The Story of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves Killed by a Slave Girl
Translation by Malcolm C. Lyons
Publisher: Penguin Classics
SHAHRAZAD SAID TO SHAHRIYAR:
In a city of Persia, on the borders of your majesty’s realms, there were two brothers, one called Qasim and the other Ali Baba. These two had been left very little in the way of possessions by their father, who had divided the inheritance equally between the two of them. They should have enjoyed an equal fortune, but fate was to dispose otherwise. Qasim married a woman who, shortly after their marriage, inherited a well stocked shop and a warehouse filled with fine goods, together with properties and estates, which all of a sudden made him so well off that he became one of the wealthiest merchants in the city. By contrast, Ali Baba had married a woman as poor as himself; he lived in great poverty and the only work he could do to help provide for himself and his children was to go out as a woodcutter in a neighboring forest. He would then load what he had cut on to his three donkeys, these being all that he possessed and sell it in the city.
One day, while he was in the forest and had finished chopping just enough wood to load on to his donkeys, he noticed a great cloud of dust rising up in the air and advancing straight in his direction. Looking closely, he could make out a large crowd of horsemen coming swiftly towards him. Although there was no talk of thieves in the region, none-the-less it struck him that that was just what these could be. Thinking only of his own safety and not of what could happen to his donkeys, he climbed up into a large tree, where the branches a little way up were so densely intertwined as to allow very little space between them. He positioned himself right in the middle, all the more confident that he could see without being seen, as the tree stood at the foot of an isolated rock much higher than the tree and so steep that it could not be climbed from any direction.
The large and powerful-looking horsemen, well mounted and armed, came close to the rock and dismounted. Ali Baba counted forty of them and, from their equipment and appearance, he had no doubt they were thieves. He was not mistaken, for this was what they were, and although they had caused no harm in the neighborhood, they had assembled there before going further afield to carry out their acts of brigandage.
What he saw them do next confirmed his suspicions.
Each horseman unbridled his horse, tethered it and then hung over its neck a sack of barley which had been on its back. Each then carried off his own bag and most of these seemed so heavy that Ali Baba reckoned they must be full of gold and coins.
The most prominent of the thieves, who seemed to be their captain, carried his bag like the rest and approached the rock close to Ali Baba’s tree. After he had made his way through some bushes, this man was clearly heard to utter the following words: ‘Open, Sesame.” No sooiier had he said this than a door opened, and after he had let all his men go in before him, he too went in and the door closed.
The thieves remained for a long time inside the rock. Ali Baba was afraid that if he left his tree in order to escape, one or all of them would come out, and so he was forced to stay where he was and to wait patiently. He was tempted to climb down and seize two of the horses, mounting one and leading the other by the bridle, in the hope of reaching the city driving his three donkeys in front of him. But, as he could not be sure what would happen, he took the safest course and remained where he was.
At last the door opened again and out came the forty thieves. The captain, who had gone in last, now emerged first; after he had watched the others file past him, Ali Baba heard him close the door by pronouncing these words: ‘Shut, Sesame.” Each thief returned to his horse and remounted, after bridling it and fastening his bag on to it. When the captain finally saw they were all ready to depart, he took the lead and rode off with them along the way they had come.
Ali Baba did not climb down straight away, saying to himself: ‘They may have forgotten something which would make them return, and were that to happen, I would be caught.’ He looked after them until they went out of sight, but he still did not get down for a long time afterwards until he felt completely safe. He had remembered the words used by the captain to make the door open and shut, and he was curious to see if they would produce the same effect for him. Pushing through the shrubs, he spotted the door which was hidden behind them, and going up to it, he said: ‘Open, Sesame.’ Immediately, the door opened wide.
He had expected to see a place of darkness and gloom and was surprised to find a vast and spacious manmade chamber, full of light, with a high, vaulted ceiling into which daylight poured through an opening in the top of the rock. There he saw great quantities of foodstuffs and bales of rich merchandise all piled up; there were silks and brocades, priceless carpets, and, above all, gold and coins in heaps or heaped up in sacks or in large leather bags that were piled one on top of the other.
Seeing all these things, it struck him that for years, even centuries, the cave must have served as a refuge for generation upon generation of thieves. He had no hesitation about,what to do next: he entered the cave and immediately the door closed behind him, but that did not worry him, for he knew the secret of how to open it again. He was not interested in the rest of the money but only in the gold coins, particularly those that were in the sacks, so he removed as much as he could carry away and load on to his three donkeys. He next rounded up the donkeys, which had wandered off, and when he had brought them up to the rock he loaded them with the sacks, which he hid by arranging firewood on top of them. When he had finished, he stood in front of the door and as soon as he uttered the words ‘Shut, Sesame’, the door closed, for it had closed by itself each time he had gone in and had stayed open each time he had gone out.
Having done this, Ali Baba took the road back to the city, and when he got home, he brought the donkeys into a small courtyard, carefully closing the door behind him. He removed the small amount of Wood which covered the sacks and these he then took into the house, putting them down and arranging them in front of his wife, who was sitting on a sofa.
She felt the sacks and, realizing they were full of money, she suspected him of having stolen it. So when he had finished bringing them all to her, she could not help saying to him: ‘Ali Baba, you can’t have been so wicked as to _ . _ P’ ‘Nonsense, wife’ Ali Baba interrupted her. ‘Don’t be alarmed: I’m not a thief, or at least only a thief who robs thieves. You will stop thinking ill of me when I tell you about my good fortune.’ He then emptied the sacks, making a great heap of gold which quite dazzled his wife, and having done this, he told her the story of his adventure from beginning to end. When he had finished, he told her to keep everything secret. Once his wife had recovered from her fright, she rejoiced with her husband at the good fortune which had come to them and she wanted to count all the gold that was in front of her, coin by coin. ‘Wife,’ said Ali Baba, ‘that’s not very clever: what do you think you are going to do and how long will it take you to finish counting? I am going to dig a trench and bury the gold there; we have no time to lose.’ ‘But it would be good if we had at least a rough idea of how much there is there,’ she told him. ‘I’ll go and borrow some small scales from the neighbors and use them to weigh the gold while you are digging the trench.’ Ali Baba objected: ‘There is no point in that, and, believe me, you should leave well alone. However, do as you like, but take care to keep the secret.’
To satisfy herself, however, Ali Baba’s wife went out to the house of her brother-in-law, Qasim, who lived not very far away. Qasim was not at home and so, in his absence, she spoke to his wife, asking her to lend her some scales for a short while. Her sister-in-law asked her if she wanted large scales or small scales, and Ali Baba’s wife said she wanted small ones. ‘Yes, of course,’ her sister-in-law replied. ‘Wait a moment and I will bring you some.’ The sister-in-law Went off to look for the scales, which she found, but knowing how poor Ali Baba was and curious to discover what sort of grain his wife wanted to weigh, she thought she would carefully apply some candle grease underneath them, which she did. She then returned and gave them to her visitor, apologizing for having made her wait and saying she had had difficulty finding them.
When Ali Baba’s wife got home, she placed the scales by the pile of gold, filled them and then emptied them a little further away on the sofa, until she had finished. She was very pleased to discover how much gold she had weighed out and told her husband, who had just finished digging the trench.
Whilst Ali Baba was burying the gold, his wife, in order to show her sister-in-law how meticulous and correct she was, returned her scales to her, not noticing that a gold coin had stuck to the underside of the scales.
‘Dear sister-in-law,” she said to her as she returned them to her, ‘you see, I didn’t keep your scales very long. I’m bringing you them back, and I’m very grateful to you.’ As soon as her back was turned, Qasim’s wife looked at the underside of the scales and was astonished beyond words to find a gold coin stuck there. Immediately her heart was filled with envy. ‘What!’ she exclaimed. ‘Ali Baba has gold enough to be weighed!
