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- The Arabian Nights Entertainments Complete - 130/272 -

all these questions she made no reply; so that the king was at a loss what to think of her silence. He imagined at first, that she might perhaps be dumb: "But then," said he to himself, "can it be possible that heaven should forge a creature so beautiful, so perfect, and so accomplished, and at the same time with so great an imperfection? Were it however so, I could not love her with less passion than I do." When the king of Persia rose, he washed his hands on one side, while the fair slave washed hers on the other. He took that opportunity to ask the woman who held the basin and napkin, if ever they had heard her speak. One of them replied, "Sire, we have neither seen her open her lips, nor heard her speak any more than your majesty has; we have rendered her our services in the bath; we have dressed her head, put on her clothes, and waited upon her in her chamber; but she has never opened her lips, so much as to say, that is well, or I like this. We have often asked her, "Madam, do you want anything? Is there anything you wish for? Do but ask, and command us," but we have never been able to draw a word from her. We cannot tell whether her sorrow proceeds from pride, sorrow, stupidity, or dumbness."

The king was more astonished at hearing this than he had been before: however, believing the slave might have some cause of sorrow, he was willing to endeavour to divert and amuse her. Accordingly he appointed a very splendid assembly, which all the ladies of the court attended; and those who were skilful in playing upon musical instruments performed their parts, while others sung or danced, or did both together: they played at all sorts of games, which much diverted the king. The fair slave was the only person who took no pleasure in these attempts to amuse her; she never moved from her place, but remained with her eyes fixed on the ground with so much indifference, that all the ladies were not less surprised than the king. After the assembly was over, every one retired to her apartment; and the king was left alone with the fair slave.

The next morning the king of Persia rose more pleased than he had been with all the women he had seen before, and more enamoured with the fair slave than ever. Indeed, he soon made it appear, by resolving henceforth to attach himself to her alone; and performed his resolution. On the same day he dismissed all his other women, giving every one of them their jewels, and other valuables, besides a considerable fortune, with free leave to marry whom they thought fit; and only kept the matrons and a few other elderly women to wait upon the fair slave. However, for a whole year together, she never afforded him the pleasure of one single word; yet the king continued his assiduities to please her, and to give her the most signal proofs of sincere love.

After the expiration of the year, the king sitting one day by his mistress, protested to her that his love, instead of being diminished, grew every day more violent. "My queen," said he, "I cannot divine what your thoughts are; but nothing is more true, and I swear to you, that having the happiness of possessing you, there remains nothing for me to desire. I esteem my kingdom, great as it is, less than an atom, when I have the pleasure of beholding you, and of telling you a thousand times that I adore you. I desire not that my words alone should oblige you to believe me. Surely you can no longer doubt of my devotion to you after the sacrifice which I have made to your beauty of so many women, whom I before kept in my palace. You may remember it is about a year since I sent them all away; and I as little repent of it now, as I did the moment of their departure; and I never shall repent. Nothing would be wanting to complete my happiness and crown my joy, would you but speak one single word to me, by which I might be assured that you thought yourself at all obliged. But how can you speak to me if you are dumb? and alas! I feel but too apprehensive that this is the case. How can I doubt, since you still torment me with silence, after having for a whole year in vain supplicated you to speak? If it is possible for me to obtain of you that consolation, may heaven at least grant me the blessing of a son by you, to succeed me. I every day find myself growing old, and I begin already to want one to assist me in bearing the weight of my crown. Still I cannot conceal the desire I have of hearing you speak; for something within me tells me you are not dumb: and I beseech, I conjure you, dear madam, to break through this long silence, and speak but one word to me; after that I care not how soon I die."

At this discourse the fair slave, who, according to her usual custom, had hearkened to the king with downcast eyes, and had given him cause to believe not only that she was dumb, but that she had never laughed, began to smile. The king of Persia perceived it with a surprise that made him break forth into an exclamation of joy; and no longer doubting but that she was going to speak, he waited for that happy moment with an eagerness and attention that cannot easily be expressed

At last the fair slave thus addressed herself to the king: "Sire, I have so many things to say to your majesty, that, having once broken silence, I know not where to begin. However, in the first place, I think myself bound to thank you for all the favours and honours you have been pleased to confer upon me, and to implore heaven to bless and prosper you, to prevent the wicked designs of your enemies, and not suffer you to die after hearing me speak, but to grant you a long life. After this, sire, I cannot give you greater satisfaction than by acquainting you that I am with child; and I wish, as you do, it may be a son. Had it never been my fortune to be pregnant, I was resolved (I beg your majesty to pardon the sincerity of my intention) never to have loved you, and to have kept an eternal silence; but now I love you as I ought to do."

The king of Persia, ravished to hear the fair slave not only speak, but tell him tidings in which he was so nearly concerned, embraced her tenderly. "Staining light of my eyes," said he, "it is impossible for me to receive greater delight than you have now given me: you have spoken to me, and you have declared your being with child, which I did not expect. After these two occasions of joy I am transported out of myself."

The king of Persia, in the transport of his feelings, said no more to the fair slave. He left her, but in such a manner as made her perceive his intention was speedily to return: and being willing that the occasion of his joys should be made public, he declared it to his officers, and sent for the grand vizier. As soon as he came, he ordered him to distribute a thousand pieces of gold among the holy men of his religion, who made vows of poverty; as also among the hospitals and the poor, by way of returning thanks to heaven: and his will was obeyed by the direction of that minister.

After the king of Persia had given this order, he returned to the fair slave again. "Madam," said he, "pardon me for leaving you so abruptly, since you have been the occasion of it; but I hope you will indulge me with some conversation, since I am desirous to know of you several things of much greater consequence. Tell me, my dearest soul, what were the powerful reasons that induced you to persist in that obstinate silence for a whole year together, though every day you saw me, heard me talk to you, ate and drank with me, and every night slept with me? I shall pass by your not speaking; but how you could carry yourself so as that I could never discover whether you were sensible of what I said to you or no, I confess, surpasses my understanding; and I cannot yet comprehend how you could contain yourself so long; therefore I must conclude the occasion of it to be very extraordinary."

"To satisfy the king of Persia's curiosity," replied the lady, "think whether or no to be a slave, far from my own country, without any hopes of ever seeing it again, to have a heart torn with grief, at being separated forever from my mother, my brother, my friends, and my acquaintance, are not these sufficient reasons for the silence your majesty has thought so strange and unaccountable?

The love of our native country is as natural to us as that of our parents; and the loss of liberty is insupportable to everyone who is not wholly destitute of common sense, and knows how to set a value on it. The body indeed may be enslaved, and under the subjection of a master, who has the power and authority in his hands; the will can never be conquered, but remains free and unconfined, depending on itself alone, as your majesty has found in my case; and it is a wonder that I have not followed the example of many unfortunate wretches, whom the loss of liberty has reduced to the melancholy resolution of procuring their own deaths in a thousand ways, by a liberty which cannot be taken from them."

"Madam," replied the king, "I am convinced of the truth of what you say; but till this moment I was of opinion, that a person beautiful, of good understanding, like yourself, whom her evil destiny had condemned to be a slave, ought to think herself very happy in meeting with a king for her master."

"Sire," replied the lady, "whatever the slave be, as I have already observed to your majesty, there is no king on earth can tyrannize over her will. When indeed you speak of a slave mistress of charms sufficient to captivate a monarch, and induce him to love her; if she be of a rank infinitely below him, I am of your opinion, she ought to think herself happy in her misfortunes: still what happiness can it be, when she considers herself only as a slave, torn from a parent's arms, and perhaps from those of a lover, her passion for whom death only can extinguish; but when this very slave is in nothing inferior to the king who has purchased her, your majesty shall judge yourself of the rigour of her destiny, her misery and her sorrow, and to what desperate attempts the anguish of despair may drive her."

The king of Persia, astonished at this discourse, "Madam," said he, "can it be possible that you are of royal blood, as by your words you seem to intimate? Explain the whole secret to me, I beseech you, and no longer augment my impatience. Let me instantly know who are the happy parents of so great a prodigy of beauty; who are your brothers, your sisters, and your relations; but, above all, tell me your name?"

"Sire," said the fair slave, "my name is Gulnare of the Sea: and my father, who is dead, was one of the most potent monarchs of the ocean. When he died, he left his kingdom to a brother of mine, named Saleh, and to the queen, my mother, who is also a princess, the daughter of another puissant monarch of the sea. We enjoyed profound peace and tranquillity through the whole kingdom, till a neighbouring prince, envious of our happiness, invaded our dominions with a mighty army; and penetrating as far as our capital, made himself master of it; and we had but just time to save ourselves in an impenetrable and inaccessible place, with a few trusty officers, who did not forsake us in our distress.

"In this retreat my brother was not negligent in contriving means to drive the unjust invaders from our dominions. One day taking

The Arabian Nights Entertainments Complete - 130/272

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