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- An Egyptian Princess, Volume 4. - 5/11 -
to the chief of the eunuchs and said in a kind tone but mingled with a touch of pride; "Thou hast performed thy mission well; I am content with the raiment and the slaves that thou hast provided and shall commend thy circumspection to the king, my husband. Receive this gold chain in the meanwhile, as a token of my gratitude."
The eunuch kissed the hem of her garment, and accepted the gift in silence. This man, hitherto omnipotent in his office, had never before encountered such pride in any of the women committed to his charge. Up to the present time all Cambyses' wives had been Asiatics, and, well aware of the unlimited power of the chief of the eunuchs, had used every means within their reach to secure his favor by flattery and submission.
Boges now made a second obeisance before Nitetis, of which, however, she took no notice, and turning to Croesus said: "Neither words nor gifts could ever suffice to express my gratitude to you, kindest of friends, for, if my future life at the court of Persia prove, I will not venture to say a happy, but even a peaceful one, it is to you alone that I shall owe it. Still, take this ring. It has never left my finger since I quitted Egypt, and it has a significance far beyond its outward worth. Pythagoras, the noblest of the Greeks, gave it to my mother, when he was tarrying in Egypt to learn the wisdom of our priests, and it was her parting gift to me. The number seven is engraved upon the simple stone. This indivisible number represents perfect health, both to soul and body for health is likewise one and indivisible.
[Seven, the "motherless" number, which has no factor below ten.]
The sickness of one member is the sickness of all; one evil thought, allowed to take up its abode within our heart, destroys the entire harmony of the soul. When you see this seven therefore, let it recall my heart's wish that you may ever enjoy undisturbed bodily health, and long retain that loving gentleness which has made you the most virtuous, and therefore the healthiest of men. No thanks, my father, for even if I could restore to Croesus all the treasures that he once possessed, I should still retrain his debtor. Gyges, to you I give this Lydian lyre; let its tones recall the giver to your memory. For you, Zopyrus, I have a golden chain; I have witnessed that you are the most faithful of friends; and we Egyptians are accustomed to place cords and bands in the hands of our lovely Hathor, the goddess of love and friendship, as symbols of her captivating and enchaining attributes. As Darius has studied the wisdom of Egypt and the signs of the starry heavens, I beg him to take this circlet of gold, on which a skilful hand has traced the signs of the Zodiac.
[Diodorus (I. 49.) tells, that in the tomb of Osymandyas (palace of Rameses II. at Thebes) there lay a circle of gold, one ell thick and 365 ells in circumference, containing a complete astronomical calendar. The circle of the zodiac from Dendera, which is now in Paris,--an astronomical ceiling painting, which was believed at the time of its discovery to be of great age, is not nearly so ancient as was supposed, dating only from the end of the Ptolemaic dynasty. Letronne was the first to estimate it correctly. See Lepsius, Chron. p.63. and Lauth, 'les zodiaques de Dendera'. Munich 1865.]
And lastly, to my dear brother-in-law Bartja I commit the most precious jewel in my possession--this amulet of blue stone. My sister Tachot hung it round my neck as I kissed her on the last night before we parted; she told me it could bring to its wearer the sweet bliss of love. And then, Bartja, she wept! I do not know of whom she was thinking in that moment, but I hope I am acting according to her wishes in giving you her precious jewel. Take it as a gift from Tachot, and sometimes call to mind our games in the Sais gardens."
Thus far she had been speaking Greek, but now, addressing the attendants who remained standing in an attitude of deep reverence, she began in broken Persian: "Accept my thanks also. In Babylon you shall receive a thousand gold staters." Then turning to Boges, she added: "Let this sum be distributed among the attendants at latest by the day after to-morrow. Take me to my carriage, Croesus."
The old king hastened to do her bidding, and as he was leading her thither she pressed his arm and whispered gently, "Are you pleased with me, my father?"
"I tell you, girl," the old man answered, "that no one but the king's mother can ever be your equal at this court, for a true and queenly pride reigns on your brow, and you have the power of using small means to effect great ends. Believe me, the smallest gift, chosen and bestowed as you can choose and bestow, gives more pleasure to a noble mind than heaps of treasure merely cast down at his feet. The Persians are accustomed to present and receive costly gifts. They understand already how to enrich their friends, but you can teach them to impart a joy with every gift. How beautiful you are to-day! Are your cushions to your mind, or would you like a higher seat? But what is that? There are clouds of dust in the direction of the city. Cambyses is surely coming to meet you! Courage, my daughter. Above all try to meet his gaze and respond to it. Very few can bear the lightning glance of those eyes, but, if you can return it freely and fearlessly, you have conquered. Fear nothing, my child, and may Aphrodite adorn you with her most glorious beauty! My friends, we must start, I think the king himself is coming." Nitetis sat erect in her splendid, gilded carriage; her hands were pressed on her throbbing heart. The clouds of dust came nearer and nearer, her eye caught the flash of weapons like lightning across a stormy sky. The clouds parted, she could see single figures for a moment, but soon lost them as the road wound behind some thickets and shrubs. Suddenly the troop of horsemen appeared in full gallop only a hundred paces before her, and distinctly visible.
Her first impression was of a motley mass of steeds and men, glittering in purple, gold, silver and jewels. It consisted in reality of a troop of more than two hundred horsemen mounted on pure white Nicaean horses, whose bridles and saddle-cloths were covered with bells and bosses, feathers, fringes, and embroidery. Their leader rode a powerful coal- black charger, which even the strong will and hand of his rider could not always curb, though in the end his enormous strength proved him the man to tame even this fiery animal. This rider, beneath whose weight the powerful steed trembled and panted, wore a vesture of scarlet and white, thickly embroidered with eagles and falcons in silver.
[Curtius III. 3. Xenoph. Cyrap, VIII. 3. 7. Aeschylus, Persians 835. 836. The king's dress and ornaments were worth 12,000 talents, or L2,250,000 (estimate of 1880) according to Plutarch, Artaxerxes 24.]
The lower part of his dress was purple, and his boots of yellow leather. He wore a golden girdle; in this hung a short dagger-like sword, the hilt and scabbard of which were thickly studded with jewels. The remaining ornaments of his dress resembled those we have described as worn by Bartja, and the blue and white fillet of the Achaemenidae was bound around the tiara, which surmounted a mass of thick curls, black as ebony. The lower part of his face was concealed by an immense beard. His features were pale and immovable, but the eyes, (more intensely black, if possible, than either hair or beard), glowed with a fire that was rather scorching than warming. A deep, fiery-red scar, given by the sword of a Massagetan warrior, crossed his high forehead, arched nose and thin upper lip. His whole demeanor expressed great power and unbounded pride.
Nitetis' gaze was at once riveted by this man. She had never seen any one like him before, and he exercised a strange fascination over her. The expression of indomitable pride, worn by his features, seemed to her to represent a manly nature which the whole world, but she herself above all others, was created to serve. She felt afraid, and yet her true woman's heart longed to lean upon his strength as the vine upon the elm. She could not be quite sure whether she had thus pictured to herself the father of all evil, the fearful Seth, or the great god Ammon, the giver of light.
The deepest pallor and the brightest color flitted by turns across her lovely face, like the light and shadow when clouds pass swiftly over a sunny noonday sky. She had quite forgotten the advice of her fatherly old friend, and yet, when Cambyses brought his unruly, chafing steed to a stand by the side of her carriage, she gazed breathless into the fiery eyes of this man and felt at once that he was the king, though no one had told her so.
The stern face of this ruler of half the known world relaxed, as Nitetis, moved by an unaccountable impulse, continued to bear his piercing gaze. At last he waved his hand to her in token of welcome, and then rode on to her escort, who had alighted from their horses and were awaiting him, some having cast themselves down in the dust, and others, after the Persian manner, standing in an attitude of deep reverence, their hands concealed in the wide sleeves of their robes.
He sprang from his horse, an example which was followed at once by his entire suite. The attendants, with the speed of thought, spread a rich purple carpet on the highway, lest the foot of the king should come in contact with the dust of the earth, and then Cambyses proceeded to salute his friends and relations by offering them his mouth to kiss.
He shook Croesus by the right hand, commanding him to remount and accompany him to the carriage, as interpreter between himself and Nitetis.
In an instant his highest office-bearers were at hand to lift the king once more on to his horse, and at a single nod from their lord, the train was again in motion.
Cambyses and Croesus rode by the side of the carriage.
"She is beautiful, and pleases me well," began the king. "Interpret faithfully all her answers, for I understand only the Persian, Assyrian and Median tongues."
Nitetis caught and understood these words. A feeling of intense joy stole into her heart, and before Croesus could answer, she began softly in broken Persian and blushing deeply: "Blessed be the gods, who have caused me to find favor in thine eyes. I am not ignorant of the speech of my lord, for the noble Croesus has instructed me in the Persian language during our long journey. Forgive, if my sentences be broken and imperfect; the time was short, and my capacity only that of a poor and simple maiden."
[Diodorus tells us that Themistocles learnt the Persian language during the journey to Susa. We are not, therefore, requiring an impossibility of Nitetis.]
A smile passed over the usually serious mouth of Cambyses. His vanity was flattered by Nitetis' desire to win his approbation, and, accustomed as he was to see women grow up in idleness and ignorance, thinking of nothing but finery and intrigue, her persevering industry seemed to him both wonderful and praise worthy. So he answered with evident satisfaction: "I rejoice that we can speak without an interpreter. Persevere in learning the beautiful language of my forefathers. Croesus, who sits at my table, shall still remain your instructor."
"Your command confers happiness!" exclaimed the old man. "No more eager or thankful pupil could be found, than the daughter of Amasis."
"She justifies the ancient report of the wisdom of Egypt," answered the
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