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I ever heard was told me by a celebrated story-teller in Damascus. He was an Arab: at every pause he made, which was about once in ten minutes, my interpreter repeated faithfully what he had said. The tale was as follows :—
In a small town on the coast of Syria lived a silk-weaver in great comfort, with his wife and three children. Allah, who saw the simplicity of his heart, blessed his labours; and he too gave praise to the Highest, and had health and contentment, and those of his household loved him. But it came to pass, that one morning, as he was seated at work, at his window that looked out on the sea, the love of riches entered into his heart, and then its happiness passed away like a dream. He fixed his eyes on the vessels that were passing onwards near to where he sat, and for a long time did not cast them down again on the web of silk that he held, which dropped from his hand to the ground. The tears fell from his eyes; his wife saw it, and said, "Why weepest thou, my soul? what is come to thee this day?" "They go," he said, "they go, each to its own distant land, loaded with wealth that will make many families happy. O that one of these barks was bound for the poor home of Comrou the silk-weaver!" She picked up the silk web from the ground, and said, " Son of the weaver Mashil, art thou mad? pursue thy work, for such wild desires will only lead to poverty and want!" And with that she threw it towards him. He looked at her vexed and angrily, and for the first time thought that her face was not comely, or her form beautiful The pining after riches is like the hand of disease; his family wept when they looked on his pale face and wasting frame. One day, as he was at work in the chamber of his house that stood on the edge of the sea, so strongly was he moved by these consuming thoughts and desires, that he broke in pieces the web of silk that he held, rushed out of the house, and wandered wildly along the shore. He saw a vessel preparing to leave the port—hastened on board—and took passage for the land to which she was bound, without heeding where it might be. The vessel sailed all night and the following day and night: and when the third morning dawned, they saw the shore before them. Sick and weary of the voyage, the weaver implored to be set on shore even in a strange land, rather than sail any farther: his request was granted, and in a short time a boat conveyed him to the beach. He gazed sadly around, for the place was desert . There was a high mountain before him, and he hastened to ascend it; on reaching the summit, to his infinite joy he saw a clear and beautiful pool of water, for he was nearly dead with thirst and weariness. Looking eagerly around, he espied a small stone drinking-vessel, of curious form, lying useless by the side of the pool; he filled it to the brim, and raised it to his lips. What was his astonishment, as he drank, to hear the sound of money rattling in his vest! He tore it open! Oh, what was his rapture, to find it filled with gold chequins! Again he filled the stone vessel, and drank deep; again he heard the delicious sound, and saw the gleam of the gold, dearer than the light of the eyes of his youngest born. He seized them, and pressed them to his soul, convinced that he had thus found a source of endless riches; for as often as he drank, so often the money came with the draught He stood motionless by the side of the lonely pool, and lifted up his eyes, and blessed Allah aloud for his mercy—that he had regard to the desire of his soul. It was now time to depart, for the sun was setting; its last rays were cast on a city that was not far distant, and thither he bent his steps, first placing next his heart the goblet, and tying his sash tightly over it In a few days he purchased a house, and hired servants in that city, and bought horses of the purest blood of Yemen. In the close of the day he loved to walk in his garden, and afterwards fair slaves waited on him, for he thought no more of his humble though beautiful wife and his sweet children. But in the town on the sea-shore they did not cease to mourn, and to say, "Azrael has taken from us the light of our eyes;" and their friends also sorrowed with them. It so happened—for nothing in this world should astonish us—that his neighbour the baker, who had lived on the other side of the street , was seized also with the thirst of riches. His trade was gainful: his loaves were the best and whitest in the whole town, and the sunrise and sunset still found him at the mouth of his oven, smilingly serving his customers, praising his bustling wife, who was ever at his side, and pleasantry on his lips. But now, this slow gathering of wealth no longer satisfied him; he