The Shaving of Shagpat, by George Meredith

Conclusion

So was shaved Shagpat, the son of Shimpoor, the son of Shoolpi, the son of Shullum, by Shibli Bagarag, of Shiraz, according to preordainment.

The chronicles relate, that no sooner had he mastered the Event, than men on the instant perceived what illusion had beguiled them, and, in the words of the poet —

The blush with which their folly they confess

Is the first prize of his supreme success.

Even Bootlbac, the drum-beater, drummed in homage to him, and the four Kings were they that were loudest in their revilings of the spouse of Kadza, and most obsequious in praises of the Master. The King of the City was fain to propitiate his people by a voluntary resignation of his throne to Shibli Bagarag, and that King took well to heart the wisdom of the sage, when he says:

Power, on Illusion based, o’ertoppeth all;

The more disastrous is its certain fall!

Surely Shibli Bagarag returned the Sword to the Sons of Aklis, flashing it in midnight air, and they, with the others, did reverence to his achievement. They were now released from the toil of sharpening the Sword a half-cycle of years, to wander in delight on the fair surface of the flowery earth, breathing its roses, wooing its brides; for the mastery of an Event lasteth among men the space of one cycle of years, and after that a fresh Illusion springeth to befool mankind, and the Seven must expend the concluding half-cycle in preparing the edge of the Sword for a new mastery. As the poet declareth in his scorn:

Some doubt Eternity: from life begun,

Has folly ceased within them, sire to son?

So, ever fresh Illusions will arise

And lord creation, until men are wise.

And he adds:

That is a distant period; so prepare

To fight the false, O youths, and never spare!

For who would live in chronicles renowned

Must combat folly, or as fool be crowned.

Now, for the Kings of Shiraz and of Gaf, Shibli Bagarag entertained them in honour; but the King of Oolb he disgraced and stripped of his robes, to invest Baba Mustapha in those royal emblems — a punishment to the treachery of the King of Oolb, as is said by Aboo Eznol:

When nations with opposing forces, rash,

Shatter each other, thou that wouldst have stood

Apart to profit by the monstrous feud,

Thou art the surest victim of the crash.

Take colours of whichever side thou wilt,

And stedfastly thyself in battle range;

Yet, having taken, shouldst thou dare to change,

Suspicion hunts thee as a thing of guilt.

Baba Mustapha, was pronounced Sovereign of Oolb, amid the acclamations of the guard encamped under the command of Ravaloke, without the walls.

No less did Shibli Bagarag honour the benefactor of Noorna, making him chief of his armies; and he, with his own hand, bestowed on the good old warrior the dress of honour presented to him by the Seven Sons, charactered with all the mysteries of Aklis, a marvel lost to men in the failure to master the Illusion now dominating earth.

So, then, of all that had worshipped Shagpat, only Kadza clung to him, and she departed with him into the realms of Rabesqurat, who reigned there, divided against herself by the stroke of the Sword. The Queen is no longer mighty, for the widening of her power has weakened it, she being now the mistress of the single-thoughted, and them that follow one idea to the exclusion of a second. The failure in the unveiling of her last-cherished Illusion was in the succumbing frailty of him that undertook the task, the world and its wise men having come to the belief that in thwackings there was ignominy to the soul of man, and a tarnish on the lustre of heroes. On that score, hear the words of the poet, a vain protest:

Ye that nourish hopes of fame!

Ye who would be known in song!

Ponder old history, and duly frame

Your souls to meek acceptance of the thong.

Lo! of hundreds who aspire,

Eighties perish-nineties tire!

They who bear up, in spite of wrecks and wracks,

Were season ‘d by celestial hail of thwacks.

Fortune in this mortal race

Builds on thwackings for its base;

Thus the All–Wise doth make a flail a staff,

And separates his heavenly corn from chaff.

Think ye, had he never known

Noorna a belabouring crone,

Shibli Bagarag would have shaved Shagpat

The unthwack’d lives in chronicle a rat!

’Tis the thwacking in this den

Maketh lions of true men!

So are we nerved to break the clinging mesh

Which tames the noblest efforts of poor flesh.

Feshnavat became the Master’s Vizier, and Abarak remained at the right hand of Shibli Bagarag, his slave in great adventure. No other condition than bondage gave peace to Abarak. He was of the class enumerated by the sage:

Who, with the strength of giants, are but tools,

The weighty hands which serve selected fools.

