DURING the reign of Sultan Mahmúd Sabaktaghin,* of Ghazní, a man was travelling from Aderbaijan to Hindústán; and when he arrived in Ghazní, he was much pleased with the climate and resolved to settle there. As he had great experience in commerce, he went to the bazár, became a broker, and was very successful in business. He intended to marry, and Fortune being propitious to him, he entered into a matrimonial alliance with a virtuous and handsome young woman. By degrees his business became more and more flourishing, and, having accumulated much wealth, he was numbered among the richest merchants. Wishing to extend his transactions to Hindústán, he sent goods to that country; but as he had no connec­tions or intimate friends who might take charge of his wife till his return, this thought troubled him greatly; and as it is the first duty of a respectable man to be on his guard in this matter, and not to hazard his reputation and honour, he determined not to start on his journey till he had provided an asylum for his spouse. The Kází of the city being noted for his piety, virtue, and honour, the merchant said to him­self: “I cannot do better than entrust the keeping of my wife to so godly and honest a man, who enjoys the esteem of rich and poor; so she shall remain in his house until I return from my journey.”

The merchant hastened to make his obeisance to the Kází, and said: “O president of the judgment-seat of truth and piety, from whose highly gifted and penetrating intellect the explanations of religious and secular questions flow, and by whose essentially holy authority the commendatory and prohibitory laws are corroborated—may your most righteous opinion always remain the guide of those who seek to walk in the straight path of piety! I, your humble servant, am an inhabitant of this city, and it is my intention to under­take a journey to Hindústán. I have a young wife, the leaves of whose modesty and virtue are bound up in the splendid volume of her natural excellence; and as I have nobody who might protect and take care of her, and lest she should fall under the obloquy of false tongues, I venture to hope that she may find refuge with your lordship.” The Kází placed the seal of acquiescence upon this request, and said that he would take charge of her; and the merchant, having furnished his wife with money to defray all the neces­sary expenses for a year, delivered her to the Kazí, and set out on his journey.

The lady passed all her time in the house of the Kází in prayer and devotion; and nearly a whole year had elapsed, without the breeze of a single profane glance having blown on the vernal abode of her face, and without her having ever heard the bird of a voice in the foliage of her ears, till one day the Kází unexpectedly made his appearance and looked at her, when he perceived the Laylá-like beauty sitting within the black mansion of her musky ringlets, and her sweet tenderness mounted upon the face of attractiveness and melancholy, the Majnún of the Kází's intellect became troubled, and, Ferhád-like, he began to dig the Bistán of his soul, which was melting and burning in the censer of distraction. He was desirous of making an attack upon her virtue, but, being aware of her pure nature and chastity, durst not attempt it. One day, however, when his wife went to the public bath and had left the lady alone to take care of the house, he was so completely dominated by his unlawful passion that he threw skyward the turban of concupiscence and exclaimed:

“The desired game for which I looked in the skies
Has now on earth fallen into the net of my good fortune.”

He locked the door, and commenced his stratagem by complimenting her modesty, and continued to address her in the following strain: “Virtuous lady, the reputation of my honesty and piety has spread through the world and penetrated all corners. Even the charms of the húrís of Paradise could not seduce my righteous disposition from the road of firm determin­ation, or impel me to transgress the laws of purity; then why do you avoid me so much? If the absence of intelligence and of the knowledge of the true state of things keep your face veiled with the curtain of bashfulness, my obedience to the laws of God and my fear of eternal punishment at the day of resurrec­tion prohibit me from allowing the fire of sensuality to be kindled within me. I would not disturb your peace, even with a single glance of my eye. Be of good cheer, therefore, and throw aside the veil of apprehen­sion from your face, for there is no danger of sinning; and although it is against the law of God and the Prophet to exact services from guests, yet as you belong to the house and I am dependent on your kindness, I would request you to procure me some food, for I am hungry.”

