clad upon with green, But thou, when free of every veil, art then by far most fair.

When she heard this, she came up out of the water and sitting down on his knees, pointed to her kaze and said, 'O my little lord, what is the name of this?' 'The sweet basil of the dykes,' answered he; but she said, 'No! No!' Quoth he, 'The peeled barleycorn.' And she said, 'Pshaw!' Then said he, 'Thy kaze.' Fie! Fie!' cried she. 'Art thou not ashamed?' And cuffed him on the nape of the neck. And whatever name he said, they beat him, saying, 'No! No!' till at last he said, 'O my sisters, what is its name?' 'The khan of Abou Mensour,' answered they. And he said, 'Praised be God for safety! Bravo! Bravo! O khan of Abou Mensour!' Then the damsel rose and put on her clothes and they returned to their carousing and the cup passed round awhile. Presently, the porter rose and putting off his clothes, plunged into the pool and swam about and washed under his chin and armpits, even as they had done. Then he came out and threw himself into the eldest lady's lap and putting his arms into the portress's lap and his feet into that of the cateress pointed to his codpiece and said, 'O my mistresses, what is the name of this?' They laughed till they fell backward and one of them answered, 'Thy yard.' 'Art thou not ashamed?' said he. 'A forfeit!' and took of each a kiss. Quoth another, 'Thy pintle.' But he replied, 'No,' and gave each of them a bite in play. Then said they, 'Thy pizzle.' 'No,' answered he, and gave each of them a hug; and they kept saying, 'Thy yard, thy pintle, thy pizzle, thy codpiece!' whilst he kissed and hugged and fondled them to his heart's content, and they laughed till they were well nigh dead. At last they said, 'O our brother, and what is its name?' 'Don't you know?' asked he; and they said, 'No.' Quoth he, 'This is the mule Break-all, that browses on the basil of the dykes and gobbles up the peeled barleycorn and lies by night in the khan of Abou Mensour.' And they laughed till they fell backward. Then they fell again to drinking and continued after this fashion till the night came upon them, when they said to the porter, 'In the name of God, put on thy sandals and be off and let us see the breadth of thy shoulders!' Quoth he, 'By Allah, the leaving life were easier to me than the leaving you! Let us join the night to the day, and to-morrow we will each go our own way.' 'My life on you!' said the cateress, 'let him pass the night with us, that we may laugh at him, for he is a pleasant rogue; and we may never again chance upon the like of him.' So the mistress of the house said to the porter, 'Thou shalt pass the night with us on condition that thou submit to our authority and that, whatever thou seest, thou ask no questions about it nor enquire the reason of it.' 'It is well,' answered he; and they said, 'Go and read what is written over the door.' So he went to the door and found the following words written thereon in letters of gold, 'He who speaks of what concerns him not, shall hear what will not please him.' And he said, 'Be ye witness against me that I will not speak of what concerns me not.' Then rose the cateress and prepared food, and they ate: after which they lighted the lamps and candles and strewed on the latter ambergris and aloes-wood; then changed the service and set on fresh fruits and flowers and wine and so forth and sat down again to drink. They ceased not to eat and drink and make merry, hobnobbing and laughing and talking and frolicking, till there came a knocking at the door: whereupon one of them rose and went to the door, without disturbing the party, and presently returned, saying, 'Verily, our pleasure is to be complete to-night.' 