prayed Allah that he would increase it more rapidly. One day he felt something hard in his hand, and, on looking closer, found it was a gold mahmoudie. He put it on the shelf, and, wanting some meat for dinner, went to the butcher's, purchased some, and received the change. What was his surprise, to find the mahmoudie once more in his vest on his return! Again and again he changed it , and still he found that it ever multiplied itself, and would be to him a source of slow, but never-ending affluence. He concealed his emotions, even from the wife of his bosom ; and though he followed his business as usual, it was evident to all that his views were elevated beyond it: his carriage was more constrained; and his words and smiles, that used to fall like the dew on the herb, were now few and cold. This secret was like a stifled fire within him; he took his resolution, and, going one night to the port, took passage on board a vessel that sailed quickly after. It so happened that this bark was bound to the same port as the one in which the weaver sailed: unused to the sea, he also prayed to be landed on the nearest shore, and soon found his way to the same city. Here after a time he purchased a house and garden. Oh, how sweet to his soul was the first taste of riches ! the mouth of his oven no more waited for him, to prepare bread and cakes for the faithful—no smoke and heat, nor clash of gabbling tongues around. He turned disgusted from the remembrance, and bade his slave bring odours, and fill his goblet to the brim. One day he went to the chief coffee-house in the city: a movement was soon heard in the place; the people who were near him gave way, and a richlydressed man entered, attended by many slaves. He sat down, looked with a princely air around him, and addressed himself to the baker, who was much flattered by his attention. Ere long, however, looking attentively, in spite of the dyed and perfumed beard, that fell black as the raven's wing on his bosom, he recognised his former neighbour the silkweaver. The latter smiled graciously on him, kindly invited him to his house, and told him of the cause of his present splendour. The baker sighed deeply, and said to himself, "Of what avail to me are the gifts of Allah ? that wretched weaver, on whom I looked down in our town as a poor drudge, who gained just enough every day to support his wife and children, is now as the princes of the earth; and riches flow unto him as the waves on the shore, while mine are only as the drops of rain on the sand, quickly dried up! When evening came, he dressed himself, to go to the house of his friend: its splendour astonished him; the many lights thrown from gold and silver lamps, made the chambers seem like the day. The owner, seated on a rich divan, pressed his hand with a pleasant smile, and soon after they sat down to the banquet, that consisted of all manner of luxuries. Fixing his eyes on the splendid robe of his host, and then at his own plainer one, " O Allah! Allah!" he said, in a piercing tone, lifting his eyes to the roof, while his hand still clenched the glass; "why didst thou give the stone goblet to this man, and grant me only the poor mahmoudie!" "My friend," replied the other kindly, "be not unhappy; all are not the favourites of the Highest; may be thou hast never seen the precious goblet," drawing it forth from his vest; "handle it tenderly; it is not to be touched by every vile and common hand, like a mahmoudie." The baker took it, and pressed it hard in his grasp. "Oh, my head, my eyes, my soul!" he said—" blessed source of eternal wealth!" Then changing his tone, "And yet how frail and brittle!—were I to dash it against this marble pavement, thy riches, weaver, are gone for ever!" The latter uttered a loud cry, and sprung to seize the cup: his guest broke into a disdainful laugh : "Take it, take it, slowly and carefully: did I not say, how perishable and uncertain was thy treasure ?—a blow, an accident, might destroy it. Thy wealth, O weaver, hangs on a hair!—whereas mine," and he drew forth his mahmoudie, and dashed it violently on the floor, "see," he said, "it is still the same; violence cannot hurt or change it; it is sure—it is unchangeable." "Besotted man !" said the other, replacing anxiously the stone goblet within his bosom, "wilt thou thus compare that wretched solitary coin to my glorious gift? Aye, clasp it closely, 'tis thy only friend!