Story of Couloufe and of the beautiful Dilara

ONCE upon a time there was at Damascus an old merchant named Abdallah, who was considered the richest of his colleagues.

But he was unhappy. He had been in all parts of the world, and exposed himself to thou­sands and thousands of dangers in the amassing of wealth, but he had no children to share his fortune.

He spared, however, nothing to procure the favour of Heaven: he opened his gates to the poor, and exercised endless charity to the der­vishes, inviting them at the same time to pray God to grant him a son. He even founded hospitals and convents, and had mosques erected: but all was useless. Abdallah lost all hope of being blessed with a child.

One day he sent for an Indian physician whose capacities were much praised. He seated him at his table and after having well regaled him, he said to him:

‘O doctor, I have long desired passionately to have a son.’

‘My lord,’ replied the Indian, ‘it is a favour that depends on God. It is, however, permitted to man to seek means to obtain it.’

‘Command me to do what is necessary to that end,’ replied Abdallah, ‘and I assure you that I will do it.’

‘Firstly,’ said the physician, ‘buy a young slave, tall and straight as a cypress. She must have an agreeable countenance, red cheeks and bright eyes. Her voice ought to be sweet, her manner animated, and her conversation bright. Before buying this slave, you must pass forty days in retirement, in solitude and in prayer, leaving your mind unoccupied with any business. During all this time, you must only eat the flesh of black sheep and only drink old wine. If you observe all these things exactly, there is reason to hope that Heaven will grant you a son.’

Abdallah did not fail to obey the sage, and in time Heaven heard his prayer and vouchsafed him a son.

To celebrate the birth of the child, who was named Couloufe, Abdallah assembled all his friends, gave them a feast, and gave large alms to return thanks to Heaven for having crowned his wishes.

Couloufe grew up, and in proportion as he grew bigger he was instructed in new matters. He had several masters who found him very well disposed to profit by their lessons. They taught him the Hebrew, Greek, Turkish, and Indian tongues, and to form properly the characters of all these languages.

They were not content with making him learn the Koran, he was made to read the commentaries on it. He understood its mystical meaning. He was above all well instructed in the doctrine of predestination. He also knew that which was lawful and that which was unlawful, as well as the questions of ambiguity and certainty. His teachers did not wish him to be ignorant of the history of the Arab tribes, the history of Persia, as well as the annals of the Kings. Further, he learnt moral philosophy, philosophy, medicine and astronomy. He was not eighteen years of age when, besides all the things I have named, he knew yet others.

He was a good poet and a clever musician. He was, moreover, perfect in all bodily exercises. No one ever drew the bow, nor manipulated the sword and lance with more address and vigour. In fact, he was a young man of accomplished merit.

What a satisfaction for a father to have such a son! Abdallah loved him more than life, and could not live for a moment without him. How­ever, death, who grudges happiness to the dwellers upon earth, soon came to take away the old merchant.

Knowing himself about to die, he made Couloufe sit at the side of his bed, and employed his last moments in giving him wise counsels. After his death and his funeral, his son took possession of all his goods.

But this young man was no sooner master of his riches than he began to dissipate them. He had a palace built, bought beautiful slaves, and chose many friends to be the companions of his debauch. He spent his days in amusing himself with them: there was profusion of the most delicate dishes and the best wines in his house.

Feasts, dances, and concerts were the order of the day. He lived in this way for several years, as if the source of his pleasures were inexhaustible. Nevertheless he consumed all his patrimony. Then he was obliged to sell his palace and his slaves, and he finally found himself without means, which greatly rejoiced his enemies.

He then repented of his prodigality. He went to all the youths who had contributed to his ruin.

‘My friends,’ he said to them, ‘you have seen me in prosperity, and now you see me in want. I appeal to you. Help me to rise from my fall. Remember the offers of help that you made me when you were at my table. I do not doubt that you are touched by the state in which I find myself, and that you will make some efforts to bring me out of it.’

It was thus the unhappy Couloufe endeavoured to excite the gratitude of his friends and to engage their help. But he spoke to deaf ears. Some said they were sorry to see him in such a deplorable situation, and contented themselves with praying Heaven to have pity on him. Others, adding harshness to ingratitude, even refused him the consolation of pity, and turned their backs on him.

‘O false friends,’ he cried, ‘how well your harsh and ungrateful conduct punishes me for having been credulous enough to imagine that you really loved me!’

The son of Abdallah, more grieved at having been the dupe of the false friendship of his com­panions in riot than at having dissipated all his wealth, resolved to leave Damascus where there were so many witnesses of his misfortune. He took the road to the country of the Tartars, and betook himself to Caracoram, where then reigned Cabal-Kan. He went to lodge in a caravanserai, where, with the money that remained to him, he bought for himself a robe and turban of Indian cloth. He spent whole days in walking about the town. He went into the gardens to see everything that was of interest, and as soon as night approached he retired to his caravanserai.

One day he heard it said that the King of the Tartars was preparing to make war; that two neighbouring kings, who paid him a considerable yearly tribute, would not pay it him any longer, that they had leagued themselves together, and that they had already troops afoot to oppose Cabal-Kan, if he undertook to penetrate into their country. Couloufe, having heard this news, went to offer his services to the king, who enrolled him in his army. The young man distinguished himself in this war by exploits which earned for him the admiration of the soldiers, the esteem of the officers, and the protection of Prince Mirgehan, son of the King of the Tartars. His success did not stop there; as, following the example of those two neighbouring kings, other princes who also paid tribute rose, Cabal-Kan was obliged to turn his arms against these new enemies, whom he reduced to beg for peace. The son of Abdallah showed again so much courage on the occasions given to him to distinguish himself, that Mirgehan wished to have him always with him in close companion­ship.

Couloufe soon gained the friendship of this prince, who, discovering in him every day more merit, honoured him with all his confidence. Soon after Cabal-Kan died. The prince, his son, suc­ceeded him, and was hardly on the throne before he overwhelmed the son of Abdallah with favours and made him his favourite. Couloufe, seeing that his affairs had entirely changed in character and that he had never been happier, said to himself, all the events of our life must be noted in Heaven. When I lived in pleasure at Damascus, was there any appearance of my possible falling in want, and when I came to Caracoram, could I reasonably have hoped that I should become what I am? No, no, all our prosperity and our misfortunes come to us unsuspected. Let us live then accord­ing to our desires, and submit ourselves to the fate which we cannot avoid.

It was thus that the son of Abdallah reasoned, and following this principle, he followed his inclina­tion without constraint.

One day that he was leaving the palace he met an old woman covered with a veil of Indian cloth, tied with ribands and silken bands. She had a great necklace of pearls, a stick in her hand, and five slaves, also veiled, accompanied her.

He approached the old woman and asked her whether these slaves were for sale.

‘Yes,’ replied the old woman.

He then lifted their veils and saw that these slaves were young and beautiful. One particularly he found very charming.

‘Sell me this one,’ he said to the old woman; ‘she pleases me.’

‘No,’ she replied, ‘I do not wish to sell her to you. You appear to me a gallant gentleman. You must have a more beautiful one. I have others in my house. I have Turkish, Greek, Sclavonian, Ionian, Ethiopian, German, Cash­merian, Chinese, Armenian, and Georgian maidens. I will present them all to you, and you will take the one that pleases you most. You have only to follow me.’

Saying these words she preceded Couloufe, who followed her.

When they came opposite to a mosque the old woman said to him: