Story of Ahmed the Orphan.

I HAVE heard, O my sovereign, that a certain sultan resolved to educate those unfortunate children who are sometimes abandoned on the highways. As he was passing one day, behold, he saw a male infant upon a heap of rubbish, who appeared beautiful as the moon at the full. He commanded his attendants to convey him to the palace; and they took him up, and committed him to nurses till he grew up, when they placed him at school. The boy learnt the Qur'ān and the sciences and languages. When he had finished his education, the sultan committed to him the care of his treasury; and it came to pass that at length he did nothing but with his advice, and the youth attended in his private chambers.

As he was in waiting one day, the sultan said: “Go to the apartment of Hayātu-'n-nufūs,* and bring me a medicine from her closet.” The youth passed through the chamber of the concubine, and found her with a slave. He took up the medicine, but did not seem to attend to her actions, and returned with haste to the sultan. The name of this youth was Ahmed Yetīm.* Then the sultan said: “What has happened to thee, that I perceive thy colour changed?”—Ahmed replied: “My lord, because I came with hurry and precipitation;” but he did not inform the sultan of what he had discovered.

The concubine Hayātu-'n-nufūs, being convinced that Ahmed must have beheld herself and her para­mour, hastily contrived a scheme against him. She scarred her face, and rent her garments. When the sultan entered, and found her in that situation, he said: “What is thy condition?”—She exclaimed: “From him who is the offspring of adultery no good can proceed.”—The sultan, understanding her mean­ing, replied: “Conceal this affair, and within this hour I will bring thee his head.” He departed from her, filled with indignation, and ascended his throne.

Ahmed attended, according to custom, but did not suspect what was plotted against him. The sultan beckoned to one of his slaves, and said privately to him: “Go to the house of such a person, and remain there. When any one shall say unto thee: ‘Thus saith the sultan, Do that which thou wast commanded to execute,’ strike off his head, place it in this basket, and fasten over it the cover. When I shall send to thee a messenger who will say: ‘Hast thou performed the business?’ commit to him the basket.” The slave replied: “To hear is to obey,” and retired. Soon after, the sultan called to Ahmed Yetīm, and said: “Hasten to a certain house, and say unto such a slave, ‘Execute the commands of the sultan.’”

Ahmed departed, but on the way he saw the man who had been criminal with the concubine, with a number of other slaves, sitting down, drinking and feasting. As they saw Ahmed approaching, they stood up; and the guilty slave thought that if he could detain him from the business of the sultan, he might procure his death. He stopped him, paid obeisance to him, and entreated that he would sit down with them a little while. But Ahmed said: “The sultan hath sent me upon business to a certain house, and I cannot stay.” Upon this the guilty slave replied: “I will perform the commission.” Ahmed answered: “If so, hasten, and say to a slave whom thou wilt find there, that he must execute the orders of the sultan.” The slave said: “To hear is to obey,” and departed.

Ahmed sat down with the rest, while the other proceeded to the house, and said to the person in waiting: “Thus saith the sultan, ‘Complete thy orders.’” He replied: “Most readily,” and drawing his scimitar, struck off the head of the guilty slave, washed it from the blood, placed it in the basket, tied the cover on it, and sat down.

When Ahmed had waited some time for the return of his messenger, he took leave of his company, went to the house, and said to the slave in waiting: “Hast thou performed thy orders?” He replied: “Yes,” and committed the basket to Ahmed, who took it up, and went with it to the sultan; but he did not suspect what was within the basket, nor did curiosity lead him to open it.

When the sultan saw him, he said: “Ahmed, I sent thee upon a commission, but thou hast entrusted it to another.” He replied: “My lord, it is true.” The sultan exclaimed: “Hast thou seen what is contained in this basket?” Ahmed answered: “No; I swear by thy head, I do not know what is within it, nor have I opened it.” The king was astonished, and said: “Take off the covering.” He lifted it up, and behold! in it was the head of the slave who had done evil with Hayātu-'n-nufūs.

The sultan exclaimed: “I cannot suppose, Ahmed, that it should be concealed from thee, whether or not this slaughtered man was guilty of a crime which ren­dered him worthy of death.” Ahmed replied: “Know, my lord, when thou didst send me for the medicine to the chamber of Hayātu-'n-nufūs, I found this slave in her embraces. I took up the medicine, but did not disclose what I had beheld. When despatched to the house, I found on the way this guilty slave, sitting with his fellows eating and drinking. He stood up, and entreated me to stay among them. I replied: ‘The sultan hath sent me to execute a commission.’ Upon which he said: ‘Sit down—I will perform this business,’ and departed.” He then related the other circumstances, until he was entrusted with the basket.

Then the sultan exclaimed: “O Ahmed! none is discerning but God;” related to him the behaviour of the damsel, and what she had accused him of, and said: “I resign her unto thee.” Ahmed replied: “I cannot repay the bounties of the sultan with ingrati­tude;—I can have no concern with her.” When the sultan heard these words, he commanded her to be put to death. [24]

“This, O sultan,” continued the vazīr, “is only one instance of the deceitfulness of women. Trust not to their declarations, for their artful malice is great. Another example of their arts hath reached me.”