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

When Ali Baba got back with Kasim's body it so happened that it was not his wife, but their adopted daughter, the slave girl Morgiana who came out to meet him and help him tie up the donkeys. Ali Baba was glad to see who it was, for he was rather superstitious. Indeed, as he was walking back sadly from the forest, with his donkey he'd been thinking that perhaps as it had been through his wife who had insisted on measuring the gold that his brother and sister-in-law had discovered their secret, the less the good woman had to do with it all the better. Though innocent, she might, he thought, bring their all bad luck again. So he was pleased that it happened to be young Morgiana who helped him to unload. And it was to her that he first told what had happened. «Morgiana, my pretty one,» he ended, «we shall need all your wit and cleverness over this. While I go with your adopted mother to break this terrible news to my sister-in-law, you try to think of some way in which we can manage to have a proper funeral. We don't want questions. Somehow the neighbours had better be made to believe that poor Kasim died of a natural illness. But I can't think how it's to be managed». With that Ali Baba left her and went into the house, and telling his wife briefly what had happened, they both went off to try to break the news to Kasim's widow in such a way that she would not let out the secret, She really must be persuaded not to do too much loud crying and wailing or else the neighbours would guess that there'd been a death.
So young Morgiana sat down and thought and being a very clever girl she soon hit upon an excellent plan. She went off to a certain neighbouring druggist who, she knew, was a great gossip. When she got to his shop she told him with a very long face and in a tone as though she were rather frightened that she'd been sent by her master to buy a certain very expensive mixture that was well—known to be good against the fever called the red evil. «My master's brother,» she added, «Kasim, the merchant, has suddenly fallen very ill». Some hours later she went again. «Alas», said she, «the merchant Kasim grows no better. We fear it may indeed be the red evil, his face is yellow, he cannot speak and seems blind. Allah help him. He hardly moves or breathes. Our only hope is now in your skill, most learned druggist». Here she seemed ready to burst into tears. «Let cost not be thought of! Mix us something so powerful that it will bring my master's poor kinsman back from the very edge of the grave».
On each walk to this gossiping druggist as she came and went Morgiana had taken care to chat with everyone she knew about the sad illness of her master's brother. She told them, moreover, that Kasim had been moved to Ali Baba's house for better care. The consequence was that next morning the neighbours were not surprised to hear piercing cries and lamentations and to be told the news that Kasim, the merchant was dead.
Now, Kasim, as has been told, had been chopped into six pieces. And it was the custom in that city not to have the dead put into coffins but to bury them well wrapped in costly shawls.
«We shall have succeeded in nothing, master, if we cannot manage to make him seen to be all in one piece», said Morgiana thoughtfully to Ali Baba when he praised her for what she'd already done. Ali Baba dolefully agreed, but could think of no way of managing this.
Now, there was a poor old cobbler who lived in the district. And what did the excellent Morgiana do but hurry off to him. Slipping one of the gold dinars from the treasure into the old man's hand she said to him, «Oh, most excellent of cobblers, we have need of your best skill. Also», and here Morgiana dropped her voice to a whisper, «we have two more of these gold dinars». «Eh, if it's any-thing lawful that you ask me to do, oh excellent and charming one, I will do it», answered the delighted old cobbler whose work very seldom brought him one let alone three gold pieces. «It is indeed lawful. In fact it's only a little sewing. But also it is a secret», replied she. «So my master has told me that unless when you came with me you'll consent to be blindfolded I am to take the other two gold dinars elsewhere». The end of it was that that night Morgiana came to fetch him and the old cobbler agreed to have his eyes bandaged and Morgiana, taking an extra turn or two for safety, led him round about to the cellar under Ali Baba's house.
When the cobbler's first surprise and dismay were over, he finally did his work very neatly and was taken back just as he had come. Thus it came about that Kasim was once more all in one piece, and neatly wrapped in thick shawls, and tidily arranged on the carrying litter. When the imam, who was the priest of the nearby mosque, and all the neighbours assembled for the funeral, no one could possibly guess that it had been the swords of forty furious thieves and not the red evil that had brought the greedy merchant to his end. And now for almost a whole month peace descended upon two households. Ahmad, Ali Baba's son, who was a pleasant handsome young man, took over the shop of his dead uncle. And the customers found him so much more agreeable and so much more honest, that the shop prospered more than ever. Ali Baba's wife, who, though perhaps rather a silly, fussy woman, had a very kind heart and a forgiving nature, went to be with her sister-in-law during the time of her widow's mourning. Then, as otherwise Morgiana would now have had all the work at their house on her hands, All Baba bought a strong cheerful young slave named Abdullah, so that after all that the clever girl had done for them, his dear Morgiana's work should be light. Morgiana, who truly loved her master and mistress, who were indeed the only father and mother she had ever known, would hardly accept the pretty bracelets, anklets, earrings and other small presents that the grateful Ali Baba gave her. As for Ali Baba himself, he knew that ho had secrets to keep and that he had many inquisitive neighbours, so he wan careful not to alter his way of life and so draw attention to himself. So he used very little of the gold under the kitchen floor, but went on, just as before cutting wood and selling it. Indeed, except the buying of the young man, the only change in Ali Baba's way of life and that of his three donkeys was that never, never did he turn their grey noses down any path that led anywhere near the rock of the robbers, but cut his wood as far away from it as he could.
Now, the reason why for nearly a whole month all had been so peaceful was that the thirty nine thieves and their captain had ridden off far out into the desert to attack a caravan. And it was only after this long journey that they came back to their cave. As soon as the captain had said the magic words and they began to go in with their booty, the very first man saw at once that Kasim's body had disappeared. They were all now much alarmed, for they realized, as Ali Baba had been sure they would, that this meant that some living man knew their secret. Again they searched the cave, this time more thoroughly. Still they did not miss the small amount of treasure that Ali Baba had taken. Finding that only the dead body had vanished, their surprise was all the greater. And they began to quarrel violently with each other. And each man accused another of having in some way betrayed the secret. At last the ferocious robber captain clapped his hands for silence. Then and there he told them that one of his followers would have to venture disguised into the city as a spy and try to find news of a man who had been cut into six pieces. «Lo! Before anyone offers in himself for this task that if he fails or in any way betrays our secret, I shall myself strike off his head with my scimitar!» In spite of this one of the thieves at once agreed to go.
So next morning, before it was light, this thief disguised himself carefully as a wandering dervish or holy man and went down to the market.
Now, when he got there it was still so early that it was scarcely light and most of the shops were still shut. But seeing an old cobbler already in his shop and busy threading a needle, the pretended dervish greeted him politely and remarked what excellent eyesight he must have.
«Ah, yes, thanks be to Allah, my eyes are good,» answered the cobbler pleased at the compliment. «Indeed, I can do even better than that. Why, not long ago I even sewed together the six parts of a dead body in a cellar, and that had less light than we have now»
The pretended dervish, who'd already made out that he came from far away, said that he was surprised to hear that sewing up the dead was one of the customs of the city.
«O-ho-ho, indeed, it's not a custom here. This was done secretly,» answered the cobbler.
«How very interesting,» answered the pretended dervish. «I should dearly like to see the house». And with that he offered the cobbler a piece of money if he would show him.
«How can I show the house to you, oh, holy man? I was blindfolded and led there by a young slave girl who took me there and back with many turns and twists».
The end of it was that partly by bribery and partly by flattery the pretended dervish persuaded the old cobbler that he was sure to be clever enough to find the place if he were again blindfolded and allowed to grope his way there. Alas for Ali Baba and all in his house, the cobbler did in the end succeed in leading the disguised robber to the very door. Now, the street was a long one with many doors and courtyards all rather like those of Ali Baba. Determined that there should be no mistake when he brought along the others, the robber at once pulled a piece of white chalk out of his girdle and marked the door with it. And then having paid and thanked the old cobbler for his trouble, he hurried back to the forest. And there he boasted to the robber captain about how well and quickly he had done his errand. Now, it so happened that hardly had the cobbler and the pretended dervish left the street than Morgiana, on her way to the market, came out of the house. Ever since the strange events of nearly a month ago, the clever girl had been on the alert. And more than ever quick at noticing every little thing, for she felt only too sure that they would not be left in peace forever. So now as she left the house, she turned back for a moment upon which her eye fell on the white chalk mark. «Ha! This did not write itself», thought Morgiana. «Some enemy has marked our house for misfortune». And slipping back into the house, she got another piece of white chalk and quickly marked every door and gateway on both sides of the street. Then, well pleased, but still a little uneasy she went off to do her marketing. Early next morning, on their captain's orders the robbers began to come two by two into the city. Not wanting to attract attention, each pair chose a different road. What was their bewilderment when they met in the street which the first thief had described to find that not only one, but more than a dozen houses were each marked with the white chalk which was to be in a signal. There was nothing for it but to go back to the forest where in his rage the robber captain cut off the head of his first unsuccessful spy. The robbers were now more uneasy than ever, for it seemed to them that their enemy must be very much alive and also exceedingly clever. There seemed nothing for it but to send another thief to bribe the old cobbler once more. This time, with no difference, except that the second robber dressed himself up as a foreign merchant, the same thing was done. This time the pretended foreign merchant made a very small red mark instead of a large white one. But Morgiana was on the lookout now, found the red mark almost as soon as it was made, and when the robbers crept two by two into the city again, it was to find small red marks on all the doors for half a mile around. When they all got dolefully back to the forest, the second thief met his end.
