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故事7 THE ELDEST LADY'S TALE

本文属阅读资料
THE ELDEST LADY'S TALE

VERILY a strange tale is mine and 'tis this: Yon two black bitches

are my eldest sisters by one mother and father, and these two others

she who beareth upon her the signs of stripes and the third our

procuratrix, are my sisters by another mother. When my father died,

each took her share of the heritage and after a while my mother also

deceased, leaving me and my sisters german three thousand dinars, so

each daughter received her portion of a thousand dinars and I the

same, albe' the youngest. In due course of time my sisters married

with the usual festivities and lived with their husbands, who bought

merchandise with their wives' moneys and set out on their travels

together. Thus they threw me off. My brothers-in-law were absent

with their wives five years, during which period they spent all the

money they had and, becoming bankrupt, deserted my sisters in

foreign parts amid stranger folk.

After five years my eldest sister returned to me in beggar's gear

with her clothes in rags and tatters and a dirty old mantilla, and

truly she was in the foulest and sorriest plight. At first sight I did

not know my own sister, but presently I recognized her and said, "What

state is this?" "O our sister," she replied, "words cannot undo the

done, and the reed of Destiny hath run through what Allah decreed."

Then I sent her to the bath and dressed her in a suit of mine own, and

boiled for her a bouillon and brought her some good wine, and said

to her: "O my sister, thou art the eldest, who still standest to us in

the stead of father and mother, and as for the inheritance which

came to me as to you twain, Allah hath blessed it and prospered it

to me with increase, and my circumstances are easy, for I have made

much money by spinning and cleaning silk. And I and you will share

my wealth alike."

I entreated her with all kindliness and she abode with me a whole

year, during which our thoughts and fancies were always full of our

other sister. Shortly after she too came home in yet fouler and

sorrier plight than that of my eldest sister, and I dealt by her still

more honorably than I had done by the first, and each of them had a

share of my substance. After a time they said to me, "O our sister, we

desire to marry again, for indeed we have not patience to drag on

our days without husbands and to lead the lives of widows

bewitched," and I replied: "O eyes of me! Ye have hitherto seen scanty

weal in wedlock, for nowadays good men and true are become rareties

and curiosities, nor do I deem your projects advisable, as ye have

already made trial of matrimony and have failed." But they would not

accept my advice, and married without my consent. Nevertheless I

gave them outfit and dowries out of my money, and they fared forth

with their mates.

In a mighty little time their husbands played them false and, taking

whatever they could lay hands upon, levanted and left them in the

lurch. Thereupon they came to me ashamed and in abject case and made

their excuses to me, saying: "Pardon our fault and be not wroth with

us, for although thou art younger in years yet art thou older in

wit. Henceforth we will never make mention of marriage, so take us

back as thy handmaidens that we may eat our mouthful." Quoth I,

"Welcome to you, O my sisters, there is naught dearer to me than you."

And I took them in and redoubled my kindness to them. We ceased not to

live after this loving fashion for a full year, when I resolved to

sell my wares abroad and first to fit me a conveyance for Bassorah. So

I equipped a large ship, and loaded her with merchandise and

valuable goods for traffic and with provaunt and all needful for a

voyage, and said to my sisters, "Will ye abide at home whilst I

travel, or would ye prefer to accompany me on the voyage?" "We will

travel with thee," answered they, "for we cannot bear to be parted

from thee." So I divided my moneys into two parts, one to accompany me

and the other to be left in charge of a trusty person, for, as I

said to myself, "Haply some accident may happen to the ship and yet we

remain alive, in which case we shall find on our return what may stand

us in good stead."

I took my two sisters and we went a-voyaging some days and nights,

but the master was careless enough to miss his course, and the ship

went astray with us and entered a sea other than the sea we sought.

For a time we knew naught of this, and the wind blew fair for us ten

days, after which the lookout man went aloft to see about him and

cried, "Good news!" Then he came down rejoicing and said, "I have seen

what seemeth to be a city as 'twere a pigeon." Hereat we rejoiced, and

ere an hour of the day had passed, the buildings showed plain in the

offing, and we asked the Captain, "What is the name of yonder city?"

and he answered: "By Allah, I wot not, for I never saw it before and

never sailed these seas in my life. But since our troubles have ended

in safety, remains for you only to land where with your merchandise,

and if you find selling profitable, sell and make your market of

what is there, and if not, we will rest here two days and provision

ourselves and fare away."

