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- An Egyptian Princess, Volume 9. - 4/9 -
"As you like, only make haste, unless you mean me to die of impatience. There is not the slightest reason to be afraid of a storm. Since I was a child there has not been either lightning or thunder in Egypt at this time of year."
"Then you will see something new to-day," said Kallias, laughing; for a large drop of rain has just fallen on my bald head, "the Nile-swallows were flying close to the water as I came here, and you see there is a cloud coming over the moon already. Come in quickly, or you will get wet. Ho, slave, see that a black lamb is offered to the gods of the lower world."
They found Theopompus sitting in Rhodopis' own apartment, as Sappho had supposed. He had finished telling her the story of Zopyrus' arrest, and of the journey which Bartja and his friends had taken on his behalf.
Their anxiety on the matter was beginning to be so serious, that Bartja's unexpected appearance was a great relief. His words flew as he repeated the events of the last few hours, and begged Theopompus to look out at once for a ship in sailing order, to convey himself and his friends from Egypt.
"That suits famously," exclaimed Kallias. "My own trireme brought me from Naukratis to-day; it is lying now, fully equipped for sea, in the port, and is quite at your service. I have only to send orders to the steersman to keep the crew together and everything in sailing order.--You are under no obligations to me; on the contrary it is I who have to thank you for the honor you will confer on me. Ho, Knakias!--tell my slave Philomelus, he's waiting in the hall,--to take a boat to the port, and order my steersman Nausarchus to keep the ship in readiness for starting. Give him this seal; it empowers him to do all that is necessary."
"And my slaves?" said Bartja.
"Knakias can tell my old steward to take them to Kallias' ship," answered Theopompus.
"And when they see this," said Bartja, giving the old servant his ring, "they will obey without a question."
Knakias went away with many a deep obeisance, and the prince went on: "Now, my mother, I have a great petition to ask of you."
"I guess what it is," said Rhodopis, with a smile. "You wish your marriage to be hastened, and I see that I dare not oppose your wish."
"If I'm not mistaken," said Kallias, "we have a remarkable case here. Two people are in great peril, and find that very peril a matter of rejoicing."
"Perhaps you are right there," said Bartja, pressing Sappho's hand unperceived. And then, turning to Rhodopis again, he begged her to delay no longer in trusting her dearest treasure to his care,--a treasure whose worth he knew so well.
Rhodopis rose, she laid her right hand on Sappho's head and her left on Bartja's, and said: "There is a myth which tells of a blue lake in the land of roses; its waves are sometimes calm and gentle, but at others they rise into a stormy flood; the taste of its waters is partly sweet as honey, partly bitter as gall. Ye will learn the meaning of this legend in the marriage-land of roses. Ye will pass calm and stormy-sweet and bitter hours there. So long as thou wert a child, Sappho, thy life passed on like a cloudless spring morning, but when thou becam'st a maiden, and hadst learnt to love, thine heart was opened to admit pain; and during the long months of separation pain was a frequent guest there. This guest will seek admission as long as life lasts. Bartja, it will be your duty to keep this intruder away from Sappho, as far as it lies in your power. I know the world. I could perceive,--even before Croesus told me of your generous nature,--that you were worthy of my Sappho. This justified me in allowing you to eat the quince with her; this induces me now to entrust to you, without fear, what I have always looked upon as a sacred pledge committed to my keeping. Look upon her too only as a loan. Nothing is more dangerous to love, than a comfortable assurance of exclusive possession--I have been blamed for allowing such an inexperienced child to go forth into your distant country, where custom is so unfavorable to women; but I know what love is;--I know that a girl who loves, knows no home but the heart of her husband;--the woman whose heart has been touched by Eros no misfortune but that of separation from him whom she has chosen. And besides, I would ask you, Kallias and Theopompus, is the position of your own wives so superior to that of the Persian women? Are not the women of Ionia and Attica forced to pass their lives in their own apartments, thankful if they are allowed to cross the street accompanied by suspicious and distrustful slaves? As to the custom which prevails in Persia of taking many wives, I have no fear either for Bartja or Sappho. He will be more faithful to his wife than are many Greeks, for he will find in her what you are obliged to seek, on the one hand in marriage, on the other in the houses of the cultivated Hetaere:--in the former, housewives and mothers, in the latter, animated and enlivening intellectual society. Take her, my son. I give her to you as an old warrior gives his sword, his best possession, to his stalwart son:--he gives it gladly and with confidence. Whithersoever she may go she will always remain a Greek, and it comforts me to think that in her new home she will bring honor to the Greek name and friends to our nation, Child, I thank thee for those tears. I can command my own, but fate has made me pay an immeasurable price for the power of doing so. The gods have heard your oath, my noble Bartja. Never forget it, but take her as your own, your friend, your wife. Take her away as soon as your friends return; it is not the will of the gods that the Hymenaeus should be sung at Sappho's nuptial rites."
