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- An Egyptian Princess, Volume 7. - 4/10 -
we shall hunt at all to-day. Where is Bischen, the captain of police?"
Datis, the so-called "eye of the king," who held the office filled in modern days by a minister of police, hurried from the room, returning in a few minutes with the desired officer. These moments Phanes made use of for putting various questions on important points to the nobles who were present.
"What news can you bring of the prisoners?" asked the king, as the man lay prostrate before him. "Victory to the king! They await death with calmness, for it is sweet to die by thy will."
"Have you heard anything of their conversation?"
"Yes, my Ruler."
"Do they acknowledge their guilt, when speaking to each other?"
"Mithras alone knows the heart; but you, my prince, if you could hear them speak, would believe in their innocence, even as I the humblest of your servants."
The captain looked up timidly at the king, fearing lest these words should have excited his anger; Cambyses, however, smiled kindly instead of rebuking him. But a sudden thought darkened his brow again directly, and in a low voice he asked: "When was Croesus executed?"
The man trembled at this question; the perspiration stood on his forehead, and he could scarcely stammer the words: "He is.... he has.... we thought...."
"What did you think?" interrupted Cambyses, and a new light of hope seemed to dawn in his mind. "Is it possible, that you did not carry out my orders at once? Can Croesus still be alive? Speak at once, I must know the whole truth."
The captain writhed like a worm at his lord's feet, and at last stammered out, raising his hands imploringly towards the king: "Have mercy, have mercy, my Lord the king! I am a poor man, and have thirty children, fifteen of whom . . ."
"I wish to know if Croesus is living or dead."
"He is alive! He has done so much for me, and I did not think I was doing wrong in allowing him to live a few hours longer, that he might..."
"That is enough," said the king breathing freely. "This once your disobedience shall go unpunished, and the treasurer may give you two talents, as you have so many children.--Now go to the prisoners,--tell Croesus to come hither, and the others to be of good courage, if they are innocent."
"My King is the light of the world, and an ocean of mercy."
"Bartja and his friends need not remain any longer in confinement; they can walk in the court of the palace, and you will keep guard over them. You, Datis, go at once to the hanging-gardens and order Boges to defer the execution of the sentence on the Egyptian Princess; and further, I wish messengers sent to the post-station mentioned by the Athenian, and the wounded man brought hither under safe escort."
The " king's eye " was on the point of departure, but Phanes detained him, saying: "Does my King allow me to make one remark?"
"It appears to me, that the chief of the eunuchs could give the most accurate information. During his delirium the youth often mentioned his name in connection with that of the girl he seemed to be in love with."
"Go at once, Datis, and bring him quickly."
"The high-priest Oropastes, Gaumata's brother, ought to appear too; and Mandane, whom I have just been assured on the most positive authority, is the principal attendant of the Egyptian Princess."
"Fetch her, Datis."
"If Nitetis herself could . . ."
At this the king turned pale and a cold shiver ran through his limbs. How he longed to see his darling again! But the strong man was afraid of this woman's reproachful looks; he knew the captivating power that lay in her eyes. So he pointed to the door, saying "Fetch Boges and Mandane; the Egyptian Princess is to remain in the hanging-gardens, under strict custody."
The Athenian bowed deferentially; as if he would say: "Here no one has a right to command but the king."
Cambyses looked well pleased, seated himself again on the purple divan, and resting his forehead on his hand, bent his eyes on the ground and sank into deep thought. The picture of the woman he loved so dearly refused to be banished; it came again and again, more and more vividly, and the thought that these features could not have deceived him--that Nitetis must be innocent--took a firmer root in his mind; he had already begun to hope. If Bartja could be cleared, there was no error that might not be conceivable; in that case he would go to the hanging-gardens, take her hand and listen to her defence. When love has once taken firm hold of a man in riper years, it runs and winds through his whole nature like one of his veins, and can only be destroyed with his life.
The entrance of Croesus roused Cambyses from his dream; he raised the old man kindly from the prostrate position at his feet, into which he had thrown himself on entering, and said: "You offended me, but I will be merciful; I have not forgotten that my father, on his dying bed, told me to make you my friend and adviser. Take your life back as a gift from me, and forget my anger as I wish to forget your want of reverence. This man says he knows you; I should like to hear your opinion of his conjectures."
Croesus turned away much affected, and after having heartily welcomed the Athenian, asked him to relate his suppositions and the grounds on which they were founded.
The old man grew more and more attentive as the Greek went on, and when he had finished raised his hands to heaven, crying: "Pardon me, oh ye eternal gods, if I have ever questioned the justice of your decrees. Is not this marvellous, Cambyses? My son once placed himself in great danger to save the life of this noble Athenian, whom the gods have brought hither to repay the deed tenfold. Had Phanes been murdered in Egypt, this hour might have seen our sons executed."
And as he said this he embraced Hystaspes; both shared one feeling; their sons had been as dead and were now alive.
The king, Phanes, and all the Persian dignitaries watched the old men with deep sympathy, and though the proofs of Bartja's innocence were as yet only founded on conjecture, not one of those present doubted it one moment longer. Wherever the belief in a man's guilt is but slight, his defender finds willing listeners.
THE sharp-witted Athenian saw clearly how matters lay in this sad story; nor did it escape him that malice had had a hand in the affair. How could Bartja's dagger have come into the hanging-gardens except through treachery?
While he was telling the king his suspicions, Oropastes was led into the hall.
The king looked angrily at him and without one preliminary word, asked: "Have you a brother?"
"Yes, my King. He and I are the only two left out of a family of six. My parents . . ."
"Is your brother younger or older than yourself?"
"I was the eldest of the family; my brother, the youngest, was the joy of my father's old age."
"Did you ever notice a remarkable likeness between him and one of my relations?"
"Yes, my King. Gaumata is so like your brother Bartja, that in the school for priests at Rhagae, where he still is, he was always called "the prince."
"Has he been at Babylon very lately?"
"He was here for the last time at the New Year's festival."
"Are you speaking the truth?"
"The sin of lying would be doubly punishable in one who wears my robes, and holds my office."
The king's face flushed with anger at this answer and he exclaimed: "Nevertheless you are lying; Gaumata was here yesterday evening. You may well tremble."
"My life belongs to the king, whose are all things; nevertheless I swear --the high-priest-by the most high God, whom I have served faithfully for thirty years, that I know nothing of my brother's presence in Babylon yesterday."
"Your face looks as if you were speaking the truth."
"You know that I was not absent from your side the whole of that high holiday."
"I know it."
Again the doors opened; this time they admitted the trembling Mandane. The high-priest cast such a look of astonishment and enquiry on her, that the king saw she must be in some way connected with him, and therefore, taking no notice of the trembling girl who lay at his feet, he asked: "Do you know this woman?"
"Yes, my King. I obtained for her the situation of upper attendant to the--may Auramazda forgive her!--King of Egypt's daughter."
"What led you,--a priest,--to do a favor to this girl?"
"Her parents died of the same pestilence, which carried off my brothers.
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