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- An Egyptian Princess, Volume 6. - 10/12 -

Bartja murmured Mithras means to make our parting difficult."

"No," answered Croesus, "he only means to light us kindly on our way into eternity."


The innocent originator of all this complicated misery had passed many a wretched hour since the birthday banquet. Since those harsh words with which Cambyses had sent her from the hall, not the smallest fragment of news had reached her concerning either her angry lover, or his mother and sister. Not a day had passed since her arrival in Babylon, that had not been spent with Kassandane and Atossa; but now, on her desiring to be carried to them, that she might explain her strange conduct, her new guard, Kandaules, forbade her abruptly to leave the house. She had thought that a free and full account of the contents of her letter from home, would clear up all these misunderstandings. She fancied she saw Cambyses holding out his hand as if to ask forgiveness for his hastiness and foolish jealousy. And then a joyful feeling stole into her mind as she remembered a sentence she had once heard Ibykus say: "As fever attacks a strong man more violently than one of weaker constitution; so a heart that loves strongly and deeply can be far more awfully tormented by jealousy, than one which has been only superficially seized by passion."

If this great connoisseur in love were right, Cambyses must love her passionately, or his jealousy could not have caught fire so quickly and fearfully. Sad thoughts about her home, however, and dark forebodings of the future would mix with this confidence in Cambyses' love, and she could not shut them out. Mid-day came, the sun stood high and burning in the sky, but no news came from those she loved so well; and a feverish restlessness seized her which increased as night came on. In the twilight Boges came to her, and told her, with bitter scorn, that her letter to Bartja had come into the king's hands, and that the gardener's boy who brought it had been executed. The tortured nerves of the princess could not resist this fresh blow, and before Boges left, he carried the poor girl senseless into her sleeping-room, the door of which he barred carefully.

A few minutes later, two men, one old, the other young, came up through the trap-door which Boges had examined so carefully two days before. The old man remained outside, crouching against the palace, wall; a hand was seen to beckon from the window: the youth obeyed the signal, swung himself over the ledge and into the room at a bound. Then words of love were exchanged, the names Gaumata and Mandane whispered softly, kisses and vows given and received. At last the old man clapped his hands. The youth obeyed, kissed and embraced Nitetis' waiting-maid once more, jumped out of the window into the garden, hurried past the admirers of the blue lily who were just coming up, slipped with his companion into the trap- door which had been kept open, closed it carefully, and vanished.

Mandane hurried to the room in which her mistress generally spent the evening. She was well acquainted with her habits and knew that every evening, when the stars had risen, Nitetis was accustomed to go to the window looking towards the Euphrates, and spend hours gazing into the river and over the plain; and that at that time she never needed her attendance. So she felt quite safe from fear of discovery in this quarter, and knowing she was under the protection of the chief of the eunuchs himself, could wait for her lover calmly.

But scarcely had she discovered that her mistress had fainted, when she heard the garden filling with people, a confused sound of men's and eunuchs' voices, and the notes of the trumpet used to summon the sentries. At first she was frightened and fancied her lover had been discovered, but Boges appearing and whispering: "He has escaped safely," she at once ordered the other attendants, whom she had banished to the women's apartments during her rendezvous, and who now came flocking back, to carry their mistress into her sleeping-room, and then began using all the remedies she knew of, to restore her to consciousness. Nitetis had scarcely opened her eyes when Boges came in, followed by two eunuchs, whom he ordered to load her delicate arms with fetters.

Nitetis submitted; she could not utter one word, not even when Boges called out as he was leaving the room: "Make yourself happy in your cage, my little imprisoned bird. They've just been telling your lord that a royal marten has been making merry in your dove-cote. Farewell, and think of the poor tormented Boges in this tremendous heat, when you feel the cool damp earth. Yes, my little bird, death teaches us to know our real friends, and so I won't have you buried in a coarse linen sack, but in a soft silk shawl. Farewell, my darling!"

The poor, heavily-afflicted girl trembled at these words, and when the eunuch was gone, begged Mandane to tell her what it all meant. The girl, instructed by Boges, said that Bartja had stolen secretly into the hanging-gardens, and had been seen by several of the Achaemenidae as he was on the point of getting in at one of the windows. The king had been told of his brother's treachery, and people were afraid his jealousy might have fearful consequences. The frivolous girl shed abundant tears of penitence while she was telling the story, and Nitetis, fancying this a proof of sincere love and sympathy, felt cheered.

When it was over, however, she looked down at her fetters in despair, and it was long before she could think of her dreadful position quietly. Then she read her letter from home again, wrote the words, "I am innocent," and told the sobbing girl to give the little note containing them to the king's mother after her own death, together with her letter from home. After doing this she passed a wakeful night which seemed as if it would never end. She remembered that in her box of ointments there was a specific for improving the complexion, which, if swallowed in a sufficiently large quantity, would cause death. She had this poison brought to her, and resolved calmly and deliberately, to take her own life directly the executioner should draw near. From that moment she took pleasure in thinking of her last hour, and said to herself: "It is true he causes my death; but he does it out of love." Then she thought she would write to him, and confess all her love. He should not receive the letter until she was dead, that he might not think she had written it to save her life. The hope that this strong, inflexible man might perhaps shed tears over her last words of love filled her with intense pleasure.

