HotFreeBooks.com
The Yoke - A Romance of the Days when the Lord Redeemed the Children - of Israel from the Bondage of Egypt
by Elizabeth Miller
1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

THE YOKE

A ROMANCE OF THE DAYS WHEN THE LORD REDEEMED THE CHILDREN OF ISRAEL FROM THE BONDAGE OF EGYPT

BY

ELIZABETH MILLER



GROSSET & DUNLAP

Publishers -:- New York



COPYRIGHT, 1904

THE BOBBS-MERRILL COMPANY

JANUARY



TO

PERCY MILLER

MY BROTHER

WHO CONSTRUCTED

THE PLOT



CONTENTS

CHAPTER

I CHOOSING THE TENS II UNDER BAN OF THE RITUAL III THE MESSENGER IV THE PROCESSION OF AMEN V THE HEIR TO THE THRONE VI THE LADY MIRIAM VII ATHOR, THE GOLDEN VIII THE PUNISHMENT OF ATSU IX THE COLLAR OF GOLD X THE DEBT OF ISRAEL XI HEBREW CRAFT XII CANAAN XIII THE COMING OF THE PHARAOH XIV THE MARGIN OF THE NILE XV THE GODS OF EGYPT XVI THE ADVICE OF HOTEP XVII THE SON OF THE MURKET XVIII AT MASAARAH XIX IN THE DESERT XX THE TREASURE CAVE XXI ON THE WAY TO THEBES XXII THE FAN-BEARER'S GUEST XXIII THE TOMB OF THE PHARAOH XXIV THE PETITION XXV THE LOVE OF RAMESES XXVI FURTHER DIPLOMACY XXVII THE HEIR INTERVENES XXVIII THE IDOLS CRUMBLE XXIX THE PLAGUES XXX HE HARDENED HIS HEART XXXI THE CONSPIRACY XXXII RACHEL'S REFUGE XXXIII BACK TO MEMPHIS XXXIV NIGHT XXXV LIGHT AFTER DARKNESS XXXVI THE MURKET'S SACRIFICE XXXVII AT THE WELL XXXVIII THE TRAITORS XXXIX BEFORE EGYPT'S THRONE XL THE FIRST-BORN XLI THE ANGEL OF DEATH XLII EXPATRIATION XLIII "THE PHARAOH DREW NIGH" XLIV THE WAY TO THE SEA XLV THROUGH THE RED SEA XLVI WHOM THE LADY MIRIAM SENT XLVII THE PROMISED LAND



THE YOKE

A STORY OF THE EXODUS

CHAPTER I

CHOOSING THE TENS

Near the eastern boundary of that level region of northern Egypt, known as the Delta, once thridded by seven branches of the sea-hunting Nile, Rameses II, in the fourteenth century B. C., erected the city of Pithom and stored his treasure therein. His riches overtaxed its coffers and he builded Pa-Ramesu, in part, to hold the overflow. But he died before the work was completed by half, and his fourteenth son and successor, Meneptah, took it up and pushed it with the nomad bond-people that dwelt in the Delta.

The city was laid out near the center of Goshen, a long strip of fertile country given over to the Israelites since the days of the Hyksos king, Apepa, near the year 1800 B. C.

Morning in the land of the Hebrew dawned over level fields, green with unripe wheat and meadow grass. Wherever the soil was better for grazing great flocks of sheep moved in compact clouds, with a lank dog and an ancient shepherd following them.

The low, shapeless tents and thatched hovels of the Israelites stood in the center of gardens of lentils, garlic and lettuce, securely hedged against the inroads of hares and roving cattle. Close to these were compounds for the flocks and brush inclosures for geese, and cotes for the pigeons used in sacrifice. Here dwelt the aged in trusteeship over the land, while the young and sturdy builded Pa-Ramesu.

Sunrise on the uncompleted city tipped the raw lines of her half-built walls with broken fire and gilded the gear of gigantic hoisting cranes. Scaffolding, clinging to bald facades, seemed frail and cobwebby at great height, and slabs of stone, drawn and held by cables near the summit of chutes, looked like dice on the giddy slide.

Below in the still shadowy passages and interiors, speckled with fallen mortar, lay chains, rubble of brick and chipped stone; splinters, flinders and odd ends of timber; scraps of metal, broken implements and the what-not that litters the path of construction. Without, in the avenues, vaguely outlined by the slowly rising structures on either side, were low-riding, long, heavy, dwarf-wheeled vehicles and sledges to which men, not beasts, had been harnessed. Here, also, were great cords of new brick and avalanches of glazed tile where disaster had overtaken orderly stacks of this multi-tinted material. In the open spaces were covered heaps of sand, and tons of lime, in sacks; layers of paint and hogsheads of tar; ingots of copper and pigs of bronze. Roadways, beaten in the dust by a multitude of bare feet, led in a hundred directions, all merging in one great track toward the camp of the laboring Israelites.

This was pitched in a vast open in the city's center, wherein Rameses II had planned to build a second Karnak to Imhotep. Under the gracious favor of this, the physician god, the great Pharaoh had regained his sight. But death stayed his grateful hand and Meneptah forgot his father's debt. Here, then, year in and year out, an angular sea of low tents sheltered Israel.

Let it not be supposed that all the sons of Abraham were here. Thousands labored yet in the perfection of Pithom, on the highways of the Lower country, and on the Rameside canal, and the greater number made the brick for all Egypt in the clay-fields of the Delta. Therefore, within the walls of Pa-Ramesu there were somewhat more than three thousand Hebrews, men, women and children.

On a slight eminence, overlooking the camp, were numerous small structures of sun-dried brick, grouped about one of larger dimensions. Above this was raised a military standard, a hawk upon a cross-bar, from which hung party-colored tassels of linen floss. By this sign, the order of government was denoted. The Hebrews were under martial law.

The camp was astir. Thin columns of blue smoke drifted up here and there between the close-set tents, and the sibilant wearing of stone-mills, as they ground the wheat, was heard in many households. The nutty aroma of parching lentils, and the savor of roasting papyrus root and garlic told the stage of the morning meal. The strong-armed women, rich brown in tint from the ardent sun, crowned with coil upon coil of heavy hair, bent over the pungent fires. Sturdy children, innocent of raiment, went hither and thither, bearing well filled skins of water. Apart from these were the men of Israel, bearded and grave, stalwart and scantily clad. They repaired a cable or fitted an ax-handle or mended a hoe. But they were full of serious and absorbed discourse, for the great Hebrew, Moses, from the sheep-ranges of Midian, had been among them, showing them marvels of sorcery, preaching Jehovah and promising freedom. The first high white light of dawn was breaking upon the century-long night of Israel.

Before one of the tents an old woman knelt beside a bed of live coals, turning a browning water-fowl upon a pointed stick. She was a consummate cook, and the bird was fat and securely trussed. Now and again she sprinkled a pinch of crude salt on the embers to suppress the odor of the burning drippings, and lifted the fowl out of the reach of the pale flames that leaped up thereafter. Presently she removed the fowl and forked it off the spit into a capacious earthenware bowl near by. Then, with green withes as tongs, she drew forth a round tile from under the coals and set it over the dish to complete the baking. From another tile-platter at hand she took several round slices of durra bread and proceeded to toast them with much skill, tilting the hot tile and casting each browned slice in on the fowl as it was done. When she had finished, she removed the cover and set the bowl on the large platter, protecting her hands from its heat with a fold of her habit. With no little triumph and some difficulty she got upon her feet and carried the toothsome dish into her shelter, to place it beyond the reach of stealthy hands. No such meal was cooked that morning, elsewhere, in Pa-Ramesu, except at the military headquarters on the knoll.

There was little inside the tent, except the meagerest essential furnishing. A long amphora stood in a tamarisk rack in one corner; a linen napkin hung, pinned to the tent-cloth, over it; a glazed laver and a small box sat beside it. A mat of braided reeds, the handiwork of the old Israelite, covered the naked earth. This served as seat or table for the occupants. Several wisps of straw were scattered about and a heap of it, over which a cotton cloak had been thrown, lay in one corner.

"Rachel," the old woman said briskly.

Evidently some one slept under the straw, for the heap stirred.

"Rachel!" the old woman reiterated, drawing off the cloak.

Without any preliminary pushing away of the straw, a young girl sat up. A little bewildered, she divested her head and shoulders of a frowsy straw thatch and stood erect, shaking it off from her single short garment.

She was not more than sixteen years old. Above medium height and of nobler proportions than the typical woman of the race, her figure was remarkable for its symmetry and utter grace. The stamp of the countenance was purely Semitic, except that she was distinguished, most wondrously in color, from her kind. Her sleep had left its exquisite heaviness on eyes of the tenderest blue, and the luxuriant hair she pushed back from her face was a fleece of gold. Hers was that rare complexion that does not tan. The sun but brightened her hair and wrought the hue of health in her cheeks. Her forehead was low, broad, and white as marble; her neck and arms white, and the hands, busied with the hair, were strong, soft, dimpled and white. The grace of her womanhood had not been overcome by the slave-labor, which she had known from infancy.

"Good morning, Deborah. Why—thy bed—have I slept under it?" she asked.

"Since the middle of the last watch," the old woman assented.

"But why? Did Merenra come?" the girl inquired anxiously.

"Nay; but I heard some one ere the camp was astir and I covered thee."

"And thou hast had no sleep since," the girl said, with regret in her voice. "Thou dost reproach me with thy goodness, Deborah."

She went to the amphora and poured water into the laver, drew forth from the box a horn comb and a vial of powdered soda from the Natron Lakes, and proceeded with her toilet.

"Came some one, of a truth?" she asked presently.

Deborah pointed to the smoking bowl. Rachel inspected the fowl.

"Marsh-hen!" she cried in surprise.

"Atsu brought it."

"Atsu?"

"Even so. From his own bounty and for Rachel," Deborah explained.

Rachel smiled.

"Thou art beset from a new direction," the old woman continued dryly, "but thou hast naught to fear from him."

"Nay; I know," Rachel murmured, arranging her dress.

