The Hidden One

(THE Princess of this story was one of the great Moghul dynasty of Emperors in India and was born in 1639. She was granddaughter to the Emperor Shah Jahan and the lovely Lady who sleeps in the Taj Mahal, and daughter to the Emperor Aurungzib whose Moslem fanaticism was his ruin. The Princess’s title was Zeb-un-Nissa — Glory of Women. She was beautiful and was, and is, a famous poet in India and Persia. She wrote under the pen name of Makhfi — the Hidden One. Her love adventures were such as I relate, though I have taken the liberty of transferring the fate of one lover to another.

For her quoted poems I use the charming translations by J. D. Westbrook, who has written a short memoir of this fascinating poet-Princess. She was a mystic of the Sufi order, and her verses, ‘The Hunter of the Soul,’ strangely anticipate the motif of Francis Thompson’s ‘Hound of Heaven.’ The poems not specified as hers are a part of my story.)

I

The office of hakim (physician) to the Moghul Emperors being hereditary in my family from the days of Babar the Conquering Emperor, I was appointed physician to the Padshah known as Shah Jahan, and when His Majesty became a resident in Paradise (may his tomb be sanctified!) my office was continued by his Majesty Aurungzib, the Shahinshah, and rooms of nobility were bestowed on me in his palace, and by his abundant favor the health of the Begams (Queens) was placed in the hands of this suppliant and I came and went freely and was enlightened by the rays of his magnanimity. And my name is Abul Qasim.

But of all that Garden of Flowers, the Queens and Princesses, there was one whom my soul loved as a father his child, for she resembled that loveliest of all sweet ladies, the mother of her father — she who lies sleeping by Jumna River in the divine white glory of the Taj Mahal (may the lights of Allah be her testimony!). In the sisters of my Princess I have seen, as it were, a beam now and again of that lost beauty, but in her it abode as an unchanging moonlight and at her birth she received the name of Arjemand in honor of that beloved lady whose loss so clouded the universe that the day of her death is known only by its chronogram of ‘grief.’ And the child received also the title of ‘Glory of Women’ and such this Princess most truly was. Of her might it be said: ‘For the mole upon thy cheek I would give the cities of Samarkhand and Bokhara.’ And a poet of Persia, catching a glimpse of her in her garden, cried aloud in an ecstasy of verse: —

‘O, golden zone that circles the Universe of Beauty,
It were little to give the Universe itself for what thou circlest.’

Yet this surprising loveliness was the least of her perfections. But how shall this suppliant, who is but mortal man, describe her charm? Allah, when he made man and laid the world at his feet, decreed that one thing should be hidden from his understanding, so that still, for all his knowledge, he should own there is but one Searcher of Secrets, and this mystery is the heart and the enchantment of a woman. For if she be called the Other Half of man it is but as the Moon reflects the glory of her lord the Sun, and as a wise Hindu pundit told me for truth the Moon has a cold and dark side also where alone she revolves thoughts secret, silent, and perilous. Therefore to sift her in her secret spells is a foolhardy thing, and not in vain is it written by Aflatoun (Plato), the wise man of the Greeks, that the unhappy man who surprised a goddess bathing in the forest was rent in pieces by his own hounds.

Yet this feat must be attempted for, if there is a thing it behooves man to know, it is the soul of this fair Mystery who moves submissive beside him and surrenders Heaven to him in a first kiss and the bitterness of the Hells in a last.

Therefore I essay a tale of this Princess, the Glory of Women, who was an epitome of her sex in that she was beautiful, a dreamer, a poet, and at times sweet in gentleness as a summer river kissing its banks in flowing, and at others —

But I write.

II

Seeing her intelligence clear as a sword of Azerbaijan, her exalted father resolved that his jewel should not be dulled by lack of polishing and cutting, and he appointed the wise lady Miyabai to be her first teacher. And lo! at the age of seven she knew the Koran by heart, and in her honor a mighty feast was made for the army and for the poor. As she grew, aged and saintly teachers were given her, from whom she absorbed Arabic, mathematics, and astronomy as a rose drinks rain. No subject eluded her swift mind, no toil wearied her. Verses she wrote with careless ease in the foreign tongue of Arabia, but hearing from an Arab scholar that in a single line the exquisite skill betrayed an Indian idiom, she instantly discarded Arabic, because she would have perfection, and henceforward was a poet only in her mother tongue, Persian.

