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- The Arabian Nights Entertainments Complete - 200/272 -
THE STORY OF ALI KHAUJEH, A MERCHANT OF BAGDAD.
In the reign of the caliph Haroon al Rusheed, there lived at Bagdad a merchant whose name was Ali Khaujeh, who was neither one of the richest nor poorest of his line. He was a bachelor, and lived in the house which had been his father's, independent and content with the profit he made by his trade. But happening to dream for three successive nights that a venerable old man came to him, and, with a severe look, reprimanded him for not having made a pilgrimage to Mecca, he was much troubled.
As a good Mussulmaun, he knew he was obliged to undertake a pilgrimage; but as he had a house, shop, and goods, he had always believed that they might stand for a sufficient reason to excuse him, endeavouring by his charity, and other good works, to atone for that neglect. After this dream, however, his conscience was so much pricked, that the fear lest any misfortune should befall him made him resolve not to defer it any longer; and to be able to go that year, he sold off his household goods, his shop, and with it the greatest part of his merchandize, reserving only some articles, which he thought might turn to a better account at Mecca; and meeting with a tenant for his house, let that also.
His affairs being thus disposed, he was ready to depart when the Bagdad caravan set out for Mecca: the only thing he had to do was to lodge in some place of security a sum of a thousand pieces of gold, which would have been troublesome to carry with him, with the money he had set apart to defray his expenses on the road, and for other purposes. To this end, he made choice of a jar of a suitable size, put the thousand pieces of gold into it, and covered them over with olives. When he had closed the mouth of the jar, he carried it to a merchant, a particular friend of his, and said to him, "You know, brother, that in a few days I mean to depart with the caravan, on my pilgrimage to Mecca. I beg the favour of you to take charge of a jar of olives, and keep it for me till I return." The merchant promised him he would, and in an obliging manner said, "Here, take the key of my warehouse, and set your jar where you please. I promise you shall find it there when you return."
On the day the caravan was to set out Ali Khaujeh joined it, with a camel loaded with what goods he had thought fit to carry, which also served him to ride on. He arrived safe at Mecca, where he visited, with other pilgrims, the temple so much celebrated and frequented by the faithful of all nations every year, who came from all parts of the world, and observed religiously the ceremonies prescribed them. When he had acquitted himself of the duties of his pilgrimage, he exposed the merchandize he had brought with him for sale or barter, as might be most profitable.
Two merchants passing by, and seeing Ali Khaujeh's goods, thought them so choice, that they stopped some time to look at, though they had no occasion for them; and when they had satisfied their curiosity, one of them said to the other, as they were going away, "If this merchant knew to what profit these goods would turn at Cairo he would carry them thither, and not sell them here, though this is a good mart."
Ali Khaujeh heard these words; and as he had often heard talk of the beauties of Egypt, he was resolved to take the opportunity of seeing them, by performing a journey thither. Therefore, after having packed up his goods again, instead of returning to Bagdad, he set out for Egypt, with the caravan of Cairo. When he came thither, he found his account in his journey, and in a few days sold all his goods to a greater advantage than he had hoped for. With the money he bought others, with an intent to go to Damascus: and while he waited for the opportunity of a caravan, which was to depart in six weeks, visited all the curiosities of Cairo, as also the pyramids, and sailing up the Nile, viewed the famous towns on each side of that river.
As the Damascus caravan took Jerusalem in their way, our Bagdad merchant had the opportunity of visiting the temple, regarded by the Mussulmauns to be the most holy, after that of Mecca, whence this city takes its name of Biel al Mukkuddus, or most sacred mansion.
Ali Khaujeh found Damascus so delicious a place, being environed by verdant meadows, pleasantly watered, and delightful gardens, that it exceeded the descriptions given of it in the journals of travellers. Here he made a long abode, but, nevertheless, did not forget his native Bagdad: for which place he at length set out, and arrived at Aleppo, where he made some stay; and from thence, after having passed the Euphrates, he bent his course to Moussoul, with an intention, in his return, to come by a shorter way down the Tigris.
When Ali Khaujeh came to Moussoul, some Persian merchants, with whom he had travelled from Aleppo, and with whom he had contracted a great friendship, had obtained so great an influence over him by their civilities and agreeable conversation, that they easily persuaded him not to leave them till he should have visited Sheerauz, from whence he might easily return to Bagdad with a considerable profit. They led him through the towns of Sultania, Rei, Coam, Caschan, Ispahan, and from thence to Sheerauz; from whence he had the complaisance to bear them company to Hindoostan, and then returned with them again to Sheerauz; insomuch, that including the stay made in every town, he was seven years absent from Bagdad, whither he then resolved to return.
All this time his friend, with whom he had left his jar of olives, neither thought of him nor them; but at the time when he was on the road with a caravan from Sheerauz, one evening as this merchant was supping with his family, the discourse happened to fall upon olives, and his wife was desirous to eat some, saying, she had not tasted any for a long while. "Now you speak of olives," said the merchant, "you put me in mind of a jar which Ali Khaujeh left with me seven years ago, when he went to Mecca; and put it himself in my warehouse to be kept for him against he returned. What is become of him I know not; though, when the caravan came back, they told me he was gone for Egypt. Certainly he must be dead, since he has not returned in all this time; and we may eat the olives, if they prove good. Give me a plate and a candle, I will go and fetch some of them, and we will taste them."
"For God's sake, husband," said the wife, "do not commit so base an action; you know that nothing is more sacred than what is committed to one's care and trust. You say Ali Khaujeh has left Mecca, and is not returned; but you have been told that he is gone into Egypt; and how do you know but that he may be gone farther? As you have no intelligence of his death, he may return to-morrow for any thing you can tell: and what a disgrace would it be to you and your family if he should come, and you not restore him his jar in the same condition he left it? I declare I have no desire for the olives, and will not taste them, for when I mentioned them it was only by way of conversation; besides, do you think that they can be good, after they have been kept so long? They most be all mouldy, and spoiled; and if Ali Khaujeh should return, as I have a strong persuasion he will, and should find they had been opened, what will he think of your honour? I beg of you to let them alone."
The wife had not argued so long with her husband, but that she read his obstinacy in his face. In short, he never regarded what she said, but got up, took a candle and a plate, and went into the warehouse. "Well, husband," said the wife again, "remember I have no hand in this business; and that you cannot lay any thing to my charge, if you should have cause to repent of your conduit."
The merchant's ears were deaf to these remonstrances of his wife, and he persisted in his design. When he came into the warehouse, he opened the jar, and found the olives mouldy; but to see if they were all so to the bottom, he turned some of them upon the plate; and by shaking the jar, some of the gold tumbled out.
At the sight of the gold, the merchant, who was naturally covetous, looked into the jar, perceived that he had shaken out almost all the olives, and what remained was gold coin. He immediately put the olives into the jar again, covered it up, and returned to his wife. "Indeed, wife," said he, "you were in the right to say that the olives were all mouldy; for I found them so, and have made up the jar just as Ali Khaujeh left it; so that he will not perceive that they have been touched, if he should return." "You had better have taken my advice," said the wife, "and not have meddled with them. God grant no mischief happens in consequence!"
The merchant was not more affected with his wife's last words than he had been by her former, but spent almost the whole night in thinking how he might appropriate Ali Khaujeh's gold to his own use, and keep possession of it in case he should return and ask him for the jar. The next morning he went and bought some olives of that year, took out the old with the gold, and filled the jar with the new, covered it up, and put it in the place where Ali Khaujeh had left it.
About a month after the merchant had committed this unworthy action, Ali Khaujeh arrived at Bagdad; and as he had let his house, alighted at a khan, choosing to stay there till he had announced his arrival to his tenant, and given him time to provide himself with another residence.
The next morning Ali Khaujeh went to pay a visit to the merchant his friend, who received him in the most obliging manner; and expressed great joy at his return, after so many years absence; telling him, that he had begun to lose all hopes of ever seeing him again.
After the usual compliments on both sides on such a meeting, Ali Khaujeh desired the merchant to return him the jar of olives which he had left. with him, and to excuse the liberty he had taken in giving him so much trouble.
"My dear friend," replied the merchant, "you are to blame to make these apologies, your vessel has been no inconvenience to me; on such an occasion I should have made as free with you: there is the key of my warehouse, go and fetch your jar ; you will find it in the place where you deft it."
Ali Khaujeh went into the merchant's warehouse, took his jar; and after having returned him the key with thanks for the favour he had done: him, returned with it to the khan where he lodged; but on opening the jar, and putting his hand down as low as the
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