The garb of the average bondwoman was of startling simplicity. It consisted of two pieces of stuff little wider than the greatest width of the wearer's body, tied by the corners over each shoulder, belted at the waist with a thong and laced together with fiber at the sides, from the hips to a point just above the knee. It was open above and below this simple seam and interfered not at all with the freedom of the wearer's movements. But Rachel's habit was a voluminous surplice, fitting closely at the neck, supplied with wide sleeves, seamed, hemmed and of ample length. Deborah was literally swathed in covering, with only her withered face and hands exposed. There was a hint of rank in their superior dress and more than a suggestion of blood in the bearing of the pair; but they were laborers with the shepherds and serving-people of Israel.

"He would wed thee, after the manner of thy people, and take thee from among Israel," Deborah continued.

The girl drooped her head over the lacing of her habit and made no answer. The old woman looked at her sharply for a moment.

"Well, eat; Rachel, eat," she urged at last. "The marsh-hen will stand thee in good stead and thou hast a weary day before thee."

Rachel looked at the old woman and made mental comparison between the ancient figure and her strong, young self. With great deliberation she divided the fowl into a large and small part.

"This," she said, extending the larger to Deborah, "is thine. Take it," waving aside the protests of the old woman, "or the first taste of it will choke me."

Deborah submitted duly and consumed the tender morsel while she watched Rachel break her fast.

"What said Atsu?" Rachel asked, after the marsh-hen was less apparent.

"Little, which is his way. But his every word was worth a harangue in weight. Merenra and his purple-wearing visitor, the spoiler, the pompous wolf, departed for Pithom last night, hastily summoned thither by a royal message. But the commander returns to-morrow at sunset. This morning, every tenth Hebrew in Pa-Ramesu is to be chosen and sent to the quarries. Atsu will send thee and me, whether we fall among the tens of a truth or not. So we get out of the city ere Merenra returns. He called the ruse a cruel one and not wholly safe, but he would sooner see thee dead than despoiled by this guest of Merenra's—or any other. I doubt not his heart breaketh for thy sake, Rachel, and he would rend himself to spare thee."

"The Lord God bless him," the girl murmured earnestly.

"Where dost thou say we go?" she asked after a little silence.

"To the quarries of Masaarah, opposite Memphis."

The color in the young Israelite's face receded a little.

"To the quarries," she repeated in a half-whisper.

"Fearest thou?"

"Nay, not for myself, at all, but we may not have another Atsu over us there. I fear for thee, Deborah."

The old woman waved her hands.

"Trouble not concerning me. I shall not die by heavy labor."

But the girl shook her head and gazed out of the low entrance of the tent. Her face was full of trouble. Once again the old woman looked at her with suspicion in her eyes. Presently the girl asked, coloring painfully:

"Was Atsu commanded to hold me for this guest of Merenra's—ah!" she broke off, "did Atsu name him?"

"Not by the titles by which the man would as lief be known," Deborah answered grimly, "but I remember he called him 'the governor.'"

There was a brief pause.

"Not so," she resumed, answering Rachel's first question. "Atsu but overheard him say to Merenra to see to it that thou wast taken from toil and made ready to journey with him to Bubastis."

"He can not take me by right save by a document of gift from the Pharaoh," Rachel protested indignantly.

"Of a truth," the old woman admitted; "but Merenra is chief commander over Pa-Ramesu and how shall thine appeal to the Pharaoh pass beyond Merenra if he see fit to humor this ravening lord with a breach of the law? The message summoning him in haste to Pithom before the order could be fulfilled was all that saved thee. And if Merenra return ere thou art safely gone, thou art of a surety undone."

Rachel moved away a little and stood thinking. The old woman went on with a note of despondency in her voice.

"Alas, Rachel! thou art in eternal peril because of thy lovely face. Beauty is a curse to a bondwoman. What I beheld in truth yesterday I have seen in dreams—the discourteous hand put forth to seize thee and the power back of it to enforce its demand. And yet, I would not wish thee old and uncomely, for that, too, is a curse to the bondwoman," she added with a reflective shrug of the shoulders.

"If I but knew his name—" Rachel pondered aloud.

"What matter?" the old woman answered almost roughly. "Suffice it to know that he is a knave and a noble and hath evil in his heart against thee."

"Now, if I might dye my hair or stain my face—" Rachel began after a pause.

"Thou foolish child! It would not wear, nor hide thy charm at all!"

"But I dread the quarries for thee, Deborah. If only we might be hidden here, somewhere."

"Come, dost thou want to marry Atsu?" the old woman demanded harshly.

The girl turned toward her, her face flushed with resentment.

"Nay! And that thou knowest. For this very mingling with Egypt is Israel cursed. The idolatrous have reached out their hands in marriage and wedded the Hebrews away from the God of Abraham. When did an Egyptian desert his gods for the faith of the Hebrew he took in marriage? Not at any time. Therefore have we fed the shrines of the idols and increased the numbers of the idolaters and behold, the hosts of Jehovah have dwindled to naught. Therefore is He wroth with us, and justly. For are there not pitiful shrines to Ra, Ptah and Amen within the boundaries of Goshen? Nay, I wed not with an idolater," she concluded firmly.

Deborah's wrinkled face lighted and she put a tender arm about the girl.

"Of a truth, then, it is for me that thou wouldst avoid the quarries," she said. "I did but try thee, Rachel."

Rachel looked at her reproachfully, but the old woman smiled and drew her out into the open.

Without, Israel of Pa-Ramesu made ready to surrender a tenth of her number to the newest task laid on it by the Pharaoh. Quarrying was unusual labor for an Israelite and the name carried terror with it. Long had it meant heavy punishment for the malefactor and now was the Hebrew to take up its bitter life. The hard form of oppression following so closely upon the promise of liberty by Moses had diversified effects upon the camp. There was rebellion among the optimists, and the less hopeful spirits were crushed. There was the scoffer, who exasperates; the enthusiast, the over-buoyant, who could point out favorable omens even in this bitter affliction; and it could not be divined which of these troubled the people more. But whatever the individual temper, the entire camp was overhung with distress.

Israel had gathered in families before her tents—the mothers hovering their broods, the fathers tramping uneasily about them. In the heart of each, perhaps, was an indefinable conviction that he should fall among the tens. Since Israel had died in droves by hard labor in the brick-fields and along the roadways and canals, in what numbers and with what dire speed would not Israel perish in the dreaded stone-pits!

Just outside the doorway of their shelter, Deborah and Rachel overlooked the troubled camp.

"Moses comes in time," Rachel said, speaking in a low tone, "for Israel is in sore straits. The hand of the oppressor assaileth with fury his bones and his sinews now. How shall it be with him if he is bequeathed from Pharaoh to Pharaoh of an intent like unto the last three? He shall have perished from the face of the earth, for the Hebrew bends not; he breaks."

Deborah did not answer at once. Her sunken eyes were set and she seemed not to hear. But presently she spoke:

"Thou hast said. But the Hebrew droppeth out of the inheritance of the Pharaohs in thy generation, Rachel. The end of the bondage is at hand. Thou shalt see it. Of a truth Israel shall perish. If its afflictions increase for long. But they shall not continue. Have we entered Canaan as God sware unto Abraham we should? Have we possessed the gates of our enemies? Shall He stamp us out, with His promise yet unfulfilled? Behold, we have gone astray from Him, but not utterly, as all the other peoples of the earth. For centuries, amid the great clamor of prayers to the hollow gods, there arose only from this compound of slaves, here, a call to Him. Out of the reek of idolatrous savors, drifted up now and again the straight column from the altar of a Hebrew, sacrificing to the One God. Where, indeed, are any faithful, save in Israel? Shall He condemn us who only have held steadfast? Nay! He hath but permitted the oppression that we may have our fill of the glories of Egypt and be glad to turn our backs upon her. He will cure us of idols by showing forth their helplessness when they are cried unto; and when Israel is in its most grievous strait and therefore most prone to attach itself to whosoever helpeth it. He will prove Himself at last by His power. Aye, thou hast said. Israel can suffer little more without perishing. Therefore is redemption at hand."

Rachel had turned her eyes away from the humiliation of Israel to its exaltation—from fact to prophecy. She was looking with awed face at Deborah. The prophetess went on:

"Israel hath been a green tree, carried hither in seed and grown in the wheat-fields of Mizraim. The herds and the flocks of the Pharaoh gathered under its branches and were sheltered from the sun by day and from the wolves by night. The early Pharaohs loved it, the later Pharaohs used it and the last Pharaohs feared it. For it grew exceedingly and overshadowed the wheat-fields and they said: 'It will come between us and Ra who is our god and he will bless it instead of the wheat. Let us cut it down and build us temples of its timber.' But the Lord had planted the tree in seed and in its youth it grew under the tendance of the Lord's hand. And in later years, though it lent its shadow as a grove for the idols and temples of gods, the most of it faced Heaven, and for that the Lord loves it still. The Pharaohs have lopped its branches, unmolested, but lo! now that the ax strikes at its girth, the Lord will uproot it and plant it elsewhere than in Mizraim. But the soil will not relinquish it readily, for it hath struck deep. There shall be a gaping wound in Mizraim where it stood and all the land shall be rent with the violence of the parting."

The prophetess paused, or rather her voice died away as if she actually beheld the scene she foretold, and no more words were needed to make it plain. Rachel's hands were clasped before her breast. "Sayest thou these things in prophecy?" she asked finally in an eager half-whisper. Deborah's eyes seemed to awaken. She looked at Rachel a moment and answered with a nod. The girl's vision wandered slowly again toward the camp, and the sorrowful unrest of Israel subdued the inspired elation that had begun to possess her. Her face clouded once more. Deborah touched her.

"Trouble not thyself concerning these people. They go forth to labor, but their burdens shall be lightened ere long. As for thee and me—" she paused and looked up toward the eminence on which the military headquarters were built.

"As for thee and me—" Rachel urged her. Deborah motioned in the direction she gazed. "Come, let us make ready," she said; "they are beginning."

The Egyptian masters over Israel of Pa-Ramesu were emerging from the quarters. They were, almost uniformly, tall, slender and immature in figure. Dressed in the foot-soldier's tunic and coif, they looked like long-limbed youths compared with the powerful manhood of the sons of Abraham.

Among them, in white wool and enameled aprons, was a number of scribes, without whom the official machinery of Egypt would have stilled in a single revolution.

The men advanced, sauntering, talking with one another idly, as if awaiting authority to proceed.

That came, presently, in the shape of an Egyptian charioteer. The vehicle was heavy, short-poled, set low on two broad wheels of six spokes, and built of hard wood, painted in wedge-shaped stripes of green and red. The end was open, the front high and curved, the side fitted with a boot of woven reeds for the ax and javelins of the warrior. Axle and pole were shod with spikes of copper and the joints were secured with tongues of bronze. The horses were bay, small, short, glossy and long of mane and tail. The harness was simple, each piece as broad as a man's arm, stamped and richly stained with many colors.

The man was an ideal soldier of Egypt. He was tall and broad-shouldered, but otherwise lean and lithe. In countenance, he was dark,—browner than most Egyptians, but with that peculiar ruddy swarthiness that is never the negro hue. His duskiness was accentuated by low and intensely black brows, and deep-set, heavy-lidded eyes. Although his features were marked by the delicacy characteristic of the Egyptian face, there was none of the Oriental affability to be found thereon. One might expect deeds of him, but never words or wit.

He wore the Egyptian smock, or kamis—of dark linen, open in front from belt to hem, disclosing a kilt or shenti of clouded enamel. His head-dress was the kerchief of linen, bound tightly across the forehead and falling with free-flowing skirts to the shoulders. The sleeves left off at the elbow and his lower arms were clasped with bracelets of ivory and gold. His ankles were similarly adorned, and his sandals of gazelle-hide were beaded and stitched. His was a somber and barbaric presence. This was Atsu, captain of chariots and vice-commander over Pa-Ramesu.

His subordinates parted and gave him respectful path. He delivered his orders in an impassive, low-pitched monotone.

"Out with them, and mark ye, no lashes now. Leave the old and the nursing mothers."

The drivers disappeared into the narrow ways of the encampment, and Atsu, with the scribes at his wheels, drove out where the avenue of sphinxes would have led to the temple of Imhotep. Here was room for three thousand. He alighted and, with the scribes who stood, tablets in hand, awaited the coming of the Israelites.

The camp emptied its dwellers in long wavering lines. Into the open they came, slowly, and with downcast eyes, each with his remnant of a tribe. Though the columns were in order, they were ragged with many and varied statures—now a grown man, next to him a child, and then a woman. Here were the red-bearded sons of Reuben, shepherds in skins and men of great hardihood; the seafaring children of Zebulon; a handful of submissive Issachar, and some of Benjamin, Levi, and Judah.

"Do we not leave the aged behind?" the scribe asked, indicating Deborah who came with Judah.

"Give her her way," Atsu replied indifferently, and the scribe subsided.

The lines advanced, filling up the open with moody humanity. A scribe placed himself at the head of each column, and as the hindmost Israelite emerged into the field the movement was halted.

If an eye was lifted, it shifted rapidly under the stress of desperation or suspense. If any spoke, it was the rough and indifferent, whose words fell like blows on the distressed silence. Many were visibly trembling, others had whitened beneath the tropical tan, and the wondering faces of children, who feared without understanding, turned now and again to search for their elders up and down the lines.

The drivers distributed themselves among the Israelites and each with a scribe went methodically along the files choosing every tenth.

"Get thee to my house and bring me my lists," Atsu said to the soldier who was beginning on Judah. "I will look to thy work." The man crossed his left hand to his right shoulder and hastened away.

One by one nine Israelites dropped out of line as Atsu numbered them and returned to camp. He touched the tenth.

"Name?" the scribe asked.

"Deborah," was the reply.

Meanwhile Atsu walked rapidly down the line to Rachel. The Hebrews fell out as he passed, and the relief on the faces of one or two was mingled with astonishment. He paused before the girl, hesitating. Words did not rise readily to his lips at any time; at this moment he was especially at loss.

"Thou canst abide here, in perfect security—with me," he said at last. She shook her head. "I thank thee, my good master."

"For thy sake, not mine own, I would urge thee," he continued with an unnatural steadiness. "Thou canst accept of me the safety of marriage. Nothing more shall I offer—or demand."

The color rushed over the girl's face, but he went on evenly.

"A part go to Silsilis, another to Syene, a third to Masaarah. If thine insulter asks concerning thy whereabouts I shall not trouble myself to remember. But what shall keep him from searching for thee—and are there any like to defend thee, if he find thee, seeing I am not there? And even if thou art securely hidden, thou hast never dreamed how heavy is the life of the stone-pits, Rachel."

"Keep Deborah here," the girl besought him, distressed. "She is old and will perish—"

"Nay, I will not send thee out alone," was the reply. "If thou goest, so must she. But—hast thou no fear?"

Once again she shook her head.

"I trust to the triumph of the good," she replied earnestly.

The sound of the scribe's approach behind him, moved him on.

"Farewell," he said as he went, and added no more, for his composure failed him.

"The grace of the Lord God attend thee," she whispered. "Farewell."

All the morning the work went on, and when the Egyptian mid-winter noon lay warm on the flat country, three hundred Israelites were ready for the long march to the Nile. They left behind them a camp oppressed with that heart-soreness, which affliction added to old afflictions brings,—the numb ache of sorrow, not its lively pain. Only Deborah, the childless, and Rachel, the motherless, went with lighter hearts,—if hearts can be light that go forward to meet the unknown fortunes of bond-people.

As they moved out, one of the older Hebrews in the forward ranks began to sing, in a wild recitative chant, of Canaan and the freedom of Israel. The elders in the line near him took it up and every face in the long column lighted and was lifted in silent concord with the singers. Atsu in his chariot, close by, scanned his lists absorbedly, but one of the drivers hurried forward with a demand for silence. A young Hebrew, who had tramped in agitated silence just ahead, worked up into recklessness by the fervor of the singers, defied him. His voice rang clear above the song.

"Go to, thou bald-faced idolater! Israel will cease to do thy bidding one near day."

The driver forced his way into the front ranks and began to lay about him with his knout. Instantly he was cast forth by a dozen brawny arms.

"Mutiny!" he bawled.

A group of drivers reinforced him at once.

"By Bast," the foremost cried, as he came running. "The sedition of the renegade, Mesu,[1] bears early fruit!"

But the spirit of rebellion became contagious and the men of Israel began to throw themselves out of line. At this moment, Atsu seemed to become conscious of the riot and drove his horses between the combatants.

"Into ranks with you!" he commanded, pressing forward upon the Hebrews. The men obeyed sullenly.

"I have said there was to be no use of the knouts," he said sharply, turning upon the drivers. "Forward with them!"

The first driver muttered.

"What sayest thou?" Atsu demanded.

The man's mouth opened and closed, and his eyes drew up, evilly, but he made no answer.

"Forward with them," Atsu repeated, without removing his gaze from the driver.

Slowly, and now silently, the hereditary slaves of the Pharaoh moved out of Pa-Ramesu. And of all the departing numbers and of all that remained behind, none was more stricken in heart than Atsu, the stern taskmaster over Israel.

[1] Moses.



CHAPTER II

UNDER BAN OF THE RITUAL

Holy Memphis, city of Apis, habitat of Ptah!

Not idly was she called Menefer, the Good Place. Not anywhere in Egypt were the winds more gentle, the heavens more benign, the environs more august.

To the south and west of her, the Libyan hills notched the horizon. To the east the bald summits of the Arabian desert cut off the traveling sand in its march on the capital. To the north was a shimmering level that stretched unbroken to the sea. Set upon this at mid-distance, the pyramids uplifted their stupendous forms. In the afternoon they assumed the blue of the atmosphere and appeared indistinct, but in the morning the polished sides that faced the east reflected the sun's rays in dazzling sheets across the valley.

Out of a crevice between the heights to the south the broad blue Nile rolled, sweeping past one hundred and twenty stadia or sixteen miles of urban magnificence, and lost itself in the shimmering sky-line to the north.

The city was walled on the north, west, and south, and its river-front was protected by a mighty dike, built by Menes, the first king of the first dynasty in the hour of chronological daybreak. Within were orderly squares, cross-cut by avenues and relieved from monotony by scattered mosaics of groves. Out of these shady demesnes rose the great white temples of Ptah and Apis, and the palaces of the various Memphian Pharaohs.

About these, the bazaars and residences, facade above facade, and tier upon tier, as the land sloped up to its center, shone fair and white under a cloudless sun.

Memphis was at the pinnacle of her greatness in the sixth year of the reign of the divine Meneptah. She had fortified herself and resisted the great invasion of the Rebu. Her generals had done battle with him and brought him home, chained to their chariots.

And after the festivities in celebration of her prowess, she laid down pike and falchion, bull-hide shield and helmet, and took up the chisel and brush, the spindle and loom once more.

The heavy drowsiness of a mid-winter noon had depopulated her booths and bazaars and quieted the quaint traffic of her squares. In the shadows of the city her porters drowsed, and from the continuous wall of houses blankly facing one another from either side of the streets, there came no sound. Each household sought the breezes on the balconies that galleried the inner walls of the courts, or upon the pillared and canopied housetops.

Memphis had eaten and drunk and, sheltered behind her screens, waited for the noon to pass.

Mentu, the king's sculptor, however, had not availed himself of the hour of ease. He did not labor because he must, for his house stood in the aristocratic portion of Memphis, and it was storied, galleried, screened and topped with its breezy pavilion. Within the hollow space, formed by the right and left wings of his house, the chamber of guests to the front, and the property wall to the rear, was a court of uncommon beauty. Palm and tamarisk, acacia and rose-shrub, jasmine and purple mimosa made a multi-tinted jungle about a shadowy pool in which a white heron stood knee-deep. There were long stretches of sunlit sod, and walks of inlaid tile, seats of carved stone, and a single small obelisk, set on a circular slab, marked with measures for time—the Egyptian sun-dial. On every side were evidences of wealth and luxury.

So Mentu labored because he loved to toil. In a land languorous with tropical inertia, an enthusiastic toiler is not common. For this reason, Mentu was worth particular attention. He towered a palm in height over his Egyptian brethren, and his massive frame was entirely in keeping with his majestic stature. He was nearly fifty years of age, but no sign of the early decay of the Oriental was apparent in him. His was the characteristic refinement of feature that marks the Egyptian countenance, further accentuated by self-content and some hauteur. The idea of dignity was carried out in his dress. The kilt was not visible, for the kamis had become a robe, long-sleeved, high-necked and belted with a broad band of linen, encompassing the body twice, before it was fastened with a fibula of massive gold.

That he was an artisan noble was another peculiarity, but it was proof of exceptional merit. He had descended from a long line of royal sculptors, heightening in genius in the last three. His grandsire had elaborated Karnak; his father had decorated the Rameseum, but Mentu had surpassed the glory of his ancestors. In the years of his youth, side by side with the great Rameses, he had planned and brought to perfection the mightiest monument to Egyptian sculpture, the rock-carved temple of Ipsambul. In recognition of this he had been given to wife a daughter of the Pharaoh and raised to a rank never before occupied by a king's sculptor. He was second only to the fan-bearers, the most powerful nobles of the realm, and at par with the market, or royal architect, who was usually chosen from among the princes. And yet he had but come again to his own when he entered the ranks of peerage. In the long line of his ancestors he counted a king, and from that royal sire he had his stature.

He sat before a table covered with tools of his craft, rolls of papyrus, pens of reeds, pots of ink of various colors, horns of oil, molds and clay images and vessels of paint. Hanging upon pegs in the wooden walls of his work-room were saws and the heavier drills, chisels of bronze and mauls of tamarisk, suspended by thongs of deer-hide.

The sculptor, rapidly and without effort, worked out with his pen on a sheet of papyrus the detail of a frieze. Tiny profile figures, quaint borders of lotus and mystic inscriptions trailed after the swift reed in multitudinous and bewildering succession. As he worked, a young man entered the doorway from the court and, advancing a few steps toward the table, watched the development of the drawings with interest.

Those were the days of early maturity and short life. The Egyptian of the Exodus often married at sixteen, and was full of years and ready to be gathered to Osiris at fifty-five or sixty. The great Rameses lived to the unheard-of age of seventy-seven, having occupied the throne since his eleventh year.

This young Egyptian, nearly eighteen, was grown and powerful with the might of mature manhood. A glance at the pair at once established their relationship as father and son. The features were strikingly similar, the stature the same, though the young frame was supple and light, not massive.

The hair was straight, abundant, brilliant black and cropped midway down the neck and just above the brows. There was no effort at parting. It was dressed from the crown of the head as each hair would naturally lie and was confined by a circlet of gold, the token of the royal blood of his mother's house. The complexion was the hue of a healthy tan, different, however, from the brown of exposure in that it was transparent and the red in the cheek was dusky. The face was the classic type of the race, for be it known there were two physiognomies characteristic of Egypt.

The forehead was broad, the brows long and delicately penciled, the eyes softly black, very long, the lids heavy enough to suggest serenity rather than languor. The nose was of good length, aquiline, the nostril thin and sharply chiseled. The cut of the mouth and the warmth of its color gave seriousness, sensitiveness and youthful tenderness to the face.

Egypt was seldom athletic. Though running and wrestling figured much in the pastime of youths, the nation was languid and soft. However, Seti the Elder demanded the severest physical exercise of his sons, and Rameses II, who succeeded him, made muscle and brawn popular by example, during his reign. Here, then, was an instance of king-mimicking that was admirable.

Originally the young man had been gifted with breadth of shoulder, depth of chest, health and vigor. He would have been strong had he never vaulted a pole or run a mile. To these advantages were added the results of wise and thorough training, so wise, so thorough, that defects in the national physique had been remedied. Thus, the calves were stanch and prominent, whereas ancient Egypt was as flat-legged as the negro; the body was round and tapered with proper athletic rapidity from shoulder to heel, without any sign of the lank attenuation that was characteristic of most of his countrymen.

The suggestion of his presence was power and bigness, not the good-natured size that is hulking and awkward, but bigness that is elegant and fine-fibered and ages into magnificence.

He wore a tunic of white linen, the finely plaited skirt reaching almost to the knees. The belt was of leather, three fingers in breadth and ornamented with metal pieces, small, round and polished. His sandals were of white gazelle-hide, stitched with gold, and, by way of ornament, he had but a single armlet, and a collar, consisting of ten golden rings, depending by eyelets from a flexible band of the same material. The metal was unpolished and its lack-luster red harmonized wonderfully with the bronze throat it clasped.

Diminutive Isis in profile had emerged part-way from the background of papyrus, and the sculptor lifted his pen to sketch in the farther shoulder as the law required. The young man leaned forward and watched. But as the addition was made, giving to the otherwise shapely little goddess an uncomfortable but thoroughly orthodox twist, he frowned slightly. After a moment's silence he came to the bench.

"Hast thou caught some great idea on the wing or hast thou the round of actual labor to perform?" he asked.

His attention thus hailed, the sculptor raised himself and answered:

"Meneptah hath a temple to Set[1] in mind; indeed he hath stirred up the quarries for the stone, I am told, and I am making ready, for I shall be needed."

The older a civilization, the smoother its speech. Age refines the vowels and makes the consonants suave. They spoke easily, not hastily, but as oil flows, continuously and without ripple. The younger voice was deep, soft enough to have been wooing and as musical as a chant.

"Would that the work were as probable as thou art hopeful," the young man said with a sigh.

"Out upon thee, idler!" was the warm reply. "Art thou come to vex me with thy doubts and scout thy sovereign's pious intentions?" The young man smiled.

"Hath the sun shone on architecture or sculpture since Meneptah succeeded to the throne?" he asked.

Mentu's eyes brightened wrathfully but the young man laid a soothing palm over the hand that gripped the reed.

"I do not mock thee, father. Rather am I full of sympathy for thee. Thou mindest me of a war-horse, stabled, with his battle-love unsatisfied, hearing in every whimper of the wind a trumpet call. Nay, I would to Osiris that the Pharaoh's intents were permanent."

Somewhat mollified, Mentu put away the detaining hand and went on with his work. Presently the young man spoke again.

"I came to speak further of the signet," he said.

"Aye, but what signet, Kenkenes?"

"The signet of the Incomparable Pharaoh."

"What! after three years?"

"The sanctuary of the tomb is never entered and it is more than worth the Journey to Tape[2] to search for the scarab again."

"But you would search in vain," the sculptor declared. "Rameses has reclaimed his own."

Kenkenes shifted his position and protested.

"But we made no great search for it. How may we know of a surety if it be gone?"

"Because of thy sacrilege," was the prompt and forcible reply. "Osiris with chin in hand and a look of mystification on his brow, pondering over the misdeeds of a soul! Mystification on Osiris! And with that, thou didst affront the sacred walls of the royal tomb and call it the Judgment of the Dead. Not one law of the sculptor's ritual but thou hadst broken, in the sacrilegious fresco. Gods! I marvel that the rock did not crumble under the first bite of thy chisel!"

Mentu fell to his work again. While he talked a small ape entered the room and, discovering the paint-pots, proceeded to decorate his person with a liberal hand. At this moment Kenkenes became aware of him and, by an accurately aimed lump of clay, drove the meddler out with a show of more asperity than the offense would ordinarily excite. Meanwhile the sculptor wetted his pen and, poising it over the plans, regarded his drawings with half-closed eyes. Then, as if he read his words on the papyrus he proceeded:

"Thou wast not ignorant. All thy life hast thou had the decorous laws of the ritual before thee. And there, in the holy precincts of the Incomparable Pharaoh's tomb, with the opportunity of a lifetime at hand, the skill of thy fathers in thy fingers, thou didst execute an impious whim,—an unheard-of apostasy." He broke off suddenly, changing his tone. "What if the priesthood had learned of the deed? The Hathors be praised that they did not and that no heavier punishment than the loss of the signet is ours."

"But it may have caught on thy chisel and broken from its fastening. Thou dost remember that the floor was checkered with deep black shadows."

"The hand of the insulted Pharaoh reached out of Amenti[3] and stripped it off my neck," Mentu replied sternly. "And consider what I and all of mine who come after me lost in that foolish act of thine. It was a token of special favor from Rameses, a mark of appreciation of mine art, and, more than all, a signet that I or mine might present to him or his successor and win royal good will thereby."

"That I know right well," Kenkenes interrupted with an anxious note in his voice, "and for that reason am I possessed to go after it to Tape."

The sculptor lifted a stern face to his son and said, with emphasis: "Wilt thou further offend the gods, thou impious? It is not there, and vex me no further concerning it."

Kenkenes lifted one of his brows with an air of enforced patience, and sauntered across the room to another table similarly equipped for plan-making. But he did not concern himself with the papyrus spread thereon. Instead he dropped on the bench, and crossing his shapely feet before him, gazed straight up at the date-tree rafters and palm-leaf interbraiding of the ceiling.

Though the law of heredity is not trustworthy in the transmission of greatness, Kenkenes was the product of three generations of heroic genius. He might have developed the frequent example of decadence; he might have sustained the excellence of his fathers' gift, but he could not surpass them in the methods of their school of sculpture and its results. There was one way in which he might excel, and he was born with his feet in that path. His genius was too large for the limits of his era. Therefore he was an artistic dissenter, a reformer with noble ideals.

Mimetic art as applied to Egyptian painting and sculpture was a curious misnomer. Probably no other nation of the world at that time was so devoted to it, and certainly no other people of equal advancement of that or any other time so wilfully ignored the simplest rules of proportion, perspective and form. The sculptor's ability to suggest majesty and repose, and at the same time ignore anatomical construction, was wonderful. To preserve the features and individual characteristics of a model and obey the rules of convention was a feat to be achieved only by an Egyptian. There was no lack of genius in him, but he had been denied liberty of execution until he knew no other forms but those his fathers followed generations before.

All Egypt was but a padding that the structural framework of religion supported. Science, art, literature, government, commerce, whatever the member, it was built upon a bone of religion. The processes and uses of sculpture were controlled by the sculptor's ritual and woe unto him who departed therefrom in depicting the gods! The deed was sacrilege.

In the portrait-forms the limits were less severely drawn. There were a dozen permissible attitudes, and, the characteristic features might be represented with all fidelity; but there were boundaries that might not be overstepped. The result was an artistic perversion that well-nigh perpetrated a grotesque slander on the personal appearance of the race.

After the manner of Egyptians it was understood that Kenkenes was to follow his father's calling, and ahead of him were years of labor laid in narrow lines. If he rebelled, he incurred infinite difficulty and opposition, and yet he could not wholly submit. He had been an apt and able pupil during the long process of his instruction, but when the moment of actual practice of his art arrived, he had rebelled. His first work had been his last and, in the estimation of his father, had entailed a grievous loss. Thereafter he had been limited to copying the great sculptor's plans, the work of scribes and underlings.

Thus, he had passed three years that chafed him because of their comparative idleness and their implied rebuke. The pressure finally became too great, and he began to weigh the matter of compromise. If he could secretly satisfy his own sense of the beautiful he might follow the ritual with grace.

His cogitations, as he sat before his table, assumed form and purpose.

Presently Mentu, raising his head, noted that the shadows were falling aslant the court. With an interested but inarticulate remark, he dropped his pen among its fellows in an earthenware tray, his plans into an open chest, and went out across the court, entering an opposite door.

With his father's exit, Kenkenes shifted his position, and the expression of deep thought grew on his face. After a long interval of motionless absorption he sprang to his feet and, catching a wallet of stamped and dyed leather from the wall, spread it open on the table. Chisel, mallet, tape and knife, he put into it, and dropped wallet and all into a box near-by at the sound of the sculptor's footsteps.

The great artist reentered in court robes of creamy linen, stiff with embroidery and gold stitching.

"Har-hat passes through Memphis to-day on his way to Tape, where he is to be installed as bearer of the king's fan on the right hand. He is at the palace, and nobles of the city go thither to wait upon him."

"The king was not long in choosing a successor to the lamented Amset," Kenkenes observed. "Har-hat vaults loftily from the nomarchship of Bubastis to an advisership to the Pharaoh."

"Rather hath his ascent been slower than his deserts. How had the Rebu war ended had it not been for Har-hat? He is a great warrior, hath won honor for Egypt and for Meneptah. The army would follow him into the jaws of Tuat,[4] and Rameses, the heir, need never take up arms, so long as Har-hat commands the legions of Egypt. But how the warrior will serve as minister is yet to be seen."

"Who succeeds him over Bubastis?"

"Merenra, another of the war-tried generals. He hath been commander over Pa-Ramesu. Atsu takes his place over the Israelites."

"Atsu?" Kenkenes mused. "I know him not."

"He is a captain of chariots, and won much distinction during the Rebu invasion. He is a native of Mendes."

Left alone, Kenkenes crossed the court to the door his father had entered and emerged later in a street dress of mantle and close-fitting coif. He took up the wallet and quitted the room. Passing through the intramural park and the chamber of guests, he entered the street. It was a narrow, featureless passage, scarcely wide enough to give room for a chariot. The brown dust had more prints of naked than of sandaled feet, for most men of the young sculptor's rank went abroad in chariots.

Once out of the passage, he turned across the city toward the east. Memphis had pushed aside her screens and shaken out her tapestries after the noon rest and was deep in commerce once again. From the low balconies overhead the Damascene carpets swung, lending festivity to the energetic traffic below. The pillars of stacked ware flanking the fronts of pottery shops were in a constant state of wreckage and reconstruction; the stalls of fruiterers perfumed the air with crushed and over-ripe produce; litters with dark-eyed occupants and fan-bearing attendants stood before the doorways of lapidaries and booths of stuffs; venders of images, unguents, trinkets and wines strove to outcry one another or the poulterer's squawking stall. Kenkenes met frequent obstructions and was forced to reduce his rapid pace. Curricles and chariots and wicker chairs halted him at many crossings. Carriers took up much of the narrow streets with large burdens; notaries and scribes sat cross-legged on the pavement, surrounded by their patrons and clients, and beggars and fortune-tellers strove for the young man's attention. The crowd thickened and thinned and grew again; pigeons winnowed fearlessly down to the roadway dust, and a distant yapping of dogs came down the slanting street. At times Kenkenes encountered whole troops of sacred cats that wandered about the city, monarchs over the monarch himself. By crowding into doorways he allowed these pampered felines to pass undisturbed.

In the district near the lower edge of the city he met the heavy carts of rustics, laden with cages of geese and crates of produce, moving slowly in from the wide highways of the Memphian nome. The broad backs of the oxen were gray with dust and their drivers were masked in grime.

The smell of the river became insistent. In the open stalls the fishmongers had their naked brood keeping the flies away from the stock with leafy branches. The limits of Memphis ended precipitately at a sudden slope. In the long descent to the Nile there were few permanent structures. Half-way down were great lengths of high platform built upon acacia piling. This was the flood-tide wharf, but it was used now only by loiterers, who lay upon it to bask dog-like in the sun. The long intervening stretch between the builded city and the river was covered with boats and river-men. Fishers mending nets were grouped together, but they talked with one another as if each were a furlong away from his fellow. Freight bearers, emptying the newly-arrived vessels of cargo, staggered up toward the city. Now and again sledges laden with ponderous burdens were drawn through the sand by yokes of oxen, oftener by scores of men, on whom the drivers did not hesitate to lay the lash.

River traffic was carried on far below the flood-tide wharf. Here the long landings of solid masonry, covered with deep water four months of the year, were lined with vessels. Between yard-arms hanging aslant and over decks, glimpses of the Nile might be caught. It rippled passively between its banks, for it was yet seven months before the first showing of the June rise. Here were the frail papyrus bari, constructed like a raft and no more concave than a long bow; the huge cedar-masted cangias, flat-bottomed and slow-moving; the ancient dhow with its shapeless tent-cabin aft; the ponderous cattle barges and freight vessels built of rough-hewn logs; the light passenger skiffs; and lastly, the sumptuous pleasure-boats. These were elaborate and beautiful, painted and paneled, ornamented with garlands and sheaves of carved lotus, and spread with sails, checkered and embroidered in many colors. From these emerged processions of parties returning from pleasure trips up the Nile. They came with much pomp and following, asserting themselves and proceeding through paths made ready for them by the obsequious laboring classes.

Presently there approached a corps of servants, bearing bundles of throw-sticks, nets, two or three fox-headed cats, bows and arrows, strings of fish and hampers of fowl. Behind, on the shoulders of four stalwart bearers, came a litter, fluttering with gay-colored hangings. Beside it walked an Egyptian of high class. Suddenly the bearers halted, and a little hand, imperious and literally aflame with jewels, beckoned Kenkenes from the shady interior of the litter.

He obeyed promptly. At another command the litter was lowered till the poles were supported in the hands of the bearers. The curtains were withdrawn, revealing the occupant—a woman.

This, to the glory of Egypt! Woman was defended, revered, exalted above her sisters of any contemporary nation. No haremic seclusion for her; no semi-contemptuous toleration of her; no austere limits laid upon her uses. She bared her face to the thronging streets; she reveled beside her brother; she worshiped with him; she admitted no subserviency to her lord beyond the pretty deference that it pleased her to pay; she governed his household and his children; she learned, she wrote, she wore the crown. She might have a successor but no supplanter; an Egyptian of the dynasties before the Persian dominance could have but one wife at a time; none but kings could be profligate, openly. So, while Babylonia led her maidens to a market, while Ethiopia ruled hers with a rod, while Arabia numbered hers among her she-camels, Egypt gloried in national chivalry and spiritual love.

This was the sentiment of the nation, by the lips of Khu-n-Aten, the artist king:

"Sweet love fills my heart for the queen; may she ever keep the hand of the Pharaoh."

Whatever Egypt's mode of worshiping Khem and Isis, nothing could set at naught this clean, impulsive, sincere avowal.

Here, then, openly and in perfect propriety was a woman abroad with her suitor.

She might have been eighteen years old, but there was nothing girlish in her gorgeous beauty. She was a red rose, full-blown.

Her robes were a double thickness of loose-meshed white linen, with a delicate stripe of scarlet; her head-dress a single swathing of scarlet gauze. She wore not one, but many kinds of jewels, and her anklets and armlets tinkled with fringes of cats and hawks in carnelian. Her hair was brilliant black and unbraided. Her complexion was transparent, and the underlying red showed deeply in the small, full-lipped mouth; like a stain in the cheeks; like a flush on the brow, and even faintly on the dainty chin. Her eyes were large and black, with the amorous lid, and lined with kohl beneath the lower lash. Her profile showed the exquisite aquiline of the pure-blooded Egyptian.

Aside from the visible evidences of charm there was an atmosphere of femininity that permeated her immediate vicinity with a witchery little short of enchantment. She was the Lady Ta-meri, daughter of Amenemhat, nomarch[5] of Memphis.

The Egyptian accompanying the litter was nearly thirty years of age. He was an example of the other type of the race, differing from the classic model of Kenkenes. The forehead retreated, the nose was long, low, slightly depressed at the end; the mouth, thick-lipped; the eye, narrow and almond-shaped; the cheek-bones, high; the complexion, dark brown. Still, the great ripeness of lip, aggressive whiteness of teeth and brilliance of eye made his face pleasant. He wore a shenti of yellow, over it a kamis of white linen, a kerchief bound with a yellow cord about his head, and white sandals.

He was the nephew of the king's cup-bearer, who had died without issue at Thebes during the past month. His elder brother had succeeded his father to a high office in the priesthood, but he, Nechutes, was a candidate for the honors of his dead uncle.

Kenkenes gave the man a smiling nod and bent over the lady's fingers.

"Fie!" was her greeting. "Abroad like the rabble, and carrying a burden." She filliped the wallet with a pink-stained finger-nail.

"Sit here," she commanded, patting the cushioned edge of the litter.

The sculptor declined the invitation with a smile.

"I go to try some stone," he explained.

"Truly, I believe thou lovest labor," the lady asserted accusingly. "Ah, but punishment overtakes thee at last. Behold, thou mightst have gone with me to the marshes to-day, but I knew thou wouldst be as deep in labor as a slave. And so I took Nechutes."

Kenkenes shot an amused glance at her companion.

"I would wager my mummy, Nechutes, that this is the first intimation thou hast had that thou wert second choice," he said.

"Aye, thou hast said," Nechutes admitted, his eyes showing a sudden light. He had a voice of profound depth and resonance, that rumbled like the purring of the king's lions. "And not a moment since she swore that it was I who made her sun to move, and that Tuat itself were sweet so I were there."

"O Ma[6]," the lady cried, threatening him with her fan. "Thou Defender of Truth, smite him!"

Kenkenes laughed with delight.

"Nay, nay, Nechutes!" he cried. "Thou dost betray thyself. Never would Ta-meri have said anything so bald. Now, when she is moved to give me a honeyed fact, she laps it with delicate intimation, layer on layer like a lotus-bud. And only under the warm interpretation of my heart will it unfold and show the gold within."

Nechutes stifled a derisive groan, but the lady's color swept up over her face and made it like the dawn.

"Nay, now," she protested, "wherein art thou better than Nechutes, save in the manner of telling thy calumny? But, Kenkenes," she broke off, "thou art wasted in thy narrow realm. They need thy gallant tongue at court."

The young sculptor made soft eyes at her.

"If I were a courtier," he objected, "I must scatter my small eloquence among many beauties that I would liefer save for one."

She appropriated the compliment at once.

"Thou dost not hunger after even that opportunity," she pouted. "How long hath it been since the halls of my father's house knew thy steps? A whole moon!"

"I feared that I should find Nechutes there," Kenkenes explained.

During this pretty joust the brows of the prospective cup-bearer had knitted blackly. The scowl was unpropitious.

"Thou mayest come freely now," he growled, "The way shall be clear."

The lady looked at him in mock fear.

"Come, Nechutes," the sculptor implored laughingly, "be gracious. Being in highest favor, it behooves thee to be generous."

But the prospective cup-bearer refused to be placated. He rumbled an order to the slaves and they shouldered the litter.

Ta-meri made a pretty mouth at him, and turned again to Kenkenes.

"Nay, Kenkenes," she said. "It was mine to say that the way shall be clear—but I promise it."

She nodded a bright farewell to him, and they moved away. The sculptor, still smiling, continued down to the river.

At the landing he engaged one of the numerous small boats awaiting a passenger, and directed the clout-wearing boatman to drop down the stream.

Directly opposite his point of embarkation there were farm lands, fertile and moist, extending inland for a mile. But presently the frontier of the desert laid down a gray and yellow dead-line over which no domestic plant might strike its root and live.

But the arable tracts were velvet green with young grain, the verdant level broken here and there by a rustic's hut, under two or three close-standing palms. Even from the surface of the Nile the checkered appearance of the country, caused by the various kinds of products, was noticeable. Egypt was the most fertile land in the world.

However, as the light bari climbed and dipped on the little waves toward the north the Arabian hills began to approach the river. Their fronts became abrupt and showed the edges of stratum on stratum of white stone. About their bases were quantities of rubble and gray dust slanting against their sides in slides and drifts. Across the narrowing strip of fertility square cavities in rows showed themselves in the white face of the cliffs. The ruins of a number of squat hovels were barely discernible over the wheat.

"Set me down near Masaarah," Kenkenes said, "and wait for me." The boatman ducked his head respectfully and made toward the eastern shore. He effected a landing at a bedding of masonry on which a wharf had once been built. The rock was now over-run with riotous marsh growth.

The quarries had not been worked for half a century. The thrifty husbandman had cultivated his narrow field within a few feet of the Nile, and the roadway that had once led from the ruined wharf toward the hills was obliterated by the grain.

Kenkenes alighted and struck through the wheat toward the pitted front of the cliffs. Before him was a narrow gorge that debouched into the great valley over a ledge of stone three feet in height. After much winding the ravine terminated in a wide pocket, a quarter of a mile inland. Exit from this cul-de-sac was possible toward the east by a steep slope leading to the top of one of the interior ridges of the desert. Kenkenes did not pause at the cluster of houses. The roofs had fallen in and the place was quite uninhabitable. But he leaped up into the little valley and followed it to its end. There he climbed the sharp declivity and turned back in the direction he had come, along the flank of the hill that formed the north wall of the gorge. The summit of the height was far above him, and the slope was covered with limestone masses. There had been no frost nor rain to disturb the original rock-piling. Only the agencies of sand and wind had disarranged the distribution on which the builders of the earliest dynasty had looked. And this was weird, mysterious and labyrinthine.

At a spot where a great deal of broken rock encumbered the ground, Kenkenes unslung his wallet and tested the fragments with chisel and mallet. It was the same as the quarry product—magnesium limestone, white, fine, close-grained and easily worked. But it was broken in fragments too small for his purpose. Above him were fields of greater masses.

"Now, I was born under a fortunate sign," he said aloud as he scaled the hillside; "but I fear those slabs are too long for a life-sized statue."

On reaching them he found that those blocks which appeared from a distance to weigh less than a ton, were irregular cubes ten feet high.

He grumbled his disappointment and climbed upon one to take a general survey of his stoneyard. At that moment his eyes fell on a block of proper dimensions under the very shadow of the great cube upon which he stood. It was in the path of the wind from the north and was buried half its height in sand.

Kenkenes leaped from his point of vantage with a cry of delight.

"Nay, now," he exclaimed; "where in this is divine disfavor?" He inspected his discovery, tried it for solidity of position and purity of texture. Its location was particularly favorable to secrecy.

It stood at the lower end of an aisle between great rocks. All view of it was cut off, save from that position taken by Kenkenes when he discovered it. A wall built between it and the north would bar the sand and form a nook, wholly closed on two sides and partly closed at each end by stones. All this made itself plain to the mind of the young sculptor at once. With a laugh of sheer content, he turned to retrace his steps and began to sing.

Then was the harsh desolation of the hills startled, the immediate echoes given unaccustomed sound to undulate in diminishing volume from one to another. He sang absently, but his preoccupation did not make his tones indifferent. For his voice was soft, full, organ-like, flexible, easy with illimitable lung-power and ineffable grace. When he ceased the silence fell, empty and barren, after that song's unaudienced splendor.

[1] Set—the war-god.

[2] Thebes.

[3] Amenti—The realm of Death.

[4] Tuat—The Egyptian Hades.

[5] Nomarch—governor of a civil division called a nome. A high office.

[6] Ma—The goddess of truth.



CHAPTER III

THE MESSENGER

Mentu returned from the session at the palace, uncommunicative and moody. When, after the evening meal, Kenkenes crossed the court to talk with him, he found the elder sculptor feeding a greedy flame in a brazier with the careful plans for the new temple to Set. Kenkenes retired noiselessly and saw his father no more that night.

The next day Mentu was bending over fresh sheets of papyrus, and when his son entered and stood beside him he raised his head defiantly.

"I have another royal obelisk to decorate," he said, fixing the young man with a steady eye, "of a surety,—without doubt,—inevitably,—for the thing is all but ready to be set up at On."

"I am glad of that," Kenkenes replied gravely. "Let me make clean copies of these which are complete."

He gathered up the sheets and took his place at the opposite table. Then ensued a long silence, broken only by the loud and restless investigations of the omnipresent and unabashed ape.

At last the elder sculptor spoke.

"The eye of heaven must be unblinkingly upon the divine Meneptah," he observed, as though he had but thought aloud.

Kenkenes gazed at his father with the inquiry on his face that he did not voice. The sculptor had risen from his bench and was searching a chest of rolled plans near him. He caught his son's look and closed his mouth on an all but spoken expression. Kenkenes continued to gaze at him in some astonishment, and the elder man muttered to himself:

"I like him not, though if Osiris should ask me why, I could not tell. But he hath a too-ready smile, and by that I know he will twirl Meneptah like a string about his finger."

The eyes of the young man widened. "The new adviser?" he asked.

"Even so," was the emphatic reply.

Before Kenkenes could ask for further enlightenment a female slave bowed in the doorway.

"The Lady Senci sends thee greeting and would speak with thee. She is at the outer portal in her curricle," she said, addressing Mentu.

The great man sprang to his feet, glanced hurriedly at his ink-stained fingers, at his robe, and then fled across the court into the door he had entered to change his dress the day before.

Kenkenes smiled, for Mentu had been a widower these ten Nile floods.

The slave still lingered.

"Also is there a messenger for thee, master," she said, bowing again.

"So? Let him enter."

The man whom the slave ushered in a few minutes later was old, spare and bent, but he was alert and restless. His eyes were brilliant and over them arched eyebrows that were almost white. He made a jerky obeisance.

"Greeting, son of Mentu. Dost thou remember me?"

The young man looked at his visitor for a moment.

"I remember," he said at last. "Thou art Ranas, courier to Snofru, priest of On. Greeting and welcome to Memphis. Enter and be seated."

"Many thanks, but mine errand is urgent. I have been a guest of my son, who abideth just without Memphis, and this morning a messenger came to my son's door. He had been sent by Snofru to Tape, but had fallen ill on the river between On and Memphis. As it happened, the house of my son was the nearest, and thither he came, in fever and beyond traveling another rod. As the message he bore concerned the priesthood, I went to Asar-Mut and I am come from him to thee. He bids thee prepare for a journey before presenting thyself to him, at the temple."

Kenkenes frowned in some perplexity.

"His command is puzzling. Am I to become a messenger for the gods?"