In spite of her heavy fetters, she managed to write the following words: "Cambyses will not receive this letter until I am dead. It is to tell him that I love him more than the gods, the world, yes, more than my own young life. Kassandane and Atossa must think of me kindly. They will see from my mother's letter that I am innocent, and that it was only for my poor sister's sake that I asked to see Bartja. Boges has told me that my death has been resolved upon. When the executioner approaches, I shall kill myself. I commit this crime against myself, Cambyses, to save you from doing a disgraceful deed."

This note and her mother's she gave to the weeping Mandane, and begged her to give both to Cambyses when she was gone. She then fell on her knees and prayed to the gods of her fathers to forgive her for her apostasy from them.

Mandane begged her to remember her weakness and take some rest, but she answered: "I do not need any sleep, because, you know, I have such little waking-time still left me."

As she went on praying and singing her old Egyptian hymns, her heart returned more and more to the gods of her fathers, whom she had denied after such a short struggle. In almost all the prayers with which she was acquainted, there was a reference to the life after death. In the nether world, the kingdom of Osiris, where the forty-two judges of the dead pronounce sentence on the worth of the soul after it has been weighed by the goddess of truth and Thoth, who holds the office of writer in heaven, she could hope to meet her dear ones again, but only in case her unjustified soul were not obliged to enter on the career of transmigration through the bodies of different animals, and her body, to whom the soul had been entrusted, remained in a state of preservation. This, "if" filled her with a feverish restlessness. The doctrine that the well-being of the soul depended on the preservation of the earthly part of every human being left behind at death, had been impressed on her from childhood. She believed in this error, which had built pyramids and excavated rocks, and trembled at the thought that, according to the Persian custom, her body would be thrown to the dogs and birds of prey, and so given up to the powers of destruction, that her soul must be deprived of every hope of eternal life. Then the thought came to her, should she prove unfaithful to the gods of her fathers again, and once more fall down before these new spirits of light, who gave the dead body over to the elements and only judged the soul? And so she raised her hands to the great and glorious sun, who with his golden sword-like rays was just dispersing the mists that hung over the Euphrates, and opened her lips to sing her newly-learnt hymns in praise of Mithras; but her voice failed her, instead of Mithras she could only see her own great Ra, the god she had so often worshipped in Egypt, and instead of a Magian hymn could only sing the one with which the Egyptian priests are accustomed to greet the rising sun.

This hymn brought comfort with it, and as she gazed on the young light, the rays of which were not yet strong enough to dazzle her, she thought of her childhood, and the tears gathered in her eyes. Then she looked down over the broad plain. There was the Euphrates with his yellow waves looking so like the Nile; the many villages, just as in her own home, peeping out from among luxuriant cornfields and plantations of fig-trees. To the west lay the royal hunting-park; she could see its tall cypresses and nut-trees miles away in the distance. The dew was glistening on every little leaf and blade of grass, and the birds sang deliciously in the shrubberies round her dwelling. Now and then a gentle breath of wind arose, carrying the sweet scent of the roses across to her, and playing in the tops of the slender, graceful palms which grew in numbers on the banks of the river and in the fields around.

She had so often admired these beautiful trees, and compared them to dancing-girls, as she watched the wind seizing their heavy tops and swaying the slender stems backwards and forwards. And she had often said to herself that here must be the home of the Phoenix, that wonderful bird from the land of palms, who, the priests said, came once in every five hundred years to the temple of Ra in Heliopolis and burnt himself in the sacred incense-flames, only to rise again from his own ashes more beautiful than before, and, after three days, to fly back again to his home in the East. While she was thinking of this bird, and wishing that she too might rise again from the ashes of her unhappiness to a new and still more glorious joy, a large bird with brilliant plumage rose out of the dark cypresses, which concealed the palace of the man she loved and who had made her so miserable, and flew towards her. It rose higher and higher, and at last settled on a palmtree close to her window. She had never seen such a bird before, and thought it could not possibly be a usual one, for a little gold chain was fastened to its foot, and its tail seemed made of sunbeams instead of feathers. It must be Benno, the bird of Ra! She fell on her knees again and sang with deep reverence the ancient hymn to the Phoenix, never once turning her eyes from the brilliant bird.

The bird listened to her singing, bending his little head with its waving plumes, wisely and inquisitively from side to side, and flew away directly she ceased. Nitetis looked after him with a smile. It was really only a bird of paradise that had broken the chain by which he had

An Egyptian Princess, Volume 6. - 10/12

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