THE LOVER WHO FEIGNED HIMSELF A THIEF TO SAVE HIS MISTRESS'S HONOUR.

There came one day to Khalid ibn Abdallah el Kesri, (3) governor of Bassora, a company of men dragging a youth of exceeding beauty and lofty bearing, whose aspect expressed good breeding and dignity and abundant wit They brought him before the governor, who asked what was to do with him, and they replied, 'This fellow is a thief, whom we caught last night in our dwelling.' Khalid looked at him and was struck with wonder at his well-favouredness and elegance; so he said to the others, 'Loose him,' and going up to the young man, asked what he had to say for himself. 'The folk have spoken truly,' answered he; 'and the case is as they have said.' 'And what moved thee to this,' asked Khalid, 'and thou so noble and comely of aspect?' ' The lust after worldly good,' replied the other, 'and the ordinance of God, glorified and exalted be He!' 'May thy mother be bereaved of thee!' rejoined Khalid. 'Hadst thou not, in thy fair face and sound sense and good breeding, what should restrain thee from thieving?' ' O Amir,' answered the young man, 'leave this talk and proceed to what God the Most High hath ordained; this is what my hands have earned, and God is no oppressor of His creatures.' (4) Khalid was silent awhile, considering the matter; then he said to the young man, 'Verily, thy confession before witnesses perplexes me, for I cannot believe thee to be a thief. Surely thou hast some story that is other than one of theft. Tell it me'. 'O Amir,' replied the youth, 'deem thou nought save what I have confessed; for I have no story other than that I entered these folk's house and stole what I could lay hands on, and they caught me and took the stuff from me and carried me before thee.' Then Khalid bade clap him in prison and commanded a crier to make proclamation throughout Bassora, saying, 'Ho, whoso is minded to look upon the punishment of such an one, the thief, and the cutting off of his hand, let him be present tomorrow morning at such a place!'

When the youth found himself in prison, with irons on his feet, he sighed heavily and repeated the following verses, whilst the tears streamed from his eyes:

      Khalid doth threaten me with cutting off my hand, Except I do reveal to him my mistress' case.
      But, "God forbid," quoth I, "that I should e'er reveal That which of love for her my bosom doth embrace!"
      The cutting-off my hand, for that I have confessed Unto, less grievous were to me than her disgrace.

The warders heard him and went and told Khalid, who sent for the youth after nightfall and conversed with him. He found him well-bred and intelligent and of a pleasant and vivacious wit; so he ordered him food and he ate. Then said Khalid, 'I know thou hast a story to tell that is no thief's; so, when the Cadi comes to-morrow morning and questions thee before the folk, do thou deny the charge of theft and avouch what may avert the cutting-off of thy hand; for the Prophet (whom God bless and preserve) saith, "In cases of doubt, eschew [or defer] punishment."' Then he sent him back to the prison, where he passed the night.

On the morrow, the folk assembled to see his hand cut off, nor was there man or woman in Bassora but came forth to look upon his punishment. Then Khalid mounted in company of the notables of the city and others and summoning the Cadi, sent for the young man, who came, hobbling in his shackles. There none saw him but wept for him, and the women lifted up their voices in lamentation. The Cadi bade silence the women and said to the prisoner, ' These folk avouch that thou didst enter their dwelling and steal their goods: belike thou stolest less than a quarter dinar?' (5) 'Nay,' replied he, 'I stole more than that.' 'Peradventure,' rejoined the Cadi, 'thou art partner with them in some of the goods?' 'Not so,' replied the young man; 'it was all theirs. I had no right in it.' At this Khalid was wroth and rose and smote him on the face with his whip, applying this verse to his own case:

      Man wisheth and seeketh his wish to fulfil, But Allah denieth save that which He will.

Then he called for the executioner, who came and taking the prisoner's hand, set the knife to it and was about to cut it off, when, behold, a damsel, clad in tattered clothes, pressed through the crowd of women and cried out and threw herself on the young man. Then she unveiled and showed a face like the moon; whereupon the people raised a mighty clamour and there was like to have been a riot amongst them. But she cried out her loudest, saying, 'I conjure thee, by Allah, O Amir, hasten not to cut off this man's hand, till thou have read what is in this scroll!' So saying, she gave him a scroll, and he took it and read therein the following verses:

      O Khalid, this man is love-maddened, a cave of desire, Transfixed by the glances that sped from the bows of my eye.
      The shafts of my looks 'twas that pierced him and slew him; indeed, He a bondsman of love, sick for passion and like for to die.
      Yea, rather a crime, that he wrought not, he choose to confess Than suffer on her whom he cherished dishonour to lie.
      Have ruth on a sorrowful lover; indeed he's no thief, But the noblest and truest of mortals for passion that sigh.

When he had read this, he called the girl apart and questioned her; and she told him that the young man was her lover and she his mistress. He came to the dwelling of her people, thinking to visit her, and threw a stone into the house, to warn her of his coming. Her father and brothers heard the noise of the stone and sallied out on him; but he, hearing them coming, caught up all the household stuff and made as if he would have stolen it, to cover his mistress's honour. 'So they seized him,' continued she, 'saying, "A thief!" and brought him before thee, whereupon he confessed to the robbery and persisted in his confession, that he might spare me dishonour; and this he did, making himself a thief, of the exceeding nobility and generosity of his nature.'

'He is indeed worthy to have his desire,' replied Khalid and calling the young man to him, kissed him between the eyes. Then he sent for the girl's father and bespoke him, saying, 'O elder, we thought to punish this young man by cutting off his hand; but God (to whom belong might and majesty) hath preserved us from this! and I now adjudge him the sum of ten thousand dirhems, for that he would have sacrificed his hand for the preservation of thine honour and that of thy daughter and the sparing you both reproach. Moreover, I adjudge other ten thousand dirhems to thy daughter, for that she made known to me the truth of the case; and I ask thy leave to marry him to her.' 'O Amir,' rejoined the old man, 'thou hast my consent.' So Khalid praised God and thanked Him and offered up a goodly exhortation and prayer; after which he said to the young man, 'I give thee this damsel to wife, with her own and her father's consent; and her dowry shall be this money, to wit, ten thousand dirhems. 'I accept this marriage at thy hands,' replied the youth and Khalid let carry the money on trays in procession to the young man's house, whilst the people dispersed, full of gladness. And surely [quoth he who tells the tale (6) never saw I a rarer day than this, for that its beginning was weeping and affliction and its end joy and gladness.




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