The Story of the Envious Man
In a small town, there were two men who lived in neighboring houses. However they had not been there very long before one man took such a hatred of the other, and envied him so bitterly, that the poor man decided to find another home, hoping that when they no longer met every day his enemy would forget all about him. So he sold his house and the little furniture it contained, and moved into the capital of the country, which was luckily not far away. About half a mile from this city he bought a nice little place, with a large garden and a small garden, in the centre of which stood an old well.
In order to live a quieter life, the good man put on the robe of a monk, and divided his house into a number of small rooms, where other monks soon came to live. The fame of his virtue gradually spread abroad, and many people came to visit him and ask for his prayers.
Of course it was not long before his reputation reached the ears of the man who envied him, and this wicked man made up his mind to never to rest till he had in some way hurt the monk whom he hated. So he left his house and his business to look after themselves, and traveled to the new monastery, where he was welcomed with all the warmth imaginable. The excuse he gave for his appearance was that he had come to ask the head monk questions on a private matter of great importance. “What I have to say must not be overheard,” he whispered,” Ask that your monks stay in their rooms, and meet me in the courtyard.”
The monk did as he was asked without delay, and as soon as they were alone together the envious man began to tell a long story, edging, as they walked to and fro, always nearer to the well. When they were quite close, he seized the monk and dropped him in. He then ran off triumphantly, without having been seen by anyone, and congratulating himself that the object of his hatred was dead, and would trouble him no more.
But in this he was mistaken! The old well had long been inhabited (unknown to mere human beings) by a group of fairies and genies, who caught the monk as he fell, so that he was not hurt. The monk himself could see nothing, but he took for granted that something strange had happened, or he must certainly have been smashed against the bottom of the well and been killed. He lay quite still, and in a moment he heard a voice saying, “Can you guess who this man is that we have saved from death?”
“No,” replied several other voices.
And the first speaker answered, “I will tell you. This man, from pure goodness of heart, left the town where he lived and came to live here, in the hope of curing one of his neighbors of the envy he felt towards him. But his character soon won him the admiration of all, and the envious man’s hatred grew, till he came here with the deliberate intention of causing his death. And this he would have done, without our help, the very day before the Sultan has arranged to visit this holy monk, and to ask his prayers for the princess, his daughter.”
“But what is the matter with the princess that she needs the monk’s prayers?” asked another voice.
“She has fallen into the power of the genie Maimoum, the son of Dimdim,” replied the first voice. “But it would be quite simple for this holy chief of the monks to cure her if he only knew! In his monastery there is a black cat which has a tiny white tip on its tail. Now to cure the princess the monk must pull out seven of these white hairs, burn three, and with their smoke perfume the head of the princess. This will save her so completely that Maimoum, the son of Dimdim, will never dare to approach her again.”
The fairies and genies ceased talking, but the monk did not forget a word they had said. When morning came he noticed a place in the side of the well which was broken, and where he could easily climb out.
The monks, who could not imagine what had become of him, were amazed at his reappearance. He told them of the attempt on his life made by his guest of the previous day, and then went into his room. He was soon joined here by the black cat of which the voice had spoken. He took him on his knee and pulled seven white hairs out of his tail, and put them on one side till they were needed.
The sun had not long risen before the Sultan, who was anxious to do everything that might save the princess, arrived at the gate of the monastery, and was welcomed by the monks with great respect. The Sultan lost no time in declaring the reason for his visit, and taking the chief of the monks to one side, he said to him, “Good monk, you have guessed perhaps what I have come to ask you?”
“Yes, sire,” answered the monk. “If I am not mistaken, it is the illness of the princess which has brought me this honour.”
“You are right,” returned the Sultan, “And you will give me great joy if you can, by your prayers, save my daughter from the strange illness that has taken possession of her.”
“Let her come here, and I will see what I can do.”
The Sultan, full of hope, sent orders at once that the princess was to set out as soon as possible, accompanied by her usual staff of attendants. When she arrived, she was so thickly veiled that the monk could not see her face, but he asked for a hot coal to be held over her head, and laid the seven hairs on the burning coal. The instant they were burnt, terrible cries were heard, but no one could tell from who they came. Only the monk guessed that they were made by Maimoum the son of Dimdim, who felt the princess escaping him.