Drawing the prohibitory veil of bashfulness over her face, the lady waited upon the Kází with all due modesty, and having placed food before him she retired into a corner. Now the Kází had provided himself with a drug which deprives of all sense any one who partakes of it, and he said to the lady: “You know that three kinds of persons will be rejected from the mercy of God on the day of the resurrection and subjected to endless tortures: he who eats alone, he who sleeps alone, and he who travels alone; and till now it has never happened to me that I did any of these three things. As I am now eating alone, and one who does this has Satan for his companion, and his faith is endangered, why should you not, in order to free me from the snares of the Devil, defile your hands by partaking of this meal?” He ceased not thus to press the lady till she at length sat down near the table and helped herself to some food, into which the Kází unobserved threw some of the drug. After she had eaten a few morsels she felt faint, and on attempting to rise from the table her feet refused to bear her and she fell senseless on the floor.

The Kází quickly gathered up the articles that were on the table and purposed worse things, when he heard noises outside, which greatly disturbed him, and he was perplexed where to conceal the unconscious lady, so that nobody might discover the matter. He thought of the vault where he kept his money and valuables, which was known only to himself, and into it he thrust the lady, and then went out and found that his family had returned from the bath.

The Kází asked his family: “Why did you leave the house empty?” They answered: “We left the wife of the merchant to take care of the place.” Quoth the Kází: “It is two hours since I came home, and I have seen no one; why do you trust a stranger? She may have taken away something.” They were all astonished, protested that she was not such a woman, and wondered what had become of her. While this talk was going on, the merchant, having just returned from his journey to Hindústán, came to the house of the Kází to inquire for his wife. The Kází said: “It is some time since your wife left my house, without giving notice or asking permission.” But the merchant replied: “O Kází, this is not a time for jesting; give me back my wife.” The Kází swore that he was in earnest. But the merchant said: “I am too well acquainted with the nature and disposition of my wife to believe her capable of such conduct. There must be something more in this affair than appears.” At this the Kází affected to be wroth, and said: “It is I who ought to be offended, you foolish man. Why do you talk nonsense and needlessly insult us? Go and look for your wife!”

As the merchant was devotedly attached to his wife, and the smoke of distress was beginning to ascend from the oven of his brain, he tore the collar of patience and hastened to make his complaint to the sultan, and, prostrating himself upon the carpet of supplication, he recited these verses:

“O exalted and happy monarch,
May felicity be the servant of your palace!
The Kází of the city has done me injustice
Greater than the blast of the tornado of the west.
If it be permitted, I will explain
The injustice of that mean-spirited wretch.”

The sultan replied: “Set forth your complaint, that I may become acquainted with it.” Then the merchant spoke as follows: “I am a native of Aderbaijan, and the fame of the justice and pro­tection which the poor obtain at the hands of your majesty induced me to settle in this country, and I have dwelt for some years under the shadow of the sultan's protection. I had a beautiful and modest wife, and, purposing to travel to Hindústán, I com­mitted her a year ago to the charge of the Kází. Now I have returned from my journey, the Kází, led away by covetousness, refuses to give up to me my wife.” The sultan ordered the Kází to be brought before him. When he appeared, the sultan asked him what he had to say regarding the complaint which the merchant made against him. Said the Kází: “May the torch of your majesty's welfare be luminous and the castle of opposition ruinous! This man entrusted his wife to me, and it is nearly three months since she quitted my house without giving notice, and up to this time she has not come back, and we have failed to discover any trace of her.” To this the merchant responded: “Such conduct is in­consistent with the character of my wife, and I do not believe it.” The sultan asked: “Where are the witnesses?” The Kází said that several neighbours and householders were acquainted with the fact, and wrote down the names of a number of rascals whom he had bribed to give evidence in his favour. At a sign from the sultan to the chamberlain they were brought in and confirmed the assertion of the Kází, upon which the sultan said to the merchant: “As the Kází has established his statement by witnesses, your complaint falls to the ground,” and the merchant retired disappointed.

