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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.

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