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Hassan: The Story of Hassan of Baghdad and How He Came to by James Elroy Flecker

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Produced by Geoffrey Cowling

HASSAN:

THE STORY OF HASSAN OF BAGDAD

AND HOW HE CAME TO MAKE

THE GOLDEN JOURNEY TO SAMARKAND

A play in five acts

By James Elroy Flecker

CHARACTERS

HASSAN, a Confectioner

The CALIPH HAROUN AR RASCHID

ISHAK, his Minstrel

JAFAR, his Vizier

MASRUR, his Executioner

RAFI, King of the Beggars

SELIM, a friend of Hassan's

THE CAPTAIN OF THE MILITARY

THE CHIEF OF THE POLICE

ALI, ABDU Nondescripts

ALDER WILLOW TAMARISK Slaves

THE PORTER of Yasmin's House

THE CHINESE PHILOSOPHER

A DERVISH

THE FOUNTAIN GHOST

A HERALD

THE PRISON GUARDS

PERVANEH

YASMIN

An AMBASSADOR, a WRESTLER, a CALLIGRAPHIST, a JESTER, GHOSTS,
MUTES, DANCING WOMEN, BEGGARS, SOLDIERS, POLICE, ATTENDANTS
and CASUAL LOITERERS

THE STORY OF HASSAN OF BAGDAD

ACT I

SCENE I

A room "behind the shop" in Old Bagdad. In the background a large
caldron steaming, for the shop is a sweet-stuff shop and the sugar
is boiling. The room has little furniture beyond the carpet,
old but unexpectedly choice, and some Persian hangings (geometrical
designs, with crude animals and some verses from the Koran
hand-printed on linen). A ramshackle wooden partition in one
corner shuts off from a living room what appears to be the shop.

Squatting on the carpet--facing each other:

HASSAN, the Confectioner, 45, rotund, moustache, turban,
greasy grey dress.

SELIM, his friend, young, vulgarly handsome, gaudily clothed.

HASSAN
(Rocking on his mat) Eywallah, Eywallah!

SELIM
Thirty-seven times have you made the same remark, O father
of repetition.

HASSAN
(More dolefully than ever) Eywallah, Eywallah!

SELIM
Have you caught fever? Is your chest narrow, or your belly
thunderous?

HASSAN
(With a ponderous sigh) Eywallah!

SELIM
Is that the merchant of sweetmeats, that sour face? O poisoner
of children, surely it would be better to cut the knot of reluctance
and uncord the casket of explanation. And the poet Antari
has justly remarked:

Divide your sorrow and impart your grief, O fool.
That good man comforteth beyond belief, O fool.

HASSAN
(Inclining towards the mat) None is good, save God.
And Abou Awas has excellently sung:

The importunate
Are seldom fortunate.

Nevertheless, know, Selim, that I am in love.

SELIM
In love! Then why sit moaning on the mat? Are there not beauties
at the barbers, and lights of love at the bazaar?

HASSAN
(Angrily) Hold your tongue, Selim, or leave me. I was in earnest
when I said I loved, and your coarseness is ill-fitting to my mood.
And well I know I am Hassan, the Confectioner, yet I can love
as sincerely as Mejnun; for assuredly she of whom my heart is bent
is not less fair than Leila.

SELIM
(Ironically) Alas! I mistook the particular for the general, and
did not recognise the purity of your intentions. But I would not
mention Mejnun. Mejnun was young, and you are old, and he was
a prince, and you are a Confectioner, and he was beautiful,
and you are not, and he was very thin because of his sorrow,
and you are fatter than those four-legged I mention not--
God curse their herdsmen!

HASSAN
And if it be as you say, Selim, if I am indeed a fat, old, ugly
tradesman, have I not good reason to be sorry and rock upon
my mat, for how shall maintain my heart's desire?

SELIM
Listen to me, Hassan, why is it that in this last year you have
become different from the Hassan that was Hassan? From time to time
you talk strangely in your cups, like a mad poet; and you have bought
a lute and a carpet too fine for your house. And now I feel you
are losing your senses when I hear this talk of love from one who
is past the age of folly.

HASSAN
It may be so, young man. Indeed, a think I am a fool.
It is the affliction of Allah.

SELIM
Tell me, at least, who she is. It may be she is not so unattainable
as you imagine, unless indeed you have set eyes on the Caliph's
daughter, or on the Queen of all the Jinn.

HASSAN
Listen, Selim, and I will tell you my affair. Three days ago
a woman came here to buy loukoum of me, dressed as a widow,
and bade me follow her to her door with a parcel. Alas, Selim!
I could see her eyes beneath her veil, and they were like
the twin fountains in the Caliph's garden; and her lips
beneath her veil were like roses hidden in moss,
and her waist was flexible as a palm-tree swaying in the wind,
and her hips were large and heavy and round, like water melons
in the season of water melons. I glanced at her but she would not smile,
and I sighed but she would not glance, and the door of her house
shut fast against me, like the gate of paradise against an infidel.
Eywallah!
(Recommences moaning.)

SELIM
And where was the house of this widow who bought sweetmeats
and had none to sell?

HASSAN
In the street of Felicity, by the fountain of the Two Pigeons.

SELIM
(Musing) It must be the widow of that Achmet they hung last year
by the Basra Gate.

HASSAN
Which Achmet?

SELIM
The hairy one.

HASSAN
Istagfurallah! He fluttered like a bird. May I never soar so high.

SELIM
Istagfurallah! May I see you! I should burst with laughter
and vultures with repletion. But tell me, you who have fallen
so deeply in love, do you rejoice in your misfortune like a dervish
in his dirt, or do you honestly desire satisfaction?

HASSAN
I desire satisfaction Selim. But I pray you talk no more of this.

SELIM
Well, take courage, faint heart, since all things can be cured
save perversity in asses. Perhaps I can cure you of love.

HASSAN
By the Prophet, Selim, do not cure my love, cure her indifference.

SELIM
(With sudden alertness) There is only one way of doing that.

HASSAN
Which way?

SELIM
Do you believe in magic, Hassan?

HASSAN
Men who think themselves wise believe nothing till the proof.
Men who are wise believe anything till the disproof.

SELIM
What do we know if magic be a lie or not? But since it is certain
that only magic can avail you, you may as well put it to the test.
You can buy a philtre that can draw her love, and send her a jar
of magic sweets.

HASSAN
I am ready to all things, ingenious Selim; but do you know
a good magician?

SELIM
Zachariah, the Jew, has but lately arrived from Aleppo:
he is the talk of all the market place, and a wonderful man if
tales be true.

HASSAN
Have you the tales?

SELIM
I have this among many. They say that in Bokhara a man called him
an offensive Jew and flung a stone at his head: and he caused the
stone to be suspended in the air and the man too, so that the man walked
all round Bokhara over the heads of the passers-by, who were
astonished, and was constrained to enter his house by the upper window.

HASSAN
(Incredulous) Mashallah!

SELIM
And stranger than that. At Ispahan men say he took off the dome
of the Great Mosque and turned it round and had a bath in it,
and put it back again.

HASSAN
Mashallah!

SELIM
And strangest of all, at Cairo, for the amusement of the Sultan,
he turned the whole population into apes for half an hour.

HASSAN
A very trifling change if you knew the Egyptians. I don't believe
a word of all these tales. Yet, doubtless he is as good enough
physician to make a love philtre. But are philtres any good?

