The Rescue of Fatima (Спасение Фатимы)
FOR many years Lezah was Cadi of Acara.
He had two children, whose names were Mustapha and Fatima.
There was only two years difference in their ages, and they loved each other dearly.
When Fatima’s sixteenth birthday came, her brother prepared a little feast, to which he invited all their playfellows.
The repast included only the daintiest dishes, and towards evening he suggested that they should all go for a row on the sea in a harque, which he had had specially decorated for the occasion.
Fatima and her young guests were delighted, for the evening was so fine and the view of the town from the water very picturesque.
The girls, however, enjoyed themselves so much that they persuaded Mustapha to row farther and farther away from the shore.
This, he rather unwillingly did, for a few days ago he had noticed the presence of a Corsair in the bay.
Not far from the town there was a promontory stretching out into the sea, and the maidens wished to go there and watch the setting sun sink into the peaceful waters.
As they rowed round it they noticed a boat, in which were some armed men, and fearing disaster, Mustapha ordered his men to turn the barque round and go back to the landing stage.
It seemed almost as if his misgivings were correct, for the other boat immediately followed Mustapha’s, then passed it, and kept deliberately between it and the shore.
The maidens when they realised their danger became so frightened that they clung together and wept and wailed, and in spite of Mustapha’s efforts to reassure them, and his warnings that if they did not sit still the barque might be upset, they became so wild with terror that on the near approach of the Corsair’s boat, they crowded to one side and were overturned.
In the meantime the people on the banks had noticed the strange boat, and their suspicions had been aroused;
and several craft had put off in order to assist Mustapha should it be necessary.
But they only arrived in time to witness the accident.
In the confusion the strange boat got away, and as the rescued were placed in different skiffs it was impossible to know at once if all were saved.
But by degrees it was only too certain that Fatima and one of her playmates were missing, and that in one of the boats was a man whom no one knew.
In reply to Mustapha’s threats he admitted that he belonged to a ship which was anchored about two miles away, and that his captors had left him in the lurch as he was trying to save some of the young girls;
and that he knew they had taken two off to the ship.
The old father’s grief was terrible to witness, and Mustapha was simply heartbroken, for besides the loss of Fatima, the playmate also missing was a young girl to whom he was secretly betrothed;
the slender circumstances of her parents having prevented him from acquainting his own father, a proud and haughty man, of the fact.
When his grief had somewhat subsided, the Cadi sent for Mustapha and said:
"Through your stupidity I have lost the light of my eyes and the comfort of my old age.
Go away from here;
I banish you for ever from my sight.
May my curse pursue you, only to be removed when you bring Fatima again to me !"
This was a shock to Mustapha;
for he had made a vow to find his sister and her companion, and would fain have asked his father’s blessing on the endeavour;
but now he was sent out into the world bearing the heavy burden of a curse.
And the bitterest thought was that it was undeserved.
He sought out the prison where the pirate sailor lay, and asked for news as to the trade of the ship;
and was told that the captain trafficked in slaves, which he sold in the great market-place at Balsora.
When he returned to the house to prepare for his journey, he found that his father was less angry, and had sent him a purse of gold for the expenses of his journey.
Mustapha next took a tearful farewell of Zoraide’s parents, and started on the way to Balsora, going as far as possible by land, as no ship was leaving Acara for the port he desired, and travelling in hot haste, so as not to be far behind the pirates.
At the end of four days, as he was riding all alone, three men suddenly attacked him.
He saw that they were well armed, and as he valued his horse and his gold less than his life, he shouted that he would surrender.
They bound his feet together beneath his horse, set him in their midst, and one of them took his reins and led him along without speaking a word.
Mustapha now felt afraid that his father’s curse was beginning to work, and could hardly dare to hope that his quest on behalf of his sister and Zoraide could succeed, since all his valuables were seized and only his wretched life spared him.
He and his silent captors had ridden for about an hour, when they came upon a little valley, surrounded by high trees, and through which flowed a narrow silvery brook.
Here he saw from fifteen to twenty tents, and tethered near by were camels and splendid horses;
from one of the tents came the sound of a zither and men’s voices singing.
It seemed to Mustapha that people who could choose such a lovely place to camp in could not have any evil designs on him, and he followed his captors, who had loosened his bonds and signed to him to dismount, without anxiety or hesitation.
