Story of the Unlucky Shoayb.

IN days of yore there dwelt in the city of Baghdád a rich man called Shoayb, but various calamities befell him so that he became extremely poor and quitted the country, and his ill-luck followed him whereso­ever he went, and in spite of all his diligence and skill he was unable to succeed in any affair which he undertook. One day he approached a river and discovered three men engaged in fishing, and as he had never seen this occupation exercised he looked on with much interest. The three fishermen, seeing that he was in a very destitute condition, easily induced him to enter their service, on condition that they should give him as his wages one fish for breakfast and another for supper.* After he had been a few days thus employed the river began to decrease in volume and also the fish in number, so that they caught only a tenth of the quantity which they used to get formerly. At last they could catch only one fish in a whole day, and were reduced to such straits that they resolved to go in quest of some other kind of work.

One day the sultan happened to pass that way and perceived to his great astonishment that there was scarcely any water in the river. He questioned the fishermen, who stated their case, when the vazír of the king, who was a very intelligent man, asked them: “Has any stranger come among you during these days and been taken into partnership with you?” They pointed to Shoayb and said: “This man is a stranger among us.” Then Shoayb was examined, and he recounted his former wealthy con­dition and his present destitution in such appropriate and eloquent language that the king and his vazír, as well as all the attendants, were greatly amazed, and when he had ended his narrative the vazír said: “To stay any longer in this place is contrary to the dictates of prudence!” So they all returned to the city, and on their way the king asked the vazír: “Why did you make those inquiries and then become so disconcerted by the answers you received that, by your declaration that it would be unsafe to stay any longer there, you almost forced us away from the place?” The vazír saluted the king and thus replied: “Most gracious sovereign, when your majesty asked for the cause of the river's decrease I thought of three causes: First, that per­haps these fishermen had for several days forgotten God and the Prophet, and that therefore such a calamity had befallen them; because it is certain that when men give way to evil habits, the genii and demons are permitted to injure them and to destroy their prospects even as the withering blasts of autumn deprive the roses of their freshness and bloom. Secondly, that perchance these fishermen had in some way injured either your majesty or the inhabitants of this district, for which they were thus punished. Thirdly, that possibly a stranger had come amongst these fishermen, and that on account of the misfortunes which follow his heels they as his partners are compelled to participate in them, and therefore I questioned that stranger regarding his history; when I discovered that he had brought his ill-luck with him, in consequence of which the river itself has nearly dried up.” Quoth the king: “I have full confidence in your intelligence and experience, but I put no faith in your theories of good and ill-luck, because both are mere expressions and depend entirely upon circumstances. Thus, for instance, if a man be intelligent and honest, and manage his affairs properly, he will certainly have good luck, but a careless fool must naturally meet with ill luck:

Every man is master of his own fortune
According to his character and strength of mind:*
One, as Lukman,* wise and opportune;
The other as crazy Majnún* you will find.
The bulbul* among roses dwells,
The owl in ruins dark abides;
But intellect every ascent tells,
And the fool his own folly chides.”

The vazír responded: “What your majesty says is but the sequel of my assertion, because the intellectual qualities of every individual depend upon his horoscope and the propitious or unpropitious positions of the stars, and according to these a man is either lucky or unlucky. Moreover, we frequently see that intelligent and good men do not prosper, while fools and rogues succeed in all their undertakings.”* Quoth the king: “This I believe, because sometimes an intelligent man has not that practical turn required in the manage­ment of affairs and is thereby unable to overcome difficulties.”* To this the vazír rejoined: “What argument can your majesty adduce in favour of the prosperous condition of Hindús, Jews, Christians, and infidels, who are more powerful than the professors of Islám, most of whom are in need of the aid of those nations addicted to error?” To this question the king could give no satisfactory answer, but he nevertheless said: “No matter what arguments you may bring forward, I shall not believe your assertion.” The conversation was still turning on this subject when they entered the city, and the king said: “Let this matter stand over until I can prove that I am right;” to which the vazír replied: “If your majesty can prove the contrary of what I have stated, I am willing that my blood be spilled and lapped by the dogs in the streets.”

Next morning the king secretly called one of his confidential servants, and handing him a bag of gold said: “Go without the knowledge of any one to the river, take the young stranger to whom we spoke yesterday apart, and give him this gold. Bid him leave the company of the fishermen, go to the bath, put on good clothes, and wait the day after to-morrow on horseback in such a place until farther orders.” The attendant set out with the gold, and on coming up to the fishermen he was perplexed, as he could not distinguish which of them was the stranger. At last he called one of the fishermen aside and asked: “Which is the young stranger with whom the vazír conversed yesterday?” Quoth the man: “Why do you want him?” “I have some business with him,” answered the king's messenger. The fisherman, who was a cunning fellow, suspected that the vazír had sent the stranger something, so he assumed a doleful aspect and said in a melancholy voice: “I am that poor stranger,” on which the servant took out the gold secretly, and giving it to the man, at the same time delivered the king's message; and the fisherman did not return to his companions, but immediately ran to the city, where he purchased a fleet horse and fled in the direction of Tabríz.

