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The city of Bussorah was for many years the capital of a kingdom tributary to the caliphs of Arabia. The king who governed it in the days of the caliph Haroon al Rusheed was named Zinebi, who not thinking it proper to commit the administration of his affairs to a single vizier, made choice of two, Khacan and Saouy.
Khacan was of a sweet, generous, and affable temper, and took pleasure in obliging, to the utmost of his power, those with whom he had any business to transact, without violating the justice which it became him to dispense to all. He was therefore universally respected, at court, in the city, and throughout the whole kingdom; and the praises he so highly deserved were the general theme.
Saouy was of a very different character: he was always sullen and morose, and disgusted every body, without regard to their rank or quality. Instead of commanding respect by the liberal distribution of his immense wealth, he was so perfect a miser as to deny himself the necessaries of life. In short, nobody could endure him; and nothing good was said of him. But what rendered him most hateful to the people, was his implacable aversion to Khacan. He was always putting the worst construction on the actions of that worthy minister, and endeavouring as much as possible to prejudice him with the king.
One day after council, the king of Bussorah amused himself with his two viziers and some other members. The conversation turned upon the female slaves that are daily bought and sold, and who hold nearly the same rank as the lawful wives. Some were of opinion, that personal beauty in slaves so purchased was of itself sufficient to render them proper substitutes for wives, which, often on account of alliance or interest in families, men are obliged to marry, though they are not always possessed of any perfection, either of mind or body.
Others maintained, and amongst the rest Khacan, that personal charms were by no means the only qualifications to be desired in a slave; but that they ought to be accompanied with a great share of wit, a cultivated understanding, modesty, and, if possible, every agreeable accomplishment. The reason they gave was, that nothing could be more gratifying to persons on whom the management of important affairs devolved, than, after having spent the day in fatiguing employment, to have a companion in their retirement, whose conversation would be not only pleasing, but useful and instructive: for, in short, continued they, there is but little difference between brutes and those men who keep a slave only to look at, and to gratify a passion that we have in common with them.
The king entirely concurred in this opinion, and accordingly ordered Khacan to buy him a slave, of perfect beauty, mistress of all the qualifications they had enumerated, and possessed, above all things, of an enlightened understanding.
Saouy, jealous of the honour the king had done Khacan, and differing widely with him in opinion, said, "Sire, it will be very difficult to find a slave so accomplished as your majesty requires; and should such a one be discovered, which I scarcely believe possible, she will be cheap at ten thousand pieces of gold." "Saouy," replied the king, "I perceive plainly you think the sum too great; it may be so for you, though not for me." Then turning to his high treasurer, he ordered him to send the ten thousand pieces of gold to the vizier's house.
Khacan, as soon as he had returned home, sent for all the brokers who used to deal in women-slaves, and strictly charged them, that, if ever they met with one who answered the description he gave them, they should immediately apprise him. The brokers, partly to oblige the vizier, and partly for their own interest, promised to use their utmost endeavours to procure for him one that would accord with his wishes. Scarcely a day passed but they brought him a slave for his inspection, but he always discovered in each something defective.
One day, early in the morning, as Khacan was mounting his horse to go to court, a broker came to him, and, taking hold of the stirrup with great eagerness, told him a Persian merchant had arrived very late the day before, who had a slave to sell, so surprisingly beautiful that she excelled all the women his eyes had ever beheld; "And for wit and knowledge," added he, "the merchant engages she shall match the most acute and learned persons of the age."
Khacan, overjoyed at this intelligence, which promised him a favourable opportunity for making his court, ordered him to bring the slave to his palace against his return, and departed.
The broker failed not to be at the vizier's at the appointed hour; and Khacan, finding the lovely slave so much beyond his expectation, immediately gave her the name of the fair Persian. As he had himself much wit and learning, he soon perceived by her conversation, that it was in vain to search further for a slave that surpassed her in any of the qualifications required by the king; and therefore he asked the broker at what sum the Persian merchant valued her.
"Sir," replied the broker, "he is a man of few words in bargaining, and he tells me, that the very lowest price he will take for her is ten thousand pieces of gold: he has also sworn to me, that, without reckoning his care and pains from the time of his first taking her under his charge, he has laid out nearly that sum on her education in masters to improve her form and cultivate her mind, besides what she has cost him in clothes and maintenance. As he always thought her fit for a king, he has from her infancy, when he first bought her, been sparing of nothing that might contribute towards advancing her to that high distinction. She plays upon all kinds of instruments to perfection; she sings, dances, writes better than the most celebrated authors, makes verses, and there is scarcely any book but she has read; so that there never was a slave so accomplished heard of before."
The vizier Khacan, who could estimate the merits of the fair Persian better than the broker, who only reported what he had heard from the merchant, was unwilling to defer the bargain to a future opportunity, and therefore sent one of his servants to look for the merchant, where the broker told him he was to be found.
As soon as the Persian merchant arrived, "It is not for myself, but for the king," said the vizier Khacan, "that I buy your slave; but, nevertheless, you must let him have her at a more reasonable price than you have set upon her."
"Sir," replied the merchant, "I should do myself unspeakable honour in offering her as a present to his majesty, if it became a person in my situation to make him one of such inestimable value. I ask no more than her education and accomplishments have cost me; and all I have to say is, that I believe his majesty will be extremely pleased with the purchase."
The vizier Khacan would stand no longer bargaining with the merchant, but paid him the money immediately. "Sir," said he to the vizier, upon taking his leave of him, "since the slave is designed for the king's use, give me leave to tell you, that being extremely fatigued with our long journey, you see her at present under great disadvantage. Though she has not her equal in the world for beauty, yet if you please to keep her at your own house for a fortnight, she will appear quite another creature. You may then present her to the king with honour and credit; for which I hope you will think yourself much obliged to me. The sun, you perceive, has a little injured her complexion; but after two or three times bathing, and when you have dressed her as you think proper, she will be so changed, that she will appear infinitely more charming."
Khacan was pleased with the instructions the merchant gave him, and resolved to abide by them. He assigned the fair Persian a particular apartment near his lady's, whom he desired to invite her to an entertainment, and thenceforth to treat her as a person designed for the king: he also provided for her several suits of the richest clothes that could be had, and would become her best. Before he took his leave of the fair Persian, he said "Your happiness, madam, cannot be greater than what I am about to procure for you; you shall judge for yourself; it is for the king I have purchased you; and I hope he will be even more pleased with possessing you than I am in having discharged the commission with which his majesty has honoured me. I think it, however, my duty to warn you that I have a son, who, though he does not want wit, is yet young, insinuating, and forward; and to caution you how you suffer him to come near you." The fair Persian thanked him for his advice; and after she had given him assurance of her intention to follow it, he withdrew.
Noor ad Deen, for so the vizier's son was named, had free access to the apartment of his mother, with whom he usually ate his meals. He was young, handsome in person, agreeable in manners, and firm in his temper; and having great readiness of wit, and fluency of language, was perfect master of the art of persuasion. He saw the fair Persian; and from their first interview, though he knew his father had bought her purposely for the king, and had so informed him, yet he never used the least endeavour to check the violence of his passion. In short, he resigned himself wholly to the power of her charms, by which his heart was at first captivated; and, from his first conversation with her, resolved to use his utmost endeavours to keep her from the king.
The fair Persian, on her part, had no dislike to Noor ad Deen. "The vizier," said she to herself, "has done me honour in purchasing me for the king; but I should have thought myself very happy if he had designed me only for his own son."
Noor ad Deen was not remiss in improving the advantage he enjoyed of seeing and conversing with a beauty of whom he was so passionately enamoured; for he would never leave her till obliged by his mother. "My son," she would say, "it is not proper for a young man like you to be always in the women's apartments; go, mind your studies, and endeavour to qualify yourself to succeed to the honours of your father."
The fair Persian not having bathed for a considerable time on account of the length of her journey, the vizier's lady, five or six days after she was purchased, ordered the bath in her own house to be got ready purposely for her. She sent her to it accompanied by many other women-slaves, who were charged by the vizier's lady to be as attentive to her as to herself, and, after bathing, to put her on a very rich suit of clothes that she had provided for her. She was the more careful in order to ingratiate herself with her husband, by letting him see how much she interested herself in every thing that contributed to his pleasure.
As soon as she came out of the bath, the fair Persian, a thousand times more beautiful than she had appeared to Khacan when he bought her, went to visit his lady, who at first hardly knew her. The fair Persian gracefully kissed her hand, and said, "Madam, I know not how you like me in this dress you have been pleased to order for me; but your women, who tell me it becomes me so extremely well they should scarcely know me, certainly flatter me. From you alone I expect to hear the truth; but, if what they say be really so, I am indebted to you, madam, for the advantage it has given me."
"Oh! my daughter," cried the vizier's lady, transported with joy, "you have no reason to believe my women have flattered you; I am better skilled in beauty than they; and, setting aside your dress, which becomes you admirably well, your beauty is so much improved by the bath, that I hardly knew you myself. If I thought the bath was warm enough, I would take my turn; for I am now of an age to require its frequent use." "Madam," replied the fair Persian, "I have nothing to say to the undeserved civilities you have been pleased to shew me. As for the bath, it is in fine order; and if you design to go in, you have no time to lose, as your women can inform you."
The vizier's lady, considering that she had not bathed for some days, was desirous to avail herself of that opportunity; and accordingly acquainted her women with her intention, who immediately prepared all things necessary for the occasion. The fair Persian withdrew to her apartment; and the vizier's lady, before she went to bathe, ordered two little female slaves to stay with her, with a strict charge that if Noor ad Deen came, they should not give him admittance.
While the vizier's lady was bathing, and the fair slave was alone in her apartment, Noor ad Deen came in, and not finding his mother in her chamber, went directly towards the fair Persian's, and found the two little slaves in the antechamber. He asked them where his mother was? They told him in the bath. "Where is the fair Persian, then?" demanded Noor ad Deen. "In her chamber," answered the slaves; "but we have positive orders from your mother not to admit you."
The entrance into the fair Persian's chamber being only covered with a piece of tapestry, Noor ad Deen went to lift it up, in order to enter, but was opposed by the two slaves, who placed themselves before it, to stop his passage. He presently caught them both by the arms, and, thrusting them out of the antechamber, locked the door upon them. They immediately ran with loud lamentations to the bath, and with tears in their eyes, told their lady, that Noor ad Deen, having driven them away by force, had gone into the fair Persian's chamber.
The vizier's lady received the account of her son's presumption with the greatest concern. She immediately left the bath, and dressing herself with all possible speed, came directly to the fair Persian's chamber; but before she could get thither, Noor ad Deen had gone away.
The fair Persian was extremely surprised to see the vizier's lady enter her chamber in tears, and in the utmost confusion. "Madam," said she, "may I presume to ask you the occasion of your concern; and what accident has happened in the bath, to make you leave it so soon?"
"What!" cried the vizier's lady, "can you so calmly ask that. question, after my son has been with you alone in your chamber? Can there happen a greater misfortune to him or me?"
"I beseech you, madam," replied the fair slave, "what prejudice can this action of Noor ad Deen's do to you or him?"
"How," returned the vizier's lady, "did not my husband tell you that you were designed for the king, and sufficiently caution you to beware of our son?"
"I have not forgotten that, madam," replied the fair Persian; "but your son came to tell me the vizier his father had changed his purpose, and instead of reserving me for the king, as he first designed, had made him a present of my person. I easily believed him; for, oh! think how a slave as I am, accustomed from my infant years to the laws of servitude, could or ought to resist him! I must own I did it with the less reluctance, on account of the affection for him, which the freedom of our conversation and daily intercourse has excited in my heart. I could without regret resign the hope of ever being the king's, and think myself perfectly happy in spending my whole life with Noor ad Deen."