SELIM
There can be no doubt that there are philtres which drive women to
love, though their hearts be as strong and their heads as cold as
the mountains of Qaf. But as for this Zachariah, I know he sells
philtres at ten dinars the bottle: his shop is crowded with rich
old women.

HASSAN
Eywallah, Salim, I am sick of love; but no damsel is worth ten
dinars. And sages have remarked, "the ideal is expensive!" And
philosophers have observed, "There are a thousand figs on the fig-tree
and all as like as like."

SELIM
What! All the smooth, shining hills and well-wooded valleys in that
country of love...All going for ten dinars!... And this is the man
whose love is like Mejnun's! What is ten dinars to a man in love?
You gave thrice that sum for this carpet.

HASSAN
A carpet is a carpet, and a woman is is a woman. It is not only
the ten dinars. But you know that in this market I have a
character. "Hassan", men say, "is a safe man. Hassan will not
leave his jacket on the wall, or buy peas without prodding the sack."
But if they hear: "A stranger came to Bagdad and no Mussulman
and said he would do this, and Hassan has paid him ten dinars
and got no gain", they will nudge each other when I walk abroad
at evening, and say: "A sad end"; and another "Look at him, Saadet,
my son, and drink no wine"; and another, "God preserve me from the
friends of such a one!" and they will call out to me as they pass,
"Ya Hassan, give me ten dinars that I may build a mosque!" and I
will be shamed where I was honoured, and abased where I was exalted....

(A loud knocking on the floor of the adjacent shop causes HASSAN
to retire thither hurriedly. As he disappears YASMIN peeps
inquisitively, unveiled, through the little window in the partition.)

SELIM
What an impudent little beauty.... Why, she had a widow's scarf on.
She must be the princess! (Rocks with laughter) The unattainable
ideal! And I have her address. It requires a frenzied lover
to pay cash for a flask of coloured water. But I doubt if Hassan's
sweets mingled with coloured water will do aught but can make her sick.
Whereas a cake stuffed with those very dinars.... Allah, the dinars
would not choke her! O thou fool Hassan!

Tell not thy shirt who smiled and answered "Yes":
Dream not her name, nor fancy her address.

(Enter Hassan, pale and staggering.)

HASSAN
Selim, in the name of friendship, take these ten dinars and buy me
that philtre, and return with speed.

SELIM
(Feigning irritation) Allah! Am I your messenger?
Go yourself to the Jew.

HASSAN
I must prepare the sweetmeats this very hour, to send them to her
before sunset. In the name of friendship, Selim, take the dinars
and purchase me that philtre.

SELIM
(Rising and taking dinars) Do not make me chargeable, O Hassan,
if the philtre is without effect. I only repeat what I have heard.

HASSAN
No, I will not blame you. But go quickly for the magic that nothing
may be left unsampled that may prove beneficial.

(Exit SELIM; HASSAN makes up the fire and prepares his caldron,
saying meanwhile)

That young man weareth out my carpet apace. I begin to think also
he doth fray the braid of my affection. But if he buys me a
good philtre I will forgive him. Oh, cruel destiny, thou hast made
me a common man with a common trade. My friends are fellows from
the market, and all my worthless family is dead. Had I been rich,
ah me! how deep had been my delight in matters of the soul,
in poetry and music and pictures, and companions who do not jeer
and grin, and above all, and in the colours of rich carpets
and expensive silks. But be content, O artist: thou hast one
carpet; be content, O confectioner: thou hast one love--one love,
but unattained...yet hadst thou been rich, O confectioner, never hadst
thou found her.

Now I will make her sweets, such sweets, ah me! as never I made
in my life before. I will make her sweets like globes of crystal,
like cubes of jade, like polygons of ruby. I will make her sweets
like flowers. Great red roses, passionate carnations, raying
daisies, violets, and curly hyacinths. I will perfume my roses
(may they melt sweetly in her lips) with the perfume of roses,
so that she shall say "a rose"! and smell before she tastes.
And in the heart of each flower I will distil one drop
of the magic of love. Did I not say "they shall be flowers"?

SCENE II

Moonlight. The Street of Felicity by the Fountain of the Two Pigeons.
A house with a balcony on either side of the street.
In front of one of the houses, HASSAN, cloaked: a PORTER.

HASSAN
Has she received the box, O guardian of the door of separation?

PORTER
From my hands, O dispenser of bounty.

HASSAN
What did thy mistress say?

PORTER
Sir, the hands of mediation are empty.

HASSAN
(Giving a dinar) I have filled them.
What honey dropped from that golden mouth?

PORTER
She said--may thy servant find grace--"Curses on that fat sugar
cook and his love-sick eyes. Allah be praised, his confectionery
is better than his countenance!"

HASSAN
(Aside) If she likes the confectionery, all may be well.
And what didst thou reply?

PORTER:
I said: "His sweets sparkle like diamonds and rubies in the crown
of OUR Caliph, and his sugar is as pure as his intentions."
And she answered--the protection on thy slave--"his intentions may
be pure, but his coat is greasy."

HASSAN
And did she eat the confectionery?

PORTER
I do not know. But within the hour I removed the box,
and it was empty.

HASSAN
Ah! Salaam and thanks.

PORTER
And to thee the Salaam.

HASSAN
But tell me what is the name of thy mistress?

PORTER
Yasmin is her name, Sir.

HASSAN
A sweet name for a moonlight night. Salaam aleikum.

PORTER
Ya Hawaja, v'aleikum assalam!

(The PORTER returns and shuts the gate.)

HASSAN
(To himself) What if the Jews are an older race than we and know
old forgotten secrets? Alas, I believe no more in these
Israelitish sweets. Could those drops of purple liquid command
the spirit of love? And yet, who can say? the young men
of the market-place laugh at all enchantments--but do they know
how to spin the sun? On a night like this, does not the very
fountain sing in tune and enchant the dropping stones? Ah, Yasmin?
(Taking a lute from beneath his cloak and a tuning it.)
Yasmin...Yasmin...Yasmin...Yasmin.

(Intones to the accompaniment of the lute.)

How splendid in the morning glows the lily; with what grace he throws
His supplication to the rose: do roses nod the head, Yasmin?
But when the silver dove descends I find the little flower of friends,
Whose very name that sweetly ends, I say when I have said, Yasmin.
The morning light is clear and cold; I dare not in that light behold
A whiter light, a deeper gold, a glory too far shed, Yasmin.
But when the deep red eye of day is level with for the lone highway,
And some to Mecca turn to pray, and I toward thy bed, Yasmin,
Or when the wind beneath the moon is drifting like a soul aswoon,
And harping planets talk love's tune with milky wings outspread, Yasmin,
Shower down thy love, O burning bright! for one night or the other night
Will come the Gardener in white, and gathered flower are dead, Yasmin!

(As HASSAN intones the last "Yasmin" with passion the shutters open,
and YASMIN, veiled, looks out.)

YASMIN
Alas, Minstrel, Yasmin is my name also, but it was for a fairer
Yasmin than me, I fear, you have strung these pearls.

HASSAN
There is no Yasmin but Yasmin, and you are Yasmin.

YASMIN
Can this be Hassan, the Confectioner?

HASSAN
I am Hassan, and I am a confectioner.

