"VERY warm night again, isn't it?" remarked the Arabian poet.
"Yes, very warm indeed," smilingly answered the Jewish shopkeeper to whom the remark had been made, "but a poet shouldn't mind warm nights. The warm nights in Spain are so beautiful-they make it easier to write poetry."
"You are only joking. But I tell you, the only ones who don't have to worry are you Spanish Jews. You are richer than the Jews of the rest of the world. You can do as you please during the entire year."
"Yes, I suppose most of us can," answered the shopkeeper thoughtfully.
"You are well treated. You can worship as you please," continued the Arabian poet, "you are very learned and best of all, you have great poets among you."
The Arabian poet seemed jealous. There was an odd gleam in his eyes. He had suddenly become silent, to the surprise of the Jewish shopkeeper. After a long pause, the poet went over to the counter and said:
"Let me have a pad of paper, even though I think it is too hot to work."
"I'll tell you," the Arabian poet continued with a strange twinkle in his eye, "I can write you a poem for your Ibn Gabirol anyway." And as he spoke, he wrote this on the pad:
[paragraph continues] The Arabian laughed loudly, and threw the piece of paper on the counter.
"'Here, keep it," he said, "I usually get paid for my poems, but you don't have to pay me for this one." With these last words he walked out of the store.
"I wonder what he means by all that?" said the shopkeeper's wife.
"Oh, nothing! He's just jealous of us Jews. They all are. And since he is a poet--he is especially jealous of Gabirol."
"I'll keep these lines," said the shopkeeper's wife, as she picked up the paper from the counter and read again:
"I wonder what he means," she repeated as she folded the paper and put it in one of her bureau drawers.
Several years had passed after this incident. Gabirol, the great Jewish poet, had suddenly disappeared. No one knew what had happened to him. No trace could be found of the great poet. The shopkeeper had forgotten about the poem the Arabian poet had given him. In fact, he would have forgotten about the poet, but for a strange thing. In front of that poet's house a wonderfully beautiful tree had sprung up.
The organ-grinders in the street played:
And the children sang:
Click to enlarge
Poor people, rich people, grown-up men and grown-up women, little boys and little girls, all went to see the beautiful tree. Even the Caliph learned about this Wondrous Tree, this tree that was growing in front of the Arabian poet's house.
The king's servants all cried:
"A fairy is hidden in it! Surely a fairy is hidden in it."
"We shall go and find out for ourselves," said the Caliph.
And off he started with a laborer armed with a spade. When they came to the Wondrous Tree, the man began to dig deep, deep under it. From every part of the town the people came to watch the digging. Breathlessly they looked on. With every spadeful, a cry of wonderment went up. Suddenly the laborer be. came pale.
"Look, look!" he exclaimed to the King. "Look, someone is buried here!"
The king ordered the body to be taken up, out of its grave.
"Lord, have mercy," the people all cried as the body was lifted up. "Who can it be? A man buried
under that tree!" Some of the king's courtiers, however, had already recognized the face of the dead man.
But they looked again, and again.
"Yes, yes, that is so. It is the body of Gabirol, the Jewish poet!" they exclaimed with horror.
Now you remember the Jewish shopkeeper, for whom the Arabian had written that poem about Ibn Gabirol? That shopkeeper too had come to watch the digging under the Wondrous Tree.
When he saw the body of Gabirol he began to tremble. Oh, he saw it all now! It all came back to him. That hot summer night--and the poem the Arabian had thrown over the counter. The poem read:
[paragraph continues] So the Arabian meant that he would kill Ibn Gabirol. And the shopkeeper kept shaking his head and mumbling to himself:
"'Ibn Gabirol a great Jewish poet must not be.' Who would have thought it--who would have thought it!"
"Guess the Arabian is sorry he said so much to me that night," the shopkeeper thought to himself. Suddenly he began to push through the crowd.
"Let me pass, please. Quickly, quickly, let me
pass. I have something very important to tell the king," he said as he elbowed his way through the crowd. "I know who committed this crime; I tell you, I know!" the shopkeeper kept shouting as he came up to the Caliph.
"Your Majesty, I know who killed Ibn Gabirol. I am sure of it. It was this man," and he pointed to the Arabian poet who was standing in the crowd.
"Be careful what you say," the Caliph answered sternly. "Can you prove it?"
"I can, I can." The shopkeeper would not be quieted.
"Very well then, go ahead," said the Caliph.
"About three years ago at this time," the shopkeeper went on, "the Arabian poet came to my store to buy some paper. He sat there a long time and spoke to me about the Jews in Spain. He thought they were getting altogether too great and too rich. Then he turned to me and laughingly said:
"'Here, I will write you a poem for your Ibn Gabirol.' And he wrote something like this:
"'Ibn Gabirol is a great poet, but he won't remain a great poet.' If I'm not mistaken my wife still has the piece of paper."
"He lies, he lies!" cried the Arabian, turning white.
"Go get that paper," commanded the Caliph.
In a few minutes, the shopkeeper returned.
"Here's the poem," said he. "See for yourself."
"That's not my handwriting. That Jew is just trying to get me into trouble. Believe me, O Caliph, believe me!" the Arabian begged.
"Well," said the Caliph, after he had thought a few minutes. "We shall see. Here is a piece of paper," he said, turning to the poet. "Write down: 'I have not killed Ibn Gabirol.'" The Arabian poet wrote as directed, but his hand trembled. He tried to disguise his handwriting but he couldn't. Everyone could see that it was the same handwriting. The Caliph believed it, too.
"Get the bamboo stick," he ordered. "You shall be whipped until you tell the whole truth."
For some time, the poet would not speak, but at last the pain became too great to bear, and the Arabian cried out:
"Yes, it's true. It's true. I killed that Ibn Gabirol. Lord, how I hated him! I hated him because he was such a wonderful poet. One night I asked him to come to visit me. He did. We spoke of the great mercy of his Jewish God." The Arabian poet looked far, far away. It seemed he was trying to think of how Gabirol looked that night.
"Gabirol said, 'Forget yourself. Think only of God. If everybody would do that--this world would be beautiful.'
"Just then I fell upon him and I killed him. Quietly I buried him under the trees. No one heard us. Only his God--and the stars looked on. But his cursed blood sent forth beautiful fruit on this tree. Even though I had killed him, he lived on right before my eyes. And his poems, even more beautiful than this tree, live on and on forever. You know the rest," and as he spoke the Arabian fell to the earth, exhausted from pain.
Then the people mourned:
The Arabian was hanged. And Ibn Gabirol, whom he had slain, lives on forever and ever because of his beautiful poems.