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- The Arabian Nights Entertainments vol. 1 - 30/63 -

at the gate, being strangers as well as myself. We were mutually surprised at one another, to see that we were all blind of the same eye; but we had not leisure to converse long on the subject of our misfortunes. We have only had time enough to bring us hither, to implore those favours which you have been generously pleased to grant us.

The third calender having finished this relation of his adventures, Zobeide addressed him and his fellow calenders thus: "Go wherever you think proper, you are at liberty." But one of them answered, "Madam, we beg you to pardon our curiosity, and permit us to hear the stories of those gentlemen who have not yet spoken." Then the lady turned to the caliph, the vizier Jaaffier, and Mesrour, and said to them, "It is now your turn to relate your adventures, therefore speak."

The grand vizier who had all along been the spokesman, answered Zobeide: "Madam, in order to obey you, we need only repeat what we have already said. We are merchants of Moussol come to Bagdad to sell our merchandize, which lies in the khan where we lodge. We dined today with several other persons of our condition, at a merchant's house of this city; who, after he had treated us with choice dainties and excellent wines, sent for men and women dancers, and musicians. The great noise we made brought in the watch, who arrested some of the company, and we had the good fortune to escape: but it being already late, and the door of our khan shut up, we knew not whither to retire. We chanced as we passed along this street to hear mirth at your house, which made us determine to knock at your gate. This is all the account that we can give you, in obedience to your commands."

Zobeide having heard this statement, seemed to hesitate what to say, which the calenders perceiving, prayed her to grant the same favour to the three Moussol merchants as she had done to them. "Well then," said she, "you shall all be equally obliged to me; I pardon you all, provided you immediately depart."

Zobeide having given this command in a tone that signified she would be obeyed, the caliph, the vizier Mesrour, the three calenders, and the porter departed, without saying one word: for the presence of the seven slaves with their weapons awed them into silence. As soon as they had quitted the house, and the gate was closed after them, the caliph said to the calenders, without making himself known, "You gentlemen, who are newly come to town, which way do you design to go, since it is not yet day?" "It is this," they replied, "that perplexes us." "Follow us," resumed the caliph, "and we will convey you out of danger." He then whispered to the vizier, "Take them along with you, and tomorrow morning bring them to me; I will cause their history to be put in writing, for it deserves a place in the annals of my reign."

The vizier Jaaffier took the three calenders along with him; the porter went to his quarters, and the caliph and Mesrour returned to the palace. The caliph went to bed, but could not sleep, being perplexed by the extraordinary things he had seen and heard. But above all, he was most concerned to know the history of Zobeide; what reason she could have to be so severe to the two black bitches, and why Amene had her bosom so scarred. Day began to appear whilst he was thinking upon these things; he arose and went to his council chamber, and sat upon his throne.

The grand vizier entered soon after, and paid his respects as usual. "Vizier," said the caliph, "the affairs that we have to consider at present are not very pressing; that of the three ladies and the two black bitches is the most urgent: my mind cannot rest till I am thoroughly satisfied, in all those matters that have so much surprised me. Go, bring those ladies and the calenders at the same time; make haste, and remember that I impatiently expect your return."

The vizier who knew his master's quick and fiery temper, hastened to obey, and went to the ladies, to whom he communicated, in a civil way,. the orders with which he was charged, to bring them before the caliph, without taking any notice of what had passed the night before at their house.

The ladies put on their veils, and went with the vizier As he passed his own house, he took along with him the three calenders, who in the interval had learnt that they had seen and spoken with the caliph, without knowing him. The vizier conducted them to the palace with so much expedition, that the caliph was much pleased. This prince, that he might observe proper decorum before the officers of his court who were then present, ordered that the ladies should be placed behind the hangings of the door which led to his own chamber, and placed the three calenders near his person, who, by their respectful behaviour, sufficiently evinced that they were not ignorant before whom they had the honour to appear.

