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Clock of the Ark

There was in the time of Nasrullah a clock above the gate of the Ark, the only clock m all the kingdom of Bokhara, and the story of its maker combines so many of the ingredients of one of the tales of Scheherezade that, having heard it, the listener will be inclined to view the Arabian Nights in a fresh light of credulity ever after. A certain Italian, Giovanni Orlando, held in the 1840s the position of overseer on the estate of a rich Russian, Z--- whose unpleasant habit it was to encourage the marauding Kirghiz to raid this estate (which bordered upon their wilderness in the neighbourhood of Orenburg) and carry off the peasantry to sell them into slavery at Bokhara. This fate one day befell Giovanni Orlando, and the report of him being a feringhee, an unbeliever, piqued the terrible interest of Nasrullah, who sent for the captive and threatened him with death if he would not embrace Islam. The Italian, ingenious as he was stout-hearted, would not renounce his Faith but, from the pit into which he was cast before execution, offered to construct for the tyrant a machine for measuring Time. Such a wizard-like enticement, promising to extend his kingdom into the realm of sun and stars, was irresistible to Nasrojlak. The clock was made, and Orlando appointed chief artificer to the cruet king. In this way all went along swimmingly until Nasrullah unfortunately dropped from the minaret at Bohoneddin the telescope which the Italian had made him (a toy which had extended even further the autocrat's meddling with the starry heavens) and sent for Orlando to put the mischief right. The chief artificer, by an evil chance, had been out celebrating with an Armenian toper, and came to the emir unsteady on his legs. Again Nasrullah threw him into a dungeon and abjured him to renounce Christianity or to prepare to die. Orlando would not apostasise. Even though the executioner did to him as the Green Knight did to Sir Gawain - nicked the skin of his neck so that drops of blood laced his throat - nothing would move his steadfastness. Next day he was beheaded. These events, which took place in 1851, are related in Alcune Notizie Raccolte in un Viaggio a Bucara, by Modesto Gavazzi, who came to Bokhara with two other Italians in 1863 in order to buy silkworm eggs (and were themselves imprisoned for a time); but Orlando's existence is confirmed in other books, notably Wolff's and Vambery's, whilst Captain Shakespear once came across him on the road to Kokand.

"Journey to Khiva" by Philip Glazebrook