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THE DEATH OF ZEENAB.
From “ Hajji Baba of Ispahan.”
WHILST in the middle of our conversation, one of the Shah's eunuch's came up to me, and said that his chief had been ordered to see that the sub-lieutenant to the chief executioner, with five men, were in waiting at the foot of the high tower at the entrance of the harem, at the hour of midnight; and that they were to bring a taboot or handbier with them, to bear away a corpse for interment.
All I could say in answer was be cheshm,” (by my eyes); and lucky was it for me that he quitted me immediately, that Mirza Ahmak had also left me, and that it was dusk, or else the fear and anguish which overwhelmed me upon hearing this message must have betrayed
A cold sweat broke out all over my body, my eyes swam, my knees knocked under me, and I should perhaps have fallen into a swoon, if the counter fear of being seen in such a state, in the very centre of the palace, had not roused me.
6 What,” said I to myself, “ is it not enough that I have been the cause of her death, must I be her executioner too ? must I be the grave.digger to my own child ? must I be the ill-fated he who is to stretch her cold limbs in the grave, and send my own life's blood back again to its mother earth? Why am I called upon to do this, oh cruel, most cruel destiny ? Cannot I fly from the horrid scenie ? Cannot I rather run a dagger into my heart? But no, 'tis plain my fate is ordained, sealed, fixed ! and in vain I struggle, I must fulfil the task appointed for me! Oh world, world! what art thou, and how much more wouldst thou be known, if each man was to lift up the veil that hideth his own actions, and show himself as he really is !”
With these feelings, oppressed as if the mountain of Demawend and all its sulphurs were on my heart, I went about my work doggedly, collecting the several men who were to be my colleagues in this bloody tragedy, who, heedless and unconcerned at an event of no unfrequent occurrence, were indifferent whether they were to be the bearers of a murdered corpse, or themselves the instruments of murder.
The night was dark and lowering, and well suited to the horrid scene about to be acted. The sun, unusual in these climates, had set, surrounded by clouds of the colour of blood ; and, as the night ad. vanced, they rolled on in unceasing thunders over the summits of the ad. jacent range of Albors. At sudden intervals the moon was seen through the dense vapour, which covered her again as suddenly, and restored the night to its darkness and solemnity. I was seated lonely in the guard-room of the palace, when I heard the cries of the sentinels on the
watch-towers announcing midnight, and the voices of the muezzins from the mosques, the wild notes of whose chant floating on the wind, ran through my veins with the chilling creep of death, and announced to me that the hour of murder was at hand! They were the harbingers of death to the helpless woman. I started up, I could not bear to hear them more,—I rushed on in desperate haste, and as I came to the appointed spot, I found my five companions already arrived, sitting unconcerned on and about the coffin that was to carry my Zeenab to her eternal mansion. The only word which I had power to say to them was, 6 Shoud ” Is it done ? to which they answered, “ Ne shoud,” It is not done. To which ensued an awful silence. I had hoped that all was over, and that I should have been spared every other horror, excepting that of conducting the melancholy procession to the place of burial; but no, the deed was still to be done, and I could not retreat.
On the confines of the apartments allotted to the women in the Shah's palace, stands a high octagonal tower, some thirty gez in height, seen conspicuous from all parts of the city, at the summit of which is a chamber, in which he frequently reposes and takes the air. It is surrounded by unappropriated ground, and the principal gate of the harem is close to its base. On the top of all is a terrace (a spot, ah ! never by me to be forgotten !) and it was to this that our whole atten. tion was now riveted. I had scarcely arrived, when looking up, we saw three figures, two men and a female, whose forms were lighted up by an occasional gleam of moonshine, that shone in a wild and uncertain manner upon them. They seemed to drag their victim between them with much violence, whilst she was seen in attitudes of supplication, on her knees, with her hands extended, and in all the agony of the deepest desperation. When they were at the brink of the tower her shrieks were audible, but so wild, so varied by the blasts of wind that blew round the building, that they appeared to me like the sounds of laughing madness.
