TALE OF THE LOVER WHO FEIGNED HIMSELF A THIEF.



When Khálid bin Abdallah al-Kasri [FN#218] was Emir of Bassorah, there came to him one day a company of men dragging a youth of exceeding beauty and lofty bearing and perfumed attire; whose aspect expressed good breeding, abundant wit and dignity of the gravest. They brought him before the Governor, who asked what it was and they replied, "This fellow is a thief, whom we caught last night in our dwelling-house." Whereupon Khálid looked at him and was pleased with his well-favouredness and elegant aspect; so he said to the others, "Loose him," and going up to the young man, asked what he had to say for himself. He replied, "Verily the folk have spoken truly and the case is as they have said." Quoth Khálid, "And what moved thee to this and thou so noble of port and comely of mien?" Quoth the other "The lust after worldly goods, and the ordinance of Allah (extolled exalted be He!)." Rejoined Khálid, "Be thy mother bereaved of thee! [FN#219] Hadst thou not, in thy fair face and sound sense and good breeding, what should restrain thee from thieving?" Answered the young man, "O Emir, leave this talk and proceed to what Almighty Allah hath ordained; this is what my hands have earned, and, 'God is not unjust towards mankind.'" [FN#220] So Khálid was silent awhile considering the matter then he bade the young man draw near him and said, "Verily, thy confession before witnesses perplexeth me, for I cannot believe thee to be a thief: haply thou hast some story that is other than one of theft; and if so tell it me." Replied the youth "O Emir, imagine naught other than what I have confessed to in thy presence; for I have no tale to tell save that verily I entered these folks' 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 gaol and commended a crier to cry throughout Bassorah, "O yes! O yes! Whoso be minded to look upon the punishment of such an one, the thief, and the cutting-off of his hand, let him be present to-morrow morning at such a place!" Now when the young man found himself in prison, with irons on his feet, he sighed heavily and with tears streaming from his eyes extemporized these couplets,

"When Khálid menaced off to strike my hand * If I refuse to tell him of her case;
Quoth I, 'Far, far fro' me that I should tell * A love, which ever shall my heart engrace;
Loss of my hand for sin I have confessed * To me were easier than to shame her face.'"

The warders heard him and went and told Khálid who, when it was dark night, sent for the youth and conversed with him. He found him clever and well-bred, intelligent, lively and a pleasant companion; so he ordered him food and he ate. Then after an hour's talk said Khálid, "I know indeed thou hast a story to tell that is no thief's; so when the Kazi shall come to-morrow morning and shall question thee about this robbery, do thou deny the charge of theft and avouch what may avert the pain and penalty of cutting off thy hand; for the Apostle (whom Allah bless and keep!) saith, 'In cases of doubt, eschew punishment.' " Then he sent him back to prison,--And Shahrazad perceived the dawn of day and ceased saying her permitted say.

When it was the Two Hundred and Ninety-eighth Night,

She said, It hath reached me, O auspicious King, that Khálid, after conversing with the youth, sent him back to prison, where he passed the night. And when morning dawned the folk assembled to see his hand cut off, nor was there a soul in Bassorah, man or woman, but was present to look upon the punishment of that handsome youth. Then Khálid mounted in company of the notables of the city and others; and, summoning all four Kazis, sent for the young man, who came hobbling and stumbling in his fetters. There was none saw him but wept over him and the women all lifted up their voices in lamentation as for the dead. Then the Kazi bade silence the women and said to the prisoner, "These folk avouch that thou didst enter their dwelling-house and steal their goods: belike thou stolest less than a quarter dinar [FN#221]?" Replied he, "Nay, I stole that and more." "Peradventure," rejoined the Kazi "thou art partner with the folk in some of the goods?" Quoth the young man; "Not so: it was all theirs, and I had no right in it." At this the Khálid was wroth and rose and smote him on the face with his whip, applying to his own case this couplet,

"Man wills his wish to him accorded be; * But Allah naught accords save what He wills."

Then he called for the butcher to do the work, who came and drew forth his knife and taking the prisoner's hand set the blade to it, when, behold, a damsel pressed through the crowd of women, clad in tattered clothes, [FN#222] 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 and a violent scene. But she cried out her loudest, saying, "I conjure thee, by Allah, O Emir, 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 Khálid took it and opened it and read therein these couplets,

"Ah Khálid! this one is a slave of love distraught, * And these bowed eye-lashes sent shaft that caused his grief:
Shot him an arrow sped by eyes of mine, for he, * Wedded to burning love of ills hath no relief:
He hath avowed a deed he never did, the while * Deeming this better than disgrace of lover fief:
Bear then, I pray, with this distracted lover mine * Whose noble nature falsely calls himself a thief!"

When Khálid had read these lines he withdrew himself from the people and summoned the girl and questioned her; and she told him that the young man was her lover and she his mistress; and that thinking to visit her he came to the dwelling of her people 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 himself appear a robber to cover his mistress's honour. "Now when they saw him they seized him (continued she), crying:--A thief! and brought him before thee, whereupon he confessed to the robbery and persisted in his confession, that he might spare me disgrace; and this he did, making himself a thief, of the exceeding nobility and generosity of his nature." Khálid answered, "He is indeed worthy to have his desire;" 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 Shaykh, we thought to carry out the law of mutilation in the case of this young man; but Allah (to whom be Honour and Glory!) hath preserved us from this, and I now adjudge him the sum of ten thousand dirhams, for that he would have given his hand for the preservation of thine honour and that of thy daughter and for the sparing of shame to you both. Moreover, I adjudge other ten thousand dirhams to thy daughter, for that she made known to me the truth of the case; and I ask thy leave to marry her to him." Rejoined the old man, "O Emir, thou hast my consent." So Khálid praised Allah and thanked Him and improved the occasion by preaching a goodly sermon and a prayerful;--And Shahrazad perceived the dawn of day and ceased saying her permitted say.

When it was the Two Hundred and Ninety-ninth Night,

She said, It hath reached me, O auspicious King, that Khálid praised Allah and thanked Him and improved the occasion by preaching a goodly sermon and a prayerful; after which he said to the young man, "I give thee to wife the damsel, such an one here present, with her own permission and her father's consent; and her wedding settlement shall be this money, to wit, ten thousand dirhams." "I accept this marriage at thy hands," replied the youth; and Khálid bade them carry the money on brass trays in procession to the young man's house, whilst the people dispersed, fully satisfied. "And surely (quoth he who tells the tale [FN#223]) never saw I a rarer day than this, for that it began with tears and annoy; and it ended with smiles and joy." And in contrast of this story is this piteous tale of