The Arabian Nights Entertainments by Andrew Lang - HTML preview
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collecting precious stones, and I felt I should be wise to follow his example. At
length the camels were loaded with as much as they could carry, and nothing
remained but to seal up the treasure, and go our ways.
Before, however, this was done, the dervish went up to a great golden vase,
beautifully chased, and took from it a small wooden box, which he hid in the
bosom of his dress, merely saying that it contained a special kind of ointment.
Then he once more kindled the fire, threw on the perfume, and murmured the
unknown spell, and the rock closed, and stood whole as before.
The next thing was to divide the camels, and to charge them with the treasure,
after which we each took command of our own and marched out of the valley, till
we reached the place in the high road where the routes diverge, and then we
parted, the dervish going towards Balsora, and I to Bagdad. We embraced each
other tenderly, and I poured out my gratitude for the honour he had done me, in
singling me out for this great wealth, and having said a hearty farewell we turned
our backs, and hastened after our camels.
I had hardly come up with mine when the demon of envy filled my soul. "What
does a dervish want with riches like that?" I said to myself. "He alone has the
secret of the treasure, and can always get as much as he wants," and I halted my
camels by the roadside, and ran back after him.
I was a quick runner, and it did not take me very long to come up with him. "My
brother," I exclaimed, as soon as I could speak, "almost at the moment of our
leave-taking, a reflection occurred to me, which is perhaps new to you. You are a
dervish by profession, and live a very quiet life, only caring to do good, and
careless of the things of this world. You do not realise the burden that you lay
upon yourself, when you gather into your hands such great wealth, besides the
fact that no one, who is not accustomed to camels from his birth, can ever
manage the stubborn beasts. If you are wise, you will not encumber yourself with
more than thirty, and you will find those trouble enough."
"You are right," replied the dervish, who understood me quite well, but did not
wish to fight the matter. "I confess I had not thought about it. Choose any ten you
like, and drive them before you."
I selected ten of the best camels, and we proceeded along the road, to rejoin
those I had left behind. I had got what I wanted, but I had found the dervish so
easy to deal with, that I rather regretted I had not asked for ten more. I looked
back. He had only gone a few paces, and I called after him.
"My brother," I said, "I am unwilling to part from you without pointing out what I
think you scarcely grasp, that large experience of camel-driving is necessary to
anybody who intends to keep together a troop of thirty. In your own interest, I feel
sure you would be much happier if you entrusted ten more of them to me, for with
my practice it is all one to me if I take two or a hundred."
As before, the dervish made no difficulties, and I drove off my ten camels in
triumph, only leaving him with twenty for his share. I had now sixty, and anyone
might have imagined that I should be content.
But, Commander of the Faithful, there is a proverb that says, "the more one has,
the more one wants." So it was with me. I could not rest as long as one solitary
camel remained to the dervish; and returning to him I redoubled my prayers and
embraces, and promises of eternal gratitude, till the last twenty were in my
"Make a good use of them, my brother," said the holy man. "Remember riches
sometimes have wings if we keep them for ourselves, and the poor are at our
gates expressly that we may help them."
My eyes were so blinded by gold, that I paid no heed to his wise counsel, and
only looked about for something else to grasp. Suddenly I remembered the little
box of ointment that the dervish had hidden, and which most likely contained a
treasure more precious than all the rest. Giving him one last embrace, I observed
accidentally, "What are you going to do with that little box of ointment? It seems
hardly worth taking with you; you might as well let me have it. And real y, a
dervish who has given up the world has no need of ointment!"
Oh, if he had only refused my request! But then, supposing he had, I should have
got possession of it by force, so great was the madness that had laid hold upon
me. However, far from refusing it, the dervish at once held it out, saying
gracefully, "Take it, my friend, and if there is anything else I can do to make you
happy you must let me know."
Directly the box was in my hands I wrenched off the cover. "As you are so kind," I
said, "tell me, I pray you, what are the virtues of this ointment?"
"They are most curious and interesting," replied the dervish. "If you apply a little
of it to your left eye you will behold in an instant all the treasures hidden in the
bowels of the earth. But beware lest you touch your right eye with it, or your sight
will be destroyed for ever."
His words excited my curiosity to the highest pitch. "Make trial on me, I implore
you," I cried, holding out the box to the dervish. "You will know how to do it better
than I! I am burning with impatience to test its charms."
The dervish took the box I had extended to him, and, bidding me shut my left
eye, touched it gently with the ointment. When I opened it again I saw spread
out, as it were before me, treasures of every kind and without number. But as all
this time I had been obliged to keep my right eye closed, which was very
fatiguing, I begged the dervish to apply the ointment to that eye also.
"If you insist upon it I will do it," answered the dervish, "but you must remember
what I told you just now--that if it touches your right eye you will become blind on
Unluckily, in spite of my having proved the truth of the dervish's words in so many
instances, I was firmly convinced that he was now keeping concealed from me
some hidden and precious virtue of the ointment. So I turned a deaf ear to all he
"My brother," I replied smiling, "I see you are joking. It is not natural that the
same ointment should have two such exactly opposite effects."
"It is true all the same," answered the dervish, "and it would be well for you if you
believed my word."
But I would not believe, and, dazzled by the greed of avarice, I thought that if one
eye could show me riches, the other might teach me how to get possession of
them. And I continued to press the dervish to anoint my right eye, but this he
resolutely declined to do.
"After having conferred such benefits on you," said he, "I am loth indeed to work
you such evil. Think what it is to be blind, and do not force me to do what you will
repent as long as you live."
It was of no use. "My brother," I said firmly, "pray say no more, but do what I ask.
You have most generously responded to my wishes up to this time, do not spoil
my recollection of you for a thing of such little consequence. Let what will happen
I take it on my own head, and will never reproach you."
"Since you are determined upon it," he answered with a sigh, "there is no use
talking," and taking the ointment he laid some on my right eye, which was tight
shut. When I tried to open it heavy clouds of darkness floated before me. I was
as blind as you see me now!
"Miserable dervish!" I shrieked, "so it is true after all! Into what a bottomless pit
has my lust after gold plunged me. Ah, now that my eyes are closed they are
really opened. I know that all my sufferings are caused by myself alone! But,
good brother, you, who are so kind and charitable, and know the secrets of such
vast learning, have you nothing that will give me back my sight?"
"Unhappy man," replied the dervish, "it is not my fault that this has befallen you,
but it is a just chastisement. The blindness of your heart has wrought the
blindness of your body. Yes, I have secrets; that you have seen in the short time
that we have known each other. But I have none that will give you back your
sight. You have proved yourself unworthy of the riches that were given you. Now
they have passed into my hands, whence they will flow into the hands of others
less greedy and ungrateful than you."
The dervish said no more and left me, speechless with shame and confusion,
and so wretched that I stood rooted to the spot, while he collected the eighty
camels and proceeded on his way to Balsora. It was in vain that I entreated him
not to leave me, but at least to take me within reach of the first passing caravan.
He was deaf to my prayers and cries, and I should soon have been dead of
hunger and misery if some merchants had not come along the track the following
day and kindly brought me back to Bagdad.
From a rich man I had in one moment become a beggar; and up to this time I
have lived solely on the alms that have been bestowed on me. But, in order to
expiate the sin of avarice, which was my undoing, I oblige each passer-by to give
me a blow.
This, Commander of the Faithful, is my story.
When the blind man had ended the Caliph addressed him: "Baba-Abdalla, truly
your sin is great, but you have suffered enough. Henceforth repent in private, for
I will see that enough money is given you day by day for all your wants."
At these words Baba-Abdalla flung himself at the Caliph's feet, and prayed that
honour and happiness might be his portion for ever.
The Story of Sidi-Nouman
The Caliph, Haroun-al-Raschid, was much pleased with the tale of the blind man
and the dervish, and when it was finished he turned to the young man who had
ill-treated his horse, and inquired his name also. The young man replied that he
was called Sidi-Nouman.
"Sidi-Nouman," observed the Caliph, "I have seen horses broken all my life long,
and have even broken them myself, but I have never seen any horse broken in
such a barbarous manner as by you yesterday. Every one who looked on was
indignant, and blamed you loudly. As for myself, I was so angry that I was very
nearly disclosing who I was, and putting a stop to it at once. Still, you have not
the air of a cruel man, and I would gladly believe that you did not act in this way
without some reason. As I am told that it was not the first time, and indeed that
every day you are to be seen flogging and spurring your horse, I wish to come to
the bottom of the matter. But tell me the whole truth, and conceal nothing."
Sidi-Nouman changed colour as he heard these words, and his manner grew
confused; but he saw plainly that there was no help for it. So he prostrated
himself before the throne of the Caliph and tried to obey, but the words stuck in
his throat, and he remained silent.
