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- The Arabian Nights Entertainments Complete - 160/272 -
"You are a woman of such vivacity and wonderful quickness," replied Abou Hassan, "that you scarcely give me time to explain my design. Have but a little patience, and you shall find that you will be ready enough to die such a death as I intend; for surely you could not think I meant a real death?" "Well," said his wife, "if it is but a sham death you design, I am at your service, and you may depend on my zeal to second you in this manner of dying; but I must tell you truly, I am very unwilling to die, as I apprehended you at first."
"Be but silent a little," said Abou Hassan, "and I will tell you what I promise. I will feign myself dead, and you shall lay me out in the middle of my chamber, with my turban upon my face, my feet towards Mecca, as if ready to be carried out to burial. When you have done this, you must lament, and weep bitterly, as is usual in such cases, tear your clothes and hair, or pretend to do it, and go all in tears, with your locks dishevelled, to Zobeide. The princess will of course inquire the cause of your grief; and when you have told her, with words intermixed with sobs, she will pity you, give you money to defray the expense of my funeral, and a piece of good brocade to cover my body, that my interment may be the more magnificent, and to make you a new dress in the room of that you will have torn. As soon as you return with the money and the brocade, I will rise, lay you in my place, and go and act the same part with the caliph, who I dare say will be as generous to me as Zobeide will have been to you."
Nouzhatoul-aouadat highly approved the project, and said to Abou Hassan, "Come, lose no time; strip to your shirt and drawers, while I prepare a winding sheet. I know how to bury as well as any body; for while I was in Zobeide's service, when any of my fellow-slaves died, I had the conducting of the funeral." Abou Hassan did as his wife mentioned, and laid himself on the sheet which she had spread on the carpet in the middle of the room. As soon as he had crossed his arms, his wife wrapped him up, turned his feet towards Mecca, and put a piece of fine muslin and his turban upon his face, so that nothing seemed wanting but to carry him out to be buried. After this she pulled off her head-dress, and with tears in her eyes, her hair dishevelled, and seeming to tear it off, with a dismal cry and lamentation, beating her face and breast with all the marks of the most lively grief, ran across the court to Zobeide's apartments, who, hearing the voice of a person crying very loud, commanded some of her women to see who it was; they returned and told her that it was Nouzhatoul- aouadat, who was approaching in a deplorable condition.
The princess, impatient to know what had happened to her, rose up immediately, and went to meet her at the door of her ante- chamber. Nouzhatoul-aouadat played her part to perfection. As soon as she saw Zobeide, who held the door open, she redoubled her cries, tore her hair off by handfuls, beat her face and breast, and threw herself at her feet, bathing them with her tears.
Zobeide, amazed to see her slave in such extraordinary affliction, asked what had happened; but, instead of answering, she continued her sobs; and at last feigning to strive to check them, said, with words interrupted with sighs, "Alas! my most honoured lady and mistress, what greater misfortune could have befallen me than this, which obliges me to throw myself at your highness's feet)' God prolong your days, my most respectable princess, in perfect health, and grant you many happy years! Abou Hassan! poor Abou Hassan! whom you honoured with your esteem, and gave me for a husband, is no more!"
At these words Nouzhatoul-aouadat redoubled her tears and sighs, and threw herself again at the princess's feet. Zobeide was extremely concerned at this news. "Abou Hassan dead!" cried she; "that agreeable, pleasant man! I did not expect his death so soon; he seemed to promise a long life, and well deserved to enjoy it!" She then also burst into tears, as did all her women, who had been often witnesses of Abou Hassan's pleasantries when the caliph brought him to amuse the princess Zobeide, and all together continued for some time bewailing his loss. At length the princess Zobeide broke silence: "Wicked woman!" cried she, addressing herself to the false widow, "perhaps you may have occasioned his death. Your ill temper has given him so much vexation, that you have at last brought him to his grave." Nouzhatoul-aouadat seemed much hurt at the reproaches of Zobeide: "Ah, madam," cried she, "I do not think I ever gave your majesty, while I was your slave, reason to entertain so disadvantageous an opinion of my conduct to a husband who was so dear to me. I should think myself the most wretched of women if you were persuaded of this. I behaved to Abou Hassan as a wife should do to a husband for whom she has a sincere affection; and I may say, without vanity, that I had for him the same regard he had for me. I am persuaded he would, were he alive, justify me fully to your majesty; but, madam," added she, renewing her tears, "his time was come, and that was the only cause of his death."
Zobeide, as she had really observed in her slave a uniformly equal temper, mildness, great docility and zeal for her service, which shewed she was rather actuated by inclination than duty, hesitated not to believe her on her word, and ordered her treasurer to fetch a hundred pieces of gold and a piece of rich brocade.
