The Adventures of Hajji Baba of Ispahan, by James Justinian Morier

Chapter xxvi

The history of Zeenab, the Cûrdish slave.

I am the daughter of a chief, well known in the Cûrdistan by the name of Okous Aga. Who my mother was I do not precisely know. I have heard that I am the produce of one of the secret meetings at Kerrund;44 but as such mysterious doings are hushed up among the Cûrds, I have never dared to question anybody concerning them, and cannot, therefore, ascertain whether the reports about my birth be true or not. It is very certain that I never looked up to anyone as my mother; but was brought up at hazard among our women, and that my earliest friend was a foal, that lived as an inmate with us. It was born in the very tent which my father’s wives occupied; and its dam, of the purest Arabian blood, was treated more like one of the family than a quadruped: in fact, it received much more attention than any of the wives; it enjoyed the warmest place in the tent, was beautifully clothed, and in all our journeys was the first object of our cares. When the mare died, a universal lamentation ensued throughout the encampment. The foal lived to be my father’s war-horse, and is to this day the pride of the Cûrdistan. But would to Heaven that we had felt less affection for these animals! then I might still have been a free woman; for, in truth, the many vicissitudes which we have undergone originated in the possession of a mare, of which you shall hear more hereafter.

Okous Aga.

(From a sketch by James Morier.)

‘You must know that although the Cûrds do not allow that they are subject to any power, yet our ancestors (and so did my father to a certain time) grazed their flocks and pitched their tents in that part of the Cûrdistan mountains belonging to Turkey, which are situated in the government of the Pasha of Bagdad. Whenever that chief had any war on his hands, he frequently called upon our tribes to afford him supplies of horsemen, who, being celebrated throughout Asia, were always foremost in the battle. My father, from his strength, his courage, and his horsemanship, was a great favourite with the Pasha, and in high request on such occasions. He was a majestic figure on horseback; and when his countenance was shaded by the back part of his cap thrown over his brow, his look inspired terror. He had killed several men, and was consequently honoured with the distinction of bearing a tuft of hair on his spear. But it was when clad in armour that he was most to be admired. I shall never forget the grandeur of his appearance, when, with his horse curvetting under him, I saw him in the midst of a thousand cavaliers, all dressed in shining cuirasses, peacock’s feathers streaming from their helmets, and their spears glittering in the sun, preparing themselves to join the Pasha. From the result of this expedition we date part of our misfortunes. The Wahabi had advanced into the territory of Bagdad, and even threatened that city, when the Pasha thought it high time to call the Cûrds to his assistance. He took the field with a considerable number of troops, and immediately marched against the enemy. In a night attack my father happened to fall in with and slay the son of the Arab Sheikh himself, who commanded the Wahabi; and, having despoiled him of his arms, he led away with him the mare which his antagonist had mounted. He too well knew the value of such a prize not immediately to take the utmost care of it; and, in order to keep his good fortune from the knowledge of the Turkish chieftain, who would do everything in his power to get it from him, he sent the beast to his encampment, with orders that it should be carefully concealed, and lodged in the tent which his harem occupied. His precautions were useless, because the feat which he had performed, and the circumstances attending it, were soon known to every one; but as the Pasha had a great esteem for him, and there being no reason to suppose that the mare was more than an ordinary one, he made no inquiries about her. However, not very long after the war had ceased, the Wahabi having been driven back into the desert, and the Cûrds having retired to their mountains, we were surprised one morning by a visit from one of the Pasha’s chief officers, viz. the Mirakhor, or master of the horse, who came escorted by a handsome train of ten men, well mounted and armed. Everybody was immediately on the alert to do them honour. Their horses were taken to the nearest pasture, and picketed with plenty of grass before them: the horsemen were led into the men’s tent with much ceremony, where they were treated with coffee and pipes; and a large cauldron of rice was set on the fire to make a pilau. Two lambs were immediately killed, and cooked into a savoury dish by the women, who also baked piles of bread on the occasion. In short, we did all in our power to put into practice those obligations of hospitality which are binding upon the wandering tribes.

‘As soon as my father was apprised of the approach of his visitors, even when they were first espied at a distance, it immediately occurred to him what might be their object, and he ordered his eldest son to mount the mare without a moment’s delay, to take her into a neighbouring dell until he should hear further from him. Our tents were pitched in a line, on the brink of a mountain torrent; and it was therefore easy to steal away unperceived in the deep bed through which it flowed; and the high mountains in our neighbourhood, with the intricacies of which we were well acquainted, afforded good shelter to us in case of disturbance.

