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♪1øø1~The Sleeper Awakened (6)♪


The Sleeper Awakened part six

"If Princess Zobeide was, on the one hand, charmed with the tender sentiments which accompanied the caliph's compliment, she was, on the other, much surprised to hear of the death of Nouzhatoul Aouadat, which she did not expect. This intelligence threw her into such a state of astonishment that she remained for some time unable to reply. At length she said, 'Commander of the Faithful, I am very grateful for all the tender sentiments which you express towards me; but allow me to say that I do not at all understand the intelligence you give me of the death of my slave. She is in perfect health. Heaven preserve us both, my lord; but you see me afflicted at the death of Abou Hassan, her husband, your favourite, whom I esteem as much for the regard I know that you have for him, as because he has sometimes very agreeably entertained me. But, my lord, the indifference which I see you manifest at his death, and the forgetfulness you show in so very little time, fill me with surprise and astonishment. And this insensibility appears to me the more strange from the confusion you seem disposed to make by telling me of the death of my slave, instead of speaking of his death.'

"The caliph, who supposed he was perfectly well informed of the death of the slave, and who had reason to feel certain from what he had seen and heard, began to laugh when he heard Princess Zobeide talk in this manner. 'Mesrour,' said he, turning towards the chief of the eunuchs, 'what say you to this speech? Is it not true that ladies have sometimes strange wanderings of the understanding that one can scarcely believe? For you have both heard and seen the particulars of this affair as well as myself.' And turning again to Princess Zobeide he resumed: 'Lady, shed no more tears for Abou Hassan, for he is perfectly well. Weep rather for the death of your dear slave. It is scarcely a moment since her husband came into my council hall in tears to announce to me the death of his wife. I ordered a purse of a hundred pieces of gold and a piece of brocade to be given him towards defraying the funeral expenses of his dead wife. Mesrour here was witness of all that happened.'

"Princess Zobeide could not believe the caliph was serious when he spoke thus. 'Commander of the Faithful,' replied she, 'although it be your custom to jest, I must say that this is not a proper time to do so. It is not my slave who is dead, but her husband, Abou Hassan, whose fate I lament, and which you ought to lament with me.'

"'And I,' replied the caliph, 'tell you without jesting that you are mistaken. It is Nouzhatoul Aouadat who is dead, and it is Abou Hassan who is alive and in perfect health.'

"Princess Zobeide was piqued at the caliph's direct contradiction. 'Commander of the Faithful,' she resumed in an earnest tone, 'may Heaven keep you from remaining long under this mistake. Allow me to repeat once more that it is Abou Hassan who is dead, and that Nouzhatoul Aouadat my slave, is certainly alive. It is not an hour since she left me. She came hither quite in despair, and in a state of affliction, the very sight of which would have drawn tears from me, even though she had not told me the real cause of her grief. All my women have been weeping with me, and they can give you the most convincing proofs of the truth of what I say. They will tell you also that I made Nouzhatoul Aouadat a present of a purse of a hundred pieces of gold and a piece of brocade. I was even going to send you the expression of my sympathy at the time you made your appearance.'

"The caliph's eyes sparkled with anger. He sat down on the sofa, and speaking to Mesrour, said, 'Go this moment and see which of the two is dead, and instantly bring me word. Although I am quite certain that Nouzhatoul Aouadat is dead, I would rather take this step than be any longer obstinate in a matter of which I am perfectly convinced.'

"The caliph had hardly finished speaking before Mesrour was gone. 'You will see in a moment,' continued he, speaking to Princess Zobeide, 'who is right, you or I.' 'For my part,' replied Princess Zobeidd, 'I very well know that I am right. 'And I,' retorted the caliph, 'am so assured that it is Nouzhatoul Aouadat who is dead that I will bet you any wager you please that she is dead, and that Abou Hassan is very well.' 'Do not think to carry your point so,' replied Princess Zobeide: 'I accept your wager. I am so convinced of the death of Abou Hassan that I am ready to stake whatever I hold most precious against what you please, be it of never so little value.' 'Since this is the case,' said the caliph, 'I stake my garden of delights against your palace of pictures.' Princess Zobeide replied, 'I will consent to it, and the wager is settled.'

"While the caliph and Princess Zobeide were contending so earnestly and with so much warmth whether it was Abou Hassan or Nouzhatoul Aouadat who was dead, Abou Hassan, who had foreseen that altercation would ensue upon this point, was on the alert to be prepared for whatever might happen. When he saw Mesrour at a distance through the lattice near which he sat conversing with his wife, he immediately understood for what purpose he had been sent. He told his wife to pretend to be dead once more, and to make her preparations quickly.

