Chapter XVI. – How a Mistake got an Arab a Quiet Wife, pp.66-68.

[Book of Blunders Contents]

MR ORMSBY, of the Middle Temple, in an interesting volume, entitled “Autumn Rambles in North Africa,” tells the following:- 

Abder-Rahman-ben-Djellah, who reigned at Tuggurt, in the region of the West Rhis, heard that in Constantina (then recently occupied by the French) there was a damsel whose beauty surpassed the most extravagant conceptions of the most imaginative poets. 

At this time he was in a depressed state of mind. 

There was a vacancy in his heart and harem. He was a widower to an extent that may be represented by the vulgar fraction, ¼; for the dearest, fairest, and fattest of his four wives, Ghazala, “the gazelle,” who weighed nearly twenty stone, had just died. 

These tales of the Constantian beauty excited, first, curiosity, and then a warmer and stronger passion; and he called to him his major-domo, a faithful person, and a man of judgment, and bade him go to the city of Constantina, and bring back a true report. 

And the major-domo replied, 

   “I hear and obey,” 

and went; and returned and reported, saying, 

   “It is true, O, my master, what thy servants have said, and there is no lie at all. I myself have seen her. her cheeks are like ripe pomegranates, and her eyebrows are curved like the branch of the palm tree, and her hair resembles the tail of El Warda, the mare of the Prophet, whose name be extolled! and all day she sits in the window of her father’s house, which is, indeed, a mean casket for so bright a jewel, and steadfastly regards the persons who pass by, smiling in a manner that deprives the beholders of reason.” 

Then the heart of Abder-Rahman was inflamed, and he gave a large sum in douros to the major-domo, and told him to go to Constantina and being back the damsel at any cost. And the major-domo departed and went to the house of the damsel’s father, and finding the father at the door of the house, he mentioned his mission, and explained that he came on the part of a mighty prince of the South, to demand in marriage his daughter, the fair damsel who habitually sat in the window smiling, and that he was prepared to offer a handsome marriage portion. Whereupon, the father was much perplexed; for indeed he had no daughter. he was only a hair-dresser from Marseilles, who cut for the officers of the garrison, and curled for their wives; and the damsel was but a dummy; a wax-work figure, which he had placed in his window as an indication of his profession. 

But the major-domo was a man of a literal turn of mind, and as he had been instructed, under severe penalties, not to return without the damsel, he bought the image, and it became one of the chief ornaments of his master’s harem. And Abder-Rahman-ben-Djellah, who was a man of pleasant humour and also of vast matrimonial experience, has been heard to say (so the story goes) that there were worse wives, so far as peace and quietness were concerned, than the one he got from Constantina. 

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