The Caliph, accustomed though he was to instant obedience, guessed
something of what was passing in the young man's mind, and sought to put him
at his ease. "Sidi-Nouman," he said, "do not think of me as the Caliph, but merely
as a friend who would like to hear your story. If there is anything in it that you are
afraid may offend me, take courage, for I pardon you beforehand. Speak then
openly and without fear, as to one who knows and loves you."
Reassured by the kindness of the Caliph, Sidi-Nouman at length began his tale.
"Commander of the Faithful," said he, "dazzled though I am by the lustre of your
Highness' presence, I will do my best to satisfy your wishes. I am by no means
perfect, but I am not naturally cruel, neither do I take pleasure in breaking the
law. I admit that the treatment of my horse is calculated to give your Highness a
bad opinion of me, and to set an evil example to others; yet I have not chastised
it without reason, and I have hopes that I shall be judged more worthy of pity than
Commander of the Faithful, I will not trouble to describe my birth; it is not of
sufficient distinction to deserve your Highness' attention. My ancestors were
careful people, and I inherited enough money to enable me to live comfortably,
though without show.
Having therefore a modest fortune, the only thing wanting to my happiness was a
wife who could return my affection, but this blessing I was not destined to get; for
on the very day after my marriage, my bride began to try my patience in every
way that was most hard to bear.
Now, seeing that the customs of our land oblige us to marry without ever
beholding the person with whom we are to pass our lives, a man has of course
no right to complain as long as his wife is not absolutely repulsive, or is not
positively deformed. And whatever defects her body may have, pleasant ways
and good behaviour will go far to remedy them.
The first time I saw my wife unveiled, when she had been brought to my house
with the usual ceremonies, I was enchanted to find that I had not been deceived
in regard to the account that had been given me of her beauty. I began my
married life in high spirits, and the best hopes of happiness.
The following day a grand dinner was served to us but as my wife did not appear,
I ordered a servant to call her. Still she did not come, and I waited impatiently for
some time. At last she entered the room, and she took our places at the table,
and plates of rice were set before us.
I ate mine, as was natural, with a spoon, but great was my surprise to notice that
my wife, instead of doing the same, drew from her pocket a little case, from
which she selected a long pin, and by the help of this pin conveyed her rice grain
by grain to her mouth.
"Amina," I exclaimed in astonishment, "is that the way you eat rice at home? And
did you do it because your appetite was so small, or did you wish to count the
grains so that you might never eat more than a certain number? If it was from
economy, and you are anxious to teach me not to be wasteful, you have no
cause for alarm. We shall never ruin ourselves in that way! Our fortune is large
enough for all our needs, therefore, dear Amina, do not seek to check yourself,
but eat as much as you desire, as I do!"
In reply to my affectionate words, I expected a cheerful answer; yet Amina said
nothing at all, but continued to pick her rice as before, only at longer and longer
intervals. And, instead of trying the other dishes, all she did was to put every now
and then a crumb, of bread into her mouth, that would not have made a meal for
I felt provoked by her obstinacy, but to excuse her to myself as far as I could, I
suggested that perhaps she had never been used to eat in the company of men,
and that her family might have taught her that she ought to behave prudently and
discreetly in the presence of her husband. Likewise that she might either have
dined already or intend to do so in her own apartments. So I took no further
notice, and when I had finished left the room, secretly much vexed at her strange
The same thing occurred at supper, and all through the next day, whenever we
ate together. It was quite clear that no woman could live upon two or three bread-crumbs and a few grains of rice, and I determined to find out how and when she
got food. I pretended not to pay attention to anything she did, in the hope that
little by little she would get accustomed to me, and become more friendly; but I
soon saw that my expectations were quite vain.
One night I was lying with my eyes closed, and to, all appearance sound asleep,
when Amina arose softly, and dressed herself without making the slightest
sound. I could not imagine what she was going to do, and as my curiosity was
great I made up my mind to follow her. When she was fully dressed, she stole
quietly from the room.
The instant she had let the curtain fall behind her, I flung a garment on my
shoulders and a pair of slippers on my feet. Looking from a lattice which opened
into the court, I saw her in the act of passing through the street door, which she
carefully left open.
