The Caliph Haroun-al-Raschid
sat in his palace, wondering if there was anything
left in the world that could possibly give him a few
hours’ amusement, when Giafar the grand-vizir,
his old and tried friend, suddenly appeared before
him. Bowing low, he waited, as was his duty,
till his master spoke, but Haroun-al-Raschid merely
turned his head and looked at him, and sank back into
his former weary posture.
Now Giafar had something of importance
to say to the Caliph, and had no intention of being
put off by mere silence, so with another low bow in
front of the throne, he began to speak.
“Commander of the Faithful,”
said he, “I have taken on myself to remind your
Highness that you have undertaken secretly to observe
for yourself the manner in which justice is done and
order is kept throughout the city. This is the
day you have set apart to devote to this object, and
perhaps in fulfilling this duty you may find some distraction
from the melancholy to which, as I see to my sorrow,
you are a prey.”
“You are right,” returned
the Caliph, “I had forgotten all about it.
Go and change your coat, and I will change mine.”
A few moments later they both re-entered
the hall, disguised as foreign merchants, and passed
through a secret door, out into the open country.
Here they turned towards the Euphrates, and crossing
the river in a small boat, walked through that part
of the town which lay along the further bank, without
seeing anything to call for their interference.
Much pleased with the peace and good order of the city,
the Caliph and his vizir made their way to a
bridge, which led straight back to the palace, and
had already crossed it, when they were stopped by an
old and blind man, who begged for alms.
The Caliph gave him a piece of money,
and was passing on, but the blind man seized his hand,
and held him fast.
“Charitable person,” he
said, “whoever you may be grant me yet another
prayer. Strike me, I beg of you, one blow.
I have deserved it richly, and even a more severe
The Caliph, much surprised at this
request, replied gently: “My good man,
that which you ask is impossible. Of what use
would my alms be if I treated you so ill?”
And as he spoke he tried to loosen the grasp of the
“My lord,” answered the
man, “pardon my boldness and my persistence.
Take back your money, or give me the blow which I crave.
I have sworn a solemn oath that I will receive nothing
without receiving chastisement, and if you knew all,
you would feel that the punishment is not a tenth
part of what I deserve.”
Moved by these words, and perhaps
still more by the fact that he had other business
to attend to, the Caliph yielded, and struck him lightly
on the shoulder. Then he continued his road,
followed by the blessing of the blind man. When
they were out of earshot, he said to the vizir,
“There must be something very odd to make that
man act so I should like to find out what
is the reason. Go back to him; tell him who I
am, and order him to come without fail to the palace
to-morrow, after the hour of evening prayer.”
So the grand-vizir went back
to the bridge; gave the blind beggar first a piece
of money and then a blow, delivered the Caliph’s
message, and rejoined his master.
They passed on towards the palace,
but walking through a square, they came upon a crowd
watching a young and well-dressed man who was urging
a horse at full speed round the open space, using at
the same time his spurs and whip so unmercifully that
the animal was all covered with foam and blood.
The Caliph, astonished at this proceeding, inquired
of a passer-by what it all meant, but no one could
tell him anything, except that every day at the same
hour the same thing took place.
Still wondering, he passed on, and
for the moment had to content himself with telling
the vizir to command the horseman also to appear
before him at the same time as the blind man.
The next day, after evening prayer,
the Caliph entered the hall, and was followed by the
vizir bringing with him the two men of whom we
have spoken, and a third, with whom we have nothing
to do. They all bowed themselves low before
the throne and then the Caliph bade them rise, and
ask the blind man his name.
“Baba-Abdalla, your Highness,” said he.
the Caliph, “your way of asking alms yesterday
seemed to me so strange, that I almost commanded you
then and there to cease from causing such a public
scandal. But I have sent for you to inquire
what was your motive in making such a curious vow.
When I know the reason I shall be able to judge whether
you can be permitted to continue to practise it, for
I cannot help thinking that it sets a very bad example
to others. Tell me therefore the whole truth,
and conceal nothing.”
These words troubled the heart of
Baba-Abdalla, who prostrated himself at the feet of
the Caliph. Then rising, he answered: “Commander
of the Faithful, I crave your pardon humbly, for my
persistence in beseeching your Highness to do an action
which appears on the face of it to be without any
meaning. No doubt, in the eyes of men, it has
none; but I look on it as a slight expiation for a
fearful sin of which I have been guilty, and if your
Highness will deign to listen to my tale, you will
see that no punishment could atone for the crime.”