At her own bedside she found the old slave-woman, still waiting for her.
“What do you want so late, Melitta?” said Rhodopis, kindly, under her breath. “Go to bed; at your age it is not good to remain up late, and you know that I do not require you any longer. Good night! and do not come to-morrow until I send for you. I shall not be able to sleep much to-night, and shall be thankful if the morning brings me a short repose.”
The woman hesitated; it seemed that she had some thing on her mind which she feared to utter.
“There is something you want to ask me?” said Rhodopis.
Still the old slave hesitated.
“Speak!” said Rhodopis, “speak at once, and quickly.”
“I saw you weeping,” said the slave-woman, “you seem ill or sad; let me watch this night by your bedside. Will you not tell me what ails you? You have often found that to tell a sorrow lightens the heart and lessens the pain. Then tell me your grief to-day too; it will do you good, it will bring back peace to your mind.”
“No,” answered the other, “I cannot utter it.” And then she continued, smiling bitterly: “I have once more experienced that no one, not even a god, has power to cancel the past of any human being, and that, in this world, misfortune and disgrace are one and the same. Good night, leave me; Melitta!”
At noon on the following day, the same boat, which, the evening before, had carried the Athenian and the Spartan, stopped once more before Rhodopis’ garden.
The sun was shining so brightly, so warmly and genially in the dark blue Egyptian sky, the air was so pure and light, the beetles were humming so merrily, the boatmen singing so lustily and happily, the shores of the Nile bloomed in such gay, variegated beauty, and were so thickly peopled, the palm-trees, sycamores, bananas and acacias were so luxuriant in foliage and blossom, and over the whole landscape the rarest and most glorious gifts seemed to have been poured out with such divine munificence, that a passer-by must have pronounced it the very home of joy and gladness, a place from which sadness and sorrow had been forever banished.
How often we fancy, in passing a quiet village hidden among its orchards, that this at least must be the abode of peace, and unambitious contentment! But alas! when we enter the cottages, what do we find? there, as everywhere else, distress and need, passion and unsatisfied longing, fear and remorse, pain and misery; and by the side of these, Ah! how few joys! Who would have imagined on coming to Egypt, that this luxuriant, laughing sunny land, whose sky is always unclouded, could possibly produce and nourish men given to bitterness and severity? that within the charming, hospitable house of the fortunate Rhodopis, covered and surrounded, as it was, with sweet flowers, a heart could have been beating in the deepest sadness? And, still more, who among all the guests of that honored, admired Thracian woman, would have believed that this sad heart belonged to her? to the gracious, smiling matron, Rhodopis herself?