The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night/Volume 3/7a

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The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night , translated by Richard Francis Burton
The Flea and the Mouse

The Flea and the Mouse

Once upon a time a mouse dwelt in the house of a merchant who owned much merchandise and great stories of monies. One night, a flea took shelter in the merchant’s carpet-bed and, finding his body soft, and being thirsty drank of his blood. The merchant was awakened by the smart of the bite and sitting up called to his slave-girls and serving men. So they hastened to him and, tucking up their sleeves, fell to searching for the flea; but as soon as the bloodsucker was aware of the search, he turned to flee and coming on the mouse’s home, entered it. When the mouse saw him, she said to him, “What bringeth thee in to me, thou who art not of my nature nor of my kind, and who canst not be assured of safety from violence or of not being expelled with roughness and ill usage?” Answered the flea, “Of a truth, I took refuge in thy dwelling to save me from slaughter; and I have come to thee seeking thy protection and on nowise coveting thy house; nor shall any mischief betide thee from me to make thee leave thy home. Nay I hope right soon to repay thy favours to me with all good and then shalt thou see and praise the issue of my words.” And when the mouse heard the speech of the flea, - And Shahrazad perceived the dawn of day and ceased saying her permitted say.

When it was the One Hundred and Fifty-first Night

She said, It hath reached me, O auspicious King, that when the mouse heard the words of the flea, she said, “If the case be as thou dost relate and describe, then be at thine ease here; for naught shall befal thee save the rain of peace and safety; nor shall aught betide thee but what shall joy thee and shall not annoy thee, nor shall it annoy me. I will lavish on thee my affections without stint; and do not thou regret having lost the merchant’s blood nor lament for thy subsistence from him, but be content with what sustenance thou canst obtain; for indeed that is the safer for thee. And I have heard, O flea, that one of the gnomic poets saith as follows in these couplets,

   ‘I have fared content in my solitude * With wate’er befel, and led life of ease,
   On a water-draught and a bite of bread, * Coarse salt and a gown of tattered frieze:
   Allah might, an He pleased, give me easiest life, * But with whatso pleaseth Him self I please.’”

Now when the flea heard these words of the mouse, he rejoined, “I hearken to thy charge and I submit myself to obey thee, nor have I power to gainsay thee, till life be fulfilled in this righteous intention.” Replied the mouse, “Pure intention sufficeth to sincere affection.” So the tie of love arose and was knitted between them twain, and after this, the flea used to visit the merchant’s bed by night and not exceed in his diet, and house him by day in the hole of the mouse. Now it came to pass one night, the merchant brought home great store of dinars and began to turn them over. When the mouse heard the chink of the coin, she put her head out of her hole and fell to gazing at it, till the merchant laid it under his pillow and went to sleep, when she said to the flea, “Seest thou not the proffered occasion and the great good fortune? Hast thou any device to bring us to our desire of yonder dinars? Quoth the flea, “Verily, it is not good that one strives for aught, unless he be able to win his will; because, if he lack ability thereto, he falleth into that which he should avoid and he attaineth not his wish by reason of his weakness, albeit he use all power of cunning, like the sparrow which picketh up grain and falleth into the net and is caught by the fowler. Thou hast no strength to take the dinars and to transport them out of this house, nor have I force sufficient to do this; I the contrary, I could not carry a single ducat of them; so what hast thou to do with them?” Quoth the mouse, “I have made me for my house these seventy openings, whence I may go out at my desire, and I have set apart a place strong and safe, for things of price; and if thou can contrive to get the merchant out of the house, I doubt not of success, an so be that Fate aid me.” Answered the flea, “I will engage to get him out of the house for thee;” and, going to the merchant’s bed, bit him a fearful bite, such as he had never before felt, then fled to a place of safety, where he had no fear of the man. So the merchant awoke and sought for the flea, but finding him not, lay down again on his other side. Then the flea bit him a second time more painfully than before. So he lost patience and, leaving his bed, went out and lay down on the bench before his door and slept there and woke not till the morning. Meanwhile the mouse came out and fell to carrying the dinars into her hole, till she left not a single one; and when day dawned the merchant began to suspect the folk and fancy all manner of fancies. And (continued the fox) know thou, O wise and experienced crow with the clear-seeing eyes, that I tell thee this only to the intent that thou mayst reap the recompense of thy kindness to me, even as the mouse reaped the reward of her kindness to the flea; for see how he repaid her and requited her with the goodliest of requitals. Said the crow, “It lies with the benefactor to show benevolence or not to show it; nor is it incumbent on us to entreat kindly one who seeketh a connection that entaileth separation from kith and kin. If I show thee favour who art my foe by kind, I am the cause of cutting myself off from the world; and thou, O fox, art full of wiles and guiles. Now those whose characteristics are craft and cunning, must not be trusted upon oath; and whoso is not to be trusted upon oath, in him there is no good faith. The tidings lately reached me of thy treacherous dealing with one of thy comrades, which was a wolf; and how thou didst deceive him until thou leddest him into destruction by thy perfidy and stratagems; and this thou diddest after he was of thine own kind and thou hadst long consorted with him: yet didst thou not spare him; and if thou couldst deal thus with thy fellow which was of thine own kind, how can I have trust in they truth and what would be thy dealing with thy foe of other kind than thy kind? Nor can I compare thee and me but with the saker and the birds.” “How so?” asked the fox. Answered the crow, they relate this tale of