[Go back to The Story of Zobeide]
Commander of the faithful, to avoid repeating what your majesty has already heard in my sister's story, I shall only add, that after my mother had taken a house for herself to live in, during her widowhood, she gave me in marriage, with the portion my father left me, to a gentleman who had one of the best estates in the city.
I had scarcely been a year married when I became a widow, and was left in possession of all my husband's property, which amounted to 90,000 sequins. The interest of this money was sufficient to maintain me very honourably. When the first six months of my mourning was over, I caused to be made for me ten different dresses, of such magnificence that each came to a thousand sequins; and at the end of the year I began to wear them.
One day, while I was alone engaged in my domestic affairs, I was told that a lady desired to speak to me. I gave orders that she should be admitted. She was a person advanced in years; she saluted me by kissing the ground, and said to me kneeling, "Dear lady, excuse the freedom I take to trouble you, the confidence I have in your charity makes me thus bold. I must acquaint your ladyship that I have an orphan daughter, who is to be married this day. She and I are both strangers, and have no acquaintance in this town; which much perplexes me, for we wish the numerous family with whom we are going to ally ourselves to think we are not altogether unknown and without credit: therefore, most beautiful lady, if you would vouchsafe to honour the wedding with your presence, we shall be infinitely obliged, because the ladies of our country, when informed that a lady of your rank has strewn us this respect, will then know that we are not regarded here as unworthy and despised persons. But, alas! madam, if you refuse this request, how great will be our mortification! we know not where else to apply."
This poor woman's address, which she spoke with tears, moved my compassion. "Good woman," said I, "do not afflict yourself, I will grant you the favour you desire; tell me whither I must go, and I will meet you as soon as I am dressed." The old woman was so transported with joy at my answer, that she kissed my feet before I had time to prevent her. "My compassionate lady," said she, rising, "God will reward the kindness you have shewed to your servants, and make your heart as joyful as you have made theirs. You need not at present trouble yourself; it will be time enough for you to go when I call for you in the evening. So farewell, madam, till I have the honour to see you again."
As soon as she was gone, I took the suit I liked best, with a necklace of large pearls, bracelets, pendents for my ears, and rings set with the finest and most sparkling diamonds; for my mind presaged what would befall me.
When the night closed in, the old woman called upon me, with a countenance full of joy. She kissed my hands, and said, "My dear lady, the relations of my son-in-law, who are the principal ladies of the city, are now met together; you may come when you please; I am ready to conduct you." We immediately set out; she walked before me, and I was followed by a number of my women and slaves properly dressed for the occasion. We stopt in a wide street, newly swept and watered, at a spacious gate with a lamp, by the light of which I read this inscription in golden letters over the entrance: "This is the everlasting abode of pleasure and joy." The old woman knocked, and the gate was opened immediately.
I was conducted towards the lower end of the court, into a large hall, where I was received by a young lady of admirable beauty. She drew near, and after having embraced me, made me sit down by her upon a sofa, on which was raised a throne of precious wood set with diamonds. "Madam," said she, "you are brought hither to assist at a wedding; but I hope it will be a different wedding from what you expected. I have a brother, one of the handsomest men in the world: he is fallen so much in love with the fame of your beauty, that his fate depends wholly upon you, and he will be the unhappiest of men if you do not take pity on him. He knows your quality, and I can assure you he is in no respect unworthy of your alliance. If my prayers, madam, can prevail, I shall join them with his, and humbly beg you will not refuse the proposal of being his wife."
After the death of my husband I had not thought of marrying again. But I had no power to refuse the solicitation of so charming a lady. As soon as I had given consent by my silence, accompanied with a blush, the young lady claps her hands, and immediately a closet-door opened, out of which came a young man of a majestic air, and so graceful a behaviour, that I thought myself happy to have made so great a conquest. He sat down by me, and I found from his conversation that his merits far exceeded the eulogium of his sister.
When she perceived that we were satisfied with one another, she claps her hands a second time, and out came a Cauzee, who wrote our contract of marriage, signed it himself, and caused it to be attested by four witnesses he brought along with him. The only condition that my new husband imposed upon me was, that I should not be seen by nor speak to any other man but himself, and he vowed to me that, if I complied in this respect, I should have no reason to complain of him. Our marriage was concluded and finished after this manner; so I became the principal actress in a wedding to which I had only been invited as a guest.
