THE HERMITS.

There was once a hermit, who served God on a certain mountain, whither resorted a pair of pigeons; and he was wont to make two parts of his daily bread, eating one half himself and giving the other to the pigeons. He prayed also for them, that they might be blest with increase; so they increased and multiplied greatly. Now they resorted only to that mountain, and the reason of their foregathering with the holy man was their assiduity in celebrating the praises of God; for it is said that the pigeons' formula of praise is, 'Glory be to the Creator of all things, Who appointeth to every one his daily bread, Who builded the heavens and spread out the earth like a carpet!' They dwelt thus together, in the happiest of life, they and their brood, till the holy man died, when the company of the pigeons was broken up, and they all dispersed among the towns and villages and mountains.

Now in a certain other mountain there dwelt a shepherd, a man of piety and chastity and understanding; and he had flocks of sheep, which he tended, and made his living by their milk and wool. The mountain aforesaid abounded in trees and pasturage and wild beasts, but the latter had no power over the peasant nor over his flocks; so he continued to dwell therein, in security, taking no thought to the things of the world, by reason of his happiness and assiduity in prayer and devotion, till God ordained that he should fall exceeding sick. So he betook himself to a cavern in the mountain, and his sheep used to go out in the morning to the pasturage and take refuge at night in the cave. Now God was minded to try him and prove his obedience and constancy; so He sent him one of His angels, who came in to him in the semblance of a fair woman and sat down before him. When the shepherd saw the woman seated before him, his flesh shuddered with horror of her and he said to her, 'O woman, what brings thee hither? I have no need of thee, nor is there aught betwixt thee and me that calls for thy coming in to me.' 'O man,' answered she, 'dost thou not note my beauty and grace and the fragrance of my breath and knowest thou not the need women have of men and men of women? Behold, I have chosen to be near thee and desire to enjoy thy company; so who shall forbid thee from me? Indeed, I come to thee willingly and do not withhold myself from thee: there is none with us whom we need fear; and I wish to abide with thee as long as thou sojournest in this mountain and be thy companion. I offer myself to thee, for thou needest the service of women; and if thou know me, thy sickness will leave thee and health return to thee and thou wilt repent thee of having forsworn the company of women during thy past life. Indeed, I give thee good advice: so give ear to my counsel and draw near unto me.' Quoth he, 'Go out from me, O deceitful and perfidious woman! I will not incline to thee nor approach thee. I want not thy company; he who coveteth thee renounceth the future life, and he who coveteth the future life renounceth thee, for thou seduces the first and the last. God the Most High lieth in wait for His servants and woe unto him who is afflicted with thy company!' 'O thou that errest from the truth and wanderest from the path of reason,' answered she, 'turn thy face to me and look upon my charms and profit by my nearness, as did the wise who have gone before thee. Indeed, they were richer than thou in experience and greater of wit; yet they rejected not the society of women, as thou dost, but took their pleasure of them and their company, and it did them no hurt, in body or in soul. Wherefore do thou turn from thy resolve and thou shalt praise the issue of shine affair.' 'All thou sayest I deny and abhor,' rejoined the shepherd, 'and reject all thou offerest; for thou art cunning and perfidious and there is no faith in thee, neither honour. How much foulness cost thou hide under thy beauty and how many a pious man hast thou seduced, whose end was repentance and perdition! Avaunt from me, O thou who devotes thyself to corrupt others!' So saying, he threw his goat's-hair cloak over his eyes, that he might not see her face, and betook himself to calling upon the name of his Lord. When the angel saw the excellence of his obedience (to God), he went out from him and ascended to heaven.

Now hard by the mountain was a village wherein dwelt a pious man, who knew not the other's stead, till one night he saw in a dream one who said to him, 'In such a place near to thee is a pious man: go to him and be at his command.' So when it was day, he set out afoot to go thither, and at the time when the heat was grievous upon him, he came to a tree, which grew beside a spring of running water. He sat down to rest in the shadow of the tree, and birds and beasts came to the spring to drink; but when they saw him, they took fright and fled. Then said he, 'There is no power and no virtue save in God the Most High! I am resting here, to the hurt of the beasts and fowls.' So he rose and went on, blaming himself and saying, 'My tarrying here hath wronged these beasts and birds, and what excuse have I towards my Creator and the Creator of these creatures, for that I was the cause of their flight from their watering-place and their pasture? Alas, my confusion before my Lord on the day when He shall avenge the sheep of the goats!' And he wept and repeated the following verses:

      By Allah, if men knew for what they are create, They would not go and sleep, unheeding of their fate!
      Soon cometh death, then wake and resurrection come; Then judgment and reproof and terrors passing great.
      Obey me or command, the most of us are like. The dwellers in the cave, (2) asleep early and late.

Then he fared on, weeping for that he had driven the birds and beasts from the spring by sitting down under the tree, till he came to the shepherd's dwelling and going in, saluted him. The shepherd returned his greeting and embraced him, weeping and saying, 'What brings thee hither, where no man hath ever come in to me?' Quoth the other, 'I saw in my sleep one who described to me this thy stead and bade me repair to thee and salute thee: so I came, in obedience to the commandment.' The shepherd welcomed him, rejoicing in his company, and they both abode in the cavern, doing fair service to their Lord and living upon the flesh and milk of their sheep, having put away from them wealth and children and other the goods of this world, till there came to them Death, the Certain, the Inevitable. And this is the end of their story."



 

"O Shehrzad," said King Shehriyar, "thou puttest me out of conceit with my kingdom and makest me repent of having slain so many women and maidens. Hast thou any stories of birds?" "Yes," answered she, and began as follows:




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