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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

The Four Flasks or The Adventures of Alcidonis of Megara


The

first thing the Sultan hears of this damsel is that the Master of the Eunuchs cannot in the least manage her; for she merely laughs at all he says. The Sultan, out of curiosity, orders her to be brought to him, and she immediately cries: "Thank Heaven! here is a face like a man's. Of course you are the sublime Sultan whose slave I have the honour to be? Please cashier this disgusting old rascal." To which extremely irreverent address Soliman makes a dignified reply of the proper kind, including due reference to "obedience" and his "will." This brings down a small pageful of raillery from the young person, who asks "whether this is Turkish gallantry?" suggests that the restrictions of the seraglio involve a fear that "the skies should rain men," and more than hints that she should be very glad if they did. For the moment Soliman, though much taken with her, finds no way of saving his dignity except by a retreat. The next time he sends for her, or rather announces his own arrival, she tells the messenger to pack himself off: and when the Commander of the Faithful does visit her and gives a little good advice, she is still incorrigible. She will, once more, have nothing to do with the words _dois_ and _devoir_. When asked if she knows what he is and what _she_ is, she answers with perfect _aplomb_, "What we are? You are powerful, and I am pretty; so we are quite on an equality." In the most painfully confidential and at the same time quite decent manner, she asks him what he can
possibly do with five hundred wives? and, still more intolerably, tells him that she likes his looks, and has already loved people who were not worth him. The horror with which this Turkish soldan, himself so full of sin, ejaculates, "Vous _avez_ aime?" may be easily imagined, and again she simply puts him to flight. When he gets over it a little, he sends Delia to negotiate. But Roxelane tells the go-between to stay to supper, declaring that she herself does not feel inclined for a _tete-a-tete_ yet, and finally sends him off with this obliging predecessor and substitute, presenting her with the legendary handkerchief, which she has actually borrowed from the guileless Padishah. There is some, but not too much more of it; there can but be one end; and as he takes her to the Mosque to make her legitimate Sultana, quite contrary to proper Mussulman usage, he says to himself, "Is it really possible that a little _retrousse_ nose should upset the laws of an empire?" Probably, though Marmontel does not say so, he looked down at the said nose, as he communed with himself, and decided that cause and effect were not unworthy of each other. There is hardly a righter and better hit-off tale of the kind, even in French.

[Sidenote: _The Four Flasks._]

"The Four Flasks" or "The Adventures of Alcidonis of Megara," a sort of outside fairy tale, is good, but not quite so good as either of the former. Alcidonis has a fairy protectress, if not exactly godmother, who gives him the flasks in question to use in amatory adventures. One, with purple liquor in it, sets the drinker in full tide of passion; the second (rose-coloured) causes a sort of flirtation; the third (blue) leads to sentimental and moderate affection; and the last (pure white) recovers the experimenter from the effects of any of the others. He tries all, and all but the last are unsatisfactory, though, much as in the case of Alcibiades and Glicerie, the blue has a second chance, the results of which are not revealed. This is the least important of the group, but is well told.


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