‘I recollect the whole circumstance just as if it were yesterday; for we women could peep into the place where the men were assembled, and our curiosity led us to listen to what they said. The mirakhor and two other Turks were seated; the others stood at the entrance of the tent, resting on their arms. My father placed himself at some distance, on the carpet, with his hands before him, and his feet tucked under him, looking very humble, but at the same time casting his eyes very sharply around him.

‘“You are welcome, and you have brought happiness with you,” exclaimed my father.

‘“Happily met,” answered the mirakhor; “it is long since we have seen each other”; and when they had repeated these and similar sorts of compliments over and over again, they relapsed into silence; their pipes, which they smoked until the place was darkened with the fume, holding them in lieu of conversation.

‘“Our master, the pasha,” said the mirakhor, “sends you health and peace; he loves you, and says that you are one of his best and oldest friends. Mashallah! praise be to God! You are a good man; all Cûrds are good; their friends are our friends, and their enemies our enemies.”

‘An old Turk, who was standing, the foremost of the attendants, applauded this speech by a sort of low growl; and then my father, shrugging up his shoulders, and pressing his hands on his knees, answered: “I am the Pasha’s slave; I am your slave; you do me much honour. Il hem dillah, thanks to heaven, we eat our bread in peace under the Pasha’s shade, and put our caps on one side without fear. God give him plenty.”

‘After a short pause: “The business of our coming, Okous Aga,” said the mirakhor, “is this:— The Wahabi (curses be on their beards!) have sent a deputation to our chief, requiring from him the mare upon which the son of their sheikh was mounted at the time that he was killed. Although they say that his blood is on our heads, and that nothing but the pasha’s life, or that of his son, can ever redeem it; yet that subject they will for the present waive, in order to regain possession of her. They say, she has the most perfect pedigree of any in Arabia; that from generation to generation her descent is to be traced to the mare which the Prophet rode on his flight from Medina; and, in order to regain her, they offer to throw money on the board until the pasha shall say stop. Now all the world knows that you are the brave he, who overcame and slew the sheikh’s son, and that yours is the spoil of the mare. My master, after consulting with the nobles and the chief men of Bagdad, has determined to take the offer of the Wahabi into consideration; and since it is become a business of government, has sent me to request you to deliver her up into my hands. This is my errand, and I have said it.”

‘”Wallah! billah! By the pasha’s salt which I have eat, by your soul, by the mother who bore you, by the stars and the heavens, I swear that all the Wahabi say is false. Where is the mare they pretend to have lost, and where the miserable jade that fell to my lot? I got a mare, ’tis true, but so lean, so wretched, that I sold her to an Arab the day after the battle. You may have the bridle and saddle, if you please; but as for the beast, I have her not.”

‘”Allah, Allah!“ exclaimed the mirakhor, “this is a business of much consequence. Okous Aga, you are an upright man, and so am I. Do not laugh at our beards, and send us away without caps on our heads. If we do not bring back the mare, our faces will be black to all eternity, and the doors of friendship between you and the pasha will be shut. By my soul, tell me; where is the beast?”

‘“Friend,” answered my father, “what shall I say? what can I do? The mare is not here — the Wahabi are liars — and I speak the truth.” Then with a softened tone, he approached the mirakhor, and spoke to him for a long time in a whisper, with much animation and apparent persuasion; for, at the end of their conversation, they appeared to be well agreed.

‘The mirakhor then said aloud, “Well, if such is the case, and the beast is not in your possession, Allah kerim, God is merciful, and there is no combating against fate. We must return to Bagdad.”

‘My father then rose from his seat, and came into the women’s tent, leaving his guests to smoke their pipes and drink coffee, preparatory to the meal which was making ready for them. He ordered his wife, who was the depository of his money, to bring him a bag of gold, that was carefully wrapped in many a piece of old cloth, and deposited in a trunk, which, with his rich horse furniture, the parade pack-saddle, and other things of value, were placed in a corner of the tent. He took out twenty Bajoglis (ducats), which he tied into the corner of a handkerchief, and thrust them into his bosom; and then giving his orders that the victuals should forthwith be served up, he returned to his guests. Little was said until the hour of eating came, and the few words that were uttered turned on horses, dogs, and arms. The mirakhor drew from his girdle a long pistol, mounted in silver, which was shown around to all the company as a real English pistol. Another man exhibited his scimitar, which was assured to be a black Khorassani blade of the first water; and my father produced a long straight sword, sharp on both edges, which he had taken from the son of the Arab Sheikh whom he had slain.

