If Mentu, looking up from the old murkets, noted that the face of his son was weary and sad, he laid it to the sudden heat of the spring; for now it was the middle of March and Ra had grown ardent and the marshes malarious. The old housekeeper, to whom the great artist mentioned his son's indisposition, glanced sharply at the young master, touched his hand when she served him at table, and felt his forehead when she pretended to smooth his hair. And having made her furtive examination, the astute old servant told the great artist that the young master was not ill. If she had further information to impart, Mentu did not give her the opportunity, for had she not said that Kenkenes was well? So he fell to his work again.
Senci noted it, and sorrowful Io, but they, like Mentu, ascribed it to the miasmas and said nothing to the young man about himself.
But Hotep was a penetrative man, and more hidden things than his friend's ailment had been an open secret to his keen eye. He did not care to know which one of the butterflies was the fluttering object of Kenkenes' bounteous love, for Hotep knew that those high-born Memphian women, who were openly partial to the handsome young sculptor, loved him for his comeliness and his silken tongue alone. It would take a profounder soul than any they had displayed to understand and sympathize with the restive genius hidden under the smooth exterior they saw.
Therefore, with some impatience, Hotep conceded that his friend was in love, and presumably throwing himself away. So the scribe purposed, even though the attempt were inevitably fruitless, to win Kenkenes out of his dream.
One faint dawn he entered the temple to pray for his own cause at the shrine of the lovers' goddess.
In the half-night of the vast interior, at the foot of the sumptuous pedestal of Athor, he distinguished another supplicant, kneeling. But there was a hopelessness in the droop of the bowed head and a tenseness in the interlaced fingers of the clasped hands, which proved that Athor's answer had not been propitious.
Hotep knew at once who besought the goddess. Setting his offering of silver and crystal on the altar, the scribe departed with silent step. But without, he ground his teeth and execrated the giver of pain to Kenkenes.
In mid-afternoon of the same day Hotep's chariot drew up at the portals of Mentu's house, and the scribe in his most splendid raiment was conducted to Kenkenes. The young sculptor was alone.
|What was it, a palsy or the sun which kept thee at home this day?| was Hotep's greeting. |Nine is a mystic number and is fruitful of much gain. Eight times within a month have I come for thee. The ninth did supply thee. Blessed be the number.|
Kenkenes smiled. |But there are seven Hathors, and five days in the epact -- and the Radiant Three. To me it seemeth there are many good numbers.|
Hotep plucked his sleeve.
|Come, I will show thee the best of all -- One, the One.|
Kenkenes arose. |Let me robe myself befittingly, then.|
|Not too effectively,| the scribe cried after him. |I would not have thee blight my chances with the full blaze of thy beauty.|
When Kenkenes returned Hotep looked at him with another thought than had been uppermost in his mind since he had noted his friend's dejection. This time, he was impatient with Kenkenes.
|And such a man as this will permit a woman to break his heart!|
Then was the young sculptor taken to the palace of the Pharaoh. On its roof, in the great square shadow of its double towers, he was presented to a dainty little lady, whose black eyes grew large and luminous at the coming of the scribe. She was Masanath, the youngest and only unwedded child of Har-hat, the king's adviser. Her oval face had a uniform rose-leaf flush, her little nose was distinctly aquiline, her little mouth warm and ripe. Her teeth were dazzlingly white, and, like a baby's, notched on the edges with minute serrations. But with all her tininess, she planted her sandal with decision and scrutinized whosoever addressed her in a way that was eloquent of a force and perception larger by far than the lady they characterized.
And this was the love of Hotep. Kenkenes smiled. The top of her pretty head was not nearly on a level with his shoulders, and the small hand she extended had the determined grip with which a baby seizes a proffered finger. A vision of the golden Israelite rose beside her and the smile vanished.
The day was warm and the courtiers in search of a breeze were scattered about the palace-top in picturesque groups. Masanath occupied a diphros, or double chair, and a female attendant, standing behind her, stirred the warm air with a perfumed fan. The lady was on the point of sharing her seat with one of her guests, when Har-hat, who had been lounging by himself on the parapet, sauntered over to his daughter's side.
|My father,| she said, |the son of Mentu, the first friend of the noble Hotep.|
Kenkenes had noticed, with a chill, the approach of the fan-bearer, and, angry with himself for his unreasoning perturbation, strove to greet him composedly. But he could not force himself into graciousness. The formal obeisance might have been made appropriately to his bitterest enemy.
