[Go back to The Fisherman ]
In the reign of Caliph Haroon al Rusheed, there was at Bagdad, a porter, who, notwithstanding his mean and laborious business, was a fellow of wit and good humour. One morning as he was at the place where he usually plyed, with a great basket, waiting for employment, a handsome young lady, covered with a great muslin veil, accosted him, and said with a pleasant air, "Hark you, porter, take your basket and follow me." The porter, charmed with these words, pronounced in so agreeable a manner, took his basket immediately, set it on his head, and followed the lady, exclaiming, "O happy day, O day of good luck!"
In a short time the lady stopped before a gate that was shut, and knocked: a Christian, with a venerable long white beard, opened it; and she put money into his hand, without speaking; but the Christian, who knew what she wanted, went in, and in a little time, brought a large jug of excellent wine. "Take this jug," said the lady to the porter, "and put it in your basket." This being done, she commanded him to follow her; and as she proceeded, the porter continued his exclamation, "O happy day! This is a day of agreeable surprise and joy."
The lady stopped at a fruit-shop, where she bought several sorts of apples, apricots, peaches, quinces, lemons, citrons, oranges; myrtles, sweet basil, lilies, jessamin, and some other flowers and fragrant plants; she bid the porter put all into his basket, and follow her. As she went by a butcher's stall, she made him weigh her twenty five pounds of his best meat, which she ordered the porter to put also into his basket. At another shop, she took capers, tarragon, cucumbers, sassafras, and other herbs, preserved in vinegar: at another, she bought pistachios, walnuts, filberts, almonds, kernels of pine-apples, and such other fruits; and at another, all sorts of confectionery. When the porter had put all these things into his basket, and perceived that it grew full, "My good lady," said he, "you ought to have given me notice that you had so much provision to carry, and then I would have brought a horse, or rather a camel, for the purpose; for if you buy ever so little more, I shall not be able to bear it." The lady laughed at the fellow's pleasant humour, and ordered him still to follow her.
She then went to a druggist, where she furnished herself with all manner of sweet-scented waters, cloves, musk, pepper, ginger, and a great piece of ambergris, and several other Indian spices; this quite filled the porter's basket, and she ordered him to follow her. They walked till they came to a magnificent house, whose front was adorned with fine columns, and had a gate of ivory. There they stopped, and the lady knocked softly.
While the young lady and the porter waited for the opening of the gate, the porter made a thousand reflections. He wondered that such a fine lady should come abroad to buy provisions; he concluded she could not be a slave, her air was too noble, and therefore he thought she must needs be a woman of quality. Just as he was about to ask her some questions upon this head, another lady came to open the gate, and appeared to him so beautiful, that he was perfectly surprised, or rather so much struck with her charms, that he had nearly suffered his basket to fall, for he had never seen any beauty that equalled her.
The lady who brought the porter with her, perceiving his disorder, and knowing the cause, was greatly diverted, and took so much pleasure in watching his looks, that she forgot the gate was opened. "Pray, Sister," said the beautiful portress, "come in, what do you stay for? Do not you see this poor man so heavy laden, that he is scarcely able to stand,"
When she entered with the porter, the lady who had opened the gate shut it, and all three, after having passed through a splendid vestibule, entered a spacious court, encompassed with an open gallery, which had a communication with several apartments of extraordinary magnificence. At the farther end of the court there was a platform, richly furnished, with a throne of amber in the middle, supported by four columns of ebony, enriched with diamonds and pearls of an extraordinary size, and covered with red satin embroidered with Indian gold of admirable workmanship. In the middle of the court there was a fountain, faced with white marble, and full of clear water, which was copiously supplied out of the mouth of a lion of brass.
The porter, though heavy laden, could not but admire the magnificence of this house, and the excellent order in which every thing was placed; but what particularly captivated his attention, was a third lady, who seemed to be more beautiful than the second, and was seated upon the throne just mentioned; she descended as soon as she saw the two others, and advanced towards them: he judged by the respect which the other ladies showed her, that she was the chief, in which he was not mistaken. This lady was called Zobeide, she who opened the gate Safie, and she who went to buy the provisions was named Amene.
