Stories from the Arabian Nights - Amy Steedman

Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves

In a certain town in Persia there lived, once upon a time, two brothers. Their names were Cassim and All Baba, and when their father died all he had was divided between them, so they both started life with the same fortune.

But before very long Cassim married a rich wife, and Ali Baba married a poor one; so while Cassim lived like a lord and did nothing, Ali Baba had to work hard for his living, Every day he went to cut wood in the forest, loaded his three horses with it, and then brought it back to sell in the town.

Now one day, while All Baba was in the forest, he noticed, far off, a great cloud of dust, and as it came nearer he saw that the dust was made by a company of men galloping along.

"These must be robbers," said Ali Baba to himself, trembling.

Quick as thought he hid his horses and climbed into a tree to see what would happen. The tree into which he had climbed stood near a great rock, and when the robbers came under this tree they all dismounted and began to take off their saddle-bags. These were so heavy that Ali Baba guessed that they must be filled with gold.

Ali Baba


Then the Captain of the band went up to the rock, and in a loud voice said, "Open Sesame."

To Ali Baba's surprise, a door which was hidden in the rock slowly swung open, and the whole band of robbers marched in. In a few minutes they came out again, and the Captain shouted, "Shut Sesame." The door at once closed behind them, and no one could have guessed that there was any opening in the solid rock.

As soon as the robbers had mounted and ridden off, All Baba climbed quickly down, and as he remembered the words he had heard, he too went up to the rock and cried, "Open Sesame."

The door swung open, just as it had done before, and All Baba walked in. He found himself in a huge cave piled up with rich wares and great bags of gold and silver, which must have taken hundreds of years to collect. With great care he chose six bags full of gold, and with these he loaded his horses, covering the bags with bundles of wood to hide them. Then he cried aloud, "Shut Sesame," and the door closed without a sound, and there was no trace of the opening left.

Now when Ali Baba arrived home, and his wife saw the bags of gold she looked at him most sorrowfully. "O my husband," she cried, "can it be that thou past become a—"

"No, I am not a thief," interrupted All Baba, "although these are indeed stolen goods." And he told her of his adventure in the cave, and how he had found the gold.

Then the poor woman was joyful indeed, and began to try to count the gold which Ali Baba had poured out of the bags.

"That is but a foolish thing to do," said All Baba, "it would take weeks to count. Leave it alone, and I will dig a hole in the garden and hide it."

"But it would surely be wiser to know how much we have," persisted his wife. "I will go and borrow a measure from thy brother Cassim, and then I can weigh the gold while thou art digging the hole."

So she went to Cassim's house, and as he was out she begged his wife to lend her a measure.

"Thou shalt have it in a moment," answered the wife. But she wondered why All Baba should want a measure. So she rubbed the bottom of the measure with a little lard, hoping that some of whatever was put into it might stick to the bottom.

Very hastily Ali Baba's wife went home, and having measured out the gold, carried the measure back again. But she never noticed that a piece of gold had stuck in the lard at the bottom of the measure.

"What is this?" cried Cassim's wife, when she discovered it. "So All Baba is too rich to count his gold, and is obliged to measure it!"

When Cassim came home and heard the story he was filled with rage, and went over at once to his brother's house.

"What dost thou mean by deceiving me?" he cried. "My wife has found out that thou hast so much gold that thou canst not even count it. Tell me this moment how thou camest by it."

Ali Baba saw at once how his secret had been discovered, and so he told his brother the whole story, and even repeated to him the magic words, begging him to keep the secret well.

Then Cassim went home, and taking twelve donkeys, set out to find the cave which Ali Baba had described. When he came to it, he tied his donkeys outside, and then said, "Open Sesame," and behold the secret door was open!

Now Cassim was a very greedy man, and he was so delighted and excited when he saw all the robbers' treasure that he danced with joy. He gathered together twenty-four of the largest bags of gold and dragged them to the door. Then he tried to remember the magic words. "Open Barley," he cried.

But the door remained shut. You must know that Sesame is a kind of grain in Persia, and Cassim thought Barley would do as well. Then he tried to remember every kind of grain he had ever heard of, but it was no use, the door never opened an inch.

