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An Eastern Legend by Ivan Turgenev

 

Who in Bagdad knows not Jaffar, the Sun of the Universe?

One day, many years ago (he was yet a youth), Jaffar was walking in the environs of Bagdad.

Suddenly a hoarse cry reached his ear; some one was calling desperately for help.

Jaffar was distinguished among the young men of his age by prudence and sagacity; but his heart was compassionate, and he relied on his strength.

He ran at the cry, and saw an infirm old man, pinned to the city wall by two brigands, who were robbing him.

Jaffar drew his sabre and fell upon the miscreants: one he killed, the other he drove away.

The old man thus liberated fell at his deliverer's feet, and, kissing the hem of his garment, cried: 'Valiant youth, your magnanimity shall not remain unrewarded. In appearance I am a poor beggar; but only in appearance. I am not a common man. Come to-morrow in the early morning to the chief bazaar; I will await you at the fountain, and you shall be convinced of the truth of my words.'

Jaffar thought: 'In appearance this man is a beggar, certainly; but all sorts of things happen. Why not put it to the test?' and he answered: 'Very well, good father; I will come.'

The old man looked into his face, and went away.

The next morning, the sun had hardly risen, Jaffar went to the bazaar. The old man was already awaiting him, leaning with his elbow on the marble basin of the fountain.

In silence he took Jaffar by the hand and led him into a small garden, enclosed on all sides by high walls.

In the very middle of this garden, on a green lawn, grew an extraordinary-looking tree.

It was like a cypress; only its leaves were of an azure hue.

Three fruits—three apples—hung on the slender upward-bent twigs; one was of middle size, long-shaped, and milk-white; the second, large, round, bright-red; the third, small, wrinkled, yellowish.

The whole tree faintly rustled, though there was no wind. It emitted a shrill plaintive ringing sound, as of a glass bell; it seemed it was conscious of Jaffar's approach.

'Youth!' said the old man, 'pick any one of these apples and know, if you pick and eat the white one, you will be the wisest of all men; if you pick and eat the red, you will be rich as the Jew Rothschild; if you pick and eat the yellow one, you will be liked by old women. Make up your mind! and do not delay. Within an hour the apples will wither, and the tree itself will sink into the dumb depths of the earth!'

Jaffar looked down, and pondered. 'How am I to act?' he said in an undertone, as though arguing with himself. 'If you become too wise, maybe you will not care to live; if you become richer than any one, every one will envy you; I had better pick and eat the third, the withered apple!'

And so he did; and the old man laughed a toothless laugh, and said: 'O wise young man! You have chosen the better part! What need have you of the white apple? You are wiser than Solomon as it is. And you've no need of the red apple either.... You will be rich without it. Only your wealth no one will envy.'

'Tell me, old man,' said Jaffar, rousing himself, 'where lives the honoured mother of our Caliph, protected of heaven?'

The old man bowed down to the earth, and pointed out to the young man the way.

Who in Bagdad knows not the Sun of the Universe, the great, the renowned Jaffar?

April 1878.