THE ENVIOUS MAN AND THE ENVIED 87
that he had come to consult the chief of the dervishes on a private matter of great importance. ' What I have to say must not be overheard,' he whispered ; ' command, I beg of you, that your dervishes retire into their cells, as night is approaching, and meet me in the court.'
The dervish did as he was asked without delay, and directly they were alone together the envious man began to tell a long story, edging, as they walked to and fro, always nearer to the well, and when they were quite close, he seized the dervish and dropped him in. He then ran off triumphantly, without having been seen by anyone, and congratulating himself that the object of his hatred was dead, and would trouble him no more.
But in this he was mistaken! The old well had long been inhabited (unknown to mere human beings) by a set of fairies and genii, who caught the dervish as he fell, so that he received no hurt. The dervish himself could see nothing, but he took for granted that something strange had happened, or he must certainly have been dashed against the side of the well and been killed. He lay quite still, and in a moment he heard a voice saying, ' Can you guess whom this man is that we have saved from death?'
' No,' replied several other voices.
And the first speaker answered, ' I will tell you. This man, from pure goodness of heart, forsook the town where he lived and came to dwell here, in the hope of curing one of his neighbours of the envy he felt towards him. But his character soon won him the esteem of all, and the envious man's hatred grew, till he came here with the deliberate intention of causing his death. And this he would have done, without our help, the very day before the Sultan has arranged to visit this holy dervish, and to entreat his prayers for the princess, his daughter.'
' But what is the matter with the princess that she needs the dervish's prayers ?' asked another voice.
' She has fallen into the power of the genius Maimoum, the son of Dimdim,' replied the first voice. 'But it would