It was bright moonlight, so I easily managed to keep her in sight, till she entered
a cemetery not far from the house. There I hid myself under the shadow of the
wall, and crouched down cautiously; and hardly was I concealed, when I saw my
wife approaching in company with a ghoul--one of those demons which, as your
Highness is aware, wander about the country making their lairs in deserted
buildings and springing out upon unwary travellers whose flesh they eat. If no live
being goes their way, they then betake themselves to the cemeteries, and feed
upon the dead bodies.
I was nearly struck dumb with horror on seeing my wife with this hideous female
ghoul. They passed by me without noticing me, began to dig up a corpse which
had been buried that day, and then sat down on the edge of the grave, to enjoy
their frightful repast, talking quietly and cheerfully all the while, though I was too
far off to hear what they said. When they had finished, they threw back the body
into the grave, and heaped back the earth upon it. I made no effort to disturb
them, and returned quickly to the house, when I took care to leave the door open,
as I had previously found it. Then I got back into bed, and pretended to sleep
A short time after Amina entered as quietly as she had gone out. She undressed
and stole into bed, congratulating herself apparently on the cleverness with which
she had managed her expedition.
As may be guessed, after such a scene it was long before I could close my eyes,
and at the first sound which called the faithful to prayer, I put on my clothes and
went to the mosque. But even prayer did not restore peace to my troubled spirit,
and I could not face my wife until I had made up my mind what future course I
should pursue in regard to her. I therefore spent the morning roaming about from
one garden to another, turning over various plans for compelling my wife to give
up her horrible ways; I thought of using violence to make her submit, but felt
reluctant to be unkind to her. Besides, I had an instinct that gentle means had the
best chance of success; so, a little soothed, I turned towards home, which I
reached about the hour of dinner.
As soon as I appeared, Amina ordered dinner to be served, and we sat down
together. As usual, she persisted in only picking a few grains of rice, and I
resolved to speak to her at once of what lay so heavily on my heart.
"Amina," I said, as quietly as possible, "you must have guessed the surprise I felt,
when the day after our marriage you declined to eat anything but a few morsels
of rice, and altogether behaved in such a manner that most husbands would
have been deeply wounded. However I had patience with you, and only tried to
tempt your appetite by the choicest dishes I could invent, but all to no purpose.
Still, Amina, it seems to me that there be some among them as sweet to the taste
as the flesh of a corpse?"
I had no sooner uttered these words than Amina, who instantly understood that I
had followed her to the grave-yard, was seized with a passion beyond any that I
have ever witnessed. Her face became purple, her eyes looked as if they would
start from her head, and she positively foamed with rage.
I watched her with terror, wondering what would happen next, but little thinking
what would be the end of her fury. She seized a vessel of water that stood at
hand, and plunging her hand in it, murmured some words I failed to catch. Then,
sprinkling it on my face, she cried madly:
"Wretch, receive the reward of your prying, and become a dog."
The words were not out of her mouth when, without feeling conscious that any
change was passing over me, I suddenly knew that I had ceased to be a man. In
the greatness of the shock and surprise--for I had no idea that Amina was a
magician--I never dreamed of running away, and stood rooted to the spot, while
Amina grasped a stick and began to beat me. Indeed her blows were so heavy,
that I only wonder they did not kill me at once. However they succeeded in
rousing me from my stupor, and I dashed into the court-yard, followed closely by
Amina, who made frantic dives at me, which I was not quick enough to dodge. At
last she got tired of pursuing me, or else a new trick entered into her head, which
would give me speedy and painful death; she opened the gate leading into the
street, intending to crush me as I passed through. Dog though I was, I saw
through her design, and stung into presence of mind by the greatness of the
danger, I timed my movements so well that I contrived to rush through, and only
the tip of my tail received a squeeze as she banged the gate.
I was safe, but my tail hurt me horribly, and I yelped and howled so loud all along
the streets, that the other dogs came and attacked me, which made matters no
better. In order to avoid them, I took refuge in a cookshop, where tongues and
sheep's heads were sold.
At first the owner showed me great kindness, and drove away the other dogs that
were still at my heels, while I crept into the darkest corner. But though I was safe
for the moment, I was not destined to remain long under his protection, for he
was one of those who hold all dogs to be unclean, and that all the washing in the
world will hardly purify you from their contact. So after my enemies had gone to
seek other prey, he tried to lure me from my corner in order to force me into the
street. But I refused to come out of my hole, and spent the night in sleep, which I
sorely needed, after the pain inflicted on me by Amina.