Zobeide said to the two ladies, when she came to them, "Sisters, do not you see that this honest man is ready to sink under his burden, why do not you ease him of it?" Then Amene and Safie took the basket, the one before and the other behind; Zobeide also assisted, and all three together set it on the ground; then emptied it; and when they had done, the beautiful Amene took out money, and paid the porter liberally.
The porter was well satisfied with the money he had received; but when he ought to have departed, he could not summon sufficient resolution for the purpose. He was chained to the spot by the pleasure of beholding three such beauties, who appeared to him equally charming; for Amene having now laid aside her veil, proved to be as handsome as either of the others. What surprised him most was, that he saw no man about the house, yet most of the provisions he had brought in, as the dry fruits, and the several sorts of cakes and confections, were adapted chiefly for those who could drink and make merry.
Zobeide thought at first, that the porter staid only to take breath, but perceiving that he remained too long, "What do you wait for," said she, "are you not sufficiently paid?" And turning to Amene. she continued, "Sister, give him something more, that he may depart satisfied." "Madam," replied the porter, "it is not that which detains me, I am already more than paid for my services; I am sensible that I act rudely in staying longer than I ought, but I hope you will the goodness to pardon me, when I tell you, that I am astonished not to see a man with three ladies of such extraordinary beauty: and you know that a company of women without men is as melancholy as a company of men without women." To this he added several other pleasant things, to prove what he said, and did not forget the Bagdad proverb, "That the table is not completely furnished, except there be four in company:" and so concluded, that since they were but three, they wanted another.
The ladies fell a laughing at the porter's reasoning; after which Zobeide gravely addressed him, "Friend, you presume rather too much; and though you do not deserve that I should enter into any explanation with you, I have no objection to inform you that we are three sisters, who transact our affairs with so much secrecy that no one knows any thing of them. We have but too much reason to be cautious of acquainting indiscreet persons with our counsel; and a good author that we have read, says, ‘Keep thy own secret, and do not reveal it to any one. He that makes his secret known it no longer its master. If thy own breast cannot keep thy counsel, how canst thou expect the breast of another to be more faithful?'"
"My ladies," replied the porter, "by your very air, I judged at first that you were persons of extraordinary merit, and I conceive that I am not mistaken. Though fortune has not given me wealth enough to raise me above my mean profession, yet I have not omitted to cultivate my mind as much as I could, by reading books of science and history; and allow me, I beseech you, to say, that I have also read in another author a maxim which I have always happily followed: ‘We conceal our secret from such persons only as are known to all the world to want discretion, and would abuse our confidence; but we hesitate not to discover it to the prudent, because we know that with them it is safe.' A secret in my keeping is as secure as if it were locked up in a cabinet, the key of which is lost, and the door sealed up."
Zobeide perceiving that the porter was not deficient in wit, but thinking he wished to share in their festivity, answered him, smiling, "You know that we have been making preparations to regale ourselves, and that, as you have seen, at a considerable expense; it is not just that you should now partake of the entertainment without contributing to the cost." The beautiful Safie seconded her sister, and said to the porter, "Friend. have you never heard the common saying, ‘If you bring something with you, you shall carry something away, but if you bring nothing, you shall depart empty?'"
The porter, notwithstanding his rhetoric, must, in all probability, have retired in confusion, if Amene had not taken his part, and said to Zobeide and Safie, "My dear sisters, I conjure you to let him remain; I need not tell you that he will afford us some diversion, of this you perceive he is capable: I assure you, had it not been for his readiness, his alacrity, and courage to follow me, I could not have done so much business, in so short a time; besides, where I to repeat to you all the obliging expressions he addressed to me by the way, you would not feel surprised at my taking his part."
