STORY OF THE LOVERS OF SYRIA; OR, THE HEROINE.
There formerly dwelt in the city of Damascus two brothers, one poor and the other rich, the former of whom had a son, and the latter a daughter. The poor man dying left his son, just emerging from infancy, to the protection of his wealthy uncle, who behaved to his unfortunate charge with paternal tenderness, till the youth, who had exchanged vows of love with his cousin, requested her in marriage; when the father refused, and expelled him from his house. The young lady, however, who ardently loved him, agreed to elope, and having one night escaped from her father's dwelling, repaired to the object of her affection; who, having had notice of her intentions, had prepared two horses and a mule to carry their baggage. They travelled all night, and by morning reached a sea-port, where they found a ship ready to sail, in which, having secured a passage, the lady immediately embarked; but the lover remained on shore to dispose of the horses and mule. While he was seeking for a purchaser in the market, a fair wind sprung up, and the master of the ship having weighed anchor, hoisted sail and departed: the lady in vain entreating him to wait the return of her beloved, or send her on shore, for he was captivated with her beauty. Finding herself thus ensnared, as she was a woman of strong mind, instead of indulging in unavailing complaint, she assumed a satisfied air; and as the only way to preserve her honour, received the addresses of the treacherous master with pretended complacency, and consented to receive him as a husband at the first port at which the ship might touch. With these assurances he was contented, and behaved to her with honourable deference, and affectionate respect. At length the vessel anchored near a city, to which the captain went to make preparations for his marriage; but the lady, while he was on shore, addressed the ship's crew, setting forth with such force his treacherous conduct to herself, and offering such rewards if they would convey her to her lover at the port they had left, that the honest sailors were moved in her favour, agreed to obey her as their mistress, and hoisting sail, left the master to shift for himself. After some days of favourable weather, a contrary gale blowing hard, the vessel was driven far out of her course, and for shelter obliged to anchor in the first haven that offered, which proved to be that of a large city, the capital of a potent sultan, whose officers came on board to examine the vessel, and inquire into her cargo and destination. These men, to their great surprise, finding it commanded by a lady of exquisite beauty, reported her charms to the sultan, who resolved to possess them, and sent her an offer of marriage; to which she seemingly consented, and the sultan commanded the most splendid preparations to be made for the nuptials. When all was ready, he sent onboard the vessel the daughter of his vizier, with other ladies, thirty-nine in number, magnificently attired, to wait upon his bride, and attend her on shore. They were graciously received by the politic lady, and invited to refresh themselves in the grand cabin, which she had elegantly adorned with costly hangings, and prepared in it a superb collation, to which they sat down. She then dismissed the boats in which they came, sending a message to the sultan that she should entertain the ladies on board till the next morning, when she would repair on shore and conclude their marriage. She behaved towards her new guests with such winning affability, that they one and all admired their expected sultana, and partook of the entertainment with the highest satisfaction; but what was their surprise when, in the middle of the night, she commanded the crew to weigh anchor, having first warned them, on pain of her displeasure and immediate death, to keep silence, and raise no alarm in the harbour. The vessel sailed, and put to sea without being molested, when the intrepid commandress consoled the affrighted ladies, related to them her own adventures, and assured them that when she should have rejoined her lover, they should, if they chose it, be honourably restored to their homes; but in the mean time she hoped they would contentedly share her fortunes. This behaviour, by degrees, so won upon their minds, that the ladies forgot their sorrows, became pleased with their situation, and in a short time were so attached to their new mistress, that they would not have left her had it been in their power. After some weeks sail, it became necessary to steer towards the first coast that should present itself, to lay in a supply of fresh water and provisions, and land appearing, the vessel anchored, when the lady with her companions went on shore. Here they were surrounded by forty robbers, who threatened to take them prisoners; when the heroic lady, desiring her friends to conceal their fears, assumed a smiling countenance, and addressing the chief of the banditti, assured him there would be no occasion for force, as she and her companions were ready to share their love, being women who were above the prejudices of their sex, and had devoted themselves to pleasure, in search of which they roved on board their vessel from one coast to another, and would now stay with them as long as they might wish for their company. This declaration suiting the depraved minds of the robbers, they laid aside their fierce looks and warlike weapons, bringing abundance of all sorts of provisions to regale their expected mistresses, with whom they sat down to a plentiful repast, which was heightened by a store of wines which the lady had brought in her boats from the ship. Mirth and jollity prevailed; but the fumes of the liquors, in which the politic lady had infused strong opiates, suddenly operated upon their senses, and they fell down one and all in a state of stupefaction. She then with her companions drew the sabres of their brutal admirers and put them all to death excepting the chief, whom they bound hand and foot with strong cords, and after cutting off his beard and mustachios, tied his own cimeter round his neck, leaving him to feel mortification worse than death on the recovery of his senses, namely, the sight of his slaughtered fellows, and regret at the loss of his imagined happiness. The