The Story of the Lady Found in a Sack

‘“I AM,” she continued, “the daughter of the king of this city. One day that I was going to the public baths, I per­ceived Namahran in his shop. I was struck by him, and in spite of myself, his image was always before me.

‘“I felt that I loved him. I fought at first against my feelings. I represented to myself their indignity, and I thought to conquer them by reflections. But I was deceived; love got the better of my pride. I became restless and languishing, and the evil increasing every moment, I fell into an illness of which I should infallibly have died, if my com­panion, who better understood my symptoms than the physicians, had not guessed the cause. With much adroitness she got me to admit that her conjectures were correct. I related to her in what manner my unhappy love had originated, and she judged, from what I said to her, that I was madly enamoured of Namahran.

‘“She was touched by the condition in which I was, and she promised to relieve my distress. One night, in fact, she introduced the young merchant into the seraglio in the clothes of a girl, and brought him into my apartment. In addition to the joy of seeing him, I had the pleasure of remarking that he was charmed at his good fortune.

‘“After having kept him enclosed in a cabinet for several days, my companion got him out of the seraglio as happily as she had introduced him and, from time to time he returned under the same dis­guise.

‘“The fancy took me to go in my turn to see Namahran. I took pleasure in surprising him, not doubting that this step, which proved to him the excess of my passion, would be very agreeable to him.

‘“I left the palace quite alone one night, by détours which were known to me, and betook myself to his house.

‘“I had little trouble in finding it because I had remarked it well in going to and returning from the baths. I knocked at the door. A slave came to open it and asked me who I was and what I wanted.

‘“I am, I replied to him, a young lady of the city, and I wish to speak to your master.”

‘“He is with company,” replied the slave. “He is entertaining another lady at this moment; come back again to-morrow.”

‘“At the mention of the word lady I felt beside myself with jealousy: I became furious. Instead of retiring I entered the house precipitately and, proceeding into a hall in which there was light and all the paraphernalia of a feast, I perceived the merchant at table with a rather beautiful young girl. They were both drinking and singing tender and passionate songs. I could not restrain my anger at this spectacle. I threw myself upon the young girl and struck her a thousand blows. I should have taken her life had she not succeeded in escaping me. I did not confine myself only to my rival in my rage, I did not spare Namahran.

‘He first threw himself at my knees, asked pardon of me, and swore he would not betray me. He appeased me: I yielded to his vows and his contrition. He even persuaded me to drink with him, and so effectually that I became intoxicated. When he saw me in this state, the traitor struck me several blows with a knife. I fell insensible; he believed me dead. He put me in a great sack and carried me himself on his back out of the town, to the place where you found me. Whilst he was digging a grave I recovered my senses and uttered several cries; but far from being touched and showing himself merciful enough by despatch­ing me before putting me in the earth, the barbarian took a delight in burying me alive.

‘“As for Mahyar,” she continued, “the other merchant to whom you carried letters from me, he is a seraglio-merchant. I let him know that I wanted money and told him my adventure, begging him to keep it secret until I had tasted the pleasure of a complete revenge. This, O young man, is my history. I did not wish to tell it you before for fear that you might scruple to bring my victim to me here. I do not think that you now disapprove my noble action; and to show that you are an enemy to treacherous hearts, you ought to praise me for having had the courage to pierce that of Namahran. As soon as it is daylight,” she added, “we will go together to the palace. The king my father loves me passionately. I shall confess my fault to him. I hope that he will forgive me, and I venture to promise that he will overwhelm you with favours.”

‘“No, madam,” I said to the princess, “I ask nothing for having saved you. Heaven bears me witness that I do not regret it; but I admit to you that I am in despair at having served your resentment so well. You have abused my com­plaisance in making me contribute to a treachery. You ought rather to have called upon me to revenge you nobly. I would willingly have exposed my life for you.”

‘For, my lord, although I considered Namahran justly punished, I so much regretted having myself led him to death that I abandoned the lady on the spot and despised her promises. I left the town before daybreak, and perceiving a caravan of merchants who were encamped in a meadow, I joined them, and as they were going to Bagdad, where I wished to go, I journeyed with them. I arrived there happily; but I soon found myself in a sad situation. I was without money, and only a gold sequin remained to me of all my past fortune. I bought with it scented apples, sweets, balms, and roses. I went every day to the shop of a merchant who vended cooling drinks, where several lords and other persons were accus­tomed to assemble to converse. I presented to them in a basket what I had bought. Each one took what he wished, and did not fail to give me some money, so that this little trading furnished me with means to live comfortably.

‘One day that I was offering flowers as usual at the merchant’s, in the corner of the room there was an old man to whom I paid no attention, and who, seeing that I did not address myself to him at all, called me, and said, “My friend, how comes it that you do not offer me your merchandise as well as the others? Don’t you count me amongst worthy people, or do you think that I have nothing in my purse?”

‘“My lord,” I replied, “I beg you to excuse me. I did not see you, I assure you. All I have is at your service, and I ask you nothing for it.”

‘At the same time I offered him my basket. He took a scented apple, and bade me seat myself beside him, which I did. He asked me a thousand questions, who I was and what I was called.

‘“Excuse me,” I said sighing, “from satisfying your curiosity. I cannot satisfy it without opening wounds which time is beginning to heal.”

‘These words, or rather the tone in which they were said, prevented the old man from pressing me further. He changed the conversation: and when, after a long talk, he rose to go, he took from his purse ten gold sequins which he placed into my hands.

‘I was very surprised at his liberality. The most prominent persons to whom I was in the habit of offering my basket did not give me even a sequin, and I did not know what to think of this man. I returned the next day to the merchant’s shop, and found the old man there again. He was not that day the last to attract my attention. I addressed myself first to him: he took a little balm, and having made me again seat myself beside him, he pressed me so warmly to relate my story to him, that I could not help doing so.

‘I related to him everything that had happened to me, and after I had confided in him, he said:

‘“I knew your father. I am a merchant of Bassora. I have no children nor hope of having any. I have conceived a friendship for you. I adopt you. Thus, my son, console yourself for past misfortunes. You find a father richer than Abdelaziz, and who will not be less friendly to you.”

‘I thanked this venerable old man for the honour which he did me, and followed him when he left. He made me cast away my basket and my flowers and led me into a large house which he had hired. He gave me an apartment in it, with slaves to wait on me. They brought me, by his order, rich clothes. It was as if my father Abdelaziz still lived, and it did not seem as if I had ever been in a miserable condition.

‘When the merchant had finished the business which kept him in Bagdad, that is to say, had sold all the merchandise which he had brought thither, we took together the road to Bassora. My friends, who had not hoped to see me again, were not a little surprised to learn that I had been adopted by a man who was considered the richest merchant in the town. I strove to please the old man. He was charmed at my behaviour.

‘“Aboulcasem,” he often said to me, “I am charmed to have met you at Bagdad. You seem to me very worthy of what I have done for you.”

‘I was so touched with the sentiment which he expressed for me that, far from abusing it, I did all I could to give him pleasure. Instead of seeking young people of my own age, I kept him company. I hardly left him. However, this good old man fell ill and the physicians could not cure him. Seeing himself in extremity, he made everyone retire and said to me: