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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.

 By the walls of Thebes—the old city of a hundred gates—the Nile spreads to a broad river; the heights, which follow the stream on both sides, here take a more decided outline; solitary, almost cone-shaped peaks stand out sharply from the level background of the many-colored. limestone hills, on which no palm-tree flourishes and in which no humble desert-plant can strike root. Rocky crevasses and gorges cut more or less deeply into the mountain range, and up to its ridge extends the desert, destructive of all life, with sand and stones, with rocky cliffs and reef-like, desert hills. Behind the eastern range the desert spreads to the Red Sea; behind the western it stretches without limit, into infinity. In the belief of the Egyptians beyond it lay the region of the dead. Between these two ranges of hills, which serve as walls or ramparts to keep back the desert-sand, flows the fresh and bounteous Nile, bestowing blessing and abundance; at once the father and the cradle of millions of beings. On each shore spreads the wide plain of black and fruitful soil, and in the depths many-shaped creatures, in coats of mail or scales, swarm and find subsistence. The lotos floats on the mirror of the waters, and among the papyrus reeds by the shore water-fowl innumerable build their nests. Between the river and the mountain-range lie fields, which after the seed-time are of a shining blue-green, and towards the time of harvest glow like gold. Near the brooks and water-wheels here and there stands a shady sycamore; and date-palms, carefully tended, group themselves in groves. The fruitful plain, watered and manured every year by the inundation, lies at the foot of the sandy desert-hills behind it, and stands out like a garden flower-bed from the gravel-path. In the fourteenth century before Christ—for to so remote a date we must direct the thoughts of the reader—impassable limits had been set by the hand of man, in many places in Thebes, to the inroads of the water; high dykes of stone and embankments protected the streets and squares, the temples and the palaces, from the overflow.Canals that could be tightly closed up led from the dykes to the land within, and smaller branch-cuttings to the gardens of Thebes. On the right, the eastern bank of the Nile, rose the buildings of the far-famed residence of the Pharaohs. Close by the river stood the immense and gaudy Temples of the city of Amon; behind these and at a short distance from the Eastern hills—indeed at their very foot and partly even on the soil of the desert—were the palaces of the King and nobles, and the shady streets in which the high narrow houses of the citizens stood in close rows.
 "A word, only a word!" cried a fresh, boyish voice, then two hands were loudly clapped and a gay laugh echoed through the forest. Hitherto silence had reigned under the boughs of the pines and tops of the beeches, but now a wood-pigeon joined in the lad's laugh, and a jay, startled by the clapping of hands, spread its brown wings, delicately flecked with blue, and soared from one pine to another.

Spring had entered the Black Forest a few weeks before. May was just over, yet the weather was as sultry as in midsummer and clouds were gathering in denser and denser masses. The sun was still some distance above the horizon, but the valley was so narrow that the day star had disappeared, before making its majestic entry into the portals of night.

When it set in a clear sky, it only gilded the border of pine trees on the crest of the lofty western heights; to-day it was invisible, and the occasional, quickly interrupted twittering of the birds seemed more in harmony with the threatening clouds and sultry atmosphere than the lad's gay laughter.

Every living creature seemed to be holding its breath in anxious suspense, but Ulrich once more laughed joyously, then bracing his bare knee against a bundle of faggots, cried:

"Give me that stick, Ruth, that I may tie it up. How dry the stuff is, and how it snaps! A word! To sit over books all day long for one stupid word—that's just nonsense!"

"But all words are not alike," replied the girl.

"Piff is paff, and paff is puff!" laughed Ulrich. "When I snap the twigs, you always hear them say 'knack, knack,' and 'knack' is a word too. The juggler Caspar's magpie, can say twenty."

"But father said so," replied Ruth, arranging the dry sticks. "He toils hard, but not for gold and gain, to find the right words. You are always wanting to know what he is looking for in his big books, so I plucked up courage to ask him, and now I know. I suppose he saw I was astonished, for he smiled just as he does when you have asked some foolish question at lessons, and added that a word was no trifling thing and should not be despised, for God had made the world out of one single word."

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