A Fox once dwelt in a cave of a certain mountain and, as often as a cub was born to him and grew stout, he would eat the young one, for he had died of hunger, had he instead of so doing left the cub alive and bred it by his side and preserved and cherished his issue.  Yet was this very grievous to him.  Now on the crest of the same mountain a crow had made his nest, and the fox said to himself, “I have a mind to set up a friendship with this crow and make a comrade of him, that he may help me to my daily bread; for he can do in such matters what I cannot.”  So he drew near the crow’s home and, when he came within sound of speech, he saluted him and said, “O my neighbour, verily a true-believer hath two claims upon his true-believing neighbour, the right of neighbourliness and the right of Al-Islam, our common faith; and know, O my friend, that thou art my neighbour and thou hast a claim upon me which it behoveth me to observe, the more that I have long been thy neighbour.  Also, there be implanted in my breast a store of love to thee, which biddeth me speak thee fair and obligeth me to solicit thy brothership.  What sayest thou in reply?”  Answered the crow, “Verily, the truest speech is the best speech; and haply thou speakest with thy tongue that which is not in thy heart; so I fear lest thy brotherhood be only of the tongue, outward, and thy enmity be in the heart, inward; for that thou art the Eater and I the Eaten, and faring apart were apter to us than friendship and fellowship.  What, then, maketh thee seek that which thou mayst not gain and desire what may not be done, seeing that I be of the bird-kind and thou be of the beast-kind?  Verily, this thy proffered brotherhood [FN#168] may not be made, neither were it seemly to make it.”  Rejoined the fox, “Of a truth whoso knoweth the abiding-place of excellent things, maketh better choice in what he chooseth therefrom, so perchance he may advantage his brethren; and indeed I should love to wone near thee and I have sued for thine intimacy, to the end that we may help each other to our several objects; and success shall surely wait upon our amity.  I have a many tales of the goodliness of true friendship, which I will relate to thee if thou wish the relating.”  Answered the crow, “Thou hast my leave to let me hear thy communication; so tell thy tale, and relate it to me that I may hearken to it and weigh it and judge of thine intent thereby.”  Rejoined the fox, “Hear then, O my friend, that which is told of a flea and a mouse and which beareth out what I have said to thee.”  Asked the crow, “How so?” and the fox answered:--They tell this tale of

 The Flea and the Mouse

Once upon a time a mouse dwelt in the house of a merchant who owned much merchandise and great stories of monies.  One night, a flea took shelter in the merchant’s carpet-bed and, finding his body soft, and being thirsty drank of his blood.  The merchant was awakened by the smart of the bite and sitting up called to his slave-girls and serving men.  So they hastened to him and, tucking up their sleeves, fell to searching for the flea; but as soon as the bloodsucker was aware of the search, he turned to flee and coming on the mouse’s home, entered it.  When the mouse saw him, she said to him, “What bringeth thee in to me, thou who art not of my nature nor of my kind, and who canst not be assured of safety from violence or of not being expelled with roughness and ill usage?”  Answered the flea, “Of a truth, I took refuge in thy dwelling to save me from slaughter; and I have come to thee seeking thy protection and on nowise coveting thy house; nor shall any mischief betide thee from me to make thee leave thy home.  Nay I hope right soon to repay thy favours to me with all good and then shalt thou see and praise the issue of my words.”  And when the mouse heard the speech of the flea, - And Shahrazad perceived the dawn of day and ceased saying her permitted say.

When it was the One Hundred and Fifty-first Night

She said, It hath reached me, O auspicious King, that when the mouse heard the words of the flea, she said, “If the case be as thou dost relate and describe, then be at thine ease here; for naught shall befal thee save the rain of peace and safety; nor shall aught betide thee but what shall joy thee and shall not annoy thee, nor shall it annoy me.  I will lavish on thee my affections without stint; and do not thou regret having lost the merchant’s blood nor lament for thy subsistence from him, but be content with what sustenance thou canst obtain; for indeed that is the safer for thee.  And I have heard, O flea, that one of the gnomic poets saith as follows in these couplets,

    ‘I have fared content in my solitude * With wate’er befel, and led life of ease,
    On a water-draught and a bite of bread, * Coarse salt and a gown of tattered frieze:
    Allah might, an He pleased, give me easiest life, * But with whatso pleaseth Him self I please.’”

