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   Chapter 5 PERSECUTION.

Mohammed Ali and His House By L. Muhlbach Characters: 26718

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:02


An hour had scarcely elapsed since Youssouf's departure when two of her maids rushed into Sitta Nefysseh's presence with anxious looks. She lay on the divan, her countenance entirely concealed, to hide her tear-stained features. She remained still, endeavoring to recover her composure. The women came nearer.

"Mistress, some one is here who wishes to speak with Sitta

Nefysseh."

"Well, what is it that alarms you so?" said she, raising her head slightly, and looking at them. "Who is it that wishes to speak with me?"

"O mistress," murmured one of them, "it is the cadi with four of the police."

Sitta Nefysseh sprang to her feet.

"What say you? The chief of the police dares to enter my house! What does he want ?"

"He says he comes at the instance of his highness the viceroy."

"If that is the case," said Sitta Nefysseh, quietly, "let him enter." One of the women opened the door, and the cadi, the chief of police, appeared on the threshold; behind him stood four policement with pistols and daggers in their belts, their hands on their swords.

"Were my women right? " asked Sitta Nefysseh, with dignity. "You come in the name of his highness the viceroy?"

"Yes," replied the cadi, with a slight bow. "Yes, I come in his highness's name. The viceroy commands that Mourad Bey's widow accompany me at once to his presence, to the citadel."

"And with what right?" asked she quietly.

"I know not and care not," said the official, with an air of indifference; "here is the order." He drew from his pocket a document, to which large seals were appended, and handed it to her. Sitta Nefysseh looked at it, and returned it with perfect composure.

"You are right, it is the viceroy's order. I will obey. Order the carriage to be driven to the door."

She said this in such imperious tones that the cadi, at other times a proud man, and a high dignitary of the viceroy's court, could not but obey her, and stepped out and delivered her command to one of his officers. He then returned to Sitta Nefysseh.

"I have orders to leave a guard in your house," said he.

"Then do so," said she, quietly. "The viceroy is master over us all, and it seems there is no law here in Cairo but his will. Obey him, therefore. Leave a guard in my house."

He seemed not to notice the mockery in her words, and bowed in silence.

"No one may enter or leave your house during your absence."

"Why do you say this to me? Say it to those who may desire to leave it after I have gone, and who may be alarmed. I am not alarmed; my conscience does not accuse me. My carriage is ready-let us go. I trust, however, that the viceroy does not require me to appear before him alone; it is becoming that Mourad's Bey's widow should be accompanied by her women when she goes out."

"I am not instructed to refuse such a request; yet, there must not be more of them than your carriage will contain."

"Two of my servants will accompany me," said she. Without once looking back into the room, or manifesting any fear or anxiety whatever, she stepped out into the vestibule, and, beckoning to two of the weeping women who had assembled about her, commanded them to follow her. "You others need fear nothing," said she with perfect composure. "The cadi leaves his guards here to protect you, against whom I know not, but certainly against someone." Taking leave of her servants with a kindly nod, and drawing her veil more closely about her, she walked proudly out into the court-yard to the carriage.

Almost ashamed of his errand, the cadi followed and assisted her in entering the carriage, closing the door after her. The carriage drove off rapidly, accompanied by the cadi and his officers, while another body of men remained in charge of the house.

Sitta Nefysseh leaned back against the cushions while the carriage rolled through the streets, her thoughts far distant from her present surroundings.

"I thank thee, Allah, that he is saved!" she murmured to herself. "I thank thee! He would have been excited to ungovernable wrath, and he would have been punished and imprisoned as a rebel. I have saved him! What have I now to fear? Let the worst befall, provided only that he be safe!"

The carriage moved slowly up the Muskj Street, through dense crowds of people. It was market day, and the street was thronged with people, who complained so loudly of the intruding carriage and horsemen that Sitta Nefysseh, aroused from her meditations, leaned forward and drew the window curtains aside. The people, who in their wrath had not observed that the cadi and his officers constituted the escort of the carriage, now became silent as they saw the woman at the window, and peered in with curiosity.

Sitta Nefysseh raised her veil and displayed her countenance to the multitude. "It is Sitta Nefysseh, Mourad Bey's widow!" resounded in the street. The cry was repeated until the gaze of all became fixed on the carriage in astonishment. "What does it mean?"

