STORY OF ABOU NEEUT AND ABOU NEEUTEEN; OR, THE WELL-INTENTIONED AND THE DOUBLE-MINDED.
A person named Abou Neeut, or the well-intentioned, being much distressed in his own country, resolved to seek a better livelihood in another. Accordingly he took with him all he possessed, being only one single sherif, and began his journey. He had not travelled far when there overtook him a man, who entertained him with his conversation; in the course of which it appeared that his name was Abou Neeuteen, or double-minded. Being upon the same scheme, they agreed to seek their fortunes together, and it was settled that Abou Neeut should be the purse-bearer of the common stock. The other possessed ten sherifs.
After some days of toilsome journey they reached a city; on entering which, a beggar accosted them, crying out, "Worthy believers, disburse your alms and ye shall be rewarded ten-fold." Upon this, Abou Neeut gave him a sherif; when his companion, enraged at what he thought prodigality, demanded back his money, which was given him, and he marched off leaving his new friend without any thing. Abou Neeut, resigned to his fate, and relying on Providence, proceeded to a mosque to pay his devotions, hoping to meet some charitable person who would relieve his necessities; but he was mistaken. For a night and day he remained in the mosque, but no one offered him charity. Pressed by hunger, he in the dusk of evening stole out, and wandered with fainting steps through the streets. At length perceiving a servant throwing the fragments from an eating cloth, he advanced, and gathering them up, sat down in a corner, and gnawed the bones and half-eaten morsels with eagerness; after which, lifting up his eyes towards heaven, he thanked God for his scanty meal. The servant, who had observed his motions, was surprised and affected at his wretched condition and devotion, of which he informed his master; who, being a charitable man, took from his purse ten sherifs, which he ordered the servant to give to Abou Neeut.
The servant, through avarice, having retained one sherif as a perquisite, delivered the rest to Abou Neeut; who, having counted the money, thanked God for his bounty; but said, agreeably to the scriptural declaration he ought to have had ten-fold for the sherif he had given to the beggar. The master of the servant overhearing this, called Abou Neeut up stairs; and having seated him, inquired his story, which he faithfully related to his host, who was a capital merchant, and was so much pleased at his pious simplicity, that he resolved to befriend him, and desired him to abide for the present in his house.
Abou Neeut had resided some days with his friendly host, when the season arrived at which the merchant, who was punctual in discharging the duties of religion, having examined his stock, set apart the tenth of it in kind, and bestowed it upon his guest, whom he advised to open a shop and try his fortune in trade. Abou Neeut did so, and was so successful, that in a few years he became one of the most reputable merchants in the place.
At the end of this period, sitting one day in his warehouse, he saw in the streets wretchedly habited, lean, and with eyes sunken and dim, his old companion Abou Neeuteen, begging alms of passengers with the importunate cry of distress. Abou Neeut compassionating his miserable situation, ordered a servant to call him to him; and on his arrival, having seated him, sent for refreshments to relieve his immediate want. He then invited him to spend the night at his house; and in the evening, having shut up his warehouse, conducted him home, where a bath was made warm for him, and when he had bathed, he was presented with a change of handsome apparel. Supper was served, and when they had eaten till they were satisfied they conversed on several subjects. At length Abou Neeut exclaimed, "Dost thou not recollect me, my brother?" "No, by Allah, most liberal host," replied the other; "but who art thou?" "I was," answered Abou Neeut, "the companion of thy travel at such a period; but my disposition is still unchanged, nor have I forgotten our old connection. Half of what I possess is thine."
Having said this, Abou Neeut balanced his accounts, and gave half of his property to his distressed fellow traveller; who with it stocked a warehouse, and traded for himself with good success. For some time the two friends lived near each other in great repute, when Abou Neeuteen growing restless, requested Abou Neeut to quit their present abode, and travel for recreation and profit. "My dear friend," replied Abou Neeut, "why should we travel? have we not here affluence and ease, and what more can we enjoy in any part of the world?" This remonstrance had no effect on Abou Neeuteen, who became so importunate, that at length his kind friend yielded to his whim; they loaded an ample stock of merchandize on mules and camels, and departed for the city of Moussul.
After travelling ten days, they one evening encamped near a deep well, round which they took up their lodging. In the morning Abou Neeut, by his own desire, was let down into the well, more readily to fill the water bags for the use of the caravan, men and cattle, little apprehending what was by Providence decreed to befall him; for his ungrateful friend, who envied his prosperity, and coveted his wealth, having loaded the beasts, cut the rope at the top of the well, and leaving him to his fate, departed.
