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- An Egyptian Princess, Volume 7. - 5/10 -
Her father was a priest, respected, and a friend of our family; so we adopted the little girl, remembering the words: 'If thou withhold help from the man who is pure in heart and from his widow and orphans, then shall the pure, subject earth cast thee out unto the stinging-nettles, to painful sufferings and to the most fearful regions!' Thus I became her foster-father, and had her brought up with my youngest brother until he was obliged to enter the school for priests."
The king exchanged a look of intelligence with Phanes, and asked: "Why did not you keep the girl longer with you?"
"When she had received the ear-rings I, as priest, thought it more suitable to send such a young girl away from my house, and to put her in a position to earn her own living."
"Has she seen your brother since she has been grown up?"
"Yes, my King. Whenever Gaumata came to see me I allowed him to be with her as with a sister; but on discovering later that the passionate love of youth had begun to mingle with the childish friendship of former days, I felt strengthened in my resolution to send her away."
"Now we know enough," said the king, commanding the high-priest by a nod to retire. He then looked down on the prostrate girl, and said imperiously: "Rise!"
Mandane rose, trembling with fear. Her fresh young face was pale as death, and her red lips were blue from terror.
"Tell all you know about yesterday evening; but remember, a lie and your death are one and the same."
The girl's knees trembled so violently that she could hardly stand, and her fear entirely took away the power of speaking.
"I have not much patience," exclaimed Cambyses. Mandane started, grew paler still, but could not speak. Then Phanes came forward and asked the angry king to allow him to examine the girl, as he felt sure that fear alone had closed her lips and that a kind word would open them.
Cambyses allowed this, and the Athenian's words proved true; no sooner had he assured Mandane of the good-will of all present, laid his hand on her head and spoken kindly to her, than the source of her tears was unlocked, she wept freely, the spell which had seemed to chain her tongue, vanished, and she began to tell her story, interrupted only by low sobs. She hid nothing, confessed that Boges had given her his sanction and assistance to the meeting with Gaumata, and ended by saying: "I know that I have forfeited my life, and am the worst and most ungrateful creature in the world; but none of all this would have happened, if Oropastes had allowed his brother to marry me."
The serious audience, even the king himself, could not resist a smile at the longing tone in which these words were spoken and the fresh burst of sobs which succeeded them.
And this smile saved her life. But Cambyses would not have smiled, after hearing such a story, if Mandane, with that instinct which always seems to stand at a woman's command in the hour of her greatest danger, had not known how to seize his weak side, and use it for her own interests, by dwelling much longer than was necessary, on the delight which Nitetis had manifested at the king's gifts.
"A thousand times" cried she, "did my mistress kiss the presents which were brought from you, O King; but oftenest of all did she press her lips to the nosegay which you plucked with your own hands for her, some days ago. And when it began to fade, she took every flower separately, spread out the petals with care, laid them between woollen cloths, and, with her own hands, placed her heavy, golden ointment-box upon them, that they might dry and so she might keep them always as a remembrance of your kindness."
Seeing Cambyses' awful features grow a little milder at these words, the girl took fresh courage, and at last began to put loving words into her mistress's mouth which the latter had never uttered; professing that she herself had heard Nitetis a hundred times murmur the word "Cambyses" in her sleep with indescribable tenderness. She ended her confession by sobbing and praying for mercy.
The king looked down at her with infinite contempt, though without anger, and pushing her away with his foot said: "Out of my sight, you dog of a woman! Blood like yours would soil the executioner's axe. Out of my sight!"
Mandane needed no second command to depart. The words "out of my sight" sounded like sweet music in her ears. She rushed through the courts of the palace, and out into the streets, crying like a mad woman "I am free! I am free!"
She, had scarcely left the hall, when Datis, the "king's eye" reappeared with the news that the chief of the eunuchs was nowhere to be found. He had vanished from the hanging-gardens in an unaccountable manner; but he, Datis, had left word with his subordinates that he was to be searched for and brought, dead or alive.
The king went off into another violent fit of passion at this news, and threatened the officer of police, who prudently concealed the excitement of the crowd from his lord, with a severe punishment, if Boges were not in their hands by the next morning.