And where did the wretch get it from?’
As we have said, her husband, Qasim, was not at home but in his shop, from which he would only get back in the evening. So the time she had to Wait for him seemed like an age, so impatient was she to tell him news which would surprise him no less than it had surprised her. When Qasim did come home, his wife said to him: ‘Qasim, you may think you are rich, but you are wrong; Ali Baba has infinitely more than you; he doesn’t count his money, like you - he weighs it’ Qasim demanded an explanation of this mystery and she then proceeded to enlighten him, telling him of the trick she had used to make her discovery; and she showed him the gold coin that she had found stuck to the underside of the scales - a coin so ancient that the name of the prince stamped on it was unknown to him.
Qasim, far from being pleased at his brother’s good fortune, which would relieve his misery, conceived a mortal jealousy towards him and scarcely slept that night. The next morning, before even the sun had risen, he went to his brother, whom he did not treat as a real brother, having forgotten the very word since he had married the rich widow.
‘Ali Baba,’ he said, ‘you don’t say much about your affairs; you act as though you were poor, wretched and poverty-stricken but yet you have gold enough to weigh!’ ‘Brother,’ replied Ali Baba, ‘I don’t know what you are talking about. Explain yourself? ‘Don’t pretend to be ignorant,’ said Qasim, showing him the gold coin his wife had handed to him. ‘How many more coins do you have like this one, which my wife found stuck to the underside of the scales that your wife came to borrow yesterday?’
On hearing this, Ali Baba realized that, thanks to his wife’s persistence, Qasim arid his wife already knew what he had been so eager to keep concealed; but the damage was done and could not be repaired. Without showing the least sign of surprise or concern, he admitted everything to his brother and told him by what chance he had discovered the thieves’ den and where it was, offering to give him a share in the treasure if he kept the secret. ‘I will indeed claim my share,’ said Qasim arrogantly, then added: ‘But I also want to know precisely where this treasure is, the signs and marks of its hiding place, and how I can get in if I want to; otherwise, I shall denounce you to the authorities. If you refuse, not only will you have no hope of getting any more of it, but you will lose what you have already removed, as this will be given to me for having denounced you.’ Ali Baba, more thanks to his own good nature than because he was intimidated by the insolent threats of so cruel a brother, told him everything he wanted to know, even the words to use when entering or leaving the cave.
Qasim asked no more questions but left, determined to get to the treasure before Ali Baba. Very early the next morning, before it was even light, he set out, hoping to get the treasure for himself alone. He took with him ten mules carrying large chests which he planned to fill, and he had even more chests in reserve for a second trip, depending on the number of loads he found in the cave. He took the path following Ali Baba’s instructions and, drawing near to the rock, he recognized the signs and the tree in which Ali Baba had hidden. He looked for the door, found it, and said ‘Open, Sesame’ to make it open. When it did, he went in, and immediately it closed again. Looking around the cave, he was amazed at the sight of riches far greater than Ali Baba’s account had led him to expect. The more closely he examined everything, the more his astonishment increased. Being the miser he was and fond of wealth and riches, he would have spent the whole day feasting his eyes on the sight of so much gold had he not remembered that he had come to remove it and load it on to his ten mules. He then took as many sacks as he could carry and went to open the door, but his mind was filled with. thoughts far removed from what should have been of more importance to him. He found he had forgotten the necessary word and so instead of saying ‘Open, Sesame’, he said ‘Open, Barley’ and was very surprised to see that the door, rather than opening, remained shut. He Went on naming various other types of grain, but not the one he needed, and still the door did not open.
Qasim had not expected this. In the great danger in which he found himself, he was so terror-stricken that, in his efforts to remember the word ‘Sesame’, his memory became more and more confused and soon it was as though he had never ever heard of the word. He threw down his sacks and began to stride around the cave from one side to another, no longer moved by the sight of all the riches around him. So let us now leave Qasim to bewail his fate - he does not deserve our compassion.
Towards midday, the thieves returned to their cave, and when they were a little way off, they saw Qasim’s mules by the rock, laden with chests. Disturbed by this unusual sight, they advanced at full speed, scaring away the ten mules, which Qasim had neglected to tether. They had been grazing freely, and they now scattered so far into the forest that they were soon lost from sight. The thieves did not bother to run after them - it was more important for them to discover their owner.
While some of them went round the rock to look for him, the captain, together with the rest, dismounted and went straight to the door, sword in hand; he pronounced the words and the door opened.
Qasim, who had heard the sound of the horses from the middle of the cave, was in no doubt that the thieves had arrived and that his last hour had come. Resolved at least to make an effort to escape from their hands and save himself, he was ready to hurl himself through the door immediately it opened. As soon as he saw it open and hearing the word ‘Sesame’, which he had forgotten, he rushed out headlong, flinging the captain to the ground. But he did not escape the other thieves who were standing sword in hand and who killed him on the spot.
After they had killed him, the first concern of the thieves was to enter the cave. Next to the door they found the sacks which Qasim had begun to carry off in order to load on to his mules. These they put back in their place, failing to notice what Ali Baba had previously removed. They consulted each other and discussed what had just happened, but although they could see how Qasim might have got out of the cave, what they could not imagine was how he had entered it. It struck them that he might have come down through the top of the cave, but there was nothing to show that this was what he had done, and the opening which let in the daylight was so high up and the top of the rock so inaccessible from outside that they all agreed it was incomprehensible. They could not believe -that he had come in through the door, unless he knew the secret of making it open, and they were certain that no one else knew this. In this they were mistaken, unaware as they were that Ali Baba had found it out by spying on them.
They then decided that, however it was that Qasim had managed to get into the cave, it was now a question of protecting their communal riches and so they should chop his body in four and place the four pieces inside the cave near the door, two on each side, so as to terrify anyone who was bold enough to try the same thing. They themselves would only come back some time later, when the stench of the corpse had passed off. They carried out their plan, and as there was nothing else to keep them there, they left their den firmly secured, remounted their horses and went off to scour the countryside along the caravan routes, attacking and carrying out their usual highway robberies.
Qasim’s wife, meanwhile, was in a state of great anxiety when she saw that night had come and her husband had not returned home. In her alarm, she went to Ali Baba and said to him: ‘Brother-in-law, I believe you know well enough that your brother, Qasim, went to the forest and you know why he went there. He hasn’t come back yet and as it has been dark for some time, I’m afraid that some misfortune may have befallen him.’
After the conversation that Ali Baba had had with his brother, he had suspected that he would make this trip into the forest and so he had not gone there himself that day so as not to alarm him. Without reproaching his visitor in any way which could cause offence to her or to her husband, if he was alive, he told her not to be worried yet, explaining that Qasim might well have thought fit not to come back to the city until well after dark.
Qasim’s wife believed him all the more readily when she realized how important it was that her husband should act in secret. So she went home and waited patiently until midnight, but after that her fears increased and her suffering was all the more intense because she could not give vent to it nor relieve it by crying out loud, for she knew well enough that the reason for it had to remain concealed from the neighbors. The damage had been done, but she repented the foolish curiosity and blame-
worthy impulse which had led her to meddle in the affairs of her in-laws.
She spent the night in tears, and as soon as it was light, she rushed to Ali Baba’s house and told him and his wife - more through her tears than her Words - what had brought her there.
For his part, Ali Baba did not wait for his sister-in-law to appeal to his kindness to find out what had happened to Qasim. Telling her to calm down, he then immediately set out with his three donkeys and made for the forest. He found no trace of his brother or of the ten mules along the way, but when he drew near the rock, he was astonished to see a pool of blood near the door. He took this for an evil omen and, standing in front of the door, he pronounced the words ‘Open, Sesame’.
