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The Caliph Haroon al Rusheed one day commanded the grand vizier Jaffier to come to his palace the night following. "Vizier," said he, "I will take a walk round the town, to inform myself what people say, and particularly how they are pleased with my officers of justice. If there be any against whom they have cause of just complaint, we will turn them out, and put others in their stead, who shall officiate better. If, on the contrary, there be any that have gained their applause, we will have that esteem for them which they deserve." The grand vizier being come to the palace at the hour appointed, the caliph, he, and Mesrour the chief of the eunuchs, disguised themselves so that they could not be known, and went out all three together.
They passed through several places, and by several markets. As they entered a small street, they perceived by the light of the moon, a tall man, with a white beard, who carried nets on his head, and a staff in his hand. "To judge from his appearance," said the caliph, "that old man is not rich; let us go to him and inquire into his circumstances." "Honest man," said the vizier, "who art thou?" The old man replied, "Sir, I am a fisher, but one of the poorest and most miserable of the trade. I went from my house about noon a fishing, and from that time to this I have not been able to catch one fish; at the same time I have a wife and small children, and nothing to maintain them."
The caliph, moved with compassion, said to the fisherman, "Hast thou the courage to go back and cast thy net once more? We will give thee a hundred sequins for what thou shalt bring up." At this proposal, the fisherman, forgetting all his day's toil, took the caliph at his word, and returned to the Tigris, accompanied by the caliph, Jaaffier, and Mesrour; saying to himself as he went, "These gentlemen seem too honest and reasonable not to reward my pains; and if they give me the hundredth part of what they promise, it will be an ample recompence."
They came to the bank of the river, and the fisherman, having thrown in his net, when he drew it again, brought up a trunk close shut, and very heavy. The caliph made the grand vizier pay him one hundred sequins immediately, and sent him away. Mesrour, by his master's order, carried the trunk on his shoulder, and the caliph was so very eager to know what it contained, that he returned to the palace with all speed. When the trunk was opened, they found in it a large basket made of palm-leaves, shut up, and the covering of it sewed with red thread. To satisfy the caliph's impatience, they would not take time to undo it, but cut the thread with a knife, and took out of the basket a package wrapt up in a sorry piece of hanging, and bound about with a rope; which being untied, they found, to their great amazement, the corpse of a young lady, whiter than snow, all cut in pieces.
The astonishment of the caliph was great at this dreadful spectacle. His surprise was instantly changed into passion, and darting an angry look at the vizier, "Thou wretch," said he, "is this your inspection into the actions of my people? Do they commit such impious murders under thy ministry in my capital, and throw my subjects into the Tigris, that they may cry for vengeance against me at the day of judgment? If thou dost not speedily avenge the murder of this woman, by the death of her murderer, I swear by heaven, that I will cause thee and forty more of thy kindred to be impaled." "Commander of the faithful," replied the grand vizier, "I beg your majesty to grant me time to make enquiry." "I will allow thee no more," said the caliph, "than three days."
The vizier Jaaffier went home in great perplexity. "Alas!" said he "how is it possible that in such a vast and populous city as Bagdad, I should he able to detect a murderer, who undoubtedly committed the crime without witness, and perhaps may be already gone from hence? Any other vizier than I would take some wretched person out of prison, and cause him to be put to death to satisfy the caliph; but I will not burden my conscience with such a barbarous action; I will rather die than preserve my life by the sacrifice of another innocent person."
He ordered the officers of the police and justice to make strict search for the criminal. They sent their servants about, and they were not idle themselves, for they were no less concerned in this matter than the vizier. But all their endeavours were to no purpose; what pains soever they took they could not discover the murderer; so that the vizier concluded his life to be lost.
The third day being arrived, an officer came to the unfortunate minister, with a summons to follow him, which the vizier obeyed. The caliph asked him for the murderer. He answered, "Commander of the faithful, I have not found any person that could give me the least account of him." The caliph, full of fury and rage, gave him many reproachful words, and ordered that he and forty Bermukkees should be impaled at the gate of the palace.
