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- An Egyptian Princess, Volume 8. - 1/11 -
[NOTE: There is a short list of bookmarks, or pointers, at the end of the file for those who may wish to sample the author's ideas before making an entire meal of them. D.W.]
AN EGYPTIAN PRINCESS, Part 2.
By Georg Ebers
The sun was already trying to break a path for his rays through the thick curtains, that closed the window of the sick-room, but Nebenchari had not moved from the Egyptian girl's bedside. Sometimes he felt her pulse, or spread sweet-scented ointments on her forehead or chest, and then he would sit gazing dreamily into vacancy. Nitetis seemed to have sunk into a deep sleep after an attack of convulsions. At the foot of her bed stood six Persian doctors, murmuring incantations under the orders of Nebenchari, whose superior science they acknowledged, and who was seated at the bed's head.
Every time he felt the sick girl's pulse he shrugged his shoulders, and the gesture was immediately imitated by his Persian colleagues. From time to time the curtain was lifted and a lovely head appeared, whose questioning blue eyes fixed at once on the physician, but were always dismissed with the same melancholy shrug. It was Atossa. Twice she had ventured into the room, stepping so lightly as hardly to touch the thick carpet of Milesian wool, had stolen to her friend's bedside and lightly kissed her forehead, on which the pearly dew of death was standing, but each time a severe and reproving glance from Nebenchari had sent her back again into the next room, where her mother Kassandane was lying, awaiting the end.
Cambyses had left the sick-room at sunrise, on seeing that Nitetis had fallen asleep; he flung himself on to his horse, and accompanied by Phanes, Prexaspes, Otanes, Darius, and a number of courtiers, only just aroused from their sleep, took a wild ride through the game-park. He knew by experience, that he could best overcome or forget any violent mental emotion when mounted on an unmanageable horse.
Nebenchari started on hearing the sound of horses' hoofs in the distance. In a waking dream he had seen Cambyses enter his native land at the head of immense hosts; he had seen its cities and temples on fire, and its gigantic pyramids crumbling to pieces under the powerful blows of his mighty hand. Women and children lay in the smouldering ruins, and plaintive cries arose from the tombs in which the very mummies moved like living beings; and all these-priests, warriors, women, and children--the living and the dead--all had uttered his,--Nebenchari's,--name, and had cursed him as a traitor to his country. A cold shiver struck to his heart; it beat more convulsively than the blood in the veins of the dying girl at his side. Again the curtain was raised; Atossa stole in once more and laid her hand on his shoulder. He started and awoke. Nebenchari had been sitting three days and nights with scarcely any intermission by this sick-bed, and such dreams were the natural consequence.
Atossa slipped back to her mother. Not a sound broke the sultry air of the sick-room, and Nebenchiari's thoughts reverted to his dream. He told himself that he was on the point of becoming a traitor and a criminal, the visions he had just beheld passed before him again, but this time it was another, and a different one which gained the foremost place. The forms of Amasis, who had laughed at and exiled him,--of Psamtik and the priests,--who had burnt his works,--stood near him; they were heavily fettered and besought mercy at his hands. His lips moved, but this was not the place in which to utter the cruel words which rose to them. And then the stern man wiped away a tear as he remembered the long nights, in which he had sat with the reed in his hand, by the dull light of the lamp, carefully painting every sign of the fine hieratic character in which he committed his ideas and experience to writing. He had discovered remedies for many diseases of the eye, spoken of in the sacred books of Thoth and the writings of a famous old physician of Byblos as incurable, but, knowing that he should be accused of sacrilege by his colleagues, if he ventured on a correction or improvement of the sacred writings, he had entitled his work, "Additional writings on the treatment of diseases of the eye, by the great god Thoth, newly discovered by the oculist Nebenchari."
