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- An Egyptian Princess, Volume 4. - 2/11 -
poverty. He who has once loved thee, can never love another: I know it is the custom in my country to have many wives, but this is only allowed; there is no law to enjoin it. My father had, it is true, a hundred female slaves, but only one real, true wife, our mother Kassandane."
"And I will be your Kassandane."
"No, my Sappho, for what you will be to me, no woman ever yet was to her husband."
"When shall you come to fetch me?"
"As soon as I can, and am permitted to do so."
"Then I ought to be able to wait patiently."
"And shall I ever hear from you?"
"Oh, I shall write long, long letters, and charge every wind with loving messages for you."
"Yes, do so, my darling; and as to the letters, give them to the messenger who will bring Nitetis tidings from Egypt from time to time."
"Where shall I find him?"
"I will see that a man is stationed at Naukratis, to take charge of everything you send to him. All this I will settle with Melitta."
"Yes, we can trust her, she is prudent and faithful; but I have another friend, who is dearer to me than any one else excepting you, and who loves me too better than any one else does, but you--"
"You mean your grandmother Rhodopis."
"Yes, my faithful guardian and teacher."
"Ah, she is a noble woman. Croesus considers her the most excellent among women, and he has studied mankind as the physicians do plants and herbs. He knows that rank poison lies hidden in some, in others healing cordials, and often says that Rhodopis is like a rose which, while fading away herself, and dropping leaf after leaf, continues to shed perfume and quickening balsam for the sick and weak, and awaits in patience the wind which at last shall waft her from us."
"The gods grant that she may be with us for a long time yet! Dearest, will you grant me one great favor?"
"It is granted before I hear it."
"When you take me home, do not leave Rhodopis here. She must come with us. She is so kind and loves me so fervently, that what makes me happy will make her so too, and whatever is dear to me, will seem to her worthy of being loved."
"She shall be the first among our guests."
"Now I am quite happy and satisfied, for I am necessary to my grandmother; she could not live without her child. I laugh her cares and sorrows away, and when she is singing to me, or teaching me how to guide the style, or strike the lute, a clearer light beams from her brow, the furrows ploughed by grief disappear, her gentle eyes laugh, and she seems to forget the evil past in the happy present."
"Before we part, I will ask her whether she will follow us home."
"Oh, how glad that makes me! and do you know, the first days of our absence from each other do not seem so very dreadful to me. Now you are to be my husband, I may surely tell you everything that pains or pleases me, even when I dare not tell any one else, and so you must know, that, when you leave, we expect two little visitors; they are the children of the kind Phanes, whom your friend Gyges saved so nobly. I mean to be like a mother to the little creatures, and when they have been good I shall sing them a story of a prince, a brave hero, who took a simple maiden to be his wife; and when I describe the prince I shall have you in my mind, and though my little listeners will not guess it, I shall be describing you from head to foot. My prince shall be tall like you, shall have your golden curls and blue eyes, and your rich, royal dress shall adorn his noble figure. Your generous heart, your love of truth, and your beautiful reverence for the gods, your courage and heroism, in short, every thing that I love and honor in you, I shall give to the hero of my tale. How the children will listen! and when they cry, 'Oh, how we love the prince, how good and beautiful he must be! if we could only see him? then I shall press them close to my heart and kiss them as I kiss you now, and so they will have gained their wish, for as you are enthroned in my heart, you must be living within me and therefore near to them, and when they embrace me they will embrace you too."
"And I shall go to my little sister Atossa and tell her all I have seen on my journey, and when I speak of the Greeks, their grace, their glorious works of art, and their beautiful women, I shall describe the golden Aphrodite in your lovely likeness. I shall tell her of your virtue, your beauty and modesty, of your singing, which is so sweet that even the nightingale is silent in order to listen to it, of your love and tenderness. But all this I shall tell her belongs to the divine Cypris, and when she cries, 'O Aphrodite, could I but see thee!' I too shall kiss my sister."
"Hark, what was that? Melitta surely clapped her hands. Farewell, we must not stay! but we shall soon see each other again."
"One more kiss!"
