MoboReader > Literature > Mohammed Ali and His House

   Chapter 14 THE TENT.

Mohammed Ali and His House By L. Muhlbach Characters: 15464

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:02


PEACE and tranquillity prevail at last.-For the present, at least, the people enjoy blessings to which they have long been. strangers, and it is to the new viceroy and his beneficent rule that they owe these blessings. He has signalized the beginning of his rule by compelling the lawless horde of Delis, called by Courschid his body- guard, to return to the interior of Africa. He has also brought back into subjection the Armenians and Albanians, who, carried away by the war-fury, had, for a period, laughed at all order and discipline. Though mild and gentle toward the devoted and obedient, Mohammed is severe and cruel to the disobedient and defiant.

Many heads have fallen in these first days of his rule. The head of many a wild soldier, who paid for his mutinous or riotous behavior with his life, adorns the wall of the citadel, a warning to the enemies of law and order.

This warning is not lost on the other soldiers, and on the secret adherents of the Mamelukes; it teaches them to conform to circumstances and bow their heads in submission. The Mamelukes themselves are far distant from Cairo, and lie encamped near Minieh, equipping and disciplining their forces, and preparing to renew the struggle.

The viceroy, however, has a strong arm, and his power increases daily. He will bring them also into submission.

The people who pass the palace occupied by Mohammed as sarechsme, stand still, and gaze with curiosity at the changes and alterations being made there. Large numbers of laborers are engaged in repairing the injuries sustained by the building in the recent conflicts; in setting out trees and shrubbery in the garden, and in adorning it with rare flowers. Great improvements are progressing in the wing of the building whose windows open on the garden.

Artistically carved lattice-work and shutters are being affixed to the lofty windows of the second story. And the curious, who observe this, give each other a sly look, and smile. They understand the significance of these shutters. These are the shutters of the windows of a harem, and they proclaim that Mohammed is now also occupied with, other than affairs of state. The people rejoice in these harem windows, for they are a guarantee of peace. When the warrior builds a harem, it proves that he himself believes in the stability of peace, and the new order of things. And the new viceroy does.

In discussing these matters, the people who stand in front of the palace of the Esbekieh tell each other that the viceroy has sent a messenger to his distant home beyond the sea, where his first wife and children live, and has sent them word to come to him. "They will come by water!" relates one of them, "and that is why the dehabieh is being built at Boulak. It is like a magnificent saloon, and is to be beautifully adorned-the walls hung with velvet, and the floor covered with costly Persian carpets. The viceroy's first wife and his children will come up from Alexandria in this dehabieh."

"His first wife?" exclaims another. "You speak of his first. Has he then other wives?"

The person addressed then assumes a mysterious air, as if to intimate that he is in the viceroy's confidence, and quite accurately informed as to the number of his wives. "It is not known," says he, hesitatingly; "it is, however, well known that a harem has been constructed at the citadel, and that here also the apartments in the wing of the palace are to be arranged as a harem."

"One wife hardly requires two harems, I should fancy?" they all laughingly repeat; "by Allah, one wife has no need of two harems, and the viceroy must therefore have as the prophet allows, more than one wife."

But no one knows it; and Mohammed takes care to be silent concerning his private life. He is reticent in such matters, and only talkative when in conference with his ministers and government officials, and most so when conversing with Hassan, his minister of finance, on which occasions he is often compelled to hear that the treasury is unfortunately almost empty, and that new means of replenishing it must be devised.

Money is scarce, but none is spared in decorating the apartments at the citadel, and below in the palace of the Esbekieh.

The apartments in the citadel destined to be the harem of the viceroy's wife, as well as the other apartments of the palace, are being splendidly furnished.

The upper apartments, now that they are completed, the viceroy inspects alone; through the others he walks beside his faithful friend Hassan, pointing out with complacency the beauties of the long suite of elegantly-furnished apartments.

"And do you know who is to occupy these rooms, Hassan?" asked Mohammed, his countenance assuming a more mild and kindly expression than Hassan had ever before observed in the usually stern and severe features of his master.

"It is said the viceroy has sent for his sons," replied Hassan, "and

I therefore suppose that they are to live here."

