IN days of yore and times of old there was a mer­chant in Yaman of the name of Khoja Bashír, who was adorned with all good qualities. He enjoyed the intimacy of the king's society, and the star of his good luck was so much in the ascendant with the king's favour that the splendour of the lamp of his presence was constantly illuming the courtly assembly of royalty, which could never for a moment dispense with it. The king was accustomed to avail himself of his advice in all grave and subtle affairs, and rewarded him with many favours. But his majesty had a Vazír of an envious disposition, the merchandise of whose unhappy temper was neither current nor acceptable in the warehouse of humane qualities. This Vazír hated Khoja Bashír because he was superior to him­self in ability and was much in the king's intimacy. He thus reasoned with himself: “It is probable that the king will become alienated from me and confer the vazírate upon Khoja Bashír. It is every man's duty to look after his own affairs and endeavour to remove his enemies. While Khoja Bashír continues to drink from the cup of life and dress in the robe of royal favours, the colour of distress will never be removed from the face of the sun of my quietude, nor can my heart rest for a moment in peace. Therefore I must make the utmost efforts and concoct a plan by which Khoja Bashír will not only lose the regard of the king but be either put to death or exiled from this city.” Day and night this purpose was uppermost in his mind, until on one occasion he happened to be alone with the sultan, and availing himself of the opportunity he said to his majesty:

“O king of high lineage and great power,
By thy existence the throne's glory is honoured!
May the flag of thy prosperity and grandeur always adorn the sphere!
The very dust of thy court brightens the eye of dignity!

As, according to the canons of government and the administration of affairs, vazírs are called the keys of the treasury of the regulations of business, and the bankers of the good and evil transactions of the governments of honoured potentates, I venture to trouble your majesty about a matter which has taken place in opposition to the customs of obedience.” The king said: “Speak,” and the Vazír thus pro­ceeded: “Two things injure the edifice and the dignity of government: one is to lightly esteem honoured and respected persons, and the other is to exalt those who are mean and nameless. Every one who seeks the shadow of the humaí of prosperity and of royalty must for several reasons keep in mind these two things. Khoja Bashír, the merchant, who is placed on the upper seat of your majesty's proxi­mity and regard, is a man of low extraction, a criminal, and notorious for his immorality. His wife is an adulteress, who has stepped quite beyond the pale of modesty, and scruples not to be present and to roam in all assemblies and crowds and associate with all sorts of vagabonds and profligate persons. And it is a matter of astonishment that, with all your per­fections and wisdom, your majesty should have fallen into this heedlessness.” As the king had many times tried the character of Khoja Bashír on the touchstone of examination and experience, and had never dis­covered a flaw in the gem of his essence and qualities, he was amazed, and, refusing to assent to the accusa­tions of the Vazír, he said to him: “It is scarcely possible that I should associate with a man of that description. I have found him perfect, and the pure gold of his morals void of the dross and alloy of vices. What you say about his character is far from probable, and you must establish your asseveration by witnesses and proofs, that I may believe it, else I shall punish you with the utmost severity.” The Vazír now re­gretted and repented of what he had said, but asked the king for a week's respite; and during that time his mind was day and night wandering like a pen over the plain of composition, and meditating by what ruse he might strike the lightning of defamation into the granary of the modesty of Khoja Bashír's wife.

In that city lived a deceitful old hag, who was well skilled in all sorts of cunning tricks. The Vazír sent for her, and, after anointing all the limbs of her ex­pectations with the oil of promises, he said to her: “There is an engagement between me and the king, and for my purpose I require you to bring me, in any way you possibly can, some token from Khoja Bashír's wife.” The old crone answered: “By my soul! I shall endeavour my utmost to do you this piece of service.” Next day she put on an old tattered dress, and assumed the appearance of a poor and destitute creature; and going to the house of Khoja Bashír, as if to beg, wished to enter, but the porter repulsed her, upon which she exclaimed: “O accursed one! hast thou not heard that

‘Whoever impedes the begging of the poor
Is a mean wretch, who will go to hell’?

