No. XXX—p. 181.

AN imperfect MS. text of the Thousand and One Nights pre­served in the Bodleian Library, Oxford,* has two different versions of this story, namely, Nights 726-728, the Lady of Cairo and her Three Gallants, and, Nights 738-743, the Lady of Cairo and her Four Suitors. This text does not appear to contain the Seven Vazīrs, unless it was in the missing portion, Nights 167-305. Of the first version I know nothing, but pre­sume it is somewhat similiar to that in the present volume, since Scott has selected, in vol. vi of his edition of the Arabian Nights, the second for translation, though he had to suppress parts of it. In this version the lady—unlike the heroine of our tale—is described as virtuous. Her lovers are the judge, the collector-general of port-duties, the chief of the butchers, and a rich merchant. She informs her husband of her plan to punish them, and at the same time reap some profit. The judge comes first, and presents her with a rosary of pearls. She makes him undress, and put on a robe of yellow muslin and a parti-coloured cap—her husband all the while looking at them through an opening in the door of a closet. Presently there is heard a loud knock at the street door, and, on the pretence that it is her husband, the judge is pushed into an adjoining room. The three other suitors, as they successively arrive, bring each also a valu­able present, and are treated in the same manner. The husband now enters, and his wife tells him—to the consternation, no doubt, of the imprisoned suitors—that in returning from the bazaar that day she had met with four antic fellows, whom she had a great mind to bring home with her for his amusement. He affects to be vexed that she had not done so, since he must go from home to-morrow. The lady then says that they are, after all, in the next room, upon which the husband insists on their being brought before him, one after another. So the judge is dragged forth in his absurd attire, and compelled to dance and caper like a buffoon, after which he is made to tell a story, which bears a curious resemblance to the Turkish tale in the Forty Vazīrs included in our illustrations of Women's Wiles—see page 261; only in place of a king we have here an officer, and instead of a real lover concealed in a chest, it is a conceited tailor who has fallen in love with the lady, whom she thus punishes with fright, by first arousing and then doing away her husband's jealousy.—The judge, having told his story, is dismissed. The three other suitors go through the same performance, but their stories (albeit told in presence of the “virtuous” lady) Scott found to be unfit for translation.

In the Persian tales ascribed to a dervish of Ispahān, Arouya, the virtuous wife of a merchant, entraps, also with her husband's sanction, a qāzī, a doctor, and the city governor. And in the Bahār-i Dānish, a lady named Gohera, whose husband is in the hands of the police, makes assignations with the kutwal (police magistrate) and the qāzī, one of whom is entrapped in a large jar, the other in a chest, and next morning she causes porters to carry them before the sultan, who orders them to be punished and her husband to be set at liberty.

In various parts of India the story seems to be very popular. Mr. G. H. Damant has published, in the Indian Antiquary, 1873, a translation of a folk-tale of Dinajpur, entitled “The Touchstone,” in the concluding portion of which a young woman consents to receive at her house the kutwal at the first watch of the night; the king's counsellor at the second watch; the king's minister at the third watch; and the king himself at the fourth watch. She smears the kutwal with molasses, pours water on him, covers his whole body with cotton wool, and then secures him close to the window. The counsellor is hidden under a mat; the minister, behind a bamboo screen; and when the king comes, last of all, and sees the frightful figure of the kutwal in the window, he asks what it is, and she replies that it is a rākshasa, upon which king, minister, and counsellor flee from the house in dread of the monster. The kutwal is then released and makes the best of his way home in his hideous condition. (Mr. Damant gives a Bengalī variant in the Indian Antiquary, 1880, in the story of Adi's Wife, who entraps the kutwal, the nazīr, the vazīr, and the king in a wardrobe.)

In Miss Stokes' amusing Indian Fairy Tales (No. 28), a mer­chant's clever wife, during his absence, takes four hanks of thread to the market to sell, and is accosted, in turn, by the kutwal, the vazīr, the qāzī, and the king, to each of whom she grants an interview at her house, at different hours, and contrives to entrap them into chests. In the morning she hires four stout coolies, who take the chests on their backs, and proceeding to the houses of her suitors, disposes of them to their sons for various sums of money, telling each that the chest contained something he would value far beyond the sum she asked.