On this jewel no pains were spared, for the Emperor desired that her name might be splendid throughout Asia. And yet he drew her limit and sharply. For in her pride of learning she began a commentary on the holy Koran, and hearing this, he sternly forbade it. A woman might in her own sphere do much, he wrote, but such a creature of dust may not handle the Divine.

I, Abul Qasim, was with her when she received the Imperial order, and saw her take the fair manuscript and obediently tear it across, desiring that the rent leaves be offered to the Shadow of God in token of obedience. But those deep eyes of hers were not obedient beneath the veiling of silken lashes, and turning to me, to whom she told her royal heart, she said, ‘What the hand may not write the heart may think, for in the heart is no Emperor. It is free.’

Yet the Emperor made amends and noble, so far as his light led him. Not for a woman the mysteries of the faith of Islam, which he held of all things the greatest, but, fired by the praises of her tutors, he sent throughout India, Persia, and Kashmir for poets worthy of his poet-Princess, bidding them come to Delhi and Agra and there dwell. A fitting company he made for her.

So, veiled like the moon in clouds, the Princess Arjemand was permitted to be present in the great hall of the palace at tournaments where the weapons were the wit and beauty of words, when quotations and questions were flung about as it might be handfuls of stars, and a line given was capped with some perfect finishing of the moment’s prompting and became a couplet unsurpassable; and so the poets and the wits broke their lances on each other, and often it was the golden voice from behind the veil that capped the wisest, and completed the most exquisite, and recited verses of her own which brought acclamation from the assembly.

‘Not even Saadi (may Allah enlighten him!) nor Jalalu’ din Rumi (may his eyes be gladdened in Paradise!) excelled this lady in the perfumed honey of words.’ So with one voice they cried.

And this was not homage to the daughter of the Protector of the Universe. No indeed. For death has not washed out her name with the cold waters of oblivion; and now that she is no more beautiful, nor daughter to the Emperor, her verse is still repeated where wise men and lovers meet in their own concourses, and the soul of the Hidden One, still beautiful and veiled, is among them.

It will be seen that her life in the secret Palace must needs be solitary, for there was none among the ladies who shared her pleasures. But she had one friend, Imami, daughter of Arshad Beg Khan, and this creature of mortality who writes these words was also accounted a friend, though unworthy to be the ground whereon she set her little foot. Day after day did the Princess Arjemand, with Imami, write and study, and the librarians of the Emperor had little peace because of the demands for the glorious manuscripts and books collected by her ancestors from all the ends of the earth.

Great and wonderful was the new Palace of the Emperor, with tall rods of lilies inlaid in the pure marble in stones so precious that they might have been the bosom adornments of some lesser beauty, and there were palms in tall vases brought by the merchants of Cathay, which made a green shade and coolness for two fountains, the one of the pure waters of the canal, the other of rose water, and they plashed beside a miniature lake of fretted marble rocks sunk in the floor, where white lotuses slept in the twilight.

But of all the jewels my Princess was the chief. Surely with small pains may the Great Moghul’s daughter be a beauty, but had she been sold naked in the market place this lady had brought a royal price. Toorki and Indian and Persian blood mingled in her and each gave of its best. The silken dark hair tasseled with pearls that fell to her knees was an imperial crown. From the well-beloved lady who sleeps in the Glory of Tombs she had received eyes whose glance of meditative sweetness not even the men of her own blood, excepting only her stern father, could resist, and of her rose-red lips, half sensuous, half childlike, might it be said: —

Their honey was set as a snare and my heart, a wandering bee,
Clung and could not be satisfied, tasted and returned home no more.

Of the soul within that delicious shrine her deeds must tell.

III

So she sat and frowned with a letter from the Emperor in her hand, for again she was thwarted. She had desired to read the Memoirs of her ancestor, the Emperor Babar,and, hearing this, her imperial father wrote thus: —

‘Happy Daughter of Sovereignty, there is one manner of reading for men who are the rulers, and for women who are the slaves another. It seems you go too far. What has a daughter of our House to do with our ancestor, Zahir-uddin Muhammed Babar, the resident in Paradise? He writes as a man for men, and what profit for a woman? Plant not the herb of regret in the garden of affection lest I regret what is already given. The request is refused. Recall the verses: —

‘Ride slowly and humbly and not in hurrying pride,
For o’er the dusty bones of men the creature of dust must ride.

‘ What an Emperor writes is not for the Princesses. His duty is rule. Theirs, obedience.’

Her eyes flashed, and calling for her pen she wrote: —

‘ Exalted Emperor, father of the body of this creature of mortality, be pleased to hear this ignorant one’s supplication. I represent that you have fed my mind on the bee’s bread of wisdom, and from your own royal lips have I heard that the words of our ancestor (upon whom be the Peace!) are full of flavor and laughter, generous and kind, shining with honor and the valor of our family. Now, true it is that I am your female slave; yet may this worthless one bear one day a son to transmit your likeness to the prostrate ages. And since we do not breed lions from lambs, his mother should carry the laughter and fire of her race like a jewel in her heart. I repeat my petition to the holiest of Emperors from his suppliant daughter.’

‘ It will be granted,’ said the Princess, ‘ even for the sake of that last word — the “holiest.” He values that title more than to be called the Shahinshah. And with all my heart I would it were otherwise.’

‘And why, great Lady?’ cried Imami. ‘Surely the Padshah is a saint, having with his own hand written the Koran out in full, and his deeds and words will illumine Paradise.’

‘I know little of Paradise, but I know, and my father might know, that to be so bitter a saint in our Moslem faith that he insults and persecutes all the others of the Empire is to break our dynasty to powder.’

The blood dropped from my face as I heard her because had these words been carried to the Padshah not even her rank, not even her daughterhood, could save the Princess, and in the Palace a bird of the air may carry the matter.

‘Yes,’ she went on, laughing coldly ‘Akbar Padshah had in all ways the tastes of Solomon the Wise, and his Palace of Queens was a garden. But observe! These Queens were chosen from every faith and each had the right (like Solomon’s — the Peace on him!) to worship as she would. There were Indian Princesses who adored Maheshwara, the Great God, and Krishna, the Beloved. There was a Fair Persian who worshiped the Fire. There was — But in the zenana of my imperial Father — ‘

She paused and Imami continued, ‘The Queens recite the holy Koran all day as becomes the ladies of an Emperor who sighs for the life of a fakir.’

‘And would he had it!’ cried the Princess with passion, ‘for every day discontent grows among the Hindus that are taxed, beaten, and despised because they hold their fathers’ faith. Is there one of them employed about the court or in the great offices as in Akbar’s day? Not one. Yet Akbar Padshah in his deep wisdom built up the empire which my father with holy hands destroys daily.’

‘O, brilliant Lady, for the sake of the Prophet, be silent,’ I said, for she terrified me by her insight. Better is it for a woman that she should not know, or knowing keep silence. ‘If these words reached the Padshah — ‘

‘ I should at the least be imprisoned and nevermore see the light of day. But the end is sure.’

‘ What is the end?’ whispered Imami.

‘Misery for himself, though that matters little, for he will accept it as the robe of martyrdom, but ruin for the Moghul Empire in India, and that matters much, for the astrologers whisper of a great white race from the sunset who know all things but God and Beauty, and their heel shall be on our necks. Oh that I were a man! ‘

Her face lit up into such pride and valor that I also wished it, for I knew her words were true as truth. But in India a woman can do nothing, and I trembled for my Princess.

So I said, salaaming, ‘Princess, when the happy day comes that you wed, you shall make your lord lord of the world with your wisdom.’

She laughed, but bitterly.

‘I shall never marry, wise man of fidelity. I have had lovers, yes; for one, Suleiman, my cousin, son of the brother whom my father slew because he stood too near the throne. By report I knew what he was, but I saw him and spoke with him that—’

‘My Princess, and how?’ I asked in astonishment, knowing that his presence in the Queens’ Palace was death.

She looked at me with large calm eyes.

‘My faithful servant, have you been so long about the Palace and know not that all things are possible? Prince Suleiman was veiled like a woman, and I saw his face and we spoke together. Should not cousins meet?’

I trembled when I heard, for had the Padshah guessed, what hope for her? His own three brothers had he slaughtered and Prince Suleiman was doomed, if this were known.

