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The Yoke by Elizabeth Miller


When Mentu returned from On a light had kindled in his eyes and his stately step had grown elastic. The man that withdraws from a busy life while in full vigor has beckoned to Death. Inactivity preys upon him like a disease. The great artist, forced into idleness by the succession of an incapable king, had been renewed by the prospect of labor which his exaltation into the high office had afforded. With pleasure in his heart, Kenkenes watched his father grow young again.

|Who was thy good friend in this?| the young man asked one evening after a number of contented remarks concerning the market's appointment. |Who said the word in the Pharaoh's ear?|

|So to raise me to this office it is needful that something more than my deserts must have urged the king?| Mentu retorted.

|Nay! that was not my meaning,| Kenkenes made haste to say. |But thou knowest, my father, that Meneptah must be for ever directed. Who, then, offered him this wise counsel? Rameses?|

|It was never Har-hat,| Mentu replied, but half placated.

|If he had, thou and I must no longer call him a poor counselor.|

|Bribe -- | the murket began, ruffled once more.

|Nay,| Kenkenes interrupted smiling. |He had but proved himself worthy and wise.|

Mentu shook his head, but there was no more temper evident in his face.

|Now is a propitious hour for a good counselor,| Kenkenes pursued.

|What knowest thou?| Mentu asked with interest.

|Tape,| the young man replied briefly.

|Nay, the sedition in Tape is old and vitiated.|

|And the Hak-heb.|

|That breach may be healed. But we have sedition to fear among the bond-people -- |

|The bond-people!|

|Even so. Open and organized sedition.|

|The Israelites?| Kenkenes exclaimed with an incredulous note in his voice.

|The Israelites.|

|I would sooner fear a rebellion among the draft-oxen and the mules of Nehapehu.|

|The elder Seti's fears and the fears of the great Rameses were other than yours.|

|O, aye, they had cause for fear then, but since Seti yoked the creatures -- |

|The Pharaohs did not begin in time,| the elder man interrupted. |Had that royal fiat, the decimation of Hebrew children, continued, we should not have had the Israelite to-day, but gods!| he shuddered with horror. |I hope that is a horrid slander -- tradition, not fact. I like not to lay the slaughter or babes at the door of any Egyptian dynasty. But had an early Pharaoh of the house of Tothmes enforced the absorption of the Hebrew by his same rank among the Egyptian, we should not have the menace of a hostile alien within our borders to-day. The heavy hand of oppression has made a wondrous race of them for strength. Theirs is no mean intellect; great men have come from among them, and they will be a hardy foe arrayed against us.|

|They are not warriors; they are poor and unequipped for hostilities; they are thoroughly under subjection,| the young man pursued. |What can they do against us?|

|Do!| Mentu exclaimed with impatience in the repetition. |They have only to say to the banished Hyksos: 'Come ye, let us do battle with Egypt. We will be your mercenaries.' They have only to send greeting to that lean traitor Amon-meses, thus: 'Give us the Delta to be ours and we will help you win all Egypt,' and there will be enough done.|

|They must have a pact among themselves and a leader, first,| Kenkenes objected.

|Have I not said they are organized? And their leader is found. He is a foster-brother to Meneptah; an initiated priest of Isis; a sorcerer and an infidel of the blackest order. He is Prince Mesu, a Hebrew by birth.|

|Dost thou know him?| Kenkenes asked with interest.

|Nay, he has dwelt in Midian these forty years. He returned some time ago and hath dwelt passively in Goshen till -- |

The artist dropped his voice and came nearer to his son.

|He hath dwelt passively in Goshen till of late, and it is whispered that some secret work against him inaugurated by the priesthood, or mayhap the Pharaoh, hath given him provocation to revolt against Meneptah.|

After a silence Kenkenes asked in a lowered tone:

|Hath he made demonstration?|

|O, aye, he is clamoring to lead his people a three days' journey into the wilderness to make sacrifice to their god.|

|Shades of mine ancestors! If that is all, let them, so they return,| Kenkenes said amicably.

|Let them!| the sculptor exploded. |Dost thou believe that they would return?|

|I apprehend that the Rameside army would be capable of thwarting them if they were disposed to depart permanently.|

|Thou dost apprehend -- aye, of a truth, I know thou dost! Halt all our works of peace for an indefinite time; mass the vast army of the Pharaoh and spend days and good arrows in retrieving the runaways, merely that a barbarian god may smell the savor of holy animals sacrificed! Gods! Kenkenes, thou art as trustworthy a counselor as Har-hat!|

Thereafter there was a silence in the work-room. But a peppery man is seldom sulky, and Kenkenes was fully prepared for the mildness in his father's voice when he spoke again.

|Thou shouldst see the pretense in his demand, Kenkenes. He must have provocation to urge him to rebellion, and he knows full well that Meneptah will not grant that petition.|

|But hath he not provocation -- thou hast but a moment ago told -- |

|But that was only an offense against him. The whole people would not go into revolt because some one had conspired against one of their number. Therefore he telleth Israel that its God would have Israel make a pilgrimage, promising curses upon the people if they obey not. Then he putteth the appeal to the Pharaoh and the Pharaoh denieth it. Wherefore the whole people is enraged and hath rallied to the conspirator's cause. Seest thou, my son?|

|It is strategy worthy the Incomparable Pharaoh -- |

|It is Hebrew craft!|

|Perhaps thou art right. But what personal grudge hath Mesu against Egypt or the priesthood or Meneptah?|

|It is said that he was wanted out of the way, and by an unfortunate sum of accidents, the miscarriage of a priest's letter and a fight between a messenger and Bedouins in front of a Hebrew tent, gave the information into the hands of Mesu himself.|

By this time Kenkenes was on his feet.

|A miscarriage of a priest's letter,| he repeated slowly.

The artist nodded.

After the silence the young man spoke again:

|And thou believest truly that because of this letter -- because of this Israelite's grievance against the powers of Egypt, we shall have uprising and serious trouble among our bond-people?|

|I have said,| Mentu answered, raising his head as though surprised at the earnestness in his son's voice. Kenkenes did not meet his father's eyes. He turned on his heel and left the work-room.

Had the spiteful Seven, the Hathors, used him as a tool whereby mischief should be wrought between the nation and her slaves?

The Fayum.

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