The oldest extant form of this wide-spread tale is found in the Kathá Sarit Ságara, of which the following is a translation, by Dr. H. H. Wilson:

Upakosā and her Four Lovers.

Whilst I was absent, my wife, who performed with pious exactitude her ablutions in the Ganges, attracted the notice and desires of several suitors, especially of the king's domestic priest, the commander of the guard, and the young prince's preceptor, who annoyed her by their importunities, till at last she deter­mined to expose and punish their depravity. Having fixed upon the plan, she made an appointment for the same evening with her three lovers, each being to come to her house an hour later than the other. Being desirous of propitiating the gods, she sent for our banker to obtain money to distribute in alms; and when he arrived he expressed the same passion as the rest, on her compliance with which he promised to make over to her the money that I had placed in his hands; or, on her refusal, he would retain it to his own use. Apprehending the loss of our property, therefore, she made a similar assignation with him, and desired him to come to her house that evening at an hour when she calculated on having disposed of the first comers, for whose reception, as well as for his, she arranged with her attendants the necessary preparations.

At the expiration of the first watch of the night, the preceptor of the prince arrived. Upakosā affected to receive him with great delight; and after some conversation, desired him to take a bath, which her attendants had prepared for him, as a preliminary to any further intimacy. The preceptor made not the slightest objection, on which he was conducted into a retired and dark chamber, where his bath was made ready. On undressing, his own clothes and ornaments were removed, and, in their place, a small wrapper given to him, which was a piece of cloth smeared with a mixture of oil, lamp-black, and perfumes. Similar cloths were employed to rub him after bathing, so that he was of a perfect ebon colour from top to toe. The rubbing occupied all the time till the second lover (the priest) arrived, on which the women exclaimed: “Here is our master's most particular friend! —in, in here, or all will be discovered,” and hurrying their victim away, they thrust him into a long and stout wicker basket, fastened well by a bolt outside,* in which they left him to meditate upon his mistress.

The priest and the commander of the guard were secured, as they arrived, in a similar manner, and it only remained to dispose of the banker. When he made his appearance, Upakosā, leading him near the baskets, said aloud: “You promise to deliver me my husband's property?” And he replied: “The wealth your husband entrusted to me shall be yours.” On which she turned towards the baskets, and said: “Let the gods hear the promise of Hiranygupta!” The bath was then proposed to the banker. Before the ceremony was completed the day began to dawn, on which the servants desired him to make the best of his way home, lest the neighbours should notice his departure; and with this recommendation they forced him, naked as he was, into the street. Having no alternative, the banker hastened to conceal himself in his own house, being chased all the way by the dogs of the town.

So soon as it was day, Upakosā repaired to the palace of Nanda, and presented a petition to the king against the banker, for seeking to appropriate the property entrusted to him by her husband. The banker was summoned. He denied having ever received any money from me. Upakosā then said: “When my husband went away, he placed our household gods in three baskets; they have heard this man acknowledge his holding a deposit of my husband's, and let them bear witness for me.” The king, with some feeling of surprise and incredulity, ordered the baskets to be sent for, and they were accordingly produced in the open court. Upakosā then addressed them: “Speak, gods, and declare what you overheard this banker say in our dwelling. If you are silent, I will unhouse you in this presence.” Afraid of this menaced exposure, the tenants of the baskets im­mediately exclaimed: “Verily, in our presence the banker acknowledged possession of your wealth.” On hearing these words, the whole court was filled with surprise, and the banker, terrified out of his senses, acknowledged the debt, and promised restitution.

The business being adjusted, the king expressed his curiosity to see the household divinities of Upakosā, and she very readily complied with his wish. The baskets being opened, the culprits were dragged forth by the attendants, like so many lumps of darkness. Being presently recognised, they were overwhelmed with the laughter and derision of all the assembly. As soon as the merriment had subsided, King Nanda begged Upakosā to explain what it all meant, and she acquainted him with what had occurred. King Nanda was highly incensed, and, as the punishment of their offence, banished the criminals from the kingdom. He was equally pleased with the virtue and ingenuity of my wife, and loaded her with wealth and honour. Her family likewise were highly gratified by her conduct, and she obtained the admiration and esteem of the whole city.*

By whatever way this story may have journeyed to Europe, it was turned into a humorous but, in some of its details, very objectionable fabliau (interesting, however, as an illustration of manners) in the 13th century, under the title of Constant du Hamel, ou la Dame qui atrappa un Prêtre, un Prevost, et un Forestier. In this version a lady is importuned, as its title indicates, by three suitors, who, on her refusal, persecute her husband. To put a stop to their active malice, she consents to receive them, one somewhat later than another, so that by the time the first is stripped for the bath, the second arrives, and, pretending it is her husband, she hides him in a bin full of feathers, and so too with the second and third; in the end they are ignominiously bundled out of doors, well feathered, and hasten home, with all the curs of the town barking and snapping at their heels.—This is the only version that agrees with the Hindū original in the incident of the bath.

