The Story of the Princess of Cashmere

THE nurse related many other stories, doubtless less memorable than those we have chronicled, since the memory of them has not come down to us.

She had been amusing the princess for a thousand and one days when Farrukrouz fell ill. The king, Togrul Bey, who loved his son tenderly, sent for the most skilful physicians in Hindostan, but they could not cure him. The consternation which his dangerous malady spread at court suspended all amusements. The Princess of Cashmere would hear no more stories. Togrul Bey ceased hunting. The prince alone occupied their thoughts, everyone trembled for his life.

One day the king, who often went to see the high priest of the temple, said to him: ‘You know that I love my son better than life. The doctors have exhausted all their art without being able to restore his health. I expect nothing from their remedies, and I have recourse to your prayers. I flatter myself with the hope that through your intercession I shall obtain what I desire.’

‘Everything is to be hoped for,’ replied the priest, ‘when one implores the mercy of Heaven. I am going to pass the night in the temple, I shall pray Heaven to intercede for the prince, and to-morrow I will tell you whether my prayers have been granted.’

The following day the priest went to Togrul Bey, who, full of impatience, advanced to meet him. ‘Well, holy dervish,’ he said, ‘have you obtained the recovery of my son?’

‘Yes, sire,’ replied the priest. ‘The Prophet has asked it of the Lord, who has been gracious enough to grant it.’

At this answer the king, seized with joy, embraced the holy man, and conducted him himself to the apartment of the prince Farrukrouz.

The dervish sat down beside the bed of the sick man, and said a prayer in a voice full of mystery.

He had barely finished than the prince, who had long lost the power of speech, uttered a cry and said: ‘O my father, be consoled, I am cured!’ At these words he rose, and in the town of Cashmere they spoke only of the holiness of the high priest.

Farrukhnaz could not hear the praises of so devout a person without wishing to see him and converse with him. To do this, she left the palace accompanied by her eunuchs and her women, and went to the monastery of the priest; but she was very surprised when they came to tell her that the high priest forbad her to enter. The princess, annoyed at this rebuff, went immediately to complain to the king, who wished to know the cause of it. He went to the chief priest, and asked him why he had made a difficulty about receiving a visit from Farrukhnaz.

‘My lord,’ replied the dervish, ‘it is because the princess is not obedient to the Most High; she flies from men, she looks upon them as her enemies and lives in idleness. Unless she changes her views it is not permitted to me to speak to her. Heaven has forbidden me to do so, but,’ he added, ‘if she corrects herself I will do her every service in my power.’ The king, having nothing to reply to this speech, returned to his seraglio.

Some days after, Togrul Bey went again to visit the dervish, who said, ‘I have at last obtained from Heaven permission to speak to the princess. I wish to exhort her; perhaps I may put her in the way of salvation.’ The king, enchanted that the holy man had taken this resolution, informed Farrukhnaz, who the very next day did not fail to present herself at the gate of the monastery and ask for the holy dervish. The porter made her enter, and conducted her by order of the high priest into a great hall, where he begged her to wait a moment.

On the wall in three different places were seen painted a doe caught in a trap and a stag who was making every effort to deliver her, and in one place only was represented a stag caught, and a doe who looked at it in the trap without troubling to help it. The princess looked upon these pictures with astonishment.

‘What do I see?’ she said. ‘Just Heaven, here is the opposite to my dream! These three stags make every effort to deliver the does, and I perceive a doe forsaking a stag. What am I to think of these? Ah! I am doubtless mistaken in my estimate of men! They are more grateful than I thought. How sorry I am to have done them this injustice.’

Whilst the princess was reflecting thus, the high priest entered the hall gravely. She wished to throw herself at his feet; but he prevented her, and having made her sit down, he said, ‘O Farrukh­naz, the king your father is very distressed to see you influenced by sentiments so contrary to nature and the laws of the Lord. You are in the power of the demon; it is he who has prejudiced you against men. I have prayed the great Prophet to have pity on you; but in spite of his power, do not think that he can extract you from the abyss you have fallen into if you do not make some effort on your part to get out of it.’

The dervish perceiving that the princess now began to weep, so frightened was she at this speech, said to her: ‘My daughter, dry your tears! I see your heart is changed. I promise to snatch you from the demon, provided that you yield to my advice.’

Farrukhnaz promised to do all that he pre­scribed for her, then she kissed the holy man’s hand and returned to the palace.

The following day she returned to the monas­tery, and when she was alone with the dervish, he said: ‘Princess, I have seen the great Prophet to-night in a dream. He said to me: “O religious man, Farrukhnaz is no longer hated by the Most High; she has no longer a bad opinion of men. But she must have pity on a young prince who burns and languishes for her night and day; for the Almighty has written on the tablet of predes­tination that she shall be his spouse.”’

The princess was astonished at these words. ‘How can I,’ she said, ‘relieve the young prince if I do not know who he is?’

‘The Prophet,’ replied the high priest, ‘tells me that he is the Prince of Persia; that he is called Farrukschad; that he is so handsome, so charming, that no mother ever gave birth to so perfect a man.’

‘Oh, my father,’ replied Farrukhnaz, ‘what you say surprises me. Can a young prince who has never seen me be enamoured of me?’

‘I will tell you,’ replied the dervish, ‘how that is; for the Prophet, who foresaw all the questions you would ask me, took care to instruct me in all the details; so that, to satisfy your curiosity fully, I will tell you that the Prince Farrukhschad dreamt that he saw you in a meadow. Charmed with your beauty, he wished to declare his love to you; but you left him abruptly, saying that all men were but traitors. The pain your disappearance caused him awoke him; but far from seeking to put this sad dream from him, he took pleasure in dwelling upon it. It was always in his thoughts, and although hopeless of possessing your charms he cherishes the memory of them.’

At this speech of the high priest the Cash­merian princess sighed deeply, and raising her eyes to heaven: ‘O God,’ she cried, ‘is it possible this prince can have dreamt the same dream as myself! Holy dervish,’ she continued, ‘the Prophet has not told you everything. I also dreamt that I saw, in a meadow scattered with every kind of flower, the handsomest prince in the world; that he made me a declaration of love which I received ill. But whilst ill-treating him I felt that my heart began to interest itself in him, and I was obliged to fly precipitately from him for fear lest his good looks and flattering speeches triumphed over the hatred I had for men. This hatred was the effect of another dream, to which these pictures give the lie. I recognise my mistake; I think better of men. I believe them capable of friend­ship; and if it is the will of Heaven that I marry the Prince of Persia, I submit without repugnance.’

The high priest was charmed to hear the princess speak thus, and, profiting by her present disposition: ‘My daughter,’ he said, ‘I wish to pass the night in the temple, and consult Heaven as to what you must do to obtain the realisation of your wishes; I will tell you his answer to-morrow.’

Farrukhnaz retired, thinking much of the Prince Farrukhschad. She recalled perpetually to her memory the dream in which he had appeared before her so amorously; and the more inclined she felt towards him the more charming she depicted him to herself. She was very uneasy the rest of the day, and she could not sleep a wink all night.

As soon as the day dawned she rose to go and find the dervish, who saw immediately that she was somewhat disturbed. She did not wait for him to tell her Heaven’s answer. ‘Well, my father,’ she said; ‘has Heaven ruled my destiny? Has it made known to you what is exacted of my obedience?’

‘Yes, my daughter,’ replied the holy man; ‘the great Prophet has spoken to me. He wishes you to take an oath to do all that I am going to order you.’