The Shaving of Shagpat, by George Meredith

The Plot

Now, while Shibli Bagarag gazed on Shagpat kindled by the beams of Aklis, lo, the Genii Karavejis and Veejravoosh circling each other in swift circles like two sapphire rings toward him, and they whirled to a point above his head, and fell and prostrated themselves at his feet: so he cried, ‘O ye slaves of the Sword, my servitors! how of the whereabout of Karaz?’

They answered, ‘O Master of the Event, we found him after many circlings far off, and ’twas by the borders of the Putrid Sea. We came not close on him, for he is stronger than we without the Sword, but it seemed he was distilling drops of an oil from certain substances, large thickened drops that dropped into a phial.’

Then Shibli Bagarag said, ‘The season of weakness with me is over, and they that confide in my strength, my cunning, my watchfulness, my wielding of the Sword, have nought to fear for themselves. Now, this is my plot, O Feshnavat — that part of it in which thou art to have a share. ’Tis that thou depart forthwith to the City yonder, and enter thy palace by a back entrance, and I will see that thou art joined within an hour of thy arrival there by Baba Mustapha, my uncle, the gabbler. He is there, as I guess by signs; I have had warnings of him. Discover him speedily. Thy task is then to induce him to make an attempt on the head of Shagpat in all wiliness, as he and thou think well to devise. He will fail, as I know, but what is that saying of the poet?

“Persist, if thou wouldst truly reach thine ends,

For failures oft are but advising friends.”

And he says:

“Every failure is a step advanced,

To him who will consider how it chanced.”

Wherefore, will I that this attempt be made, keeping the counsel that is mine. Thou must tell Baba Mustapha I wait without the city to reward him by my powers of reward with all that he best loveth. So, when he has failed in his attempt on Shagpat, and blows fall plenteously upon him, and he is regaled with the accustomed thwacking, as I have tasted it in this undertaking, do thou waste no further word on him, for his part is over, and as is said:

“Waste not a word in enterprise!

Against — or for — the minute flies.”

’Tis then for thee, O Feshnavat, to speed to the presence of the King in his majesty, and thou wilt find means of coming to him by a disguise. Once in the Hall of Council, challenge the tongue of contradiction to affirm Shagpat other than a bald-pate bewigged. This is for thee to do.’

Quoth Feshnavat plaintively, after thought, ‘And what becometh of me, O thou Master of the Event?’

Shibli Bagarag said, ‘The clutch of the executioner will be upon thee, O Feshnavat, and a clamouring multitude around; short breathing-time given thee, O father of Noorna, ere the time of breathing is commanded to cease. Now, in that respite the thing that will occur, ’tis for thee to see and mark; sure, never will reverse of things be more complete, and the other side of the picture more rapidly exhibited, if all go as I conceive and plot, and the trap be not premature nor too perfect for the trappers; as the poet has declared:

“Ye that intrigue, to thy slaves proper portions adapt;

Perfectest plots burst too often, for all are not apt.”

And I witness likewise to the excellence of his saying:

“To master an Event,

Study men!

The minutes are well spent

Only then.”

Also ’tis he that says:

“The man of men who knoweth men, the Man of men is he!

His army is the human race, and every foe must flee.”

So have I apportioned to thee thy work, to Baba Mustapha his; reserving to myself the work that is mine!’

Thereat Feshnavat exclaimed, ‘O Master of the Event, may I be thy sacrifice! on my head be it! and for thee to command is for me to obey! but surely, this Sword of thine that is in thy girdle, the marvellous blade —’tis alone equal to the project and the shave; and the matter might be consummated, the great thing done, even from this point whence we behold Shagpat visible, as ’twere brought forward toward us by the beams! And this Sword swayed by thee, and with thy skill and strength and the hardihood of hand that is thine, wullahy! ‘twould shear him now, this moment, taking the light of Aklis for a lather.’

