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The Sheik’s Palace And His Slaves
by [?]

Ali Banu, Sheik of Alessandria, was a singular man. When he passed down the street of a morning, with a superb cashmere turban wound about his head, and clad in a festival habit, and sash worth not less than fifty camels, walking with slow and solemn steps, his forehead so contracted that his eyebrows met, his eyes cast down, and at every fifth step stroking his long black beard with a thoughtful air–when he thus took his way to the mosque, to give readings from the Koran to the Faithful, as required by his office; then the people on the street paused, looked after him, and said to one another: “He is really a handsome, stately man.” “And rich,–a rich gentleman,” another added; “extremely wealthy; has he not a palace on the harbor of Stamboul? Has he not estates and lands, and many thousand head of cattle, and a great number of slaves?” “Yes,” spoke up a third; “and the Tartar who was recently sent here from Stamboul, with a message for the sheik from the sultan (may the Prophet preserve him), told me that our sheik was thought highly of by the minister of foreign affairs, by the lord high admiral, by all the ministers, in fact; yes, even by the sultan.” “Yes,” exclaimed a fourth, “fortune attends his steps. He is a wealthy distinguished gentleman; but–but–you know what I mean!” “Yes, certainly,” interrupted the others; “it is true he has his burden to carry, and I wouldn’t care to change places with him. He is rich, and a man of rank, but, but–“

Ali Banu had a splendid house on the finest square in Alessandria. In front of the house was a broad terrace, surrounded by a marble wall, and shaded by palm trees. Here the sheik often sat of an evening smoking his nargileh. At a respectable distance, twelve richly costumed slaves awaited his orders; one carried his betel, another held his parasol, a third had vessels of solid gold filled with rare sherbet, a fourth carried a fan of peacock’s feathers to drive away the flies from his master’s person, others were singers and carried lutes and wind instruments to entertain him with music when he so desired, while the best educated of them all carried scrolls from which to read to their master.

But they waited in vain for him to signify his pleasure. He desired neither music nor song; he did not wish to hear passages or poems from the wise poets of the past; he would not taste of the sherbet, nor chew of the betel; and even the slave with the fan had his labor for his pains, as the master was indifferent to the flies that buzzed about him.

The passers-by often stopped and wondered over the splendor of the house, at the richly dressed slaves, and the signs of comfort that prevailed every-where; but when their eyes fell on the sheik, sitting so grave and melancholy under the palms, with his gaze never once wandering from the little blue clouds of his nargileh, they shook their heads and said: “Truly, this rich man is a poor man. He, who has so much, is poorer than one who has nothing; for the Prophet has not given him the sense to enjoy it.” Thus spake the people; they laughed at him and passed on.

One evening, as the sheik again sat under the palms before his door, in all his pomp, some young men standing in the street looked at him and laughed.

“Truly,” said one, “Sheik Ali Banu is a foolish man; had I his wealth, I should make a different use of it. Every day I would live sumptuously and in joy; my friends should dine with me in the large salons of the house, and song and laughter should fill these sad halls.”