YASMIN
Mashallah, Hassan, your words are sweeter than your sweets.

HASSAN
Gracious lady, your eyes look down through your veil like angels
through a cloud. Dare I ask to see your face, O bright perfection?

YASMIN
(Roguishly) Do you take me for a Christian, father of impertinence?
And since when do the daughters of Islam unveil before strangers?

HASSAN
It is said: he who speaks to the heart is no stranger.

YASMIN
(Unveiling her eyes) Are you satisfied, O importunate!

HASSAN
Never, till I have seen perfection to perfection.

YASMIN
You would shrivel, my poet. What about "the glory too far shed, Yasmin"?

HASSAN
Let me see you unveiled, Yasmin.

YASMIN
Anything to close the portal of your face.
(Unveiling.) There. Do I please thee, my Sultan?

HASSAN
(Rapturously) Oh, you are beautiful!

YASMIN
Prince of poets, is that all you have to say! Not a stanza,
not a trope, not a turn, not a twist, not even a hint that the
heavens are opened, or that there are two moons in the sky together?

HASSAN
There is but one.

YASMIN
Well confectioned, my confectioner! And now, Good-night.

HASSAN
O stay, Yasmin, you are too beautiful, and I too bold.
I am nothing, and you are the Queen of the Stars of Night.
But the thought of you is twisted in the strings of my heart;
I burn with love of you, Yasmin. Put me to the proof, my lady;
there was nothing I could not do for your bright eyes.
I would cross the salt desert and wrest a cup of the water of life
from the Jinn that guards it; I would walk to the barriers of the world
and steal the roc's egg from its diamond nest. I would swim
the seven oceans, and cross the five islands to rob Solomon ben Dawud
of his ring in the palace where he lies sleeping in the silence
and majesty of uncorrupting death. And I would slip the ring
on your finger and make you mistress of the spirits of the air--
but would you love me? Could you love me, do you love me, Yasmin?

YASMIN
There is love and love and love.

HASSAN
(Passionately) Oh, answer me!

YASMIN
I think I have been enchanted, Hassan; how, I cannot tell.
Till this afternoon the thought of your appearance made my heart
narrow with disgust. But since I ate your present of comfits--
and they were admirable comfits, and I ate them with speed--
my heart is changed and inclined toward you, I know not why or how,
except it be through magic.

HASSAN
(Aside) She is mine, and magic rules the world!
(Aloud) Yasmin, shall I possess you, O Yasmin?

YASMIN
Am I not the desert waiting for the rain? Was I not born for passion,
Hassan? Is not my bosom burning for kisses? Were not these arms
made smooth and hard to fight the battle of love?

HASSAN
Are not your lips love's roses, your cheeks love's lilies,
your eyes love's hyacinths?

YASMIN
Ya, Hassan, and my hair the net of love, and my girdle
the chain of love that breaks at a lovers touch?

HASSAN
I am drowning in a wave of madness. Let me in, Yasmin; let me in!

YASMIN
Ah, if I could!

HASSAN
Why not?

YASMIN
Ah, if I dared!

HASSAN
What do you fear? It is night, and the street is silent.

YASMIN:
Ah, dear Hassan, but I am not alone.

HASSAN
(Whispering) Not alone? Who is there? Your mother?

YASMIN
No! One who you sent here.

HASSAN
I sent no one.

YASMIN
One of your friends.

HASSAN
A man?

SELIM
(Poking his head out of the window) Ya, Hassan, Salaam aleikum.
I thank you for directing my steps to this rose-strewn bower.

HASSAN
(Astonished) Selim!

SELIM
Thy servant always.

HASSAN
(Wildly) Selim!

SELIM
Be advised, O Hassan, go and seek the enchanted egg.

HASSAN
Selim, what do you here?

SELIM
Plunge not the finger of enquiry into the pie of impertinence, O my uncle.

HASSAN
Since when have I become your uncle, Selim, and how did I cease
to be your friend?

SELIM
Since when did you aspire to poetry, O Hassan?
But I have heard these lines:

As from the eagle flies the dove
So friendship from the claw of love.

HASSAN
Love. What love do you mean, scum of the market?

SELIM
This. (Puts a hand on YASMIN's shoulder.)

HASSAN
May God strike thee blind, Selim, and shut the door
of his compassion against thee!

SELIM
What is my crime, Uncle? How have I sinned against thee,
or merited the solemn imprecation?

HASSAN
Do not touch her, you dog, do not touch her!

SELIM
Is it a crime to touch Yasmin, my Uncle? Am I not to be excused?
Is not her neck a pillar of the marble of Yoonistan?
(Puts his arm around her neck.)

HASSAN
Torment of death!

YASMIN
Are not my arms like swords of steel, hard and cold,
and thirsty for blood? (Putting her arms around the neck of SELIM)

HASSAN
Fire of hell!

SELIM
Are not her eyes two sapphires in two pools?

HASSAN
Woe is me! Woe is me!

YASMIN
Are not my lips two rubies drenched in blood? (Kisses him)

HASSAN
God, I shall fall!

SELIM
(His face in YASMIN's bosom) Couldst thou but see, O my Uncle,
the silver hills with their pomegranate groves; or the deep fountain
in the swelling plain, or the Ethiopian who waters the roses
in the garden, or the great lamp between the columns where the incense
of love is burned. How can I thank thee, O my Uncle, for the name
and address, and half the old Jew's dinars!

YASMIN
How can I thank thee, O my Uncle, for sending me this strong
and straight young friend of thine to console my loneliness
and desolation? Ah, it is bitter to be a widow and so young!

HASSAN
(Putting up his hands to his head) The fountain, the fountain!
O my head, my head!

YASMIN
Be not too rash, my Uncle, or thy hair will come away in thy hands.

HASSAN
If I could but reach your necks with a knife, children of Sheitan!

YASMIN
I was the sun of his existence, and now I am a child of Sheitan--
and why? Never again will I trust the love of a man.
I was a glory too far shed, and now he wants to open my neck.
And already he has tried to poison me. Ya, Hassan, if you desire my death,
send me some more enchanted sweets!

SELIM
Beware, O Hassan, of jesting with the Jinn.

YASMIN
Buy, O Hassan, no more juice from Jews.

SELIM
Much, I fear, O my friend, for thy character in the market.
No more will men say: "Hassan is a safe man"; but they will nudge
each other and say, "Beware of Hassan, Hassan is a great magician;
he has talked with the spirit's of the air! Deal not with Hassan,
O my son, Saadet, for he sells enchanted sweets that drive the consumer
to madness. And at night Hassan becomes a cat, and walketh on the roofs
after the female cats. Allah preserve me from the evil eye of such a one!"
And another will say, tapping his forehead, "Speak no harm of poor Hassan,
for his brain is very sick!" And the small, guileless boys will say,
"Behold Hassan, who gave ten dinars for a pint of indigo and water."

HASSAN
Ah, death!

YASMIN
Look at him! He is drifting like a soul aswoon!
Go home, old fellow!

SELIM
Go home and write poems!

YASMIN
Go home, and cook sweets!

HASSAN
Yasmin! Yasmin! My head!

YASMIN
Begone, or I will cool thy head, thou wearisome old fool!

HASSAN
Yasmin! Yasmin! (Stands with his arms outstretched)

YASMIN
Take this, my bulbul, to quench thy aspiration.
(Pours a jug of water over him, and slams the shutters to.
HASSAN does not budge from his position.)