At this discourse of the fair Persian's, the vizier's lady exclaimed, "Would to God that what you say were true! I should hear it with joy; but, believe me, Noor ad Deen has deceived you; for it is impossible his father should ever make him such a present. Ah! wretched youth, how miserable has he made me! and more especially his father, by the dismal consequences we must all expect to share with him! Neither my prayers nor tears will be able to prevail, or obtain a pardon for him; for as soon as his father hears of his violence to you, he will inevitably sacrifice him to his resentment." At these words she wept bitterly; and the slaves, who were as much alarmed for Noor ad Deen as herself, joined in her tears.
Shortly after the vizier Khacan entered; and being surprised to find his lady and her slaves all in tears, and the fair Persian very melancholy asked the reason; but instead of answering him his wife and the slaves continued weeping and lamenting. This astonished him still more; at last, addressing himself to his wife, "I command you," said he, "to let me know the reason of your tears, and to tell me the whole truth."
The disconsolate lady could no longer refuse to satisfy her husband. "Sir," said she, "first promise not to use me unkindly on account of what I shall inform you, since I assure you, that what has happened has not been occasioned by any fault of mine." Without waiting for his answer, she then proceeded, "whilst I was bathing with my women, your son seizing that fatal opportunity to ruin us both, came hither, and made the fair Persian believe, that instead of reserving her for the king, you had given her to him as a present. I will not say what he did after such a wicked falsehood, but shall leave you to judge. This is the cause of my affliction, on your account, and his, for whom I want confidence to implore your pardon."
It is impossible to express the vizier Khacan's distraction at this account of the insolence of his son. "Ah!" cried he, beating his breast, and tearing his beard, "miserable son! unworthy of life! hast thou at last thrown thy father from the highest pinnacle of happiness into a misfortune that must inevitably involve thee also in his ruin? neither will the king be satisfied with thy blood or mine, to avenge the affront offered to his royal person."
His lady endeavoured to comfort him. "Afflict yourself no more," said she; "I shall easily raise, with part of my jewels, ten thousand pieces of gold, and you may buy another slave, more beautiful and more worthy of the king."
"Ah!" replied the vizier, "could you think me capable of being so extremely afflicted at losing ten thousand pieces of gold? It is not that loss, nor the loss of all I am worth, for that I should not feel; but the forfeiting my honour, more precious than all the riches in the world, that distresses me." "However," replied the lady, "a loss that can be repaired by money cannot be so very great."
"How!" exclaimed the vizier; "do you not know that Saouy is my mortal enemy; and as soon as this affair comes to his knowledge, do you think he will not exult over me before the king? ‘Your majesty,' will he not say to him, ‘is always talking of Khacan's zeal and affection for your service; but see what a proof he has lately given of his claim to the regard you have hitherto shewn him. He has received ten thousand pieces of gold to buy a slave; and, to do him justice, he has most honourably acquitted himself of that commission, by purchasing the most beautiful that ever eyes beheld; but, instead of bringing her to your majesty, he has thought it better to make a present of her to his son. "Here, my son," said he, "take this slave, since thou art more worthy of her than the king."' Then, with his usual malice, will he not go on, ‘His son has her now entirely in his possession, and every day revels in her arms, without the least disturbance. This, sir, is the exact truth, that I have done myself the honour of acquainting you with; and if your majesty questions my veracity, you may easily satisfy yourself.' Do you not plainly see," continued the vizier, "how, upon such a malicious insinuation as this, I am every moment liable to have my house forced by the king's guards, and the fair Persian taken from me, besides a thousand other misfortunes that will unavoidably follow?" "Sir," replied the vizier's lady to her husband, "I am sensible the malice of Saouy is very great, and that, if he have but the least intimation of this affair, he will certainly give it a turn very disadvantageous to your interest; but how is it possible that he or any one else should know what has been privately transacted in your family? Suppose it comes to the king's ears, and he should ask you about it; cannot you say, that upon a strict examination you did not deem the slave so fit for his majesty's use as you had at first thought her; that the merchant has cheated you; that, indeed, she has considerable beauty, but is by no means so accomplished as she had been represented. The king will certainly believe what you say, and Saouy be vexed to the soul, to see all his malicious design of ruining you disappointed. Take courage then, and, if you will follow my advice, send for all the brokers, tell them you do not like the fair Persian, and order them to be as expeditious as possible in procuring for you another slave."
As this advice appeared rational to the vizier Khacan, and as his passion began to cool, he resolved to abide by it, but his indignation against his son remained as violent as ever.
Noor ad Deen did not make his appearance during the whole of that day, and not daring to hide himself among his young companions, lest his father should search for him in their houses, he went a little way out of town, and took sanctuary in a garden, where he had never been before, and where he was totally unknown. He did not return home till it was very late, when he knew his father was in bed; and then his mother's women, opening the door very softly; admitted him without any noise. He quitted the house again next morning before his father was stirring; and this plan he pursued for a whole month, to his great mortification. Indeed, the women never flattered him, but told him plainly, his father's anger was not at all diminished, and that he protested if he came into his sight he would certainly kill him.
The vizier's lady learnt from her women that Noor ad Deen slept every night in the house, but she could not summon resolution to supplicate her husband for his pardon. At last, however, she ventured. One day she said to him, "I have hitherto been silent, sir, not daring to take the liberty of talking to you about your son; but now give me leave to ask what you design to do with him? It is impossible for a son to have acted more criminally towards a father than he has done, in depriving you of the honour and gratification of presenting to the king a slave so accomplished as the fair Persian. This I acknowledge; but, after all, are you resolved to destroy him, and, instead of a light evil no more to be thought of, to draw upon yourself a far greater than perhaps you at present apprehend? Are you not afraid that the malicious world, which inquires after the reason of your son's absconding, may find out the true cause, which you are so desirous of concealing? Should that happen, you would justly fall into a misfortune, which it is so much your interest to avoid."
"Madam," returned the vizier, "there is much reason in what you have urged; but I cannot think of pardoning our son, till I have mortified him as he deserves." "He will be sufficiently mortified," replied the lady, "if you will only do what has just suggested itself to my mind. Your son comes home every night after you have retired; he sleeps here, and steals out every morning before you are stirring. Wait for his coming in to-night, make as if you designed to kill him, upon which I will run to his assistance, and when he finds he owes his life entirely to my prayers and entreaties, you may oblige him to take the fair Persian on what condition you please. He loves her, and I am well satisfied the fair slave has no aversion for him."
Khacan readily consented to this stratagem. Accordingly, when Noor ad Deen came at the usual hour, before the door was opened, he placed himself behind it: as soon as he entered, he rushed suddenly upon him, and got him down under his feet. Noor ad Deen, lifting up his head, saw his father with a dagger in his hand, ready to stab him.
At that instant his mother arrived, and catching hold of the vizier's arm, cried, "Sir, what are you doing?" "Let me alone," replied the vizier, "that I may kill this base, unworthy son." "You shall kill me first," returned the mother; "never will I suffer you to imbue your hands in your own blood." Noor ad Deen improved this moment. "My father," cried he with tears in his eyes, "I implore your clemency and compassion; nor must you deny me pardon, since I ask it in his name before whom we must all appear at the last day."
Khacan suffered the dagger to be taken out of his hand; and as soon as Noor ad Deen was released, he threw himself at his father's feet and kissed them, to shew how sincerely he repented of having offended him. "Son," said the vizier, "return thanks to your mother, since it is for her sake I pardon you. I propose also to give you the fair Persian, on condition that you will bind yourself by an oath not to regard her any longer as a slave, but as your wife; that you will not sell her, nor ever be divorced from her. As she possesses an excellent understanding, and abundantly more wit and prudence than yourself, I doubt not but that she will be able to moderate those rash sallies of youth, which are otherwise so likely to effect your ruin."
Noor ad Deen, who little expected such indulgent treatment, returned his father a thousand thanks, and the fair Persian and he were well pleased with being united to each other.
The vizier Khacan, without waiting for the king's inquiries about the success of the commission he had given him, took particular care to mention the subject often, representing to his majesty the many difficulties he met, and how fearful he was of not acquitting himself to his majesty's satisfaction. In short, he managed the business with so much address, that the king insensibly forgot it. Though Saouy had gained some intimation of the transaction, yet Khacan was so much in the king's favour, that he was afraid to divulge what he had heard.
This delicate affair had now been kept rather more than a year with greater secrecy than the vizier at first expected, when being one day in the bath, and some important business obliging him to leave it, warm as he was, the air, which was then cold, struck to his breast, caused a defluxion to fall upon his lungs, which threw him into a violent fever, and confined him to his bed. His illness increasing every day, and perceiving he had not long to live, he thus addressed himself to his son, who never quitted him during the whole of his illness: "My son," said he, "I know not whether I have well employed the riches heaven has blessed me with, but you see they are not able to save me from the hands of death. The last thing I desire of you with my dying breath is, that you would be mindful of the promise you made me concerning the fair Persian, and in this assurance I shall die content."
These were the vizier Khacan's last words. He expired a few moments after, and left his family, the court, and the whole city, in great affliction, The king lamented him as a wise, zealous, and faithful minister; and the people bewailed him as their protector and benefactor.. Never was there a funeral in Bussorah solemnized with greater pomp and magnificence. The viziers, emirs, and in general all the grandees of the court, strove for the honour of bearing his coffin, one after another, upon their shoulders, to the place of burial; and both rich and poor accompanied him, dissolved in tears.
Noor ad Deen exhibited all the demonstrations of a sorrow proportioned to the loss he had sustained, and long refrained from seeing any company. At last he admitted of a visit from an intimate acquaintance. His friend endeavoured to comfort him; and finding him inclined to hear reason, told him, that having paid what was due to the memory of his father, and fully satisfied all that decency required of him, it was now high time to appear again in the world, to converse with his friends, and maintain a character suitable to his birth and talents. "For," continued he, "though we should sin against the laws both of nature and society, and be thought insensible, if on the death of our fathers we neglected to pay them the duties which filial love imposes upon us; yet having performed these, and put it out of the power of any to reproach us for our conduct, it behoves us to return to the world, and our customary occupations. Dry up your tears then, and reassume that wonted air of gaiety which has always inspired with joy those who have had the honour of your friendship."
This advice seemed too reasonable to be rejected, and had Noor ad Deen strictly abided by it, he would certainly have avoided all the misfortunes that afterwards befell him. He entertained his friend honourably; and when he took his leave, desired him to come again the next day, and bring with him three or four friends of their acquaintance. By this means he insensibly fell into the society of about ten young men nearly of his own age, with whom he spent his time in continual feasting and entertainments; and scarcely a day passed but he made every one of them some considerable present.
The fair Persian, who never approved of his extravagant way of living, often spoke her mind freely. "I question not," said she, "but the vizier your father has left you an ample fortune: but great as it may be, be not displeased with your slave for telling you, that at this rate of living you will quickly see an end of it. We may sometimes indeed treat our friends, and be merry with them; but to make a daily practice of it, is certainly the high road to ruin and destruction: for your own honour and reputation, you would do better to follow the footsteps of your deceased father, that in time you may rise to that dignity by which he acquired so much glory and renown."
Noor ad Deen hearkened to the fair Persian with a smile: and when she had done, "My charmer," said he, with the same air of gaiety, "say no more of that; let us talk of nothing but mirth and pleasure. In my father's lifetime I was always under restraint; and I am now resolved to enjoy the liberty I so much sighed for before his death. It will be time enough for me hereafter to think of leading the sober, regular life you talk of; and a man of my age ought to taste the pleasures of youth."
