“When, my lord, have I ever shown myself jealous? True love is above jealousy. This evening, to please you, although I have lately been neglected, did I not request your new favourite to meet you? In return, I was grossly insulted by neglect, and studied attentions to her. I was piqued, and revenged myself—for I am but a woman. I was wrong in so doing, but having told the truth, I was right in not retracting what I had said. Now that you have degraded me—now that you have rendered me unworthy of you, you ask me to forgive you.”
“And again I implore it, my dearest Zara!”
“There are my jewels, my lord. I have no other property but what I have received, and cherished as presents from you. Your treasurer well knows that. Take my jewels, my lord, and present them to her, they will make her more beautiful in your sight—to me they are now worthless. Go to her, and in a few days you will forget that ever there was such a person as the unhappy, the neglected, the disgraced, and polluted Zara.” And I burst into tears; for even with all his ill-usage, I was miserable at the idea of parting with him; for what will not a woman forgive a man who has obtained her favour and her love?
“What can I do to prove that I repent?” cried the sultan. “Tell me, Zara. I have supplicated for pardon, what more can I do?”
“Let my lord efface all traces and memory of my degradation. Was not I struck by two vile slaves, who will babble through the city? Was not I held down by an executioner? These arms, which have wound round the master of the world, and no other, polluted by his gripe.”
The sultan clapped his hands, and the Kislar Aga appeared. “Quick,” exclaimed he, “the heads of the slaves and executioner who inflicted the punishment.” In a minute the Kislar Aga appeared; he perceived how matters stood, and trembled for his own. He held up the three heads, one after another, and then returned them to the sack of sawdust in which they had been brought.
“Are you satisfied now, Zara?”
“For myself, yes—but not for you. Who was it that persuaded you to descend from your dignity, and lower yourself, by yielding to the instigations of malice? Who was it that advised the bastinado? As a woman, I am too proud to be jealous of her; but as one who values your honour, and your reputation, I cannot permit you to have so dangerous a counsellor. Your virgins, your omras, your princes, will all be at her mercy; your throne may be overturned by her taking advantage of her power.”
The sultan hesitated.
“Sultan, you have but to choose between two things; if she be alive to-morrow morning, I am dead by my own hand. You know I never lie.”
The sultan clapped his hands, the Kislar Aga again appeared. “Her head,” said he, hesitatingly. The Kislar Aga waited a little, to ascertain if there was no reprieve, for too hasty a compliance with despots is almost as dangerous as delay. He caught my eye—he saw at once, that if not her head, it would be his own, and he quitted the room. In a few minutes he held up by its fair tresses the head of my beautiful rival; I looked at the distorted features, and was satisfied. I motioned with my hand, and the Kislar Aga withdrew.