“Never mind the Koran just now, good Menouni; we ask of thee a proof of thy art. Tell me a story.”
“Most proud shall I be of the honour. Will not my face be whitened to all eternity? Shall your slave relate the loves of Leilah and Majnoun?”
“No, no,” replied the pacha; “something that will interest me.”
“Then will I narrate the history of the Scarred Lover.”
“That sounds well, Mustapha,” observed the pacha.
“Who can foresee so well as your sublime highness?” replied Mustapha. “Menouni, it is the pleasure of the pacha that you proceed.”
“Your slave obeys. Your sublime perspicuity is but too well acquainted with geography——?”
“Not that I know of. Hath he ever left his slippers at our threshold, Mustapha?”
“I suspect,” replied Mustapha, “that he goes all over the world, and therefore he must have been here. Proceed, Menouni, and ask not such questions. By virtue of his office, his sublime highness knows every thing.”
“True,” said the pacha, shaking his beard with great dignity and satisfaction.
“I did but presume to put the question,” replied Menouni, whose voice was soft and silvery as a flute on a summer’s silent eve, “as, to perfectly understand the part of the world from which my tale has been transmitted, I thought a knowledge of that science was required; but I have eaten dirt, and am covered with shame at my indiscretion, which would not have occurred, had it not been that the sublime sultan, when I last had the honour to narrate the story, was pleased to interrupt me, from his not being quite convinced that the parts of the world were known to him. But I will now proceed with my tale, which shall go forward with the majestic pace of the camel, proud in his pilgrimage over the desert, towards the shrine of our holy prophet.”
In the north-eastern parts of the vast peninsula of India, there did exist a flourishing and extended kingdom, eminent for the beauty of the country, the fertility of the soil, and the salubrity of the climate. This kingdom was bounded on the east by a country named Lusitania, that lies northerly towards the coast of Iceland, so called from the excessive heat of the winter. On the south it was bounded by a slip of land, the name of which has slipped my memory; but it runs into the seas under the dominion of the Great Cham of Tartary. On the west it is bounded by another kingdom, the name of which I have also forgotten; and on the north, by another kingdom, the name of which I do not remember. After this explanation, with your sublime highness’s knowledge, to which that of the sage Lochman was but in comparison as the seed is to the water-melon, I hardly need say that it was the ancient kingdom of Souffra.
* * * * *
“Menouni, you are quite right,” observed the pacha. “Proceed.”