What contributed still more to the ruin of Noor ad Deen's fortune, was his unwillingness to reckon with his steward; for whenever he brought in his accounts, he still sent him away without examining them: "Go, go," said he, "I trust wholly to your honesty; only take care to provide good entertainments for my friends."
"You are the master, sir," replied he, "and I but the steward; however, you would do well to think upon the proverb, ‘He that spends much, and has but little, must at last insensibly be reduced to poverty.' You are not contented with keeping an extravagant table, but you must lavish away your estate with both hands: and were your coffers as large as mountains, they would not be sufficient to maintain you." "Begone," replied Noor ad Deen, "I want not your grave lessons; only take care to provide good eating and drinking, and trouble your head no farther about the rest."
In the meantime, Noor ad Deen's friends were constant guests at his table, and never failed to take advantage of the easiness of his temper. They praised and flattered him, extolling his most indifferent actions; but, above all, they took particular care to commend whatever belonged to him; and in this they found their account. "Sir," said one of them, "I came the other day by your estate that lies in such a place; nothing can be so magnificent or so handsomely furnished as your house; and the garden belonging to it is a paradise upon earth." "I am very glad it pleases you," replied Noor ad Deen: "bring me pen, ink, and paper; without more words, it is at your service; I make you a present of it." No sooner had others commended one of his houses, baths, or public buildings erected for the use of strangers, the yearly revenue of which was very considerable, than he immediately gave them away. The fair Persian could not forbear stating to him how much injury he did himself; but, instead of paying any regard to her remonstrances, he continued his extravagances, and the first opportunity that offered, squandered away the little he had left.
In short, Noor ad Deen did nothing for a whole year but feast and make merry, wasting and consuming, with the utmost prodigality, the great wealth that his predecessors, and the good vizier his father, had with so much pains and care acquired and preserved.
The year was but just expired, when a person one day knocked at the door of the hall, where he and his friends were at dinner together by themselves, having sent away the slaves, that they might enjoy the greater liberty.
One of his friends offered to rise; but Noor ad Deen stepping before him, opened the door himself. It was the steward; and Noor ad Deen, going a little out of the hall to know his business, left the door half open.
The friend that offered to rise from his seat, seeing it was the steward, and being curious to know what he had to say, placed himself between the hangings and the door, where he plainly overheard the steward's discourse to his master. "Sir," said he, "I ask a thousand pardons for coming to disturb you in the height of your pleasure; but what I have to say is of such importance, that I thought myself bound in duty to acquaint you with it. I am come, sir, to make up my last accounts, and to tell you, that what I all along foresaw, and have often warned you of, is at last come to pass. I have not the smallest piece left of all the sums I have received from you for your expenses; the other funds you assigned me are all exhausted. The farmers, and those that owe you rent, have made it so plainly appear to me, that you have assigned over to others what they held of you, that it is impossible for me to get any more from them on your account. Here are my books; if you please, examine them; and if you wish I should continue useful to you, assign me other funds, or else give me leave to quit your service." Noor ad Deen was so astonished at his statement, that he gave him no answer.
The friend who had been listening all this while, and had heard every syllable of what the steward said, immediately came in, and told the company what he had overheard. "It is your business, gentlemen," said he, "to make your use of this caution; for my part, I declare to you, this is the last visit I design ever to make Noor ad Deen." "Nay," replied they, "if matters go thus, we have as little business here as you; and for the future shall take care not to trouble him with our company."
Noor ad Deen returned presently after; notwithstanding all his efforts to appear gay to his guests, he could not so dissemble his concern, but they plainly perceived the truth of what they had heard. He was scarcely sat down in his place, when one of his friends arose: "Sir," said he, "I am sorry I cannot have the honour of keeping you company any longer; and therefore I hope you will excuse my rudeness in leaving you so soon." "What urgent affair," demanded Noor ad Deen, "obliges you to be going so soon?" "My wife, sir," he replied, "is brought to bed to-day; and upon such an occasion, you know a husband's company is always necessary." So making a very low bow, he went away. A minute afterwards a second took his leave, with another excuse. The rest did the same, one after another, till at last not one of the ten friends that had hitherto kept Noor ad Deen company remained.
As soon as they were gone, Noor ad Deen, little suspecting the resolution they had formed never to see him again, went directly to the fair Persian's apartment; to whom he related all the steward had told him, and seemed extremely concerned at the ill state of his affairs. "Sir," said the fair Persian, "allow me to say, you would never take my advice, but always managed your concerns after your own way, and now you see the fatal consequences. I find I was not mistaken, when I presaged to what a miserable condition you would bring yourself at last: but what afflicts me the more is, that at present you do not see the worst of your misfortunes. Whenever I presumed freely to remonstrate with you, ‘Let us be merry,' you replied, ‘and improve the time that Fortune offers us; perhaps she will not always be so prodigal of her favours:' but was I to blame in telling you, that we are ourselves the makers of our own fortunes by a prudent management of them? You would not hearken to me; and I was forced, however reluctantly, to let you go on."
"I must own," replied Noor ad Deen, "I was extremely in the wrong in not following the advice which with such admirable prudence you gave me. It is true, I have spent my estate; but do you not consider, it is among a chosen set of friends, whom I have long known, and who, I am persuaded, have more generosity and gratitude than to abandon me in distress?" "Sir," replied the fair Persian, "if you have nothing but the gratitude of your friends to depend on, your case is desperate; for, believe me, that hope is ill-grounded, and you will tell me so yourself in time."
To this Noor ad Deen replied, "Charming Persian, I have a better opinion of my friends' generosity: to-morrow I design to visit them all, before the usual time of their coming hither; and you shall see me return with a round sum that they will assist me with. I am resolved to alter my way of living, and, with the money they lend me, to set up in some business."
Next morning, Noor ad Deen visited his ten friends, who lived in the same street. He knocked at the first door, where one of the richest of them resided. A slave came to the door: but before he would open it, asked who was there. "Tell your master," said he to the slave, "it is Noor ad Deen, the late vizier Khacan's son." The slave opened the door, and shewed him into a hall, where he left him, in order to inform his master, who was in an inner room, that Noor ad Deen was come to wait on him, "Noor ad Deen!" cried he, in a disdainful tone, loud enough for him to hear: "go tell him I am not at home; and whenever he may come again, be sure you give him the same answer." The slave returned, and told Noor ad Deen he thought his master was within, but was mistaken.
Noor ad Deen came away in the greatest confusion. "Ah! base, ungrateful wretch!" cried he, "to treat me so to-day after the vows and protestations of friendship that he made me yesterday." He went to another door, but that friend ordered his slave also to say he was gone out. He had the same answer at the third; and, in short, all the rest denied themselves, though every one was at home.
Noor ad Deen now began in earnest to reflect with himself, and see the folly of relying upon the protestations of attachment that his false friends had solemnly made him in the time of his prosperity, when he could treat them sumptuously, and load them with favours. "It is true," said he to himself, "that a fortunate man, as I was, may be compared to a tree laden with fruit, which, as long as there is any on its boughs, people will be crowding round, and gathering; but as soon as it is stripped of all, they immediately leave it, and go to another." He smothered his passion as much as possible while he was abroad; but no sooner was he got home than he gave a loose to his affliction, and discovered it to the fair Persian.
The fair Persian seeing him so extremely concerned, guessed he had not found his friends so ready to assist him as he expected. "Well, sir," said she, "are you now convinced of the truth of what I told you?" "Ah!" cried he, "thou hast been too true a prophetess; for not one of them would know me, see me, or speak to me. Who could ever have believed, that persons so highly obliged to me, and on whom I have spent my estate, could have used me so ungratefully? I am distracted; and I fear shall commit some action unworthy myself, in the deplorable and desperate condition I am reduced to, unless you assist me with your prudent advice." "Sir," replied the fair Persian, "I see no other way of supporting yourself in your misfortunes, but selling off your slaves and furniture, and living on the money they produce, till heaven points out some other means to deliver you from your present misery."
Noor ad Deen was loth to resort to this expedient; but what could he do in the necessitous circumstances to which he was reduced? He first sold off his slaves, those unprofitable mouths, which would have been a greater expense to him than in his present condition he could bear. He lived on the money for some time; and when it was spent, ordered his goods to be carried into the market-place, where they were sold for half their value, though there were among them several articles that had cost immense sums. Upon the produce of these he lived a considerable time; but this supply failing at last, he had nothing left by which he could raise any more money, of which he informed the fair Persian in the most sorrowful expressions.
Noor ad Deen little expected the answer this prudent woman made him. "Sir," said she, "I am your slave; and the late vizier your father gave ten thousand pieces of gold for me. I know I am a little sunk in value since that time; but I believe I shall sell for pretty near that sum. Let me entreat you then instantly to carry me to the market, and expose me to sale; and with the money that you get for me, which will be very considerable, you may turn merchant in some city where you are not known, and by that means find a way of living, if not in splendour, yet with happiness and content."
"Lovely and adorable Persian!" cried Noor ad Deen, "is it possible you can entertain such a thought? Have I given you such slender proofs of my love, that you should think me capable of so base an action? But suppose me so vile a wretch, could I do it without being guilty of perjury, after the oath I have taken to my late father never to sell you? I would sooner die than break it, and part with you, whom I love infinitely beyond myself; though, by the unreasonable proposal you have made me, you shew me that your love is by no means reciprocal."
"Sir," replied the fair Persian, "I am convinced that your passion for me is as sincere as you express; and heaven, who knows with what reluctance I have made this proposal which induces you to think so hardly of me, is my witness, that mine is as great as yours; but to silence your reasons, I need only bid you remember, that necessity has no law. I love you to that degree that it is impossible for you to love me more; and be assured, that to what master soever I shall belong, my love for you will continue undiminished; and if you are ever able to redeem me, as I hope you may, it will be the greatest pleasure in the world to be restored to you again. I confess it is a fatal and cruel necessity to which we are driven; but I see no other way of freeing ourselves from the misery that involves us both."
Noor ad Deen, convinced of the truth of what the fair Persian had said, and that there was no other way of avoiding a shameful poverty, was forced to yield to her proposal. Accordingly he led her to the market where the women-slaves are exposed to sale, with a regret that cannot easily be expressed. He applied himself to a broker, named Hagi Hassan. "Hagi Hassan," said he, "here is a slave whom I mean to sell; what will they give for her?"
Hagi Hassan desired Noor ad Deen and the fair Persian to walk into a room; and when she had pulled off the veil that covered her face, "Sir," said Hagi Hassan, in surprise, "if I am not mistaken, this is the slave your father, the late vizier, gave ten thousand pieces of gold for?" Noor ad Deen assured him she was the same and Hagi Hassan gave him some hopes of selling her at a high price, and promised to use all his art to raise her value as high as he could.
Hagi Hassan and Noor ad Deen went out of the room; and Hagi Hassan locked the fair Persian in. He went immediately to the merchants; but they being busy in buying slaves from different countries, Greeks, Franks, Africans, Tartars, and others, he was forced to wait till the market was over. When the sale was ended, and the greatest part of them were got together again, "My masters," said he to them, with an air of gaiety in his looks and actions, "every thing that is round is not a nut, every thing that is long is not a fig, all that is red is not flesh, and all eggs are not fresh; it is true you have seen and bought a great many slaves in your lives, but you never yet saw one comparable to her I am going to tell you of. She is the very pearl of slaves. Come, follow me, you shall see her yourselves, and judge at what rate I shall cry her."
The merchants followed Hagi Hassan into the apartment where he had left the fair Persian, and as soon as they beheld her were so surprised at her beauty, that they unanimously agreed, four thousand pieces of gold was the very lowest price they could set upon her. The merchants left the room; and Hagi Hassan, who came out with them, without going any farther, proclaimed with a loud voice, "Four thousand pieces of gold for a Persian slave."