Abou Neeut remained all day without food, but humbly putting his trust in Allah for deliverance. About the middle of the following night he overheard two Afreets in conversation with each other, when one said, "I am now perfectly happy: for at length I have possessed the beautiful princess of Moussul, and no one can drive me away, unless by sprinkling the infusion of wormwood under her feet on a Friday during divine service in the great mosque, a recipe which will hardly be found out." "I," continued the other Afreet, "have been as fortunate as yourself: for I am in possession of such a hidden treasure of gold and jewels, under the mound near Moussul, as cannot be computed, the talisman of which cannot be opened to any one unless by killing on the mound a white cock, and pouring over it the blood; which secret I judge, will not be found out by man." Having said this, the Afreets took their flight from the well.
Abou Neeut treasured up in his mind the conversation of the Afreets, and at day-light was happily delivered from the well by the arrival of a caravan, some of the followers of which were let down to fill water, and having discovered him, charitably drew him up, and gave him some refreshments. When he was somewhat revived by them, they inquired by what accident he had remained in the well; and he, concealing the treachery of his ungrateful companion, informed them that having reposed to sleep on the edge he had fallen in, and not being missed at the time by his fellow travellers, the caravan had proceeded on its journey. He then begged leave to accompany his generous deliverers to Moussul, to which they agreed, and liberally furnished him with a conveyance.
On entering the city Abou Neeut perceived all the people in motion, and on inquiring the reason, was informed that they were hastening to the great square before the palace, to see the beheading of a physician, who had failed in attempting to expel an evil spirit that had long possessed the daughter of the sultan, and that such had been the fate of many unhappy men who had tried their skill upon the unfortunate princess. Upon this intelligence he hastened with all speed to the palace, and having obtained admission to the sultan, made the usual prostrations; after which he offered to expel the evil spirit, and begged as part of his reward the sparing of the life of the unsuccessful physician. To this the sultan for the present agreed; but declared, that should Abou Neeut fail in his undertaking, he would execute them together, as ignorant pretenders in their art. Abou Neeut then begged that the trial of his skill might be deferred till the Friday, which he requested of the sultan might be solemnly observed, as the devout prayers of all true believers would draw down a blessing on his operations. The sultan consented; the unfortunate physician was released from the executioner, and commanded to be kept in the palace, in which Abou Neeut had also an apartment allotted him. Proclamation was then made through the city for the strict celebration of the approaching sabbath, under pain of the royal displeasure on those who should neglect it.
Friday being arrived, and the whole city assembled at prayers, Abou Neeut prepared his infusion of wormwood, as the Afreet had mentioned. Being introduced into the apartment of the princess, who lay in a melancholy stupor, he poured the infusion upon her feet, when a loud yell was heard near her, and she starting up, as if from sleep, called upon her attendants to assist her in rising. News was immediately conveyed to the sultan of the princess's recovery, and he came overjoyed to witness her returned senses. He commanded public rejoicings to be made, large sums to be distributed in alms, and desired Abou Neeut to demand what he chose in reward for his important service, at the same time ordering the unsuccessful physician to be set at liberty, with a handsome present.
Abou Neeut, who had been captivated by the beauty of the princess, asked, as his reward, her hand in marriage: upon which the sultan consulted with his viziers, who advised him to dismiss the petitioner for the present, with orders to return in the morning, when he should receive the sultan's decision on a request which demanded much consideration. When Abou Neeut had retired, the viziers represented to the sultan, that it was fitting the husband of his daughter should at least possess great wealth: for though Abou Neeut had expelled the evil spirit, yet if he could not support her in a manner becoming her rank, he was not worthy to marry her. They, therefore, advised him to select a number of his most valuable jewels, to shew them to Abou Neeut, and demand as a dowry for the princess some of equal estimation; which if he could produce he was ready to receive him as his son-in-law; but if not, he must accept a compensation for his services more suited to his condition than the royal alliance.
On Abou Neeut's appearance at court the next morning the sultan displayed the jewels, and made the proposal advised by his viziers; when looking with the utmost indifference upon the brilliant stones before him, he assured the sultan that he would the next day present him with ten times the number, of superior value and lustre; which declaration astonished the whole court, as it was known that no prince possessed richer gems than those in possession of the sultan of Moussul.
Abou Neeut having taken leave of the sultan proceeded to the poultry market, and having purchased a cock entirely white and free from blemish, brought it to his lodgings, where he continued till the rising of the moon, when he walked out of the city alone, and speeded to the mound of blueish earth mentioned by the Afreet of the well to contain the invaluable hidden treasure. Being arrived at the mound, he ascended it, cut the throat of the cock, whose blood began to flow, when, lo! the earth shook, and soon made an opening, through which, to his great satisfaction, he perceived such heaps of inestimable precious stones, of all sorts, as are not to be adequately described, Abou Neeut now went back to the city, where, having procured ten camels, with two panniers on each, he returned and loaded them with his treasure, which he conveyed to his lodging, having first filled up the cavity of the mound.