|The son of Mentu and I have met before,| the fan-bearer declared laughingly. |But I scarce should have recognized him in this man of peace had not his stature been impressed upon me in that hour when first I met him.| The fan-bearer paused to enjoy the wonder of his daughter and the scribe, and the hardening face of Kenkenes.
|But for the agility the gods have seen fit to leave me in mine advancing years,| he continued, |this self-same courteous noble would have brained me with a boat-hook on an occasion of much merrymaking, a month agone.|
He sat down on the arm of Masanath's chair and shouted with laughter. With a great effort Kenkenes controlled himself.
|Shall I give the story in full?| he asked with an odd quiet in his voice.
|Nay! Nay!| Har-hat protested; |I have told the worst I would have said concerning that defeat of mine.| Again he laughed and returned to the young man's identity once more.
|Aye, I might have known that thou wast somewhat of kin to Mentu. Ye are as much alike as two owlets -- same candid face.|
He sauntered away, leaving an awkward silence behind him.
|Sit beside me?| asked Masanath, drawing the folds of her white robes aside to make room for the scribe. But Hotep did not seem to hear. Instead, he wandered away for another chair, became interested in a group of long-eyed beauties near by and apparently forgot Masanath. Kenkenes did not permit any lapse between the invitation and its acceptance. He dropped into the place made for Hotep, as if the offer had been extended to him.
|From Bubastis to Memphis, from Bast to Ptah,| he said. |Dost thou miss the generous levels of the Delta in our crevice between the hills?|
She shook her head. |Memphis is the lure of all Egypt, and he who hath been transplanted to her would flout the favor of the gods, did he make homesick moan for his native city.|
|And thou hast warmer regard for the stir of Memphis than the quiet of the north?|
|There is no quiet in the north now.|
|Nay; hast thou not heard of the Israelitish unrest?|
|Aye, I had heard -- but -- but hath it become of any import?|
|It is the peril of Egypt that she does not realize her menace in these Hebrews,| the lady answered. |The north knows it, but it has sprung into life so recently, and from such miserable soil, that even my father, who has been away from the Delta but a few months, does not appreciate the magnitude of the disaffection.|
|Thou hast lived among them, Lady Masanath. What thinkest thou of these people?| Kenkenes asked after a little silence.
|Of the mass I can not speak confidently,| she answered modestly. |They are proud -- they pass the Egyptian in pride; they have kept their blood singularly pure for such long residence among us; they are stubborn, querulous and unready. But above all they are a contented race if but the oppression were lifted from their shoulders. They are an untilled soil -- none knows what they might produce, but the confidence of their leader, who is a wondrous man, bespeaks them a capable people. To my mind they are mistreated beyond their deserts. I would have the powers of Egypt use them better.|
|Is it known in the north what Mesu's purpose is? The Israelites among us talk of their own kingdom, and I wonder if the Hebrew means to set up a nation within us, or assail the throne of the Pharaohs, or go forth and settle in another country.|
The lady shrugged her shoulders. |The Hebrews talk in similitudes. The prospect of freedom so uplifts them that they chant their purposes to you, and bewilder you with quaint words and hidden meanings. But these three facts, my Lord, are apparent and most potent in results when combined; they are oppressed beyond endurance; they are many; they are captained by a mystic. They have but to choose to rebel, and it would tax the martial strength of Egypt to quiet them.|
The magisterial dignity of the little lady was most delightful. The young sculptor's sensations were divided between interest in the grave subject she discussed and pleasure in her manner. Happening to glance in the direction of the scribe, he found the gray eye of his friend fixed upon him from the group of beauties. Presently Hotep rambled back with an ebony stool and sat a little aloof in thoughtful silence until the visit was over.
When Kenkenes alighted at the door of his father's house some time later, Hotep leaned over the wheel of the chariot and put his hand on the sculptor's shoulder.
|Thou hast met Har-hat and, by his own words, thou hast had some unpleasant commerce with him. What he did to thee I know not, but I shall let thee into mine own quarrel with him. He lays the curb of silence on my lips and enforces the indifference in my mien. If I revolt the penalty is humiliation and disaster for Masanath and for me. I love her, but I dare not let her dream it. The fan-bearer hath greater things in store for her than a scribe can promise. I am thy brother in hatred of him.|
The next dawn, even before sunrise, Hotep found Kenkenes once again in the temple before the shrine of Athor. But this time the scribe knelt silently beside his friend.
