"The individual whose sad taking-off I have just narrated," said the emir of the tribe of Al-Yam, "affords an excellent example of the power of good clothes. Suppose he had secreted himself under Miss Almira's bed wearing a jumper, overalls, and a mask. He would have been arrested and lodged in the penitentiary."
"But he is now dead," said Mr. Middleton.
"He had better be dead, than continuing his career of villainy and crime," quoth the emir sternly, and then passing his eyes over the person of Mr. Middleton, he remarked the somewhat threadbare and glossy garments of that excellent young man. "If you would accept a suit of raiment from me," continued the emir with a hesitation that betrayed the delicacy which was one of the most marked of the many estimable traits that made his character so admirable, "I would be overjoyed and obliged. The interests of you, my only friend in this vast land, have become to me as my own. Unfortunately I have no Frank clothes except the one suit I wear daily. But of the costumes of my native land, I have abundant store, and as we are of the same stature, I beg you will make me happy by accepting one."
Speaking some words to Mesrour in the language of Arabia, the blackamore brought in and proceeded to invest Mr. Middleton with an elegant silken habit consisting of a pair of exceedingly baggy trousers of the hue of emeralds, a round jacket whose crimson rivalled the rubies of Farther Ind, and a vest of snowy white. Double rows of small pearls ornamented the edges of the jacket, which was short and just met a copper-colored sash about the waist. After inducting him into a pair of white leggings and bronze shoes, Mesrour clapped upon his head a large white turban ornamented with a black aigret.
Mr. Middleton looked very well in his new garments and while the emir was complimenting him upon this fact and the grace of his bearing and Mr. Middleton was uttering protestations of gratitude, Mesrour busied himself, and Mr. Middleton, turning with intent to resume his wonted garb, was astonished to find it in a network of heavy twine tied with a multiplicity of knots.
"Mesrour will bring you your Frank clothes in the morning. I am very tired, and so I will bid you good night," and the yawn which now overspread the face of the accomplished prince told more than his words that the audience was ended.
Mr. Middleton looked at the bundle with its array of knots. To untie it would require a long time and the prince was repeating his yawn and his good night. Even had he not hesitated to offend the prince by demanding opportunity to resume his customary vestments and to weary him by making him wait for this operation, which promised to be a long one, he would have been without volition in the matter; for in obedience to a gesture, Mesrour grasped his arm and with great deference, but inflexible and unalterable firmness, led him through the shop and closed the street door behind him.
Mr. Middleton was greatly disconcerted at finding himself in the street arrayed in these brilliant and barbarous habiliments, but reflecting that the citizens traveling the streets at this hour would perhaps take him for some high official in one of the many fraternal orders that entertain, instruct, and edify the inhabitants of the city, he proceeded on his way somewhat reassured. As he was changing cars well toward his lodgings, at a corner where a large public hall reared its facade, he heard himself accosted, and turning, beheld a portly person wearing a gilt paper crown, a long robe of purple velvet bordered with rabbit's fur spotted with black, and bearing in his hand a bung-starter, which, covered with gilt paper, made a very creditable counterfeit of a royal scepter.
"Come here once," said this personage.
With great affableness expressing a willingness to come twice, if it were desired, Mr. Middleton accompanied the personage, as with an air of brooding mystery, the latter led him down the street twenty feet from where they had first stood.
"Was you going to the masquerade?"
"Yes," said Mr. Middleton, divining from the presence of the personage and two other masquers whom he now beheld entering the hall, that a masquerade was in progress.
"What'll you take to stay away?"
"You'll take the prize."
"What is the prize and why should the possibility of winning it deter me?"
"The prize is five dollars. It's this way. I am a saloonkeeper. GustafKleiner and I are in love with the same girl. She is in love with all both of us. She don't know what to say. She can't marry all both, so she says she'll marry the one what gits the prize at the masquerade. If you git the prize, don't either of us git the girl already. I'll give you twenty dollars to stay away."
"But what of GustafKleiner? Have you paid him?"
"He is going to be a devil. I hired two Irishmans for five dollars to meet him up the street, cut off his tail, break his horns, and put whitewash on his red suit. He is all right. I'll make it thirty dollars and a ticket of the raffle for my watch to-morrow."
"Done," said Mr. Middleton, and he proceeded to draw up a contract binding him to stay away from the masquerade for a consideration of thirty dollars.
It was not the least remarkable part of his adventure that he did not meet GustafKleiner in his damaged suit and for a consideration of fifty dollars, lend him the magnificent Oriental costume. He did not see GustafKleiner at all, nor did he win the watch in the raffle and the chronicler hopes that the setting down of these facts will not cause the readers to doubt his veracity, for he is aware that usually these things are ordered differently.
Having kept the Oriental costume for several days and seeing no prospect of ever wearing it, and his small closet having become crowded by the presence of a new twenty-dollar suit which he purchased with part of his gains, he presented it to the young lady in Englewood previously mentioned, who reduced the ruby red jacket to a beautiful bolero jacket, made a table throw of the sash, and after much hesitation seized the exceedingly baggy trousers- which were made with but one seam- and ripping them up, did, with a certain degree of confusion, fashion them into two lovely shirt waists. But she did not wear them in the presence of Mr. Middleton and did not even mention them to him. Nor did Mr. Middleton allude to any of these transactions when on the appointed day and hour he again sat in the presence of the urbane prince of the tribe of Al-Yam. Handing him a bowl of delicately flavored sherbet, Achmed began to narrate The Adventure of William Hicks.
Excerpt from The Shadow of the Wind
- Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Excerpt from Swing Time
- Zadie Smith