The Shaving of Shagpat, by George Meredith

Goorelka of Oolb

When Shibli Bagarag had finished his narration of the case of Roomdroom the barber, the King of Oolb said, ‘O thou, native of Shiraz, there is persuasion and sweetness and fascination on thy tongue, and I am touched with compassion for the soles of Baba Mustapha, that I bastinadoed but yesterday, and he was from Shiraz likewise.’

Now, the heart of Shibli Bagarag leapt when he heard mention of Baba Mustapha; and he knew him for his uncle that was searching him. He would have cried aloud his relationship, but the hawk whispered in his ear. Then the hawk said to him, ‘There is danger in the King’s muteness respecting me, for I am visible to him. Proclaim the spirit of prophecy.’

So he proclaimed that spirit, and the King said, ‘Prophesy to me of barbercraft.’

And he cried, ‘O King of the age, the barber is abased, trodden underfoot, given over to the sneers and the gibes of them that flatter the powerful ones; he is as the winter worm, as the crocodile in the slime of his sleep by the bank, as the sick eagle before moulting. But I say, O King, that he will come forth like the serpent in a new skin, shaming the old one; he slept a caterpillar, and will come forth a butterfly; he sank a star, and lo! he riseth a constellation.’

Now, while he was speaking in the fervour of his soul, the King said something to one of the court officers surrounding him, and there was brought to the King a basin, a soap-bowl, and barber’s tackle. When Shibli Bagarag saw these, the uses of the barber rushed upon his mind, and desire to sway the tackle pushed him forward and agitated him, so that he could not keep his hands from them.

Then the King exclaimed, ‘It is as I thought. Our passions betray themselves, and our habits; so is it written. By Allah! I swear thou art thyself none other than a barber, O youth.’

Shibli Bagwrag was nigh fainting with terror at this discovery of the King, but the hawk said in his ear, ‘Proclaim speech in the tackle.’ So he proclaimed speech in the tackle; and the King smiled doubtfully, and said, ‘If this be a cheat, Shiraz will not see thy face more.’

Then the hawk whispered in his ear, ‘Drop on the tackle secretly a drop from the phial.’ This he did, spreading his garments, and commanded the tackle to speak. And the tackle spake, each portion of it, confusedly as the noise of Babel. So the King marvelled greatly, and said, ”Tis a greater wonder than the talking hawk, the talking tackle. Wullahy! it ennobleth barbercraft! Yet it were well to comprehend the saying of the tackle.’

Then the hawk flew to the tackle and fluttered about it, and lo! the blade and the brush stood up and said in a shrill tone, ‘It is ordained that Shagpat shall be shaved, and that Shibli Bagarag shall shave him.’

The King bit the forefinger of amazement, and said, ‘What then ensueth, O talking tackle?’

And the brush and the blade stood up, and said in a shrill tone, ‘Honour to Shibli Bagarag and barbers! Shame unto Shagpat and his fellows!’

Upon that, the King cried, ‘Enough, O talking tackle; I will forestall the coming thing. I will be shaved! wullahy, that will I!’

Then the hawk whispered to Shibli Bagarag, ‘Forward and shear him!’ So he stepped forth and seized the tackle, and addressed himself keenly to the shaving of the King of Oolb, lathering him and performing his task with perfect skill. And the courtiers crowded to follow the example of the King, and Shibli Bagarag shaved them, all of them. Now, when they were shaved, fear smote them, the fear of ridicule, and each laughed at the change that was in the other; but the King cried, ‘See that order is issued for the people of Oolb to be as we before tomorrow’s sun. So is laughter taken in reverse.’ And the King said aside to Shibli Bagarag, ‘Say now, what may be thy price for yonder hawk?’

And the hawk bade him say, ‘The loan of thy cockleshell.’

The King mused, and said, ‘That is much to ask, for it is that which beareth the Princess my daughter to the Lily of the Enchanted Sea, which she nourisheth; and if ’tis harmed, she will be stricken with ugliness, as was the daughter of the Vizier Feshnavat, who tended it before her. Yet is this hawk a bird of price. What be its qualities, besides the gift of speech?’

Shibli Bagarag answered, ‘To counsel in extremity; to forewarn; to counteract enchantments and foul magic.’

Upon that the King said, ‘Follow me!’

And the King led the way from the hall, through many spacious chambers fair with mirrors and silks and precious woods, and smooth marble floors, down into a vault lit by a lamp that was shaped like an eye. Round the vault were hung helm-pieces, and swords, and rich-studded housings; and there were silken dresses, and costly shawls, and tall vases and jars of China, tapestries, and gold services. And the King said, ‘Take thy choice of these in exchange for the hawk.’

But Shibli Bagarag said, ‘Nought save a loan of the cockle-shell, King!’

Then the King threatened him, saying, ‘There is a virtue in each of the things thou seest: the China jar is brimmed with wine, and remaineth so though a thousand drink of it; the dress of Samarcand rendereth the wearer invisible; yet thou refusest to exchange them for thy hawk!’

And the King swore by the beard of his father he would seize perforce the hawk and shut up Shibli Bagarag in the vault, if he fell not into his bargain. Shibli Bagarag was advised by the hawk to accept the China jar and the dress of Samarcand, and handed the hawk to the King in exchange for these things. So the King took the hawk upon his wrist and departed with it to the apartments of his daughter, and Shibli Bagarag went to the chamber prepared for him in the palace.

Now, when it was night, Shibli Bagarag heard a noise at his lattice, and he arose and peered through it, and lo! the hawk was fluttering without; so he let it in, and caressed it, and the hawk bade him put on his silken dress and carry forth his China jar, and go the round of the palace, and offer drink to the sentinels and the slaves. So he did as the hawk directed, and the sentinels and slaves were aware of a China jar brimmed with wine that was lifted to their lips, but him that lifted it they saw not: surely, they drank deep of the draught of astonishment.

Then the hawk flew before him, and he followed it to a chamber lit with golden lamps, gorgeously hung, and full of a dusky splendour and the faint sparkle of gems, ruby, amethyst, topaz, and beryl; in it there was the hush of sleep, and the heart of Shibli Bagarag told him that one beautiful was near. So he approached on tiptoe a couch of blue silk, bordered with gold-wire, and inwoven with stars of blue turquoise stones, as it had been the heavens of midnight. On the couch lay one, a woman, pure in loveliness; the dark fringes of her closed lids like living flashes of darkness, her mouth like an unstrung bow and as a double rosebud, even as two isles of coral between which in the clear transparent watery beds the pearls shine freshly.

And the hawk said to Shibli Bagarag, ‘This is the Princess Goorelka, the daughter of the King of Oolb, a sorceress, the Guardian of the Lily of the Enchanted Sea. Beneath her pillow is the cockle-shell; grasp it, but gaze not upon her.’

He approached and slid his arm beneath the pillow of the Princess, and grasped the cockle-shell; but ere he drew it forth he gazed upon her, and the lustre of her countenance transfixed him as with a javelin, so that he could not stir, nor move his eyes from the contemplation of her sweetness of feature. The hawk darted at him fiercely, and pecked at him to draw his attention from her, and he stepped back, yet he continued taking fatal draughts from the magic cup of her beauty. Then the hawk screamed a loud scream of anguish, and the Princess awoke, and started half-way from the couch, and stared about her, and saw the bird in agitation. As she looked at the bird a shudder passed over her, and she snatched a veil and drew it over her face, murmuring, ‘I dream, or I am under the eye of a man.’ Then she felt beneath the pillow, and knew that the cockle-shell had been touched; and in a moment she leapt from her couch, and ran to a mirror and saw herself as she was, a full-moon made to snare the wariest and sit singly high on a throne in the hearts of men. At the sight of her beauty she smiled and seemed at peace, murmuring still, ‘I am under the eye of a man, or I dream.’ Now, while she so murmured she arrayed herself, and took the cockle-shell, and passed through the ante-room among her women sleeping; and Shibli Bagarag tracked her till she came to the vault; and she entered it and walked to the corner from which had hung the dress of Samarcand. When she saw it gone her face waxed pale, and she gazed slowly at all points, muttering, ‘There is no further doubt but that I am under the eye of a man!’ Thereupon she ran hastily from the vault, and passed between the sentinels of the palace, and saw them where they lay drowsy with intoxication: so she knew that the China jar and the dress of Samarcand had been used that night, and for no purpose friendly to her wishes. Then she passed down the palace steps, and through the gates of the palace and the city, till she came to the shore of the sea; there she launched the cockle-shell and took the wind in her garments, and sat in it, filling it to overflowing, yet it floated. And Shibli Bagarag waded to the cockle-shell and took hold of it, and was drawn along by its motion swiftly through the waters, so that a foam swept after him; and Goorelka marked the foam. Now, they had passage over the billows smoothly, and soon the length of the sea was darkened with two high rocks, and between them there was a narrow channel of the sea, roughened with moonlight. So they sped between the rocks, and came upon a purple sea, dark-blue overhead, with large stars leaning to the waves. There was a soft whisperingness in the breath of the breezes that swung there, and many sails of charmed ships were seen in momentary gleams, flapping the mast idly far away. Warm as new milk from the full udders were the waters of that sea, and figures of fair women stretched lengthwise with the current, and lifted a head as they rushed rolling by. Truly it was enchanted even to the very bed!

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/m/meredith/george/shaving-of-shagpat/chapter9.html

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