At these words of Amene, the porter was so transported with joy, that he fell on his knees, kissed the ground at her feet, and raising himself up, said, "Most beautiful lady, you began my good fortune to-day, and now you complete it by this generous conduct; I cannot adequately express my acknowledgments. As to the rest, ladies," said he, addressing himself to all the three sisters, "since you do me so great an honour, do not think that I will abuse it, or look upon myself as deserving of the distinction. No, I shall always look upon myself as one of your most humble slaves." When he had spoken these words he would have returned the money he had received, but Zobeide ordered him to keep it. "What we have once given," said she, "to reward those who have served us, we never take back. My friend, in consenting to your staying with us, I must forewarn you, that it is not the only condition we impose upon you that you keep inviolable the secret we may entrust to you, but we also require you to attend to the strictest rules of good manners." During this address, the charming Amene put off the apparel she went abroad with, and fastened her robe to her girdle that she might act with the greater freedom; she then brought in several sorts of meat, wine, and cups of gold. Soon after, the ladies took their places, and made the porter sit down by them, who was overjoyed to see himself seated with three such admirable beauties. After they had eaten a little, Amene took a cup, poured some wine into it, and drank first herself; she then filled the cup to her sisters, who drank in course as they sat; and at last she filled it the fourth time for the porter, who, as he received it, kissed Amene's hand; and before he drank, sung a song to this purpose. That as the wind bears with it the sweet scents of the purfumed places over which it passes, so the wine he was going to drink, coming from her fair hands, received a more exquisite flavour than it naturally possessed. The song pleased the ladies much, and each of them afterwards sung one in her turn. In short, they were all very pleasant during the repast, which lasted a considerable time, and nothing was wanting that could serve to render it agreeable. The day drawing to a close, Safie spoke in the name of the three ladies, and said to the porter, "Arise, it is time for you to depart." But the porter, not willing to leave good company, cried, "Alas! ladies, whither do you command me to go in my present condition? What with drinking and your society, I am quite beside myself. I shall never find the way home; allow me this night to recover myself, in any place you please, but go when I will, I shall leave the best part of myself behind."
Amene pleaded the second time for the porter, saying, "Sisters, he is right, I am pleased with the request, he having already diverted us so well; and, if you will take my advice, or if you love me as much as I think you do, let us keep him for the remainder of the night." "Sister," answered Zobeide, "we can refuse you nothing;" and then turning to the porter, said, "We are willing once more to grant your request, but upon this new condition, that, whatever we do in your presence relating either to ourselves or any thing else, you do not so much as open your mouth to ask the reason; for if you put any questions respecting what does not concern you, you may chance to hear what you will not like; beware therefore, and be not too inquisitive to pry into the motives of our actions.
"Madam," replied the porter, "I promise to abide by this condition, that you shall have no cause to complain, and far less to punish my indiscretion; my tongue shall be immovable on this occasion, and my eye like a looking-glass, which retains nothing of the objets that is set before it." "To shew you," said Zobeide with a serious countenance, "that what we demand of you is not a new thing among us, read what is written over our gate on the inside."
The porter went and read these words, written in large characters of gold: "He who speaks of things that do not concern him, shall hear things that will not please him." Returning again to the three sisters, "Ladies," said he, "I swear to you that you shall never hear me utter a word respecting what does not relate to me, or wherein you may have any concern."
These preliminaries being settled, Amene brought in supper, and after she had lighted up the room with tapers, made of aloe-wood and ambergris, which yield a most agreeable perfume, as well as a delicate light, she sat down with her sisters and the porter. They began again to eat and drink, to sing, and repeat verses. The ladies diverted themselves in intoxicating the porter, under pretext of making him drink their healths, and the repast was enlivened by reciprocal flashes of wit. When they were all in the best humour possible, they heard a knocking at the gate.