They led him towards the largest tent, which was beautifully arranged inside.
Splendidly covered cushions, hand-made carpets, golden censers, proved that this tent belonged to no common robber.
On one of the cushions sat a little old man, hideous to behold;
but by the behaviour of his companions Mustapha felt sure that not for him was the tent so handsomely furnished.
"Where is the Chief ?"
asked one of the men.
"He is out hunting," was the reply, "and ordered me to take his place in his absence."
"That is a pity," said one of the robbers, "for we want to know if this man shall live or die;
and he can decide that better than you."
The little man rose with offended dignity, and would evidently have liked to pull the robber by the ear, but failing in his intention, the two together began struggling and fighting.
Suddenly the curtain of the tent was thrown back, and a tall, handsome man entered.
His garments, his splendid weapons, betokened his condition, but more impressive far were his noble features, and calm, penetrating eyes.
"Who is it who dares to quarrel in my tent ?"
A brief silence — and then one of the men who brought Mustapha to the camp explained how it happened;
and hearing him, the Chief’s fine face reddened with anger.
"When did I set you in my place, Hassan ?"
The little man crept crestfallen from the tent, his lingering steps quickened by a threatening gesture on the part of the Chief.
When Hassan had withdrawn, the three robbers brought Mustapha to the Chief, who had thrown himself on the luxurious cushions.
"We bring you one whose capture you desired," said they.
The Chief looked earnestly at Mustapha and said:
"Bashaw of Sulieika, thy conscience will tell thee why thou standest before Orbassan."
When Mustapha heard these words, he threw himself before the Chief and cried:
"My lord, there is some great mistake.
I am a most unhappy wretch, but not the Bashaw whom thou seekest."
All those in the tent were amazed at these words, and Orbassan said:
"Your denial will not help you, for I can call people who know you well;" and he gave orders that Zuleima should be brought before him;
who when asked if she recognised the prisoner, said:
"Certainly, my lord, he is the Bashaw of Sulieika, and no one else !"
"See," said the Chief, "how little your lie has availed you.
I despise you too much to soil my dagger with your miserable blood;
but on the back of one of my horses shall you be bound to-morrow morning, and through the forest I will pursue you until the sun sets behind the hills of Sulieika."
Then Mustapha’s courage failed him.
"My father’s curse is haunting me," he cried, "and now indeed, dear sister, and still dearer Zoraide, are you lost."
"Resistance is no good," whispered one of the robbers, as he bound the captive’s hands behind his back.
"Best come quietly out of the tent, for the Chief is biting his lips and looking at his dagger.
Come, if you wish to live till to-morrow."
As the robbers drew Mustapha out of the tent, they met three comrades with a prisoner.
"We bring the Bashaw, as you commanded," said they, and led the captive before the Chief.
As the prisoner was going into the tent, Mustapha had an opportunity of observing him, and was struck with the extraordinary likeness to himself, save that the stranger was darker and his beard blacker.
The Chief was also astonished at the resemblance between the two men.
"Which of you is the right man ?"
he asked, looking from one to the other.
"If you mean which is the Bashaw of Sulieika," said the latest prisioner haughtily, "I am he !"
The Chief looked attentively at him, then signed to the men to take their prisoner away, and when alone with Mustapha cut his bonds with the dagger blade, and invited him to be seated.
"I am sorry, stranger," said he, "that I mistook you for another;
but you may thank Heaven that you did not fall into my brother’s hands."
Mustapha then begged permission to continue his journey without delay, as every moment was of such dire importance.
The Chief inquired the object of his travellings, and having heard, suggested that a night’s rest would be best for man and beast, and promised on the morrow to show him a short route by which he would reach Balsora in a day and a half.
Mustapha willingly consented to remain, and slept soundly till morning.
When he awoke he found himself alone in the tent, but through the curtains he could hear voices in discussion, among them those of the Chief and the little black man.
He listened, and, to his horror, heard the dwarf suggest that Mustapha should be put to death in case he might betray them.
Mustapha was certain that the dwarf owed him a grudge on account of the struggle in the tent the day before;
but the Chief, after a moment’s thought, said:
"No I he is my guest, and as such his person is sacred, and I am sure he is no traitor !"
