by S. S. C.
Upon a time—I do not know
Exactly when, but long ago—
A man whose riches were untold,
Silver and precious stones and gold.
Within an Eastern city dwelt;
But not a moment's peace he felt,
For fear that thieves should force his door,
And rob him of his treasured store.
In spite of armèd slaves on guard,
And doors and windows locked and barred,
His life was one continual fright;
He hardly slept a wink by night,
And had so little rest by day
That he grew prematurely gray.
At last he dug a monstrous pit
To hold his wealth, and buried it
By night, alone; then smoothed the ground
So that the spot could not be found.
But he gained nothing by his labor:
A curious, prying, envious neighbor,
Who marked the hiding, went and told
The Sultan where to find the gold.
A troop of soldiers came next day,
And bore the hoarded wealth away.
Some precious jewels still remained,
For which a goodly price he gained,
Then left the city, quite by stealth,
To save the remnant of his wealth;
But now, by hard experience taught,
A better way to keep it sought.
Broad lands he bought, and wisely tilled;
With fruits and grain his barns he filled;
He used his wealth with liberal hand;
His plenty flowed through all the land;
And, hid no longer under-ground,
Spread honest comfort all around.
Thus calm and prosperous pass the years,
Till on a fated day he hears
The Sultan's mandate, short and dread,
"Present thyself, or lose thy head!"
Fearful and trembling, he obeys,
For Sultans have their little ways,
And wretches who affront their lord
Brave bastinado, sack, or cord.
Before the dreaded throne he bowed
Where sat the Sultan, grim and proud,
And thought, "My head must surely fall,
And then my master will seize all
My wealth again." But from the throne
There came a calm and kindly tone:
"My son, well pleased am I to see
Thy dealings in prosperity;
May Allah keep thee in good health!
Well hast thou learned the use of wealth.
No longer buried under-ground,
Its comforts spread to all around.
The poor man's blessings on thy name
Are better far than worldly fame.
I called thee hither. Now, behold,
Here are the silver, gems, and gold
I took from thee in other days;
Receive them back, and go thy ways,
For thou hast learned this truth at last—
Would that it might be sown broadcast!—
That riches are but worthless pelf
When hoarded only for one's self."
S. S. C.