When they emerged into the sunless solemnity of the grove he turned to Kenkenes.
|With the licensed forwardness of an old friend, I would ask what thou hast to crave of the lovers' goddess, O thou loveless?|
|Favor and pardon,| Kenkenes answered.
|So? But already have I reached the limit. Not even a friend may ask an accounting of a man's misdeeds.|
Kenkenes smiled. |Ask me,| he said, |and spare me the effort of voluntary confession.|
|Then, what hast thou done?|
|Come and look upon mine offense. Thine eyes will serve thee better than my tongue.|
The pair were in costume hardly fitted for the dust of the roadway, but Memphis was not astir. They went across the city toward the river and at the landings found an early-rising boatman, who let them his bari.
Kenkenes took the oars and moved out into the middle of the swiftest current of the Nile. There he headed down-stream and permitted the boat to drift.
The clear heavens, blue and pellucid as a sapphire, were still cool, but from the lower slope down the east a radiance began to crawl upward. The peaks of the Libyan desert grew wan.
The young men did not resume their talk. The dawn in Egypt was a solemn hour. Kenkenes raised his eyes to the heights of the west. On the shore a group approached the Nile edge, and Hotep guessed by the cluster of fans and standards that it was the Pharaoh at his morning devotions to Nilus. The white points on the hilltops reddened and caught fire.
Softly and absently Kenkenes began to sing a hymn to the sunrise. Hotep rested his cheek on one hand and listened. More solemn, more appealing the notes grew, fuller and stronger, until the normal power of the rich voice was reached. The liquid echo on the water gave it a mellow embellishment, and Hotep saw the central figure of the group on shore lift his hand for silence among the courtiers.
But Kenkenes sang on unconscious even of his nearest auditor. After the nature of humanity he was nearer to his gods in trouble than in tranquillity.
The white fronts of Memphis receded slowly, for neither took up the oars. Hotep hesitated to break the silence that fell after the end of the hymn. The shadow on the singer's face proved that the heart would have flinched at any effort to soothe it. It was the young sculptor's privilege to speak first.
After a long silence, Kenkenes roused himself.
|Look to the course of the bari, Hotep, and chide it with an oar if it means to beach us. I doubt me much if I am fit to control it with the wine of this wind on my brain.|
Hotep took up the oars and rowed strongly. |Thine offense does not sit heavily on thy conscience,| he said.
|I have made my peace with Athor.|
|Hath she given thee her word?|
|Nay, no need. For I did not offend her. Rather hath she abetted me -- urged me in my trespass. She persuaded me to become vagrant with her, and I followed the divine runaway into the desert. I doubt not I was chosen because I was as lawless as her needs required. Athor is beautiful and would prove herself so to her devotees. And to me was the lovely labor appointed.|
Hotep looked at him mystified.
|By the gods,| he said at last, |thou hadst better get in out of this wind.|
Kenkenes laughed genuinely. |My babble will take meaning ere long. If thou questionest me, I must answer, but I am determined not to betray my secret yet.|
|Go we to On?| Hotep asked plaintively, after a long interval of industry for him and dream for Kenkenes. The young sculptor sat up and looked at the opposite shore. |Nay,| he cried, |we are long past the place where we should have landed. Yonder is the Marsh of the Discontented Soul. Let me row back.|
He turned and pulled rapidly toward the eastern shore. Away to the south, behind them, were the quarries of Masaarah. But they were still a considerable distance above Toora, a second village of quarry-workers, now entirely deserted. The pitted face of the mountain behind the town was without life, for, as has been seen, Meneptah was not a building monarch. Directly opposite them the abrupt wall of the Arabian hills pushed down near to the Nile and the intervening space was a flat sandy stretch, ending in a reedy marsh at the water's edge. The line of cultivation ended far to the south and north of it, though the soil was as arable as any bordering the Nile. A great number of marsh geese and a few stilted waders flew up or plunged into the water with discordant cries and flapping of wings as the presence of the young men disturbed the solitude. The sedge was wind-mown, and there were numberless prints of bird claws, but no mark of boat-keel or human foot. The place should have been a favorite haunt of fowlers, but it was lonely and overshadowed with a sense of absolute desertion.
