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- An Egyptian Princess, Volume 3. - 10/10 -
The prince left, but this time a longer interval was necessary, before the king could regain even outward cheerfulness sufficient to enable him to appear before his guests.
Psamtik went at once to the commander of the native troops, ordered him to banish the Egyptian captain who had failed in executing his revengeful plans, to the quarries of Thebais, and to send the Ethiopians back to their native country. He then hurried to the high-priest of Neith, to inform him how much he had been able to extort from the king,
Neithotep shook his head doubtfully on hearing of Amasis' threats, and dismissed the prince with a few words of exhortation, a practice he never omitted.
Psamtik returned home, his heart oppressed and his mind clouded with a sense of unsatisfied revenge, of a new and unhappy rupture with his father, a fear of foreign derision, a feeling of his subjection to the will of the priests, and of a gloomy fate which had hung over his head since his birth.
His once beautiful wife was dead; and, of five blooming children, only one daughter remained to him, and a little son, whom he loved tenderly, and to whom in this sad moment he felt drawn. For the blue eyes and laughing mouth of his child were the only objects that ever thawed this man's icy heart, and from these he now hoped for consolation and courage on his weary road through life.
"Where is my son?" he asked of the first attendant who crossed his path.
"The king has just sent for the Prince Necho and his nurse," answered the man.
At this moment the high-steward of the prince's household approached, and with a low obeisance delivered to Psamtik a sealed papyrus letter, with the words: "From your father, the king."
In angry haste he broke the yellow wax of the seal bearing the king's name, and read: "I have sent for thy son, that he may not become, like his father, a blind instrument in the hands of the priesthood, forgetful of what is due to himself and his country. His education shall be my care, for the impressions of childhood affect the whole of a man's later life. Thou canst see him if thou wilt, but I must be acquainted with thy intention beforehand."
[Signet rings were worn by the Egyptians at a very early period. Thus, in Genesis 41. 42., Pharaoh puts his ring on Joseph's hand. In the Berlin Museum and all other collections of Egyptian antiquities, numbers of these rings are to be found, many of which are more than 4000 years old.]
Psamtik concealed his indignation from the surrounding attendants with difficulty. The mere wish of a royal father had, according to Egyptian custom, as much weight as the strictest command. After reflecting a few moments, he called for huntsmen, dogs, bows and lances, sprang into a light chariot and commanded the charioteer to drive him to the western marshes, where, in pursuing the wild beasts of the desert, he could forget the weight of his own cares and wreak on innocent creatures his hitherto baffled vengeance.
Gyges was released immediately after the conversation between his father and Amasis, and welcomed with acclamations of joy by his companions. The Pharaoh seemed desirous of atoning for the imprisonment of his friend's son by doubling his favors, for on the same day Gyges received from the king a magnificent chariot drawn by two noble brown steeds, and was begged to take back with him to Persia a curiously-wrought set of draughts, as a remembrance of Sais. The separate pieces were made of ebony and ivory, some being curiously inlaid with sentences, in hieroglyphics of gold and silver.
Amasis laughed heartily with his friends at Gyges' artifice, allowed the young heroes to mix freely with his family, and behaved towards them himself as a jovial father towards his merry sons. That the ancient Egyptian was not quite extinguished in him could only be discerned at meal-times, when a separate table was allotted to the Persians. The religion of his ancestors would have pronounced him defiled, had he eaten at the same table with men of another nation.
[Herodotus II. 41. says that the Egyptians neither kissed, nor ate out of the same dish with foreigners, nay, indeed, that they refused to touch meat, in the cutting up of which the knife of a Greek had been used. Nor were the lesser dynasties of the Delta allowed, according to the Stela of Pianchi, to cross the threshold of the Pharaohs because they were unclean and ate fish. In the book of Genesis, the brethren of Joseph were not allowed to eat bread with the Egyptians.]
When Amasis, at last, three days after the release of Gyges, declared that his daughter Nitetis would be prepared to depart for Asia in the course of two more weeks, all the Persians regretted that their stay in Egypt was so near its close.
