My Tea to Mehemet Ali and Fareedie by Unknown

WHEN I lived in Syria, Midhat Pasha was appointed governor of the Pashalic in which I resided, and came with great pomp and ceremony to assume the duties of his position. His retinue consisted of a great many guards, servants and soldiers, and, as they passed through the street just below my balcony, I looked at them all with a great deal of interest.

The Pasha rode a fine bay horse and was dressed in European costume, excepting that he wore a turban instead of a hat. He was short and stout, well bronzed by the sun, and had that air of command which so much distinguishes a soldier if he possesses it. He seemed to be about fifty years of age, although I have heard he was much older.

Just here I shall tell you that I never saw a tall and slender Turk, though I have seen many handsome ones. They all seemed to show in their features and frame their Tartar origin.

Damascus is the capital of the Pashalic, and Midhat went there to live in the palace of the Governors, which is near the famous Mosque of the Sultan Selim. Damascus is about ninety miles from Beirût, and the road that connects the two cities is an excellent one. It was built by the French after the terrible massacres in the Lebanon Mountains in 1860.

We soon heard the new Pasha was very much disliked in Damascus. He tried to reform several abuses in the administration of affairs, and gave great offence to all classes of the people; so he brought his family with him and came to live in Beirût.

The Turks are Orthodox Mohammedans, you know, and are polygamists. In his youth Midhat married a lady, who was remarkable for her goodness, and he esteemed her very much. But this lady had a great sorrow, for no little children were hers. After awhile she asked Midhat to marry a lady she knew, and he did so.

These ladies were very fond of one another; the elder was the adviser and counselor of her husband, interested in politics and business; the other was very industrious, made beautiful fancy-work and embroidery, and was always busy with her needle, so neither became a horrible scold, nor a lazy, fat animal, as almost all Mohammedan women become because they are so idle and have nothing to think about.

I knew the two dear little children of the second wife. The boy, Mehemet Ali, was seven years old, and the little girl, Fareedie, was five. I became acquainted with them in this way.

Midhat wished the children to be well educated, and he engaged an English lady, named Mrs. Smith, to be their governess, with the distinct understanding that she was never in any way to mention any of the doctrines of our Christian religion to them. This was a hard thing for her to promise, but she did so and assumed the charge of the children. They slept in a room opening from hers and she watched over them night and day with loving care. I knew Mrs. Smith very well, and through her knew the children and their mother.

The little ones could speak French very well (French is the favorite language of all Orientals), but not any English.

I seem to be a long time in reaching my story, but I had to tell you all this, else how would you have known who Mehemet Ali and Fareedie were, or how extraordinary it was for the children of a Turkish Pasha to go anywhere to tea?

I invited them to take luncheon with me, but Mrs. Smith said that would interfere with their morning lessons, so the invitation was changed, and I asked them to come to tea.

It was a beautiful November afternoon (November in Syria is warm and is the perfection of weather), and I sent a carriage for them at half-past three o'clock. They soon came, no one with them but Mrs. Smith.

Mehemet Ali wore a light gray suit made like an American boy's, only his trousers were long and he had a red tarboosh on his head. He had worn a hat, but this gave offence to the Turks and was one of the charges made against his father by the people of Damascus, so it had been discarded.

Fareedie wore a dark blue velvet frock with a frill of lace around the neck, and on her feet were little red Turkish slippers. She was very beautiful, eager and quick—nay, passionate in all her feelings—and from the time she entered my house until she left it in a quiver of excitement. When she came in, she kissed me on the cheek and gave me some white jasmine blossoms strung like beads upon a fine wire, something little Syrian children are very fond of. Her first astonishment was the long mirror in my wardrobe; she never had seen one before, and when she caught sight of herself in it, she cried breathlessly: "Oh! très jolie! très jolie!" and turned herself in every direction to see the effect, then ran to me and gave me another kiss and called me, "chère Madame."

She darted hither and thither, looking at every thing and chattering; but Mehemet Ali was very grave, although his little beady black eyes were looking at everything also, and showed the interest he felt but wished to conceal.

Now Fareedie was on the balcony looking down on the fountain below and some shrubs covered with wonderful large blue flowers (like morning-glories, only ever so much larger)—"trees of flowers," she called the shrubs; then she spied a little rocking-chair, something that was a wonderful curiosity to her, and, when told that she might sit in it, she rocked back and forth furiously, till I really feared she would break her pretty little neck.

I said to Mrs. Smith, "This will never do; I will take her on my lap and show her pictures."

"Yes," said she, "that will be a great treat, for she has never seen any."

"It is not possible!" I exclaimed.

"Indeed it is. You forget the Mohammedans do not allow pictures anywhere in their houses, and the little books I have to teach the children from are French ones without illustrations."

By this time I had gotten a book of Natural History, and, taking the little girl on my knees, I said I would show her something. I opened the book at random, and I shall never forget the look upon Fareedie's face, nor the quiver that ran through her little body, when she saw the picture and screamed out, "Tigre! Tigre!"

At this Ali ran to us and the two turned over the pages hurriedly, mentioning the names of each animal they knew, with a delight I cannot describe to you.

Then Ali said, "Perhaps, Madame, it may be you have a picture of an engine of a ship—is it so?"

(This sentence of Ali's I have translated for fear it would be hard for you, if I gave it in French. You remember he did not know English.)

"Now what shall I do!" I thought, "for I don't know anything about engines, and I don't know where to find any pictures of them;" but the black eyes helped in the search, and before I could think where to look the boy seized upon a copy of the Scientific American, and there, fortunately, were several pictures of engines and boilers. He did not move for a long time afterward, except to say, "It is a regret that I do not know the English to read." He sat as still as a statue, perfectly absorbed, even pale, so intense were his feelings.

Soon Prexea, my slender Syrian maid, came in and announced that tea was served. Prexea was a Greek in religion and hated the Turks, so she was not in a good humor, as I knew very well by the way she opened the door.

Fareedie ran into the dining-room, but Ali evidently did not wish to lay down his paper, till Mrs. Smith gently told him he must; then he obeyed.

"A table! Chairs! How droll! How droll!" cried Fareedie.

And now a great difficulty presented itself. They had never sat at a table, and I had no high chairs for them. They always sat on the floor, on a rug, to eat, and had a low Arabic table put in front of each of them. Their tables are about eighteen inches high, made of olive wood inlaid with mother-of-pearl and silver, perhaps all silver. As to dishes, the children seldom had even a bowl.

Arabic bread is very peculiar. It is baked in thin flat cakes, about the size of a dinner plate, and does not look in the least like bread, more like leather. The children usually had one of these cakes for the dish, and all that they were to have to eat would be put on it, then another cake would be given to them which they would break in pieces, using them as spoons, and last of all, eating spoons and dish, too.

So you can imagine how surprised they were when they saw my table. But what about chairs for them? A brilliant idea struck me. I ran to the bookcase and got two dictionaries, which I put on the chairs they were to occupy, and with Ali on Webster's and Fareedie on Worcester's, we began our meal.

Ali had been very serious during these proceedings and, as soon as we were seated, he pointed to my sideboard and the silver on it, and said impressively, "Très magnifique!"

The knives and forks were too much for them. They sawed away with the one and speared the food with the other so ineffectively, that we told them they might eat with their fingers, which they did very nicely.

I had tea and coffee, sandwiches, cold chicken, blackberry jam, and other sweets and cake. The sandwiches were of eggs, not ham, of course; for it would have been an insult to their parents to have let them taste pork, which is held in great abhorrence by all Mohammedans. Why, many of them will not wear European shoes, for fear the bristles of swine may have been used in sewing them.

Both children asked for coffee "à la Frank," as they called it. They had never seen it with cream in it, nor served in anything but a tiny Oriental cup. I gave it to them in our own coffee cups, with plenty of cream in, and they stirred it with their spoons and said it was "very grand."

Fareedie was a little sloppy, I must confess, but otherwise they behaved very politely.

But the questions they asked! Fareedie was an animated interrogation point, I thought; and after tea Ali lost his impassiveness, and went round the house examining everything with curiosity, especially anything that could be moved, or had casters on it.

At last the visit was over. My tall "cawass" came in and announced the carriage was at the door to take them home. With many promises to come again, they went away, kissing me lovingly, Ali with the coveted Scientific American under his arm, and Fareedie with a cup and saucer her little heart had longed for.

But they never did come, and I never saw them anywhere again. For, Wasif Effendi, the Secretary of the Pasha, hated Mrs. Smith, and by some underhand means contrived to have her dismissed. Then Midhat was transferred to Smyrna, and my little friends left Beirût, never to return, I fear. Perhaps you know the Pasha was ordered to Constantinople and tried for the murder of the Sultan Abdul Aziz. It was proved that he had been an accomplice, and he was exiled for life, to a place called Jeddah.

And there on the shores of the terrible Red Sea, near Mecca, and far from all civilizing and good influences, my dear little friends are forced to live. Their father is dead, but his family are still at Jeddah.

You would be surprised to know how often I think of them, and how sad it makes me. Their future is full of peril. I wonder if they ever think of me!