None of the merchants had yet offered anything, and were consulting together about what they might afford to give for her, when the vizier Saouy appeared. Perceiving Noor ad Deen in the market, he said to himself, "Noor ad Deen is certainly still making money of his goods" (for he knew he had exposed them to sale), "and is come hither to buy a slave with the product." He advanced forward just as Hagi Hassan began to proclaim a second time, "Four thousand pieces of gold for a Persian slave."
The vizier Saouy, who concluded by the high price, that the slave must be extraordinarily beautiful, was very desirous to see her; so spurring his horse forward, he rode up to Hagi Hassan, who was surrounded by the merchants. "Open the door," said he, "and let me see the slave." It was not the custom to shew a slave to a particular person after the merchants had seen her, and were treating for her; but none of them durst dispute their right with the vizier; and Hagi Hassan was obliged to open the door, and he made a sign to the fair Persian to come forward, that Saouy might see her, without alighting from his horse.
The vizier was astonished at the sight of so beautiful a slave; and knowing the broker's name (having formerly dealt with him), "Hagi Hassan," said he, "is it not at four thousand pieces of gold that you cry her?" "Yes, sir," answered he; "the merchants just now agreed that I should put her up at that price: I wait their advance; and I question not but they will give a great deal more."
"If no one offers more, I will give that sum," replied Saouy, looking at the merchants at the same time with a countenance that forbad them to advance the price. He was so universally dreaded, that no one durst speak a word, even to complain of his encroaching upon their privilege.
The vizier having stayed some time, and finding none of the merchants outbid him, "What do you stay for?" said he to Hagi Hassan. "Inquire after the seller, and strike a bargain with him at four thousand pieces of gold, or ask if he demands more."
Hagi Hassan having locked the chamber-door, went to confer with Noor ad Deen. "Sir," said he to him, "I am very sorry to bring you the ill news of your slave's going to be sold for nothing." "How so?" replied Noor ad Deen. "Why sir," continued Hagi Hassan, "you must know that the business at first went on well; for as soon as the merchants had seen your slave, they ordered me, without hesitation, to cry her at four thousand pieces of gold; accordingly I cried her at that price, but presently the vizier Saouy came, and his presence has stopped the mouths of all the merchants, who seemed disposed to raise her, at least to the same price your deceased father gave for her. Saouy will give no more than four thousand pieces; and it is much against my inclination that I am come to tell you his despicable offer. The slave indeed is your own; but I will never advise you to part with her upon those terms, since you and every one else are sensible of her being worth infinitely more; besides, he is base enough to contrive a way to trick you out of the money."
"Hagi Hassan," replied Noor ad Deen, "I am highly obliged to thee for thy advice: do not think I will ever sell my slave to any enemy of our family; my necessities, indeed, are at present very great; but I would sooner die in the utmost poverty than consent to delivering her up to him. I have only one thing to beg of thee, who art skilful in all the turns and shifts of sale, that thou wouldst put me in a way to prevent the completion of the bargain."
"Sir," said Hagi Hassan, "nothing is more easy: you must pretend that, being in a violent passion with your slave, you swore to expose her in the market, and for the sake of your oath have now brought her hither, without any intention of selling her. This will satisfy every one; and Saouy will have nothing to say against it. Come along with me then; and just as I am presenting her to Saouy as if it were by your own consent, pull her to you, give her two or three blows, and send her home." "I thank thee for thy counsel," said Noor ad Deen, "and will make use of it."
Hagi Hassan went back to the chamber; and having privately acquainted the fair Persian with their design, that she might not be surprised, took her by the hand, and led her to the vizier Saouy, who was still on horseback at the door "Sir," said he, "here is the slave, she is yours; take her."
The words were scarcely out of Hagi Hassan's mouth, when Noor ad Deen, catching hold of the fair Persian, pulled her to him, and giving her a box on the ear, "Come hither, impertinence," said he, "and get you home again; for though your ill-humour obliged me to swear I should bring you hither, yet I never intended to sell you: I have business for you to do yet; and it will be time enough to part with you when I have nothing else left."
This conduct of Noor ad Deen put the vizier Saouy into a violent passion. "Miserable debauchee," cried he, "wouldst thou have me believe thou hast any thing else left to make money of but thy slave?" and at the same instant, spurring his horse directly against him, endeavoured to carry off the fair Persian. Noor ad Deen. nettled to the quick at the affront the vizier had put upon him, quitted the fair Persian, and laying hold of his horse's bridle, made him run two or three paces backwards. "Vile dotard," said he to the vizier, "I would tear thy soul out of thy body this moment, were it not out of respect for the crowd of people here present."
The vizier Saouy being hated by all, there was not one among them but was pleased to see Noor ad Deen mortify him; and by signs they gave him to understand, that he might revenge himself upon him as much as he pleased, for nobody would interfere in their quarrel.
Saouy endeavoured to force Noor ad Deen to quit the bridle; but he being a lusty, vigorous man, and encouraged by those that stood by, pulled him off his horse, gave him several blows, and dashed his head against the stones, till it was all over blood. The slaves who waited upon the vizier would have drawn their cimeters, and fallen upon Noor ad Deen; but the merchants interposing prevented them. "What do you mean?" said they to them; "do you not see that one is a vizier, the other a vizier's son? Let them fight it out; perhaps they will be reconciled one time or another; whereas, if you had killed Noor ad Deen, your master, with all his greatness, could not have been able to protest you against the law?"
Noor ad Deen having given over beating the vizier Saouy, left him in the mire, and taking the fair Persian, marched home with her, attended by the people, with shouts and acclamations for the action he had performed.
The vizier, cruelly bruised with the blows he had received, made shift to get up, with the assistance of his slaves, and had the mortification to see himself besmeared with blood and dirt. He leaned on the shoulders of two slaves, and in that condition went straight to the palace in the sight of all the people, with the greater confusion, because no one pitied him. As soon as he reached the king's apartment, he began to cry out, and call for justice in a lamentable tone. The king ordered him to be admitted; and asked who it was that had abused and put him into that miserable plight. "Sire," cried Saouy, "it is the favour of your majesty, and being admitted into your sacred councils, that has occasioned me to be so barbarously treated." "Say no more of that," replied the king, "only let me hear the whole story simply, and who the offender is; and if he is in the wrong, you may depend upon it he shall be severely punished."
"Sire," said Saouy, telling the whole matter to his own advantage, "having occasion for a cook, I went to the market of women-slaves to buy one: when I came thither, there was a slave just cried at four thousand pieces of gold; I ordered them to bring her before me, and I think my eyes never did nor will behold a more beautiful creature: I had no sooner examined her beauty with the highest satisfaction, than I immediately asked to whom she belonged; and upon inquiry found that Noor ad Deen, son to the late vizier Khacan, had the disposing of her.
"Your majesty may remember, that about two or three years ago, you gave that vizier ten thousand pieces of gold, strictly charging him to buy you a slave with that sum. The money, indeed, was laid out upon this very slave; but instead of bringing her to your majesty, thinking his son deserved her better, he made him a present of her. Noor ad Deen, since his father's death, having wasted his whole fortune in riot and feasting, has nothing left but this slave, whom he at last resolved to part with; and she was to be sold in his name, I sent for him; and, without mentioning any thing of his father's prevarication, or rather treachery to your majesty, I in the civilest manner said to him, ‘Noor ad Deen, the merchants, I perceive, have put your slave up at four thousand pieces of gold; and I question not, but, in emulation of each other, they will raise the price considerably: let me have her for the four thousand pieces; I am going to buy her for the king our lord and master; this will be a handsome opportunity of making your court to him: and his favour will be worth far more than the merchants can propose to give you.'
"Instead of returning me a civil answer, the insolent wretch, beholding me with a fierce air, "Impotent villain,' said he, ‘I would rather give my slave to a Jew for nothing than to thee for money.' ‘Noor ad Deen,' I replied, without passion, though I had some reason to be a little warm,'you do not consider, that by talking in this manner you affront the king, who raised both your father and me to the honours we have enjoyed.'
"This admonition, instead of softening him, only provoked him to a higher degree; so that, falling upon me like a madman, without regard to my age or rank, he pulled me off my horse, and put me into this miserable plight. I beseech your majesty to consider, that it is on your account I have been so publicly affronted."
The abused king, highly incensed against Noor ad Deen by this relation, so full of malice and artifice, discovered by his countenance the violence of his anger; and turning to the captain of his guards, who stood near him, "Take forty of your soldiers," said he, "immediately plunder Noor ad Deen's house, and having ordered it to be razed to the ground, bring him and his slave to the presence."
Before the captain of the guards was gone out of the king's presence, an officer belonging to the court, who overheard the order given, hastened out. His name was Sangiar; and he had been formerly a slave of the vizier Khacan who had introduced him at court, where by degrees he had raised himself.
Sangiar, full of gratitude to his old master and affection for Noor ad Deen, whom he remembered a child, being no stranger to Saouy's hatred of Khacan's family, could not hear the order without concern. "This action," said he to himself, "may not be altogether so black as Saouy has represented it. He has prejudiced the king against him, who will certainly put him to death, without allowing him time to justify himself." He made so much haste to Noor ad Deen's house, as to get thither soon enough to acquaint him with what had passed at court, and give him time to provide for his own and the fair Persian's safety. He knocked so violently at the door, that Noor ad Deen, who had been a great while without any servant, ran immediately to open it. "My dear lord," said Sangiar, "there is no safety for you in Bussorah; you must lose no time, but depart hence this moment."
"How so?" demanded Noor ad Deen. "What is the reason I must be gone so soon?" "Make haste away, sir," replied Sangiar, "and take your slave with you. In short, Saouy has been just now acquainting the king, after his own way of telling it, all that passed between you and him; and the captain of the guards will be here in an instant, with forty soldiers, to seize you and the fair Persian. Take these forty pieces of gold to assist you in repairing to some place of safety. I would give you more if I had it about me. Excuse my not staying any longer; I leave you with reluctance." Sangiar gave Noor ad Deen but just time to thank him, and departed.
Noor ad Deen acquainted the fair Persian with the absolute necessity of their going that moment. She only put on her veil; they both stole out of the house, and were fortunate enough not only to get clear of the city, but also safely to arrive at the Euphrates, which was not far off, where they embarked in a vessel that lay ready to weigh anchor.
As soon as they were on board, the captain came on deck amongst his passengers. "Children," said he to them, "are you all here? have any of you any more business to do in the city? or have you left any thing behind you?" They were all there, they answered him, and ready; so that he might sail as soon as he pleased. When Noor ad Deen came aboard, the first question he asked was, whither the vessel was bound? and being told for Bagdad, he rejoiced at it. The captain, having weighed anchor, set sail; and the vessel, with a very favourable wind, lost sight of Bussorah.
The captain of the guards came to Noor ad Deen's house, and knocked at the door; but no one answering, he ordered his soldiers to break it open, who immediately obeyed him, and rushed in. They searched the house; but neither he nor the fair Persian were to be found. The captain of the guards made them inquire of the neighbours; and he himself asked if they had seen them lately. It was all in vain; for if they had seen him go out of his house, so universally beloved was Noor ad Deen by the people, that not one of them would have said the least word to his prejudice. While they were rifling the house, and levelling it to the ground, he went to acquaint the king with the news. "Look for them," said he, "every where; for I am resolved to have them."
The captain of the guards made a second search, and the king dismissed the vizier Saouy with honour. "Go home," said he, "trouble yourself no farther to punish Noor ad Deen; I will revenge your injuries."
Without delay the king ordered to be proclaimed throughout the whole city a reward of a thousand pieces of gold for any person that should apprehend Noor ad Deen and the fair Persian, also a severe punishment upon those who should conceal them. No tidings however could be heard of them; and the vizier Saouy had only the comfort of seeing the king espouse his quarrel.