HASSAN
O thou villainous, unclean dog, Selim. O thou unutterable woman.
I will have you both whipped through the city and impaled in the
market-place, and your bodies flung to rot on a dung-heap.
O, my head aches! Ah, you foul swine! May you scream in hell for ever.
O, my head--my head. For ever. Thou and thy magic and thy Jew.
There is blood dripping from the wall. (Banging on the gate)
I will break the house in. I will kill you. Ya Allah,
I am splitting in twain. It is my own fault for having dreams
and believing magic. Ya Allah, I am dying. Oh, Yasmin,
so beautiful, so brutal. O burning bright; you have killed me!
Farewell, and the Salaam!

(Falls under the shadow of the fountain. Silence. A light appears
in the next house. Soft music starts; the first light of dawn
shines in the sky.)

(Enter the CALIPH HAROUN AR RASCHID, JAFAR, his Vizier, MASRUR (a
Negro), his Executioner, and ISHAK, a young man, his poet,
all attired as Merchants.)

CALIPH
Ishak, my heart is heavy and still the night drags on,
and still we wander in the crooked streets, and still
we find no entertainment, and still the white moon shines.

ISHAK
O Caliph of Islam, is there not vast entertainment for the wise
in the shining of the moon, in the dripping of that fountain,
and in the shape of that tall cypress that has leapt the wall
to shoot her arrow at the stars?

(The music which had stopped recommences.)

CALIPH
But I hear music, and see lights. Come on, come on, we will snatch
profit from this cursed night even yet, my friends,
even at the eleventh hour.

JAFAR
Master, the night is far advanced, and you have not slept.
It is a late hour to seek for entertainment.

CALIPH
Jafar you are as prudent as a shopkeeper.

ISHAK
There lies his merit, Haroun! For he keeps the great shop of state,
he sells the revenue of provinces, and buys in the lives of men.

CALIPH
Enough, enough. Call to them, Jafar, and see if they will let us in.

JAFAR
Oh, gentlefolk, in the name of Allah!

VOICE
(From window, the person invisible) Who calls?

JAFAR
Sir, we are four merchants who came yesterday night from Basra,
and on our arrival we met in the street a man of Basra settled in Bagdad,
who prayed us to dine with him. So we accepted and stayed late
talking the talk of Basra, and left him but an hour ago.
And since we were strangers to the city, we lost our way,
and have been wandering ever since in search of our Khan
and have not found it. And now a happy chance has taken us
to this street; for seeing lights and hearing music, indeed, sir,
we hope to taste the cup of thy kindness, being men of honour,
good companions and true believers.

VOICE
Then you are not of Bagdad?

JAFAR
No, sir, but of Basra.

VOICE
Had you been a Baghdad, you should not have entered for all the gold
in the Caliph's coffers.

CALIPH
Then we may enter, being of Basra?

VOICE
If you enter, you will be in my power. And if you annoy me,
I will punish you with death. But no one constraineth you to enter.
Go in peace, O men of Basra.

CALIPH
(Aside) A rare adventure. (Aloud) We take the risk of annoying you,
O host of terror, and are now looking for the door.

VOICE
Since when did a door of good reputation open on to this street,
my masters? Our door is far from here, and you are strangers and merry,
and will not find it. But I will contrive a means for your ascent.

CALIPH
Jafar, I never suspected there was a great house in this poor quarter
of the town. For from the outside it is a house like any other,
except that it has no door; but inside, if this is but the back of it,
it is of great extent and holds some secret. We shall make a discovery
tonight, O Jafar.

JAFAR
Master, we have been warned of danger!

(A basket comes down.)

CALIPH
Danger? What care I?

(Sits in the basket, and is drawn up.)

JAFAR
Eh, Masrur, I could sleep a little.

MASRUR
You would wake in paradise if the Caliph heard you, Jafar.

(MASRUR waves his sword dexterously near JAFAR's neck.)

JAFAR
(As he ascends into the basket, pointing to Masrur's sword)
The path to Paradise is narrow and shiny, O Masrur.

MASRUR
(With the grim motion of the sword) Ya, Jafar, it is a short cut.

(Jafar having ascended, MASRUR ascends, and the basket is let down
for Ishak.)

ISHAK
(Alone) Go on thy way without me, Commander of the Faithful.
I will follow you no further. Find one more adventure if you will.
For me the break of day is adventure enough--and water splashing
in the fountain. Find out, Haroun, the secret of the lights
and of the music, of a house that has no door, and a master
that will admit no citizen. Drag out the mystery of a man's love
or loss, then break your oath and publish his tale to all Bagdad,
then fling him gold, and fling him gold, and dream you have made a friend!
Those bags of gold you fling, O my generous master, to a mistress for night,
to a poet for a jest, to a rich friend for entertainment,
to a beggar for a whim, are they not the revenues of cities,
wrung by torture from the poor? But the sighs of your people, Haroun,
do not so much as stir the leaves in your palace garden!

And I--I have taken your gold, I, Ishak, who was born on the mountains
free of the woods and winds. I have made my home in your palace,
and almost forgot it was a prison. And for you I have strung glittering,
fulsome verses, a hundred rhyming to one rhyme, ingeniously woven,
my disgrace as a poet, my dishonour as a man. And I have forgotten
that there are men who dig and sow, and a hut on the hills
where I was born.
(Perceives Hassan.) Ah, there is a body, here in the shade.
Corpses of the poor are very common on the streets these days.
They die of poison or the knife, but most of hunger. Mashallah,
but you have not died of hunger, my friend, and there is that
on your face that I do not like to see. By his clothes
this was a common man, a grocer or a baker, his person ill-proportioned
and unseemly, but by his forehead not quite a common man. I think--

JAFAR
(From above) Ishak, are you coming up?

ISHAK
(Shouting back) Wait a minute, I will come.

(To himself) What has curved his mouth into that bitter line?
He is an ugly man, but I maintain there is grace in his countenance.

What? A lute? Take my hand, O brother. You loved music too,
and you could sing the songs of the people, which are better than mine--
the songs I learnt from the mother of my mother.

(Taking the broken lute mechanically) What was that one?

"The Green Boy came from over the mountains,
Joy of the morning, joy of his heart"?

I have forgotten it, and the lute is broken. Or that other:

"Come to the wells, the desert wells!
The caravan is marching down; I hear the camel bells."

(Resumes HASSAN's hand) Ah, brother, your hand is warm and your heart
beating, you are not dead.
(Bathing HASSAN's forehead with water from the fountain)
I shall know after all what has twisted your mouth awry.

CALIPH
Ishak, Ishak, we wait and wait.

ISHAK
May I not be free one hour, to breathe the dawn alone! Ah!...
(Takes HASSAN's body and drags it to the basket.) I come, my master!
(Puts HASSAN in the basket.) There, take my place, brother,
and find your destiny. I will be free to-night, free for one dawn
upon the hills!

(As HASSAN is drawn up in the basket, ISHAK walks rapidly away.)

CURTAIN

ACT II

SCENE I

A great room. To the left three arches lead out onto the balcony
where the personages CALIPH, JAFAR and HOST are collected.
The interior of the room is blazing with lights, but empty.
The architecture of the room is curious on account of the wide,
low arches which cut off a square in the centre. The furniture
of the room is in rich, rather vulgar Oriental taste.

