Extensive Reading 2 Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves - Part 1

Long ago in a certain city there lived two brothers. Kasim, the elder, married a rich disagreeable wife and with the money she brought him set up a shop in a market. He was a hard, shrewd, grasping fellow and got very fat for he made a good living. But he loved himself so dearly that nobody loved him except his younger brother Ali Baba. Luckily, he and his wife had no children. So much for the fat Kasim.
Ali Baba who earned a poor living as a woodcutter was very different. He married a good sort of girl with no money but a kind heart. Allah blessed them with a son whom they named Ahmad. But they had no daughter, so they managed to buy a baby-girl whom they named Morgiana. The good woodcutter and his wife grew to love this Morgiana and brought her up more like a daughter than a slave. Though indeed as soon as she was big enough, she was so willing and clever that she did a great deal of work for them. Ali Baba, too, worked hard. And though at first he was so poor that he had to carry his loads of wood on his back all the way down from the hills and into the market, the time came when he could afford to buy a donkey, and after a time two more. But all this while, when even a small loan of money would have been most welcome, he got no help from his fat selfish brother. This unbrotherly conduct of Kasim's was all the worse, because they lived quite near to each other, so that Kasim and his wife knew perfectly well that while, for instance, they wore saving up for money to buy another donkey, Ali Baba and his family were often hard put to it to get enough to eat.
One day Ali Baba was cutting wood in the part of the forest where some great rocks marked the foot of the mountains. And while he worked, his three donkeys grazed nearby. His axe rang out loudly among the trees, but pausing for a moment, he heard in what should have been the silence of that lonely place another sound. Listening intently, he decided that it was the sound of galloping horses. And he was afraid, for he knew that such a sound in such a place boded no good either to him or to his precious donkeys. So he quickly led the beasts off and tied them up where the thick undergrowth hid them. And praying to Allah that none of them would bray and so betray their hiding place, Ali Baba, who had a peaceable nature, climbed up into a tree that stood on a little hill and gave a good view of the rocks. Not a moment too soon the noise of galloping grew louder and then a band of wicked looking horsemen, each heavily armed with daggers and scimitars, swept into sight. They had dark faces, their great black beards were as coarse as the bristles of pigs and were parted in the middle in such a way that they looked like the two wings of a carrion-crow.
Ali Baba counted thirty of them and then nine more. And last he saw their gigantic captain who looked more evil and ferocious than the rest. At the signal from him they all dismounted, tied up their horses and each began to unload his heavy saddle-bags. One by one they took these saddlebags to the foot of the great rock and when they had them all piled up ready the robber chief, standing in front a part of the rock which was as steep as a wall, called out in a loud voice: «Open, Sesame!» With a noise like thunder for rock began to gape. First there was a crack and then a great split. And when the split was wide enough, each man took up his pair of saddle-bags and disappeared inside. When all were in, they were followed by the robber captain. Then Ali Baba heard his voice again: «Shut, Sesame!» And with the same noise the rock shut upon them.
«Allah grant that they don't by their sorcery find me in this tree», said the terrified Ali Baba to himself. And he fixed the anxious eyes on the place where he could see the branches moving as his three precious donkeys stamped on the flies and tugged at their tethers. As he had no idea what was likely to happen next, or when the robbers might reappear, he thought it best to stay in his tree. After some time the rock opened again, and the robbers all began to file out, this time carrying empty saddlebags. They went straight to their horses. And when all thirty nine were out and had mounted again the terrible looking robber chief came out too and called out: «Shut, Sesame!» As soon as the rock had shut again, he, too, mounted when the whole black-faced hogbearded band of ruffians made off at a gallop. At last, when all the sounds of shouting and horse hooves had died away, poor frightened Ali Baba thanking Allah that not one of his excellent donkeys had brayed came down from his tree. His first thought had been for his donkeys, for it was on them that he and his family depended for a living. But now Ali Baba was overcome with curiosity and, going up to the rock, he examined it carefully. He looked, he felt with his finger, but the rock showed no sign of the split he had seen. Indeed, there seemed not to be even a crack into which he could have got the point of a needle. «This place is certainly guarded with a spell oath,» said he to himself. «And yet all I heard them say was the name of a harmless grain, sesame, the grain that my wife buys sometimes to make cakes. I wonder if that is really enough.» And then in a trembling voice, Ali Baba turning again to the rock said softly: «Open, Sesame!»
