[Go back to The Porter and the Three Ladies of Baghdad (cont.)]
The Khalif Haroun er Reshid summoned his Vizier Jaafer one night and said to him, 'I have a mind to go down into the city and question the common people of the conduct of the officers charged with its government; and those of whom they complain, we will depose, and those whom they commend, we will advance.' Quoth Jaafer, 'I hear and obey.' So the Khalif and Jaafer and Mesrour went down into the town and walked about the streets and markets till, as they were passing through a certain alley, they came upon an old man walking along at a leisurely pace, with a fishing-net and a basket on his head and a staff in his hand, and heard him repeat the following verses:
They tell me I shine, by my wisdom and wit, Midst the rest of my kind, as the moon in the night. "A truce to your idle discourses!" I cry, "What's knowledge, indeed, unattended by might?" If you offered me, knowledge and wisdom and all, with my inkhorn and papers, in pawn for a mite, To buy one day's victual, the pledge they'd reject And cast, like an unread petition, from sight. Sorry, indeed, is the case of the poor, And his life, what a load of chagrin and despite! In summer, he's pinched for a living and cowers O'er the fire-pot in winter, for warmth and for light. The curs of the street dog his heels, as he goes, And the scurviest rascal may rail at the wight. If he lift up his voice to complain of his case, He finds not a soul who will pity his plight. Since such is the life and the lot of the poor, It were better he lay in the graveyard forthright!
When the Khalif heard this, he said to Jaafer, 'See yonder poor man and note his verses, for they show his necessity.' Then he went up to him and said, 'O old man, what is thy trade?' 'O my lord,' replied he, 'I am a fisherman, with a family to maintain; and I have been out since mid-day, but God has not vouchsafed me aught wherewith to feed them, and indeed I abhor myself and wish for death.' Quoth the Khalif, 'Wilt thou go back with me to the Tigris and cast thy net yet once more on my account, and I will buy of thee whatever comes up for a hundred dinars?' 'On my head be it!' answered the fisherman joyfully. 'I will go back with you.' So he returned with them to the river-bank and cast his net and waited awhile, then drew it up and found in it a chest, locked and heavy. The Khalif lifted it and found it weighty; so he gave the fisherman a hundred dinars, and he went his way; whilst Mesrour carried the chest to the palace, where he set it down before the Khalif and lighted the candles. Then Jaafer and Mesrour broke open the chest and found in it a basket of palm-leaves, sewn together with red worsted. This they cut open and found within a bundle wrapped in a piece of carpet. Under the carpet was a woman's veil and in this a young lady, as she were an ingot of silver, slain and cut in pieces. When the Khalif saw this, he was sore enraged and afflicted; the tears ran down his cheeks and he turned to Jaafer and said, "O dog of a Vizier, shall folk be murdered in my capital city and thrown into the river and their death laid to my account on the Day of Judgment? I must avenge this woman on her murderer and put him to death without mercy! And as surely as I am descended from the sons of Abbas, an thou bring me not him who slew her, that I may do her justice on him, I will hang thee and forty of thy kinsmen at the gate of my palace!' Quoth Jaafer, 'Grant me three days' respite.' And the Khalif said, 'I grant thee this.' So Jaafer went out from before him and returned to his house, full of sorrow and saying to himself, 'How shall I find him who killed the damsel, that I may bring him before the Khalif? If I bring other than the right man, it will be laid to my charge by God. Indeed, I know not what to do.' Then he kept his house three days, and on the fourth day, the Khalif sent one of his chamberlains for him and said to him, 'Where is the murderer of the damsel?' 'O Commander of the Faithful,' replied the Vizier, 'am I inspector of murdered folk, that I should know who killed her?' The Khalif was enraged at his answer and commanded to hang him before his palace-gate and that proclamation should be made in the streets of Baghdad, 'Whoso hath a mind to witness the hanging of Jaafer the Barmecide, Vizier of the Khalif, and of forty of his kin, before the gate of the Khalif's palace, let him come out to see!' So the people came out from all quarters to witness the execution of Jaafer and his kinsmen, not knowing the reason. Then they set up the gallows and made Jaafer and the others stand underneath in readiness; but whilst they awaited the Khalif's signal for the execution and the people wept for Jaafer and his kinsmen, behold, a handsome and well-dressed young man, with shining face and bright black eyes, flower-white forehead, downy whiskers and rosy cheeks and a mole like a grain of ambergris, pressed through the crowd, till he stood before Jaafer and said to him, 'I come to deliver thee from this strait, O chief of the Amirs and refuge of the poor! I am he who killed the woman ye found in the chest; so hang me for her and do her justice on me!' When Jaafer heard this, he rejoiced at his own deliverance, but grieved for the young man; and whilst they were yet talking, behold, a man far advanced in years made his way when he saluted them and said, 'O Vizier and noble lord, credit not what this young man says. None killed the damsel but I; so do thou avenge her on me, or I do accuse thee before God the Most High.' Then said the youth, 'O Vizier, this is a doting old man, who knows not what he says: it was I killed her, so do thou avenge her on me.' 'O my son,' said the old man, 'thou art young and desirest the things of the world, and I am old and weary of the world. I will ransom thee and the Vizier and his kinsmen with my life. None killed the damsel but I; so God on thee, make haste to hang me, or there is no living for me after her!' The Vizier marvelled at all this and taking the youth and the old man, carried them before the Khalif and said to him, 'O Commander of the Faithful, I bring thee the murderer of the damsel.' 'Where is he?' asked the Khalif, and Jaafer answered, 'This youth says he killed her, but this old man gives him the lie and affirms that he himself killed her: and behold, they are both in thy hands.' The Khalif looked at them and said, 'Which of you killed the damsel?' The youth replied, 'It was I.' And the old man, 'Indeed, none killed her but myself.' Then the Khalif said to Jaafer, 'Take them and hang them both.' But the Vizier replied, 'If one of them be the murderer, to hang the other were unjust.' 'By Him who vaulted the heavens and spread out the earth like a carpet,' cried the youth, 'it was I killed her!' And he set forth the circumstance of her death and how they had found her body, so that the Khalif was certified that he was the murderer, whereat he wondered and said to him, 'Why didst thou slay the damsel wrongfully and what made thee come and accuse thyself thus and confess thy crime without being beaten?' 'Know, O Commander of the Faithful,' answered the young man, 'that this damsel was my wife and the daughter of this old man, who is my father's brother, and she was a virgin when I married her. God blessed me with three male children by her, and she loved me and served me, and I also loved her with an exceeding love and saw no evil in her. We lived happily together till the beginning of this month, when she fell grievously ill. I fetched the doctors to her and she recovered slowly; and I would have had her take a bath; but she said, "There is something I long for, before I go to the bath." "What is it?" asked I, and she replied, "I have a longing for an apple, that I may smell it and bite a piece of it." So I went out into the city at once and sought for apples, but could find none, though, had they been a dinar apiece, I would have bought them. I was vexed at this and went home and said to my wife, "By Allah, my cousin, I can find none." She was distressed, being yet weak, and her weakness increased greatly on her that night, and I passed the night full of anxiety. As soon as it was day, I went out again and made the round of the gardens, but could find no apples anywhere. At last I met an old gardener, of whom I enquired for them, and he said to me, "O my son, this fruit is rare with us and is not now to be found but in the garden of the Commander of the Faithful at Bassora, where the gardener keeps them for the Khalif's table.' I returned home, troubled at my ill-success, and my love and concern for her moved me to undertake the journey to Bassora. So I set out and travelled thither and bought three apples of the gardener there for three dinars, with which I returned to Baghdad, after having been absent fifteen days and nights, going and coming. I went in to my wife and gave her the apples; but she took no pleasure in them and let them lie by her side; for weakness and fever had increased on her and did not leave her for ten days, at the end of which time she began to mend. So I left the house and went to my shop, where I sat buying and selling. About mid-day a great ugly black slave came into the bazaar, having in his hand one of the three apples, with which he was playing; so I called to him and said, "Prithee, good slave, tell me whence thou hadst that apple, that I may get the fellow to it." He laughed and answered, "I had it of my mistress; for I had been absent and on my return I found her lying ill, with three apples by her side: and she told me that the cuckold her husband had made a journey for them to Bassora, where he had bought them for three dinars. So I ate and drank with her and took this one from her." When I heard this, the world grew black in my eyes, and I rose and shut my shop and went home, beside myself for excess of rage. I looked for the apples and finding but two of them, said to my wife, "Where is the third apple?" Quoth she, "I know not what is come of it." This convinced me of the truth of the slave's story, so I took a knife and coming behind her, without word said, got up on her breast and cut her throat; after which I hewed her in pieces and wrapping her in her veil and a piece of carpet, sewed the whole up hurriedly in the basket. Then I put the basket in the chest and locking it up, set it on my mule and threw it into the Tigris with my own hands. So, God on thee, O Commander of the Faithful, make haste to hang me, for I fear lest she sue for vengeance on me at the Day of Resurrection! For when I had thrown her into the river, unknown of any, I returned home and found my eldest boy weeping, though he knew not what I had done with his mother; and I said to him "Why dost thou weep, my son?" He replied, "I took one of my mother's apples and went down with it into the street to play with my brothers, when lo, a tall black slave snatched it from my hand, saying, 'Whence hadst thou this?' Quoth I, 'My father journeyed to Bassora for it and brought it to my mother, who is ill, with two other apples for which he paid three dinars. Give it back to me and do not get me into trouble for it.' He paid no heed to my words and I demanded the apple a second and a third time; but he beat me and went away with it. I was afraid that my mother would beat me on account of the apple; so for fear of her, I went without the city with my brothers and abode there until night closed in upon us, and indeed I am in fear of her: so by Allah, O my father, say nothing to her of this, or it will add to her illness." When I heard what the child said, I knew that the slave was he who had forged a lie against my wife and was certified that I had killed her wrongfully. So I wept sore, and presently, this old man, her father, came in and I told him what had passed; and he sat down by my side and wept and we ceased not weeping half the night. This was five days ago and from that time to this, we have never ceased to bewail her and mourn for her, sorrowing sore for that she was unjustly put to death. All this came of the lying story of the slave, and this was the manner of my killing her; so I conjure thee, by the honour of thy forefathers, make haste to kill me and do her justice on me, for there is no living for me after her.' The Khalif wondered at his story and said, 'By Allah, the young man is excusable, and I will hang none but the accursed slave!' Then he fumed to Jaafer and said to him, 'Bring me the accursed slave, who was the cause of this calamity, and if thou bring him not in three days, thou shalt suffer in his stead.' And Jaafer went out, weeping and saying, 'Verily, I am beset by deaths; the pitcher does not come off for aye unbroken. I can do nothing in this matter; but He who saved me the first time may save me again. By Allah, I will not leave my house during the three days that remain to me, and God who is the Truth shall do what He will.' So he kept his house three days, and on the fourth day, he summoned Cadis and witnesses and made his last dispositions and bade farewell to his children, weeping. Presently in came a messenger from the Khalif and said to him, 'The Commander of the Faithful is beyond measure wroth and sends to seek thee and swears that the day shall not pass without thy being hanged.' When Jaafer heard this, he wept and his children and slaves and all that were in the house wept with him. Then they brought him his little daughter, that he might bid her farewell. Now he loved her more than all his other children; so he pressed her to his breast and kissed her and wept over his separation from her; when lo, he felt something round in her bosom and said to her, 'What's this in thy bosom?' 'O my father,' answered she, 'it is an apple with the name of our lord the Khalif written on it. Our slave Rihan brought it to me four days ago and would not let me have it, till I gave him two dinars for it.' When Jaafer heard this, he put his hand into her bosom and took out the apple and knew it and rejoiced, saying, 'O swift Dispeller of trouble!' Then he sent for the slave and said to him, 'Harkye Rihan, whence hadst thou this apple?' 'By Allah, O my lord,' replied he, 'though lying might get me off, yet is it safer to tell the truth! I did not steal it from thy palace nor from the palace of His Highness nor the garden of the Commander of the Faithful. The fact is that some days ago, I was passing along a certain alley of this city, when I saw some children playing and this apple in the hand of one of them. So I snatched it from him, and he wept and said, "O youth, this apple is my mother's and she is ill. She longed for apples, and my father journeyed to Bassora and bought her three for three dinars, and I took one of them to play with." But I paid no heed to what he said and beat him and went off with the apple and sold it to my little mistress for two dinars.' When Jaafer heard this, he wondered that the death of the damsel and all this misery should have been caused by his slave and grieved for the relation of the slave to himself, whilst rejoicing over his own delivery: and he repeated the following verses:
If through a servant misfortune befall thee, Spare not to save thine own life at his cost. Servants in plenty thou'lt find to replace him, Life for life never, once it is lost.
Then he carried the slave to the Khalif, to whom he related the whole story; and the Khalif wondered greatly and laughed till he fell backward and ordered the story to be recorded and published among the folk. Then said Jaafer, 'O Commander of the Faithful, wonder not at this story, for it is not more marvellous than that of Noureddin Ali of Cairo and his son Bedreddin Hassan.' 'What is that?' asked the Khalif; 'and how can it be more marvellous than this story?' 'O Commander of the Faithful,' answered Jaafer, 'I will not tell it thee except thou pardon my slave.' Quoth the Khalif, 'If it be indeed more marvellous than that of the three apples, I grant thee thy slave's life; but if not, I will kill him.' 'Know, then, O Commander of the Faithful,' said Jaafer, 'that...
[Go to Noureddin Ali of Cairo and His Son Bedreddin Hassan]
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