All this time she had seemed unconscious of what she was doing, but now she raised her hand to her veil and uncovered her face. “Where am I?” she said in a bewildered manner; “And how did I get here?”
The Sultan was so delighted to hear these words that he not only embraced his daughter, but kissed the hand of the monk. Then, turning to his attendants who stood round, he said to them, “What reward shall I give to the man who has given me back my daughter?”
They all replied that he deserved the hand of the princess in marriage.
“That is my own opinion,” said he, “And from this moment I declare him to be my son-in-law.”
Shortly after these events, the grand-vizier died, and his position was given to the monk. But he did not hold it for long, for the Sultan became ill, and as he had no sons, the soldiers and priests declared the monk the new sultan, to the great joy of all the people.
One day, when the monk, who had now become Sultan, was making a royal journey with his court, he noticed the envious man standing in the crowd. He made a sign to one of his viziers, and whispered in his ear, “Fetch me that man who is standing out there, but take great care not to frighten him.” The vizier obeyed, and when the envious man was brought before the Sultan, the king said to him, “My friend, I am delighted to see you again.” Then turning to an officer, he added, “Give him a thousand pieces of gold out of my treasury, and twenty wagon-loads of merchandise out of my private stores, and let an escort of soldiers accompany him home.” He then took leave of the envious man, and went on his way.
Now when I had ended my story, I wanted to show the genie how it concerned him. “O genie,” I said, “you see that this Sultan was not content with merely forgiving the envious man for the attempt on his life; he gave rewards and riches to him.”
But the genie had made up his mind, and could not be softened. “Do not imagine that you are going to escape so easily,” he said. “You will have to learn what happens to people who interfere with me.”
As he spoke he seized me violently by the arm. The roof of the palace opened to make way for us, and we flew up so high into the air that the earth looked like a little cloud. Then, as before, he came down with the swiftness of lightning, and we touched the ground on a mountain top.
Then he gathered a handful of earth, and murmured some words over it, after which he threw the earth in my face, saying as he did so, “Take the form of a monkey.” This done, he vanished, and I was in the likeness of a monkey, and in a country I had never seen before.
However there was no use in stopping where I was, so I came down the mountain and found myself in a flat plain which was surrounded by the sea. I traveled towards it, and was pleased to see a ship anchored about half a mile from shore. There were no waves, so I broke off the branch of a tree, and dragging it down to the water’s edge, sat across it, while, using two sticks for oars, I rowed myself towards the ship.
The deck was full of people, who watched my progress with interest, but when I seized a rope and swung myself on board, I found that I had only escaped death at the hands of the genie to die because of the sailors, who believed I should bring bad luck to the ship and the merchants. “Throw him into the sea!” cried one. “Knock him on the head with a hammer,” exclaimed another. “Let me shoot him with an arrow,” said a third. Certainly somebody would have had his way if I had not thrown myself at the captain’s feet and grasped tight hold of his robe. He appeared touched by my action and patted my head, and declared that he would take me under his protection, and that no one should do me any harm.
At the end of about fifty days we dropped anchor before a large town, and the ship was immediately surrounded by a number of small boats filled with people, who had come either to meet their friends or from simple curiosity. Among others, one boat contained several officials, who asked to see the merchants on board, and informed them that they had been sent by the Sultan in welcome, and to ask them each to write a few lines on a roll of paper. “In order to explain this strange request,” continued the officers, “It is necessary that you should know that the grand-vizier, who recently passed away, was celebrated for his beautiful handwriting, and the Sultan is anxious to find a similar talent in his successor. So far the search has been a failure, but his Highness has not yet given up hope.”
One after another the merchants set down a few lines upon the roll, and when they had all finished, I came forward, and snatched the paper from the man who held it. At first they all thought I was going to throw it into the sea, but they became quiet when they saw I held it with great care, and great was their surprise when I made signs that I too wished to write something.
“Let him do it if he wants to,” said the captain. “If he only makes a mess of the paper, you may be sure I will punish him for it. But if, as I hope, he really can write, for he is the cleverest monkey I ever saw, I will adopt him as my son. The one I lost had not nearly so much sense!”
No more was said, and I took the pen and wrote the six sorts of writing in use among the Arabs, and each sort contained an original verse in praise of the Sultan. Not only was my handwriting completely superior to that of the merchants, but it is hardly too much to say that none so beautiful had ever before been seen in that country. When I had ended the officials took the roll and returned to the Sultan.
