Mother and Daughter | Part 4

It was an unlucky day for Ahmad. When Hasan met him, he was not gone very far and said ironically, “How now, Ahmad? Is it good for your health to come out into this chill air so scantily dressed?”

“However much one may try,” Ahmad said with a sigh, “one may not escape one’s fate. A chit of a girl fooled me. Do you happen to know her?”

“Of course, I know her,” Hasan replied. “Her mother, too! Do you want me to arrest them?”

“How will it be possible?” Ahmad asked.

“It’ll be possible,” replied Hasan, “if you go to the Khalifa and confess that you cannot lay your hands on the old woman. Suggest that I should be entrusted with the job.”

Ahmad followed his advice. The Khalifa sent for Hasan and asked him, “Do you know the old woman? Can you arrest her- and bring her here?”

“I know the woman well, Your Highness,” Hasan said. “I do not believe that she committed these thefts for the sake of the booty. I am inclined to think that she wants to impress Your Highness with her cleverness. If you promise to let her free on condition that she returns the stolen stuff, I can bring her here in no time.”

The Khalifa, having given the required promise, Hasan went to Delilah’s house. Zenab opened the door for him. “Ask your mother to come with me,” he told Zenab. “Let her bring the stuff she has stolen. I have Khalifa’s promise to let her free.”

Delilah came down. She loaded all the stuff she had stolen on horses, put on a good dress, and said she was ready.

“Are you bringing all the stolen goods?” Hasan asked her.

“All except the uniforms of Ahmad and his men,” Delilah said. “You see, I’ve nothing to do with that affair.”

“Yes, I know,” Hasan said with a smile. “It was the work of someone else.”

Presently they reached the Khalifa’s court. The moment the Khalifa set eyes on Delilah, he shouted to his guards to take the wretch away and behead her. But Hasan reminded him politely about the promise he had given.

“Well, what’s your name?” the Khalifa asked Delilah.

“I’m the wife of the man who looked after your pigeon post, Your Highness,” she replied. “My name is Delilah.”

“You appear to be a terrible creature,” the Khalifa said. “Why did you fool all these persons?”

“Your Highness should pardon my audacity,” Delilah replied, bowing thrice. “I didn’t do it because of avarice. Having seen Your Highness bestow great honour upon the erstwhile thieves, Hasan and Ahmad, I thought of proving that I am not much inferior to them in cunning.”

The Khalifa ordered that all the stolen goods be returned to the rightful owners and asked her, “What is it you desire, woman?”

“I want to be appointed as the chief of the pigeon post in my husband’s place. I know the work well. My daughter and I looked after the pigeons, prepared the messages and sent them with the pigeons. I’ve managed the outfit consisting of the forty negro enslaved people and the forty hounds. My husband did nothing to run the establishment.”

At once, the Khalifa issued the order appointing her the new chief of the pigeon post on the same salary as was drawn by her husband. Also, the forty enslaved people and forty hounds were handed over to Delilah.

Delilah shifted with her daughter to the establishment set apart for the pigeon post. She put on the dress of a man, wore a cap with a gold pigeon at its peak and rode to the palace to collect the messages that were to be sent abroad. All the forty enslaved people were dressed in uniforms of red brocade. Delilah arranged forty-one pegs in the walls of her new residence and hung the costumes of Ahmad, Ali the Hunchback and the rest of the thirty-nine police as souvenirs.

Thus Delilah achieved what she wanted and began to live happily with her daughter, Zenab.

Some days after the prior incidents happened, a young man, popularly called “Quicksilver”, came to Baghdad. His real name was Ali. He was very handsome to look at but, even at his age, was already a famous thief. He belonged to Cairo. When Ahmad, the chief of police, was operating as a thief in Cairo, Quicksilver apprenticed to him and learnt the art. Later, Ahmad left Cairo, arrived in Baghdad, worked successfully as a thief for some time, and later was appointed by the Khalifa as the chief of police. During Ahmad’s absence in Cairo, Quicksilver was made the leader of the thieves of that city. He was caught several times but escaped each time, which got him the nickname “Quicksilver.”

It was Ahmad who called Quicksilver to Baghdad. Ever since he was put to disgrace over the affair of Delilah, Ahmad had thought of Quicksilver every day. If only Ahmad had him by his side, this disgrace would not have come upon him. Ahmad was anxious to take revenge upon Delilah, but he could not do so as Delilah was now equal in status to himself. Quicksilver was the proper person to do it.

The moment Ali Quicksilver arrived in Baghdad, he went to see Ahmad. Ahmad was overjoyed to see Ali. He embraced him and said, “Brother, I have an exciting job for you. But first, you must stay at my house for a few days without anyone knowing. Later I can take you to the Khalifa and get you appointed at court.”

Ali Quicksilver stayed in Ahmad’s house for a couple of days. But he felt imprisoned, and on the third day, he slipped out as soon as Ahmad went to court. He wanted to see the four-quarters of the city.

Ali did not go very far when he came upon an older woman dressed like a man and wearing a cap with a gold pigeon on its peak, riding a horse and followed by forty negro enslaved people in uniforms of red brocade. Of course, it was Delilah returning home from the palace with the messages.

Delilah saw the new face of Quicksilver and marvelled at his beauty. At the same time, she noticed a certain resemblance in expression between this stranger and Ahmad, the chief of police. Indeed, Ali acquired a way of looking and certain facial ex-expressions from Ahmad when he was Ahmad’s disciple. The boy was coming from the direction of Ahmad’s house, and Delilah’s quick brain put two and two together.

As soon as she reached home, Delilah told Zenab about the handsome young man and said, “My dear, I suspect that Ahmad is up to some tricks. He got this boy for that purpose, if I’m not mistaken. The boy is a stranger to Baghdad. From how he kept looking at the houses and streets, I assume he had arrived recently. In any case, we should be on our guard.”

“Are you afraid of a beardless youth, mother?” Zenab said to her mother. She at once put on a beautiful dress, blackened her eyelashes, covered her face with a transparent veil, took a bag, and went into the street like walking lightning.

As she walked along prettily, she found Quicksilver near a shop and recognised him by the description she had from her mother. she walked past him jostling him, then turned back and hissed, “Blind fool!”

Quicksilver now saw her and was struck with her beauty. He smiled and said, “How beautiful you are! Who are you?”

“I’m a merchant’s daughter and a merchant’s wife,” Zenab replied. “You look like a stranger. Where are you putting up?”

Quicksilver could not mention Ahmad. So he said, “I’m not lodged yet. I’m looking for a proper place.”

“Why don’t you come to our house? It’s big,” Zenab told him. “I’m utterly alone while my husband attends to his shop.”

Quicksilver thought that he should not accept this girl’s invitation. But then he felt this girl could have no reason to be his enemy as he was quite a stranger to this city. So he decided to go with her and find out what sort of girl she was.

Zenab took him through several lanes before she halted in front of an enormous mansion belonging to a wealthy merchant. Zenab knew that the merchant was living alone and that he would be at his shop during the day. She began to fumble in her bag as if searching for the key.

“Good gracious!” she said at last. “I must have dropped the key somewhere. Can you manage to open the lock ?” Quicksilver said he would try and open the massive padlock in no time. Zenab was now sure that he was an expert thief.

They went inside. Zenab asked Quicksilver to sit in the hall while she prepared food. Then she took an empty pot and went to the well to fetch water.

A few moments later, Quicksilver heard a piercing shriek. He ran to the well and found Zenab looking into the well as if she had dropped something.

“What happened?” he asked. “My diamond ring!” she exclaimed. “My husband bought it only yesterday, paying five hundred dinars for it. I told him that it was loose for my finger. It has now fallen into the well. My husband will be wild if he comes to know about it! What shall I do now?” She began to whimper.

“I shall get it for you! Don’t you worry,” said Quicksilver. He tied a stout rope to the cross-bar of the well and, with its help, got down into the well after removing his clothes. The moment he dived into the water, Zenab drew the rope up, saying to herself, “Let Ahmad get him out of the well!” Then she took his clothes and went home.

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