On the appointed day the king took the vazír towards the river, and looked in all directions for Shoayb, whom they could not discover, until, reaching the bank, they saw him with two of the fishermen. The king at once surmised that the absence of the third was to be ascribed to the mistake of his servant; accordingly he said nothing to his vazír, but when he returned to the palace he reprimanded the careless attendant and sent him to prison. Then he took another bag of gold and delivered it to an intelligent servant with the same directions as before. He went to the river, and calling Shoayb privately apart, asked him: “Are you the stranger among the fishermen?” But Shoayb, suspecting that this man might be the precursor of a caravan of fresh misfortunes, answered: “I am one of the fishermen.” Then said the man: “Go and send the young stranger to me.” Shoayb went and told one of the fishermen that a servant of the king wanted to see him, and when he came the man handed him the bag of gold, without asking any questions, delivered the king's orders, and departed. The fisherman was at first astonished at his good luck, but afterwards said to himself: “Gifts such as this are merely tokens of the munificence of sovereigns. Probably when the king was here and saw our distress the Most High inspired him with pity for us.” So he concealed the bag at a distance from Shoayb and his companion; but the latter, having watched all his movements and observed that a servant of the king had given him something which he was now hiding, resolved to make away with him and possess the treasure. Accordingly, having sent Shoayb to the city on some errand, he took the net and said to his comrade: “Come, let us throw the net, for I have just seen a very large fish.” His unsuspecting partner complied, and when he drew near, the intending murderer pushed him into the river, but his own hand becoming entangled in the net he also fell into the water and both perished.

It happened that the fisherman who intended to flee to Tabríz was not well acquainted with the road, and after travelling all day lay down to sleep. When he awoke he found that his horse had strayed away and went in pursuit of it; but having proceeded some distance he recollected that he had left the bag of gold, which was under his head while he slept, and returned for it, but in his haste he missed the spot, not only for an hour or two but he was utterly unable to discover it after three days' search, during which period he had nothing to eat or drink. He found his way back to the capital in a state of great exhaustion, and had no alternative but to betake him­self again to his old business on the river. When he arrived there he beheld Shoayb alone and asked him where his two comrades had gone. Shoayb told him that they had sent him four days ago to the town on an errand, and when he returned they were absent and had not yet made their appearance.

Meanwhile the king again made an excursion with the vazír, and when they reached the bank of the river they saw Shoayb with another man. Therefore the king concluded that the gold had been again received by the wrong person and he became very angry. On his return to the palace he punished the servant, and said to himself: “I am surely sin­gular among kings, not to possess a man able to execute this business properly.” Then he despatched a third attendant to the river, telling him that he would see there two men, one of whom belonged to the country, the other was a stranger, and to be sure he brought the latter with him. When the servant came up to the two men he asked: “Which of you two is the stranger?” The fisherman, having obtained the second bag of gold on pretence of being the stranger and believing that the king was con­ferring gifts on such persons and that the servant had brought more money, replied: “I am the stranger who has no share in the comforts of this world. What do you want with me?” Quoth the servant: “The king wishes to see you.” But when the fisher­man heard the king mentioned, reflecting that he had received the bag of gold on the previous occa­sion without having a right to it, he began to tremble; he had no excuse, however, and followed the mes­senger. When he was brought into the royal presence the king at once saw that he was not the man he had sought to benefit and resolved to punish him. “Are you,” demanded he, “the stranger who lives with the fishermen?” The man replied: “Yes.” Then quoth the king: “As you are the fellow in consequence of whose unpropitious advent the water of the river has become diminished and the fish in it few in number, you are worthy of death.” On seeing his joyous ex­pectations come to such an end the fisherman began to moan and said: “May it please your majesty, I am not that stranger. But as this world is not our permanent abode, and we are all sojourners in it, I said that I am a stranger.” But the king's wrath was not appeased by the man's supplications, and he was immediately made to drink of the beverage of death. Thus on account of the misfortunes of Shoayb all the three fishermen lost their lives.

Shoayb, who had remained by the river, now re­flected that, as the king's messengers had several times been there and always asked for the stranger, and as his companions had disappeared, it would not be safe for him to continue longer in that place, especially as it appeared probable that the king bore enmity to strangers; and therefore he betook him­self to the city, so that when the king again sent a messenger he could find no one, and his majesty was once more disappointed in his well-meant efforts to assist the poor stranger.