Then it was that the robber captain decided that he would go himself. The old cobbler, who was growing quite rich and had decided that sewing corpses paid much better than sewing shoes, told his curious story again to someone who seemed to be a peddler and led this third inquisitive stranger to the house. But the captain, wiser than his followers, only looked and remembered and made no mark which could tell Morgiana to be on her guard. As soon as he was back in the forest, he quickly ordered his followers (there were now thirty seven of them) to go disguised to the market and there to buy thirty eight large oil jars with wide necks. Each was to be large enough for a man to crouch in. Thirty seven would be empty and one was to be full of the very best olive oil. «I know the house now, and the fate of all who live in it shall be terrible», added he. And as they got ready they all sharpened their daggers and scimitars.
Next evening the unsuspecting Ali Baba who was tired from his day's work of cutting wood, was sitting at his door to enjoy the cool air. And as he sat he saw a string of laden horses coming up the street. There seemed to be only one man with them. And as he came opposite the house this man greeted him politely. «Oh, master», said the traveller, «I am an oil merchant and my horses have come far today. I am a stranger here and as I have fodder for the horses, I venture to ask you of your kindness to allow me to tie my horses in your yard and also to give me shelter for the night. If you consent, Allah will bless you and your hospitality».
Now one of the things that delighted the good Ali Baba was that now he was no longer so poor and now that his son Ahmad was an independent shop-keeper, he was usually able to give just such help to strangers. So, answering joyfully, he rose immediately, opened the gates of his yard and calling to Morgiana and to the slave he told them that they had an honoured guest and that an excellent supper was to be prepared. He himself bustled about helping the supposed oil merchant to set down the heavy oil jars and tether the horses.
Later, as they ate together at supper, he found the traveller a most interesting companion, for he seemed to have been in many strange lands and had many interesting tales to tell. At last, it grew late and the oil merchant said that before going to bed he would just like to see that all was well with his horses. So while Ali Baba and Morgiana went to bring out pillows and mattresses to make him a comfortable bed, the robber captain, for it was none other, began to talk loudly to his horses in the yard. «Stop that stamping and fidgeting, White Star», he would call. And then, when he was near one of the jars he whispered under his breath, «When I throw a pebble out of my bedroom window». Then aloud he said again, «Steady mare, don't rove a fidgety fiend if your hoof isn't over your picket rope». And then whispering again, «When I throw a pebble out of my window». And so he went on speaking in turn to each robber hidden in each of the thirty seven jars and telling him the signal at which he was to come out and help in the slaughter.