As he spoke these words he threw the curtains back and cried:
"Peace be with you, Mustapha.
Let us pledge each other, and then you must prepare for your journey."
The attendant immediately brought goblets of sherbet, and when they had drunk, they mounted their steeds, and with a light heart Mustapha took his departure.
They soon left the camp behind, and crossed an open space which led into the forest.
The Chief told Mustapha that the Bashaw, whom they had once caught on the chase, had promised not in any way to molest them;
but for many weeks he had captured their bravest men, and after tormenting them cruelly had hanged them.
The Chief had been watching for him some time, and to-day the Bashaw must die.
Mustapha felt thankful at his own happy escape.
At the far end of the forest the Chief reined in his horse, instructed Mustapha as to his way, shook him by the hand, and said:
"Mustapha, you have, by extraordinary circumstance, been the guest of the bandit Orbassan.
I know well you will not disclose anything you have seen or heard.
You have passed through danger of death, and I admire your fortitude.
Take this dagger in remembrance, and should you need help at any time, send it to me, and I will hasten to your assistance.
This purse, I pray you, use on your journey."
Mustapha thanked him for his generosity;
he took the dagger, but returned the gold.
Orbassan, however, dropped it from his hand, and it lay unheeded on the ground as he sprang to his horse.
When he was well out of sight Mustapha picked up the purse, and was startled to find such evidence of his host’s magnificence, for the value of the gold was great.
He thanked God for his escape, commended the noble robber to His protection, and continued his journey to Balsora at his best speed.
On the seventh day of his journeyings Mustapha rode through the gates of Balsora.
Dismounting at an inn, he asked when the slave-market would be held.
To his dismay he learnt that he was two days late.
The bystanders sympathised with his disappointment, and told him he had lost an excellent opportunity, for on the very last day of the market two most lovely slaves had been brought in, who had attracted the admiration of all the buyers.
Many wished to purchase them, but the biddings went so high that no one could compete with their ultimate possessor.
Further inquiries convinced Mustapha that these two slaves were his sister and Zoraide.
He also learnt that their owner was named Thiuli-Kos, and lived quite forty hours’ journey from Balsora.
He was a rich and elderly man, formerly ruler of Kapudan and a Bashaw, but now quietly managed his large dominions.
Mustapha felt inclined to mount his horse at once and follow Thiuli-Kos without delay.
But he remembered that alone and without escort he was powerless against a mighty traveller, and had to think what would be a really possible way to carry out his plans.
The strange likeness between himself and the Bashaw of Sulieika, which had nearly been so disastrous to him, gave him the idea of assuming the name, and of so gaining an entrance into the house of Thiuli-Kos, with the prospect of rescuing the unfortunate maidens.
He was able, thanks to Orbassan’s generosity, to hire servants and horses, and buy suitable outfit for them and himself ere starting on his journey to the Castle.
After five days they were in its neighbourhood.
It stood in a fine position, and was surrounded by walls which were almost as high as the building itself.
When he reached the Castle, he dyed his hair and beard black, but only slightly darkened the colour of his skin in order to make his face more like to the Bashaw’s.
Then he sent his servants in advance to the Castle to crave a night’s hospitality for the Bashaw of Sulieika.
The servants returned, and with them four handsomely dressed slaves, who took Mustapha’s horse by the bridle and led it to the courtyard.
There they held it while he dismounted, and four other attendants led him up a broad marble staircase to Thiuli, who with great friendliness welcomed him, and ordered a meal to be prepared.
After he had eaten, Mustapha turned the conversation to the subject of the new slaves, and Thuili spoke enthusiastically of their good looks, but feared their continual fretting would soon destroy their beauty.
Satisfied with the success, so far, of his adventure, Mustapha withdrew to rest.
He could hardly have slept an hour, when he was disturbed by the glare of a lamp held close to his face.
He roused himself, and thought he must be dreaming, for it was no other than the little brown-faced dwarf from Orbassan’s tent who had awakened him.
Mustapha pinched and pulled himself to see if it were reality or imagination.
"Why are you here by my bed ?"
cried Mustapha, as soon as he had recovered from his surprise.
"Do not excite yourself, my lord," said the dwarf.
