HISTORIANS relate that there were two men of the inhabitants of Kabúl sitting in the corner of poverty, fettered with the chains of hardships and difficulties. The thunderstorms and disturbance of the whirlpools of the sphere's revolution had over­turned the boat of their possessions, and it had become the prey of the whale of destruction. They were screwed in the press of poverty and destitution, like flower-beds from which the oil is to be squeezed out, and the pain and suffering of distress caused them to change colour at each moment like a chameleon till each day was changed into evening. Although they hastened with the foot of labour and diligence in the performance of their occupations, they could never reach the desired mansion of their object on account of their unpropitious fortune and their con­stant mishaps. The blackness of their morning tinctured the night even of the poor with the re­flection of grief, and the mirror of their evening imparted new sorrow to orphans.

One day they said to each other: “In this country the gates of peace are shut upon us, and it is a maxim of the wise that if people meet with difficulties in their own country they ought to remove to another. As the liberal Sultan Mahmúd is now reigning, we must go to Ghazní and do our best to see him, when perhaps the aroma of his generosity will perfume the nostrils of our intention, and our dilapidated circum­stances will be altered.” So they set out for Ghazní, and on the road they were joined by a man, the rose-bush of whose disposition was always kept fresh by the dew of piety, and who passed his life in con­tentment, like one of the blest. He asked them: “My brothers, the shoe of what desire have you put on the foot of your intention? And towards the castle of what pretension have you turned the face of your inclination?” They answered: “Since the lamp of each of us has been extinguished by the wind of mis­fortune, and the thorn of hardships has pierced the feet of our hearts, and as we could not find the plaster in Kabúl by which the wound of our untoward con­dition might be healed; and hearing that the gates of the generosity and liberality of Sultan Mahmúd the Ghaznivide have been opened to the rich and poor, and that the banquet of his unbounded gracious­ness is always spread for the relief of the poor, we hope to re-light the lamp of our circumstances at the blaze of his regard.” Those two men of Kabúl also asked the young man about his intention, and he replied: “Having no possessions in my own country, and the day of my well-being having reached the evening, I am in pursuit of a lawful means of support, but I do not expect aught from Sultan Mahmúd or persons like him. I desire grace and favour of a Sultan, the door of the treasury of whose gifts is besieged by a hundred thousand men as in­digent as Sultan Mahmúd, who are contemplating with the eye of hope the storehouse of his infinite grace and bounty.” In short, the three travellers pursued their journey in company till they arrived in Ghazní, where they took up their lodging in a ruined building.

One night all three of them were sitting together in the ruin, conversing on various subjects. It happened that Sultan Mahmúd, accompanied by two of his intimates, had left the palace to walk about in the moonlight. They passed through several streets and lanes till they came near the ruin, and, attracted by the voices, they discovered the travellers and asked them who they were. The two men of Kabúl replied: “We are benumbed by the crapula of the wine of helpless­ness and distress; we are veiled by the curtain of misery; we are riding the horse of poverty, and are roaming through the ups and downs of this world; and now our fate has guided us to this place, and we shall see how our affairs terminate.” The sultan asked: “What are your wishes?” They answered: “If we tell them, they will never be accomplished; so there is no use in relating them.” Quoth the sultan: “Since the inhabitants of this world are bound to aid each other, it is your duty to inform me of your desires, in order that the complicated knot of that affair may be disentangled by the help of some one's nail.” One of them replied: “I was one of the rich and the prosperous, and possessed great wealth. This world, which is inconstant like the hues of the chameleon, has ceased to be propitious to me; and the shame of poverty and the disgrace of my family have induced me to quit my country. If I were possessed of ten thousand dínars, I should consider the sum as a capital which might enable me to raise my head again and return to my country.” The other said: “I had a wife sitting veiled in the haram of compliance: the loveliness of the sun of her features surpassed the rose in beauty, and the moon was lessened in splendour by the rays of her cheeks. I loved her much, and could not live one moment without her. She died, and the fire of grief has burnt my liver, and thrown me into the most unhappy condition. Should his highness the sultan present me with a member of his haram, so that by the sun of her presence the mansion of my joy and happiness might become again illumined, I would gladly return to my country.” The third companion remained silent, and the sultan turning to him asked: “Do you not wish for anything?” He answered: “I have to do with God. I need neither a wife nor gold. I turn my face towards the vivifying treasury of God's mercy, by whom desires are granted, who knows the innermost recesses of our hearts, and what every one deserves: my wishes are all regulated by his good pleasure. If you are in the enjoyment of God's favour and are able from him to obtain your desires, pray to him for my sake that he may grant me the grace that I should not once draw my breath contrary to his goodwill.” The sultan said nothing, but arose and departed.

When the chamberlain of Destiny had opened the gates of life upon the inhabited earth, and the world-illuming king, the sun, had seated himself in the azure tent of the upper sky, the sultan ordered the three strangers that were in the ruin to be brought into his presence. When they perceived the sultan, they knew him to be the same man who had been with them the preceding night, and they were under the apprehension that he would be angry with them. The sultan called them forward, and inquired of each of them his wants, and the two men of Kabúl repeated what they had said on the previous evening. When the third stranger's turn came he said:

“Bitter indeed to our lips is the colocynth of mendicancy;
We have tasted the sweets of liberality from the hands of the noble-minded.

