The Forty Thieves

In a town in Persia there dwelt two brothers, one named

Cassim, the other Ali Baba. Cassim was married to a

rich wife and lived in plenty, while Ali Baba had to maintain

his wife and children by cutting wood in a neighboring

forest and selling it in the town. One day, when Ali

Baba was in the forest, he saw a troop of men on horseback,

coming toward him in a cloud of dust. He was

afraid they were robbers, and climbed into a tree for

safety. When they came up to him and dismounted, he

counted forty of them. They unbridled their horses and

tied them to trees. The finest man among them, whom

Ali Baba took to be their captain, went a little way among

some bushes, and said: "Open, Sesame!"[1] so plainly that

Ali Baba heard him. A door opened in the rocks, and

having made the troop go in, he followed them, and the

door shut again of itself. They stayed some time inside,

and Ali Baba, fearing they might come out and catch

him, was forced to sit patiently in the tree. At last the

door opened again, and the Forty Thieves came out. As

the Captain went in last he came out first, and made them

all pass by him; he then closed the door, saying: "Shut,

Sesame!" Every man bridled his horse and mounted, the

Captain put himself at their head, and they returned as

they came.

[1] Sesame is a kind of grain.

Then Ali Baba climbed down and went to the door

concealed among the bushes, and said: "Open, Sesame!" and

it flew open. Ali Baba, who expected a dull, dismal place,

was greatly surprised to find it large and well lighted,

hollowed by the hand of man in the form of a vault, which

received the light from an opening in the ceiling. He saw

rich bales of merchandise--silk, stuff-brocades, all piled

together, and gold and silver in heaps, and money in

leather purses. He went in and the door shut behind him.

He did not look at the silver, but brought out as many

bags of gold as he thought his asses, which were browsing

outside, could carry, loaded them with the bags, and hid

it all with fagots. Using the words: "Shut, Sesame!" he

closed the door and went home.

Then he drove his asses into the yard, shut the gates,

carried the money-bags to his wife, and emptied them out

before her. He bade her keep the secret, and he would go

and bury the gold. "Let me first measure it," said his wife.

"I will go borrow a measure of someone, while you dig the

hole." So she ran to the wife of Cassim and borrowed a

measure. Knowing Ali Baba's poverty, the sister was

curious to find out what sort of grain his wife wished to

measure, and artfully put some suet at the bottom of the

measure. Ali Baba's wife went home and set the measure

on the heap of gold, and filled it and emptied it often, to

her great content. She then carried it back to her sister,

without noticing that a piece of gold was sticking to it,

which Cassim's wife perceived directly her back was

turned. She grew very curious, and said to Cassim when

he came home: "Cassim, your brother is richer than you.

He does not count his money, he measures it." He begged

her to explain this riddle, which she did by showing him

the piece of money and telling him where she found it.

Then Cassim grew so envious that he could not sleep, and

went to his brother in the morning before sunrise. "Ali

Baba," he said, showing him the gold piece, "you pretend

to be poor and yet you measure gold." By this Ali Baba

perceived that through his wife's folly Cassim and his

wife knew their secret, so he confessed all and offered

Cassim a share. "That I expect," said Cassim; "but I

must know where to find the treasure, otherwise I will

discover all, and you will lose all." Ali Baba, more out of

kindness than fear, told him of the cave, and the very

words to use. Cassim left Ali Baba, meaning to be

beforehand with him and get the treasure for himself. He

rose early next morning, and set out with ten mules loaded

with great chests. He soon found the place, and the door

in the rock. He said: "Open, Sesame!" and the door

opened and shut behind him. He could have feasted his

eyes all day on the treasures, but he now hastened to

gather together as much of it as possible; but when he was

ready to go he could not remember what to say for thinking

of his great riches. Instead of "Sesame," he said:

"Open, Barley!" and the door remained fast. He named

several different sorts of grain, all but the right one, and

the door still stuck fast. He was so frightened at the

danger he was in that he had as much forgotten the word

as if he had never heard it.