One night the king was walking about the city in disguise,* accompanied by some of his courtiers, when he saw a crowd in the bazár assembled round a man whose hands were tied, and addressing him in this strain: “In consequence of the unpropitious sight of your unhallowed person, that misfortune has befallen Khoja Naym. He was so rich that every morning and evening one thousand men partook of the banquet of his liberality, and by your ill luck he was overwhelmed by such a calamity.” When the king looked well at the man he recognised Shoayb as the object of the reproaches and vituperation of the crowd. So he went aside and said to his attend­ants: “Save this man in any way you can from the grasp of this mob; for he is the individual we are in search of.” The courtiers mixed with the crowd and asked: “Who is this man? And what has he done to Khoja Naym?” The people answered: “Yesterday morning the Khoja was riding out to meet the caravan from Egypt, with the intention of purchasing some goods, and as soon as his eye caught sight of this fellow he immediately fell down from his horse and expired.* We have been some time in search of him, and now that we have found him we are going to retaliate on him the death of Khoja Naym.” The royal attendants said: “Such events take place by the decrees of Providence. You per­secute this guiltless man in vain, for according to the law no crime can be brought home to him. You ought rather to give alms and solace the poor, to please God, and for the pardon of the Khoja. Indeed, should any evil happen to this man you will have to account for it to the king.” But the people of Khoja Naym would not listen to reason, and pulled the man on one side while the courtiers, who were not recognised in the darkness, pulled him on the other side, and the quarrel resulted in a fight, during which several persons were wounded and one of the courtiers was killed. Amidst the confusion, however, Shoayb contrived to make his escape.

When the people of Khoja Naym had fled and the crowd was dispersed, the king walked away with his attendants, who carried the body of the slain courtier along with them. On their way to the palace they were met by the police, who mistook them for robbers carrying a dead comrade, and attempted to arrest them. The king and his men drew their swords and resisted, so that a fight again ensued, which ended in the whole party being captured after several persons had been killed and wounded on both sides. On taking their prisoners to the guard-house the police discovered that they had arrested their own king and became so terrified that they took to their heels. The king arrived at the palace, with his courtiers, so fatigued and wounded that he was unable to rise from his couch for several days. Nevertheless he issued orders to fine, imprison, and punish the people of Khoja Naym, who had during the night attacked certain persons in the bazár and had even killed one of their number.

On the following evening the king ordered two intimate friends to come to his private apartments, when he spoke to them as follows: “Although at present all appearances are in favour of the vazír's assertion, yet I am unwilling to concede that it is true. You must go again in search of that stranger, and possibly we may at last get hold of him.” But the courtiers replied: “It is not advisable that your majesty should take any more trouble in this matter, lest it should result in greater misfortunes.” “I see,” said the king, “that I cannot entrust this service to any one, and therefore I must go myself.” Accordingly, when evening was somewhat advanced, he set out with a number of attendants, and while strolling through the bazárs, he chanced to look into the public bath-house, and there he saw Shoayb sitting in earnest conversation with the fireman, and sent a servant to call him out. When Shoayb had come into the street his majesty said to him: “I am in great favour with the king. I had a brother resembling you in stature and features who was also in the royal service, and just when he had been appointed to a high office an accident hastened him to the next world. No one, however, knows of this but myself; and as I am very desirous that the position to which he was promoted should be enjoyed by a member of my family, I propose to substitute you in his stead, and present you to the king; and after you receive his favours you will be sent to your post in the country, whereby the dark night of your reverses will be changed to the bright morning of happiness.” Shoayb joyfully agreed to this proposal, and the king, handing a purse to an attendant, said to him: “Take charge of this man; to-morrow take him to the bath, and purchase with this gold whatever is required. I shall also send the necessary costume and on the following day present him to his majesty.”