Now the sultan was in the habit of walking about the bazárs and streets of the city occasionally in dis­guise, mixing among the people, in order to discover what they thought of him. That night he left his palace according to his wont, and as he walked about he chanced to pass near the door of a shop where a party of boys were playing at the game of “The King and his Vazír.” One of the boys was made king, and said to the others: “As I am king, you are all under my authority, and you must not seek to evade my commands.” Another boy said: “If you give unjust decisions like Sultan Mahmúd, we shall soon depose you.” The boy-king asked: “What in­justice has Sultan Mahmúd done?” The other boy answered: “To-day the affair of the merchant came before the sultan. This merchant had confided his wife to the keeping of the Kází, and he did her in his own house. The sultan called for witnesses, and the Kází gained the case by producing in court witnesses whom he had previously bribed. It is a great pity that people should have the administration of justice in their hands who are unable to distinguish between right and wrong. Had I been in the place of the sultan I should very soon have discovered the truth or falsehood of the Kází's witnesses.”

When the sultan had heard the conversation of these boys he sighed, and returned to his palace in great agitation of mind; and next morning as soon as it was daylight he sent a servant to fetch the boy who had criticised his judgment of the merchant's case. The boy was brought, and the sultan received him in a very friendly manner, saying: “This day you shall be my lieutenant from morning till evening, and I intend to allow you to sit in judgment and to act entirely according to your own will.” Then the sultan whispered to the chamberlain to invite the merchant to repeat his complaint against the Kází, and the merchant, having been brought into court, did so. The Kází and his witnesses were next summoned, and when the Kází was about to seat himself the boy said: “Ho, Master Kází, the leading-strings of justice and the power of tying and untying knotty points of law have been long in your hands—how then do you seem to be so ignorant of legal customs? You have been brought into this court as a party in a law suit, and not as an assessor. It is the rule that you should stand below, on an equality with your accuser, till the court breaks up, and then you should obey whatever its decision may be.” Then the Kází went and stood near the merchant, and again asserted that the woman had left his house three months ago. The boy asked: “Have you any witnesses?” The Kází pointed to his followers, saying: “These are the witnesses.” The boy called one of them to him, and asked him in a subdued voice whether he had seen the woman. He said: “Yes.” Then he asked what signs there were on her person, stature, or face. The man be­came embarrassed and said: “She had a mole on her forehead; one of her teeth is wanting; she is of fresh complexion; tall and slender.” The boy asked: “What hour of the day was it when she went away from the Kází's house?” The man replied: “Morning.” “Remain in this place,” said the boy. Then he called another witness, who thus described the woman: “She is of low stature and is lean; her cheeks are white and red; she has a mole near her mouth; she left the house in the afternoon.” Having placed this man in another corner, the boy called for a third witness, whose evidence contradicted both the others; and gradually he examined them all and found they dis­agreed from each other in everything. The sultan was sitting by the side of the boy and heard all; and when the hearing of the witnesses was ended the boy said: “You God-forgetting wretches, why do you give false evidence? Let the instruments of torture be brought that we may find out the truth.” As soon as they heard the word torture they all offered to say the truth, and confessed themselves to be a set of poor fellows whom the Kází had bribed with a sum of money and instructed what to say, and that they knew nothing whatever about the woman. Then the boy called the Kází, and asked him what he had to say in this business. The Kází commenced to tremble and said: “The truth is as I have stated.” The boy said: “Our Kází is a bold man, and his haughtiness hinders him from confessing the truth: the instruments of torture ought to be employed.” When the Kází heard this, the fear of torture greatly distressed him, and he confessed the truth. On this the boy kissed the floor of good manners with the lips of obedience and said: “The rest of this affair is to be settled by the sultan.” The sultan was much pleased with the acuteness and intelligence of the boy, and ordered the Kází to be beheaded and all his property to be given to the merchant's wife. The boy was treated kindly and educated, until by degrees he won the entire confidence of the sultan and be­came one of his greatest favourites.