“Wallah Thaib! it is well said, by Allah! Your words are as pearls. Count out the money, Mustapha.”
“His highness the pacha has been pleased, in consideration of the fear and trembling with which you have entered his presence, to order that the sum which you require shall be paid down,” said Mustapha, pulling out his purse from his girdle. “Murakkas, you are dismissed,” continued the vizier to the executioner, who let go the old woman, and disappeared. Mustapha counted out the twenty pieces of gold, and shoved them towards the old woman, who, after some demur, as if imagining that they ought to have been brought to her, got up and took possession of them. She counted them over, and returned one piece as being of light weight. Mustapha, with a grimace, but without speaking, exchanged it for another.
“By the beard of the Prophet!” muttered the pacha—“but never mind.”
The old woman took out a piece of dirty rag, wrapped up the gold pieces, and placing them in her vest, smoothed down her sordid garments, and then commenced as follows:—
“Pacha, I have not always lived in a hovel. These eyes were not always bleared and dim, nor this skin wrinkled and discoloured. I have not always been covered with these filthy rags—nor have I always wanted or coveted the gold which you have just now bestowed on me. I have lived in palaces—I have commanded there. I have been robed in gold—I have been covered with jewels. I have dispensed life and death—I have given away provinces. Pachas have trembled at my frown—have received by my orders the bowstring—for at one time I was the favourite of the grand sultan. Time has been.”
“It must have been a long time ago, then,” observed the pacha.
“That is true,” replied the old woman; “but I will now narrate my adventures.”
I was born in Georgia, where, as your highness knows, the women are reckoned to be more beautiful than in any other country, except indeed Circassia; but in my opinion, the Circassian women are much too tall, and on too large a scale, to compete with us; and I may safely venture my opinion, as I have had an opportunity of comparing many hundreds of the finest specimens of both countries. My father and mother, although not rich, were in easy circumstances; my father had been a janissary in the sultan’s immediate employ, and after he had collected some property, he returned to his own country, where he purchased some land, and married. I had but one brother, who was three years older than myself, and one of the handsomest youths in the country. He was disfigured a little by a scarlet stain on his neck, somewhat in shape resembling a bunch of grapes, and which our national dress would not permit him to conceal. My father, intending that he should serve the sultan, brought him up to a perfect knowledge of every martial exercise.