When the ladies were thus disposed of, the caliph turned towards them, and said, "When I acquaint you that I was last night in your house, disguised in a merchant's habit, you may probably be alarmed, lest you may have given me offence; you may perhaps believe that I have sent for you for no other purpose than to shew some marks of my resentment; but be not afraid; you may rest assured that I have forgotten all that has past, and am well satisfied with your conduct. I wish that all the ladies of Bagdad had as much discretion as you evinced before me. I shall always remember the moderation with which you acted, after the rudeness of which we were guilty. I was then a merchant of Moussol, but am at present Haroon al Rusheed, the fifth caliph of the glorious house of Abbas, and hold the place of our great prophet. I have only sent for you to know who you are, and to ask for what reason one of you, after severely whipping the two black bitches, wept with them? And I am no less curious to know, why another of you has her bosom so full of scars."

Though the caliph pronounced these words very distinctly, the three ladies heard him well enough, yet the vizier out of ceremony, repeated them.

Zobeide, after the caliph by his address had encouraged her, began thus:

The Story of Zobeide.

Commander of the faithful, the relation which I am about to give your majesty is singularly extraordinary. The two black bitches and myself are sisters by the same father and mother; and I shall acquaint you by what strange accident they came to be metamorphosed. The two ladies who live with me, and are now here, are also my sisters by the father's side, but by another mother: she that has the scars upon her breast is named Amene; the name of the other is Safie, and my own Zobeide.

After our father's death, the property that he left was equally divided among us, and as soon as these two sisters received their portions, they left me to live with their mother. My other two sisters and myself stayed with our mother, who was then alive, and who when she afterwards died left each of us a thousand sequins. As soon as we had received our portions, the two eldest (for I am the youngest) married, and left me alone. Some time after, my eldest sister's husband sold all that he had, and with that money and my sister's portion they went both into Africa, where her husband, by riotous living and debauchery' spent all; and finding himself reduced to poverty, found a pretext for divorcing my sister, and put her away.

She returned to this city, and having suffered incredible hardships by the way, came to me in so lamentable a condition that it would have moved the hardest heart to compassion to behold her. I received her with every possible tenderness, and inquiring into the cause of her distress, she told me with tears how inhumanly her husband had behaved towards her. Her misfortunes affected me: and I mingled my tears with hers. I took her to a bath, clothed her with my own apparel, and thus addressed her: "Sister, you are the elder, and I esteem you as my mother: during your absence, God has blest the portion that fell to my share, and the employment I follow of breeding silk-worms. Assure yourself there is nothing I have but is at your service, and as much at your disposal as my own."

We lived very comfortably together for some months. As we were one day conversing about our third sister, and wondering we received no intelligence of her, she came in as bad a condition as the eldest: her husband had treated her after the same manner; and I received her likewise with the same affection as I had done the former.

Some time after, my two sisters, on presence that they would not be chargeable to me, told me they intended to marry again. I observed, that if putting me to expense was the only reason, they might lay those thoughts aside, and be welcome to remain: for what I had would be sufficient to maintain us all three, in a manner answerable to our condition. "But," I added, "I rather believe you wish to marry again; I shall feel much surprised if such be the case. After the experience you have had of the little satisfaction there is in wedlock, is it possible you dare venture a second time? You know how rare it is to meet with a husband perfectly virtuous and deserving. Believe what I say, and let us live together as comfortably as we can." All my persuasion was in vain; they were resolved to marry, and soon accomplished their wishes. But after some months were past, they returned again, and begged my pardon a thousand times for not following my advice. "You are our youngest sister," said they, "but abundantly more wise than we; if you will vouchsafe to receive us once more into your house, and account us your slaves, we shall never commit a similar fault again." My answer was, "Dear sisters, I have not altered my mind with respect to you since we last parted: come again, and take part of what I have." Upon this I embraced them, and we lived together as before.

We continued thus a whole year in perfect love and harmony. Seeing that God had increased my small stock, I projected a voyage, to embark some of it in a commercial speculation. To this end, I went with my two sisters to Bussorah, where I bought a ship ready fitted for sea, and laded her with such merchandise as I had carried with me from Bagdad. We set sail with a fair wind, and soon cleared the Persian gulf; when we had reached the open sea, we steered our course to the Indies; and the twentieth day saw land. It was a very high mountain, at the bottom of which we perceived a great town: having a fresh gale, we soon reached the harbour, and cast anchor.

I had not patience to wait till my sisters were dressed to go

The Arabian Nights Entertainments vol. 1 - 30/63

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