As soon as the monarch saw my writing he did not even look at the writing of the merchants, but ordered his officials to take the finest horse in his stables, together with the most magnificent robes they could find, and to put it on the person who had written those lines, and bring him to court.
The officials began to laugh when they heard the Sultan’s command, but as soon as they could speak they said, “Excuse our laughter your highness, but those lines were not written by a man but by a monkey.”
“A monkey!” exclaimed the Sultan.
“Yes, sire,” answered the officials. “They were written by a monkey in our presence.”
“Then bring me the monkey,” he replied, “as fast as you can.”
The Sultan’s officials returned to the ship and showed the royal order to the captain.
Then they put on me the beautiful robe and rowed me to land, where I was placed on the horse and led to the palace. Here the Sultan was awaiting me in great excitement surrounded by his officials.
All the way along the streets I had been the object of curiosity to an enormous crowd, which had filled every doorway and every window, and it was amidst their shouts and cheers that I was taken into the presence of the Sultan.
I approached the throne on which he was seated and made three low bows, to the surprise of everyone, who could not understand how it was possible that a monkey should be able to distinguish a Sultan from other people and know how to pay him the proper respect.
When it was over the Sultan sent everyone away, except the chief of the servants and a little slave. He then passed into another room and ordered food to be brought, making signs to me to sit at table with him and eat. I rose from my seat, kissed the ground, and took my place at the table.
Before the dishes were removed I made signs that writing materials, which stood in one corner of the room, should be laid in front of me. I then took a peach and wrote on it some lines in praise of the Sultan, who was speechless with astonishment; but when I did the same thing on a glass from which I had drunk he murmured to himself, “Why, a man who could do as much would be cleverer than any other man, and this is only a monkey!”
After supper a chess set was brought, and the Sultan signed to me to know if I would play with him. I kissed the ground and laid my hand on my head to show that I was ready to show myself worthy of the honour. He beat me the first game, but I won the second and third.
The Sultan was so amazed by all my talents that he wished me to show some of them to other people. So turning to the chief of the servants he said, “Go and ask my daughter, Queen of Beauty, to come here. I will show her something she has never seen before.”
The chief of the servants bowed and left the room, bringing in a few moments later the princess, Queen of Beauty. Her face was uncovered, but the moment she set foot in the room she threw her veil over her head. “Sire,” she said to her father, “what can you be thinking of to summon me like this into the presence of a man?”
“I do not understand you,” replied the Sultan. “There is nobody here but the servant, who is your own servant, the little slave, and myself, yet you cover yourself with your veil and scold me for having sent for you, as if I had committed a crime.”
“Sire,” answered the princess, “I am right and you are wrong. This monkey is really no monkey at all, but a young prince who has been turned into a monkey by the wicked spells of a genie, son of the daughter of Eblis.”
As will be imagined, these words took the Sultan by surprise, and he looked at me. As I was unable to speak, I placed my hand on my head to show that it was true.
“But how do you know this, my daughter?” asked he.
“Sire,” replied Queen of Beauty, “the old lady who took care of me in my childhood was a skilful magician, and she taught me seventy rules of her magic, by means of which I could, in the twinkling of an eye, send your city into the middle of the ocean. Her magic also teaches me to recognize at first sight all persons who are enchanted, and tells me by whom the spell was made.”
“My daughter,” said the Sultan, “I really had no idea you were so clever.”
“Sire,” replied the princess, “there are many extraordinary things it is good to know, but one should never boast of them.”
“Well,” asked the Sultan, “can you tell me what must be done to break the spell?”
“Certainly, and I can do it.”
“Then restore him to his former shape,” cried the Sultan. “You could give me no greater pleasure, for I wish to make him my grand-vizier, and to give him to you for your husband.”
“As your Highness pleases,” replied the princess.
Queen of Beauty rose and went to her chamber, from which she fetched a knife with some magic words on the blade. She then told the Sultan, the chief of the servants, the little slave, and myself to go down into a secret court of the palace, and placed us beneath a room which ran all round, she herself standing in the centre of the court. Here she traced a large circle and in it wrote several words in Arab characters.
When the circle and the writing were finished she stood in the middle of it and repeated some magic words. Slowly the air grew dark, and we felt as if the earth was about to crumble away, and our fright was by no means lessened at seeing the genie, son of the daughter of Eblis, suddenly appear in the form of a huge lion.