Just then the robber band came riding up, and when the Captain shouted "Open Sesame, and walked in, he found Cassim there with all the bags of gold which he was trying to carry off.

Great was the rage of the robbers when they found that their secret hiding-place was discovered. They fell upon Cassim and cut him up into pieces, and hung the pieces just inside the cave as a warning to any one who should try to steal their gold.

When night came and Cassim did not return home, his wife was much alarmed, and went to All Baba to beg him to find out what had become of her husband. So All Baba took his three horses very early in the morning, and went off to the robbers' cave.

"Open Sesame," he cried, and when the door opened he walked in.

Alas! it was as he had feared. His brother had been surprised by the robbers and cut into pieces. Ali Baba took the pieces down and put them carefully together, and then loaded two of the horses with them. But he loaded his strong little black horse with two more bags of gold.

Then he returned home, and when he knocked at the door of Cassim's house it was opened by a slave called Morgiana, who was the cleverest and best of all his brother's servants.

Ali Baba took her aside and spoke secretly to her. "Thy master has been killed by robbers and cut into pieces," he said, "but no one must know about it. Think therefore of some plan to keep it secret." For he knew what a clever girl Morgiana was.

Ali Baba


Then he went into the house and told Cassim's wife the sad news.

"Do not grieve," he said; "thou shalt come and live with me and my wife and share all our treasure. Only we must be careful that no one guesses our secret."

So they unloaded the pieces of poor Cassim, and told all the neighbours that he had died Suddenly in the night.

Then Morgiana went to an old cobbler who lived some distance off, and begged him to tome with her, and bring his needles and thread with him. "Thy work must be secret," She said, "and I must blindfold thee before I lead thee to the house."

At first the old cobbler refused, but when Morgiana slipped a piece of gold into his hand, he let himself be blindfolded and led to Cassim's house. There Morgiana bade him sew together the pieces of her master's body, and he did it so neatly that no one could see the joins. Then she again blindfolded him and led him home.

So it seemed as if the secret was safe, and Ali Baba and his wife went to live with Cassim's wife.

But when the robbers returned to the cave and found the body gone, as well as two bags of gold, they were filled with rage and fury.

"Some one else knows our secret," they cried. "We must discover at once who this some one is."

So it was agreed that one of the robbers should disguise, go into the town, and try to find out who the man was whom they had found in their cave, and whose body had been stolen away. For thus they felt sure they would then know who had carried off the pieces and stolen their gold.

Now it so happened that entered the town very early next morning, the first shop he saw open belonged to the old cobbler who had sewed Cassim's body together.

"Good morning, honest man," said the robber; "thou dost begin work early. Surely thy eyes are too old to see well in this light?"

"My eyes are better than most," answered the cobbler. "Why, only yesterday I sewed four pieces of a man's body together, so that nobody could see the joins."

"Indeed," said the robber, "and who might the man be?"

"That I could not tell thee if I would," answered the cobbler, "for I was led blindfold to his house, and brought back the same way."

Then the robber slipped a piece of gold into the cobbler's hand, and begged him to try to show him the house.

"I will blindfold thee," said he, "and thou canst lead me the same way as thou wert taken yesterday. If thou canst show me the house thou shalt have more gold."

So at last the cobbler consented, and when he was blindfolded he walked slowly until he came to Cassim's house and there he stopped. "This must be the place," he said, "as far as I can remember."

Then the robber took a piece of chalk out of his pocket and marked the door with a white mark so that he might know it again. When he had done this he returned in great spirits to his companions in the forest.

Not long after, as Morgiana was carrying water into the house, her sharp eyes noticed a strange mark upon the door. "This is some evil sign which may work mischief against my master," she said.

So she fetched a piece of chalk and marked all the houses in the street with the same mark.

Now when the robbers heard that their companion had discovered the house belonging to the man they had cut into pieces, they were delighted, and that very night they set out to be revenged on every one who lived in the house with the white mark upon its door. But when the robber led them to the street, behold every door had the same mark upon it, and it was impossible to tell which house was the one they sought.

"Fool," cried the robber chief angrily, "is this thy clever work? Thou shalt be put to death instantly, and I myself will discover where this thief dwells.