Buying and selling were no longer thought of. The people followed the carriage, which moved slowly through the crowded street toward the viceroy's citadel, in dense masses. It was in vain that the cadi ordered them to disperse; in vain that the officers threatened them with drawn swords. They only pressed on in denser masses, increased by the people who came Rocking from their houses to see Mourad Bey's widow, who sat tranquilly in the carriage with her two women. Their destination was at last reached, and the gates of the citadel closed behind them. The people who had accompanied the carriage remained without, yelling and shrieking: "Sitta Nefysseh is imprisoned-let us liberate her!"

Sitta Nefysseh had left her carriage, and was now following the cadi, who walked in advance. Behind her came the two women, followed by the officers. Thus the procession moved in profound silence up the broad stairway and into the grand reception saloon.

"Be kind enough to wait here a moment," said the cadi.

He walked into the neat apartment. Sitta Nefysseh, who had again covered her face with her veil, stood proudly erect in the midst of the saloon. The two weeping women stepped nearer to their mistress, and asked if danger threatened her, and begged to be permitted to accompany her everywhere.

"Be still!" said Sitta, in low tones. "Shed no tears. These men must not have the satisfaction of seeing us appear cowardly and weak."

The cadi now returned and stood at the threshold, holding the velvet curtain aside.

"Be kind enough to enter, Sitta Nefysseh."

"Not alone. My women will accompany me."

"No, they are to remain here. You alone are to enter. The women will await your return here."

Sitta Nefysseh walked proudly into the next apartment. The curtain fell back behind her. Cousrouf, who lay stretched out on his silken cushions, smoking his chibouque, looked up at her through the clouds of smoke that enveloped him as she entered the room. She looked at him composedly, and remained standing at the door with so proud and dignified a bearing, such majesty in her whole appearance, that Cousrouf's insolence could not but succumb. He arose and advanced to meet her.

"I salute you, Sitta Nefysseh, widow of Mourad Bey!"

"I do not return your salutation. I have been conducted here from my house in an insulting manner, and I am now surprised to find that his highness seems only to have had me brought here in order to salute me."

"I did not call you in order to salute you, but for an entirely different purpose," replied Cousrouf. "Seat yourself on the ottoman beside me, and let us converse."

"Converse, highness? Friends and confidants sit down to converse with each other, but unfortunately we are neither," replied she, composedly, as she seated herself on the ottoman with the dignity of a princess. Cousrouf remaining standing, Sitta Nefysseh raised her hand and pointed to the divan. "To the viceroy belongs the seat of honor. I beg your highness to take that seat."

He bowed slightly, and took the seat assigned him.

"I wished to beg Sitta Nefysseh's permission to seat myself at her side,to converse with her as a friend. You do not desire it, however-you wish to see in me the prince only. Let it be so. I am only the viceroy, and I have summoned you to appear before me."

"Summoned, you call it?" cried she, passionately. "I call it being dragged here in a disgraceful manner!"

"Compose yourself, Sitta Nefysseh; let us converse calmly. I have grave reproaches to make."

"Against me?" asked she, in astonishment.

"Yes, serious, grave reproaches! You are of the opinion, are you not, that every mistress is responsible for the actions of her servants?"

"I am, because, if one has bad and faithless servants, he should discharge them. Yes, it seems to me a master is responsible for his servants' actions."

"And therefore, have I summoned you to this audience. Do you know what your kachef Youssouf has done?"

Sitta Nefysseh trembled. It was fortunate that her veil concealed her features, and that Cousrouf could not see the deathly pallor that overspread her cheeks.

"My kachef?" said she, with forced composure. "Of what is he accused?"

"He is accused of attempting to bribe my soldiers, and incite them to revolt and treason."

"That is not true!" exclaimed she, passionately. "That is a falsehood, and I tell you so to your face! My words are true. My kachef has never done such things; he is incapable of inciting any one to a breach of faith or to treason. He is the truest and best of my servants."

"And yet it is true. Your kachef has incited my soldiers to treason. The viceroy says it is true!" cried Cousrouf. "Youssouf attempted to corrupt one of my own soldiers, an Armenian, urging him to go over to Osman Bardissi. When the soldier refused, he promised to give him the same pay he now receives from me."

"Highness, that is not true, I swear it is not!"

"Here is the proof!" answered Cousrouf, rising to his feet and taking from the table a paper, which he unfolded. "Here is the proof! Here it is, plainly written in his own handwriting! Herein your kachef Youssouf promises my soldier, Sadok Aga, to give him his whole pay, and even double the amount, if he will undertake to ride to Bardissi's camp and convey a letter to the bey. Here it is in his own handwriting, and signed by him."

"Highness, I beg you to let me see the writing," said Nefysseh, extending her hand to take the paper. "Let me see it; I can read."

Cousrouf did not comply with her request. He folded the paper, and laid it on the table again.

"It is unnecessary that you should read it. I insist that your kachef endeavors to corrupt my soldiers and induce them to desert to Bardissi's camp. This is clearly treason. As you yourself admit that a mistress is responsible for her servant's actions, I declare and shall hold you, Sitta Nefysseh, responsible for your servant's crime."

"That you cannot do, highness! Youssouf is no longer my servant, is no longer in my house. I have discharged him, not because I thought ill of him, not because I desired to punish him, but because I esteem him, because I know he was created for something better than to be only the servant of a woman. I discharged him because his courage and nobility of soul urged him to draw the sword and go out to battle. He has gone to Bardissi's camp to serve in the ranks of his Mamelukes."

"That is to say," cried Cousrouf, in angry tones-"that is to say, Sitta Nefysseh, Mourad Bey's widow raises soldiers in her house for the army of our enemy!"

"Could your highness expect Mourad Bey's-the Mameluke chieftain's- widow to raise soldiers for the enemies of her deceased husband?" asked she, throwing her head back proudly. "Yet let me remark this: my expression was badly chosen. Sitta Nefysseh does not occupy herself with raising soldiers. Youssouf was brought up by my husband, and has remained in my house these few years since his death. He had grown weary of the effeminate life he was leading, and begged to be discharged from my service. I did as he requested. I am not his mother, not his sister, and not his relative. He is a freeman, and puts his freedom to the best use. But I tell you that he is not guilty of the charge you make against him-he never wrote that paper. And do you know why not, Cousrouf? Because he does not know how to write. He is a warrior, and only knows how to write indelible characters on the faces of his enemies with his sword; and, believe me, I should recognize these characters if they were inscribed on your face-I should recognize the handwriting of my kachef; but the characters on that paper are not his."

"Truly, Sitta Nefysseh, your audacity is great!" cried Cousrouf.

"But, it seems to me, yours is far greater; forgive me for saying so, highness. Man and woman we stand before each other, and you have publicly branded the woman, who is conscious of no shame, with disgrace."

"How can you make such a charge against me? What is it that I have done? You yourself acknowledge that the master is justly responsible for his servants' actions, and I repeat it: your kachef has endeavored to draw my soldiers from their allegiance, to corrupt them. I have accused you of nothing else."

"Yes, you have more than accused me of othe

r crimes!" cried she, throwing back her veil, her eyes sparkling with indignation. "Look at me! In me, you have put the woman, put Mourad Bey's widow to shame. You have caused me to be brought from my house by policemen. That is to say, you have insulted, in me, womanly virtue and honor!"

"How so?" asked Cousrouf, in astonishment.

"Do you know so little of the customs of our land? You, the Viceroy of Egypt, do not know that, when women are led through the street by the police, it is equivalent to branding them as lost to all shame; that they are delivered over to the police to be punished by being conducted through the public streets, to the disgrace of their entire sex!"

"You go too far," replied the viceroy. "I did cause you to be conducted here. I sent to you one of the first dignitaries of my court, the cadi; I did this to honor you. To be thus conducted by the cadi through the street is not disgraceful, as in the case of the women you speak of. In your own carriage you were escorted by the cadi and his servants, and your good name and honor, which I respect in common with all the world, cannot have suffered thereby. Yet your conduct has been culpable, you are responsible for your kachef's deeds; and through him I accuse you of treason, and you, Nefysseh, must suffer for your servant's crime."

"Then, take my life, if that will benefit you," said she, quietly. "I have nothing to give you but that. If you take my life, you will be accused of murder, and, believe, this accusation will be heard by all Cairo. I have nothing more to say. Deal with me as you think proper."

"You challenge my enmity, you shall have it! It were wise on your part to beg me to pardon Youssouf, to withdraw the accusation, and to declare yourself ready to pay the required sum to my soldiers."

"Where is Mourad Bey's widow to obtain the money? Your men have remained in my house, let them search for treasure there. Let them take what they find. Mourad's widow is poor, and your endeavor is vain. You will find nothing of value in my house; long wars have made Mourad's widow poor. And, if I had money, I would rather cast it into the Nile, than to give it to the enemies of my husband!-Now I have spoken and relieved my heart. Now do with me as you think proper, Cousrouf. This I will, however, repeat, my kachef Youssouf did not write the characters on that paper. He is not capable of corrupting men from their allegiance. Do you desire my life? If so, take it! But if you venture to do so, prepare yourself to meet all Cairo in insurrection. Allah is just! You will then see all Cairo, held by you in fetters until now, rise up and burst its bonds, and shake its mane in lion-like wrath."

"We shall see if our lion really rises in its wrath, when I, as I am in duty bound, do justice to those who have done wrong and committed crimes!"

He arose from his divan, stepped to the door, and called one of his servants. In answer to his call, a servant hastened into the room.

"Conduct Sitta Nefysseh to the house of Sheik Hesseyni, who lives in the old citadel; tell him to guard her well, and not to allow any one to see her."

"Tell him, cadi," said Nefysseh, quietly, "tell him to guard me as every jailor guards his prisoner; that is the true meaning of the viceroy's words. Farewell, Cousrouf-I am going to my prison! May your conscience reproach you as little as mine does me! Farewell!"

She drew her veil over her countenance, and slowly left the apartment. At the door sat her two women weeping and sobbing. She commanded them to follow her, and walked on as composedly as if she were the princess of this palace. She swept down the marble stairway to her carriage, as if about to take a drive.

"Sitta Nefysseh, it will not be necessary to enter your carriage," said the cadi, who had followed her. "We shall only have to pass through that little side-door to be in the sheik's house."

"Ah, you desire to prevent the people, who are calling so loudly after me, from seeing me in my degradation, or rather the degradation of those who tread law and propriety under foot in their treatment of me."

"Sitta Nefysseh, I know nothing of the charges made against you," replied the cadi, gruffly. "I obey the orders of the viceroy; the rest does not concern me."

"That is certainly the most convenient course," said she, derisively, and quietly submitting when he took hold of her arm and led her across the court to the little gate in the wall. The women followed her. Their tears no longer flowed, and they seemed to consider themselves happy in being at least allowed to accompany their mistress.

Dense masses of people still stood without. They called loudly for Sitta Nefysseh, swearing by Allah that they would not leave until she should be released. But what can the poor, defenceless people do when confronted by armed soldiers, ready to fire destructive volleys among them? What can they do but sullenly retire under such circumstances? This they now did. About the citadel quiet now reigned, but the streets below were still thronged with dense crowds, from out whose midst the cries continually resounded: "Sitta Nefysseh has been arrested! She has been shamefully conducted through the streets to the citadel by the police! She has been publicly insulted! She, the noblest of women, is accused of a great crime!"

When night came, the excitement and fury of the populace had not yet subsided. Early on the morning of the following day, dense masses of people surged to the house where Hesseyni, the chief sheik of the city, resided, and demanded with loud clamors that he should liberate Sitta Nefysseh.

The sheik had given serious consideration to this difficult and embarrassing case, and, before the people forced an entrance, had already determined to comply with their demands.

In solemn procession, their green turbans on their heads, and enveloped in their long flowing caftans, with their costly ermine collars, the entire body of sheiks repaired on foot to the palace. With grave and solemn bearing, these representatives of public justice demanded that they should be conducted to the viceroy's presence.

He received them in his apartment, advancing to meet them with a kindly greeting.

"What do you desire, friends? You know I am always glad to hear the wishes of the people as pronounced by you, their representatives."

"Then listen to these wishes, highness!" said one of the sheiks. "The people, and we with them, desire that Sitta Nefysseh, who was yesterday forcibly taken from her house, be permitted to return to the same. Her house has been shamefully ill-used, Cousrouf Pacha! Your police have treated it like the house of an enemy. Nothing has remained in its place; every thing is overturned and thrown about. They were looking for treasure, highness, and they found nothing. Sitta Nefysseh was considered rich, and that was perhaps her crime; or will your highness be kind enough to inform us if Sitta Nefysseh is accused of any other crime!"

"She is," replied Cousrouf. "She is accused of the most shameful of all crimes. Her kachef attempted to corrupt one of my soldiers, offering him double pay if he would desert to the army of the rebellious Mamelukes."

"Is that proven, highness ?" asked the sheik.

"It is proven! I possess written proof of the fact. Here it is; read it for yourselves. This attempt has excited the just wrath of my good soldiers. Believe it was in order to protect Sitta Nefysseh from the fury of my soldiers that I called her here. I repeat it, Sitta Nefysseh, Mourad Bey's widow, has endeavored to corrupt, and has offered my soldiers double pay. She is now in my power, and I will punish her; yet, I will be merciful on your account. Let her do as she offered-let her give my soldiers their pay, and her offence shall be overlooked this time."

"That would be a punishment not prescribed by law," replied the sheik, quietly. "If Sitta Nefysseh is really guilty of the crime of which you accuse her, she is indeed very culpable, highness; but she can not atone for it with money. Her guilt must, however, be proven; and it devolves upon us, the representatives of public justice, to consider and determine whether Sitta Nefysseh is guilty or not."

"Does not my word suffice?" cried Cousrouf, passionately. "I tell you that she is guilty, that I have proof of her guilt, and I declare that this suffices. I repeat what I have said, if she pays my soldiers she is free."

"That does not suffice!" replied the sheik. "We must first know whether Sitta Nefysseh confesses herself guilty. In accordance with the law and with your permission, highness, let two of the sheiks go to Sitta Nefysseh and ask her if she confesses herself guilty; and, further, what she has to say in her defence. This is just, and this must be done."

"Do as you say. Go to her. But her own declaration of her innocence will not suffice for me. She must have as much proof of her innocence as I have of her guilt. Go to Sitta Nefysseh. You will find her in the house of Sheik Hesseyni."

With a profound bow the sheiks withdrew from the viceroy's apartment and repaired to the house of Sheik Hesseyni.

Sitta Nefysseh greeted the cadis and sheiks with profound deference and perfect composure.

"I see," said she, gently, "you believe in my innocence, and know that Sitta Nefysseh is guilty of no crime, and has been unjustly covered with shame."

"We well know that you have committed no crime," said the sheik. "The viceroy, however, accuses you of having attempted to corrupt his soldiers through your kachef; tell us, is this true?"

"You well know that it is not true! Why should I do it, and how could I be so foolish as to attempt such a thing? I give you my word, I swear by the memory of Mourad Bey, I am innocent of the crime of which I am accused. I have not attempted to corrupt the soldiers of Cousrouf Pacha, nor have I authorized my kachef to do so. Believe me, I speak the truth. But, tell me, was that all the viceroy said? I think I see through his plans, and understand this accusation. Did he not name the punishment he intended to inflict on me?"

"He did. You are to he set at liberty as soon as you pay his soldiers-what he maintains you promised-their double pay."

"Is it not as I said?" cried she, in derisive tones. "Cousrouf Pacha wants money! He has heard stories of my wealth, and believes me rich; and now, relying on a woman's timidity, he endeavors to extort money from me. He wants money, and therefore makes this shameful charge. Go, I beg you, to the viceroy, and tell him Mourad's widow is poor, and has nothing with which to appease his rapacity. Let him take my life if he will. I am innocent, and if be causes me to be put to death, I shall charge him with murder at Allah's footstool! I have nothing else to give him. Let him deal with me as he thinks proper."

"We will tell him all you say, for you are in the right, Sitta Nefysseh," replied the sheik. " And if you possessed all the wealth of Egypt, with the millions that lie buried in its deserts, you would be justified in secreting them from the tyranny and fraud that seek to extort from you your property. We will therefore defend you to the best of our ability.-Come, sheiks, let us return to the viceroy."

They repaired to the citadel, and told the viceroy what had passed.

"She is really poor, highness," said the cadi. "She declares her innocence. She does not possess the treasure you speak of, and therefore she can not comply with your demands. Her house has been searched through, and, as you are aware, nothing has been found."

"No, nothing has been found," said the viceroy to himself, stepping, back and walking thoughtfully to and fro. "A fearful thought occurs to me! Mohammed Ali may have advised me to take this step with an evil purpose, seeking my destruction. He hates me in his heart! I was a fool to allow myself to be persuaded to stretch out my hand after this woman's wealth. But I will be avenged on Mohammed! However, having once embarked in this undertaking, I will at least endeavor to withdraw from it creditably. I must give myself the appearance of still believing in Sitta Nefysseh's guilt."

He turned to the sheiks, who were awaiting his decision in respectful silence. In haughty terms he declined to admit that he had been deceived, and that Sitta Nefysseh was innocent.

"The accused must be punished! " cried Cousrouf, in loud and threatening tones.

The cadi drew himself up and gazed firmly at the viceroy.

"Highness, our patience is now at an end. We have sought to obtain justice by peaceful entreaties. You refuse it, and your refusal is an insult to us, the servants of our holy religion, and the representatives of the people. Here, we have therefore nothing more to say or to do. Nothing is left us but to depart and repair to the mosque of El-Azar, where the head of the martyr Sel-Kosyn is buried. There we will gather the people about us and decide as justice shall require.-Come, ye sheiks, let us go to the mosque!"

"Do so!" cried Cousrouf, haughtily. "But, let me tell you this: if you excite the people to revolt, my cannon shall thunder among you! You will be responsible for the consequences."

They made no reply, but turned and left the apartment.

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