Mohammed Ali and His House

Author: Luise Mühlbach

Chapter V the Story-Teller

"I HAVE done work enough to day," murmured Mohammed to himself, as, after having left his mother, he walked through the dirty suburb to the stairway hewn in the rock that led down to the cliffs. "Yes, I have worked enough, and mother is well; I will therefore go to my paradise, and rest there awhile."

He sprang down the stairway and walked hastily toward the cliffs. After looking cautiously around, he crept through the narrow opening in the rocks into the passage. The silence did him good, and a happy smile played about his lips. "Here I am king," he cried, loudly and joyously. "This is my realm, and I shall soon enter my thronechamber. How have I longed for this, how glad am I!" Suddenly he stood still. "What were Mother Khadra’s words?" he asked himself. "’Only he who practises self-denial can enjoy.’ Have I not always said to myself that I would accustom myself to want, and learn to enjoy by denying myself that which pleases me? Have I not said that I would not walk on rose-leaves, but learn to tread on thorns, that my feet might become inured to pain? And now, like a foolish child, I am delighted at the prospect of entering my cave, my thronechamber! ’Only he who practises self-denial can enjoy.’ Remember that, Mohammed, and learn to practise self-denial; I will learn it!" he cried so loudly that his voice resounded throughout the entire cave.

He turned and retraced his steps. "I would gladly have gone into my cave, would gladly have reclined on my mat, have looked up at the blue sky, and down into the beautiful, sea, that tells me such wondrous stories. Folly! I can hear stories elsewhere. Scha-er Mehsed tells stories, too, and on the whole that is more convenient than to tell them to myself."

He walks on hastily, without turning once to look back at his beloved grotto, walks on into the world, to men whom he does not love, and who do not love him.

He will learn to practise self-denial, and joyfully he now says to himself: "I am already learning it, and now I can also enjoy."

At this moment he observed Tschorbadji Hassan, who had just turned a corner of the street, advancing, followed by his servants.

When he perceived the boy, he stood still and greeted him with a gracious smile. Mohammed, his arms folded on his breast, inclined his head profoundly before the mighty man.

"See, Mohammed! The splendid shot! You come at the right moment, Mohammed; I had already sent out a slave after you. Osman, my poor sick son, craves a strange repast. He has seen pigeons whirling through the air, and thinks, probably, because he knows they are not easily to be had, that there can be nothing better in the world than a roasted wild pigeon. Now, I know, Mohammed Ali, that no one can use a gun better than yourself, and it would give me great satisfaction to have you procure some of these birds for my son."

"I will do it gladly, because it is for Osman," replied Mohammed. "I will bring them myself, within the hour. I beg you, gracious master, to tell your son that I am glad to be able to do something for him. I must be off after my gun."

Mohammed withdraws himself with a total absence of ceremony, not waiting until Tschorbadji Hassan Bey dismisses him with a gracious wave of the hand. He flies to his mother’s hut, takes down his gun from the wall, and loads it. He then climbs rapidly among the cliffs in search of the wild-pigeons for the poor sick Osman.

In an hour, Mohammed returned with his game. As he walked along, carrying the four birds in his band, he said to himself with a smile: "Was it not well that I learned to deny myself a pleasure? And here I have the recompense, the enjoyment. For it is a recompense to be able to gratify a wish of dear good Osman; he was always so kind to me."

He now entered the court-yard of the palace in which Tschorbadji Hassan Bey resided. An Armenian slave stood at the gate, who seemed to have been awaiting the boys. He bowed profoundly, which he had never done before, and announced that his grace Osman Bey was in the garden, and had ordered that Mohammed Ali should bring the pigeons himself, and that Tschorbadji Hassan was also there awaiting him.

"Show me the way, I will follow," said Mohammed, whose tranquil countenance gave no indication that he felt flattered at the great honor of being admitted to the garden.

The Armenian led the way with an air of profound respect. Proudly, his head erect, Mohammed followed him through the wide hall of the palace and into the garden.

The fragrance arising from the carefully-cultivated flower-beds was delightful; the kiosks and baldachins were so charming! "Paradise must be like this," thought Mohammed, and he breathed the fragrant air with delight. But he turned his head neither to the right nor to the left, that no one might observe how wondrously beautiful everything seemed to him, and that he had never before seen any thing so magnificent.

There, under the beautiful tent with the golden tassels, and the gold-glittering star—there, on a couch, reclined a pale, thin boy, and at his side, on a chair richly embroidered, sat Tschorbadji Hassan.

As Mohammed now advanced with elastic step, his head erect, the two looked at him in admiration.