‘And he saw your face, O Brilliant Lady?’

‘Not he! And not for fear’s sake, but because I liked him not at all. He stood and sighed, and said: “O Envy of the Moon, lift up your veil that I may adore the hidden lips like the rubies of Badakhshan, the musk-dark tresses, the cypress form. O Waving Willow of Beauty, be pitiful to your slave!” But I caught up my lute and sang these verses of my own making: —

‘ I will not lift my veil,
For if I did, who knows —
The bulbul might forsake the rose
The Brahman worshiper,
Adoring Lakshmi’s grace,
Might turn, forsaking her.
To see my face.
‘My beauty might prevail.
Think how within the flower
Hidden as in a bower
Her fragrant soul must be,
And none can look on it.
So me the world shall see
Only within the verses I have writ.
‘I will not lift the veil.

‘And the fool caught me — Me! and would have torn it. And when I flung him off he swore a great oath that sooner or later he would have my face to see and my heart in his hand. A woman in fury as in dress! A contemptible creature, though beautiful as Yusuf, and my own cousin. ‘

‘But, Lady of Beauty, what had you against him? He is brave as a sword of steel. ‘

‘Do I not know all that goes on in this city? Do I not know that the Prince spends his nights and days in Shaitanpur (Devilsville), the quarter of pleasure, and was I to show my face to a man reeking from the embraces of the bazaar? No. I am Makhfi, the Hidden One; hidden I shall be until I am won by a deed unrivaled and a heart unfailing. I shall be no rival to Peri Mahal, the dancer,and such as she.’

And, even as she ended, a low voice at the curtain that veiled the doorway asked admittance; the heavy silk was drawn aside and a tall woman entered. The Princess scarcely looked up.

‘Her slave prays for a word with the Marvel of the Age whose mind so lovely outshines even her fair face, and whose face so beautiful is the lamp that holds the light of her soul.’

‘Warm for a woman!’ said the Princess, and looked straight at the newcomer who stood salaaming with the utmost humility. She added impatiently: —

‘There is no need of this ceremony. Remove your veil. The good physician, Abul Qasim, is privileged to see the faces of all in the Palace of Queens.’

In a flash the veil was torn off and a man’s face appeared beneath it, young, bold, and beautiful, with the hawk features of the Imperial House. A splendid, dissolute young man with the down on his upper lip like the black astride the swan’s bill. Prince Suleiman, son of Dara, the Padshah’s brother.

‘Ha, daughter of my uncle!’ he cried. ‘Did I not wager, did I not swear that I would see the Hidden One? And now I see her, face to face. Poets have sung you, cousin, and painters have praised you, and their words and colors were lies, for you are wholly a spark of Divinity. And having seen, I entreat for love’s very sake that your beauty may be mine to worship until time is no more. ‘

He made toward her eagerly, disregarding Imami and me. I looked to see her confused or angry, but she spoke with a most misleading calm.

‘Exalted cousin, you have won your wager and your bride. If her embrace is cold it is at least constant and — ‘

‘Cold, with those burning lips of rose, those eyes filled with sleep? O loveliest, divinest, grant me one kiss for earnest if you would not have me die at your feet. ‘

I saw her sign with her hand to Imami, who glided away, flattening herself against the wall as if terrified. Then she spoke serenely.

‘Exalted cousin, when were you last in Shaitanpur?’

It stopped him like a lightning flash. He stood arrested on the marble before her face. ‘I know nothing of Shaitanpur,’ he said breathlessly.

‘No? Nor of Peri Mahal, the dancer, and her house with the courtyard of roses and the song she sings?’

Again she caught up her lute and sang in a low voice: —

' Black bee, strong bee, the honey-eater,
Plunder my perfume, seek my heart!
Cling to me, ravage me, make me sweeter!
Tear the leaves of the rose apart.’

He stared, his eyes slowly dilating. That the daughter of the Emperor should sing the song of the bazaar, the song of the light women! Then it emboldened him. He threw himself forward to seize her hand.

‘Maker of verses, this is a rose of your own garden. Till now I never heard it, but it speaks your heart. You shall not ask me twice, my rose, my pearl, my star.’ He caught the hem of her veil.

Now I knew well from her eyes that he rushed on his fate, but it was written in the book of his destiny and who can avert fate ?

