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- An Egyptian Princess, Volume 3. - 4/10 -
Suddenly he fell to the ground, apparently lifeless. A slight movement of the lips and a low hissing whistle were the only signs of life; but, on hearing the latter, the snakes crept up and twined themselves like living rings around his neck, legs and body. At last he rose, sang a hymn in praise of the divine power which had made him a magician, and then laid the greater number of his snakes in one of the chests, retaining a few, probably his favorites, to serve as ornaments for his neck and arms.
The second part of this performance consisted of clever conjuring-tricks, in which he swallowed burning flax, balanced swords while dancing, their points standing in the hollow of his eye; drew long strings and ribbons out of the noses of the Egyptian children, exhibited the well-known cup- and-ball trick, and, at length, raised the admiration of the spectators to its highest pitch, by producing five living rabbits from as many ostrich-eggs.
The Persians formed no unthankful portion of the assembled crowd; on the contrary, this scene, so totally new, impressed them deeply.
They felt as if in the realm of miracles, and fancied they had now seen the rarest of all Egyptian rarities. In silence they took their way back to the handsomer streets of Sais, without noticing how many mutilated Egyptians crossed their path. These poor disfigured creatures were indeed no unusual sight for Asiatics, who punished many crimes by the amputation of a limb. Had they enquired however, they would have heard that, in Egypt, the man deprived of his hand was a convicted forger, the woman of her nose, an adulteress; that the man without a tongue had been found guilty of high treason or false witness; that the loss of the ears denoted a spy, and that the pale, idiotic-looking woman yonder had been guilty of infanticide, and had been condemned to hold the little corpse three days and three nights in her arms. What woman could retain her senses after these hours of torture?--[Diodorus I. 77.]
The greater number of the Egyptian penal laws not only secured the punishment of the criminal, but rendered a repetition of the offence impossible.
The Persian party now met with a hindrance, a large crowd having assembled before one of the handsomest houses in the street leading to the temple of Neith. The few windows of this house that could be seen (the greater number opening on the garden and court) were closed with shutters, and at the door stood an old man, dressed in the plain white robe of a priest's servant. He was endeavoring, with loud cries, to prevent a number of men of his own class from carrying a large chest out of the house.
"What right have you to rob my master?" he shrieked indignantly. "I am the guardian of this house, and when my master left for Persia (may the gods destroy that land!) he bade me take especial care of this chest in which his manuscripts lay."
"Compose yourself, old Hib!" shouted one of these inferior priests, the same whose acquaintance we made on the arrival of the Asiatic Embassy. "We are here in the name of the high-priest of the great Neith, your master's master. There must be queer papers in this box, or Neithotep would not have honored us with his commands to fetch them."
"But I will not allow my master's papers to be stolen," shrieked the old man. "My master is the great physician Nebenchari, and I will secure his rights, even if I must appeal to the king himself."
"There," cried the other, "that will do; out with the chest, you fellows. Carry it at once to the high-priest; and you, old man, would do more wisely to hold your tongue and remember that the high-priest is your master as well as mine. Get into the house as quick as you can, or to- morrow we shall have to drag you off as we did the chest to-day!" So saying, he slammed the heavy door, the old man was flung backward into the house and the crowd saw him no more.
The Persians had watched this scene and obtained an explanation of its meaning from their interpreter. Zopyrus laughed on hearing that the possessor of the stolen chest was the oculist Nebenchari, the same who had been sent to Persia to restore the sight of the king's mother, and whose grave, even morose temper had procured him but little love at the court of Cambyses.
Bartja wished to ask Amasis the meaning of this strange robbery, but Gyges begged him not to interfere in matters with which he had no concern. Just as they reached the palace, and darkness, which in Egypt so quickly succeeds the daylight, was already stealing over the city, Gyges felt himself hindered from proceeding further by a firm hand on his robe, and perceived a stranger holding his finger on his lips in token of silence.
"When can I speak with you alone and unobserved?" he whispered.
"What do you wish from me?"
