“Nay, good vizier, that is as a last resource, for it is forbidden by the laws of the Prophet. Think once more, and thou must have no more brains than a water-melon, if this time thou proposest not that which will give me ease.”
“Thy slave lives but to hear, and hears but to obey,” replied Mustapha. “Then will it please my lord to disguise himself, and walk through the streets of Cairo; the moon is bright, and the hyena prowls not now, but mingles his howlings with those of the jackal afar off.”
“Your face is whitened, Mustapha, and it pleaseth us. Let the disguises be prepared, and we will sally forth.”
In a short time the disguises were ready, the vizier taking care that they should be those of Armenian merchants, knowing that the pacha would be pleased with the similarity to those worn by the great Alraschid; two black slaves, with their swords, followed the pacha and his vizier at a short distance. The streets were quite empty, and they met with nothing living except here and there a dog preying on the garbage and offal, who snapped and snarled as they passed by. The night promised nothing of adventure, and the pacha was in no very good humour, when Mustapha perceived a light through the chinks of a closed window in a small hovel, and heard the sound of a voice. He peeped through, the pacha standing by his side. After a few seconds the vizier made signs to the pacha to look in. The pacha was obliged to strain his fat body to its utmost altitude, standing on the tips of his toes to enable his eyes to reach the cranny. The interior of the hovel was without furniture, a chest in the centre of the mud floor appeared to serve as table and repository of everything in it, for the walls were bare. At the fireplace, in which were a few embers, crouched an old woman, a personification of age, poverty, and starvation. She was warming her shrivelled hands over the embers, and occasionally passed one of her hands along her bony arm, saying, “Yes, the time has been—the time has been.”
“What can she mean,” said the pacha to Mustapha, “by ’the time has been’?”
“It requires explanation,” replied the vizier; “this is certain, that it must mean something.”
“Thou hast said well, Mustapha; let us knock, and obtain admittance.” Mustapha knocked at the door of the hovel.
“There’s nothing to steal, so you may as well go,” screamed the old woman; “but,” continued she, talking to herself, “the time has been—the time has been.”
The pacha desired Mustapha to knock louder. Mustapha applied the hilt of his dagger, and thumped against the door.
“Ay—ay—you may venture to knock now, the sultan’s slippers are not at the door,” said the old woman: “but,” continued she, as before, “the time has been—the time has been.”
“Sultan’s slippers! and time has been!” cried the pacha. “What does the old hag mean? Knock again, Mustapha.”
Mustapha reiterated his blows.”