‘The dinner being ready, the round leathern cloth was placed before the mirakhor, upon which many flaps of bread, just baked, were thrown, and water was handed about for washing the right hand. A mess of chorba, or soup, was served up in a large wooden dish, and placed in the centre of the cloth. My father then said aloud, ”Bismillah,“ in the name of God; and all the party, consisting of the mirakhor, his ten followers, my father and three of his attendants, settling themselves round the dish, with their right shoulders advanced forwards, partook of the soup with wooden spoons. A lamb roasted whole succeeded the mess, which was pulled to pieces in a short time, each man getting as large a portion of it for himself as he could. The feast was closed by an immense dish of rice, which was dived into by the hands and fingers of all present. As fast as they were satisfied, each man got up and washed, saying Shukur Allah, thanks to God; and Allah bereket versin, may God restore you plenty. The remains were then rolled up in the leathern cloth, and taken outside the tents, where my father’s shepherds soon made an end of them.

‘The mirakhor being anxious to sleep at a village in the plain, expressed a wish to depart, and his suite went to prepare their horses, leaving him and my father in the tent. I, who had narrowly watched the whole of the proceedings, was determined to see what should take place between them, and lent an ear to what they said.

‘My father said, “Indeed ten ducats is all I can give — we are poor — where shall I find more?” To which the mirakhor replied, “It is impossible: you know perfectly what will happen if I do not receive double that sum: the Pasha, when he finds that we have not brought the mare, will order me back again to seize you, and will take possession of all your property. I am indeed ordered to do that now, in case you refuse his request, but shall not touch you, if you come to my terms, which are twenty gold pieces. So, my friend, decide.” Upon which, my father took the handkerchief from his bosom, and taking out the money from it, counted twenty ducats into the mirakhor’s hand, who, when satisfied that they were all good, untied the white muslin that was wound round his turban, and placing them in the folds of it, twisted it round his head again. “Now,” said he to my father, “we have ate salt together; we are friends; and should the Pasha attempt anything, I will interfere. But you must send him a present, or otherwise it will be impossible to prevent him from molesting you.”

‘”Bashem ustun, upon my head be it!” answered my father. “I possess a famous greyhound, celebrated throughout the whole of the Cûrdistan, which can seize an antelope at full speed; a creature the like of which the Shah of Persia’s father never even saw in a dream. Will that do?”

“Perfectly well for one thing; but that is not enough. Consider of what consequence it is that my master should be pleased with you.”

‘“I tell you what,” said he: “a thought has struck me; I have a daughter, more beautiful than the moon, round, large hipped, and greatly inclined to corpulency. You must say to him, that although the Yezeedies are infidels in his eyes, and as the dust under his feet, yet still he may perhaps be anxious to possess a beauty, which even the houris of Mahomed’s paradise would be jealous of, and I am ready to send her to him.”

‘The mirakhor clapped his hands in ecstasy, and said, ”Aferin! Aferin! well said! this is excellent! I will make the offer, and no doubt he will accept it; and thus you will have a powerful friend in his harem, who will get you out of this scrape, and protect you for the future.” Upon this they seemed agreed. I, who it appears was to be the victim, left my watching-place to ruminate upon what was likely to be my future destiny. At first I was inclined to weep, and to lament over my fate; but after a little consideration, I exclaimed, “O my soul! am I to be a pasha’s lady? am I to wear fine clothes? am I to be borne in a litter? Oh! the delight of a litter will be too great! How all the girls of the mountains will envy me!”

‘After some time had elapsed, looking from the tents into the open country, I saw the mirakhor and his party, who had not failed to take the greyhound with him, duly dressed out in its gayest trappings, making their way along the side of the chain of hills which bordered our camp. I then heard my father expressing his thankfulness and gratitude for having so well got rid of such unwelcome visitors.

‘As soon as they were fairly out of sight, he dispatched one of his shepherd’s boys to his son in the mountains, ordering him to bring back the mare; and when the animal was safely lodged in the women’s tent, he called together the elders of his tribe, consisting of his own and his wives’ relations, who were encamped in our vicinity. He explained to them the situation in which he was placed; showing that his and their destruction was inevitable should they continue any longer in the territory of the pasha, who would not fail to seize this opportunity of levying fines and exactions, and reducing them to want and beggary. They were assembled in the men’s tent, to the number of ten persons; the place of honour, the corner, being given to my father’s uncle, the elder of the tribe, an old man, whose beard, as white as snow, descended to his girdle.

‘“You know,” said my father, “that we are Yezeedies; and you also know the hatred which all Mussulmans bear to us: the pasha has hitherto pretended friendship to me individually, because I have fought his battles, because I am a lion in the fight, and drink the blood of his enemies; but his love of money is so great that nothing can satisfy it; and rather than lose this opportunity, he would see me, my father, my grandfather, my great-grandfather, and all my race grilling in eternal fires. We are too few to resist him, although, by that great Power whom we all worship, if we had not wives and children to protect, I, with a spear in my hand, my sword by my side, and mounted on my mare — I would not fear to encounter the whole host of his dastardly ragamuffins, and I should like to see the cherkaji45 that would face me. I propose, therefore, that, without a moment’s delay, we abandon the Turkish territory, and migrate into Persia, where we shall not fail to meet with welcome and protection.”

‘“Okous Aga,” said his uncle to him, whilst every one seemed to listen with great respect to what he would say, “Okous Aga, you are my brother’s son; you are my child; you are the head of our tribe, and our best support and protection. If I were to advise you to give up the mare to the pasha, you would think me unworthy of being a Cûrd and a Yezeedi; and even were he now to get possession of her, we should not be spared; for such is the experience I have of Turkish governors, that when once they have a pretext in hand for oppression, they never fail to make use of it. Therefore, I am of your opinion — we cannot remain here. Old as I am, and accustomed as I have been from my earliest infancy to graze our flocks and herds upon these mountains — to see the sun rise over yonder hill and set in that distant plain — much as I love these spots upon which our ancestors have been bred and born; yet it shall not be said that I have been the cause of the ruin of our tribe. I am, therefore, for immediate departure: delay now would be dangerous. In two more days we shall be visited by the pasha’s troops, who will take from us hostages, and then here shall we be fixed, and here will ruin overwhelm us. Let us go, my children; God is great and merciful. The time may come when you will be restored to your ancient seats, and when you may again range from your summer pastures to your winter quarters, and from your winter quarters to your pastures, without fear and apprehension.”

‘When he had done speaking, an old shepherd, who had great experience in all that related to the seasons, and considerable knowledge of the country between our mountains and those of Persia, spoke as follows:—“If we go, we must go immediately, for a day’s delay might stop us. The snows on the mountains are already beginning to melt, and the torrents will be so swollen in another week, that we shall not be able to get the sheep across them. Besides, it is now about three weeks to the day when the sun enters the sign of the Ram, at which time our ewes will, inshallah, please God, bring forth in plenty; and they ought to have performed their journey and be at rest long before that time. We ought to settle beforehand in what tract of country we shall fix ourselves, because the Persian wandering tribes are very tenacious of their rights of pasturage; and should we trespass upon them, without proper authority from the government, our shepherds and theirs would not fail to come to blows, and God only knows the consequences.”

‘“He speaks true,” exclaimed my father: then turning to the shepherd, he exclaimed, “Well said, Karabeg; well done! you are a good servant, and you have given good advice. Before we think of establishing ourselves in Persia, one of us must go to Kermanshah, and ask leave of the Prince to appoint us to a good country; and when once we have got out of the pasha’s reach, I will perform that service, and return to you in time to prevent strife with the other wandering tribes.”

‘The assembly being unanimous for immediate departure, my father gave his orders, that the cattle should be called in, the tents broken up, and the oxen in readiness to receive their loads; that the camels should have their pack-saddles put upon them, and that everything should be in readiness to depart by midnight, in order that we might reach our first stage about an hour after sunrise. His mare, which was now become an object of the first consequence, was to be mounted by my father, in person, whilst his chief wife, with her children, were to travel in the cajaveh or panniers; the camel which was to carry them being ornamented with trappings inlaid with beads, set off by red cloth trimmings, and a thick profusion of tassels.

‘As soon as this was known by the women, they set up shouts of wailing and lamentation. The evil appeared to them greater than it really was; for they expected nothing less than the immediate approach of the pasha’s troops to seize upon the tribe, and carry them all into slavery.

‘As for me,’ said Zeenab, ‘my misery arose from another cause; for ever since I had overheard the conversation between my father and the mirakhor, I could think of nothing else than of the charms of being a pasha’s lady. My dream was now over, and instead of the rich dresses, the sumptuous palaces, the gilded litters, and the luxury of state, which I had flattered myself was to be my future lot, I had now nothing before me but my old drudgeries — the loading of beasts, the packing up of baggage, the churning of milk, and the making of butter.

“The charms of being a Pasha’s lady.”

(From a Persian drawing.)

‘Our whole camp was now in motion: and, as far as the eye could reach, the mountains were swarming with the flocks and herds of our tribe, which were driven by the shepherds towards their different encampments. The tents were taken to pieces, and prepared for loading. The women, who took the greatest share in the labour of departure, were seen everywhere actively bestirring themselves to pack up the furniture and utensils. The carpets were rolled up; the camel-trunks filled; all the materials for making butter collected; and the pack-saddles of the mules, oxen, and camels, laid out for immediate use. The cattle being arrived, the camels were made to kneel down in a ring, and were covered with their pack-saddles; the oxen had their pads put upon them; and the mules were tied into strings of five or seven each, and ornamented with their bells and thick felt coverings. The sheep and goats, in the meanwhile, at the close of day, had already began their march, guarded by their watch-dogs, and accompanied by their shepherds, one of whom walked in front, whilst the whole train followed.

‘At midnight the whole camp had cleared the ground; and, as the day dawned, our line of march was to be seen to a great distance, winding along the mountains. We kept a track little followed, in order not to meet any one who might give information of our movements to the pasha; and, after several days’ march, we reached the frontier of Persia, with much fewer accidents, and much less difficulties, than might have been expected. During the journey, my father, in conjunction with the principal men of his tribe, kept a constant look out in the rear, determined, should any of the Pasha’s people approach us with an intention of impeding our progress, they would, without hesitation, make every resistance in their power. But fortune favoured us, and we saw none but shepherds, belonging to Cûrdish tribes, who occupied part of the country that we travelled over.

‘When we had reached a place of safety, my father rode forwards to Kermanshah, the seat of government of a powerful prince, one of the king of Persia’s sons, in order to claim his protection, and to receive his permission to occupy one of the pasturages situated within the Persian territory. We waited for his return with great anxiety, for in the meanwhile we were liable to an attack from both Turks and Persians; but as it is the policy of both countries to entice the wandering tribes into their territory, we met with no molestation from the chief of the Persian town which happened to be the nearest to us.

‘At length my father returned, and with him an officer belonging to the prince, who assigned us a tract of country, about ten parasangs within the Persian frontier. Our winter residence was situated in a sheltered nook of the mountains, not far from a copious spring of water; and our summer quarters, about three days’ journey off, were described as situated in the coolest spot of the adjacent mountains, abounding in grass and water, and distant from any chance of molestation from the Turks.

‘My father was well known at Kermanshah, and when his arrival and the object of his mission were known, the prince expressed great pleasure, treated him with much consideration, and dismissed him invested with a dress of honour. No stipulations were made as to the terms upon which he was to be received, and unlimited promises of protection were held out to him. “If the pasha,” said the prince, “claims you and your tribe, as the property of his government, and sends me a request that I should not admit you into mine, I will burn his father, and laugh at his beard. The face of God’s world is open to every one, and if man is ill-treated in one spot, he will take himself where better treatment is to be found.” In short, we settled, and returned to our former habits and occupations.

‘As the prince had expected, so it happened. A very short time after our arrival an officer from the pasha appeared at Kermanshah, bearing a letter, making a formal demand, that my father, with the whole of his tribe, should be sent back to his territory; and stating all the circumstances relative to our flight. My father was called a thief, and accused of having stolen a mare of immense value, which was described as the pasha’s property. The animal was demanded to be instantly restored; and in case it were not, threats were made that immediate reprisals on Persian property should ensue. The whole of these circumstances were made known to my father, and he was summoned forthwith to appear before the prince.

