Cambyses showed no curiosity as to the contents of the box, gave it in charge to a eunuch, said a few words which seemed meant as thanks to his sister-in law, and left the women’s apartments without even so much as enquiring after Atossa, whose existence he seemed to have forgotten.
He had come to his mother, believing that the visit would comfort and calm his troubled mind, but Sappho’s words had destroyed his last hope, and with that his last possibility of rest or peace. By this time either Prexaspes would already have committed the murder, or perhaps at that very moment might be raising his dagger to plunge it into Bartja’s heart.
How could he ever meet his mother again after Bartja’s death? how could he answer her questions or those of that lovely Sappho, whose large, anxious, appealing eyes had touched him so strangely?
A voice within told him, that his brother’s murder would be branded as a cowardly, unnatural, and unjust deed, and he shuddered at the thought. It seemed fearful, unbearable, to be called an assassin. He had already caused the death of many a man without the least compunction, but that had been done either in fair fight, or openly before the world. He was king, and what the king did was right. Had he killed Bartja with his own hand, his conscience would not have reproached him; but to have had him privately put out of the way, after he had given so many proofs of possessing first-rate manly qualities, which deserved the highest praise—this tortured him with a feeling of rage at his own want of principle,-a feeling of shame and remorse which he had never known before. He began to despise himself. The consciousness of having acted, and wished to act justly, forsook him, and he began to fancy, that every one who had been executed by his orders, had been, like Bartja, an innocent victim of his fierce anger. These thoughts became so intolerable, that he began to drink once more in the hope of drowning them. But now the wine had precisely the opposite effect, and brought such tormenting thoughts, that, worn out as he was already by epileptic fits and his habit of drinking, both body and mind threatened to give way to the agitation caused by the events of the last months. Burning and shivering by turns, he was at last forced to lie down. While the attendants were disrobing him, he remembered his brother’s present, had the box fetched and opened, and then desired to be left alone. The Egyptian paintings on the outside of the box reminded him of Nitetis, and then he asked himself what she would have said to his deed. Fever had already begun, and his mind was wandering as he took the beautiful wax bust out of the box. He stared in horror at the dull, immovable eyes. The likeness was so perfect, and his judgment so weakened by wine and fever, that he fancied himself the victim of some spell, and yet could not turn his eyes from those dear features. Suddenly the eyes seemed to move. He was seized with terror, and, in a kind of convulsion, hurled what he thought had become a living head against the wall. The hollow, brittle wax broke into a thousand fragments, and Cambyses sank back on to his bed with a groan.