Belated sincerity

There was a certain king who liked to display his wealth. From time to time, he used to invite neighbouring kings and other noble personages to visit his palace so that he could show off his latest acquisitions.

Once it happened that he obtained a most extraordinary diamond ring. It was extremely expensive, but he felt that it was worth the price because it was the largest diamond that he had ever seen. The king was filled with innocent, childlike joy and he invited twelve of his friends to come and see his new treasure. These friends were all kings in their own right.

When they arrived, the host king took them into one of his private chambers. There the ring was displayed on a golden plate. The visiting kings greatly appreciated the ring, and they stayed in the room chatting and praising the excellent taste of the host king.

All of a sudden, the king’s minister noticed that the diamond ring was missing. The minister looked around the room and thought, “Here there are no common thieves. These are all kings and great figures. This matter must be handled very carefully.”

So the minister approached his king and quietly whispered to him that the ring had been stolen. The minister asked, “What should we do?”

The king immediately replied, “I do not wish to embarrass my guests. Their happiness and goodwill matter more to me than the ring. Kindly forget about the ring. I shall find another one in the course of time.”

The minister said, “My King, I cannot allow this shameful crime to be dismissed. Please allow me to try something. I promise I will not embarrass your guests. I shall be as tactful as possible.”

With a movement of his head, the king gave permission for his minister to try to recover the diamond ring in a diplomatic way. The minister began by addressing the gathering: “O great kings who have assembled here, you are all friends of my king and you have enjoyed his hospitality many times. Unfortunately, something has happened in this room today which is not the action of a friend. The diamond ring is missing. Perhaps one of you picked it up to examine it more closely. Perhaps someone removed it out of curiosity as to what would happen. Perhaps someone played a joke. And, again, perhaps it has truly been stolen. Since nobody has left the room, I can only assume that it is here somewhere.

“I am now going to extinguish the lamps for two minutes. If you are in possession of the ring, for any of the reasons I have mentioned, please return it to its place on the gold plate during these two minutes. In this way, nobody will be exposed and nobody will be embarrassed. Otherwise, if I command the palace guards to search you, it will be a most embarrassing and humiliating situation for the king in question. Are you all in agreement with this method?”

The kings were profoundly shocked at the disappearance of the ring and they immediately agreed to the minister’s solution. The minister extinguished the lights and waited for two minutes. When the lamps were re-lit, everybody looked in the direction of the gold plate — only to discover that now the gold plate itself was missing! Nobody had anticipated this new development. The minister was particularly upset. He realised that now he had to catch not only one thief, but perhaps two.

With a sad smile, the host king brought the gathering to a close and they all retired to their respective rooms for the afternoon. The minister went at once to the queen to report to her all the untoward events of the day. The queen was absolutely furious. She confronted her husband and said, “This kind of friends you have! They must be searched, each and every one, before they are allowed to return to their own kingdoms.”

The king replied, “No, I will not allow them to be searched. One of my friends has definitely stolen my ring. If my diamond has stolen the heart of my friend, what can I do? You stole my heart. That is why I married you. I stole your heart, so you married me. Similarly, somebody prized this diamond so much that he had to steal it — and the gold plate as well. Let that person be happy in his own way. I have no intention of embarrassing him.”

The king and queen had a serious disagreement on the subject, but the king was adamant in his point of view and he would not issue the command for his guards to search the guests.

Later that evening, the host king and his guests enjoyed a magnificent banquet. Most of the kings were quite happy and cheerful, but there were three or four who were quite miserable. One was the culprit himself. The others were close friends of the host king who felt miserable that his joy had been blighted by this unthinkable act.

When the evening ended, the host king made a short speech. He said, “My friends, soon you will all be departing for your own kingdoms. Before you go, I would like you to know that I value my friendship with you all infinitely more than I value a diamond ring and a silly golden plate. These things I acquired only the other day. But you have all been my lifelong friends. I want to maintain the harmony, peace and friendship that exists among our kingdoms. So, if you have taken the diamond ring by mistake, do not worry at all. I shall not hold it against you.”

The following day, all the kings returned to their respective kingdoms. Shortly afterwards, the king who had actually stolen both the diamond ring and the gold plate, and hidden them in his tunic, had a vivid dream. He dreamt that he saw the queen of the host king shedding bitter tears. She was inconsolable because the diamond ring had not been recovered and also because the culprit had not been caught and punished.

