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A short story by Mary Louisa Molesworth

Abdallah The Unhappy

Title:     Abdallah The Unhappy
Author: Mary Louisa Molesworth [More Titles by Molesworth]

A great many years ago there dwelt in a city of the East, of which you have never heard the name, a wise and holy man. He was highly esteemed by his fellow citizens, for he was kind and benevolent, never refusing good counsel to those in earnest to profit by it, so that by degrees the fame of his sagacity spread far and wide, and many came from great distances to consult him.

One day he was sitting in front of his modest dwelling, enjoying the soft breeze that stirred the trees hard by, reading from time to time short passages of an ancient volume open upon his knees, when a shadow fell across its pages, and looking up, he perceived that a stranger stood before him, who saluted him with the greatest respect and courtesy. The sage returned the customary greetings, and then inquired in what he could be of service to the new-comer.

"Father," said the stranger, "I have journeyed far to ask your advice. My quest is summed up in few words, What can I do to be happy?"

The wise man looked at him searchingly. He was a handsome man in the prime of life, richly dressed, healthy and vigorous. His appearance would have been most prepossessing but for a melancholy and discontented expression of countenance--there was no genial smile about the mouth, no kindly light in the eyes.

"What have you tried?" inquired the sage.

"Everything," replied the stranger. "Yet without foolish prodigality and excess. I have sought to surround myself with beauty and refinement, for my wealth is inexhaustible. I have dipped deep into learning, for my abilities are, I am told, considerable; I have even of late in a sort of despair tried to find content in enjoyment of less elevated kinds, such as seems to satisfy many men. But all was useless--eating and drinking, and such physical gratifications could do nothing for one who had sought in vain satisfaction in the perfection of music, of painting and sculpture--nay, more, who had found in the severest of studies but weariness and disappointment."

"You have been too changeable and impatient, my son," said the sage. "Try again--I do not say return to the lower pleasures of which you speak, but devote yourself more exclusively to the fine arts. Travel far and wide and visit whatever is beautiful. One year from now, return, and tell me the result."

Abdallah bowed and departed. The year passed, and again he stood before the sage, despondent as formerly.

"In vain. I have exhausted myself in travel. I have seen all the world has to show. I am more miserable than ever."

"Turn then again to study. Shut yourself up with your books. Work your hardest and see if therein you cannot find contentment. If you succeed I shall not expect to see you again."

But some days before the year had elapsed, there once more stood Abdallah. He had grown thin and pale, his eyes told of midnight vigils, but their expression was no happier.

"It is useless," he said. "I have followed your advice. But I am not as other men. Nothing brings happiness to me. There is but one thing to do, but first I would ask your permission. Let me make an end of myself."

The sage frowned.

"It must be as you say," he replied after some moments' silence. "You are perhaps so constituted that happiness is impossible for you. If so, resignation is all that remains. But I cannot at once sanction your desire to quit this life. I must reflect upon it during a year. In the meantime consider the struggle as given up; think no more of your unhappy fate, but as you are about to die, use the time that remains, to some purpose, by spending it for others. You are the one wretched exception--so be it. Spend your time, your strength and your wealth in making some others--ordinary human beings--happier, so that at least some few tears may be dropped on your grave. Return in a year, and I will then authorize you to put an end to yourself."

And Abdallah again bowed and withdrew, somewhat consoled by the thought that one year would see the last of his wretched existence, that even the wisest of men recognised him as cut off from the common lot.

The year passed. But no Abdallah returned. It was not till some weeks after the appointed time that he appeared hastening eagerly towards the sage's dwelling. He was no longer thin or pale, his dress was much less rich than formerly, but seemed nevertheless to show his handsome figure to all the greater advantage, his bearing was upright, his step springing--there was a smile on his lips, a beautiful, kindly light in his dark eyes.

"Forgive me, father, for my delay," he cried. "I could not believe the time had passed. This year has seemed to fly."

"And you are ready to part with your life?" asked the sage.

Tears rushed to Abdallah's eyes.

"If the sacrifice could be of use to others, yes, father, I am ready," he replied. "But for myself, no, a thousand times no. I have found the secret of happiness. In ministering to others, in forgetfulness of self, I have found my own blessedness. Life is to me now the most precious of gifts--my wealth, my strength, nay the very learning, the very cultivation I found so disappointing when unshared, I now esteem most highly as increasing my capacities for doing good. Life is beautiful--O good father, let me live."

And the wise man lifting his hands in benediction on the head of the happy Abdallah, bade him go in peace, having entered upon the one only path of endless and eternal blessedness.

[The end]
Mary Louisa Molesworth's short story: Abdallah The Unhappy