Shibli Bagarag knotted the brows of impatience, crying, ‘Hast thou forgotten Karaz in thy calculations? I know of a surety what this Sword will do, and I wot the oil he distilleth strengtheneth Shagpat but against common blades. Yet shall it not be spoken of me, Shibli Bagarag, that I was tripped by my own conceit; the poet counselleth:

“When for any mighty end thou hast the aid of heaven,

Mount until thy strength shall match those great means which are

given”:

nor that I was overthrown in despising mine enemy, forgetful of the saying of the sage:

“Read the features of thy foe, wherever he may find thee,

Small he is, seen face to face, but thrice his size behind thee.”

Wullahy! this Karaz is a Genie of craft and resources, one of a mighty stock, and I must close with Shagpat to be sure of him; and that I am not deceived by semblances, opposing guile with guile, and guile deeper than his, for that he awaiteth it not, thinking I have leaped in fancy beyond the Event, and am puffed by the after-breaths of adulation, I! — thinking I pluck the blossoms in my hunger for the fruit, that I eat the chick of the yet unlaid egg, O Feshnavat. As is said, and the warrior beareth witness to the wisdom of it:

“His weapon I’ll study; my own conceal;

So with two arms to his one shall I deal.”

The same also testifieth:

“’Tis folly of the hero, though resistless in the field,

To stake the victory on his steel, and fling away the shield.”

And likewise:

“Examine thine armour in every joint,

For slain was the Giant, and by a pin’s point.”

Wah! ’tis certain there will need subtlety in this undertaking, and a plot plotted, so do thou my bidding, and fail not in the part assigned to thee.’

Now, Feshnavat was persuaded by his words, and cried, ‘In diligence, discretion, and the virtues which characterize subordinates, I go, and I delay not! I will perform the thing required of me, O Master of the Event.’ And he repeated in verse:

With danger beset, be the path crooked or narrow,

Thou art the bow, and I the arrow.

Then embraced he his daughter, kissing her on the forehead and the eyes, and tightening the girdle of his robe, departed, with the name of Allah on his lips, in the direction of the City.

So Shibli Bagarag called to him the two Genii, and his command was, ‘Soar, ye slaves of the Sword, till the range of earth and its mountains and seas and deserts are a cluster in the orb of the eye, Shiraz conspicuous as a rose among garlands, and the ruby consorted with other gems in a setting. In Shiraz or the country adjoining ye will come upon one Baba Mustapha by name; and, if he be alone, ye may recognize him by his forlorn look and the hang of his cheeks, his vacancy as of utter abandonment; if in company, ’twill be the only talker that’s he; seize on him, give him a taste of thin air, and deposit him without speech on the roof of a palace, where ye will see Feshnavat in yonder city: this do ere the shadows of the palm-tree by the well in the plain move up the mounds that enclose the fortified parts.’

Cried Karavejis and Veejravoosh, ‘To hear is to obey.’

Up into the sky, like two bright balls tossed by jugglers, the two Genii shot; and, watching them, Noorna bin Noorka said, ‘My life, there is a third wanting, Ravejoura; and with aid of the three, earth could have planted no obstruction to thy stroke; but thou wert tempted by the third temptation in Aklis, and left not the Hall in triumph, the Hall of the Duping Brides!’

He answered, ‘That is so, my soul; and the penalty is mine, by which I am made to employ deceits ere I strike.’

And she said, ”Tis to the generosity of Gulrevaz thou owest Karavejis and Veejravoosh; and I think she was generous, seeing thee true to me in love, she that hath sorrows!’

So he said, ‘What of the sorrows of Gulrevaz? Tell me of them.’

But she said, ‘Nay, O my betrothed! wouldst thou have this tongue blistered, and a consuming spark shot against this bosom?’

Then he: ‘Make it clear to me.’

She put her mouth to his ear, saying, ‘There is a curse on whoso telleth of things in Aklis, and to tattle of the Seven and their sister forerunneth wretchedness.’

Surely, he stooped to that fair creature, and folded her to his heart, his whole soul heaving to her; and he cried again and again, ‘Shall harm hap to thee through me? by Allah, no!’

And he closed the privileged arm of the bridegroom round her waist, that had the yieldingness of the willow-branchlet, the flowingness of the summer sea-wave, and seemed as ’twere melting honey-like at the first gentle pressure; she leaning her head shyly on his shoulder, yet confiding in his faithfulness; it was that she was shy of the great bliss in her bosom, and was made timid by the fervour of her affection; as is sung:

Deeper than the source of blushes

Is the power that makes them start;

Up in floods the red stream rushes,

At one whisper of the heart.

