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Be on Time

There was a merchant in Baghdad/ who sent his servant to the nearby maidan to buy the week's provisions for the house. In a little while the servant returned/ empty-handed, white of face and trembling. To explain himself he said:

"Master, just now when I was at the marketplace I was jostled by a man/ in the crowd!"

"Yes, go on."

"Or so I thought, for when I turned/ I saw it was Death who had bumped into me. He looked and made a threatening/ gesture; I beg you, sir, lend me a horse and I shall flee this city to avoid my fate! I shall go to your house/ in Samarra, and there Death shall not find me!"

Well, the servant begged so that/ the merchant took pity upon him and lent him a good horse. The servant mounted immediately/ and off he rode as fast as the horse could gallop.

Having seen him off, the merchant, who still had no food/ in his cupboard, went down to the maidan and found/ me. He was very irritated. "May I ask, sir," he demanded, "why you made a threatening gesture to my servant/ when you saw him here earlier?"

"That was not a threatening/ gesture," I replied. "It was only a start/ of surprise. I was astonished to see him in/ Baghdad, for I have an appointment with/ him tonight in Samarra."

--after W. Somerset Maugham (from his play Sheppey (copyright 1933 by W. S. M.))

...to whom I/ originally told this tale

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