IBRAHIM, the most learned and pious man of the city, whom everybody held in esteem, fell on troubled days. To none did he speak of his sufferings, for he was proud and would have been compelled to refuse the help which he knew would have been offered to him. His noble wife and five faithful sons suffered in silence, but Ibrahim was sorely troubled when he saw their clothes wearing away to rags and their bodies wasting with hunger.
One day Ibrahim was seated in front of the Holy Book, but he saw not the words on its pages. His eyes were dimmed with tears and his thoughts were far away. He was day-dreaming of a region where hunger and thirst and lack of clothes and shelter were unknown. He sighed heavily and his wife heard.
"My dear husband," she said to him gently, "we are starving. You must go forth to seek work for the sake of our five little sons."
"Yes, yes," he replied, sadly, "and for you, too, my devoted wife, but"--and he pointed to his tattered garments--"how can I go out in these? Who will employ a man so miserably clad?"
"I will ask our kind neighbors to lend you some raiment," said his wife, and although he made some demur at first, she did so and was successful in obtaining the loan of a cloak which completely covered Ibrahim and restored to him his dignified appearance.
His good wife cheered him with brave words. He took his staff and set out with head erect and his heart filled with a great hope. All people saluted the learned Ibrahim, for it was not often he was seen abroad in the busy streets of the city. He returned their greetings with kindly smiles, but halted not in his walk. He had no wish to make any claims upon his fellow citizens, who would no doubt have gladly assisted him. He desired to go among strangers and work so that he should not be beholden to anyone.
Beyond the city gates, where the palm trees grew and the camels trudged lazily toward the distant desert, he was suddenly accosted by a stranger dressed as an Arab.
"O learned and holy man of the city," he said, "command me, for I am thy slave." At the same time he made a low bow before Ibrahim.
"My slave!" returned Ibrahim, in surprise. "You mock me, stranger. I am wretchedly poor. I seek but the opportunity to sell myself, even as a slave, to any man who will provide food and clothing for my wife and children."
"Sell not thyself," said the Arab. "Offer me for sale instead. I am a marvelous builder. Behold these plans and models, specimens of my skill and handiwork."
From beneath the folds of his ample robes, the Arab produced a scroll and a box and held them out to Ibrahim. The latter took them, wonderingly. On the scroll were traced designs of stately buildings. Within the box was an exquisite model of a palace, a marvelous piece of work, perfect in detail and workmanship. Ibrahim examined it with great care.
"I have never seen anything so beautiful," he admitted. "It is wrought and fashioned with exceeding good taste. It is in itself a work of art. You must indeed be a wondrous craftsman. Whence come you?"
"What matters that?" replied the Arab. "I am thy slave. Is there not in this city some rich merchant or nobleman who needs the services of such talents as I possess? Seek him out and dispose of me to him. To thee he will give ear; to me he will not listen."
Ibrahim pondered over this strange request for a while.
"Agreed!" he said, at length.
Together they returned to the city. There Ibrahim made inquiries in the bazaar where the wealthy traders met to discuss their affairs, and soon learned of a rich dealer in precious stones, a man of a multitude of charitable deeds, who was anxious to erect an imposing residence. He called upon the jeweler.
"Noble sir," he said, "I hear that it is thy intention to erect a palace the like of which this city has not yet seen, an edifice that will be an everlasting joy to its possessor, a delight to all who gaze upon it, and which will bring renown to this city."
"That is so," said the merchant. "You have interpreted the desire of my heart as if you had read its secret. I would fain dedicate to the uses of the ruler of this city a palace that will shed luster on his name."
"It is well," returned Ibrahim. "I have brought thee an architect and builder of genius. Examine his plans and designs. If they please thee, as assuredly they will, purchase the man from me, for he is my slave."
The jeweler could not understand the plans on the scroll, but on the model in the box he feasted his eyes for several minutes in speechless amazement.
"It is indeed remarkable," he said at last. "I will give thee eighty thousand gold pieces for thy slave, who must build for me just such a palace."
Ibrahim immediately informed the Arab, who at once consented to perform the task, and then the pious man hastened home to his wife and children with the good news and the money, which made him rich for the rest of his days.
To the Arab the jeweler said, "Thou wilt regain thy liberty if thou wilt succeed in thy undertaking. Begin at once. I will forthwith engage the workmen."
"I need no workmen," was the Arab's singular reply. "Take me to the land whereon I must build, and to-morrow thy palace shall be complete."
"Even as I say," answered the Arab.
The sun was setting in golden glory when they reached the ground, and pointing to the sky the Arab said: "Tomorrow, when the great orb of light rises above the distant hills, its rays will strike the minarets and domes and towers of thy palace, noble sir. Leave me now. I must pray."
In perfect bewilderment, the merchant left the stranger. From a distance he watched the man devoutly praying. He had made up his mind to watch all the night; but when the moon rose, deep sleep overcame him and he dreamed. He dreamed that he saw myriads of men swarming about strange machines and scaffolding which grew higher and higher, hiding a vast structure.
Ibrahim dreamed, too, but in his vision one figure, that of the Arab, stood out above all other things. Ibrahim scanned the features of the stranger closely; he followed, as it were, the man's every movement. He noticed how all the workmen and particularly the supervisors did the stranger great honor, showing him the deference due to one of the highest position. And with grave and dignified mien, the Arab responded kindly. From the heavens a bright light shone upon the scene, the radiance being softest wherever the Arab stood.
In his dream, it so appeared to Ibrahim, he rose from his bed, went out into the night, and approached the palace magically rising from the waste ground beyond the city. Nearer and nearer his footsteps took him, until he stood beside the Arab again. One of the chief workmen approached and addressed the stranger--by name!
Then it was Ibrahim understood--and he awoke. The sun was streaming in through the lattice of his bedroom. He sprang from his bed and looked out upon a magnificent spectacle. Beyond the city the sun's rays were reflected by a dazzling array of gilded cupolas and glittering spires, the towers of the palace of marble that he had seen builded in his dream. Instantly he went out and made haste to the palace to assure himself that his dream was really over. Ibrahim and the jeweler arrived before the gates at the same moment. They stood speechless with amazement and admiration before the model of the Arab grown to immense proportions.
Almost at the same moment, the gates, ornamented with beaten gold, opened from within and the Arab stood before them. Ibrahim bent low his head.
The Arab addressed the merchant.
"Have I fulfilled my promise and earned my freedom?" he asked.
"Verily thou hast," answered the merchant.
"Then farewell, and may blessings rest on thee and the good Ibrahim and on all your works."
Thus spoke the Arab, raising his hands in benediction. Then he disappeared within the golden doors.
The jeweler and Ibrahim followed quickly, but though they hastened through the halls and corridors of many colored marbles, in and out of rooms lighted by windows of clearest crystal, and up and down staircases of burnished metal, they could find no one. Emerging into the open again, they saw a huge crowd standing in wonderment before the gates.
"Tell me," said the jeweler, "who was the builder of this magic palace."
"Elijah, the Prophet," said Ibrahim, "the benefactor of mankind, who revisits the earth to assist in their distress those deemed worthy. Blessed am I, and blessed art thou for thy good deeds, for we have been truly honored."
To show his gratitude, the merchant gave a banquet in his palace to all the people in the city and scattered gold and silver pieces among the crowds that thronged the streets.