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The sun of a new day had risen over Egypt, but was still low in the east; the copious dew, which, on the Nile, supplies the place of rain, lay sparkling like jewels on the leaves and blossoms, and the morning air, freshened by a north-west wind, invited those to enjoy it who could not bear the heat of mid-day.
Through the door of the country-house, now so well known to us, two female figures have just passed; Melitta, the old slave, and Sappho, the grandchild of Rhodopis.
The latter is not less lovely now, than when we saw her last, asleep. She moves through the garden with a light quick step, her white morning robe with its wide sleeves falling in graceful drapery over her lithe limbs, the thick brown hair straying from beneath the purple kerchief over her head, and a merry, roguish smile lurking round her rosy mouth and in the dimples of her cheeks and chin.
She stooped to pick a rose, dashed the dew from it into the face of her old nurse, laughing at her naughty trick till the clear bell-like tones rang through the garden; fixed the flower in her dress and began to sing in a wonderfully rich and sweet voice--
Cupid once upon a bed Of roses laid his weary head; Luckless urchin! not to see Within the leaves a slumbering bee. The bee awak'd--with anger wild The bee awak'd, and stung the child. Loud and piteous are his cries; To Venus quick he runs, he flies; "Oh mother! I am wounded through-- "I die with pain--in sooth I do! "Stung by some little angry thing. "Some serpent on a tiny wing, "A bee it was--for once, I know, "I heard a rustic call it so."
"Isn't that a very pretty song?" asked the laughing girl. "How stupid of little Eros to mistake a bee for a winged snake! Grandmother says that the great poet Anacreon wrote another verse to this song, but she will not teach it me. Tell me, Melitta, what can there be in that verse? There, you are smiling; dear, darling Melitta, do sing me that one verse. Perhaps though, you don't know it yourself? No? then certainly you can't teach it me."
"That is a new song," answered the old woman, evading her darling's question, "I only know the songs of the good old times. But hark! did not you hear a knock at the gate?"
[The last lines which contain the point of this song are:Thus he spoke, and she, the while, Heard him with a soothing smile; Then said, "My infant, if so much "Thou feel the little wild bee's touch, "How must the heart, ah! Cupid be, "The hapless heart that's stung by thee?"
--Translation from one of Anacreon's songs]
"Yes, of course I did, and I think the sound of horses' hoofs too. Go and see who seeks admission so early. Perhaps, after all, our kind Phanes did not go away yesterday, and has come to bid us farewell once more."
"Phanes is gone," said Melitta, becoming serious, "and Rhodopis has ordered me to send you in when visitors arrive. Go child, that I may open the gate. There, they have knocked again."
Sappho pretended to run in, but instead of obeying her nurse's orders, stopped and hid herself behind a rose-bush, hoping to catch sight of these early guests. In the fear of needlessly distressing her, she had not been told of the events of the previous evening, and at this early hour could only expect to see some very intimate friend of her grandmother's.
Melitta opened the gate and admitted a youth splendidly apparelled, and with fair curling hair.
It was Bartja, and Sappho was so lost in wonder at his beauty, and the Persian dress, to her so strange, that she remained motionless in her hiding-place, her eyes fixed on his face. Just so she had pictured to herself Apollo with the beautiful locks, guiding the sun-chariot.
As Melitta and the stranger came nearer she thrust her little head through the roses to hear what the handsome youth was saying so kindly in his broken Greek.
She heard him ask hurriedly after Croesus and his son; and then, from Melitta's answer, she gathered all that had passed the evening before, trembled for Phanes, felt so thankful to the generous Gyges, and again wondered who this youth in royal apparel could possibly be. Rhodopis had told her about Cyrus's heroic deeds, the fall of Croesus and the power and wealth of the Persians, but still she had always fancied them a wild, uncultivated people. Now, however, her interest in Persia increased with every look at the handsome Bartja. At last Melitta went in to wake her grandmother and announce the guest, and Sappho tried to follow her, but Eros, the foolish boy whose ignorance she had been mocking a moment before, had other intentions. Her dress caught in the thorns, and before she could disengage it, the beautiful Bartja was standing before her, helping her to get free from the treacherous bush.
Sappho could not speak a word even of thanks; she blushed deeply, and stood smiling and ashamed, with downcast eyes.
Bartja, too, generally so full of fun and spirit, looked down at her without speaking, the color mounting to his cheeks.
The silence, however, did not last long, for Sappho, recovering from her fright, burst into a laugh of childish delight at the silent stranger and the odd scene, and fled towards the house like a timid fawn.