I have no wish to weary your Highness by dwelling on the sad thoughts which
accompanied my change of shape, but it may interest you to hear that the next
morning my host went out early to do his marketing, and returned laden with the
sheep's heads, and tongues and trotters that formed his stock in trade for the
day. The smell of meat attracted various hungry dogs in the neighbourhood, and
they gathered round the door begging for some bits. I stole out of my corner, and
stood with them.
In spite of his objection to dogs, as unclean animals, my protector was a kind-hearted man, and knowing I had eaten nothing since yesterday, he threw me
bigger and better bits than those which fell to the share of the other dogs. When I
had finished, I tried to go back into the shop, but this he would not allow, and
stood so firmly at the entrance with a stout stick, that I was forced to give it up,
and seek some other home.
A few paces further on was a baker's shop, which seemed to have a gay and
merry man for a master. At that moment he was having his breakfast, and though
I gave no signs of hunger, he at once threw me a piece of bread. Before gobbling
it up, as most dogs are in the habit of doing, I bowed my head and wagged my
tail, in token of thanks, and he understood, and smiled pleasantly. I really did not
want the bread at all, but felt it would be ungracious to refuse, so I ate it slowly, in
order that he might see that I only did it out of politeness. He understood this
also, and seemed quite willing to let me stay in his shop, so I sat down, with my
face to the door, to show that I only asked his protection. This he gave me, and
indeed encouraged me to come into the house itself, giving me a corner where I
might sleep, without being in anybody's way.
The kindness heaped on me by this excellent man was far greater than I could
ever have expected. He was always affectionate in his manner of treating me,
and I shared his breakfast, dinner and supper, while, on my side, I gave him all
the gratitude and attachment to which he had a right.
I sat with my eyes fixed on him, and he never left the house without having me at
his heels; and if it ever happened that when he was preparing to go out I was
asleep, and did not notice, he would call "Rufus, Rufus," for that was the name
he gave me.
Some weeks passed in this way, when one day a woman came in to buy bread.
In paying for it, she laid down several pieces of money, one of which was bad.
The baker perceived this, and declined to take it, demanding another in its place.
The woman, for her part, refused to take it back, declaring it was perfectly good,
but the baker would have nothing to do with it. "It is really such a bad imitation,"
he exclaimed at last, "that even my dog would not be taken in. Here Rufus!
Rufus!" and hearing his voice, I jumped on to the counter. The baker threw down
the money before me, and said, "Find out if there is a bad coin." I looked at each
in turn, and then laid my paw on the false one, glancing at the same time at my
master, so as to point it out.
The baker, who had of course been only in joke, was exceedingly surprised at
my cleverness, and the woman, who was at last convinced that the man spoke
the truth, produced another piece of money in its place. When she had gone, my
master was so pleased that he told all the neighbours what I had done, and
made a great deal more of it than there really was.
The neighbours, very naturally, declined to believe his story, and tried me several
times with all the bad money they could collect together, but I never failed to
stand the test triumphantly.
Soon, the shop was filled from morning till night, with people who on the pretence
of buying bread came to see if I was as clever as I was reported to be. The baker
drove a roaring trade, and admitted that I was worth my weight in gold to him.
Of course there were plenty who envied him his large custom, and many was the
pitfall set for me, so that he never dared to let me out of his sight. One day a
woman, who had not been in the shop before, came to ask for bread, like the
rest. As usual, I was lying on the counter, and she threw down six coins before
me, one of which was false. I detected it at once, and put my paw on it, looking
as I did so at the woman. "Yes," she said, nodding her head. "You are quite right,
that is the one." She stood gazing at me attentively for some time, then paid for
the bread, and left the shop, making a sign for me to follow her secretly.
Now my thoughts were always running on some means of shaking off the spell
laid on me, and noticing the way in which this woman had looked at me, the idea
entered my head that perhaps she might have guessed what had happened, and
in this I was not deceived. However I let her go on a little way, and merely stood
at the door watching her. She turned, and seeing that I was quite still, she again
beckoned to me.
The baker all this while was busy with his oven, and had forgotten all about me,
so I stole out softly, and ran after the woman.