Melitta had fallen asleep at her post, overcome by age and weariness. Her dreams were suddenly disturbed by a loud noise, and she clapped her hands directly to warn the lovers and call Sappho, as she perceived by the stars that the dawn was not far off.
As the two approached the house, they discovered that the noise which had awakened the old slave, proceeded from the guests, who were preparing for departure.
Urging her to make the greatest haste, Melitta pushed the frightened girl into the house, took her at once to her sleeping-room, and was beginning to undress her when Rhodopis entered.
"You are still up, Sappho?" she asked.
"What is this, my child?"
Melitta trembled and had a falsehood ready on her lips, but Sappho, throwing herself into her grandmother's arms, embraced her tenderly and told the whole story of her love.
Rhodopis turned pale, ordered Melitta to leave the chamber, and, placing herself in front of her grandchild, laid both hands on her shoulders and said earnestly, "Look into my eyes, Sappho. Canst thou look at me as happily and as innocently, as thou couldst before this Persian came to us?"
The girl raised her eyes at once with a joyful smile; then Rhodopis clasped her to her bosom, kissed her and continued: "Since thou wert a little child my constant effort has been to train thee to a noble maidenhood and guard thee from the approach of love. I had intended, in accordance with the customs of our country, to choose a fitting husband for thee shortly myself, to whose care I should have committed thee; but the gods willed differently.
[The Spartans married for love, but the Athenians were accustomed to negotiate their marriages with the parents of the bride alone.]
Eros mocks all human efforts to resist or confine him; warm AEolian blood runs in thy veins and demands love; the passionate heart of thy Lesbian forefathers beats in thy breast.
[Charaxus, the grandfather of our heroine, and brother of the poetess Sappho, was, as a Lesbian, an AEolian Greek.]
What has happened cannot now be undone. Treasure these happy hours of a first, pure love; hold them fast in the chambers of memory, for to every human being there must come, sooner or later, a present so sad and desolate, that the beautiful past is all he has to live upon. Remember this handsome prince in silence, bid him farewell when he departs to his native country, but beware of hoping to see him again. The Persians are fickle and inconstant, lovers of everything new and foreign. The prince has been fascinated by thy sweetness and grace. He loves thee ardently now, but remember, he is young and handsome, courted by every one, and a Persian. Give him up that he may not abandon thee!"
"But how can I, grandmother? I have sworn to be faithful to him for ever."
"Oh, children! Ye play with eternity as if it were but a passing moment! I could blame thee for thus plighting thy troth, but I rejoice that thou regardest the oath as binding. I detest the blasphemous proverb: 'Zeus pays no heed to lovers' oaths.' Why should an oath touching the best and holiest feelings of humanity be regarded by the Deity, as inferior in importance to asseverations respecting the trifling questions of mine and thine? Keep thy promise then,--hold fast thy love, but prepare to renounce thy lover."
"Never, grandmother! could I ever have loved Bartja, if I had not trusted him? Just because he is a Persian and holds truth to be the highest virtue, I may venture to hope that he will remember his oath, and, notwithstanding those evil customs of the Asiatics, will take and keep me as his only wife."
"But if he should forget, thy youth will be passed in mourning, and with an embittered heart . . ."
"O, dear kind grandmother, pray do not speak of such dreadful things. If you knew him as well as I do, you would rejoice with me, and would tell me I was right to believe that the Nile may dry up and the Pyramids crumble into ruins, before my Bartja can ever deceive me!"
The girl spoke these words with such a joyful, perfect confidence, and her eyes, though filled with tears, were so brilliant with happiness and warmth of feeling, that Rhodopis' face grew cheerful too.
Sappho threw her arms again round her grandmother, told her every word that Bartja had said to her, and ended the long account by exclaiming: "Oh, grandmother, I am so happy, so very happy, and if you will come with us to Persia, I shall have nothing more to wish from the Immortals."
"That will not last long," said Rhodopis. "The gods cast envious glances at the happiness of mortals; they measure our portion of evil with lavish hands, and give us but a scanty allowance of good. But now go to bed, my child, and let us pray together that all may end happily. I met thee
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