When the ladies heard the knocking, they all three got up to open the gate; but Safie was the nimblest; which her sisters perceiving, they resumed their seats. Safie returning, said, "Sisters, we have a very fine opportunity of passing a good part of the night pleasantly, and if you agree with me, you will not suffer it to go by. There are three calenders at our gate, at least they appear to be such by their habit; but what will surprise you is, they are all three blind of the right eye, and have their heads, beards, and eye-brows shaved. They say, they are but just come to Bagdad, where they never were before; it being night, and not knowing where to find a lodging, they happened by chance to knock at this gate, and pray us, for the love of heaven, to have compassion on them, and receive them into the house. They care not what place we put them in, provided they may be under shelter; they would be satisfied with a stable. They are young and handsome, and seem not to want spirit. But I cannot without laughing think of their amusing and uniform figure." Here Safie laughed so heartily, that the two sisters and the porter could not refrain from laughing also. "My dear sisters," said she, "you will permit them to come in; it is impossible but that with such persons as I have described them to be, we shall finish the day better than we began it; they will afford us diversion enough, and put us to no charge, because they desire shelter only for this night, and resolve to leave us as soon as day appears."
Zobeide and Amene made some difficulty to grant Safie's request, for reasons which she herself well knew. But being very desirous to obtain this favour, they could not refuse her; "Go then," said Zobeide, "and bring them in, but do not forget to acquaint them that they must not speak of any thing which does not concern them, and cause them to read what is written over the gate." Safie ran out with joy, and in a little time after returned with the three calenders.
At their entrance they made a profound obeisance to the ladies, who rose up to receive them, and told them courteously that they were welcome, that they were glad of the opportunity to oblige them, and to contribute towards relieving the fatigues of their journey, and at last invited them to sit down with them.
The magnificence of the place, and the civility they received, inspired the calenders with high respect for the ladies: but, before they sat down, having by chance cast their eyes upon the porter, whom they saw clad almost like those devotees with whom they have continual disputes respecting several points of discipline, because they never shave their beards nor eye-brows; one of them said, "I believe we have got here one of our revolted Arabian brethren."
The porter having his head warm with wine, took offence and with a fierce look, without stirring from his place, answered, "Sit you down, and do not meddle with what does not concern you: have you not read the inscription over the gate? Do not pretend to make people live after your fashion, but follow ours."
"Honest man," said the calender, "do not put yourself in a passion; we should be sorry to give you the least occasion; on the contrary, we are ready to receive your commands." Upon which, to put an end to the dispute, the ladies interposed, and pacified them. When the calenders were seated, the ladies served them with meat; and Safie, being highly pleased with them, did not let them want for wine.
After the calenders had eaten and drunk liberally, they signified to the ladies, that they wished to entertain them with a concert of music, if they had any instruments in the house, and would cause them to be brought: they willingly accepted the proposal, and fair Safie going to fetch them, returned again in a moment, and presented them with a flute of her own country fashion, another of the Persian, and a tabor. Each man took the instrument he liked, and all three together began to play a tune The ladies, who knew the words of a merry song that suited the air, joined the concert with their voices; but the words of the song made them now and then stop, and fall into excessive laughter.
In the height of this diversion, when the company were in the midst of their jollity, a knocking was heard at the gate; Safie left off singing, and went to see who it was. The caliph Haroon al Rusheed was frequently in the habit of walking abroad in disguise by night, that he might discover if every thing was quiet in the city, and see that no disorders were committed.
