Hafid lingered before the bronze mirror and studied his reflected image in the polished metal.
“Only the eyes have retained their youth,” he murmured as he turned away and moved slowly across the spacious marble floor. He passed between black onyx columns rising to support ceilings burnished with silver and gold and his aging legs carried him past tables carved from cyprus and ivory.
Tortoise shell gleamed from couches and divans and the walls, inlaid with gems, shimmered with brocades of the most painstaking design. Huge palms grew placidly in bronze vessels framing a fountain of alabaster nymphs while flower boxes, encrusted with gems, competed with their contents for attention. No visitor to Hafid’s palace could doubt that he was, indeed, a person of great wealth.
“The old man passed through an enclosed garden and entered his warehouse which extended beyond the mansion for five hundred paces. Erasmus, his chief bookkeeper, waited uncertainly just beyond the entryway.
Hafid nodded and continued on in silence. Erasmus followed, his face unable to disguise concern at the master’s unusual request for a meeting in this place. Near the loading platforms Hafid paused to watch goods being removed from baggage wagons and counted into separate stalls.
There were wools, fine linens, parchment, honey, carpets, and oil from Asia Minor; glass, figs, nuts, and balsam from his own country; textiles and drugs from Palmyra; ginger, cinnamon, and precious stones from Arabia; corn, paper, granite, alabaster, and basalt from Egypt; tapestries from Babylon; paintings from Rome; and statues from Greece. The smell of balsam was heavy in the air and Hafid’s sensitive old nose detected the presence of sweet plums, apples, cheese, and ginger.
Finally he turned to Erasmus. “Old friend, how much wealth is there now accumulated in our treasury?”
Erasmus paled, “Everything, master?”
“I have not studied the numbers recently but I would estimate there is in excess of seven million gold talents.”
“And were all the goods in all my warehouses and emporiums converted into gold, how much would they bring?”
“Our inventory is not yet complete for this season, sire, but I would calculate a minimum of another three million talents.”
Hafid nodded, “Purchase no more goods. Institute immediately whatever plans are required to sell everything that is mine and convert all of it to gold.”
The bookkeeper’s mouth opened but no sound came forth. He fell back as if struck and when finally he could speak, the words came with effort.
“I do not understand, sire. This has been our most profitable year. Every emporium reports an increase in sales over the previous season. Even the Roman legions are now our customers for did you not sell the Procurator in Jerusalem two hundred Arabian stallions within the fortnight? Forgive my boldness for seldom have I questioned your orders but this command I cannot comprehend.…”
Hafid smiled and gently grasped Erasmus’ hand.
“My trusted comrade, is your memory of sufficient strength to recall the first command you received from me when you entered my employ many years ago?”
Erasmus frowned momentarily and then his face brightened. “I was enjoined by you to remove, each year, half the profit from our treasury and dispense it to the poor.”
“Did you not, at that time, consider me a foolish man of business?”
“I had great forebodings, sire.”
“Hafid nodded and spread his arms toward the loading platforms. “Will you now admit that your concern was without ground?”
“Then let me encourage you to maintain faith in this decision until I explain my plans. I am now an old man and my needs are simple. Since my beloved Lisha has been taken from me, after so many years of happiness, it is my desire to distribute all of my wealth among the poor of this city. I shall keep only enough to complete my life without discomfort. Besides disposing of our inventory, I wish you to prepare the necessary documents which will transfer the ownership of every emporium to him who now manages each for me. I also wish you to distribute five thousand gold talents to these managers as a reward for their years of loyalty and so that they may restock their shelves in any manner that they desire.”
Erasmus began to speak but Hafid’s raised hand silenced him. “Does this assignment seem unpleasant to you?”
The bookkeeper shook his head and attempted to smile. “No, sire, it is only that I cannot understand your reasoning. Your words are those of a man whose days are numbered.”
“It is your character, Erasmus, that your concern should be for me instead of yourself. Have ye no thoughts for your own future when our trade empire is disbanded?”
“We have been comrades together for many years. How can I, now, think only of myself?”
Hafid embraced his old friend and replied, “It is not necessary. I ask that you immediately transfer fifty thousand gold talents to your name and I beg that you remain with me until a promise I made long ago is fulfilled. When that promise is kept I will then bequeath this palace and warehouse to you for I will then be ready to rejoin Lisha.”
The old bookkeeper stared at his master unable to comprehend the words heard. “Fifty thousand gold talents, the palace, the warehouse … I am not deserving.…”
Hafid nodded. “I have always counted your friendship as my greatest asset. What I now bestow on you is of little measure compared to your unending loyalty. You have mastered the art of living not for yourself alone, but for others, and this concern has stamped thee above all, as a man among men. Now I urge you to hasten with the consummation of my plans. Time is the most precious commodity I possess and the hour glass of my life is nearly filled.”
Erasmus turned his face to hide his tears. His voice broke as he asked, “And what of your promise, yet to keep? Although we have been as brothers never have I heard you talk of such a matter.”
Hafid folded his arms and smiled. “I will meet with you again when you have discharged my commands of this morning. Then I will disclose a secret which I have shared with no one, except my beloved wife, for over thirty years.”
Copyright © 2011 by Og Mandino. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Og Mandino is one of the most widely read inspirational and self-help authors in the world. Former president of Success Unlimited magazine, Mandino was the first recipient of the Napoleon Hill Gold Medal Award for literary achievement. Og Mandino was a member of the Council of Peers Award for Excellence Speaker Hall of Fame and was honored with a Master of Influence Award by the National Speakers Association. Og Mandino died in 1996, but his books continue to inspire countless thousands all over the world.