Uarda by Georg Ebers
Rameri had rushed off to summon the physicians, while Bent-Anat was endeavoring to restore the rescued Uarda to consciousness, and he followed them into his sister's tent. He gazed with tender anxiety into the face of the half suffocated girl, who, though uninjured, still remained unconscious, and took her hand to press his lips to her slender fingers, but Bent-Anat pushed him gently away; then in low tones that trembled with emotion he implored her not to send him away, and told her how dear the girl whose life he had saved in the fight in the Necropolis had become to him--how, since his departure for Syria, he had never ceased to think of her night and day, and that he desired to make her his wife.
Bent-Anat was startled; she reminded her brother of the stain that lay on the child of the paraschites and through which she herself had suffered so much; but Rameri answered eagerly:
"In Egypt rank and birth are derived through the mother and Kaschta's dead wife--"
"I know," interrupted Bent-Anat. "Nebsecht has already told us that she was a dumb woman, a prisoner of war, and I myself believe that she was of no mean house, for Uarda is nobly formed in face and figure."
"And her skin is as fine as the petal of a flower," cried Rameri. "Her voice is like the ring of pure gold, and--Oh! look, she is moving. Uarda, open your eyes, Uarda! When the sun rises we praise the Gods. Open your eyes! how thankful, how joyful I shall be if those two suns only rise again."
Bent-Anat smiled, and drew her brother away from the heavily-breathing girl, for a leech came into the tent to say that a warm medicated bath had been prepared and was ready for Uarda. The princess ordered her waiting-women to help lift the senseless girl, and was preparing to follow her when a message from her father required her presence in his tent. She could guess at the significance of this command, and desired Rameri to leave her that she might dress in festal garments; she could entrust Uarda to the care of Nefert during her absence.
"She is kind and gentle, and she knows Uarda so well," said the princess, "and the necessity of caring for this dear little creature will do her good. Her heart is torn between sorrow for her lost relations, and joy at being united again to her love. My father has given Mena leave of absence from his office for several days, and I have excused her from her attendance on me, for the time during which we were so necessary to each other really came to an end yesterday. I feel, Rameri, as if we, after our escape, were like the sacred phoenix which comes to Heliopolis and burns itself to death only to soar again from its ashes young and radiant--blessed and blessing!"
When her brother had left her, she threw herself before the image of her mother and prayed long and earnestly; she poured an offering of sweet perfume on the little altar of the Goddess Hathor, which always accompanied her, had herself dressed in happy preparation for meeting her father, and--she did not conceal it from herself--Pentaur, then she went for a moment to Nefert's tent to beg her to take good care of Uarda, and finally obeyed the summons of the king, who, as we know, fulfilled her utmost hopes.
As Rameri quitted his sister's tent he saw the watch seize and lead away a little boy; the child cried bitterly, and the prince in a moment recognized the little sculptor Scherau, who had betrayed the Regent's plot to him and to Uarda, and whom he had already fancied he had seen about the place. The guards had driven him away several times from the princess's tent, but he had persisted in returning, and this obstinate waiting in the neighborhood had aroused the suspicions of an officer; for since the fire a thousand rumors of conspiracies and plots against the king had been flying about the camp. Rameri at once freed the little prisoner, and heard from him that it was old Hekt who, before her death, had sent Kaschta and his daughter to the rescue of the king, that he himself had helped to rouse the troops, that now he had no home and wished to go to Uarda.
The prince himself led the child to Nefert, and begged her to allow him to see Uarda, and to let him stay with her servants till he himself returned from his father's tent.
The leeches had treated Uarda with judgment, for under the influence of the bath she recovered her senses; when she had been dressed again in fresh garments and refreshed by the essences and medicines which they gave her to inhale and to drink, she was led back into Nefert's tent, where Mena, who had never before seen her, was astonished at her peculiar and touching beauty.
"She is very like my Danaid princess," he said to his wife; "only she is younger and much prettier than she."
Little Scherau came in to pay his respects to her, and she was delighted to see the boy; still she was sad, and however kindly Nefert spoke to her she remained in silent reverie, while from time to time a large tear rolled down her cheek.
"You have lost your father!" said Nefert, trying to comfort her. "And I, my mother and brother both in one day."
