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Alroy, Edited by Sheila A. Spector


Part V

Chapter 2

THE great bazaar of Bagdad afforded an animated and sumptuous spectacle on the day after the arrival of the caravan. All the rare and costly products of the world were collected in that celebrated mart: the shawls of Cashmere and the silks of Syria, the ivory, and plumes, and gold of Afric, the jewels of Ind, the talismans of Egypt, the perfumes and manuscripts of Persia, the spices and gums of Araby, beautiful horses, more beautiful slaves, cloaks of sable, pelisses of ermine, armour alike magnificent in ornament and temper, rare animals, still rarer birds, blue apes in silver collars, white gazelles bound by a golden chain, greyhounds, peacocks, paroquets. And everywhere strange, and busy, and excited groups; men of all nations, creeds, and climes: the sumptuous and haughty Turk, the graceful and subtle Arab, the Hebrew with his black cap and anxious countenance; the Armenian Christian, with his dark flowing robes, and mild demeanour, and serene visage. Here strutted the lively, affected, and superfine Persian; and there the Circassian* with his long hair and chain cuirass. The fair Georgian jostled the ebony form of the merchant of Dongola* or Sennaar.*

Through the long, narrow, arched, and winding streets of the bazaar, lined on each side with loaded stalls, all was bustle, bargaining, and barter. A passenger approached, apparently of no common rank. Two pages preceded him, beautiful Georgian boys, clothed in crimson cloth, and caps of the same material, sitting tight to their heads, with long golden tassels. One bore a blue velvet bag, and the other a clasped and richly bound volume. Four footmen, armed, followed their master, who rode behind the pages on a milk-white mule. He was a man of middle age, eminently handsome. His ample robes concealed the only fault in his appearance, a figure which indulgence had rendered somewhat too exuberant. His eyes were large, and soft, and dark; his nose aquiline, but delicately moulded; his mouth small, and beautifully proportioned; his lip full and red; his teeth regular and dazzling white. His ebony beard flowed, but not at too great a length, in graceful and natural curls, and was richly perfumed; a delicate mustachio shaded his upper lip, but no whisker was permitted to screen the form and shroud the lustre of his oval countenance and brilliant complexion. Altogether, the animal perhaps predominated too much in the expression of the stranger’s countenance; but genius beamed from his passionate eye, and craft lay concealed in that subtle lip. The dress of the rider was sumptuous. His turban, formed by a scarlet Cashmere shawl, was of great breadth, and, concealing half of his white forehead, increased by the contrast the radiant height of the other. His under-vest was of white Damascus silk, stiff with silver embroidery, and confined by a girdle formed by a Brusa* scarf of gold stuff, and holding a dagger, whose hilt appeared blazing with brilliants and rubies. His loose and exterior robe was of crimson cloth. His white hands sparkled with rings, and his ears glittered with pendulous gems.

‘Who is this?’ asked an Egyptian merchant, in a low whisper, of the dealer whose stuffs he was examining.

‘’Tis the Lord Honain,’* replied the dealer.

‘And who may he be?’ continued the Egyptian. ‘Is he the Caliph’s son?’

‘A much greater man; his physician.’

The white mule stopped at the very stall where this conversation was taking place. The pages halted, and stood on each side of their master, the footmen kept off the crowd.

‘Merchant,’ said Honain, with a gracious smile of condescension, and with a voice musical as a flute, ‘Merchant, did you obtain me my wish?’

‘There is but one God,’ replied the dealer, who was the charitable Ali, ‘and Mahomed is his Prophet. I succeeded, please your highness, in seeing at Aleppo the accursed Giaour, of whom I spoke, and behold, that which you desired is here.’ So saying, Ali produced several Greek manuscripts, and offered them to his visitor.

‘Hah!’ said Honain, with a sparkling eye, ‘’tis well; their cost?’

‘The infidel would not part with them under five hundred dirhems,’ replied Ali.

‘Ibrahim, see that this worthy merchant receive a thousand.’

‘As many thanks, my Lord Honain.’

The Caliph’s physician bowed gracefully.

‘Advance, pages,’ continued Honain; ‘why this stoppage? Ibrahim, see that our way be cleared. What is all this?’

A crowd of men advanced, pulling along a youth, who, almost exhausted, still singly struggled with his ungenerous adversaries.

‘The Cadi, the Cadi,’ cried the foremost of them, who was Abdallah, ‘drag him to the Cadi.’

