Commander of the Faithful, that I may not repeat those things which your majesty has already been informed of by my sister, I will only mention that my mother, having taken a house to pass her widowhood in private, first bestowed me in marriage on the heir of one of the richest men in this city.
I had not been married quite a year before my husband died. I thus became a widow, and was in possession of all his property, which amounted to above ninety thousand sequins. When the first six months of my mourning was over, I caused to be made for me ten different dresses, of such magnificence that each came to a thousand sequins; and at the end of the year I began to wear them.
One day, while I was alone, a lady desired to speak to me. I gave orders that she should be admitted. She was a very old woman. She saluted me by kissing the ground, and said to me, kneeling, “Dear lady, the confidence I have in your charity makes me thus bold. I have an orphan daughter, whose wedding is on this night. She and I are both strangers, and have no acquaintance in this town, which much perplexes me. Therefore, most beautiful lady, if you would vouchsafe to honor the wedding with your presence, we shall be infinitely obliged, because the family with whom we shall be allied will then know that we are not regarded here as unworthy and despised persons. But, alas, madam, if you refuse this request, how great will be our mortification! We know not where else to apply.”
This poor woman’s address, which she spoke with tears, moved my compassion.
“Good woman,” said I, “do not afflict yourself; I will grant you the favor you desire. Tell me whither I must go, and I will meet you as soon as I am dressed.” The old woman was so transported with joy at my answer that she kissed my feet before I had time to prevent her.
“Compassionate lady,” said she, rising, “God will reward the kindness you have shown to your servants, and make your heart as joyful as you have made theirs. You need not at present trouble yourself; I will call for you in the evening.”
As soon as she was gone I took the suit I liked best, with a necklace of large pearls, bracelets, pendants for my ears, and rings set with the finest and most sparkling diamonds, and prepared to attend the ceremony.
When the night closed in, the old woman called upon me, with a countenance full of joy, and said, “Dear lady, the relations of my son-in-law, who are the principal ladies of the city, are now met together. You may come when you please; I am ready to conduct you.”
We immediately set out; she walked before me, and I was followed by a number of my women and slaves, richly robed for the occasion. We stopped in a wide street, newly swept and watered, at a spacious gate with a lamp, by the light of which I read this inscription, in golden letters, over the entrance: “This is the continual abode of pleasure and joy.”
The old woman knocked, and the gate was opened immediately.
I was conducted toward the lower end of the court, into a large hall, where I was received by a young lady of exceeding beauty. She drew near, and after having embraced me, made me sit down by her upon a sofa, on which was raised a throne of precious wood set with diamonds.
“Madam,” said she, “you are brought hither to assist at a wedding; but I hope it will be a different wedding from what you expected. I have a brother, one of the handsomest men in the world. His fate depends wholly upon you, and he will be the unhappiest of men if you do not take pity on him. If my prayers, madam, can prevail, I shall join them with his, and humbly beg you will not refuse the proposal of being his wife.”
After the death of my husband I had not thought of marrying again; but I had no power to refuse the solicitation of so charming a lady. As soon as I had given consent by my silence, accompanied with a blush, the young lady clapped her hands, and immediately a curtain was withdrawn, from behind which came a young man of so majestic an air, and so graceful a countenance, that I thought myself happy to have made such a choice. He sat down by me, and I found from his conversation that his merits far exceeded the account of him given by his sister.
When she perceived that we were satisfied with one another, she clapped her hands a second time, and a cadi with four witnesses, entered, who wrote and signed our contract of marriage.
There was only one condition that my new husband imposed upon me, that I should not be seen by nor speak to any other man but himself; and he vowed to me that, if I complied in this respect, I should have no reason to complain of him. Our marriage was concluded and finished after this manner; so I became the principal actress in a wedding to which I had only been invited as a guest.
About a month after our marriage, having occasion for some stuffs, I asked my husband’s permission to go out to buy them, which he granted; and I took with me the old woman of whom I spoke before, she being one of the family, and two of my own female slaves.
