THERE was, in days long past and in the country of Aderbaijan, a king who administered justice and cherished wisdom; the tiller of his equity-loving nature kept the garden of his kingdom always free of the chaff and rubbish of oppression, and preserved, with the light of the torch of high-mindedness and gifts, the surface of the breasts of those who hoped and solicited from the darkness of hardship and desti­tution. By means of his discernment he became acquainted with the worth and station due to men of skill, and always honoured the high polish of the speculum of accomplishments and perfections with the throne of dignity and the place of respect. One day, while he was seated in the palace of pomp and splendour, dispensing justice and retribution, and en­gaged in diving into the depths of the circumstances of the people, two men took hold of the collar of complaint before him, one of whom had no trade, while the other was skilful and accomplished; and, although the former brought forward arguments and evidence in support of his claim, and it became clear that he was in the right, the king purposely turned the scales in favour of the clever man, and ordered him that was without a trade to be punished.

The king had a vazír equal to Plato in science, who always drew upon the book of circumstances with the pen of propriety of opinion and prudence of arrange­ment. Wondering at the decision of the king, he rose from his place and said: “O thou leader of the cara­van of prosperity of realms, by the strokes of whose world-conquering scimitar the peace of the breasts of opponents is destroyed, and from the fruits of whose convoy of success the countries of the hearts of the amicable are made populous and flourishing! I have a request to make: first, that the skyward-flying humaí of your gracious disposition may pervade the atmo­sphere of compliance with my solicitation.” The king said: “Explain.” And the vazír continued: “I pray that the life of this innocent youth, whose guilt­lessness must be visible upon the mirror of your majesty's mind, may be spared for my sake; and that it might be disclosed to me why your majesty par­doned the guilty one and condemned the innocent.” The king replied: “I have absolved him whom you called guilty because I have arrived at the certainty that he is unblameable and has the right on his side. But I do not consider this the proper time to explain the matter, which, however, will be done as soon as we are alone.”

When the tree of the assembly had shed the leaves and fruits of its multitude and the lamp of the apart­ment of privacy was trimmed and made bright, the king spake thus to his vazír:

“Thou quintessence of acuteness, something hap­pened to me once which plunged me into the sea of astonishment. From that time I made a vow to show favour to a man who has a profession, even should he be blameworthy otherwise, and to punish him who has no trade or occupation, even though he should be my own son; so that the high and the low, seeing this, should be induced to have their children taught trades in due conformity with their circumstances.

“Know, then, that when my father was yet walking in the garden of life, and was sitting upon the throne of happiness and government, on a certain day those who were present at the audience were discussing the advantages of trades and accomplishments; and, although I had made myself acquainted with several sciences and accomplishments befitting a royal prince, I was desirous of learning some useful craft. I there­fore caused each one of the tradesmen of the city to exhibit his skill before me, in order that I might apply myself to the craft which I should prefer. After having seen them all, none pleased me so much as mat-making, because the master of that art had intro­duced into the specimen which he wrought all sorts of pretty figures. The instructor was engaged, and I was taught until I became skilful in this business. One day I happened to entertain a desire to make a pleasure excursion on the sea, and, having taken leave of the king, embarked in a boat with a number of companions. We amused ourselves for two days with fishing, but, as all mortals are subject to the vicissitudes of Fortune, on the third day a dreadful storm arose, the sea was lashed into furious waves, our boat went to pieces, and my attendants became food for the palate of the whale of destiny. I floated about on a broken plank with two of my associates for several days, drifting like chaff in the ebb and flow of the abyss, and having our throats choked every moment by the gripe of mortal fear. We humbled ourselves at the footstool of the Answerer of prayer, because no one ever besought him in vain; and by his favour the wind drove the broken plank towards the shore, and all three of us, having landed in safety, made our way to an oasis in which were various fruits and aromatic plants, numerous beyond conception. We travelled through this oasis, resting during the night on trees, for fear of wild beasts, and at length reached the city of Baghdád. I possessed several rings of great value, and went to the bazár, accompanied by my friends, in order to procure food. Having sold a ring, we entered the shop of a cook, who displayed a great variety of dishes, and in whose service a handsome boy was busying himself. We handed the master of the shop a few dirhams desiring him to furnish us with some food. He cast a glance at us and said: ‘Young men, nobility and greatness shine from your foreheads. In this city it is con­sidered disgraceful that youths like yourselves should be eating their food in the bazár. There is a hand­some room in the neighbourhood to which persons like you are accustomed to resort: do me the favour to proceed thither, and I will supply something worthy of you.’ He sent his boy with us, and we soon reached the house, which was very neat and taste­fully ornamented. And we were beginning to amuse ourselves by examining the beautiful paintings upon the walls, when the boy said: ‘I am going to fetch your food.’ As soon as he was gone the floor of the house began to move as if a great earthquake had occurred, and we were all precipitated into a deep well, which was dark like the graves of infidels* and black as their hearts.

“Now that cook was a Jew, and an enemy of the Faith; and it was his practice to decoy Muslims into this house, and, having thus entrapped them and put them to death, to roast their flesh and sell it to other Muslims.* Our necks were pledged in this affair, and we were in expectation of what turn it would take when the same youth descended into the well, sword in hand, with the intention of murdering us, upon which we said to him: ‘Friend, what advantage will you derive by killing us unhappy wretches? If gain be your object, we know the trade of mat-making, which is very profitable in this city. Bring hither the tools and materials necessary for that business, and we will make a mat every day.’ The youth hastened to inform his master of our proposal, and we were furnished with the required materials, and began at once to make mats, receiving each day a loaf of barley bread. After being in this condition for some time, a plan occurred to me through which our release might be achieved. I finished a mat with all possible care, and worked into the borders of it an account of my circumstances in the Arabic language. This was during the reign of Harún er-Rashíd, and I thought that if this mat were offered to the khalíf it might be the means of our release. The greediness of the Jew having become an obstacle to his circum­spection and regard of consequences, he carried the mat to the palace of the khalíf, who highly approved of it; but after examining it more minutely he dis­covered the meaning of the characters in the borders, and demanded of the Jew whose work it was and where he had got it. He answered: ‘I have a friend in Basra who sent it to me.’ The khalíf said: ‘Wait a little, that I may present thee with a reward worthy of it.’ Then calling a servant to him he whispered something in his ear, upon which he came and deli­vered us from the well and conducted us into the presence of Harún. When the Jew saw us he began to tremble, and the khalíf demanded of him: ‘Who are these men?’ The Jew struck with his hand the ring of the door of negation, and replied: ‘I do not know.’ Then the instruments of torture were ordered to be brought, and when the Jew heard this he confessed everything. The khalíf commanded the Jew to be hung upon the tree of punishment, and the poison of perdi­tion to be poured into the throat of his existence.

“My plan was highly approved of, and I was sent to the bath and presented with rich clothes. The khalíf then asked me about my adventures, which I related to him from beginning to end. As the long service of my father had laid the khalíf under many obligations to him, and the khalíf knowing well that I was as the apple of my father's eye, he was the more kind to me, and said: ‘Be of good cheer. Please God, we will help you to return to your own country.’ After entertaining me for several days, he presented me with ten strings of camels and all sorts of things which are necessary or useful to grandees, and dis­missed me, with a letter to my father and a guard of fifty men. When I arrived in this city the corpse of my father was just being carried to the cemetery. Having mourned for the death of my father, I estab­lished myself firmly upon the throne of dominion. Although my peace was for some time in jeopardy from the misfortunes I had endured, yet it was by the help of a trade that I was saved. I have perfect confidence in skilful men, and have decided always to honour men who have a profession and despise those that have none.”*