When the door opened, he was confronted by the sorry sight of his brother’s corpse, cut into four pieces. Forgetting what little fraternal love his brother had shown him, he did not hesitate in deciding to perform the last rites for his brother. He made up two bundles from the body parts that he found in the cave and these he loaded on to one of his donkeys, with firewood on top to conceal them. Then, losing no more time, he loaded the other two donkeys with sacks filled with gold, again with firewood on top, as before. As soon as he had done this and had commanded the door to shut, he set off on the path leading back to the city, but he took the precaution of stopping long enough at the edge of the forest so as to enter it only when it was dark. When he arrived home, he brought in only the two donkeys laden with the gold, leaving his wife with the job of unloading them. He told her briefly what had happened to Qasim, before leading the other donkey to his sister-in-law’s house.
When he knocked at the door, it was opened by Marjana. Now this girl Ali Baba knew to be a very shrewd and clever slave who could always find a way to solve the most difficult of problems. When he had entered the courtyard, Ali Baba unloaded the firewood and the two bundles from the donkey and, taking Marjana aside, said to her:
‘Marjana, the first thing I am going to ask you is an inviolable secret you will see how necessary this is for us both, for your mistress as well as for myself. In these two bundles is the body of your master; he must be buried as though he died a natural death. Let me speak to your mistress, and listen carefully to what I say to her.’
After Marjana had told her mistress that he was there, Ali Baba, who had been following her, entered and his sister-in-law immediately cried out impatiently to him: ‘Brother-in-law, what news have you of my husband? Your face tells me you have no comfort to offer me.’ ‘Sister-in-law,’ replied Ali Baba, ‘I can’t tell you anything before you first promise me you will listen to me, from beginning to end, without saying a word.
It is no less important to you than it is to me that what has happened should be kept a deadly secret, for your good and your peace of mind.’
‘Ah!’ exclaimed Qasim’s wife, although without raising her voice. ‘You are going to tell me that my husband is dead, but at the same time I must control myself and I understand why you are asking me to keep this a secret. So tell me; I am listening.”
Ali Baba told his sister-in-law what had happened on his trip, right up to his return with Qasim’s body, adding: ‘This is all very painful for you, all ’t'he more so because you so little expected it. However, although the evil cannot be remedied, if there is anything capable of comforting you, I offer to marry you and join the little God has given me to what you have. I can assure you that my Wife won’t be jealous and you will live happily together. If you agree, then we must think how to make it appear that my brother died of natural causes: this is something it seems to me you can entrust to Mariana, and I for my part will do everything that I can.’
What better decision could Qasim’s widow take than to accept Ali Baba’s proposal? With all the wealth she had inherited through the death of her first: husband she had yet found someone even wealthier than herself, a husband who, thanks to the treasure he had discovered, could become richer still. So she did not refuse his offer but, on the contrary, considered the match as offering reasonable grounds for consolation.
The fact that she wiped away the copious tears she had begun to shed and stifled the piercing shrieks customary to the newly widowed made it clear enough to Ali Baba that she had accepted his offer.
He left her in this frame of mind and returned home with his donkey, after having instructed Mariana to carry out her task as well as she could. She, for her part, did her best and, leaving the house at the same time as Ali Baba, she went to a nearby apothecary’s shop. She knocked on the door and when it was opened she went in and asked for some kind of tablets which were very effective against the most serious illnesses. The apothecary gave her what she had paid for, asking who was ill in her master’s house. ‘Ah!’ she sighed heavily. ‘It’s Qasim himself, my dear master! They don’t know wl1at’s wrong with him; he won’t speak and he won’t eat.” So saying, she went off with the tablets - which Qasim was in no state to use. .i The next morning, Mariana again went to the same apothecary and, with tears in her eyes, asked for an essence which one usually gives the sick only when they are at death’s door. ‘Alas!’ she cried in great distress as the apothecary handed it to her. ‘I am very much afraid that this remedy will have no more effect than the tablets! Ah, that I should lose such a good master!’
For their part, Ali Baba and his wife could be seen, with sorrowful faces, making frequent trips all day long to and from Qasim’s house, so that it was no surprise to hear, towards evening, cries and lamentations coming from Qasim’s wife, and especially from Mariana, which told of Qasim’s death.
Very early the next day, when dawn was just breaking, Mariana left the house and Went to seek out an elderly cobbler on the square who, as she knew, was always the first to open his shop every day, long before everyone else. She went up to him, greeted him and placed a gold coin in his hand. Baba Mustafa, as he was known to all and sundry, being of a naturally cheerful disposition and always ready with a joke, looked carefully at the coin because it was not yet quite light and, seeing it was indeed gold, exclaimed: ‘That’s a good start to the day!
What’s all this for? And how can I help you?’ ‘Baba Mustafa] Mariana said to him, ‘take whatever you need for sewing and come with me immediately, but I will have to blindfold you when we reach a certain place.’
When he heard this, Baba Mustafa became squeamish, saying: ‘Aha!
So you want me to do something that goes against my conscience and my honour?’ Placing another gold coin in his hand, Mariana went on, ‘God forbid that I should ask you to do anything which you couldn’t do in all honour! ]ust come, and don’t be afraid.’
The man allowed himself to be led by Mariana, who, after she had placed a handkerchief over his eyes at the place she had indicated, took him to the house of her late master, only removing the handkerchief once they were in the room where she had laid out the body, each quarter in its proper place. When she had removed the handkerchief, she said to him: ‘Why I have brought you here is so that you can sew these pieces together. Don’t waste any time, and when you have done this, I will give you another gold coin.”
When Baba Mustafa had finished, Mariana blindfolded him once more in the same room and then, after having given him the third gold coin that she had promised him, telling him to keep the secret, she took him back to the place where she had first blindfolded him. There she removed the handkerchief and let him return to his shop, watching him until he was out of sight in order to stop him retracing his steps out of curiosity to keep an eye on her.
She had heated some water with which to wash the body, and Ali Baba, who arrived just after she returned, washed it, perfumed it with incense and'then wrapped it in a shroud with the customary ceremonies.
The carpenter brought the coffin which Ali Baba had taken care to order, and Mariana stood at the door to receive it, to make sure that the carpenter would not notice anything. After she had paid him and sent him on way, she helped Ali Baba to put the body into the coffin, and when Ali Baba had firmly nailed down the planks on top of it, she went to the mosque to give notice that everything was ready for the burial.
The people at the mosque whose business it was to wash the bodies of the dead offered to come and perform their duty, but she told them it had already been done.
No sooner had Mariana returned than the imam and the other officials of the mosque arrived. Four neighbours had assembled there who then carried the bier on their shoulders to the cemetery, following the imam as he recited the prayers. Marjana, as the dead man’s slave, followed bare-headed, weeping and wailing pitifully, violently beating her breast and tearing her hair. Ali Baba also followed, accompanied by neighbours who would step forward from time to time to take their turn to relieve the four who were carrying the bier, until they arrived at the cemetery.
As for Qasim’s wife, she stayed at home grieving and uttering pitiful cries with the women of the neighbourhood who, as was the custom, hurried there whilst the funeral was taking place, adding their lamentations to hers and filling the whole quarter and beyond with grief and sadness. In this way, Qasim’s grisly death was carefully concealed and covered up by Ali Baba, his wife, Qasim’s widow and Marjana, so that no one in the town knew anything about it or was in the least suspicious.
Three or four days after the funeral, Ali Baba moved the few items of furniture he had, together with the money he had taken from the thieves’ treasure - which he brought in only at night - to the house of his brother’s widow in order to set up house there. This was enough to show that he had now married his former sister-in-law, but no one showed any surprise, as such marriages are not unusual in our religion.