To his amasement the rock at once obeyed, and with a noise like thunder the great split appeared in its smooth face. And then once more the forest was still. Ali Baba was almost too frightened to look inside. But at last, plucking up his courage, he took a step forward and then he stared with all his eyes. What he had expected to see will never be known. But what is certain is that this was not a dreadful cavern dripping with horror. On the contrary, a dry level gallery led to a large hall hollowed out of the mountain and cunningly but rather dimly lit by the slits contrived in the roof. Ali Baba turned back to the opening and saying the words which shut the rock (for he feared that, if one of the robbers came back, he might be seen) he walked boldly on and in a few steps found himself in a great cavern.
As his eyes got used to the light he saw that all along the walls piled up to the roof were bales of silks, bars of silver and gold and great chests which were so full of treasure that their contents spilled out onto the floor. Ali Baba could hardly put down a foot without treading or tripping on something precious. Looking more closely, he saw that some of the gold cups and necklaces and bracelets were of ancient workmanship and some were new, so that it seemed to him as if this cavern must have been for hundreds of years the secret store place of many generations of robbers.
«Allah be praised,» said Ali Baba, «for he who loves to reward the simple has made me, a poor woodcutter, master of the fruit of terrible crimes. Now instead of being used by these ruffians the treasure will to put to the innocent use of a poor family.
Then Ali Baba began to think once more of his three donkeys and sat down to consider how much treasure each could carry without being overloaded. He calculated that each must also carry a small load of wood, so that no one should guess his secret. He decided to take only coined gold, for if a poor woodcutter would try to sell even one of these emeralds and diamonds or a single gold cup or bracelet, then who knows what questions and troubles might follow. So with modest good sense Ali Baba only gathered up what it seemed prudent to take, that is what the robbers would not be likely to miss immediately and what his precious donkeys could easily carry. Safely Ali Baba once more opened and then closed the rock. Safely he brought up his three donkeys. Safely he put onto the back of each two small bags of gold nicely hidden with wood. As they all four walked down the mountain to the city, Ali Baba found himself speaking quite softly and respectfully to his donkeys instead of shouting at them. He told them that they had eyes like dark pools of water (which was true). He called them Grey Pearl, Silken Ears, and Nightingale instead of Obstinate Pig or Stumbler or Daughter of Evil, as he often did just to make them mind their work, for now he kept remembering that on their humble gray backs they carried enough gold to make a dowry for a princess. So the donkeys, for such is the nature of donkeys, loitered and stopped often to snatch a nice-looking mouthful of grass and, in short, took double their usual time to get back home.
Once safe in his own courtyard, Ali Baba threw down the bundles of wood and began to take the six small but heavy bags of gold into the house. Now, these were bags from the cave. And since they were poor, his wife knew every bag and basket that they had. So she was surprised to see six strange bags. And still more surprised when to help him she lifted one of them and found how heavy it was. So she began to ask where they came from.
«These bags are from Allah, good wife. Help me to carry them and don't torment me with questions.» «Honey,» said the good woman to herself as she heard she clinking. And she supposed that it must be full of copper coins. But six bags even of copper coins seemed to her a great treasure. And she began to be frightened thinking that in some way her good, honest, timid Ali had been up to no good. She even began to beg him to take them away in case they brought bad luck. So before letting her see what the bags really held, Ali Baba swore her to secrecy. And when after locking the door he had poured the flashing gold out onto the floor she became so frightened that he thought it best to tell her the whole story. When she heard it and knew that Ali Baba had been able to bring it all safely and secretly to the house, the poor woman's joy was as great as her terror had been.
«Help me now, wife,» said Ali Baba when he'd finished the tale of the robbers and the treasure cave. «We will only keep out a few coins at present. And we will dig a trench under the floor of the kitchen and hide the rest of the money.»
«But we must count it first,» said his wife.
