THE GENEROUS DEALING OF YEHYA BEN KHALID THE BARMECIDE WITH MENSOUR

It is told that Haroun er Reshid, in the days before he became jealous of the Barmecides, sent once for one of his guards, Salih by name, and said to him, 'O Salih, go to Mensour (9) and say to him, "Thou owest us a thousand thousand dirhems and we require of thee immediate payment of the amount." And I charge thee, O Salih, an he pay it not before sundown, sever his head from his body and bring it to me.' 'I hear and obey,' answered Salih and going to Mensour, acquainted him with what the Khalif had said, whereupon quoth he, 'By Allah, I am a lost man; for all my estate and all my hand owns, if sold for their utmost value, would not fetch more than a hundred thousand dirhems. Whence then, O Salih, shall I get the other nine hundred thousand?' 'Contrive how thou mayst speedily acquit thyself,' answered Salih; 'else art thou a dead man; for I cannot grant thee a moment's delay after the time appointed me by the Khalif, nor can I fail of aught that he hath enjoined on me. Hasten, therefore, to devise some means of saving thyself ere the time expire.' 'O Salih,' quoth Mensour, 'I beg thee of thy favour to bring me to my house, that I may take leave of my children and family and give my kinsfolk my last injunctions.'

So he carried him to his house, where he fell to bidding his family farewell, and the house was filled with a clamour of weeping and lamentation and calling on God for help. Then Salih said to him, 'I have bethought me that God may peradventure vouchsafe thee relief at the hands of the Barmecides. Come, let us go to the house of Yehya ben Khalid.' So they went to Yehya's house, and Mensour told him his case, whereat he was sore concerned and bowed his head awhile; then raising it, he called his treasurer and said to him, 'How much money have we in our treasury?' 'Five thousand dirhems,' answered the treasurer, and Yehya bade him bring them and sent a message to his son Fezl, saying, 'I am offered for sale estates of great price, that may never be laid waste; so send me somewhat of money.' Fezl sent him a thousand thousand dirhems, and he despatched a like message to his son Jaafer, who also sent him a thousand thousand dirhems; nor did he leave sending to his kinsmen of the Barmecides, till he had collected from them a great sum of mosey for Mensour. But the latter and Salih knew not of this; and Mensour said to Yehya, 'O my lord, I have laid hold upon thy skirt for I know not whither to look for the money but to thee; so discharge thou the rest of my debt for me, in accordance with thy wonted generosity, and make me thy freed slave.' Thereupon Yehya bowed his head and wept; then he said to a page, 'Harkye, boy, the Commander of the Faithful gave our slave-girl Denanir a jewel of great price: go thou to her and bid her send it us.' The page went out and presently returned with the jewel, whereupon quoth Yehya, 'O Mensour, I bought this jewel of the merchants for the Commander of the Faithful, for two hundred thousand diners, and he gave it to our slave-girl Denanir the lutanist. When he sees it with thee, he will know it and spare thy life and do thee honour for our sake; and now thy money is complete.'

So Salih took the money and the jewel and carried them to the Khalif, together with Mensour; but on the way? he heard the latter repeat this verse, applying it to his own case:

      It was not love, indeed, my feet to them that led; Nay, but because the stroke of th' arrows I did dread.

When Salih heard this, he marvelled at the baseness and ingratitude of Mensour's nature, and turning upon him, said, 'There is none on the face of the earth better than the Barmecides, nor any baser nor more depraved than thou; for they bought thee off from death and saved thee from destruction, giving thee what should deliver thee; yet thou thankest them not nor praisest them, neither acquittest thee after the manner of the noble; nay, thou requitest their benevolence with this speech.' Then he went to Er Reshid and acquainted him with all that had passed; and he marvelled at the generosity and benevolence of Yehya ben Khalid and the baseness and ingratitude of Mensour and bade restore the jewel to Yehya, saying, 'That which we have given, it befits not that we take again.'

So Salih returned to Yehya, and acquainted him with Mensour's ill conduct; whereupon, 'O Salih,' replied he, 'when a man is in distress, sick at heart and distracted with melancholy thought. he is not to be blamed for aught that falls from him; for it comes not from the heart.' And he fell to seeking excuse for Mensour. But Salih wept [in telling the tale] and exclaimed, 'Never shall the revolving sphere bring forth into being the like of thee, O Yehya! Alas, that one of such noble nature and generosity should be buried beneath the earth! 'And he repeated the following verses:

      Hasten to do the kindnesses thou hast a mind unto; For bounty is not possible at every tide and hour.
      How many a man denies his soul to do the generous deed, To which it's fain, till lack of means deprive him of the power!


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