The Storp of Repsima

A MERCHANT of Bassora, named Dukin, abandoned his profession to give him­self up entirely to piety. He had always been very scrupulous, and in consequence had amassed very little wealth. He lived in a small house at the extremity of the town, with an only daughter, whom he brought up in the fear of the Most High, and in the practice of Mussulman virtues. They both fasted, not only on the prescribed days, but often on others for the sake of mortification.

All their time was spent in prayer and reading the Koran. They lived contented with their lot, and wanted for nothing because they desired nothing.

Careful as was Repsima (for thus was the daughter of Dukin named) to avoid men and to live regardless of the things of the world, she was, nevertheless, soon troubled in her solitude. Her virtuous reputation attracted many men, who asked her in marriage of her father, and she would have had a greater number of lovers if it had been known that her beauty equalled her virtue.

Dukin, when he reflected upon the meagreness of her fortune, hoped his daughter would marry some rich merchant; but she evinced such aversion to marriage that he did not dare to force it upon her for fear of doing violence to her feelings.

‘No, my father,’ she said, every time a suitor presented himself; ‘I do not wish to leave you. Let me live my tranquil life with you.’

They both lived together for some years in the manner I have described, after which Dukin was summoned by the Angel of Death. Repsima, seeing herself bereft of her father’s support, raised her hands to Heaven and spoke thus: ‘Sole hope of the despairing, unique resource of orphans, Heaven, who dost not abandon the unhappy who implore thy aid with confidence, thou who listenest to the voice of the innocent, do not refuse my prayer! Thou art all-powerful, thou canst preserve me; remove from me all the perils which threaten my innocence.’

After the funeral of Dukin, all the family repre­sented to Repsima that it would be unseemly for her to live alone, and that she must marry. At the same time a young merchant named Temim was proposed to her, whose goodness and honesty they extolled. She could not at first entertain ideas so distasteful to her; but having in prayer con­sulted the Great Prophet, she believed herself inspired, and nothing further was needed to prevail upon her to marry Temim. The marriage took place shortly afterwards.

She found in her husband, besides the good that had been told her of him, a man disposed to love her passionately. Temim became every day more and more attached to her, and, charmed at having a wife of such rare merit, he considered himself the happiest of men. But, alas! his happiness was not of long duration. Tremble, mortals, when you think your wishes realised! The moment destined to be the last of your happiness is perhaps not far off.

Temim, a year after his marriage, was obliged to make a voyage along the Indian coast. He had a brother, whom he entrusted with the care of his domestic affairs.

‘Revendeh,’ he said to him, ‘my dear brother, keep Repsima good company during my absence, take care of my wealth. I will not say more to you. I judge of you by myself. I believe my interests are not less dear to you than your own.’

‘Yes, my brother,’ replied Revendeh, ‘you are right in having entire confidence in me, and there is no need to recommend your interests to me. Blood and friendship will not admit of my neglect­ing them.’

On the assurance which Revendeh gave Temim that he would take great care of his house, he departed from Bassora, and embarked on the Gulf in a vessel bound for Surat. As soon as he was gone his brother went to his house and made endless protestations of wishing to serve Repsima, who received him very well.

Revendeh, unfortunately, became desperately enamoured of his sister-in-law. He concealed his love for some time, but gradually he lost control over himself and declared his love. The lady, although incensed at her brother-in-law’s audacity, spoke to him gently and begged him not to speak of it again. She represented to him the insult he did to Temim, and how poor a result he could expect from such guilty sentiments.

Revendeh, seeing that his sister-in-law took the matter so gently, did not despair of influencing her, and became more bold:

‘Oh, my queen!’ he said, ‘all that you can say to me is useless: listen to me rather, and accept my proposals. I will become your slave to death. Let us be in harmony, and our friendship so secret as to shelter us from slander.’ At this speech Repsima could not restrain her anger. ‘Ah, wretch!’ she cried, ‘you only think of hiding your crime from the eyes of the world: you only fear to be dishonoured among the people: you are not at all affected by the wrong you do your brother, and Heaven, who sees into your soul. But cease flattering yourself: I would rather die than satisfy your criminal passion.’

Another, less brutal than Revendeh, would per­haps have reflected at these words, and have esteemed Repsima the more.

But he, seeing that he could not persuade her, resolved to bring about her destruction in revenge. This is how he set about it One night, whilst she was praying, he secretly introduced a man into Temim’s house. This man quietly entered the lady’s room. Then Revendeh, followed by four paid witnesses, broke in the door of the house, and running to where his sister-in-law was, ‘Unhappy woman!’ he cried, ‘I surprise you with a man. Is it thus you dishonour my brother? I have brought witnesses, so that it will avail you nothing to deny your crime. Wretched woman! you affect the appearance of the most austere virtue, whilst you secretly commit the most infamous actions.’ Thus saying he made so much noise that he awoke all the neighbours and made the affront public.

By this sinister artifice Revendeh made his sister-in-law appear unfaithful. He did not content himself with that; he ran to the cadi with his four witnesses, informed him of the adventure, and demanded justice of him. The judge immediately interrogated the witnesses, and on their depositions charged his lieutenant to go and seize Repsima and imprison her till the following day.

The lieutenant carried out the order, and the next day the accused was condemned to be buried alive on the high-road. This rigorous sentence was executed. The victim was conducted to a place outside the town by a great concourse of people, and she was buried up to her breast in a ditch, where she was left.

As the people returned to the town they dis­cussed the wife of Temim. ‘It is a calumny,’ said some; ‘the matter has been judged too quickly: this woman appeared so good and virtuous.’ ‘One must not trust,’ said others, ‘to appearances: this woman has been justly condemned.’ So each one argued according to his character.

Repsima was left in the position I have described on the high-road, when, in the middle of the night, an Arab robber passed near her mounted on a horse. She cried out to him. ‘Passer-by,’ she said, ‘whoever you may be, I beg you to save my life. I have been unjustly buried alive. In the name of God, have pity on me and deliver me from the cruel death which awaits me; this good work shall not go unrewarded.’

The Arab, robber though he was, was touched with compassion. ‘I must,’ he said to himself, ‘save this unhappy creature. I have a thousand crimes on my conscience; this charitable act will perhaps dispose the Most High to pardon me.’

Thus reflecting, he dismounted, approached Repsima, and after having extracted her from the ditch, he remounted his horse and made the lady get up behind him.

‘My lord,’ she said, ‘where are you going to take me?’

‘I am going,’ he replied, ‘to take you to my tent, which is not far from here. You will be in safety there, and my wife, who is the best woman in the world, will receive you well.’

They soon arrived at an Arab encampment. They dismounted at the door of a tent, which was opened by a negro. The robber made the lady enter, and presented her to his wife, whom he told how he had met her. The Arab’s wife was naturally charitable, and it was with regret that she saw her husband pursue his calling as a robber. She received Repsima favourably, and begged her to relate her history.

The wife of Temim told her story so touchingly that she moved her hearers. The robber’s wife was especially affected by it. ‘My beautiful lady,’ she said to Repsima, with tears in her eyes, ‘I feel your troubles as much as you do yourself, and you may depend upon me to render you any service in my power.’

‘My good lady,’ said the wife of Temim, ‘I thank you for your kindness. I see that Heaven does not wish to abandon me, since I am brought in contact with people who sympathise with my mis­fortunes. Permit me to live with you. Give me shelter, where I may pass my days in praying for you.’