She drew back a little and looked at him with soft eyes, wells of delicious darkness. Her voice was gentle as moonbeams and caressing, so that a man might well believe she would give all to please him whom she exalted with the sight of her. Said I not that the Moon has a side, dark, cold, and perilous?

‘Fortunate cousin, I am a weak woman. How dare I face the wrath of the Padshah? He does not love your father’s son. But if he did—’ She drooped her head as with a soft shame overwhelming her in the deeps of modesty. O very woman, divine, yet a child!

He, trembling, and with eyes fixed, stammered out, ‘Alas, I have dreamed of your sweetness, and what is the dream to the truth? Oh, make it mine that in life and death it may enfold me, and that I may never again behold a lesser light, having once seen the Ineffable.’

And very softly, like the breathing of a flute, she said, ‘O my cousin, how should we face the wrath of the Padshah?’ And he, kissing her hands with frenzy, said in broken words, ‘Ah, Moon of my delight, that knows no wane, let me but watch with you through the starry hours of one night, and then, then, if the Padshah’s will be to slay me, at least I shall have lived before I die.’

‘And I also,’ she said, looking down like the feminine incarnation of modesty, so that, enraptured, he kissed her on the mouth as a man in the desert grasps the cup nor can sever his lips from it. And when he would permit her to speak she leaned her head backward to gain space, and said, ‘What is my lord’s will; in what shall I obey him?’

Now I, standing half hidden in the marble recess, would have warned him if it had been possible, that not thus — oh, not thus, docs the proudest and wisest of women abandon herself to such as he. For I had pity on his manhood and the Imperial blood that he shared with her. But who was this suppliant to obstruct the design of the Princess? And indeed I became at last uncertain that I guessed her meaning, with such submissive sweetness did she take his hand in hers and touch it to her lovely brows. And trembling like a man in an ague, he replied: —

‘0 darling little slave, since you give me the right to command what is wholly mine—I say this, let my slave, whose slave I am, expect me to-night when the moonlight touches the western corner of the Diwan-i-Am, and I shall come to the hidden chamber, and my life, my soul, are in the hand of my slave whose feet I kiss.’

And throwing himself on the marble like a worshiper, he kissed the flowersoft feet that showed like bare gold beneath the hem of her robe, and so, rising to his knee, looked up at her as an idolater at his goddess.

But she looked beyond him at the curtain which veiled the door. It lifted and Imami stood there, ash-pale, with a dish of gold in her hand and standing thereon a great goblet of jeweled glass with rose-red sherbet of pomegranate juice brimming in it and rose petals floating on the surface, and beside it two golden cups flashing with diamond sparks, and on her knee she offered it to the Princess, who took the goblet and a cup, smiling.

‘Fortunate cousin, since this is so, and I, my father’s best-beloved child, shall pray him to grant me my heart’s desire, let us drink the cup of betrothal in the presence of the Hakim Abul Qasim and the lady Imami. But I warn you that long and doubtful will be my suit and if a word too soon reach him my life will be the price. Heart of my heart, I pledge you.’

And setting the blossom of her lips to the cup she drank, and filled the other cup for him. Even as he set his lips to it, suddenly Imami sprang to her feet.

‘The Padshah comes!’ she said, and fell again on her knees, hiding her face in her hands.

IV

I saw the dreadful terror that struck the color from the face of the lover. He knelt there with a glassy countenance like a man in the clutch of a nightmare. But Glory of Women, herself shuddering, caught him by the hand.

‘There is but one way from these rooms and the Emperor closes it. To the room beyond my bedchamber, the room of the marble bath, and hide until he departs! Bismillah — in the name of Allah — flee!’

She pushed him from her and he fled. Then, most singular to see, she composed her veil, glancing in the mirror set in silver that was a gift from the Portuguese priests to the Emperor. The curtain lifted and Aurungzib Padshah entered and Imami prostrated herself and I also, but the Princess knelt.

Now I know not how this should be, but in a room where great events have just taken place it is as if the winds of passion beat about the walls and waft the garments of those who have shared them, and to my guilty heart it seemed as though the very lilies inlaid on the marble cried aloud, ‘Majesty—Majesty, there is a man, a man in hiding!’

