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.
Or if we send a messenger to interpret for us, he cannot convey the lover*s complaint Or if we would be patient, short were our existence after the loss of those we love.
Nought remaineth to us but grief and mourning, and tears streaming down our cheeks.
O you who are absent from my sight, but constantly dwelling within my heart 1
Have you kept your faith to an impassioned lover, who, while time endureth will never change?
Or, in absence have you forgotten that lover who, cn your account, is wasting away?
When the day of judgment shall bring us together, I will beg of our Lord a protractive trial.
On hearing these verses of the cateress, the portress again rent her clothes, and cried out, and fell upon the floor in a swoon; and the cateress, as before, put on her another dress, after she had sprinkled some water upon her face.
The mendicants, when they witnessed this scene, said, Would that we had never entered this house, but rather had passed the night upon the [rubbish-]mounds; for our night hath been rendered foul by an event that breaketh the back! The Khalifeh, looking towards them, then said, Wherefore is it so with you? They answered, Our hearts are troubled by this occurrence.-Are ye not, he asked, of this house?
No, they answered; nor did we imagine that this house belonged to any but the man who is sitting with you:-upon which the porter said, Verily, I have never seen this place before this night; and I would that I had passed the night upon the mounds rather than here. They then observed, one to another, We are seven men, and they are but three women; we will, therefore, ask them of their history; and if they answer us not willingly they shall do it in spite of themselves:-and they all agreed to this, excepting Ja'far, who said, This is not a right determination; leave them to themselves, for we are their guests, and they made a covenant with us which we should fulfil: there remaineth but little of the night, and each of us shall soon go his way. Then, winking to the Khalifeh, he said, There remaineth but an hour; and to-morrow we will bring them before thee, and thou shalt ask them their story. But the Khalifeh refused to do so, and said, I have not patience to wait so long for their history.-Words followed words, and at last they said, Who shall put the question to them?-and one answered, The porter.
The ladies then said to them, O people, of what are ye talking?-whereupon the porter approached the mistress of the house, and said to her, O my mistress, I ask thee, and conjure thee by Allah, to tell us the story of the two bitches, and for what reason thou didst beat them, and then didst weep, and kiss them, and that thou acquaint us with the cause of thy sister's having been beaten with mikra'ahs: that is our question, and peace be on you.-Is this true that he saith of you? inquired the lady, of the other men; and they all answered, Yes,-excepting Ja'far, who was silent. When the lady heard their answer, she said, Verily, O our guests, ye have wronged us excessively; for we made a covenant with you beforehand, that he who should speak of that which concerned him not should hear that which would not please him. Is it not enough that we have admitted you into our house, and fed you with our provisions? But it is not so much your fault as the fault of her who introduced you to us.-She then tucked up her sleeve above her wrist, and struck the floor three times, saying, Come ye quickly!- and immediately the door of a closet opened, and there came forth from it seven black slaves, each having in his hand a drawn sword. The lady said to them, Tie behind them the hands of these men of many words, and bind each of them to another:-and they did so, and said, O virtuous lady, dost thou permit us to strike off their heads ? She answered, Give them a short respite, until I shall have inquired of them their histories, before ye behead them.-By Allah, O my mistress, exclaimed the porter, kill me not for the offence of others: for they have all transgressed and committed an offence, excepting me. Verily our night had been pleasant if we had been preserved from these mendicants, whose presence is enough to convert a well-peopled city into a heap of ruins!-He then repeated this couplet:
How good is it to pardon one able to resist! and how much more so, one who is helpless! For the sake of the friendship that subsisted between us, destroy not one for the crime of another I
On hearing these words of the porter, the lady laughed after her anger. Then approaching the men, she said, Acquaint me with your histories, for there remaineth of your lives no more than an hour. Were ye not persons of honourable and high condition, or governors, I would hasten your recompense.-The Khalifeh said to Ja'far, Woe to thee, O Ja'far! make known to her who we are; otherwise she will kill us. --It were what we deserve, replied he.-Jesting, said the Khalifeh, is not befitting in a time for seriousness: each has its proper ocCasion.^The lady then approached the mendi» cants, and said to them, Are ye brothers? They answered, * No, indeed; we are only poor foreigners. She said then to one of them, Wast thou born blind of one eye?^-No, verily, he answered; but a wonderful event happened to me when my eye was destroyed, and the story of it, if engraved on the understanding, would serve as a lesson to him who would be admonished. She asked the second and the third also; and they answered her as the first; adding, Each of us is from a different country, and our history is wonderful and extraordinary. The lady then looked towards them and said, Each of you shall relate his story, and the cause of his coming to our abode, and then stroke his head, and go his way.
The first who advanced was the porter, who said, O my mistress, I am a porter; and this cateress loaded me, and brought me hither, and what hath happened to me here in your company ye know. This is my story; and peace be on you.-Stroke thy head, then, said she, and go:-but he replied, By Allah, I will not go until I shall have heard the story of my companions.-The first mendicant then advanced, and related as follows: