Suddenly the Sultana stood amongst them with a haughty, commanding look, like a demi-goddess.
“Who is the presumptuous wretch who would bar the way before me?” she cried in her clear, penetrating voice.
One of the odalisks planted herself in front of the Sultana and, resting one hand upon her hip, pointed with the other at Guel-Bejaze!
“Look!” she cried, “there is Guel-Bejaze, and she it is who bars thy way and compels thee to make room for her.”
Guel-Bejaze, whom the women had brought to the spot on their shoulders, wrung her hands in her desperation, and begged and prayed the Sultana for forgiveness. She endeavoured to explain by way of pantomime, for speaking was impossible, that she was there against her will, and it was her dearest wish to humble herself before the face of the Sultana. It was all of no use. The yells of the wild Bacchantes drowned every sound, and Adsalis did not even condescend to look at her.
“Ye street-sweepings!” exclaimed Adsalis passionately, “what evil spirit has entered into you that ye would thus compel the Sultana Asseki to give way before a pale doll?”
“This woman comes before thee,” replied the bayadere.
“Comes before me?” said Adsalis, “wherefore, then, does she come before me?”
“Because she is fairer than thou.”
Adsalis’ face turned blood-red with rage at these words, while Guel-Bejaze went as white as a lily, as if the other woman had robbed all her colour from her. There was shame on one side and fury on the other. To tell a haughty dame in the presence of ten, of twenty thousand persons, that another woman is fairer than she!
“And she is more powerful than thou art,” cried the enraged bayadere, accumulating insult on the head of Adsalis, “for she is the wife of Halil Patrona.”
Adsalis, in the fury of despair, raised her clenched hands towards Heaven and could not utter a word. Impotent rage forced the tears from her eyes; and only after these tears could she stammer:
“This is the curse of Achmed!”
When they saw the tears in the eyes of the Sultana, everyone for a moment was silent, and suddenly, amidst the stillness of that dumb moment, from the highest window of the prison-fortress of the Seven Towers, a man’s voice called loudly into the square below:
“Sultana Adsalis! Sultana Adsalis!”
“Ha! a man! a man!” cried the furious mob; and in an instant they all gazed in that direction—and then in a murmur which immediately died away in an awe-struck whisper: “Achmed! Achmed!”
Only Adsalis was incapable of pronouncing that name, only her mouth remained gaping open as she gazed upwards.