THE OGRESS OF SILVER LAND;

OR,

THE DIVERTING HISTORY OF PRINCE BADFELLAH AND PRINCE BULLEBOYE.

by Bret Harte

 

In the second year of the reign of the renowned Caliph Lo there dwelt in SILVER LAND, adjoining his territory, a certain terrible ogress. She lived in the bowels of a dismal mountain, where she was in the habit of confining such unfortunate travellers as ventured within her domain. The country for miles around was sterile and barren. In some places it was covered with a white powder, which was called in the language of the country AL KA LI, and was supposed to be the pulverized bones of those who had perished miserably in her service.

In spite of this, every year, great numbers of young men devoted themselves to the service of the ogress, hoping to become her godsons, and to enjoy the good fortune which belonged to that privileged class. For these godsons had no work to perform, neither at the mountain nor elsewhere, but roamed about the world with credentials of their relationship in their pockets, which they called STOKH, which was stamped with the stamp and sealed with the seal of the ogress, and which enabled them at the end of each moon to draw large quantities of gold and silver from her treasury. And the wisest and most favored of those godsons were the Princes BADFELLAH and BULLEBOYE. They knew all the secrets of the ogress, and how to wheedle and coax her. They were also the favorites of SOOPAH INTENDENT, who was her Lord High Chamberlain and Prime Minister, and who dwelt in SILVER LAND.

One day, SOOPAH INTENDENT said to his servants, "What is that which travels the most surely, the most secretly, and the most swiftly?"

And they all answered as one man, "LIGHTNING, my lord, travels the most surely, the most swiftly, and the most secretly!"

Then said SOOPAH INTENDENT, "Let Lightning carry this message secretly, swiftly, and surely to my beloved friends the Princes BADFELLAH and BULLEBOYE, and tell them that their godmother is dying, and bid them seek some other godmother or sell their STOKH ere it becomes badjee,—worthless."

"Bekhesm! On our heads be it!" answered the servants; and they ran to Lightning with the message, who flew with it to the City by the Sea, and delivered it, even at that moment, into the hands of the Princes BADFELLAH and BULLEBOYE.

Now the Prince BADFELLAH was a wicked young man; and when he had received this message he tore his beard and rent his garment and reviled his godmother, and his friend SOOPAH INTENDENT. But presently he arose, and dressed himself in his finest stuffs, and went forth into the bazaars and among the merchants, capering and dancing as he walked, and crying in a loud voice, "O, happy day! O, day worthy to be marked with a white stone!"

This he said cunningly, thinking the merchants and men of the bazaars would gather about him, which they presently did, and began to question him: "What news, O most worthy and serene Highness? Tell us, that we make merry too!"

Then replied the cunning prince, "Good news, O my brothers, for I have heard this day that my godmother in SILVER LAND is well." The merchants, who were not aware of the substance of the real message, envied him greatly, and said one to another: "Surely our brother the Prince BADFELLAH is favored by Allah above all men;" and they were about to retire, when the prince checked them, saying: "Tarry for a moment. Here are my credentials, or STOKH. The same I will sell you for fifty thousand sequins, for I have to give a feast to-day, and need much gold. Who will give fifty thousand?" And he again fell to capering and dancing. But this time the merchants drew a little apart, and some of the oldest and wisest said: "What dirt is this which the prince would have us swallow? If his godmother were well, why should he sell his STOKH? Bismillah! The olives are old and the jar is broken!" When Prince BADFELLAH perceived them whispering, his countenance fell, and his knees smote against each other through fear; but, dissembling again, he said: "Well, so be it! Lo, I have much more than shall abide with me, for my days are many and my wants are few. Say forty thousand sequins for my STOKH and let me depart in Allah's name. Who will give forty thousand sequins to become the godson of such a healthy mother?" And he again fell to capering and dancing, but not as gayly as before, for his heart was troubled. The merchants, however, only moved farther away. "Thirty thousand sequins," cried Prince BADFELLAH; but even as he spoke they fled before his face, crying: "His godmother is dead. Lo, the jackals are defiling her grave. Mashalla! he has no godmother." And they sought out PANIK, the swift-footed messenger, and bade him shout through the bazaars that the godmother of Prince BADFELLAH was dead. When he heard this, the prince fell upon his face, and rent his garments, and covered himself with the dust of the market-place. As he was sitting thus, a porter passed him with jars of wine on his shoulders, and the prince begged him to give him a jar, for he was exceeding thirsty and faint. But the porter said, "What will my lord give me first?" And the prince, in very bitterness of spirit, said, "Take this," and handed him his STOKH, and so exchanged it for a jar of wine.

Now the Prince BULLEBOYE was of a very different disposition. When he received the message of SOOPAH INTENDENT he bowed his head, and said, "It is the will of God." Then he rose; and without speaking a word entered the gates of his palace. But his wife, the peerless MAREE JAHANN, perceiving the gravity of his countenance, said, "Why is my lord cast down and silent? Why are those rare and priceless pearls, his words, shut up so tightly between those gorgeous oyster-shells, his lips?" But to this he made no reply. Thinking further to divert him, she brought her lute into the chamber and stood before him, and sang the song and danced the dance of BEN KOTTON, which is called IBRAHIM's DAUGHTER, but she could not lift the veil of sadness from his brow.