In the mean while the stakes were preparing, and orders were sent to seize forty Bermukkees in their houses; a public crier was sent about the city by the caliph's order, to cry thus: "Those who have a desire to see the grand vizier Jaaffier impaled, with forty of his kindred, let them come to the square before the palace."
When all things were ready, the criminal judge, and many officers belonging to the palace, having brought out the grand vizier with the forty Bermukkees, set each by the stake designed for him. The multitude of people that filled the square could not without grief and tears behold this tragical sight; for the grand vizier and the Bermukkees were loved and honoured on account of their probity, bounty, and impartiality, not only in Bagdad, but through all the dominions of the caliph.
Nothing could prevent the execution of this prince's severe and irrevocable sentence, and the lives of the most deserving people in the city were just going to be sacrificed, when a young man of handsome mien pressed through the crowd till he came up to the grand vizier, and after he had kissed his hand, said, "Most excellent vizier, chief of the emirs of this court, and comforter of the poor, you are not guilty of the crime for which you stand here. Withdraw, and let me expiate the death of the lady that was thrown into the Tigris. It is I who murdered her, and I deserve to be punished for my offence."
Though these words occasioned great joy to the vizier, yet he could not but pity the young man, in whose look he saw something that instead of evincing guilt was engaging: but as he was about to answer him, a tall man advanced in years, who had likewise forced his way through the crowd, came up to him, saying, "Do not believe what this young man tells you, I killed that lady who was found in the trunk, and this punishment ought only to fall upon me. I conjure you in the name of God not to punish the innocent for the guilty." "Sir," said the young man to the vizier, "I do protest that I am he who committed this vile act, and nobody else had any concern in it." "My son," said the old man, "it is despair that brought you hither, and you would anticipate your destiny. I have lived a long while in the world, and it is time for me to be gone; let me therefore sacrifice my life for yours." "Sir," said he again to the vizier, "I tell you once more I am the murderer; let me die without delay."
The controversy between the old and the young man induced the grand vizier to carry them both before the caliph, to which the judge criminal consented, being glad to serve the vizier. When he came before the prince, he kissed the ground seven times, and spake after this manner: "Commander of the faithful, I have brought here before your majesty this old and this young man, each of whom declares himself to be the sole murderer of the lady." The caliph asked the criminals which of them it was that so cruelly murdered the lady, and threw her into the Tigris? The young man assured him it was he, but the old man maintained the contrary. "Go," said the caliph to the grand vizier, "and cause them both to be impaled." "But, Sir," said the vizier, "if only one of them be guilty, it would be unjust to take the lives of both." At these words the young man spoke again, "I swear by the great God, who has raised the heavens so high, that I am the man who killed the lady, cut her in pieces, and about four days ago threw her into the Tigris. I renounce my part of happiness amongst the just at the day of judgment, if what I say be not truth; therefore I am he that ought to suffer." The caliph being surprised at this oath, believed him; especially since the old man made no answer. Whereupon, turning to the young man, "Wretch," said he, "what made thee commit that detestable crime, and what is it that moves thee to offer thyself voluntarily to die?" "Commander of the faithful," said he, "if all that has past between that lady and me were set down in writing, it would be a history that might be useful to other men." "I command thee then to relate it," said the caliph. The young man obeyed, and began his history.
[Go to The Lady who was Murdered, and the Young Man her Husband]
Scott, Jonathan (1754-1829). The Arabian Nights Entertainments. London: Pickering and Chatto, 1890. 4 Volumes. Project Gutenberg.
1001 Nights Hypertext. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. This website is licensed under a Creative Commons License. The texts presented here are in the public domain. Thanks to Gene Perry for his excellent help in preparing the texts for the web. Page last updated: January 1, 2005 10:46 PM