In the midst was a great basin of water, from which rose a fountain, and at the upper end stood a couch of juniper wood, inlaid with precious stones and surmounted by a canopy of red satin, looped up with pearls as big as hazel-nuts or bigger. Thereon sat a lady of radiant countenance and gentle and demure aspect, moonlike in face, with eyes of Babylonian witchcraft and arched eyebrows, sugared lips like cornelian and a shape like the letter I. The radiance of her countenance would have shamed the rising sun, and she resembled one of the chief stars of heaven or a pavilion of gold or a high-born Arabian bride on the night of her unveiling, even as says of her the poet:
Her teeth, when she smiles, like pearls in a cluster show, Or
shredded camomile-petals or flakes of snow:
Her ringlets seem, as it were, the fallen night, And her beauty
shames the dawn and its ruddy glow.
Then she rose and coming with a stately gait to meet her sisters in the middle of the saloon, said to them, 'Why stand ye still? Relieve this poor porter of his burden.' So the cateress came and stood before and the portress behind him and with the help of the third damsel, lifted the basket from his head and emptying it, laid everything in its place. Then they gave him two dinars, saying, 'Go, O porter!' But he stood, looking at the ladies and admiring, their beauty and pleasant manners, never had he seen goodlier, and wondering greatly at the profusion of wine and meat and fruits and flowers and so forth that they had provided and to see no man with them, and made no movement to go. So the eldest lady said to him, 'What ails thee that thou dost not go away? Belike, thou grudgest at thy pay?' And she turned to the cateress and said to her, 'Give him another dinar.' 'No, by Allah, O lady!' answered the porter. 'I do not indeed grudge at my pay, for my right hire is scarce two dirhems; but of a truth my heart and soul are taken up with you and how it is that ye are alone and have no man with you and no one to divert you, although ye know that women's sport is little worth without men, nor is an entertainment complete without four at the table, and ye have no fourth. What says the poet?
Continued next week. Tomorrow's installment from The Illiad by Homer.
From the Arab world: these stories date back to the Middle Ages.
Picture: Queen Scheherazade tells her stories to King Shahryār.
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