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a gaze of sadness, or wandered with listless apathy around the group of merry slave-girls, who, now with song, and now with gently-touched sitarr, sought to win a smile from their lovely, but pensive mistress.
The last strain had passed away; the minstrel, with sparkling eyes and heightened colour, had ended one of Hafiz's softest love-songs, when the fair girl, who had listened with impatience for its close, rose languidly from her pile of cushions.
Ameena, your voice is sweet as the measure of the poet; but yet I am weary of the strain. I know not why, but I am tired of this life; your music saddens; the very flowers oppress me with their breath. Oh, how do I wish that I were again a little child, sporting in the palace gardens, and lisping my lessons to old Nooradeen!" "And yet," said the dark-eyed songstress, "I have known my sweet mistress listen with as charmed an ear to the loves of Leila and Mujnoon (although the voice that chaunted them was familiar) as ever she did, I fancy, to the holy Koran, drawled from the lips of her father's moolah."
"Aye, aye!" added the gray-haired Zeba; " and believe me, my child, the songs of the poets are fitter for the ear of a pretty maiden than the dull wisdom of a priest; and in truth, my fair mistress, although you would now willingly, as it would seem, exchange the voice of Ameena for the mutterings of Nooradeen, you treat but slightingly those doctrines of the Prophet which enforce seclusion and obedience on the daughters of our people."
'Well, well, nurse, do not look so unkindly on me, or reproach me so harshly for my discontent; but in those days I was a happy child. I had liberty and joy. Do you not remember, Zeba, how I would run races in the palace gardens with my brother's tame gazelles, and how they and Yussuf would chase me in the rose-garden, and down the chumpa grove, and then half-smother me in jasmine buds? and now I must sit in these vast and silent rooms, or listen to these oft-heard songs, or watch my slave-girls embroidering their satin boddices, or sink listlessly in repose upon these cushions!"
"Yet what wouldst thou have, my child?" interrupted the old nurse; "your father doats on your very smile; he lavishes on you his wealth; you have rich clothes, fine jewels, slave-girls, shawls, perfumes-and yet you are unhappy! and all, forsooth, because you are not still a romping child! For shame! Raena. And how can you, a Moslem maiden, betrothed to a noble lover, so far forget the modesty of your sex, as to name, or think even of, a youth not of thy father's house ?"
"Alas!" sighed the lovely girl, "but how can I cease to love my friends, merely because the custom of my land forbids it? What I have ever known in early days charms me in memory more than all the pleasures of the present. The butterflies I chased, the fawn I tamed, the flowers that Yussuf and I planted beside the minaret fountain; all these are far dearer to me than shawls and jewels." "Nonsense! these thoughts are sinful, child; you do your duty ill to your noble father," replied Zeba, "when, as the betrothed of Kureem Khan, your head is filled with that stripling Yussuf." "Must I really, Zeba," said the maiden, not noticing the last reproach, "marry that haughty and cruel khan, whose beard is like a snow-wreath on the distant mountains? Surely, my dear father will not urge it when he knows,”—
"Your father's word has passed," replied the nurse; "he is but now returned from the khan's palace, and three camel-loads of presents are below waiting your acceptance, as the affianced of the prince."
"Alas! alas!" said the fair girl, while the tears in fast succession forced
themselves through her drooping lashes, "I would I were a Christian maiden, who weds where she can love; but a poor Moslem girl,”
The conclusion of this heretical speech was, fortunately for the bigotted ears of old Zeba, left unfinished. A heavy step approached, and the stately Mirza folded his child in a warm embrace.
"My sweet Raena," said he, when the slave-girls had withdrawn, wishes prosper; the khan recalls his retainers from the province border for my fair daughter's sake. Nay, blush not, my dear girl; the time is at hand when rich pearls and brilliant gems shall wreathe thy glossy hair as a happy bride, and my gentle child become the chief of the noble Kureem's harem. Rich brocades, embroidered slippers, and Cashmere shawls, your princely lover lays, as love-gifts, at your feet, and this jewelled star I promised to place myself upon your brow, as a pledge of his acceptance."
