Part 7, Chapter 5

Part VII

Chapter 5

HASSAN SUBAH, after five days’ forced marches pitched his sumptuous pavilion in that beautiful Oasis, which had afforded such delightful refreshment to Alroy when a solitary pilgrim. Around for nearly a mile, were the tents of his warriors, and of the numerous caravan that had accompanied him, laden with water and provisions for his troops. Here, while he reposed, he also sought information as to the position of his enemy.

A party of observation, which he had immediately despatched, returned almost instantly with a small caravan that had been recently plundered by the robbers. The merchant, a venerable and pious Moslem, was ushered into the presence of the Governor of Hamadan.

‘From the robbers’ haunt?’ inquired Hassan.

‘Unfortunately so,’ answered the merchant.

‘Is it far?’

‘A day’s journey.’

‘And you quitted it?’

‘Yesterday morn.’

‘What is their force?’

The merchant hesitated.

‘Do they not make prisoners?’ enquired the Governor, casting a scrutinising glance at his companion.

‘Holy Prophet! what a miserable wretch am I!’ exclaimed the venerable merchant, bursting into tears. ‘A faithful subject of the Caliph, I am obliged to serve rebels, a devout Moslem, I am forced to aid Jews! Order me to be hanged at once, my lord,’ continued the unfortunate merchant, wringing his hands. ‘Order me to be hanged at once. I have lived long enough.’

‘What is all this?’ enquired Hassan; ‘speak, friend, without fear.’

‘I am a faithful subject of the Caliph,’ answered the merchant; ‘I am a devout Moslem, but I have lost ten thousand dirhems.’

‘I am sorry for you, sir; I also have lost something, but my losses are nothing to you, nor yours to me.’

‘Accursed be the hour when these dogs tempted me! Tell me, is it sin to break faith with a Jew?’

‘On the contrary, I could find you many reverend Mollahs,* who will tell you that such a breach is the highest virtue. Come! come, I see how it is: you have received your freedom on condition of not betraying your merciful plunderers. Promises exacted by terror are the bugbears of fools. Speak, man, all you know. Where are they? What is their force? Are we supposed to be at hand?’

‘I am a faithful subject of the Caliph, and I am bound to serve him,’ replied the merchant; ‘I am a devout Moslem, and ’tis my duty to destroy all Giaours, but I am also a man, and I must look after my own interest. Noble Governor, the long and the short is, these scoundrels have robbed me of ten thousand dirhems, as my slaves will tell you: at least, goods to that amount. No one can prove that they be worth less. It is true that I include in that calculation the fifty per cent. I was to make on my shawls at Hamadan, but still to me it is as good as ten thousand dirhems. Ask my slaves if such an assortment of shawls was ever yet beheld.’

‘To the point, to the point. The robbers?’

‘I am at the point. The shawls is the point. For when I talked of the shawls and the heaviness of my loss, you must know that the captain of the robbers—’


‘A fierce young gentleman, I do not know how they call him: said the captain to me, “Merchant, you look gloomy.” “Gloomy,” I said, “you would look gloomy if you were a prisoner, and had lost ten thousand dirhems.” “What, is this trash worth ten thousand dirhems?” said he. “With the fifty per cent. I was to make at Hamadan.” “Fifty per cent.,” said he; “you are an old knave.” “Knave! I should like to hear anyone call me a knave at Bagdad.” “Well, knave or not, you may get out of this scrape.” “How?” “Why you are a respectable-looking man,” said he, “and are a good Moslem into the bargain, I warrant.” “That I am,” said I, “Although you be a Jew: but how the faith is to serve me here I am sure I don’t know, unless the angel Gabriel, as in the fifty-fifth verse of the twenty-seventh chapter of the Koran—”’

‘Tush, tush!’ exclaimed Hassan; ‘to the point.’

‘I always am at the point, only you put me out. However, to make it as short as possible, the captain knows all about your coming, and is frightened out of his wits, although he did talk big; I could easily see that. And he let me go, you see, with some of my slaves, and gave me an order for five thousand dirhems on one Bostenay, of Hamadan, (perhaps you know him; is he a good man?) on condition that I would fall in with you, and, Mohammed forgive me, tell you a lie!’

‘A lie!’

‘Yes, a lie; but these Jewish dogs do not understand what a truly religious man is, and when I began to tell the lie, I was soon put out. Now, noble Hassan, if a promise to a Jew be not binding on a true believer, and you will see me straight with the five thousand dirhems, I will betray everything at once.’

‘Be easy about the five thousand dirhems, good man, and tell me all.’

‘You will see me paid?’

‘My honour upon it.’

‘’Tis well! Know then, the infamous dogs are very weak, and terrified at the news of your progress: one, whom I think they call Jabaster, has departed with the great majority of the people into the interior of the desert, about seven hundred strong. I heard so; but mind, I do not know it. The young man, whom you call Alroy, being wounded in a recent conflict, could not depart with them, but remains among the ruins with some female prisoners, some treasure, and about a hundred companions hidden in sepulchres. He gave me my freedom on condition that I should fall in with you, and assure you that the dogs, full five thousand strong, had given you the go-by in the night, and marched towards Hamadan. They wanted me to frighten you; it was a lie, and I could not tell it. And now you know the plain truth; and if it be a sin to break faith with an infidel, you are responsible for it, as well as for the five thousand dirhems, which, by the bye, ought to have been ten.’

‘Where is your order?’

‘’Tis here,’ said the merchant, drawing it from his vest, ‘a very business-like document, drawn upon one Bostenay, whom they described as very rich, and, who is here enjoined to pay me five thousand dirhems, if, in consequence of my information, Hassan Subah, that is yourself, return forthwith to Hamadan without attacking them.’

‘Old Bostenay’s head shall answer for this.’

‘I am glad of it. But were I you, I would make him pay me first.’

‘Merchant,’ said Hassan, ‘have you any objection to pay another visit to your friend Alroy?’

‘Allah forbid!’

‘In my company?’

‘That makes a difference.’

‘Be our guide. The dirhems shall be doubled.’

‘That will make up for the fifty per cent. I hardly like it; but in your company that makes a difference. Lose no time. If you push on, Alroy must be captured. Now or never! The Jewish dogs, to rifle a true believer!’

‘Oglu,’* said Hassan to one of his officers. ‘To horse! You need not strike the tents. Can we reach the city by sunset, merchant?’

‘An hour before, if you be off at once.’

‘Sound the drums. To horse! to horse!’