THE BLACKSMITH WHO COULD HANDLE FIRE WITHOUT HURT.

A certain pious man once heard that there abode in such a town a blacksmith who could put his hand into the fire and pull out the red-hot iron, without its doing him any hurt. So he set out for the town in question and enquiring for the blacksmith, watched him at work and saw him do as had been reported to him. He waited till he had made an end of his day's work, then, going up to him, saluted him and said to him, 'I would fain be thy guest this night.' 'With all my heart,' replied the smith, and carried him to his house, where they supped together and lay down to sleep. The guest watched his host, but found no sign of [special] devoutness in him and said to himself, 'Belike, he concealeth himself from me.' So he lodged with him a second and a third night, but found that he did no more than observe the ordinary letter of the law and rose but little in the night [to pray]. At last he said to him, 'O my brother, I have heard of the gift with which God hath favoured thee and have seen the truth of it with mine eyes. Moreover, I have taken note of thine assiduity in religious exercises], but find in thee no special fervour of piety, such as distinguisheth those in whom such miraculous gifts are manifest. Whence, then, cometh this to thee?' 'I will tell thee,' answered the smith.

'Know that I was once passionately enamoured of a certain damsel and required her many a time of love, but could not prevail upon her, for that she still crave fast unto chastity. Presently there came a year of drought and hunger and hardship; food failed and there befell a sore famine in the land. I was sitting one day in my house, when one knocked at the door: so I went out and found her standing there; and she said to me, "O my brother, I am stricken with excessive hunger, and I lift mine eyes to thee, beseeching thee to feed me for God's sake!" Quoth I, "Dost thou not know how I love thee and what I have suffered for thy sake! I will give thee no whit of food, except thou yield thyself to me." But she said, "Better death than disobedience to God." Then she went away and returned after two days with the same petition for food. I made her a like answer, and she entered and sat down, being nigh upon death. I set food before her, whereupon her eyes ran over with tears, and she said, "Give me to eat for the love of God, to whom belong might and majesty!" "Not so, by Allah," answered I, "except thou yield thyself to me." Quoth she, "Better is death to me than the wrath of God the Most High." And she left the food untouched and went away, repeating the following verses:

      O Thou the Only God, whose grace embraceth all that be, Thine ears have heard my moan, Thine eyes have seen my misery;
      Indeed, privation and distress are heavy on my head; I cannot tell of all the woes that do beleaguer me.
      I'm like a man athirst, that looks upon a running stream, Yet may not drink a single draught of all that he doth see.
      My flesh would have me buy its will: alack, its pleasures flee! The sin that pays their price abides to all eternity.

I saw no more of her for two days, when she came a third time and knocked at the door. I went out to her, and lo, hunger had taken away her voice; but, [after a little,] she said, "O my brother, I am worn out with want and know not what to do, for I cannot show my face to any but thee. Wilt thou feed me for the love of God the Most High?" "Not so," answered I, "except thou yield to me." And she entered and sat down. Now I had no food ready, [so I went out to prepare some]; but, when the meat was dressed and I had laid it in a platter, behold, the grace of God the Most High entered into me and I said to myself, "Out on thee! This woman, weak of wit and faith, hath forborne food, till she can endure from it no longer, for stress of hunger; and lo, she refuseth time after time, and thou still persistest in disobedience to God the Most High!" And I said, "O my God, I repent to Thee of that which I purposed!" Then I took the food and carrying it in to her, said, "Eat and [fear not:] no harm shall betide thee. It is for the love of God, to whom belong might and majesty." When she heard this, she raised her eyes to heaven and said, "O my God, if this man be sincere, I pray Thee forbid fire to do him hurt in this world and the next, for Thou art He that answereth prayer and art powerful to do whatsoever thou wilt!"

Then I left her and went to put out the fire in the brasier. Now the time was the winter-cold, and a hot coal fell on my body; but, by the ordinance of God, (to whom belong might and majesty), I felt no pain and it was borne in upon me that her prayer had been answered. So I took the coal in my hand, (and it burnt me not,) and going in to her, said, "Rejoice, for God hath granted thy prayer!" And she dropped the morsel from her hand and said, "O my God, now that Thou hast shown me my desire of him and hast granted me my prayer for him, take Thou my soul, for Thou art Almighty!" And straightway He took her soul to Him, the mercy of God be upon her! And the tongue of the case recited and spoke the following verses on the subject:

        She prayed and God answered the voice of her prayer And the sinner, who wooed her to lewdness, did spare.
      He showed her her wishes accomplished on him And gave her the death that she sought then and there.
      She came to his door, hoping succour to get, And sought of him solace to ease her despair.
      But he clave to his error and followed his lusts And thought to enjoy her perforce, unaware
      Of that which God willed to him. Sudden there came Repentance on him, though he purposed it ne'er.
      Fast fated, O God, are men's fortunes; To man If his destiny fare not, to it he must fare.



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