Page images
PDF
EPUB

self to his coming guest in all the glory with which his fortune had clothed him.

The Shah was dressed so entirely with jewelry, that as the sun glanced upon him, the eye could scarcely meet the refulgence. His sword was placed across his knees; nothing could exceed the richness of its belt and sheath; a resplendent dagger glittered in a girdle of incalculable value, whilst he was backed by a pillow, so inlaid with precious stones, that it looked like a work of mosaic. But with all this his appearance was scarcely human; a dressed skeleton would have filled his place as well; at best he became a living illustration of the vanity of life. The jewels in which his person was incased, were contrasted with the ghastliness of his features, whilst those same features seemed to destroy the value of the jewelry.

But still how dreaded a king was he to his subjects! There was something so uncommon in the circumstance of a being, so degraded in his person, raising himself to kingly power, that that circumstance alone gave a character of the marvellous to his appearance, and surrounded him by feelings of awe and mystery, highly conducive to the establishment of his power.

'The master of ceremonies proclaimed with an audible voice, “ that the chiefs of Asterabad and the elders of the Turcomans, having arrived with presents to the king of kings, claimed permission to rub their foreheads against the threshold of his gate, and place themselves at his disposal." The Shah upon this was just on the point of saying the usual " Khosh amedeed!" you are welcome, when his ferocious eye in an instant flashed unexpected fire, and his whole features assumed an expression of doubt and suspicion. In countries where the blessings of freedom are known, the expression of the king's face is not scrutinized with the same degree of interest, as it is in those unhappy regions, where the contracted brow, the bitten lip, and the indignant attitude, acting like a barometer of public security, tell at once that danger is gathering in the political horizon..

.....

There was a certain twitching of his hideous mouth, an occasional uplifting of his scanty eye-brow, and a small vibration of his large ears, which the initiated in his looks well knew portended mischief. As the first indications of rage in the tiger, the stiffened bristles of the nose, the stretching of the limbs, and the outspreading of the claws, put the keeper on his guard, so the Vizier, and his own immediate attendants, instantly armed their minds with ready wit, and their nerves with fresh strength.'-vol. ii., p. 109.

The cause of this rising rage is, that the king has not discovered Zaul, the father of Zohrab, and his own former friend, among the members of the deputation. He is pacified by the assurance that the chief of Asterabad has been detained by sickness, and will follow immediately; but meantime Zaul has already arrived in Teheran, in the disguise of a dervish or faquir, which character he sustains, with admirable effect, through several of the most inte

resting

resting chapters of the second volume. The end of it is, that the pretended holy man obtains, in virtue of his supernatural knowledge and piety, access even to the recesses of the royal anderoon— penetrates the secret of an illness which is by this time preying on Amima, to the despair of the Shah-and, being consulted on similar grounds by the disappointed daughter of his son's jailer, finds the means of passing a night in the house where he is confined, and emancipates Zohrab. The other Turcomans have all their horses in readiness, and daylight satisfies the Shah how pertinaciously and deliberately his beard has been laughed at.'

6

In the course of examining into the conduct of the chief executioner, whose prisoner has escaped, the hunchback barber arrives, and places in the Shah's hand an armlet, which had just been found in the deserted chamber of Zohrab :—