"I know well why you are come hither.
Your face is perfectly familiar to me, though if I had not with my own hands helped to hang the Bashaw, I might have been deceived.
Now I have something to ask."
"First tell me why you are here," said Mustapha, furious to find he had been recognised.
I could no longer bear the rule of the Chief Orbassan, so I left him;
but you, Mustapha, were partly the cause of our quarrel, so you must promise me your sister for my wife.
If you do so I will help you in both rescue and flight;
if not, I will go to my new master and tell him you are an impostor."
Mustapha was beside himself with rage to think that just as he had so nearly succeeded in his difficult task, this wretched dwarf should suddenly thwart him.
There was only one way out of the difficulty — he must kill the man, and he sprang from his couch with sudden, intention;
but the dwarf was not unprepared, and, dropping the lamp, ran out into the dark corridor screaming for help.
Here indeed was a catastrophe.
His own safety was of first importance, and Mustapha rushed to the window to see if he could possibly jump out.
It was rather high from the ground, and beyond was a wall over which he must climb.
As he paused to think, he heard voices near, even at the door of his apartment.
Securing his dagger and his clothes he swung himself from the casement.
The fall was hard, but he had broken no bones, so ran as fast as be could to the wall, reaching it before his pursuers, and found himself once more free.
He ran on till he came to a small wood, where he threw himself down to rest and consider what next to do.
His horses and his servants he must leave where they were;
but his money, most fortunately, was safe in his cummerbund.
His busy brain soon worked out another plan.
He went through the wood until he came to a village, where he bought a horse and rode to the nearest town.
There he sought an apothecary, and was directed to an old and venerable man;
to whom he offered a large price for a drug which would produce a deathlike sleep, and for another which would instantaneously act as an antidote.
With these in his possession he bought a long false beard, a black gown, and some books, so that he could impersonate a travelling doctor, bound these things upon a donkey’s back, and went back to the Castle of Thiuli-Kos.
He hoped this time to be more successful, for the beard changed his appearance so that he hardly knew himself.
When he reached Thiuli, he announced himself as the physician Chakamankabudibaba, and, as he had hoped, the old ruler immediately ordered his attendance.
Chakamankabudibaba presented himself before Thiuli, and they had hardly conversed for an hour before the old man thought his slave-women might as well consult this famous doctor.
Mustapha could hardly conceal his pleasure at the prospect of seeing his dear sister again, and with a beating heart followed Thiuli to the Seraglio.
They paused in a beautifully decorated but empty room.
"Chambaba, or whatever your name is, great doctor," said Thiuli-Kos, "observe that hole in the wall.
Through it each slave will put her arm, and you can tell by the pulse if she be well or ill."
This was hardly what Mustapha desired;
but he consented to do as Thiuli wished, and the old man took a long roll out of his girdle and began to call his slaves by name, and each in turn passed her hand through the wall, and the physician felt her pulse.
Six had already been declared well and strong when Thiuli called "Fatima," and a little white hand slipped through the wall.
Trembling with joy, Mustapha seized it, and declared the owner to be ill undoubtedly.
Thiuli was much concerned, and begged his wise Chakamankabudibaba to find some medicine which would cure her.
The physician went outside and wrote on a little slip of paper "Fatima, I will save you, if you can shut yourself up and take a draught which will make you unconscious for two days.
I have another which will bring you back to life.
Do not be afraid."
Then Mustapha returned to the room where Thiuli was impatiently waiting, and taking with him the little draught he felt Fatima’s pulse once more and slipped the paper beneath her bracelet, passing the medicine through the opening in the wall.
Thiuli seemed in great distress about Fatima, and impatiently awaited the result of the examination.
As he left the room with Mustapha, he said in a sad voice:
"Chadibaba, what is the matter with Fatima ?"
Chakamankabudibaba answered with a deep sigh:
"By the beard of the Prophet, she has a severe fever, which may, perhaps, end fatally."
At this Thiuli flew into a violent rage.
"How dare you tell me that, accursed dog of a physician.
Is she, for whom I gave two thousand golden pieces, to die like an animal ?
By my oath, if you do not save her, I will cut your head off !"
Then Mustapha perceived that he had made a mistake, and spoke rather more hopefully.