And it is sung in words present to the youth as he surveyed her:

O beauty of the bride! O beauty of the bride!

Her bashful joys like serpents sting her tenderness to tears:

Her hopes are sleeping eagles in the shining of the spheres;

O beauty of the bride! O beauty of the bride!

And she’s a lapping antelope that from her image flees;

And she’s a dove caught in two hands, to pant as she shall please;

O beauty of the bride! O beauty of the bride!

Like torrents over Paradise her lengthy tresses roll:

She moves as doth a swaying rose, and chides her hasty soul;

The thing she will, that will she not, yet can no will control

O beauty, beauty, beauty of the bride!

They were thus together, Abarak leaning under one wing of Koorookh for shade up the slope of the hill, and Shibli Bagarag called to him, ‘Ho, Abarak! look if there be aught impending over the City.’

So he arose and looked, crying, ‘One with plunging legs, high up in air over the City, between two bright bodies.’ Shibli Bagarag exclaimed, ”Tis well! The second chapter of the Event is opened; so call it, thou that tellest of the Shaving of Shagpat. It will be the shortest.’

Then he said, ‘The shadow of yonder palm is now a slanted spear up the looped wall of the City. Now, the time of Shagpat’s triumph, and his greatest majesty, will be when yonder walls chase the shadow of the palm up this hill; and then will Baba Mustapha be joining the chorus of creatures that shriek toward even ere they snooze. There’s not an ape in the woods, nor hyaena in the forest, nor birds on the branches, nor frogs in the marsh that will outnoise Baba Mustapha under the thong! Wullahy, ’twill grieve his soul in aftertime when he sitteth secure in honours, courted, with a thousand ears at his bidding, that so much breath ‘scaped him without toll of the tongue! But as the poet says truly:

“The chariot of Events lifteth many dusty heels,

And many, high and of renown, it crusheth with its wheels.”

Wah! I have had my share of the thong, and am I, Master of the Event, to be squeamish in attaining an end by its means? Nay, by this Sword!’

Thereat, he strode once again to the summit of the hill, and in a moment the Genii fronted him like two shot arrows quivering from the flight. So he cried, ‘It is done?’

They answered, ‘In faithfulness.’

So he beckoned to Noorna, and she came forward swiftly to him, exclaiming, ‘I read the plot, and the thing required of me; so say nought, but embrace me ere I leave thee, my betrothed, my master!’

He embraced her, and led her to where the Genii stood. Then said he to the Genii, ‘Convey her to the City, O ye slaves of the Sword, and watch over her there. If ye let but an evil wind ruffle the hair of her head, lo! I sever ye with a stroke that shaketh the under worlds. Remain by her till the shrieks of Baba Mustapha greet ye, and then will follow commotion among the crowd, and cries for Shagpat to show himself to the people, cries also of death to Feshnavat; and there will be an assembly in the King’s Hall of Justice; thither lead ye my betrothed, and watch over her.’ And he said to Noorna, ‘Thou knowest my design?’

So she said, ‘When condemnation is passed on Feshnavat, that I appear in the hall as bride of Shagpat, and so rescue him that is my father.’ And she cried, ‘Oh, fair delightful time that is coming! my happiness and thy honour on earth dateth from it. Farewell, O my betrothed, beloved youth! Eyes of mine! these Genii will be by, and there’s no cause for fear or sorrow, and ’tis for thee to look like morning that speeds the march of light. Thou, my betrothed, art thou not all that enslaveth the heart of woman?’

Cried Shibli Bagarag, ‘And thou, O Noorna, all that enraptureth the soul of man! Allah keep thee, my life!’

Lo! while they were wasting the rich love in their hearts, the Genii rose up with Noorna, and she, waving her hand to him, was soon distant and as the white breast of a bird turned to the sun. Then went he to where Abarak was leaning, and summoned Koorookh, and the twain mounted him, and rose up high over the City of Shagpat to watch the ripening of the Event, as a vulture watcheth over the desert.

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 23:09