Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The man who would be half-emperor

Another tale from Januarius MacGahan's Campaigning on the Oxus, and the Fall of Khiva.

One day I mounted my horse and rode to Hazar-Asp, where I was hospitably entertained by Colonel Ivanoff. While taking dinner with the Colonel, an orderly came in, and informed him that a woman was waiting outside, asking permission to lay a complaint before him
   The Colonel turned to me and said, “come along now, and you will see something curious.”

   As the regular course of justice had been interrupted by the flight of the Governor, the people of Hazar-Asp, it seemed, came to Colonel Ivanoff, who was then the supreme power, to have their wrongs redressed and their quarrels settled. So we now went out into the great porch, which I have spoken of as the Hall of State, or audience chamber. Here we sat down on a piece of carpet, and the Colonel put on a grave face, as befitted a magistrate in the administration of justice. The woman was now led into the court which was some three or four feet lower than the floor of the porch on which we were seated, she came in leading a lubberly-looking young man of about fourteen, and bowing almost to the earth at every step, and addressed the Colonel, whom she took for General Kauffmann, as the “Yarim-Padshah,” or ‘half-emperor’, which title the Colonel accepted with grave composure.

   She was an old woman, clad in the long dirty looking tunic of the Khivans. The only article of dress that distinguished her from a man was the tall white turban worn by all the Khivan women. She brought in a little present of bread and apricots, which she handed to the bemused Colonel with many profound bows, and then proceeded to state her case.

  “My son,” she said, pointing to the gawky boy who accompanied her, “had been robbed of his affianced wife.”
   “By whom?” asks the Colonel.
   “By a vile theiving dog of a Persian slave. My own slave, too; he stole my donkey, and carried the girl off on it; may the curse of the prophet wither him.”
    “So then he is three times a thief. He stole the donkey, the girl, and himself,” said the Colonel, summing up the matter in a judicial way. “But how did he steal the girl? Did he take her by force?”
   “Of course; was she not my son's wife? How could a girl run away from her affianced husband with a dog of an infidel slave, except by force?”
   “Who is she? How did she become affianced to your son?”
   “She is a Persian girl. I bought her from a Turcoman who had just brought her from Astrabad, and I paid fifty tillahs for her. The dog of a slave must have bewitched her, because as soon as she saw him she flew into his arms, weeping and crying, and said, ‘he was her old playmate’. That was nonsense, and I beat her for it soundly. The marriage was to be celebrated in a few days; but as soon as the Russians came, the vile hussy persuaded the slave to run away with her, and I believe they are as good as married”
   “Well, what do you want me to do about it?”
   “I want you to give back my son's wife, and my donkey, and my slave.”

   The Colonel told her, with a smile, that he would see about it, and motioned her to retire from his presence. She withdrew, walking backwards, and bowing to the ground at every step, in the most approved and courtier-like manner. Evidently it was not the first time she had pleaded her own case.

   But her son never got back his wife, nor she her slave or donkey.