THE FERRYMAN OF THE NILE AND THE HERMIT.

(Quoth a certain pious man), I was once a ferryman on the Nile and used to ply between the eastern and the western banks. One day, as I sat in my boat, waiting for custom, there came up to me an old man of a bright countenance, clad in a patched gown and bearing in his hand a gourd- bottle and a staff. He saluted me and I returned his greeting; and he said to me, 'Wilt thou ferry me over and give me to eat for the love of God the Most High?' 'With all my heart,' answered I. So he entered the boat and I rowed him over to the eastern side. When he was about to land, he said to me, 'I desire to lay a trust on thee.' Quoth I, 'What is it?' 'Know,' rejoined he, 'that God hath revealed to me that [my end is at hand and that] thou wilt come to me to-morrow, after the hour of noon, and wilt find me dead under yonder tree. Wash me and wrap me in the shroud thou wilt find under my head and bury me in the sand, after thou hast prayed over me and taken my gown and bottle and staff, which do thou deliver to one who will come and require them of thee.' And I marvelled at his word.

Next day, I forgot what he had said till near the hour of afternoon-prayer, when I remembered and hastening to the appointed place, found him under the tree, dead, with a new shroud by his head, exhaling a fragrance of musk. So I washed him and shrouded him and prayed over him, then dug a hole in the sand and buried him, after I had taken his gown and bottle and staff, with which I rowed back to the western side and passed the night there.

On the morrow, as soon as the city gate was opened, there came to me a young man, whom I had known as a lewd fellow, clad in fine clothes and his hands stained with henna, and said to me, 'Art thou not such an one [the ferryman]?' 'Yes,' answered I; and he said, 'Give me what thou hast in trust for me.' Quoth I, 'What is that?' 'The gown, the bottle and the staff,' replied he. 'Who told thee of them?' asked I; and he answered, 'I know nothing save that I was yesterday at the wedding of one of my friends and spent the night singing [and making merry,] till hard upon day, when I lay down to sleep and take rest; and behold, there stood by me one who said to me, 'God the Most High hath taken such an one the hermit to Himself and hath appointed thee to fill his place; so go to so and so, the ferryman, and take of him the dead man's gown and bottle and staff, that he left with him for thee.' So I brought them out and gave them to him, whereupon he put off his clothes and donned the gown, then taking the gourd and staff, went his way and left me.

I fell a-weeping for wonder and pity; but, that night, whilst I slept, the Lord of Glory (blessed and exalted be He) appeared to me in a dream and said to me, 'O My servant, is it grievous to thee that I have granted to one of My servants to return to Me? Indeed, this is of My bounty, that I vouchsafe to whom I will, for I am able to do all things.' And I repeated the following verses:

      The lover with the Loved (22) of will's bereaved quite; All choice to thee's forbid, an but thou know aright.
      Whether to thee He grant favour and grace or hold Aloof from thee nowise may blame upon Him light.
      His very rigours, e'en, except thou glory in, Away! Thou hast no call to stand with the contrite.
      Knowst not His presence from His absence? Then art thou In real and that thou seek'st in front and out of sight.
      If I be haled away to slaughter for Thy sake Or yearning yield Thee up the last spark of my spright,
      'Tis in Thy hand; hold off, grant or deny, 'tis one; At that which Thou ordainst 'tis vain to rail or flite.
      No aim in this my love have I but Thine approof; So, an thou choose to hold aloof, 'tis good and right.



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