One of the first objects which I had in view for the furtherance of my plan of escape was to obtain possession of the money which was sewed in the padding of my former master’s turban. But it had been thrown into a corner of the women’s tent, to which I had no access, and it required much ingenuity to get at it without creating suspicion. I had established my reputation as a barber throughout ours and the neighbouring encampments, and had become a favourite of the men; but although I had reason to believe that the Banou of my master would fain become more intimately acquainted with me than she hitherto had been, yet as neither she nor any of the other women could employ me in my profession as a shaver, our intercourse hitherto had been confined to tender glances, occasional acts of kindness on her part, and of corresponding marks of thankfulness and acknowledgement on mine. But as they knew enough of civilized life to be aware that in Persia barbers were also surgeons — that besides shaving and rubbing in the bath, they could bleed, draw teeth, and set a broken limb — the Banou soon discovered that she wanted to be bled, and sent a deputation to ask me if I could perform that service for her. Looking upon this as a favourable opportunity to learn some tidings of the object of my solicitude, or perhaps to gain possession of it, I immediately answered that provided I was furnished with a penknife, I hoped that I could bleed as dexterously as the best of my profession. The instrument was produced, and one of the elders of the tribe, who pretended to a smattering of astrology, announced that a conjunction of the planets favourable to such an operation would take place on the following morning. At that auspicious moment, I was introduced into the women’s tent, where I found the Banou seated on a carpet on the ground, waiting for me with great impatience. She was not a person to excite sensations of a tender nature in a novice like me; for, in the first place, she was of an unwieldy size (so different from the slim forms that we are taught to prize in Persia)10 that I looked upon her with disgust; and, in the next, I lived in such terror of Aslan Sultan, that had I aspired to her favour, it must have been in the constant dread of the loss of my ears. However, I was much noticed by her, and received great attentions from her companions, who, looking upon me as a being of a superior order, all wanted to have their pulses felt. Whilst making my preparations for bleeding the Banou, I cast my eyes about the tent, in the hopes of seeing the prize, which I was anxious to possess. It struck me that I might make the very operation in which I was engaged subservient to my views, and demanding to feel the patient’s pulse once more, which I did with a look of intense meditation, I observed that this was a complicated disorder — that the blood must not be allowed to flow upon the ground, but be collected in a vessel, that I might examine it at leisure. This strange proposal of mine raised an immediate outcry amongst the women; but with the Banou a deviation from the usual practice only served to confirm her opinion of my superior skill. Here, however, a new difficulty arose. The scanty stock of a Turcoman could ill afford to sacrifice any utensil by applying it to a service which would defile it for ever. They were recapitulated one by one, and all found too precious to be thrown away. I was hesitating whether I might venture to go straight to my point, when the Banou bethought herself of an old leather drinking-cup, which she desired one of the women to search for in a corner of the tent. ‘This will never do: you can see the light through it,’ said I, holding it up towards the tent door, and pointing to the seams with the penknife, which I held in my hand, and with which I cut, at the same time, half a dozen of the stitches.
‘Where is the cap of that old Emir?’ cried out the Banou.
‘It is mine,’ said the second wife; ‘I want it to stuff my saddle with.’
‘Yours!’ returned the other in a fury. ‘There is but one God! Am not I the Banou of this harem? I will have it.’
‘You shall not,’ retorted the other.
Upon this an uproar ensued which became so loud and threatening, that I feared it would come to the ears of Aslan Sultan, who very probably would have settled the dispute by taking at once the bone of contention from the contending parties. But luckily the astrologer interfered, and when he had assured the second wife that the blood of the Banou would be upon her head if anything unfortunate happened on this occasion, she consented to give up her pretensions. I accordingly prepared to bleed my patient; but when she saw the penknife, the cap underneath to receive her blood, and the anxious faces of those about her, she became frightened, and refused to permit me to proceed. Fearing after all that I should lose my prize, I put on a very sagacious look, felt her pulse, and said that her refusal was unavailing, for that it was her fate to be bled, and that she and every one knew nothing could avert an event which had been decreed since the beginning of the world. To this there was no reply; and all agreeing that she would commit a great sin were she to oppose herself to the decrees of Providence, she put out her bare arm, and received the stab from my penknife with apparent fortitude. The blood was caught, and, when the operation was over, I ordered that it should be conveyed to a little distance from the camp, and that none but myself should be permitted to approach it, as much of the good or evil that might accrue to the patient from bleeding depended upon what happened to the blood after it had flown from the body. I waited until night, when everybody was asleep, and then with great anxiety ripped up the lining, where to my joy I found the fifty ducats, which I immediately concealed in an adjacent spot, and then dug a hole for the cap, which I also concealed. In the morning I informed the Banou, that having seen some wolves prowling about the tents, I feared that something unlucky might happen to her blood, and that I had buried it, caoûk and all. This appeared to satisfy her; and by way of recompense for the service I had rendered, she sent me a dish made with her own hands, consisting of a lamb roasted whole, stuffed with rice and raisins, accompanied by a bowl of sour milk with salt in it.
(Painted by a Persian artist for this work.)
I must confess that when I became possessed of the fifty ducats, a recollection of my poor former master, who was leading a melancholy life in the mountains with the camels, whilst I was living in comparative luxury, came across my mind, and I half resolved to restore them to him; but by little and little I began to argue differently with myself. ‘Had it not been for my ingenuity,’ said I, ‘the money was lost for ever; who therefore has a better claim to it than myself? If he was to get possession of it again, it could be of no use to him in his new profession, and it is a hundred to one but what it would be taken from him, therefore, I had best keep it for the present: besides, it was his fate to lose, and mine to recover it.’ This settled every difficulty, and I looked upon myself as the legitimate possessor of fifty ducats, which I conceived no law could take from me. Meanwhile, I made an attempt to convey to him half of the roasted lamb which I had just received, through the means of a shepherd’s boy who was going into the mountains, and who promised not to eat any of it by the wayside. Although I doubted his word, yet, after my deliberation about the ducats, my conscience wanted some quietus: ‘I cannot do less,’ said I, ‘than make my fellow sufferer in adversity a partaker of my prosperity.’ But alas! the boy had scarcely crossed the deep ravine that bordered the encampment ere I could perceive him carrying the meat to his mouth, and I made no doubt that every bone was picked clean before he was out of sight. It would have been a useless undertaking to have pursued him, considering the distance that already separated us, so I contented myself by discharging a stone and a malediction at his head, neither of which reached their destination.
10 [ The Turks differ materially from the Persians in their tastes for women, the one admiring corpulency, whilst the latter show greater refinement, and esteem those forms which are mostly prized in Europe.]
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:12