ONCE upon a time there was a merchant, and he resolved to go on a journey to a far country to trade, that he might return with profit.
Now this merchant took money needful for his journey, and of what he had left he was afraid that in his absence it might be stolen.
So he thought to himself, "If I leave this bag of gold in my house it may be stolen, and if I give it to a friend to keep for me he may use it for his own purposes."
So he bethought himself of a stratagem.
He poured all his gold into the bottom of a large leather skin. When he had done this he took oil of coco-nuts and filled the skin with it and fastened it securely at the mouth.
Then he took the skin of oil to a neighbour, who was a friend of his, and said to him, "Oh, my friend, I have resolved to go on a journey, and wish to leave this skin of coco-nut oil with you. Will you keep it safely for me, that I may find it on my return?"
So the friend agreed, and he set out on his journey, and he journeyed to a very far country.
So the friend kept the skin of coco-nut oil for the first year and for the second year.
In the third year, however, he said to himself, "Surely my friend has met with some evil happening on his journey and will come back no more. It were better, then, that I open this skin and use the oil therein."
So he opened the skin and used the oil for many months, till one day, when he had nearly emptied the skin, he perceived that there was some matter other than oil in the skin.
He emptied out the remainder of the oil and behold, the bottom was full of golden dinars.
So he rejoiced exceedingly, and took the money and put it in a secret place, and the skin he left there in his house.
Now shortly after this the merchant, who had been delayed by unfavourable winds, returned from his journey.
He had been to many far countries and made traffic in merchandise, and after many hardships and troubles he was enabled to return.
Now when his friend heard of his return he was exceedingly troubled in his heart.
For he thought to himself, "What shall I do that I may keep all these monies?" and he said to himself, "Now my friend did not say that he was entrusting me with a skin of dinars, he said only that he had left a skin of oil."
So he went to the bazaar and sought for coco-nut oil and brought it to his house, and he filled up the skin with the oil he had brought, and he fastened it securely, after the same manner in which it had been done up formerly.
Now when the merchant had rested awhile he set off straightway to the house of his friend, and he saluted him. His friend bade him draw nigh, and he asked him for the news of his journey.
So they conversed awhile, and then the merchant said, "The night is closing in; I must with your permission now return to my house."
As he took leave of him he feigned to have suddenly remembered the skin which he had left in his house, and he said to him, "My friend, have you that skin of oil I left with you?"
So his friend said, "I had forgotten about it, but perhaps it will be in my store, where it has lain since you left. I will go and look for it."
So he entered into the house, and presently came forth with the skin and said, "Here it is, my friend; I have found it safe and sound."
So the merchant took his skin and went his way.
When he reached his house he opened it with haste to look for his dinars.
He poured out the oil, but behold, the gold was not there. Then was he seized with great wrath; so he poured back the oil and ran back to his friend's house and asked him, "Where are the golden dinars I left with you?"
His friend asked him, "What golden dinars did you leave with me? You left only that skin of oil, which I have now returned to you. I have kept it all these days for you, and now you accuse me of having taken some golden dinars."
So the merchant said, "The golden dinars were in the bottom of that skin of oil, but now they are not there."
His friend said to him, "You are a very cunning man. You told me yourself that it was only a skin of oil you left me. Now you say that it was full of dinars, that I may be beaten and imprisoned without cause."
Then was the merchant exceedingly angry, and went straightway to accuse his friend before the Sultan. So the Sultan had his friend called and asked him, "Did the merchant leave with you a skin full of dinars?"
The friend replied, "No, by Allah, he left with me only a skin of oil, and that I have returned."
The merchant said, "By Allah, three years ago, when I left on a journey, I entrusted him with a skin full of dinars, but my heart was afraid, and so I told him that it was a skin of coco-nut oil. On my return, when I searched in the skin, I found but oil, and that the dinars had been extracted."
The friend said, "By Allah, it was a skin of oil he left with me, and I gave it him back unopened as I had received it."