To the last jar he did not speak, for that one really did contain oil. When Morgiana had finished helping her master with the bed and when the supposed oil merchant was comfortably lying in it, there were still the supper dishes to wash. As she worked in the kitchen at the washing up, what should happen but that her lamp should run out of oil. She was put out and called the news to the slave Abdullah saying how silly she'd been to forget to get in enough oil. «By Allah!» answered Abdullah laughing, «how can you say, oh, my foolish sister, that we are out of oil, when tonight there are thirty eight jars of the very best oil just outside in our yard». Morgiana hadn't thought of that. But now, taking a ladle out she went in the moonlight and taking out the fibre stopper from the first jar she came to she put in her ladle which, as luck would have it, hit one of the hidden robbers bang on the head. «Pebble, captain?» said a deep hoarse voice from the jar. «That was more like a rock. But we are ready. And with that the jar began to rock as the crouching robber began to raise himself. Anyone but the excellent Morgiana would now surely have screamed with fright. But though her mouth was dry and she felt her heart pounding, she managed to whisper, «Be quiet! Not yet, not yet». As she put back the fibre stopper, she began to realize what the plot must be. And though her knees shook and her lips trembled and her long black hair almost stood up with fright, she went steadily from one jar to another tapping on each, and when the deep voice of a robber answered, she repeated again her «not yet, not yet». At last she came to the jar from which there was no answer. Then once more she took out the fibre stopper, put in her ladle, filled it with excellent oil and returning to the kitchen, at last relighted her lamp. What was she to do? This had taken some time. All the three men were now asleep — the slave Abdullah, her master Ali Baba and the man whom she now knew to be the dreadful captain of the robbers. Then Morgiana thought of a fresh plan. First she lit a great fire in the kitchen fireplace and over it she hung the largest cauldron in the house, one which was generally used for boiling clothes. Backwards and forwards went Morgiana with ladle and bucket to the real oil jar until she had filled the cauldron. As soon as the oil was boiling, she filled their largest bucket with it. And going softly to the first jar, she relentlessly poured into it a great dollop of the boiling oil which killed the first robber directly. She went in this way from jar to jar till at last her work was done. Then she went back to the kitchen, put out the fire and her lamp and hid herself. Silently she waited and at last she heard that upstairs a window was being opened. The robber captain cautiously put out his head and, seeing all the house in darkness, he supposed that all his intended victims were safely asleep. Then he took up the pebbles that he had ready prepared and began to throw them one by one at the jars.
Though the moon was down and it was very dark, he could tell by the sound as they struck the jars, that his pebbles were reaching their marks. But there was no answer, no stirring, no rush of armed men. «Eh, dogs», he said to himself in a fury, «they've all gone to sleep». Then, creeping downstairs he went to the jars. To his horror, each jar felt as hot as an oven. And opening each of them in turn, he realized that they now contained only lifeless corpses. With that the robber captain took one leap onto the top of the courtyard wall, let himself down into the road, ran for his life down the empty street and did not stop running till he reached the safety of his cave.
Morgiana, though she could not see, had heard it all and realising with thankfulness that they were now safe, waited till the first light of the morning before she waked her master.
Not until it was light did Morgiana wake Ali Baba. Then, asking him to come down to the courtyard, she begged him to lift the cover of the first jar. Ali Baba started back in horror at what he saw. But when Morgiana had told him the whole story of the night, he wept tears of joy «Oh, Daughter of Good Fortune, oh, Moon of Excellence», he cried, «Surely, the bread that you have eaten in our house is a little thin compared to this. Hands forward, dear Morgiana, you shall be our eldest child and the head of the house». So he and his slave Abdullah spent the rest of the day digging a great pit in the garden. And there, when it was dark, they buried the thirty seven robbers. It only remained to dispose of the horses, and these they sold one by one, so that the curiosity of the neighbours should not be aroused. And now once more they lived peacefully for a while. But Morgiana was so watchful, for she could not believe that they had heard the last of the terrible captain of the robbers.
It happened that one day Ali Baba's son Ahmad, who as it was told had inherited his uncle Kasim's shop, mentioned that a new merchant who called himself Hussein had set up a shop near his own. Soon Ahmad began to tell them more about this Hussein. He said he was a venerable man with a long silvery beard and very pious. He said he was a most excellent and hospitable neighbour and was continually doing him some little service or other. At last Ahmad said to his father, «Five times have I shared the midday meal with this excellent old man. Do you not think, oh my father, that we should return his hospitality?» Ali Baba agreed at once. So it was arranged that the white-bearded merchant who called himself Hussein should be asked to supper the very next Friday, the day of rest. Hussein, after making a few polite excuses, agreed to come. All day Morgiana, Abdullah, the slave, and the woman who now did most of the cooking worked to make a really splendid supper. Hussein was duly welcomed and while he, Ali Baba and his son Ahmad ate, Morgiana waited on them. Now, it certainly seemed, as young Ahmad had said, that their venerable visitor had a particularly splendid long silvery beard. And as she passed the dishes, Morgiana looked rather closely at this beard. She also noticed that this Hussein had in his girdle a particularly long dagger. And it presently seemed to Morgiana that she had somewhere seen this dagger before.