What loss wilt thou suffer if I go into the prosperous house of the Khoja and the ant of my hope obtain one grain of profit from the storehouse of his succour?” She again put forth the foot of effort to gain admit­tance, but the porter held his staff before her, and said: “The Khoja is at present with the king, and I cannot allow any person to enter in his absence.” Hereupon the old woman threw herself upon the ground, and screamed: “The doorkeeper has killed me!” She bit and wounded her limbs, besmeared them with blood, and cried: “Alas, my little ones will be orphans!” When the wife of the Khoja heard the clamour of the hag she sent the eunuchs out, and when they saw an old woman lying on the ground, apparently in the agony of death, they asked her: “Who art thou, and what has happened to thee?” She replied: “I am a poor, weak, old woman, and have come to the prosperous mansion of the Khoja in the hope of obtaining assistance, but in consequence of my unfounded expectations my life has fallen a prey to the winds of annihilation from the beating inflicted on me by the doorkeeper.” The eunuchs blamed the porter, saying: “Unfortunate man! The removal of misfortunes and the attainment of high degrees are connected with the advent [and relief] of mendicants. Art thou not ashamed of having so un­mercifully stricken this old beggar-woman?” The porter swore to the untruthfulness of her assertions, and related the whole matter, after which the eunuchs communicated the facts to the wife of the Khoja, who was very kind-hearted, and said to them: “Bring the poor creature in, by all means, that I may investigate her case; for destitute persons and darveshes are the caravan of God's mercy and pity, and to injure them kindles the flame of his anger.”

The eunuchs wrapped the old hag in a carpet and carried her before the Khoja's wife, who at once applied to her nostrils different perfumes, such as castor, san­dal, and aloe. After a while the old crone opened her eyes and let loose the general of the caravan of deceit, namely, her tongue, in praises and good wishes for the lady, saying: “Noble lady, may you obtain the approbation of God, and may your future circum­stances be still more prosperous! Had my weak limbs not been strengthened by the balsam of your kindness, the stamina of my life would have been dis­turbed by the grasp of death in consequence of the ill-treatment which I received from the doorkeeper, and my little children would have been afflicted by the bitter poison of becoming orphans.” Then she began freely to weep and lament, saying: “O treacher­ous Destiny! thou hast thrown me into the heart­burning flames of the death of Khoja Távus, my husband. Was it not enough to deprive me of so great a blessing, and to subject me to the trials of poverty, and to compel me to seek for a precarious maintenance for my children, and to induce me to do things of which my slaves would have been ashamed? O noble lady, I was a woman of honour and reputa­tion, and of a very high family, but the reverses of Fortune have deprived me of my husband and pro­perty, and driven me away from the mansion of tran­quility and comfort. Every day a thousand destitute and worthy persons were supplied from the table of my bounty. But one day I sent a mendicant away empty-handed, and on that account the torrent of diminution has overthrown the castle of my affluence, and reduced me to this needy condition. The poor are the spies of the palace of monotheism: to give them alms, and to treat them well, is an occasion of the increase of the vernal garden of God's favour; but to disappoint them brings on the destruction of the mansion of comfort and life.

If thou debar a beggar of aid
Thou wilt enjoy no pleasure.
The prayer of the mendicant
Will preserve thee from ill luck.
Give thy scraps to the poor,
That thou mayest always prosper.

O respected and noble lady, the fame of Khoja Bashír's liberal disposition has to-day induced me to apply at this place. I came here eagerly to obtain a morsel of your bounty; but as such an accident has befallen me, God be praised, what other remedy is there but patience and gratitude? What use is there to contend with Fate?”

By this address the old hag had so well sown the seeds of weeping and lamentation in the net of incan­tation, and had so dexterously sung the threnody of her sadness and poverty, that the unsuspecting bird of the lady's simplicity was taken in the meshes of her ruse. The lady wept, and begged her pardon for the injuries she had received from the doorkeeper, and said: “Wait until the Khoja returns home, and I will give thee gold and silver enough for the comfort of the remainder of thy life, and thou wilt not need to make any more demands on the liberality of others. Though thou seest much property here, I am not able to dispose of it without my husband's permission.” The old crone waited till evening, but the Khoja had not returned, so she said: “Honoured lady, the Khoja has not yet come, and my little children, who know that I have taken refuge at this threshold, are expecting to participate in his bounty.” The lady divested herself of a robe, handed it to the old trot, and said: “This dress is my own property; sell it and provide for your orphans, until I get something handsome for you from the Khoja in the morning.”