In a moment Bartja was himself again; in two strides he reached the young girl, quick as thought seized her hand and held it fast, notwithstanding all her struggles.
"Let me go!" she cried half in earnest and half laughing, raising her dark eyes appealingly to him.
"Why should I?" he answered. "I took you from the rose-bush and shall hold you fast until you give me your sister there, the other rose, from your bosom, to take home with me as a keepsake."
"Please let me go," repeated Sappho, "I will promise nothing unless you let my hand go."
"But if I do, you will not run away again?"
"Well, then, I will give you your liberty, but now you must give me your rose."
"There are plenty on the bush yonder, and more beautiful ones; choose whichever you like. Why do you want just this one?"
"To keep it carefully in remembrance of the most beautiful maiden I ever saw."
"Then I shall certainly not give it to you; for those are not my real friends who tell me I am beautiful, only those who tell me I am good."
"Where did you learn that?"
"From my grandmother Rhodopis."
"Very well, then I will tell you you are better than any other maiden in the whole world."
"How can you say such things, when you don't know me at all? Oh, sometimes I am very naughty and disobedient. If I were really good I should be indoors now instead of talking to you here. My grandmother has forbidden me ever to stay in the garden when visitors are here, and indeed I don't care for all those strange men who always talk about things I cannot understand."
"Then perhaps you would like me to go away too?"
"Oh no, I can understand you quite well; though you cannot speak half so beautifully as our poor Phanes for example, who was obliged to escape so miserably yesterday evening, as I heard Melitta saying just this minute."
"Did you love Phanes?"
"Love him? Oh yes,--I was very fond of him. When I was little he always brought me balls, dolls ninepins from Memphis and Sais; and now that I am older he teaches me beautiful new songs."
[Jointed dolls for children. Wilkinson II. 427. Note 149. In the Leyden Museum one of these jointed toys is to be seen, in very good preservation.]
"As a parting gift he brought me a tiny Sicilian lapdog, which I am going to call Argos, because he is so white and swiftfooted. But in a few days we are to have another present from the good Phanes, for. . . . There, now you can see what I am; I was just going to let out a great secret. My grandmother has strictly forbidden me to tell any one what dear little visitors we are expecting; but I feel as if I had known you a long time already, and you have such kind eyes that I could tell you everything. You see, when I am very happy, I have no one in the whole world to talk to about it, except old Melitta and my grandmother, and, I don't know how it is, that, though they love me so much, they sometimes cannot understand how trifles can make me so happy."
"That is because they are old, and have forgotten what made them happy in their youth. But have you no companions of your own age that you are fond of?"
"Not one. Of course there are many other young girls beside me in Naukratis, but my grandmother says I am not to seek their acquaintance, and if they will not come to us I am not to go to them."
"Poor child! if you were in Persia, I could soon find you a friend. I have a sister called Atossa, who is young and good, like you."
"Oh, what a pity that she did not come here with you!--But now you must tell me your name."
"My name is Bartja."
"Bartja! that is a strange name! Bartja-Bartja. Do you know, I like it. How was the son of Croesus called, who saved our Phanes so generously?"
"Gyges. Darius, Zopyrus and he are my best friends. We have sworn never to part, and to give up our lives for one another," and that is why I came to-day, so early and quite in secret, to help my friend Gyges, in case he should need me."
"Then you rode here for nothing."
"No, by Mithras, that indeed I did not, for this ride brought me to you. But now you must tell me your name."
"I am called Sappho."
"That is a pretty name, and Gyges sings me sometimes beautiful songs by a poetess called Sappho. Are you related to her?"
"Of course. She was the sister of my grandfather Charaxus, and is called the tenth muse or the Lesbian swan. I suppose then, your friend Gyges speaks Greek better than you do?"
"Yes, he learnt Greek and Lydian together as a little child, and speaks them both equally well. He can speak Persian too, perfectly; and what is more, he knows and practises all the Persian virtues."
"Which are the highest virtues then according to you Persians?"
"Truth is the first of all; courage the second, and the third is obedience; these three, joined with veneration for the gods, have made us Persians great."
"But I thought you worshipped no gods?"
"Foolish child! who could live without a god, without a higher ruler? True, they do not dwell in houses and pictures like the gods of the Egyptians, for the whole creation is their dwelling. The Divinity, who must be in every place, and must see and hear everything, cannot be confined within walls."
"Where do you pray then and offer sacrifice, if you have no temples?"
"On the grandest of all altars, nature herself; our favorite altar is the summit of a mountain. There we are nearest to our own god, Mithras, the mighty sun, and to Auramazda, the pure creative light; for there the light lingers latest and returns earliest."