In the mean time, Noor ad Deen and the fair Persian, after a prosperous voyage, landed safe at Bagdad. As soon as the captain came within sight of that city, pleased that his voyage was at an end, "Rejoice, my children," cried he to the passengers; "yonder is that great and wonderful city, where there is a perpetual concourse of people from all parts of the world: there you shall meet with innumerable crowds, and never feel the extremity of cold in winter, nor the excess of heat in summer, but enjoy an eternal spring with all its flowers, and the delicious fruits of autumn."
When the vessel came to anchor, a little below the city, the passengers went ashore, each to their respective place of abode. Noor ad Deen gave the captain five pieces of gold for his passage, and went ashore also with the fair Persian; but being a perfect stranger in Bagdad, was at a loss for a lodging. They rambled a considerable time along the gardens that bordered on the Tigris, and keeping close to one of them that was enclosed with a very long wall, at the end of it they turned into a street well paved, where they perceived a magnificent gateway and a fountain near it.
The inner door happened to be shut, but the portal was open, in which there was an estrade on each side. "This is a very convenient place for us," said Noor ad Deen to the fair Persian; "night comes on apace; and though we have eaten nothing since our landing, I am for passing the night here, and to-morrou we shall have time enough to look for a lodging." "Sir," replied the fair Persian, "you know your wishes are mine; les us go no farther, since you are willing to stay here." Each of them having drunk a draught of water at the fountain, they laid themselves down upon one of the estrades; and after a little chat, being soothed by the agreeable murmur of the water, fell asleep.
The garden belonged to the caliph: and in the middle of it there was a pavilion, called the pavilion of pictures, because its chief ornaments were pictures after the Persian manner, drawn by the most celebrated painters in Persia, whom the caliph had sent for on purpose. The stately hall within this pavilion was lighted by fourscore arches and a lustre in each; but these were lighted only when the caliph came thither to spend the evening. On such occasions they made a glorious illumination, and could be seen at a great distance in the country on that side, and by great part of the city.
The office of keeper of this pleasure house was at this time held by a very aged officer, named Scheich Ibrahim, whom the caliph, for some important service, had put into that employment, with strict charge not to let all sorts of people in, but especially to suffer no one either to sit or lie down on the estrades at the outward door, that they might always be clean; and whenever he found any body there, to punish them severely.
Some business had obliged this officer to go abroad, and he was not yet returned. When he came back, there was just day-light enough for him to discern two persons asleep upon one of the estrades, with their heads under a piece of linen, to defend them from the gnats. "Very well," said Scheich Ibrahim to himself; "these people disobey the caliph's orders: but I will take care to teach them better manners." Upon this he opened the door very softly, and a moment after returned with a cane in his hand, and his sleeve tucked up to the elbow: he was just going to lay on them both with all his might, but withholding his arm, began to reason with himself after this manner: "Thou wast going, without reflection, to strike these people, who perhaps are strangers, destitute of a lodging, and utterly ignorant of the caliph's order; so that it would be advisable to know first who they are." Upon this he gently lifted up the linen that covered their heads, and was astonished to see a young man so well shaped, and a young woman so beautiful; he then waked Noor ad Deen, by pulling him softly by the feet.
Noor ad Deen, lifting up his head, and seeing an old man with a long white beard standing at his feet, got up, and throwing himself upon his knees, and taking his hand, kissed it. "Good father," said he, "Heaven preserve you!" "What do you want, my son?" replied Scheich Ibrahim; "who are you, and whence came you?" "We are strangers newly arrived," answered Noor ad Deen, "and would fain tarry here till to-morrow." "This is not a proper place for you," said Scheich Ibrahim; "come in with me, and I will find one fitter for you to sleep in than this; and the sight of the garden, which is very fine, will please you, when you see it to-morrow by day light." "Is this garden your own?" asked Noor ad Deen. "Yes," replied Scheich Ibrahim, smiling; "it is an inheritance left me by my father: pray walk in, for I am sure you will not repent seeing it."
Noor ad Deen rose to thank Scheich Ibrahim for the civility he had strewn, as did afterwards the fair Persian; and they entered the garden. Scheich Ibrahim locked the door, and going before, led them to a spot from whence, at one view, they might see the disposition, grandeur, and beauty of the whole.
Noor ad Deen had seen very fine gardens, but never any comparable to this. Having satisfied his curiosity, as he was walking in one of the walks, he turned about to the officer, and asked his name. As soon as he had told him it was Scheich Ibrahim; "Scheich Ibrahim," said he to him, "I must confess this is a charming garden indeed. Heaven send you long to enjoy the pleasures of it; we cannot sufficiently thank you for the favour you have done by shewing us a place so well worth seeing; however, it is but just that we should make you some amends for your kindness; here are two pieces of gold; take them and get us something to eat, that we may be merry together."
At the sight of the two pieces of gold, Scheich Ibrahim, who was a great admirer of that metal, laughed in his sleeve: he took them, and leaving Noor ad Deen and the fair Persian by themselves, went to provide what was necessary; for he was alone. Said he to himself with great joy, "these are generous people; I should have done very wrong, if, through imprudence, I had ill- treated and driven them away. A tenth part of the money will suffice to treat them; and the rest I will keep for my pains."
While Scheich Ibrahim was gone to fetch something for his own supper, as well as for his guests Noor ad Deen and the fair Persian walked up and down the garden, till at last they came to the pavilion of pictures. They stood awhile to admire its wonderful structure, size, and loftiness; and after taking a full view of it on every side, went up many steps of fine white marble to the hall-door, which they found locked.
They were but just returned to the bottom of the steps, when Scheich Ibrahim arrived, loaded with provisions. "Scheich Ibrahim," said Noor ad Deen, in great surprise, "did you not tell us that this was your garden?" "I did," replied Scheich Ibrahim, "and do so still." "And does this magnificent pavilion also belong to you?" Scheich Ibrahim was staggered at this unexpected question. "If," said he to himself, "I should say it is none of mine, they will ask me how I can be master of the garden and not of the pavilion.' As he had made them believe the garden was his, he said the same of the pavilion. "My son," said he, "the pavilion is not distinct from the garden; but they both belong to me." "If so," said Noor ad Deen, "since you invite us to be your guests to-night, do us the favour to shew us the inside of it; for if we may judge by the outward appearance, it must certainly be extraordinarily magnificent."
It would have been a great piece of incivility in Scheich Ibrahim to refuse this favour, after what he had already done: moreover, he considered that the caliph not having given him notice, according to his usual custom, it was likely he would not be there that night, and therefore resolved to treat his guests, and sup with them in the pavilion. He laid the provisions on the first step, while he went to his apartment for the key: he soon returned with a light, and opened the door.
Noor ad Deen and the fair Persian entered the hall, and were never tired with admiring the beauty and richness of the place. Indeed, without saying anything of the pictures. which were admirably well drawn, the sofas were very noble and costly; and besides lustres suspended from every arch, there was between each a silver branch supporting a wax candle. Noor ad Deen could not behold these glorious objects without recollecting his former splendour, and sighing.
In the mean time Scheich Ibrahim was getting supper ready; and the cloth being laid upon a sofa, and every thing in order, Noor ad Deen, the fair Persian, and he sat down and ate together. When supper was finished, and they had washed their hands, Noor ad Deen opened a lattice, and calling the fair Persian to him, "Come hither," said he, "and with me admire the charming prospect and beauty of the garden by moon-light; nothing can be more agreeable." She came to him; and they both enjoyed the view, while Scheich Ibrahim was busy in taking away the cloth.
When Scheich Ibrahim came to his guests again, Noor ad Deen asked him whether he had any liquor to treat them with. "What liquor would you have?" replied Scheich Ibrahim--"Sherbet? I have the best in the world; but sherbet, you know, my son, is never drunk after supper."
"I know that very well," said Noor ad Deen; "it is not sherbet, but another sort of liquor that we ask you for, and I am surprised at your not understanding me." "It is wine then you mean?" said Scheich Ibrahim. "You guess right," replied Noor ad Deen, "and if you have any, oblige us with a bottle: you know a bottle after supper is a very proper companion to spend the hours with till bed-time."
"Heaven defend me from keeping wine in my house," cried Scheich Ibrahim, "and from ever coming to a place where any is found! A man who, like me, has been a pilgrimage four times to Mecca, has renounced wine for ever."
"You would do us a singular kindness," said Noor ad Deen, "in getting a little for our own drinking; and if it be not too much trouble, I will put you in a way how you may do it, without going into a vintner's shop, or so much as laying your hand upon the vessel that contains it." "Upon that condition I will do it," replied Scheich Ibrahim, "only let me know what I am to do."
"Why then," said Noor ad Deen, "we just now saw an ass tied at the entrance of your garden, which certainly must be yours, and which you may make use of in this extremity: here are two pieces of gold more; take them, and lead your ass with the panniers to the next vintner's; you may stand at as great a distance as you please, do but give something to the first person that comes by, and desire him to go with your ass, and procure two pitchers of wine; put one in one pannier, in another, another, which he must pay for out of the money you give him, and so let him bring the ass back to you: you will have nothing to do, but to drive the beast hither before you; we will take the wine out of the panniers: by this means you will do nothing that will give you any scruple."
The two last pieces of gold that Scheich Ibrahim was going to receive wrought wonderfully upon his mind. "Ah! my son," cried he, "you have an excellent contrivance; and had it not been for your invention, I should never have thought of this way of getting you some wine without any scruple of conscience." Away he went to execute the orders, which he did in a little time; and, upon his return, Noor ad Deen taking the pitchers out of the panniers, carried them into the hall.
Scheich Ibrahim having led the ass to the place from whence he took him, came back again, "Scheich Ibrahim," said Noor ad Deen, "we cannot enough thank you for the trouble we have already given you; but we want something yet." "What is that? "replied Scheich: "what more service can I do you?" "We have no cups to drink out of," said Noor ad Deen, "and a little fruit, if you had any, would be very acceptable." "Do but say what you have a mind to," replied Scheich Ibrahim, "and you shall have every thing to your heart's content."
Down went Scheich Ibrahim, and in a short time spread a carpet for them with beautiful porcelain dishes, full of all sorts of delicious fruits, besides gold and silver cups to drink out of; and having asked them if they wanted any thing else, he withdrew, though they pressed him earnestly to stay.
Noor ad Deen and the fair Persian sat down again, and drank each a cup. They were pleased with the wine, which was excellent. "Well, my dear," said Noor ad Deen to the fair Persian, "are we not the most fortunate persons in the world, after so many dangers, to meet with so charming and agreeable a place? Let us be merry, and think no more on the hardships of our voyage. Can my happiness be greater in this world, than to have you on one side of me, and my glass on the other?" They drank freely, and diverted themselves with agreeable conversation, each singing a song.
Both having very fine voices, but especially the fair Persian, their singing attracted Scheich Ibrahim, who had stood hearkening a great while on the steps, without discovering himself. He could contain himself no longer; but thrusting his head in at the door, "Courage, sir," said he to Noor ad Deen, whom he took to be quite drunk, "I am glad to see you so pleased."
"Ah! Scheich Ibrahim," cried Noor ad Deen, turning to him, "you are a glorious man, and we are extremely obliged to you. We dare not ask you to drink a cup; but walk in; come, sit down, and let us have the honour at least of your company." "Go on, go on," said Scheich Ibrahim; "the pleasure of hearing your songs is sufficient for me." Upon this he immediately retired.