We all kept a dead and breathless silence : even my five ruffians seemed moved. I was transfixed like a lump of lifeless clay, and if I am asked what my sensations were at the time, I should be at a loss to describe them, “I was totally inanimate, and still I knew what was going on. At length, one loud, shrill, and searching scream of the bitterest woe was heard, which was suddenly lost in an interval of the most frightful silence. A heavy fall, which immediately succeeded, told us that all was over. I was then roused, and with my head confused, half crazed and half conscious, I immediately rushed to the spot, where my Zeenab and her burthen lay struggling, a mangled and mutilated corpse. She still breathed, but the convulsions of death were upon her, and her lips moved as if she would speak, although the blood was fast flowing from her mouth. I could not catch a word, although she uttered sounds that seemed like words. I thought she said, “ My child ! my child !” but perhaps it was an illusion of my brain. I hung over her in the deepest despair, and having lost all sense of prudence and of self-preservation, I acted so inuch up to my own feelings, that if the men around me had had the smallest suspicion of my real situation, nothing could have saved me from destruction. I even carried my phrenzy so far as as to steep my handkerchief in her blood, saying to myself, “ this at least shall never part from me!” I came to myself, however, upon hearing the shrill and dæmon-like voice of one
her murderers from the tower's height, crying out Is she dead?” 66 Ay, as a stone," answered one of my ruffians.
66 Carry her away, then," said the voice. 66 To hell yourself,” in a suppressed tone, said another ruffian ; upon which my men lifted the dead body into the taboot, placed it upon their shoulders, and walked off with it to the burial-ground without the city, where they found a grave ready dug to receive it. I walked mechanically after them, absorbed in most melancholy thoughts ; and when we had arrived at the burial-place, I sat myself down on a grave-stone, scarcely conscious of what was going on. I watched the operations of the Nasackchies with a sort of unmeaning stare ; saw them place the dead body in the earth; then shovel the mould over it; then place two stones, one at the feet, and the other at the head. When they had finished, they came up to me and said “ that all was done:” to which I answered, “ Go home; I will follow.” They left me seated on the grave, and returned to the town.
The night continued dark, and distant thunders still echoed through the mountains. No other sound was heard, save now and then the infant-like cries of the jackall, that now in packs, and then by two or three at the time, kept prowling round the mansions of the dead.
KING LEAR AND HIS DAUGHTERS.
From Milton's 6 History of England.”
HITHERTO from Father to Son the direct Line hath run on : but Leir who next Reign'd, had only three Daughters, and no Male Issue: governed laudably, and built Caer-Leir, now Leicestre, on the Bank of Sora. But at last, failing through Age, he determines to bestow his Daughters, and so among them to divide his Kingdom. Yet, first to try which of them lov'd him best (a Trial that might have made him, had he known as wisely how to try, as he seem'd to know how much the trying behoov’d him) he resolves a simple resolution, to ask them solemnly in order ; and which of them should profess largest, her to beleev. Gonoril, th' Eldest, apprehending too well her Fathers weakness, makes answer, invoking Heav'n, " That she loved him above her Soul.” “ Therfore," quoth the old man overjoy'd, “ since thou so honourst my declin’d Age, to thee and the Husband whom thou shalt choose, I give the third part of my Realm.” So fair a speeding for a few words soon utter'd, was to Regan the second, ample instruction what to say. She, on the same demand, spares no protesting, and the Gods must witness, that otherwise to express her thoughts she knew not, but that “ she lov'd him above all Creatures ;” and so
receávs an equal reward with her Sister. But Cordelia the youngest, though hitherto best belov'd, and now before her Eyes the rich and present hire of a little easie soothing, the danger also, and the loss likely to betide plain dealing, yet moves not from the solid purpose of a sincere and vertuous answer. • Father,” saith she, “ my love towards you, is as my duty bids ; what should a Father seek, what can a . Child promise more ? they who pretend beyond this, flatter.” When the old man, sorry to hear this, and wishing her to recall those words, persisted asking, with a loiall sadness at her Father's infirmity, but somthing on the sudden, harsh, and glancing rather at her Sisters, than speaking her own mind, “ Two waies only,” saith she, “ I have to answer what you require mee; the former, Your command is, I should recant ; accept then this other which is left mee ; look how much you have, so much is your value, and so much I love you." 6 Then hear thou,” quoth Leir, now all in passion, “ what thy ingratitude hath gain'd thee; because thou hast not reverenc'd thy aged Father equall to thy Sisters, part in my Kingdom, or what else is mine, reck'n to have none." And without delay gives in marriage his other Daughters, Gonorill to Maglaunus Duke of Albania, Regan to Henninus Duke of Cornwall ; with them in present half his Kingdom ; the rest to follow at bis Death. In the mean while, Fame was not sparing to divulge the Wisdom, and other graces of Cordeilla, insomuch that Aganippus a great king in Gaul (however he came by his Greek name) seeks her to Wife, and nothing alter'd at the loss of her Dowry, receavs her gladly in such manner as she was sent him. After this King Leir, more and more drooping with Years, became an easy prey to his Daughters and thir Husbands; who now by dayly encroachment had seisid the whole Kingdom into thir hands : and the old King is put to sojorn with his Eldest Daughter, attended only by threescore Knights. But they in a short while grudg'd at, as too numerous and disorderly for continual Guests, are reduc'd to thirty. Not brooking that affront, the old King betakes him to his second Daughter : but there also discord soon arising between the Servants of differing Masters in one Family, five only are suffered to attend him. Then back again he returns to the other ; hoping that she his Eldest could not but have more pity on his Grey Hairs : but she now refuses to admitt him, unless he be content with one only of his followers. At last the remembrance of his youngest Cordeilla comes to his thoughts ; and now acknowledging how true her words had bin, though with little hope from whom he had so injur'd, be it but to pay her, the last recompence she can have from him, his confession of her wise forewarning, that so perhaps his misery, the prooff and experiment of her Wisdom, might somthing soft'n her, he takes his Journey into France. Now might be seen a difference between the silent, or down-right spok’n affection of som Children to thir Parents, and the talkative obsequiousness of others; while the hope of Inheritance over-acts them, and on the tongue's end enlarges thir duty. Cordeilla, out of meer love, without the suspicion of expected reward, at the message only of her father in distress, powrs forth true filial tears. And not enduring either that her own or any other Eye should see him in such forlorn condition as his Messenger declared, discreetly appoints one of her trusted Servants, first to convay him privately toward som good Sea Town, there to array him, bathe him, cherish him, furnish him with such Attendance and State, as beseemed his Dignity. That then, as from his first Landing, he might send word of his Arrival to her Husband Aganippus. Which don with all mature, and requisite contrivance, Cordelia, with the King her Husband, and all the Barony of his Realm, who then first had news of his passing the Sea, goe out to meet him ; and after all honourable and joyful entertainment, Aganippus, as to his Wives Father, and his Royal Guest, surrenders him, during his abode there, the Power and disposal of his whole Dominion : permitting his Wife Cordeilla to go with an Army, and set her Father upon his Throne. Wherin her piety so prosper'd, as that she vanquish'd her impious Sisters with those Dukes, and Leir again, as saith the story, three years obtain'd the Crown. To whom dying, Cordeilla with all Regal Solemnities gave Burial in the town of Leicestre. And then as right Heir succeeding, and her Husband dead, Ruled the Land five years in Peace. Untill Marganus and Cunedagius her two Sisters Sons, not bearing that a Kingdom should be governed by a Woman, in the unseasonablest time to raise that quarrel against a Woman so Worthy, make war against her, depose her, and imprison her ; of which impatient, and now long unexercis'd to suffer, she there, as is related, killed her self. The Victors between them part the Land: but Marganus the Eldest Sisters Son, who held by agreement from the north-side of Humber to Cathness, incited by those about him, to invade all as his own right, warres on Cunedagius ; who soon met him, overcame and overtook him in a Town of Wales, where he left his life, and ever since, his name, to the place.
No lovelier spirit than thine
In the orbs of the blessed to shine.
As thy soul shall immortally be ;
May its verdure like emeralds be :
In aught that reminds us of thee.
May spring from the spot of thy rest :
For why should we mourn for the blest ?