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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : CHAPTER VI THE LADY MIRIAM

The Yoke by Elizabeth Miller

CHAPTER VI THE LADY MIRIAM

Meanwhile the scribe of the |double house of life,| and the son of the royal sculptor were taking comfort on the palace-top beneath the subdued light of a hooded lamp.

The pair had spoken of all Memphis and its gossip; had given account of themselves and had caught up with the present time in the succession of events.

|Hotep, at thy lofty notch of favor, one must have the wisdom of Toth,| Kenkenes observed, adding with a laugh, |mark thou, I have compared thee with no mortal.|

Hotep shook his head.

|Nay, any man may fill my position so he but knows when to hold his tongue and what to say when he wags it.|

|O, aye,| the sculptor admitted in good-natured irony. |Those be simple qualifications and easy to combine.|

The scribe smiled.

|Mine is no arduous labor now. During my years of apprenticeship I was sorely put to it, but now I have only to wait upon the king and look to it that mine underlings are not idle. If another war should come -- if any manner of difficulty should arise in matters of state, I doubt not mine would be a heavy lot.|

The young man spoke of war and fellowship with a monarch as if he had been a lady's page and gossiped of fans and new perfumes.

Kenkenes looked at him with a full realization of the incongruity of the youth of the man and the weight of the office that was his.

But at close range the scribe's face was young only in feature and tint. He was born of an Egyptian and a Danaid, and the blond alien mother had impressed her own characteristics very strongly on her son.

He had a plump figure with handsome curves, waving, chestnut hair and a fair complexion. Nose and forehead were in line. The eyes were of that type of gray that varies in shade with the mental state. His temper displayed itself only in their sudden hardening into the hue of steel; content and happiness made them blue. They were always steady and comprehending, so that whoever entered his presence for the first time said to himself: |Here is a man that discovers my very soul.|

Whatever other blunder Meneptah might have made, he had redeemed himself in the wisdom he displayed in choosing his scribe. Kenkenes had been led to ask how Hotep had come to his place.

|My superior, Pinem, died without a son,| the scribe had explained; |and as my record was clean, and the princes had ever been my patrons, the Pharaoh exalted me to the scribeship.|

Kenkenes had then set down a mark in favor of the princes.

|I doubt not,| the scribe observed at last, |that my time of ease is short-lived.|

The sculptor looked at him with inquiry in his eyes.

|When sedition arises and defies the Pharaoh in his audience chamber,| Hotep went on, |it has reached the stage of a single alternative -- success or death. Dost know the Lady Miriam?|

|The Israelite?|

|Even so.|

|I saw her this day.|

|Good. Now, look upon the scene. Thou knowest she is the sister of Prince Mesu, and the favorite waiting-woman of the good Queen Thermuthis. She has lived in obscurity for forty years, but this morning she swept into the audience chamber, did majestic obeisance and besought a word 'with him who was an infant in her maturity,' she said. The council chamber was filled with those gathered to welcome Har-hat. Meneptah bade her speak. Hast thou ever heard an Israelitish harangue?| he broke off suddenly.

Kenkenes shook his head.

|Ah, theirs is pristine oratory -- occult eloquence,| the scribe said earnestly, |and she is mistress of the art. She told the history of Israel and catalogued its wrongs in a manner that lacked only measure and music to make it a song. But, Kenkenes, she did not move us to compunction and pity. When she had done, we had not looked on a picture of suffering and oppression, but of insulted pride and rebellion. Instead of compunction, she awakened admiration, instead of pity, respect. For the moment she represented, not a multitude of complaining slaves, but a race of indignant peers.

|Meneptah -- ah! the good king,| the scribe went on, |was impressed like the rest of us. But finally he showed her that the Israelites were what they were by the consent of the gods; that their unwillingness but increased the burden. He pointed out the example of his illustrious sires as justification for his course; enumerated some of their privileges, -- the fertile country given them by Egypt, and the freedom that was theirs to worship their own God, -- and summarily refused to indulge them further.

|Then she became ominous. She bade him have a care for the welfare of Egypt before he refused her. Her words were dark and full of evil portent. The air seemed to winnow with bat-wings and to reek with vapors from witch-potions and murmur with mystic formulas. Every man of us crept, and drew near to his neighbor. When she paused for an answer, the king hesitated. She had menaced Egypt and it stirreth the heart of the father when the child is threatened. He turned to Har-hat in his perplexity and craved his counsel. The fan-bearer laughed good-naturedly and begged the Pharaoh's permission to send her to the mines before she bewitched his cattle and troubled him with visions. Har-hat's unconcern made men of us all once more, but Meneptah shook his head. 'The name of Neferari Thermuthis defends her,' he said; 'let her go hence'.|

|'And I take no amelioration to my people?' she demanded. 'Nay,' he replied, 'not in the smallest part shall their labor be lessened.'

