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- The Arabian Nights Entertainments vol. 4 - 4/71 -
though I have the good fortune to see you here safe and well, I was in pain till you came to that part where the horse fortunately descended upon the terrace of my palace. The same thing might have happened in a thousand other places. I am glad that chance has given me the preference to the whole world, and of the opportunity of letting you know, that it could not have conducted you to any place where you could have been received with greater pleasure.
"But, prince," continued she, "I should think myself offended, if I believed that the thought you mentioned of being my slave was serious, and that it did not proceed from your politeness rather than from a sincerity of sentiment; for, by the reception I gave you yesterday, you might assure yourself you are here as much at liberty as in the midst of the court of Persia.
"As to your heart," added the princess, in a tone which shewed nothing less than a refusal, "as I am persuaded that you have not lived so long without disposing of it, and that you could not fail of making choice of a princess who deserves it, I should be sorry to give you an occasion to be guilty of infidelity to her."
Prince Firoze Shaw would have protested that when he left Persia he was master of his own heart: but, at that instant, one of the princess's ladies in waiting came to tell that a collation was served up.
This interruption delivered the prince and princess from an explanation, which would have been equally embarrassing to both, and of which they stood in need. The princess of Bengal was fully convinced of the prince of Persia's sincerity; and the prince, though the princess had not explained herself, judged nevertheless from some words she had let fall, that he had no reason to complain.
As the lady held the door open, the princess of Bengal said to the prince, rising off her seat, as he did also from his, "I am not used to eat so early; but as I fancied you might have had but an indifferent supper last night, I ordered breakfast to be got ready sooner than ordinary." After this compliment she led him into a magnificent hall, where a cloth was laid covered with great plenty of choice and excellent viands; and as soon as they were seated, many beautiful slaves of the princess, richly dressed, began a most agreeable concert of vocal and instrumental music, which lasted the whole time of eating.
This concert was so sweet and well managed, that it did not in the least interrupt the prince and princess's conversation. The prince served the princess with the choicest of every thing, and strove to outdo her in civility, both by words and actions, which she returned with many new compliments: and in this reciprocal commerce of civilities and attentions, love made a greater progress in both than a concerted interview would have promoted.
When they rose, the princess conducted the prince into a large and magnificent saloon, embellished with paintings in blue and gold, and richly furnished; there they both sat down in a balcony, which afforded a most agreeable prospect into the palace garden, which prince Firoze Shaw admired for the vast variety of flowers, shrubs, and trees, which were full as beautiful as those of Persia, but quite different. Here taking the opportunity of entering into conversation with the princess, he said, "I always believed, madam, that no part of the world but Persia afforded such stately palaces and beautiful gardens; but now I see, that other great monarchs know as well how to build mansions suitable to their power and greatness; and if there is a difference in the manner of building, there is none in the degree of grandeur and magnificence."
"Prince," replied the princess of Bengal, "as I have no idea of the palaces of Persia, I cannot judge of the comparison you have made of mine. But, however sincere you seem to be, I can hardly think it just, but rather incline to believe it a compliment: I will not despise my palace before you; you have too good an eye, too good a taste not to form a sound judgment. But I assure you, I think it very indifferent when I compare it with the king my father's, which far exceeds it for grandeur, beauty, and richness; you shall tell me yourself what you think of it, when you have seen it: for since a chance has brought you so nigh to the capital of this kingdom, I do not doubt but you will see it, and make my father a visit, that he may pay you all the honour due to a prince of your rank and merit."
The princess flattered herself, that by exciting in the prince of Persia a curiosity to see the capital of Bengal, and to visit her father, the king, seeing him so handsome, wise, and accomplished a prince, might perhaps resolve to propose an alliance with him, by offering her to him as a wife. And as she was well persuaded she was not indifferent to the prince, and that he would be pleased with the proposal, she hoped to attain to the utmost of her wishes, and preserve all the decorum becoming a princess, who would appear resigned to the will of her king and father; but the prince of Persia did not return her an answer according to her expectation.
"Princess," he replied, "the preference which you give the king of Bengal's palace to your own is enough to induce me to believe it much exceeds it: and as to the proposal of my going and paying my respects to the king your father, I should not only do myself a pleasure, but an honour. But judge, princess, yourself, would you advise me to present myself before so great a monarch, like an adventurer, without attendants, and a train suitable to my rank?"
"Prince," replied the princess, "let not that give you any pain; if you will but go, you shall want no money to have what train and attendants you please: I will furnish you; and we have traders here of all nations in great numbers, and you may make choice of as many as you please to form your household."
Prince Firoze Shaw penetrated the princess of Bengal's intention, and this sensible mark of her love still augmented his passion, which, notwithstanding its violence, made him not forget his duty. Without any hesitation he replied, "Princess, I should most willingly accept of the obliging offer you make me, for which I cannot sufficiently shew my gratitude, if the uneasiness my father must feel on account of my absence did not prevent me. I should be unworthy of the tenderness he has always had for me, if I should not return as soon as possible to calm his fears. I know him so well, that while I have the happiness of enjoying the conversation of so lovely a princess, I am persuaded he is plunged into the deepest grief, and has lost all hopes of seeing me again. I trust you will do me the justice to believe, that I cannot, without ingratitude, and being guilty of a crime, dispense with going to restore to him that life, which a too long deferred return may have endangered already.
"After this, princess," continued the prince of Persia, "if you will permit me, and think me worthy to aspire to the happiness of becoming your husband, as my father has always declared that he never would constrain me in my choice, I should find it no difficult matter to get leave to return, not as a stranger, but as a prince, to contract an alliance with your father by our marriage; and I am persuaded that the emperor will be overjoyed when I tell him with what generosity you received me, though a stranger in distress."
The princess of Bengal was too reasonable, after what the prince of Persia had said, to persist any longer in persuading him to pay a visit to the raja of Bengal, or to ask any thing of him contrary to his duty and honour. But she was much alarmed to find he thought of so sudden a departure; fearing, that if he took his leave of her so soon, instead of remembering his promise, he would forget when he ceased to see her. To divert him from his purpose, she said to him, "Prince, my intention of proposing a visit to my father was not to oppose so just a duty as that you mention, and which I did not foresee. But I cannot approve of your going so soon as you propose; at least grant me the favour I ask of a little longer acquaintance; and since I have had the happiness to have you alight in the kingdom of Bengal, rather than in the midst of a desert, or on the top of some steep craggy rock, from which it would have been impossible for you to descend, I desire you will stay long enough to enable you to give a better account at the court of Persia of what you may see here."
The sole end the princess had in this request was, that the prince of Persia, by a longer stay, might become insensibly more passionately enamoured of her charms; hoping thereby that his ardent desire of returning would diminish, and then he might be brought to appear in public, and pay a visit to the Rajah of Bengal. The prince of Persia could not well refuse her the favour she asked, after the kind reception she had given him; and therefore politely complied with her request; and the princess's thoughts were directed to render his stay agreeable by all the amusements she could devise.
Nothing went forward for several days but concerts of music, accompanied with magnificent feasts and collations in the gardens, or hunting-parties in the vicinity of the palace, which abounded with all sorts of game, stags, hinds, and fallow deer, and other beasts peculiar to the kingdom of Bengal, which the princess could pursue without danger. After the chase, the prince and princess met in some beautiful spot, where a carpet was spread, and cushions laid for their accommodation. There resting themselves, after their violent exercise, they conversed on various subjects. The princess took pains to turn the conversation on the grandeur, power, riches, and government of Persia; that from the prince's replies she might have an opportunity to talk of the kingdom of Bengal, and its advantages, and engage him to resolve to make a longer stay there; but she was disappointed in her expectations.
The prince of Persia, without the least exaggeration, gave so advantageous an account of the extent of the kingdom of Persia, its magnificence and riches, its military force, its commerce by sea and land with the most remote parts of the world, some of which were unknown even to him; the vast number of large cities it contained, almost as populous as that which the emperor had chosen for his residence, where he had palaces furnished ready to receive him at all seasons of the year; so that he had his choice always to enjoy a perpetual spring; that before he had concluded, the princess found the kingdom of Bengal to be very much inferior to that of Persia in a great many respects. When he had finished his relation, he begged of her to entertain him with a description of Bengal.
The princess after much entreaty gave prince Firoze Shaw that satisfaction; but by lessening a great many advantages the kingdom of Bengal was well known to have over that of Persia, she
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