ladies then stripped the caves of the robbers of the vast wealth which they had hoarded up from their plunders, and having carried it on board their boats, with a stock of water and provisions, returned to the ship, weighed anchor, and sailed triumphant and rejoicing from such a dangerous coast. After some weeks' sail they again descried land, to which they approached, and discovered a spacious harbour, round which rose a vast city, the buildings of which were sublimely lofty, adorned with flights of marble steps to the water's edge, and crowned with domes and minarets topped with pinnacles of gold. The enterprising lady having anchored, clothed herself and her companions in magnificent male habits; after which she ordered the boats to be hoisted out, and they were rowed ashore by part of their crew richly dressed. On landing, they found all the inhabitants of the city in mourning, and making doleful lamentation for their late sultan, who had died only a few days before. The gallant appearance of a stranger so nobly attended created much surprise, and intelligence of the arrival was instantly conveyed to the vizier, who acted as regent till the eleftion of a new monarch, which ceremony was just on the point of taking place. The minister, who thought he perceived in such a critical arrival the work of fate, immediately waited on the now supposed prince, whom he invited to be present at the election; at the same time informing him that when in this kingdom a sultan died without issue, the laws appointed that his successor should be chosen by the alighting of a bird on his shoulder, which bird would be let fly among the crowd assembled in the square before the palace. The seeming prince accepted the invitation, and with the disguised ladies was conducted to a gorgeous pavilion, open on all sides, to view the ceremony. The ominous bird being loosened from his chain, soared into the air to a great height, then gradually descending, flew round and round the square repeatedly, even with the faces of the spectators. At length it darted into the pavilion, where the lady and her companions were seated, fluttered around her head, and at length rested upon her shoulder, giving at the same time a cry of exultation, stretching its neck, and flapping its wings. Immediately upon this, the viziers and courtiers bowed themselves to the ground, and the assembled crowd prostrated themselves on the earth, crying out, "Long live our glorious sultan, the chosen of Providence, the elecled by the decrees of fate!" The disguised lady was instantly conducted to the palace, seated on a splendid throne, and proclaimed amidst the acclamations of the people, sovereign of an extensive empire; nor were the abilities of her mind unequal to the task of government. In a few days the vizier offered to the supposed sultan his daughter in marriage; and his offer being accepted, the nuptials were celebrated with the utmost magnificence; but what was the astonishment of the bride, when, instead of being caressed, the sultan on retiring with her became cold and reserved, rose from her, and spent the night in prayer. In the morning the sultana was questioned by her mother; who, on her relating the behaviour of the husband, observed, that possibly from his youth he might be over reserved; but that love would naturally in time operate its effect. Several evenings past in the same manner, when the bride, mortified at such coldness, could no longer restrain herself, and said, "Why, my lord, if you disliked me, did you take me to wife? but if you love not as other men, tell me so, and I will suffer my misfortune in silence." The lady, moved by this remonstrance, replied, "Most virtuous princess, would that for your sake I were of the sex you suppose me; but, alas! I am like you a woman, disappointed in love." She then related to her the wonderful adventures she had undergone since leaving her father's house, at which the vizier's daughter was so affected that she vowed for her a lasting friendship, agreed to keep her secret, and live with her till such times as chance should restore her lover. In return for this kindness the lady promised that should the object of her affections ever arrive, he should marry them both, and that she should have the precedence in the ceremony of union. The two friends having thus agreed, the vizier's daughter regained her cheerfulness, and means were taken to convince her father, mother, and friends of the consummation of the nuptials. From this time they lived in perfect happiness together, one exercising the authority of sultan to the satisfaction of the subject, and the other acting the part of a satisfied and obedient wife; but still both were anxious to meet their mutual husband. As the capital of the kingdom was a mart for most nations of the world, the pretended sultan formed the following stratagem for discovering her beloved, not doubting but that he would travel over all parts of the world in search of the object of his affection. She erected a most magnificent caravanserai, furnished with baths hot and cold, and every convenience for the weary traveller. When it was finished, she issued a proclamation, that sojourners from all parts should be welcome to lodge in it, and be provided with every necessary till they could accommodate themselves in the city, or pursued, if only travellers, their journey to another part. Over the gate of this edifice she placed an exact statue of herself, and gave orders to the guards that whatever stranger, on looking at it, should shew signs of agitation, or utter words signifying that he knew the original, should be immediately seized and confined in the palace. Many weeks had not passed when the father of this enterprising lady, who had travelled many thousands of miles in search of his daughter, arrived at the gate, and on seeing the statue, exclaimed, "Alas! alas! how like my poor, lost child!" He wds immediately carried to the palace, lodged in a magnificent apartment, treated with the highest respect; but kept in complete ignorance as to the cause of his confinement and his future fate. Not long after this, his disconsolate nephew, who, on the departure of the treacherous captain, had wandered from city to city in hopes of finding his mistress, arrived, and repaired to the caravanserai.
On sight of the statue his feelings overcame him; he sighed and fainted: when he was taken up by the guards and lodged in the palace, where being come to himself, he was astonished at the repect and attention paid him by the domestics, and the splendid manner in which he was entertained; but it was in vain that he inquired the cause of his detention, the only answer he could get being, "Have patience, my lord, and repose yourself till Providence shall free you from our confinement." Soon after this the master of the ship, who had visited port after port in hopes of recovering his vessel, reached the city, and hearing of the hospitality with which all strangers were received at the caravanserai of the sultan, repaired to the gateway; but no sooner had he cast his eyes on the statue, than he exclaimed, "Ah! how like to the artful yet virtuous woman who cheated me of my property by stealing my ship." Immediately he was seized by the guards, and conveyed to the palace, but treated with kindness. Many days had not succeeded to this event, when the sultan and the vizier, whose daughter with the thirty-nine ladies had been so artfully carried away from them by the enterprising heroine of this history, made their appearance at the gateway of the caravanserai, and on beholding the statue, cried out, "Surely this is the likeness of her who deprived us of our children; ah! that we could find her and be revenged on her hypocrisy!" On saying this they were apprehended and taken to the palace, where they were conducted to apartments suitable to their rank. In a few days afterwards the chief of the banditti, who, burning with the ireful resolution of revenging the deaths of his associates, had travelled from place to place in hopes of finding the object of his fury, arrived at the gateway, and observing the statue, roared out in a rage, "Surely this is the resemblance of my tormenter; oh! that I could meet thy original, so that I might have the satisfaction of making her blood atone for the murder of my friends!" Instantly, as he had spoken, the guards at the gate rushing upon him, bound him hand and foot, conveyed him to the palace, where he was confined in a loathsome dungeon, and fed on the coarsest viands.
The pretended sultan having now all the parties in her power, one morning ascended her throne in full audience, and commanded them to be brought before her. When they had made their obeisance, she commanded them to relate the cause of their having journeyed to her capital; but the royal presence rendered them incapable of uttering a word: upon which she exclaimed, "Since you cannot speak, I will;" and then discovered to their astonished minds the adventures of each, which had occasioned their travelling. She then discovered herself, and fell upon the necks of her father and lover, with whom she retired into the private apartments. The sultan and his vizier were made happy in the company of the daughter of the latter and the other ladies. The master of the ship, as his troubles had atoned for his irregular behaviour, was received into favour, and had his vessel restored; but the savage chief of the banditti was put to death, by being cast into a burning pile, that no further injury might be offered to mankind. In a few days, the most magnificent preparations being made, the double nuptials of the heroic lady and her friend the vizier's daughter were celebrated with her constant lover, to whom she resigned her throne, and the happy wives lived together in felicity, undisturbed by jealousy of the husband's attention to either, so equally did they share his love. The sultan and vizier, after being long entertained at the court, took leave, and returned, under an escort, to their own country; but the daughter and the thirty-nine ladies could not be prevailed upon to accompany them, only to visit and bid farewell to their parents, for such was their attachment to their gallant mistress, that they came back immediately, and were espoused to the principle nobles of her court. Years of unusual happiness passed over the heads of the fortunate adventurers of this history, until death, the destroyer of all things, conducted them to a grave which must one day be the resting-place for ages of us all, till the receiving angel shall sound his trumpet.