As for Qasim’s shop, Ali Baba had a son who some time ago had finished his apprenticeship with another wealthy merchant who had always testified to his good conduct. Ali Baba gave him the shop, with the promise that if he continued to behave well, he would soon arrange an advantageous marriage for him, in keeping with his status.
Let us now leave Ali Baba to start enjoying his good fortune, and talk about the forty thieves. When they returned to their den in the forest at the time they had agreed on, they were astonished first at the absence of Qasim’s body but even more so by the noticeable gaps among their piles of gold. ‘We’ve been discovered, and if we don’t take care we’ll be lost,’
said the captain. ‘We must do something about this immediately, for otherwise bit by bit we shall lose all the riches which we and our fathers, amassed with so much trouble and effort. What our loss teaches us is that the thief whom we surprised learned the secret of how to make the door open and that fortunately we arrived at the very moment he was going to come out. But he wasn’t the only one - there must be someone else who found out about this. Quite apart from anything, the fact that the corpse was removed and some of our treasure taken is clear proof of this. There is nothing to show that more than two people knew the secret, however, and so now that we have killed one of them we shall have to kill the other as well. What do you think, my brave men? Isn’t that what we should do?’
The band of thieves were in complete accord with their captain, and finding his proposal perfectly reasonable, they all agreed to abandon any other venture and to concentrate exclusively on this and not to give up until they had succeeded. ‘I expected no less of your courage and bravery,” their captain told them. ‘But before anything else, one of you who is bold, clever and enterprising must go to the city, unarmed and dressed as a traveller from foreign parts. He is to use all his skill to discover if there is any talk about the strange death of the wretch we so rightly slaughtered, in order to find out who he was and where he lived.
That’s what is most important for us to know, so that we don’t do anything we might regret or show ourselves in a country where for a long time no one has known about us and where it is very important for us to stay unknown. Were our volunteer to make a mistake and bring back a false report rather than a true one, this could be disastrous for us. Don’t you think, then, that he had better agree that, if he does this, he should be killed?"
Without waiting for the rest to vote on this, one of the thieves said: ‘I agree and I glory in risking my life by taking on this task. If I don’t succeed, remember at least that, for the common good of the band, I lacked neither the goodwill nor the couragef He was warmly praised by the captain and his comrades, after which he then disguised himself in such a way that no one would take him for what he was. Leaving his comrades behind, he set out that night and saw to it that he entered the city as day was just breaking. He made for the square, where the one shop that he found open was that of Baba Mustafa.
Baba Mustafa was seated on his chair, his awl in his hand, ready to ply his trade; The robber went up to him to bid him good morning and, seeing him to be of great age, said to him: ‘My good fellow, you start Work very early, but you cannot possibly see clearly at your age, and even when it gets lighter, I doubt that your eyes are good enough for you to see much ‘Whoever you are,’ replied Baba Mustafa, ‘you obviously don’t know me. However old I may seem to you, I still have excellent eyes and you will realize the truth of this when I tell you that not long ago I sewed up a dead man in a place where the light was hardly any better than it is at the moment.’ The thief was delighted to find that after his arrival he had come across someone who, as seemed certain, had, immediately and unprompted, given him the very information for which he had come.
‘A dead man!’ the thief exclaimed in astonishment, adding, in order to make him talk: ‘What do you mean, “sewed up a dead man”? You must mean that you sewed the shroud in which he was wrapped? ‘No, no,’ insisted Baba Mustafa, ‘I know what I mean. You want to make me talk, but you’re not going to get anything more out of me.’
The thief needed no further enlightenment to be persuaded that he had discovered what he had come to look for. Pulling out a gold coin, he placed it in Baba Mustafa’s hand, saying: ‘I don’t want to enter into your secret, although I can assure you that I would not reveal it if you confided it to me. The only thing I ask is that you be kind enough to tell me or show me the house where you sewed up the dead man.” ‘Even if I wanted to, I could not,’ replied Baba Mustafa, ready to hand back the gold coin. ‘Take my word. The reason is that I was led to a certain place where I was blindfolded and from there I let myself be taken right into the house. When I had fnished what I had to do, I was brought back in the same way to the same place, and so you see that I cannot be of any help to you.” ‘You ought at least to remember something of the path you took with your eyes blindfolded,’ the thief went on. ‘Come with me, I beg you, and I will blindfold you in that place, and we will go on together by the same path, taking the turns that you can remember. As every effort deserves a reward, here is another gold coin. Come, do me the favor I ask of you.’ On saying this, he placed another gold coin in his hand.
Baba Mustafa was tempted by the two gold coins; he gazed at them in his hand for a while without uttering a word, thinking over what he should do. Finally, he pulled out a purse from his breast and put them there, saying to the thief: ‘I can’t guarantee I will remember the precise path I was led along, but since that’s what you want, let’s go. I will do what I can to remember it.’
To the thief’s great satisfaction, Baba Mustafa rose and, without closing his shop - where there was nothing of consequence to lose - he led the thief to the place where Marjana had blindfolded him. When they arrived there, he said: ‘Here is where I was blindfolded and I was turned like this, as you see.’ The thief, who had his handkerchief ready, bound his eyes and then walked beside him, sometimes leading him and sometimes letting himself be led, until he came to a halt. ‘I don’t think I went any further,’ said Baba Mustafa, and indeed he was standing before Qasim’s house where Ali Baba was now living. Before he removed the handkerchief from his eyes, the thief quickly put a mark on the door with a piece of chalk which he had ready in his hand. He then removed it and asked Baba Mustafa if he knew to whom the house belonged. But Baba Mustafa replied that he could not tell him as he was not from that quarter. Seeing that he could not learn anything more, the thief thanked him for his trouble, and after he had left him to return to his shop, he himself took the path back to the forest, certain that he would be well received.
Shortly after the two of them had parted, Marjana came out of Ali Baba’s house on some errand and when she returned, she noticed the mark the thief had made and stopped to examine it. ‘What does this mark mean?’ she asked herself. ‘Does someone intend to harm my master, or is it just children playing? Well, whatever the reason, one must guard against every eventuality! So she took a piece of chalk and, as the two or three doors on either side were similar, she marked them all in the same spot and then Went inside, without telling her master or mistress what she had done.
The thief, meanwhile, had gone on until he had reached the forest, where he quickly rejoined his band. He told them of his success, exaggerating his good luck in finding right at the start the only man who would have been able to tell him what he had come to discover. They listened to what he said with great satisfaction and the captain, after praising him for the care that he had taken, addressed them all. ‘Comrades,’ he said, ‘We have no time to lose; let us go, well armed but without making this too obvious. We must enter the town separately, one after the other, so as not to arouse suspicion, and meet in the main square, some of us coming from one side, some from the other. I myself will go and look for the house with our comrade who has just brought us such good news, in order to decide what we had better do.”
The thieves applauded their captain’s speech and were soon ready to set out. They went off in twos and threes, and by walking at a reasonable distance from one another, they entered the town without arousing any suspicions. The captain and the thief who had gone there that morning were the last of them. The latter led the captain to the street where he had marked Ali Baba’s house, and on coming to one of the doors which had been marked by Marjana, he pointed it out to him, telling him that that was the house. However, as they continued on their way Without stopping so as not to look suspicious, the captain noticed that the next door had the same mark in the same spot. When he pointed this out to his companion and asked him if that was the door or the first one, the other was confused and did not know what to reply. His confusion increased when the two of them saw that the next four or five doors were marked in the same Way. The scout swore to the captain that he had marked only one door, adding: ‘I don’t know who can have marked the others all in the same way, but I admit that I am too confused to be sure which is the one I marked.’ The captain seeing his plan had come to nothing, went to the main square and told his men through the first man he encountered that all their trouble had been Wasted: their expedition had been useless and all they could do now was to return to their den in the forest. He led the way and they all followed in the same order in which they had set out.
