“I must know the reason of that remark,” said the pacha; “Mesrour (Mustapha, I mean), you will bring that man to me to-morrow, after the divan is closed.”
Mustapha bowed in acquiescence, and directing the slaves who were in attendance to take the man into custody, followed the pacha, who, fatigued with his unusual excursion, and satisfied with the prospect of success, now directed his steps to the palace and retired to bed. Zeinab, who had lain awake until her eyes could remain open no longer, with the intention of reading him a lecture upon decency and sobriety, had at last fallen asleep, and the tired pacha was therefore permitted to do the same.
When Mustapha arrived at his own abode, he desired that the person who had been detained should be brought to him.
“My good man,” said the vizier, “you made an observation this evening which was overheard by his highness the pacha, who wishes to be acquainted with your reasons for stating ’that happy was the man who could at all times command a hard crust, like that which was wearing away your teeth.’”
The man fell down on his knees in trepidation. “I do declare to your highness, by the camel of the Holy Prophet,” said he, in a faltering voice, “that I neither meant treason, nor disaffection to the government.”
“Slave! I am not quite sure of that,” replied Mustapha, with a stern look, in hopes of frightening the man into a compliance with his wishes—“there was something very enigmatical in those words. Your ‘hard crust’ may mean his sublime highness the pacha; ’wearing away your teeth’ may imply exactions from the government; and as you affirmed that he was happy who could command the hard crust—why it is as much as to say that you would be very glad to create a rebellion.”
“Holy Prophet! May the soul of your slave never enter the first heaven,” replied the man, “if he meant anything more than what he said; and if your highness had been as often without a mouthful of bread as your slave has been, you would agree with him in the justice of the remark.”
“It is of little consequence whether I agree with you or not,” replied the vizier; “I have only to tell you that his sublime highness the pacha will not be satisfied, unless you explain away the remark, by relating to him some story connected with the observation.”
“Min Allah! God forbid that your slave should tell a story to deceive his highness.”
“The Lord have mercy upon you if you do not,” replied the vizier; “but, to be brief, if you can invent a good and interesting story, you will remove the suspicions of the pacha, and probably be rewarded with a few pieces of gold; if you cannot, you must prepare for the bastinado, if not for death. You will not be required to appear in the sublime presence before to-morrow afternoon, and will therefore have plenty of time to invent one.”
“Will your highness permit your slave to go home and consult his wife? Women have a great talent for storytelling. With her assistance he may be able to comply with your injunctions.”