And certainly the Padshah halted and looked from one to the other of us with suspicion. He was ever a man of suspicion, narrow-browed, dry-lipped, sharp-eyed. The face of a man who sees not life as it is, but either as he hates or would have it — whom truth mocks in escaping. Weak; but of all terrible things on earth, beware the strength of a weak man in the grip of his belief.

So, looking hard at the kneeling Glory of Women, he said coldly, ‘In the name of the most Merciful and Beneficent, what is this disturbance? Speak, Princess, daughter of the family of chastity! It is revealed to this suppliant at the Throne of Allah that there is a hidden thing in these chambers. What is it?'

She answered, ‘ May joy attend my exalted father, the adorner of the gardens of happiness, the decorator of the rose-parterre of enjoyment. There is surely a hidden thing in these chambers: your unworthy daughter, who is known by your august favor as Makhfi, the Hidden One. And I have read aloud a poem newly completed which has moved the Hakim Abul Qasim to great delight since it dwells on the perfections of the Giver who gives unasked.’

‘It is well, sincere daughter. Presently we shall hear it.’

I saw his eyes fix on the golden dish that lay on the table with one cup emptied and a stream of the sherbet like a bloodstain on the marble below. ‘This was set down in haste,’ he said through clipped lips.

‘ In haste, O Glory of Allah,’ said the Princess with the cold sweat clamming the silken tendrils on her forehead. ‘I drank, and was about to drink the second when your auspicious feet blessed the threshold.’

‘You are thirsty, happy daughter of sovereignty? Then drink the remainder. Permission is granted.’

I saw the gleam in cither black eye of him as he spoke, watching her sidelong. She lifted the cup to her lips with a hand that shook so that it rattled against her teeth, though she struggled to command herself,

‘No, do not drink, royal daughter. It is stale,’ he said, still smiling with his mouth but not his eyes.

And the Princess replied with terror scarcely to be hidden, ‘Will not the Mirror of God be seated and partake of refreshments from the hand of his slave ? ‘

‘Willingly, but of that cup — no,’ said the Padshah. And I knew his thought as if he had spoken it, and Imami crawled to the door like a thing released to fetch sherbet and fruits, and I to the latticed marble window, while the Emperor walked about the hall leaning on the shoulder of the Princess, and I marveled if Allah would support her lest she should fall and die at his feet.

He was later to attend the Am-Khas, the Hall of Audience, and was attired kingly. A chain of mighty pearls hung to his knees, and above all these jewels was his cold repelling dignity as of a King too great to be approached even by the favored child of his pride. Very terrible are the Moghul Emperors and this most of all, remote and lonely as a moon at midnight. At length he spoke, as if in meditation.

‘Glory of Women, you have grown into beauty like the virgins of Paradise. Your long lashes need no antimony, your eyes are wells of delight, and in that robe of gulnar (pomegranate red) you resemble that princess who bewildered the senses of the mighty Suleiman, King of Israel. (I saw her eyes quiver as she bowed her head under the weight of praise.) Does not the rose long for the nightingale? Does not your heart, happy daughter, turn to love ?5

With her eyes on the ground, she answered.

‘Exhibitor of Perfection, my heart is set elsewhere. If I be remembered as a poet I ask no more of destiny save that the rank of daughter of the greatest of Emperors be attached to my name forever.’

And he, ‘ It is well, yet marriage must be considered. Fortunate daughter, have you bathed to-day?’

And she, ash-pale, ‘ Benignity of the Creator, no.’

He called to Imami, kneeling again by the door. ‘Hasten, lady, and light the fire beneath the great water-vessel in the bathing-room of the Begam and I shall hear her verses until it be ready.’ And Imami, casting a dreadful glance on the Princess, moved slowly to the inner chamber and it is the truth that my soul all but died within me, for oh, most terrible was the doom of the Padshah, and who could tell that this young man, worthless and dissolute, would know how a prince should die to preserve the honor of a lady?

So the Emperor, laying aside his awful majesty, made his presence sweet as moonlight in the precious chamber, saying, ‘Exalted daughter, it is but seldom we have leisure to relax, and yet the olfactory of my soul inhales with delight the ambergris-perfumed breezes of affection and concord. Yes. even when absent —

‘I sit beside thee in thought and my heart is at ease,
For that is a union not followed by separation’s pain.

