The Trusted Thief
Illustrated By: Jacob Below
IN A CITY once known as Stamboul, now Istanbul today, there was once a dustman, or trash collector. Pitifully small were his wages, yet he spent only what he needed to survive and saved the rest to someday give to his wife and children who languished in poverty in a faraway province of Turkey.
Already the dustman had saved 500 silver coins and in another couple of years would have enough to provide amply for his family and pay for his voyage home. But one thought tormented him night and day, and that was the notion that a thief could break into his home and steal his hard-earned savings.
The truth was that no matter where he hid the money, it was not safe. A hole under the carpet was too obvious. And anyone would look in a cooking pot. He could separate his savings into several piles, but if one pile were found, wouldn't the thief stop at nothing to find the rest?
If only there were someplace his money would be a safe! As the dustman went about his work clearing trash from shops and homes, he overheard gossip and street talk about scoundrels and persons of high reputation. One name that was always referred to with the highest regard and admiration was the Cadi, or Judge.
The dustman decided to visit the Cadi's home.
When invited inside, the poor man said, "Oh, worthy Cadi, forgive me for interrupting your home and coming before you in this old torn robe and sandals. I come with the highest reverence and respect for you because in all of Stamboul there is no name more trusted than yours. I come to humbly ask you a favor."
"What is it?" said the Cadi. "If I can help you, I will."
The dustman told the Cadi that he had saved 500 silver coins for his wife and children, but was terrified that his hard-earned money might be stolen, and he needed to remain at least another couple of years before he had saved enough to return home. Would the Cadi graciously allow him to leave the 500 coins at his home, in his trusted care?
The Cadi looked thoughtful and said, "I can see this means a great deal to you. Why yes, you may leave your savings here. When you're ready to return home, simply come back and ask for your money. I can assure you that not a coin will be missing."
The dustman was greatly relieved. He left his bag of 500 silver coins and with a light heart, returned home.
Shortly thereafter the dustman met two men from his same home village. They were returning home and invited him to accompany them. The dustman said he must decline their offer because he had to stay in Stamboul a couple of years to save more money.
"Ah my friend, but then when it's time for you to go, you will travel alone," said one.
"Come with us now, and we will keep one another company on the journey."
Indeed, the thought of traveling with friendly companions was far more appealing than taking the long trip home by himself. And the dustman sorely missed his wife and children. Besides, even 500 silver coins was a tidy sum and would greatly help his family. So he agreed, asking his two friends to wait while he retrieved his 500 coins from the Cadi.
When the dustman returned to the Cadi's home, however, the Cadi surprisingly lashed out at him with rage.
"How dare you!" yelled the Cadi. "You have the nerve to barge into my home and demand that I give you 500 silver coins? Who are you? I never saw you before in my life. Get out of my house before I have you arrested!" And his servants dragged a confused and protesting dustman out the door and booted him outside.
The dustman sadly told his two friends that they must go without him, for he had no choice but to stay in Stamboul and start saving all over again. So bitterly disappointed was he, so broken in spirit, that as he went about his work he moaned and sighed, and often wiped away a tear.
One day, he was sniffing forlornly while removing the trash from a wealthy merchant's home and the lady of the house noticed him. She had seen the dustman before, when he went about his work with a light, cheerful step, and now he seemed steeped in sorrow.
"What is it?" she said, approaching him. "Why are you sad?"
"My lady," said he, "it is not for a dustman like me to share my troubles with a lady like you. My troubles are my own and it's best kept that way."
"Your troubles are already mine, too," she said. "Tell me what grieves you."
So the dustman confided how he had entrusted his hard-earned 500 silver coins with the Cadi, had been so cruelly tricked, and how he was forlorn beyond measure that nothing could be done about it.
"Are you sure?" said the lady.
"There is no witness," said he. "I am a from a faraway province and he is the Cadi of Stamboul. Who would ever believe a dustman? I have to start saving for my family all over again."
"Come inside," said she. After they were settled, she said, "I have an idea, but you must listen carefully and do everything exactly as I say." She told him she would visit the Cadi herself that very afternoon. After she had been inside for ten minutes, the dustman was to enter and ask for the 500 silver coins as if it were the first time.
Then the lady ushered a servant to her side. The lady said to her servant, "Wait outside the Cadi's home and watch the front door carefully. You'll see me enter and ten minutes later the dustman will enter. You must wait until the dustman leaves. At that point you must run in the front door. When you see me you must say: 'My lady! Your husband has returned from Egypt and awaits you at home!' " This made absolutely no sense to the servant, but she rehearsed her lines as asked until her mistress was satisfied that she recited them accurately and with the proper urgency.
That afternoon the lady paid a call on the Cadi.
"Good sir," said the lady to the Cadi, "I come because you are the sole person in all of Stamboul whom I can trust with so delicate a proposition. My husband, the merchant, has been away on business in Egypt for an extended time. Of course we miss each other terribly. I just received word that I am to venture to Egypt to see him. But what worries me is how to safeguard my jewels until I return." She spilled out of her purse and onto the cadi's table an array of thick gold rings, huge amethyst pendants, gleaming silver gemstones, and other rare and valuable jewels. "You see, there are few people one can truly trust," she said in barely a whisper.
Just then, the dustman entered. "Good sir, I am here to reclaim the 500 silver coins I left in your care, as you recall."
The Cadi, not taking his eyes off the jewels, said, "What? Oh, yes, I mean what? Of course, of course, the 500 silver coins. No fear, your money has been safe with me." He snapped his fingers. When a servant appeared he said, "Retrieve at once this man's bag of coins from the black trunk, since he has now arrived to claim it." The servant bowed and returned in a few minutes with the dustman's very bag of coins and handed it to him. Hardly able to believe his eyes, the dustman clutched his bag, mumbled thanks, spun around and scampered out the door.
"You see?" said the Cadi to the lady with a casual wave of his hand. "All manner of common people - who cannot trust one another it should appear - feel safe to bring their valuables and life savings to me."
The lady smiled approvingly. Then her servant, on cue, burst through the front door and said excitedly:
"My lady! Your husband has returned from Egypt and awaits you at home!"
"Joyous news!" exclaimed the lady, clapping her hands. She scooped her jewels back into her purse and said to the Cadi, "Truly, a man like you is rare indeed." Together, she and her servant hastily left the Cadi's home.
It took a few minutes before it dawned on the Cadi that he had been tricked. But the worst was yet to come. In the days that followed, word of what had happened spread throughout Stamboul and the Cadi was never again trusted to resolve a claim or mediate a dispute. He was forced to sell his fine home, move to a faraway province of Turkey, and was never seen again.
- If you were the dustman, is there any other way you could have protected your money?
- Tell about a time when there was something you wanted to do that your friends thought was weird. What did you do?