He had resolved on bequeathing his works to the library at Thebes, that his experience might be useful to his successors and bring forth fruit for the whole body of sufferers. This was to be his reward for the long nights which he had sacrificed to science--recognition after death, and fame for the caste to which he belonged. And there stood his old rival Petammon, by the side of the crown-prince in the grove of Neith, and stirred the consuming fire, after having stolen his discovery of the operation of couching. Their malicious faces were tinged by the red glow of the flames, which rose with their spiteful laughter towards heaven, as if demanding vengeance. A little further off he saw in his dream Amasis receiving his father's letters from the hands of the high-priest. Scornful and mocking words were being uttered by the king; Neithotep looked exultant.--In these visions Nebenchari was so lost, that one of the Persian doctors was obliged to point out to him that his patient was awake. He nodded in reply, pointing to his own weary eyes with a smile, felt the sick girl's pulse, and asked her in Egyptian how she had slept.
"I do not know," she answered, in a voice that was hardly audible. "It seemed to me that I was asleep, and yet I saw and heard everything that had happened in the room. I felt so weak that I hardly knew whether I was awake or asleep. Has not Atossa been here several times?"
"And Cambyses stayed with Kassandane until sunrise; then he went out, mounted his horse Reksch, and rode into the game-park."
"How do you know that?"
"I saw it."
Nebenchari looked anxiously into the girl's shining eyes. She went on: "A great many dogs have been brought into the court behind this house."
"Probably the king has ordered a hunt, in order to deaden the pain which he feels at seeing you suffer."
"Oh, no. I know better what it means. Oropastes taught me, that whenever a Persian dies dogs' are brought in, that the Divs may enter into them."
"But you are living, my mistress, and . . ."
"Oh, I know very well that I shall die. I knew that I had not many hours more to live, even if I had not seen how you and the other physicians shrugged your shoulders whenever you looked at me. That poison is deadly."
"You are speaking too much, my mistress, it will hurt you."
"Oh let me speak, Nebenchari! I must ask you to do something for me before I die."
"I am your servant."
"No, Nebenchari, you must be my friend and priest. You are not angry with me for having prayed to the Persian gods? Our own Hathor was always my best friend still. Yes, I see by your face that you forgiven me. Then you must promise not to allow my corpse to be torn in pieces by dogs and vultures. The thought is so very dreadful. You will promise to embalm my body and ornament it with amulets?"
"If the king allows."
"Of course he will. How could Cambyses possibly refuse my last request?"
"Then my skill is at your service."
"Thank you; but I have still something else to ask."
"You must be brief. My Persian colleagues are already making signs to me, to enjoin silence on you."
"Can't you send them away for a moment?"
"I will try to do so."
Nebenchari then went up and spoke to the Magi for a few minutes, and they left the room. An important incantation, at which no one but the two concerned might be present, and the application of a new and secret antidotal poison were the pretexts which he had used in order to get rid of them.
When they were alone, Nitetis drew a breath of relief and said: "Give me your priestly blessing on my long journey into the nether world, and prepare me for my pilgrimage to Osiris."
Nebenchari knelt down by her bed and in a low voice repeated hymns, Nitetis making devotional responses.
The physician represented Osiris, the lord of the nether world--Nitetis the soul, justifying itself before him.
When these ceremonies were ended the sick girl breathed more freely. Nebenchari could not but feel moved in looking at this young suicide. He felt confident that he had saved a soul for the gods of his native land, had cheered the last sad and painful hours of one of God's good creatures. During these last moments, compassion and benevolence had excluded every bitter feeling; but when he remembered that this lovely creature owed all her misery to Amasis too, the old black cloud of thought darkened his mind again.--Nitetis, after lying silent for some time, turned to her new friend with a pleasant smile, and said: "I shall find mercy with the judges of the dead now, shall not I?"
"I hope and believe so."
"Perhaps I may find Tachot before the throne of Osiris, and my father..."
"Your father and mother are waiting for you there. Now in your last hour bless those who begot you, and curse those who have robbed you of your parents, your crown and your life."
"I do not understand you."
"Curse those who robbed you of your parents, crown and life, girl!"
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