"In fact there was no time to lose, and it was as much as he could do before Mesrour arrived to place his wife upon the ground again, and to spread over her the piece of brocade which the caliph had ordered to be given to him. He then opened the door of his apartment, and with a melancholy countenance, holding his handkerchief before his eyes, seated himself at the head of the pretended corpse.

"Scarcely was he ready when Mesrour entered the chamber. The funeral preparations which met the eyes of the chief of the eunuchs gave him secret pleasure as far as it regarded the commission with which he was entrusted by the caliph. As soon as Abou Hassan saw him he rose to meet him, sighing and lamenting, 'O my friend, you see me in the greatest affliction possible for the death of my dear wife Nouzhatoul Aouadat.'

"Mesrour was much affected at this address, and could not refuse the tribute of a few tears to the memory of the dead lady. He lifted up the cloth which covered the body that he might look at her face; and after he had glanced at her countenance, he said, with a deep sigh: 'There is no other God but Allah: we must all submit to His will, and every creature must return to Him.' He then turned towards Abou Hassan, who was bathed in tears, and observed: ‘The saying is true which tells us that women sometimes know not what they say. Princess Zobeide is now in this predicament. She persisted in maintaining to the caliph that it was you who were dead, and not your wife. And, let the caliph say what he will to the contrary, he cannot succeed in altering her conviction. They were so earnest and obstinate in their altercation, that it would never have ended if the caliph, in order to convince the Princess Zobeide, had not determined to send me hither to ascertain the truth.'

"'Heaven preserve the Commander of the Faithful in the possession and good use of his excellent understanding,' replied Abou Hassan, the tears still in his eyes. ‘You see the state of the case, and that I have not imposed upon his majesty; and would to Heaven,' cried the deceiver, 'that I had never had occasion to go to him with such melancholy, such heartrending information.' 'You speak truth,' replied Mesrour; 'and I can assure you I sympathize very sincerely in your affliction. I must now reluctantly leave you to return to the caliph.'

"Lest Mesrour should turn back immediately to say something else, Abou Hassan followed him with his eyes for some time; and when he saw him at a considerable distance, he came back to his chamber and freed Nouzhatoul Aouadat from the covering under which she lay. 'This is a new scene in our play,' said he; ‘but I suppose it will not be the last. The Princess Zobeide will certainly not pay any regard to Mesrour's report; so that we must expect some new event.' While Abou Hassan was saying this Nouzhatoul Aouadat had time to put on her dress again. Then they resumed their seats near the lattice, and waited to see what would happen next.

"In the meantime Mesrour reached the Princess Zobeide's apartment. He entered her cabinet, laughing and clapping his hands as a man would do who had something agreeable to communicate. The caliph wished to have the matter instantly cleared up. As soon, therefore, as he saw Mesrour, he cried out: 'Thou wicked slave, this is no time for laughing. Speak out boldly: who is dead-the husband or the wife?'

"'Commander of the Faithful,' answered Mesrour, 'it is Nouzhatoul Aouadat who is dead; and Abou Hassan is still overwhelmed with grief.'

"Without giving Mesrour time to say more, the caliph broke out into a loud fit of laughter. 'Good news!' cried he; ‘only a moment since, the Princess Zobeide, your mistress, was the owner of the palace of pictures; it is now mine. It was betted against my garden of delights since you left us. Tell me every particular of what you have seen.'

"When Mesrour had described what he had seen, the caliph laughed very heartily, and addressing the princess, he said, 'Now, lady, do you continue to think that Nouzhatoul Aouadat is still living, and that Abou Hassan is head? and do you not confess that you have lost your wager?'

"Princess Zobeide was by no means satisfied that Mesrour had made a true report. 'How, my lord, can you think that I shall believe this slave?' she retorted; 'he is an impertinent fellow, who knows not what he says. I have seen with my own eyes Nouzhatoul Aouadat in the greatest affliction. I heard perfectly what she told me concerning the death of her husband.'

"'Lady,' returned Mesrour, 'I swear by your life, and by the life of the Commander of the Faithful (the most precious things in the world to me), that Nouzhatoul is dead, and that Abou Hassan is alive.' 'Thou liest, vile and contemptible slave!' cried the princess in a violent passion; 'and I will confound thee in a moment.' She immediately called her women by clapping her hands. 'Come hither,' said the princess to them; ' tell me the truth: who was it that came to me a short time before the Commander of the Faithful made his visit here? 'The women all answered that it was the poor wretched Nouzhatoul Aouadat. And, speaking to her treasuress, the Princess Zobeide demanded: 'What was it I ordered you to give her when she went away?' 'O lady,' replied the treasuress, 'I gave to Nouzhatoul Aouadat, by your majesty's order, a purse with a hundred ...
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