This dream made such a deep impression on the king who had stolen the ring that he had a change of heart. He decided to return the ring and the plate, but he was ashamed to confess his crime. He summoned his minister and asked him to offer some advice in this embarrassing situation. The minister said, “Your Majesty, you may leave it to me. I will find a way of returning these items secretly.”

The minister then rode to a neighbouring kingdom. He wrapped the ring and plate together securely and sent them by special post to their true owner. When the parcel arrived and the king and his minister saw the postmark, they could not believe their eyes. The ruler of that kingdom had always been truthful. The king said, “How could my friend do this kind of thing? I know his nature. He is such a good, honest man.”

But the minister was convinced that that particular king was guilty. He showed the queen the evidence of the postmark and she became absolutely furious. She wrote a very strong letter to this king accusing him of the crime.

The innocent king sent back an urgent letter saying, “Please believe me when I say that I did not steal your diamond ring and gold plate. I am being blamed because the parcel was sent to you from my kingdom, but I assure you it has not come from me. How I wish the real culprit would confess! I would be so happy and relieved to have my name cleared. But if he does not come forward, what can I do? You will be forced to think the worst of me. At least my dear friend has his ring and plate back.”

Meanwhile, the king who had actually stolen the ring and plate asked his minister how he had managed to return them to their real owner. When the minister described his escapade in the neighbouring kingdom, the king was taken aback.

“You idiot! Why did you do that?” he cried. “You could have gone to a place where there was no king. You could have gone far, far away. Why did you have to go there? You know that that king’s reputation is unblemished. If you had had a brain in your head, you would have posted the package from somewhere else. Now nobody will be his ally! I cannot allow that to happen. I am the one who stole the ring. Now, before anything else happens, let me go and confess what I have done to the innocent king who has been accused.”

So the guilty king paid a visit to the kingdom of the innocent king and told him the whole story. When he had finished, he said, “I have told you the truth because I do not want you to be accused unjustly. Now you can punish me in whichever way you want. My minister played the trick on you, but it is I who have to take the responsibility. And I will allow you to inform our friend that it was I who stole his precious things. I do hope that one day he will be able to forgive me.”

The innocent king said, “No, I cannot do that. Since I have been accused, let me remain guilty. As a matter of fact, I know that I am guilty only in the eyes of the queen and the king’s minister. The king himself has written me a letter of consolation and sympathy saying that he does not believe I was the thief. I am happy to let things stand as they are.”

The minister of the guilty king said, “I believe I can solve this problem.”

His king asked, “What do you propose?”

The minister continued, “You will write a letter to the king saying that you can clearly see that he has an enemy. That enemy went to the kingdom of this innocent king to post the parcel. Tell him that the king who has been accused has played no part in this heinous crime.”

The guilty king said, “But then people will ask me how the ring came into the possession of an ordinary man, since it was definitely one of the kings who stole it. No, your plan is not at all satisfactory. I do not see that it offers any solution.”

While they were debating which course of action to follow, the guilty king reached an inner decision. Suddenly he announced, “My friend, I do not want you to suffer anymore. I stole the ring and the plate and I shall now go to the king’s palace and make a full confession. That is the only way to put an end to all these accusations.”

He departed before his minister could say another word and rode swiftly to the host king’s palace. There he related everything exactly as it had happened and begged his friend’s forgiveness. He said, “I am the thief and you may punish me as you see fit. I not only stole the ring and the plate, but I asked my minister to help me avoid embarrassment. Then he had the reprehensible idea of placing the blame on your dear friend. I wanted to return the ring and the plate because in my dream I saw your queen shedding bitter tears, but I did not have the courage to do so personally. My weakness has caused so much suffering for you and your friend.”

When the queen heard the confession of the guilty king, she started crying. She said, “We have the diamond ring. We have the gold plate. Now we have the thief. I am so proud of you, for at last sincerity has dawned in your life.”

The ending of the story was so sweet. The king and queen were most grateful to the guilty king. Not only did the queen forgive him, but she deeply appreciated his sincerity — his belated sincerity.

From this story we learn what greed can do. You may be a king, but if greed enters into you, then you may behave no better than a common thief.