The Adventures of Haroun-al-Raschid, Caliph of Bagdad
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-vizier, his old friend, suddenly appeared before him. Bowing low, he waited, as was his duty, till his master spoke. However, Haroun-al-Raschid merely turned his head and looked at him, and sank back into his throne looking very bored.
Now Giafar had something of importance to say to the Caliph, so with another low bow in front of the throne, he began to speak.
“Your Majesty,” said he, “I wish to remind your Highness that you have decided to secretly observe for yourself the manner in which justice is done and order is kept throughout the city. This is the day you have set to devote to this duty in which you may find some distraction from the boredom from which you suffer.”
“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 reentered the hall, disguised as foreign merchants, and passed through a secret door, out into the open country. Here they turned towards the Euphrates river, and crossing the river in a small boat, walked through that part of the town which lay along the further bank, without seeing anything worth mentioning. Much pleased with the peace and good order of the city, the Caliph and his vizier 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 was begging.
The Caliph gave him a coin, and was passing on, but the blind man seized his hand, and held him fast.
“Kind person,” he said, “Whoever you may be do me another favour. Strike me, I beg of you, one blow. I deserve it, and even a more severe punishment.”
The Caliph, much surprised at this request, replied gently: “My good man, what you ask is impossible. Of what use would my kindness be if I treated you so badly?” And as he spoke he tried to loosen the grasp of the blind beggar.
“My lord,” answered the man, “pardon my boldness. Take back your money, or give me the blow which I desire. I have made a vow that I will receive nothing without also receiving punishment, and if you knew everything, 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 take care of, the Caliph gave in, and struck him lightly on the shoulder. Then he continued on the road, followed by the blessing of the blind man. When they were out of earshot, he said to the vizier, “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 to the palace tomorrow.”
So the grand-vizier went back to the bridge, gave the blind beggar first a coin and then a blow, delivered the Caliph’s message, and then 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 blood. The Caliph, astonished at this, 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 vizier to command the horseman also to appear before him at the same time as the blind man.
The next day, the Caliph entered the hall, and was followed by the vizier 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 told them to rise, and asked the blind man his name.
“Baba-Abdalla, your Highness,” said he.
“Baba-Abdalla,” returned the Caliph, “your way of begging yesterday seemed to me so strange, that I almost commanded you to stop causing such a public scandal. But I have sent for you to inquire what the reason for your curious vow was. 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 kneeled himself at the feet of the Caliph. Then rising, he answered: “Your Majesty, I beg your pardon humbly, for my asking your Highness to do an action which appears to be without any meaning. No doubt, in the eyes of men, it has none; but I look on it as a small punishment for a fearful sin of which I have been guilty, and if your Highness will listen to my tale, you will see that no punishment is sufficient for the crime.”