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Lev Tolstoy

The Righteous Judge

The Righteous Judge

Translated by
Illustrated by V.Chelak

An Algerian ruler by the name of Bawakas wanted to find out for himself whether it was true, as he had been told, that in one of his towns there lived a righteous judge, who could immediately recognize the truth and no rogue could deceive him. Bawakas dressed up as a merchant and set off on horseback for the town where the judge lived. By the gateway into the town a cripple came up to Bawakas and began to beg alms.  Bawakas gave him some money and was about to ride on, when the cripple caught hold of his cloak.

The Righteous Judge

“What do you want?” asked Bawakas. “Haven’t I given you alms?”

“Yes, you have,” said the cripple, “but do me another favour, carry me on your horse to the square, or I will be crushed by the horses and camels.”

Bawakas sat the cripple behind him and carried him to the square. In the square Bawakas stopped the horse. But the cripple did not get off. Bawakas said:

“Why are you sitting there? Get down, we have arrived.”

But the beggar said:

“Why should I get down, it’s my horse; and if you won’t give up the horse of your own free will, let’s go to the judge.”

People had gathered round them and were listening to their argument; they all shouted:

“Go to the judge, he will settle the dispute!”

Bawakas and the cripple went to the judge. There were other people there, too, and the judge called them by turn to settle their disputes.

Before it was Bawakas’ turn, the judge called a scholar and a peasant. They were quarrelling over a wife. The peasant said it was his wife, and the scholar said it was his. The judge heard them out, paused for a moment and said:

“Leave the wife with me, and come back tomorrow.”

When they had left, a butcher and an oil-seller came in. The butcher was covered with blood, and the oil-seller with oil. The butcher was holding money in his hand, and the oil-seller the butcher’s arm. The butcher said:

“I bought some oil from this man and drew out my purse to pay, but he grabbed my arm and tried to take the money. And that is how we have come to you — I holding a purse in my hand, and he holding my arm. But the money is mine, and he is a thief.”

But the oil-seller said:

“That is not true. The butcher came to me to buy oil. After I had poured him a full jug, he asked me to change a gold piece. I got the money and put it on the counter, then he took it and tried to run off. I caught him by the arm and brought him here.”

The judge paused for a moment and said:

“Leave the money here and come back tomorrow.”

When it was the turn of Bawakas and the cripple, Bawakas recounted what had happened. The judge heard him out and then asked the cripple. The beggar said:

“That is not true. I was riding on my horse through the town, and he was sitting on the ground and asked me to give him a ride. I put him on my horse and took him where he wanted to go; but he would not get off and said that it was his horse. That is not true.”

The judge thought for a moment and said:

“Leave the horse with me and come back tomorrow.”

The next day many people gathered to hear the judge’s verdict.

The first to come up were the scholar and the peasant.

“Take your wife,” the judge said to the scholar, “and give the peasant fifty strokes.”

The scholar took his wife, and the peasant was punished forth¬ with.

Next the judge called the butcher.

“The money is yours,” he said to the butcher. Then he pointed to the oil-seller and said: “He is to be given fifty strokes.”

Then Bawakas and the cripple were summoned.

“Would you know your horse from twenty others?” the judge asked Bawakas.

“I would.”

“And you?”

“I would, too,” said the cripple.

“Come with me,” the judge said to Bawakas.

They went into the stable. Bawakas immediately pointed to his horse among the other twenty.

Then the judge called the cripple into the stable and ordered him to point to the horse. The cripple recognised the horse and pointed to it. Then the judge sat down on his seat and said to Bawakas:

“The horse is yours: take it. And the cripple is to be given fifty strokes.”

After the trial, the judge went off home, and Bawakas followed him.

“What is the matter? Are you not happy with my decision?” asked the judge.

“I am happy with it,” said Bawakas. “But I should like to know how you found out that the wife belonged to the scholar and not to the peasant, that the money belonged to the butcher and not the oil-seller, and that the horse was mine and not the cripple’s.”

“I found out about the wife like this: in the morning I summoned her to me and asked her to fill my ink-well with ink. She picked up the ink-well, washed it quickly, and deftly poured in the ink. So she was obviously used to doing this. Had she been the peasant’s wife she would not have been able to do it. So, the scholar was right... I found out about the money like this: I put the money in a cup of water and looked at it this morning to see whether there was any oil on the surface. If the money had been the oil-seller’s, it would have had oil on it from his hands. There was no oil on the water, so obviously the butcher was telling the truth... It was harder to find out about the horse. Both the cripple and you immediately pointed it out from the other twenty horses. But I did not take you both into the stable to see whether you knew the horse, but to see which of you the horse knew. When you walked up to it, it turned its head and moved towards you; but when the cripple touched it, it flattened its ears and raised its leg. So I knew that you were the true owner of the horse.”

Then Bawakas said:

“I am no merchant, but the ruler Bawakas. I came here to see whether it was true what is said about you. I see now that you are a wise judge. Ask me for anything you like, and I will reward you.”

“I need no reward...” said the judge.

The Righteous Judge

Author: Tolstoy L.; illustrated by Chelak V.

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