In the morning Abou Neeut repaired with his. loaded camels to the palace, and entering the court of the divan, in which the sultan sat expecting him, after a profound obeisance, cried out, "Descend for a moment, my lord, and examine the dowry of the princess." The sultan, arising from his throne, came down the steps of the hall, and the camels being made to kneel, he examined the panniers, and was so astonished at the richness of their contents, being jewels far surpassing his own in size and lustre, that he exclaimed, "By Allah! if the treasuries of all the sultans of the world were brought together they could not afford gems equal to these." When somewhat recovered from his surprise, he inquired of his viziers how he should now act towards Abou Neeut; when they all unanimously cried out, "By all means give him your daughter." The marriage was then immediately celebrated with great splendour, and Abou Neeut conducted himself so well in his high station, that the sultan his father-in-law committed to him the giving public audience in his stead, and the decision of all appeals, three days in each week.
Some time had elapsed after his elevation, when Abou Neeut one day giving audience in the magnificent hall of one of his country palaces, beheld a man among the crowd of a sorrowful aspect, dressed in a wretched habit, who cried, "O true believers, O charitable gentlemen, relieve the distressed!" Abou Neeut commanded one of his mace-bearers to bring him to his presence, and on his appearance recognized his treacherous companion who had left him in the well. Without making himself known, or betraying any emotion but that of compassion, he ordered attendants to conduct him to the warm bath; in which being refreshed, he was arrayed in a magnificent habit, and again brought to the divan. Abou Neeut having retired with him into a closet, said, "Knowest them me not, my old friend?" "No, by Allah," replied the other. "Know then," returned he, "that I am Abou Neeut, thy benefactor and companion, whom you treacherously left in the well." He then related all his adventures, concluding them with an assurance, that so far from resenting his treachery, he regarded his conduit as the impulse of fate, and as the means by which he, himself, had attained his present dignity and affluence, which he would share with him. The envious heart of Abou Neeuteen was unconquerable; and instead of thanking the noble-minded Abou Neeut for his forgiveness and liberality, he exclaimed, "Since the well has been to thee so fortunate, why should it not prove so also to me?" Having said this, he hastily rose up and quitted Abou Neeut, who would not punish such rudeness, even without taking leave.
Abou Neeuteen hastened with all speed to the well, and having descended by a rope, sat down, impatiently expecting the arrival of the Afreets, who about midnight alighted, and resting themselves on the terrace above, began to inquire each other's adventures. "Since we met last," said one, "I have been rendered miserable; for a cunning Mussulmaun found out the secret of overpowering me, and has married my princess, nor can I revenge myself, for he is under the protection of a converted genie, whom the prophet has appointed to watch over him. "I," continued the other Afreet, "have been equally unfortunate with thyself; for the same man who has wedded thy mistress discovered my hidden treasure, and keeps it in spite of my attempts to recover it: but let us fill up this abominable well, which must have been the cause of all our disasters." Having said thus, the two Afreets immediately hurled the terrace and large stones into the well, which crushed the ungrateful and envious Abou Neeuteen to atoms. Some days after this, the good Abou Neeut, finding he did not return, repaired to the well, and seeing it fallen in, ordered it to be cleared; when the discovery of the body proved to him that the malicious spirit of the wretch had been the cause of his own destruction. He with reverence exclaimed, "There is no refuge but with the Almighty; may he preserve us from envy, which is destructive to the envious alone!"
Abou Neeut returned to the capital, where, not long after, his father-in-law the sultan dying, left him heir to his kingdom. His succession was disputed by the husbands of the two elder sisters of his wife; but the ministers and people being in favour of the sultan's will, they resigned their pretensions and submitted to his authority. His wife being brought to bed of a son, her sisters bribed the midwife to pretend that the sultana had produced a dog. They did the same by another son. At the third lying-in of the sultana Abou Neeut resolved to be present, and a beautiful princess appeared. The two infant princes having been thrown at the gate of one of the royal palaces, were taken up by the gardener and his wife, who brought them up as their own. Abou Neeut in visiting the garden with his daughter, who shewed an instinctive affection for them, from this, and their martial play with each other (having made horses of clay, bows and arrows, &c.), was induced to inquire of the gardener whether they were really his own children. The gardener upon this related the circumstance of his having found them exposed at the gate of the palace, and mentioned the times, which agreed exactly with those of the sultana's delivery. Abou Neeut then questioned the midwife, who confessed the imposition and wickedness of the sisters, whom he left to be punished by the pangs of their own consciences, convinced that envy is its own severest tormentor. The young princes were acknowledged; and the good Abou Neeut had the satisfaction of seeing them grow up to follow his example.