The fair Persian perceiving Scheich Ibrahim, through one of the windows, standing upon the steps, told Noor ad Deen of it. "Sir," said she, "you see what an aversion he has for wine; yet I question not in the least to make him drink, if you will do as I would have you." Noor ad Deen asked her what it was. "Do but say the word," replied he, "and I am ready to do what you please." "Prevail with him then only to come in, and bear us company; some time after fill up a bumper, and give it him; if he refuses, drink it yourself, pretend to be asleep, and leave the rest to me."
Noor ad Deen understood the fair Persian's design, and called to Scheich Ibrahim, who came again to the door. "Scheich Ibrahim," said he, "we are your guests; you have entertained us in the most obliging manner, and will you now refuse our solicitations to honour us with your company? We do not ask you to drink, but only the favour of seeing you."
Scheich Ibrahim being at last prevailed upon, came into the hall, and sat down on the edge of a sofa nearest to the door. "You do not sit well there," said Noor ad Deen, "and we cannot have the honour of seeing you; pray come nearer, and sit you down by the lady; she will like it much." "I will obey you," replied Scheich Ibrahim, so coming forward, simpering, to think he should be seated near so beautiful a creature, he placed himself at some distance from the fair Persian. Noor ad Deen desired a song of her, in return for the honour Scheich Ibrahim had done them; and she sung one that charmed him.
When the fair Persian had ended her song, Noor ad Deen poured out a cup of wine, and presented it to Scheich Ibrahim. "Scheich Ibrahim," said he, "I entreat you, drink this to our healths." "Sir," replied he, starting back, as if he abhorred the very sight of the wine, "I beseech you to excuse me; I have already told you that I have forsworn the use of wine these many years." "Then since you will not drink our healths," said Noor ad Deen, "give me leave to drink yours."
While Noor ad Deen was drinking, the fair Persian cut half an apple, and presented it to Scheich Ibrahim. "Though you refused drinking," said she, "yet I believe you will not refuse tasting this apple; it is very excellent." Scheich Ibrahim had no power to refuse it from so fair a hand; but taking it with a very low bow, put it in his mouth. She said a great many pleasant things on the occasion; and Noor ad Deen, falling back upon a sofa, pretended to fall fast asleep. The fair Persian presently advanced towards Scheich Ibrahim, and speaking in a low voice, "Look at him," said she, "thus in all our merry parties he constantly serves me; and no sooner has he drunk a cup or two, but he falls asleep, and leaves me alone; but I hope you will have the goodness to keep me company till he awakes."
At this the fair Persian took a cup, and filling it with wine, offered it to Scheich Ibrahim. "Here," said she, "drink off this to my health; I am going to pledge you." Scheich Ibrahim made a great many difficulties, and begged her to excuse him from drinking; but she pressed him so, that overcome by her charms and entreaties he took the cup, and drank off every drop of the wine.
The good old man loved a chirruping cup to his heart, but was ashamed to drink among strangers. He often went to the tavern in private, as many other people do; and he did not take the precaution recommended, but went directly where he was well known (night serving him instead of a cloak), and saved the money that Noor ad Deen had ordered him to give the messenger who was to have gone for the wine.
While Scheich Ibrahim was eating fruit after his draught, the fair Persian filled him out another, which he received with less difficulty than the former, but made none at all at the third. In short, a fourth was quaffing, when Noor ad Deen started up from his pretended sleep; and bursting out into a violent fit of laughter, and looking at him, "Ha! ha!" said he, "Scheich Ibrahim, have I caught you at last? did you not tell me you had forsworn wine? and now you have drunk it all up from me."
Scheich Ibrahim, not expecting to be surprised, blushed a little; however, that did not spoil his draught; but when he had done, "Sir," said he laughing, "if there is any crime in what I have done, it lies at this fair lady's door, not mine: for who could possibly resist so many charms?"
The fair Persian, who perfectly understood Noor ad Deen, took Scheich Ibrahim's part. "Let him talk," said she, "Scheich Ibrahim, take no notice of him, but let us drink on and be merry." Awhile after Noor ad Deen filled out a cup for himself and the fair Persian; but when Scheich Ibrahim saw that Noor ad Deen had forgotten him in his turn, he took his cup, and presenting it to the fair Persian, "Madam," said he, "do you suppose I cannot drink as well as you?"
At these words Noor ad Deen and the fair Persian laughed very heartily. They poured him out some wine; and sat laughing, chatting, and drinking, till near midnight. About that hour the fair Persian began to notice that there was but one candle on the carpet. "Scheich Ibrahim," said she to the good old officer, "you have afforded us but one candle, when there are so many wax- lights yonder; pray do us the favour to light some of them, that we may see a little better what we are doing."
Scheich Ibrahim making use of the liberty that wine inspires when it gets into the head, and not caring to be interrupted in his discourse, bade the fair Persian light them herself. "It is fitter for a young person like you to do it," said he, "than for me; but be sure not to light above five or six" Up rose the fair Persian immediately, and taking a wax candle in her hand, lighted it with that which stood upon the carpet, and without any regard to Scheich Ibrahim's order, lighted up the whole fourscore.
By and by, while Scheich Ibrahim was entertaining the fair Persian with some discourse, Noor ad Deen took his turn to desire him to light up some of the candles in the lustres, not taking notice that all the wax-lights were already in a blaze. "Certainly," replied Scheich Ibrahim, "you must be very lazy, or less vigorous than I am, that you are not able to light them yourself; get you gone, and light them; but be sure you light no more than three." To work he went; but instead of that number, he lighted them all, and opened the shutters of the fourscore windows, before Scheich Ibrahim, who was deeply engaged with the fair Persian, knew any thing of the matter.
The caliph Haroon al Rusheed being not yet gone to rest, was in a room of his palace on the river Tigris, from whence he could command a view both of the garden and pavilion. He accidentally opened the casement, and was extremely surprised at seeing the pavilion illuminated; and at first, by the greatness of the light, thought the city was on fire. The grand vizier Jaaffier was still with him, waiting for his going to rest. The caliph, in a great rage, called the vizier to him. "Careless vizier," said he, "come hither, come hither; look at the pavilion of pictures, and tell me the reason of its being illuminated at this hour, now I am not there."
The grand vizier at this account fell into a violent trembling; but when he came nearer, and with his own eyes saw the truth of what the caliph had told him, he was more alarmed than before. Some excuse must be made to appease the caliph's anger. "Commander of the true believers," said he, "all that I can say to your majesty about this matter is, that some five or six days ago Scheich Ibrahim came to acquaint me, that he had a design to assemble the ministers of his mosque, to assist at a ceremony he was ambitious of performing in honour of your majesty's auspicious reign. I asked him if I could be any way serviceable to him in this affair; upon which he entreated me to get leave of your majesty to perform the ceremony in the pavilion. I sent him away with leave to hold the assembly, telling him I would take care to acquaint your majesty with it; and I ask pardon for having quite forgotten it." "Scheich Ibrahim," continued he, "has certainly made choice of this day for the ceremony; and after treating the ministers of his mosque, was willing to indulge them with the sight of this illumination."
"Jaaffier," said the caliph, with a tone that plainly shewed his anger was a little mollified, "according to your own account, you have committed three faults; the first, in giving Scheich Ibrahim leave to perform this ceremony in my pavilion, for a person in such an office is not worthy of so great an honour; the second, in not acquainting me with it; and the third, in not diving into the bottom of the good old man's intention. For my part, I am persuaded he only did it to try if he could get any money towards bearing the charge of it; but that never came into your head."
The grand vizier, overjoyed to hear the caliph put the matter upon that footing, very willingly owned the faults he reproached him with, and freely confessed he was to blame in not giving Scheich Ibrahim a few pieces of gold. "Since the case is so," added the caliph, "it is just that thou shouldst be punished for thy mistakes, but thy punishment shall be light: thou shalt spend the remainder of the night as I mean to do, with these honest people, whose company I shall be well pleased with; and while I am putting on a citizen's habit, go thou and disguise thyself with Mesrour, and come both of you along with me."
The vizier would have persuaded him it was late, and that all the company would be gone before he could get thither: but the caliph said he would positively go. The vizier, who knew that not a syllable of what he had said was true, began to be in great consternation; but there was no reply to be made, and go he must.
The caliph then, disguised like a citizen, with the grand vizier Jaaffier and Mesrour, chief of the eunuchs, stole out of the palace together. They rambled through the streets of Bagdad till they came to the garden; the door, through the carelessness of Scheich Ibrahim, was open, he having forgotten to shut it when he came back with the wine. The caliph was very angry at this. "Jaaffier," said he to the grand vizier, "what excuse have you for the door's being open at this unseasonable hour?" "Is it possible that Scheich Ibrahim makes a custom of leaving it thus all night? I rather believe the hurry of the feast has been the occasion of this neglect."
The caliph went into the garden; and when he came to the pavilion, resolving not to go into the hall till he knew what was doing, consulted with the grand vizier whether it was not his best way to climb up into one of the trees that was near, to observe what was going forward. The grand vizier casting his eyes upon the door, perceived it stood half open, and told the caliph. It seems Scheich Ibrahim had left it so, when he was prevailed upon to come in and bear Noor ad Deen and the fair Persian company.
The caliph laying aside his first design, stole softly up to the hall-door, which standing half open, he could see all the company within, without being discovered himself.
But how was he surprised, when he saw a lady of incomparable beauty and a handsome young man sitting, with Scheich Ibrahim by them. Scheich Ibraham held a cup in his hand. "My fair lady," said he to the fair Persian, "a true toper never drinks without singing a song first: if you please to hear, I will give you one of my best songs."
Scheich Ibrahim sung, and the caliph was the more surprised, because till that moment he never knew of his drinking wine, but always took him for a grave, solid man, as he seemed to be to outward appearance. The caliph retired from the door with the same caution as he had made his approaches to it; and coming to the grand vizier, who was standing on the steps a little lower, "Come up," said he to him, "and see if those within are the ministers of the mosque, as you would have made me believe."
By the tone of voice in which the caliph spoke these last words, the vizier understood that things went ill on his side: however, he went up the steps; but when he had peeped in at the door, and saw the three sitting in that condition, he trembled for his life. He returned to the caliph, but in such confusion, that he knew not what to say. "What riotous doings are here?" said the caliph to him: "who are these people that have presumed to take the liberty of diverting themselves in my garden and pavilion? and how durst Scheich Ibrahim give them admittance, and partake of the diversion with them? I must, however, confess, I never saw two persons more beautiful or better paired in my life; and therefore, before I discover my anger, I will inform myself better, and know who they are, and the reason of their being here." He went to the door again to observe them more narrowly; and the vizier, who followed, stood behind him, while he fixed his eyes upon them. They both plainly heard every word that Scheich Ibrahim said to the fair Persian. "Is there any thing, my charming lady, wanting to render the pleasure of the evening more complete?" "Nothing but a lute," replied the fair Persian, "and methinks, if you could get me one, all would be well." "Can you play upon it?" said Scheich Ibrahim. "Fetch me one," replied the fair Persian, "and you shall hear whether I can or not."
Scheich Ibrahim, without stirring very far from his place, took a lute out of a press, and presented it to the fair Persian, who begun to tune it. The caliph, in the mean time, turning to the grand vizier, "Jaaffier," said he, "the young lady is going to play upon the lute; and if she performs well, I will forgive her, and the young man for her sake; but as for thee, I will have thee impaled." "Commander of the true believers," replied the grand vizier, "if that is your intention, I wish to God she may play ill." "Why so?" said the caliph. "Because," replied the grand vizier, "the longer we live in this world, the more reason we shall have to comfort ourselves with the hopes of dying in good sociable company." The caliph, who loved a repartee, began to laugh at this; and putting his ear to the opening of the door, listened to hear the fair Persian play.