As he finished speaking, a eunuch was brought into the hall, sent by the king's mother to ask an interview for herself with her son.
Cambyses prepared at once to comply with his mother's wish, at the same time giving Phanes his hand to kiss, a rare honor, only shown to those that ate at the king's table, and saying: "All the prisoners are to be set at liberty. Go to your sons, you anxious, troubled fathers, and assure them of my mercy and favor. I think we shall be able to find a satrapy a-piece for them, as compensation for to-night's undeserved imprisonment. To you, my Greek friend, I am deeply indebted. In discharge of this debt, and as a means of retaining you at my court, I beg you to accept one hundred talents from my treasury."
"I shall scarcely be able to use so large a sum," said Phanes, bowing low.
"Then abuse it," said the king with a friendly smile, and calling out to him, "We shall meet again at supper," he left the hall accompanied by his court.
In the meantime there had been sadness and mourning in the apartments of the queen-mother. Judging from the contents of the letter to Bartja, Kassandane had made up her mind that Nitetis was faithless, and her own beloved son innocent. But in whom could she ever place confidence again, now that this girl, whom she had looked upon as the very embodiment of every womanly virtue, had proved reprobate and faithless--now that the noblest youths in the realm had proved perjurers?
Nitetis was more than dead for her; Bartja, Croesus, Darius, Gyges, Araspes, all so closely allied to her by relationship and friendship, as good as dead. And yet she durst not indulge her sorrow; she had to restrain the despairing outbursts of grief of her impetuous child.
Atossa behaved like one deprived of her senses when she heard of the sentences of death. The self-control which she had learnt from Nitetis gave way, and her old impetuosity burst forth again with double vehemence.
Nitetis, her only friend,--Bartja, the brother whom she loved with her whole heart,--Darius, whom she felt now she not only looked up to as her deliverer, but loved with all the warmth of a first affection--Croesus to whom she clung like a father,--she was to lose every one she loved in one day.
She tore her dress and her hair, called Cambyses a monster, and every one who could possibly believe in the guilt of such people, infatuated or insane. Then her tears would burst out afresh, she would utter imploring supplications to the gods for mercy, and a few minutes later, begin conjuring her mother to take her to the hanging-gardens, that they might hear Nitetis' defence of her own conduct.
Kassandane tried to soothe the violent girl, and assured her every attempt to visit the hanging-gardens would be in vain. Then Atossa began to rage again, until at last her mother was forced to command silence, and as morning had already began to dawn, sent her to her sleeping-room.
The girl obeyed, but instead of going to bed, seated herself at a tall window looking towards the hanging-gardens. Her eyes filled with tears again, as she thought of her friend--her sister-sitting in that palace alone, forsaken, banished, and looking forward to an ignominious death. Suddenly her tearful, weary eyes lighted up as if from some strong purpose, and instead of gazing into the distance, she fixed them on a black speck which flew towards her in a straight line from Nitetis' house, becoming larger and more distinct every moment; and finally settling on a cypress before her window. The sorrow vanished at once from her lovely face and with a deep sigh of relief she sprang up, exclaiming:
"Oh, there is the Homai, the bird of good fortune! Now everything will turn out well."
It was the same bird of paradise which had brought so much comfort to Nitetis that now gave poor Atossa fresh confidence.
She bent forward to see whether any one was in the garden; and finding that she would be seen by no one but the old gardener, she jumped out, trembling like a fawn, plucked a few roses and cypress twigs and took them to the old man, who had been watching her performances with a doubtful shake of the head.
She stroked his cheeks coaxingly, put her flowers in his brown hand, and said: "Do you love me, Sabaces?"
"O, my mistress!" was the only answer the old man could utter, as he pressed the hem of her robe to his lips.
"I believe you, my old friend, and I will show you how I trust my faithful, old Sabaces. Hide these flowers carefully and go quickly to the king's palace. Say that you had to bring fruit for the table. My poor brother Bartja, and Darius, the son of the noble Hystaspes, are in prison, near the guard-house of the Immortals. You must manage that these flowers reach them, with a warm greeting from me, but mind, the message must be given with the flowers."
"But the guards will not allow me to see the prisoners."
"Take these rings, and slip them into their hands."
"I will do my best."
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