"Ask no questions, but answer me quickly. By Mithras," I have weighty matters to disclose."
"You speak Persian, but your garments would proclaim you an Egyptian."
"I am a Persian, but answer me quickly or we shall be noticed. When can I speak to you alone?"
"That is too late."
"Well then, in a quarter of an hour, when it is quite dark, at this gate of the palace."
"I shall expect you."
So saying the man vanished. Once within the palace, Gyges left Bartja and Zopyrus, fastened his sword into his girdle, begged Darius to do the same and to follow him, and was soon standing again under the great portico with the stranger, but this time in total darkness.
"Auramazda be praised that you are there!" cried the latter in Persian to the young Lydian; "but who is that with you?"
"Darius, the son of Hystaspes, one of the Achaemenidae; and my friend."
The stranger bowed low and answered, "It is well, I feared an Egyptian had accompanied you."
"No, we are alone and willing to hear you; but be brief. Who are you and what do you want?"
"My name is Bubares. I served as a poor captain under the great Cyrus. At the taking of your father's city, Sardis, the soldiers were at first allowed to plunder freely; but on your wise father's representing to Cyrus that to plunder a city already taken was an injury to the present, and not to the former, possessor, they were commanded on pain of death to deliver up their booty to their captains, and the latter to cause everything of worth, when brought to them, to be collected in the market- place. Gold and silver trappings lay there in abundance, costly articles of attire studded with precious stones . . ."
"Quick, quick, our time is short," interrupted Gyges.
"You are right. I must be more brief. By keeping for myself an ointment-box sparkling with jewels, taken from your father's palace, I forfeited my life. Croesus, however, pleaded for me with his conqueror Cyrus; my life and liberty were granted me, but I was declared a dishonored man. Life in Persia became impossible with disgrace lying heavily on my soul; I took ship from Smyrna to Cyprus, entered the army there, fought against Amasis, and was brought hither by Phanes as a prisoner-of-war. Having always served as a horse-soldier, I was placed among those slaves who had charge of the king's horses, and in six years became an overseer. Never have I forgotten the debt of gratitude I owe to your father; and now my turn has come to render him a service."
"The matter concerns my father? then speak--tell me, I beseech you!"
"Immediately. Has Croesus offended the crown prince?"
"Not that I am aware of."
"Your father is on a visit to Rhodopis this evening, at Naukratis?"
"How did you hear this?"
"From himself. I followed him to the boat this morning and sought to cast myself at his feet."
"And did you succeed?"
"Certainly. He spoke a few gracious words with me, but could not wait to hear what I would say, as his companions were already on board when he arrived. His slave Sandon, whom I know, told me that they were going to Naukratis, and would visit the Greek woman whom they call Rhodopis."
"He spoke truly."
"Then you must speed to the rescue. At the time that the market-place was full."
[The forenoon among the Greeks was regulated by the business of the market. "When the market-place begins to fill, when it is full, when it becomes empty." It would be impossible to define this division of time exactly according to our modern methods of computation, but it seems certain that the market was over by the afternoon. The busiest hours were probably from 10 till 1. At the present day the streets of Athens are crowded during those hours; but in Summer from two to four o'clock are utterly deserted.]
"Ten carriages and two boats, full of Ethiopian soldiers under the command of an Egyptian captain, were sent off to Naukratis to surround the house of Rhodopis and make captives of her guests."
"Ha, treachery!" exclaimed Gyges.
"But how can they wish to injure your father?" said Darius. "They know that the vengeance of Cambyses--"
"I only know," repeated Bubares, "that this night the house of Rhodopis, in which your father is, will be surrounded by Ethiopian soldiers. I myself saw to the horses which transport them thither and heard Pentaur, one of the crown-prince's fan-bearers, call to them, 'Keep eyes and ears open, and let the house of Rhodopis be surrounded, lest he should escape by the back door. If possible spare his life, and kill him only if he resist. Bring him alive to Sais, and you shall receive twenty rings of gold.'"
[It is no longer a matter of question, that before the time of the Persians, and therefore at this point of our history, no money had
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