306 STRONGER THAN FATE
course Nut Mahomed never guessed that the supposed pedlar happened to have been the king himself, although nobody knew it.
But as he was very angry at what he had been told, he declared that he was going to make an example of this young man, and intended to teach him that even poor travelling pedlars could get justice in his country, and be protected from such lawlessness. However, just as he was going to pronounce some very heavy sentence, there was a stir in the court, and up came Nur Mahomed's old mother, weeping and lamenting, and begging to be heard. The king ordered her to speak, and she began to plead for the boy, declaring how good he was, and how he was the support of her old age, and if he were put in prison she would die. The king asked her who she was. She replied that she was his mother.
' His mother ? ' said the king; ' you are too old, surely, to have so young a son !'
Then the old woman, in her fright and distress, confessed the whole story of how she found the baby, and how she rescued and brought him up, and ended by beseeching the king for mercy.
It is easy to guess how, as the story came out, the king looked blacker and blacker, and more and more grim, until at last he was half fainting with rage and astonishment. This, then, was the baby he had left to die, after cruelly murdering his mother! Surely fate might have spared him this ! He wished he had sufficient excuse to put the boy to death, for the old hermit's prophecy came back to him as strongly as ever ; and yet the young man had done nothing bad enough to deserve such a punishment. Everyone would call him a tyrant if he were to give such an order—in fact, he dared not try it !
At length he collected himself enough to say :—' If this young man will enlist in my army I will let him off. We have need of such as him, and a little discipline will do him good.' Still the old woman pleaded that she