So we entered the port and the Captain went up town and was absent

awhile, after which he returned to us and said, "Arise, go up into the

city and marvel at the works of Allah with His creatures, and pray

to be preserved from His righteous wrath!" So we landed, and going

up into the city, saw at the gate men hending staves in hand, but when

we drew near them, behold, they had been translated by the anger of

Allah and had become stones. Then we entered the city and found all

who therein woned into black stones enstoned. Not an inhabited house

appeared to the espier, nor was there a blower of fire. We were

awe-struck at the sight, and threaded the market streets, where we

found the goods and gold and silver left lying in their places, and we

were glad and said, "Doubtless there is some mystery in all this."

Then we dispersed about the thoroughfares and each busied himself

with collecting the wealth and money and rich stuffs, taking scanty

heed of friend or comrade.

As for myself, I went up to the castle, which was strongly

fortified, and, entering the King's palace by its gate of red gold,

found all the vaiselle of gold and silver, and the King himself seated

in the midst of his chamberlains and nabobs and emirs and wazirs, an

clad in raiment which confounded man's art. I drew nearer and saw

him sitting on a throne encrusted and inlaid with pearls and gems, and

his robes were of gold cloth adorned with jewels of every kind, each

one flashing like a star. Around him stood fifty Mamelukes, white

slaves, clothed in silks of divers sorts, holding their drawn swords

in their hands. But when I drew near to them, lo! all were black

stones. My understanding was confounded at the sight, but I walked

on and entered the great hall of the harem, whose walls I found hung

with tapestries of gold-striped silk, and spread with silken carpets

embroidered with golden flowers. Here I saw the Queen lying at full

length arrayed in robes purfled with fresh young pearls. On her head

was a diadem set with many sorts of gems each fit for a ring, and

around her neck hung collars and necklaces. All her raiment and her

ornaments were in natural state, but she had been turned into a

black stone by Allah's wrath.

Presently I espied an open door, for which I made straight, and

found leading to it a flight of seven steps. So I walked up and came

upon a place pargeted with marble and spread and hung with gold-worked

carpets and tapestry, a-middlemost of which stood a throne of

juniper wood inlaid with pearls and precious stones and set with

bosses of emeralds. In the further wall was an alcove whose

curtains, bestrung with pearls, were let down and I saw a light

issuing therefrom, so I drew near and perceived that the light came

from a precious stone as big as an ostrich egg, set at the upper end

of the alcove upon a little chryselephantine couch of ivory and

gold. And this jewel, blazing like the sun, cast its rays wide and

side. The couch also was spread with all manner of silken stuffs

amazing the gazer with their richness and beauty. I marveled much at

all this, especially when seeing in that place candies ready

lighted, and I said in my mind, "Needs must someone have lighted these

candles." Then I went forth and came to the kitchen and thence to

the buttery and the King's treasure chambers, and continued to explore

the palace and to pace from place to place. I forgot myself in my

awe and marvel at these matters and I was drowned in thought till

the night came on.

Then I would have gone forth, but knowing not the gate, I lost my

way, so I returned to the alcove whither the lighted candles

directed me and sat down upon the couch, and wrapping myself in a

coverlet, after I had repeated somewhat from the Koran, I would have

slept but could not, for restlessness possessed me. When night was

at its noon I heard a voice chanting the Koran in sweetest accents,

but the tone thereof was weak. So I rose, glad to hear the silence

broken, and followed the sound until I reached a closet whose door

stood ajar. Then, peeping through a chink, I considered the place

and lo! it was an oratory wherein was a prayer niche with two wax

candles burning and lamps hanging from the ceiling. In it too was

spread a prayer carpet whereupon sat a youth fair to see, and before

him on its stand was a copy of the Koran, from which he was reading. I

marveled to see him alone alive amongst the people of the city and

entering, saluted him. Whereupon he raised his eyes and returned my

salaam. Quoth I, "Now by the truth of what thou readest in Allah's

Holy Book, I conjure thee to answer my question." He looked upon me

with a smile and said: "O handmaid of Allah, first tell me the cause

of thy coming hither, and I in turn will tell what hath befallen

both me and the people of this city, and what was the reason of my

escaping their doom." So I told him my story, whereat he wondered, and

I questioned him of the people of the city, when he replied, "Have

patience with me for awhile, O my sister!" and, reverently closing the

Holy Book, he laid it up in a satin bag. Then he seated me by his

side, and I looked at him and behold, he was as the moon at its

full, fair of face and rare of form, soft-sided and slight, of

well-proportioned height, and cheek smoothly bright and diffusing

light. I glanced at him with one glance of eyes which caused me a

thousand sighs, and my heart was at once taken captive-wise, so I

asked him, "O my lord and my love, tell me that whereof I questioned

thee," and he answered:

"Hearing is obeying! Know, O handmaid of Allah, that this city was

the capital of my father who is the King thou sawest on the throne

transfigured by Allah's wrath to a black stone, and the Queen thou

foundest in the alcove is my mother. They and all the people of the

city were Magians who fire adored in lieu of the Omnipotent Lord and

were wont to swear by lowe and heat and shade and light, and the

spheres revolving day and night. My father had ne'er a son till he was

blest with me near the last of his days, and he reared me till I

grew up and prosperity anticipated me in all things. Now it is

fortuned there was with us an old woman well stricken in years, a

Moslemah who, inwardly believing in Allah and His Apostle, conformed

outwardly with the religion of my people. And my father placed

thorough confidence in her for that he knew her to be trustworthy

and virtuous, and he treated her with ever-increasing kindness,

believing her to be of his own belief.

"So when I was well-nigh grown up my father committed me to her

charge saying: 'Take him and educate him and teach him the rules of

our faith. Let him have the best instructions and cease not thy

fostering care of him.' So she took me and taught me the tenets of

Al-Islam with the divine ordinances of the wuzu ablution and the

five daily prayers and she made me learn the Koran by rote, often

repeating, 'Serve none save Allah Almighty!' When I had mastered

this much of knowledge, she said to me, 'O my son, keep this matter

concealed from thy sire and reveal naught to him, lest he slay

thee." So I hid it from him, and I abode on this wise for a term of

days, when the old woman died, and the people of the city redoubled in

their impiety and arrogance and the error of their ways.

"One day while they were as wont, behold, they heard a loud and

terrible sound and a crier crying out with a voice like roaring

thunder so every ear could hear, far and near: 'O folk of this city,

leave ye your fire-worshiping and adore Allah the All-compassionate

King!" At this, fear and terror fell upon the citizens and they

crowded to my father (he being King of the city) and asked him:

'What is this awesome voice we have heard; for it hath confounded us

with the excess of its terror?' And he answered: 'Let not a voice

fright you nor shake your steadfast sprite nor turn you back from

the faith which is right.' Their hearts inclined to his words and they

ceased not to worship the fire and they persisted in rebellion for a

full year from the time they heard the first voice. And on the

anniversary came a second cry, and a third at the head of the third

year, each year once.

Still they persisted in their malpractices till one day at break

of dawn, judgment and the wrath of Heaven descended upon them with all

suddenness, and by the visitation of Allah all were metamorphosed into

black stones, they and their beasts and their cattle, and none was

saved save myself, who at the time was engaged in my devotions. From

that day to this I am in the case thou seest, constant in prayer and

fasting and reading and reciting the Koran, but I am indeed grown

weary by reason of my loneliness, having none to bear me company."

Then said I to him (for in very sooth he had won my heart and was

the lord of my life and soul): "O youth, wilt thou fare with me to

Baghdad city and visit the Ulema and men teamed in the law and doctors

of divinity and get thee increase of wisdom and understanding and

theology? And know that she who standeth in thy presence will be thy

handmaid, albeit she be head of her family and mistress over men and

eunuchs and servants and slaves. Indeed my life was no life before

it fell in with thy youth. I have here a ship laden with

merchandise, and in very truth Destiny drove me to this city that I

might come to the knowledge of these matters, for it was fated that we

should meet." And I ceased not to persuade him and speak him fair

and use every art till he consented. I slept that night at his feet

and hardly knowing where I was for excess of joy.

As soon as the next morning dawned (she pursued, addressing the

Caliph), I arose and we entered the treasuries and took thence

whatever was light in weight and great in worth. Then we went down

side by side from the castle to the city, where we were met by the

Captain and my sisters and slaves, who had been seeking for me. When

they saw me, they rejoiced and asked what had stayed me, and I told

them all I had seen and related to them the story of the young

Prince and the transformation wherewith the citizens had been justly

visited. Hereat all marveled, but when my two sisters (these two

bitches, O Commander of the Faithful!) saw me by the side of my

young lover, they jaloused me on his account and were wroth and

plotted mischief against me. We awaited a fair wind and went on

board rejoicing and ready to fly for joy by reason of the goods we had

gotten, but my own greatest joyance was in the youth. And we waited

awhile till the wind blew fair for us and then we set sail and fared

forth.

