Story of the Burnt Veil.

THERE was a certain merchant, very rich, who had an only son, whom he loved exceedingly. One day he said to the young man: “My son, tell me whatever thou desirest of the pleasures of life, that I may gratify thee.” The youth replied: “I long for nothing so much as to visit the city of Bagdād, and see the palaces of the khalīf and the vazīrs—that I may behold what so many merchants and travellers have so rap­turously described.” The merchant observed: “I do not approve of such an excursion, because it would occasion your absence from me.”—“My dear father,” said the young man, “you inquired my wish, and this is it, and I cannot willingly give it up.” When the father heard this, being unwilling to vex his son, he prepared for him an adventure of merchandise of the value of thirty thousand dīnars, and recommended him to the care of some eminent merchants, his par­ticular friends.

The youth was amply provided with requisites for the journey, and, attended by many slaves and domestics, he travelled unceasingly till he reached the celebrated capital of Islām, where he hired a handsome house near the grand market. For several days he rode about the city, and beheld such splendid scenes that his mind was bewildered amidst the mag­nificence of the buildings, the richness of the shops, and the spaciousness of the markets. He admired the dome-crowned palaces, their extensive courts, and regular arcades; the pavements of variously-coloured marbles, the ceilings adorned with gold and azure, the doors studded with nails of silver, and painted in fanciful devices.

At length, he stopped at a mansion of this descrip­tion, and inquired the rent by the month; and the neighbours told him that the monthly hire was ten dirhams. The young merchant exclaimed in astonish­ment: “Are ye speaking the truth, or do ye only jeer me?” They replied: “We swear, my lord, that we speak the truth exactly; but it is impossible to reside in that house more than a week or a fortnight, without being in hazard of death—a circumstance well known in Bagdād. The rent originally was twenty gold dīnars monthly, and is now reduced to ten silver dirhams.”*

The young man was now still more surprised, and said to himself: “There must be some reason for this, which I wish to find out, and am resolved to hire the house.” He did so; and, casting all fear from his mind, took possession, brought his goods, and resided some time in it, employed in business and amusement. At length, sitting one day at his gate, he beheld an old woman (may God's vengeance rest upon her!), who was a cunning go-between under a religious garb. When the old jade saw the young man reclining upon a mastaba* spread with nice carpets, and that he had every appearance of affluence around him, she bowed to him,* and he returned her salute. She then gazed steadfastly at him, upon which he said: “Dost thou want my services, good mother? Dost thou know me, or mistake me for one whom I may resemble?” She answered: “My lord, and my son, I know thee not; but when I beheld thy beauty and manliness, I thought upon a circumstance, which, with God's blessing, I will relate.” The youth exclaimed: “God grant it may be a fortunate one!” She said: “How long hast thou resided in this house?” On his replying, two months, she exclaimed: “That is wonderful, my son! For every one who before resided in it for more than a week or a fortnight either died or, being taken dan­gerously ill, gave it up. I suppose thou hast not opened the prospect-room or ascended the terrace?” When she had thus spoken, she went away, and left the young man astonished at her questions.

Curiosity made him immediately examine closely all the upper apartments of the mansion, till at length he found a secret door, almost covered with cobwebs, which he wiped away. He then opened the door, and, hesitating to proceed, said to himself: “This is wonderful! What if I should meet my death within?” Relying, however, upon God, he entered, and found an apartment having windows on every side, which over­looked the whole neighbourhood. He opened the shutters, and sat down to amuse himself with the pro­spect. His eyes were speedily arrested by a palace more elegant than the others, and while he surveyed it, a lady appeared upon the terrace, beautiful as a hūrī; her charms would have ravished the heart, changed the love of Majnūn,* torn the continence of Joseph, overcome the patience of Job, and as­suaged the sorrow of Jacob:* the chaste and devout would have adored her, and the abstinent and the pilgrim would have longed for her company.