The fair Persian began in such a style, that, from the first moment of her touching the lute, the caliph perceived she did it with a masterly hand. Afterwards accompanying the lute with her voice, which was admirably fine, she sung and played with so much skill and sweetness, that the caliph was quite ravished to hear her.
As soon as the fair Persian had finished her song, the caliph went down the steps, and the vizier followed him. When he came to the bottom, "I never," said he to the vizier, "heard a more charming voice, or a lute better touched. Isaac, whom I thought the most skilful player in the world, does not come up to her. I am so charmed with her music, that I will go in, and hear her play before me. We must, therefore, consider how I can do it."
"Commander of the true believers," said the grand vizier, "if you should go in, and Scheich Ibrahim chance to know you, he would infallibly die with the fright." "It is that which hurts me," replied the caliph, "and I should be loth to be the occasion of his death, after so many years service. A thought is just come into my head, that may succeed; stay here with Mesrour, and wait for me in the next walk."
The neighbourhood of the Tigris had given the caliph an opportunity of turning the stream under a stately bridge into his garden, through a piece of water, whither the choicest fish of the river used to retire. The fishermen knew it well; but the caliph had expressly charged Scheich Ibrahim not to suffer any of them to come near it. However, that night, a fisherman passing by the garden-door, which the caliph had left open as he found it, made use of the opportunity, and going in, went directly to the canal.
The fisherman immediately fell to work with his nets, and was just ready to draw them, when the caliph, fearing what would be the effect of Scheich Ibrahim's negligence, but willing to make use of it to bring his design about, came to the same place. The fisherman, in spite of his disguise, knew him, and throwing himself at his feet, humbly implored his pardon, and excused himself on account of his poverty. "Rise," said the caliph, "and be not afraid; only draw your nets, that I may see what fish you have got."
The fisherman, recovered of his fright, quickly obeyed the caliph's orders. He drew out five or six very large fishes; and the caliph choosing the two biggest, tied them together by the head, with the twig of a tree. "After this," said he to the fisherman, "give me thy clothes, and take mine." The exchange was soon made; and the caliph being dressed like a fisherman, even to his boots and turban, "Take thy nets," said he to the fisherman, "and get thee about thy business."
When the fisherman, well pleased with his good fortune, was gone, the caliph, taking the two fishes in his hand, went to look after the grand vizier and Mesrour; he first met Jaaffier, who, not knowing him, asked what he wanted, and bade him go about his business. The caliph fell a laughing; by which the vizier recognising him, "Commander of the true believers," said he, "is it possible it can be you? I knew you not; and I ask a thousand pardons for my rudeness. You are so disguised that you may venture into the hall without any fear of being discovered by Scheich Ibrahim." Stay you here with Mesrour," said the caliph, "while I go and play my part."
The caliph went up to the hall, and knocked at the door. Noor ad Deen hearing him first, told Scheich Ibrahim of it, who asked who was there? The caliph opened the door, and stepping a little way into the hall to shew himself, "Scheich Ibrahim," said he, "I am the fisherman Kerim, who being informed of your design to treat some of your friends, have brought you two very fine fishes, fresh caught, to ask if you have any occasion for them."
Noor ad Deen and the fair Persian were pleased to hear him name fish. "Pray," said the latter to Scheich Ibrahim, "let him come in, that we may look at them." Scheich Ibrahim, by this time, was incapable of asking this counterfeit fisherman how or which way he came thither, his whole thought being only to oblige the fair Persian. With much ado he turned his head towards the door, being quite drunk, and, in a stammering tone, calling to the caliph, whom he took to be a fisherman, "Come hither, thou nightly thief," said he, "and let us see what thou hast got."
The caliph went forwards, and counterfeiting all the actions of a fisherman, presented the two fishes. "These are very fine ones indeed," said the fair Persian, "and if they were well dressed and seasoned, I should be glad to eat some of them." "The lady is in the right," answered Scheich Ibrahim; "but what can you do with your fish, unless it were dressed? Go, dress it thyself, and bring it to us; thou wilt find every thing necessary in my kitchen."
The caliph went back to the grand vizier. "Jaaffier," said he, "I have been very well received; but they want the fish to be dressed." "I will take care to dress it myself," said the grand vizier, "and they shall have it in a moment." "Nay," replied the caliph, "so eager am I to accomplish my design, that I will take that trouble myself; for since I have personated the fisherman so well, surely I can play the cook for once; in my younger days, I dealt a little in cookery, and always came off with credit." So saying, he went directly towards Scheich Ibrahim's lodgings, and the grand vizier and Mesrour followed him.
They all fell to work; and though Scheich Ibrahim's kitchen was not very large, yet there was every thing in it that they wanted. The fish was quickly cooked; and the caliph served it up, putting to every one's place a lemon to squeeze into the sauce, if they thought proper. They all ate very heartily, but especially Noor ad Deen and the fair Persian; and the caliph stood before them.
As soon as the repast was over, Noor ad Deen looking at the caliph, "Fisherman," said he, "there never was better fish eaten; and you have done us the greatest favour." At the same time, putting his hand into his bosom, and pulling out a purse of thirty pieces of gold, the remainder of forty that Sangiar, the officer of the king of Bussorah, had given him just upon his departure, "Take it," said he to him; "if I had any more, thou shouldst have it; had I known thee in my prosperity, I would have taken care to secure thee from want: do not refuse the small present I make thee, but accept of it as kindly as if it were much greater."
The caliph took the purse, thanked Noor ad Deen, and perceiving by the weight that it contained gold, "Sir," said he to him, "I cannot enough thank you for your liberality, and I think myself very fortunate in having to do with a person of your generosity; but before I take my leave I have a favour to ask, which I beg you not to deny me. Yonder is a lute, which makes me believe that the lady understands playing upon it; and if you can prevail with her to play but one tune, I shall go away perfectly satisfied; for a lute, sir, is an instrument I am particularly fond of."
"Fair Persian," said Noor ad Deen, immediately addressing himself to her, "I ask that favour of you, and I hope you will not refuse me." She took up the lute without more entreaties, and putting it presently in tune, played and sung with such an air, as charmed the very soul of the caliph. Afterwards she played upon the lute without singing, but with so much strength and softness, as to transport him into an ecstasy.
When the fair Persian had given over playing, the caliph cried out, "What a voice! what a hand! what skill! Was there ever finer singing, or better playing upon the lute? Never was there any seen or heard like it."
Noor ad Deen, who was accustomed to give all that belonged to him to persons who praised him, said, "Fisherman, I find thou hast some taste for music; since thou art so delighted with her performance, she is thine, I make thee a present of her." At the same time he rose up, and taking his robe which he had laid by, was going away, and leaving the caliph, whom he believed to be no other than a fisherman, in possession of the fair Persian.
The fair Persian was extremely surprised at Noor ad Deen's liberality; she took hold of him, and looking tenderly at him, "Whither, sir," said she, "are you going? sit down in your place, I entreat you, and hearken to what I am going to sing and play." He did as she desired him, and then the fair Persian, touching the lute, and looking upon him with tears in her eyes, sung some verses that she had made ex tempore, to reproach him with his indifference, and the easiness as well as cruelty with which he resigned her to Kerim. She only hinted, without explaining herself any farther to a fisherman; for she, as well as Noor ad Deen, was ignorant of his being the caliph. When she had done playing, she put the lute down by her, and clapped a handkerchief to her face, to hide the tears she could not repress.
Noor ad Deen made no answer to all these reproaches, but by his silence seemed to declare he did not repent of what he had done The caliph, surprised at what he had heard, said, "Sir, as far as I see, this beautiful, rare, and accomplished lady, of whom so generously you have made me a present, is your slave?" "It is very true, Kerim," replied Noor ad Deen, "and thou wouldst be more surprised than thou art now, should I tell thee all the misfortunes that have happened to me upon her account." "Ah! I beseech you, sir," replied the caliph, still behaving like a fisherman, "oblige me so far as to let me hear part of your story."
Noor ad Deen, who had already obliged him in several things of more consequence, was so complaisant as to relate the whole story to him. He began with the vizier his father's buying the fair Persian for the king of Bussorah, and omitted nothing of what he had done, or what had happened to him, from that time to their arrival at Bagdad, and to the very moment he was talking to him.
When Noor ad Deen had ended his story, "And whither are you going now?" asked the caliph. "Where Heaven shall direct me," answered Noor ad Deen. "If you will believe me," replied the caliph, "you shall go no farther, but, on the contrary, you must return to Bussorah: I will write a short letter, which you shall give the king in my name: you shall see upon the reading it, he will give you a very handsome reception, and nobody will dare to speak against you."
"Kerim," said Noor ad Deen, "what thou hast told me is very singular; I never heard that a poor fisherman, as thou art, had any correspondence with a king?" "Be not astonished at that," replied the caliph: "you must know, that we both studied together under the same masters, and were always the best friends in the world: it is true, fortune has not been equally favourable to us; she has made him a king, and me a fisherman. But this inequality has not lessened our friendship. He has often expressed a readiness and desire to advance my fortune, but I always refused; and am better pleased with the satisfaction of knowing that he will never deny me whatever I ask for the service and advantage of my friends: let me do it, and you shall see the success."
Noor ad Deen consented to what the caliph had proposed; and there being every thing necessary for writing in the hall, the caliph wrote a letter to the king of Bussorah; at the top of which he placed this form, "In the name of the most merciful God," to shew he would be absolutely obeyed.
"Haroon al Rusheed, son of Mhadi, sends this letter to Zinebi, his cousin. As soon as Noor ad Deen, son to the late vizier Khacan, the bearer, has delivered you this letter, and you have read it, pull off the royal vestments, put them on his shoulders, and place him in thy seat without fail. Farewell."
The caliph folded up the letter, sealed it, and giving it to Noor ad Deen, without saying any thing of what was in it, "Go," said he, "embark immediately in a vessel that is ready to go off (as there did constantly every day at the same hour); you may sleep when you are aboard."
Noor ad Deen took the letter, and departed with the little money he had about him when Sangiar gave him his purse; and the fair Persian, distracted with grief at his departure, retired to one of the sofas, and wept bitterly.
Noor ad Deen was scarcely gone out of the hall, when Scheich lbrahim, who had been silent during the whole transaction, looking steadfastly upon the caliph, whom he still took for the fisherman Kerim, "Hark'e," said he, "Kerim, thou hast brought us two fishes, that are worth twenty pieces of copper at most, and thou hast got a purse and a slave: but dost thou think to have all for thyself? I here declare, that I will go halves with thee in the slave; and as for the purse, shew me what is in the inside: if it is silver, thou shalt have one piece for thyself; but if it is gold, I will have it all, and give thee in exchange some pieces of copper which I have in my purse."
The caliph, before his serving up the fish, had dispatched the grand vizier to his palace, with orders to get four slaves with a rich habit, and to wait on the other side of the pavilion till he gave a signal with his finger against the window. The grand vizier performed his commission; and he, Mesrour, and the four slaves, waited at the appointed place, expecting the sign.
The caliph, still personating the fisherman, answered Scheich Ibrahim boldly, "I know not what there is in the purse; gold or silver, you shall freely go my halves: but as to the slave, I will have her all to myself; and if you will not accept these conditions, you shall have nothing."
Scheich lbrahim, enraged to the last degree at this insolence, considering him only as a fisherman, snatched up one of the china dishes which were on the table, and flung it at the caliph's head. The caliph easily avoided the blow, being thrown by a person in liquor; but the dish striking against the wall, was dashed into a thousand pieces. Scheich Ibrahim grew more enraged at having missed his aim, and catching up the candle that stood upon the table, rose from his seat, and went staggering down a pair of back-stairs to look for a cane.
The caliph took this opportunity, and striking his hands against the window, the grand vizier, Mesrour, and the four slaves were with him in an instant: the slaves quickly pulled off the fisherman's clothes, and put him on the habit they had brought. They had not quite dressed the caliph, who had seated himself on the throne that was in the hall, but were busy about him when Scheich Ibrahim, spurred on by interest, came back with a cane in his hand, with which he designed to pay the pretended fisherman soundly; but instead of finding him, he saw his clothes in the middle of the hall, and the caliph on his throne, with the grand vizier and Mesrour on each side of him. He stood awhile gazing on this unexpected sight, doubting whether he was awake or asleep. The caliph fell a laughing at his astonishment; and calling to him, "Scheich Ibrahim," said he, "What dost thou want? whom dost thou look after?"
Scheich Ibrahim, no longer doubting that it was the caliph, immediately threw himself at his feet, with his face and long beard to the ground. "Commander of the true believers," cried he, "your vile slave has offended you; but he implores your clemency, and asks a thousand pardons for his offence." As soon as the slaves had finished dressing him, he came down from his throne, and advancing towards him, "Rise," said he, "I forgive thee."
The caliph then addressed himself to the fair Persian, who had suspended her sorrow as soon as she understood that the garden and pavilion belonged to that prince, and not to Scheich Ibrahim, as he had all along made her believe, and that it was he himself disguised in the fisherman's clothes. "Fair Persian," said he, "rise, and follow me: by what you have lately seen, you ought to know who I am, and to believe that I am above taking any advantage of the present which Noor ad Deen, with a generosity not to be paralleled, has made me of your person. I have sent him to Bussorah as king; and when I have given him the dispatches necessary for his establishment, you shall go thither and be queen. In the mean time I am going to order an apartment for you in my palace, where you shall be treated according to your desert."
This discourse encouraged the fair Persian, and comforted her very sensibly. The joy for the advancement of Noor ad Deen, whom she passionately loved, to so high an honour, made her sufficient amends for her affliction. The caliph kept his promise, and recommended her to the care of his empress Zobeide, whom he acquainted with the esteem he had entertained for Noor ad Deen.
Noor ad Deen's return to Bussorah was more fortunate, and speedier by some days than he could have expected. Upon his arrival, without visiting any of his friends or relations he went directly to the palace, where the king at that time was giving public audience. With the letter held up in his hand, he pressed through the crowd, who presently made way for him to come forward and deliver it. The king took and opened it, and his colour changed in reading it; he kissed it thrice, and was just about to obey the caliph's orders, when he bethought himself of strewing it to the vizier Saony, Noor ad Deen's irreconcileable enemy.
Saouy, who had discovered Noor ad Deen, and began to conjecture, with great uneasiness, what might be the design of his coming, was no less surprised than the king at the order contained in the letter; and being as much concerned in it, he instantly devised a method to evade it. He pretended not to have read the letter quite through, and therefore desiring a second view of it, turned himself a little on one side as if he wanted a better light, and, without being perceived by any body, dexterously tore off from the top of it the form which shewed the caliph would be absolutely obeyed, and putting it into his mouth, swallowed it.
After this egregious piece of villainy, Saouy turned to the king, and giving him the letter, "Sir," said he to him in a low voice, "what does your majesty intend to do?" "What the caliph has commanded me," replied the king. "Have a care, sir," said the wicked vizier, "what you do. It is true this is the caliph's hand, but the form is not to it." The king had observed it, but in his confusion thought his eyes had deceived him when he saw it was gone.
"Sir," continued the vizier, "we have no reason to doubt but that the caliph, on the complaints he has made against your majesty and myself, has granted him this letter to get rid of him, and not with any intention of having the order contained in it executed. Besides, we must consider he has sent no express with a patent; and without that the order is of no force. And since a king like your majesty was never deposed without that formality, any other man as well as Noor ad Deen might come with a forged letter: let who will bring such a letter as this, it ought not to be put in execution. Your majesty may depend upon it, that is never done; and I will take upon myself all the consequence of disobeying this order."
King Zinebi, easily persuaded by this pernicious counsel, left Noor ad Deen entirely to the discretion of the vizier Saouy, who led him to his house in a very insulting manner; and after causing him to be bastinadoed till he was almost dead, he ordered him to a prison, where he commanded him to be put into the darkest and deepest dungeon, with a strict charge to the gaoler to give him nothing but bread and water.
When Noor ad Deen, half dead with the strokes, came to himself, and found what a dismal dungeon he was in, he bewailed his misfortunes in the most pathetic manner. "Ah! fisherman," cried he, "how hast thou cheated me; and how easy have I been in believing thee! Could I, after the civility I shewed thee, expect such inhuman and barbarous usage? However, may Heaven reward thee; for I cannot persuade myself that thy intention was so base; and I will with patience wait the end of my afflictions."
The disconsolate Noor ad Deen remained six whole days in this miserable condition; and Saouy did not forget that he had confined him there; but being resolved to put him to a shameful death, and not daring to do it by his own authority, to accomplish his villainous design, loaded some of his slaves with rich presents, which he, at the head of them, went and presented to the king. "Behold, sire," said he, with the blackest malice, "what the new king has sent you upon his accession to the crown, and begs your majesty to accept."
The king taking the matter just as Saouy intended, "What!" replied he, "is that wretch still living? I thought you had put him to death already." "Sire, I have no power," answered the vizier, "to take any person's life; that only belongs to your majesty." "Go," said the king, "behead him instantly; I give you full authority." "Sire," replied the vizier Saouy, "I am infinitely obliged to your majesty for the justice you do me; but since Noor ad Deen has publicly affronted me, I humbly beg the favour, that his execution may be performed before the palace; and that the criers may publish it in every quarter of the city, so that every body may be satisfied he has made a sufficient reparation for the affront." The king granted his request; and the criers in performing their office diffused universal sorrow through the whole city. The memory of his father's virtues being yet fresh among them, no one could hear, without horror and indignation, that the son was going to suffer an ignominious death.
Saouy went in person to the prison, accompanied by twenty slaves, ministers of his cruelty, who took Noor ad Deen out of the dungeon, and put him upon a shabby horse without a saddle. When Noor ad Deen saw himself in the hands of his enemy, "Thou triumphest now," said he, "and abusest thy power; but I trust in the truth of what is written in our scripture, ‘You judge unjustly, and in a little time you shall be judged yourself.'" The vizier Saouy triumphed in his heart. "What! insolent," said he, "darest thou insult me yet? but I care not what may happen to me, so I have the pleasure of seeing thee lose thy head in the public view of all Bussorah. Thou oughtest also to remember what another of our books says, ‘What signifies if one dies the next day after the death of his enemy?'"
The vizier, implacable in his hatred and enmity, surrounded by his slaves in arms, conducted Noor ad Deen towards the palace. The people were ready to fall upon him as he passed; and if any one had set the example, would certainly have stoned him to death. When he had brought him to the place of suffering, which was to be in sight of the king's apartment, he left him in the executioner's hands, and went straight to the king, who was in his closet, ready to glut his eyes with the bloody spectacle he had prepared.
The king's guard and the vizier's slaves, who made a circle round Noor ad Deen, had much trouble to withstand the people, who made all possible efforts to break through, and carry him off by force. The executioner coming up to him, said, "I hope you will forgive me, I am but a slave, and cannot help doing my duty. If you have no occasion for any thing more, I beseech you to prepare yourself; for the king is just going to give me orders to strike the blow."
The unfortunate Noor ad Deen, at that moment, looking round upon the people, "Will no charitable body," cried he, "bring me a little water to quench my thirst?" Which immediately they did, and handed it up to him upon the scaffold. The vizier Saouy perceiving this delay, called out to the executioner from the king's closet window, where he had planted himself, "Strike, what dost thou stay for?" At these inhuman words the whole place echoed with loud imprecations against him; and the king, jealous of his authority, made it appear, by enjoining him to stop awhile, that he was angry at his presumption. But there was another reason; for the king that very moment casting his eye towards a street that faced him, saw a troop of horsemen advancing full speed towards the palace. "Vizier," said the king immediately, "look yonder; what is the meaning of those horsemen?" Saouy, who knew not who they might be, earnestly pressed the king to give the executioner the sign. "No," replied the king; "I will first know who those horsemen are." It was the vizier Jaaffier, with his train, who came in person from Bagdad by the caliph's order.
To understand the occasion of this minister's coming to Bussorah, we must observe, that after Noor ad Deen's departure with the letter, the caliph the next day, nor for several days after, thought not of sending him the patent which he mentioned to the fair Persian. He happened one day to be in the inner palace, which was that of the women, and passing by her apartment, heard the sound of a fine voice: he listened to it; and he had no sooner heard the words of one complaining for the absence of somebody, than he asked the officer of the eunuchs who attended him who the woman was that lived in that apartment? The officer told him it was the young stranger's slave whom he had sent to Bussorah to be king in the room of Mahummud Zinebi.
"Ah! poor Noor ad Deen," cried the caliph, "I had forgotten thee; but hasten," said he to the officer, "and bid Jaaffier come to me." The vizier was with him in an instant. As soon as he came, "Jaaffier," said he, "I have hitherto neglected sending the patent which was to confirm Noor ad Deen king of Bussorah; but we have no time now to draw up one; therefore immediately take post- horses, and with some of your servants, make what haste you can to that city. If Noor ad Deen is no longer alive, but put to death by them, order the vizier Saouy to be impaled; but if he is living, bring him to me with the king and the vizier."
The grand vizier stayed no longer than just to get on horseback; and being attended by a great train of officers belonging to his household departed for Bussorah, where he arrived in the manner and at the time already mentioned. As soon as he came to the palace-yard, the people cleared the way for him, crying out, "A pardon for Noor ad Deen!" and with his whole train he rode into the palace, even to the very stairs, where he alighted. The king of Bussorah, knowing him to be the caliph's chief minister, went to meet him, and received him at the entrance of his apartment. The first question the vizier asked was, If Noor ad Deen was living? and if he was, he desired that he might be sent for. The king made answer, he was alive, and gave orders to have him brought in. Accordingly he soon made his appearance as he was, bound with cords. The grand vizier Jaaffier caused him to be unbound, and setting him at liberty, ordered the vizier Saoay to be seized, and bound him with the same cords.
The grand vizier remained but one night at Bussorah; and, according to the order he had received, carried Saouy, the king of Bussorah, and Noor ad Deen, along with him. Upon his arrival at Bagdad, he presented them to the caliph: and after he had given him an account of his journey, and particularly the miserable condition in which he found Noor ad Deen, and his ill- usage by the advice and malice of Saony, the caliph desired Noor ad Deen to behead the vizier himself. "Commander of the true believers," said the generous youth, "notwithstanding the injury this wicked man has done me, and the mischief he endeavoured to do my deceased father, I should think myself the basest of mankind if I stained my hands with his blood." The caliph was pleased with his generosity, and ordered justice to be done by the executioner.
The caliph would fain have sent Noor ad Deen to Bussorah as king: but he humbly begged to be excused from accepting the offer. "Commander of the true believers," said Noor ad Deen, "the city of Bussorah, after the misfortunes that have happened to me there, will be so much my aversion, that I beseech your majesty to give me leave to keep the oath which I have made, of never returning thither again; and I shall think it my greatest glory to serve near your royal person, if you are pleased to allow me the honour." The caliph consented; and placing him among the number of those courtiers who were his greatest favourites, restored the fair Persian to him again. To all these favours he added a plentiful fortune; and he and the fair Persian lived together thenceforth, with all the happiness this world could afford.
As for the king of Bussorah, the caliph contented himself with hinting how careful he ought to be in the choice of his viziers, and sent him back to his kingdom.
End of Volume 2
[Go to Beder, Prince of Persia, and Jehaunara, Prince of Samandal, or Summunder]
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