"How splendid he looks!" murmured the pale boy. "That is health, father, and life. He is just my age, and only look at me!"

The tschorbadji suppressed a sigh, and smiled gently as he looked at his son. "You are ill, my Osman. Allah will grant you speedy recovery, and then you will become strong and healthy like Mohammed Ali.—Well!" he cried to the boy who had stood still at some distance with his birds in his hand—"well, I see you have kept your word, and brought my son the wild-pigeons."

"I have, and am glad that I was able to do so." replied Mohammed, as he now came nearer in obedience to the bey’s request, and greeted the pale boy with a joyous smile.

"Give me your hand, Mohammed," said the young boy, who had partially risen from his cushions, and was supporting himself on his elbow. Timidly, Mohammed took the boy’s pale, thin hand in his own.

"Tell me, Mohammed, why do you not come to see me oftener? You know how glad I always am to see you."

"Master, he did not visit you, because it does not become the poor to intrude upon the rich and noble," replied Mohammed, his eyes fixed with an anxious expression on Osman’s pale face.

"Rich and noble!" repeated Osman, with a sigh. "You are rich, Mohammed, for you are healthy. You are noble, Mohammed; for the inhabitants of the sea and of the air must obey you. You have power, and that is nobility."

The tschorbadji was displeased with these humble words of his son, and his brow became clouded.

"I think you should be content with your riches and nobility, my son," said he. "Come, hand me the pigeons, Mohammed."

He took the beautifully feathered birds from Mohammed’s hand, looked at them, and let their feathers play in the sun light. "Yes, they are still warm; so the world goes. An hour since they disported themselves in life’s sunshine. The child of man comes, sends a few shot through their bodies, and their glory is at an end. But, I thank you, Mohammed, for having so quickly complied with our wish. Here is your reward." He took two gold-pieces from his purse and handed them to the boy in his outstretched hand.

Mohammed did not take them. He drew back at the words of the governor, a deep color suffusing itself over his cheeks.

Osman perceived this, and motioned to him to come nearer to his couch. "Mohammed," said he, "father forgot to add for what purpose he wished to give you the money. Not for yourself. I know that your procuring these pigeons for me was an act of friendship. You have always been friendly to me, and I shall never forget what you did for me the other day."

"What was it?" asked the tschorbadji, with surprise.

"You know nothing of it, father. I did not mention it to you because I feared it might make you angry," replied Osman, gently. "I had had myself carried out on the rock. You know I like to rest there, in the sunlight, under the olive-tree that stretches out its limbs over the water. From that point you can look so far out over the sea. There you can see where heaven and earth unite, and strange dreams and wishes overcome over me there. The sea murmurs at my feet in such wondrous, mysterious tones, that my heart warms and my breast expands. The physician, too, had said that I should breathe the fresh air of the cliffs very often, and I had been carried out, and lay there at rest in sweet, solitary silence. I did not observe that the sky was darkening, and a storm coming on. It also escaped the notice of the two servants who had carried me out in the chair. Now that the rain already began to fall in large drops, they became alarmed, and both ran away rapidly to procure a covered palanquin, as the physician had said I must be carefully guarded against taking cold. They had hardly gone and left me alone when it began to rain harder, and I felt the large drops slowly trickling down upon me through the leaves of the olive-tree. The rain was very cold. The storm raged and tore the protecting foliage of the tree apart. Suddenly I heard footsteps. It was Mohammed Ali. He was rapidly passing by, but when he saw me lying there under the tree, alone, he came up to me, and understood the situation at a glance. In spite of my resistance, he spread his body over me, and protected me from the rain and discomfort.

"When the servants arrived with the palanquin I had remained perfectly dry, while Mohammed was wet to the skin. I begged him to come with me. I begged him to accept a gift. He refused both, and cried, laughing, as he ran away to escape my further thanks: ’For me it was only a welcome bath! You it would have hurt, Osman.’"

"Good, by Allah! That was well done," said the tschorbadji, with his aristocratic smile. "You served my son as an umbrella. I thank you for it, Mohammed, and will reward you. A new mantle shall be brought you, for I perceive that your own is torn and old."

"I thank you, master. It is good enough for me. This mantle is an inheritance from my father. Mother preserved it for ten years, and now I wear it, and wear it with pride, as a souvenir of my father. Thanks for your kind offer."

"Then take the money," said the tschorbadji. "You see I still hold it in my hand."

"Thanks, master. I have no need of the money."

"You must take it, Mohammed," said Osman, gently. "As I told you before, father has forgotten to add for what purpose he gives it. You are to go and hear the new scha-er, the story-teller. Do you know him already?"

