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Noureddin and the fair Persian.

From Arabian Nights Entertainments by Andrew Lang.
Age Rating 8 Plus.

Start of Story

Scheih Ibrahim spread the table in front of a sofa, and all three ate together. When they had finished eating Noureddin asked the old man to bring them a bottle of wine. "Heaven forbid," said Scheih Ibrahim, "that I should come in contact with wine! I who have four times made the pilgrimage to Mecca, and have renounced wine for ever." "You would, however, do us a great service in procuring us some," said Noureddin. "You need not touch it yourself. Take the ass which is tied to the gate, lead it to the nearest wine-shop, and ask some passer-by to order two jars of wine; have them put in the ass's panniers, and drive him before you. Here are two pieces of gold for the expenses." At sight of the gold, Scheih Ibrahim set off at once to execute the commission. On his return, Noureddin said: "We have still need of cups to drink from, and of fruit, if you can procure us some." Scheih Ibrahim disappeared again, and soon returned with a table spread with cups of gold and silver, and every sort of beautiful fruit. Then he withdrew, in spite of repeated invitations to remain. Noureddin and the beautiful Persian, finding the wine excellent, drank of it freely, and while drinking they sang. Both had fine voices, and Scheih Ibrahim listened to them with great pleasure--first from a distance, then he drew nearer, and finally put his head in at the door. Noureddin, seeing him, called to him to come in and keep them company. At first the old man declined, but was persuaded to enter the room, to sit down on the edge of the sofa nearest the door, and at last to draw closer and to seat himself by the beautiful Persian, who urged him so persistently to drink her health that at length he yielded, and took the cup she offered.

Now the old man only made a pretence of renouncing wine; he frequented wine-shops like other people, and had taken none of the precautions Noureddin had proposed. Having once yielded, he was easily persuaded to take a second cup, and a third, and so on till he no longer knew what he was doing. Till near midnight they continued drinking, laughing, and singing together. About that time the Persian, perceiving that the room was lit by only one miserable tallow candle, asked Scheih Ibrahim to light some of the beautiful candles in the silver arms. "Light them yourself," answered the old man; "you are younger than I, but let five or six be enough." She did not stop, however, till she had lit all the eighty, but Scheih Ibrahim was not conscious of this, and when, soon after that, Noureddin proposed to have some of the lustres lit, he answered: "You are more capable of lighting them than I, but not more than three." Noureddin, far from contenting himself with three, lit all, and opened all the eighty windows. The Caliph Haroun-al-Raschid, chancing at that moment to open a window in the saloon of his palace looking on the garden, was surprised to see the pavilion brilliantly illuminated. Calling the grand-vizir, Giafar, he said to him: "Negligent vizir, look at the pavilion, and tell me why it is lit up when I am not there."

When the vizir saw that it was as the Caliph said, he trembled with fear, and immediately invented an excuse. "Commander of the Faithful," he said, "I must tell you that four or five days ago Scheih Ibrahim told me that he wished to have an assembly of the ministers of his mosque, and asked permission to hold it in the pavilion. I granted his request, but forgot since to mention it to your Majesty." "Giafar," replied the Caliph, "you have committed three faults--first, in giving the permission; second, in not mentioning it to me; and third, in not investigating the matter more closely. For punishment I condemn you to spend the rest of the night with me in company of these worthy people. While I dress myself as a citizen, go and disguise yourself, and then come with me." When they reached the garden gate they found it open, to the great indignation of the Caliph. The door of the pavilion being also open, he went softly upstairs, and looked in at the half-closed door of the saloon. Great was his surprise to see Scheih Ibrahim, whose sobriety he had never doubted, drinking and singing with a young man and a beautiful lady. The Caliph, before giving way to his anger, determined to watch and see who the people were and what they did. Presently Scheih Ibrahim asked the beautiful Persian if anything were wanting to complete her enjoyment of the evening. "If only," she said, "I had an instrument upon which I might play."

Scheih Ibrahim immediately took a lute from a cup-board and gave it to the Persian, who began to play on it, singing the while with such skill and taste that the Caliph was enchanted. When she ceased he went softly downstairs and said to the vizir: "Never have I heard a finer voice, nor the lute better played. I am determined to go in and make her play to me." "Commander of the Faithful," said the vizir, "if Scheih Ibrahim recognises you he will die of fright." "I should be sorry for that," answered the Caliph, "and I am going to take steps to prevent it. Wait here till I return." Now the Caliph had caused a bend in the river to form a lake in his garden. There the finest fish in the Tigris were to be found, but fishing was strictly forbidden. It happened that night, however, that a fisherman had taken advantage of the gate being open to go in and cast his nets. He was just about to draw them when he saw the Caliph approaching. Recognising him at once in spite of his disguise, he threw himself at his feet imploring forgiveness. "Fear nothing," said the Caliph, "only rise up and draw thy nets." The fisherman did as he was told, and produced five or six fine fish, of which the Caliph took the two largest. Then he desired the fisherman to change clothes with him, and in a few minutes the Caliph was transformed into a fisherman, even to the shoes and the turban. Taking the two fish in his hand, he returned to the vizir, who, not recognising him, would have sent him about his business. Leaving the vizir at the foot of the stairs, the Caliph went up and knocked at the door of the saloon. Noureddin opened it, and the Caliph, standing on the threshold, said:

"Scheih Ibrahim, I am the fisher Kerim. Seeing that you are feasting with your friends, I bring you these fish." Noureddin and the Persian said that when the fishes were properly cooked and dressed they would gladly eat of them. The Caliph then returned to the vizir, and they set to work in Scheih Ibrahim's house to cook the fish, of which they made so tempting a dish that Noureddin and the fair Persian ate of it with great relish. When they had finished Noureddin took thirty gold pieces (all that remained of what Sangiar had given him) and presented them to the Caliph, who, thanking him, asked as a further favour if the lady would play him one piece on the lute. The Persian gladly consented, and sang and played so as to delight the Caliph. Noureddin, in the habit of giving to others whatever they admired, said, "Fisherman, as she pleases you so much, take her; she is yours." The fair Persian, astounded that he should wish to part from her, took her lute, and with tears in her eyes sang her reproaches to its music. The Caliph (still in the character of fisherman) said to him, "Sir, I perceive that this fair lady is your slave. Oblige me, I beg you, by relating your history." Noureddin willingly granted this request, and recounted everything from the purchase of the slave down to the present moment. "And where do you go now?" asked the Caliph. "Wherever the hand of Allah leads me," said Noureddin. "Then, if you will listen to me," said the Caliph, "you will immediately return to Balsora. I will give you a letter to the king, which will ensure you a good reception from him." "It is an unheard-of thing," said Noureddin, "that a fisherman should be in correspondence with a king."


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