When they had reassembled in the forest, he explained to them Why he had made them come back. With one voice, they all declared that the scout deserved to be put to death; and indeed, he even condemned himself by admitting that he should have taken greater precautions, stoically offering his neck to the thief who came forward to cut off his head.
Since the preservation of the group meant that the wrong that had been done to them should not go unavenged, a second thief, who vowed he would do better, came forward and asked to be granted the favour of carrying out their revenge. They did this and he set out. just as the Hfst thief had done, he bribed Baba Mustafa, who, with his eyes blindfolded, showed him where Ali Baba’s house was. The thief put a red mark on it in a less obvious spot, reckoning that this would surely distinguish the house from those which had been marked in white. But a little later, just as she had done on the day before, Mariana came out of the house and, when she returned, her sharp eyes did not fail to spot the red mark.
For the same reasons as before, she made the same mark with red chalk in the same spot on all the other doors on either side.
The scout, on returning to his companions in the forest, made a point of stressing the precaution he had taken which, he claimed, was infallible and would ensure that Ali Baba’s house could not be confused with the rest. The captain and his men agreed with him that this would succeed, and they made for the city in the same order, taking the same precautions as before, armed and ready to pull off the planned coup. When they arrived, the captain and the scout went straight to Ali Baba’s street but encountered the same difficulty as before. The captain was indignant, while the scout found himself as confused as his predecessor had been.
The captain was again forced to go back with his men, as little satisfied as on the previous day, and the scout, as the man responsible for the failure, suffered the same fate, to which he willingly submitted himself.
The captain, seeing how his band had lost two of its brave men, was afraid that more still would be lost and his band would diminish further if he continued to rely on others to tell him where the house really was.
The example of the two made him realize that on such occasions his men were far better at using physical force rather than their heads. So he decided to take charge of the matter himself and went to the city, where Baba Mustafa helped him in the same way as he had helped the other two. He wasted no time placing a distinguishing mark on Ali Baba’s house but examined the place very closely, passing back and forth in front of it several times so that he could not possibly mistake it.
Satisfied with his expedition and having learned what he wanted to find out, he went back to the forest. When he reached the cave where his band was waiting for him, he addressed them, saying: ‘Comrades, nothing can now stop us from exacting full vengeance for the harm that has been done to us. I now know for sure the house of the man on whom revenge should fall, and on my way back I thought of such a clever way of making him experience it that no one will ever again be able to discover our hideaway or where our treasure is. This is what We have to aim for, as otherwise, instead of being of use to us, the treasure will be our downfall. To achieve this, here is what I thought of and if, when I finish explaining it, any one of you can think of a better way, he can tell us.’ He went on to explain to them what he intended to do; and as they had all given him their approval, he then told them to disperse into the towns, surrounding villages and even the cities, where they were to buy nineteen mules and thirty-eight leather jars for transporting oil, one full of oil and the others empty.
Within two or three days, the thieves had collected all these. As the empty jars were a little too narrow at the top, the captain had them widened. Then, after he had made one of his men enter each of the jars, with such“weapons as he thought they needed, he left open the sections of the jars that had been unstitched to allow each man to breathe freely.
After that he closed them in such a way that they appeared to be full of oil. To disguise them further, he rubbed them on the outside with oil taken from the filled jar.
When all this had been done, the mules were loaded with the thirty-seven thieves - not including the captain - each hidden in one of the jars, together with the jar which was filled with oil. With the captain in the lead, they took the path to the city at the time he had decided upon and arrived at dusk, about one hour after the sun had set, as he had planned.
He entered the city and went straight to Ali Baba’s house, with the intention of knocking on the door and asking to spend the night there with his mules, if the master of the house would agree to it. He had no need to knock for he found Ali Baba at the door, enjoying the fresh air after his supper. After he brought his mules to afhalt, the captain said to Ali Baba: ‘Sir, I have come from far away, bringing this oil to sell tomorrow in the market. I don’t know where to stay at this late hour, so if it is not inconvenient to you, would you be so kind as to let me spend the night here? I would be very obliged to you.’ Although in the forest Ali Baba had seen the man who was now speaking to him and had even heard his voice, how could he have recognized him as the captain of the forty thieves in his disguise as an oil merchant? ‘You are very welcome, come in,” he replied, standing aside to let him in with his mules.
When the man had entered, Ali Baba summoned one of his slaves and ordered him to put the mules under cover in the stable after they had been unloaded, and to give them hay and barley. He also took the trouble of going to the kitchen and ordering Mariana quickly to prepare some supper for the guest who had just arrived and to make up a bed for whim in one of the rooms.
Ali Baba did even more to make his guest as welcome as possible: when he saw that the man had unloaded his mules, that the mules had been led off into the stable as he had ordered, and that he was looking for somewhere to spend the night in the open air, he went up to him in the hall where he received guests, telling him he would not allow him to sleep in the courtyard. The captain firmly refused his offer of a room, under the pretext of not wishing to inconvenience him, although in reality this was so as to be able to carry out what he planned in greater freedom, and he only accepted the offer of hospitality after repeated entreaties.
Not content with entertaining someone who wanted to kill him, Ali Baba went on to talk with him about things which he thought would please him, until Marjana brought him his supper, and he left his guest only when he had eaten his fill, saying: ‘I will leave you as the master here; you have only to ask for anything you need: everything in my house is at your disposal? The captain got up at the same time as Ali Baba and accompanied him to the door, and while Ali Baba went into the kitchen to speak to Mariana, he entered the courtyard under the pretext of going to the stable to see if his mules needed anything. Ali Baba once more told Mariana to take good care of his guest and to see he lacked for nothing, adding: ‘I am going to the baths early tomorrow morning. See that my bath linen is ready - give it to Abdullah; and then make me a good beef stew to eat when I return? Having given these orders, he then retired to bed.
Meanwhile, the captain came out of the stable and went to tell his men what they had to do. Beginning with the man in the first jar and carrying on until the last, he said to each one: ‘As soon as I throw some pebbles from the room in which they have put me, cut open the jar from top to bottom with the knife you have been given and, when you come out, I shall be there.’ The knives he meant were pointed and had been sharpened for this purpose.
He then returned and Marjana, seeing him standing by the kitchen door, took a lamp and led him to the room which she had prepared for him, leaving him there after having asked him if there was anything else he needed. Soon afterwards, so as not to arouse any suspicion, he put out the lamp and lay down fully dressed, ready to get up as soon as he had taken a short nap.
Marjana, remembering Ali Baba’s orders, prepared his bath linen and gave it to the slave Abdullah, who had not yet gone to bed. She then put the pot on the Hre to prepare the stew, but while she was removing the scum, her lamp went out. There was no more oil in the house nor were there any candles. What should she do? She had to see clearly to remove the scum, and when she told Abdullah of her quandary, he said to her:
‘Don’t be so worried: just take some oil from one of the jars here in the courtyard’ So Marjana thanked him for his advice and while he went off to sleep near Ali Baba’s room so as to be ready to follow him to the baths, she took the oil jug and went into the courtyard. When she approached the first jar she came across, the thief hidden inside it asked: ‘Is it time?’
Although the man had spoken in a whisper, Marjana could easily hear his voice because the captain, as soon as he had unloaded his mules, had opened not only this jar but also all the others, to give some air to his men who, though they could still breathe, had felt very uncomfortable.