|Holy Isis, thou shouldst have seen her then, Kenkenes!

|She approached the very dais of the throne and, throwing up her arms, flung her defiance into the face of her sovereign. It were treason to utter her words again. I have seen men white and shaking from rage, but Meneptah never hath so much of temper to display. Far be it from me to say that the king was afraid, but I tell you, Kenkenes, mine own hair is not yet content to lie flat. She concentrated all the denunciatory bitterness of the tongue and pronounced and gloried in the doom of the dynasty, heaping the blame of its destruction upon the head of Meneptah!|

The scribe finished his story in a whisper. Kenkenes was by this time sitting up, his eyes shining with interest and wonder.

|Gods! Hotep, thou dost make me creep.|

|Creep!| the scribe responded heartily, |never in my life have I so wanted to flee a royal audience. When she had done, she turned and swept from the presence and no man lifted a finger to stay her.|

For a moment there was an expressive silence between the two young men. At last Kenkenes broke it in a voice of intense admiration.

|What an intrepid spirit! Small wonder that she did not heed the condemnation of the rabble at mid-day -- she who was fresh from a triumph over the Pharaoh!|

Hotep's eyes widened warningly and he shook his head.

|Nay, hush me not, Hotep,| Kenkenes went on in a reckless whisper. |I must say it. Would to the gods I had been there to copy it in stone!|

|Hush! babbler!| the scribe exclaimed, his eyes twinkling nevertheless, |thine art will make an untimely mummy of thee yet.|

Kenkenes poured out his first glass of wine and set it down untasted. The contemplated sacrilege in stone opposite Memphis confronted him.

|If Egypt's lack of art does not kill me first,| he added in defense.

|Nay,| Hotep protested, |why wouldst thou perpetuate the affront to the Pharaoh?|

|Because it is history and a better delineation of the Israelitish character than all the wordy chronicles of the historians could depict,| was the spirited reply.

|But the ritual,| Hotep began, with the assurance of a man that feels he is armed with unanswerable argument.

|Sing me no song of the ritual,| Kenkenes broke in impatiently. |The ritual offends mine ears -- my sight, my sense. We have quarreled beyond any treaty-making -- ever.|

The other looked at him with amazement and much consternation.

|Art thou mad?| he exclaimed.

|Nay, but I am rebellious -- as rebellious as the Israelite, for I have already shaken my fist in the face of the sculptor's canons. And the time will come when the world will call my revolt just. I would there were a chronicler, here, now, to write me down, since I would be remembered as the pioneer. I shall win no justification, in these days, perhaps only persecution, but I would reap my reward of honor, though it be a thousand years in coming.|

|Thou hast a grudge against the conventional forms and the rules of the ritual?| Hotep asked, after a thoughtful silence.

|I have a distaste for the horrors it compels and am ignorant of their use,| Kenkenes answered stubbornly.

|Kenkenes,| the scribe began, |Law is a most inexorable thing. It is the governor of the Infinite. It is a tyrant, which, good or bad, can demand and enforce obedience to its fiats. It is a capricious thing and it drags its vassal -- the whole created world -- after it in its mutations, or stamps the rebel into the dust while the time-serving obedient ones applaud. So thou hast set up resistance against a thing greater than gods and men and I can not see thee undone. I love thee, but I should be an untrue friend did I abet thee in thy lawlessness. Submit gracefully and thy cause shall have an audience with Law some day -- if it have merit.|

The young sculptor's face was passive, but his eyes were fixed sadly on the remote stars strewn above him. He felt inexpressibly solitary. His zest in his convictions did not flag, but it seemed that the whole world and the heavens had receded and left him alone with them.

Again Hotep spoke.

|There is more court gossip,| he began cheerily, as if no word had been said that could depress the tone of the conversation.

