Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 3/Faristan and Fatima

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Once a Week, Series 1, Volume III  (1860) 
Faristan and Fatima: An Oriental legend
by Edgar Alfred Bowring

Illustrated by George du Maurier



Once in a famous Eastern city,
There lived a tailor with a pretty,
In fact a very pretty wife,
Whom he loved better than his life.
Her eyes were of the blackest sort,
No lily’s stem was half so slender,
Of finest silk her hair seem’d wrought,
Her rosy cheeks were smooth and tender,
Her age scarce twenty,—and, in short,
It was impossible to mend her.
One day quoth he: “You darling little wife, you!
Whatever would become of hapless me,
If I should happen to survive you,
And your fair body I should see
Lying a corpse, all cold and void of motion,
Within my arms? The very notion
Gives me a chill as if I now were dying!
I swear that if I, wretched man,
Only survive the shock, you’ll find me lying
Upon your tomb for nine long days, and crying,
Crying the very best I can!”—

“And if, dear husband,” she began,
I’m the survivor when we’re parted,
I’ll buried be, my Faristan,
Inside your coffin, broken-hearted.”—

A noble woman!” he with rapture thought,
As in his arms his wife he caught.
He felt no doubt about it, for, you know,
She said it,—so it must be so!

About a year had pass’d away
Since the agreement made that day,
When it so chanced that, as they sat
Over their evening meal of curry,
Spending the time in pleasant chat,
Poor Fatima, in too great hurry
To eat some tit-bit, while her eyes
Ogled, in manner far from wise,
Her husband, not her plate, by ill-luck swallow’d
A little bone—of course you guess what follow’d.

What could be done? Poor Faristan
Skips here and there, does all he can,
Upon the back he thumps her,
He shakes her, bumps her, jumps her,
He tries to push it down, he upwards tries to pull it,—
In vain! She’s choked by that small bone inside her little gullet!

Only imagine his despair!
Soon in her winding-sheet they fold her,
Black in the face, it may be, yet so fair!
He could not summon courage to behold her.

Now Fatima is in her grave,
And Faristan begins to rave,
And rolls upon it, sighing with such ardour,
That he is heard a mile away and more,
Fully resolved (so much did he regard her)
Nine days to stop there, as we know he swore.

The Prophet chanced to pass that way,
Found it impossible to pray
In such a noise, so asked politely:—
What mean these groans and writhings so unsightly?”

O, sir!” said he, “within this tomb there lies
The best of wives,—I never knew a chaster
Or nobler woman, loving, young, and wise,—
And in the grave this very day I’ve placed her.”

The Prophet auswer’d: “Since you for her sake
Are grieving so, and merit to be lucky,
I’ll grant your wish,” and as he spake,
The staff his hand was grasping struck he
Upon the tomb, and, lo! it open’d wide,
And Fatima appear’d outside
In health and beauty, and with rapturous passion
Rush’d to her husband’s arms in loving fashion.
How they embraced and hugg’d each other!
Any spectator must have thought
Such kisses were enough to smother
Both man and wife.—And next they sought
To thank the Prophet for this miracle portentous,
But couldn’t—he was non inventus!


Good Faristan bethought him then
That Fatima’s loose funeral linen raiment
(Although ’twas dusk) for walking home again
Was scarcely, in the usual way, meant.
Light of my eyes! behind these stones stoop down,
While I run home and fetch your shoes and gown;
The moon is up, there’s little danger in it,
Fear not, and I’ll be back in half a minute.”

He spoke, and vanish’d like a shot.—
Meanwhile there happen’d to approach the spot
The Sultan’s son, escorted by the light
Of many torches through the night.

His servants, by the flickering glare,
Perceived a woman with dishevell’d hair,
And scanty clothing, seeking to conceal
Her somewhat striking dishabille,
Which in the darkness, by the torchlight aided,
Seem’d greater than it in the day did.

Faristan and Fatima (1) - George Du Maurier.png

The Sultan’s son his march suspended,
And then approach’d her unattended,
While she with arms and hands was trying
Her want of clothing to replace,
And left exposed, in beauty vying,
Two legs and feet of matchless grace.

The Prince, instead of putting (as his duty
Clearly enjoin’d) his hands before his face,
With might and main stood staring at the beauty—
“What loveliness is this I trace!
And yet the time, spot, dress, are rather funny—”
My lord!” she said in accents sweet as honey,
I feel so awkward in this negligée,
I really know not what to say!”

The Prince at once confess’d the force
Of her remark, and then of course
Gave her his own great coat at this suggestion,
And said, “Fair lady, just one question!
Pray, are you married? If you single are,
Come home with me, and be the brightest star
Within my harem! Be a prince’s bride,
I love you more than all the world beside!”