"No, Osman, I do not. What of this scha-er?"

"I have heard him much spoken of," replied Osman, gently. "He is a rival of the old scha-er; Mehsed. You know the old one always sits in the middle of the market-place, on a stone, and tells the people stories of the olden time, and of the magnificence of the Turkish Empire. Now a new storyteller has come, from Constantinople it is said, and people say his stories are very beautiful. But he does not seat himself on a stone in the middle of the market, but in the wide hall of a store. There he has hired a corner, and there he sits. Around himself, as far as his voice reaches, he has fastened a rope to stakes, and whoever wishes to enter the circle thus formed must pay to hear his stories. I should like to do so, too, and have often entreated my father to allow me, but they say it would excite me too much, and that the air of the hall would be too close for me. Therefore, Mohammed, I beg you to go there for me, listen to the stories, and then come and repeat them to me. You see it was for this purpose father gave you the money.—Is it not so, father?"

"Yes, my boy, it shall be so if you desire it. I give him the money that he may hear the new scha-er, and if it entertains and pleases you. Mohammed shall come to you and relate what he has heard."

"Will you afford me this pleasure, Mohammed? I am not strong and healthy like you; I cannot climb the rocks, like you; cannot sit on the cliffs and listen to the voice of the sea and the storm; cannot, like you, enjoy the delight of taking exercise in the open air! Here I lie on my bed, and all that is good and beautiful must come to me, if I am to enjoy it. Then come to me, Mohammed Ali!"

With a kindly look, he again held out his pale, attenuated hand, and Mohammed felt that warm tears were trickling down his cheeks, and that somehow he could not speak while the pale handsome boy was looking at him so entreatingly. He took Osman’s hand and pressed heartily in his own.

"I accept the money from Tschorbadji Hassan," said he, in low, soft tones. "I shall go and listen to the new scha-er, and, if you wish, Osman, I shall come to-morrow, and every day, to relate to you what I have heard; and it will please me if it gives you pleasure."

"I thank you, Mohammed, and beg you to come to-morrow ready to relate to me.—Give me the money, father," said he, addressing his father, with a gentle smile. "I will give it to Mohammed for the scha-er."

He took the money, and Mohammed willingly accepted it from him, and thanked him.

"I will go to the scha-er at once, for this is his hour, I believe."

He bowed hastily and slightly before the tschorbadji, but profoundly and reverentially before the poor pale boy, and rapidly walked back toward the gate, thinking not of the beautiful flowers that surrounded him, rejoicing only at being able to do something for Osman Bey, and rejoicing, too, at the prospect of listening to the scha-er.

It was just the hour at which the new scha-er, the rival of old Mehsed, began to relate his stories in the hall. With an earnest, respectful air, the men and boys sat around in the wide circle on their mats, and listened, slowly moving their bodies to and fro, to what the scha-er was relating.

Mohammed noiselessly entered the circle, and seating himself as close as he could in front of the scha-er, listened in breathless attention to the loud, resonant voice that told of the glories of the past

"I have not come to tell you of the fatherland to-day, not of Turkish might and grandeur. Your humble servant has been proclaiming to you their wonders for the last few days," said he. "To-day I have turned my gaze toward distant worlds and kingdoms. I am about to tell you of the provinces converted into parts of our realm by the power of the sultan. Have you heard of the land that lies over there beyond the sea—the land of the Egyptians? Great is the history of this people, and from it we can learn that Allah alone is great, and that, next to him, and next to the prophet, nothing is so great as our emperor and master, our Sultan Selim, at Stamboul, on his imperishable throne. I told you yesterday of the origin of the kingdom of Egypt, and of the struggles carried on by barbarian hordes against each other. I then went on to tell you of the caliphs of Bagdad, how they had ruled in Egypt, and how they, too, were overthrown in their magnificence. Now listen. Egypt was lost to the caliphs of Bagdad; after long struggles their rule was at an end forever. A fortunate soldier, named Tokid, possessed himself of the rich and fertile kingdom that lies beyond the ocean. He held the reins of government with a strong hand, and an army of four hundred thousand men spread themselves over the whole land, like a swarm of hornets and grasshoppers, and held the trembling people in subjection. But he died, and a black slave named Kafour, took the sceptre from the hands of the dying man, and said, ’He gave it to me as to his successor.’ And the four hundred thousand hornets and grasshoppers repeated these words, and the nation bowed its head and submitted to the rule of this black man.

"But one man bad the courage to defy this slave. He was a descendant of the house of Ali, which could boast of being the house of the great prophet.

