Chapter 8

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Alroy, Edited by Sheila A. Spector


Part VIII

Chapter 8

THE approaching marriage between the King of the Hebrews and the Princess of Bagdad was published throughout Asia. Preparations were made on the plain of the Tigris for the great rejoicing. Whole forests were felled to provide materials for the buildings and fuel for the banqueting. All the governors of provinces and cities, all the chief officers and nobility of both nations, were specially invited, and daily arrived in state at Bagdad. Among them the Viceroy of the Medes and Persians, and his recent bride, the Princess Miriam, were conspicuous, followed by a train of nearly ten thousand persons.

A throne, ascended by one hundred steps covered with crimson cloth, and crowned by a golden canopy, was raised in the middle of the plain; on each side was a throne less elevated, but equally gorgeous. In the front of these thrones an immense circus was described, formed by one hundred chartaks or amphitheatres, ample room for the attendance of the multitude being left between the buildings. These chartaks were covered with bright brocades and showy carpets; on each was hoisted a brilliant banner. In some of them were bands of choice musicians, in others companies of jugglers, buffoons, and storiers. Five chartaks on each side of the thrones were allotted for the convenience of the court; the rest were filled by the different trades of the city. In one the fruiterers had formed a beautiful garden, glowing with pomegranates, and gourds, and water-melons, oranges, almonds, and pistachio-nuts; in another the butchers exhibited their meats carved in fanciful shapes, and the skins of animals formed into ludicrous figures. Here assembled the furriers, all dressed in masquerade, like leopards, lions, tigers and foxes; and in another booth mustered the upholsterers, proud of a camel made of wood, and reeds, and cord, and painted linen, a camel which walked about as if alive, though ever and anon a curtain drawn aside discovered to the marvelling multitude the workman within, performing in his own piece. Further on might be perceived the cotton manufacturers, whose chartak was full of birds of all shapes and plumage, formed nevertheless of their curious plant; and, in the centre rose a lofty minaret, constructed of the same material, with the help of reeds, although every one imagined it to be built with bricks and mortar. It was covered with embroidered work, and on the top was placed a stork, so cunningly devised that the children pelted it with pistachio-nuts. The saddlers showed their skill in two litters, open at top, each carried on a dromedary, and in each a beautiful woman, who diverted the spectators with light balls of gilt leather, throwing them up both with their hands and feet. Nor were the matmakers backward in the proof of their dexterity, since, instead of a common banner, they exhibited a large standard of reeds worked with two lines of writing in Kufic,* proclaiming the happy names of Alroy and Schirene. But indeed in every chartak might be seen some wondrous specimens of the wealth of Bagdad, and of the ingenuity of its unrivalled artisans.

Around this mighty circus, on every side for the space of many miles, the plain was studded with innumerable pavilions. At measured intervals were tables furnished with every species of provision, and attended by appointed servants; flagons of wine and jars of sherbets, mingled with infinite baskets of delicious fruits and trays of refreshing confectionery. Although open to all comers, so great and rapid was the supply, that these banqueting tables seemed ever laden; and that the joys of the people might be complete, they were allowed to pursue whatever pleasures they thought fit without any restraint, by proclamation, in these terms.

‘THIS IS THE TIME OF FEASTING, PLEASURE, AND REJOICING. LET NO PERSON REPRIMAND OR COMPLAIN OF ANOTHER: LET NOT THE RICH INSULT THE POOR, OR THE STRONG THE WEAK: LET NO ONE ASK ANOTHER, “WHY HAVE YOU DONE THIS?”’

Millions of people were collected in this Paradise. They rejoiced, they feasted, they frolicked, they danced, they sang. They listened to the tales of the Arabian storier, at once enchanted and enchanting, or melted to the strain of the Persian poet, as he painted the moon-lit forehead of his heroine, and the wasting and shadowy form of his love-sick hero; they beheld with amazement the feats of the juggler of the Ganges, or giggled at the practised wit and the practical buffoonery of the Syrian mime. And the most delighted could still spare a fascinating glance to the inviting gestures and the voluptuous grace of the dancing girls of Egypt.68 Everywhere reigned melody and merriment, rarity and beauty. For once mankind forgot their cares, and delivered themselves up to infinite enjoyment.

‘I grow courteous,’ said Kisloch the Kourd, assisting a party into one of the shows.

‘And I humane,’ said Calidas the Indian. ‘Fellow, how dare you violate the proclamation, by thrashing that child?’ He turned to one of the stewards of the table, who was belabouring the unfortunate driver of a camel which had stumbled and in its fall had shivered its burden, two panniers* of porcelain.

‘Mind your own business, fellow,’ replied the steward, ‘and be thankful that for once in your life you can dine.’

‘Is this the way to speak to an officer?’ said Calidas the Indian; ‘I have half a mind to cut your tongue out.’

‘Never mind, little fellow,’ said the Guebre, ‘here is a dirhem for you. Run away and be merry.’

‘A miracle!’ grinned the Negro; ‘he giveth alms.’

‘And you are witty,’ rejoined the Guebre. ‘’Tis a wondrous day.’

‘What shall we do?’ said Kisloch.

‘Let us dine,’ proposed the Negro.

‘Ay! under this plane-tree,’* said Calidas. ‘’Tis pleasant to be alone. I hate everybody but ourselves.’

‘Here stop, you rascal,’ said the Guebre. ’What’s your name?’

‘I am a Hadgee,’ said our old friend Abdallah, the servant of the charitable merchant Ali, and who was this day one of the officiating stewards.

‘Are you a Jew, you scoundrel?’ said the Guebre, ‘that is the only thing worth being. Bring some wine, you accursed Giaour!’

‘Instantly,’ said Kisloch, ‘and a pilau.’

‘And a gazelle stuffed with almonds,’ said Calidas.

‘And some sugar-plums,’ said the Negro.

‘Quick, you infernal Gentile, or I’ll send this javelin in your back,’ hallooed the Guebre.

The servile Abdallah hastened away, and soon bustled back, bearing two flagons of wine, and followed by four servants, each with a tray covered with dainties.

‘Where are you going, you accursed scoundrels?’ grumbled Kisloch; ‘wait upon the true believers.’

‘We shall be more free alone,’ whispered Calidas.

‘Away, then, dogs,’ growled Kisloch.

Abdallah and his attendants hurried off, but were soon summoned back.

‘Why did you not bring Schiraz* wine?’ asked Calidas, with an eye of fire.

‘The pilau is overdone,’ thundered Kisloch.

‘You have brought a lamb stuffed with pistachio-nuts, instead of a gazelle with almonds,’ said the Guebre.

‘Not half sugar-plums enough,’ said the Negro.

‘Everything is wrong,’ said Kisloch. ’Go, and get us a Kabob.’

In time, however, even this unmanageable crew were satisfied; and, seated under their plane-tree, and stuffing themselves with all the dainties of the East, they became more amiable as their appetites decreased.

‘A bumper, Calidas, and a song,’ said Kisloch.

‘’Tis rare stuff,’ said the Guebre; ’come, Cally, it should inspire you.’

‘Here goes, then; mind the chorus.’

       THE SONG OF CALIDAS       

       Drink, drink, deeply drink,
       Never feel, and never think;
What’s love? what’s fame? a sigh, a smile.
       Friendship? but a hollow wile.
       If you’ve any thought or woe,
       Drown them in the goblet’s flow.
Yes! dash them in this brimming cup;
Dash them in, and drink them up.
       Drink, drink, deeply drink.
       Never feel, and never think.

‘Hark, the trumpets! The King and Queen! The procession is coming. Let’s away.’

‘Again! they must be near. Hurry, hurry, for good places.’

‘Break all the cups and dishes. Come along!’

The multitude from all quarters hurried to the great circus, amid the clash of ten thousand cymbals and the blast of innumerable trumpets. In the distance, issuing from the gates of Bagdad, might be discerned a brilliant crowd, the advance company of the bridal procession.

There came five hundred maidens crowned with flowers, and beauteous as the buds that girt their hair. Their flowing robes were whiter than the swan, and each within her hand a palm-branch held. Followed these a band of bright musicians, clothed in golden robes, and sounding silver trumpets.

