On this wise, O King Shah Bekht,” continued the vizier, “is the issue of eagerness for [the goods of] the world and covetise of that which our knowledge embraceth not; indeed, [whoso doth thus] shall perish and repent Nor, O king of the age, (added he) is this story more extraordinary than that of the sharper and the merchants.”
When the king heard this story, he said in himself, “Verily, had I given ear to the sayings of my courtiers and inclined to the idle prate [of those who counselled me] in the matter of [the slaying of] my vizier, I had repented to the utterest of repentance, but praised be God, who hath disposed me to mansuetude and long-suffering and hath endowed me with patience!” Then he turned to the vizier and bade him return to his dwelling and [dismissed] those who were present, as of wont.
The Twenty-Third Night of the Month.
When the evening evened, the king sent after the vizier and when he presented himself before him, he required of him the hearing of the [promised] story. So he said, “Hearkening and obedience. Know, O illustrious lord, that
There was once aforetime a certain sharper, who [was so eloquent that he] would turn the ear inside out, and he was a man of understanding and quick wit and skill and perfection. It was his wont to enter a town and [give himself out as a merchant and] make a show of trafficking and insinuate himself into the intimacy of people of worth and consort with the merchants, for he was [apparently] distinguished for virtue and piety. Then he would put a cheat on them and take [of them] what he might spend and go away to another city; and he ceased not to do thus a great while.
It befell one day that he entered a certain city and sold somewhat that was with him of merchandise and got him friends of the merchants of the place and fell to sitting with them and entertaining them and inviting them to his lodging and his assembly, whilst they also invited him to their houses. On this wise he abode a long while, till he was minded to leave the city; and this was bruited abroad among his friends, who were concerned for parting from him. Then he betook himself to him of them, who was the richest of them in substance and the most apparent of them in generosity, and sat with him and borrowed his goods; and when he was about to take leave, he desired him to give him the deposit that he had left with him. ‘And what is the deposit?’ asked the merchant. Quoth the sharper, ’It is such a purse, with the thousand dinars therein.’ And the merchant said, ’When didst thou give it me?’ ‘Extolled be the perfection of God!’ replied the sharper. ’Was it not on such a day, by such a token, and thus and thus?’ ‘I know not of this,’ rejoined the merchant, and words were bandied about between them, whilst the folk [who were present also] disputed together concerning their affair and their speech, till their voices rose high and the neighbours had knowledge of that which passed between them.