So next day the Captain disguised himself, and went to the old cobbler, who again led the way to Cassim's house. But the Captain was too clever to mark the house with chalk this time. He looked carefully at it until he was sure he would know it again, and then he went back to prepare for the night's work.

First he bought twenty mules and then thirty-nine large jars for holding oil. One of these jars he filled with oil, but in each of the other empty jars a robber hid himself, and the Captain loaded the mules with the jars and set out for the town.

When they came to the house which the Captain had so carefully noted, he found All Baba standing outside enjoying the evening air.

"Good evening," said the Captain, with a low bow, "may I lodge with thee this night, and wilt thou allow me to leave my oil jars in thy courtyard? I am an oil merchant and have come from afar."

"Come in, come in," said All Baba kindly, and he opened the gate for the mules to go into the yard. Then he ordered Morgiana to get ready a hot supper for the guest.

Now the Captain had told each of the robbers that the moment he threw a pebble into the yard they were to cut through the covers of the jars and come out to help him. So they sat patiently waiting in the jars, until the signal should be given.

Meanwhile Morgiana was busily cooking the supper, but was obliged to stop because her lamp went out suddenly, and she found there was no oil in the house. "I can easily take a little from the great jars in the yard," she said to herself. So she took her lamp and went to fill it, but as she came near the first jar a voice whispered, "Is it time?"

"Not yet," she said, going to the next jar. From each jar came the same question, and to each she gave the same answer, until she came to the last jar, and this one she saw was really filled with oil.

"Aha!" said Morgiana, "a pretty oil merchant this is! It is a plot to rob and murder my master."

Then she quickly filled a great pot with oil out of the last jar, and set it to boil on the fire. And when the oil was boiling she poured some of it into each of the jars in which the robbers were hidden and killed them all.

Thus, when the Captain threw his pebble into the yard not a robber appeared, and when he came down and looked into the jars he found that all his men were dead. His plan was discovered, and he fled for his life.

The next morning Morgiana led Ali Baba into the yard and showed him the jars. He started with terror when he looked into the first and saw a man inside, but Morgiana quickly told him the whole story, and showed him that all the robbers were dead.

Great indeed was the joy and thankfulness of Ali Baba when he saw what a danger he had escaped.

"From this moment thou art no longer a slave," he said to Morgiana; "I set thee free, and thou shalt have other rewards as well."

The Captain meanwhile had returned to the cave, but he was so lonely and miserable without his men that he could not stay there. Besides, he was more eager than ever to be revenged on Ali Baba, and so he thought of another plan. He disguised himself as a great merchant, and took a shop exactly opposite to the one belonging to Ali Baba's son.

This great merchant was so rich and so friendly that All Baba's son soon became very fond of him and invited him to his father's house to supper, wishing to pay him great honour.

But when the false merchant arrived, he said to All Baba, "Much as I should like to sup with thee, I fear I cannot. I have made a vow never to taste salt, and thus my food has specially prepared."

"That is an easy matter," said Ali Baba; "I will order that no salt be put into any of the food to-night."

When Morgiana heard the order she thought there was something very strange about it, and she looked attentively at the guest when she carried in the dishes.

What was her horror when she recognised the Captain of the robbers, and saw that he had a dagger hidden in his sleeve!

"No wonder the wretch would not eat salt with the man he means to kill," she said.

Then she dressed herself as a dancer, and when supper was finished she took a dagger in her hand, and went to dance before Ali Baba and the company.

She danced so wonderfully that every one was delighted, and the false merchant took out his purse to drop a piece of gold into her tambourine. But as she held the tambourine out to him, with the other hand she plunged the dagger into his heart.

"Unhappy wretch," cried Ali Baba, "what hast thou done to my guest?"

"I have saved thy life," cried Morgiana. "See here," and she showed them the dagger hidden in the merchant's sleeve, and then told them who he really was.

Then All Baba embraced Morgiana, for he was grateful indeed.

"Thou shalt marry my son," he cried, "and become my daughter, for well dost thou deserve the greatest reward that I can bestow."

For a long time after this All Baba was afraid to return to the wonderful cave, but at the end of a year he went back once more, and found that everything had been left untouched since the death of the robbers. There was nothing now to fear. So All Baba became richer than any one else in all that land, for the cave never failed to open its secret door to him when he uttered the magic words, "Open Sesame."