As she said these words she laid Sappho's hand in Bartja's, embraced her with passionate tenderness, and breathed a light kiss on the forehead of the young Persian. Then turning to her Greek friends, who stood by, much affected:
"That was a quiet nuptial ceremony," she said; "no songs, no torch-light! May their union be so much the happier. Melitta, bring the bride's marriage-ornaments, the bracelets and necklaces which lie in the bronze casket on my dressing-table, that our darling may give her hand to her lord attired as beseems a future princess."
"Yes, and do not linger on the way," cried Kallias, whose old cheerfulness had now returned. "Neither can we allow the niece of the greatest of Hymen's poets to be married without the sound of song and music. The young husband's house is, to be sure, too far off for our purpose, so we will suppose that the andronitis is his dwelling.
[The Hymenaeus was the wedding-song, so called because of its refrain "Hymen O! Hymenae' O!" The god of marriage, Hymen, took his origin and name from the hymn, was afterwards decked out richly with myths, and finally, according to Catullus, received a seat on Mount Helikon with the Muses.]
[A Greek bride was beautifully adorned for her marriage, and her bridesmaids received holiday garments. Homer, Odyss. VI. 27. Besides which, after the bath, which both bride and bridegroom were obliged to take, she was anointed with sweet-smelling essences. Thucyd. II. 15. Xenoph. Symp. II. 3.]
"We will conduct the maiden thither by the centre door, and there we will enjoy a merry wedding-feast by the family hearth. Here, slavegirls, come and form yourselves into two choruses. Half of your number take the part of the youths; the other half that of the maidens, and sing us Sappho's Hymenaeus. I will be the torch-bearer; that dignity is mine by right. You must know, Bartja, that my family has an hereditary right to carry the torches at the Eleusinian mysteries and we are therefore called Daduchi or torch-bearers. Ho, slave! see that the door of the andronitis is hung with flowers, and tell your comrades to meet us with a shower of sweetmeats as we enter. That's right, Melitta; why, how did you manage to get those lovely violet and myrtle marriage-crowns made so quickly? The rain is streaming through the opening above. You see, Hymen has persuaded Zeus to help him; so that not a single marriage-rite shall be omitted. You could not take the bath, which ancient custom prescribes for the bride and bridegroom on the morning of their wedding- day, so you have only to stand here a moment and take the rain of Zeus as an equivalent for the waters of the sacred spring. Now, girls, begin your song. Let the maidens bewail the rosy days of childhood, and the youths praise the lot of those who marry young."
Five well-practised treble voices now began to sing the chorus of virgins in a sad and plaintive tone.
Suddenly the song was hushed, for a flash of lightning had shone down through the aperture beneath which Kallias had stationed the bride and bridegroom, followed by a loud peal of thunder. "See!" cried the Daduchus, raising his hand to heaven, "Zeus himself has taken the nuptial-torch, and sings the Hymenaeus for his favorites."
At dawn the next morning, Sappho and Bartja left the house and went into the garden. After the violent storm which had raged all night, the garden was looking as fresh and cheerful in the morning light as the faces of the newly-married pair.
Bartja's anxiety for his friends, whom he had almost forgotten in the excitement of his marriage, had roused them so early.
The garden had been laid out on an artificial hill, which overlooked the inundated plain. Blue and white lotus-blossoms floated on the smooth surface of the water, and vast numbers of water-birds hovered along the shores or over the flood. Flocks of white, herons appeared on the banks, their plumage gleaming like glaciers on distant mountain peaks; a solitary eagle circled upward on its broad pinions through the pure morning air, turtle-doves nestled in the tops of the palm-trees; pelicans and ducks fluttered screaming away, whenever a gay sail appeared. The air had been cooled by the storm, a fresh north-wind was blowing, and, notwithstanding the early hour, there were a number of boats sailing over the deluged fields before the breeze. The songs of the rowers, the plashing strokes of their oars and the cries of the birds, all contributed to enliven the watery landscape of the Nile valley, which, though varied in color, was somewhat monotonous.
Bartja and Sappho stood leaning on each other by the low wall which ran round Rhodopis' garden, exchanging tender words and watching the scene below, till at last Bartja's quick eye caught sight of a boat making straight for the house and coming on fast by the help of the breeze and powerful rowers.
A few minutes later the boat put in to shore and Zopyrus with his deliverers stood before them.
Darius's plan had succeeded perfectly, thanks to the storm, which, by its violence and the unusual time of its appearance, had scared the Egyptians; but still there was no time to be lost, as it might reasonably be supposed that the men of Sais would pursue their fugitive with all the means at their command.
Sappho, therefore, had to take a short farewell of her grandmother, all the more tender, however, for its shortness,--and then, led by Rartja and followed by old Melitta, who was to accompany her to Persia, she went on
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