It was nearly mid-day, and only wanted a few hours to the time fixed for Nitetis’ disgrace, when a caravan approached the gate with great speed. The first carriage was a so-called harmamaxa, drawn by four horses decked out with bells and tassels; a two-wheeled cart followed, and last in the train was a baggage-wagon drawn by mules. A fine, handsome man of about fifty, dressed as a Persian courtier, and another, much older, in long white robes, occupied the first carriage. The cart was filled by a number of slaves in simple blouses, and broad-brimmed felt hats, wearing the hair cut close to the head. An old man, dressed as a Persian servant, rode by the side of the cart. The driver of the first carriage had great difficulty in making way for his gaily-ornamented horses through the crowd; he was obliged to come to a halt before the gate and call some whip-bearers to his assistance. “Make way for us!” he cried to the captain of the police who came up with some of his men; “the royal post has no time to lose, and I am driving some one, who will make you repent every minute’s delay.”
“Softly, my son,” answered the official. “Don’t you see that it’s easier to-day to get out of Babylon, than to come in? Whom are you driving?”
“A nobleman, with a passport from the king. Come, be quick and make way for us.”
“I don’t know about that; your caravan does not look much like royalty.”
“What have you to do with that? The pass....” “I must see it, before I let you into the city.” These words were halfmeant for the traveller, whom he was scrutinizing very suspiciously.
While the man in the Persian dress was feeling in his sleeve for the passport, the whip-bearer turned to some comrades who had just come up, and pointed out the scanty retinue of the travellers, saying: “Did you ever see such a queer cavalcade? There’s something odd about these strangers, as sure as my name’s Giv. Why, the lowest of the king’s carpet-bearers travels with four times as many people, and yet this man has a royal pass and is dressed like one of those who sit at the royal table.”
At this moment the suspected traveller handed him a little silken roll scented with musk, sealed with the royal seal, and containing the king’s own handwriting.
The whip-bearer took it and examined the seal. “It is all in order,” he murmured, and then began to study the characters. But no sooner had he deciphered the first letters than be looked even more sharply than before at the traveller, and seized the horses’ bridles, crying out: “Here, men, form a guard round the carriage! this is an impostor.”
When he had convinced himself that escape was impossible, he went up to the stranger again and said: “You are using a pass which does not belong to you. Gyges, the son of Croesus, the man you give yourself out for, is in prison and is to be executed to-day. You are not in the least like him, and you will have reason to repent leaving tried to pass for him. Get out of your carriage and follow me.”