|But,| Hotep began suddenly, |thou hast spoken of offense and pardon, and now thou boastest that Athor abetted thee.|
|Why is this called the Marsh of the Discontented Soul?|
The scribe smiled patiently. |Of a truth, dost thou not know?|
|As the immortals hear me, I do not. I have never asked and the chronicles do not speak of it.|
|Nay; the story is four hundred years old, and the chroniclers do not tell it because it is out of the scope of history, I doubt not. But it has become tradition throughout Egypt to shun the spot, though few know why they must. A curse is laid upon the place. An unfaithful wife whom the priests denied repose with her ancestors is entombed yonder.| He pointed toward an angle between an outstanding buttress and the limestone wall. |Her soul haunts him who comes here with the plea that her mummy be removed to On, where she dwelt in life, and laid with the respected dead, in the necropolis.|
Kenkenes shrugged his shoulders. |I trust the unhappy soul will not trouble us. We came here by way of misadventure -- not to disturb her. But how came it they did not entomb her nearer On?|
|She betrayed one great man and tempted another. She offended against the lofty. Therefore, her punishment was the more heavy -- her isolation in death like to banishment in life.|
|So; if she had slighted a paraschite and tempted a beer brewer, her fate would have been less harsh. O, the justness of justice!|
The morning was well advanced when they reached the niche on the hillside -- Hotep, wondering; Kenkenes, silent and expectant.
The sculptor led the way into the presence of Athor, and stepped aside. The scribe halted and gazed without sound or movement -- petrified with amazement.
Before him, in hue and quiescence was a statue in stone -- in all other respects, a human being. The figure was of white magnesium limestone, and stood upon rock yet unhewn.
The ritual had been trampled into the dust.
The eye of the most unlearned Egyptian could detect the sacrilege at a single glance.
It was the image of a girl, draped in an overlong robe, fastened over each shoulder by a fibula, ornamented with a round medallion. Through the vestments, intentionally simple, there was testimony of the exquisite lines of the figure they clothed.
The sole observance of hieratic symbol were the horns of Athor set in the hair.
The figure was posed as if in the act of a forward movement. The knee was slightly bent in an attitude of supplication. The face was upturned, the eyes lifted, the arms extended to their fullest, forward and upward, the fingers curved as if ready to receive. The hair was separated into two heavy plaits, which fell below the waist down the back.
One sandaled foot was advanced, slightly; the other hidden by the hem of the robe.
Every physical feature visible upon the living form so disposed and draped had been carved upon this grace in stone. Egypt had never fashioned anything so perfect. Indeed, she would not have called it sculpture.
The glyptic art of Greece had been paralleled hundreds of years before it was born.
On the face there was the light of overpowering love together with the intangible pride so marked on the representations of profane deities. But the most manifest emotions were the great yearning and entreaty. They were marked in the attitude of the head thrown back, in the outstretched arms and in the bent knee. That there was more hopeful expectancy than despairing insistence, was proved by the curve of the ready fingers and the uncertain smile on the lips. It was Athor, eternally young, eternally in love, eternally unsatisfied, receiving the setting sun as she had done since the world began. None of the rapturous impatience and uncertainty of the moment had been lost since the first sunset after chaos. And yet, with all the pulse and fervor, here was womanhood, immaculate and ineffable.
Never did face so command men to worship.
|Holy Amen!| the scribe exclaimed, his voice barely audible in its earnestness. |What consummate loveliness! But what -- what unspeakable impiety!|
|Hast thou seen Athor? She is before thee.|
|Athor! The golden goddess in the image of a mortal! Kenkenes, the wrath of the priests awaits thee and thereafter the doom of the insulted Pantheon!| The scribe shuddered and plucked at his friend's robe as if to drag him away from the sight of his own creation.
Firmly fixed were the young artist's convictions to resist the impelling force of Hotep's consternation.
|Nay, nay, Hotep,| he answered soothingly. |The wrath of the gods for an offense thus flagrant is exceedingly slow, if it is to fall. Lo! they have propitiated me at great length if they mean to accomplish mine undoing at last. Thus far, and the statue is well-nigh complete, I have met no form of obstacle.|
But Hotep shook his head in profound apprehension. He looked at the statue furtively and murmured:
|O Kenkenes, what madness made thee trifle with the gods?|
|Have I not said? The goddess herself lured me. Is she not the embodied essence of Beauty? The ritual insults her. Ah, look at the statue, Hotep. How could Athor be wroth with the sculptor who called such a face as that, a likeness of her!|
|It startles me,| the scribe declared. |It is supernaturally human. That is not art, but creation. O apostate, thine offense is of two-fold seriousness. Thou hast stolen the function of the divine Mother and made a living thing!|
Kenkenes laughed with sheer joy at his comrade's genuine praise. The more dismayed Hotep might be, the more sincere his compliment. But the scribe, plunged into a stupor of concern lest the authorities discover the sacrilege, went on helplessly.