CALIPH
Ishak, Ishak, we are waiting and waiting.

JAFAR
Ishak! Ishak! Perhaps he is faint.

CALIPH
Faint!

JAFAR
Let me go down and see what he is doing. I think I hear him talking.

CALIPH
He is talking to shadows. He has one of his evil fits tonight.
Do not trouble your head or mine about him. He presumes on our friendship,
and forgets the respect due to us. Am I to be kept waiting like a Jew
in a court of justice, I the Master...

JAFAR
(Quickly) We are not in Basra, Sir. But see, the rope has tightened.
(To MASRUR.) Haul, thou whose soul is white.

RAFI
(Helping with ropes to CALIPH who stands idle) God restore to you
the use of your arms, my brother from Basra.
(HASSAN rolls out of the basket, filthy and the inanimate.)
Yallah, Yallah, on what dunghill did this fowl die?
Is this your man of honour?

JAFAR
(Astonished) Host of the house, this is not our companion,
and we have never set eyes on him before.

RAFI
Then what is this?

CALIPH
Our friend has played a trick on us--may Allah separate him
from salvation!--and sent up this body in place of himself.
Come let us tip it out into the street.

RAFI
(Feeling HASSAN'S pulse) Wait; this man is by no means dead,
and the mill of his heart still grinds the flour of life.
Ho, Alder!

(Enter ALDER, a young and pretty page.)

ALDER
At his master's service.

RAFI
Ho, Willow!

WILLOW
(Younger still) At his lord's order.

RAFI
Juniper!

JUNIPER
At his Pasha's command.

RAFI
Tamarisk!

TAMARISK
(A little boy a with a squeaky voice) At his Sublimity's feet.

CALIPH
(Aside to JAFAR) Truly, this is charming:
an illustrious example of decorum and good taste.

RAFI
Transform this into a man, my slaves. Revive him, bathe, soap,
scent, comb him, clothe him with a ceremonial coat
and bring him back to us.

ALDER
We hear,

WILLOW
We honour,

JUNIPER
We tremble,

TAMARISK
and obey.

CALIPH
(Entering the great room of the house) Thy house is of grand proportions
and eccentric architecture, my Host; it is astonishing
that such a house should look out on to so mean a street.

RAFI
It is an old house where the Manichees (the devil roast all heretics!)
once held their meetings before they were all flayed alive.
It is called the house of the moving walls.

CALIPH
Why such a name?

RAFI
I do not know at all.

CALIPH
The merry noise of music that we heard is silent.

RAFI
I waited for your permission, my guests, before continuing
my meagre entertainment. Ho, music! Ho, dancers! (Claps his hands.)

(Music plays. The HOST enters the room and motions his GUESTS
to be seated in silence.)

CALIPH
Verily, after this prelude, and in this splendid palace,
we shall see dancing women worthy of Paradise.

JAFAR
God grant it, Master.

CALIPH
(To JAFAR) Hush, I hear the pattering of feet.
The wine of anticipation is dancing through my veins.
O Jafar, what incomparable houris will charm our eyes to-night?
What rosy breasts, what silver shoulders, what shapely legs,
what jasmine arms!

(In good order, marching to the music, there enter the most awful
selection of Eastern BEGGARS the eye could imagine, or the tongue describe.
They are headed by their CHIEF, a rather fine fellow,
in indescribable tatters. He leads the CHORUS with a song,
half intoned in the Oriental style.)

Fathers of two feet, advance,
Dot and go ones, hop along,
Two feet missing need not dance,
But will join us in the song.

CHORUS OF CULS-DE-JATTE:
But will join you in the song.

Show your most revolting scar;
People never weary of it.
The more nauseous you are--
More the pity and your profit.

CHORUS And your profit, profit, profit.

Cracked of lip and gapped of tooth,
Apoplectic, maim or mad,
Blind of one eye, blind of both,
Up, the beggars of Bagdad.

CHORUS Up, the beggars of Baghdad.

There is a cellar, I am told,
Where a little lamp is lit,
And that cellar's full of gold,
Sacks and sacks and sacks of it.

CHORUS (Hoarsely)
Sacks and sacks and sacks of it,
Stacks and stacks and stacks of it.
Open eyes and stiffen backs,
There are sacks and sacks and sacks;
And gold for him who lacks of it.

(The HOST lifts his hand. The BEGGARS all fall flat on their faces.
Dance music.)

(Enter right, a BAND of fair, left, a BAND of dusky beauties.)

THE DANCING GIRLS
Daughters of delight, advance,
Petals, petals, drift along;
Cypress, tremble! Firefly, dance!
Nightingale, your song, your song!

THE FAIR
We are pale

THE DARK
as dawn, with roses,
O the roses, O desire!
We are dark,

THE FAIR
(Curtsying)
but as the twilight
Shooting all the sky with fire.

CHORUS
Daughters of delight, advance,
Petals, petals, drift along,
Cypress, tremble! Firefly, dance!
Nightingale, your song, your song!

(They surround the BEGGARS, dancing, and point at them.)

LEADER OF THE FAIR
From what base tavern, of what street
Were dragged these dogs, that foul our feet?

LEADER OF THE DARK
O sisters, fly, we shall be hurt:

(The LEADER OF THE BEGGARS catches her.)

Leave go my ankle, son of dirt.

LEADER OF THE BEGGARS
Lady, if the dirt should gleam,
Feel, but do not show surprise:
Things that happen here would seem

(Rises to his feet, his rags drop off, and he shines in gold.)

Paradox in Paradise.

(The infirmities and rags of the whole BAND disappear as if by magic,
as they rise and shout in CHORUS.)

CHORUS
Paradox in Paradise

(RAFI raises his hand. ALL stand at attention.)

VOICES
Hush, the King speaks.
The King of the Beggars.
The King.

LEADER OF THE BEGGARS
The King of the Beggars, the Caliph of the Faithless. The Peacock
of the Silver Path, the Master of Bagdad!

(The BALLET line the room behind the arches.)

JAFAR
(Aside, astonished) King of the Beggars?

MASRUR
(Aside, astonished) Master of Bagdad?

CALIPH
(Aside, astonished) Caliph of the Faithless? Allah kerim,
this is a jest indeed!

RAFI
(Throwing off his outer garment and discovering himself superbly dressed
in a golden armour) Subjects and guests. Now that the night
before our day is ending, and the Wolf's Tail is already brushing
the eastern sky; now that our plot is ready, our conspiracy established,
our victory imminent, what is there left for me to tell you,
O faithful band? Shall I say, be brave? You are lions.
Be cunning? You are serpents. Be bloody? You are wolves.

See now, Bagdad is still in dreams that in a few minutes
shall be full of fire, and that fire redder than the dawn.
You have begged--you shall buy: you have fawned--you shall fight:
you have plotted--you shall plunder: you have cringed: you shall kill.

How loud they snore, those swine whose nostrils we shall slit to-day!
Copper they flung to us, and steel we shall give them back;
good steel of Damascus, that digs a narrow hole and deep.