When she had ceased, the Prince BULLEBOYE arose and said, "Allah is great, and what am I, his servant, but the dust of the earth! Lo, this day has my godmother sickened unto death, and my STOKH become as a withered palm-leaf. Call hither my servants and camel-drivers, and the merchants that have furnished me with stuffs, and the beggars who have feasted at my table, and bid them take all that is here, for it is mine no longer!" With these words he buried his face in his mantle and wept aloud.

But MAREE JAHANN, his wife, plucked him by the sleeve. "Prithee, my lord," said she, "bethink thee of the BROKAH or scrivener, who besought thee but yesterday to share thy STOKH with him and gave thee his bond for fifty thousand sequins." But the noble Prince BULLEBOYE, raising his head, said: "Shall I sell to him for fifty thousand sequins that which I know is not worth a SOO MARKEE? For is not all the BROKAH'S wealth, even his wife and children, pledged on that bond? Shall I ruin him to save myself? Allah forbid! Rather let me eat the salt fish of honest penury, than the kibobs of dishonorable affluence; rather let me wallow in the mire of virtuous oblivion, than repose on the divan of luxurious wickedness."

When the prince had given utterance to this beautiful and edifying sentiment, a strain of gentle music was heard, and the rear wall of the apartment, which had been ingeniously constructed like a flat, opened and discovered the Ogress of SILVER LAND in the glare of blue fire, seated on a triumphal car attached to two ropes which were connected with the flies, in the very act of blessing the unconscious prince. When the walls closed again without attracting his attention, Prince BULLEBOYE arose, dressed himself in his coarsest and cheapest stuffs, and sprinkled ashes on his head, and in this guise, having embraced his wife, went forth into the bazaars. In this it will be perceived how differently the good Prince BULLEBOYE acted from the wicked Prince BADFELLAH, who put on his gayest garments to simulate and deceive.

Now when Prince BULLEBOYE entered the chief bazaar, where the merchants of the city were gathered in council, he stood up in his accustomed place, and all that were there held their breath, for the noble Prince BULLEBOYE was much respected. "Let the BROKAH, whose bond I hold for fifty thousand sequins, stand forth!" said the prince. And the BROKAH stood forth from among the merchants. Then said the prince: "Here is thy bond for fifty thousand sequins, for which I was to deliver unto thee one half of my STOKH. Know, then, O my brother,—and thou, too, O Aga of the BROKAHS,—that this my STOKH which I pledged to thee is worthless. For my godmother, the Ogress of SILVER LAND, is dying. Thus do I release thee from thy bond, and from the poverty which might overtake thee as it has even me, thy brother, the Prince BULLEBOYE." And with that the noble Prince BULLEBOYE tore the bond of the BROKAH into pieces and scattered it to the four winds.

Now when the prince tore up the bond there was a great commotion, and some said, "Surely the Prince BULLEBOYE is drunken with wine;" and others, "He is possessed of an evil spirit;" and his friends expostulated with him, saying, "What thou hast done is not the custom of the bazaars,—behold, it is not BIZ!" But to all the prince answered gravely, "It is right; on my own head be it!"

But the oldest and wisest of the merchants, they who had talked with Prince BADFELLAH the same morning, whispered together, and gathered around the BROKAH whose bond the Prince BULLEBOYE had torn up. "Hark ye," said they, "our brother the Prince BULLEBOYE is cunning as a jackal. What bosh is this about ruining himself to save thee? Such a thing was never heard before in the bazaars. It is a trick, O thou mooncalf of a BROKAH! Dost thou not see that he has heard good news from his godmother, the same that was even now told us by the Prince BADFELLAH, his confederate, and that he would destroy thy bond for fifty thousand sequins because his STOKH is worth a hundred thousand! Be not deceived, O too credulous BROKAH! for this what our brother the prince doeth is not in the name of ALLAH, but of BIZ, the only god known in the bazaars of the city."

When the foolish BROKAH heard these things he cried, "Justice, O Aga of the BROKAHS,—justice and the fulfilment of my bond! Let the prince deliver unto me the STOKH. Here are my fifty thousand sequins." But the prince said, "Have I not told that my godmother is dying, and that my STOKH is valueless?" At this the BROKAH only clamored the more for justice and the fulfilment of his bond. Then the Aga of the BROKAHS said, "Since the bond is destroyed, behold thou hast no claim. Go thy ways!" But the BROKAH again cried, "Justice, my lord Aga! Behold, I offer the prince seventy thousand sequins for his STOKH!" But the prince said, "It is not worth one sequin!" Then the Aga said, "Bismillah! I cannot understand this. Whether thy godmother be dead, or dying, or immortal, does not seem to signify. Therefore, O prince, by the laws of BIZ and of ALLAH, thou art released. Give the BROKAH thy STOKH for seventy thousand sequins, and bid him depart in peace. On his own head be it!" When the prince heard this command, he handed his STOKH to the BROKAH, who counted out to him seventy thousand sequins. But the heart of the virtuous prince did not rejoice, nor did the BROKAH, when he found his STOKH was valueless; but the merchants lifted their hands in wonder at the sagacity and wisdom of the famous Prince BULLEBOYE. For none would believe that it was the law of ALLAH that the prince followed, and not the rules of BIZ.