Any other slave but Marjana, surprised at finding a man in the jar instead of the oil she was looking for, would have caused an uproar that could have done a lot of harm. But Marjana was of superior stock, immediately realizing the importance of keeping secret the pressing danger which threatened not only Ali Baba and his family but also herself. She grasped the need to remedy the situation swiftly and quietly, and thanks to her intelligence, she saw at once how this could be done. Restraining herself and without showing any emotion, she pretended to be the captain and replied: ‘Not yet, but soon.’ She went up to the next jar and was asked the same question, and she went on from jar to jar until she reached the last one, which was full of oil, always giving the same reply to the same question. In this Way she discovered that her master, Ali Baba, who thought he was merely offering hospitality to an oil merchant, had let in to his house thirty-eight thieves, including the bogus oil merchant, their captain. Quickly filling her jug with oil from the last jar, she returned to the kitchen where she filled the lamp with the oil and lit it. She then took a large cooking pot and returned to the courtyard where she filled it with oil from the jar and brought the pot back and put it over the Hre. She put plenty of wood underneath because the sooner the pot boiled the sooner she could carry out her plan to save the household, as there was no time to spare. At last the oil boiled; taking the pot, she went and poured enough boiling oil into each jar, from the first to the last, to smother and kill the thieves - and kill them she did.
This deed, which was worthy of Marjana’s courage, was quickly and silently carried out, as she had planned, after which she returned to fhe kitchen with the empty pot and closed the door. She put out the fire she had lit, leaving only enough heat to finish cooking Ali Baba’s stew.
Finally, she blew out the lamp and remained very quiet, determined not to go to bed before watching what happened next, as far as the darkness allowed, through a kitchen window which overlooked the courtyard.
She had only to wait a quarter of an hour before the captain awoke.
He got up, opened the window and looked out. Seeing no light and as the house was completely quiet, he gave the signal by throwing down pebbles, several of which, to judge by the sound, fell on the jars. He listened but heard nothing to tell him that his men were stirring. This worried him and so he threw some more pebbles for a second and then a third time. They fell on the jars and yet not one thief gave the least sign of life. He could not understand why and, alarmed by this and making as little noise as possible, he went down into the courtyard.
When he went up to the first jar, intending to ask the thief, Whom he thought to be alive, whether he was asleep, he was met by a whiff of burning oil coming from the jar. He then realized that his plan to kill Ali Baba and pillage his house and, if possible, carry back the stolen gold had failed. He moved on to the next jar and then all the others, one after the other, only to discover that all his men had perished in the same way.
Then, on seeing how the jar which he had brought full of oil had been depleted, he realized just how he had lost the help he had been expecting.
In despair at the failure of his attempt, he slipped through Ali Baba’s garden gate, which led from the courtyard, and made his escape by passing from garden to garden over the walls.
After she had waited a while, Marjana, hearing no further sound and seeing that the captain had not returned, was in no doubt about what he had decided to do, as he had not tried to escape by the house door which was locked with a double bolt. She went to bed at last and fell asleep, delighted and satisfied at having so successfully ensured the safety of the whole household.
Ali Baba, meanwhile, set out before daybreak and went to the baths, followed by his slave, quite unaware of the astonishing events which had taken place in his house while he was asleep. For Marjana had not thought that she should wake him and tell him about them, as she had quite rightly realized she had no time to lose at the moment of danger and that it was pointless to disturb him after the danger had passed.
By the time Ali Baba had returned home from the baths, the sun had already risen, and when Marjana came to open the door for him, he was surprised to see that the jars of oil were still in their place and that the merchant had not gone to the market with his mules. He asked her why this was, for Marjana had left things just as they were for him to see, so that the sight of them could explain to him more effectively what she had done to save him. ‘My good master,’ Marjana replied, ‘may God preserve you and all your household! You will understand better what you want to know when you have seen what I have to show you. Please come with me.’ Ali Baba followed her and, after shutting the door, she led him to the first jar. ‘Look inside,’ she said, ‘and see if there is any oil there.’ Ali Baba looked, but seeing a man in the jar, he drew back in fright fiittering a loud cry. ‘Don’t be afraid,’ said Marjana. ‘The man you see won’t do you any harm. He has done some damage but is no longer in a condition to do any more, either to you or to anyone else -
he’s no longer alive.’ ‘Marjana,’ exclaimed Ali Baba, ‘what is all this that you have just shown me? Explain to me.” ‘I will tell you,’ she replied, ‘but control your astonishment and don’t stir up the curiosity of your neighbors, lest they find out something that is very important for you to keep secret. But come and see the other jars first.’
Ali Baba looked into the other jars one after the other, from the first to the last one, in which he could see that the oil level was now much lower.
After looking, he stood motionless, saying not a word but staring now at the jars, now at Marjana, so great was his astonishment. At last, as if he had finally recovered his speech, he asked: ‘But what has become of the merchant? ‘The merchant,’ replied Marjana, ‘is no more a merchant than I am. I will tell you who he is and what has become of him. But you will learn the full story more comfortably in your own room, as it’s time, for the sake of your health, to have some stew after your visit to the baths.’
While Ali Baba returned to his room, Marjana went to the kitchen to fetch the stew. When she brought it to him, he said to her before eating it: ‘Satisfy my impatience and tell me this extraordinary story at once and in every detail.”
Obediently, Marjana began: ‘Master, last night, when you had gone to bed, I prepared your linen for the bath, as you had told me, and I gave it to Abdullah. I then put the stew pot on the fire, but while I was removing the scum, the lamp suddenly went out for lack of oil. There was not a drop of oil left in the jug, and so I went to look for some candle ends but couldn’t find any. Seeing me in such a fix, Abdullah reminded me of the jars in the courtyard which we both believed, as you did yourself, were full of oil. I took the jug and ran to the nearest one, but when I got to it, a voice came from inside, asking: “Is it time?” I wasn’t startled, for I realized at once the bogus merchant’s malicious intent, and I promptly replied: “Not yet, but soon.” I went to the next jar and a second voice asked me the same question, to which I gave the same reply. I went from jar to jar, one after the other, and each time came the same question and I gave the same answer. It was only in the last jar that I found any oil and I filled my jug from it. When I considered that there were thirty-seven thieves in the middle of your courtyard, just waiting for the signal from their captain - whom you had taken for a merchant and had received so warmly - to set your house alight, I lost no time. I took the jar, lit the lamp and, taking the largest cooking pot in the kitchen, I went and filled it with oil. I put the pot over the fire and when the oil was boiling hot, I went and poured some into each of the jars where the thieves were. This was enough to stop them carrying out their plan to destroy us, and when my plan succeeded, I went back to the kitchen and put out the lamp. Then, before going to bed, I quietly went and stood by the window to see what the bogus oil merchant would do. A short time later, I heard him throw some pebbles from his window down on to the jars, as a signal. He did this twice or thrice and then, as he could neither see nor hear any movement coming from below, he came down and I saw him go from jar to jar, until after he had reached the last one, I lost sight of him because of the darkness. I kept watch for some time after that and, when he didn’t return, I was sure he must have escaped through the garden, in despair at his failure. Convinced that the household was now quite safe, I went to bed.’
Having completed her account, Marjana added: ‘This is the story you asked me to tell you and I am certain it all follows from something I noticed two or three days ago which I didn’t think I needed to tell you.
Early one morning, as I came back from the city, I saw that there was a white mark on our street door and next day there was a red mark next to it. I didn’t know why this was and so on both occasions I Went and marked two or three doors next to us up and down the street in the same way and in the same spot. If you add this to what has just happened, you will see that it was all a plot by the thieves of the forest who, for some reason, have lost two of their number. Be that as it may, they have now been reduced to three, at the most. This goes to show that they have sworn to do away with you and that you had better be on your guard as long as we can be sure that there is even one left alive. For my part,” she concluded, ‘I will do everything I can to watch over your safety, as is my duty.’