But as for the Peacock of Peacocks, that sack of debauch,
that Caliph, alive in his coffin, I and none other will nail him down,
with his eyes staring into mine. His gardens, fountains, summer houses,
and palaces; his horses, mules, camels, and elephants,
his statues of Yoonistan, and his wines of Ferangistan, his eunuchs
of Egypt, and his carpets of Bokhara, and his great sealed boxes
bursting with unbeaten gold, and his beads of amethyst,
and his bracelets of sapphire, all this and all his women,
his chosen flower-like women, are yours for lust and loot and lechery,
my children--all save her of whom I warned you--a woman who was mine,
and who shall sit unveiled with me on the throne of all the Caliphs...
and when you see us sitting on that throne together, then you shall cry...

THE BEGGARS
(Taking up with a shout) The Caliph is dead! The Caliphate is over!
Long live the King!

JAFAR
(In indignation) These words are not holy, even in jest.

RAFI
O guests of an hour, I pray you put the tongue of discretion
into the cheek of propriety.

JAFAR
Propriety! The host's obligations are greater than the guests.
It is not good taste to speak thus before the invited.
We pray you only that we may withdraw at once.

RAFI
Then who will withdraw me, my masters, from the vengeance of the Caliph,
once you have talked a talk with the Captain of his Guard?

JAFAR
We give you our promise: we are men of honour.

RAFI
If you were thieves, as we are, I might trust you. But, if, as you say,
you are men of honour, honour will drive you panting to the Caliph's gate,
and honour will swiftly break a promise made to a this and a rebel,
under compulsion.

JAFAR
Sir, I pray you, no more of this, be it jest or earnest.
It will soon be morning: we must away: we have pressing business:
our clients await us.

RAFI
And give me their names, O my guests, and tonight I will fling
their gold and their carcasses together at your feet.

JAFAR
We insist that you let us go.

RAFI
O merchants, tell me but this one thing: Do you dwell in fine houses
in the port of Basra?

JAFAR
We have no mean abodes.

RAFI
Are your apartment spacious and well furnished?

JAFAR
Well enough.

RAFI
Then tell me further, have you soft carpets on the floors of those rooms?

JAFAR
There are carpets.

RAFI
Great, rich, soft carpets from Persia and Afghanistan?

JAFAR
Yes.

RAFI
It is a pity. Soft carpets make soft the sole of the foot.
And they who have soft feet should ever keep them on the road of meekness.

MASRUR
(Drawing his sword) Dost thou dare threaten us, bismillah!

RAFI
Truly, O most disgusting negro, comprehension and thou have been
separated since your youth. Shall I then drop needle of insinuation
and pick up the club of statement? Shall I tell you three guests of mine,
with the plainness of plainness and the openness of plainness,
that if you offer one threat more, propose one evasion more,
or ask one question more, I will thrash your lives head downwards
from your feet.

(Enter HASSAN finely dressed, and ushered in by the FOUR BOYS
through the rows of DANCERS.)

HASSAN
(Lamenting) Eywallah, eywallah, eywah, eywah, Mashallah! Istagfurallah!

RAFI
Why, here is the fourth guest!

ALDER
We have washed him: he needed it.

WILLOW
Combed him: it was necessary.

JUNIPER
Scented him: it was our duty.

TAMARISK
Clothed him: it was our delight.

HASSAN
(As before) Eywallah! Yallah Akbar! Y'allah kerim! Istagfurallah!
Eywallah! Hassan is ended! Hassan is no more! He is dead!
He is buried! He is a bone! Y'allah kerim!

RAFI
Eyyah Hassan, if that is your name, have my boys not treated you well?
If they have hurt you with their tricks, by the Great Name, I will...

HASSAN
I pray you, I pray you. Thrash no one's life out downwards
from their feet, O master, and above all, not mine.

RAFI
Ah, you heard me! Take courage. All that I require of my guests,
good Hassan, is genteel behaviour.

HASSAN
Ah! Who are all these terrible men?

RAFI
Beggars of Bagdad! Ten thousand more await my signal on the streets.
In a few minutes they will surprise the drowsy Palace Guards,
sack Bagdad, kill the Caliph and make me King.

HASSAN
(Stupefied) What has become of me this night! Just now I was in Hell,
with all the fountains raining fire and blood.

RAFI
Come, Hassan, you are only just in time; the cold dawn which ends
the revellers' dark day will soon be uncurtaining the blue.
One bowl to pledge me victory, O guests, for I must away and win it,
and you shall lie here to sleep away the destruction of Bagdad.
At least you shall say this of your host--he gave us splendid wine.

(The FOUR SLAVES hand round the bowl; the CALIPH refuses.)

(To CALIPH) Sir, you do not drink.

CALIPH
I obey the Prophet.

RAFI
What wine do they grow in the desert of Meccah, or on the sandhills
of Medina? Ah, had the Prophet tasted wine of Syria or the islands,
the book would have been shorter by that uncomfortable verse.

JAFAR
Come, host! I at all events will pledge you. There is ever fellowship
between those who have drunk wine together, be they murderers
or thieves or Christians.

MASRUR
Host, on the day when I shall spill your blood, I shall drink a little
in remembrance of this bowl of wine. Till then your health!
(Drinks.)

RAFI
(Sarcastically) Ye are three jolly fellows of amiable disposition.
(Drinks.)
I thank you, negro, I drink to yours.

HASSAN
I drink to forget a woman, but will this little cup suffice?

RAFI
Nor ten, nor ten thousand little cups like these, if you have loved.
Tonight I shall fill my bowl of the oblivion with the blood
of the Caliph of Bagdad. Brother, will that great cup suffice?

HASSAN
(In terror) Call me not brother, thou savage man, who dost talk
of shedding the holiest blood in Islam!

RAFI
When high office is polluted, when the holy is unholy, when justice
is a lie, when the people are starved, and the great fools
of the world are in high office, then dares a man talk of shedding
the holiest blood in Islam?

CALIPH
Also when one has a vengeance to wreak on the Caliph and a claim
on a lady of his household.

MASRUR
Why do you want to nail him in his coffin alive? Tell us the tale.

JAFAR
Tell us, if would not have us think you a mad man or a buffoon.

CALIPH
Tell us about the woman; what harm can do you
since we are in your power?

RAFI
(After hesitation) Yes, what harm can it do, if for my own sake,
to relieve the heaviness of my heart, I tell you something of my story?

My name is Rafi. I come from the hills beyond Mosul, where the men
walk free and the women go unveiled. There I was betrothed to Pervaneh,
a woman beautiful and wise. But the very day before our marriage
the Governor of Mosul remembered my country and invaded it
with a thousand men. And little enough plunder they got from our village,
but they caught Pervaneh walking alone among the pine woods
and carried her away. When I heard this I leapt on my horse
and galloped to Mosul, prepared to slay the Governor and all
the inhabitants thereof single-handed, if evil had come to Pervaneh.
But there I found she had already been sent with a raft full of slaves
down the Tigris to Bagdad. Whereupon I hired six men with shining muscles
to row me there. We arrived at Bagdad at the end of the third night's
rowing at the grey of dawn. I sprang out of the raft like a tiger,
and ran like a madman through the streets, crying "The Slave Market!
Tell me the way, O ye citizens! The Slave Market, O the Slave Market!"

