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.
I remained in a state of perplexity, and her absence was prolonged more than a month. Meanwhile the merchants demanded of me their money, and so pressed me that I offered my possessions for sale, and was on the brink of ruin; but as I was sitting absorbed in reflection, suddenly she alighted at the gate of the market-street, and came in to me. As soon as I beheld her, my solicitude ceased, and I forgot the trouble which I had suffered. She approached, and addressed me with her agreeable conversation, and said, Produce the scales, and weigh thy money:-and she gave me the price of the goods which she had taken, with a surplus; after which, she amused herself by talking with me, and I almost died with joy and happiness. She then said to me, Hast thou a wife? I answered, No: for I am not acquainted with any woman: and wept. So she asked me, What causeth thee to weep? And I answered, A thought that hath come into my mind:-and, taking some pieces of gold, gave them to the eunuch, requesting him to grant me his mediation in the affair; upon which he laughed, and said, She is in love with thee more than thou art with her, and hath no want of the stuffs, but hath done this only from her love of thee: propose to her, therefore, what thou wilt; for she will not oppose thee in that which thou wilt say. Now she observed me giving the pieces of gold to the eunuch, and returned, and resumed her seat; and I said to her, Shew favour to thy slave, and pardon me for that which I am about to say. I then acquainted her with the feelings of my heart, and my declaration pleased her, and she consented to my proposal, saying, This eunuch will come with my letter; and do thou what he shall tell thee;-and she arose, and departed.
I went to the merchants, and delivered to them their money, and all profited except myself; for when she left me I mourned for the interruption of our intercourse, and I slept not during the whole of the next night: but a few days after, her eunuch came to me, and I received him with honour, and asked him respecting his mistress. He answered, She is sick:-and I said to him, Disclose to me her history. He replied, The lady Zubeydeh, the wife of Harun Er-Rashid, brought up this damsel, and she is one of her slaves: she had desired of her mistress to be allowed the liberty of going out and returning at pleasure, and the latter gave her permission: she continued, therefore, to do so until she became a chief confident; after which, she spoke of thee to her mistress, and begged that she would marry her to thee: but her mistress said, I will not do it until I see this young man, and if he have a desire for thee, I will marry thee to him. We therefore wish to introduce thee immediately into the palace; and if thou enter without any one's having knowledge of thy presence, thou wilt succeed in accomplishing thy marriage with her; but if thy plot be discovered, thy head will be struck off. What, then, sayest thou ?
I answered, Good: I will go with thee, and await the event that shall befall me there.-As soon, then, as this next night shall have closed in, said the eunuch, repair to the mosque which the lady Zubeydeh hath built on the banks of the Tigris, and there say thy prayers, and pass the night.-Most willingly, I replied.
Accordingly, when the time of nightfall arrived, I went to the mosque, and said my prayers there, and passed the night; and as soon as the morning began to dawn I saw two eunuchs approaching in a small boat, conveying some empty chests, which they brought into the mosque. One of them then departed, and the other remained; and I looked attentively at him, and lo. it was he who had been our intermediary: and soon after, the damsel, my companion, came up to us. I rose to her when she approached, and embraced her; and she kissed me. and wept; and after we had conversed together for a little while, she took me and placed me in a chest, and locked it upon me. The slaves then brought a quantity of stuffs, and filled with them the other chests, which they locked, and conveyed, together with the chest in which I was enclosed, to the boat, accompanied by the damsel; and having embarked them, they plied the oars, and proceeded to the palace of the honoured lady Zubeydeh. The intoxication of love now ceased in me, and reflection came in its place: I repented of what I had done, and prayed God to deliver me from my dangerous predicament.
Meanwhile, they arrived at the gate of the Khalifeh, where they landed, and took out all the chests, and conveyed them into the palace: but the chief of the doorkeepers, who had been asleep when they arrived, was awoke by the sounds of their voices, and cried out to the damsel, saying, The chests must be opened, that I may see what is in them:-and he arose, and placed his hand upon the chest in which I was hidden. My reason abandoned me, my heart almost burst from my body, and my limbs trembled; but the damsel said, These are the chests of the lady Zubeydeh, and if thou open them and turn them over, she will be incensed against thee, and we shall all perish. They contain nothing but clothes dyed of various colours, except this chest upon which thou hast put thy hand, in which there are also some bottles filled with the water of Zemzem,10 and if any of the water run out upon the clothes it will spoil their colours. Now I have advised thee, and it is for thee to decide: so do what thou wilt.-When he heard, therefore, these words, he said to her, Take the chests, and pass on:- and the eunuchs immediately took them up, and with the damsel, conveyed them into the palace: but in an instant, I heard a person crying out, and saying, The Khalifeh! The Khalifeh!
I was bereft of my reason, and seized with a colic from excessive fear; I almost died, and my limbs were affected with a violent shaking. The Khalifeh cried out to the damsel, saying to her, What are these chests? She answered, O my owner: and after the three years my heart became contracted, for nothing remained in my possession but the rent for the year.
10 The well at Mekkeh, believed to possess miraculous virtues.