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Uarda (Chapter31)

2006-08-22 23:18

  Volume 7. Chapter XXXI.

  Three days had passed since the pioneer's departure, and although it was still early, busy occupation was astir in Bent-Anat's work-rooms.

  The ladies had passed the stormy night, which had succeeded the exciting evening of the festival, without sleep.

  Nefert felt tired and sleepy the next morning, and begged the princess to introduce her to her new duties for the first time next day; but the princess spoke to her encouragingly, told her that no man should put off doing right till the morrow, and urged her to follow her into her workshop.

  “We must both come to different minds,” said she. “I often shudder involuntarily, and feel as if I bore a brand——as if I had a stain here on my shoulder where it was touched by Paaker's rough hand.”

  The first day of labor gave Nefert a good many difficulties to overcome; on the second day the work she had begun already had a charm for her, and by the third she rejoiced in the little results of her care.

  Bent-Anat had put her in the right place, for she had the direction of a large number of young girls and women, the daughters, wives, and widows of those Thebans who were at the war, or who had fallen in the field, who sorted and arranged the healing herbs. Her helpers sat in little circles on the ground; in the midst of each lay a great heap of fresh and dry plants, and in front of each work-woman a number of parcels of the selected roots, leaves, and flowers.

  An old physician presided over the whole, and had shown Nefert the first day the particular plants which he needed.

  The wife of Mena, who was fond of flowers, had soon learnt them all, and she taught willingly, for she loved children.

  She soon had favorites among the children, and knew some as being industrious and careful, others as idle and heedless:

  “Ay! ay!” she exclaimed, bending over a little half-naked maiden with great almond-shaped eyes. “You are mixing them all together. Your father, as you tell me, is at the war. Suppose, now, an arrow were to strike him, and this plant, which would hurt him, were laid on the burning wound instead of this other, which would do him good——that would be very sad.”

  The child nodded her head, and looked her work through again. Nefert turned to a little idler, and said: “You are chattering again, and doing nothing, and yet your father is in the field. If he were ill now, and has no medicine, and if at night when he is asleep he dreams of you, and sees you sitting idle, he may say to himself: 'Now I might get well, but my little girl at home does not love me, for she would rather sit with her hands in her lap than sort herbs for her sick father.'”

  Then Nefert turned to a large group of the girls, who were sorting plants, and said: “Do you, children, know the origin of all these wholesome, healing herbs? The good Horus went out to fight against Seth, the murderer of his father, and the horrible enemy wounded Horus in the eye in the struggle; but the son of Osiris conquered, for good always conquers evil. But when Isis saw the bad wound, she pressed her son's head to her bosom, and her heart was as sad as that of any poor human mother that holds her suffering child in her arms. And she thought: 'How easy it is to give wounds, and how hard it is to heal them!' and so she wept; one tear after another fell on the earth, and wherever they wetted the ground there sprang up a kindly healing plant.”

  “Isis is good!” cried a little girl opposite to her. Mother says Isis loves children when they are good.“

  “Your mother is right,” replied Nefert. “Isis herself has her dear little son Horus; and every human being that dies, and that was good, becomes a child again, and the Goddess makes it her own, and takes it to her breast, and nurses it with her sister Nephthys till he grows up and can fight for his father.”

  Nefert observed that while she spoke one of the women was crying. She went up to her, and learned that her husband and her son were both dead, the former in Syria, and the latter after his return to Egypt. “Poor soul!” said Nefert. “Now you will be very careful, that the wounds of others may be healed. I will tell you something more about Isis. She loved her husband Osiris dearly, as you did your dead husband, and I my husband Mena, but he fell a victim to the cunning of Seth, and she could not tell where to find the body that had been carried away, while you can visit your husband in his grave. Then Isis went through the land lamenting, and ah! what was to become of Egypt, which received all its fruitfulness from Osiris. The sacred Nile was dried up, and not a blade of verdure was green on its banks. The Goddess grieved over this beyond words, and one of her tears fell in the bed of the river, and immediately it began to rise. You know, of course, that each inundation arises from a tear of Isis. Thus a widow's sorrow may bring blessing to millions of human beings.”

  The woman had listened to her attentively, and when Nefert ceased speaking she said:

  “But I have still three little brats of my son's to feed, for his wife, who was a washerwoman, was eat

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