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Uarda (Chapter6)

2006-08-22 23:07

  Volume 2. Chapter VI.

  During the occurrence we have described, the king's pioneer and the young wife of Mena were obliged to wait for the princess.

  The sun stood in the meridian, when Bent-Anat had gone into the hovel of the paraschites.

  The bare limestone rocks on each side of the valley and the sandy soil between, shone with a vivid whiteness that hurt the eyes; not a hand's breadth of shade was anywhere to be seen, and the fan-beaters of the two, who were waiting there, had, by command of the princess, staid behind with the chariot and litters.

  For a time they stood silently near each other, then the fair Nefert said, wearily closing her almond-shaped eyes:

  “How long Bent-Anat stays in the but of the unclean! I am perishing here. What shall we do?”

  “Stay!” said Paaker, turning his back on the lady; and mounting a block of stone by the side of the gorge, he cast a practised glance all round, and returned to Nefert: “I have found a shady spot,” he said, “out there.”

  Mena's wife followed with her eyes the indication of his hand, and shook her head. The gold ornaments on her head-dress rattled gently as she did so, and a cold shiver passed over her slim body in spite of the midday heat.

  “Sechet is raging in the sky,” said Paaker.

  [A goddess with the head of a lioness or a cat, over which the Sun- disk is usually found. She was the daughter of Ra, and in the form of the Uraeus on her father's crown personified the murderous heat of the star of day. She incites man to the hot and wild passion of love, and as a cat or lioness tears burning wounds in the limbs of the guilty in the nether world; drunkenness and pleasure are her gifts She was also named Bast and Astarte after her sister-divinity among the Phoenicians.]

  “Let us avail ourselves of the shady spot, small though it be. At this hour of the day many are struck with sickness.”

  “I know it,” said Nefert, covering her neck with her hand. Then she went towards two blocks of stone which leaned against each other, and between them afforded the spot of shade, not many feet wide, which Paaker had pointed out as a shelter from the sun. Paaker preceded her, and rolled a flat piece of limestone, inlaid by nature with nodules of flint, under the stone pavilion, crushed a few scorpions which had taken refuge there, spread his head-cloth over the hard seat, and said, “Here you are sheltered.”

  Nefert sank down on the stone and watched the Mohar, who slowly and silently paced backwards and forward in front of her. This incessant to and fro of her companion at last became unendurable to her sensitive and irritated nerves, and suddenly raising her head from her hand, on which she had rested it, she exclaimed

  “Pray stand still.”

  The pioneer obeyed instantly, and looked, as he stood with his back to her, towards the hovel of the paraschites.

  After a short time Nefert said, “Say something to me!”

  The Mohar turned his full face towards her, and she was frightened at the wild fire that glowed in the glance with which he gazed at her.

  Nefert's eyes fell, and Paaker, saying:

  “I would rather remain silent,” recommenced his walk, till Nefert called to him again and said,

  “I know you are angry with me; but I was but a child when I was betrothed to you. I liked you too, and when in our games your mother called me your little wife, I was really glad, and used to think how fine it would be when I might call all your possessions mine, the house you would have so splendidly restored for me after your father's death, the noble gardens, the fine horses in their stables, and all the male and female slaves!”

  Paaker laughed, but the laugh sounded so forced and scornful that it cut Nefert to the heart, and she went on, as if begging for indulgence:

  “It was said that you were angry with us; and now you will take my words as if I had cared only for your wealth; but I said, I liked you. Do you no longer remember how I cried with you over your tales of the bad boys in the school; and over your father's severity? Then my uncle died;——then you went to Asia.”

  And you,“ interrupted Paaker, hardly and drily, ”you broke your bethrothal vows, and became the wife of the charioteer Mena. I know it all; of what use is talking?“

  “Because it grieves me that you should be angry, and your good mother avoid our house. If only you could know what it is when love seizes one, and one can no longer even think alone, but only near, and with, and in the very arms of another; when one's beating heart throbs in one's very temples, and even in one's dreams one sees nothing——but one only.”

  “And do I not know it?” cried Paaker, placing himself close before her with his arms crossed. “Do I not know it? and you it was who taught me to know it. When I thought of you, not blood, but burning fire, coursed in my veins, and now you have filled them with poison; and here in this breast, in which your image dwelt, as lovely as that of Hathor in her holy of holies, all is like that sea in Syria which is called the Dead Sea, in which every thing that tries to live presently dies and perishes.”

  Paaker's eyes rolled as he spoke, and his voice sounded hoarsely as he went on.