"Kaschta was rough but, oh! so kind," replied Uarda. "He was always so fond of me; he was like the fruit of the doom palm; its husk is hard and rough, but he who knows how to open it finds the sweet pulp within. Now he is dead, and my grandfather and grandmother are gone before him, and I am like the green leaf that I saw floating on the waters when we were crossing the sea; anything so forlorn I never saw, abandoned by all it belonged to or had ever loved, the sport of a strange element in which nothing resembling itself ever grew or ever can grow."
Nefert kissed her forehead. "You have friends," she said, "who will never abandon you."
"I know, I know!" said Uarda thoughtfully, "and yet I am alone--for the first time really alone. In Thebes I have often looked after the wild swans as they passed across the sky; one flies in front, then comes the body of the wandering party, and very often, far behind, a solitary straggler; and even this last one I do not call lonely, for he can still see his brethren in front of him. But when the hunters have shot down all the low-flying loiterers, and the last one has lost sight of the flock, and knows that he never again can find them or follow them he is indeed to be pitied. I am as unhappy as the abandoned bird, for I have lost sight to-day of all that I belong to, and I am alone, and can never find them again."
"You will be welcomed into some more noble house than that to which you belong by birth," said Nefert, to comfort her.
Uarda's eyes flashed, and she said proudly, almost defiantly:
"My race is that of my mother, who was a daughter of no mean house; the reason I turned back this morning and went into the smoke and fire again after I had escaped once into the open air--what I went back for, because I felt it was worth dying for, was my mother's legacy, which I had put away with my holiday dress when I followed the wretched Nemu to his tent. I threw myself into the jaws of death to save the jewel, but certainly not because it is made of gold and precious stones--for I do not care to be rich, and I want no better fare than a bit of bread and a few dates and a cup of water--but because it has a name on it in strange characters, and because I believe it will serve to discover the people from whom my mother was carried off; and now I have lost the jewel, and with it my identity and my hopes and happiness."
Uarda wept aloud; Nefert put her arm around her affectionately.
"Poor child!" she said, "was your treasure destroyed in the flames?"
"No, no," cried Uarda eagerly. "I snatched it out of my chest and held it in my hand when Nebsecht took me in his arms, and I still had it in my hand when I was lying safe on the ground outside the burning house, and Bent-Anat was close to me, and Rameri came up. I remember seeing him as if I were in a dream, and I revived a little, and I felt the jewel in my fingers then."
"Then it was dropped on the way to the tent?" said Nefert.
Uarda nodded; little Scherau, who had been crouching on the floor beside her, gave Uarda a loving glance, dimmed with tears, and quietly slipped out of the tent.
Time went by in silence; Uarda sat looking at the ground, Nefert and Mena held each other's hands, but the thoughts of all three were with the dead. A perfect stillness reigned, and the happiness of the reunited couple was darkly overshadowed by their sorrow. From time to time the silence was broken by a trumpet-blast from the royal tent; first when the Asiatic princes were introduced into the Council-tent, then when the Danaid king departed, and lastly when the Pharaoh preceded the conquered princes to the banquet.
The charioteer remembered how his master had restored him to dignity and honor, for the sake of his faithful wife; and gratefully pressed her hand.
Suddenly there was a noise in front of the tent, and an officer entered to announce to Mena that the Danaid king and his daughter, accompanied by body-guard, requested to see and speak with him and Nefert.
The entrance to the tent was thrown wide open. Uarda retired modestly into the back-ground, and Mena and Nefert went forward hand in hand to meet their unexpected guests.
The Greek prince was an old man, his beard and thick hair were grey, but his movements were youthful and light, though dignified and deliberate. His even, well-formed features were deeply furrowed, he had large, bright, clear blue eyes, but round his fine lips were lines of care. Close to him walked his daughter; her long white robe striped with purple was held round her hips by a golden girdle, and her sunny yellow hair fell in waving locks over her neck and shoulders, while it was confined by a diadem which encircled her head; she was of middle height, and her motions were measured and calm like her father's. Her brow was narrow, and in one line with her straight nose, her rosy mouth was sweet and kind, and beyond everything beautiful were the lines of her oval face and the turn of her snow-white throat. By their side stood the interpreter who translated every word of the conversation on both sides. Behind them came two men and two women, who carried gifts for Mena and his wife.
The prince praised Mena's magnanimity in the warmest terms.
"You have proved to me," he said, "that the virtues of gratitude, of constancy, and of faith are practised by the Egyptians; although your merit certainly appears less to me now that I see your wife, for he who owns the fairest may easily forego any taste for the fair."