When the merchant's son beheld her, love took pos­session of his heart. He sank down on the carpet, and exclaimed: “Well may it be said, that whoever resides in this mansion will soon die from hopeless love of this beautiful damsel!” He quitted the apart­ment, locked the door, and descended the staircase. The more he reflected the more he was disturbed, and both rest and patience forsook him. Then he went and sat down at his gate, when, lo! after a short interval, the old woman appeared, devoutly counting her beads, and mumbling prayers.* When she came near, he saluted her, and said: “I was at ease and contented until I looked out of the apartment you mentioned, and beheld a young lady, whose beauty has distracted me; and if thou canst not procure me her company, I shall die with disappointment.”* She replied: “My son, do not despair on her account, for I will accomplish thy desires.” Then she consoled him, and he gave her fifty dīnars, with many thanks for her kindness, saying: “My dear mother, assist me to the purpose, and you may demand what you please.” The old woman replied: “My son, go to the great market, and inquire for the shop of our lord Abū-'l Fat-h the son of Qaydām, the great silk mer­chant, whose wife this lady is. Approach him with all civility, and say that you want a rich veil,* em­broidered with gold and silver, for your concubine. Return with it to me, and your desires shall be grati­fied.” The young man hastened to the bazār of the chief merchants, and was soon directed to the person he inquired after, who was also a broker of mer­chandise to the khalīf Harūnu-'r-Rashīd. He easily found such a veil as he was directed to purchase, for which he paid a hundred gold dīnars, and returned home with it to the old woman, who took a live coal, and with it burned three holes in the veil, which she then took away with her.

She then proceeded to the young lady's house, and knocked at the gate. When the lady inquired who was there, the old woman said: “It is I, Ummu Maryam,”* on which the merchant's wife, knowing her to be a humble acquaintance of her mother, said: “My dear aunt,* my mother is not here, but at her own house.” The old woman said: “Daughter, the hour of prayer approaches, and I cannot reach my house in time to perform my ablutions. I request, therefore, that I may make them in your house, as I am secure of having pure water here.”*

The door was now opened, and the hypocritical jade entered, counting her beads, and mumbling her prayers for the welfare of the young lady, her hus­band, and her mother. She then took off her drawers,* girded her vest round her waist, and a vessel of water being brought, performed her ablutions; after which she said: “Show me, good daughter, a pure spot, free from pollution, to pray upon.” The young lady re­plied: “You may pray upon my husband's carpet.” The old woman now muttered her prayers, during which, unperceived by the merchant's wife, she slipped the burnt veil under the cushion at the head of the husband's carpet, and then, rising up from her devo­tions, she thanked the young lady, warned her against meeting the eyes of licentious men, and took her leave.

Soon after this the merchant returned home, sat down upon his carpet to repose himself, and his wife brought him a collation, of which he ate. She then set before him water, and he washed his hands, after which he turned to take a napkin from under his cushion to wipe them, when, lo! he discovered the veil which he had that day sold to the young man, and instantly became suspicious of his wife's fidelity. For some time he was unable to speak. On reflection, he resolved that his disgrace should not become public among his brother merchants, or reach the ears of the khalīf, whose agent and broker he was, lest he should be dishonoured at court. He kept the discovery of the veil to himself; but, in a little time, addressing his wife, desired that she would go and visit her mother.

The lady, supposing from this that she was indis­posed, put on her veil, and hastened to the house of her mother, whom, however, she found in good health, and that no ill had befallen her. The mother and daughter sat down, and were talking of indifferent matters, when suddenly several porters entered the house, loaded with the wife's effects, her marriage dower, and a writing of divorce. The old lady in alarm exclaimed: “Knowest thou not, daughter, the cause of thy husband's displeasure?” The wife re­plied: “I can safely swear, my dear mother, that I know not of any fault of which I can have been guilty, deserving this treatment.” The mother wept bitterly for the disgrace of her daughter, and the wife lamented her separation from her husband, whom she ardently loved. She continued to grieve night and day; her appetite failed her, and her beauty began to decay.

In this manner a month passed away. At the expiry of this period the old woman Ummu Maryam came to visit the young lady's mother, and after many fawning caresses sat down. When she had told the common news, she said: “I heard, sister, that my lord Abū-l Fat-h had divorced your daughter his wife, on which account I have fasted some days and spent the nights in prayer, in hopes that God may restore her condition.” The mother replied: “May God grant us that blessing!” The old woman then inquired after her daughter, and the mother said: “She is grieving for the loss of her husband; her heart is breaking; she feels no pleasure in company, which is disgustful to her, and I fear that, should her lamen­tations and sorrow continue, they will occasion her death.” Then the old woman asked: “Does thy daughter wish to be reconciled to her husband?” The mother replied, that she did. “If so,” said the old woman, “let her abide with me for a night or two. She will see proper company; her heart will be re­freshed; and society will relieve her depression of mind.” The mother assented to the propriety of her observations, gained the consent of her daughter, prevailed upon her to dress herself, and sent her home with Ummu Maryam, who conducted her to the house of the merchant's son.

