An Egyptian Princess (Chapter 1, page 1 of 12)


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Chapter 1

The Nile had overflowed its bed. The luxuriant corn-fields and blooming gardens on its shores were lost beneath a boundless waste of waters; and only the gigantic temples and palaces of its cities, (protected from the force of the water by dikes), and the tops of the tall palm-trees and acacias could be seen above its surface. The branches of the sycamores and plane-trees drooped and floated on the waves, but the boughs of the tall silver poplars strained upward, as if anxious to avoid the watery world beneath. The full-moon had risen; her soft light fell on the Libyan range of mountains vanishing on the western horizon, and in the north the shimmer of the Mediterranean could faintly be discerned.

Blue and white lotus-flowers floated on the clear water, bats of all kinds darted softly through the still air, heavy with the scent of acacia-blossom and jasmine; the wild pigeons and other birds were at roost in the tops of the trees, while the pelicans, storks and cranes squatted in groups on the shore under the shelter of the papyrus-reeds and Nile-beans. The pelicans and storks remained motionless, their long bills hidden beneath their wings, but the cranes were startled by the mere beat of an oar, stretching their necks, and peering anxiously into the distance, if they heard but the song of the boatmen. The air was perfectly motionless, and the unbroken reflection of the moon, lying like a silver shield on the surface of the water, proved that, wildly as the Nile leaps over the cataracts, and rushes past the gigantic temples of Upper Egypt, yet on approaching the sea by different arms, he can abandon his impetuous course, and flow along in sober tranquillity.

On this moonlight night in the year 528 B. C. a bark was crossing the almost currentless Canopic mouth of the Nile. On the raised deck at the stern of this boat an Egyptian was sitting to guide the long pole-rudder, and the half-naked boatmen within were singing as they rowed. In the open cabin, which was something like a wooden summer-house, sat two men, reclining on low cushions. They were evidently not Egyptians; their Greek descent could be perceived even by the moonlight. The elder was an unusually tall and powerful man of more than sixty; thick grey curls, showing very little attempt at arrangement, hung down over his short, firm throat; he wore a simple, homely cloak, and kept his eyes gloomily fixed on the water. His companion, on the contrary, a man perhaps twenty years younger, of a slender and delicate build, was seldom still. Sometimes he gazed into the heavens, sometimes made a remark to the steersman, disposed his beautiful purple chlanis in fresh folds, or busied himself in the arrangement of his scented brown curls, or his carefully curled beard.

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