This section is from the book "Stories From The Thousand And One Nights", by Edward William Lane and Stanley Lanepoole. Also available from Amazon: Stories From Thousand And One Nights: The Arabian Nights' Entertainments.
Guard thy secret from another: intrust it not: for he who intrusteth a secret hath lost it.
By your existence, said the porter, I am a man of sense, and trustworthy: I have read various books, and perused histories: I make known what is fair, and conceal wha* is foul, and act in accordance with the saying of the poet:
None keepeth a secret but a faithful person: with the best of mankind it remaineth concealed.
A secret is with me as in a house with a lock, whose-key is lost, and whose door is sealed.
When the ladies heard the verses which he quoted, and the words with which he addressed them, they said to him, Thou knowest that we have expended here a considerable sum of money: hast thou then wherewith to requite us? We will not suffer thee to remain with us unless thou contribute a sum of money; for thou desirest to sit with us, and to be our cup-companion, and to gaze upon our beautiful faces. If friendship is without money, said the mistress of the house, it is not equivalent to the weight of a grain:-and the portress added, If thou hast nothing, depart with nothing: but the cateress said, O sister, let us suffer him; for, verily, he hath not been deficient in his services for us this day: another had not been so patient with us: whatever, therefore, falls to his share of the expense, I will defray for him.-At this the porter rejoiced, and exclaimed, By Allah, I obtained my first and only pay this day from none but thee:-and the other ladies said to him, Sit down: thou art welcome.
The cateress then arose, and, having tightened her girdle, arranged the bottles, and strained the wine, and prepared the table by the pool of the fountain. She made ready all that they required, brought the wine, and sat down with her sisters; the porter also sitting with them, thinking he was in a dream. And when they had seated themselves, the cateress took a jar of wine, and filled the first cup, and drank it: she then filled another, and handed it to one of her sisters; and in like manner she did to her other sister; after which she filled again, and handed the cup to the porter, who, having taken it from her hand, repeated this verse:
I will drink the wine, and enjoy health; for, verily, this beverage is a remedy for disease.
The wine continued to circulate among them, and the porter, taking his part in the revels, dancing and singing with them, and enjoying the fragrant odours, began to hug and kiss them, while one slapped him, and another pulled him, and the third beat him with sweet-scented flowers, till, at length, the wine made sport with their reason; and they threw off all restraint, indulging their merriment with as much freedom as if no man had been present.
Thus they continued until the approach of night, when they said to the porter, Depart, and shew us the breadth of thy shoulders;-but he replied, Verily the departure of my soul from my body were more easy to me than my departure from your company; therefore suffer us to join the night to the day, and then each of us shall return to his own, or her own, affairs. The cateress, also, again interceded for him, saying, By my life I conjure you that ye suffer him to pass the night with us, that we may laugh at his drolleries, for he is a witty rogue. So they said to him, Thou shalt pass the night with us on this condition, that thou submit to our authority, and ask not an explanation of anything that thou shalt see. He replied, Good.-Rise then, said they, and read what is inscribed upon the door. Accordingly, he went to the door, and found the following inscription upon it in letters of gold, Speak not of that which doth riot concern thee, lest thou hear that which will not please thee:- and he said, Bear witness to my promise that I will not speak of that which doth not concern me.
The cateress then arose, and prepared for them a repast; and, after they had eaten a little, they lighted the candles and burned some aloes-wood. This done, they sat down again to the table; and, while they were eating and drinking, they heard a knocking at the door; whereupon, without causing any interruption to their meal, one of them went to the door, and, on her return, said, Our pleasure this night is now complete, for I have found, at the door, three foreigners4 with shaven chins, and each of them is blind of the left eye: it is an extraordinary coincidence. They are strangers newly arrived, and each of them has a ridiculous appearance: if they come in, therefore, we shall be amused with laughing at them.-The lady ceased not with these words, but continued to persuade her sisters until they consented, and said, Let them enter; but make it a condition with them that they speak not of that which doth not concern them, lest they hear that which will not please them. Upon this she rejoiced, and having gone again to the door, brought in the three men blind of one eye and with shaven chins, and they had thin and twisted mustaches. Being mendicants, they saluted and drew back; but the ladies rose to them, and seated them; and when these three men looked at the porter, they saw that he was intoxicated; and, observing him narrowly, they thought that he was one of their own class, and said, He is a mendicant like ourselves, and will amuse us by his conversation:-but the porter, hearing what they said, arose, and rolled his eyes, and exclaimed to them, Sit quiet, and abstain from impertinent remarks. Have ye not read the inscription upon the door?-The ladies, laughing, said to each other, Between the mendicants and the porter we shall find matter for amusement. They then placed before the former some food, and they ate, and then sat to drink. The portress handed to them the wine, and, as the cup was circulating among them, the porter said to them, Brothers, have ye any tale or strange anecdote wherewith to amuse us? The mendicants, heated by the wine, asked for musical instruments; and the portress brought them a tambourine of the manufacture of El-Mosil, with a lute of El-Irak, and a Persian harp; whereupon they all arose; and one took the tambourine; another, the lute; and the third, the harp: and they played upon these instruments, the ladies accompanying them with loud songs; and while they were thus diverting themselves, a person knocked at the door. The portress, therefore, went to see who was there; and the cause of the knocking was this. The Khalifeh Harun Er-Rashid had gone forth this night to see and hear what news he could collect, accompanied by Ja'far his Wezir, and Mesrur his executioner. It was his custom to disguise himself in the attire of a merchant; and this night, as he went through the city, he happened to pass, with his attendants, by the house of these ladies, and hearing the sounds of the musical instruments, he said to Ja'far, I have a desire to enter this house, and to see who is giving this concert.-They are a party who have become intoxicated, replied Ja'far, and I fear that we may experience some ill usage from them;-but the Khalifeh said, We must enter, and I would that you devise some stratagem by which we may obtain admission to the inmates.
[4Or perhaps Kalenderi darwishes].