The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night/Volume 3/5

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A mouse and an ichneumon once dwelt in the house of a peasant who was very poor; and when one of his friends sickened, the doctor prescribed him husked sesame. So the hind sought of one of his comrades sesame to be husked by way of healing the sick man; and, when a measure thereof was given to him, he carried it home to his wife and bade her dress it. So she steeped it and husked it and spread it out to dry. Now when the ichneumon saw the grain, she went up to it and fell to carrying it away to her hole, and she toiled all day, till she had borne off the most of it. Presently, in came the peasant’s wife and, seeing much of the grain gone, stood awhile wondering; after which she sat down to watch and find out who might be the intruder and make him account for her loss. After a while, out crept the ichneumon to carry off the grain as was her wont, but spying the woman seated there, knew that she was on the watch for her and said in her mind, “Verily, this affair is like to end blameably; and sore I fear me this woman is on the look-out for me, and Fortune is no friend to who attend not to issue and end: so there is no help for it but that I do a fair deed, whereby I may manifest my innocence and wash out all the ill-doings I have done.” So saying, she began to take the sesame out of her hole and carry it forth and lay it back upon the rest. The woman stood by and, seeing the ichneumon do thus, said to herself, “Verily this is not the cause of our loss, for she bringeth it back from the hole of him who stole it and returneth it to its place; and of a truth she hath done us a kindness in restoring us the sesame, and the reward of those who do us good is that we do them the like good. It is clear that it is not she who stole the grain; but I will not cease my watching till he fall into my hands and I find out who is the thief.” The ichneumon guess what was in her mind, so she went to the mouse and said to her, “O my sister, there is no good in one who observeth not the claims of neighborship and who showeth no constancy in friendship.” The mouse replied, “Even so, O my friend, and I delight in thee and in they neighborhood; but what be the motive of this speech?” Quoth the ichneumon, “The house-master hath brought home sesame and hath eaten his fill of it, he and his family, and hath left much; every living being hath eaten of it and, if thou take of it in they turn, thou art worthier thereof than any other.” This pleased the mouse and she squeaked for joy and danced and frisked her ears and tail, and greed for the grain deluded her; so she rose at once and issuing forth of her home, saw the sesame husked and dry, shining with whiteness, and the woman sitting at watch and ward. The mouse, taking no thought to the issue of the affair (for the woman had armed herself with a cudgel), and unable to contain herself, ran up to the sesame and began turning it over and eating of it; whereupon the woman smote her with that club and cleft her head: so the cause of her destruction were her greed and heedlessness of consequences. Then said the Sultan, “O Shahrazad, by Allah! this be a goodly parable! Say me, hast thou any story bearing on the beauty of true friendship and the observance of its duty in time of distress and rescuing from destruction?” Answered she:--Yes, it hath reached me that they tell a tale of

  1. Arab. “Bint’ Arús” = daughter of the bridegroom, the Hindustani Mungus (vulg. Mongoose); a well-known weasel-like rodent often kept tame in the house to clear it of vermin. It is supposed to know an antidote against snake-poison, as the weasel eats rue before battle (Pliny x. 84; xx. 13). In Modern Egypt this viverra is called “Kitt (or Katt) Far’aun” = Pharaoh’s cat: so the Percnopter becomes Pharaoh’s hen and the unfortunate (?) King has named a host of things, alive and dead. It was worshipped and mummified in parts of Ancient Egypt e.g. Heracleopolis, on account of its antipathy to serpents and because it was supposed to destroy the crocodile, a feat with Ælian and others have overloaded with fable. It has also a distinct antipathy to cats. The ichneumon as a pet becomes too tame and will not leave its master: when enraged it emits an offensive stench. I brought home for the Zoological Gardens a Central African specimen prettily barred. Burckhardt (Prov. 455) quotes a line: --
    Rakas’ Ibn Irsin wa zamzama ‘l-Nimsu,
    (Danceth Ibn Irs whileas Nims doth sing)
    and explains Nims by ichneumon and Ibn Irs as a “species of small weasel or ferret, very common in Egypt: it comes into the house, feeds upon meat, is of gentle disposition although not domesticated and full of gambols and frolic.”