This night the caliph went out on his rambles, accompanied by Jaaffier his grand vizier, and Mesrour the chief of the eunuchs of his palace, all disguised in merchants' habits; and passing through the street where the three ladies dwelt, he heard the sound of music and fits of loud laughter; upon which he commanded the vizier, to knock, as he wished to enter to ascertain the reason. The vizier, in vain represented to him that the noise proceeded from some women who were merry-making, that without question their heads were warm with wine, and that it would not be proper he should expose himself to be affronted by them: besides, it was not yet an unlawful hour, and therefore he ought not to disturb them in their mirth. "No matter," said the caliph, "I command you to knock." Jaaffier complied; Safie opened the gate, and the vizier, perceiving by the light in her hand, that she was an incomparable beauty, with a very low salutation said, "We are three merchants of Mossoul, who arrived here about ten days ago with rich merchandise, which we have in a warehouse at a caravan-serai, where we have also our lodging. We happened this evening to be with a merchant of this city, who invited us to his house, where we had a splendid entertainment: and the wine having put us in good humour, he sent for a company of dancers. Night being come on, and the music and dancers making a great noise, the watch, passing by, caused the gate to be opened and some of the company to be taken up; but we had the good fortune to escape by getting over the wall. Being strangers, and somewhat overcome with wine, we are afraid of meeting that or some other watch, before we get home to our khan. Besides, before we can arrive there the gates will be shut, and will not be opened till morning: wherefore, hearing, as we passed by this way, the sound of music, we supposed you were not yet going to rest, and made bold to knock at your gate, to beg the favour of lodging ourselves in the house till morning; and if you think us worthy of your good company, we will endeavour to contribute to your diversion to the best of our power, to make some amends for the interruption we have given you; if not, we only beg the favour of staying this night in your vestibule."
Whilst Jaaffier was speaking, Safie had time to observe the vizier, and his two companions, who were said to be merchants like himself, and told them that she was not mistress of the house; but if they would have a minute's patience, she would return with an answer.
Safie made the business known to her sisters, who considered for some time what to do: but being naturally of a good disposition, and having granted the same favour to the three calenders, they at last consented to let them in.
The caliph, his grand vizier, and the chief of the eunuchs, being introduced by the fair Safie, very courteously saluted the ladies and the calenders. The ladies returned their salutations, supposing them to be merchants. Zobeide, as the chief, addressed them with a grave and serious countenance, which was natural to her, and said, "You are welcome. But before I proceed farther, I hope you will not take it ill if we desire one favour of you." "Alas!" said the vizier, "what favour? We can refuse nothing to such fair ladies." Zobeide continued, "It is that, while here, you would have eyes, but no tongues; that you question us not for the reason of any thing you may see, and speak not of any thing that does not concern you, lest you hear what will by no means please you."
"Madam," replied the vizier, "you shall be obeyed. We are not censorious, nor impertinently curious; it is enough for us to notice affairs that concern us, without meddling with what does not belong to us." Upon this they all sat down, and the company being united, they drank to the health of the new-comers.
While the vizier, entertained the ladies in conversation, the caliph could not forbear admiring their extraordinary beauty, graceful behaviour, pleasant humour, and ready wit; on the other hand, nothing struck him with more surprise than the calenders being all three blind of the right eye. He would gladly have learnt the cause of this singularity; but the conditions so lately imposed upon himself and his companions would not allow him to speak. These circumstances, with the richness of the furniture, the exact order of every thing, and the neatness of the house, made him think they were in some enchanted place.
Their conversation happening to turn upon diversions, and the different ways of making merry; the calenders arose, and danced after their fashion, which augmented the good opinion the ladies had conceived of them, and procured them the esteem of the caliph and his companions.
When the three calenders had finished their dance, Zobeide arose, and taking Amene by the hand, said, "Pray, sister, arise, for the company will not be offended if we use our freedom, and their presence need not hinder the performance of our customary exercise." Amene understanding her sister's meaning, rose from her seat, carried away the dishes, the flasks and cups, together with the instruments which the calenders had played upon.
Safie was not idle, but swept the room, put every thing again in its place, trimmed the lamps, and put fresh aloes and ambergris to them; this being done, she requested the three calenders to sit down upon the sofa at one side, and the caliph with his companions on the other: then addressing herself to the porter, she said, "Get up, and prepare yourself to assist us in what we are going to do; a man like you, who is one of the family, ought not to be idle." The porter, being somewhat recovered from his wine, arose immediately, and having tied the sleeve of his gown to his belt, answered, "Here am I, ready to obey your commands." "Very well," replied Safie, "stay till you are spoken to; and you shall not be idle long." A little time after, Amene came in with a chair, which she placed in the middle of the room; and then went towards a closet. Having opened the door, she beckoned to the porter, and said, "Come hither and assist me." He obeyed, and entered the closet, and returned immediately, leading two black bitches, each of them secured by a collar and chain; they appeared as if they had been severely whipped with rods, and he brought them into the middle of the apartment.
Zobeide, rising from her seat between the calenders and the caliph, moved very gravely towards the porter; "Come," said she, heaving a deep sigh, "let us perform our duty:" she then tucked up her sleeves above her elbows, and receiving a rod from Safie, "Porter," said she, "deliver one of the bitches to my sister Amene, and bring the other to me."
The porter did as he was commanded. Upon this the bitch that he held in his hand began to howl, and turning towards Zobeide, held her head up in a supplicating posture; but Zobeide, having no regard to the sad countenance of the animal, which would have moved pity, nor to her cries that resounded through the house, whipped her with the rod till she was out of breath; and having spent her strength, threw down the rod, and taking the chain from the porter, lifted up the bitch by her paws, and looking upon her with a sad and pitiful countenance, they both wept: after which, Zobeide, with her handkerchief, wiped the tears from the bitch's eye, kissed her, returned the chain to the porter, desired him to carry her to the place whence he took her, and bring her the other. The porter led back the whipped bitch to the closet, and receiving the other from Amene, presented her to Zobeide, who requested him to hold her as he had done the first, took up the rod, and treated her after the same manner; and when she had wept over her, she dried her eyes, kissed her, and returned her to the porter: but Amene spared him the trouble of leading her back into the closet, and did it herself. The three calenders, with the caliph and his companions, were extremely surprised at this exhibition, and could not comprehend why Zobeide, after having so furiously beaten those two bitches, that by the moosulman religion are reckoned unclean animals, should weep with them, wipe off their tears, and kiss them. They muttered among themselves, and the caliph, who, being more impatient than the rest, longed exceedingly to be informed of the cause of so strange a proceeding, could not forbear making signs to the vizier to ask the question: the vizier turned his head another way; but being pressed by repeated signs, he answered by others, that it was not yet time for the caliph to satisfy his curiosity. Zobeide sat still some time in the middle of the room, where she had whipped the two bitches, to recover herself of her fatigue; and Safie called to her, "Dear sister, will you not be pleased to return to your place, that I may also aft my part?" "Yes, sister," replied Zobeide; and then went, and sat down upon the sofa, having the caliph, Jaaffier, and Mesrour, on her right hand, and the three calenders, with the porter, on her left.
After Zobeide had taken her seat, the whole company remained silent for some time; at last, Safie, sitting on a chair in the middle of the room, spoke to her sister Amene, "Dear sister, I conjure you to rise; you know what I would say." Amene rose, and went into another closet, near to that where the bitches were, and brought out a case covered with yellow satin, richly embroidered with gold and green silk. She went towards Safie and opened the case, from whence she took a lute, and presented it to her: and after some time spent in tuning it, Safie began to play, and accompanying the instrument with her voice, sung a song about the torments that absence creates to lovers, with so much sweetness, that it charmed the caliph and all the company. Having sung with much passion and action, she said to Amene, "Pray take it, sister, for my voice fails me; oblige the company with a tune, and a song in my stead." "Very willingly," replied Amene, who, taking the lute from her sister Safie, sat down in her place.
Amene played and sung almost as long upon the same subject, but with so much vehemence, and was so much affected, or rather transported, by the words of the song, that her strength failed her as she finished.
Zobeide, desirous of testifying her satisfaction, said, "Sister, you have done wonders, and we may easily see that you feel the grief you have expressed in so lively a manner." Amene was prevented from answering this civility, her heart being so sensibly touched at the moment, that she was obliged, for air, to uncover her neck and bosom, which did not appear so fair as might have been expected; but, on the contrary, were black and full of scars, which surprised and affected all the spectators. However, this gave her no ease, for she fell into a fit.