Kenkenes accepted the new subject gladly.

|Out with it,| he said. |Within the four walls of my world I hear naught but the clink of mallet and falling stone.|

|The breach between Meneptah and Amon-meses, his mutinous brother, may be healed by a wedding.|

|So?|

|Of a surety -- nay, and not of a surety, either, but mayhap. A match between the niece of Amon-meses, the Princess Ta-user, and the heir, Rameses.|

Kenkenes sat up again in his earnestness. |Nay,| he exclaimed. |Never!|

|Wherefore, I pray thee?| Hotep asked with a deprecating smile.

|There is no mating between the lion and the eagle; the stag and the asp! They could not love.|

|Thou dreamy idealist!| Hotep laughed. |The half of great marriages are moves of strategy, attended more by Set than Athor. Ta-user is mad for the crown, Rameses for undisputed power. Each has one of these two desirable things to give the other.|

|And how shall they appease Athor?| Kenkenes demanded warmly. |Ta-user loves Siptah, the son of Amon-meses, and Rameses will crown whom he loves though he had a thousand other crown-loving, treaty-dowered wives!|

Hotep smiled. |I thought the four walls of thy world hedged thee, but it seems thou art right well acquainted with royalty.|

|Scoff!| Kenkenes cried. |But I can tell thee this: Rameses will put his foot on the neck of Amon-meses if the pretender trouble him, and will wed with a slave-girl if she break the armor over his iron heart.|

Hotep laughed again and suggested another subject.

|The new fan-bearer,| he began.

|Nay, what of him?| Kenkenes broke in at once.

|And shall we quarrel about him, also?|

|Dost thou know him?| Hotep queried.

|Right well -- from afar and by hearsay.|

|Do thou express thyself first concerning him, and I shall treat thee to the courtier's diplomacy if I agree not.|

|I like him not,| Kenkenes responded bluntly.

Hotep leaned toward him, with the smile gone from his face, the jest from his manner, and laid his hand on the sculptor's. The pressure spoke eloquently of hearty concord. |But he has a charming daughter,| he said.

Kenkenes inspected his friend's face critically, but there was nothing to be read thereon.

A palace attendant approached across the paved roof and bent before the scribe.

|A summons from the Son of Ptah, my Lord,| he said.

|At this hour?| Hotep said in some surprise as he arose. |I shall return immediately,| he told Kenkenes.

|Nay,| the sculptor observed, |my time is nearly gone. Let me depart now.|

|Not so. I would go with thee. This will be no more than a note. If it be more I shall put mine underlings to the task.|

He disappeared in the dark. Kenkenes lay back on the divan and thought on the many things that the scribe had told him. But chiefly he pondered on Har-hat and the Israelite.

When Hotep returned he carried his cowl and mantle, and a scroll. |I too, am become a messenger,| he said, |but I am self-appointed. This note was to go by a palace courier, but I relieved him of the task.|

The pair made ready and departed through the still populous streets of Thebes to the Nile. There they were ferried over to the wharves of Luxor.

At the temple the porter conducted them into the chamber in which the ancient prelate spent his shortening hours of labor. He was there now, at his table, and greeted the young men with a nod. But taking a second look at Hotep, he beckoned him with a shaking finger.

|Didst bring me aught, my son?| he asked as the scribe bent over him.

|Aye, holy Father; this message to the taskmaster over Pa-Ramesu.|

|Ah,| the old man said. |Is that not yet gone?|

|Nay, the Pharaoh asks that thou insert the name of him whom thou didst recommend for Atsu's place. The Son of Ptah had forgotten him.|

The old man pushed several scrolls aside and prepared to make the addition..

|But thou art weary, holy Father; let me do it,| Hotep protested gently.

|Nay, nay, I can do it,| the old man insisted. |See!| drawing forth a scroll unaddressed, |I have written all this in an hour. O aye, I can write with the young men yet.| He made the interlineation, rolled the scroll and sealed it. |I am sturdy, still.| At that moment, he dropped his pen on the floor and bent to pick it up, but was forestalled by Hotep. Then he addressed the scrolls, carefully dried the ink with a sprinkling of sand and delivered one to Hotep, the other to Kenkenes. |This to the king, and that to Snofru. The gods give thee safe journey,| he continued to Kenkenes. |Who art thou, my son?|

|I am the son of Mentu, holy Father. My name is Kenkenes,| the young man answered.

|Mentu, the royal sculptor?|

Kenkenes bowed.

|Nay, but I am glad. I knew thy father, and since thou art of his blood, thou art faithful. Let neither death nor fear overtake thee, for thou hast the peace of Egypt in thy very hands. Fail not, I charge thee!|

After a reverent farewell, the two young men went forth.

A slender Egyptian youth went with them to the wharves and awakened the sleeping crew of a bari.

Hotep they carried across and set ashore on the western side.

|May the same favoring god that brought thee hither, grant thee a safe journey home, my friend. The court comes to Memphis shortly. Till then, farewell,| said Hotep.

|All Memphis will hail her illustrious son, O Hotep. Farewell.|

It was not long until the sculptor was drifting down toward Memphis under a starry sky -- the shadowy temples of Thebes hidden by the sudden closing-in of the river-hills about her.

Set -- the war-god.

Athor -- the Egyptian Venus; the feminine love-deity.

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