About a month after our marriage, having occasion for some stuffs, I asked my husband's permission to go out to buy them, which he granted; and I took with me the old woman of whom I spoke before, she being one of the family, and two of my own female slaves.
When we came to the street where the merchants reside, the old woman said, "Dear mistress, since you want silk stuffs, I must take you to a young merchant of my acquaintance, who has a great variety; and that you may not fatigue yourself by running from shop to shop, I can assure you that you will find in his what no other can furnish." I was easily persuaded, and we entered a shop belonging to a young merchant who was tolerably handsome. I sat down, and bade the old woman desire him to shew me the finest silk stuffs he had. The woman desired me to speak myself; but I told her it was one of the articles of my marriage contract not to speak to any man but my husband, which I ought to keep.
The merchant shewed me several stuffs, of which one pleased me better than the rest; but I bade her ask the price. He answered the old woman, "I will not sell it for gold or money, but I will make her a present of it, if she will give me leave to kiss her cheek." I ordered the old woman to tell him, that he was very rude to propose such a freedom. But instead of obeying me, she said, "What the merchant desires of you is no such great matter; you need not speak, but only present him your cheek." The stuff pleased me so much, that I was foolish enough to take her advice. The old woman and my slaves stood up, that nobody might see, and I put up my veil; but instead of kissing me, the merchant bit me so violently as to draw blood.
The pain and my surprise were so great, that I fell down in a swoon, and continued insensible so long, that the merchant had time to escape. When I came to myself, I found my cheek covered with blood: the old woman and my slaves took care to cover it with my veil, that the people who came about us could not perceive it, but supposed I had only had a fainting fit.
The old woman who accompanied me being extremely troubled at this accident, endeavoured to comfort me. "My dear mistress," said she, "I beg your pardon, for I am the cause of this misfortune, having brought you to this merchant, because he is my countryman: but I never thought he would be guilty of such a villainous action. But do not grieve; let us hasten home, I will apply a remedy that shall in three days so perfectly cure you, that not the least mark shall be visible." The fit had made me so weak, that I was scarcely able to walk. But at last I got home, where I again fainted, as I went into my chamber. Meanwhile, the old woman applied her remedy; I came to myself, and went to bed.
My husband came to me at night, and seeing my head bound up, asked me the reason. I told him I had the head-ache, which I hoped would have satisfied him, but he took a candle, and saw my cheek was hurt: "How comes this wound?" said he. Though I did not consider myself as guilty of any great offence, yet I could not think of owning the truth. Besides, to make such an avowal to a husband, I considered as somewhat indecorous; I therefore said, "That as I was going, under his permission, to purchase some silk stuff, a porter, carrying a load of wood, came so near to me, in a narrow street, that one of the sticks grazed my cheek; but had not done me much hurt." This account put my husband into a violent passion. "This act," said he, "shall not go unpunished. I will to-morrow order the lieutenant of the police to seize all those brutes of porters, and cause them to be hanged." Fearful of occasioning the death of so many innocent persons, I said, "Sir, I should be sorry so great a piece of injustice should be committed. Pray refrain; for I should deem myself unpardonable, were I to be the cause of so much mischief." "Then tell me sincerely," said he, "how came you by this wound." "I answered, "That it was occasioned by the inadvertency of a broom-seller upon an ass, who coming behind me, while he was looking another way, his ass came against me with so much violence, that I fell down, and hurt my cheek upon some glass." "If that is the case," said my husband, "to-morrow morning, before sun-rise, the grand vizier Jaaffier shall be informed of this insolence, and cause all the broom-sellers to be put to death." "For the love of God, Sir," said I, "let me beg of you to pardon them, for they are not guilty." "How, madam," he demanded, "what then am I to believe? Speak, for I am resolved to know the truth from your own mouth." "Sir," I replied, "I was taken with a giddiness, and fell down, and that is the whole matter."
At these words my husband lost all patience. "I have," said he, "too long listened to your falsehoods." As he spoke he clapped his hands, and in came three slaves: "Pull her out of bed," said he, "and lay her in the middle of the floor." The slaves obeyed, one holding me by the head, another by the feet; he commanded the third to fetch a cimeter, and when he had brought it, "Strike," said he, "cut her in two, and then throw her into the Tygris. This is the punishment I inflict on those to whom I have given my heart, when they falsify their promise." When he saw that the slave hesitated to obey him, "Why do you not strike?" said he. "What do you wait for?"
"Madam," said the slave then, "you are near the last moment of your life, consider if you have any thing to dispose of before you die." I begged permission to speak one word, which was granted me. I lifted up my head, and casting an affectionate look on my husband, said, "Alas! to what a condition am I reduced! must I then die in the prime of my youth!" I could say no more, for my tears and sighs choked my utterance. My husband was not at all moved, but, on the contrary, went on to reproach me; and it would have been in vain to attempt a reply. I had recourse to intreaties and prayers; but he had no regard to them, and commanded the slaves to proceed to execution. The old woman, who had been his nurse, came in just at that moment, fell down upon her knees, and endeavoured to appease his wrath. "My son," said she, "since I have been your nurse and brought you up, let me beg the favour of you to grant me her life. Consider, that he who kills shall be killed, and that you will stain your reputation, and forfeit the esteem of mankind. What will the world say of such sanguinary violence?" She spoke these words in such an affecting manner, accompanied with tears, that she prevailed upon him at last to abandon his purpose,
"Well then," said he to his nurse, "for your sake I will spare her life; but she shall bear about her person some marks to make her remember her offence." When he had thus spoken, one of the slaves, by his order, gave me upon my sides and breast so many blows, with a little cane, that he tore away both skin and flesh, which threw me into a swoon. In this state he caused the same slaves, the executioners of his fury, to carry me into a house, where the old woman took care of me. I kept my bed four months; at last I recovered: the scars which, contrary to my wish, you saw yesterday, have remained ever since.
As soon as I was able to walk, and go abroad, I resolved to retire to the house which was left me by my first husband, but I could not find the site whereon it had stood. My second husband, in the heat of his resentment, was not satisfied with the demolition of that, but caused every other house in the same street to be razed to the ground. I believe such an act of violence was never heard of before; but against whom could I complain? The perpetrator had taken good care to conceal himself. But suppose I had discovered him, is it not easily seen that his conduct must have proceeded from absolute power? How then could I dare to complain?
Being left thus destitute and helpless, I had recourse to my dear sister Zobeide, whose adventures your majesty has just heard. To her I made known my misfortune; she received me with her accustomed goodness, and advised me to bear my ambition patience. "This is the way of the world," said she, "which either robs us of our property, our friends, or our lovers; and some. times of all together." In confirmation of her remark, she at the same time gave me an account of the loss of the young prince, occasioned by the jealousy of her two sisters. She told me also by what accident they were transformed into bitches: and in the last place, after a thousand testimonials of her love towards me, she introduced me to my youngest sister, who had likewise taken sanctuary with her after the death of her mother.
Having returned our grateful acknowledgments to God for having thus brought us together, we resolved to preserve our freedom, and never again to separate. We have now long enjoyed this tranquil life. As it was my business to manage the affairs of the house, I always took pleasure in going myself to purchase what we wanted. I happened to go abroad yesterday for this purpose, and the things I bought I caused to be carried home by a porter, who proving to be a sensible and jocose fellow, we kept with us for a little diversion. Three calenders happened to come to our door as it began to grow dark, and prayed us to give them shelter till the next morning We admitted them upon certain conditions which they agreed to observe; and after we had made them sit at table with us, they in their own way entertained us with a concert of music. At this time we heard knocking at our gate. This proceeded from three merchants of Moussol, men of good appearance, who begged the same favour which the calenders had obtained before. We consented upon the same conditions, but neither of them kept their promise. Though we had power, as well as justice on our side, to punish them, yet we contented ourselves with demanding from them the history of their lives; and afterwards confined our revenge to dismissing them, after they had done, and denying them the asylum they requested.
[Resume The Three Calendars, Sons of Sultans, and the Five Ladies of Baghdad]
Scott, Jonathan (1754-1829). The Arabian Nights Entertainments. London: Pickering and Chatto, 1890. 4 Volumes. Project Gutenberg.
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