And suddenly turning a corner I came upon the market,
which was like a garden full of girls in splendid clothes
grouped in groups like flowers in garden beds and some like lilies, naked.
I ran around the market to find Pervaneh and all the women laughed
at me aloud, and behold there she stood; she who had never worn a veil before,
the only veiled woman in all the market, for she had sworn to bite off
her lips if her master would not veil her: but I knew her
by the beauty of her hands, and I cried: "O dealer, the veiled woman
for a thousand dinars!" And the dealer laughed in the way of dealers
at the presumption of my offer and demanded two thousand,
and so I purchased for gold the blood of my own heart,
and she lifted her veil and sang for joy and hung upon my neck,
and all the slave girls clapped their hands.

But at that moment there entered into the market a negro eunuch,
so tall and so disgusting that the sun was darkened and the birds
whistled for terror in the trees. And all the dealers and the slaves
bowed low before him. Coming to my dealer, he cried: "Why dost thou
sell slaves before the Caliph has made his choice?"

Then turning to to Pervaneh, he said, "Go back to thy place."
And I cried, "She is my purchase." But the eunuch said,
"Hold thy peace; I take her for the Caliph."

And suddenly two guards seized Pervaneh, and I drawing my sword
was about to hew the eunuch into a thousand pieces,
Pervaneh made a sign to me, and looking up I saw I was surrounded
by men at arms. And Pervaneh cried in the speech of my country,
as they carried her way: "I will die, but I will not be defiled:
rescue me alive or dead, soon or late, and avenge me on this Caliph,
may the ravens eat his entrails!"

That is my story, and for this reason I will nail the Caliph
down in his coffin, bound and living and with open eyes.

CALIPH
(In horror) Bound and living, with open eyes! Thou devil!

MASRUR
Is that all the story?

JAFAR
Will you tear up the Empire for the honour of a girl?

CALIPH
(In fury) And set your worthless passion in scale against
the splendour of Islam!

RAFI
Is this Haroun the splendour of Islam? Is the prosperity
of these people, a rosy slave in his serai, or their happiness,
a fish in his silver fountain?

JAFAR
God will frustrate thee.

RAFI
If he will. Farewell, my guests. I go to avenge Pervaneh,
and to wash Bagdad in blood.

JAFAR
And what of us?

RAFI
It is well be used that you are my guests, for you are rich and proud,
and eminently deserve destruction. But you are safe in his room
as in an iron cage; you will only hear, as in a dream, the crash
of the fall of the statue of tyranny.

CALIPH
(Rushing to intercept him) By the thick smoke of Hell's Pit
and the Ghouls that eat man's flesh, you shall not go,
and we shall not stay.

RAFI
Look twice before you touch me!

(He leaps behind the archway. The BEGGARS and the WOMEN are now
lined close to the wall of the room and the GUESTS are isolated
in the centre. From behind every pillar appears an ARCHER
with bow drawn taut directed on the startled GUESTS.)

CHORUS OF BEGGARS AND DANCING GIRLS
Today the fools who catch a cold in summer
Will fly for winter in the windy moon.

To-day the little rills of shining water
Will catch the fire of morning oversoon.

To-day the state musicians and court poets
Will set new verses to a special tune.

Today Haroun, the much-detested Caliph
Will find his Caliphate inopportune.

RAFI
(Silencing the SINGERS with a wave of his hand;
to the GUESTS) Did not someone ask me why this house was called
the House of the Moving Walls?

CALIPH
I asked the question.

(Sheets of iron with a crash covering the apertures of the arches.
The four GUESTS are completely walled in.)

RAFI, BEGGARS AND WOMEN
(From behind the iron partitions with a shout) Answered!

JAFAR
This is a disastrous situation!

(The BEGGARS Tramp out to martial music.)

VOICES OF THE BEGGARS
(Retreating)

Today Haroun, the much-detested Caliph,
Will find Caliphate inopportune!

JAFAR
(Listening at the wall) They have all left the room.
At least we are alone. Let us shout, they may hear us from the street.

MASRUR
(Banging on the wall) Eyyah! Help, help, men of Bagdad!
The Caliph is in danger! The Caliph is in prison!...
Come up and save the Caliph, the Master of Men, the Shaker of the World!...
(Silence.)

CALIPH
There comes no answering cheer...

JAFAR
I had forgotten the height of this room above the streets:
and on either side stretches the empty garden of this house!

(The CALIPH, JAFAR and MASRUR rush around as though trying to find
a way out of their prison, and banging on the iron walls.
HASSAN takes his seat on the carpet.)

CALIPH
Allah! and this room is a box within a box like a Chinese toy.
And that man will surprise my soldiers in the chill of dawn,
and sack my palace and burn Baghdad. He will discover my identity
and bury me alive!

JAFAR
Alas, Master! What shall we do?

CALIPH
Thou dog! Thou dirt! Thou dunghill! Thou dustheap!
Did I make thee Vizier to ask counsel or to give it?
Find out what we shall do! Thou hast let me fall into a trap,
and now dost quiver and quake and shiver and shake like a tub of whey
on the back of a restive camel: my kingdom is reduced from
twelve provinces to twelve square cubits: my subjects from
thirty millions unto three, but Bismillah! one of my subjects
is the Executioner, and Mashallah! another one merits execution:
and Inshallah! if thy head doth not immediately devise
a practical scheme of escape it shall dive off my shoulders
and swim across the floor.

JAFAR
What shall happen, shall happen. But here is one who is occupied
in meditation, and is aloof from the circumstances of the moment:
let us invite him to Council.

CALIPH
Ho, thou Hassan! What occupies thy spirit?

HASSAN
I am examining the square of carpet. It is of cheap manufacturer,
inferior dye and unpleasant pattern.

CALIPH
Art thou a carpet dealer?

HASSAN
No, sir, I am a confectioner,

CALIPH
And I am the Caliph.

HASSAN
As my heart surmised. O Commander of the Faithful!
(Performs the ceremonies prescribed.)

CALIPH
Canst thou give me one gleam of hope of salvation,
Hassan the Confectioner? If not, Masrur shall cut off all our heads,
beginning with thine, I dare not fall into that man's hands alive.

HASSAN
But I dare! O spare me, spare me! What of the man who put me
in the basket? He will know where we are, and come to our rescue.

CALIPH
No good--no good. I would rather depend on the mercy of Rafi
than on the whim of Ishak. Masrur, unsheathe. There is no hope.

HASSAN
Thy pardon on thy servant: there is hope! Behold the light!

(Points to crack between bottom of the iron wall and floor,
towards the balcony.)

CALIPH
By the seven lakes of Hell, we are not mice!

HASSAN
A mouse could not pass. But what, O Master, of a message?

CALIPH
A message?

HASSAN
Written out black on paper, and dropped into the street.

CALIPH
Ho, Jafar, thou art a fool to this man! Take out thy pen and write.
Warn the Captain of the Soldiers. Warn the Police. Describe our position.
Offer the the Government of Three Provinces to the man who picks
up the paper. Write clearly, write quicker. Time's flying.
Write, and we are saved. Write for the Salvation of Bagdad;
write for the safety of Islam! O Hassan, the Confectioner,
if we are rescued I will fill my mouth with gold!

(JAFAR having written on a long roll of paper, they thrust it in the crack.)

HASSAN
No: at the corner here, where there is no balcony and the wall
drops straight into the street.

(MASRUR pokes out the paper with his sword.)

CALIPH
And now how shall we employ the time of waiting for our deliverance?

JAFAR
I shall meditate upon the mutability of human affairs.

MASRUR
And I shall sharpen my sword upon my thigh.