When we came to her house, which was some distance off, she opened the door
and then said to me, "Come in, come in; you will never be sorry that you followed
me." When I had entered she fastened the door, and took me into a large room,
where a beautiful girl was working at a piece of embroidery. "My daughter,"
exclaimed my guide, "I have brought you the famous dog belonging to the baker
which can tell good money from bad. You know that when I first heard of him, I
told you I was sure he must be really a man, changed into a dog by magic. To-day I went to the baker's, to prove for myself the truth of the story, and persuaded
the dog to follow me here. Now what do you say?"
"You are right, mother," replied the girl, and rising she dipped her hand into a
vessel of water. Then sprinkling it over me she said, "If you were born dog,
remain dog; but if you were born man, by virtue of this water resume your proper
form." In one moment the spell was broken. The dog's shape vanished as if it
had never been, and it was a man who stood before her.
Overcome with gratitude at my deliverance, I flung myself at her feet, and kissed
the hem of her garment. "How can I thank you for your goodness towards a
stranger, and for what you have done? Henceforth I am your slave. Deal with me
as you will!"
Then, in order to explain how I came to be changed into a dog, I told her my
whole story, and finished with rendering the mother the thanks due to her for the
happiness she had brought me.
"Sidi-Nouman," returned the daughter, "say no more about the obligation you are
under to us. The knowledge that we have been of service to you is ample
payment. Let us speak of Amina, your wife, with whom I was acquainted before
her marriage. I was aware that she was a magician, and she knew too that I had
studied the same art, under the same mistress. We met often going to the same
baths, but we did not like each other, and never sought to become friends. As to
what concerns you, it is not enough to have broken your spell, she must be
punished for her wickedness. Remain for a moment with my mother, I beg," she
added hastily, "I will return shortly."
Left alone with the mother, I again expressed the gratitude I felt, to her as well as
to her daughter.
"My daughter," she answered, "is, as you see, as accomplished a magician as
Amina herself, but you would be astonished at the amount of good she does by
her knowledge. That is why I have never interfered, otherwise I should have put a
stop to it long ago." As she spoke, her daughter entered with a small bottle in her
"Sidi-Nouman," she said, "the books I have just consulted tell me that Amina is
not home at present, but she should return at any moment. I have likewise found
out by their means, that she pretends before the servants great uneasiness as to
your absence. She has circulated a story that, while at dinner with her, you
remembered some important business that had to be done at once, and left the
house without shutting the door. By this means a dog had strayed in, which she
was forced to get rid of by a stick. Go home then without delay, and await
Amina's return in your room. When she comes in, go down to meet her, and in
her surprise, she will try to run away. Then have this bottle ready, and dash the
water it contains over her, saying boldly, "Receive the reward of your crimes."
That is all I have to tell you."
Everything happened exactly as the young magician had foretold. I had not been
in my house many minutes before Amina returned, and as she approached I
stepped in front of her, with the water in my hand. She gave one loud cry, and
turned to the door, but she was too late. I had already dashed the water in her
face and spoken the magic words. Amina disappeared, and in her place stood
the horse you saw me beating yesterday.
This, Commander of the Faithful, is my story, and may I venture to hope that,
now you have heard the reason of my conduct, your Highness will not think this
wicked woman too harshly treated?
"Sidi-Nouman," replied the Caliph, "your story is indeed a strange one, and there
is no excuse to be offered for your wife. But, without condemning your treatment
of her, I wish you to reflect how much she must suffer from being changed into
an animal, and I hope you will let that punishment be enough. I do not order you
to insist upon the young magician finding the means to restore your wife to her
human shape, because I know that when once women such as she begin to work
evil they never leave off, and I should only bring down on your head a vengeance
far worse than the one you have undergone already."
Story of Ali Colia, Merchant of
In the reign of Haroun-al-Raschid, there lived in Bagdad a merchant named Ali
Cogia, who, having neither wife nor child, contented himself with the modest
profits produced by his trade. He had spent some years quite happily in the
house his father had left him, when three nights running he dreamed that an old
man had appeared to him, and reproached him for having neglected the duty of a
good Mussulman, in delaying so long his pilgrimage to Mecca.
Ali Cogia was much troubled by this dream, as he was unwilling to give up his
shop, and lose all his customers. He had shut his eyes for some time to the
necessity of performing this pilgrimage, and tried to atone to his conscience by
an extra number of good works, but the dream seemed to him a direct warning,
and he resolved to put the journey off no longer.
The first thing he did was to sell his furniture and the wares he had in his shop,
only reserving to himself such goods as he might trade with on the road. The
shop itself he sold also, and easily found a tenant for his private house. The only
matter he could not settle satisfactorily was the safe custody of a thousand
pieces of gold which he wished to leave behind him.