"Your generosity," she answered, "does me more than justice at your daughter's expense, and love moved my husband to the same injustice, but your beautiful daughter must forgive you and me also."
Praxilla went towards her and expressed her thanks; then she offered her the costly coronet, the golden clasps and strings of rare pearls which her women carried; her father begged Mena to accept a coat of mail and a shield of fine silver work. The strangers were then led into the tent, and were there welcomed and entertained with all honor, and offered bread and wine. While Mena pledged her father, Praxilla related to Nefert, with the help of the interpreter, what hours of terror she had lived through after she had been taken prisoner by the Egyptians, and was brought into the camp with the other spoils of war; how an older commander had asserted his claim to her, how Mena had given her his hand, had led her to his tent, and had treated her like his own daughter. Her voice shook with emotion, and even the interpreter was moved as she concluded her story with these words: "How grateful I am to him, you will fully understand when I tell you that the man who was to have been my husband fell wounded before my eyes while defending our camp; but he has recovered, and now only awaits my return for our wedding."
"May the Gods only grant it!" cried the king, "for Praxilla is the last child of my house. The murderous war robbed me of my four fair sons before they had taken wives, my son-in-law was slain by the Egyptians at the taking of our camp, and his wife and new-born son fell into their hands, and Praxilla is my youngest child, the only one left to me by the envious Gods."
While he was still speaking, they heard the guards call out and a child's loud cry, and at the same instant little Scherau rushed into the tent holding up his hand exclaiming.
"I have it! I have found it!"
Uarda, who had remained behind the curtain which screened the sleeping room of the tent--but who had listened with breathless attention to every word of the foreigners, and who had never taken her eyes off the fair Praxilla--now came forward, emboldened by her agitation, into the midst of the tent, and took the jewel from the child's hand to show it to the Greek king; for while she stood gazing at Praxilla it seemed to her that she was looking at herself in a mirror, and the idea had rapidly grown to conviction that her mother had been a daughter of the Danaids. Her heart beat violently as she went up to the king with a modest demeanor, her head bent down, but holding her jewel up for him to see.
The bystanders all gazed in astonishment at the veteran chief, for he staggered as she came up to him, stretched out his hands as if in terror towards the girl, and drew back crying out:
"Xanthe, Xanthe! Is your spirit freed from Hades? Are you come to summon me?"
Praxilla looked at her father in alarm, but suddenly she, too, gave a piercing cry, snatched a chain from her neck, hurried towards Uarda, and seizing the jewel she held, exclaimed:
"Here is the other half of the ornament, it belonged to my poor sister Xanthe!"
The old Greek was a pathetic sight, he struggled hard to collect himself, looking with tender delight at Uarda, his sinewy hands trembled as he compared the two pieces of the necklet; they matched precisely--each represented the wing of an eagle which was attached to half an oval covered with an inscription; when they were laid together they formed the complete figure of a bird with out-spread wings, on whose breast the lines exactly matched of the following oracular verse:
"Alone each is a trifling thing, a woman's useless toy But with its counterpart behold! the favorite bird of Zeus."
A glance at the inscription convinced the king that he held in his hand the very jewel which he had put with his own hands round the neck of his daughter Xanthe on her marriage-day, and of which the other half had been preserved by her mother, from whom it had descended to Praxilla. It had originally been made for his wife and her twin sister who had died young. Before he made any enquiries, or asked for any explanations, he took Uarda's head between his hands, and turning her face close to his he gazed at her features, as if he were reading a book in which he expected to find a memorial of all the blissful hours of his youth, and the girl felt no fear; nor did she shrink when he pressed his lips to her forehead, for she felt that this man's blood ran in her own veins. At last the king signed to the interpreter; Uarda was asked to tell all she knew of her mother, and when she said that she had come a captive to Thebes with an infant that had soon after died, that her father had bought her and had loved her in spite of her being dumb, the prince's conviction became certainty; he acknowledged Uarda as his grandchild, and Praxilla clasped her in her arms.
Then he told Mena that it was now twenty years since his son-in-law had been killed, and his daughter Xanthe, whom Uarda exactly resembled, had been carried into captivity. Praxilla was then only just born, and his wife died of the shock of such terrible news. All his enquiries for Xanthe and her child had been fruitless, but he now remembered that once, when he had offered a large ransom for his daughter if she could be found, the Egyptians had enquired whether she were dumb, and that he had answered "no." No doubt Xanthe had lost the power of speech through grief, terror, and suffering.