[From Herodotus (I. 131 and 132.), and from many other sources, we see clearly that at the time of the Achaemenidae the Persians had neither temples nor images of their gods. Auramazda and Angramainjus, the principles of good and evil, were invisible existences filling all creation with their countless train of good and evil spirits. Eternity created fire and water. From these Ormusd (Auramazda), the good spirit, took his origin. He was brilliant as the light, pure and good. After having, in the course of 12000 years, created heaven, paradise and the stars, he became aware of the existence of an evil spirit, Ahriman (Angramainjus), black, unclean, malicious and emitting an evil odor. Ormusd determined on his destruction, and a fierce strife began, in which Ormusd was the victor, and the evil spirit lay 3000 years unconscious from the effects of terror. During this interval Ormusd created the sky, the waters, the earth, all useful plants, trees and herbs, the ox and the first pair of human beings in one year. Ahriman, after this, broke loose, and was overcome but not slain. As, after death, the four elements of which all things are composed, Earth, Air, Fire and Water, become reunited with their primitive elements; and as, at the resurrection-day, everything that has been severed combines once more, and nothing returns into oblivion, all is reunited to its primitive elements, Ahriman could only have been slain if his impurity could have been transmuted into purity, his darkness into light. And so evil continued to exist, and to produce impurity and evil wherever and whenever the good spirit created the pure and good. This strife must continue until the last day; but then Ahriman, too, will become pure and holy; the Diws or Daewa (evil spirits) will have absorbed his evil, and themselves have ceased to exist. For the evil spirits which dwell in every human being, and are emanations from Ahriman, will be destroyed in the punishment inflicted on men after death. From Vuller's Ulmai Islam and the Zend-Avesta.]
"Light alone is pure and good; darkness is unclean and evil. Yes, maiden, believe me, God is nearest to us on the mountains; they are his favorite resting-place. Have you never stood on the wooded summit of a high mountain, and felt, amid the solemn silence of nature, the still and soft, but awful breath of Divinity hovering around you? Have you prostrated yourself in the green forest, by a pure spring, or beneath the open sky, and listened for the voice of God speaking from among the leaves and waters? Have you beheld the flame leaping up to its parent the sun, and bearing with it, in the rising column of smoke, our prayers to the radiant Creator? You listen now in wonder, but I tell you, you would kneel and worship too with me, could I but take you to one of our mountain-altars."
"Oh! if I only could go there with you! if I might only once look down from some high mountain over all the woods and meadows, rivers and valleys. I think, up there, where nothing could be hidden from my eyes, I should feel like an all-seeing Divinity myself. But hark, my grandmother is calling. I must go."
"Oh, do not leave me yet!"
"Is not obedience one of the Persian virtues?"
"But my rose?"
"Here it is."
"Shall you remember me?"
"Why should I not?"
"Sweet maiden, forgive me if I ask one more favor."
"Yes, but ask it quickly, for my grandmother has just called again."
"Take my diamond star as a remembrance of this hour."
"No, I dare not."
"Oh, do, do take it. My father gave it me as a reward, the first time that I killed a bear with my own hand, and it has been my dearest treasure till to-day, but now you shall have it, for you are dearer to me than anything else in the world."
Saying this, he took the chain and star from his breast, and tried to hang it round Sappho's neck. She resisted, but Bartja threw his arms round her, kissed her forehead, called her his only love, and looking down deep into the eyes of the trembling child, placed it round her neck by gentle force.
Rhodopis called a third time. Sappho broke from the young prince's embrace, and was running away, but turned once more at his earnest entreaty and the question, "When may I see you again?" and answered softly, "To-morrow morning at this rose-bush."
"Which held you fast to be my friend."
Sappho sped towards the house. Rhodopis received Bartja, and communicated to him all she knew of his friend's fate, after which the young Persian departed for Sais.
When Rhodopis visited her grandchild's bed that evening, she did not find her sleeping peacefully as usual; her lips moved, and she sighed deeply, as if disturbed by vexing dreams.
On his way back, Bartja met Darius and Zopyrus, who had followed at once on hearing of their friend's secret departure. They little guessed that instead of encountering an enemy, Bartja had met his first love. Croesus reached Sais a short time before the three friends. He went at once to the king and informed him without reserve of the events of the preceding evening. Amasis pretended much surprise at his son's conduct, assured his friend that Gyges should be released at once, and indulged in some ironical jokes at the discomfiture of Psamtik's attempt to revenge himself.
Croesus had no sooner quitted the king than the crown-prince was announced.
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