The slave soon returned with the purse and piece of brocade, which, by Zobeide's order, she delivered to Nouzhatoul-aouadat, who threw herself again at the princess's feet, and thanked her with great self-satisfaction at finding she had succeeded so well. "Go," said Zobeide, "use that brocade to cover the corpse of your husband, and with the money bury him handsomely, as he deserves. Moderate the transport of your afflictions: I will take care of you."
As soon as Nouzhatoul-aouadat got out of the princess's presence, she dried up her tears, and returned with joy to Abou Hassan, to give him an account of her good success. When she came home she burst out a laughing on seeing her husband still stretched out in the middle of the floor; she ran to him, bade him rise and see the fruits of his stratagem. He arose, and rejoiced with his wife at the sight of the purse and brocade. Unable to contain herself at the success of her artifice, "Come, husband," said she, laughing, "let me act the dead part, and see if you can manage the caliph as well as I have done Zobeide."
"That is the temper of all women," replied Abou Hassan, "who, we may well say, have always the vanity to believe they can do things better than men, though at the same time what good they do is by their advice. It would be odd indeed, if I, who laid this plot myself, could not carry it on as well as you. But let us lose no time in idle discourse; lie down in my place, and witness if I do not come off with as much applause."
Abou Hassan wrapped up his wife as she had done him, and with his turban unrolled, like a man in the greatest affliction, ran to the caliph, who was holding a private council with Jaaffier and other confidential viziers. He presented himself at the door, and the officer, knowing he had free access, opened it. He entered holding with one hand his handkerchief before his eyes, to hide the feigned tears, which trickled down his cheeks, and striking his breast with the other, with exclamations expressing extraordinary grief.
The caliph, always used to see Abou Hassan with a merry countenance, was very much surprised to behold him in so much distress. He interrupted the business of the council to inquire the cause of his grief. "Commander of the faithful," answered Abou Hassan, with repeated sighs and sobs, "God preserve your majesty on the throne, which you fill so gloriously! a greater calamity could not have befallen me than what I now lament. Alas! Nouzhatoul-aouadat whom you in your bounty gave me for a wife to gladden my existence, alas!" at this exclamation Abou Hassan pretended to have his heart so full, that he could not utter more, but poured forth a flood of tears.
The caliph, who now understood that Abou Hassan came to tell him of the death of his wife, seemed much concerned, and said to him with an air which shewed how much he regretted her loss, "God be merciful to her: she was a good slave, and we gave her to you with an intention to make you happy: she deserved a longer life." The tears then ran down his face, so that he was obliged to pull out his handkerchief to wipe them off. The grief of Abou Hassan, and the tears of the caliph, excited those of Jaaffier and the other viziers. They bewailed the death of Nouzhatoul- aouadat, who, on her part, was only impatient to hear how Abou Hassan succeeded.
The caliph had the same suspicion of the husband that Zobeide had of the wife, and imagined that he had occasioned her death. "Wretch!" said he, in a tone of indignation, "have not you been the cause of your wife's death by your ill treatment of her? You ought at least to have had some regard for the princess my consort, who loved her more than the rest of her slaves, yet consented to give her to you. What a return for her kindness!"
"Commander of the faithful," replied Abou Hassan, affecting to weep more bitterly than before, "can your majesty for a moment suppose that Abou Hassan, whom you have loaded with your favours and kindness, and on whom you have conferred honours he could never have aspired to, can have been capable of such ingratitude? I loved Nouzhatoul-aouadat my wife as much on these accounts, as for the many good qualities she possessed, and which drew from me all the attachment, tenderness, and love she deserved. But, my lord," added he, "she was to die, and God would no longer suffer me to enjoy a happiness for which I was indebted to your majesty and your beloved consort."
Abou Hassan dissembled so well, that the caliph, who had never heard how extravagantly he and his wife had lived, no longer doubting his sincerity, ordered his treasurer, who was present, to give Abou Hassan a purse of a hundred pieces of gold and a piece of brocade. Abou Hassan immediately cast himself at the caliph's feet, and thanked him for his present. "Follow the treasurer," said the monarch; "throw the brocade over the corpse, and with the money shew the last testimony of thy love for thy wife."
Abou Hassan made no reply to these obliging words of the caliph, but retiring with a low prostration, followed the treasurer; and as soon as he had got the purse and piece of brocade, went home, well pleased with having found out so quick and easy a way of supplying the necessity which had given him so much uneasiness.
Nouzhatoul-aouadat, weary with lying so long in one posture, waited not till Abou Hassan bade her rise; but as soon as she heard the door open, sprang up, ran to her husband, and asked him if he had imposed on the caliph as cleverly as she had done on Zobeide. "You see," said he, shewing her the stuff, and shaking
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