But at this moment a slave came out of the Seraglio and said that the medicine did not seem to have had a good effect.
"Put forth all your skill, Chakambababa, and whatever fee you ask shall be yours," cried Thiuli-Kos, almost beside himself with anxiety at the thought of losing so much money spent on a slave.
"I will give her another draught which will greatly help her recovery," said the physician.
lose no time," said old Thiuli.
Full of joy, Mustapha went to get his sleeping-draught, and when he had carefully explained to the black slave exactly how it was to be given to the patient, he went to Thiuli and said that he must go out and search for a healing herb on the shore of the lake, and left the Castle.
Into the lake, which was not far from the Castle, he threw his disguise, and watched clothes and beard floating on the water;
then he withdrew to a short distance, waited for sunset, and then hid himself in the burying-ground adjoining Thiuli’s Castle.
Mustapha had hardly been an hour absent from the Castle when the news was brought to Thiuli that his slave Fatima was dying.
He sent to the lake, telling his messenger to bring back the physician at once.
The man returned alone, and told him that the poor doctor had fallen in the lake and was drowned;
his black gown and beard could plainly be seen floating on the waves as they rose and fell.
When Thiuli saw there was no more hope, he cursed everything and everybody, tore out the hair of his beard, and banged his head against the wall.
But this did no good;
and Fatima, meantime, died.
When he heard the sad news, he ordered a coffin to be made directly, for he would have no dead bodies in his house, and said she was to be taken to the burial-ground.
The bearers brought the coffin there, set it down, and ran away, for they had heard mysterious sobs and groans proceeding from it.
Mustapha, who had hidden himself behind some coffins and had noticed how quickly the hearers ran away from the place, stepped forward, and lighted a lamp he had brought with him.
Then he drew forth the phial containing the awakening dose, and raised the lid of Fatima’s coffin.
But what a sad surprise awaited him !
The light of the lamp shone on other features than those of his dear sister.
Neither she nor Zoraide lay in that coffin, but altogether a different person.
He was much cast down at this fresh blow;
fate did indeed seem against him;
but pity mingled with his disappointment.
He opened the bottle, and poured the medicine between the lips of the swooning girl, who sighed, opened her eyes, and seemed to wonder where she was.
At last she remembered all that had happened, and stepping out of the coffin threw herself at Mustapha’s feet.
"How can I ever thank you, good friend," said she, "for delivering me from my dreadful seclusion ?"
Mustapha interrupted her thanks with the question how it was that she, and not his sister Fatima, was the fortunate slave.
She looked at him in bewilderment.
"Now, I begin to understand," she said, "all that puzzled me before.
In the Harem I was called Fatima, and you effected my escape through a misunderstanding."
Mustapha begged the slave to give him some news of his sister and Zoraide, and learnt that they were both in the castle, but Thiuli had given them other names.
They were now called Mirza and Nourmahal.
When Fatima, the rescued slave, saw how bitterly downcast Mustapha was, she bade him not despair, and said she thought she could tell him of a way to seek and find his dear ones.
Overjoyed at the possibility, Mustapha implored her to lose no time but to explain her meaning.
"I was for five months Thiuli’s favourite," she said, "but my thoughts were always bent on escape, though alone and unaided it seemed too difficult.
In the innermost courtyard you may have noticed a fountain which spouts its water through ten tubes.
This fountain interested me.
I remembered one like it in my father’s house, and that its waters ran through a wide underground passage.
In order to ascertain if this fountain was so built, I flattered Thiuli one day as to its beauty, and asked who the designer was.
‘I myself;’ answered he;
‘and what you see is not all.
The water comes at least a distance of a thousand yards, from a brook, and passes through a conduit the height of a man.
All this I myself designed.’
When I heard this, I often wished only for one moment to have the strength of a man;
so as to remove one stone from the side of the fountain, and thus be able to escape.
I will now show you this waterway;
through it you can make your entrance into the Castle at night, and free your sister and Zoraide.
But you must take at least two men with you, so that you can overpower the slaves who guard the Seraglio."
As she finished speaking, Mustapha, in spite of the want of success of his former efforts, felt a keen desire to make one more attempt at rescue by following the suggestions of the slave Fatima, and promised, in return for her help, to assist her safely to reach her own home.
