It happened once upon a time that the great Emperor Akbar discovered that a precious ring was missing from his jewellery. Sure that it had been stolen, he called for his minister Birbal and commanded him to uncover the thief.
“Your jewellery and wardrobe are cared for by eight attendants, is it not so, majesty?” said Birbal. “And no one else has access to these treasures. So it must be one of them who stole the ring.”
“They all say they are innocent,” Akbar replied.
“Of course,” said Birbal. “But the guilty one knows he is lying.”
“I shall have them all beaten until the thief confesses,” said Akbar.
“It would be unjust to beat seven innocent men, sire,” said Birbal. “Better simply to let the guilty one admit his theft. Let me handle the matter.”
He had the eight attendants brought before him, and gave to each one of them a length of cane. “One of you must be responsible for the theft,” he told them. “This cane has magic properties, and it will grow in the presence of guilt. Keep it, and come to me again tomorrow.”
The next day the eight attendants, each with his length of cane, assembled in the presence of Birbal. Immediately, Birbal seized one, and had him brought to Akbar, where the attendant confessed his guilt.
“But how did you discover this thief?” asked Akbar. “Is the cane really magic?”
“Not at all,” said Birbal. “It is an ordinary cane from the river bed. But the thief feared that it was magic – and so he cut his cane shorter.”