As the Mirza exhibited the glittering gift, Raena lifted her radiant eyes towards her father's face; a tear trembled on their lashes; her bosom heaved against her satin boddice, and the maiden seemed as if about to reveal some hidden thought, some agonizing feeling, which pressed too heavily upon that throbbing heart. Whatever it may have been, it passed not her lips, and as the fond father ascribed to maiden coyness this ill-concealed emotion, he looked on her with an admiring glance, and, as he placed the trinket upon her brow, pressed his lip upon her cheek, and blessed her in the Prophet's name.
"In a few days, Raena," said the Mirza, "your brothers, Lutuf and Rooknadeen, will return, and will then tell you of the gallant feats of your noble lover; but now, farewell, my child. The natch-girls' song and the glancing lights tell me I am expected in the hall of audience."
For a moment, Raena buried her fair face in the cushions of the divan; but, feeling the air heavy, with the perfume of the fading jasmine-wreaths, scattered too plentifully around her, she rose, and stepping lightly forth upon the moonlit terrace, leaned upon a sculptured parapet, hung with the richest carpets of Iran, and looking forth upon the distant landscape, pondered sadly upon her father's words.
"It is then true,"-thus ran the current of her meditations,-" that I am destined to become the wife of that hated prince; the kind Christian lady, that my mother loved, told us that the maidens of her land married as they would, and each formed the one bright jewel in their husband's heart. We, alas! are given, sold, for wealth or ambition, perchance, like myself, to some aged prince, to share with many his chilling favour; to intrigue, to struggle, or to flatter, in order to gain a power one cannot prize, or to remain uncared for and unloved. Why am I thus forced to marry? In my father's harem, I at least am loved. My brothers are my friends; my old nurse Zeba, although I anger her at times, has the affection of a mother for me. Ah! but then my family would hold me as disgraced-my father's power would dwindle, and therefore am I doomed to misery far worse than death. In a few short months, my sweet flowers will be tended by a stranger's hand; no more shall I watch my gallant brothers spur across the plain, to chase the wild deer from its hills; no more will Rooknadeen bring me bright-plumaged birds, or Lutuf talk of his merry sports; no more shall I see the noble and princely Yussuf, with my father's train, curvet his beautiful Arab, without the palace gates."
There are seasons when sadness presses with double power upon the heart, aided by local circumstances. When the external world, with all its bustle, is still; when nature, in her calm and power, holds communion with the bruised heart; then it is that the stricken spirit, seeking and finding this quiet
sympathy, pours forth its griefs, as into the bosom of a dear and familiar friend, and silently receives comfort in return. Thus was it now with the sorrowing Raena, as the motherless girl, full of terror at the ill-assorted marriage from which her father's words had so lately assured her there was no escape, sought the cool and scented breath of that soft evening, and as it played among her raven tresses, her heart felt the silent influence of nature's calm, and, vague and indefinable as it was, a still small voice, seeming to whisper hope, soothed and quieted her griefs.
And now, unnoticed by the maiden, stood a lovely child, looking timidly up in wonder that her usually merry playmate should thus be alone and sad. Karishma, as she now stood, with her dark eyes turned inquiringly towards Raena's face, her jewelled anclets, her little gold-embroidered cap and fluttering veil, presented a pleasing picture of a miniature houri. In one hand she held a budding rose, and with the other gently touched the garments of Raena. The maiden turned, and at once a recognition, so sweet, one would have thought no sadness could ever cloud that face, dimpled it with smiles. Ah, Karishma !" said she, gaily, "and where has my little truant wandered? why were you not here to help old Zeba to wreathe the jasmine blossoms in honour of my father's visit; to sing me your evening song, and watch the stars come brightly forth, or rush downwards through the azure sky? You have found me but a dull playmate lately, and you grow tired of me, Karishma."