'How so?' asked the others, and she replied, 'There are three foreign Calenders at the door, with shaven heads and chins and eyebrows and every one blind of the right eye, which is a most extraordinary coincidence. Apparently they are fresh from a journey and indeed the traces of travel are evident on them; and the reason of their knocking at the door is this. They are strangers to Baghdad and this is their first coming to our city: the night surprised them and they could not find a lodging in the city and know no one with whom to take shelter: so they said to each other, "Perhaps the owner of this house will give us the key of a stable or outhouse and let us sleep there." And, O my sisters, each of them is a laughing-stock after his own fashion; and if we let them in, they will make us sport this night, and on the morrow each shall go his own way.' And she ceased not to persuade them, till they said, 'Let them come in, on condition that they ask no questions of what does not concern them, on pain of hearing what will not please them.' So she rejoiced and going to the door, returned with the three Calenders, who saluted and bowed low and held back; but the ladies rose to them and welcomed them and gave them joy of their safety and made them sit down. The Calenders looked about them and seeing a pleasant place and a table elegantly spread with flowers and fruits and green herbs and dessert and wine, with candles burning and perfumes smoking, and the three maidens, with their faces unveiled, said with one voice ''Fore Allah, it is good!' Then they turned to the porter and saw that he was tipsy and jaded with drinking and dalliance. So they took him for one of themselves and said, 'He is a Calender like ourselves, either an Arab or a foreigner.' When the porter heard this, he rose and fixing his eyes on them, said, 'Sit still and do not meddle. Have you not read what is written on the door? It befits not folk, like yourselves, who come to us as mendicants, to loose your tongues on us.' 'We ask pardon of God, O fakir!' answered they. 'Our heads are before thee.' The ladies laughed and making peace between them, set food before the Calenders. When they had eaten, they all sat down again to carouse, the portress serving the new comers, and the cup passed round awhile, till the porter said to the Calenders, 'O brothers, have ye no story or rare trait to divert us withal?' The Calenders, being warm with wine, called for musical instruments; so the portress brought them a tambourine and a lute and a Persian harp; and each Calender took one and tuned it and played and sang; and the girls joined in lustily and made a great noise. Whilst they were thus engaged, some one knocked at the gate and the portress rose and went to see who it was. Now the cause of this knocking was that, that very night, the Khalif Haroun er Reshid had gone down into the City, as was his wont, every now and then, to walk about for his diversion and hear what news was stirring, attended by his Vizier Jaafer and Mesrour his headsman, all three, as usual, disguised as merchants. Their way brought them to the house of the three ladies, where they heard the noise of musical instruments and of singing and merriment, and the Khalif said to Jaafer, 'I have a mind to enter this house and listen to this music and see the singers.' 'O Commander of the Faithful,' answered Jaafer, 'these people are certainly drunk, and I fear lest some mischief betide us at their hands.' 'It matters not,' rejoined the Khalif; 'I must and will go in and I desire that thou contrive some pretext to that end.' 'I hear and obey,' replied the Vizier and going up to the gate, knocked, whereupon the portress came down and opened. Jaafer came forward and kissing the earth before her, said, 'O lady, we are merchants from Tiberias: we reached Baghdad ten days ago and sold our merchandise and took up our lodging at the khan of the merchants. Now we were bidden to-night to an entertainment at the house of a certain merchant, who set food before us and we ate and caroused with him awhile, till he gave us leave to depart and we went out, intending for our lodging; but being strangers in Baghdad, we lost ourselves and could not find our way back to our khan: so we hope, of your courtesy, that you will admit us to pass the night with you, and God will requite you.' The portress looked at them and saw that they were dressed like merchants and appeared respectable; so she returned to her sisters and repeated to them Jaafer's story, and they took compassion on the supposed strangers and bade her admit them. So she resumed and opened the gate to them, and they said, 'Have we thy leave to enter?' 