About noon the robbers returned to their cave, and

saw Cassim's mules roving about with great chests on

their backs. This gave them the alarm; they drew their

sabres, and went to the door, which opened on their

Captain's saying: "Open, Sesame!" Cassim, who had

heard the trampling of their horses' feet, resolved to sell

his life dearly, so when the door opened he leaped out and

threw the Captain down. In vain, however, for the

robbers with their sabres soon killed him. On entering the

cave they saw all the bags laid ready, and could not

imagine how anyone had got in without knowing their

secret. They cut Cassim's body into four quarters, and

nailed them up inside the cave, in order to frighten anyone

who should venture in, and went away in search of more


As night drew on Cassim's wife grew very uneasy, and

ran to her brother-in-law, and told him where her husband

had gone. Ali Baba did his best to comfort her, and

set out to the forest in search of Cassim. The first thing

he saw on entering the cave was his dead brother. Full

of horror, he put the body on one of his asses, and bags

of gold on the other two, and, covering all with some

fagots, returned home. He drove the two asses laden with

gold into his own yard, and led the other to Cassim's

house. The door was opened by the slave Morgiana,

whom he knew to be both brave and cunning. Unloading

the ass, he said to her: "This is the body of your master,

who has been murdered, but whom we must bury as

though he had died in his bed. I will speak with you

again, but now tell your mistress I am come." The wife

of Cassim, on learning the fate of her husband, broke out

into cries and tears, but Ali Baba offered to take her to

live with him and his wife if she would promise to keep

his counsel and leave everything to Morgiana; whereupon

she agreed, and dried her eyes.

Morgiana, meanwhile, sought an apothecary and asked

him for some lozenges. "My poor master," she said, "can

neither eat nor speak, and no one knows what his distemper

is." She carried home the lozenges and returned

next day weeping, and asked for an essence only given to

those just about to die. Thus, in the evening, no one was

surprised to hear the wretched shrieks and cries of

Cassim's wife and Morgiana, telling everyone that Cassim

was dead. The day after Morgiana went to an old cobbler

near the gates of the town who opened his stall early, put

a piece of gold in his hand, and bade him follow her with

his needle and thread. Having bound his eyes with a

handkerchief, she took him to the room where the body

lay, pulled off the bandage, and bade him sew the quarters

together, after which she covered his eyes again and led

him home. Then they buried Cassim, and Morgiana his

slave followed him to the grave, weeping and tearing her

hair, while Cassim's wife stayed at home uttering lamentable

cries. Next day she went to live with Ali Baba, who

gave Cassim's shop to his eldest son.

The Forty Thieves, on their return to the cave, were

much astonished to find Cassim's body gone and some of

their money-bags. "We are certainly discovered," said

the Captain, "and shall be undone if we cannot find out

who it is that knows our secret. Two men must have

known it; we have killed one, we must now find the other.

To this end one of you who is bold and artful must go

into the city dressed as a traveler, and discover whom we

have killed, and whether men talk of the strange manner

of his death. If the messenger fails he must lose his life,

lest we be betrayed." One of the thieves started up and

offered to do this, and after the rest had highly commended

him for his bravery he disguised himself, and happened

to enter the town at daybreak, just by Baba Mustapha's

stall. The thief bade him good-day, saying: "Honest man,

how can you possibly see to stitch at your age?" "Old as

I am," replied the cobbler, "I have very good eyes, and

will you believe me when I tell you that I sewed a dead

body together in a place where I had less light than I have

now." The robber was overjoyed at his good fortune, and,

giving him a piece of gold, desired to be shown the house

where he stitched up the dead body. At first Mustapha

refused, saying that he had been blindfolded; but when

the robber gave him another piece of gold he began to

think he might remember the turnings if blindfolded as

before. This means succeeded; the robber partly led him,

and was partly guided by him, right in front of Cassim's

house, the door of which the robber marked with a piece

of chalk. Then, well pleased, he bade farewell to Baba

Mustapha and returned to the forest. By and by

Morgiana, going out, saw the mark the robber had made,

quickly guessed that some mischief was brewing, and

fetching a piece of chalk marked two or three doors on

each side, without saying anything to her master or


The thief, meantime, told his comrades of his discovery.

The Captain thanked him, and bade him show him the

house he had marked. But when they came to it they

saw that five or six of the houses were chalked in the same

manner. The guide was so confounded that he knew not

what answer to make, and when they returned he was at

once beheaded for having failed. Another robber was

dispatched, and, having won over Baba Mustapha, marked

the house in red chalk; but Morgiana being again too

clever for them, the second messenger was put to death

also. The Captain now resolved to go himself, but, wiser

than the others, he did not mark the house, but looked at

it so closely that he could not fail to remember it. He

returned, and ordered his men to go into the neighboring

villages and buy nineteen mules, and thirty-eight leather

jars, all empty except one, which was full of oil. The

Captain put one of his men, fully armed, into each, rubbing

the outside of the jars with oil from the full vessel.

Then the nineteen mules were loaded with thirty-seven

robbers in jars, and the jar of oil, and reached the town

by dusk. The Captain stopped his mules in front of Ali

Baba's house, and said to Ali Baba, who was sitting outside

for coolness: "I have brought some oil from a distance

to sell at to-morrow's market, but it is now so late that

I know not where to pass the night, unless you will do

me the favor to take me in." Though Ali Baba had seen

the Captain of the robbers in the forest, he did not

recognize him in the disguise of an oil merchant. He bade him

welcome, opened his gates for the mules to enter, and

went to Morgiana to bid her prepare a bed and supper for

his guest. He brought the stranger into his hall, and after

they had supped went again to speak to Morgiana in the

kitchen, while the Captain went into the yard under pretense

of seeing after his mules, but really to tell his men

what to do. Beginning at the first jar and ending at the

last, he said to each man: "As soon as I throw some

stones from the window of the chamber where I lie, cut

the jars open with your knives and come out, and I will

be with you in a trice." He returned to the house, and

Morgiana led him to his chamber. She then told Abdallah,

her fellow-slave, to set on the pot to make some broth for

her master, who had gone to bed. Meanwhile her lamp

went out, and she had no more oil in the house. "Do not

be uneasy," said Abdallah; "go into the yard and take

some out of one of those jars." Morgiana thanked him

for his advice, took the oil pot, and went into the yard.

When she came to the first jar the robber inside said

softly: "Is it time?"

Any other slave but Morgiana, on finding a man in the

jar instead of the oil she wanted, would have screamed

and made a noise; but she, knowing the danger her master

was in, bethought herself of a plan, and answered quietly:

"Not yet, but presently." She went to all the jars, giving

the same answer, till she came to the jar of oil. She now

saw that her master, thinking to entertain an oil merchant,

had let thirty-eight robbers into his house. She filled her

oil pot, went back to the kitchen, and, having lit her

lamp, went again to the oil jar and filled a large kettle full

of oil. When it boiled she went and poured enough oil

into every jar to stifle and kill the robber inside. When

this brave deed was done she went back to the kitchen,

put out the fire and the lamp, and waited to see what

would happen.

In a quarter of an hour the Captain of the robbers

awoke, got up, and opened the window. As all seemed

quiet, he threw down some little pebbles which hit the

jars. He listened, and as none of his men seemed to stir

he grew uneasy, and went down into the yard. On going

to the first jar and saying, "Are you asleep?" he smelt the

hot boiled oil, and knew at once that his plot to murder

Ali Baba and his household had been discovered. He

found all the gang was dead, and, missing the oil out of

the last jar, became aware of the manner of their death.

He then forced the lock of a door leading into a garden,

and climbing over several walls made his escape. Morgiana

heard and saw all this, and, rejoicing at her success,

went to bed and fell asleep.

