I passed a feverish night, and did not fall asleep until the muezzins from the minarets had announced the break of day. Scarcely had an hour elapsed, ere I was awoke by an unusual stir, and then was informed by one of my servants that my wife’s brothers, attended by several other persons, were in the house.
Involuntarily, upon hearing this, I was seized with a trembling, which at first deprived me of all power of action, and the consequences of lying now spoke for themselves. Fifty horrors, one more hideous than the other, rose in my mind, and I began to feel a tingling in the soles of my feet, which the lapse of years had not been able to dispel, so impressive had been the lesson received at Meshed. ‘But, after all,’ I reflected, ‘Shekerleb is my wife, happen what may; and if I have pretended to be richer than is really the case, I have only done what thousands before me have done also.’ I then turned to my servant, and said, ‘In the name of the Prophet let them come in; and make ready the pipes and coffee.’
My bed was then rolled up and carried out of the room, and my visitors one after the other in silent procession walked in, and seated themselves on my divan. They consisted of my wife’s two brothers, of her late father’s brother, and his son, and of a stern-looking man whom I had never before seen. These were seated; but, besides, a numerous train of servants followed, who stood in a row at the end of the room, amongst whom, standing foremost, were two ruffian-like looking fellows armed with heavy canes, eyeing me as I thought with peculiar fierceness.
I endeavoured to appear as innocent and undisturbed as possible, and pretended the greatest delight at seeing them. Having made them every civil speech which I could devise, to which indeed I received nothing but monosyllables for answers, I ordered pipes and coffee, at the partaking of which I hoped to acquire some insight into the object of their visit.
‘May your hours be fortunate!’ said I to the elder brother. ‘Is there anything at this early time of the day in which I can be of use? If there is, command me.’
‘Hajji,’ said he, after an ominous pause, ‘look at me! Do you take us for animals, without understanding, without common sense? or do you look upon yourself as the man of his day without compare, specially privileged to take the beards of humankind into your hand, and to do what you like with them?’
‘What is this that you say?’ I replied. ‘O my Aga! I am nobody and nothing; I am less than an ounce of dust.’
‘Man!’ said the second brother, in a warmer tone of voice, ‘nobody and nothing, do you say? then what have you made of us? Are we nothing, that you should come all this distance from Bagdad to make us dance like apes at your bidding?’
‘Oh, Allah, great and good!’ exclaimed I, ‘what is all this? Why do you speak after this manner? What have I done? Speak, and speak truth!’
‘Ah, Hajji, Hajji!’ said my wife’s uncle, shaking his head and grey beard at the same time, ‘you have been eating much abomination! Could a man who has seen the world like you, suppose that others will eat it with you, and say, thanks be to Allah! No, no — we may eat, but will not digest your insolence.
‘But what have I done, O my uncle?’ said I to him; ‘by my soul, speak!’
‘What have you done?’ said my wife’s cousin. ‘Is lying nothing? is stealing nothing? is marrying a wife under false pretences nothing? You must be a rare man without shame to call such acts nothing!’
‘Perhaps,’ said the eldest brother, ‘you think it a great honour which the son of an Ispahan barber confers upon one of the richest families of Constantinople, when he marries their daughter!’
‘And perhaps,’ said the other, ‘you may look upon a beggarly vender of pipe-sticks in the light of a merchant, and think him worthy of any alliance!’
‘But Hajji, praise be to Allah! is a great merchant,’ said the uncle ironically: ‘his silks and velvets are now on their way to bring us lambskins from Bokhara; his shawls are travelling to us from Cashmere, and his ships are blackening the surface of the seas between China and Bassorah!’
‘And his parentage,’ continued his son in the same strain, ‘a barber’s son did you say? forbid it, Allah! No, no; he dates from the Koreish. He is not even the descendant, but, by the blessing of God, of the ancestry of the Prophet; and who can come in competition with a Mansouri Arab?’
‘What is all this?’ again and again did I exclaim, as I saw the storm gathering about my ears. ‘If you want to kill me, do so; but do not pull off my skin by inches.’
