In a far city in China there once lived a lad named Aladdin. Aladdin’s mother was a widow, and the boy had never had a father’s care. He did as he pleased, and played in the streets all day, and was so idle that he was of no use to anyone.
One day, as Aladdin was playing with a band of companions, a tall man, richly dressed, stopped to watch them. Suddenly he called to Aladdin, “Come here, boy; I wish to speak to you.”
The lad came, wondering.
“Are you not the son of Mustapha the tailor?” asked the stranger.
Aladdin said that he was.
“I knew it,” cried the stranger. “I knew it from your likeness to your dear father.” He then embraced the boy tenderly. “I, dear lad, am your uncle,” said he. “I have spent many years in strange countries, and have made a fortune. I came back here in search of you, for I heard your father was dead, and I wish to take his place and be a father to you.”
Aladdin was very much surprised. He had never known he had an uncle. And indeed he had not. The stranger was a magician who had need of a stout and active lad to help in a certain adventure. He had noticed Aladdin playing in the streets and had found out the lad’s name and the name of his father, so as to pass himself off as Aladdin’s uncle.
Aladdin was eager to believe the story the stranger told, for he thought it would be a fine thing to have a rich uncle to help him along in the world.
“Lead me to your mother’s house, Aladdin,” said the magician. “I wish to talk with her, and to weep with her over the memory of my dear brother.”
Aladdin took the stranger’s hand and led him away through one street after another, each meaner and dirtier than the other. At last he stopped before a miserable looking hovel.
“This is where I live,” said the boy.
“Here!” cried the magician. “Oh, what a miserable place for my brother’s child to live. But I will soon change all this. You must move into a handsome house, and you must have some better clothes than those you have on. I will make your fortune for you.”
Aladdin was more delighted than ever when he heard this. He made haste to open the door and lead the magician to his mother, and to repeat to her the story he had been told.
The widow was even more surprised than her son over the magician’s story, but she was quite as eager to believe it as he. It would indeed be a fine thing if the stranger would lift them out of their poverty. She begged him to sit down and share their evening meal, but this he would not do. He said he had business with some merchants, and went away, after promising to come back the next day.
On the morrow, as he had promised, the magician returned, and he took Aladdin out with him, and bought him fine clothes, and sweetmeats to eat, and he talked so much of all he meant to do for his dear nephew that the boy’s head was quite turned.
The following morning he came again, and asked Aladdin whether he would not like to take a walk in the country, as it was such a fine day.
Aladdin gladly agreed to this plan. It was pleasant to be with his new uncle, and to hear him talk of all the grand things he intended to do.
The magician led the boy out of the city, talking pleasantly all the while, and on and on into the country, so far that at last the lad began to grow weary and to wonder when they would turn back.
In time they came to a lonely valley shut in by high hills, and here the stranger stopped. “My dear nephew, I wish to show you something here that is very curious,” said the false uncle. “But first gather together a few dry sticks and build a little fire.”
This Aladdin did.
When the fire was burning brightly the magician drew from under his robe a small box. He opened it, and taking from it a pinch of powder he threw it into the fire, at the same time saying some magic words.
Immediately there was a loud noise like a clap of thunder, and the ground opened before them, showing a great stone in which was a brass ring.
Aladdin was so frightened by these happenings that he would have run away, but the stranger caught him roughly by the arm.
“Stay where you are,” he cried. “I have brought you here to do a special thing for me, and if you refuse you shall not escape alive. If, however, you are obedient I will make you rich for life.”
“What do you wish of me?” asked Aladdin in a trembling voice.
“First lift this stone for me.”
Aladdin caught hold of the brass ring and tried to lift the stone, but it was too heavy for him, and the magician was obliged to help him. Together they dragged away the stone and showed an opening and a flight of stairs leading down into the earth.
“Now,” said the pretended uncle, “you must go down these steps and they will bring you into a palace divided into three halls. You will see in these halls great chests filled with gold and silver, but for your life do not touch them; do not even brush against the walls or touch them either, for if you do you will surely perish. Go straight through the halls and you will come to a garden; it is full of fruit-trees, and if you should wish to gather some of the fruit you may safely do so; no harm will come to you from so doing. At the farthest side of the garden is a wall; in this wall is a niche; in this niche is a small bronze lamp. Take it and empty out the oil and bring it to me.”
Aladdin had no wish to descend the stairs into the earth, but the stranger frightened him, and he dared not refuse. He started down, but the magician called him back. “Here! take this,” he said, and slipping a ring from his finger he placed it on Aladdin’s hand. “It will protect you from any dangers you may meet with.”
Aladdin now went on down the stairs, and at the foot of them he found the palace halls the stranger had told him of. Everywhere he saw chests of silver and gold, but he was careful to touch none of them. He walked on very warily and out into the garden. He found the lamp without any trouble, emptied out the oil, and thrust it into the sash that was twisted about his waist.
All about him were fruit-trees loaded with the most beautiful fruits he had ever seen. They were of all colors, and shone as though polished. Aladdin picked some of them, but instead of being juicy and delicious as he had expected, they were so hard he could neither bite nor break them. They seemed indeed to be made of glass, only much harder and brighter; they were so pretty the boy gathered a great quantity of them; he filled his pockets and sleeves and shirt with the fruit and then hurried back through the hall and up the steps. He saw his pretended uncle stooping over and watching for him impatiently.
“Did you get the lamp?” cried the magician eagerly.
“Yes, I have it here.”
The magician’s eyes sparkled with triumph. He reached down his hand. “Give it to me, quick, quick!” he cried.
“In a moment,” said Aladdin; “but my hands are full of fruit and it is in my waistband. First help me out, and then I will give it to you.”
“No, no! Give it to me now,” cried the magician sharply. He did not, indeed, intend to let Aladdin ever come out alive. He meant as soon as he had the lamp to push the stone back into place and fasten the lad in.
Aladdin did not guess this, but for some reason he felt suddenly afraid.
“I cannot give you the lamp,” he cried, “until you let me out.”
“Give it to me I tell you.”
“Not until you let me out.”
Suddenly the magician flew into a black rage. “Then stay where you are,” he cried fiercely.
He threw another pinch of powder into the fire which was still burning, and muttered a magic charm. At once the stone rose and dropped back into its place, and Aladdin found himself shut in, in darkness.
Filled with terror, he beat upon the stone, and called to the magician to let him out. But there was no answer. He put his shoulders under the stone and tried to lift it, but it would not stir. Aladdin sat down and wept bitter tears. He felt he was a prisoner forever. Suddenly he remembered the garden. Perhaps he could find some way out through it.
He made his way slowly down the steps, feeling his way through the darkness. As he did this he happened to rub the magician’s ring against the wall.
At once a horrible genie appeared before him, as black as pitch, but with eyes that shone like a red fire, and lightened up the darkness.
“What wouldst thou have?” asked this terrible being. “I and the other slaves of the ring upon thy finger stand ready to serve thee.”
Aladdin was astonished beyond measure, but he made shift to say, “If you are able, take me away from here and back to my mother’s house.”
“To hear is to obey,” answered the genie.
At once Aladdin felt himself caught up and carried through the air swifter than the wind, and almost before he could draw breath he was back in his mother’s house, and the genie had disappeared.
His mother could hardly believe her eyes when Aladdin appeared so suddenly before her.
“My dear son, where did you come from, and where is your uncle?” she asked.
As soon as Aladdin could get his breath he told her the whole story. His mother listened and wondered. “Without doubt,” said she, “this man is not your uncle at all, but a magician who wished to use you for some wicked purpose.”
To this Aladdin agreed, but he was so hungry that he begged his mother to get him something to eat before they talked further.