Part 8, Chapter 2


Chapter 2

IT was twilight: a small and solitary boat, with a single rower, glided along the Tigris, and stopped at the archway of a house that descended into the river. It stopped, the boatman withdrew the curtains, and his single passenger disembarked, and ascended the stairs of the archway.

The stranger reached the landing-place, and, unfastening a golden grate, proceeded along a gallery, and entered a beautiful saloon of white and green marble, opening into gardens. No one was in the apartment; the stranger threw himself upon a silver couch, placed at the side of a fountain that rose from the centre of the chamber and fell into a porphyry basin. A soft whisper roused the stranger from his reverie, a soft whisper, that faintly uttered the word ‘Honain.’ The stranger looked up, a figure, enveloped in a veil, that touched the ground, advanced from the gardens.

‘Honain!’ said the advancing figure, throwing off the veil. ‘Honain! Ah! the beautiful mute returned!’

A woman more lovely than the rosy morn, beheld an unexpected guest. They stood, the lady and the stranger, gazing on each other in silence. A man, with a light, entered the extremity of the hall. Carefully he closed the portal, slowly he advanced, with a subdued step; he approached the lady and the stranger.

‘Alroy!’ said the astonished Honain, the light fell from his hand.

‘Alroy!’ exclaimed the lady, with a bewildered air: she turned pale, and leant against a column.

‘Daughter of the caliph!’ said the leader of Israel; and he advanced, and fell upon his knee, and stole her passive hand. ‘I am indeed that Alroy to whom destiny has delivered the empire of thy sire; but the Princess Schirene can have nothing to fear from one who values above all his victories this memorial of her goodwill;’ and he took from his breast a rosary of pearls and emeralds, and, rising slowly, left it in her trembling hand.

The princess turned and hid her face in her arm, which reclined against the column.

‘My kind Honain,’ said Alroy, ‘you thought me forgetful of the past; you thought me ungrateful. My presence here proves that I am not so. I come to enquire all your wishes. I come to gratify and to fulfil them, if that be in my power.’

‘Sire,’ replied Honain, who had recovered from the emotion in which he rarely indulged, and from the surprise which seldom entrapped him, ‘Sire, my wishes are slight. You see before you the daughter of my master. An interview, for which I fear I shall not easily gain that lady’s pardon, has made you somewhat acquainted with her situation and her sentiments. The Princess Schirene seized the opportunity of the late convulsions to escape from a mode of life long repugnant to all her feelings, and from a destiny at which she trembled. I was her only counsellor, and she may feel assured, a faithful, although perhaps an indiscreet one. The irresistible solicitation of the inhabitants that I should become their deputy to their conqueror, prevented us from escaping as we had intended. Since then, from the movement of the troops, I have deemed it more prudent that we should remain at present here, although I have circulated the intelligence of my departure. In the kiosk of my garden, the princess is now a willing prisoner. At twilight she steals forth for the poor relaxation of my society, to listen to the intelligence which I acquire during the day in disguise. The history, sire, is short and simple. We are in your power: but instead of deprecating your interference, I now solicit your protection.’

‘Dear Honain, ’tis needless. The Princess Schirene has only to express a wish that it may be fulfilled. I came to speak with you on weighty matters, Honain, but I retire, for I am an intruder now. To-morrow, if it please you, at this hour, and in this disguise, I will again repair hither. In the meantime, this lady may perchance express to you her wishes, and you will bear them to me. If an escort to any country, if any palace or province for her rule and residence—But I will not offer to one who should command. Lady! farewell. Pardon the past! To-morrow, good Honain! pr’ythee let us meet. Good even!’