Far out in the desert of Arabia lived a chief called Ali Ben Ahmed and his tribe. There tents were pitched on the trackless sand where the blazing sun beat down all day. Month after month, they saw no stranger for the paths of the travelers lay far to the south.
One evening, however, little Zuleika, the chief’s daughter, ran to her father for she have seen someone riding their way from the south.
Ali Ben Ahmed came out of his tent and stood beside his beautiful little daughter. The chief scanned the southern horizon until his eyes found a little yellow cloud of dust in the far distance.
Zuleika danced with delight. She loved visitors who told stories of the wonders which her eyes had never seen. They had talked of cities with great stone houses, of lovely green gardens, of sparkling rivers, and cool blue seas. To the little girl who had lived all her life in the desert, these stories were marvelous fairy tales.
Ali Ben Ahmed called his men to welcome the new comer for the desert Arabs are very hospitable. They bowed their turbaned heads almost to the ground to a low salaam as the rider pulled up his sweating mount.
The stranger, who was proud and dignified, returned the salute and said that the great sheik Ben Nedi will visit their tribe the next day.
The whole camp bustled with excitement, Ben Nedi was a very great sheik indeed, known far and wife for his power and goodness, and to have him visit the remote tents of Ali Ben Ahmed was an honor. Every Arab in the camp busied humself in preparing a gift for the coming sheik for ity is an Arabian custom to gicve gifts of welcome and hospitality.
Only little Zuleika sat alone and idle. Tears stood in her lovely dark eyes because she had no gift to give the great man who would come the next day.
Her mother, busy in the women’s tent unrolling a beautiful peace of silk that would be her gift the next day, tried to comfort the child and told her that children are not expected to give gifts.
But Zuleika was not comforted. She slipped away from the tents and sat on a great stone near the well and wept.
Suddenly, out of the well appeared a misty white figure which took the shape of a beautiful veiled woman. Her smile was sweet and when she spoke; her voice was like the soft ripple of running water. Zuleika, looking at her in amazement, knew that she could be no other than the good fairy of the well.
The fairy asked Zuleika to stop crying because she shall have a gift to give to the sheik and Zuleika will find it the next day where her tears have fallen upon the sand.
Then the shining figure faded away, melting into the misty light like a pale moonbeam. Zuleika ran back to her tent, but she could sleep little that night. As soon as dawn broke, she hurried out into the sand to find the gift which she was to give that day.
She came to the well and stopped in amazement. Where yesterday there had been nothing but bare sand, today there was a tall tree. It was straight and bare except the top, where it carried a tuft of branching leaves and a cluster of brownish fruit.
Zuleika rushed back to her father’s tent and told him everything that had happened.
Her father would not believe that there was a tree in the desert until he had seen the tree for himself and tasted its fruits.
In the afternoon, the caravan of the great sheik Ben Nedi arrived. Gifts were brought and laid before him – gifts of jewels, of gold, of silk and of beautiful steel swords from Damascus. The great man received them with gratitude and praise.
Ali Ben Ahmed smiled then led Ben Nedi to the rock by the well where the date palm grew from the spot on which Zuleika’s tears had fallen upon the ground and explained how the wonder tree had sprung up miraculously in the night.
Upon knowing everything, Ben Nedi softly exclaimed, “Yes, that is the most precious gift of all, for it springs from the desire of the heart.”
And sure enough, the date palm spread until it became the great friend of the desert tribes. As long as it lifts its stately head above the sands, the Arabian knows that it will furnish him with food from its fruit, cloth form its fiber and cool shade from its leafy palms.