Slaves then entered to remove the remains of the food. Others brought in immense jugs of wine, the king left his own apartment, took his seat at the head of the table, numerous cup-bearers filled the golden drinking-cups in the most graceful manner, first tasting the wine to prove that it was free from poison, and soon one of those drinking-bouts had begun under the best auspices, at which, a century or two later, Alexander the Great, forgot not only moderation but even friendship itself.
Cambyses was unwontedly silent. The suspicion had entered his mind, that Bartja loved Nitetis. Why had he, contrary to all custom, so decidedly refused to marry a noble and beautiful girl, when his brother’s childlessness rendered marriage an evident and urgent duty for him? Why had he wished to see the Egyptian princess again before leaving Babylon? and blushed as he expressed that wish? and why had she, almost without being asked, praised him so warmly?
It is well that he is going, thought the king; at least he shall not rob me of her love. If he were not my brother I would send him to a place from whence none can return.
After midnight he broke up the banquet. Boges appeared to conduct him to the Harem, which he was accustomed to visit at this hour, when sufficiently sober.
“Phaedime awaits you with impatience,” said the eunuch.
“Let her wait!” was the king’s answer. “Have you given orders that the palace on the hanging-gardens shall be set in order?”
“It will be ready for occupation to-morrow.”
“What apartments have been assigned to the Egyptian Princess?”
“Those formerly occupied by the second wife of your father Cyrus, the deceased Amytis.”
“That is well. Nitetis is to be treated with the greatest respect, and to receive no commands even from yourself, but such as I give you for her.”
Boges bowed low.
“See that no one, not even Croesus, has admission to her before my..... before I give further orders.”
“Croesus was with her this evening.”
“What may have been his business with my wife?”
“I do not know, for I do not understand the Greek language, but I heard the name of Bartja several times, and it seemed to me that the Egyptian had received sorrowful intelligence. She was looking very sad when I came, after Croesus had left, to inquire if she had any commands for me.”
“May Ahriman blast thy tongue,” muttered the king, and then turning his back on the eunuch he followed the torch-bearers and attendants, who were in waiting to disrobe him, to his own private apartments.
At noon on the following clay, Bartja, accompanied by his friends and a troop of attendants, started on horseback for the frontier. Croesus went with the young warriors as far as the city gates, and as their last farewells and embraces were being exchanged, Bartja whispered to his old friend: “If the messenger from Egypt should have a letter for me in his bag, will you send it on?”