The young man, when he saw his beloved, rejoiced as if he had gained possession of the world. He ran to her, saluted her, and kissed her between the eyes. The affrighted lady was overcome with shame and confusion; but he addressed her with such tenderness, made such ardent professions, and repeated so many elegant verses, that at length her fears were dispelled. She partook of a collation, and drank of various wines. Every now and then she looked at the young man, who was beautiful as the full moon, and love for him at length fascinated her mind. She took up a lute, and played and sang in praise of his accomplishments, so that he was in such ecstasies that he would have sacrificed his life and property to her charms.*

In the morning the old woman returned, and said: “My children, how passed you the evening?” The young lady replied: “In ease and happiness, my dear aunt, by virtue of your supplications and midnight prayers.” On this the old woman said roughly: “Thou must now accompany me to thy mother.” The young merchant flattered her, and giving her ten gold dīnars, said: “I pray thee let her remain with me this day.” She took the gold, and then repaired to the mother of the young lady, to whom, after the usual salutations, she said: “Sister, thy daughter bids me inform thee that she is better, and her grief is removed; so that I hope you will not take her from me.” The mother replied: “Since my daughter is happy, why should I deny thee, even should she remain a month; for I know that thou art an honest and pious woman, and that thy dwelling is auspicious.”

After this the young lady remained seven days at the house of the young merchant, during which on each morning Ummu Maryam appeared, saying to her: “Return with me to thy mother;” and the young man entreated for another day, giving her regularly ten gold dīnars. Having received the present, she always visited the mother, and gave her agreeable tidings of her daughter's health. On the eighth day, however, the mother said to the old woman: “My heart is anxious about my daughter; and truly her long absence seems extraordinary;” and Ummu Maryam, pretending to be affronted, replied: “Sister, dost thou cast reflections upon me?” She then re­paired to the house of the young merchant, brought away the lady, and conducted her to her mother, but did not enter the house.

When the mother saw that her health and beauty were restored, she was delighted, and said: “Truly, daughter, my heart was anxious concerning thee; and I began to suspect Ummu Maryam, and treated her unkindly because of thy long absence.”—“I was not with her,” replied the young lady, “but in pleasure and happiness, and in repose and safety. I have obtained through her means health and contentment; so that I conjure thee, my dear mother, to ease her mind, and be grateful for her kindness.” Hearing this, the mother arose, and went immediately to the house of the old woman, entreated her pardon, and thanked her for her kindness to her daughter. Ummu Maryam accepted her excuses, and the old lady re­turned home with her mind relieved.

Next morning the wily Ummu Maryam visited the young merchant, and said: “My son, I wish you to repair the mischief you have done, and to reconcile a wife to her husband.”—“How can that be effected?” he asked. “Go to the warehouse of Abū-'l Fat-h the son of Qaydām,” she replied, “and enter into con­versation with him, till I shall appear before you; then start up, and lay hold of me, abuse me roundly, and say: ‘Where is the veil I gave thee to darn, which I bought of my lord Abū-'l Fat-h, the son of Qaydām?’ If he asks thee the cause of thy claim upon me, answer him thus: ‘You may recollect that I bought a veil of you for a hundred gold dīnars, as a present to my concubine. I gave it to her, and she put it on, but soon after, while she was carrying a lamp, some sparks flew from the wick, and burnt it in three places. This old woman was present, and said that she would take it to the lace-darner, to which I consented, and I have never seen her since till this moment.’”