The old English metrical tale of the Wright's Chaste Wife (written by one Adam of Cobsam, 15th century), if partly bor­rowed from, is certainly a very great improvement on, the fabliau. This is an abstract of it:

The Wright's Chaste Wife.

A wright marries the daughter of a poor widow, whose only dower is a garland that will remain fresh while she continues chaste, but will wither when she becomes unfaithful. After a time the wright, thinking it likely that men would come to tempt his wife when he was from home, constructs in his house a lower room, the walls of which he makes as smooth as a mirror, and in the floor above a crafty trap-door, which would give way the moment a man touched it with his foot, and precipitate him into the pit below, out of which it was impossible to escape. Just at this time the lord of the town sent for him to build him a hall— a job of two or three months. The lord observes the wright's garland, and, learning that it is a proof of his wife's chastity, determines to visit her. He goes accordingly, and offers her forty marks. She asks him to lay the money down, and then conducts him to the room with the trap-door, and he no sooner puts his foot on it than down he tumbles into the room below. He begs and prays the dame to have pity on him, but she says: “Nay; you must wait till my husband sees you.” Next day he asks for some food, but she tells him he must first earn it. “Spin me some flax,” says she. The lord consents; so she throws him the tools and the flax, and he works away for his food. The steward next sees the wright's garland, and he too must visit the goodwife, whom he offers twenty marks, which she pockets, and then leads him into the same trap, where, after suffering some days' hunger, he spins flax for his meat. Then the proctor, seeing the wright's garland, asks him all about it, and in due course, after depositing twenty marks with the dame, he joins the lord and the steward in the wright's crafty trap for men of their sort. There all three spin and spin away, as if for their very lives, until at length the wright has finished his three months' job, and comes home. His wife tells him of her prisoners, and sends for their wives, and each takes away her own shamefaced and penitent spouse.

We have here a parallel to the Hindū story of the virtuous Devasmitá, as related in the Kathá Sarit Ságara: Guhasena, a young merchant, is compelled to leave his wife, Devasmitá, for a short season, on business matters. The separation is painful to both, and the pain is aggravated by fears on the wife's part of her husband's inconstancy. To make assurance doubly sure, a couple of divine lotus flowers of a red colour are obtained in a dream, the hues of which, the married pair are told, will fade should either prove untrue.* Guhasena falls in with boon com­panions, who, learning the purport of his lotus and the virtue of his wife, set off to put it to the proof. (Wilson.)—The rest of the story is already detailed in pp. 244-247.

A somewhat similar tale occurs in Nakhshabī's Tūtī Nāma (4th Night of the India Office MS. No. 2573), as follows: A soldier's wife, on his taking leave of her to enter the service of a nobleman, gives him a nosegay, which, she says, will remain fresh so long as she preserves her chastity. The nobleman, marvelling that any one should be able to procure a fresh nose­gay every day in the middle of winter, inquires of the soldier how it was, and learns that its perennial freshness is a token that his wife continues faithful. The nobleman sends one of his cooks to try to form an intimacy with the soldier's wife, but she craftily entraps him; and the second cook, being next despatched to see what has become of his chief, meets with a similar recep­tion. Finally the nobleman himself, with his attendants—among whom is the soldier—proceeds to visit this paragon of virtue. The soldier's wife receives him courteously, and his two cooks, dressed as female slaves, wait upon him at supper. The happy soldier then returns his wife the nosegay, still fresh and blooming.

