Stories from the Thousand and One Nights. The Harvard Classics. 190914.
The Story of the Second Royal Mendicant
O MY mistress, I was not born with only one eye; but my story is wonderful, and, if written, would serve as a lesson to him who would be admonished. I am a King, and son of a King: I read the Kuran according to the seven readings, and perused various works under the tuition of different learned professors of their subjects: I studied the science of the stars, and the writings of the poets, and made myself a proficient in all the sciences; so that I surpassed the people of my age. My hand-writing was extolled among all the scribes, my fame spread among all countries, and my history among all Kings; and the King of India, hearing of me, requested my father to allow me to visit him, sending him various gifts and curious presents, such as were suitable to Kings. My father, therefore, prepared for me six ships, and we proceeded by sea for the space of a whole month, after which we came to land; and, having disembarked some horses which we had with us in the ship, we loaded ten camels with presents, and commenced our journey; but soon there appeared a cloud of dust, which rose and spread until it filled the air before us, and, after a while, cleared a little, and discovered to us, in the midst of it, sixty horsemen like fierce lions, whom we perceived to be Arab highwaymen; and when they saw us, that we were a small company with ten loads of presents for the King of India, they galloped towards us, pointing their spears at us. We made signs to them with our fingers, and said, We are ambassadors to the honoured King of India; therefore do us no injury:but they replied, We are not in his territories, nor under his government. They slew certain of the young men, and the rest fled. I also fled, after I had received a severe wound; the Arabs being employed, without further regard to us, in taking possession of the treasure and presents which we had with us.
I proceeded without knowing whither to direct my course, reduced from a mighty to an abject state, and journeyed till I arrived at the summit of a mountain, where I took shelter in a cavern until the next morning. I then resumed my journey, and arrived at a flourishing city: the winter, with its cold, had passed away, and the spring had come, with its flowers; and I rejoiced at my arrival there, being wearied with my journey, anxious and pallid. My condition being thus changed, I knew not whither to bend my steps; and, turning to a tailor sitting in his shop, I saluted him, and he returned my salutation, and welcomed me, and wished me joy, asking me the reason of my having come thither. I acquainted him, therefore, with what had be fallen me from first to last, and he was grieved for me, and said, O young man, reveal not thy case, for I fear what the King of this city might do to thee, since he is the greatest of thy fathers enemies, and hath a debt of blood against him. He then placed some food and drink before me, and we ate together, and I conversed with him till night, when he lodged me in a place by his shop, and brought me a bed and coverlet; and, after I had remained with him three days, he said to me, Dost thou not know any trade by which to make gain? I answered, I am acquainted with the law, a student of sciences, a writer, and an arithmetician.Thy occupation, he said, is profitless in our country: there is no one in our city acquainted with science or writing, but only with getting money. Verily, I replied, I know nothing but what I have told thee.Gird thyself, then, said he, and take an axe and a rope, and cut firewood in the desert, and so obtain thy subsistence until God dispel thy affliction; but acquaint no one with thy history, else they will kill thee. He then bought for me an axe and a rope, and sent me with a party of wood-cutters, giving them a charge respecting me. Accordingly, I went forth with them, and cut some wood, and brought back a load upon my head, and sold it for half a piece of gold, part of which I expended in food, laying by the remainder.
Thus I continued for the space of a year, after which I went one day into the desert, according to my custom, to cut firewood; and, finding there a tract with abundance of wood, I entered it, and came to a tree, around which I dug; and as I was removing the earth from its roots, the axe struck against a ring of brass; and I cleared away the earth from it, and found that it was affixed to a trap-door of wood, which I immediately removed. Beneath it appeared a staircase, which I descended; and at the bottom of this I entered a door, and beheld a palace, strongly constructed, where I found a lady, like a pearl of high price, whose aspect banished from the heart all anxiety and grief and affliction. At the sight of her I prostrated myself in adoration of her Creator for the fairness and beauty which He had displayed in her person; and she, looking towards me, said, Art thou a man or a Jinni? I answered her, I am a man.And who, she asked, hath brought thee to this place, in which I have lived five and twenty years without ever seeing a human being?Her words sounded sweetly to me, and I answered her, O my mistress, God hath brought me to thy abode, and I hope will put an end to my anxiety and grief:and I related to her my story from beginning to end. She was grieved at my case, and wept, and said, I also will acquaint thee with my story. Know that I am the daughter of the King of the further parts of India, the lord of the Ebony Island. My father had married me to the son of my uncle; but on the night of my bridal festivities, an Efrit named Jarjaris, the son of Rejmus, the son of Iblis, carried me off, and, soaring with me through the air, alighted in this place, to which he conveyed all things necessary for me, such as ornaments, and garments, and linen, and furniture, and food, and drink; and once in every ten days he cometh to me, and spendeth a night here; and he hath appointed with me, that, in case of my wanting any thing by night or day, I should touch with my hand these two lines which are inscribed upon the kubbeh, and as soon as I remove my hand I see him before me. Four days have now passed since he was last with me, and there remain, therefore, six days before he will come again; wilt thou then remain with me five days, and depart one day before his visit?I answered, Yes;rejoicing at the proposal; and she arose, and, taking me by the hand, conducted me through an arched door to a small and elegant bath, where I took off my clothes, while she seated herself upon a mattress. After this, she seated me by her side, and brought me some sherbet of sugar infused with musk, and handed it to me to drink: she then placed some food before me, and after we had eaten and conversed together, she said to me, Sleep, and rest thyself; for thou are fatigued.
I slept, O my mistress, and forgot all that had befallen me; and when I awoke, I found her rubbing my feet; upon which I called to her, and we sat down again and conversed awhile; and she said to me, By Allah, I was straitened in my heart, living here alone, without any person to talk with to me, five and twenty years. Praise be to God who hath sent thee to me.I thanked her for her kind expressions; and love of her took possession of my heart, and my anxiety and grief fled away. We then sat down to drink together; and I remained by her side all the night, delighted with her company, for I had never seen her like in my whole life; and in the morning, when we were both full of joy, I said to her, Shall I take thee up from this subterranean place, and release thee from the Jinni? But she laughed, and replied, Be content, and hold thy peace; for, of every ten days, one day shall be for the Efrit, and nine for thee. I persisted, however, being overcome with passion; and said, I will this instant demolish this kubbeh upon which the inscription is engraved, and let the Efrit come, that I may slay him: for I am predestined to kill Efrits. She entreated me to refrain; but, paying no attention to her words, I kicked the kubbeh with violence; upon which she exclaimed, The Efrit hath arrived! Did I not caution thee against this? Verily thou has brought a calamity upon me; but save thyself, and ascend by the way that thou camest.
In the excess of my fear I forgot my sandals and my axe, and when I had ascended two steps, turning round to look for them, I saw that the ground had opened, and there rose from it an Efrit of hideous aspect, who said, Wherefore is this disturbance with which thou hast alarmed me, and what misfortune hath befallen thee? She answered, No misfortune hath happened to me, excepting that my heart was contracted, and I desired to drink some wine to dilate it, and, rising to perform my purpose, I fell against the kubbeh.Thou liest, vile woman, he exclaimed;and, looking about the palace to the right and left, he saw the sandals and axe; and said to her, These are the property of none but a man. Who hath visited thee?I have not seen them, she answered, until this instant; probably they caught to thee.This language, said he, is absurd, and will have no effect upon me, thou shameless woman!and, so saying, he stripped her of her clothing, and tied her down, with her arms and legs extended, to four stakes, and began to beat her, urging her to confess what had happened.
For myself, being unable to endure her cries, I ascended the stairs, overpowered by fear, and, arriving at the top, replaced the trap-door as it was at first, and covered it over with earth. I repented bitterly of what I had done, and reflecting upon the lady and her beauty, and how this wretch was torturing her after she had lived with him five and twenty years, and that he tortured her only on my account, and reflecting also upon my father and his kingdom, and how I had been reduced to the condition of a wood-cutter, I repeated this verse:
When fortune bringeth thee affliction, console thyself by remembering that one day thou must see prosperity, and another day, difficulty.
