It was long past mid-day, when the attendant Mandane came to put a last touch to Nitetis’ dress and ornaments.
“She is asleep,” thought the girl. “I can let her rest another quarter of an hour; the sacrifice this morning has tired her, and we must have her fresh and beautiful for the evening banquet; then she will outshine the others as the moon does the stars.”
Unnoticed by her mistress she slipped out of the room, the windows of which commanded a splendid view over the hanging-gardens, the immense city beneath, the river, and the rich and fruitful Babylonian plain, and went into the garden.
Without looking round she ran to a flower-bed, to pluck some roses. Her eyes were fixed on her new bracelet, the stones of which sparkled in the sun, and she did not notice a richly-dressed man peering in at one of the windows of the room where Nitetis lay weeping. On being disturbed in his watching and listening, he turned at once to the girl and greeted her in a high treble voice.
She started, and on recognizing the eunuch Boges, answered: “It is not polite, sir, to frighten a poor girl in this way. By Mithras, if I had seen you before I heard you, I think I should have fainted. A woman’s voice does not take me by surprise, but to see a man here is as rare as to find a swan in the desert.”
Boges laughed good-humoredly, though he well understood her saucy allusion to his high voice, and answered, rubbing his fat hands: “Yes, it is very hard for a young and pretty bird like you, to have to live in such a lonely corner, but be patient, sweetheart. Your mistress will soon be queen, and then she will look out a handsome young husband for you. Ah, ha! you will find it pleasanter to live here alone with him, than with your beautiful Egyptian.”
“My mistress is too beautiful for some people’s fancy, and I have never asked any one to look out a husband for me,” she answered pertly. “I can find one without your help either.”
“Who could doubt it? Such a pretty face is as good a bait for a man, as a worm for a fish.”
“But I am not trying to catch a husband, and least of all one like you.”
“That I can easily believe,” he answered laughing. But tell me, my treasure, why are you so hard on me? Have I done anything to vex you? Wasn’t it through me, that you obtained this good appointment, and are not we both Medes?”
“You might just as well say that we are both human beings, and have five fingers on each hand and a nose in the middle of our faces. Half the people here are Medes, and if I had as many friends as I have countrymen, I might be queen to-morrow. And as to my situation here, it was not you, but the high-priest Oropastes who recommended me to the great queen Kassandane. Your will is not law here,”
“What are you talking about, my sweet one? don’t you know, that not a single waiting-woman can be engaged without my consent?”