Ali Baba and The Forty Thieves

Ali Baba and The Forty Thieves : A Persian folk tale retold by Walter McVitty

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Ali Baba did not recognize the robber chief, and being a generous man, he offered the oil merchant the hospitality of his house. The donkeys were unloaded and fed, and Morgiana was asked to prepare a meal for the guest.

Later that night the robber chief returned to the courtyard and whispered to each of his men in turn, “Stay hidden until I throw some pebbles from my window into the yard. This will be the signal to climb out of your jar and kill everybody in the house."

Still later that night, Morgiana was working in the kitchen when the oil lamp began to go out. As there was no more oil in the house, she decided to borrow a cupful from one of the merchant’s jars. Just as she was about to remove the lid of the first jar, she was surprised to hear a voice come from inside it, asking, “Is it time to come out yet?" Understanding the situation at once, the clever Morgiana whispered, “No, not yet."

As she went from jar to jar, she heard the same question and gave the same answer, until she came to the one jar which contained the oil.

Morgiana took enough oil from this jar to fill all the kettles in the house. She placed these on the kitchen fire and brought them to the boil. Then she carried the kettles into the courtyard and poured their contents into each of the pots in turn. The oil was so hot that the robbers were killed instantly, before they could cry out.

At midnight, when the robber chief threw his pebbles from the upstairs window, he could not understand why his men did not spring from their jars, waving their swords. Thinking they must have fallen asleep, he crept into the courtyard to awaken them. When he discovered that his companions were all dead, he fled at once to the forest to work out a new plan of revenge.

In the morning, Morgiana told her master what she had done. Ali Baba was so grateful to her that he made her his chief housekeeper. Then, with the help of another servant, he dug a great pit in his garden and buried the thirty-seven bodies, and life returned to normal once more.

One day Ali Baba’s son, who now looked after Cassim’s old shop, said to his father, “I have recently become acquainted with a merchant who is new to the market. I have shared a midday meal with him five times without returning his hospitality. Perhaps we could hold a fine feast in his honor."

Thus it was that the robber chief, disguised in a long beard, came to be invited to eat in the house of the man he planned to kill. The moment she saw him, however, the wise Morgiana guessed who he really was and why he had come—especially when she noticed a dagger partly hidden in the folds of his robe.

After all had eaten, Morgiana appeared before the company, dressed as a dancer, and offered to entertain them.

Everyone was captivated by the beautiful girl and her curious dance, which involved the use of a small dagger.

However, delight soon turned to horror when, advancing toward the robber-guest, Morgiana suddenly plunged the dagger into his heart.

Ali Baba cried out in disbelief, “Morgiana! What have you done? This man was an honored guest in my house. We shall be ruined forever."

“Master, I have saved your life," replied Morgiana. “Your guest was none other than the robber chief, who came here to kill you." So saying, she removed the false beard from the dead man’s face and pointed to the dagger hidden in his robe.

When Ali Baba saw that his guest was indeed the oil seller and captain of thieves, he realized that Morgiana had saved his life yet again. Overcome by joy, he cried, “Morgiana, my child, my daughter, will you be my daughter in very truth and marry this handsome young man, my son?"

The wedding took place that very day and there was much feasting and rejoicing in the house.

In time, Ali Baba revealed the secret of the cave to his son, and his son to his son, and they shared their riches wisely and generously, so that Allah blessed them, every one, and the whole city loved and honored them dearly for the rest of their days.

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