Ali Baba laughed «Poor foolish woman!» said he, «you could never count all that. «She said she could. He said it would take too long. She began but after an hour she gave it up. «But surely, husband, we must at least weigh or measure it. I will do the measuring while you dig under the floor,» she went on. «Like this we shall know how much our dear son will inherit from us.»
«But we have no measuring bowl or scoop, for we've never been able to buy enough grain or flour at a time to measure anything,» he answered.
«That is true,» said his wife, «but I will just step round and borrow a measuring scoop from our sister-in-law, Kasim's wife.
«Be sure you don't say a word about the treasure,» said Ali Baba. And his wife, agreeing, promised not to say a word.
Now, though Kasim's wife was so mean that she'd never given her nephew Ahmad or the girl Morgiana so much as a sugar chick-pea, the very cheapest kind of sweet, while they were children, she could not very well refuse the loan of a wooden measure for a few minutes. All the same, she was curious to know what sort of grain these poor people had in such quantities that a measure was needed. «Will you have this small measure or the large one?» she asked. «The small one, oh my mistress, if you please», answered Ali Baba wife humbly. As she was fetching the measure, Kasim's wife thought how interesting it would be just to know what it was wanted for «My poor silly sister-in-law,» said she to herself, «is sure to put the measure down on the grain, so if I rub a nice thick bit of suet onto the under side, a little of whatever she is measuring is sure to stick and then I shall know.»
Sure enough, when Ali Baba's wife got home, the first thing did was to put the borrowed measure down on the top of the pile of gold. And just as Kasim's wife had intended, the suet stuck to the it had been put on, so that a single gold coin remained on the under side. And in this way Ali Baba's wife, poor creature, was the innocent means of giving away their great secret. No sooner measuring done and the money buried, that back she ran in a great hurry to her sister-in-law's house and thanking her for her kindness gave her back the measure. Hardly was her back turned, when Kasim's wife turned the measure upside down. And what was her amasement to see sticking to the under side a shining gold dinar.
Kasim's wife at once fell furiously jealous. The thought that in her sister-in-law's house they had so much gold that they measured instead of counting it was poison to her. However, she just had enough sense not to go shouting to the neighbours about this strange affair. But as soon as her husband came back, she showed him the gold and told him what had happened. Instead of rejoicing at his kind brother's good luck, Kasim grew yellow with envy. And he felt that he could never rest till he not only knew the secret, but got some of that gold for himself. So, without waiting a moment, he rushed round to his brother's house. He found Ali Baba in the kitchen still with a peak axe in his hand. And without a word of greeting and speaking low between clenched teeth, Kasim hissed in Ali Baba's ear: «Ah, you, well-meant brother, how dare you be so secretive. Tell me immediately how it is that you, dirty, starved-looking creature that you are have so much gold that you measure instead of counting it?
Poor Ali Baba was dumbfounded. And when his horrible brother shook the gold dinar under his nose and threatened to tell the rulers of the town that Ali Baba was a robber and to have his donkeys killed and the whole house pulled about his ears, he at last told Kasim the story, but without telling him the magic words which opened the rock. «The words! The words that open the caves» said Kasim looking furious. «Don't dare to hide anything!»
«Dear brother,» answered Ali Baba gently, «we are the children of one father and one mother. I will willingly share the treasure with you, good brother, but don't ask me the words. To prove that I am in earnest, you can have half of all that I brought home today.»
«No,» answered the black-souled Kasim. «The words! I must know the words. I want to be able to go there myself. Tell me directly or I will tell everyone that you stole the gold.»
So though he feared that evil would come of it, Ali Baba was obliged to tell his brother both the way to the rock and the words which opened the treasure cave.
Now, Allah contrives many ways in which to bring the wicked and heartless to distraction. And it was through his own selfish and greed that Kasim met with his just reward.