'Enter,' answered she; whereupon the Khalif and Jaafer and Mesrour entered; and when the girls saw them, they rose and welcomed them and made them sit down and served them, saying, 'Ye are welcome as our guests, but on one condition.' 'What is that?' asked they; and the mistress of the house answered, 'It is that you be eyes without tongues and that, whatever you see, you enquire not thereof nor speak of that which concerns you not, lest you hear what will not please you.' 'Good,' answered they: 'we are no meddlers.' Then they sat down to carouse; whilst the Khalif looked at the three Calenders and marvelled for that they were all blind of the right eye, and gazed upon the ladies and was amazed at their beauty and goodliness. They fell to drinking and talking and said to the Khalif, 'Drink.' But he answered, 'Excuse me, for I am vowed to the pilgrimage.' Whereupon the portress rose and spreading a gold-embroidered cloth before him, set thereon a china bowl, into which she poured willow-flower water, with a spoonful of snow and some pounded sugar-candy. The Khalif thanked her and said to himself, 'By Allah, I will reward her to-morrow for her kind office!' Then they addressed themselves to carousel, till the wine began to work upon them, when the eldest lady rose and making an obeisance to her guests, took the cateress by the hand and said, 'Come, sisters, let us do our duty.' And they answered, 'It is well.' So the portress rose and cleared the middle of the saloon, after she had removed the table service and thrown away the remains of the banquet. Then she renewed the perfumes in the censers and made the Calenders sit down on a sofa by the dais and the Khalif and his companions on a sofa at the other end; after which she called to the porter, saying, 'How dull and slothful thou art! Come and help us: thou art no stranger, but one of the household!' So he rose and girt his middle and said, 'What would you have me do?' And she answered, 'Stay where thou art.' Then the cateress rose and setting a chair in the middle of the room, went to a closet, which she opened, saying to the porter, 'Come and help me.' So he went to her and she brought out two black bitches, with chains round their necks, and gave them to him, saying, 'Take them.' So he took them and carried them to the middle of the saloon; whereupon the mistress of the house tucked up her sleeves and taking a whip, said to the porter, 'Bring me one of the bitches.' So he brought it to her by the chain; and the bitch wept and shook its head at the damsel, who brought the whip down on it, whilst the porter held it by the chain. The bitch howled and whined, but the lady ceased not to beat it till her arm was tired; when she threw away the whip and pressing the bitch to her bosom, kissed it on the head and wiped away its tears. Then she said to the porter, 'Take it back and bring the other.' He did as she bade him, and she did with the second bitch as she had done with the first. The Khalif's mind was troubled at her doings and his breast contracted and he could not restrain his impatience to know the meaning of all this. So he winked to Jaafer to ask, but the latter turned and signed to him as who should say, 'Be silent: this is no time for impertinent curiosity.' Then said the portress to the mistress of the house, 'O my lady, rise and go up to thy place, that I in turn may do my part.' 'It is well,' answered she and went up and sat down on the couch of juniper-wood, at the upper end of the dais; whilst the portress sat down on a chair and said to the cateress, 'Do what thou hast to do.' So the latter rose and going to a closet, brought out a bag of yellow satin, with cords of green silk and tassels of gold, and came and sat down before the portress. Then she opened the bag and took out a lute, which she tuned, and sang the following verses, accompanying herself on the lute:

Thou art my wish, thou art my end; And in thy presence, O my friend, There is for me abiding joy: Thine absence sets my heart a-flame For thee distraught, with thee possest, Thou reignest ever in my breast, Nor in the love I bear to thee Is there for me reproach or shame. Life's veil for me was torn apart, When Love gat hold upon my heart For Love still rends the veils in twain And brings dishonour on fair fame. The cloak of sickness I did on; And straight my fault appeared and shone. Since that my heart made choice of thee And love and longing on me came, My eyes are ever wet with tears, And all my secret thought appears, When with my tears' tumultuous flow Exhales the secret of thy name. Heal thou my pains, for thou to me Art both disease and remedy. Yet him, whose cure is in thy hand, Affliction shall for ever claim, Thy glances set my heart on fire, Slay me with swords of my desire: How many, truly, of the best Have fallen beneath Love's sword of flame? Yet may I not from passion cease Nor in forgetting seek release; For love's my comfort, pride and law, Public and private, aye the same. Blest eyes that have of thee their fill And look upon thee at their will! Ay, of my own unforced intent, The slave of passion I became.

When the portress heard this foursome song, she cried out, 'Alas! Alas! Alas!' and tore her clothes and fell down in a swoon; and the Khalif saw on her body the marks of beating with rods and whips, and wondered greatly. Then the cateress rose and sprinkled water upon her and brought her a fresh dress and put it on her. When the company saw this, their minds were troubled, for they understood not the reason of these things. And the Khalif said to Jaafer, 'Didst thou not see the marks of beating with rods upon the girl's body! I cannot keep silence nor be at rest, except I come at the truth of all this and know the story of this damsel and the two bitches.' 'O my lord,' answered Jaafer, 'they made it a condition with us that we should not speak of what concerns us not, under pain of hearing what should not please us.' Then said the portress 'By Allah! O my sister, come and complete thy service to me.' 'With all my heart!' answered the cateress and took the lute and leant it against her breasts. Then she swept the strings with her finger-tips and sang the following verses:

If we complain of absence, what alas! shall we say? Or if longing assail us, where shall we take our way? If, to interpret for us, we trust to a messenger, How can a message rightly a lover's plaint convey? Or if we put on patience, short is a lover's life, After his heart's beloved is torn from him away. Nothing, alas! is left me but sorrow and despair And tears that adown my cheeks without cessation stray. Thou that art ever absent from my desireful sight, Thou that art yet a dweller within my heart alway, Hast thou kept troth, I wonder, with one who loves thee dear, Whose faith, whilst time endureth, never shall know decay? Or hast thou e'en forgotten her who for love of thee, In tears and sickness and passion, hath wasted many a day? Alas! though Love unite us again in one embrace, Reproach for thy past rigour with me full long shall stay.

When the portress heard this second song, she gave a loud scream and exclaimed, 'By Allah! it is good!' and putting her hand to her clothes, tore them as before and fell down in a swoon. Whereupon the cateress rose and brought her another dress, after she had sprinkled water on her. Then she sat up again and said to the cateress 'To it again and help me to do the rest of my duty; for there remains but one more song.' So the cateress took the lute and sang the following verses:

How long, ah me! shall this rigour last and this inhumanity? Are not the tears that I have shed enough to soften thee? If thou, of thy relentless will, estrangement do prolong, Intending my despite, at last, I pray, contented be! If treacherous fortune were but just to lovers and their woe, They would not watch the weary night in sleepless agony. Have ruth on me, for thy disdain is heavy on my heart; Is it not time that thou relent at last, my king, to me? To whom but thee that slayest me should I reveal my pain? What grief is theirs who love and prove the loved one's perfidy! Love and affliction hour by hour redouble in my breast: The days of exile are prolonged; no end to them I see. Muslims, avenge a slave of love, the host of wakefulness, Whose patience hath been trampled out by passion's tyranny! Can it be lawful, O my wish, that thou another bless With thine embraces, whilst I die, in spite of Love's decree? Yet in thy presence, by my side, what peace should I enjoy, Since he I love doth ever strive to heap despite on me?