A curious variant is given in Narain Sawney's Select Tamil Tales, Madras, 1839, in which Ramakistnan (the Scogin of India) entraps the rāja and his domestic chaplain, whom he persuades to disguise themselves as women, on the pretence that he will introduce them to the beautiful wife of a man who has lately come to lodge at his house. The jester having locked them, as they successively arrive, in the same room, when they recognise each other, they are heartily ashamed, and softly request to be let out, but this the jester does only after he has extracted from them a solemn promise that they would forgive him a hundred offences every day.

To return to English variants. The well-known tale of the Monk and the Miller's Wife belongs to the same cycle of stories, in which a woman punishes objectionable wooers by entrapping them and exposing them to public ridicule:

The Monk and the Miller's Wife.

A monk having visited, with amorous intent, the virtuous wife of a miller, during her husband's absence, she affects to be pleased to see him, and they sit down together to a plentiful supper. But hardly have they eaten a mouthful when footsteps are heard approaching the house, and the monk, in dismay, asks what that can be. The wife answers that it is probably her hus­band come back unexpectedly, and bids him get into the great chest in the meantime, which he loses no time in doing, and the goodwife fastens it down upon him, and keeps him confined there in fear and trembling all the long night. In the morning she causes the miller's men to carry the chest into church at the hour of mass, where she opens it, and discovers the monk in presence of all assembled.

From the 1st Novel, Day ix, of Boccaccio's Decameron, John Lydgate (circa 1430) perhaps borrowed the idea of his metrical tale of

The Lady Prioress and her Three Wooers.

A knight, a parish priest, and a merchant are suitors to a lady prioress, who thus gets rid of them all. As the condition of her love, the knight is to lie, like a dead body sewed in a sheet, in the chapel in the wood, with two tapers burning beside him. She next tells the priest that she has a cousin lying dead in the chapel; but as he died in debt, his burial is forbidden [because the debtor had arrested the body]; therefore she has sent for him, in order that, if he would win her love, he should bury her kinsman. The priest accordingly goes to the chapel, with mattock and shovel, and says the dirge at the feet of the knight, who had duly assumed the part of a dead body. The lady prioress now sends for the merchant, tells him the dead man lying in the chapel owed her a sum of money, and she wished him to prevent the burial [to see whether his relatives would not pay the debt], which the priest was to perform that same night. “Shame would it be for us to lose our money, as we shall do if he is buried before it is paid.” She therefore proposes that the merchant should dress himself up like the devil, and, when the priest is about to bury the body, leap in at the choir door like a fiend. The merchant consents, and, duly dressed up, goes to the chapel door, and “roars as devils seemed to do.” The priest, in mortal terror, rushes through the window, breaking both it and his head. The knight can endure this no longer, so he rises up, at which the “devil” also runs away; while the “corpse,” equally frightened, flies off in another direction, and the three suitors spend a wretched night, hiding from each other. Next morning, the priest tells the lady prioress of all his mishaps, how the devil appeared, and the body rose up. “I wis,” quoth she, “I never yet had a lover who died a good death.” “Then,” says Mass John, “that will serve for ale and meat; thou shalt never be wooed by me.” When the knight came, she told him that he did not brook the bargain; so he, too, went away. She threatened the merchant that she would tell his wife and all the country of his wickedness; but he purchased her silence by giving twenty marks to the convent, and after his death endowed it in fee for ever.

A parallel to Lydgate's tale is found in Thorpe's Netherland-ish story of the Wicked Lady of Antwerp.—The Norse tale of the Mastermaid (Dr. Dasent) is the only version, so far as I know, in which magical arts are employed in punishment of the suitors. The heroine of this tale takes shelter in the hut of a cross-grained old woman, who is killed by an accident, and she is thus left alone. A constable, passing by and seeing a beauti­ful maiden, falls in love with her, and bringing a bushel of silver, she consents to marry him; but at night, when they are about to go to bed, she says that she has forgot to make up the fire: this the dutiful bridegroom undertakes to do himself, but no sooner has he taken hold of the shovel, than she cries out: “May you hold the shovel, and the shovel hold you, and may you heap burning coals over yourself till morning breaks.” So there stood the constable all night heaping hot coals upon himself till day­break, when he was released from the spell and ran home, dancing with pain, to the amusement of all who saw him on the way. In like manner, on the second night, the maiden casts her spells over the attorney, who is made to hold the handle of the porch-door till morning; and on the third night, the sheriff is compelled to hold the calf's tail and the calf's tail to hold him till morning breaks, when he goes home in a sorry plight.