  “But Mena was near to the king——nearer than I, and your mother——”

  “My mother!”——Nefert interrupted the angry Mohar. “My mother did not choose my husband. I saw him driving the chariot, and to me he resembled the Sun God, and he observed me, and looked at me, and his glance pierced deep into my heart like a spear; and when, at the festival of the king's birthday, he spoke to me, it was just as if Hathor had thrown round me a web of sweet, sounding sunbeams. And it was the same with Mena; he himself has told me so since I have been his wife. For your sake my mother rejected his suit, but I grew pale and dull with longing for him, and he lost his bright spirit, and was so melancholy that the king remarked it, and asked what weighed on his heart——for Rameses loves him as his own son. Then Mena confessed to the Pharaoh that it was love that dimmed his eye and weakened his strong hand; and then the king himself courted me for his faithful servant, and my mother gave way, and we were made man and wife, and all the joys of the justified in the fields of Aalu

  [The fields of the blest, which were opened to glorified souls. In the Book of the Dead it is shown that in them men linger, and sow and reap by cool waters.]

  are shallow and feeble by the side of the bliss which we two have known——not like mortal men, but like the celestial gods.“

  Up to this point Nefert had fixed her large eyes on the sky, like a glorified soul; but now her gaze fell, and she said softly——

  “But the Cheta

  [An Aramaean race, according to Schrader's excellent judgment. At the time of our story the peoples of western Asia had allied themselves to them.]

  disturbed our happiness, for the king took Mena with him to the war. Fifteen times did the moon, rise upon our happiness, and then——“

  “And then the Gods heard my prayer, and accepted my offerings,” said Paaker, with a trembling voice, “and tore the robber of my joys from you, and scorched your heart and his with desire. Do you think you can tell me anything I do not know? Once again for fifteen days was Mena yours, and now he has not returned again from the war which is raging hotly in Asia.”

  “But he will return,” cried the young wife.

  “Or possibly not,” laughed Paaker. “The Cheta, carry sharp weapons, and there are many vultures in Lebanon, who perhaps at this hour are tearing his flesh as he tore my heart.”

  Nefert rose at these words, her sensitive spirit bruised as with stones thrown by a brutal hand, and attempted to leave her shady refuge to follow the princess into the house of the parascllites; but her feet refused to bear her, and she sank back trembling on her stone seat. She tried to find words, but her tongue was powerless. Her powers of resistance forsook her in her unutterable and soul-felt distress——heart-wrung, forsaken and provoked.

  A variety of painful sensations raised a hot vehement storm in her bosom, which checked her breath, and at last found relief in a passionate and convulsive weeping that shook her whole body. She saw nothing more, she heard nothing more, she only shed tears and felt herself miserable.

  Paaker stood over her in silence.

  There are trees in the tropics, on which white blossoms hang close by the withered fruit, there are days when the pale moon shows itself near the clear bright sun;——and it is given to the soul of man to feel love and hatred, both at the same time, and to direct both to the same end.

  Nefert's tears fell as dew, her sobs as manna on the soul of Paaker, which hungered and thirsted for revenge. Her pain was joy to him, and yet the sight of her beauty filled him with passion, his gaze lingered spell-bound on her graceful form; he would have given all the bliss of heaven once, only once, to hold her in his arms——once, only once, to hear a word of love from her lips.

  After some minutes Nefert's tears grew less violent. With a weary, almost indifferent gaze she looked at the Mohar, still standing before her, and said in a soft tone of entreaty:

  'My tongue is parched, fetch me a little water.“

  “The princess may come out at any moment,” replied Paaker.

  “But I am fainting,” said Nefert, and began again to cry gently.

  Paaker shrugged his shoulders, and went farther into the valley, which he knew as well as his father's house; for in it was the tomb of his mother's ancestors, in which, as a boy, he had put up prayers at every full and new moon, and laid gifts on the altar.

  The hut of the paraschites was prohibited to him, but he knew that scarcely a hundred paces from the spot where Nefert was sitting, lived an old woman of evil repute, in whose hole in the rock he could not fail to find a drink of water.

  He hastened forward, half intoxicated with had seen and felt within the last few minutes.

  The door, which at night closed the cave against the intrusions of the plunder-seeking jackals, was wide open, and the old woman sat outside under a ragged piece of brown sail-cloth, fastened at one end to the rock and at the other to two posts of rough wood. She was sorting a heap of dark and light-colored roots, which lay in her lap. Near her was a wheel, which turned in a high wooden fork. A wryneck made fast to it by a little chain, and by springing from spoke to spoke kept it in continual motion.——[From Theocritus' idyl: The Sorceress.]——A large black cat crouched beside her, and smelt at some ravens' and owls' heads, from which the eyes had not long since been extracted.

  Two sparrow-hawks sat huddled up over the door of the cave, out of which came the sharp odor of burning juniper-berries; this was intended to render the various emanations rising from the different strange substances, which were collected and preserved there, innocuous.

  As Paaker approached the cavern the old woman called out to some one within:

  “Is the wax cooking?”

  An unintelligible murmur was heard in answer.

  Then throw in the ape's eyes,

  [The sentences and mediums employed by the witches, according to papyrus-rolls which remain. I have availed myself of the Magic papyrus of Harris, and of two in the Berlin collection, one of which is in Greek. ]

  and the ibis feathers, and the scraps of linen with the black signs on them. Stir it all a little; now put out the fire,

  “Take the jug and fetch some water——make haste, here comes a stranger.”