When we came to the street where the merchants reside, the old woman said, “Dear mistress, since you want silk stuffs, I must take you to a young merchant of my acquaintance, who has a great variety; and that you may not fatigue yourself by running from shop to shop, I can assure you that you will find in his what no other can furnish.” I was easily persuaded, and we entered a shop belonging to a young merchant. I sat down, and bade the old woman desire him to show me the finest silk stuffs he had. The woman desired me to speak myself; but I told her it was one of the articles of my marriage contract not to speak to any man but my husband, which I ought to keep.
The merchant showed me several stuffs, of which one pleased me better than the rest; and I bade her ask the price. He answered the old woman: “I will not sell it for gold or money; but I will make her a present of it, if she will give me leave to kiss her cheek.”
I ordered the old woman to tell him that he was very rude to propose such a freedom. But instead of obeying me, she said, “What the merchant desires of you is no such great matter; you need not speak, but only present him your cheek.”
The stuff pleased me so much that I was foolish enough to take her advice. The old woman and my slaves stood up, that nobody might see, and I put up my veil; but instead of kissing me, the merchant bit me so violently as to draw blood.
The pain and my surprise were so great that I fell down in a swoon, and continued insensible so long that the merchant had time to escape. When I came to myself I found my cheek covered with blood. The old woman and my slaves took care to cover it with my veil, and the people who came about us could not perceive it, but supposed I had only had a fainting fit.
The old woman who accompanied me being extremely troubled at this accident, endeavored to comfort me.
“My dear mistress,” said she, “I beg your pardon, for I am the cause of this misfortune, having brought you to this merchant, because he is my countryman; but I never thought he would be guilty of such a villainous action. But do not grieve. Let us hasten home, and I will apply a remedy that shall in three days so perfectly cure you that not the least mark shall be visible.”
The pain had made me so weak that I was scarcely able to walk. But at last I got home, where I again fainted, as I went into my chamber. Meanwhile, the old woman applied her remedy. I came to myself, and went to bed.
My husband came to me at night, and seeing my head bound up, asked me the reason. I told him I had the headache, which I hoped would have satisfied him; but he took a candle, and saw my cheek was hurt.
“How comes this wound?” he said.
Though I did not consider myself as guilty of any great offense, yet I could not think of owning the truth. Besides, to make such an avowal to a husband, I considered as somewhat indecorous.
I therefore said, “That as I was going, under his permission, to purchase a silk stuff, a camel, carrying a load of wood, came so near to me in a narrow street, that one of the sticks grazed my cheek, but had not done me much hurt.”
“If that is the case,” said my husband, “to-morrow morning, before sunrise, the grand vizier Giafar shall be informed of this insolence, and cause all the camel drivers to be put to death.”
“Pray, sir,” said I, “let me beg of you to pardon them, for they are not guilty.”
“How, madam,” he demanded, “what, then, am I to believe? Speak; for I am resolved to know the truth from your own mouth.”
“Sir,” I replied, “I was taken with a giddiness, and fell down, and that is the whole matter.”
At these words my husband lost all patience.
“I have,” said he, “too long listened to your tales.”
As he spoke, he clapped his hands, and in came three slaves. “Strike,” said he; “cut her in two, and then throw her into the Tigris. This is the punishment I inflict on those to whom I have given my heart, when they falsify their promise.”
I had recourse to entreaties and prayers; but I supplicated in vain, when the old woman, who had been his nurse, coming in just at that moment, fell down upon her knees and endeavored to appease his wrath.
“My son,” said she, “since I have been your nurse, and brought you up, let me beg you to consider, ‘he who kills shall be killed,’ and that you will stain your reputation and forfeit the esteem of mankind.”
She spoke these words in such an affecting manner, accompanied with tears, that she prevailed upon him at last to abandon his purpose.
“Well, then,” said he to his nurse, “for your sake I will spare her life; but she shall bear about her person some marks to make her remember her offense.”
When he had thus spoken, one of the slaves, by his order, gave me upon my sides and breast so many blows with a little cane, that he tore away both skin and flesh, which threw me into a swoon. In this state he caused the same slaves, the executioners of his will, to carry me into the house, where the old woman took care of me. I kept my bed for four months. At last I recovered. The scars which, contrary to my wish, you saw yesterday, have remained ever since.
As soon as I was able to walk and go abroad, I resolved to retire to the house which was left me by my first husband, but I could not find the site whereon it stood, as my second husband had caused it to be leveled with the ground.
Being thus left destitute and helpless, I had recourse to my dear sister Zobeide. She received me with her accustomed goodness, and advised me to bear with patience my affliction, from which, she said, none are free. In confirmation of her remark, she gave me an account of the loss of the young prince her husband, occasioned by the jealousy of her two sisters. She told me also by what accident they were transformed into dogs; and in the last place, after a thousand testimonials of her love toward me, she introduced me to my youngest sister, who had likewise taken sanctuary with her after the death of her mother; and we have continued to live together in the house in which we received the guests whom your highness found assembled on your visit last night.
The caliph publicly expressed his admiration of what he had heard, and inquired of Zobeide, “Madam, did not this fairy whom you delivered, and who imposed such a rigorous command upon you, tell you where her place of abode was, or that she would restore your sisters to their natural shape?”
“Commander of the Faithful,” answered Zobeide, “the fairy did leave with me a bundle of hair, saying that her presence would one day be of use to me; and then, if I only burned two tufts of this hair, she would be with me in a moment.”
“Madam,” demanded the caliph, “where is the bundle of hair?”
She answered, “Ever since that time I have been so careful of it that I always carry it about me.”
Upon which she pulled it out of the case which contained it, and showed it to him.
“Well, then,” said the caliph, “let us bring the fairy hither; you could not call her in a better time, for I long to see her.”
Zobeide having consented, fire was brought in, and she threw the whole bundle of hair into it. The palace at that instant began to shake, and the fairy appeared before the caliph in the form of a lady very richly dressed.
“Commander of the Faithful,” said she to the prince, “you see I am ready to receive your commands. At your wish I will not only restore these two sisters to their former shape, but I will also cure this lady of her scars, and tell you who it was that abused her.”
The caliph sent for the two dogs from Zobeide’s house, and when they came a glass of water was brought to the fairy by her desire. She pronounced over it some words, which nobody understood; then, throwing some part of it upon Amina and the rest upon the dogs, the latter became two ladies of surprising beauty, and the scars that were upon Amina disappeared.
After this the fairy said to the caliph, “Commander of the Faithful, I must now discover to you the unknown husband you inquire after. He is Prince Amin, your eldest son, who by stratagem brought this lady to his house, where he married her. As to the blows he caused to be given her, he is in some measure excusable; for this lady, his spouse, by the excuses she made, led him to believe she was more in fault than she really was.”
At these words she saluted the caliph, and vanished.
The caliph, much satisfied with the changes that had happened through his means, acted in such a manner as will perpetuate his memory to all ages. First, he sent for his son Amin, and told him that he was informed of his secret marriage and how he had ill-treated Amina upon a very slight cause. Upon this, the prince, upon his father’s commands, received her again immediately.
After which Haroun al Raschid declared that he would give his own heart and hand to Zobeide, and offered the other three sisters to the calenders, sons of sultans, who accepted them for their brides with much joy. The caliph assigned each of them a magnificent palace in the city of Bagdad, promoted them to the highest dignities of his empire, and admitted them to his councils.
The chief cadi of Bagdad being called, with witnesses, he wrote the contracts of marriage; and the caliph, in promoting by his patronage the happiness of many persons who had suffered such incredible calamities, drew a thousand blessings upon himself.