“Dog,” cried the princess when she first caught sight of him, “you think to frighten me by daring to present yourself before me in this hideous shape.”
“And you,” replied the lion, “have not feared to break our agreement that we should never interfere with each other.”
“Wicked genie!” exclaimed the princess, “it is you who first broke that agreement.”
“I will teach you not to give me so much trouble,” said the lion, and opening his huge mouth he stepped forward to swallow her. But the princess expected this and was ready. She jumped to one side, and seizing one of the hairs of his mane repeated two or three words over it. In an instant it became a sword, and with a sharp blow she cut the lion’s body into two pieces. These pieces vanished no one knew where, and only the lion’s head remained, which was at once changed into a scorpion. Quickly the princess took the form of a snake and fought the scorpion, who, finding he was losing, turned himself into an eagle and flew away. But in a moment the snake had become an eagle more powerful still, who soared up in the air and after him, and then we lost sight of them both.
We all remained where we were shaking with fear, when the ground opened in front of us and a black and white cat leapt out, its hair standing on end, and crying frightfully. At its heels was a wolf, which had almost seized it, when the cat changed itself into a worm, and, entering the skin of a pomegranate which had tumbled from a tree, hid itself in the fruit. The pomegranate swelled till it grew as large as a pumpkin, and raised itself on to the roof of the room, from which it fell into the court and was broken into bits. While this was taking place the wolf, which had transformed himself into a cock, began to swallow the seed of the pomegranate as fast as he could. When all were gone he flew towards us, flapping his wings as if to ask if we saw any more, when suddenly his eye fell on one which lay on the bank of the little canal that flowed through the court; he moved quickly towards it, but before he could touch it the seed rolled into the canal and became a fish. The cock flung himself in after the fish and took the shape of a pike, and for two hours they chased each other up and down under the water, uttering horrible cries, but we could see nothing. At length they rose from the water in their proper forms, but hurling such flames of fire from their mouths that we feared the palace would catch fire. Soon, however, we had much greater cause for alarm, as the genie, having escaped the princess, flew towards us. We would have been finished if the princess, seeing our danger, had not attracted the attention of the genie to herself. As it was, the Sultan’s beard was burnt and the chief of the servant was burned to a cinder, while a spark made me lose sight of one eye. Both I and the Sultan had given up all hope of a rescue, when there was a shout of “Victory, victory!” from the princess, and the genie lay at her feet a great heap of ashes.
Exhausted though she was, the princess at once ordered the little slave, who alone was uninjured, to bring her a cup of water, which she took in her hand. First repeating some magic words over it, she threw it into my face saying, “If you are only a monkey by enchantment, take the form of the man you were before.” In an instant I stood before her the same man I had formerly been, though having lost the sight of one eye.
I was about to fall on my knees and thank the princess but she did not give me time. Turning to the Sultan, her father, she said, “Sire, I have gained the battle, but it has cost me dear. The fire has penetrated to my heart, and I have only a few moments to live. This would not have happened if I had only noticed the last pomegranate seed and eaten it like the rest. It was the last struggle of the genie, and up to that time I was quite safe. But having let this chance slip I was forced to use fire, and in spite of all his experience I showed the genie that I knew more than he did. He is dead and in ashes, but my own death is approaching fast.” “My daughter,” cried the Sultan, “How sad I am! I am only surprised I am alive at all! The servant is destroyed by the flames, and the prince who you have saved has lost the sight of one eye.” He could say no more, for sobs choked his voice, and we all wept together.
Suddenly the princess shrieked, “I burn, I burn!” and she died.
I have no words, madam, to tell you of my feelings at this terrible sight. I would rather have remained a monkey all my life than let the princess die in this shocking manner. As for the Sultan, he was so sad, and his subjects, who had dearly loved the princess, shared his grief.
As soon as the Sultan recovered from the severe illness which he had suffered from after the death of the princess he sent for me and plainly, though politely, informed me that my presence would always remind him of his loss, and he begged that I would instantly leave his kingdom, and never return to it. I was, of course, forced to obey, and not knowing what was to become of me I shaved my beard and eyebrows and put on the robe of a monk. After wandering through several countries, I decided to come to Baghdad and request an audience with the Caliph.
And that, madam, is my story.
The other monk then told his story.