Croesus had enjoyed the society of the Samian poets and sculptors. Gyges had shared his father's preference for Greek art and artists. Darius, who had formerly studied astronomy in Babylon, was one evening observing the heavens, when, to his surprise, he was addressed by the aged Neithotep and invited to follow him on to the temple-roof. Darius, ever eager to acquire knowledge, did not wait to be asked twice, and was to be found there every night in earnest attention to the old priest's lessons.
On one occasion Psamtik met him thus with his master, and asked the latter what could have induced him to initiate a Persian in the Egyptian mysteries.
"I am only teaching him," answered the high-priest, "what is as well known to every learned Chaldee in Babylon as to ourselves, and am thereby gaining the friendship of a man, whose stars as far outshine those of Cambyses as the sun outshines the moon. This Darius, I tell thee, will be a mighty ruler. I have even seen the beams of his planet shining over Egypt. The truly wise man extends his gaze into the future, regards the objects lying on either side of his road, as well as the road itself. Thou canst not know in which of the many houses by which thou passest daily, a future benefactor may not have been reared for thee. Leave nought unnoticed that lies in thy path, but above all direct thy gaze upward to the stars. As the faithful dog lies in wait night after night for thieves, so have I watched these pilgrims of the heavens fifty years long--these foretellers of the fates of men, burning in ethereal space, and announcing, not only the return of summer and winter, but the arrival of good and bad fortune, honor and disgrace. These are the unerring guides, who have pointed out to me in Darius a plant, that will one day wax into a mighty tree."
To Bartja, Darius' nightly studies were especially welcome; they necessitated more sleep in the morning, and so rendered Bartja's stolen early rides to Naukratis, (on which Zopyrus, to whom he had confided his secret, accompanied him), easier of accomplishment. During the interviews with Sappho, Zopyrus and the attendants used all their endeavors to kill a few snipes, jackals or jerboas. They could then, on their return, maintain to their Mentor Croesus, that they had been pursuing fieldsports, the favorite occupation of the Persian nobility.
The change which the power of a first love had wrought in the innermost character of Bartja, passed unnoticed by all but Tachot, the daughter of Amasis. From the first day on which they had spoken together she had loved him, and her quick feelings told her at once that something had happened to estrange him from herself. Formerly his behavior had been that of a brother, and he had sought her companionship; but now he carefully avoided every approach to intimacy, for he had guessed her secret and felt as if even a kind look would have been an offence against his loyalty to Sappho.
In her distress at this change Tachot confided her sorrows to Nitetis. The latter bade her take courage, and the two girls built many a castle in the air, picturing to themselves the happiness of being always together at one court, and married to two royal brothers. But as the days went by, the visits of the handsome prince became more and more rare, and when he did come, his behavior to Tachot was cold and distant. Yet the poor girl could not but confess that Bartja had grown handsomer and more manly during his stay in Egypt. An expression of proud and yet gentle consciousness lay beaming in his large eyes, and a strange dreamy air of rest often took the place of his former gay spirits. His cheeks had lost their brilliant color, but that added to his beauty, while it lessened hers, who, like him, became paler from day to day.
Melitta, the old slave, had taken the lovers under her protection. She had surprised them one morning, but the prince had given her such rich presents, and her darling had begged, flattered and coaxed so sweetly, that at last Melitta promised to keep their secret, and later, yielding to that natural impulse which moves all old women to favor lovers, had even given them every assistance in her power. She already saw her "sweet child" mistress of a hemisphere, often addressed her as "my Princess" and "my Queen" when none were by to hear, and in many a weak moment imagined a brilliant future for herself in some high office at the Persian court.
ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:
A kind word hath far more power than an angry one Abuse not those who have outwitted thee Cannot understand how trifles can make me so happy Confess I would rather provoke a lioness than a woman Curiosity is a woman's vice I cannot . . . Say rather: I will not In this immense temple man seemed a dwarf in his own eyes Know how to honor beauty; and prove it by taking many wives Mosquito-tower with which nearly every house was provided Natural impulse which moves all old women to favor lovers Sent for a second interpreter Sing their libels on women (Greek Philosophers) Those are not my real friends who tell me I am beautiful Young Greek girls pass their sad childhood in close rooms
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