‘ Read your verses to me that we may blend our souls in peace.’

Site swayed as she knelt and leaned against the divan with closed eyes.

‘Majesty, the perfume of the flowers and the rose-water fountain have given me faintness. May I retire with the Hakim to my inner chamber that he may give me a medicine. Then I return.'

He waved his hand and I came forward making the prescribed salutation, and helped the Princess to rise; she leaning on my ancient arm, and the lady Imami, kneeling, unrolled a Persian manuscript splendid with borders of illuminations in blue and crimson and gold while the Padshah composed himself with pleasure to listen, being, like all the Kings of his family, skilled in versifying.

As we moved forward, I supporting her, the Princess breathed in my ear, ‘I meant his death for his insult, but Allah knows I am guiltless of this hideous thing. Oh, Abul Qasim, is there aid in earth or heaven?’

What could I say? Only the Great Physician of the Hidden Dispensary could avail to that unfortunate ! ‘Inshalla ta Allah — if the sublime God wills! ‘ What more?

Now this inner chamber was all of pearl-pure marble, and in the midst a deeply sunk bath of marble, wide and long, its sides decorated with lotus flowers and their leaves; and a silver pipe led the water to this from a mighty reservoir six feet in height, raised on great claws of silver, and below it a place for fire to heat the water, enclosed and fed with sweet-scented woods and balls of perfumed gums. And, O Allah, most merciful, there had the lady Imami set a light and within could be seen the brilliant blue flames crawling like snakes among the cedar wood. And releasing the Princess I stood like a graven image of terror, expecting that at any moment the Padshah would follow. She laid her hand on the silver, and amid the crackling of the flames she whispered like a dying woman, ‘What is your duty, exalted cousin?’

And from within he answered in a voice — O most Compassionate, grant that never again may I hear the like! — ‘Silence. Yet because my love has loved me and I die for her, give me one word to carry with me to doom.’

So she fell on her knees as if before the Emperor. ‘Keep silence if you love me, for honor is more than death. Yet take this with you. I love you, and for your sake no man shall kiss my lips. Only you are behind my veil forever.'

And he answered, ‘On my head and eyes. ‘

By her command I gave her water to drink and applied an essence to her nostrils, and she rose and once more laid her hand on the silver. Then we came away and, clinging to me, she whispered, ‘God send he keep silence, for the Emperor has worse torment in store than even this. ‘ And the Padshah called us and we returned to where he sat in calm content, and he motioned my Princess to a seat, saving, ‘I would hear your verses of “ The Lover.” What is the fate of a lover? It is to be crucified for the world’s pleasure. ‘

And taking the manuscript from the hand of Imami, she read aloud: —

‘Dust falls within the cup of Kaikhobad And King Jamshid.
Nor recks the world if they were sad or glad, Or what they did.
How many hearts, O Love, thy sword has slain, And yet shall slay.
They bless thee, nor to Allah they complain At Judgment Day.’

But here her voice broke, and she paused. ‘ Happy Father and Lord, there is a sweeter verse. Listen.

‘ O Love, I am thy thrall.
As on the tulip’s burning petal glows
A spot, yet more intense, of deeper dye,
So in my heart a flower of passion blows,
See the dark stain of its intensity,
Deeper than all.
‘O blessed pain,
O precious grief I keep and sweet unrest,
Desire that dies not, longing past control.
My heart is torn to pieces in my breast.
And for the shining diamond of the soul
I pine in vain.
‘ This is my pride — ‘

But her voice died away and she sank fainting at the Padshah’s feet.

‘Lay the Princess on the divan, and let the lady Imami continue the reading,’ he commanded, and so it was done. She lay there, for a time unconscious, death-white and still, and the trembling voice of Imami continued with words so sweet that they might have moved the heart of an image of stone, and the Padshah sat immovable, hearing and praising for how long I know not nor shall ever know.

And at last he rose and said graciously, ‘May the tree of hereditary affection watered by this hour of converse grow in leaf and fruit and overshadow us with peace. Go, exalted daughter, bathe your angelic person and rest with a soul sunned in the favor of the Emperor.’

And he went, we attending him to the door and beyond, and returning, we carried the Princess like a dead woman from the dreadful place, and the fire beneath the great vessel was red and silent, and within was silence also.

Of the days that followed I do not write.