The Caliph and the Gardener
Fifty Famous People
There was once a caliph of Cordova whose name was Al Mansour. One day a strange merchant came to him with some diamonds and pearls which he had brought from beyond the sea. The caliph was so well pleased with these jewels that he bought them and paid the merchant a large sum of money. The merchant put the gold in a bag of purple silk which he tied to his belt underneath his long cloak. Then he set out on foot to walk to another city.
It was midsummer, and the day was very hot. As the merchant was walking along, he came to a river that flowed gently between green and shady banks.
He was hot and covered with dust. No one was near. Very few people ever came that way. Why should he not cool himself in the refreshing water? He took off his clothes and laid them on the bank. He put the bag of money on top of them and then leaped into the water. How cool and delicious it was!
Suddenly he heard a rustling noise behind him. He turned quickly and saw an eagle rising into the air with his moneybag in its claws. No doubt the bird had mistaken the purple silk for something good to eat.
The merchant shouted. He jumped out of the water and shouted again. But it was no use. The great bird was high in the air and flying towards the far-off mountains with all his money.
The poor man could do nothing but dress himself and go sorrowing on his way.
A year passed by and then the merchant appeared once more before Al Mansour. "O Caliph," he said, "here are a few jewels which I had reserved as a present for my wife. But I have met with such bad luck that I am forced to sell them. I pray that you will look at them and take them at your own price."
Al Mansour noticed that the merchant was very sad and downcast. "Why, what has happened to you?" he asked. "Have you been sick?"
Then the merchant told him how the eagle had flown away with his money.
"Why didn't you come to us before?" he asked. "We might have done something to help you. Toward what place was the eagle flying when you last saw it?"
"It was flying toward the Black Mountains," answered the merchant.
The next morning the caliph called ten of his officers before him. "Ride at once to the Black Mountains," he said. "Find all the old men that live on the mountains or in the flat country around, and command them to appear before me one week from to-day."
The officers did as they were bidden. On the day appointed, forty gray- bearded, honest old men stood before the caliph. All were asked the same question. "Do you know of any person who was once poor but who has lately and suddenly become well-to-do?"
Most of the old men answered that they did not know of any such person. A few said that there was one man in their neighborhood who seemed to have had some sort of good luck.
This man was a gardener. A year ago he was so poor that he had scarcely clothes for his back. His children were crying for food. But lately everything had changed for him. Both he and his family dressed well; they had plenty to eat; he had even bought a horse to help him carry his produce to market.
The caliph at once gave orders for the gardener to be brought before him the next day. He also ordered that the merchant should come at the same time.
Before noon the next day the gardener was admitted to the palace. As soon as he entered the hall the caliph went to meet him. "Good friend," he said, "if you should find something that we have lost, what would you do with it?"
The gardener put his hand under his cloak and drew out the very bag that the merchant had lost.
"Here it is, my lord," he said.
At sight of his lost treasure, the merchant began to dance and shout for joy.
"Tell us," said Al Mansour to the gardener, "tell us how you came to find that bag."
The gardener answered: "A year ago, as I was spading in my garden, I saw something fall at the foot of a palm tree. I ran to pick it up and was surprised to find that it was a bag full of bright gold pieces. I said to myself, 'This money must belong to our master, Al Mansour. Some large bird has stolen it from his palace.'"
"Well, then," said the caliph, "why did you not return it to us at once?" "It was this way," said the gardener: "I looked at the gold pieces, and then thought of my own great necessities. My wife and children were suffering from the want of food and clothing. I had no shoes for my feet, no coat for my back. So I said to myself, 'My lord Al Mansour is famous for his kindness to the poor. He will not care.' So I took ten gold pieces from the many that were in the bag.
"I meant only to borrow them. And I put the bag in a safe place, saying that as soon as I could replace the ten pieces, I would return all to my lord Al Mansour. With much hard labor and careful management I have saved only five little silver pieces. But, as I came to your palace this morning, I kept saying to myself, 'When our lord Al Mansour learns just how it was that I borrowed the gold, I have no doubt that in his kindness of heart he will forgive me the debt.'"
Great was the caliph's surprise when he heard the poor man's story.
He took the bag of money and handed it to the merchant. "Take the bag
and count the money that is in it," he said. "If anything is lacking,
I will pay it to you."
The merchant did as he was told. "There is nothing lacking," he said, "but the ten pieces he has told you about; and I will give him these as a reward."
"No," said Al Mansour, "it is for me to reward the man as he deserves."
Saying this, he ordered that ten gold pieces be given to the merchant in place of those that were lacking. Then he rewarded the gardener with ten more pieces for his honesty.
"Your debt is paid. Think no more about it," he said.