When the Sultan had heard the words of both men he was unable to decide which of the two was in the wrong, and so he dismissed the case. Now the merchant left the audience hall, and his heart was very sore at the loss of his wealth. As he went forth he met an oil merchant of that town, and he asked of him the news, and he told him the whole story from the beginning to the end.
When the oil merchant had heard his story he said to him, "Now if I am able to make the Sultan decide the case in your favour what payment will you make me?"
So they agreed together, and he said, "I will give you the half of whatever money is restored to me."
So the oil merchant went quickly to his shop and poured out two bottles of oil, and in the one bottle he left the oil as it was, while to the second he added a little dye, which made its colour darker than the first.
Then he sought out a friend and told him the whole matter, promising him half the reward if he would help him in the case.
So the two went to the Sultan, and the oil merchant asked audience of the Sultan.
When he came before the Sultan he said to him, "Oh Sultan, I have a complaint to make against this man. He is in my employ and comes daily to work in my shop.
"Now my trade is the crushing of coco-nuts and the retailing of oil, which I sell at my shop, and in my store I have many vats of oil.
"Now yesterday, after this man had left my shop, I noticed that the oil was decreased in one of the vats, and I went to the house of this one and I found him in the possession of a skin of oil."
So the Sultan turned to the accused and said to him, "Are these words true?"
So the accused said, "No, they are false, for the oil which was found in my house was oil which I had bought elsewhere and paid for with my own money."
So the Sultan turned to the oil merchant and said to him, "Do you hear his words? Have you any proof that the oil you found in his house came from your vat?"
So the oil merchant said, "Yes, oh Sultan, I have proof, for the oil in that vat was very old oil, three years in age, and therefore of a different colour to the oil of this year. Now no other merchant in this town has any oil of this age."
Then he brought forth the two bottles of oil, and, taking the one he had dyed, said, "Now this is oil from that same vat, and the oil found in this man's house was of the same colour."
Taking the second bottle he said, "This is oil of this year, and, as you will perceive, it is of a lighter colour."
Then the Sultan turned to the accused and said to him, "You have heard his words; what words have you to answer him with?"
Then the man fell on his face before the Sultan and said, "Oh, I repent, my master; I did take the oil, for I am a poor man and have no money, so forgive me, for I repent."
Now when the Sultan heard that the oil of three years ago was of a different colour, he bethought himself of the case of the merchant and his friend, in which the merchant had entrusted his friend with the skin of oil three years previously. So, telling the oil merchant to stand aside, he sent quickly to recall the case.
When they came before him he said to the merchant's friend, "When did you say that it was that you were given that skin of oil by the merchant?"
He answered him, "It is now three years since."
So the Sultan asked him, "Have you since then opened the skin or taken any of the oil out?"
He answered, "No, by Allah, I returned it just as he gave it to me."
So the Sultan commanded the skin to be brought, and then he called for the oil merchant to bring forth his two bottles of oil.
When he compared the oil in the skin with that in the bottles he found that it was like that of the lighter colour.
So the Sultan said to the man, "How is this now, that if you received this three years ago and have not opened it since, that the oil in the skin is oil of this year?"
Then was the man exceedingly afraid, and he trembled, for he knew that he had put fresh oil in the skin.
So the Sultan sent soldiers to his house, who found there the dinars he had secreted away, and they were restored to their owner.
Then the Sultan turned to the oil merchant and asked him, "Now is this man truly as he says a poor man?"
So the oil merchant replied, "Yes, truly, my master, he is a very poor man, and I wish to do him no harm."
So the Sultan said, "Then shall I pardon him of his offence."
So the Sultan pardoned the accused, and gave to the oil merchant a reward, in that he had shown him a way to prove the guilt of the merchant's friend.
So the oil merchant took that reward of the Sultan, and also half of the dinars which had been restored to the merchant, as his fee for winning the case for him.
So he took these monies and shared them with the friend who helped him, and they went their way rejoicing.