Part 9, Chapter 5

Part IX

Chapter 5

IT was the dead of night, a single lamp burned in the chamber, which opened into an arched gallery that descended by a flight of steps into the gardens of the Serail.

A female figure ascended the flight with slow and cautious steps. She paused on the gallery, she looked around, one foot was in the chamber.

She entered. She entered a chamber of small dimensions, but richly adorned. In the farthest corner was a couch of ivory, hung with a gauzy curtain of silver tissue, which, without impeding respiration, protected the slumberer from the fell insects of an Oriental night. Leaning against an ottoman was a large brazen shield of ancient fashion, and near it some helmets and curious weapons.

‘An irresistible impulse hath carried me into this chamber!’ exclaimed the prophetess. ‘The light haunted me like a spectre; and wheresoever I moved, it seemed to summon me.

‘A couch and a slumberer!’

She approached the object, she softly withdrew the curtain. Pale and panting, she rushed back, yet with a light step. She beheld Alroy!

For a moment she leant against the wall, overpowered by her emotions. Again she advanced, and gazed on her unconscious victim.

‘Can the guilty sleep like the innocent? Who would deem this gentle slumberer had betrayed the highest trust that ever Heaven vouchsafed to favoured man? He looks not like a tyrant and a traitor: calm his brow, and mild his placid breath! His long dark hair, dark as the raven’s wing, hath broken from its fillet, and courses, like a wild and stormy night, over his pale and moon-lit brow. His cheek is delicate, and yet repose hath brought a flush; and on his lip there seems some word of love, that will not quit it. It is the same Alroy that blessed our vision when, like the fresh and glittering star of morn, he rose up in the desert, and bringing joy to others, brought to me only—

‘Oh! hush my heart, and let thy secret lie hid in the charnel-house of crushed affections. Hard is the lot of woman: to love and to conceal is our sharp doom! O bitter life! 0 most unnatural lot! Man made society, and made us slaves. And so we droop and die, or else take refuge in idle fantasies, to which we bring the fervour that is meant for nobler ends.

‘Beauteous hero! whether I bear thee most hatred or most love I cannot tell. Die thou must; yet I feel I should die with thee. Oh! that to-night could lead at the same time unto our marriage bed and funeral pyre. Must that white bosom bleed? and must those delicate limbs be hacked and handled by these bloody butchers? Is that justice? They lie, the traitors, when they call thee false to our God. Thou art thyself a god, and I could worship thee! See those beauteous lips; they move. Hark to the music!’

‘Schirene, Schirene!’

‘There wanted but that word to summon back my senses. Fool! whither is thy fancy wandering? I will not wait for tardy justice. I will do the deed myself. Shall I not kill my Sisera?’ She seized a dagger from the ottoman, a rare and highly-tempered blade. Up she raised it in the air, and dashed it to his heart with superhuman force. It struck against the talisman which Jabaster had given to Alroy, and which, from a lingering superstition, he still wore; it struck, and shivered into a thousand pieces. The Caliph sprang from his couch; his eyes met the prophetess, standing over him in black despair, with the hilt of the dagger in her hand.

‘What is all this? Schirene! Who art thou? Esther!’ He jumped from the couch, called to Pharez, and seized her by both hands. ‘Speak!’ he continued. ‘Art thou Esther? What dost thou here?’

She broke into a wild laugh; she wrestled with his grasp, and pulled him towards the gallery. He beheld the chief tower of the Serail in flames. Joining her hands together, grasping them both in one of his, and dragging her towards the ottoman, he seized a helmet and flung it upon the mighty shield. It sounded like a gong. Pharez started from his slumbers, and rushed into the chamber.

‘Pharez! Treason! treason! Send instant orders that the palace gates be opened on no pretence whatever. Go, fly! See the captain himself. Summon the household. Order all to arms. Speed, for our lives!’

The whole palace was now roused. Alroy delivered Esther, exhausted, and apparently senseless, to a guard of eunuchs. Slaves and attendants poured in from all directions. Soon arrived Schirene, with dishevelled hair and hurried robes, attended by a hundred maidens, each bearing a torch.

‘My soul, what ails thee?’

‘Nothing, sweetest; all will soon be well,’ replied Alroy, picking up, and examining the fragments of the shivered dagger, which he had just discovered.

‘My life has been attempted; the palace is in flames; I suspect the city is in insurrection. Look to your mistress, maidens!’ Schirene fell into their arms. ‘I will soon be back.’ So saying, he hurried to the grand court.

Several thousand persons, for the population of the Serail and its liberties was very considerable, were assembled in the grand court; eunuchs, women, pages, slaves, and servants, and a few soldiers; all in confusion and alarm, fire raging within, and mysterious and terrible outcries without. A cry of ‘The Caliph! the Caliph!’ announced the arrival of Alroy, and produced a degree of comparative silence.

‘Where is the captain of the guard?’ he exclaimed. ‘That’s well. Open the gates to none. Who will leap the wall, and bear a message to Asriel? You? That’s well too. To-morrow you shall yourself command. Where’s Mesrour? Take the eunuch guard and the company of gardeners,76 and suppress the flames at all cost. Pull down the intervening buildings. Abidan’s troop arrived with succour, eh! I doubt it not. I expected them. Open to none. They force an entrance, eh! I thought so. So that javelin has killed a traitor. Feed me with arms. I’ll keep the gate. Send again to Asriel. Where’s Pharez?’

‘By your side, my lord.’

‘Run to the Queen, my faithful Pharez, and tell her that all’s well. I wish it were! Didst ever hear a din so awful? Methinks all the tambours and cymbals of the city are in full chorus. Foul play, I guess. Oh! for Asriel! Has Pharez returned?’

‘I am by your side, my lord.’

‘How’s the Queen?’

‘She would gladly join your side.’

‘No, no! Keep the gates there. Who says they are making fires before them? ’Tis true. We must sally, if the worst come to the worst, and die at least like soldiers. O Asriel! Asriel!’

‘May it please your Highness, the troops are pouring in from all quarters.’

‘’Tis Asriel.’

‘No, your Highness, ’tis not the guard. Methinks they are Scherirah’s men.’

‘Hum! What it all is, I know not; but very foul play, I do not doubt. Where’s Honain?’

‘With the Queen, Sire.’

‘’Tis well. What’s that shout?’

‘Here’s the messenger from Asriel. Make way! way!’

‘Well! how is’t, Sir?’

‘Please your Highness, I could not reach the guard.’

‘Could not reach the guard! God of my fathers! who should let thee?’

‘Sire, I was taken prisoner.’

‘Prisoner! By the thunder of Sinai, are we at war? Who made thee prisoner?’

‘Sire, they have proclaimed thy death.’


‘The council of the Elders. So I heard. Abidan, Zalmunna—’

‘Rebels and dogs! Who else?’

‘The High Priest.’

‘Hah! Is it there? Pharez, fetch me some drink. Is it true Scherirah has joined them?’

‘His force surrounds the Serail. No aid can reach us without cutting through his ranks.’

‘Oh! that I were there with my good guard! Are we to die here like rats, fairly murdered? Cowardly knaves! Hold out, hold out, my men! ’Tis sharp work, but some of us will smile at this hereafter. Who stands by Alroy to-night bravely and truly, shall have his heart’s content to-morrow. Fear not: I was not born to die in a civic broil. I bear a charmed life. So to it.’