Mohammed Ali and His House

Author: Luise Mühlbach

Chapter I the Sea.

Beautiful is the sea when it lies at rest in its sublimity, its murmuring waves gently rippling upon the beach, the sky above reflected with a soft light upon its dark bosom.

Beautiful is the sea when it bears upon its surface the stately ships, as though they were rose-leaves caressingly tossed by one wave to another. Beautiful is the sea when the light barks with their red sails are borne slowly onward by the gentle breeze, the careless fishermen casting nets from the decks of their frail craft into the deep, to draw thence, for the nourishment or pleasure of man, its silent inhabitants. Beautiful it is when in the darkness of the night, relieved only by the light of the stars, and the moon just rising above the horizon, the pirates venture forth in their boats from their lairs on the coast, and glide stealthily along within the shadow of the overhanging cliffs, awaiting an opportunity to rob the fishermen of their harvest; or, united in larger numbers, to suddenly surround the stately merchantman, clamber like cats up its sides, murder the sleeping, unsuspecting crew, and put themselves in possession of the vessel.

The sea has witnessed all this for centuries, has silently buried such secrets in its depths; and yet, after such nights of blood and terror, the sun has again risen in splendor over its bosom, ever presenting the same sublime spectacle.

Beautiful is the sea when it lies at rest in the azure light of the skies-a very heaven on earth. But still more beautiful, more glorious, is it when it surges in its mighty wrath-a wrath compared with which the thunder of the heavens is but as the whispering of love, the raging of a storm upon the land, a mere murmur. An immeasurable monster, the sea rushes with its mighty waves upon the rock-bound coast, sends clouds of spray high into the air, telling in tones of thunder of the majesty and strength of the ocean that refuses to be fettered or conciliated.

You may cultivate the arts and sciences on the land, you may bring the earth into subjection, and make it yield up its treasures; the sea has bounded in freedom since the beginning, and it will not be conquered, will not be tamed. The mind of man has learned to command all things on the land, knows the secrets of the depths of the earth, and uses them; but man is weak and powerless when he dares to command, or ventures to combat, the ocean. At its pleasure it carries ships, barks, and boats; but at its pleasure it also destroys and grinds them to dust, and you can only fold your hands and let it act its will.

Today it is surging fiercely; its waves are black, and their white heads curl over upon the rock Bucephalus, that stretches far out into the bay of Contessa, pictured against the blue sky in the form of a gigantic black steed. Huddled together, at the foot of this rock, and leaning against its surface, is a group of men and boys. They are eagerly gazing out upon the water, and are perhaps speaking to each other; but no one hears what another says, for the waves are roaring, and the storm howling in the rocky caves, and the waves and storm, with their mighty chorus, drown the little human voices. The pale faces of the boys are expressive of terror and anxiety, the knit brows of the men indicate that they are expecting a disaster, and the trembling lips of the old men forebode that the next hour may bring with it some horrible event.

They stand upon the beach, waiting anxiously; but the monster—the sea—regards them not, and hurls one black wave after the other in upon the cliff behind which they stand, often drenching them with spray.

But these people pay no attention to this, hardly notice it; their whole soul is in their eyes, which are gazing fixedly out upon the waters. Thus they stand, these poor, weak human beings, in the presence of the grand, majestic ocean, conscious their impotence, and waiting till the monster shall graciously allow his anger to abate. For a moment the storm holds its breath; a strange, solemn stillness follows upon the roaring of the elements, and affords these people an opportunity to converse, and impart their terror and anxiety to each other.

"He will not return," said one of them, with a shake of the head and a sad look.

"He is lost!" sighed another.

"And you boys are to blame for it!" cries a third, turning to the group who stood near the men, closely wrapped in their brown cloaks, the hoods pulled down over their eyes.

"Why did you encourage him to undertake so daring a feat?" cried a fourth, pointing threateningly toward the boys.

"It is not our fault, Sheik Emir," said one of them, defiantly; "he would do so."

"Mohammed always was proud and haughty," exclaimed another. "We told him that a storm was coming, and that we would go home. But he wouldn’t, sheik."

"That is to say," said the sheik, angrily—"that is to say, you have been ridiculing the poor boy again?"

"He is always so proud, and thinks himself something better than the rest of us," murmured the boy, "though he is something worse, and may some day be a beggar if—"

The storm now began to rage more furiously; the waves towered higher, and threw their spray far on to the shore and high upon the rock, as though determined to make known its dread majesty to the inhabitants of the city of Cavalla, which stands with its little houses, narrow streets, and splendid mosque, on the plateau of the rock of Bucephalus. On the summit of the rock a woman is kneeling, her hands extended imploringly toward heaven; she has allowed the white veil to fall from her face, and her agonized features are exposed to view, regardless of the law that permits her to reveal her countenance in the harem only. What are the laws to her? where is the man to command her to veil her countenance? who says to her: "You belong to me, and my heart glows with jealousy when others behold you"?

No one is there who could thus address her; for she is a widow, and calls nothing on earth her own, and loves nothing on earth but her son, her Mohammed Ali.

She knows that he has gone out to sea in a frail skiff to cross over to the island-rock Imbro. The boys have told her of the daring feat which her son had undertaken with them. Filled with anxiety, they had come up to the widow of Ibrahim to announce that her son had refused to return with them after they had started in their fisherboats for the island of Imbro. "I have begun it and I’ll carry it out," the proud boy had replied to them. "You have ridiculed me, and think yourselves better oarsmen than I, and now you shall see that I alone shall cross over to Imbro, while you cowardly return when the storm begins to rage."