When she had finished, Ali Baba, realizing how much he owed to her, said: ‘I will not die before rewarding you as you deserve, for I owe my life to you. As a token of my gratitude, I shall start by giving you your freedom as of this moment, until I can reward you properly in the way I have in mind. I, too, am persuaded that the forty thieves set this ambush up for me, but through your hands God has saved me. May He continue to preserve me from their wickedness and, by warding off their wickedness from me, may he deliver the world from their persecution and their vile band. What we must now do is immediately to bury the bodies of these pests of the human race, in complete secrecy, so that no one will suspect what has happened. That’s what I’m going to work on with Abdullah.’
Ali Baba’s garden was very long and at the end of it were some large trees. Without further delay, he went with Abdullah and together they dug a trench under the trees, long enough and wide enough for all the bodies they had to bury. The earth was easy to work, so that the job was soon completed. They then pulled the bodies out of the jars and, after removing the weapons with which the thieves were armed, they took the bodies to the bottom of the garden and laid them in the trench. After they had covered them with the soil from the trench, they scattered the rest of it around so that the ground seemed the same as before. Ali Baba carefully hid the oil jars and the weapons; while, as for the mules, for which he had no further use, he sent then; at different times to the market, where he got his slave to sell them.
While Ali Baba was taking all these measures to stop people discovering how he had become so rich in such a short time, the captain of the thieves had returned to the forest in a state of unimaginable mortification. In his agitation, confused by so unexpected a disaster, he returned to the cave, having come to no decision about how or what he should or should not do to Ali Baba.
The solitude in which he found himself in this place seemed horrible to him. ‘Brave lads,” he cried out, ‘companions of my vigils, my struggles and adventures, where are you? What will I do without you? Have I chosen you and collected you together only to see you perish all at once by a fate so deadly and so unworthy of your courage? Had you died sword in hand like brave men, I would regret your death. When will I ever be able to get together another band of hardy men like you again?
And even if I wanted to, could I do so without exposing so much gold, silver and riches to the mercy of someone who has already enriched himself with part of it? No, I could not and should not think of it before I have first got rid of him. I shall do by myself what I have not been able to do with such powerful assistance. When I have seen to it that this treasure is no longer exposed to being plundered, I will ensure that after me it will stay neither without successor nor without a master; rather, that it may be preserved and increase for all posterity. Having made this resolution, he did not worry about how to carry it out; and so, full of hope and with a quiet mind, he went to sleep and spent a peaceful night.
The next morning, having woken up very early as he had intended, he put on new clothes of a kind suitable for his plan and went to the city, where he took up lodgings in a khan. Expecting that what had happened at Ali Baba’s house might have caused some uproar, he asked the door keeper in the course of his conversation what news there was in the city, to which the doorkeeper replied by telling him all sorts of things, but not what he needed to know. From that, he decided that Ali Baba must be guarding his great secret because he did not want the fact that he knew about the treasure and how to get to it to be spread abroad. Ali Baba, for his part, was well aware that it was for this reason that his life was in jeopardy.
This encouraged the captain to do everything he could to get rid of Ali Baba by the same secret means. He provided himself with a horse and used it to transport to his lodgings various kinds of rich cloths and fine fabrics which he brought from the forest in several trips, taking the necessary precautions to conceal the place from where he was taking them. When he had got what he thought enough, he looked for a shop and having found one, he hired it from the proprietor, filled it with his stock and established himself there. Now the shop opposite this one used to belong to Qasim and had recently been occupied by Ali Baba’s son.
The captain, who had taken the name of Khawaja Husain, soon exchanged courtesies with the neighboring merchants, as was the custom.
Since Ali Baba’s son was young and handsome and did not lack intelligence, the captain frequently had occasion to speak to him, as he did to the other merchants, and soon made friends with him. He even took to cultivating him more assiduously when, three or four days after he had established himself there, he recognized Ali Baba, who had come to see his son and talk with him, as he did from time to time. He later learned from the son, after Ali Baba had left, that this was his father. So he cultivated him all the more, flattered him and gave him small gifts, entertaining him and on several occasions inviting him to eat with him.
Ali Baba’s son did not want to be under so many obligations to Khawaja Husain without being able to return them. But his lodgings were cramped and he was not well off enough to entertain him as he wished. He talked about this to his father, pointing out to him that it was not proper to let Khawaja Husain’s courtesies remain unrecognized for much longer.
Ali Baba was delighted to take on the task of entertaining him himself.
‘My son,’ he said, ‘tomorrow is Friday. As it is a day when the big merchants like Khawaja Husain and yourself keep their shops closed, arrange‘to take a stroll with him after dinner; when you return, arrange it so that you bring him past my house and make him come in. It’s better to do it this way than if you were to invite him formally. I shall go and order Mariana to prepare the supper and have it ready.’
On Friday, Ali Baba’s son and Khawaja Husain met after dinner at their agreed rendezvous and went on their walk. As they returned, Ali Baba’s son carefully made Khawaja Husain pass down the street where his father lived, and when they came to the house door, he stopped and said to him, as he knocked: ‘This is my father’s house. When I told him about the friendship with which you have honored me, he told me to see to it that you honored him with your acquaintance. I beg you to add this pleasure to all the others for which I am already indebted to you.’ Although Khawaja Husain had got what he wanted, which was to enter Ali Baba’s house and murder him without endangering his own life and without causing a stir, nevertheless he made his excuses and pretended to be about to take leave of the son. But as Ali Baba’s slave had just opened the door, the son seized him by the hand and, going in first, pulled him forcibly after him, as if in spite of himself.
Ali Baba met Khawaja Husain with a smiling face and gave him all the welcome he could wish for. He thanked him for the kindness he had shown to his son, adding: ‘The debt he and I owe you is all the greater, since he is a young man still inexperienced in the ways of the world and you are not above helping instruct him in these.’ Khawaja Husain returned the compliment by assuring him that though some old men might have more experience than his son, the latter had enough good sense to serve in place of the experience of very many others.
After talking for a short while on unimportant matters, Khawaja Husain wanted to take his leave, but Ali Baba stopped him, saying: ‘My dear sir, where do you want to go? Please do me the honor of dining with me. The meal I would like to offer you is much inferior to what you deserve but, such as it is, I hope that you will accept it in the same spirit in which I offer it to you.” ‘Dear sir,’ Khawaja Husain rejoined, ‘I know you mean well. If I ask you not to think ill of me for leaving without accepting this kind offer of yours, I beg you to believe me that I don’t do this out of disrespect or discourtesy. I have a reason which you would appreciate, if you knew it.’ ‘And may I ask what this can be?’
said Ali Baba. ‘Yes, I can tell you what it is: it is that I don’t eat meat or stew which contains salt. Just think how embarrassed I would be, eating at your table.” ‘If that’s the only reason,” Ali Baba replied, ‘it should not deprive me of the honor of having you to supper, unless you wish it.
First, there’s no salt in the bread which we have in my house; and as for the meat and the stews, I promise you there won’t be any in what will be served you. I shall go and give the order, and so, please be good enough to stay, as I shall be back in a moment.’
Ali Baba went to the kitchen and told Marjana not to put any salt on the meat she was going to serve and immediately to prepare two or three extra stews, in addition to those he had ordered, and these were to be unsalted. Marjana, who was ready to serve the meal, could not stop herself showing annoyance at this new order and having it out with Ali Baba. ‘Who is this awkward fellow, who doesn’t eat salt? Your supper will no longer be fit to eat if I serve it later.’ ‘Don’t be angry, Marjana,’ Ali Baba continued. ‘He’s perfectly all right. just do as I tell you.’