‘Consternation seized us as soon as this intelligence was known amongst us. It was evident that the pasha was determined to leave nothing undone; to regain possession of the mare, and to ruin my father; nor could it be supposed that a weak and poor tribe like ours was likely to withstand the intrigues, bribes, and machinations of so powerful a chief: besides, the possession of such a treasure would of itself be a crime in the eyes of the Persians, and they would certainly endeavour to get her from us, if not now, yet at some more favourable opportunity. It would soon be known that many of us were Yezeedies, a circumstance of itself sufficient to excite the hatred and execration of every good sectary of Ali; and every probability existed, even supposing the mare to be out of the question, that we should be a prey to every sort of persecution as soon as time enough should have passed over our heads for intrigue to have worked its effects.

‘Before my father left us to attend the Prince’s summons, he had given secret orders that the mare should be put into some place of safety, in case he should be obliged to deny that he possessed her; but on his return we found that such a precaution was unnecessary. He had been kindly received by the prince, who had assured him that he was resolved not to accede to the pasha’s demands in any one case; that my father might enjoy the possession of his mare, and depend upon protection and security as long as he remained in his territory. His words were something to this purpose: “Set your mind at ease, Okous Aga. As long as you remain under our shade you may lay your head on your pillow in full security. What does the pasha mean by claiming you and your tribe as the subjects of his government? The gates of the palace of my father, the Centre of the Universe and King of Kings, are open to every one, and as soon as the stranger has touched the skirt of his robe he is safe. You have sought our protection, and we should not be Mussulmans if we refused it. Go, return to your tents, be happy, and leave the pasha to us.”

‘This produced great rejoicings amongst us; and my father, to celebrate his success, gave a feast to the chiefs and elders of the tribe, where our present situation was fully discussed, and our plans for the future taken into consideration. Every one present was elated with the success that had attended our flight excepting one, and that was the old man, my father’s uncle. He had seen much of the Persians, having served under Nadir Shah when a youth, and nothing could induce him to put any faith in the promises and fair words of the prince. “You do not know the Persians,” said he, addressing himself to the assembly. “You have never had any dealings with them, and therefore you permit yourselves to be lulled into security by their flattering expressions and their winning and amiable manners. But I have lived long with them; and have learned the value of what they say. Their weapons are not such as you have been accustomed to meet in the bold encounter, and the open attack: instead of the sword and spear, theirs are treachery, deceit, falsehood; and when you are the least prepared, you find yourselves caught as in a net; ruin and desolation surround when you think that you are seated on a bed of roses. Lying is their great, their national vice. Do not you remark that they confirm every word by an oath? What is the use of oaths to men who speak the truth? One man swears by your soul, and by his own head, by your child, by the Prophet, by his relations and ancestors; another swears by the Kebleh,46 by the king, and by his beard; a third by your death, by the salt he eats, by the death of Imâm Hosein. Do they care for any one of these things? No, they feel all the time that they lie, and then out comes the oath. Now in our case, is it to be supposed that we shall be left unmolested, in the quiet possession of this mare, which has brought so much misfortune already on our heads? The Persians are more wild, if possible, on the subject of horses than the Turks, and an Arabian mare in their sight is of greater value than diamonds and rubies. Should the Shah hear of the one we possess, he will instantly send for it, and what are we to do then? Shall we continue in arms against all the world? No, my friends. You may think what you please; but, for my part, I look upon your situation as precarious, and advise you, as a general rule, not to put your trust in Persians, be they who or what they may.”

‘The event proved to be precisely what the old man had predicted, and was the cause of placing me where you now see me.

‘One morning, about an hour before the dawn of day, we heard an unusual stir among the dogs of the camp; they did not cease to bark and make a most furious noise. As we were accustomed to the attacks of wolves, who were kept at bay by our dogs, we did not at first pay attention to the disturbance; but at length my father and his sons arose, and, taking their guns with them, went to see what could have happened. They had not proceeded twenty steps before they saw a horseman, and then a second, and shortly after several more; in short, they discovered that their tents were surrounded. My father immediately gave the alarm, and instantly all the camp was in motion. The horsemen rushed on my father, and attempted to seize him; but he shot the first dead at his feet, and with his sword wounded the second. The report of the gun, and the noise of the fray, was a signal to the invaders for a general attack, and in a short time our camp was entered at every corner. Their principal object was evidently the mare; for the women’s tent was attacked first, and there they instantly seized the object of their search.