But at first he was rather perplexed as to where to get the necessary men.
Then he remembered Orbassan’s dagger, and taking the slave-girl with him, he set out for the robbers’ camp.
In the neighbouring town where he had assumed the disguise of a physician, he bought with his last gold pieces a horse, and paid for lodgings for Fatima in the house of a poor but respectable woman.
He himself hastened to the mountains, and received a most hearty welcome from Orbassan, to whom he related his continued bad luck.
The treachery of the dwarf infuriated his late master, who swore to hang him with his own hand, should occasion present itself, and promised Mustapha all the help possible, suggesting that he had better fortify himself by a good night’s rest.
So once more Mustapha availed himself of the Chief’s hospitality, and early next morning he and Orbassan started for Balsora, taking with them trusty men, well armed and well mounted.
Riding hard, in two days they reached the little town where Mustapha had left the rescued girl.
Taking her with them, they rode on till they came to the small forest, from which they could see, in the distance, Thiuli’s Castle, and here they encamped to await the night.
As soon as it was dark, with Fatima’s guidance they found the brook and the waterway.
There they left Fatima, with the servants and the horses.
Before they entered the conduit Fatima repeated her instructions most emphatically, namely, that they could reach the interior of the courtyard through the fountain, and on the right and left would find two towers;
in the sixth door in the right-hand tower were Fatima and Zoraide, guarded by two black slaves.
Well provided with weapons and crowbars, Mustapha, Orbassan, and two attendants crept into the watercourse.
After wading for half an hour in water up to their waists, they reached the fountain and began to ply their tools.
The wall was thick and strongly built, but unable to resist the united efforts of four powerful men, and they had soon broken an opening large enough to slip through easily.
Orbassan went first, and helped the others, and when they were in the courtyard carefully examined the side of the Castle nearest to them, so as to ascertain the position of the door which they fain would force.
But they were very doubtful which it could be, for when they found the right-hand tower, they also found that the door was nailed up, and wondered whether Fatima had made a mistake.
But Orbassan did not hesitate.
"My trusty sword will open any door," said he;
and forcing the fastenings, he passed through and went at once to the sixth door, the others following him.
This too they opened, and found six black slaves lying asleep on the ground;
and would have drawn back, but that a man in the corner was aroused, and with well-known voice began to cry for help.
He was the dwarf from Orbassan’s camp.
But before the slaves well knew what was happening, Orbassan seized the dwarf, tore off his sash, gagged his mouth, and tied his hands behind his back;
then turned to the other slaves, whom Mustapha and the men had partly bound, and helped to overpower them.
Holding their daggers to their breasts, Orbassan and Mustapha forced the wretches to say where Mirza and Nourmahal were, and were told "in the adjoining room."
Mustapha hastened inside and found Fatima and Zoraide, who had been awakened by the noise.
Quickly they collected their ornaments and clothes and followed Mustapha;
the two robbers besought permission to plunder, but Orbassan refused it, saying, "he could not have it said that Orbassan entered houses at night to steal gold."
Mustapha and the rescued girls crept quickly into the watercourse, and Orbassan promised to follow them quickly.
But first the Chief and his men took the little dwarf into the courtyard, and with a silken rope they had brought with them hanged him to the highest arm of the fountain.
After he had thus punished the treachery of the dwarf, he followed Mustapha.
With tears of gratitude the maidens thanked their noble-hearted deliverer;
but Orbassan urged them on their journey, feeling sure that Thiuli-Kos would follow after, and on the next day, with deep emotion, Mustapha and his precious charges parted from Orbassan, assuring him that they would never forget his goodness.
Fatima, the escaped slave, however, went disguised to Balsora, and from thence to her own people.
After a short and pleasant journey, the brother and sister with Zoraide arrived at their home.
Their old father nearly died of joy when he saw them, and the next day gave a great fete to celebrate their return, to which the whole town was invited.
To a large gathering of relations and friends Mustapha related his adventures, and universal praise was bestowed on the Robber Chief.
When the recital was ended, old Lezah stood up and called Mustapha, and led him to Zoraide’s side.
"Thus," said he, "I loose thee from my curse.
Take this dear maid for whose sake you have endured and ventured as thy bride, and receive for ever your father’s blessing."