The Story of the Two Travellers

THE following day Sutlumemé said, ‘Allow me to tell you a little story which proves that travelling is not altogether dangerous.’ Farrukhnaz was willing, and the slave began thus:

Salem and Ganem were friends, and were making a several days’ journey together. One day they arrived at a high mountain, and in skirt­ing its base, they found a fountain, the water of which was fresh and excellent. Near the fountain was a canal of water, bordered and shaded by cypresses, pines, and plantains, which flowed in the midst of a meadow strewn with flowers, and which made the place still more agreeable. All these delights invited the two travellers to stop there and take a little rest, in order to recover from the fatigues of crossing a dreary desert. They chose a suitable spot, where they seated themselves on the grass. After they had rested some time, they walked round the fountain and along the canal. They approached the place where the water of the spring fell into a large basin, and on the edge of it they perceived a piece of white marble ornamented with azure characters so well formed that it was easy to judge of the skill of the workman who had carved them.

The inscription ran thus: ‘Traveller, who honour this spot with your presence, we have a magnificent lodging in which to receive you if you will be our guest, but on condition that you swim across this canal, without fearing its depth or the rapidity of the current.

‘When you have reached the further bank, you will take the marble lion which lies at the foot of the mountain upon your shoulder, and, without hesitation, you will carry it without pausing to the summit, without regard to the roaring lions you may meet or the thorns on your path. This done, you will be happy for ever. Without walk­ing, rest is not obtained. He who does not work does not obtain what he wishes. The light of the sun fills the whole universe: the least delicate and the more determined receive and endure its keenest and most ardent rays.’

Having finished reading, Ganem said to Salem, ‘Come, let us surmount the danger put before us. Let us try and see whether the promise of the talis­man is genuine: let us see what will happen to us.’

‘Dear friend,’ replied Salem, ‘there would be little sense in exposing oneself to so evident a danger on the strength of a simple writing which promises a very uncertain happiness. A reasonable man would not risk his life for so imaginary an advantage as that, and a wise man would not court present and visible danger for a non-apparent pleasure. Believe me, a thousand years of delight are not worth a moment’s risk of one’s life.’

Ganem was not influenced by these maxims. ‘Comrade,’ he replied, ‘the desire to live at one’s ease without risking anything is the precursor of a contemptible and ignominious life: but the road to glory and happiness is through danger. He who gives way to effeminacy tastes neither the joy nor pleasure of having suffered, and he who fears headache denies himself the sweetness of good wine. He who has courage does not limit his happiness to the leading of a penurious and miser­able life.

‘True repose is that which superiority over one’s fellow creatures gives one. Let us deliberate no longer.

‘It is not less to our honour than to our interest not to continue our journey until we have climbed to the summit of this mountain, in spite of the rapid current, in spite of the lions and the thorns. We shall suffer somewhat, but after that we may hope that in reward for our troubles and the deserts we have crossed we shall find beautiful countries.’

‘Do as you wish,’ replied Salem; ‘for myself, I cannot help saying that it is not less foolish to undertake what you propose than to wish to cross a desert, the extremity of which one is not certain to find soon, or to embark on a sea the shores of which are never to be found.

‘In whatever enterprise one undertakes one should always know how one will come out of it, and how to begin so as not to work uselessly and not to expose one’s life, which we ought to cherish more than anything else in the world. Listen to the words of a sage, who says:

‘“Wherever you are about to step never put out your foot without having well tested the spot on which you wish to place it, and seeing that the egress is sufficiently large.”

‘Moreover, perhaps this writing is not very correct, or it has been put there simply for amuse­ment and to take advantage of the simplicity of fools; mayhap, too, the water is not to be passed, and it is not possible to gain the other shore. Even if you could cross, perhaps when you have crossed you will find the stone lion so heavy that you will not be able to even lift it from the ground. But, supposing you can lift it, are you sure of being able to carry it without stopping to the summit of the mountain? And after all you do not know what so many difficulties will lead to. For myself, I declare that I have not joined company with you in order to share a danger of this nature. All I can do is to conjure you to abandon, as I do, so ill-conceived a design.’

Ganem still resisted Salem’s arguments. ‘I cannot,’ he said, ‘listen to your prayer, and nothing can prevent my carrying out the resolution I have taken. Neither demons nor spirits shall deter me by their warnings. I know you did not join me on this journey in order to follow me in this, and I see you do not wish to oblige me so far. Come at least and approach only to see and accompany what I am going to do with your prayers and your vows. Let me remind you of what a poet says: “I know that you are not given to drinking wine; nevertheless, do not mind com­ing into the wine-shop to see the drinkers with their glasses in their hands.”’

When Salem saw that Ganem was resolved, he said again to him: ‘From this jest which offends me I recognise that you are not affected by my counsels, and that you will not desist from your intention, which has no good foundation. I do not feel equal to witnessing the carrying out of it. Besides, I am not curious to witness a spectacle to which I have a natural repugnance. So I will let you alone and avoid what would give me pain to see.’

So saying, he bade farewell to Ganem and con­tinued his journey.

When Ganem was alone he approached the canal. ‘I must,’ he said, ‘plunge into this sea either to perish in it or to bring out of it the pearl I hope for.’

Thus resolved, he plunged into the water, which was very deep and very rapid; but he acquitted himself so well in this courageous attempt that he landed happily on the other bank. He drew breath, took the marble lion on his shoulders and ascended to the summit of the mountain without pausing, notwithstanding the difficulties he encountered and the weight of his burden, which he put on the ground on reaching the top.

On the other side, at the foot of the mountain, Ganem perceived a beautiful town, the suburbs of which were scattered with well-built country houses with large gardens, which were charming to look upon. The marble lion suddenly uttered so terrible a cry that the mountains shook and the surrounding country re-echoed. At this cry, which was heard in the town, the inhabitants came crowding out and advanced towards the mountain, which caused Ganem no less astonishment than the cry of the lion. The more prominent and distinguished among them advanced at the head of the others and made profound obeisance to Ganem and com­plimented him highly, wishing him every pros­perity. Then they presented to him a beautiful horse richly caparisoned. He mounted it, and they escorted him to the town with all the people who had come to meet him. They conducted him to a magnificent palace, and made him enter a rose-water bath, after which they rubbed him with essence of musk and amber. They finally clothed him with a royal mantle, proclaimed him their king, and did homage to him.

Until now Ganem had not thought anything extraordinary of the honours done to him, he had looked upon them as a result of the singular con­sideration on the part of this people towards strangers, but when he saw that they proclaimed him king, he asked the reason of the choice which they had made of him to command and reign over them.

‘Sire,’ replied one of the heads of the people, ‘the ancient philosophers of this country have placed a talisman on the fountain which you have seen, drawn up beneath constellations made according to the rules of their art. When any brave man, after having swum across the water, carries the marble lion to the summit of the mountain —which only happens when the king of this town and State is dead—the town, as your majesty has seen, goes out to meet him on the roaring of the lion, and places him on the throne in the place of the deceased. For a number of years and even centuries this custom has been in usage amongst us.’

At this speech Ganem knew that all the troubles and difficulties he had encountered had been so many steps to arrive at this great good fortune, and that when fine actions have glory for their object, glory on its side takes all the steps necessary for their reward.

‘From this adventure,’ added the slave, ‘you can easily conclude that pleasure is only enjoyed after hardship. It is a maxim as old as the world, and you will find it in every book on morals.’