‘As the day dawned, we observed that our invaders were Persians, and we also soon discovered that they were acting from authority. My father had unluckily killed their chief, and that was a sufficient reason for our being made prisoners. Conceive our situation: it was a scene of misery that I shall never forget. My father was treated with every indignity before our eyes; our property was pillaged, and ——’

Zeenab was proceeding to relate to me how she became the property of Mirza Ahmak, when a loud knocking at the gate of the house was heard. We both got up in great alarm. My fair one entreated me to take my departure by the terrace, while she went to see who it might be. By the voice, that was ordering the door to be opened, she recognized the doctor himself, and trusting to her own ingenuity for giving good reasons for the appearance of breakfast and good cheer, which he would perceive, she forthwith unbarred the gate and admitted him.

From the terrace I could watch all that was going on. The doctor appeared quite delighted to find Zeenab alone, and made her some speeches so full of tenderness, that there was no mistaking how his affections were placed. Looking into the window of his wife’s apartment, he perceived the remains of the breakfast, and every appearance of the room having been occupied. He was asking some questions concerning what he saw, when in came the khanum herself, followed by her women. She entered the house so unexpectedly, that she appeared before them ere they could separate. I shall never forget her look and attitude at this sight.

Selam aleikum! peace be unto ye!’ said she, with mock respect, ‘I am your very humble servant. I hope that the health of both your excellencies is good, and that you have passed your time agreeably. I have arrived too soon, I fear.’ Then the blood creeping into her face, she very soon relinquished her raillery, and fell tooth and nail upon the unhappy culprits.

And breakfast too — and in my room. Mashallah! Mashallah! It is understood, then, that I am become less than a dog; now that in my own house, on my own carpet, on my very pillow, my slaves give up their hearts to joy. La Allah il Allah! There is but one God! I am all astonishment! I am fallen from the heavens to the ground!’

Then addressing herself to her husband, she said, ‘As for you, Mirza Ahmak, look at me, and tell me, by my soul, are you to be counted a man amongst men? A doctor too, the Locman of his day, a sage, with that monkey’s face, with that goat’s beard, with that humped back, to be playing the lover, the swain! Curses attend such a beard!’ then putting up her five fingers to his face, she said, ‘Poof! I spit on such a face. Who am I, then, that you prefer an unclean slave to me? What have I done, that you should treat me with such indignity? When you had nothing but your prescriptions and your medicines in the world, I came, and made a man of you. You are become something, thanks to me! You now stand before a king: men bow the head to you. You wear a Cashmerian shawl: you are become a person of substance. Say, then, oh, you less than man! what is the meaning of all this?’

The doctor, during this attack upon him, was swearing abundance of oaths, and making tell thousands of exclamations, in proof of his innocence. Nothing, however, could stop the volubility of his wife, or calm her rage. By this time she had worked her passion up to such a pitch, that oath succeeded oath; and blasphemy blasphemy, in one raging, unceasing torrent. From her husband she fell on Zeenab, and from Zeenab she returned again to her husband, until she foamed at the mouth. She was not satisfied with words alone, but seizing the wretched girl by one of the long tresses which hung down her back, she pulled it till she roared with pain; then, with the assistance of the other slaves, she was thrown into the reservoir, where they beat and soused her until both parties were nearly exhausted. Oh, how I burned to fly to her rescue! My body was become like glowing fire. I could have drunk the blood of the unfeeling wretches. But what could I do? Had I rushed into the harem, death would have been my lot; for most probably they would have impaled me on the spot; and what good would that have done to Zeenab? She would have been even more cruelly treated than before, and the doctor’s wife would not have been the less jealous. So when the storm had subsided, I quietly stepped down from my hiding-place on the terrace, and walked into the open country without the town, to consider upon the course which I ought to pursue. To remain with the doctor was out of the question; and: to expect to enjoy Zeenab’s company again was folly. My heart bled, when I reflected what might be the fate of that poor girl; for I had heard horrid stories of the iniquities performed in harems, and there was no length to which such a demon as the khanum might not go, with one so entirely in her power.

44 [ This no doubt relates to certain mysterious and obscene customs which are said to be practised among the Yezeedies, at the village of Kerrund, in the Curdistan, and peculiar to the tribe of Nusiri, commonly called Chiragh Kush, or lamp extinguishers. Antiquarians pretend in them to trace a resemblance to the abominable worship of Venus, as practised by the Babylonians, and recorded in Herodotus, book i. sect. cxcix.]

45 [ The cherkajis (literally wheelers about) in Oriental armies are skirmishers, who are thrown out from the main body to engage in the fight, and are generally esteemed the most expert horsemen and the best soldiers.]

46 [ The point to which the Mohamedans turn in prayer.]

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:58