"The first messenger was a nobleman," the old courier explained in a conciliatory tone, "and the holy father spoke of thy fidelity and despatch."

"Mine uncle is gracious. Salute him for me and tell him I obey."

The old man bowed once more and withdrew.

When Kenkenes crossed the court a little time later he met his father.

"The Lady Senci brings me news that makes me envious," Mentu began at once, "and shames me because of thee!"

Kenkenes lifted an expressive brow at this unexpected onslaught. "Nay, now, what have I done?"

"Nothing!" Mentu asserted emphatically; "and for that reason am I wroth. The Lady Senci's nephew, Hotep, is the new chief of the royal scribes."

"I call that good tidings," Kenkenes replied, a cheerful note in his voice, "and worth greeting with a health to Hotep. But thou must remember, my father, that he is older than I."

"How much?" the elder sculptor asked.

"Three whole revolutions of Ra."

The artist regarded his son scornfully for a moment.

"The Lady Senci wishes me to prepare plans for the further elaboration of her tomb," he went on, at last, "but the work on the obelisk may not be laid aside. If I might trust you to go on with them, the Lady Senci need not wait."

"But I have, this moment, been summoned by my holy uncle, Asar-Mut, to go on a journey, and I know not when I return," Kenkenes explained.

Mentu gazed at him without comprehending.

"A messenger on his way to Tape from Snofru was overtaken with misfortune here, and Asar-Mut, getting word of it, sent for me," the young man continued. "I can only guess that he wishes me to carry on the message."

"Humph!" the elder sculptor remarked. "Asar-Mut has kingly tastes. The couriers of priests are not usually of the nobility. But get thee gone."

The pair separated and the young man passed into the house. The ape under the bunch of leaves in a palm-top looked after him fixedly for a moment, and then sliding down the tree, disappeared among the flowers.

When, half an hour later, Kenkenes entered a cross avenue leading to a great square in which the temple stood, he found the roadway filled with people, crowding about a group of disheveled women. These were shrieking, wildly tearing their hair, beating themselves and throwing dust upon their heads. Kenkenes immediately surmised that there was something more than the usual death-wail in this.

He touched a man near him on the shoulder.

"Who may these distracted women be?" he asked.

"The mothers of Khafra and Sigur, and their women."

"Nay! Are these men dead? I knew them once.

"They are by this time. They were to be hanged in the dungeon of the house of the governor of police at this hour," the man answered with morbid relish in his tone. Kenkenes looked at him in horror.

"What had they done?" he asked. The man plunged eagerly into the narrative.

"They were tomb robbers and robbed independently of the brotherhood of thieves.[1] They refused to pay the customary tribute from their spoil to the chief of robbers, and whatsoever booty they got they kept, every jot of it. Innumerable mummies were found rifled of their gold and gems, and although the chief of robbers and the governor of police sought and burrowed into every den in the Middle country, they could not find the missing treasure. Then they knew that the looting was not done by any of the licensed robbers. So all the professional thieves and all the police set themselves to seek out the lawless plunderers."

"Humph!" interpolated Kenkenes expressively.

"Aye. And it was not long with all these upon the scent until Khafra and Sigur were discovered coming forth from a tomb laden with spoil, and in the struggle which ensued they did murder. But the constabulary have not found the rest of the booty, though they made great search for it and may have put the thieves to torture. Who knows? They do dark things in the dungeon under the house of the governor of police."

"And so they hanged them speedily," said Kenkenes, desirous of ending the grisly tale.

"And so they hanged them. I could not get in to see, and these screaming mothers attracted me, so I am here. But my neighbor's son is a friend of the jailer, and I shall know yet how they died."

But Kenkenes was stalking off toward the temple, his shoulders lifted high with disgust.

"O, ye inscrutable Hathors," he exclaimed finally; "how ye have disposed the fortunes of four friends! Two of us hanged, a third in royal favor, a fourth an—an—an offender against the gods."

Presently the avenue opened into the temple square. With reverential hand Memphis put back her dwellings and her bazaars, that profane life might not press upon the sacred precincts of her mighty gods. Here was a vast acreage, overhung with the atmosphere of sanctity. The grove of mysteries was there, dark with profound shadow, and silent save for a lonesome bird song or the suspirations of the wind. The great pool in its stone basin reflected a lofty canopy of sunlit foliage, and the shaggy peristyle of palm-tree trunks.

The shadow of the great structure darkened its approaches before it was clearly visible through the grove. The devotee entered a long avenue of sphinxes—fifty pairs lining a broad highway paved with polished granite flagging.

At its termination the two truncated pyramids that formed the entrance to the temple towered upward, two hundred feet of massive masonry. Egypt had dismantled a dozen mountains to build two.

When he reached the gateway that opened like a tunnel between the ponderous pylons, he was delayed some minutes waiting till the porter should admit him through the wicket of bronze. At last, a lank youth, the son of the regular keeper, appeared, and, with an inarticulate apology, bade him enter.

Within the overarching portals he was met by a novice, a priest of the lowest orders, to whom he stated his mission. With a sign to the young man to follow, the priest passed through the porch into the inner court of the temple. This was simply an immense roofless chamber. Its sides were the outer walls of the temple proper, reinforced by stupendous pilasters and elaborated with much bas-relief and many intaglios. The ends were formed by the inner pylons of the porch and outer pylons of the main temple. The latter were guarded by colossal divinities. Down the center of the court was a second aisle of sphinxes. They had entered this when the priest, with a startled exclamation, sprang behind one of the recumbent monsters in time to avoid the frolicsome salutation of an ape.

"Anubis! Mut, the Mother of Darkness, lends you her cloak! Out!" Kenkenes cried, striking at his pet. The wary animal eluded the blow and for a moment revolved about another sphinx, pursued by his master, and then fled like a phantom out of the court by the path he came. By this time the priest had emerged from his refuge and was attempting to prevent the young man's interference with the will of the ape.

"Nay, nay; I am sorry!" the priest exclaimed as Anubis disappeared. "It is an omen. Toth[2] visiteth Ptah; Wisdom seeketh Power! Came he by divine summons or did he seek the great god? It is a problem for the sorcerers and is of ominous import!"

"The pestiferous creature followed me unseen from the house," Kenkenes explained, rather flushed of countenance. "To me it is an omen that the idler who keeps the gate is not vigilant."

The priest shook his head and led the way without further words into the temple. Here the young sculptor was conducted through a wilderness of jacketed columns, over pavements that rang even under sandaled feet, to the center of a vast hall. The priest left him and disappeared through the all-enveloping twilight into the more sacred part of the temple.

In a moment, Asar-Mut, high priest to Ptah, appeared, approaching through the dusk. He wore the priestly habiliments of spotless linen, and, like a loose mantle, a magnificent leopard-skin, which hung by a claw over the right shoulder and, passing under the left arm, was fastened at the breast by a medallion of gold and topaz. He was a typical Egyptian, but thinner of lip and severer of countenance than the laity. The wooden dolls tumbled about by the children of the realm were not more hairless than he. His high, narrow head was ghastly in its utter nakedness.

Kenkenes bent reverently before him and was greeted kindly by the pontiff.

"Hast thou guessed why I sent for thee?" he asked at once.

"I have guessed," Kenkenes replied, "but it may be wildly."

"Let us see. I would have thee carry a message for the brotherhood."

Kenkenes inclined his head.

"Good. Be thy journey as quick as thy perception. I ask thy pardon for laying the work of a temple courier upon thy shoulders, but the message is of such import that I would carry it myself were I as young and unburdened with duty as thou."

"I am thy servant, holy Father, and well pleased with the opportunity that permits me to serve the gods."

"I know, and therefore have I chosen thee. My trusted courier is dead; the others are light-minded, and Tape is in the height of festivity. They might delay—they might be lured into forgetting duty, and," the pontiff lowered his voice and drew nearer to Kenkenes, "and there are those that may be watching for this letter. A nobleman would not be thought a messenger. Thou dost incur less danger than the clout-wearing runner for the temple."

A light broke over Kenkenes.

"I understand," he said.

"Go, then, by private boat at sunset, and Ptah be with thee. Make all speed." He put a doubly wrapped scroll into Kenkenes' hands. "This is to be delivered to our holy Superior, Loi, priest of Amen. Farewell, and fail not."

Kenkenes bowed and withdrew.

It was long before sunset, and he had an unfulfilled promise in mind. He crossed the square thoughtfully and paused by the pool in its center. The surface, dark and smooth as oil, reflected his figure and face faithfully and to his evident satisfaction. He passed around the pool and walked briskly in the direction of another narrow passage lined by rich residences.

He knocked at a portal framed by a pair of huge pilasters, which towered upward, and, as pillars, formed two of the colonnade on the roof. A portress admitted him with a smile and led him through the sumptuously appointed chamber of guests into the intramural park. There she indicated a nook in an arbor of vines and left him.

With a silent foot he crossed the flowery court and entered the bower. The beautiful dweller sat in a deep chair, her little feet on a carved footstool, a silver-stringed lyre tumbled beside it. She was alone and appeared desolate. When the tall figure of the sculptor cast a shadow upon her she looked up with a little cry of delight.

"Oh," she exclaimed, "a god led thee hither to save me from the solitude. It is a moody monster not catalogued in the list of terrors." She thrust the lyre aside with her sandal and pushed the footstool, only a little, away from her.

"Sit there," she commanded. Kenkenes obeyed willingly. He drew off his coif and tossed it aside.

"Thou seest I am come in the garb of labor," he confessed.

"I see," she answered severely. "Am I no longer worthy the robe of festivity?"

"Ah, Ta-meri, thou dost wrong me," he said. "Chide me, but impugn me not. Nay, I am on my way to Tape. I was summoned hurriedly and am already dismissed upon mine errand, but I could not use myself so ill as to postpone my visit for eighteen days."

She jeered at him prettily.

"To hear thee one would think thou hadst been coming as often as Nechutes."

"How often does Nechutes come?"

"Every day."

"Of late?" he asked, with a laugh in his eyes.

"Nay," she answered sulkily. "Not since the day—that day!"