Then five hundred youths, brilliant as stars, clad in jackets of white fox-skin, and alternately bearing baskets of fruit or flowers. Followed these a band of bright musicians, clothed in silver robes, and sounding golden trumpets.

Six choice steeds, sumptuously caparisoned, each led by an Arab groom.69

The household of Medad, in robes of crimson, lined with sable.

The standard of Medad.

Medad, on a coal-black Arab, followed by three hundred officers of his division, all mounted on steeds of pure race.

Slaves, bearing the bridal present of Medad; six Damascus sabres of unrivalled temper.70

Twelve choice steeds, sumptuously caparisoned, each led by an Anatolian groom.

The household of Ithamar, in robes of violet, lined with ermine. The standard of Ithamar.

Ithamar, on a snow-white Anatolian charger, followed by six hundred officers of his division, all mounted on steeds of pure race.

Slaves bearing the marriage present of Ithamar; a golden vase of rubies borne on a violet throne.

One hundred Negroes, their noses bored, and hung with rings of brilliants, playing upon wind instruments and kettle-drums.

The standard of the City of Bagdad.

The deputation from the citizens of Bagdad.

Two hundred mules, with caparisons of satin, embroidered with gold, and adorned with small golden bells. These bore the sumptuous wardrobe, presented by the city to their princess. Each mule was attended, by a girl, dressed like a Peri,* with starry wings, and a man, masked as a hideous Dive.

The standard of Egypt.

The deputation from the Hebrews of Egypt, mounted on dromedaries with silver furniture.

Fifty slaves, bearing their present to the princess, with golden cords, a mighty bath of jasper, beautifully carved, the sarcophagus of some ancient temple, and purchased for an immense sum.

The standard of Syria.

The deputation from the Hebrews of the Holy Land, headed by Rabbi Zimri himself, each carrying in his hand his offering to the nuptial pair, a precious vase, containing earth from the Mount of Sion.

The standard of Hamadan.

The deputation from the citizens of Hamadan, headed by the venerable Bostenay himself, whose sumptuous charger was led by Caleb.

The present of the city of Hamadan to David Alroy, offered at his own suggestion; the cup in which the Prince of the Captivity carried his tribute, now borne full of sand.

Fifty choice steeds, sumptuously caparisoned, each led by a Median or Persian groom.

The household of Abner and Miriam, in number twelve hundred, clad in chain armour of ivory and gold.

The standard of the Medes and Persians.

Two white elephants, with golden litters, bearing the Viceroy and his Princess.

The offering of Abner to Alroy; twelve elephants of state, with furniture embroidered with jewels, each tended by an Indian clad in chain armour of ivory and gold.

The offering of Miriam to Schirene; fifty plants of roses from Rocnabad;71 a white shawl of Cashmere fifty feet in length, which folded into the handle of a fan; fifty screens, each made of a feather of the roc;72 and fifty vases of crystal full of exquisite perfumes, and each sealed with a talisman of precious stones.

After these followed the eunuch guard.

Then came the band of the serail, consisting of three hundred dwarfs, hideous indeed to behold, but the most complete musicians in the world.

The steeds of Solomon, in number one hundred, each with a natural star upon its front, uncaparisoned, and led only by a bridle of diamonds.

The household of Alroy and Schirene. Foremost, the Lord Honain riding upon a chestnut charger, shod with silver; the dress of the rider, pink with silver stars. From his rosy turban depended a tremulous aigrette of brilliants,73 blazing with a thousand shifting tints.

Two hundred pages followed him; and then servants of both sexes, gorgeously habited, amounting to nearly two thousand, carrying rich vases, magnificent caskets, and costly robes. The treasurer and two hundred of his underlings came next, showering golden dirhems on all sides.

The sceptre of Solomon borne by Asriel himself.

A magnificent and lofty car, formed of blue enamel with golden wheels, and axletrees of turquoises and brilliants, and drawn by twelve snow-white and sacred horses, four abreast; in the car Alroy and Schirene.

Five thousand of the sacred guard closed the procession.

Amid the exclamations of the people, this gorgeous procession crossed the plain, and moved around the mighty circus. The conqueror and his bride ascended their throne; its steps were covered by the youths and maidens. On the throne upon their right sat the venerable Bostenay; on the left, the gallant Viceroy and his Princess. The chartaks on each side were crowded with the court.

The deputations made their offerings, the chiefs and captains paid their homage, the trades of the city moved before the throne in order, and exhibited their various ingenuity. Thrice was the proclamation made, amid the sound of trumpets, and then began the games.

A thousand horsemen dashed into the arena and threw the jerreed. They galloped at full speed; they arrested their fiery charges in mid course, and flung their long javelins at the minute but sparkling target, the imitative form of a rare and brilliant bird. The conquerors received their prizes from the hand of the princess herself, bright shawls, and jewelled daggers, and rosaries of gems. Sometimes the trumpets announced a prize from the vice-queen, sometimes from the venerable Bostenay, sometimes from the victorious generals, or the loyal deputations, sometimes from the united trades, sometimes from the city of Bagdad, sometimes from the city of Hamadan. The hours flew away in gorgeous and ceaseless variety.

‘I would we were alone, my own Schirene,’ said Alroy to his bride.

‘I would so too; and yet I love to see all Asia prostrate at the feet of Alroy.’

‘Will the sun never set? Give me thy hand to play with.’

‘Hush! See Miriam smiles.’

‘Lovest thou my sister, my own Schirene?’

‘None dearer but thyself.’

‘Talk not of my sister, but ourselves. Thinkest thou the sun is nearer setting, love?’

‘I cannot see; thine eyes they dazzle me, they are so brilliant, sweet!’

‘O! my soul, I could pour out my passion on thy breast.’

‘Thou art very serious.’

‘Love is ever so.’

‘Nay, sweet! It makes me wild and fanciful. Now I could do such things, but what I know not. I would we had wings, and then we would fly away.’

‘See, I must salute this victor in the games. Must I unloose thy hand! Dear hand, farewell! Think of me while I speak, my precious life. ’Tis done. Give back thy hand, or else methinks I shall die. What’s this?’

A horseman, in no holiday dress, but covered with dust, rushed into the circus, bearing in his hand a tall lance, on which was fixed a scroll. The marshals of the games endeavoured to prevent his advance, but he would not be stayed. His message was to the king alone. A rumour of news from the army circulated throughout the crowd. And news from the army it was. Another victory! Scherirah had defeated the Sultan of Roum, who was now a suppliant for peace and alliance. Sooth to say, the intelligence had arrived at dawn of day, but the courtly Honain had contrived that it should be communicated at a later and more effective moment.

There scarcely needed this additional excitement to this glorious day. But the people cheered, the golden dirhems were scattered with renewed profusion, and the intelligence was received by all parties as a solemn ratification by Jehovah, or by Allah, of the morning ceremony.

The sun set, the court rose, and returned in the same pomp to the serail. The twilight died away, a beacon fired on a distant eminence announced the entrance of Alroy and Schirene into the nuptial chamber, and suddenly, as by magic, the mighty city, every mosque, and minaret, and tower, and terrace, and the universal plain, and the numberless pavilions, and the immense circus, and the vast and winding river, blazed with light. From every spot a lamp, a torch, a lantern, tinted with every hue, burst forth; enormous cressets of silver radiancy beamed on the top of each chartak, and huge bonfires of ruddy flame started up along the whole horizon.

For seven days and seven nights this unparalleled scene of rejoicing, though ever various, never ceased. Long, long was remembered the bridal feast of the Hebrew prince and the caliph’s daughter; long, long did the peasantry on the plains of Tigris sit down by the side of that starry river, and tell the wondrous tale to their marvelling posterity.

Now what a glorious man was David Alroy, lord of the mightiest empire in the world, and wedded to the most beautiful princess, surrounded by a prosperous and obedient people, guarded by invincible armies, one on whom Earth showered all its fortune, and Heaven all its favour; and all by the power of his own genius!

Published @ RC

January 2005

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