  A sooty-black negro woman, with a piece of torn colorless stuff hanging round her hips, set a large clay-jar on her grey woolly matted hair, and without looking at him, went past Paaker, who was now close to the cave.

  The old woman, a tall figure bent with years, with a sharply-cut and wrinkled face, that might once have been handsome, made her preparations for receiving the visitor by tying a gaudy kerchief over her head, fastening her blue cotton garment round her throat, and flinging a fibre mat over the birds' heads.

  Paaker called out to her, but she feigned to be deaf and not to hear his voice. Only when he stood quite close to her, did she raise her shrewd, twinkling eyes, and cry out:

  “A lucky day! a white day that brings a noble guest and high honor.”

  “Get up,” commanded Paaker, not giving her any greeting, but throwing a silver ring among the roots that lay in her lap,

  [The Egyptians had no coins before Alexander and the Ptolemies, but used metals for exchange, usually in the form of rings.]

  “and give me in exchange for good money some water in a clean vessel.”

  “Fine pure silver,” said the old woman, while she held the ring, which she had quickly picked out from the roots, close to her eyes; “it is too much for mere water, and too little for my good liquors.”

  “Don't chatter, hussy, but make haste,” cried Paaker, taking another ring from his money-bag and throwing it into her lap.

  “Thou hast an open hand,” said the old woman, speaking in the dialect of the upper classes; “many doors must be open to thee, for money is a pass-key that turns any lock. Would'st thou have water for thy good money? Shall it protect thee against noxious beasts?——shall it help thee to reach down a star? Shall it guide thee to secret paths?——It is thy duty to lead the way. Shall it make heat cold, or cold warm? Shall it give thee the power of reading hearts, or shall it beget beautiful dreams? Wilt thou drink of the water of knowledge and see whether thy friend or thine enemy——ha! if thine enemy shall die? Would'st thou a drink to strengthen thy memory? Shall the water make thee invisible? or remove the 6th toe from thy left foot?”

  “You know me?” asked Paaker.

  “How should I?” said the old woman, “but my eyes are sharp, and I can prepare good waters for great and small.”

  “Mere babble!” exclaimed Paaker, impatiently clutching at the whip in his girdle; “make haste, for the lady for whom——”

  “Dost thou want the water for a lady?” interrupted the old woman. “Who would have thought it?——old men certainly ask for my philters much oftener than young ones——but I can serve thee.”

  With these words the old woman went into the cave, and soon returned with a thin cylindrical flask of alabaster in her hand.

  “This is the drink,” she said, giving the phial to Paaker. “Pour half into water, and offer it to the lady. If it does not succeed at first, it is certain the second time. A child may drink the water and it will not hurt him, or if an old man takes it, it makes him gay. Ah, I know the taste of it!” and she moistened her lips with the white fluid. “It can hurt no one, but I will take no more of it, or old Hekt will be tormented with love and longing for thee; and that would ill please the rich young lord, ha! ha! If the drink is in vain I am paid enough, if it takes effect thou shalt bring me three more gold rings; and thou wilt return, I know it well.”

  Paaker had listened motionless to the old woman, and siezed the flask eagerly, as if bidding defiance to some adversary; he put it in his money bag, threw a few more rings at the feet of the witch, and once more hastily demanded a bowl of Nile-water.

  “Is my lord in such a hurry?” muttered the old woman, once more going into the cave. “He asks if I know him? him certainly I do? but the darling? who can it be hereabouts? perhaps little Uarda at the paraschites yonder. She is pretty enough; but she is lying on a mat, run over and dying. We must see what my lord means. He would have pleased me well enough, if I were young; but he will reach the goal, for he is resolute and spares no one.”

  While she muttered these and similar words, she filled a graceful cup of glazed earthenware with filtered Nile-water, which she poured out of a large porous clay jar, and laid a laurel leaf, on which was scratched two hearts linked together by seven strokes, on the surface of the limpid fluid. Then she stepped out into the air again.

  As Paaker took the vessel from her looked at the laurel leaf, she said:

  “This indeed binds hearts; three is the husband, four is the wife, seven is the chachach, charcharachacha.”——[This jargon is fund in a magic-papyrus at Berlin.]

  The old woman sang this spell not without skill; but the Mohar appeared not to listen to her jargon. He descended carefully into the valley, and directed his steps to the resting place of the wife of Mena.

  By the side of a rock, which hill him from Nefert, he paused, set the cup on a flat block of stone, and drew the flask with the philter out of his girdle.

  His fingers trembled, but a thousand voices seemed to surge up and cry:

  “Take it!——do it!——put in the drink!——now or never.” He felt like a solitary traveller, who finds on his road the last will of a relation whose possessions he had hoped for, but which disinherits him. Shall he surrender it to the judge, or shall he destroy it.

  Paaker was not merely outwardly devout; hitherto he had in everything intended to act according to the prescriptions of the religion of his fathers. Adultery was a heavy sin; but had not he an older right to Nefert than the king's chariot

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