"Do not say so, dear Raena," said the little damsel, "but promise me not to tell old Zeba, and you shall hear. You know I am always frightened at your stately father, and as I knew he was coming to the harem, I ran away, through the grove of chumpas, to find that bulbul's nest the little birds were chirping from this morning, and old Lala having broken away a bit of the wall that separates the garden from the court-yard, for the fruit trees had nearly spoilt it, and peeping through, I saw your father pass, with all the horsemen, and he looked so stern, that I hid myself behind a rose-bush; but when he had passed, I looked again-and who do you think saw me there, Raena? why, dear Yussuf. And when the rest had gone, he came back, and told me the Mirza Aga would certainly kill Lala, if he knew the harem's grounds were open; so he told me to go away; and then he asked for you, Raena, and talked so long, we forgot old Lala, and the garden-wall. At last, he plucked this rose, and bid me give it you, and say, you must remember, as he did, your schoolfellow and playmate. I told him you were always talking about him, Raena, and then he looked so handsome, and so happy, that I said I did not wonder that you loved him so."
The fair cheek of Raena blushed to the hue of the offered flower. "Silly child," said she, "why did you tell Yussuf this?" But the maiden took the rose, and a gentle sigh might have told one, who knew a woman's heart better than Karishma, that her playmate chided her for that with which, perhaps unconsciously, she was but too well pleased. The child, however, saw not this; for a moment she was silent, and then resumed the chat; but it was in a different strain.
'And so, Raena, you are really to marry Kureem Khan? Oh, how grand you will be! You will have such beautiful dresses, and such a world of jewels; and of course you will be the favourite in the harem, and rule everybody; and you will have natches, and slaves, and charming swings in every room, and sweetmeats more than you can eat, and the khan's other wives to scold or laugh at; oh, you will be so very happy!" And the little damsel clapped her hands with sheer delight.
Raena seemed not to hear the list of pleasures that were thus in store for her. She stood, still leaning on the balustrade, the blooming rose drooping from her bodice, and her eye fixed upon the path whence Karishma had sought the bulbul's nest.
"Think you, dear Karishma," said she, at length, in a whispered tone, "think you that to-morrow old Lala will close the garden-wall ?”
Night after night, when the Pleiades shone, and the silver beams of the waning moon lighted the fragrant blossoms of the chumpa grove, did that young chief meet the daughter of the Aga. The day fixed for her marriage with the khan was near; the brave brothers of the affianced bride had returned to prepare for the nuptials; the eye of the proud father looked upon his child with increasing fondness, and the joy of the occupants of the harem was noisy and unbounded. The maiden alone was sad. No more did the hand of Raena tend her favourite blossoms, or toy with her petted fawn; no more did her smile respond to the mirth of the pretty Karishma; no more did she venture heterodoxical opinions on the manners of Moslem harems to the ear of the querulous Zeba; but, day by day, she reclined upon her pile of cushions, and at night, while her slave girls slept, stealthily did she rise from her couch, and steal to the chumpa grove.
On the eve of her hated marriage, the unhappy Raena sought, with fleet but trembling steps, the well-known trysting place. Yussuf was already there, and caught the half-fainting girl in his fond embrace.
"Yussuf," said she, "I come to bid farewell to all that makes life dear. To-morrow, think of me as if I were not, and as if the dark leaves of the sita phul already waved over this breaking heart. Oh! Yussuf, would that I could now die! that I could now be laid beneath these shady trees! sure, from some bright world, I might still see thee bending in the silver moonlight over the peaceful resting-place of thy lost Raena."
The young warrior's voice trembled as he spoke: "The hour is come, when I will dare to ask that which alone can save us. Raena, hear me. For years has it been my fondest trust, that your father, knowing the character of Kureem Khan, would rather have been still his open enemy than have sought his alliance with the price of his daughter's hand. Ambitious as the Aga is, this fatal marriage is now to condemn his only child to a life of endless misery. Tomorrow encloses thee in a living tomb; it chains thee in the vilest union which earth and man can make-beauty and youth with age, voluptuous but loveless tyranny. To thee, the sunshine will then be dim; the bright skies will no more bring joy to thy broken heart, nor the gems of earth gladness to thy spirit. The world, which love has made so full of joy to us, will be to me an abode of misery, an eternity of grief,"-the maiden shuddered;-" then fly with me, Raena, and in another land—”.