Now as we sat talking, my sisters asked me, "And what wilt thou do

with this handsome young man?" and I answered, "I purpose to make

him my husband!" Then I turned to him and said: "O my lord, I have

that to propose to thee wherein thou must not cross me, and this it is

that, when we reach Baghdad, my native city, I offer thee my life as

thy handmaiden in holy matrimony, and thou shalt be to me baron and

I will be femme to thee." He answered, "I hear and I obey! Thou art my

lady and my mistress and whatso thou doest I will not gainsay." Then I

turned to my sisters and said: "This is my gain. I content me with

this youth and those who have gotten aught of my property, let them

keep it as their gain with my goodwill." "Thou sayest and doest well,"

answered the twain, but they imagined mischief against me.

We ceased not spooning before a fair wind till we had exchanged

the sea of peril for the seas of safety, and in a few days we made

Bassorah city, whose buildings loomed clear before us as evening fell.

But after we had retired to rest and were sound asleep, my two sisters

arose and took me up, bed and all, and threw me into the sea. They did

the same with the young Prince, who, as he could not swim, sank and

was drowned, and Allah enrolled him in the noble army of martyrs. As

for me, would Heaven I had been drowned with him, but Allah deemed

that I should be of the saved, so when I awoke and found myself in the

sea and saw the ship making off like a flash of lightning, He threw in

my way a piece of timber, which I bestrided, and the waves tossed me

to and fro till they cast me upon an island coast, a high land and

an uninhabited. I landed and walked about the island the rest of the

night, and when morning dawned, I saw a rough track barely fit for

child of Adam to tread, leading to what proved a shallow ford

connecting island and mainland.

As soon as the sun had risen I spread my garments to dry in its

rays, and ate of the fruits of the island and drank of its waters.

Then I set out along the foot track and ceased not walking till I

reached the mainland. Now when there remained between me and the

city but a two hours' journey, behold, a great serpent, the bigness of

a date palm, came fleeing toward me in all haste, gliding along now to

the right, then to the left, till she was close upon me, whilst her

tongue lolled groundward a span long and swept the dust as she went.

She was pursued by a dragon who was not longer than two lances, and of

slender build about the bulk of a spear, and although her terror

lent her speed and she kept wriggling from side to side, he overtook

her and seized her by the tail, whereat her tears streamed down and

her tongue was thrust out in her agony. I took pity on her and,

picking up a stone and calling upon Allah for aid, threw it at the

dragon's head with such force that he died then and there, and the

serpent, opening a pair of wings, flew into the lift and disappeared

from before my eyes.

I sat down marveling over that adventure, but I was weary and,

drowsiness overcoming me, I slept where I was for a while. When I

awoke I found a jet-black damsel sitting at my feet shampooing them,

and by her side stood two black bitches (my sisters, O Commander of

the Faithful!). I was ashamed before her and, sitting up, asked her,

"O my sister, who and what art thou?" and she answered: "How soon hast

thou forgotten me! I am she for whom thou wroughtest a good deed and

sowedest the seed of gratitude and slewest her foe, for I am the

serpent whom by Allah's aidance thou didst just now deliver from the

dragon. I am a Jinniyah and he was a Jinn who hated me, and none saved

my life from him save thou. As soon as thou freedest me from him I

flew on the wind to the ship whence thy sisters threw thee, and

removed all that was therein to thy house. Then I ordered my attendant

Marids to sink the ship, and I transformed thy two sisters into

these black bitches, for I know all that hath passed between them

and thee. But as for the youth, of a truth he is drowned."

So saying, she flew up with me and the bitches, and presently set us

down on the terrace roof of my house, wherein I found ready stored the

whole of what property was in my ship, nor was aught of it missing.

"Now (continued the serpent that was), I swear by all engraven on

the seal ring of Solomon (with whom be peace!) unless thou deal to

each of these bitches three hundred stripes every day I will come

and imprison thee forever under the earth." I answered, "Hearkening

and obedience!" and away she flew. But before going she again

charged me saying, "I again swear by Him who made the two seas flow

(and this be my second oath), if thou gainsay me I will come and

transform thee like thy sisters." Since then I have never failed, O

Commander of the Faithful, to beat them with that number of blows till

their blood flows with my tears, I pitying them the while, and well

they wot that their being scourged is no fault of mine and they accept

my excuses. And this is my tale and my history!
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