The old woman took the robe and hastened with it to the house of the Vazír, saying to him: “I have obtained an evident token from the wife of Khoja Bashír.” The Vazír was extremely rejoiced, and pro­ceeded that very night to the king after the Khoja had departed to say his prayers, and, showing the dress, said: “May the spheres always revolve accord­ing to the will of your majesty, and may the sun of your prosperity shine in the zenith of good fortune! Your humble servant has brought a token of the guilt of Khoja Bashír's wife, who often comes to me; but, in consideration of my virtue and of the favour which I enjoy from your majesty, as well as because of the good will I bear towards Khoja Bashír,* I have always tried to dissuade her from her misconduct and never admitted her into my house. Last night, however, for the purpose of obtaining some proof of her guilt I sent for her; she was with me till morning, and this is a sign of her presence. Even this evening she came again, but I sent her away. Let this robe be shown to Khoja Bashír, and if he should not recognise it I shall find means to give him the particulars.” The king was greatly displeased, and the vazír took his leave. When Khoja Bashír returned the king said nothing to him about the affair, and the Khoja, as usual, slept in the palace. But when the belle of the morn invested herself with the robe of dawn and seated herself in the edifice of the Orient, the king showed the garment to Khoja Bashír, saying: “Last night the police met a gang of thieves and took this dress from them. I wonder whose it may be?” As soon as the Khoja's eye alighted on the garment he recognised it, trembled and became pale, and said: “The dress belongs to one of your servant's house­hold; but as I have been for some time in attendance on your majesty, I do not know what has happened in my family.” Then said the king: “You vile wretch! Are you not ashamed to keep so guilty a woman in your house, who spends every night in the company of a fresh lover? Last night your wife was in the house of the Vazír till morning, and this dress has been brought to me as a proof of the fact. I am in fault to have admitted such an unprincipled fellow into my society.” Khoja Bashír was thunder-struck; but as he had no reason to doubt his wife's modesty, he knew that this was a trick of the Vazír. He tried in vain to undeceive the king, who was so excited that he at once issued orders for his execution, and so he was taken from the palace to the place where he was to be put to death.

The Khoja had a slave-boy who was much attached to him, and he ran to the house and informed his master's wife of what had happened. The lady said: “There is no harm done. I gave away the dress in charity and for the sake of gaining favour with the Most High; nor can the promise which he has given with reference to the beneficent ever fail in its effects, and he will not allow any ill to befall the Khoja.” She handed a purse of gold to the lad and bade him give it to the executioners, to induce them to delay carrying out the sentence on the Khoja, to which they willingly consented, as they had received many favours from him while he was in the king's service. In the meantime the Khoja's wife threw a veil over her head and went to the palace, where she found the Vazír, who had come to prevent any attempt that might be made to rescue the Khoja. The lady exclaimed: “O king, I seek justice from the tyranny and wickedness of the Vazír!” Said the king: “What injustice has the Vazír done you?” She answered: “I am a stipendiary of grandees, and in this way do I gain my livelihood. It is almost fifteen years since I began to wait on the Vazír. He promised to give me nine hundred dirhams annually, but he now presumes upon his high station and gives me nothing. Last night when I asked him for what is due to me he threatened to have me killed.” The Vazír was amazed, and on being questioned by the king said: “This woman speaks what is not true. I swear by the head of your majesty that I have never seen her nor do I know her.” Then the lady said: “He has made a false oath by the head of his benefactor! Let him write down his assertion, and if his treachery should become evident to your majesty let him be duly punished.” The Vazír arose and scrutinised the face and stature of the lady, and then wrote a declaration that he had never seen or known this woman, and that if his assertion proved false he would resign his life and leave his blood to be licked by the dogs. After the Vazír had delivered this paper to the king, the lady said: “Let it be known to the exalted mind of your majesty that I am the wife of Khoja Bashír, the merchant, against whom this tyrannical individual, to satisfy his hatred and envy, concocted this stratagem with reference to me. God the Most High has said that whoever uses cunning towards another shall also be over-reached by cunning.” She then explained the matter fully, and added: “As the Vazír declares that he does not know me, how could I have been with him last night?”

The king became convinced of the treachery of the Vazír, who was overwhelmed with shame and fell, as it were, into the agonies of death. Khoja Bashír was by the king's order immediately brought back from the place of execution, and his wife returned to her house. The old hag was produced and examined, but would not confess until the instruments of torture were brought, when she spoke as follows: “As women are of imperfect understanding,* I cannot be guilty. At the instigation of the Vazír I entered the house of the Khoja, where that virtuous and modest lady, his wife, took off the robe from her own body and bestowed it on me for the sake of God. Disregarding her kindness, the greediness of my disposition induced me to transgress the straight path, in order to obtain the reward promised to me by the Vazír.” The king caused both the Vazír and the old hag to be suspended on the gallows. He approved the prudent demeanour of the wife of Khoja Bashír, begged pardon of the Khoja, and installed him into the dignity of the Vazír, whose whole property he bestowed upon him.