The joy of the king was unspeakable, and Uarda was never tired of gazing at his daughter and holding her hand.
Then she turned to the interpreter.
"Tell me," she said. "How do I say 'I am so very happy?'"
He told her, and she smilingly repeated his words. "Now 'Uarda will love you with all her heart?'" and she said it after him in broken accents that sounded so sweet and so heart-felt, that the old man clasped her to his breast.
Tears of emotion stood in Nefert's eyes, and when Uarda flung herself into her arms she said:
"The forlorn swan has found its kindred, the floating leaf has reached the shore, and must be happy now!" Thus passed an hour of the purest happiness; at last the Greek king prepared to leave, and the wished to take Uarda with him; but Mena begged his permission to communicate all that had occurred to the Pharaoh and Bent-Anat, for Uarda was attached to the princess's train, and had been left in his charge, and he dared not trust her in any other hands without Bent-Anat's permission. Without waiting for the king's reply he left the tent, hastened to the banqueting tent, and, as we know, Rameses and the princess had at once attended to his summons.
On the way Mena gave them a vivid description of the exciting events that had taken place, and Rameses, with a side glance at Bent-Anat, asked Rameri:
"Would you be prepared to repair your errors, and to win the friendship of the Greek king by being betrothed to his granddaughter?"
The prince could not answer a word, but he clasped his father's hand, and kissed it so warmly that Rameses, as he drew it away, said:
"I really believe that you have stolen a march on me, and have been studying diplomacy behind my back!"
Rameses met his noble opponent outside Mena's tent, and was about to offer him his hand, but the Danaid chief had sunk on his knees before him as the other princes had done.
"Regard me not as a king and a warrior," he exclaimed, "only as a suppliant father; let us conclude a peace, and permit me to take this maiden, my grandchild, home with me to my own country."
Rameses raised the old man from the ground, gave him his hand, and said kindly:
"I can only grant the half of what you ask. I, as king of Egypt, am most willing to grant you a faithful compact for a sound and lasting peace; as regards this maiden, you must treat with my children, first with my daughter Bent-Anat, one of whose ladies she is, and then with your released prisoner there, who wishes to make Uarda his wife."
"I will resign my share in the matter to my brother," said Bent-Anat, "and I only ask you, maiden, whether you are inclined to acknowledge him as your lord and master?"
Uarda bowed assent, and looked at her grandfather with an expression which he understood without any interpreter.
"I know you well," he said, turning to Rameri. "We stood face to face in the fight, and I took you prisoner as you fell stunned by a blow from my sword. You are still too rash, but that is a fault which time will amend in a youth of your heroic temper. Listen to me now, and you too, noble Pharaoh, permit me these few words; let us betroth these two, and may their union be the bond of ours, but first grant me for a year to take my long-lost child home with me that she may rejoice my old heart, and that I may hear from her lips the accents of her mother, whom you took from me. They are both young; according to the usages of our country, where both men and women ripen later than in your country, they are almost too young for the solemn tie of marriage. But one thing above all will determine you to favor my wishes; this daughter of a royal house has grown up amid the humblest surroundings; here she has no home, no family-ties. The prince has wooed her, so to speak, on the highway, but if she now comes with me he can enter the palace of kings as suitor to a princess, and the marriage feast I will provide shall be a right royal one."
"What you demand is just and wise," replied Rameses. "Take your grand-child with you as my son's betrothed bride--my future daughter. Give me your hands, my children. The delay will teach you patience, for Rameri must remain a full year from to-day in Egypt, and it will be to your profit, sweet child, for the obedience which he will learn through his training in the army will temper the nature of your future husband. You, Rameri, shall in a year from to-day--and I think you will not forget the date--find at your service a ship in the harbor of Pelusium, fitted and manned with Phoenicians, to convey you to your wedding."
"So be it!" exclaimed the old man. "And by Zeus who hears me swear--I will not withhold Xanthe's daughter from your son when he comes to claim her!"
When Rameri returned to the princes' tent he threw himself on their necks in turn, and when he found himself alone with their surly old house-steward, he snatched his wig from his head, flung it in the air, and then coaxingly stroked the worthy officer's cheeks as he set it on his head again.