Now, this was how it was in the case of Baba Mustapha, and the four Kings, and Feshnavat, and Abarak, and Ravaloke, and Kadza, together with Shagpat; but, in the case of Noorna bin Noorka, surely she was withering from a sting of the scorpion shot against her bosom, but the Seven Sons of Aklis gave her a pass into Aklis on the wings of Koorookh, and Gulrevaz, the daughter of Aklis, tended her, she that was alone capable of restoring her, and counteracting the malice of the scorpion by the hand of purity. So Noorna, prospered; but Shibli Bagarag drooped in uncertainty of her state, and was as a reaper in a field of harvest, around whom lie the yellow sheaves, and the brown beam of autumn on his head, the blaze of plenty; yet is he joyless and stands musing, for one is away who should be there, and without whom the goblet of Success giveth an unsweetened draught, and there is nothing pleasant in life, and the flower on the summit of achievement is blighted. At last, as he was listlessly dispensing justice in the Great Hall, seven days after the mastery of the Event, lo, Noorna, in air, borne by Gulrevaz, she fair and fresh in the revival of health and beauty, and the light of constant love. Of her entry into the Great Hall, to the embrace of her betrothed, the poet exclaims, picturing her in a rapture:

Her march is music, and my soul obeys

Each motion, as a lute to cunning fingers

I see the earth throb for her as she sways

Wave-like in air, and like a great flower lingers

Heavily over all, as loath to leave

What loves her so, and for her loss would grieve.

But oh, what other hand than heaven’s can paint

Her eyes, and that black bow from which their lightning

Pierces afar! long lustrous eyes, that faint

In languor, or with stormy passion brightening:

Within them world in world lights up from sleep,

And gives a glimpse of the eternal deep.

Sigh round her, odorous winds; and, envious rose,

So vainly envious, with such blushes gifted,

Bow to her; die, strangled with jealous throes,

O Bulbul! when she sings with brow uplifted;

Gather her, happy youth, and for thy gain

Thank Him who could such loveliness ordain.

Surely the Master of the Event advanced to her in the glory of a Sultan, and seated her beside him in majesty, and their contract of marriage was read aloud in the Hall, and witnessed, and sealed: joyful was he! Then commenced that festival which lasted forty days, and is termed the Festival of the honours of hospitality to the Sons of Aldis, wherein the head-cook of the palace, Uruish, performed wonders in his science, and menaced the renown of Zrmack, the head-cook of King Shamshureen. Even so the confectioner, Dob, excelled himself in devices and inventions, and his genius urged him to depict in sugars and pastes the entire adventures of Shibli Bagarag in search of the Sword. Honour we Uruish and Do-b! as the poet sayeth:

Divide not this fraternal twain;

One are they, and one should for ever remain:

As to sweet close in fine music we look,

So the Confectioner follows the Cook.

And one of the Sons of Aklis, Zaragal, beholding this masterpiece of Dob, which was served to the guests in the Great Hall on the fortieth evening, was fair to exclaim in extemporaneous verse:

Have I been wafted to a rise

Of banquet spread in Paradise,

Dower’d with consuming powers divine —

That I, who have not fail’d to dine,

And greatly,

Fall thus upon the cater and wine

Sedately?

So there was feasting in the Hall, and in the City, and over Earth; great pledging the Sovereign of Barbers, who had mastered an Event, and become the benefactor of his craft and of his kind. ’Tis certain the race of the Bagarags endured for many centuries, and his seed were the rulers of men, and the seal of their empire stamped on mighty wax the Tackle of Barbers.

Now, of the promise made by the Sons of Aklis to visit Shibli Bagarag before their compulsory return to the labour of the Sword, and recount to him the marvel of their antecedent adventures; and of the love and grief nourished in the souls of men by the beauty and sorrowful eyes of Gulrevaz, that was mined the Bleeding Lily, and of her engagement to tell her story, on condition of receiving the first-born of Noorna to nurse for a season in Aklis; and of Shibli Bagarag’s restoration of towns and monuments destroyed by his battle with Karaz; and of the constancy of passion of Shibli Bagarag for Noorna, and his esteem for her sweetness, and his reverence for her wisdom; and of the glory of his reign, and of the Songs and Sentences of Noorna, and of his Laws for the protection and upholding of women, in honour of Noorna, concerning which the Sage has said:

Were men once clad in them, we should create

A race not following, but commanding, fate:

— of all these records, and of the reign of Baba Mustapha in Oolb, surely the chronicles give them in fulness; and they that have searched say of them, there is matter therein for the amusement of generations.

This web edition published by:

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University of Adelaide
South Australia 5005

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