However, she said nothing and when the last dish had been served, she retired to her own room, leaving the three men to their wine. What was Ali Baba's surprise, when a few minutes later he saw Morgiana entering the room again dressed not in her usual clothes, but as a dancing girl. She seemed to have put on every trinket that he had ever given her. On her forehead were glittering sequins, on her ankles and wrists were tinkling silver bracelets and anklets, each set with little rows of tinkling bells. At her neck hung a long string of amber beads, at her waist was a golden belt, and from the belt hung a jade-hilted dagger. This was an ornament, such as dancers often ware, so that the dagger in its long decorated sheath will swing in time to nimble dancing feet and clinking anklets. Young Ahmad gasped at the sight. He had no idea that Morgiana, the girl whom he saw every day busy with the work at the house, could look so lovely. Her eyes which tonight were darkened with coal seemed to glitter with a feverish light. Her slender hands and feet were adorned with henna, her long shining hair swung down to her slim gold-circled waist.
When they could take their eyes off her, they saw that Morgiana was followed by Abdullah, the slave, who beat softly upon a tambourine. First bowing low to the honoured and venerable guest, Hussein, Morgiana began to dance as lightly as a happy bird. And as she danced, the rhythm of the tambourine grew louder and stranger, for the young Abdullah was a master of rhythm. First Morgiana danced the kerchief dance, then she danced the Persian dance and all the while the pace of the beat of the tambourine and the clink of her dancing feet grew swifter and swifter. At last, signalling to Abdullah, she broke into the slow swaying dagger dance.
Slowly she drew the jade-hilted blade from its silver sheath. And then once more the pace quickened and she began to sway and leap with blazing eyes pointing her dagger now here, now there striking the air like a warrior surrounded by enemies. Now the rhythm quickened to fever pace. Faster and faster she whirled, closer and closer she came to the men as they sat as if under an enchantment. And then at last with a sudden movement she plunged her dagger into the heart of Hussein! In horror at such a deed Ali Baba and his son started up and then she stood before them panted and wiping the dripping blade of her dagger. «Look!» said she and shuddered as she fixed her eyes on the lifeless body. Then they saw that the long venerable silver beard had slipped aside and revealed black hoggish bristles of the cruel face that was by now only well too known by Ali Baba. «The oil merchant! The robber captain!» he cried. Then he took Morgiana to his breast and kissing her between her eyes exclaimed, «Bless you, child! Light of my eyes! Be my daughter of very truth! Marry this handsome son of mine!» Now Morgiana has long secretly loved Ahmad, the master's son, and it seemed to Ahmad now that he had seen Morgiana in her sudden blaze of beauty and courage that no fate could be more fortunate that to marry such a wonderful girl. And so not so long after Ahmad and Morgiana were married. But not before Ali Baba had buried the robber chief in the grave which held the rest of his cruel band. For a long time Morgiana, who had saved them and who was slow to forget the dangers that they had all survived, begged her young husband and Ali Baba not to visit the treasure cave again. Ali Baba had told her that there had once been forty thieves, and not knowing that two had been beheaded by the captain's own hand, she begged them both to consider that there might very likely still be danger. But time passed, and at last Ali Baba and his son persuaded the prudent Morgiana to come with them to the cave. As they went, she saw for herself that the path had become quite overgrown not only with grasses but with woody shrubs and that now long creepers hung down in front of what had once been the split in the rock. Then even the careful Morgiana agreed that no one could have passed that way for a very long time, and that Allah in his mercy had somehow ended their danger.
So now once more Ali Baba, this time with his son and Morgiana, stood before the rock. Once more he called out in a firm voice, «Open, sesame!» And then for the first time the two young people went in and saw the vastness of the treasure which was to be their inheritance. «Glory be to Allah, who gives abundance beyond counting to the humble!» exclaimed Ali Baba once more and once more he took only a few sacks of gold and precious stones.
And so they all lived for many years in peace and happiness, taking care not to excite the envy of the neighbours by too sudden prosperity but instead earning blessings by their kindness to the poor and their hospitality to strangers.