Story of Hatim Taï and the Benevolent Lady.

IT is related that when Hatim Taï* was dispensing his bounty one day in a hall which had forty doors, by every one of which the destitute might be admitted, a darvesh entered and thus addressed him: “O vernal cloud of liberality! the mead of hope expects to be irrigated by you. O husbandman of the field of beneficence, the aspirants to your favours are in attendance to receive your refreshing showers, and this gleaner from the store-houses of your bounty was by the guide of hope directed to the prosperous mansion of your generosity!

Bestow gifts, O noble individual,
For liberality is the lamp in the assembly of Faith.
Whoever gives a dirham to a mendicant
Is favourably regarded by God.
The umbrella of victory, in both worlds,
Overshadows the glorious heads of the liberal.”

Hatim ordered one hundred dínars* to be given to the darvesh, who again entered by another door and reiterated his petition, and again obtained one hundred dínars. Thus he repeated his request until he had come in by all the forty doors, and had obtained the same sum at each of them. After that he reappeared at the first door and proffered the same request, upon which an attendant said to him: “Darvesh, you have made the round of all the entrances and were disappointed at none. How is it that your greediness is not yet satisfied, and that you have exposed yourself to a refusal?” The darvesh heaved a deep sigh and replied: “The fame of Hatim, which extends over the whole world, has induced me to travel from China to this place. But in that country there is a lady more liberal than he, inasmuch as her largesses surpass the most extravagant expectations of those who receive them, so that a hundred Hatims could not equal in many years the sums which she disburses in one day.” When the darvesh had thus spoken he disappeared, and Hatim became desirous of ascertain­ing the truth of his statement, so he departed for China, and, arrived there, considering how he might accomplish his object, he walked about the streets.

He perceived great crowds of people hastening away and inquired the reason, when a man answered: “In this city there was a man of the name of Nassar-ullah, who possessed immense riches. He left a daughter who distributes in great profusion—and has done so for several years—money to all persons. If you wish to know whether I speak the truth, you have only to follow the crowd.” Accordingly Hatim went along with the people, and arrived at a beautiful palace where servants dressed in rich garments received everyone who wished to enter. Within the palace Hatim saw a large assembly reposing on silken couches, with tables before them on which the finest dainties were placed in rich variety and abundance. After the repast was over a con­fidential servant appeared with a platter full of pieces of paper on which different sums were written; and to every person who was about to depart he handed one of those papers. When Hatim's turn came he also received one, and the assembly broke up. As the people arrived at the gate each man handed his paper to a servant, who gave him in return a bag full of gold according to the amount specified on the little ticket. Hatim was so much astonished at what he had seen that he was constantly thinking of the immense riches of the lady, and was extremely anxious to obtain an interview with her. So he requested a chamberlain to procure him the honour of an audience, and on being admitted into the presence of that queen he addressed her as follows: “Most exalted lady of the mansions of liberality, and húrí of the castles of felicity!

May the rose of your nature constantly
Be blooming joyfully in the spring of generosity!
The hand of your liberality, beauteous fairy,
Is shedding jewels like the vernal cloud.
Your servant has a difficulty,
Which causes him great anxiety:
If you grant my petition,
I shall humbly explain it.”

That idol of high prosperity gave permission, and Hatim spake thus: “I hear that the stream of your extraordinary liberality has for several years flowed with undiminished vigour, and I am curious to know how you obtained such enormous wealth.” Quoth the lady: “Every assembly receives light from its lamp, and the destiny of every individual is traced out on his forehead by the hand of divine providence.

Love was the bulbul's, and beauty the rose's share;
Liberal persons are the treasurers of the mercy of God.

The state of my affairs is connected with a tale which I shall communicate to you on two con­ditions: First, I am informed that at present there exists a man of the name of Hatim, whose liberality is so far famed that in spite of my having for a number of years made it my business to grant to all persons the richest and most abundant gifts, my name is not even heard of except in this country; therefore I am so jealous of Hatim that I wish you to kill him. Secondly, I have heard that in the neighbourhood of Khatá there is an exceedingly high mountain, in a cave of which a blind man has dwelt for many years, who never utters any words save these:

‘If you possess one barley-corn of justice,
You will never have half a grain of sorrow,’

and I desire to know his reason for constantly re­peating these words.”

Hatim drew the finger of acquiescence over the face of content, took his leave, and set out for the cave indicated by the lady. There he found a blind man, whom he requested to relate his adventures. But the blind man replied: “My good friend, what can have instigated you to make such a request? I have no doubt that your mind is often exercised with problems which you cannot solve; and I pray you to consider this question as one of them.” Hatim, however, went on to say: “Persons of a kindly disposition generally comply with the requests of the importunate, and I hope you will not allow me to depart from this place without affording me the desired information.” Then quoth the blind man: “I shall withdraw the veil from the surface of the mystery on one condition: It is long since I heard that there is a washerman in Khatá who goes every morning to the bank of the river and does nothing but look at a tree which is there, leap about like a madman, sigh deeply, and repeat these verses:

‘Alas, that your picture has left my sight,
And left my golden chalice empty of the wine of joy!
It is the wish of my heart that once more I may meet her.’

Now, my good friend, if you acquaint me with the story of that washerman, I shall have no objection to relate to you my own history.”

Accordingly Hatim proceeded in quest of the washerman, and finding the blind man's account of him perfectly accurate, he was not a little astonished at his actions and said to him: “Friend, if you would kindly inform me why you act in this strange manner, I might be able to help you in your troubles and perhaps liberate you from your affliction.” But the washerman sighed and only said in reply: “The wound of my heart no medicine can heal, nor can any advice help me. I am incurable, and the grief of my heart would only be augmented were I to reveal it.

I had better hide my sorrow from empirics;
Perchance the divine mercy will cure my grief.”

Quoth Hatim: “Young man, stand not on cere­mony with me, for I shall not quit hold of your skirt until you have told me your adventures.” Then said the washerman: “I also have a great curiosity regarding a certain matter, and if you will satisfy it I shall relate to you my story. Know that in Máchin there is a man who paints on a board, during the whole year, a picture of the handsomest kind, which he sells in the bazár at the end of the year for a thousand dínars, and then returns the money and breaks his picture to pieces. I wish to learn the reason of this proceeding.” “Alas, and woe is me!” exclaimed Hatim. “Into what a labyrinth of troubles have I fallen, to be thus re­quired to solve one enigma after another!” He had, however, no alternative but to go to the city of Máchin, and it so chanced that he arrived there at the time when the painter had brought his picture to the bazár and was surrounded by such a great crowd of people that Hatim could only get near him as a bidder, and assisted at the sale until the painter broke his picture and gathered up the fragments, when the crowd dispersed with exclama­tions of regret. Hatim then visited the painter and addressed him, saying: “Young man, what is your opinion regarding hospitality?” In reply the painter recited these verses:

“A guest is a flower from the garden of prosperity and mercy;
He is the fruit of the spring of happiness.
Whoever is inhospitable injures his own soul.”

He received Hatim in a very friendly manner, and inquired of him: “To what circumstance may I ascribe the happiness of being visited by you?” Quoth Hatim: “The mysterious force which attracts kindred spirits to each other has made me trespass on your retirement.” After an interchange of courtesies they became quite intimate, and Hatim, anxious to attain his object, said to the painter: “Dear friend, I conjure you, by the obligations which you have already conferred on me, to explain the cause of what I have witnessed this day,” and he thus complied: