Mór Jókai ~ Bizeban

sultan

Such is the name of the deaf and dumb boy who waits upon the Sultan.

The art of manufacturing these bizebans is very simple, and at Gozond there are several hundred professors of it who find it lucrative enough. From poor people, who possess families, they buy children, at ten or twenty rupees apiece—mere infants a twelvemonth old. As yet, of course, they cannot talk. These men begin by pouring into the ears of the little creatures a fluid prepared from herbs, which renders them absolutely deaf. Two-thirds of the children die under the process. Those which survive are valuable articles of commerce. Having lost their hearing they can, of course, no longer learn to talk, and they remain dumb, as well as deaf, for life. These children, as they grow up, see the world around them but cannot comprehend what they see. Their native intelligence cannot become developed: they are like human beings from whom the soul has been snatched. These soulless boys are very valuable articles in the seraglio. They are always hovering around the Sultan. In the most secret chambers they are in attendance; the most valuable documents are entrusted to their care; and beneath their eyes passes all the private correspondence between the Sultan and his confidential advisers. They do not hear a syllable of any conversation—of such a thing as speech they have no conception. How can they imagine what those peculiarly shaped letters mean which their eyes behold? There is no corresponding knowledge or intelligence within them which would render this possible; and the few things which they both see and understood, they could not communicate to other people.

Such were the unfortunate bizebans. Nevertheless they were dressed in purple and silk robes. Long chains of pearls hung from their neck, and they were fed upon what overflowed from the Sultan’s own table. In all respects they were treated with especial consideration—like monkeys or parrots which are kept as playthings.

These creatures, deprived of soul, know how to do one or two things, but no more. They understand that they must remain on guard at a certain post and not move thence; they can carry a certain article to a certain place; they can cut the Sultan’s nails to beautiful fine points and adjust his turban—such is the utmost limit of their accomplishments. They are indeed like dogs, taught to fetch and carry things for their masters in their mouth.

Before Sultan Mustapha II. ascended the throne he already possessed a number of bizebans. One of these was his especial favourite—a boy who was quite superior to the rest and who excited more sympathy; for in his big, dreamy eyes so much sentiment and intelligence was visible that it seemed sad that he could not be taught to feel and think like a human being. Like other bizebans he had no name. Why should a bizeban have a name? He won’t hear it even if it is addressed to him.

As a rule the bizeban also fulfilled the office of eunuch, and walked freely into the seraglio. Prince Mustapha used often, by the hand of his pet bizeban, to send to his sister, the beautiful Saliha, presents of a certain kind of very choice melon which only grew in the Sultan’s garden and concerning which fruit a very sad story was told.

One day, noticing that one melon was missing from the beds, the Sultan had all his gardeners tortured that the culprit might confess his theft. Then, when this experiment failed, he had seven of them cut open. To no purpose; but when the eighth was ripped up fragments of the melon were revealed, which was very fortunate, as a few hundred other servants would, but for this, have been treated likewise.

The lovely Saliha was a very kind-hearted creature. She thought her brother’s bizeban was a very sweet and gentle little thing, and she did not hesitate to pet him. She tried to make him understand this and that, and he seemed to have a very quick intelligence. Why should he not one day possess a soul? This idea occurred to her as she was walking, on one occasion, in the shrubbery. Could she not give back to him the soul of which he had been deprived, could she not teach him the alphabet? If she showed him a certain letter and then pointed to some object with which he was familiar could he not by degrees be made acquainted with the world?

Saliha made the experiment. She found it a very pleasant recreation, for life in the seraglio is extremely monotonous.

We have heard that prisoners in their dungeons have even taught spiders to dance at the sound of music (and the seraglio as a place of detention is scarcely more exhilarating than a dungeon). Why should not the deaf and dumb boy prove as apt as a spider? At her first essay, Saliha was amazed to see how the soul of the bizeban began to expand. He grasped anything in a moment. Once shown the alphabet he could afterwards trace out each letter on the ground. Once shown the name of a certain article he never forgot it. This success encouraged Saliha to further attempts. Would it not be possible to speak to the bizeban? But how could the speaking be done so that no beholder comprehended it? Ah! with the hands! The human hand has five fingers, and their variety of motion, as they open and shut, is such that the entire alphabet might thereby be distinctly expressed. Saliha determined to teach the boy to converse with her by means of his fingers; and the success of her experiments exceeded her expectations. He quickly learned the secret signs. It was delightful to Saliha; and she determined to get amusement out of it too. She would extract from the bizeban secrets concerning her brother which he thought no one living knew, and then she would tease this relative by pretending that she had discovered them through the mystic words of the Cabala. Who could ever dream of suspecting a bizeban who was deaf and dumb?

After the death of Osman, Prince Mustapha ascended the throne. His youthful gaiety now quickly fled—his shoulders began to bend beneath the weight of the Turkish Empire, which was then already in a tottering condition, with enemies on every side.

At that time the country possessed a great statesman in the person of Raghib Pasha, whose potent hand had preserved the empire from destruction. It was he who crushed the forces of the rebellious Egyptian princes and laid the province at the feet of the Padishah. Raghib was not only a hero in war, he was also a famous poet and the greatest scholar in the land. Historians describe him, in his character of statesman, as a “leader of leaders,” szad rul vezir, and in that of writer as the “Prince of Roumelian poets”. (Sultani suari Rum). In his gigantic work entitled Zezinet Olulum (“Ship of Knowledge”) all the legends are collected which had lain scattered about the Arab plains. It was he who founded the splendid library which bears his name.

At the time of which we now write, Saliha was in the very springtide of her beauty—like the lotus-flower which opens its petals before the dew of dawn. Sultan Mustapha could not have given Raghib Pasha a greater reward than by bestowing upon him the hand of his lovely sister; and as to whether he inspired her with real affection I need only say that he was fifty-nine when he married her and that she loved him so much that when he died her mind became deranged.

Raghib Pasha ruled not only over the Mussulmans but also over the ruler of the Mussulmans, for he had divined the Sultan’s thoughts—yes, his innermost thoughts.

It was the Sultan’s habit not to retire at night to his bedchamber until he had recorded, in a voluminous diary, all the events of the day and his impressions concerning them. This book he habitually kept in the secrecy of his own room, and the bizeban watched over it until the morning. To whom would it ever have occurred that the deaf and dumb from birth could read, or that he could communicate the written lines to some one else? In the room where this diary was kept there was a little window which opened into the khazoda, the Sultan’s place of worship. But it was so shut off from view by various corridors as to be only visible from the seraglio. Every evening, just as the Sultan was leaving his apartments in order to go and say his final prayers in this sanctuary, the murzims were accustomed to strike seven times with a hammer a bell without a tongue. Then the Imam who stood before the altar would say: “Ahamdu lillahi Rabbil alemum” (“Grace descends from Heaven, which rules over all”). Thereupon the congregation would fall on their faces. They remained prostrate until the Sultan reached the door; when the Imam would exclaim: Allehú ekber! (“The Lord is powerful”), and all present rose to their feet. During the period of prostration a secret hand would be stretched out from the little window we have mentioned, and would make all kinds of signs. No one noticed this hand, except Saliha, who carefully watched its mysterious movements whilst she was upon her knees. From these signs she knew everything that the Sultan had that day recorded in his diary; and the very same night she would whisper the information to her husband.

Raghib Pasha was a wise man, who knew how to keep such information secret. He thereby learned who his enemies were and managed to clear them out of his way. He got to know the wishes of the Sultan and could long before anticipate them. Everything he did was done in the name of the Sultan: the pomp and glory which he himself achieved he allowed people to ascribe to his Sovereign, and he even made Mustapha imagine that he ruled; whereas the feeble-hearted monarch was a mere puppet in the hands of his skilful Grand Vizier.