The young merchant accordingly went to the great market, and coming to the shop of my lord Abū-'l Fat-h, the son of Qaydām, he made him a profound obeisance, which Abū-'l Fat-h returned, but in a gloomy and sulky manner. The youth, however, seated himself, and began to address him on various subjects, when Ummu Maryam appeared, with a long rosary in her hands, the beads of which she counted, while repeating aloud the attributes of the Deity.* He immediately started up, ran and laid hold of her, and began to abuse her, when she exclaimed: “I am innocent, and thou art innocent!” A crowd soon gathered around them, and Abū-'l Fat-h, coming from his shop, seized the young man, and demanded: “What is the cause of this rude behaviour to a poor old woman?” He replied: “You must recollect, sir, that I bought of you a rich veil for a hundred dīnars. I gave it to my concubine, who shortly afterwards dropped some sparks from a lamp, which burnt the veil in three places. This cursed hypocritess was pre­sent at the time, and offered to carry it immediately to the lace-darner. She took it, accordingly, and I have not set eyes upon her again till now, though more than a month has elapsed.”

Ummu Maryam assented to the veracity of this statement, and said: “My son, I honestly intended to get the veil mended; but, calling at some houses on my way to the darner, I left it behind me, but where I cannot recollect. I am, it is true, a poor woman, but of pure reputation, and have nothing wherewith to make up the loss of the veil. ‘Let the owner, then,’ said I to myself, ‘believe that I have cheated him, for that is better than that I should occasion disturbances among families by endeavouring to recover the veil.’ This is the whole matter; ‘God knows the truth, and God will release from difficulty the true speaker.’”*

When Abū-'l Fat-h heard these words his counten­ance changed from sorrowful to glad. He thought tenderly of his divorced wife, and said in his mind: “Truly I have treated her harshly.” He then begged pardon of God for his jealousy, and blessed him for restoring to him again his happiness. To his inquiry of the old woman, whether she frequented his house, she replied: “Certainly; and also the houses of your relations. I eat of your alms, and pray that you may be rewarded both in this world and the next. I have inquired for the veil at all the houses I visit, but in vain.”—“Did you inquire at my house?” said the mer­chant. “My lord,” replied the old woman, “I went yesterday, but found no one at home, when the neigh­bours informed me that my lord had for some cause divorced his wife.”

Addressing the young man, Abū-'l Fat-h said: “Sir, I pray you, let this poor old woman go, for your veil is with me, and I will take care that it shall be properly repaired;” on which Ummu Maryam fell down before the merchant and kissed his hands, and then went her way. Abū-'l Fat-h now took out the veil in the presence of the young man, and gave it to a darner; and was convinced that he had treated his wife cruelly, which indeed was the case, had she not afterwards erred through the temptations of that wicked old woman. He then sent to his wife, requesting her to return, and offered her what terms she pleased; and she complied with his desire, and was reconciled;—but my lord Abū-'l Fat-h the son of Qaydām little knew what had befallen him from the arts of Ummu Maryam. [16]

When the vazīr had ended his story, “Consider, O sultan,” he said, “the cunning of bad women, their wiles, and their artful contrivances.”—The sultan again gave orders to stay the execution of his son.

ON the eighth morning, when the impediment was done away against his speaking, the prince sent to the vazīrs and his tutor, who had concealed himself, and desired them to come to him. On their arrival, he thanked them for their services to his father, and what they had done to prevent his own death, adding: “By God's help, I will soon repay you.”

The vazīrs now repaired to the sultan, informed him of the cause of his son's obstinate silence, and of the arts of the damsel. The sultan rejoiced exceedingly, and ordered a public audience to be held, at which the vazīrs, the officers of state, and the learned men appeared. The prince entered, with his tutor, and, kissing the ground before his father, prayed eloquently for his welfare and that of his vazīrs and his tutor. The whole assembly were astonished at his fluency of speech, his propriety of diction, and his accomplished demeanour. The sultan was enraptured, and ran to him, kissed him between the eyes, and clasped him to his bosom. He did the same to the tutor, and thanked him for his care of the prince. The tutor said: “I only commanded him to be silent, fearful for his life during these seven days, which were marked in his horoscope as unfortunate, but have ended happily.”* Then the sultan said: “Had I put him to death, in whom would have been the crime—myself, thee, or the damsel?” On this question the assembly differed much in their opinions, and the prince, observing their altercations, said: “I will solve this difficulty.” The assembly with one voice exclaimed: “Let us hear,” and the Prince said: