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Human Animals Part 15

In the reception hall he saw a throne composed of a single jacinth, adorned with the richest cushions, on which was seated a lady, beautiful as the silver moon, surrounded by a thousand handmaids, brilliant as stars.

Malec stood stupefied in wonder at this vision of paradise. The princess pointed to a golden seat near the throne, and when he sat upon it she asked, "Whence come you, who are you, and why have you visited me?"

Malec Muhammed answered like one in a dream,

"Drunk with the wine of love I roam This path and seek no other home."

Then Geti Afraz ordered one of her handmaidens to bring some ruby-coloured wine to her guest, and after he had taken it she asked whether the company of the maiden would give him entertainment. But he refused her offer, saying that his devotion to herself prevented him talking to, or even looking at, any other woman.

The princess seemed pleased with this compliment, but said in a pensive tone, "Man is an impatient creature and from his impatience many misfortunes result which he lays to our charge." Malec replied that whilst in her presence he could never give way to impatience for, if he were allowed to gaze into her adorable eyes, life needed nothing more to make it perfect.

Geti Afraz smiled sarcastically, saying, "I fear you will not remain satisfied gazing for ever into my eyes, and take heed, for if you show the least tendency to lose your head over me you will be punished by being banished from my society."

Thus they spent many hours in each other's company, he gazing into her eyes but never presuming even so far as to touch her hand.

Overcome by her beauty, at last he threw himself at her feet and asked whether the lifelong devotion he was prepared to offer was acceptable in her sight. "Be patient and cautious," she said, to calm his protestations, "otherwise you will be transformed into an animal, which is not an easy matter to remedy."

So Malec went back to his golden seat and mastered his passionate feelings as well as he could. Just then one of the handmaidens brought in a scented rose to present to the princess. Malec Muhammed led her forward in hopes that his fingers might chance to touch those of Geti Afraz. The princess stretched out her hand to take the rose when Malec Muhammed lost his self-control and planted an impassioned kiss upon her fingers. "Ah! you cursed billing dove!" cried Geti Afraz, "Why do you do that?" and at her words Malec gave a sudden spring into the air and whirled round and round in the form of a dove.

The poor bird was desperate on account of this strange way in which his affection had been received. All day long he flew from turret to turret, and hopped from branch to branch, before his unrelenting mistress; but finding his appeals no use he flew away and took the quickest road to his house. There his servants set traps to catch him, and he fluttered about in great fear, until one remarked, "Poor little dove, let it go, for the love of our master, who has not been seen here for some days."

Malec then flew to the house of his uncle, the Vizier, and perched on his knee. The Vizier, suspecting enchantment, sent for a box of medicine and inserted a dose in the bird's bill; the dove fluttered round and round in a circle and suddenly resumed human form.

But the attraction of the princess proved too much for Malec, and though he tried to forget her he found it impossible. At last, in desperation, he cried out that he must see her again, cost what it might.

"Make me a dog, make me an ass, From her presence ne'er shall pass Her fond adorer!"

he exclaimed as he set out once more for the palace.

He was admitted into the presence of the princess, who expressed great surprise at the fate which had overtaken him.

"Ah," he said, "it was hard to be so severely punished for one kiss of those charming fingers."

"Well," she replied, "I approve of you so well that to compensate you for your misfortune I will give you leave to kiss both my hands and my feet as often as you please, but you must not presume any further than that."

That evening he was allowed to stay beside her couch, because when she suggested sending him away he reminded her of her promise. How could he kiss her hands and her feet if he was forced to leave her side?

This concession made Malec believe that she had more affection for him than she was willing to show. "I asked her only for the opportunity of admiring her at a distance and she has given me a place close beside her," he thought.

Hour after hour he kissed her hands and feet, and all the time he aspired to her lips. There she lay slumbering, beautiful as a goddess, and as he bent over her to approach his lips to hers, she awoke and reminded him of his promise, saying, "Be cautious, or you will have to take your departure."

At this rebuke he retired ignominiously from her side, but his love for her increased by leaps and bounds, and she fostered it by walking with him in the lovely palace gardens and by taking him with her in her gorgeous carriage when she followed the hounds. In the evening they feasted, and, after quaffing wine, Malec, driven to madness by her beauty, forgot himself as she lay slumbering and, bending forward, pressed his lips to hers.

At that moment she awoke, crying, "Cursed ass! what have you done?"

Even as she uttered the words, Malec gave a spring and galloped away in the form of an ass.

The servants of the princess beat the animal with sticks and drove him out of the palace.

After nine long months, in which Malec endured the ignominy of being in animal form, his uncle, who had been greatly annoyed by his nephew's repeated folly, softened sufficiently to help him out of his dilemma, by giving him a further dose of the magic medicine which brought him back to his natural appearance.