O thou illuminated speculum of potentates, as long as the storehouse of the works of God is full of blessings, may the treasury of thy desires also remain plentifully provided with the exhilarating gold, silver, and jewels of prosperity! Although people in general may be rejoicing with the delicacies of the table of thy bounty, and thyself mayest thereby taste the sweets of good deeds, still those that sit in the tent of exquisite feelings have so much refreshed their palates with the honey of contentment that they would by no means defile their lips with a single mouthful which belongs to others.

The palate of the contented has never been sweetened by the liberal;
The delights of independence are far above the delights which liberality can bestow.*

My hopes and expectations are dependent on the threshold of the Eternal King: he will grant to me all that he thinks fit, without my fastening myself on the skirts of petition to any one else, or jeopardising the position of a retiring and modest individual.”

The sultan tried much, but could not induce the young man to act contrary to his avowed principles, and to open his lips to beg for some favour. He gave orders that the man who was in want of a wife should be provided with one of his own damsels, and presented the man who wanted money with two purses of gold. Then he said: “Now, all three of you, return to your own countries.” In obedience to this order they set out together on their journey to Kabúl. After proceeding about two parasangs,* the man who obtained the gold felt tired by carrying it, so he handed it to his empty-handed companion, requesting him to carry it for a short time till he had rested himself.

Now the chroniclers relate that when the three men left the presence of the sultan, he turned to his courtiers and said: “That independent man has put me greatly to shame. He left me as if I were in the position of a poor man; and although I tried much he would not accept of anything.” One of the courtiers, who was labouring under the asthma of covetousness, and as the covetous are the natural enemies of the contented, thus gave expression to his innate feelings: “The sultans and kings of this world are the collectors of the treasury of God; and, accord­ing to the requirements of the order of mundane affairs, he grants drafts or letters of credit to the poor for the alleviation of their wants, which drafts the rich are bound to accept and honour. Whoever refuses to apply to kings for help scorns their favour, and in this manner acts contrary to the will of God, on account of his pride and independence. Such a man is certainly deserving of de?? and ought to be so punished.” The sultan becan??xcited, and ordered one of his chamberlains to pr??eed on the same road which the three men had taken, and, leaving undisturbed the man who had the gold and him who had the girl, to kill the third person who was empty-handed, and bring his head. It so happened, however, that when the messenger of the sultan overtook them, the inde­pendent man carried the gold upon his back, and the possessor of the gold was empty-handed. The cham­berlain made no inquiry, but cut off the head of the proprietor of the gold and returned with it to the sultan. When the sultan had looked well at the head he exclaimed: “You are a thoughtless fellow, and have made a mistake.” He despatched forthwith another chamberlain, and enjoined him to decapitate that man who was without any burden whatever. But now it fortuned that the possessor of the girl had entrusted her for a time to the independent man, and fallen a little behind. When the messenger came up, he perceived the owner of the girl following empty-handed in the wake of the independent man, and immediately cut off his head, and on presenting it to his master, the sultan, after looking at it, cried in astonishment: “This man has also been killed by mistake!”

The sultan reflected for a while, and when he became calm, perceived that the grace of God had been a bulwark of protection to that independent man, which had prevented him from coming to any harm. He summoned another attendant, and com­manded him to pursue the same road, and bring into his presence the man who possessed both the gold and the girl, which he did accordingly. As soon as the sultan beheld the man, he smiled, and said: “What has become of your companions?” He answered: “May the life of the sultan be everlasting, and may the compliant hand of the sweetheart Pro­sperity be always round his neck! He who presented them with the gold and the maid has in return taken their lives; and indeed whoever prefers the creature to the Creator turns away his face from the threshold of real felicity, has no refuge whither he might flee, will be trampled under the feet of distressing events, and will not pluck a single flower from the rose-garden of his desires.

Whoever averts his face from his portals
Will meet with no regard, to whatever door he turns.”

These observations of the man aroused the sultan from the sleep of indolence, and made him aware that this person had tasted the sweets of benefits from the spread-table of the love and knowledge of God; and he said to him: “Thou ornament of the society of obedience to the laws of God! I am very anxious to bestow something upon you, that I may become infinitely your debtor. I adjure you, by God, to ask something of me.” That happy man thus answered: “I have two wishes. The first is, that you send a very considerable sum of money to Kabúl, to recom­pense the heirs of the two men who have been slain without any guilt of their own; and the second is, that I may be allowed to enjoy the lease of a small dwelling, in which I may carry on the trade of a weaver, and thus earn an honest livelihood.” The sultan stroked the face of agreement with the finger of beneficence, and said: “You flower-gatherer in the gardens of beneficence! I have also three requests to make of you, with which I trust your kindness will comply. The first is, that, should you entertain any ill-feeling towards me, I beg you to forget it; the second is, that you pray to God that he may blot out my sins from the book of my actions with refer­ence to those two innocent men; and the third is, that you come to me every Friday evening, so that I may profit by my intercourse with you.” The man agreed to all this, and applied himself diligently to his business, till his singleness of purpose placed him in possession of the key to prosperity and wealth; and the gates of well-being having become open in corre­spondence with his expectation, he was enabled to advance money to the royal treasury whenever it was required, to redeem many people from the penalty of death, and to do much good to worthy and poor people.