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The Richest Man

IN time long past there lived in a certain parish a great and wealthy lord. He had gold and silver, houses and land, and every honour which his country could give him.

One morning, after the cock had crowed three times, he heard a voice proclaiming three times, "This very night shall the richest man in this parish die." He was greatly troubled, and sent his servants in hot haste for the best of physicians far and near. He took to his bed, and the physicians watched unceasingly by his side, administering to him every medicine and every support of life which their study of the healing art had discovered.

The night came and wore away, although it appeared to the nobleman as long as a man's life. The dawn broke, and the nobleman and the physicians rejoiced exceedingly that he was still alive. While they rejoiced, lo, the church bell tolled the knell of someone dead. They sent to enquire who it was. The answer came that it was a poor old blind beggar-man, who was often to be seen sitting more than hall-naked at the roadside asking an alms. The nobleman said, "The voice proclaimed that the greatest and richest man in the parish would die. The old beggar must have been a cheat and impostor. As he has neither children nor relatives, to me, the lord of this land, belongs by law the wealth which he must have been possessed of." So he sent his servants to search the hut in which the beggar had died. They found nothing but a truss of straw and a bolster of rushes, with the old man lying dead upon them: there was no food or drink or fire or clothes, and it was seen that the beggar had perished from hunger and cold.

"What then meant the voice?" asked the nobleman. And one of the physicians answered and said, "The blind beggar-man has laid up for himself treasures in Heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through and steal. Are these treasures not greater than the uncertain and deceitful riches of this world?"

The nobleman was changed from that hour: he relieved poverty and want, and endowed churches, hospitals and schools. On his death-bed he asked that he should be buried in the beggar-man's grave.

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