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- An Egyptian Princess, Volume 6. - 3/12 -
try to begin an unjust war, hateful to the gods. We will wait until wrong has been done us, and then go to victory or death, conscious that we have right on our side."
The old man was interrupted by a low murmur of applause, drowned however quickly by cries of "Hystaspes is right! let us look for an enemy!"
It was now the turn of the envoy Prexaspes to speak, and he answered laughing: "Let us follow the advice of both these noble old men. We will do as Croesus bids us and not go out to seek an enemy, but at the same time we will follow Hystaspes' advice by raising our claims and pronouncing every one our enemy, who does not cheerfully consent to become a member of the kingdom founded by our great father Cyrus. For instance, we will ask the Indians if they would feel proud to obey your sceptre, Cambyses. If they answer no, it is a sign that they do not love us, and whoever does not love us, must be our enemy."
"That won't do," cried Zopyrus. "We must have war at any price."
"I vote for Croesus," said Gobryas. "And I too," said the noble Artabazus.
"We are for Hystaspes," shouted the warrior Araspes, the old Intaphernes, and some more of Cyrus's old companions-in-arms.
"War we must have at any price," roared the general Megabyzus, the father of Zopyrus, striking the table so sharply with his heavy fist, that the golden vessels rang again, and some goblets even fell; "but not with the Massagetac--not with a flying foe."
"There must be no war with the Massagetae," said the high-priest Oropastes. "The gods themselves have avenged Cyrus's death upon them."
Cambyses sat for some moments, quietly and coldly watching the unrestrained enthusiasm of his warriors, and then, rising from his seat, thundered out the words: "Silence, and listen to your king!"
The words worked like magic on this multitude of drunken men. Even those who were most under the influence of wine, listened to their king in a kind of unconscious obedience. He lowered his voice and went on: "I did not ask whether you wished for peace or war--I know that every Persian prefers the labor of war to an inglorious idleness--but I wished to know what answer you would give the Massagetan warriors. Do you consider that the soul of my father--of the man to whom you owe all your greatness--has been sufficiently avenged?"
A dull murmur in the affirmative, interrupted by some violent voices in the negative, was the answer. The king then asked a second question: "Shall we accept the conditions proposed by their envoys, and grant peace to this nation, already so scourged and desolated by the gods?" To this they all agreed eagerly.
"That is what I wished to know," continued Cambyses. "To-morrow, when we are sober, we will follow the old custom and reconsider what has been resolved on during our intoxication. Drink on, all of you, as long as the night lasts. To-morrow, at the last crow of the sacred bird Parodar, I shall expect you to meet me for the chase, at the gate of the temple of Bel."
So saying, the king left the hall, followed by a thundering "Victory to the king!" Boges had slipped out quietly before him. In the forecourt he found one of the gardener's boys from the hanging-gardens.
"What do you want here?" asked Boges. "I have something for the prince Bartja."
"For Bartja? Has he asked your master to send him some seeds or slips?"
The boy shook his sunburnt head and smiled roguishly.
"Some one else sent you then?" said Boges becoming more attentive.
"Yes, some one else."
"Ah! the Egyptian has sent a message to her brother-in-law?"
"Who told you that?"
"Nitetis spoke to me about it. Here, give me what you have; I will give it to Bartja at once."
"I was not to give it to any one but the prince himself."
"Give it to me; it will be safer in my hands than in yours."
"I dare not."
"Obey me at once, or--"
At this moment the king came up. Boges thought a moment, and then called in a loud voice to the whip-bearers on duty at the palace-gate, to take the astonished boy up.
"What is the matter here?" asked Cambyses.
"This fellow," answered the eunuch, "has had the audacity to make his way into the palace with a message from your consort Nitetis to Bartja."
At sight of the king, the boy had fallen on his knees, touching the ground with his forehead.
Cambyses looked at him and turned deadly pale. Then, turning to the eunuch, he asked: "What does the Egyptian Princess wish from my brother?"
"The boy declares that he has orders to give up what has been entrusted to him to no one but Bartja." On hearing this the boy looked imploringly up at the king, and held out a little papyrus roll.
Cambyses snatched it out of his hand, but the next moment stamped furiously on the ground at seeing that the letter was written in Greek, which he could not read.
He collected himself, however, and, with an awful look, asked the boy who had given him the letter. "The Egyptian lady's waiting-woman Mandane," he answered; "the Magian's daughter."
"For my brother Bartja?"
"She said I was to give the letter to the handsome prince, before the banquet, with a greeting from her mistress Nitetis, and I was to tell him . . ."
Here the king stamped so furiously, that the boy was frightened and could only stammer: "Before the banquet the prince was walking with you, so I could not speak to him, and now I am waiting for him here, for Mandane promised to give me a piece of gold if I did what she told me cleverly."
"And that you have not done," thundered the king, fancying himself shamefully deceived. "No, indeed you have not. Here, guards, seize this fellow!"
The boy begged and prayed, but all in vain; the whip-bearers seized him quick as thought, and Cambyses, who went off at once to his own apartments, was soon out of reach of his whining entreaties for mercy.
Boges followed his master, rubbing his fat hands, and laughing quietly to himself.
The king's attendants began their work of disrobing him, but he told them angrily to leave him at once. As soon as they were gone, he called Boges and said in a low voice: "From this time forward the hanging-gardens and the Egyptian are under your control. Watch her carefully! If a single human being or a message reaches her without my knowledge, your life will be the forfeit."
"But if Kassandane or Atossa should send to her?"
"Turn the messengers away, and send word that every attempt to see or communicate with Nitetis will be regarded by me as a personal offence."
"May I ask a favor for myself, O King?"
"The time is not well chosen for asking favors."
"I feel ill. Permit some one else to take charge of the hanging-gardens for to-morrow only."
"No!--now leave me."
"I am in a burning fever and have lost consciousness three times during the day--if when I am in that state any one should . . ."
But who could take your place?"
"The Lydian captain of the eunuchs, Kandaules. He is true as gold, and inflexibly severe. One day of rest would restore me to health. Have mercy, O King!"
"No one is so badly served as the king himself. Kandaules may take your place to-morrow, but give hum the strictest orders, and say that the slightest neglect will put his life in danger.--Now depart."
"Yet one word, my King: to-morrow night the rare blue lily in the hanging-gardens will open. Hystaspes, Intaphernes, Gobyras, Croesus and Oropastes, the greatest horticulturists at your court, would very much like to see it. May they be allowed to visit the gardens for a few minutes? Kandaules shall see that they enter into no communication with the Egyptian."
"Kandaules must keep his eyes open, if he cares for his own life.--Go!"
Boges made a deep obeisance and left the king's apartment. He threw a few gold pieces to the slaves who bore the torches before him. He was so very happy. Every thing had succeeded beyond his expectations:--the fate of Nitetis was as good as decided, and he held the life of Kandaules, his hated colleague, in his own hands.
Cambyses spent the night in pacing up and down his apartment. By cock- crow he had decided that Nitetis should be forced to confess her guilt, and then be sent into the great harem to wait on the concubines. Bartja, the destroyer of his happiness, should set off at once for Egypt, and on his return become the satrap of some distant provinces. He did not wish to incur the guilt of a brother's murder, but he knew his own temper too well not to fear that in a moment of sudden anger, he might kill one he hated so much, and therefore wished to remove him out of the reach of his passion.
Two hours after the sun had risen, Cambyses was riding on his fiery steed, far in front of a Countless train of followers armed with shields, swords, lances, bows and lassos, in pursuit of the game which was to be
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