"Mahadi Obeidallah was the name of this grandson of Ali. He was strong and mighty before Allah, and he held in his strong hand the green flag of the prophet, of his ancestor, an heir-loom in his family, as he landed from his ships with his troops, at Alexandria, the great city that lies on the shore of Africa, and belongs to the realm of Egypt.

"Nothing could resist the descendant of the prophet, and Mahadi Obeidallah erected his throne in Alexandria. The conquest of Egypt, begun by him, was finished by his grandson, Moez. He brought a hundred thousand men, commanded by his vizier Jauhar, to Alexandria, and marched with them through the desert toward the great city of Fostal, which Caliph Amrou had built.

"Near this great city, Jauhar founded another with splendid walls and palaces, and he called it El-Kahera—that is, the—Victorious.’ Proudly, victoriously, beside the old city of Fostal, arose the new city of El-Kahera, the wondrous city! Moez sat enthroned there in the midst of his realm, and he founded in El-Kahera, the Victorious, the dynasty of the Fatimite caliphs; for Fatima, the daughter of the prophet Mohammed, had married Ali, who was the head of the house from which Moez and Jauhar descended.

"The new city, El-Kahera arose quickly, and soon became the model for all that was beautiful in the arts and sciences in Egypt. The haughty Bagdad, once so mighty, sank into the dust before her.

"But the Fatimites were neither wiser nor more fortunate than the Abbassites, of whom I told you yesterday, had been. The people could not love them, for the Fatimites ruled tyrannically, and knew nothing of pity and love; and the religion of the prophet, which teaches that we should love and do good to our fellow-men, they practised with their tongues only, but not in reality. They thought it sufficient to be able to call themselves descendants of the great prophet, without imitating him in his good works.

"At last one of them even dared to proclaim himself the prophet. His name was Hakem. To him it did not seem enough to be the descendant of Mohammed, of our great prophet—he wished to be king and prophet himself. He desired to found a new religion, and, because the inhabitants of El-Kahera would not bow down before him in the dust, and abandon their prophet, Mohammed, for his sake, he caused the one half of the beautiful city of El-Kahera, the Victorious, to be laid in ashes, and he allowed his wild hordes to plunder and rob the other half. He rejoiced in this, and imagined Allah would be contented. He said, too, that Allah conversed with him each day, and gave him instructions with his own lips. It was for this purpose that he went daily into the mountains of Mokatan, which rise on the banks of the Nile, near the city; and there he, a second Moses, communed, as he declared, with Allah.

"But one day he did not return from the mountains, and when his janizaries sought him they found him lying dead on the ground, pierced with daggers.

"The Fatimites had ruled over Egypt for two hundred years. Their glory was now at an end, and Allah sent the unbelievers as a scourge to punish those who had dared to set themselves above the prophet, to punish the sons of Hakem who had declared himself to be the prophet.

"The unbelievers, who called themselves Christians, came, therefore, with a cross on their arms, and a cross on their banners, conquered El-Kahera, and levied a tribute of many millions of piasters. But the Caliph Addad, a son of Hakem, called to his assistance Noureddin, the ruler of the land of Alep, who sent him a powerful army, and the army of the Christian dogs was scattered like dust before the winds.

"Yet Addad reaped no blessing from the assistance thus called to his side—the son was to be punished for the misdeeds and tyranny of his father Hakem. A strong and mighty man had come with Noureddin’s army; he made himself Addad’s vizier, their commander-in-chief, and Addad died of mortification. Saladin the son of Ayoub, assumed his place, and became the ruler of Egypt, and founded the dynasty of the Ayoubites."


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Chicago: Luise Mühlbach, "Chapter V the Story-Teller," Mohammed Ali and His House, ed. CM01B10.Txt - 149 Kb, CM01B10.Zip - 56 Kb and trans. Coleman, Chapman, Mrs., 1813-1891 in Mohammed Ali and His House (New York: The Modern Library Publishers, 1918), Original Sources, accessed March 20, 2019,

MLA: Mühlbach, Luise. "Chapter V the Story-Teller." Mohammed Ali and His House, edited by CM01B10.Txt - 149 Kb, CM01B10.Zip - 56 Kb, and translated by Coleman, Chapman, Mrs., 1813-1891, in Mohammed Ali and His House, New York, The Modern Library Publishers, 1918, Original Sources. 20 Mar. 2019.

Harvard: Mühlbach, L, 'Chapter V the Story-Teller' in Mohammed Ali and His House, ed. and trans. . cited in 1918, Mohammed Ali and His House, The Modern Library Publishers, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 20 March 2019, from