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Commander of the faithful, I was born at Bagdad, had a moderate fortune left me by my father and mother, who died within a few days of each other. Though I was then but young, I did not squander away my fortune as most young men do, in idle expenses and debauchery; on the contrary, I neglected no opportunity to increase it by my industry. At last I became rich enough to purchase fourscore camels, which I let out to merchants for caravans, who paid me well for every journey I went with them throughout the extent of your majesty's dominions.
In the midst of this prosperity, and with an ardent desire of growing much richer, as I was returning one day with my camels unloaded from Bussorah, whither I had carried some bales that were to be embarked for the Indies, I met with good pasturage, at some distance from any habitation; made a halt, and let my beasts graze for some time. While I was seated, a dervish, who was walking to Bussorah, came and sat down by me to rest himself: I asked him whence he came, and where he was going; he put the same questions to me: and when we had satisfied each other's curiosity, we produced our provisions and ate together.
During our repast, after we had talked on many indifferent subjects, the dervish told me that he knew of a spot a small distance from thence, where there were such immense riches, that if all my fourscore camels were loaded with the gold and jewels that might be taken from it, they would not be missed.
This intelligence surprised and charmed me; and I was so overjoyed, that I could scarcely contain myself. I could not believe that the dervish was capable of telling me a falsehood; therefore I fell upon his neck, and said, "Good dervish, I know you value not the riches of this world, therefore of what service can the knowledge of this treasure be to you? You are alone, and cannot carry much of it away; shew me where it is, I will load all my camels, and as an acknowledgment of the favour done me, will present you with one of them."
Indeed I offered very little, but after he had communicated the secret to me, my desire of riches was become so violent, that I thought it a great deal, and looked upon the seventy-nine camel loads which I reserved for myself as nothing in comparison of what I allowed him.
The dervish, though he saw my avarice, was not however angry at the unreasonable return I proposed to make him, but replied without the least concern, "You are sensible, brother, that what you offer me is not proportionable to the valuable favour you ask of me. I might have chosen whether I would communicate my secret to you or not, and have kept the treasure to myself: but what I have told you is sufficient to shew my good intentions; it is in my power to oblige you, and make both our fortunes. I have, however, another proposition more just and equitable to make to you; it lies in your own breast whether or no you will agree to it.
"You say," continued the dervish, "that you have fourscore camels: I am ready to conduct you to the place where the treasure lies, and we will load them with as much jewels and gold as they can carry, on condition that when they are so loaded you will let me have one half, and you be contented with the other; after which we will separate, and take our camels where we may think fit. You see there is nothing but what is strictly equitable in this division; for if you give me forty camels, you will procure by my means wherewithal to purchase thousands."
I could not but agree there was a great deal of justice in what the dervish said: but without considering what riches I should gain in accepting of the condition he proposed, I could not without reluctance think of parting with my forty camels, especially when I reflected that the dervish would then be as rich as myself. Avarice made me unmindful that I was beforehand making an ungrateful return for a favour, purely gratuitous. But there was no time to hesitate; I must either accept of the proposal, or resolve to repent all my lifetime of losing, by my own fault, an opportunity of obtaining an immense fortune. That instant I collected all my camels, and after we had travelled some time, we came into a valley, the pass into which was so narrow, that two camels could not go a-breast. The two mountains which bounded this valley formed nearly a circle, but were so high, craggy, and steep, that there was no fear of our being seen by any body.
When we came between these two mountains, the dervish said to me, "Stop your camels, make them kneel that we may load them the easier, and I will proceed to discover the treasure."
I did as the dervish directed; and going to him soon after, found him with a match in one hand, gathering sticks to light a fire; which he had no sooner done, than he cast some incense into it, and pronouncing certain words which I did not understand, there presently arose a thick cloud. He divided this cloud, when the rock, though of a prodigious perpendicular height, opened like two folding doors, and exposed to view a magnificent palace in the hollow of the mountain, which I supposed to be rather the workmanship of genii than of men; for man could hardly have attempted such a bold and surprising work.
But this, I must tell your majesty, was an afterthought which did not occur to me at the moment; so eager was I for the treasures which displayed themselves to my view, that I did not even stop to admire the magnificent columns and arcades which I saw on all sides; and, without attention to the regularity with which the treasures were ranged, like an eagle seizing her prey, I fell upon the first heap of golden coin that was near me. My sacks were all large, and with my good will I would have filled them all; but I was obliged to proportion my burden to the strength of my camels. The dervish did the same; but I perceived he paid more attention to the jewels, and when he told me the reason, I followed his example, so that we took away much more jewels than gold. When we had filled our sacks, and loaded our camels, we had nothing left to do but to shut up the treasure and go our way.
But before we parted, the dervish went again into the treasury, where there were a great many wrought vessels of gold of different forms. I observed that he took out of one of these vessels a little box of a certain wood, which I knew not, and put it into his breast; but first shewed me that it contained only a kind of glutinous ointment.
The dervish used the same incantations to shut the treasury as he had done to open it; and after he pronounced certain words, the doors closed, and the rock seemed as solid and entire as before.
We now divided our camels. I put myself at the head of the forty which I had reserved for myself, and the dervish placed himself at the head of the rest which I had given him. We came out of the valley by the way we had entered, and travelled together till we came to the great road, where we were to part; the dervish to go to Bussorah, and I to Bagdad. To thank him for so great a kindness, I made use of the most expressive terms, testifying my gratitude for the preference he had given me before all other men in letting me have a share of such riches. We embraced each other with great joy, and taking our leave, pursued our different routes.
I had not gone far, following my camels, which paced quietly on in the track I had put them into, before the demon of ingratitude and envy took possession of my heart, and I deplored the loss of my other forty, but much more the riches wherewith they were loaded. "The dervish," said I to myself, "has no occasion for all this wealth, since he is master of the treasure, and may have as much as he pleases;" so I gave myself up to the blackest ingratitude, and determined immediately to take the camels with their loading from him.
To execute this design, I first stopped my own camels, then ran after the dervish, and called to him as loud as I could, giving him to understand that I had something material to say to him, and made a sign to him to stop, which he accordingly did.
When I came up to him, I said, "Brother, I had no sooner parted from you, but a thought came into my head, which neither of us had reflected on before. You are a recluse dervish, used to live in tranquillity, disengaged from all the cares of the world, and intent only upon serving God. You know not, perhaps, what trouble you have taken upon yourself, to take care of so many camels. If you would take my advice, you would keep but thirty; you will find them sufficiently troublesome to manage. Take my word; I have had experience."
"I believe you are right," replied the dervish, who found he was not able to contend with me;" I own I never thought of this. I begin already to be uneasy at what you have stated. Choose which ten you please, and take them, and go on in God's keeping."
I set ten apart, and after I had driven them off, I put them in the road to follow my others. I could not have imagined that the dervish would be so easily persuaded to part with his camels, which increased my covetousness, and made me flatter myself, that it would be no hard matter to get ten more: wherefore, instead of thanking him for his present, I said to him again; "Brother, the interest I take in your repose is so great, that I cannot resolve to part from you without desiring you to consider once more how difficult a thing it is to govern thirty loaded camels, especially for you who are not used to such work: you will find it much better to return me as many more back as you have done already. What I tell you is not for my own sake and interest, but to do you the greater kindness. Ease yourself then of the camels, and leave them to me, who can manage a hundred as well as one."
My discourse had the desired effect upon the dervish, who gave me, without any hesitation, the other ten camels; so that he had but twenty left and I was master of sixty, and might boast of greater riches than any sovereign princes. Any one would have thought I should now have been content; but as a person afflicted with a dropsy, the more he drinks the more thirsty he is, so I became more greedy and desirous of the other twenty camels.
I redoubled my solicitations and importunities, to make the dervish condescend to grant me ten of the twenty, which he did with a good grace: and as to the other ten he had left, I embraced him, kissed his feet, and caressed him, conjuring him not to refuse me, but to complete the obligation I should ever have to him, so that at length he crowned my joy, by giving me them also. "Make a good use of them, brother," said the dervish, "and remember that God can take away riches as well as give them, if we do not assist the poor, whom he suffers to be in want, on purpose that the rich may merit by their charity a recompense in the other world."
My infatuation was so great that I could not profit by such wholesome advice. I was not content, though I had my forty camels again, and knew they were loaded with an inestimable treasure. But a thought came into my head, that the little box of ointment which the dervish shewed me had something in it more precious than all the riches which I was obliged to him for: the place from whence the dervish took it, said I to myself, and his care to secure it, makes me believe there is something mysterious in it. This determined me to obtain it. I had just embraced him and bade him adieu; but as I turned about from him, I said, "What will you do with that little box of ointment? It seems such a trifle, it is not worth your carrying away. I entreat you to make me a present of it; for what occasion has a dervish, as you are, who has renounced the vanities of the world, for perfumes, or scented ointments?"
Would to heaven he had refused me that box; but if he had, I was stronger than he, and resolved to have taken it from him by force; that for my complete satisfaction it might not be said he had carried away the smallest part of the treasure.
The dervish, far from denying me, readily pulled it out of his bosom, and presenting it to me with the best grace in the world, said, "Here, take it, brother, and be content; if I could do more for you, you needed but to have asked me; I should have been ready to satisfy you."
When I had the box in my hand, I opened it, and looking at the ointment, said to him, "Since you are so good, I am sure you will not refuse me the favour to tell me the particular use of this ointment."
"The use is very surprising and wonderful," replied the dervish: "if you apply a little of it round the left eye, and upon the lid, you will see at once all the treasures contained in the bosom of the earth; but if you apply it to the right eye, it will make you blind."
"I would make the experiment myself. Take the box," said I to the dervish, "and apply some to my left eye. You understand how to do it better than I, and I long to experience what seems so incredible." Accordingly I shut my left eye, and the dervish took the trouble to apply the unguent; I opened my eye, and was convinced he had told me truth. I saw immense treasures, and such prodigious riches, so diversified, that it is impossible for me to give an account of them; but as I was obliged to keep my right eye shut with my hand, and that tired me, I desired the dervish to apply some of the pomatum to that eye.
"I am ready to do it," said the dervish; "but you must remember what I told you, that if you put any of it upon your right eye, you would immediately be blind; such is the virtue of the ointment."
Far from being persuaded of the truth of what the dervish said, I imagined, on the contrary, that there was some new mystery, which he meant to hide from me. "Brother," replied I, smiling, "I see plainly you wish to mislead me; it is not natural that this ointment should have two such contrary effects."
"The matter is as I tell you," replied the dervish, taking the name of God to bear witness; "you ought to believe me, for I cannot disguise the truth."
I would not believe the dervish, who spoke like an honest man. My insurmountable desire of seeing at my will all the treasures in the world and perhaps of enjoying those treasures to the extent I coveted, had such an effect upon me, that I could not hearken to his remonstrances, nor be persuaded of what was however but too true, as to my lasting misfortune I soon experienced.
I persuaded myself that if the ointment, by being applied to the left eye, had the virtue of shewing me all the treasures of the earth, by being applied to the right, it might have the power of putting them in my disposal. Possessed with this thought, I obstinately pressed the dervish to apply the ointment to my right eye; but he as positively refused. "Brother," said he, "after l have done you so much service, I cannot resolve to do you so great an injury; consider with yourself what a misfortune it is to be deprived of one's eye-sight: do not reduce me to the hard necessity of obliging you in a thing which you will repent of all your life."
I persisted in my obstinacy, and said to him in strong terms, "Brother, I earnestly desire you to lay aside all your difficulties. You have granted me most generously all that I have asked of you hitherto, and would you have me go away dissatisfied with you at last about a thing of so little consequence? For God's sake grant me this last favour; whatever happens I will not lay the blame on you, but take it upon myself alone."
The dervish made all the resistance possible, but seeing that I was able to force him to do it, he said, "Since you will absolutely have it so, I will satisfy you;" and thereupon he took a little of the fatal ointment, and applied it to my right eye, which I kept shut; but alas! when I came to open it, I could distinguish nothing with either eye but thick darkness, and became blind as you see me now.
"Ah! dervish," I exclaimed in agony, "what you forewarned me of has proved but too true. Fatal curiosity," added I, "insatiable desire of riches, into what an abyss of miseries have they cast me! I am now sensible what a misfortune I have brought upon myself; but you, dear brother," cried I, addressing myself to the dervish, "who are so charitable and good, among the many wonderful secrets you are acquainted with, have you not one to restore to me my sight again?"
"Miserable wretch!" answered the dervish, "if you would have been advised by me, you would have avoided this misfortune, but you have your deserts; the blindness of your mind was the cause of the loss of your eyes. It is true I have secrets, some of which, during the short time we have been together, you have by my liberality witnessed; but I have none to restore to you your sight. Pray to God, therefore, if you believe there is one; it is he alone that can restore it to you. He gave you riches, of which you were unworthy, on that account takes them from you again, and will by my hands give them to men not so ungrateful as yourself."
The dervish said no more, and I had nothing to reply. He left me to myself overwhelmed with confusion, and plunged in inexpressible grief. After he had collected my camels, he drove them away, and pursued the road to Bussorah.
I cried out loudly as he was departing, and entreated him not to leave me in that miserable condition, but to conduct me at least to the first caravanserai; but he was deaf to my prayers and entreaties. Thus deprived of sight and all I had in the world, I should have died with affliction and hunger, if the next day a caravan returning from Bussorah had not received me charitably, and brought me back to Bagdad.
After this manner was I reduced without remedy from a condition worthy the envy of princes for riches and magnificence, though not for power, to beggary without resource. I had no other way to subsist but by asking charity, which I have done till now. But to expiate my offence against God, I enjoined myself, by way of penance, a box on the ear from every charitable person who should commiserate my condition.
"This, commander of the faithful, is the motive which seemed so strange to your majesty yesterday, and for which I ought to incur your indignation. I ask your pardon once more as your slave, and submit to receive the chastisement I deserve. And if you vouchsafe to pronounce any thing beyond the penance I have imposed upon myself, I am ready to undergo it, since I am persuaded you must think it too slight and much too little for my crime."
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Scott, Jonathan (1754-1829). The Arabian Nights Entertainments. London: Pickering and Chatto, 1890. 4 Volumes. Project Gutenberg.
1001 Nights Hypertext. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. This website is licensed under a Creative Commons License. The texts presented here are in the public domain. Thanks to Gene Perry for his excellent help in preparing the texts for the web. Page last updated: January 1, 2005 10:46 PM