For an instant, the maiden raised her head and gazed fondly in the young chieftain's face. A horrible thought seemed then to rush upon her brain, and she bowed beneath it, like a beauteous lily bent by the storm.
"Ah! no, no," burst from her lips, in tremulous murmurs; "Oh think, Yussuf, of my father; think of my brothers' revenge. What would be our fate if I, a Moslem girl, degraded my father's house? Could my sainted mother look upon the agony of her child, she at least would pity it. Nono; my father cannot know all that I have suffered, or he might spare me this; but he has loved me, Yussuf; I have been his pride, his joy-can I bring
• The favourite shade of Mohammedan burial-grounds.
his curses on my head, and make him a scorn and byeword among his people? Shall the vileness of the Aga's daughter be told as a tale in our neighbours' harems ?-No: do not forget me, Yussuf, but to-morrow I will be the bride of Kureem Khan. Let me then return-Yussuf, farewell-and take, as a type of her you love, this faded flower."
As Raena spoke, she held towards the youth the rosebud of which the merry, thoughtless Karishma had been the bearer on that night when the misery of her heart first told her that she loved. The poor maiden then essayed to disengage herself from the arm which had wound so fondly around her slender waist, and fixed her full dark eyes upon her lover's face. 'Twas but a moment; her brain reeled-her eyes closed-and Raena sunk into the arms of Yussuf.
The young chief looked with tenderness upon his fair burthen. To save her from detection, from misery, from death, he would have suffered all that man can bear. In the madness of his passion, he had urged her flight; but now, as she lay insensible in his arms, and he remembered the agony which the proposal had caused, and when he pictured to his fancy the vengeance of the father, should her flight be detected ere her safety could be ensured, his thoughts were thus expressed.
Sweet Raena, thou hast been to me all that constituted bliss since first our infant voices could lisp the love we felt. To save thee from this doom, to bless myself with a happiness dearer to me than fame, than family, than life, than honour, all I could risk would be too slight a price; but I must not curse thee with guilt, and crush thee with debasement."
The youth had taken a noble resolution; he kissed her closed eye-lids, and, while he did so, he prayed they might not open upon him until, favoured by the shades and stillness of the night, he had borne her through the grove and laid her gently in the harem's precincts; she would then be safe from the world and him. On the morrow her marriage-oh, how could he bear that thought! Raena now was in his arms-to-morrow she would be for ever gone -the being he so passionately loved would be immured in hopeless misery! She loved him, too, Raena loved him-for him she had dared all a Moslem maiden feared, and now, she lay like a bruised flower in his arms, stricken by the overwhelming power of this sweet affection! His resolution was shakenat this moment, the moon shining brightly forth, its beams fell upon a figure advancing from the palace. It was-yes-it was Raena's favourite brother, Rooknadeen. Yussuf saw no more; pressing the still lifeless form of the maiden closely to his breast, he bounded through the gap which had favoured so often his stolen entrance, sprang upon his steed, and fled swiftly across the plain.
There was a blooming garden of mangoe, banian, and plantain trees; a rippling stream glittered through its shades, and among the tangled foliage of orange and pomegranate shrubs, whose brilliant fruit gleamed like gems from among the dusky leaves, was a ruined temple, its domed roofs and elaborately carved portals crumbling in decay. Some long period had probably elapsed since this spot had been sacred to the worshippers of the Prophet, for the garden itself was now abandoned to the luxurious growth of uncultured fruits, and beyond its shades, a dilapidated village, or a wandering shepherd and his flock, were all that the eye could mark. Around the ruined edifice alone were signs of human habitation. A pair of small embroidered slippers were at the portal; tame peacocks, sunning their gorgeous plumage, strutted near, and where the loftier trees cast their flickering shadows, a dark-eyed girl was filling