‘Noble lord,’ cried the youth, extricating himself by a sudden struggle from the grasp of his captors, and seizing the robe of Honain, ‘I am innocent and injured. I pray thy help.’

‘The Cadi, the Cadi,’ exclaimed Abdallah; ‘the knave has stolen my ring, the ring given me by my faithful Fatima* on our marriage-day, and which I would not part with for my master’s stores.’

The youth still clung to the robe of Honain, and, mute from exhaustion, fixed upon him his beautiful and imploring eye.

‘Silence,’ proclaimed Honain, ‘I will judge this cause.’

‘The Lord Honain, the Lord Honain, listen to the Lord Honain!’

‘Speak, thou brawler; of what hast thou to complain?’ said Honain to Abdallah.

‘May it please your highness,’ said Abdallah, in a whining voice, ‘I am the slave of your faithful servant, Ali: often have I had the honour of waiting on your highness. This young knave here, a beggar, has robbed me, while slumbering in a coffee-house, of a ring; I have my witnesses to prove my slumbering. ’Tis a fine emerald, may it please your highness, and doubly valuable to me as a love-token from my Fatima. No consideration in the world could induce me to part with it; and so, being asleep, here are three honest men who will prove the sleep, comes this little vagabond, may it please your highness, who while he pretends to offer me my coffee, takes him my finger, and slips off this precious ring, which he now wears upon his beggarly paw, and will not restore to me without the bastinado.’

‘Abdallah is a faithful slave, may it please your highness, and a Hadgee,’* said Ali, his master.

‘And what sayest thou, boy?’ inquired Honain.

‘'That this is a false knave, who lies as slaves ever will.’

‘Pithy, and perhaps true,’ said Honain.

‘You call me a slave, you young scoundrel?’ exclaimed Abdallah; ‘shall I tell you what you are? Why, your highness, do not listen to him a moment. It is a shame to bring such a creature into your presence; for, by the holy stone, and I am a Hadgee, I doubt little he is a Jew.’

Honain grew somewhat pale, and bit his lip. He was perhaps annoyed that he had interfered so publicly in behalf of so unpopular a character as a Hebrew, but he was unwilling to desert one whom a moment before he had resolved to befriend, and he inquired of the youth where he had obtained the ring

‘The ring was given to me by my dearest friend when I first set out upon an arduous pilgrimage not yet completed. There is but one person in the world, except the donor, to whom I would part with it, and with that person I am unacquainted. All this may seem improbable, but all this is true. I have truth alone to support me. I am destitute and friendless; but I am not a beggar, nor will any suffering induce me to become one. Feeling, from various circumstances, utterly exhausted, I entered a coffee-house and lay down, it may have been to die. I could not sleep, although my eyes were shut, and nothing would have roused me from a tremulous trance, which I thought was dying, but this plunderer here, who would not wait until death had permitted him quietly to possess himself of a jewel I value more than life.’

‘Show me the jewel.’

The youth held up his hand to Honain, who felt his pulse, and then took off the ring.

‘O, my Fatima!’ exclaimed Abdallah.

‘Silence, sir!’ said Honain. ‘Page, call a jeweller.’

Honain examined the ring attentively. Whether he were near-sighted, or whether the deceptive light of the covered bazaar prevented him from examining it with ease, he certainly raised his hand to his brow, and for some moments his countenance was invisible.

The jeweller arrived, and, pressing his hand to his heart, bowed before Honain. ‘Value this ring,’ said Honain, in a low voice.

The jeweller took the ring, viewed it in all directions with a scrutinising glance, held it to the light, pressed it to his tongue, turned it over and over, and finally declared that he could not sell such a ring under a thousand dirhems.

‘Whatever be the justice of the case,’ said Honain to Abdallah, ‘art thou ready to part with this ring for a thousand dirhems?’

‘Most certainly,’ said Abdallah.

‘And thou, lad, if the decision be in thy favour, wilt thou take for the ring double the worth at which the jeweller prizes it?’

‘My lord, I have spoken the truth. I cannot part with that ring for the palace of the Caliph.’

‘The truth for once is triumphant,’ said Honain. ‘Boy, the ring is thine; and for thee, thou knave,’ turning to Abdallah, ‘liar, thief, and slanderer!—for thee the bastinado,21 which thou destinedst for this innocent youth. Ibrahim, see that he receives five hundred. Young pilgrim, thou art no longer destitute or friendless. Follow me to my palace.'

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Published @ RC

January 2005

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