"And your supposition is right, my friend," replied the viceroy, smiling. "Yes, here my dear sons will live, my three boys. Yet they must be almost young men by this time. Let me see, five years have passed since I saw them. They must have changed very much in this time, Hassan, and I confess my heart yearns for them. Do you think they will know me?"

"You are not changed, master," replied Hassan. "Just as you look now, you looked on that day, you know, the day at Aboukir, when I saw you for the first time."

"I know, we met there for the first time, and you are the only friend that has stood beside me faithfully since that day. The only one, too, Hassan, in whom I confide, and may Allah grant that you stand beside me through life!"

"Yes, may Allah grant that my enemies may never succeed in making you distrust me. For this I know, I shall remain faithful to you until death; and malice and calumny alone can succeed in alienating from me my master's confidence."

"Hassan," said the viceroy, looking at him earnestly, "I do not listen to calumny, and, whatever I hear, I do not believe it unless I recognize it as truth. You will be often calumniated, my friend; that I well know. But this I promise you: whatever evil is said of you I will repeat to you, to enable you to justify yourself, and then woe to those who have the temerity to calumniate you!"

The viceroy has shown the beautiful apartments of the citadel to his friend Hassan, but the apartments in the palace of the Esbekieh he shows to no one; through them he wanders alone. The saloons and chambers are not yet finished; he carefully observes them as he walks along, noting whether his instructions are being complied with. Now he has entered the immense saloon, situated at the end of the apartments of the harem. He locks the door behind him; here no one must see him; to this sanctuary no human eye must follow him.

At the entrance he stands still and looks around. A wondrous change has come over him. He smiles, and his countenance is still more radiant than when he spoke with Hassan of his sons. His eyes sparkle like those of a youth who beholds again the countenance of his beloved.

The saloon is curiously furnished. Nothing splendid, nothing beautiful is to be seen. Simple mats cover the floor, such mats, woven of long straw by the fellahs, as adorn the harems of the poorer class of people in Cairo. There are no divans, but only low cushions covered with plain woolen cloth, no costly hangings, no mirrors on the walls; they are hung with gray linen, as though they were the sides of a gigantic tent, and in the middle of this immense space there really stands a tent-a large one made of white cloth, patched with colored rags of every

description, such a tent as the Bedouin chiefs of the desert dwell in.

Any one entering this immense space, after passing through the glittering apartments of the harem, would have been strangely and mysteriously affected by its appearance.

But Mohammed is not so affected. He steps in noiselessly, as if fearing to disturb the repose of some one.

Is any one reposing there?

Not yet; but the time, it is to be hoped, will soon come when this tent shall no longer be unoccupied as now.

Mohammed steps forward, draws back the curtain, and enters the first apartment of the tent.

How plain it is, how desolate and bare! On the mat in the corner, however, lie cushions, and spread over them a shawl adorned with tassels, the cover for the person who is to sleep there; there stands also a stool, and on it lies a tray, which contains various articles of table-ware, such as dishes, plates, and pitchers. `

It all looks extremely plain, but, when viewed more closely, it is observed that, beneath this simplicity, splendor is concealed. When the shawl is raised, it is discovered that the other side is of heavy crimson velvet, inworked with gold, and bordered with pearls. When the tray that lies on the stool is examined, it is found to be of solid silver, and of great value, though unpolished and rough; and the cups, dishes, and other articles, prove to be of richly- worked gold, set with precious stones, and placed as if in jest in plain, wooden forms. Mohammed examines all these things with a smile of satisfaction, and murmurs to himself: "Yes, yes, it was just so. The first apartment presented just this appearance."

He now draws back the curtain that opens into the second apartment, and it seems to him he hears now as then a sweet voice say: "The second apartment is for the women, and no man is ever allowed to enter it. I will conduct you into that apartment, and there I beg you to remain."

The second apartment, where Butheita lived, was just like this. There lay the cushions on which her lovely form reposed at night. Just so was the woollen cover with its white and brown stripes, and like these were the little red shoes that stood beside her couch there. Only those were of leather and these were of red velvet, and sparkled with precious stones. When raised, it was found that the other side of this woollen cover, like that in the other apartment, was also of splendid material, richly worked and adorned with gems. There was nothing else here but a small chest that stood in a remote corner, as in Butheita's tent. In that she kept the little ornaments, purchased for her in Tantah by her father, articles of jewelry found in the sand of the desert, and which had perhaps been worn by a daughter of the Pharaohs, and gems that had been taken from the grave of some mummy, where they had lain for thousands of years. Outwardly the chest that stood in the corner looked like the other, but it contained treasures of a different nature; a costly necklace of pearls, buckles of enormous value, and a diadem, so lustrous that it seemed as though Mohammed had stolen stars from heaven with which to adorn his love.

As he stands there absorbed in the contemplation of these articles, a feeling of unutterable bliss comes over him, of happiness unknown to him for many long years.

Yes, unknown to him for long years, for very many have elapsed since Masa died. Since the time when he prepared the subterranean grotto for Masa, he has never until now experienced such ecstasy. He steps out, closes the curtains, and surveys every thing once more, and smiles his approval.

"Now I go for your mistress," murmured he, as he turns and walks toward the door. But at the door he suddenly stands still. He feels that this is not the countenance of the viceroy, of a ruler, but that of a happy man. Such a countenance he must, however, not exhibit to the world; no one must see that the ruler, perplexed and weighed down with the cares of state, can sometimes forget that he is a ruler, and become for a moment a happy man. When he steps out his countenance wears its usual grave and severe expression.

On the evening of this day, the viceroy leaves the citadel for a short time. He wishes to repose for a few days in his house on the shore of the Nile, opposite Boulak, in the house he had caused to be built when he was sarechsme, and to which he had given the name Salam-lyk.

A single servant, Achmed, accompanies the viceroy to Salam-lyk, where he proposes to enjoy a little rest from the cares of state, as he is in the habit of doing from time to time.

Upon his arrival at Salam-lyk, he calls Achmed to his apartment, confers with him for a long time, and gives him instructions with regard to something he wishes him to do. Achmed leaves him, mounts a swift dromedary, and rides out into the night, and Mohammed retires to rest. But he rises again with the earliest dawn, and gazes impatiently out of the window, as if expecting some one; he smiles at himself; he is as impatient as a young girl, or as a lover awaiting the coming of his love.

But hour after hour passes, and still he sees no one coming up the path that leads through the garden to the house. But finally, at noon, Achmed is seen approaching

Mohammed hastens out into the garden to meet him.

"Well, did you find the tent?"

"Yes, master, the dromedary ran to it of its own accord."

"And whom did you meet at the tent?"

"The father, master-the chief Arnhyn."

Mohammed quickly averts his face-the servant must not see that his lips quiver, that he grows pale.

"You met the chief, and he was alone?"

"Yes, master, alone in his tent, and I conversed with him."

"What was said? Did he speak of his daughter? Has she followed another man to his tent?" asked Mohammed, in such quick, passionate tones, that Achmed started and failed to understand his meaning.

"No, master, he spoke to me of his daughter, because I, as you instructed me, asked about, her, yet so casually, that he could not suspect that I particularly desired to speak of her. He told me his daughter was much changed; she had become sad and delicate, and he had therefore sent her to visit some friends at Petresin, in order that she might be thrown together with other young girls for a time, and learn to laugh and jest again. She had, however, sent her father word yesterday that she could endure it no longer, and would return home to-day. He stood at the door awaiting her, unwilling to leave his tent to go out to meet her, for fear of the thieving Bedouins that roam the desert, and who knew that his tent contained costly treasures."

"Then you suppose Butheita will return to her father's to-day?"

"I remained there until I saw her coming in the distance. The sheik's eagle-eyes recognized her in the dim distance. 'There comes my daughter, Butheita, with her friends!' he cried, joyously; 'in an hour she will be here.' I remained some time longer, the sheik gradually becoming more and more delighted as he recognized his daughter more distinctly. 'Yes, it is Butheita!' he cried; 'she is returning home.' Then I took my departure, master, to bring you the intelligence."

"And how long," asked Mohammed, hastily, his countenance averted- "how long do you suppose it will take to reach the sheik's tent?"

"I took, as you instructed me, master, the dromedary you recently purchased from Sheik Arnhyn. It knew the road, and flew on its way like the wind, without any guidance. I think it call be reached in two hours."

"In two hours!" repeated Mohammed. "An hour after sunset, this evening, have the dromedary in readiness, and, for yourself, the swiftest horse. At that hour we will depart."

(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top

shares