At daybreak Ali Baba arose, and, seeing the oil jars

still there, asked why the merchant had not gone with his

mules. Morgiana bade him look in the first jar and see if

there was any oil. Seeing a man, he started back in

terror. "Have no fear," said Morgiana; "the man cannot

harm you: he is dead." Ali Baba, when he had recovered

somewhat from his astonishment, asked what had become

of the merchant. "Merchant!" said she, "he is no more a

merchant than I am!" and she told him the whole story,

assuring him that it was a plot of the robbers of the forest,

of whom only three were left, and that the white and red

chalk marks had something to do with it. Ali Baba at

once gave Morgiana her freedom, saying that he owed

her his life. They then buried the bodies in Ali Baba's

garden, while the mules were sold in the market by his


The Captain returned to his lonely cave, which seemed

frightful to him without his lost companions, and firmly

resolved to avenge them by killing Ali Baba. He dressed

himself carefully, and went into the town, where he took

lodgings in an inn. In the course of a great many journeys

to the forest he carried away many rich stuffs and much

fine linen, and set up a shop opposite that of Ali Baba's

son. He called himself Cogia Hassan, and as he was both

civil and well dressed he soon made friends with Ali

Baba's son, and through him with Ali Baba, whom he

was continually asking to sup with him. Ali Baba, wishing

to return his kindness, invited him into his house and

received him smiling, thanking him for his kindness to his

son. When the merchant was about to take his leave Ali

Baba stopped him, saying: "Where are you going, sir, in

such haste? Will you not stay and sup with me?" The

merchant refused, saying that he had a reason; and, on

Ali Baba's asking him what that was, he replied: "It is,

sir, that I can eat no victuals that have any salt in them."

"If that is all," said Ali Baba, "let me tell you that there

shall be no salt in either the meat or the bread that we eat

to-night." He went to give this order to Morgiana, who

was much surprised. "Who is this man," she said, "who

eats no salt with his meat?" "He is an honest man,

Morgiana," returned her master; "therefore do as I bid you."

But she could not withstand a desire to see this strange

man, so she helped Abdallah to carry up the dishes, and

saw in a moment that Cogia Hassan was the robber

Captain, and carried a dagger under his garment. "I am

not surprised," she said to herself, "that this wicked

man, who intends to kill my master, will eat no salt with

him; but I will hinder his plans."

She sent up the supper by Abdallah, while she made

ready for one of the boldest acts that could be thought on.

When the dessert had been served, Cogia Hassan was left

alone with Ali Baba and his son, whom he thought to

make drunk and then to murder them. Morgiana, meanwhile,

put on a head-dress like a dancing-girl's, and clasped

a girdle round her waist, from which hung a dagger with a

silver hilt, and said to Abdallah: "Take your tabor, and

let us go and divert our master and his guest." Abdallah

took his tabor and played before Morgiana until they

came to the door, where Abdallah stopped playing and

Morgiana made a low courtesy. "Come in, Morgiana,"

said Ali Baba, "and let Cogia Hassan see what you can

do"; and, turning to Cogia Hassan, he said: "She's my

slave and my housekeeper." Cogia Hassan was by no

means pleased, for he feared that his chance of killing Ali

Baba was gone for the present; but he pretended great

eagerness to see Morgiana, and Abdallah began to play

and Morgiana to dance. After she had performed several

dances she drew her dagger and made passes with it,

sometimes pointing it at her own breast, sometimes at her

master's, as if it were part of the dance. Suddenly, out

of breath, she snatched the tabor from Abdallah with her

left hand, and, holding the dagger in her right hand, held

out the tabor to her master. Ali Baba and his son put a

piece of gold into it, and Cogia Hassan, seeing that she

was coming to him, pulled out his purse to make her a

present, but while he was putting his hand into it

Morgiana plunged the dagger into his heart.

"Unhappy girl!" cried Ali Baba and his son, "what have

you done to ruin us?"

"It was to preserve you, master, not to ruin you,"

answered Morgiana. "See here," opening the false

merchant's garment and showing the dagger; "see what an

enemy you have entertained! Remember, he would eat

no salt with you, and what more would you have? Look

at him! he is both the false oil merchant and the Captain

of the Forty Thieves."

Ali Baba was so grateful to Morgiana for thus saving

his life that he offered her to his son in marriage, who

readily consented, and a few days after the wedding was

celebrated with greatest splendor.

At the end of a year Ali Baba, hearing nothing of the

two remaining robbers, judged they were dead, and set

out to the cave. The door opened on his saying: "Open

Sesame!" He went in, and saw that nobody had been

there since the Captain left it. He brought away as much

gold as he could carry, and returned to town. He told

his son the secret of the cave, which his son handed down

in his turn, so the children and grandchildren of Ali Baba

were rich to the end of their lives.

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