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Payne: The Ruined Man of Baghdad and His Slave Girl

[Go back to The Man of Upper Egypt and His Frank Wife]

There was once at Baghdad, of old time, a man of condition, who had inherited wealth galore from his father. He fell in love with a slave-girl; so he bought her and she loved him as he loved her; and he ceased not to spend upon her, till all his wealth was gone and naught remained thereof; wherefore he sought a means of getting his livelihood, but availed not thereunto. Now he had been used, in the days of his wealth, to frequent the assemblies of those who were versed in the art of singing and had thus attained to the utmost skill therein.

So he took counsel with one of his friends, who said to him, 'Meseems thou canst not do better than sing, thou and thy slave-girl, [for your living] ; for on this wise thou wilt get money in plenty and wilt eat and drink.' But he misliked this, he and the damsel, and she said to him, 'I have bethought me of a means of relief for thee.' 'What is it?' asked he and she said, 'Do thou sell me; so shall we win quit of this strait, thou and I, and I shall be in affluence; for none will buy the like of me save a man of fortune, and with this I will contrive for my return to thee.'

So he carried her to the market and the first who saw her was a Hashimi of Bassora, a man of taste and breeding and generosity, who bought her for fifteen hundred dinars. (Quoth the young man, the girl's owner). When I had received the price, I repented me and wept, I and the damsel; and I sought to cancel the sale; but the purchaser would not consent. So I took the money in a bag, knowing not whither I should go, now my house was desolate of her, and buffeted my face and wept and wailed as I had never done. Then I entered a mosque and sat weeping, till I was stupefied and losing my senses, fell asleep, with the bag of money under my head for a pillow. Presently, before I could be ware, a man pulled the bag from under my head and ran off with it: whereupon I started up in affright and would have run after him; but lo, my feet were bound with a rope and I fell on my face. So I fell a-weeping and buffeting myself, saying, 'Thy soul hath left thee and thy wealth is lost!' Then, of the excess of my chagrin, I betook myself to the Tigris and wrapping my face in my gown, cast myself into the river.

The bystanders saw me and said, 'Sure, [he hath done] this because of some great trouble that hath betided him.' So they cast themselves in after me and bringing me ashore, questioned me of my case. I told them what had befallen me and they condoled with me. Then an old man of them came to me and said, 'Thou hast lost thy money, but why goest thou about to do away thy life and become of the people of the fire? Arise, come with me, that I may see thine abode.' So I went with him to my house and he sat with me awhile, till I became calmer, when I thanked him and he went away. When he was gone, I was like to kill myself, but bethought me of the life to come and the fire; so I fled forth my house to one of my friends and told him what had befallen me. He wept for pity of me and gave me fifty dinars, saying, 'Take my advice and go out forthright from Baghdad and let this provide thee till thy heart be diverted from the love of her and thou forget her. Thou art a man of letters and clerkship and thy handwriting is good and thy breeding excellent: seek out, then, whom thou wilt of the viceroys and throw thyself on his bounty. It may be God will reunite thee with thy slave-girl.'

I hearkened to his words (and indeed my mind was fortified and I was somewhat comforted) and resolved to betake myself to Wasit, where I had kinsfolk. So I went down to the riverside, where I saw a ship moored and the sailors carrying goods and rich stuffs on board. I asked them to take me with them and carry me to Wasit; but they replied, 'We cannot do that, for the ship belongs to a Hashimi.' However, I tempted them with [promise of] reward, and they said, 'We cannot take thee on this fashion; if it must be, put off those fine clothes of thine and don sailors' clothes and sit with us, as thou wert one of us.' So I went away and buying sailors' clothes, put them on; after which I bought me somewhat of victual [for the voyage] and returning to the vessel, which was bound for Bassora, embarked with the crew.

Before long I saw my slave-girl herself [come on board] , attended by two waiting-women; whereupon my chagrin subsided and I said in myself 'Now shall I see her and hear her singing, till we come to Bassora.' Soon after, up rode the Hashimi, with a party of folk, and they embarked in the ship, which dropped down the river with them. Presently the Hashimi brought out food and ate with the damsel, whilst the rest ate amidships. Then said he to her, 'How long wilt thou abstain from singing and persist in this mourning and weeping? Thou art not the first that hath been parted from a beloved one.' Wherefore I knew what she suffered for love of me. Then he hung a curtain before her in the side of the ship and calling those who ate apart, sat down with them without the curtain; and I enquired concerning them and behold, they were his brethren. Then he set before them what they needed of wine and dessert, and they ceased not to press the damsel to sing, till she called for the lute and tuning it, sang the following verses:

      The company have passed away with those whom I adore; By night they went nor to depart with my desire forbore.
      And since their caravan fared hence, live coals of tamarisk-wood Within the lover's heart rage high and higher evermore.

Then weeping overpowered her and she threw down the lute and left singing; whereat the folk were troubled and I fell down in a swoon. They thought I was possessed and one of them fell to reciting exorcisms in my ear; nor did they cease to comfort her and beseech her to sing, till she tuned the lute again and sang these verses:

      I stand lamenting travelers who bound their burdens on; Within my heart their dwelling is, though far away they're gone
      Hard by the ruined camp I stand and question it of them: Waste is the camping-place and void the dwellings thereupon.

Then she fell down in a swoon and weeping arose amongst the folk; and I also cried out and fainted away. The sailors were vexed with me and one of the Hashimi's servants said to them, 'How came ye to take this madman on board?' So they said to each other, 'When we come to the next village, we will put him ashore and rid us of him.' When I heard this, I was sore troubled and summoned up all my courage, saying to myself, 'Nothing will serve me to deliver myself from their hands, except I make shift to acquaint her with my presence in the ship, so she may prevent my putting out.'

Then we sailed on till eventide, when we came to a hamlet and the captain said, 'Come, let us go ashore.' So they all landed, [leaving me in the ship] : whereupon I rose and going behind the curtain took the lute and changed its accord, course by course, and tuning it after a fashion of my own, that she had learnt of me, returned to my place in the ship. Presently, they came on board again and the moon shone out upon the river and bank. Then said the Hashimi to the damsel, 'God upon thee, trouble not our lives!' So she took the lute, and touching it with her hand, gave a sob, that they thought her soul had departed [her body] , and said, 'By Allah, my master is with us in the ship!' 'By Allah,' answered the Hashimi, 'were this so, I would not forbid him our company! Haply he would lighten thy chagrin, so we might enjoy thy singing: but it cannot be that he is on board.' But she said, 'I cannot sing nor play whilst my lord is with us.' Quoth the Hashimi, 'Let us ask the sailors.' And she said, 'Do so.' So he questioned them, saying, 'Have ye carried any one with you?' And they said, 'No.'

Then I feared lest the enquiry should end there; so I laughed and said, 'Yes; I am her master and taught her, when I was her lord.' 'By Allah,' said she, 'that is my lord's voice!' So the servants carried me to the Hashimi, who knew me at once and said to me, 'Out on thee! What plight is this in which I see thee and what has brought thee to this pass?' So I told him all that had befallen of my affair, weeping the while, and the damsel wailed aloud from behind the curtain. The Hashimi wept sore, he and his brethren, for pity of me, and he said, 'By Allah, I have not drawn near the damsel nor lain with her, nor have I even heard her sing till this day! I am a man to whom God hath been bountiful and I came to Baghdad but to hear singing and seek my allowances of the Commander of the Faithful. I accomplished both my occasions and being about to return home, said to myself, "Let us hear somewhat of the singing of Baghdad." Wherefore I bought this damsel, knowing not how it was with you both; and I take God to witness that, when I reach Bassora, I will free her and marry her to thee and assign you what shall suffice you, and more: but on condition that, whenever I have a mind to hear music, a curtain shall be hung for her and she shall sing to me from behind it, and thou shalt be of the number of my brethren and boon-companions.'

At this I rejoiced and he put his head within the curtain and said to her, 'Will that content thee?' Whereupon she fell to blessing and thanking him. Then he called a servant and said to him, 'Take this young man and do off his clothes and clothe him in costly raiment and incense him and bring him back to us.' So the servant did with me as his master bade him and brought me back to him, and he set wine before me, even as before the rest of the company. Then the damsel fell to singing after the goodliest fashion and chanted these verses:

      They rail at me because, upon the parting day, I wept, when my belov'd farewell to me did say.
      They never knew the taste of severance nor felt The fire that in my breast for sorrow rageth aye.
      Only th' afflicted one of passion knoweth, he Whose heart amongst these steads is lost and gone astray.

The folk rejoiced in her song with an exceeding joy and my gladness redoubled, so that I took the lute from her and preluding after the most melodious fashion, sang the following verses:

      Ask favours, if thou needs must ask, Of generous men, Who affluence all their lives have known and happy fate.
      O' the generous to ask brings honour, but upon The asking from a churl blame and dishonour wait.
      When thou must needs abase thyself, if thou must ask, I rede thee still abase thyself unto the great
      The generous to exalt no true abasement is ; To magnify the mean doth men humiliate.

The company rejoiced in me with an exceeding joy and they ceased not from pleasure and delight, whilst anon I sang and anon the damsel, till we came to one of the landing-places, where the vessel moored and all on board went ashore and I with them. Now I was drunken with wine and squatted down to make water; but drowsiness overcame me and I slept, and the folk returned to the ship, without missing me, for that they also were drunken, and continued their voyage till they reached Bassora. As for me, I slept on till the heat of the sun aroused me, when I arose and looked about me, but saw no one. Now I had given my spending-money to the damsel and had not a rap left. Moreover, I had forgotten to ask the Hashimi his name and titles and where his house was at Bassora; so I was confounded and it was as if my joy at meeting the damsel had been but a dream; and I abode in perplexity till there came up a great vessel, in which I embarked and she carried me to Bassora.

Now I had never entered the place and knew none there; so I accosted a grocer and taking of him inkhorn and paper, sat down to write. He admired my handwriting and seeing my dress soiled, questioned me of my case, to which I replied that I was a stranger and poor. Quoth he, 'Wilt thou abide with me and order the accounts of my shop and I will give thee thy food and clothing and half a dirhem a day?' 'It is well,' answered I and abode with him and kept his accounts and ordered his incomings and outgoings for a month, at the end of which time he found his receipts increased and his expenses lessened; wherefore he thanked me and made my wage a dirhem a day. When the year was out, he proposed to me to marry his daughter and become his partner in the shop. I agreed to this and went in to my wife and applied me to the shop. But I was broken in heart and spirit, and grief was apparent upon me; and the grocer used to drink and invite me thereto, but I refused for melancholy.

On this wise I abode two years, till, one day, as I sat in the shop, there passed by a company of people with meat and drink, and I asked the grocer what was to do. Quoth he, 'This is the day of the pleasure-makers, when all the musicians and dancers of the town go forth with the young men of fortune to the banks of the Ubulleh river and eat and drink among the trees there. My heart prompted me to divert myself with the sight of this thing and I said in myself, 'Belike, I may foregather with her I love among these people.' So I told the grocer that I had a mind to this and he said, 'Up and go with them.' And he made me ready meat and drink and I went till I came to the Ubulleh river, when, behold, the folk were going away.

I was about to follow, when I espied the very bark in which the Hashimi had been with the damsel going along the river and the captain in her. So I cried out to him and he and his company knew me and took me on board with them and said to me, 'Art thou yet alive?' And they embraced me and questioned me of my case. So I told them my story and they said, 'Indeed, we thought that drunkenness had gotten the mastery of thee and that thou [hadst fallen into the water and] wast drowned.' Then I asked them of the damsel, and they answered, 'When she came to know of thy loss, she rent her clothes and burnt the lute and fell to buffeting herself and lamenting, till we reached Bassora, when we said to her, 'Leave this weeping and sorrowing.' Quoth she, 'I will don black and make me a tomb beside the house and abide thereby and repent from singing.' So we suffered her to do this and on this wise she abideth to this day.'

Then they carried me to the Hashimi's house, where I saw the damsel as they had said. When she saw me, she gave a great cry, methought she had died, and I embraced her with a long embrace. Then said the Hashimi to me, 'Take her.' And I answered, 'It is well but do thou free her and marry her to me, according to thy promise.' So he did this and gave us costly goods and store of raiment and furniture and five hundred dinars, saying, 'This is the amount of that which I purpose to allow you monthly, but on condition that thou be my boon-companion and that I hear the girl sing [when I will] .' Moreover, he assigned us a house and bade transport thither all that we needed; so, when I went to the house, I found it full of furniture and stuffs and carried the damsel thither. Then I betook me to the grocer and told him all that had befallen me, begging him to hold me excused for putting away his daughter, without offence on her part; and I paid her her dowry and what else behoved me. I abode with the Hashimi on this wise two years and became a man of great wealth and was restored well-nigh to the former estate of prosperity wherein I had been at Baghdad, I and the damsel. And indeed God the Bountiful put an end to our troubles and vouchsafed us abundant good fortune and caused our patience to issue in the attainment of our desire: wherefore to Him be the praise in this world and the next.

[Go to King Jelyaad of Hind and His Vizier Shimas: Whereafter Ensueth the History of King Wird Khan, Son of King Jelyaad, With His Women and Viziers]

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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