THE ARABIAN NIGHTS
to hold the sabre. And supposing that I had the strength, why should I put an innocent man to death? '
' You condemn yourself by your refusal,' said the genius; then turning to me, he added, ' and you, do you not know her?'
' How should I ?' I replied, resolved to imitate the princess in her fidelity. ' How should I, when I never saw her before ?'
'Cut her head off, then, if she is a stranger to you, and I shall believe you are speaking the truth, and will set you at liberty.'
' Certainly,' I answered, taking the sabre in my hands, and making a sign to the princess to fear nothing, as it was my own life that I was about to sacrifice, and not hers. But the look of gratitude she gave me shook my courage, and I flung the sabre to the earth.
'I should not deserve to live,' I said to the genius, ' if I were such a coward as to slay a lady who is not only unknown to me, but who is at this moment half dead herself. Do with me as you will — I am in your power — but I refuse to obey your cruel command.'
'I see,' said the genius, ' that you have both made up your minds to brave me, but I will give you a sample of what you may expect.' So saying, with one sweep of his sabre he cut off a hand of the princess, who was just able to lift the other to wave me an eternal farewell. Then I lost consciousness for several minutes.
When I came to myself I implored the genius to keep me no longer in this state of suspense, but to lose no time in putting an end to my sufferings. The genius, however, paid no attention to my prayers, but said sternly, ' That is the way in which a genius treats the woman who has betrayed him. If I chose, I could kill you also: but I will be merciful, and content myself with changing you into a dog, an ass, a lion, or a bird — whichever you prefer.'
I caught eagerly at these words, as giving me a faint