The adventures of Hajji Baba of Ispahan/30
Chapter XXX — Hajji Baba meets with a rival in the Shah himself, and loses the fair object of his affections
The wall behind which I had taken post was not long a barrier between us, and I had scarcely made known to her the unhappy state of my mind, before she apprised me of the danger that we incurred in such an interview. She soon gave me to understand that this must be our last meeting; for, as she now belonged to the royal harem, death would be our fate if we were found together. I was anxious to hear in what manner the king had gained possession of her, and what was to be her future destiny; but sobs stifled everything I had to say. She, on the other hand, did not appear to take our separation quite so much to heart; for, whether dazzled by the prospect of her future destinies, or subdued by the miseries she had already endured on my account, certainly I did not meet that return to my affection which I had so warmly anticipated.
She informed me, that when the Shah entered the anderûn, he was received by a band of female singers, who went before, singing his praises, to the accompaniment of tambourines; and, as soon as he had seated himself in the open saloon, the khanum was permitted to enjoy the privilege of kissing his knee. A pah-endaz, composed of embroidered silks, had been spread for him, which, as soon as the royal footsteps had passed over, was snapped up by the eunuchs, who shared it as their perquisite. The king's female master of the ceremonies was in attendance, and she made an offering of the khanum's present, which was laid out on a silver tray, and consisted of six arac gîrs, or skull caps, embroidered by that lady's own hands; six sineh gîrs, or breast covers, made of padded shawl, worn in cold weather over the shirt; two pairs of trousers of Cashmerian shawl; three silk shirts, and six pairs of stockings, knitted by the women of the doctor's house. His majesty having accepted this, with many encomiums on the khanum's industry and skill, the women were marshalled in two lines on each side of him; 'and I,' said Zeenab, 'in order that every mortification possible might be heaped upon me, was placed the last in the row, even below Nûr Jehan, the black slave. You ought to have seen the pains which all of us, even old Leilah, took to attract the Shah's attention: some were bashful, others stole wicked looks and glanced sideways; others, again, were bold, and kept their eyes fixed on the king's face. Having inspected each in turn, he paused, and keeping his eyes riveted upon me, turned to the doctor, and said, "What sort of thing is this? she is no indifferent commodity. By the king's jika, the animal is fine! Doctor, mashallah! you have a good taste—the moon face, the stag eye, the cypress waist, everything is here."
'Upon which the doctor, making the lowest obeisance, said, "May I be your sacrifice, notwithstanding the slave is totally unworthy of notice; yet, since I and everything that belongs to me is the property of the King of Kings, may I venture to place her as an offering at the foot of your majesty's throne?"
"Caboul! I accept her," said the Shah; and then calling the chief eunuch to him, he ordered that I should be educated for a baziger (dancer or singer), that all my clothes, &c., should be made suited to my future profession, and that I should be ready accomplished to appear before him upon his return from his summer campaign.
'Oh! I shall never forget,' exclaimed Zeenab, 'the looks of the doctor's wife when this conversation was passing; she turned towards the Shah in great humility, acquiescing in all that was said, and then cast glances upon me, which spoke the thousand angry passions by which her breast was agitated. As for the Georgian, she looked daggers and arsenic, whilst Nûr Jehan's good-humoured face was lightened up with every expression of happiness at my good fortune. I, in the meanwhile, prostrated myself to the ground before the king, who still kept surveying me with a kind aspect.
'As soon as his majesty was gone, you ought to have seen the immediate change which took place in the khanum's conduct towards me. I was no longer "a child of the devil", "a maiden accursed"; but it was "my love, my soul, light of my eyes, my child". I, who had never smoked before her, was now invited to partake of her own pipe; and whether I would or not, she thrust bits of sweetmeat into my mouth with her own fingers. As for the Georgian, she could not stand the sight, but withdrew to another place, to digest her envy as she might. I received the congratulations of the other women, who did not cease repeating a long list of delights that were preparing for me. Love, wine, music, jewels, fine clothes, bathing, and standing before the king, were to be my future occupations. Some talked to me of the best spells to secure love, and to destroy the influence of rivals; others gave me the best advice how to get presents of finery; and many again began to teach me the forms of speech and compliment which I must use in case the Shah spoke to me. In short, poor Zeenab, the most miserable and neglected of human beings, all of a sudden found herself the object of universal attention and admiration.'
Zeenab here finished talking, and the joy which she seemed to feel for the change which was about to take place in her situation was so natural, that I could not find in my heart to destroy it by communicating to her my forebodings of the danger which awaited her. She little knew the horrible penalty she would incur, in case, when called upon to attend the Shah, she should be found unworthy of his attentions; for it was upon record, under such circumstances, that death, a horrid, cruel death, had been inflicted, and that without appeal to any tribunal upon earth. I therefore seemed to partake her happiness, and although we felt we must be separated yet we were consoled with the hope that opportunities of mutual intelligence would not be wanting.
She told me that one of the king's eunuchs was to call on the following morning, to conduct her to the seraglio, and, when bathed and newly dressed, she was to be delivered over to the department of the bazigers, when her education was immediately to commence.
Hearing her name repeatedly called, she was afraid of risking herself longer with me, and after ten thousands and thousands protestations of mutual love, we parted, perhaps to meet no more.
- The jika is an upright ornament worn in front of the crown, and is an insignia of royalty.