‘I tell you what is it, man without faith,’ said the stern man, who hitherto had remained immovable; ‘you are a wretch who deserves not to live! and if you do not immediately give up all pretensions to your wife, and leave this house and everything that belongs to it, without a moment’s delay, do you see those men’ (pointing to the two ruffians before mentioned); ‘they will just make your soul take leave of your body as easy as they would knock the tobacco out of their pipes. I have spoken, and you are master to act as you please.’
Then the whole of the assembly, as if excited by this speech, unloosed their tongues at once, and, without reserve of words or action, told me a great number of disagreeable truths.
This storm, which I permitted to rage without opening my lips, gave me time for reflection, and I determined to try what a little resistance would do.
‘And who are you,’ said I to the stern man, ‘who dares come into my house, and treat me as your dog? As for these,’ pointing to my wife’s relations, ‘the house is theirs, and they are welcome; but you, who are neither her father, her brother, nor her uncle, what have you to do here? I neither married your daughter, nor your sister, and therefore what can it be to you who I am?’
All this while he seemed swelling with rage. He and his ruffians were curling up their mustachios to the corners of their eyes, and eyeing me, as the lion does the hind, before he pounces upon it.
‘Who am I?’ said he with a voice of anger. ‘If you want to know, ask those who brought me here. I and my men act from authority, which if you dispute, it will be the worse for you.’
‘But,’ said I, softening my tone, for I now found that they were officers of the police, ‘but if you insist upon separating me from my wife, to whom I have been lawfully married, give me time to consult the men of the law. Every son of Islâm has the blessed Koran as his refuge, and ye would not be such infidels as to deprive me of that? Besides, I have not been told yet that she agrees to what you propose. She first sought me out; I did not seek her. She wooed me for my own sake, not for any worldly interest; and when I accepted her I knew her not, neither had I any tidings of either her wealth or her family. The whole has been the business of predestination, and if ye are Mussulmans, will ye dare to oppose that?’
‘As to the wishes of Shekerleb upon the subject,’ said the eldest brother, ‘make your mind easy. She desires a separation more even than we do.’
‘Yes, yes, in the name of the Prophet, yes, let him go in peace. For the sake of Allah, let us be free,’ and fifty other such exclamations, all at once struck my ear; and on looking to the door which led into the women’s apartments, from whence the sound came, I beheld my women veiled, headed by my wife, who had been conducted there on purpose to give evidence against me, and who all seemed possessed by so many evil spirits, shouting and wailing out their lamentations and entreaties for my dismissal, as if I were the wicked one in person to be exorcised from the house.
Finding that all was over with me, that it was in vain to contend against a power I could not withstand, stranger and unprotected as I was in a foreign land, I put the best face I could upon my forlorn situation, and getting up from my seat, I exclaimed, ‘If it is so, be it so. I neither want Shekerleb nor her money, nor her brothers, nor her uncle, nor anything that belongs to them, since they do not want me; but this I will say, that they have treated me in a manner unworthy of the creed and name of Mussulmans. Had I been a dog among the unbelievers, I should have been treated better. From the bottom of my heart I believe that the same punishment which shall be inflicted, on the last day, upon those who reject our Holy Prophet, shall be inflicted upon my oppressors.’ I then, with great emphasis, pronounced the following sentence against them, as near as my memory would serve me, from the blessed Koran:—‘They shall have garments of living fire, fitted tight upon them; boiling water shall be poured over them; their bowels and skins shall be dissolved, and, in this state, they be beaten with red hot maces of iron, and flogged with whips, whose lashes are made of lightnings, and the noise of which shall be claps of thunder.’
Upon this, roused and excited as I was with the speech I had made, I stood in the middle of the room, and divested myself of every part of my dress which had belonged to my wife, or which I might have purchased with her money. Throwing down every article from me, as if it had been abomination, and then calling for an old cloak which had originally belonged to me, I threw it over my shoulders and made my exit, denouncing a curse upon the staring assembly I left behind me.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:12