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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

Edmondo De Amicis (1846–1908)

Tooth for Tooth

From “Morocco”

AN ENGLISH merchant of Mogador was returning to the city on the evening of a market-day, at the moment when the gate by which he was entering was barred by a crowd of country people driving camels and asses. Although the Englishman called out as loud as he could, “Make way!” an old woman was struck by his horse and knocked down, falling with her face upon a stone. Ill fortune would have it that in the fall she broke her last two front teeth. She was stunned for an instant, and then rose convulsed with rage, and broke out into insults and ferocious maledictions, following the Englishman to his door. She then went before the governor, and demanded that in virtue of the law of talion he should order the English merchant’s two front teeth to be broken. The governor tried to pacify her, and advised her to pardon the injury; but she would listen to nothing, and he sent her away with a promise that she should have justice, hoping that when her anger should be exhausted she would herself desist from her pursuit. But, three days having passed, the old woman came back more furious than ever, demanded justice, and insisted that a formal sentence should be pronounced against the Christian.

“Remember,” said she to the governor, “thou didst promise me!”

“What!” responded the governor; “dost thou take me for a Christian, that I should be the slave of my word?”

Every day for a month the old woman, athirst for vengeance, presented herself at the door of the citadel, and yelled and cursed and made such a noise, that the governor, to be rid of her, was obliged to yield. He sent for the merchant, explained the case, the right which the law gave the woman, the duty imposed upon himself, and begged him to put an end to the matter by allowing two of his teeth to be removed—any two, although in strict justice they should be two incisors. The Englishman refused absolutely to part with incisors, or eye-teeth, or molars; and the governor was obliged to send the old woman packing, ordering the guard not to let her put her foot in the palace again.

“Very well,” said she, “since there are none but degenerate Mussulmans here, since justice is refused to a Mussulman woman against an infidel dog, I will go to the sultan, and we shall see whether the prince of the faithful will deny the law of the Prophet.”

True to her determination, she started on her journey alone, with an amulet in her bosom, a stick in her hand, and a bag round her neck, and made on foot the hundred miles which separate Mogador from the sacred city of the empire. Arrived at Fez, she sought and obtained audience of the sultan, laid her case before him, and demanded the right accorded by the Koran, the application of the law of retaliation. The sultan exhorted her to forgive. She insisted. All the serious difficulties which opposed themselves to the satisfaction of her petition were laid before her. She remained inexorable. A sum of money was offered her, with which she could live in comfort for the rest of her days. She refused it.

“What do I want with your money?” said she; “I am old, and accustomed to live in poverty. What I want is the two teeth of the Christian. I want them; I demand them in the name of the Koran. The sultan, prince of the faithful, head of our religion, father of his subjects, cannot refuse justice to a true believer.”

Her obstinacy put the sultan in a most embarrassing position. The law was formal, and her right incontestable; and the ferment of the populace, stirred up by the woman’s fanatical declamations, rendered refusal perilous. The sultan, who was Abd-er-Rahman, wrote to the English consul, asking as a favor that he would induce his countryman to allow two of his teeth to be broken. The merchant answered the consul that he would never consent. Then the sultan wrote again, saying that if he would consent he would grant him, in compensation, any commercial privilege that he chose to ask. This time, touched in his purse, the merchant yielded. The old woman left Fez, blessing the name of the pious Abd-er-Rahman, and went back to Mogador, where, in the presence of many people, the two teeth of the Nazarene were broken. When she saw them fall to the ground she gave a yell of triumph, and picked them up with a fierce joy. The merchant, thanks to the privileges accorded him, made in the two following years so handsome a fortune that he went back to England toothless, but happy.