When Zobeide and Safie had run to help their sister, one of the calenders could not forbear saying, "We had better have slept in the streets than have come hither to behold such spectacles." The caliph, who heard this, came to him and the other calenders, and asked them what might be the meaning of all this? They answered, "We know no more than you do." "What," said the caliph, "are you not of the family? Can you not resolve us concerning the two black bitches and the lady that fainted away, who appears to have been so basely abused?" "Sir," said the calenders, "this is the first time of our being in the house; we came in but a few minutes before you."
This increased the caliph's astonishment: "Probably," said he, "this man who is with you may know something of the matter." One of the calenders beckoned the porter to come near; and asked him, whether he knew why those two black bitches had been whipped, and why Amene's bosom was so scarred. "Sir," said the porter, "I can swear by heaven, that if you know nothing of all this, I know as little as you do. It is true, I live in this city, but I never was in the house until now, and if you are surprised to see me I am as much so to find myself in your company; and that which increases my wonder is, that I have not seen one man with these ladies."
The caliph and his company, as well as the calenders, had supposed the porter to be one of the family, and hoped he would have been able to give them the information they sought; but finding he could not, and resolving to satisfy his curiosity, the caliph said to the rest, "We are seven men, and have but three women to deal with; let us try if we can oblige them to explain what we have seen, and if they refuse by fair means, we are in a condition to compel them by force."
The grand vizier Jaaffier objected to this, and shewed the caliph what might be the consequence. Without discovering the prince to the calenders, he addressed him as if he had been a merchant, and said, "Consider, I pray you, that our reputation is at stake. You know the conditions on which these ladies consented to receive us, and which we agreed to observe; what will they say of us if we break them? We shall be still more to blame, if any mischief befall us; for it is not likely that they would have extorted such a promise from us, without knowing themselves to be in a condition to punish us for its violation."
Here the vizier took the caliph aside, and whispered to him, "The night will soon be at an end, and if your majesty will only be pleased to have so much patience, I will to-morrow morning bring these ladies before your throne, where you may be informed of all that you desire to know." Though this advice was very judicious, the caliph rejected it, desired the vizier to hold his tongue, and said, he would not wait so long, but would immediately have his curiosity satisfied.
The next business was to settle who should carry the message. The caliph endeavoured to prevail with the calenders to speak first; but they excused themselves, and at last they agreed that the porter should be the man: as they were consulting how to word this fatal question, Zobeide returned from her sister Amene, who was recovered of her fit. She drew near them, and having overheard them speaking pretty loud, said, "Gentlemen, what is the subject of your conversation? What are you disputing about?"
The porter answered immediately, "Madam, these gentlemen beseech you to inform them why you wept over your two bitches after you had whipped them so severely, and how the bosom of that lady who lately fainted away came to be so full of scars? These are the questions I am ordered to ask in their name."
At these words, Zobeide put on a stern countenance, and turning towards the caliph and the rest of the company, "Is it true, gentlemen," said she, "that you desired him to ask me these questions?" All of them, except the vizier Jaaffier, who spoke not a word, answered, "Yes." On which she exclaimed, in a tone that sufficiently expressed her resentment, "Before we granted you the favour of receiving you into our house, and to prevent all occasion of trouble from you, because we are alone, we imposed the condition that you should not speak of any thing that did not concern you, lest you might hear that which would not please you; and yet after having received and entertained you, you make no scruple to break your promise. It is true that our easy temper has occasioned this, but that shall not excuse your rudeness." As she spoke these words, she gave three stamps with her foot, and clapping her hands as often together, cried, "Come quickly:" upon this, a door flew open, and seven black slaves rushed in; every one seized a man, threw him on the ground, and dragged him into the middle of the room, brandishing a cimeter over his head.