When once again he arrived at the palace Geti Afraz welcomed him warmly.

"All that has befallen you has happened through your own impatience,"

she said. "What can a man expect who loses his self-control as you did?"

Nevertheless the princess bound him to her in flowery chains, which entangled him more and more, until the tortured Malec, whilst visiting King Anushah in her company, exceeded the limits of propriety she had laid down for him and was turned into an ox.

In this form he was set to draw water, and tears trickled down his ox-like face at the indignities he had to undergo. His uncle, seeing the animal's distress, said, "Malec Muhammed, if this be you, make some sign to let me know!"

The ox nodded as a sign.

"The curse of God light on you and your doings," said the Vizier, and he had the ox driven to a stall and ordered his servants to fatten him up for the winter, when he intended to make mince-meat of him.

After six months had passed, however, King Anushah interfered and asked the Vizier to pardon Malec's folly. Enough medicine was sent for to serve its purpose even if Malec had been metamorphosed a hundred times and he was called into his uncle's presence.

"Gallows face!" cried the Vizier, "this time you must thank the Shah that you are to become a man once more, for _I_ should have let you die in disgrace. If you take an oath never to behave so foolishly again I will give you the medicine."

The ox pleaded and nodded, the dose was administered and Malec became himself again.

"Really," said the Shah, "you have made a beast of yourself often enough, Muhammed," and he made him promise not to do it again.

But even then Malec had not learnt wisdom, and after many vicissitudes, when he was brought once more into the presence of his charmer, he found her fascination too much for his senses.

The languid Narcissus-like eyes of Geti Afraz yielded to slumber after a banquet, and she fell asleep on her sofa with Malec by her side. In tenderest mood he rained kiss after kiss upon her lips:

"Bless the sweet power of wine," he cries, "That seals so sound her lovely eyes."

Unable to restrain himself further he laid one hand upon her lily-white bosom, and she started up with the cry, "Cursed dog, what are you doing?" and he became a dog.

For many months Malec endured this new indignity, for his uncle, the Vizier, declared that he should wear a dog's collar round his neck till the day of his death, but the princess herself, relenting of the cruel fate to which she had condemned her lover, contrived that the Shah's wife, Ruh Afza, should transform her husband into an animal in order that he might suffer what Malec was suffering.

As soon as the Shah offered his caresses to her, Ruh Afza cried out:

"Ha! you cat, what? Would you scratch me?" and immediately the Shah found himself whirled round and round, and, taking a spring with his head down and his heels up, he assumed the form of a cat. All the rest of the night he strolled through the garden caterwauling piteously.

In the morning he met the Vizier, who recognised his master, King Anushah, at once, and restored him to his normal condition.

The Shah, wishing to vent his anger on Geti Afraz for this insult to his dignity, decided to execute Malec, "to sear her bosom with a lasting wound," for he believed her to be fond of Malec in spite of her conduct. Sending for the poor dog he lashed the animal severely.

Then, in his pain, Malec cried out to his enchantress to rescue him from danger, and she relented, restoring him to human form and rewarding him with her love.

One of the best descriptions of transformation by use of ointments, in which details of the process are given, is to be found in "The Metamorphosis or Golden Ass of Apuleius," in which Lucius, the hero, happening to use the wrong salve, transforms himself into a donkey instead of into a bird as he intended. The manner in which he has to resume human shape is by partaking of rose leaves.

Lucius witnesses the transformation of Pamphile into a bird. Watching through the chink of the door leading to her chamber he sees Pamphile divest herself of her garments and after opening a certain small chest, take several boxes therefrom, uncover one of them and rub herself for a long time with the ointment, from the soles of her feet to the crown of her head. Holding a lamp in her hand she uttered a long incantation, and then shook her limbs with a tremulous agitation; and from these, lightly fluctuating, soft feathers extended and strong wings burst forth, her nose hardened and incurvated, the nails were compressed and made crooked, and Pamphile turned into an owl. Giving voice to a querulous sound, she made trial of her new attributes, gradually leaping from the earth, and soon after, being raised on high, she flew out of doors with all the force of her wings. Thus she was voluntarily changed by her own magic arts.

Lucius then asked Pamphile's maid, Fotis, for a little ointment from the same box, as he much desired to experience a similar transformation. At first Fotis demurred, but at last agreed to do what he asked, telling him that a change back to human form could be effected by "small and frivolous herbs," such as dill put into fountain water, with the leaves of the laurel given as a lotion, and also to drink.

The matter being decided, Fotis went into the bedchamber of her mistress and fetched a box of ointment from the chest, which she brought to Lucius, who thus tells the story of what took place.

Chapter end

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