As Shoayb and the royal servant were proceeding along together, the latter asked Shoayb to carry the gold for a short while, and just then one of the king's elephants, that had become mad and broken loose, rushing through the street overthrew the servant and trampled him to death. This so frightened Shoayb that he would not remain in the place, and having no other acquaintance, he returned to the fireman of the bath-house. When Shoayb entered, the man perceived the bag in his hand, and fancied he had brought some delicious food; but as Shoayb showed no signs of wishing him to partake of it, he resolved to possess it by a stratagem. He kindled some dry wood over the bath, and, suddenly affecting to be in great distress, exclaimed: “Woe is me! the roof has caught fire, and as the bath-house is close to the bazár it will also become a prey to the flames!” Then handing a bucket to Shoayb, he said: “Brother, fill this bucket at the river and come back quickly that we may extinguish the fire, from which the whole world is in danger!” Shoayb took the bucket and went out; but as soon as he had disappeared the cupidity of the fireman would not allow him first to extin­guish the flames, but impelled him to examine the bag, and when to his astonishment he found it full of gold he exclaimed joyfully: “This is indeed great luck!” But while he was concealing the treasure in an aperture in the wall the flames in­creased so much that they enveloped the whole roof, and some sparks falling on the heaps of fuel around the building kindled them, and attracted the people of the quarter to the scene, where they found the covetous man burnt to a cinder. Mean­while the conflagration increased, being fanned by the wind, and it was only put out with great labour, and after much property was destroyed and many persons lost their lives.

While Shoayb was going to fetch water he lost his way, and met a party of thieves carrying on their backs the plunder which they had just taken from a house. As soon as they caught sight of him they compelled him also to carry a burden, and proceeded to the town-wall, which they scaled by throwing up a rope-ladder, and in the same manner they descended on the other side. They walked on until they reached a cemetery, where they deposited their booty, and then proposed to kill Shoayb, but one of the gang, more merciful than his comrades, said: “Friends, is it not enough that we steal, but we must also commit murder? This man can do us no harm.” Others, however, replied: “A head which is cut off cannot speak;” and the discussion was becoming very warm when one of the king's spies chanced to pass by, and hearing voices issuing from the vault, he listened and soon ascertained what was going on. Then he rode quickly to the town and brought a number of armed men, with whom he rushed into the vault, and killed all the thieves. After they had examined the plunder and were beginning to remove it, they discovered in a corner a man crouching down, with his hands tied, and asked him: “Who are you?” Shoayb replied that he was a poor stranger who had been robbed and was just about to be killed when they arrived. The men bade him take of the plunder whatever belonged to him, and he was not slow in appropriating a Kurán* with several other articles and walked away. As soon as the morning dawned and the city gates were opened Shoayb entered; but as the householder who had been robbed immediately gave notice to the authorities, they were on the alert; and he himself happening to be near the gate by which Shoayb entered at once recognised his own Kurán and the other things the unlucky man was carrying. The servants of the householder caught hold of him and said: “Where have you got these articles?” He replied: “They are my property.” Shoayb was, of course, taken for a thief, and the servants tied his hands and were about to bring him before the authorities, when the armed men who had slain the robbers returned, after having secreted the plunder and thrown the bodies into the river. When they found Shoayb in this difficulty, they knew that if he were tortured he would make a confession and bring all of them into trouble, and that they would not be credited with having taken their plunder from the thieves but would be considered as robbers them­selves, and thus forfeit their lives. So they determined to liberate Shoayb, and, assembling a great number of their friends, they demanded that the innocent prisoner should be delivered to them. This was refused, and a fight ensued which swelled to such dimensions that about a thousand men were killed, and a rumour spread that an enemy had invaded the capital. The king at once despatched a body of ten thousand men, with orders to quell the tumult at any price, which they did, and brought a multi­tude of prisoners, including Shoayb, into the presence of the king.

Now the vazír, when the king discussed the subject of Shoayb's misfortunes with him, knew that his majesty would endeavour to disprove his assertions, so he had appointed some men to watch occurrences day and night, and to keep a record of every mis­fortune which should befall the people on account of Shoayb. They performed their duties very faithfully, and had by this time compiled a document of consider­able length. And when the king discovered Shoayb among the prisoners and the wounded who had been brought before him, he inwardly acknowledged his error and was convinced that the vazír was right. The first man whom he called forth from the assembly was the owner of the stolen property, which he identified in the hands of Shoayb of Baghdád, and many others bore witness to the truth of his statement. Then quoth the king to Shoayb: “I know that you are not a thief and a robber, and it is probable that he who is not a thief is also not a liar. I therefore com­mand you to give a true account of this business.” The poor fellow in reply related every circumstance from his going to fetch water till his falling among thieves, and so on to the end. Then the king thus spake to the armed men of his spy: “Cupidity spoils everything in this world. Had you simply captured the thieves and brought them to me you would have deserved a reward. But by taking their plunder you have become their accomplices and the cause of so great confusion and slaughter. You are worthy of death, but as you have slain the thieves I pardon you; at the same time I command you to restore the goods to the owners and leave the city together with Shoayb.” After the people had been dismissed the vazír produced the document in which the calami­ties connected with Shoayb were recorded, and it was found that within the space of twelve days one thousand five hundred men had lost their lives, be­sides the injuries suffered by those who had been wounded and had lost their property.