Mambres runs to her weeping. The serpent is affected. He, alas, cannot weep; but he hisses in a mournful tone. He cries out, "She is dead." The ass repeats, "She is dead." The raven tells it over again. All the other animals appeared afflicted, except the fish of Jonah, which has always been merciless. The lady of honor, the ladies of the court, arrive and tear their hair. The white bull, who fed at a distance and heard their cries, ran to the grove dragging the old woman after him, while his loud bellowings made the neighboring echoes resound. To no purpose did the ladies pour upon the expiring Amasidia their bottles of rose-water, of pink, of myrtle, of benzoin, of balm of Gilead, of amomum, of gilly-flower, of nutmeg, of ambergris. She had not as yet given the smallest signs of life. But as soon as she perceived that the beautiful white bull was beside her, she came to herself, more blooming, more beautiful and lively than ever. A thousand times did she kiss this charming animal, who languishingly leaned his head on her snowy bosom. She called him, "My master, my king, my dear, my life!" She throws her fair arms around his neck, which was whiter than the snow. The light straw does not adhere more closely to the amber, the vine to the elm, nor the ivy to the oak. The sweet murmur of her sighs was heard. Her eyes were seen, now sparkling with a tender flame, and now obscured by those precious tears which love makes us shed.
We may easily judge into what astonishment the lady of honor and ladies of her train were thrown. As soon as they entered the palace, they related to their lovers this extraordinary adventure, and every one with different circumstances, which increased its singularity, and which always contributes to the variety of all histories.
No sooner was Amasis, king of Tanis, informed of these events, than his royal breast was inflamed with just indignation. Such was the wrath of Minos, when he understood that his daughter Pasiphæ lavished her tender favors upon the father of the Minotaur. Thus raged Juno, when she beheld Jupiter caressing the beautiful cow Io, daughter of the river Inachus. Following the dictates of passion, the stern Amasis imprisoned his unhappy daughter, the beautiful Amasidia, in her chamber and placed over her a guard of black eunuchs. He then assembled his privy council.
The grand magician presided there, but had no longer the same influence as formerly. All the ministers of state concluded that this white bull was a sorcerer. It was quite the contrary. He was bewitched. But in delicate affairs they are always mistaken at court.
It was carried by a great majority that the princess should be exorcised, and the old woman and the bull sacrificed.
The wise Mambres contradicted not the opinion of the king and council. The right of exorcising belonged to him. He could delay it under some plausible pretence. The god Apis had lately died at Memphis. A god ox dies just like another ox. And it was not allowed to exorcise any person in Egypt until a new ox was found to replace the deceased.
It was decreed in the council to wait until the nomination should be made of a new god at Memphis.
The good old man, Mambres, perceived to what danger his dear princess was exposed. He knew who her lover was. The syllables NEBU——, which had escaped her, laid open the whole mystery to the eyes of this sage.
The dynasty of Memphis belonged at that time to the Babylonians. They preserved this remainder of the conquests they had gained under the greatest king of the world, to whom Amasis was a mortal enemy. Mambres had occasion for all his wisdom to conduct himself properly in the midst of so many difficulties. If the king Amasis should discover the lover of his daughter, her death would be inevitable. He had sworn it. The great, the young, the beautiful king of whom she was enamored, had dethroned the king her father, and Amasis had only recovered his kingdom about seven years. From that time it was not known what had become of the adorable monarch—the conqueror and idol of the nations—the tender and generous lover of the charming Amasidia. Sacrificing the white bull would eventually occasion the death of the beautiful princess.
In the preceding engraving the artist has pictured the "Cities of the Plain" in flames, ignited by a shower of "fire and brimstone out of heaven." Warned by an angel, Lot and his family are fleeing from the conflagration. The madame has, however, unfortunately changed her mind, and is seen returning toward the doomed locality. She dearly loves her home, and braves danger—even death—in its protection. Her husband and her children heartlessly forsake her. Lot does not look like the coward he is represented to have been, who basely offered to surrender his daughters to the horrible abuse of a Sodomite mob; and the daughters—innocent and beautiful—seem incapable of the depravity with which they are charged in the nineteenth chapter of Genesis.
The comical statement that Madame Lot was transformed into "a pillar of salt" for merely looking back toward her old home in Sodom, rests on bible authority, and is believed by all the world excepting intelligent clergymen, scientists, philosophers and reasonable people.
The assertion of Mambres, (page 15), that this estimable "pillar" has become "very sharp tasted," rests on the authority of certain eastern travelers who claim to have examined and tasted the saline remains of this unfortunate female. But as this last claim is based on a French romance and not on Hebrew revelation, readers may be pardoned for receiving it with the greatest caution. Indeed, all that is absolutely necessary for even the orthodox to believe is that, "once upon a time," a Sodomite matron was chemically changed into pure chloride of sodium, and not that said sodium still retains its sharp and acrid flavor.—E.
What could Mambres do in such critical circumstances? He went, after the council had broken up, to find his dear foster daughter.
"My dear child," he says, "I will serve you; but I repeat it, they will behead you if ever you pronounce the name of your lover."
"Ah! what signifies my neck," replied the beautiful Amasidia, "if I cannot embrace that of Nebu—? My father is a cruel man. He not only refuses to give me a charming prince whom I adore, but he declares war against him; and after he was conquered by my lover, he has found the secret of changing him into an ox. Did one ever see more frightful malice? If my father were not my father, I do not know what I should do to him."
"It was not your father who played him this cruel trick," said the wise Mambres. "It was a native of Palestine, one of our ancient enemies, an inhabitant of a little country comprehended in that crowd of kingdoms which your lover subdued in order to polish and refine them.
"Such metamorphoses must not surprise you. You know that formerly I performed more extraordinary. Nothing was at that time more common than those changes which at present astonish philosophers. True history, which we have read together, informs us that Lycaon, king of Arcadia, was changed into a wolf; the beautiful Calista, his daughter, into a bear; Io, the daughter of Inachus, our venerable Isis, into a cow; Daphne into a laurel; Sirinx into a flute; the fair Edith, wife of Lot—the best and most affectionate husband and father ever known in the world—has she not become, in our neighborhood, a pillar of salt, very sharp tasted, which has preserved both her likeness and form, as the great men attest who have seen it? I was witness to this change in my youth. I saw seven powerful cities in the most dry and parched situation in the world, all at once transformed into a beautiful lake. In the early part of my life, the whole world was full of metamorphoses.
"In fine, madam, if examples can soothe your grief, remember that Venus changed Cerastes into an ox."
"I do not know," said the princess, "that examples comfort us. If my lover were dead, could I comfort myself by the idea that all men die?"
"Your pain may at least be alleviated," replied the sage; "and since your lover has become an ox, it is possible from an ox he may become a man. As for me, I should deserve to be changed into a tiger or a crocodile, if I did not employ the little power I have in the service of a princess worthy of the adoration of the world,—if I did not labor for the beautiful Amasidia, whom I have nursed upon my knees, and whom fatal destiny exposes to such rude trials."