Kenkenes was silent for a moment. Then he put his elbow on the arm of her chair and leaned his head against his hand. The attitude brought him close to her.

"All these days," he said at length, "he has been unhappy among the happy and the unhappiest among the sad. He has summoned the shuddering Pantheon, to hear him vow eternal unfealty to thee, Ta-meri—and lo! while they listened he begged their most potent charm to hold thee to him still. Poor Nechutes!"

"Thou dost treat it lightly," she reproached him, her eyes veiled, "but it is of serious import to—to Nechutes."

"Nay, I shall hold my tongue. I efface myself and intercede for him, and thou dost call it exulting. And when I am fallen from thy favor there will be none to plead my cause, none to hide her misty eyes with contrite lashes."

"Mine eyes are not misty," she retorted.

"Thou hast said," he admitted, in apology. "It was not a happy term. I meant bejeweled with repentant dew."

She shook her little finger at him.

"If thou dost persist in thy calumny of me, thou mayest come to test thy dismal augury," she warned.

He dropped his eyes and his mouth drooped dolorously.

"I come for comfort, and I get Nechutes and all the unpropitious possibilities that his name suggests."

"Comfort? Thou, in trouble? Thou, the light-hearted?" she laughed.

"Nay; I am discontented, but I might as well hope to heave the skies away with my shoulders as to rebel against mine oppression. So I came to be petted into submission."

"Nay, dost thou hear him?" the lady cried. "And he came, because he was sure he would get it!"

"And he will go away because the Lady Ta-meri means he shall not have it," he exclaimed. He reached toward his coif and immediately a panic-stricken little hand stayed him.

"Nay," she said softly. "I was but retaliating. Hast thou not plagued me, and may I not tease thee a little in revenge? Say on."

"My—but now I bethink me, I ought not to tell thee. It savors of that which so offends thy nice sense of gentility—labor," he said, sinking back in his easy attitude again.

"Fie, Kenkenes," she said. "Hath some one put thy slavish love of toil under ban? Does that oppress thee?" He reproved her with a pat on the nearest hand.

"The king toils; the priests toil; the powers of the world labor. None but the beautiful idle may be idle, and that for their beauty's sake. Nay, it is not that I may not work, but I may not work as I wish and I am heart-sick therefore."

His last words ended in a tone of genuine dejection. His eyes were fixed on the grass of the nook and his brows had knitted slightly. The expression was a rare one for his face and in its way becoming—for the moment at least. The hand he had patted drew nearer, and at last, after a little hesitancy, was laid on his black hair. He lifted his face and took cheer, from the light in her eyes, to proceed.

"Since I may speak," he began, "I shall. Ta-meri, thou knowest that as a sculptor I work within limits. The stature of mine art must crouch under the bounds of the ritual. It is not boasting if I say that I see, with brave eyes, that Egypt insults herself when she creates horrors in stone and says, 'This is my idea of art.' And these things are not human; neither are they beasts—they are grotesques that verge so near upon a semblance of living things as to be piteous. They thwart the purpose of sculpture. Why do we carve at all, if not to show how we appear to the world or the world appears to us? Now for my rebellion. I would carve as we are made; as we dispose ourselves; aye, I would display a man's soul in his face and write his history on his brow. I would people Egypt with a host of beauty, grace and naturalness—"

"Just as if they were alive?" Ta-meri inquired with interest.

"Even so—of such naturalness that one could guess only by the hue of the stone that they did not breathe."

The lady shrugged her shoulders and laughed a little.

"But they do not carve that way," she protested. "It is not sculpture. Thou wouldst fill the land with frozen creatures—ai!" with another little shrug. "It would be haunted and spectral. Nay, give me the old forms. They are best."

Kenkenes fairly gasped with his sudden descent from earnest hope to disappointment. A flood of half-angry shame dyed his face and the wound to his sensibilities showed its effect so plainly that the beauty noted it with a sudden burst of compunction.

"Of a truth," she added, her voice grown wondrous soft, "I am full of sympathy for thee, Kenkenes. Nay, look up. I can not be happy if thou art not."

"That suffices. I am cheered," he began, but the note of sarcasm in his voice was too apparent for him to permit himself to proceed. He caught up the lyre, and drawing up a diphros—a double seat of fine woods—rested against it and began to improvise with an assumption of carelessness. Ta-meri sank back in her chair and regarded him from under dreamy lids—her senses charmed, her light heart won by his comeliness and talent. Kenkenes became conscious of her inspection, at last, and looked up at her. His eyes were still bright with his recent feeling and the hue in his cheeks a little deeper. The admiration in her face became so speaking that he smiled and ran without pausing into one of the love-lyrics of the day. Breaking off in its midst, he dropped the lyre and said with honest apology in his voice:

"I crave thy pardon, Ta-meri. What right had I to weight thee with my cares! It was selfish, and yet—thou art so inviting a confidante, that it is not wholly my fault if I come to seek of thee, my oldest and sweetest friend, the woman comfort that was bereft me with my rightful comforter."

"Neither mother nor sister nor lady-love," she mused. He nodded, but the slight interrogative emphasis caught him, and he looked up at her. He nodded again.

"Nay, nor lady-love, thanks to the luck of Nechutes."

"Nechutes is no longer lucky," she said deliberately.

"No matter," Kenkenes insisted. "I shall be gone eighteen days, and his luck will have changed before I can return."

"Thine auguries seem to please thee," she pouted.

He put the back of her jeweled hand against his cheek.

"Nay, I but comfort thee at the sacrifice of mine own peace."

"A futile sacrifice."

"What!"

"A futile sacrifice!"

"Ah, Ta-meri, beseech the Goddess Ma to forget thy words!" he cried in mock horror. She tossed her head, and instantly he got upon his feet, catching up his coif as he did so.

"Come, bid me farewell," he said putting out his hand, "and one of double sweetness, for I doubt me much if Nechutes will permit a welcome when I return."

"Nechutes will not interfere in mine affairs," she said, as she rose.

"Nay, I shall know if that be true when I return," he declared.

She stamped her foot.

"Fie!" he laughed. "Already do I begin to doubt it."

She turned from him and kept her face away. Kenkenes went to her and, taking both her hands in his, drew her close to him. She did not resist, but her face reproached him—not for what he was doing, but for what he had done. With his head bent, he looked down into her eyes for a moment. Her red mouth with its sulky pathos was almost irresistible. But he only pressed one hand to his lips.

"I must wait until I return," he said from the doorway, and was gone.

On the broad bosom of the Nile at sunset, four strong oarsmen were speeding him swiftly up to Thebes. Off the long wharves at the southernmost limits of the city, the rapid boat overtook and passed low-riding, slowly moving stone-barges laden with quarry slaves. The unwieldy craft progressed heavily, nearer and within the darkening shadow of the Arabian hills. Kenkenes watched them as long as they were in sight, an unwonted pity making itself felt in his heart. For even in the dusk he distinguished many women and the immature figures of children; and none knew the quarry life better than he, who was a worker in stone.



[1] In ancient Egypt burglary was reduced to a system and governed by law. The chief of robbers received all the spoil and to him the victimized citizen repaired and, upon payment of a certain per cent. of the value of the object stolen, received his property again. The original burglar and the chief of robbers divided the profits. This traffic was countenanced in Egypt until the country passed into British hands.

[2] The ape was sacred to and an emblem of Toth, the male deity of Wisdom and Law.



CHAPTER IV

THE PROCESSION OF AMEN

Thebes Diospolis, the hundred-gated, was in holiday attire. The great suburb to the west of the Nile had emptied her multitudes into the solemn community of the gods. Besides her own inhabitants there were thousands from the entire extent of the Thebaid and visitors even from far-away Syene and Philae. It was an occasion for more than ordinary pomp. The great god Amen was to be taken for an outing in his ark.

Every possible manifestation of festivity had been sought after and displayed. The air was a-flutter with party-colored streamers. Garlands rioted over colossus, peristyle, obelisk and sphinx without conserving pattern or moderation. The dromos, or avenue of sphinxes, was carpeted with palm and nelumbo leaves, and copper censers as large as caldrons had been set at equidistance from one another, and an unceasing reek of aromatics drifted up from them throughout the day.

For once the magnificence of the wondrous city of the gods was set down from its usual preeminence in the eyes of the wondering spectator, and the vastness of the multitude usurped its place. The bari of Kenkenes seeking to round the island of sand lying near the eastern shore opposite the village of Karnak, met a solid pack of boats. The young sculptor took in the situation at once, and, putting about, found a landing farther to the north. There he made a portage across the flat bar of sand to the arm of quiet water that separated the island from the eastern shore. Crossing, he dismissed his eager and excited boatmen and struck across the noon-heated valley toward the temple. The route of the pageant could be seen from afar, cleanly outlined by humanity. It extended from Karnak to Luxor and, turning in a vast loop at the Nile front, countermarched over the dromos and ended at the tremendous white-walled temple of Amen. Between the double ranks of sightseers there was but chariot room. The side Kenkenes approached sloped sharply from the dromos toward the river, and the rearmost spectators had small opportunity to behold the pageant. The multitude here was less densely packed. Kenkenes joined the crowd at this point.

Here was the canaille of Thebes.

They wore nothing but a kilt of cotton—or as often, only a cincture about the loins, and their lean bodies were blackened by the terrible sun of the desert. They were the apprentices of paraschites,[1] brewers, professional thieves, slaves and traffickers in the unclean necessities of a great city, and only their occasional riots, or such events as this, brought them into general view of the upper classes. They had nothing in common with the gentry, whom they were willing to recognize as creatures of a superior mold. Among themselves there were established castes, and members of each despised the lower and hated the upper. Kenkenes slackened his pace when he recognized the character of these spectators, and after hesitating a moment, he hung the flat wallet containing the message around his neck inside his kamis and pushed on. Every foot of progress he essayed was snarlingly disputed until the rank of the aggressive stranger was guessed by his superior dress, when he was given a moody and ungracious path. But he finally met an immovable obstacle in the shape of a quarrel.

1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10     Next Part
Home - Random Browse