Once upon a time there lived a man whose name was Abu Nowas, and he was a great favourite with the Sultan of the country, who had a palace in the same town where Abu Nowas dwelt.
One day Abu Nowas came weeping into the hall of the palace where the Sultan was sitting, and said to him: ‘Oh, mighty Sultan, my wife is dead.’
‘That is bad news,’ replied the Sultan; ‘I must get you another wife.’ And he bade his Grand Vizir send for the Sultana.
‘This poor Abu Nowas has lost his wife,’ said he, when she entered the hall.
‘Oh, then we must get him another,’ answered the Sultana; ‘I have a girl that will suit him exactly,’ and clapped her hands loudly. At this signal a maiden appeared and stood before her.
‘I have got a husband for you,’ said the Sultana.
‘Who is he?’ asked the girl.
‘Abu Nowas, the jester,’ replied the Sultana.
‘I will take him,’ answered the maiden; and as Abu Nowas made no objection, it was all arranged. The Sultana had the most beautiful clothes made for the bride, and the Sultan gave the bridegroom his wedding suit, and a thousand gold pieces into the bargain, and soft carpets for the house.
So Abu Nowas took his wife home, and for some time they were very happy, and spent the money freely which the Sultan had given them, never thinking what they should do for more when that was gone. But come to an end it did, and they had to sell their fine things one by one, till at length nothing was left but a cloak apiece, and one blanket to cover them. ‘We have run through our fortune,’ said Abu Nowas, ‘what are we to do now? I am afraid to go back to the Sultan, for he will command his servants to turn me from the door. But you shall return to your mistress, and throw yourself at her feet and weep, and perhaps she will help us.’
‘Oh, you had much better go,’ said the wife. ‘I shall not know what to say.’
‘Well, then, stay at home, if you like,’ answered Abu Nowas, ‘and I will ask to be admitted to the Sultan’s presence, and will tell him, with sobs, that my wife is dead, and that I have no money for her burial. When he hears that perhaps he will give us something.’
‘Yes, that is a good plan,’ said the wife; and Abu Nowas set out.
The Sultan was sitting in the hall of justice when Abu Nowas entered, his eyes streaming with tears, for he had rubbed some pepper into them. They smarted dreadfully, and he could hardly see to walk straight, and everyone wondered what was the matter with him.
‘Abu Nowas! What has happened?’ cried the Sultan.
‘Oh, noble Sultan, my wife is dead,’ wept he.
‘We must all die,’ answered the Sultan; but this was not the reply for which Abu Nowas had hoped.
‘True, O Sultan, but I have neither shroud to wrap her in, nor money to bury her with,’ went on Abu Nowas, in no wise abashed by the way the Sultan had received his news.