After some thought, Ali Cogia hit upon a plan which seemed a safe one. He took
a large vase, and placing the money in the bottom of it, filled up the rest with
olives. After corking the vase tightly down, he carried it to one of his friends, a
merchant like himself, and said to him:
"My brother, you have probably heard that I am staffing with a caravan in a few
days for Mecca. I have come to ask whether you would do me the favour to keep
this vase of olives for me till I come back?"
The merchant replied readily, "Look, this is the key of my shop: take it, and put
the vase wherever you like. I promise that you shall find it in the same place on
A few days later, Ali Cogia mounted the camel that he had laden with
merchandise, joined the caravan, and arrived in due time at Mecca. Like the
other pilgrims he visited the sacred Mosque, and after all his religious duties
were performed, he set out his goods to the best advantage, hoping to gain some
customers among the passers-by.
Very soon two merchants stopped before the pile, and when they had turned it
over, one said to the other:
"If this man was wise he would take these things to Cairo, where he would get a
much better price than he is likely to do here."
Ali Cogia heard the words, and lost no time in following the advice. He packed up
his wares, and instead of returning to Bagdad, joined a caravan that was going to
Cairo. The results of the journey gladdened his heart. He sold off everything
almost directly, and bought a stock of Egyptian curiosities, which he intended
selling at Damascus; but as the caravan with which he would have to travel
would not be starting for another six weeks, he took advantage of the delay to
visit the Pyramids, and some of the cities along the banks of the Nile.
Now the attractions of Damascus so fascinated the worthy Ali, that he could
hardly tear himself away, but at length he remembered that he had a home in
Bagdad, meaning to return by way of Aleppo, and after he had crossed the
Euphrates, to follow the course of the Tigris.
But when he reached Mossoul, Ali had made such friends with some Persian
merchants, that they persuaded him to accompany them to their native land, and
even as far as India, and so it came to pass that seven years had slipped by
since he had left Bagdad, and during all that time the friend with whom he had
left the vase of olives had never once thought of him or of it. In fact, it was only a
month before Ali Cogia's actual return that the affair came into his head at all,
owing to his wife's remarking one day, that it was a long time since she had
eaten any olives, and would like some.
"That reminds me," said the husband, "that before Ali Cogia went to Mecca
seven years ago, he left a vase of olives in my care. But really by this time he
must be dead, and there is no reason we should not eat the olives if we like. Give
me a light, and I will fetch them and see how they taste."
"My husband," answered the wife, "beware, I pray, of your doing anything so
base! Supposing seven years have passed without news of Ali Cogia, he need
not be dead for all that, and may come back any day. How shameful it would be
to have to confess that you had betrayed your trust and broken the seal of the
vase! Pay no attention to my idle words, I really have no desire for olives now.
And probably after all this while they are no longer good. I have a presentiment
that Ali Cogia will return, and what will he think of you? Give it up, I entreat."
The merchant, however, refused to listen to her advice, sensible though it was.
He took a light and a dish and went into his shop.
"If you will be so obstinate," said his wife, "I cannot help it; but do not blame me if
it turns out ill."
When the merchant opened the vase he found the topmost olives were rotten,
and in order to see if the under ones were in better condition he shook some ont
into the dish. As they fell out a few of the gold pieces fell out too.
The sight of the money roused all the merchant's greed. He looked into the vase,
and saw that all the bottom was filled with gold. He then replaced the olives and
returned to his wife.
"My wife," he said, as he entered the room, "you were quite right; the olives are
rotten, and I have recorked the vase so well that Ali Cogia will never know it has
"You would have done better to believe me," replied the wife. "I trust that no harm
will come of it."
These words made no more impression on the merchant than the others had
done; and he spent the whole night in wondering how he could manage to keep
the gold if Ali Cogia should come back and claim his vase. Very early next
morning he went out and bought fresh new olives; he then threw away the old
ones, took out the gold and hid it, and filled up the vase with the olives he had
bought. This done he recorked the vase and put it in the same place where it had
been left by Ali Cogia.
A month later Ali Cogia re-entered Bagdad, and as his house was still let he went
to an inn; and the following day set out to see his friend the merchant, who
received him with open arms and many expressions of surprise. After a few
moments given to inquiries Ali Cogia begged the merchant to hand him over the