• The Shah had no sooner received it into his own hand and cast his eyes upon it, than his whole nature seemed to undergo a quick revulsion. It was his turn now to tremble-but it was the tremor of jealousy, of rage, of abhorrence, of maddening fury. Breathing short, and evincing much prostration of strength, he said slowly to the Humpback-"So you found this in Zohrab's room ?" "As I am your sacrifice," said the crafty wretch, "I did." "And where?" "Near the youth's pillow," answered he, with a significant look. The king drank these words as if poison had been mixed with them. He said nothing. His head sank dejectedly on his breast. Every sort of feeling, from the deepest tenderness to the most deadly revenge, ran in quick succession through his frame. At one moment his beautiful and retiring niece stood before his imagination in all the modesty of her nature; at another he saw her in the arms of his young prisoner, whilst he felt that he himself was the object of their derision. It was but a short time since with his own hands he had given her the armlet, which had belonged to her father: to find it restored to him in this manner, and with this story attached to it, was more than he could bear. His first impulse was to order instant execution upon her who had excited his wrath; but so malignant were his present feelings, that he seemed to have pleasure in dwelling upon them, in order that he might devise a more sweet and perfect revenge. The pause, the awful pause, which ensued during these his cogitations was felt by those present as if they stood on the verge of eternity-as if they were awaiting the signature of their death-warrant, so sure were they that none but the most dire results could accrue from the delay. The eyes of all present were turned towards the dreaded awarder of their fate, in deep and breathless silence: it seemed as a mockery upon their misery, if the leaves of the surrounding trees even ventured to be agitated by the breeze, or the splashing fountains to throw outtheir refreshing waters.'-vol. ii. p. 256.

We pass over a scene of horrible ferocity, and follow the eunuch to his private apartments, where he is alone with the Goozoo.

• During

During the whole of the public audience, his thoughts had been entirely absorbed in the history of the bazubend, which, as if it were a piece of live coal within the folds of his garment, appeared burning for revenge. Now that he was free from other cares, he reverted to this, with a degree of savage eagerness, which spoke how entirely it had taken possession of his mind. "You found it near the pillow, did you?" said the Shah. "As I am your sacrifice, I did," said the humpback. "Did you remark any thing else," enquired the King. "Nothing," said the humpback: "but-" "But-what?" roared the agitated monarch.-" Your slave does not venture to say what he has heard," said the crafty barber, with assumed backwardness. "Speak, wretch," said the king, his eyes almost starting from their sockets; "speak, ere I cut your tongue out." "As I am your sacrifice," said the other," I was informed that a man was seen descending from the turret on that same night."

Upon hearing this, the Shah, without giving himself time to make more inquiries, gasped for breath. His senses appeared to be totally and entirely bewildered; he was as weak as a child, and his ferocity. seemed for a moment to have forsaken him. All he could utter was -"Send for the Khajeh Bashi."* At the sight of this officer, who was ever in close attendance, and who immediately made his appearance, shaking from fear, all his violence returned, and with a screech, more like the tones of an animal than that of a human voice, he said "Pander! there has been a man in the harem!" The wretched creature to whom this was addressed so shook from head to foot, that his tongue refused to do its office. His jaw vibrated, and that was all. "Speak!-where have been your eyes?—a man was seen descending from the turret!" said the Shah, the words scarcely finding utterance from his choaking throat. "A man!-Astafarrallah!-Heaven forbid," said the poor wretch. "We know nothing of him. By the head of the Shah-by the salt of the King-your slave falls from the skies. What news is this!"

[ocr errors]

By this time the deputy of the Khajeh Bashi had also been brought in, and he being a man of nerve, said, with all the humility possible, that if any thing of the sort had taken place, it must have been when there was so much difficulty in making way to the turret chamber through the Banou's apartment, when the Shah last visited the lady Amima. These words excited all the Shah's curiosity, and when the chief guardian, upon recollection, confessed that he had seen a collection of shawls tied together, hanging from the window frame in the turret, and that he had suspected that all was not right, conviction flashed upon the Shah's mind that the sacred precincts of his harem had been betrayed, and that his niece was guilty.

"She dies!-she dies!" he was constantly repeating to himself, as he rested his head on his hands, occasionally rising from his seat and walking to and fro. He devised many schemes for putting his intention into execution, but none accorded with his feelings.

[blocks in formation]

He

thought

thought of the turret as a fitting place to hurl her from; but he dreaded lest her cries might alarm the harem, who would rise in her favour. At one moment his fury roused him to do the deed himself. At another, he would have seen it perpetrated before his eyes, in order that he might enjoy her sufferings; but when the moment for decision came, he found that in fact he was afraid of confronting her, so much did he feel how completely he was in her power when they were face to face.

[ocr errors]

At length he made up his mind as to the best mode of effecting his purpose, and this was, to order her destruction without again seeing her. Sadek* was a man in whose fidelity he knew he could trust, for he had never deceived him. His dogged resolution and courage were proof against everything, and to him he determined to entrust the accomplishment of this dark deed. Accordingly he summoned him, and when he had ascertained that they were entirely alone and no ears within hearing, he caused him to approach almost within whispering distance, and then in a low and suppressed tonewith all that earnestness of manner for which he was famous"Sadek," he said, "I have ever been satisfied with thy services. Thy King now requires a proof of thy devotion, which he can entrust to none other than thee." The words which he was about to utter appeared to choke him. Calling up a long-drawn sigh, and using great violence upon himself, he said-" Amima dies! I have said it. Take her hence this night-never let me see her more. Go-show her this -(giving him the armlet)-it will explain all.-Go." He would have said more, but respiration almost failed him. Sadek, in wild consternation, would have answered and remonstrated at this cruel order; but the king made him signs, such as belong to a maniac, to be gone and knowing what the reaction might be if he pressed the matter too hard, he kissed the ground and left the presence.'-vol. ii., p. 272-278.

Here the youthful reader of Mr. Morier's pages will feel a throbbing pulse. We, alas! are qualified to console ourselves with a quotation from Crabbe:

Time have I lent-I would the debt were less

To flowery pages of sublime distress;

And to the heroine's soul-distracting fears

I early gave my sixpences and tears.

Much have I feared-but am no more afraid

When some chaste beauty, by some wretch betrayed,
Is drawn away with such distracted speed,

That she anticipates some dreadful deed.
Not so do I-Let solid walls impound
The captive fair, and dig a moat around-
Let there be brazen locks, and bars of steel-
And keepers cruel-such as never feel.

* Sadek was the valet de chambre by whose hand Aga Mohamed died.

With not a single note the purse supply;

And when she begs let men and maids deny :

Be windows, those from which she dares not fall,
And help so distant 'tis in vain to call:

Still means of freedom will some power devise,
And from the baffled ruffian snatch his prize.'

From this hour the Shah is never heard to breathe the name of Amima-who is supposed by him, and by all the world but Sadek, to have died in obedience to his command. The mode of her preservation, and most of the circumstances that follow it, are drawn, we must say, from the old magazine of romantic propertiesNota magis nulli domus est sua quam mihi lucus

Martis, et Æoliis vicinum rupibus antrum-
Expectes eadem à summo minimoque poetâ.'

The tidings of her fate plunge Zohrab, it needs not to be said, into indescribable affliction, from which he recovers only to nerve his arm for the last struggle of Mazanderan, now about to be assaulted by the outraged Shah in person, at the head of an army which the insurgents can scarcely flatter themselves with the slightest hope of resisting.

The events of this expedition form the chief materials of the third volume-and the ambuscades, surprises, single combats, and battles of all sorts, which are made to bring out the chivalrous prowess of Zohrab, might furnish, had we room, a series of extracts not surpassed even by the splendid panorama of Persian warfare in the pages of The Kuzzilbash.'

In the midst of the tumultuous warfare of this volume, the Shah, a thorough soldier, appears to high advantage,-equally prudent in planning and brave in executing; indeed, so decidedly superior to all about him, that we begin to wonder whether we are reading of the same personage that had moved emotions so different throughout the preceding part of the tale. Of a sudden our old acquaintance re-appears-he discovers, that his most intimate confidant, the Goozoo-the humpbacked barber-has been tampered with by the insurgents, and has sold an important piece of intelligence to an emissary of Zohrab. This discovery takes place while the Shah is on his march through the frontier forest; and the short scene which ensues appears to us one of the most masterly in the book:

[ocr errors]

The Shah sat for some time wrapt in thought. At length he exclaimed, "Send for the humpback!" and looking upward to the summit of an enormous pine tree, which had been struck by lightning, he said," and bid one of the executioner's gang be in readiness at hand with a rope." An awful fear ran through the by-standers as they heard these words, strongly enhanced by the wildness of the scenery around them. There sat the king, coiled up as it were in the

2 E 2

folds

« PreviousContinue »