Part 9, Chapter 2

Part IX

Chapter 2

‘THE noisy banquet lingers in my ear; I love to be alone.’

‘With me?’

‘Thou art myself; I have no other life.’

‘Sweet bird! It is now a caliph.’

‘I am what thou willest, soul of my sweet existence! Pomp and dominion, fame and victory, seem now but flawed and dimly-shaded gems compared with thy bright smile!’

‘My plaintive nightingale, shall we hunt to-day?’

‘Alas! my rose, I would rather lie upon this lazy couch, and gaze upon thy beauty!’

‘Or sail upon the cool and azure lake, in some bright barque, like to a sea-nymph’s shell, and followed by the swans?’

‘There is no lake so blue as thy deep eye; there is no swan so white as thy round arm!’

‘Or shall we launch our falcons in the air, and bring the golden pheasant to our feet?’

‘I am the golden pheasant at thy feet; why wouldst thou richer prey?’

‘Rememberest thou thy earliest visit to this dear kiosk, my gentle mute? There thou stoodst with folded arms and looks demure as day, and ever and anon with those dark eyes stealing a glance which made my cheek quite pale. Methinks I see thee even yet, shy bird. Dost know, I was so foolish when it quitted me, dost know I cried?’

‘Ah, no! thou didst not cry?’

‘Indeed, I think I did.’

‘Tell me again, my own Schirene, indeed didst cry?’

‘Indeed I did, my soul!’

‘I would those tears were in some crystal vase, I’d give a province for the costly urn.’

She threw her arms around his neck and covered his face with kisses.

Sunset sounded from the minarets. They arose and wandered together in the surrounding paradise. The sky was tinted with a pale violet flush, a single star floating by the side of the white moon, that beamed with a dim lustre, soft and shapely as a pearl.

‘Beautiful!’ exclaimed the pensive Schirene, as she gazed upon the star. ‘0, my Alroy, why cannot we ever live alone, and ever in a Paradise?’

‘I am wearied of empire,’ replied Alroy with a smile, ‘let us fly!’

‘Is there no island, with all that can make life charming, and yet impervious to man? How little do we require! Ah! if these gardens, instead of being surrounded by hateful Bagdad, were only encompassed by some beautiful ocean!’

‘My heart, we live in a paradise, and are seldom disturbed, thanks to Honain!’

‘But the very consciousness that there are any other persons existing besides ourselves is to me painful. Every one who even thinks of you seems to rob me of a part of your being. Besides, I am weary of pomp and palaces. I should like to live in a sparry* grot, and sleep upon a couch of sweet leaves!’

This interesting discussion was disturbed by a dwarf, who, in addition to being very small and very ugly, was dumb. He bowed before the Princess, and then had recourse to a great deal of pantomimic action, by which she discovered that it was dinner-time. No other person could have ventured to disturb the royal pair, but this little being was a privileged favourite.

So Alroy and Schirene entered the Serail. An immense cresset-lamp, fed with perfumed oil, threw a soft light round the sumptuous chamber. At the end stood a row of eunuchs in scarlet dresses, and each holding a tall silver staff. The Caliph and the Sultana threw themselves upon a couch covered with a hundred cushions; on one side stood a group consisting of the captain of the guard and other officers of the household, on the other, of beautiful female slaves magnificently attired.

The line of domestics at the end of the apartment opened, and a body of slaves advanced, carrying trays of ivory and gold, and ebony and silver, covered with the choicest dainties, curiously prepared. These were in turn offered to the Caliph and the Sultana by their surrounding attendants. The Princess accepted a spoon made of a single pearl, the long, thin golden handle of which was studded with rubies, and condescended to partake of some saffron soup, of which she was fond. Afterwards she regaled herself with the breast of a cygnet,* stuffed with almonds, and stewed with violets and cream. Having now a little satisfied her appetite, and wishing to show a mark of her favour to a particular individual, she ordered the captain of the guard instantly to send him the whole of the next course74 with her compliments. Her attention was then engaged with a dish of those delicate ortolans* that feed upon the vine-leaves of Schiraz, and with which the Governor of Nishabur took especial care that she should be well provided. Tearing the delicate birds to pieces with her still more delicate fingers, she insisted upon feeding Alroy, who of course yielded to her solicitations. In the meantime, they refreshed themselves with their favorite sherbet of pomegranates, and the golden wine of Mount Lebanon.75 The Caliph, who could eat no more ortolans, although fed by such delicate fingers, was at length obliged to call for ‘rice,’ which was synonymous to commanding the banquet to disappear. The attendants now brought to each basins of gold, and ewers of rock crystal filled with rose water, with towels of that rare Egyptian linen which can be made only of the cotton that grows upon the banks of the Nile. While they amused themselves with eating sugar-plums, and drinking coffee flavoured with cinnamon, the female slaves danced before them in the most graceful attitudes to the melody of invisible musicians.

‘My enchanting Schirene,’ said the Caliph, ‘I have dined, thanks to your attention, very well. These slaves of yours dance admirably, and are exceedingly beautiful. Your music, too, is beyond, all praise; but, for my own part, I would rather be quite alone, and listening to one of your songs.’

‘I have written a new one to-day. You shall hear it.’ So saying, she clapped her little white hands, and all the attendants immediately withdrew.