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 pieces of gold had lain, was greatly surprised to find none. At first he thought he might perhaps be mistaken; and, to discover the truth, poured out all the olives into his travelling kitchen-utensils, but without so much as finding one single piece of money. His astonishment was so great, that he stood for some time motionless; then lifting up his hands and eyes to Heaven, he exclaimed, "Is it possible that a man, whom I took for my friend, should be guilty of such baseness?"
Ali Khaujeh, alarmed at the apprehension of so considerable a loss, returned immediately to the merchant. "My good friend," said he, "be not surprised to see me come back so soon. I own the jar of olives to be the same I placed in your warehouse; but with the olives I put into it a thousand pieces of gold, which I do not find. Perhaps you might have occasion for them, and have employed them in trade: if so they are at your service till it may be convenient for you to return them; only put me out of my pain, and give me an acknowledgment, after which you may pay me at your own convenience."
The merchant, who had expected that Ali Khaujeh would come with such a complaint, had meditated an answer. "Friend Ali Khaujeh," said he, "when you brought your jar to me did I touch it? did not I give you the key of my warehouse, did not you carry it there yourself, and did not you find it in the same place, covered in the same manner as when you left it? And if you had put gold in it, you must have found it. You told me it contained olives, and I believed you. This is all I know of the matter: you may disbelieve me if you please; but I never touched them."
Ali Khaujeh used all the mild methods he could think of to oblige the merchant to restore his property. "I love peace and quietness," said he to him, "and shall be sorry to come to those extremities which will bring the greatest disgrace upon you; consider, that merchants, as we are, ought to abandon all interest to preserve a good reputation. Once again I tell you, I shall be greatly concerned if your obstinacy oblige me to force you to do me justice; for I would rather almost lose what is my right than have recourse to law."
"Ali Khaujeh," replied the merchant, "you agree that you left a jar of olives with me; and now you have taken it away, you come and ask me for a thousand pieces of gold. Did you ever tell me that such a sum was in the jar? I did not even know that they were olives, for you never showed them to me. I wonder you do not ask me for diamonds and pearls instead of gold; be gone about your business, and do not raise a mob about my warehouse;" for some persons had already collected. These words were pronounced in such great heat and passion, as not only made those who stood about the warehouse already stay longer, and create a greater mob, but the neighbouring merchants came out of their shops to learn what the dispute was between Ali Khaujeh and the merchant, and endeavoured to reconcile them; but when Ali Khaujeh had informed them of his grievance, they asked the merchant what he had to say.
The merchant owned that he had kept the jar for Ali Khaujeh in his warehouse, but denied that ever he had meddled with it; swore that he knew it contained olives, only because Ali Khaujeh told him so, and requested them all to bear witness of the insult and affront offered him. "You bring it upon yourself," said Ali Khaujeh taking him by the arm; "but since you use me so basely, I cite you to the law of God: let us see whether you will have the assurance to say the same thing before the cauzee."
The merchant could not refuse the summons, which every Mussulmaun is bound to observe, or be declared a rebel against religion; but said, "With all my heart; we shall soon see who is in the wrong."
Ali Khaujeh carried the merchant before the magistrate, where he accused him of having, by breach of trust, defrauded him of a thousand pieces of gold, which he had left with him. The cauzee demanded if he had any witnesses; to which he replied, that he had not taken that precaution, because he had believed the person he trusted his money with to be his friend, and always took him for an honest man.
The merchant made the same defence he had done before the merchants his neighbours, offering to make oath that he never had the money he was accused of, and that he did not so much as know there was such a sum; upon which the cauzee took his oath, and dismissed him acquitted for want of evidence.
Ali Khaujeh, extremely mortified to find that he must sit down with so considerable a loss, protested against the sentence, declaring to the cauzee that he would appeal to the caliph, who would do him justice; which protestation the magistrate regarded as the effect of the common resentment of those who lose their cause; and thought he had done his duty in acquitting a person who had been accused without witnesses.
While the merchant returned home triumphing over Ali Khaujeh and overjoyed at his good fortune, the latter went and drew up a petition; and the next day observing the time when the caliph came from noon tide prayers, placed himself in the street he was to pass through; and holding out his hand with the petition, an officer appointed for that purpose, who always goes before the caliph, came and took it to present it.
As Ali Khaujeh knew that it was the caliph's custom to read the petitions at his return to the palace, he went into the court, and waited till the officer who had taken the petition came out of the caliph's apartment, who told him that the caliph had appointed an hour to hear him next day; and then asking him where the merchant lived, he sent to notify to him to attend at the same time.
That same evening, the caliph, accompanied by the grand vizier Jaaffier, and Mesrour the chief of the eunuchs, went disguised through the town, as it was his custom occasionally to do; when, on passing through a street, the caliph heard a noise, and mending his pace, came to a gateway, which led into a little court, in which he perceived ten or twelve children playing by moonlight.
The caliph, who was curious to know at what play the children were engaged, sat down on a stone bench just by; and heard one of the liveliest of the children say, "Let us play at the cauzee I will be the magistrate; bring Ali Khaujeh and the merchant who cheated him of the thousand pieces of gold before me."
These words of the child put the caliph in mind of the petition Ali Khaujeh had given him that day, and made him redouble his attention to see the issue of the trial.
As the affair of Ali Khaujeh and the merchant had made a great noise in Bagdad, it had not escaped the children, who all accepted the proposition with joy, and agreed on the part each was to act: not one of them refused him who made the proposal to be cauzee: and when he had taken his seat, which he did with all the seeming gravity of a judge, another, as an officer of the court, presented two boys before him; one as Ali Khaujeh, and the other as the merchant against whom he complained.
The pretended cauzee then directing his discourse to the feigned Ali Khaujeh, asked him what he had to lay to that merchant's charge?
Ali Khaujeh after a low obeisance, informed the young cauzee of the fact, related every particular, and afterwards begged that he would use his authority, that he might not lose so considerable a sum of money.
The feigned cauzee, turning about to the merchant, then asked him why he did not return the money which Ali Khaujeh demanded of him?
The feigned merchant alleged the same reasons as the real merchant had done before the cauzee himself, and offered to confirm by oath that what he had said was truth.
"Not so fast," replied the pretended cauzee; "before you come to your oath, I should be glad to see the jar of olives. Ali Khaujeh," said he, addressing himself to the boy who acted that part, "have you brought the jar?" "No," replied he. "Then go and fetch it immediately," said the other.
The pretended Ali Khaujeh went immediately, and returning, feigned to set a jar before the cauzee, telling him that it was the same he had left with the accused person, and received from him again. But to omit no part of the formality, the supposed cauzee asked the merchant if it was the same; and as by his silence he seemed not to deny it, he ordered it to be opened. He that represented Ali Khaujeh seemed to take off the cover, and the pretended cauzee made as if he looked into it. "They are fine olives," said he, "let me taste them;" and then pretending to eat some, added, "They are excellent: but," continued he, "I cannot think that olives will keep seven years, and be so good, therefore send for some olive-merchants, and let me hear what is their opinion." Two boys, as olive-merchants, then presented themselves. "Are you olive-merchants?" said the sham cauzee. "Tell me how long olives will keep fit to eat."
"Sir," replied the two merchants, "let us take what care we can, they will hardly be worth any thing the third year; for then they have neither taste nor colour." "If it be so," answered the cauzee, "look into that jar, and tell me how long it is since those olives were put into it?"
The two merchants pretended to examine and to taste the olives, and told the cauzee they were new and good. "You are mistaken," said the young cauzee; "Ali Khaujeh says he put them into the jar seven years ago."
"Sir," replied the merchants, "we can assure you they are of this year's growth: and we will maintain there is not a merchant in Bagdad but will say the same."
The feigned merchant who was accused would have objected against the evidence of the olive-merchants; but the pretended cauzee would not suffer him. "Hold your tongue," said he, "you are a rogue; let him be impaled." The children then concluded their play, clapping their hands with great joy, and seizing the feigned criminal to carry him to execution.
Words cannot express how much the caliph Haroon al Rusheed admired the sagacity and sense of the boy who had passed so just a sentence, in an affair which was to be pleaded before himself the next day. He withdrew, and rising off the bench, asked the grand vizier, who heard all that had passed, what he thought of it. "Indeed, commander of the true believers," answered the grand vizier Jaaffier, "I am surprised to find so much sagacity in one so young."
"But," answered the caliph, "do you know one thing? I am to pronounce sentence in this very cause to-morrow; the true Ali Khaujeh presented his petition to me to-day; and do you think," continued he, "that I can give a better sentence?" "I think not," answered the vizier, " if the case is as the children represented it." "Take notice then of this house," said the caliph, "and bring the boy to me to-morrow, that he may try this cause in my presence; and also order the cauzee, who acquitted the merchant, to attend to learn his duty from a child. Take care likewise to bid Ali Khaujeh bring his jar of olives with him, and let two olive-merchants attend." After this charge he pursued his rounds, without meeting with any thing worth his attention.
The next day the vizier went to the house where the caliph had been a witness of the children's play, and asked for the master; but he being abroad, his wife appeared thickly veiled. He asked her if she had any children. To which she answered, she had three; and called them. "My brave boys," said the vizier, "which of you was the cauzee when you played together last night?" The eldest made answer, it was he: but, not knowing why he asked the question, coloured. "Come along with me, my lad," said the grand vizier; "the commander of the faithful wants to see you."
The mother was alarmed when she saw the grand vizier would take her son with him, and asked, upon what account the caliph wanted him? The grand vizier encouraged her, and promised that he should return again in less than an hour's time, when she would know it from himself. "If it be so, sir," said the mother, "give me leave to dress him first, that he may be fit to appear before the commander of the faithful:" which the vizier readily complied with.
As soon as the child was dressed, the vizier carried him away and presented him to the caliph, at the time he had appointed to hear Ali Khaujeh and the merchant.
The caliph, who saw that the boy was much abashed, in order to encourage him, said, "Come to me, child, and tell me if it was you that determined the affair between Ali Khaujeh and the merchant who had cheated him of his money? I saw and heard the decision, and am very well pleased with you." The boy answered modestly, that it was he. "Well, my son," replied the caliph, "come and sit down by me, and you shall see the true Ali Khaujeh, and the true merchant."
The caliph then took him by the hand, seated him on the throne by him, and asked for the two parties. When they were introduced, they prostrated themselves before the throne, bowing their heads quite down to the carpet that covered it. Afterwards the caliph said to them, "Plead each of you your causes before this child, who will hear and do you justice: and if he should be at a loss I will assist him."
Ali Khaujeh and the merchant pleaded one after the other; but when the merchant proposed his oath as before, the child said, "It is too soon; it is proper that we should see the jar of olives."
At these words Ali Khaujeh presented the jar, placed it at the caliph's feet, and opened it. The caliph looked at the olives, took one and tasted it, giving another to the boy. Afterwards the merchants were called, who examined the olives, and reported that they were good, and of that year. The boy told them, that Ali Khaujeh affirmed that it was seven years since he had put them up; when they returned the same answer as the children, who had represented them the night before.
Though the wretch who was accused saw plainly that these merchants' opinion must convict him, yet he would say something in his own justification. But the child, instead of ordering him to be impaled, looked at the caliph, and said "Commander of the faithful, this is no jesting matter; it is your majesty that must condemn him to death, and not I, though I did it yesterday in play."
The caliph, fully satisfied of the merchant's villany, delivered him into the hands of the ministers of justice to be impaled. The sentence was executed upon him, after he had confessed where he had concealed the thousand pieces of gold, which were restored to Ali Khaujeh. The monarch, most just and equitable, then turning to the cauzee, bade him learn of that child to acquit himself more exactly of his duty; and embracing the boy, sent him home with a purse of a hundred pieces of gold as a token of his liberality and admiration of his acuteness.
End of Volume 3.