THE ANGEL OF DEATH AND THE RICH KING.

A certain king had heaped up treasure beyond count and gathered store of all [precious] things, that God the Most High hath created, that he might take his pleasure thereof, against such time as he should have leisure to enjoy all this abounding wealth that he had collected. Moreover, he builded him a wide and lofty palace, such as beseemeth kings, and set thereto strong doors of cunning fashion and appointed for its service and guard servants and soldiers and doorkeepers. One day, he bade the cooks dress him somewhat of the goodliest of food and assembled his household and retainers and lords and servants to eat with him and partake of his bounty. Then he sat down upon the throne of his kingship and the chair of his state and leaning back upon his cushion, bespoke himself, saying, 'O soul, behold, thou hast gathered together all the riches of the world; so now take thy leisure therein and eat of this good at thine ease, in long life and abounding prosperity!'

Hardly had he made an end of speaking, when there came so terrible a knock at the gate that the whole palace shook and the king's throne trembled. The servants were affrighted and ran to the door, where they saw a man clad in tattered raiment, with a cadger's wallet hanging at his neck, as he were one who came to beg food. When they saw him, they cried out at him, saying, 'Out on thee! What unmannerly fashion is this? Wait till the king eateth and [after] we will give thee of what is left.' Quoth he, 'Tell your lord to come out and speak with me, for I have a pressing errand to him and a weighty matter.' 'Away, fool!' replied they. 'Who art thou that we should bid our lord come out to thee?' But he said, 'Tell him of this.' So they went in and told the king, who said, 'Did ye not rebuke him and draw upon him and chide him!' But, as he spoke, behold, there came another knock at the gate, louder than the first, whereupon the servants ran at the stranger with staves and weapons, to fall upon him; but he cried out at them, saying, 'Abide in your places, for I am the Angel of Death.' When they heard this, their hearts quaked and their wits forsook them; their understandings were dazed and their nerves trembled for fear and their limbs lost the power of motion. Then said the King to them, 'Bid him take a substitute in my stead.' But the Angel answered, saying, 'I will take no substitute, and I come not but on thine account, to make severance between thee and the good thou hast gathered together and the riches thou hast heaped up and treasured.' When the king heard this, he wept and groaned, saying, 'May God curse the treasure that has deluded and undone me and diverted me from the service of my Lord! I deemed it would profit me, but to-day it is a regret for me and an affliction unto me, and behold, I [must] go forth, empty-handed of it, and leave it to mine enemies.'

Therewith God caused the treasure to speak and it said, 'Why dost thou curse me? Curse thyself, for God created both me and thee of the dust and appointed me to be in thine hand, that thou mightest provide thee with me for the next world and give alms with me to the poor and sick and needy and endow mosques and hospices and build bridges and aqueducts, so might I be a succour unto thee in the life to come. But thou didst garner me and hoard me up and bestowedst me on thine own lusts, neither gavest thanks for me, as was due, but wast ungrateful; and now thou must leave me to thine enemies and abidest in thy regret and thy repentance. But what is my fault, that thou shouldest revile me?' Then the Angel of Death took the soul of the King, before he ate of the food, and he fell from his throne, dead. Quoth God the Most High, 'Even while they rejoiced in what had been given to them, we took them unawares and behold, they were stricken with despair." (1)




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