The very next morning, as soon as it was light, Kasim who had refused to Ali Baba's offer to act as guide stole off secretly with ten mules each carrying empty sacks. He found his way to the place, tethered the mules, stood before the smooth face of the rock and cried with all his might: «Open, Sesame!» When the rock opened, she rushed into the cavern. And almost stunned by the sight before him had hardly breath to give the order that closed the rock again. He saw gleaming silks, cups made of chaste gold of exquisite workmanship, jewels fit for the turban of a sultan, anklets, necklaces, bracelets, earrings, bars of gold, minted money. All this was piled in great heaps right up to the top of the cavern. All was littered and scattered about. The sight quite dazzled Kasim and he began to mutter, «Ten mules … not enough … 20 mules … only a beginning. Not all the camels of all the merchants that visit our city at the great fair will be enough to caring away all this splendour.» Talking out loud to himself and rushing from one side of the cavern to the other fat Kasim began to beat his forehead and scratch his head trying to think how he would ever be able to contrive to get in all for himself. Soon he began to collect «just a little» as he called it to himself, into the sacks that he had brought. But he was so greedy that he was always unpacking a sack in order to put in something still more valuable that just had caught his eye. And being very fat, he was soon quite breathless and exhausted. At last, still thinking how he could get yet more, he began to drag his heavy sacks to the end of the gallery and to pile them up. It was not till he was nearly fainting with his effort and his wild excitement, that he decided to go. And now it was that Allah turned Kasim's shocking greed against him, for in his excitement and thinking only of his wild plans to keep all the treasure to himself he found that when he needed to speak it, he had forgotten the word. He stood thinking: «I-i-it was the name of a grain» Yes, he knew that much. «But which grain? Open, barley!» he cried. «Open, millet! Open, wheat!» But all in vain. The rock remained shut.
He began to be afraid. «Eh-eh-eh open, rice! Open, rye!» Still that was of no use. There he stood speechless now and growing more and more terrified and confused. At last he heard a noise like thunder and a crack of light began to appear.
It was the robbers. They had come back, had seen the mules, had leapt from their horses, had looked everywhere for the mules' owner and now their chief pointing his drawn sword at the rock had spoken the magic words: «Open, Sesame». Kasim guessing the terrible truth, made a wild rush for the freedom as the rock split only at the very entrance to be cut into six pieces by the swords of the furious robbers. The thieves laughed loudly, wiped their swords, tossed the wretched fragments inside, emptied out the sacks of treasure that Kasim had piled up, and then had a look to see if anything else seemed to have gone. But so great was the mass of treasure that they never missed the six small bags of gold that the careful Ali Baba had gathered from here and there.
And now the forty robbers sat in a circle discussing, as well they might, how this greasy citizen who had not looked, the sort of man who ever came to the forest could have discovered their secret. They got angry. So that if it seemed that one of them had accidentally betrayed it on a visit to the town, the others were soon quite ready to cut off his head and to leave him to keep company with Kasim. Unable, talk as they would, to guess how the strange and awkward event had happened, they decided to leave Kasim's body in the gallery where, said the robber chief, it would be a warning if anyone else by ill fortune had also discovered the way to the cave.
Now, all that day Kasim's, wife, who alone knew where he had gone waited in vein for him. And so it was that when night fell, she went wailing to Ali Baba's house to beg his help. But it was now pitch dark, so that till morning came all that Ali Baba and his wife could do was to try to comfort the weeping woman. She, to tell the truth, was quite as much crying and wailing because the treasure might be lost as for fear of what might have happened to her fat husband. As for Ali Baba, he was truly troubled about his brother. He had forgotten all Kasim's heartlessness and only remembered how they had played together as boys.
So the dawn was scarcely grey in the sky before the good Ali Baba and his three donkeys once more set out for the forest. First he hunted about for his brother's mules, but the robbers had taken them all. And when he did not see them, Ali Baba grew terribly afraid. When at the threshold of the rock he saw a stain of blood, he shuddered for pity. So that it was in a trembling voice that he cried once more, «Open, sesame!» Alas, what a sight met his eyes! His knees knocked together with terror when he saw the six pieces into which the robbers had hacked Kasim. And cruel and heartless as the dead man had been to him, Ali Baba wept. «The only thing I can do for you now, my brother, is to give you decent burial, so that your poor ghost shall find rest», said he to himself. And though he very well understood the danger of what he was doing (for it would mean that the robbers would know that this dead man was not the only one who knew their secret) he found sacks and divided the new load in such a way that it could be put on the backs of his three donkeys and hidden as the gold had been with branches of wood. Then when all was finished, closed the rock once more, Ali Baba set out sadly on his journey home.