The Story of the Beautiful Aroupa

SOME years ago there lived at Damascus an old merchant named Banou. He had a very beautiful country house not far from the town, two shops full of Indian cloths, and all sorts of gold and silken stuffs, also a young wife of extraordinary beauty.

Banou was a man of pleasure. He loved spending money, and prided himself on his generosity. He did not content himself with regaling his friends, he lent them money. He assisted those who had need of help. In fact, he would not have been satisfied with himself if he had passed a day without having done someone a service. He found so many occasions of exercising his generous inclinations that he gradually damaged his business. He saw that he was inconvenienced, but he could not resolve to change his line of conduct; so that, hampering himself more and more every day, he was obliged to sell his country house, and gradually he fell in want.

When he saw his fortune consumed, he had recourse to his friends: he received no assistance from them; they all abandoned him. He thought his debtors at least would give him back what he had lent them; but some repudiated the debt, and others found themselves unable to dis­charge it. This troubled Banou so much that he fell ill.

During his illness he remembered by chance having lent a thousand gold sequins to a doctor of his acquaintance. He called his wife, and said to her: ‘Oh, my dear Arouya, we must not despair yet, I have just remembered one of my debtors whom I had forgotten. I once lent him a thousand gold sequins; it is the doctor Danisch­mend. I do not think him so dishonest as the others. Go to him, since I cannot go myself, and tell him I beg him to send me the sum he received from me.’

Arouya immediately took her veil and went to the house of Danischmend. She was introduced into the apartment of the doctor, who begged her to sit down and tell him what brought her.

‘My lord doctor,’ replied the young woman, raising her veil, ‘I am the wife of Banou the mer­chant; he salutes you in wishing you all sorts of prosperity, and begs you to have the kindness to give him back the thousand gold sequins he has lent you.’

At these words, which the beautiful Arouya spoke sweetly and graciously, the doctor, as red as fire, fixed his eyes on the wife of the merchant, and replied; ‘O fairy countenance! I will willingly give you what you ask, not as something due to your husband, but to yourself, for the pleasure you do me in coming to my house. I feel that the sight of you makes me beside myself. You can make me the happiest of doctors. Return, I beg, the sentiments which you inspire in me; the more that your husband is too advanced in age to deserve your affection. If you wish to accept my love instead of one thousand sequins, I will give you two, and I swear by my head and eyes that I will be your slave all my life.’

Thus saying, the too passionate doctor, to prove by his actions that he was not less enamoured than he said, approached the young woman and wished to press her in his arms: but she repulsed him, and said, looking at him with an air which presaged no good: ‘Stop, insolent fellow, and cease to flatter yourself that I shall listen to you. Were you to offer me all the riches of Egypt, if it depended on you to give them me, you could not corrupt my fidelity. Place in my hands the thousand sequins which you owe my husband, and do not waste your time in trying to force my inclinations.’

The doctor was too intelligent not to gather from this speech what he had to expect from the virtuous Arouya. He lost hope of persuading her, and as he was a very brutal man, he soon changed his tone. ‘You must,’ he said, very angrily, ‘be very bold to ask me for money: I owe nothing to Banou your husband, and if the old fool has ruined himself by his extravagance, I am not fool enough to contribute towards reinstating him.’

At these words he had her abruptly put out of the house, and only just refrained from striking her.

The young woman returned quite in tears to her home. ‘My dear Banou,’ she said to her husband, ‘the doctor Danischmend is not a more honest man than your other debtors. He had the audacity to maintain that he owed you nothing.’

‘O, the ungrateful fellow!’ cried the old mer­chant; ‘is it possible that he abandons me in the hour of need? But what am I saying, abandon me? He is dishonest enough to repudiate having received the sum. The rogue! he appeared to be an honest man. I would have trusted him with all my fortune when he asked me for a thousand sequins. Whom can one trust in nowadays? What shall I do?’ he continued. ‘Must I leave him alone? No, I will have the law on him. Go and find the cadi; he is a severe judge and the sworn enemy of injustice. Relate to him all the doctor’s perfidy. I am sure he will have pity on me and will do me justice.’

The old merchant’s wife went to the cadi. She entered a hall where this judge was giving audi­ence to the people, and stood apart. The majesty of her figure and bearing caused her to be much remarked. The cadi loved the fair sex. As soon as he saw Arouya, he made her a sign to approach, and conducted her himself into his cabinet. He made her sit on a sofa and raise her veil; but he no sooner saw the extreme beauty with which she was endowed than he was as charmed as the doctor.

‘O sugar cane!’ he cried, in a transport of love, ‘beautiful rose of the world’s garden, tell me what you want, and be assured beforehand that I shall do for you all you wish.’

Then she told him of Danischmend’s dis­honesty. She begged him very humbly to inter­pose his authority to oblige the doctor to give back what he owed to her husband.

‘That is just,’ interrupted the cadi, who felt himself becoming more and more enamoured. ‘I shall know how to constrain him. He shall give back the thousand sequins, or I shall have his entrails torn out. But, charming houri,’ he con­tinued, softening, ‘think, I beg, that the bird of my heart is caught in the meshes of your beauty’s net. Grant to me the affection that you refused to the doctor, and I will immediately make you a present of four thousand gold sequins.’

At this speech Arouya melted into tears.

‘O Heaven!’ she cried, ‘is there no virtue among men? I cannot find one who is truly generous. Even those charged with the punish­ment of the guilty do not scruple to commit crimes.’

The cadi tried in vain to dry the young woman’s tears. As he persisted in courting her, and assured her that otherwise she need not expect any service from him, she rose and went out, deeply wounded.

When Banou saw his wife return, it was not difficult to see that she had no good news to announce to him.

‘I see,’ he said, ‘that you are not very pleased with the cadi. He has refused you his protection. The doctor, Danischmend, is doubtless a friend of his.’

‘Alas!’ she replied, ‘I have taken trouble for nothing. He will not do justice to us. No hope remains for us. What is to become of us?’

‘We must apply to the Governor of Damascus,’ he replied. ‘I have several times sold him stuffs on credit. He even owes me money. Let us implore his support. I believe he would like to serve us.’

The following day Arouya, veiled, did not fail to go to the governor. She asked to speak to him. She was led to his apartment.

He received her with much civility, and begged her to uncover her face. As she knew what the consequences of it would be, she wished to excuse herself, but could not: he pressed her so gallantly to raise her veil that she could not help doing so.

If the sight of her had inflamed the doctor and the cadi, it made no less impression on the governor, who was a most impressionable old man.

‘What charms!’ he cried. ‘I never saw any­one so attractive. Ah! tell me,’ he continued, ‘who you are, and what I can do for you.’

‘My lord,’ she replied, ‘I am the wife of a mer­chant called Banou, who has sometimes had the honour to sell you stuffs.’

‘Oh! I know him well,’ he interrupted. ‘He is one of the men whom I love and esteem much. How happy he is to have so charming a wife! How enviable is his lot!’

‘He is much more worthy of pity,’ interrupted Arouya, in her turn. ‘You do not know to what a state the unfortunate Banou is reduced.’

At the same time she put before him the bad condition her husband’s affairs were in, and told him the reasons which compelled her to seek him out.

The governor readily promised to exercise his authority in compelling the doctor, Danischmend, to pay what he owed to Banou: but he was not more generous than the cadi.

‘I grant you my protection,’ he said to the young woman. ‘I shall send for the doctor, and if he does not give back the thousand sequins he has received with a good grace he shall repent it. In a word, I undertake to have them given back to you, provided that from this moment you begin to show your gratitude for what I propose to do for you; for we lords like the reward to precede the service.’