Ispirizade had already mounted the lofty pulpit when Mahmud and his suite took their places on the lofty dais set apart for them.
The chief priest’s face was radiant with triumph. He extended his hands above his head and thrice pronounced the name of Allah. And when he had thus thrice called upon the name of God, his lips suddenly grew dumb, and there for a few moments he stood stiffly, with his hands raised towards Heaven and wide open eyes, and then he suddenly fell down dead from the pulpit.
“’Tis the dumb curse of Achmed!” whispered the awe-stricken spectators to one another.
THE FEAST OF HALWET.
The surgujal—the turban with the triple gold circlet—was on the head of Mahmud, but the sword, the sword of dominion, was in the hand of Halil Patrona. The people whose darling he had become were accustomed to regard him as their go-between in their petty affairs, the host trembled before him, and the magnates fawned upon him for favour.
In the Osman nation there is no hereditary nobility, everyone there has risen to the highest places by his sword or his luck. Every single Grand Vizier and Kapudan Pasha has a nickname which points to his lowly origin; this one was a woodcutter, that one a stone-mason, that other one a fisherman. Therefore a Mohammedan never looks down upon the most abject of his co-religionists, for he knows very well that if he himself happens to be uppermost to-day and the other undermost, by to-morrow the whole world may have turned upside down, and this last may have become the first.
So now also a petty huckster rules the realm, and Sultan Mahmud has nothing to think about but his fair women. Who can tell whether any one of us would not have done likewise? Suppose a man to have been kept in rigorous, joyless servitude for twenty years, and then suddenly to be confronted with the alternative—“reign over hearts or over an empire”—would he not perhaps have chosen the hearts instead of the empire for his portion?
At the desire of the beauteous Sultana Asseki the insurrection of the people had no sooner subsided than the Sultan ordered the Halwet Festival to be celebrated.
The Halwet Festival is the special feast of women, when nobody but womankind is permitted to walk about the streets, and this blissful day may come to pass twice or thrice in the course of the year.
On the evening before, it is announced by the blowing of horns that the morrow will be the Feast of Halwet. On that day no man, of whatever rank, may come forth in the streets, or appear on the roof of a house, or show himself at a window, for death would be the penalty of his curiosity. The black and white eunuchs keeping order in the streets decapitate without mercy every man who does not remain indoors. Notices that this will be done are posted up on all the boundary-posts in the suburbs of the city, that strangers may regulate their conduct accordingly.