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- An Egyptian Princess, Volume 8. - 10/11 -
"And did you hope to see me soon?"
"Yes; hour after hour I thought, 'now he must be coming.' Sometimes I went into the garden in the morning and looked towards your home in the East, and a bird flew towards me from thence and I felt a twitching in my right eyelid; or when I was putting my box to rights and found the laurel crown which I put by as a remembrance, because you looked so well in it, --Melitta says such wreaths are good for keeping true love--then I used to clap my hands with joy and think, 'to-day he must come;' and I would run down to the Nile and wave my handkerchief to every passing boat, for every boat I thought must be bringing you to me."
[A bird flying from the right side, and a twitching of the right eye were considered fortunate omens. Theokrirus, III. 37]
"But you did not come, and then I went sadly home, and would sit down by the fire on the hearth in the women's room, and sing, and gaze into the fire till grandmother would wake me out of my dream by saying: 'Listen to me, girl; whoever dreams by daylight is in danger of lying awake at night, and getting up in the morning with a sad heart, a tired brain and weary limbs. The day was not given us for sleep, and we must live in it with open eyes, that not a single hour may be idly spent. The past belongs to the dead; only fools count upon the future; but wise men hold fast by the ever young present; by work they foster all the various gifts which Zeus, Apollo, Pallas, Cypris lend; by work they raise, and perfect and ennoble them, until their feelings, actions, words and thoughts become harmonious like a well-tuned lute. You cannot serve the man to whom you have given your whole heart,--to whom in your great love you look up as so much higher than yourself--you cannot prove the steadfastness and faithfulness of that love better, than by raising and improving your mind to the utmost of your power. Every good and beautiful truth that you learn is an offering to him you love best, for in giving your whole self, you give your virtues too. But no one gains this victory in dreams. The dew by which such blossoms are nourished is called the sweat of man's brow.' So she would speak to me, and then I started up ashamed and left the hearth, and either took my lyre to learn new songs, or listened to my loving teacher's words--she is wiser than most men--attentively and still. And so the time passed on; a rapid stream, just like our river Nile, which flows unceasingly, and brings such changing scenes upon its waves, sometimes a golden boat with streamers gay,--sometimes a fearful, ravenous crocodile."
"But now we are sitting in the golden boat. Oh, if time's waves would only cease to flow! If this one moment could but last for aye. You lovely girl, how perfectly you speak, how well you understand and remember all this beautiful teaching and make it even more beautiful by your way of repeating it. Yes, Sappho, I am very proud of you. In you I have a treasure which makes me richer than my brother, though half the world belongs to him."
"You proud of me? you, a king's son, the best and handsomest of your family?"
"The greatest worth that I can find in myself is, that you think me worthy of your love."
"Tell me, ye gods, how can this little heart hold so much joy without breaking? 'Tis like a vase that's overfilled with purest, heaviest gold?"
"Another heart will help you to bear it; and that is my own, for mine is again supported by yours, and with that help I can laugh at every evil that the world or night may bring."
"Oh, don't excite the envy of the gods; human happiness often vexes them. Since you left us we have passed some very, very sad days. The two poor children of our kind Phanes--a boy as beautiful as Eros, and a little girl as fair and rosy as a summer morning's cloud just lit up by the sun,--came for some happy days to stay with us. Grandmother grew quite glad and young again while looking on these little ones, and as for me I gave them all my heart, though really it is your's and your's alone. But hearts, you know, are wonderfully made; they're like the sun who sends his rays everywhere, and loses neither warmth nor light by giving much, but gives to all their due. I loved those little ones so very much. One evening we were sitting quite alone with Theopompus in the women's room, when suddenly we heard aloud, wild noise. The good old Knakias, our faithful slave, just reached the door as all the bolts gave way, and, rushing through the entrance-hall into the peristyle, the andronitis, and so on to us, crashing the door between, came a troop of soldiers. Grandmother showed them the letter by which Amasis secured our house from all attack and made it a sure refuge, but they laughed the writing to scorn and showed us on their side a document with the crown-prince's seal, in which we were sternly commanded to deliver up Phanes' children at once to this rough troop of men. Theopompus reproved the soldiers for their roughness, telling them that the children came from Corinth and had no connection with Phanes; but the captain of the troop defied and sneered at him, pushed my grandmother rudely away, forced his way into her own apartment, where among her most precious treasures, at the head of her own bed, the two children lay sleeping peacefully, dragged them out of their little beds and took them in an open boat through the cold night-air to the royal city. In a few days we heard the boy was dead. They say he has been killed by Psamtik's orders; and the little girl, so sweet and dear, is lying in a dismal dungeon, and pining for her father and for us. Oh, dearest, isn't it a painful thing that sorrows such as these should come to mar our perfect happiness? My eyes weep joy and sorrow in the same moment, and my lips, which have just been laughing with you, have now to tell you this sad story."
"I feel your pain with you, my child, but it makes my hand clench with rage instead of filling my eyes with tears. That gentle boy whom you loved, that little girl who now sits weeping in the dark dungeon, shall both be revenged. "Trust me; before the Nile has risen again, a powerful army will have entered Egypt, to demand satisfaction for this murder."
"Oh, dearest, how your eyes are glowing! I never saw you look so beautiful before. Yes, yes, the boy must be avenged, and none but you must be his avenger."
"My gentle Sappho is becoming warlike too."
"Yes, women must feel warlike when wickedness is so triumphant; women rejoice too when such crimes are punished. Tell me has war been declared already?"
"Not yet; but hosts on hosts are marching to the valley of the Euphrates to join our main army."
"My courage sinks as quickly as it rose. I tremble at the word, the mere word, war. How many childless mothers Ares makes, how many young fair heads must wear the widow's veil, how many pillows are wet through with tears when Pallas takes her shield."
"But a man developes in war; his heart expands, his arm grows strong. And none rejoice more than you when he returns a conqueror from the field. The wife of a Persian, especially, ought to rejoice in the thought of battle, for her husband's honor and fame are dearer to her than his life."
"Go to the war. I shall pray for you there."
"And victory will be with the right. First we will conquer Pharaoh's host, then release Phanes' little daughter . . ."
"And then Aristomachus, the brave old man who succeeded Phanes when he fled. He has vanished, no one knows whither, but people say that the crown-prince has either imprisoned him in a dismal dungeon on account of his having uttered threats of retaliating the cruelty shown to Phanes' children, or--what would be worse--has had him dragged off to some distant quarry. The poor old man was exiled from his home, not for his own fault, but by the malice of his enemies, and the very day on which we lost sight of him an embassy arrived here from the Spartan people recalling Aristomachus to the Eurotas with all the honors Greece could bestow, because his sons had brought great glory to their country. A ship wreathed with flowers was sent to fetch the honored old man, and at the head of the deputation was his own brave, strong son, now crowned with glory and fame."
"I know him. He's a man of iron. Once he mutilated himself cruelly to avoid disgrace. By the Anahita star, which is setting so beautifully in the east, he shall be revenged!"
"Oh, can it be so late? To me the time has gone by like a sweet breeze, which kissed my forehead and passed away. Did not you hear some one call? They will be waiting for us, and you must be at your friend's house in the town before dawn. Good-bye, my brave hero."
"Good-bye, my dearest one. In five days we shall hear our marriage-hymn. But you tremble as if we were going to battle instead of to our wedding."
"I'm trembling at the greatness of our joy; one always trembles in expectation of anything unusually great."
"Hark, Rhodopis is calling again; let us go. I have asked Theopompus to arrange everything about our wedding with her according to the usual custom; and I shall remain in his house incognito until I can carry you off as my own dear wife."
"And I will go with you."
The next morning, as the three friends were walking with their host in his garden, Zopyrus exclaimed: "Wily, Bartja, I've been dreaming all night of your Sappho. What a lucky fellow you are! Why I fancied my new wife in Sardis was no end of a beauty until I saw Sappho, and now when I think of her she seems like an owl. If Araspes could see Sappho he would be obliged to confess that even Panthea had been outdone at last. Such a creature was never made before. Auramazda is an awful spendthrift; he might have made three beauties out of Sappho. And how charmingly it sounded when she said 'good-night' to us in Persian."
"While I was away," said Bartja, "she has been taking a great deal of trouble to learn Persian from the wife of a Babylonian carpet-merchant, a native of Susa, who is living at Naukratis, in order to surprise me.
"Yes, she is a glorious girl," said Theopompus. "My late wife loved the little one as if she had been her own child. She would have liked to have had her as a wife for our son who manages the affairs of my house at Miletus, but the gods have ordained otherwise! Ah, how glad she would have been to see the wedding garland at Rhodopis' door!"
"Is it the custom here to ornament a bride's house with flowers?" said Zopyrus.
"Certainly," answered Theopompus. "When you see a door hung with flowers you may always know that house contains a bride; an olive-branch is a sign that a boy has just come into the world, and a strip of woollen cloth hanging over the gate that a girl has been born; but a vessel of water before the door is the token of death. But business-hour at the market is very near, my friends, and I must leave you, as I have affairs of great importance to transact."
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