Discontented with my present lot, and uncertain as to my future prospects, my days passed on in total idleness; and, as I had no inclination to pursue the profession of physic, which many before me had done on quite as slender a foundation as the one I had acquired, I cared little for those pursuits which engaged Mirza Ahmak. I should very probably have left him instantly, if a circumstance had not occurred, arising from the very state of unprofitableness in which I lived, which detained me in his house. The feelings to which it gave rise so entirely absorbed every other consideration, that I became their slave; and so violent were the emotions which they created, that I verily believe that Majnoun, in the height of his frenzy, could not have been madder than I. After this, it is needless to mention that I was in love.
The spring had passed over, and the first heats of summer, which now began to make themselves felt, had driven most of the inhabitants of the city to spread their beds and sleep on the house-tops. As I did not like to pass my night in company of the servants, the carpet-spreaders and the cook, who generally herded together in a room below, I extended my bed in a corner of the terrace, which overlooked the inner court of the doctor’s house, in which were situated the apartments of the women. This court was a square, into which the windows of the different chambers looked, and was planted in the centre with rose-bushes, jessamines, and poplar-trees. A square wooden platform was erected in the middle, upon which mattresses were spread, where the inhabitants reposed during the great heats. I had seen several women seated in different parts of the court, but had never been particularly struck by the appearance of any one of them; and indeed had I been so, perhaps I should never have thought of looking at them again; for as soon as I was discovered, shouts of abuse were levelled at me, and I was called by every odious name that they could devise.
(Painted by a Persian artist for this work.)
One night, however, soon after the sun had set, as I was preparing my bed, I perchance looked over a part of the wall that was a little broken down, and on a slip of terrace that was close under it I discovered a female, who was employed in assorting and spreading out tobacco-leaves. Her blue veil was negligently thrown over her head, and as she stooped, the two long tresses which flowed from her forehead hung down in so tantalizing a manner as nearly to screen all her face, but still left so much of it visible, that it created an intense desire in me to see the remainder. Everything that I saw in her announced beauty. Her hands were small, and dyed with khena;39 her feet were equally small; and her whole air and form bespoke loveliness and grace. I gazed upon her until I could no longer contain my passion; I made a slight noise, which immediately caused her to look up, and before she could cover herself with her veil, I had had time to see the most enchanting features that the imagination can conceive, and to receive a look from eyes so bewitching, that I immediately felt my heart in a blaze. With apparent displeasure she covered herself; but still I could perceive that she had managed her veil with so much art, that there was room for a certain dark and sparkling eye to look at me, and to enjoy my agitation. As I continued to gaze upon her, she at length said, though still going on with her work, ‘Why do you look at me? It is criminal.’
‘For the sake of the sainted Hosein,’ I exclaimed, ‘do not turn from me; it is no crime to love: your eyes have made roast meat of my heart: by the mother that bore you, let me look upon your face again.’
In a more subdued voice she answered me, ‘Why do you ask me? You know it is a crime for a woman to let her face be seen; and you are neither my father, my brother, nor my husband; I do not even know who you are. Have you no shame, to talk thus to a maid?’
At this moment she let her veil fall, as if by chance, and I had time to look again upon her face, which was even more beautiful than I had imagined. Her eyes were large and peculiarly black, and fringed by long lashes, which, aided by the collyrium with which they were tinged, formed a sort of ambuscade, from which she levelled her shafts. Her eyebrows were finely arched, and nature had brought them together just over her nose, in so strong a line, that there was no need of art to join them together. Her nose was aquiline, her mouth small, and full of sweet expression; and in the centre of her chin was a dimple which she kept carefully marked with a blue puncture. Nothing could equal the beauty of her hair; it was black as jet, and fell in long tresses down her back. In short, I was wrapped in amazement at her beauty. The sight of her explained to me many things which I had read in our poets, of cypress forms, tender fawns, and sugar-eating parrots. It seemed to me that I could gaze at her for ever, and not be tired; but still I felt a great desire to leap over the wall and touch her. My passion was increasing, and I was on the point of approaching her, when I heard the name of Zeenab repeated several times, with great impatience, by a loud shrill voice; upon which my fair one left the terrace in haste, and I remained riveted to the place where I had first seen her. I continued there for a long time, in the hope that she might return, but to no purpose. I lent my ear to every noise, but nothing was to be heard below but the same angry voice, which, by turns, appeared to attack everything, and everybody, and which could belong to no one but the doctor’s wife; a lady, who, as report would have it, was none of the mildest of her sex, and who kept her good man in great subjection.
The day had now entirely closed in, and I was about retiring to my bed in despair, when the voice was heard again, exclaiming, ‘Zeenab, where are you going to? Why do you not retire to bed?’
I indistinctly heard the answer of my charmer, but soon guessed what it had been, when saw her appear on the terrace again. My heart beat violently, and I was about to leap over the wall, which separated us, when I was stopped by seeing her taking up a basket, in which she had gathered her tobacco, and make a hasty retreat; but just as she was disappearing, she said to me, in a low tone of voice, ‘Be here to-morrow night.’ These words thrilled through my whole frame, in a manner that I had never before felt, and I did not cease to repeat them, and ponder over them, until, through exhaustion, I fell into a feverish doze, and I did not awaken on the following morning until the beams of the sun shone bright in my face.
39 [ This dye is used throughout the whole of Asia, and produces a strong orange or auburn colour. The Persians dye the whole of their hands as far as the wrist with it, and also the soles of their feet. The Turks more commonly only tinge the nails; both use it for the hair.]
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:12