Cobwebs from an Empty Skull, by Ambrose Bierce

A Tale of the Bosphorus.

Pollimariar was the daughter of a Mussulman — she was, in fact, a Mussulgirl. She lived at Stamboul, the name of which is an admirable rhyme to what Pollimariar was profanely asserted to be by her two sisters, Djainan and Djulya. These were very much older than Pollimariar, and proportionately wicked. In wickedness they could discount her, giving her the first innings.

The relations between Pollimariar and her sisters were in all respects similar to those that existed between Cinderella and her sisters. Indeed, these big girls seldom read anything but the story of Cinderella; and that work, no doubt, had its influence in forming their character. They were always apparelling themselves in gaudy dresses from Paris, and going away to balls, leaving their meritorious little sister weeping at home in their every-day finery. Their father was a commercial traveller, absent with his samples in Damascus most of the time; and the poor girl had no one to protect her from the outrage of exclusion from the parties to which she was not invited. She fretted and chafed very much at first, but after forbearance ceased to be a virtue it came rather natural to her to exercise a patient endurance. But perceiving this was agreeable to her sisters she abandoned it, devising a rare scheme of vengeance. She sent to the “Levant Herald” the following “personal” advertisement:

“G.V. — Regent’s Canal 10.30 p.m., Q.K.X. is O.K.! With coals at 48 sh-ll-ngs I cannot endure existence without you! Ask for G-field St-ch. J.G. + ¶ pro rata. B-tty’s N-bob P-ckles. Oz-k-r-t! Meet me at the ‘Turban and Scimitar,’ Bebeck Road, Thursday morning at three o’clock; blue cotton umbrella, wooden shoes, and Ulster overskirt Polonaise all round the bottom.

One Who Wants to Know Yer.”

The latter half of this contained the gist of the whole matter; the other things were put in just to prevent the notice from being conspicuously sensible. Next morning, when the Grand Vizier took up his newspaper, he could not help knowing he was the person addressed; and at the appointed hour he kept the tryst. What passed between them the sequel will disclose, if I can think it out to suit me.

Soon afterwards Djainan and Djulya received cards of invitation to a grand ball at the Sultan’s palace, given to celebrate the arrival of a choice lot of Circassian beauties in the market. The first thing the wicked sisters did was to flourish these invitations triumphantly before the eyes of Pollimariar, who declared she did not believe a word of it; indeed, she professed such aggressive incredulity that she had to be severely beaten. But she denied the invitations to the last. She thought it was best to deny them.

The invitations stated that at the proper hour the old original Sultana would call personally, and conduct the young ladies to the palace; and she did so. They thought, at the time, she bore a striking resemblance to a Grand Vizier with his beard shaven off, and this led them into some desultory reflections upon the sin of nepotism and family favour at Court; but, like all moral reflections, these came to nothing. The old original Sultana’s attire, also, was, with the exception of a reticule and fan, conspicuously epicene; but, in a country where popular notions of sex are somewhat confused, this excited no surprise.

As the three marched off in stately array, poor little deserted Pollimariar stood cowering at one side, with her fingers spread loosely upon her eyes, weeping like — a crocodile. The Sultana said it was late; they would have to make haste. She had not fetched a cab, however, and a recent inundation of dogs very much impeded their progress. By-and-by the dogs became shallower, but it was near eleven o’clock before they arrived at the Sublime Porte — very old and fruity. A janizary standing here split his visage to grin, but it was surprising how quickly the Sultana had his head off.

Pretty soon afterwards they came to a low door, where the Sultana whistled three times and kicked at the panels. It soon yielded, disclosing two gigantic Nubian eunuchs, black as the ace of clubs, who stared at first, but when shown a very cleverly-executed signet-ring of paste, knocked their heads against the ground with respectful violence. Then one of them consulted a thick book, and took from a secret drawer two metal badges numbered 7,394 and 7,395, which he fastened about the necks of the now frightened girls, who had just observed that the Sultana had vanished. The numbers on the badges showed that this would be a very crowded ball.

The other black now advanced with a measuring tape, and began gravely measuring Djainan from head to heel. She ventured to ask the sable guardian with what article of dress she was to be fitted.

“Bedad, thin, av ye must know,” said he, grinning, “it is to be a sack.”

“What! a sacque for a ball?”

“Indade, it’s right ye are, mavourneen; it is fer a ball — fer a cannon-ball — as will make yer purty body swim to the bothom nately as ony shtone.”

And the eunuch toyed lovingly with his measuring-tape, which the wretched girls now observed was singularly like a bow-string.

“O, sister,” shrieked Djainan, “this is —”

“O, sister,” shrieked Djulya, “this is —”

“That horrid —”

“That horrid —”

“Harem!“

It was even so. A minute later the betrayed maidens were carried, feet-foremost-and-fainting, through a particularly dirty portal, over which gleamed the infernal legend: “Who enters here leaves soap behind!” I wash my hands of them.

Pollimariar, Her Sisters and the Sultana

Next morning the following “personal” appeared in the “Levant Herald:”

“P-ll-m-r-r. — All is over. The S-lt-n cleared his shelves of the old stock at midnight. If you purchased the Circ-n B-ties with the money I advanced, be sure you don’t keep them too long on hand. Prices are sure to fall when I have done buying for the H-r-m. Meet me at time and place agreed upon, and divide profits. G— d V— r.”

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/b/bierce/ambrose/cobwebs-from-an-empty-skull/chapter3.20.html

Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:31