HASSAN
And I shall study the reasons of the excessive ugliness of the pattern
of this carpet.

CALIPH
Hassan, I will join thee: thou art a man of taste.

SCENE II

(See ACT I, last Scene)

Again, the street outside the house--the Street of the Fountain,
with the balcony of RAFI and the balcony of YASMIN opposite.
Cold light before dawn.

(On the steps of the Fountain, two tired MENDICANTS asleep.
One slowly rubs his eyes and looks round him.
A paper comes floating down. One tired MAN lazily catches it.)

FIRST LOITERER
Here comes a new chapter of the Koran falling down from heaven.

SECOND LOITERER
Is it written, Abdu?

ABDU
It is written, Ali.

ALI
Read what is written, Abdu.

ABDU
I cannot read. Am I schoolmaster?

(Folds paper, puts it in his belt, and prepares to sleep again.
Several interesting ORIENTALS pass by.)

ALI
Abdu!

ABDU
I sleep.

ALI
I can read: give me the paper.

ABDU
I am asleep: get up and take it from my belt if you want it,
Ya Ali, I am heavy with a great sleep, like a tortoise in November.

ALI
Ya Abdu, I am too languishing to move. It is a paper and it is written.
It does not matter. To-morrow or the next day it will be read.

ABDU
To-morrow or the next day I shall wake and pass it to you.

(Interval: more interesting ORIENTALS go by.)

ALI
(With sudden inspiration) Blow me the paper, Abdu.

ABDU
Alas, Allah sent thee to trouble the world!

(ABDU blows the paper over. ALI with infinite difficulty spells it out,
murmuring:)

ALI
Ha, alif, alif, re wow wow 'ain jeem--ah, ye blessed ones in Paradise,
is it thus ye write a jeem? Nun--but art thou a nun,
O letter, or a drunkard's qaf? Verily an ape has written this
with his tail: I have the second line. (With a start)
Ho, Abdu, whence came this? Do not pretend to sleep. Answer me.

ABDU
From the sky: how do I know?

ALI
Let me look at the sky. (Rolls on his back and stares upward)
I tell you, Abdu, a mighty joker has flung this from the balcony.

ABDU
Allah plague him and his pen and thee! Is there no peace in the world?

ALI
Here it is written, and do thou listen, O Abdu,
for this is the strangest of the strange writings that are strange:
"Whoever findeth this paper, know that the Caliph is in the house above,
a prisoner, and his friends prisoners, and in the extremity of danger,
he and they, with all Bagdad. Let the rescue be swift and sudden,
but above all secret. The iron walls must be lifted from beneath.
And send a man at once to the Guard, O fortunate discoverer,
to warn them to protect the palace against the Beggars of Bagdad,
and thou shalt be made Governor of Three Provinces.
Signed,
Jafar, the Vizier."
(Bursting into laughter) Three Provinces, well I know
their Three Provinces! Some rich young reveller hopes to play a game
with poor old Ali, even as a game was played on the son of Abdullah,
whom they dressed as a woman and placed in the Grand Vizier's Harem,
and his reward came hailing down on his toes. (In a lower voice.)
And I tell you, Abdu, what if the Caliph were in the house
and his friends? What if this were true? Who would believe me?
Who am I to rescue the Caliph? I never meddle in politics.

ABDU
May the great gripes settle on thee and on the Caliph and the mother
of the Caliph. Shall I not sleep? And now there comes a disturbance
down the road. Ya, Jehannum, the Police!

(CHIEF OF POLICE with ISHAK)

ISHAK
I tell you, I do not know precisely where I left them.
It was somewhere in this quarter. It may have been this balcony
they went to or that, but there are a thousand balconies.
It was above a fountain, but there are a million fountains.
I tell you they always come back. Have you not already twenty
such scares as these for the safety of the Caliph?

CHIEF OF POLICE
Never and on no preceding occasion has his exalted name
been so long delayed in his return to the palace.
The day is dawning.

ISHAK
I tell you, if you do find him you will get no thanks,
O man of arms. Will you dare to unstick the Ruler of the Moslem World
from the embrace of his latest slave girl or dash the cup of pleasure
from his reluctant hand?

CHIEF OF POLICE
I tell you, if you do not find him, man of letters, I will have you
impaled upon a monstrous pen.
(Seizes him.)

ISHAK
Thou beastly, blood-drinking brute and bloated bully,
take off thy stable-reeking hands.

CHIEF OF POLICE
Yallah, these poets. They talk in rhyme.

ALI
(Who has risen and salaamed, advancing) I pray you, Sirs,...

CHIEF OF POLICE
O thou maggot! Darest thou address us?

ALI
I pray you only regard...

CHIEF OF POLICE
I pray you only remove, or I will split you from the top.

ISHAK
Do you not see that he has a paper, and that his manners are superior
to yours, O Captain of Police? Let me look at thy paper....
Ah--ah. Whence came this, O virtuous wanderer?

ALI
From that balcony, may thy slaves be forgiven!

CHIEF OF POLICE
This is a very important clue. Let us break in the door.

ISHAK
There is no door. But first of all send word to the Palace Guard.

CHIEF OF POLICE
(To a soldier) Ali
(To the other ALI, who runs and says: Excellence, I hear and obey)
Not thou, fool. Did Allah make the name Ali for thee alone?
Who art thou that I should address thee? Are there not ten thousand Alis
in Bagdad, and wilt thou lift up thy head, O worm, when I say Ali?
(To POLICEMAN) Here is my ring. Take this paper,
and run with all thy might and show it to the Captain of the Palace Guard.

POLICEMAN
I hear and obey. (Starts off.)

ISHAK
(Stopping him) Wait!

CHIEF OF POLICE
What right have you to stop my man, you bastard son
of a quill-bearing barn-fowl?

ISHAK
Since when had a bludgeoning policeman the practical good sense
of a thought-breathing poet? Tell them, Ali, to send a few men
with levers and ladders.

CHIEF OF POLICE
It is well ordered: run, run, Ali!

ISHAK
You other Ali, who brought the paper...

ALI
Master?

ISHAK
How long is it since any paper was thrown from the balcony?

ALI
How do I know time? The time to go to market and buy a melon.

CHIEF OF POLICE
By the great pit of torment, this swine-faced has had the paper
a good hour! By the red blaze of damnation, thou maggot, why didst thou
not run with this at once to the Palace Guard?

ALI
I had a great fear, and I thought it was a jest.

CHIEF OF POLICE
A jest! Rivers of blood, a jest! The life of the Caliph of Bagdad, a jest?
The safety of the Empire a jest! I knew thee a traitor from thy face.
I will teach thee jesting. I will teach thee fear.
Ho, Mahmud, Zia, Rustem, down with his head and up with his heels.

ALI
(As his feet are looped into the pole to receive the bastinado)
Ya, Abdu, you had the letter first, it is yours. Will you not claim it
and the reward. Alas, that the Governor of Three Provinces should
be treated thus!

ABDU
Do I meddle in politics? Hit him hard, O Executioner,
for he is a great disturber of peaceful citizens.
But as for me, O Ali, lest my sleep be troubled by thy groaning,
I will make my way a little further on. (Exit)

(The EXECUTIONERS proceed with their work, but stop on entrance
of CAPTAIN OF THE MILITARY with SOLDIERS.)

(On the balcony opposite house where CALIPH is imprisoned

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