Returning to my companion, the tailor, I found him awaiting my return as if he were placed in a pan upon burning coals. I passed last night, said he, with anxious heart on thy account, fearing for thee from some wild beast or other calamity. Praise be to God for thy safe return.I thanked him for his tender concern for me, and entered my apartment; and as I sat meditating upon that which had befallen me, and blaming myself for having kicked the kubbeh, my friend the tailor came in to me, and said, In the shop is a foreigner, who asks for thee, and he has thy axe and sandals; he came with them to the wood-cutters, and said to them, I went out at the time of the call of the Mueddin to morning-prayer, and stumbled upon these, and know not to whom they belong: can ye guide me to their owner?The wood-cutters, therefore directed him to thee: he is sitting in my shop; so go out to him and thank him, and take thy axe and thy sandals.On hearing these words, my countenance turned pale, and my whole state became changed; and while I was in this condition, the floor of my chamber clove asunder, and there rose from it the stranger, and lo, he was the Efrit; he had tortured the lady with the utmost cruelty; but she would confess nothing: so he took the axe and the sandals, and said to her, If I am Jarjaris, of the descendants of Iblis, I will bring the owner of this axe and these sandals. Accordingly, he came, with the pretence before mentioned, to the wood-cutters, and, having entered my chamber without granting me any delay, seized me, and soared with me through the air: he then descended, and lived into the earth, and brought me up into the place where I was before.
Here I beheld the lady stripped of her clothing, and with blood flowing from her sides; and tears trickled from my eyes. The Efrit then took hold of her, and said, Vile woman, this is thy lover:whereupon she looked at me, and replied. I know him not, nor have I ever seen him until this instant. The Efrit said to her, With all this torture wilt thou not confess? Never in my life have I seen him before, and it is not lawful in the sight of God that I should speak falsely against him.Then, said he, if thou know him not, take this sword and strike off his head. She took the sword, and came to me, and stood over my head: but I made a sign to her with my eyebrow, while tears ran down my cheeks. She replied in a similar manner, Thou art he who hath done all this to me:I made a sign to her, however, that this was a time for pardon, conveying my meaning in the manner thus described by the poet:
Our signal in love is the glance of our eyes; and every intelligent person understandeth the sign.
Our eyebrows carry on an intercourse between us; we are silent; but love speaketh.
And when she understood me, she threw the sword from her hand, O my mistress, and the Efrit handed it to me, saying, Strike off her head, and I will liberate thee, and do thee no harm. I replied, Good:and, quickly approaching her, raised my hand; but she made a sign as though she would say, I did no injury to thee:whereupon my eyes poured with tears, and, throwing down the sword, I said, O mighty Efrit, and valiant hero, if a woman, deficient in sense and religion, seeth it not lawful to strike off my head, how is it lawful for me to do so to her, and especially when I have never seen her before in my life? I will never do it, though I should drink the cup of death and destruction.There is affection between you, said the Efrit, and, taking the sword, he struck off one of the hands of the lady; then, the other; after this, her right foot; and then, her left foot: thus with four blows he cut off her four extremities, while I looked on, expecting my own death. She then made a sign to me with her eye; and the Efrit, observing her, exclaimed, Now thou hast been guilty of incontinence with thine eye!and, with a blow of his sword, struck off her head; after which, he turned towards me, and said, O man, it is allowed us by our law, if a wife be guilty of incontinence, to put her to death. This woman I carried off on her wedding-night, when she was twelve years of age, and she was acquainted with no man but me; and I used to pass one night with her in the course of every ten days in the garb of a foreigner; and when I discovered of a certainty that she had been unfaithful to me, I killed her: but as for thee, I am not convinced that thou hast wronged me with respect to her; yet I must not leave thee unpunished: choose, therefore, what injury I shall do to thee.
Upon this, O my mistress, I rejoiced exceedingly, and, eager to obtain his pardon, I said to him, What shall I choose from thy hands?Choose he answered, into what form I shall change thee; either the form of a dog, or that of an ass, or that of an ape. I replied, in my desire of forgiveness, Verily, if thou wilt pardon me, God will pardon thee in recompense for thy shewing mercy to a Muslim who hath done thee no injury:and I humbled myself in the most abject manner, and said to him, Pardon me as the envied man did the envier.And how was that? said he. I answered as follows: