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The Story Of The Blind Baba-abdalla

from The Arabian Nights Entertainments





I was born, Commander of the Faithful, in Bagdad, and was left an
orphan while I was yet a very young man, for my parents died within a
few days of each other. I had inherited from them a small fortune,
which I worked hard night and day to increase, till at last I found
myself the owner of eighty camels. These I hired out to travelling
merchants, whom I frequently accompanied on their various journeys, and
always returned with large profits.

One day I was coming back from Balsora, whither I had taken a supply of
goods, intended for India, and halted at noon in a lonely place, which
promised rich pasture for my camels. I was resting in the shade under
a tree, when a dervish, going on foot towards Balsora, sat down by my
side, and I inquired whence he had come and to what place he was going.
We soon made friends, and after we had asked each other the usual
questions, we produced the food we had with us, and satisfied our
hunger.

While we were eating, the dervish happened to mention that in a spot
only a little way off from where we were sitting, there was hidden a
treasure so great that if my eighty camels were loaded till they could
carry no more, the hiding place would seem as full as if it had never
been touched.

At this news I became almost beside myself with joy and greed, and I
flung my arms round the neck of the dervish, exclaiming: "Good
dervish, I see plainly that the riches of this world are nothing to
you, therefore of what use is the knowledge of this treasure to you?
Alone and on foot, you could carry away a mere handful. But tell me
where it is, and I will load my eighty camels with it, and give you one
of them as a token of my gratitude."

Certainly my offer does not sound very magnificent, but it was great to
me, for at his words a wave of covetousness had swept over my heart,
and I almost felt as if the seventy-nine camels that were left were
nothing in comparison.

The dervish saw quite well what was passing in my mind, but he did not
show what he thought of my proposal.

"My brother," he answered quietly, "you know as well as I do, that you
are behaving unjustly. It was open to me to keep my secret, and to
reserve the treasure for myself. But the fact that I have told you of
its existence shows that I had confidence in you, and that I hoped to
earn your gratitude for ever, by making your fortune as well as mine.
But before I reveal to you the secret of the treasure, you must swear
that, after we have loaded the camels with as much as they can carry,
you will give half to me, and let us go our own ways. I think you will
see that this is fair, for if you present me with forty camels, I on my
side will give you the means of buying a thousand more."

I could not of course deny that what the dervish said was perfectly
reasonable, but, in spite of that, the thought that the dervish would
be as rich as I was unbearable to me. Still there was no use in
discussing the matter, and I had to accept his conditions or bewail to
the end of my life the loss of immense wealth. So I collected my
camels and we set out together under the guidance of the dervish.
After walking some time, we reached what looked like a valley, but with
such a narrow entrance that my camels could only pass one by one. The
little valley, or open space, was shut up by two mountains, whose sides
were formed of straight cliffs, which no human being could climb.

When we were exactly between these mountains the dervish stopped.

"Make your camels lie down in this open space," he said, "so that we
can easily load them; then we will go to the treasure."

I did what I was bid, and rejoined the dervish, whom I found trying to
kindle a fire out of some dry wood. As soon as it was alight, he threw
on it a handful of perfumes, and pronounced a few words that I did not
understand, and immediately a thick column of smoke rose high into the
air. He separated the smoke into two columns, and then I saw a rock,
which stood like a pillar between the two mountains, slowly open, and a
splendid palace appear within.

But, Commander of the Faithful, the love of gold had taken such
possession of my heart, that I could not even stop to examine the
riches, but fell upon the first pile of gold within my reach and began
to heap it into a sack that I had brought with me.

The dervish likewise set to work, but I soon noticed that he confined
himself to collecting precious stones, and I felt I should be wise to
follow his example. At length the camels were loaded with as much as
they could carry, and nothing remained but to seal up the treasure, and
go our ways.

Before, however, this was done, the dervish went up to a great golden
vase, beautifully chased, and took from it a small wooden box, which he
hid in the bosom of his dress, merely saying that it contained a
special kind of ointment. Then he once more kindled the fire, threw on
the perfume, and murmured the unknown spell, and the rock closed, and
stood whole as before.

The next thing was to divide the camels, and to charge them with the
treasure, after which we each took command of our own and marched out
of the valley, till we reached the place in the high road where the
routes diverge, and then we parted, the dervish going towards Balsora,
and I to Bagdad. We embraced each other tenderly, and I poured out my
gratitude for the honour he had done me, in singling me out for this
great wealth, and having said a hearty farewell we turned our backs,
and hastened after our camels.

I had hardly come up with mine when the demon of envy filled my soul.
"What does a dervish want with riches like that?" I said to myself.
"He alone has the secret of the treasure, and can always get as much as
he wants," and I halted my camels by the roadside, and ran back after
him.

I was a quick runner, and it did not take me very long to come up with
him. "My brother," I exclaimed, as soon as I could speak, "almost at
the moment of our leave-taking, a reflection occurred to me, which is
perhaps new to you. You are a dervish by profession, and live a very
quiet life, only caring to do good, and careless of the things of this
world. You do not realise the burden that you lay upon yourself, when
you gather into your hands such great wealth, besides the fact that no
one, who is not accustomed to camels from his birth, can ever manage
the stubborn beasts. If you are wise, you will not encumber yourself
with more than thirty, and you will find those trouble enough."

"You are right," replied the dervish, who understood me quite well, but
did not wish to fight the matter. "I confess I had not thought about
it. Choose any ten you like, and drive them before you."

I selected ten of the best camels, and we proceeded along the road, to
rejoin those I had left behind. I had got what I wanted, but I had
found the dervish so easy to deal with, that I rather regretted I had
not asked for ten more. I looked back. He had only gone a few paces,
and I called after him.