Marjana reluctantly obeyed, and, curious to discover who this man was who did not eat salt, when she had finished and Abdullah had set the table, she helped him to carry in the dishes. When she saw Khawaja Husain, she immediately recognized him as the captain of the thieves, in spite of his disguise. Looking at him closely, she noticed that he had a dagger hidden under his clothes. ‘I am no longer surprised the wretch doesn’t want to eat salt with my master,’ she said to herself, ‘for he is his bitterest enemy and wants to murder him, but I am going to stop him.’
When Marjana had finished serving and letting Abdullah serve, she used the time while they were eating to make the necessary preparations to carry out a most audacious scheme. She had just finished by the time Abdullah came to ask her to serve the fruit, which she then brought and served as soon as Abdullah had cleared the table. Next to Ali Baba she placed a small side table on which she put the wine together with three cups. As she went out, she took Abdullah with her as though they were going to have supper together, leaving Ali Baba, as usual, free to talk, to enjoy the company of his guest and to give him plenty to drink.
It was then that the so-called Khawaja Husain, or rather the captain of the thieves, decided that the moment had come for him to kill Ali Baba. ‘I shall get both father and son drunk,” he said to himself, ‘and the son, whose life I am willing to spare, won’t stop me plunging the dagger into his father’s heart. I will then escape through the garden, as I did earlier, before the cook and the slave have finished their supper, or it may be that they will have fallen asleep in the kitchen.’
Instead of having supper, however, Marjana, who had seen through his evil plan, gave him no time to carry out his wicked deed. She put on a dancer’s costume, with the proper headdress, and around her Waist she tied a belt of gilded silver to which she attached a dagger whose sheath and handle were of the same metal. Finally, she covered her face with a very beautiful mask. Disguised in this manner, she said to Abdullah: ‘Abdullah, take your tambourine and let us offer our master’s guest and his son’s friend the entertainment we sometimes give our master.”
Abdullah took the tambourine and began to play as he walked into the room in front of Marjana. Marjana, who followed him, made a deep bow with a deliberate air so as to draw attention to herself, as though asking permission to show what she could do. Seeing that Ali Baba wanted to say something, Abdullah stopped playing his tambourine.
‘Come in, Marjana, come in,’ said Ali Baba. ‘Khawaja Husain will judge what you are capable of and will tell us his opinion. But don’t think, sir,’ he said, turning to his guest, ‘that I have put myself to any expense in offering you this entertainment. I have it iii my own home, and as you can see, it is my slave and my cook and housekeeper who provide me with it. I hope you won’t find it disagreeable.’
Khawaja Husain, who had not expected Ali Baba to add this entertainment to the supper, was afraid that he would not be able to use the opportunity he thought he had found. But he consoled himself with the hope that, if that happened, another opportunity would arise later if he continued to cultivate the friendship of the father and son. So, although he would have preferred to have done without what was being offered, he still pretended to be grateful, and he courteously indicated that what pleased his host would please him too.
When Abdullah saw that Ali Baba and Khawaja Husain had stopped talking, he began to play his tambourine again and accompanied his playing by singing a dance tune. Marjana, who could dance as well as any professional, performed so admirably that she would have aroused the admiration of any company and not only her present audience, although the so-called Khawaja Husain paid very little attention. After she had danced several dances with the same charm and,vigor, she finally drew out the dagger. Holding it in her hand, she then performed a dance in which she surpassed herself with different figures, light movements, astonishing leaps of marvelous energy, now holding the dagger in front, as though to strike, now pretending to plunge it into her own chest. At last, now out of breath, with her left hand she snatched the tambourine from Abdullah and, holding the dagger in her right, she went to present the tambourine to Ali Baba, its bowl uppermost in imitation of the male and female professional dancers who do this to ask for contributions from their spectators.
Ali Baba threw a gold coin into Marjana’s tambourine and, following his father’s example, so did his son. Khawaja Husain, seeing she was coming to him too, had already pulled out his purse from his breast to present his offering and was putting his hand out at the very moment that Marjana, with a courage worthy of the firmness and resolve she had shown up till then, plunged the dagger right into his heart and did not pull it out again until he had breathed his last. Terrified by this, Ali Baba and his son both cried out. ‘Wretched girl, what have you done?’ shouted Ali Baba. ‘Do you want to destroy us, my family and myself P’ ‘I didn’t do it to destroy you,’ replied Mariana. ‘I did it to save you,’
Opening Khawaja Husain’s robe, Mariana showed Ali Baba the dagger with which he was armed. ‘See what a fine enemy you’ve been dealing with’ she said. ‘Look carefully at his face and you will recognize the bogus oil merchant and the captain of the forty thieves. Remember how he didn’t want to eat salt with you - do you need anything more to convince you that he was planning evil? The moment you told me you had such a guest, before I had even seen him I became suspicious. I then set eyes on him and you can see how my suspicions were not unfounded’
Ali Baba, recognizing the new obligation he was under to Marjana for having saved his life a second time, embraced her and said: ‘When I gave you your freedom, I promised you that my gratitude would not stop there but that I would soon add the final touch to my promise. The time has now come and I will make you my daughter-in-law.” Turning to his son, he said: ‘I believe you are a dutiful enough son not to find it strange that I am giving you Mariana as a wife without consulting you. You are no less obliged to her than I am. You can see that Khawaja Husain only made friends with you in order to make it easier for him to murder me treacherously. Had he succeeded, you can be sure that you also would have been sacrificed to his vengeance. Consider, too, that if you take Mariana you will be marrying someone who, as long as we both live, will be the prop and mainstay of my family and yours.” Ali Baba’s son, far from showing any displeasure, gave his consent, not only because he did not want to disobey his father but because his own inclinations led in that direction.
Their next concern was to bury the body of the captain by the corpses of the thirty-seven thieves. This was done so secretly that no one knew about it until many years later, when there was no longer any interest in this memorable tale becoming known.
A few days later, Ali Baba celebrated the wedding of his son to Mariana, with a solemn ceremony and a sumptuous banquet which was accompanied by the customary dances, spectacles and entertainments.
The friends and neighbors whom he had invited were not told the real reason for the marriage, but they were well acquainted with Marjana’s many excellent qualities and Ali Baba had the great satisfaction of finding that they were loud in their praises for his generosity and good-heartedness.
After the Wedding, Ali Baba continued to stay away from the cave in the forest. He had not been there since he had taken away the body of his brother, Qasim, together with the gold, which he had loaded on to his three donkeys. This had been out of fear that he would End the thieves there and would fall into their hands. Even after thirty-eight of them, including their captain, had died, he still did not go back, believing that the remaining two, of whose fate he was ignorant, were still alive.
But when a year had gone by, seeing that nothing had occurred to cause him any disquiet, he was curious enough to make the trip, taking the necessary precautions to ensure his safety. He mounted his horse and, on approaching the cave, he took it as a good sign that he could see no trace of men or horses. He dismounted, tied up his own horse and, standing in front of the door, he uttered these words - which he had not forgotten: ‘Open, Sesame.’ The door opened and he entered. The state in which he found everything in the cave led him to conclude that, since around the time when the so-called Khawaja Husain had come to rent a shop in the city, no one had been there and so the band of forty thieves must all since have scattered and been wiped out. He was now certain that he was the only person in the world who knew the secret of how to open the cave and that its treasure was at his disposal. He had a bag with him which he filled with as much gold as his horse could carry, and then returned to the city.
Later he took his son to the cave and taught him the secret of how to enter it and, in time, the two of them passed this on to their descendants.
They lived in great splendor, being held in honor as the leading dignitaries in the city. They had profited from their good fortune but used it with restraint.
When she had finished telling this story to King Shahriyar, Shahrazad, seeing it was not yet light, began to recount the story we are now going to hear.