In his poems Raghib extolled the Sultan for his mighty and politic deeds—eulogised him for inspecting the navy and the military magazines, for increasing the nation’s revenue by 6,000,000 piastres, and doing other things which Raghib himself had in fact done on his own account.

Throughout Turkey, throughout Europe, it was known well enough that, not the Sultan, but his Minister, ruled at Stamboul; it was only Mustapha who did not know it.

One day Raghib’s enemies, Hamil Pasha, Bahir Mustapha, and Mohamed Emin, who were jealous of the Minister’s great power, said to the Sultan:

“This man only calls you Sultan in mockery. He does everything without you, just as if the State were his. He has just concluded, without your knowledge, an alliance with the ruler of one of the infidel empires—an alliance which, although it may prove the destruction of other unfaithful nations, he should never have dared to make before obtaining the consent of his monarch, in whose presence he is nothing but dust.” It was Frederick the Great, King of Prussia, who, believing in the wisdom of the distinguished Minister, had invited his alliance, and the documents ratifying it had already been signed. Had that alliance been allowed to continue, perhaps the crescent of Turkey would have risen again. But the heart of Mustapha had been perturbed by these malicious whisperings. When the traitors had left him he said nothing, but simply ordered his bizeban to bring him his diary, wherein he proceeded to record his impressions of the day. Then, shutting the book and giving it to the bizeban, he went to evening prayers. On this occasion the hand appeared at the little window and made certain signs which Saliha watched intently. They said: “Escape, Raghib. The Sultan knows of your letter to the Prussian king. To-morrow your head will be cut off and your documents confiscated.”

The Sultan returned from his profound devotions with a lightened heart. No one, he said to himself, knew his secret, and to-morrow morning he would send his executioner to fetch him Raghib’s head. Yes, he longed to possess that head ignominiously severed from its trunk.

But when the executioner reached the Grand Vizier’s residence, he found there his dead body, which could no longer be killed. On his table lay a letter addressed to the Sultan and enclosed in a velvet envelope. It was taken to the Sovereign with the news that the Minister had been found dead. The letter ran thus:

“Mustapha, the Omniscient has vouchsafed, in His mysterious providence, to let me know that you wished to kill me because, without your knowledge, I concluded, for the benefit of your dominion, an alliance with the King of Prussia. I did not run away from death; I simply anticipated it. I consider I have lived long enough in order to die fitly now, and long enough not to be forgotten. All the documents at my palace I have burned. You will see what I have done for your country; the rest will be said when we meet in presence of the great Prophet.”

The Sultan was paralysed with wonder and fear. How could that secret, which had been locked up only in his own heart, have been divined by Raghib? First he accused the dsins (Christian prophets), then the Hindoo soothsayers, then the interpreters of dreams—then the very pen with which he had written. How could he dream that the deaf and dumb could speak?

When Mustapha endeavoured to further the alliance with the King of Prussia, this great ruler of the infidels replied that there had until recently been one wise man in Turkey, but that he did not now propose to do business with fools. This was a bitter humiliation to the Sultan—to think that his late slave could have procured an alliance which was contemptuously refused to the King of Kings!

Mustapha frequently lamented the loss of Raghib, and was constantly tortured by the mystery whereby the secret of his heart had been penetrated. After the Grand Vizier’s death the bizeban ceased to communicate to Saliha the secrets of the Sultan. He had no longer any motive to do so.

First came Hamil, who only, however, remained Grand Vizier for six months, when he was executed for his negligence; and chroniclers relate of him that he let the empire go as it pleased, doing it neither good nor harm. Then followed the head of Bahir Mustapha. It was cut off for his barbarity. The third was Mohamed Emin, whom the Sultan beheaded for cowardice on the battlefield. Mustapha shed tears over the loss of his three Grand Viziers—but not on their personal account, for he had never forgotten Raghib, who was so wise, brave, and noble; and whenever he beheaded one of his Grand Viziers he would always think of the unfortunate Raghib.

The bizeban laughed within himself; for the deaf and dumb can laugh when they are alone. His secret no one ever knew.

DMdJ Neu2

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