This was his reply, and in their anxiety they had repeated it to his mother Khadra, telling her, at the same time, that they were innocent of her son’s misdeed, and had begged him in his mother’s name to return with them. There she kneels on the brow of the rock, gazing out upon the water, imploring Allah to restore her son, and conjuring the raging sea to bear back her child to the shore.

The mother’s entreaties are ardent, and strong is her prayer to Allah and to Nature.

The ghins, the evil spirits themselves, hold their breath and flap their black wings more gently when they rustle past the spot where a mother weeps and prays for her son!

But a tear drops from the eyes of the good spirits when they meet such a mother, and this tear is potent to save her child. Perhaps at this moment an agathodaemon has flown by, has seen the agonized mother, and has let fall a tear upon the waters, for at this moment they become more tranquil. Perhaps the ghins have suddenly been swept away by the whirlwind, Zeboah, for the storm is now hushed.

The storm is stilled, though from time to time its mighty breath is again heard; and then it is again mute, and the waves roll in upon the shore less furiously. The sky, too, begins to grow clear. The sun looks out from between the clouds, and throws a long golden streak of light across the waves, as if to conciliate with its smile the foaming sea, and smooth its furrowed brow.

Now, a single, mighty cry resounds from above, from the place where the mother is kneeling. It seems to find its echo here below on the shore where the men and boys are standing. It is a cry of joy, of ecstasy. And all hands are raised and pointed across the water to the spot where the island-rock, Imbro, must lie. It is not visible; the waves have surged over it, as they always do when the storm rages, but they know that it must lie there. And there—a black spot! It dances on the waves, and is lifted above the white spray. The sun throws its rays far out over the waters, and over the black spot. Again a shout and a cry resound on the shore and above on the plateau.

Yes, it is the boat, dancing like a leaf up through the foam. The mother and the men are waiting on the shore in breathless suspense, as it approaches nearer and nearer. Yes, it is the boat in which Mohammed Ali went out to sea.

Yes, it is he; he is returning!

The men and boys are now rejoicing, and the poor woman has fainted away. While the mother’s heart was in doubt, it throbbed violently in her breast; now that she knows her child is returning, it stands still with joy and delight.

The women, who had vainly endeavored to console her, have now come to recall the mother to consciousness, and to cheer her with joyous words.

"Your son returns! Allah has protected him! The ghins had no power over him, his agathodaemon watched over him! Allah be praised, Allah is great!"

The boat comes on dancing over the water. The boy stands alone, no one to assist him in wielding his oar. He holds it firmly grasped in his hands, using it lustily, and steering in defiance of the waves toward the shore. And now the men hasten forward to his assistance. They throw long ropes to him, and hail their success with a shout of joy, when one of them happily falls into the boy’s boat. The latter grasps the end thrown to him, and holds it firmly. The men draw the rope and thus force the boat to the shore, and, as it touches the rock, ten arms grasp it and hold it securely. With a single bound the boy leaps ashore.

His face is perfectly calm; his eyes, lustrous as stars, show no traces of terror; they are fixed on the men with a kindly glance, but they darken as he turns to the boys.

"You see, my boys," said he, with a calm and at the same time threatening expression, "I have won my wager! Here is the proof that I was over there. The knife that Ibrahim lost there yesterday, I bring back to him. Here it is!"

He takes the knife out of his jacket, thoroughly drenched with water, and throws it down before the boys. "I have won my wager! You men are witnesses of my triumph! Each boy is bound to pay me tribute from to-day. Each one must furnish me, twice a week, with the best peaches and dates from his garden, and when we go out to the chase they must obey me, and acknowledge me to be their captain."

What triumph shone in his eyes, what an expression of energy in the bearing of a boy scarcely ten years old!

"That was it!" exclaimed Toussoun Aga, in a reproachful tone. "For this reason my brother’s son risked his life, and caused his mother and all of us so much anxiety.—Allah forgive you! You are a wild, defiant boy."

"No, uncle," cried the boy; "no, I am not wild and defiant. They ridiculed me, and said I was not as good as they, could do nothing, didn’t even know how to steer a boat. And then we laid a wager, and I won my wager; and they shall pay the tribute, and acknowledge me to be their captain. I call all you men to witness that I am the captain of the boys of Cavalla."

The men looked at each other, amused and astonished at the same time. He speaks like a child, and yet haughtily, like a monarch. His words are childish, and yet so full of energy. And many of them thought they could read in the book of the future that a great destiny awaited the poor boy Mohammed Ali. "He is poor, to be sure, and will have much hard fighting to do with the storms of life. May the same success he has met with against the storms of the sea today also attend him hereafter against the storms of life!"

Toussoun Aga stretches out his hand to take that of his nephew Mohammed, to lead him to the rock above, to his mother, but the boy quickly rejects the proffered assistance.

"I can ascend the rock to my mother alone; I am not weak and terrified, uncle. Go on, I will follow."

And, as he says this, he crosses his hands behind his back. The rest now cry out:

"Look at his hands! Look, they are bleeding!"

Toussoun now takes the boy’s hands in his own, against his will, and opens them. They are covered with blood, that oozes out of the raw flesh.

"It is nothing," said the boy; "nothing at all. I had to hold fast to the oar, the skin stuck to it, and that made my hands bleed."

The men gaze on him admiringly, and whisper to each other: "He is a hero, if he is only ten years old." And they respectfully step back, and allow the boy to pass on up the rocky path that leads to Cavalla.


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Chicago: Luise Mühlbach, "Chapter I the Sea.," 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 July 1, 2022,

MLA: Mühlbach, Luise. "Chapter I the Sea." 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. 1 Jul. 2022.

Harvard: Mühlbach, L, 'Chapter I the Sea.' 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 1 July 2022, from