"My brother," I said, "I am unwilling to part from you without pointing
out what I think you scarcely grasp, that large experience of
camel-driving is necessary to anybody who intends to keep together a
troop of thirty. In your own interest, I feel sure you would be much
happier if you entrusted ten more of them to me, for with my practice
it is all one to me if I take two or a hundred."

As before, the dervish made no difficulties, and I drove off my ten
camels in triumph, only leaving him with twenty for his share. I had
now sixty, and anyone might have imagined that I should be content.

But, Commander of the Faithful, there is a proverb that says, "the more
one has, the more one wants." So it was with me. I could not rest as
long as one solitary camel remained to the dervish; and returning to
him I redoubled my prayers and embraces, and promises of eternal
gratitude, till the last twenty were in my hands.

"Make a good use of them, my brother," said the holy man. "Remember
riches sometimes have wings if we keep them for ourselves, and the poor
are at our gates expressly that we may help them."

My eyes were so blinded by gold, that I paid no heed to his wise
counsel, and only looked about for something else to grasp. Suddenly I
remembered the little box of ointment that the dervish had hidden, and
which most likely contained a treasure more precious than all the rest.
Giving him one last embrace, I observed accidentally, "What are you
going to do with that little box of ointment? It seems hardly worth
taking with you; you might as well let me have it. And really, a
dervish who has given up the world has no need of ointment!"

Oh, if he had only refused my request! But then, supposing he had, I
should have got possession of it by force, so great was the madness
that had laid hold upon me. However, far from refusing it, the dervish
at once held it out, saying gracefully, "Take it, my friend, and if
there is anything else I can do to make you happy you must let me know."

Directly the box was in my hands I wrenched off the cover. "As you are
so kind," I said, "tell me, I pray you, what are the virtues of this
ointment?"

"They are most curious and interesting," replied the dervish. "If you
apply a little of it to your left eye you will behold in an instant all
the treasures hidden in the bowels of the earth. But beware lest you
touch your right eye with it, or your sight will be destroyed for ever."

His words excited my curiosity to the highest pitch. "Make trial on
me, I implore you," I cried, holding out the box to the dervish. "You
will know how to do it better than I! I am burning with impatience to
test its charms."

The dervish took the box I had extended to him, and, bidding me shut my
left eye, touched it gently with the ointment. When I opened it again
I saw spread out, as it were before me, treasures of every kind and
without number. But as all this time I had been obliged to keep my
right eye closed, which was very fatiguing, I begged the dervish to
apply the ointment to that eye also.

"If you insist upon it I will do it," answered the dervish, "but you
must remember what I told you just now--that if it touches your right
eye you will become blind on the spot."

Unluckily, in spite of my having proved the truth of the dervish's
words in so many instances, I was firmly convinced that he was now
keeping concealed from me some hidden and precious virtue of the
ointment. So I turned a deaf ear to all he said.

"My brother," I replied smiling, "I see you are joking. It is not
natural that the same ointment should have two such exactly opposite
effects."

"It is true all the same," answered the dervish, "and it would be well
for you if you believed my word."

But I would not believe, and, dazzled by the greed of avarice, I
thought that if one eye could show me riches, the other might teach me
how to get possession of them. And I continued to press the dervish to
anoint my right eye, but this he resolutely declined to do.

"After having conferred such benefits on you," said he, "I am loth
indeed to work you such evil. Think what it is to be blind, and do not
force me to do what you will repent as long as you live."

It was of no use. "My brother," I said firmly, "pray say no more, but
do what I ask. You have most generously responded to my wishes up to
this time, do not spoil my recollection of you for a thing of such
little consequence. Let what will happen I take it on my own head, and
will never reproach you."

"Since you are determined upon it," he answered with a sigh, "there is
no use talking," and taking the ointment he laid some on my right eye,
which was tight shut. When I tried to open it heavy clouds of darkness
floated before me. I was as blind as you see me now!

"Miserable dervish!" I shrieked, "so it is true after all! Into what
a bottomless pit has my lust after gold plunged me. Ah, now that my
eyes are closed they are really opened. I know that all my sufferings
are caused by myself alone! But, good brother, you, who are so kind
and charitable, and know the secrets of such vast learning, have you
nothing that will give me back my sight?"

"Unhappy man," replied the dervish, "it is not my fault that this has
befallen you, but it is a just chastisement. The blindness of your
heart has wrought the blindness of your body. Yes, I have secrets;
that you have seen in the short time that we have known each other.
But I have none that will give you back your sight. You have proved
yourself unworthy of the riches that were given you. Now they have
passed into my hands, whence they will flow into the hands of others
less greedy and ungrateful than you."

The dervish said no more and left me, speechless with shame and
confusion, and so wretched that I stood rooted to the spot, while he
collected the eighty camels and proceeded on his way to Balsora. It
was in vain that I entreated him not to leave me, but at least to take
me within reach of the first passing caravan. He was deaf to my
prayers and cries, and I should soon have been dead of hunger and
misery if some merchants had not come along the track the following day
and kindly brought me back to Bagdad.

From a rich man I had in one moment become a beggar; and up to this
time I have lived solely on the alms that have been bestowed on me.
But, in order to expiate the sin of avarice, which was my undoing, I
oblige each passer-by to give me a blow.

This, Commander of the Faithful, is my story.

When the blind man had ended the Caliph addressed him: "Baba-Abdalla,
truly your sin is great, but you have suffered enough. Henceforth
repent in private, for I will see that enough money is given you day by
day for all your wants."

At these words Baba-Abdalla flung himself at the Caliph's feet, and
prayed that honour and happiness might be his portion for ever.





Next: The Story Of Sidi-nouman

Previous: The Adventures Of Haroun-al-raschid Caliph Of Bagdad



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