We may easily conceive the caliph then repented, but too late, that he had not taken the advice of his vizier, who, with Mesrour, the calenders and porter, was from his ill-timed curiosity on the point of forfeiting his life. Before they would strike the fatal blow, one of the slaves said to Zobeide, and her sisters: "High, mighty, and adorable mistresses, do you command us to strike off their heads?" "Stay," said Zobeide, "I must examine them first." The frightened porter interrupted her thus: "In the name of heaven, do not put me to death for another man's crime. I am innocent; they are to blame." "Alas!" said he, weeping, "how pleasantly did we pass our time! those blind calenders are the cause of this misfortune; there is no town in the world but suffers wherever these inauspicious fellows come. Madam, I beg you not to destroy the innocent with the guilty, and consider, that it is more glorious to pardon such a wretch as I am, who have no way to help myself, than to sacrifice me to your resentment."
Zobeide, notwithstanding her anger, could not but laugh within herself at the porter's lamentation: but without replying to him, she spoke a second time to the rest; "Answer me, and say who you are, otherwise you shall not live one moment longer: I cannot believe you to be honest men, or persons of authority or distinction in your own countries; for if you were, you would have been more modest and more respectful to us."
The caliph, naturally warm, was infinitely more indignant than the rest, to find his life depending upon the command of a woman: but he began to conceive some hopes, when he found she wished to know who they all were; for he imagined she would not put him to death, when informed of his quality; therefore he spoke with a low voice to the vizier, who was near him, to declare it speedily: but the vizier, more prudent, resolved to save his master's honour, and not let the world know the affront he had brought upon himself by his own imprudence; and therefore answered, "We have what we deserve." But if he had intended to speak as the caliph commanded him, Zobeide would not have allowed him time: for having turned to the calenders, and seeing them all blind with one eye, she asked if they were brothers. One of them answered, "No, madam, no otherwise than as we are calenders; that is to say, as we observe the same rules." "Were you born blind of the right eye," continued she? "No, madam," answered he; "I lost my eye in such a surprising adventure, that it would be instructive to every body were it in writing: after that misfortune I shaved my beard and eyebrows, and took the habit of a calender which I now wear."
Zobeide asked the other two calenders the same question, and had the same answers; but the last who spoke added, "Madam, to shew you that we are no common fellows, and that you may have some consideration for us, be pleased to know, that we are all three sons of sultans; and though we never met together till this evening, yet we have had time enough to make that known to one another; and I assure you that the sultans from whom we derive our being were famous in the world."
At this discourse Zobeide suppressed her anger, and said to the slaves, "Give them their liberty a while, but remain where you are. Those who tell us their history, and the occasion of their coming, do them no hurt, let them go where they please; but do not spare those who refuse to give us that satisfaction."
The three calendars, the caliph, the grand vizier, Jaaffier, the eunuch Mesrour, and the porter, were all in the middle of the hall, seated upon a carpet in the presence of the three ladies, who reclined upon a sofa, and the slaves stood ready to do whatever their mistresses should command.
The porter, understanding that he might extricate himself from danger by telling his history, spoke first, and said, "Madam, you know my history already, and the occasion of my coming hither; so that what I have to say will be very short. My lady, your sister, called me this morning at the place where I plyed as porter to see if any body would employ me, that I might get my bread; I followed her to a vintner's, then to a herb-shop, then to one where oranges, lemons, and citrons were sold, then to a grocer's, next to a confectioner's, and a druggist's, with my basket upon my head as full as I was able to carry it; then I came hither, where you had the goodness to suffer me to continue till now, a favour that I shall never forget. This, madam, is my history."
When the porter had done, Zobeide said to him, "Depart, let us see you here no more." "Madam," replied the porter, "I beg you to let me stay; it would not be just, after the rest have had the pleasure to hear my history, that I should not also have the satisfaction of hearing theirs." And having spoken thus, he sat down at the end of the sofa, glad at heart to have escaped the danger that had frightened him so much. After him, one of the three calenders directing his speech to Zobeide, as the principal of the three ladies, began thus:
[Go to The History of the First Calendar]
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