Now when the flea heard these words of the mouse, he rejoined, “I hearken to thy charge and I submit myself to obey thee, nor have I power to gainsay thee, till life be fulfilled in this righteous intention.”  Replied the mouse, “Pure intention sufficeth to sincere affection.”  So the tie of love arose and was knitted between them twain, and after this, the flea used to visit the merchant’s bed by night and not exceed in his diet, and house him by day in the hole of the mouse.  Now it came to pass one night, the merchant brought home great store of dinars and began to turn them over.  When the mouse heard the chink of the coin, she put her head out of her hole and fell to gazing at it, till the merchant laid it under his pillow and went to sleep, when she said to the flea, “Seest thou not the proffered occasion and the great good fortune?  Hast thou any device to bring us to our desire of yonder dinars?  Quoth the flea, “Verily, it is not good that one strives for aught, unless he be able to win his will; because, if he lack ability thereto, he falleth into that which he should avoid and he attaineth not his wish by reason of his weakness, albeit he use all power of cunning, like the sparrow which picketh up grain and falleth into the net and is caught by the fowler.  Thou hast no strength to take the dinars and to transport them out of this house, nor have I force sufficient to do this; I the contrary, I could not carry a single ducat of them; so what hast thou to do with them?”  Quoth the mouse, “I have made me for my house these seventy openings, whence I may go out at my desire, and I have set apart a place strong and safe, for things of price; and if thou can contrive to get the merchant out of the house, I doubt not of success, an so be that
Fate aid me.”  Answered the flea, “I will engage to get him out of the house for thee;” and, going to the merchant’s bed, bit him a fearful bite, such as he had never before felt, then fled to a place of safety, where he had no fear of the man.  So the merchant awoke and sought for the flea, but finding him not, lay down again on his other side.  Then the flea bit him a second time more painfully than before.  So he lost patience and, leaving his bed, went out and lay down on the bench before his door and slept there and woke not till the morning.  Meanwhile the mouse came out and fell to carrying the dinars into her hole, till she left not a single one; and when day dawned the merchant began to suspect the folk and fancy all manner of fancies.  And (continued the fox) know thou, O wise and experienced crow with the clear-seeing eyes, that I tell thee this only to the intent that thou mayst reap the recompense of thy kindness to me, even as the mouse reaped the reward of her kindness to the flea; for see how he repaid her and requited her with the goodliest of requitals.  Said the crow, “It lies with the benefactor to show benevolence or not to show it; nor is it incumbent on us to entreat kindly one who seeketh a connection that entaileth separation from kith and kin.  If I show thee favour who art my foe by kind, I am the cause of cutting myself off from the world; and thou, O fox, art full of wiles and guiles.  Now those whose characteristics are craft and cunning, must not be trusted upon oath; and whoso is not to be trusted upon oath, in him there is no good faith.  The tidings lately reached me of thy treacherous dealing with one of thy comrades, which was a wolf; and how thou didst deceive him until thou leddest him into destruction by thy perfidy and stratagems; and this thou diddest after he was of thine own kind and thou hadst long consorted with him: yet didst thou not spare him; and if thou couldst deal thus with thy fellow which was of thine own kind, how can I have trust in they truth and what would be thy dealing with thy foe of other kind than thy kind?  Nor can I compare thee and me but with the saker and the birds.”  “How so?” asked the fox.  Answered the crow, they relate this tale of

 The Saker [FN#169] and the Birds.

There was once a saker who was a cruel tyrant”-- And Shahrazad perceived the dawn of day and ceased saying her permitted say.

When it was the One Hundred and Fifty-second Night

She said, It hath reached me, O auspicious King, that the crow pursued, “They relate that there was once a saker who was a cruel tyrant in the days of his youth, so that the raveners of the air and the scavengers of the earth feared him, none being safe from his mischief; and many were the haps and mishaps of his tyranny and his violence, for this saker was ever in the habit of oppressing and injuring all the other birds.  As the years passed over him, he grew feeble and his force failed him, so that he was often famished; but his cunning waxed stronger with the waning of his strength and redoubled in his endeavour and determined to be present at the general assembly of the birds, that he might eat of their orts and leavings; so in this manner he fed by fraud instead of feeding by fierceness and force.  And out, O fox, art like this:  if thy might fail thee, thy sleight faileth thee not; and I doubt not that thy seeking my society is a fraud to get thy food; but I am none of those who fall to thee and put fist into thy fist; [FN#170] for that Allah hath vouchsafed force to my wings and caution to my mind and sharp sight to my eyes; and I know that whoso apeth a stronger than he, wearieth himself and haply cometh to ruin.  Wherefore I fear for thee lest, if thou ape a stronger than thyself, there befal thee what befel the sparrow.”  Asked the fox, “What befel the sparrow?”  Allah upon thee, tell me his tale.”  And the crow began to relate the story of

 The Sparrow and the Eagle

I have heard that a sparrow was once flitting over a sheep-fold, when he looked at it carefully and behold, he saw a great eagle swoop down upon a newly weaned lamb and carry it off in his claws and fly away.  Thereupon the sparrow clapped his wings and said, “I will do even as this one did;” and he waxed proud in his own conceit and mimicked a greater than he.  So he flew down forthright and lighted on the back of a fat ram with a thick fleece that was become matted by his lying in his dung and stale till it was like woollen felt.  As soon as the sparrow pounced upon the sheep’s back he flapped his wings to fly away, but his feet became tangled in the wool and, however hard he tried, he could not set himself free.  While all this was doing the shepherd was looking on, having seen what happened first with the eagle and afterwards with the sparrow; so he came up to the wee birdie in a rage and seized him.  Then he plucked out his wing-feathers and, tying his feet with a twine, carried him to his children and threw him to them.  “What is this?” asked one of them; and he answered, “This is he that aped a greater than himself and came to grief.”  “Now thou, O fox, art like this and I would have thee beware of aping a greater than thou, lest thou perish.  This is all I have to say to thee; so fare from me in peace!”  When the fox despaired of the crow’s friendship, he turned away, groaning for sorrow and gnashing teeth upon teeth in his disappointment; and the crow, hearing the sound of weeping and seeing his grief and profound melancholy, said to him, “O fox, what dole and dolour make thee gnash thy canines?”  Answered the fox, “I gnash my canines because I find thee a greater rascal than myself;” and so saying he made off to his house and ceased not to fare until he reached his home.  Quoth the Sultan, “O Shahrazad, how excellent are these thy stories, and how delightsome!  Hast thou more of such edifying tales?”  Answered she:--They tell this legend concerning

Prev Next