— but, behold, I will put thee to confusion." So saying, he filled the stone cup to the brim with the rich wine of Shiras, and drank it to the bottom; then, taking a handful of the coins that had fallen in his vest, he threw them towards his guest, saying, "Unhappy baker, comfort thy soul!" At these words the other could no longer contain himself; he rose from the divan, and seized him by the throat: "O vile upstart! Allah grant me patience, that I do not slay thee on the spot! Am I not a better man, and of more repute than thee?" "Thou liest!" said the weaver, now wholly enraged, and tearing off the other's turban and vest: "I will make thee bare as one of thy own loaves: thy mahmoudie hath made thee mad!" With that their fury and clamour rose to such a pitch, that the whole house was filled therewith; the attendants and slaves strove in vain to part them, the goldflowered robe of the weaver hung in tatters, and the baker's face and person were more disordered than by the flame3 of his own oven in the day of the simoom. It so happened— for the great enemy of men always watches for their downfall—that the Cadi of the city, passing by to his own house from an entertainment, heard the tumult, that grew louder every moment, and, entering with his officers, demanded the cause of it. It was some time before he could obtain a hearing, or pacify the fury of the rival men: from their unguarded words and mutual upbraidings he gathered, however, an insight into their history: they *** Q
were ordered to appear before him in judgment on the following day, in order that he might decide their quarrel. They came soon after sunrise: the Cadi, with a solemn and severe aspect, inquired into the cause of their enmity, that had thus disturbed the peace of the town and its people. When the baker told, in bitter agony of soul, of the power of the stone drinking-cup, the looks of the judge were troubled: he desired to behold it; and when the weaver took it fondly from his breast, and held it solemnly in his sight, the Cadi grasped it greedily, and opened his heavy eyes wildly, and a strange fire was in them. And then he desired to see the mahmoudie of the baker: and he gazed on them in long and speechless emotion. "O true belivers," he said, " there is nothing so delightful in the Prophet's eye as peace! It is a lovely thing, and I should sin deeply if I allowed the causes of this strife still to exist, and thereby stir up the ashes of misery day and night, to the destruction of your souls. Therefore I will keep these things, and guard them in care and secresy." A sudden gloom and horror fell on the countenances of the two men; they trembled exceedingly, their lips moved in many an effort to speak, but no utterance came forth: for it is a fearful thing to see wealth and splendour passing away from us like a dream; and poverty, like an armed man, waiting for his prey. At last the baker found words, " Return me my mahmoudie, O return it to me, excellent and righteous judge !—so shall Allah bless thee above all men." The weaver, whose loss was tenfold greater, cried out with a wild and bitter cry, and beat his breast, as if words were too small for anguish such as his. Then growing desperate, they menaced the Cadi, declared they would instantly lay their complaint before the Sultan, who would see justice done them. The judge, in his turn, gave way to wrath, or appeared to do so—ordered them to prison, said that in the mean-time he would himself denounce them to his master, as dealers in magical arts;—for how could such gifts as the cup and mahmoudie be possessed otherwise ? and by the Koran the punishment of magic was death. They were instantly conveyed to the prison of the city, and confined in a gloomy chamber, whose light was dim, and floor and walls cold and dreary. The remainder of the day was passed in sighs and groans: and when night came, they thought of their rich couches, and those who shared them. The light of the moon dropped through the bars on their haggard faces. There is nothing like exquisite misery for reconciling quarrels, and laying the soul open to itself: the two ancient friends sat stupified for some-moments, tearing their garments, and heaping ashes on their heads— then they looked eagerly and kindly, threw themselves into each other's arms, and wept. Their enemies as well as lovers were passed away: evening came down on the silent prison, and they thought of their distant home. "O holy Prophet," exclaimed the weaver, "give me once more to behold the face of my wife and children. She was a lovely and a loving woman." "Comrou," said the other, "could I but eat at this moment of one of the white loaves of my oven, it would nourish my famishing soul: thou hast often eat of them, were they not delicious? I dreamt last night I was once more in my shop; it was filled with people all waiting anxiously and with hungry looks; and they asked one of another, "Where is Alib, our baker? My wife stood weeping beside the oven, the wife of my youth; the flames crackled: O Allah! restore, restore me to my home, and I will bless the hand that has humbled me."