When the portress heard this third song, she screamed out and putting forth her hand, tore her clothes even to the skirt and fell down in a swoon for the third time, and there appeared once more on her body the marks of beat ing with rods. Then said the three Calenders, 'Would God we had never entered this house, but had slept on the rubbish-heaps! for verily our entertainment hath been troubled by things that rend the heart.' The Khalif turned to them and said, 'How so?' And they answered, 'Indeed, our minds are troubled about this matter.' Quoth he, 'Are you not then of the household?' 'No,' replied they; 'nor did we ever see the place till now.' Said the Khalif, 'There is the man by you: he will surely know the meaning of all this.' And he winked at the porter. So they questioned the latter and he replied, 'By the Almighty, we are all in one boat! I was brought up at Baghdad, but never in my life did I enter this house till to-day, and the manner of my coming in company with them was curious.' 'By Allah,' said they, 'we thought thee one of them, and now we see thou art but as one of ourselves.' Then said the Khalif, 'We are here seven men, and they are but three women: so let us question them of their case, and if they do not answer willingly, they shall do so by force.' They all agreed to this, except Jaafer, who said, 'This is not well-advised: let them be, for we are their guests, and as ye know, they imposed on us a condition, to which we all agreed. Wherefore it is better that we keep silence concerning this affair, for but a little remains of the night, and each go about his business.' And he winked to the Khalif and whispered to him, 'There is but a little longer to wait, and to-morrow I will bring them before thee and thou canst then question them of their story.' But the Khalif lifted his head and cried out angrily, 'I have not patience to wait till then: let the Calenders ask them.' And Jaafer said, 'This is not well-advised.' Then they consulted together, and there was much talk and dispute between them, who should put the question, before they fixed upon the porter. The noise drew the notice of the lady of the house, who said to them, 'O guests, what is the matter and what are you talking about?' Then the porter came forward and said to her, 'O lady, the company desire that thou acquaint them with the history of the two bitches and why thou didst beat them and after fellest to kissing and weeping over them and also concerning thy sister and why she has been beaten with rods, like a man. This is what they charge me to ask thee, and peace be on thee.' When she heard this, she turned to the others and said to them 'Is this true that he says of you?' And they all replied 'Yes;' except Jaafer, who held his peace. Then said she, 'By Allah! O guests, ye have done us a grievous wrong, for we made it a previous condition with you that whoso spoke of what concerned him not, should hear what should not please him. Is it not enough that we have taken you into our house and fed you with our victual! But the fault is not so much yours as that of her who brought you in to us.' Then she tucked up her sleeves and smote three times on the floor, saying, 'Come quickly!' Whereupon the door of a closet opened and out came seven black slaves, with drawn swords in their hands, to whom said the lady, 'Bind these babblers' hands behind them and tie them one with another.' The slaves did as she bade, and said, 'O noble lady, is it thy will that we strike off their heads?' 'Hold your hands awhile,' answered she, 'till I question them of their condition, before ye strike off their heads.' 'By Allah, O my lady,' exclaimed the porter 'do not slay me for another's fault, for all have erred and offended save myself. And by Allah, our night would have been a pleasant one, had we not been afflicted with these Calenders, whose presence is enough to lay a flourishing city in ruins.' And he repeated the following verses:

How fair a thing is mercy to the great! And how much more to those of low estate! By all the love that has between us been, Doom not the guiltless to the guilty's fate!

When the lady heard this, she laughed, in spite of her anger, and coming up to the guests, said to them, 'Tell me who you are, for ye have but a little while to live, and were you not men of rank and consideration, you had never dared to act thus.' Then the Khalif said to Jaafer, 'Out on thee! Tell her who we are, or we shall be slain in a mistake, and speak her fair, ere an abomination befall us.' 'It were only a part of thy deserts,' replied Jaafer. Whereupon the Khalif cried out at him in anger and said, 'There is a time to jest and a time to be serious.' Then the lady said to the Calenders, 'Are ye brothers?' 'Not so,' answered they; 'we are only poor men and strangers.' And she said to one of them, 'Wast thou born blind of one eye?' 'No, by Allah!' replied he; 'but there hangs a rare story by the loss of my eye, a story which, were it graven with needles on the corners of the eye, would serve as a lesson to those that can profit by example.' She questioned the two other Calenders, and they made a like reply, saying, 'By Allah! O our mistress, each one of us comes from a different country and is the son of a king and a sovereign prince ruling over lands and subjects.' Then she turned to the others and said to them, 'Let each of you come forward in turn and tell us his history and the manner of his coming hither and after go about his business; but whoso refuses, I will cut off his head.' The first to come forward was the porter, who said, 'O my lady, I am a porter. This lady, the cateress, hired me and took me first to the vintner's, then to the butcher's, from the butcher's to the fruiterer's, from the fruiterer's to the grocer's, from the grocer's to the greengrocer's, from the greengrocer's to the confectioner's and the druggist's, and thence to this place, where there happened to me with you what happened. This is my story; and peace be on thee!' At this the lady laughed and said to him, 'Begone about thy business.' But he said, 'By Allah, I will not budge 'till I hear the others' stories.' Then came forward the first Calender and said, 'Know, O lady, that...

[Go to The First Calender'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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