Fair Fatima soon comprehended
Th’ advantage of this offer splendid,
And found her knowledge as a tailor
In measuring its extent avail her.
Alas! when this proposal made he,
I grieve to say the naughty lady
Forgot her duty and her plightcd troth,
Forgot her husband and her oath.
My lord! I’m single, and quite ready
To offer you allegiance steady,
And live but for Your Royal Highness!”
A bargain!” he exclaim’d with slyness;—
A horse is brought, and, lighted by the torches,
Soon Fatima’s inside his harem’s porches.

Scarce had she gone, when Faristan comes back,
Bringing the clothes she seem’d to lack.
She is not there! His wonderment immense is:
He shouted, search’d, and well-nigh lost his senses.
She is some rohber’s prize,” then thought he,
In this we scarce can contradict him;
He little dreamt that she could be so naughty,
As to have been a willing victim!

Why didn’t I escort her home at once,
Dress’d as she was? Alas, poor silly dunce!
In what distress my darling little wife
Will be! She said that she should find her life
So sad without me, that she needs must be
Buried alive in the same grave with me.
You phœnix of a woman! if a stranger
Has dared to pester you with his advances,
I’m sure that you’ll have saved yourself from danger,
As any noble matron would,—the chance is
That you have scratch’d your face, or torn your hair,
Or even stabb’d yourself in your despair!”

Alas, poor Faristan deluded,
She felt more happy far than you did!
She liked her quarters in the harem so,
That she had not the slightest wish to go,
And took so kindly to her new position,
She quite forgot you and your sad condition.


Poor Faristan begins to seek her
Early and late, through all the country round,
But all in vain; his hopes grow weaker,
No trace of her can anywhere be found.
He also searches for his friend the Prophet,
Hoping that he could tell him something of it.—

At length a person who was present
At the adventure, brought the news unpleasant
That Fatima, the good and tender,
Instead of swearing “No surrender!”
Had shown the Prince a preference decided,
And in his harem happily resided.

Our hero now no longer waits,
But hastens to the palace gates,
Past all the servants, heralds, courtiers pushes,
Into the Prince’s very presence rushes,
And there begins he to implore him
His faithful lost one to restore him.

The Prince, kind man (who maybe had enough
Of Fatima ere this), gave no rebuff,
But told him what had pass’d, without concealment,
On learning what this strong appeal meant.
She doubtless was beside herself with terror,”
Said Faristan, “and thought that you were me;
O let her come, and I’ll explain her error,—
My own dear wife! You presently shall see,
My gracious lord, with how much fervour
She’ll rush to kiss me—heaven preserve her!”

Faristan and Fatima (2) - George Du Maurier.png

’Tis well!” the Prince replied, “so be it!
I’ll at a distance stand to see it.”

The lady came—good Faristan
Was so much dazzled by the splendour
Of her gold clothes and jewels, that, poor man,
He knew her scarce, and felt like some pretender.
But Fatima in half a second
Knew him too well, stepp’d back, turn’d deadly white,
Then fiery red; but soon she reckon’d
With woman’s wit the way to win the fight.

Now, when the Prince observed her start, he
Rush’d up and said, “You know this party?”

O yes!” replied the gentlest of all creatures,
I recognise too well his features.
This is the robber who attack’d me,
Beat me, and dragg’d me to the spot from whence
Your Highness had the goodness to extract me,
Half-naked, thanks to his impertinence!”

On hearing his dear wife thus speak,
Poor Faristan turns pale as death,
Stares wildly round, feels faint and weak,
His senses swim, he gasps for breath.
The Court in chorus all asserted
Such conduct proved a mind perverted;
His guilt was clear, the Prince commanded
That they should take him to the Cadi.
Into the judgment-room he’s handed,
The case is tried, the gentle lady
Duly deposes, our poor friend
Makes no defence, what cares he for his life,
Seeing this conduct of his faithless wife?
He’d rather have it at an end.
The verdict’s “Guilty!” so they take him straightway
Off to the gallows near the city’s gateway.

What could have saved his neck and reputation,
As he stood trembling at the gallows’ base,
Had not the Prophet (who in our narration
Has play’d a part) approach’d the place?
His figure glisten’d with an angel’s splendour.
This man is innocent, and no offender,
And I’m his witness too!” he cried aloud.
The hangman dropp’d the rope, the crowd
Stared when they heard this speech of one
Who never spoke in ignorance or malice,
And all together hasten’d to the palace;
The Sultan came, attended by his son.
The Prophet, highly honour’d at the Court,
First says his say; then Fatima is brought.
Around them both, the others form a ring;
Too conscious of her guilt, the naughty thing
Lifts up her eyes, the Prophet recognises,
Falls down a corpse, while great the crowd’s surprise is.

Good Faristan gets ample compensation,
While Fatima’s consign’d to her old tomb;
There she may stop until the day of doom.
He hasn’t now the slightest inclination
To throw himself, and weep, and rave
E’en for nine seconds on her grave.