THE PILGRIM MAN AND THE OLD WOMAN.
A man of the pilgrims once slept a long sleep and awaking, found no trace of the caravan. So he rose up and walked on, but lost his way and presently came to a tent, where he saw an old woman standing at the entrance and by her side a dog asleep. He went up to the tent and, saluting the old woman, sought of her food, when she replied, "Go to yonder Wady and catch thy sufficiency of serpents, that I may broil of them for thee and give thee to eat." Rejoined the pilgrim, "I dare not catch serpents nor did I ever eat them." Quoth the old woman, "I will go with thee and catch some; fear not." So she went with him, followed by the dog, to the valley and, catching a sufficient number of serpents, proceeded to broil them. He saw nothing for it (saith the story teller) but to eat, in fear of hunger and exhaustion; so he ate of the serpents. [FN#278] Then he was athirst and asked for water to drink; and she answered, "Go to the spring and drink." Accordingly, he went to the spring and found the water thereof bitter; yet needs must he drink of it despite its bitterness, because of the violence of his thirst. Presently he returned to the old woman and said to her, "I marvel, O ancient dame, at thy choosing to sojourn in this place"--And Shahrazad perceived the dawn of day and ceased saying her permitted say.
When it was the Four Hundred and Thirty-fifth Night,
She said, it hath reached me, O auspicious King, that when the palmer-man drank the bitter draught for stress of thirst, he returned and said "I marvel, O ancient dame, at thy choosing to sojourn in this place and thy putting up with such meat and drink!" She asked, "And how is it then in thy country?"; whereto he answered, "In my country are houses wide and spacious and fruits ripe and delicious and waters sweet and viands savorous and of goodly use and meats fat and full of juice and flocks innumerous and all things pleasant and all the goods of life, the like whereof are not, save in the Paradise which Allah the Omnipotent hath promised to His servants pious." Replied she, "All this have I heard: but tell me, have ye a Sultan who ruleth over you and is tyrannical in his rule and under whose hand you are; one who, if any of you commit an offence, taketh his goods and ruineth him and who, whenas he will, turneth you out of house and home and uprooteth you, stock and branch?" Replied the man, "Indeed that may be;" and she rejoined, "If so, by Allah, these your delicious food and life of daintyhood and gifts however good, with tyranny and oppression, are but a searching poison, while our coarse meat which in freedom and safety we eat is a healthful medicine. Hast thou not heard that the best of boons, after Al-Islam, the true Faith, are sanity and security?" [FN#279] "Now such boons (quoth he who telleth the tale) may be by the just rule of the Sultan, Vice-regent of Allah on His earth, and the goodness of his polity. The Sultan of time past needed but little awfulness, for when the lieges saw him, they feared him; but the Sultan of these days hath need of the most accomplished polity and the utmost majesty, because men are not as men of by-gone time and this our age is one of folk opprobrious, and is greatly calamitous, noted for folly and hardness of heart and inclined to hate and enmity. If, therefore, the Sultan (which Almighty Allah forfend!) be weak or wanting in polity and majesty, this will be the assured cause of his country's ruin. Quoth the proverb, 'An hundred years of the Sultan's tyranny, but not one year of the people's tyranny one over other.' When the lieges oppress one another, Allah setteth over them a tyrannical Sultan and a terrible King. Thus it is told in history that one day there was sent to Al-Hajjáj bin Yúsuf a slip of paper, whereon was written, 'Fear Allah and oppress not His servants with all manner of oppression.' When he read this, he mounted the pulpit (for he was eloquent and ever ready of speech), and said, 'O folk, Allah Almighty hath made me ruler over you, by reason of your frowardness;'"--And Shahrazad perceived the dawn of day and ceased to say her permitted say.
When it was the Four Hundred and Thirty-sixth Night,
She said, It hath reached me, O auspicious King, that when Hajjaj Yousuf-son read the paper he mounted the pulpit and said, "O folk, Allah Almighty hath made me ruler over you by reason of your frowardness; and indeed, though I die yet will ye not be delivered from oppression, with these your ill deeds; for the Almighty hath created like unto me many an one. If it be not I, 'twill be one more mischievous than I and a mightier in oppression and a more merciless in his majesty; even as saith the poet: [FN#280]--
'For not a deed the hand can try
Save 'neath the hand of God on high,
Nor tyrant harsh work tyranny
Uncrushed by tyrant harsh as he.'
Tyranny is feared: but justice is the best of all things. We beg Allah to better our case!" And among tales is that of