|What wilt thou do with it when it is done?|
|I have left no mark of myself upon it.|
|Nay, but the priesthood can scent out a blasphemer as a hound scents a jackal.|
|Thou wilt not betray me, Hotep; I shall not publish myself, and the other -- the only other who possesses my secret -- the Israelite, who was my model, is fidelity's self. I would trust her with my soul.|
|An Israelite! Thy nation's most active foe at this hour!|
|She is no enemy to me, Hotep.|
Slowly the scribe's eyes traveled from the face of Athor to the face of Kenkenes. The young sculptor turned away and leaned against the great cube that walled one side of the niche. He was not prepared to meet his friend's discerning eyes. Hotep surveyed him critically. A momentous surmise forced itself upon him. He went to Kenkenes and, laying an affectionate arm across his shoulder, leaned not lightly thereon.
|Thou hast said, O my Kenkenes, that I should understand thy meaning when thou spakest mysteriously a while agone. May I not know, now? Thou didst plead offense to Athor and didst boast her pardon. Later thou calledst her thy confederate. And earliest of all, thou didst confess to asking favor of her. How may all these things be?|
|Look thou,| Kenkenes began at once. |On one hand, I have my new belief concerning sculpture -- on the other, the beliefs of my fathers. I practise the first and make propitiation for the second. No harm hath overtaken me. Am I not pardoned? Furthermore, Athor is beauty, and beauty guided my hand in creating this statue. Therefore, Athor being beauty, Athor was my confederate. Is it not lucid, O Son of Wisdom?|
Hotep laughed. |Nay, thou wilt not prosper, Kenkenes. Thou servest two masters. But there is one thing still unexplained -- the favor of Athor.|
|That is not mine to boast. I have but craved it,| Kenkenes replied hesitatingly.
|Where doth she live?| Hotep asked, by way of experiment.
|In the quarries below.|
There was no more doubt in the mind of Hotep. Here was a duty, plain before him, and his dearest friend to counsel. His must be tender wisdom and persuasive authority. Not a drop of the scribe's blood was democratic. He could not understand love between different ranks of society, and, as a result, doubted if it could exist. Kenkenes must be awakened while it was time.
|Do thou hear me, O my Kenkenes,| he said after some silence. |If I overstep the liberty of a friend, remind me, but remember thou -- whatsoever I shall say will be said through love for thee, not to chide thee. No man shapeth his career for himself alone, nor does death end his deeds. He continues to act through his children and his children's children to the unlimited extent of time. Seest thou not, O Kenkenes, that the ancestor is terribly responsible? What more heavy punishment could be meted to the original sinner, than to set him in eternal contemplation of the hideous fruitfulness of his initial sin!
|I have said sin, because sin, only, is offense in the eyes of the gods. But sin and error are one in the unpardoning eye of nature. Thus, if thou dost err, though in all innocence, though the gods absolve thee, thou wilt reap the bitter harvest of thy misguided sowing, one day -- thou or thy children after thee. The doom is spoken, and however tardy, must fall -- and the offense is never expiated. There is nothing more relentless than consequence.
|If thou weddest unwisely thou dost double thy children's portion of difficulty, since thou art unwise and their mother unfit. If, perchance, thy only error lay in thy choice of wife, the result is still the same. Let her be most worthy, and yet she may be most unfitting. She must fit thy needs as the joint fits the socket. Virtue is essential, but it is not sufficient. Beauty is good -- I should say needful, but certainly it is not all. Love is indispensable and yet not enough.|
|I should say that these three things are enough,| put in Kenkenes.
|They would gain entrance into the place of the blest -- the bosom of Osiris -- but they are not sufficient for the over-nice nobility of Egypt,| the scribe averred promptly. |Thou must live in the world and the world would pass judgment on thy wife. If thou art a true husband, thou wouldst defend her, and be wroth. Yet, canst thou be happy being wroth and at odds with the world?|
Kenkenes slipped from under the affectionate arm and busied himself with the statue, marking with a sliver of limestone where his chisel must smooth away a flaw. But the voice of the scribe went on steadily.
|The nobility of Egypt will not accept an unbeliever and an Israelite. That monarch who favored the son of Abraham, Joseph, is dead. The tolerant spirit died with him. Another sentiment hath grown up and the loveliest Hebrew could not overthrow it. Henceforward, there is eternal enmity between Egypt and Israel.|
The sliver of stone dropped from the fingers of the artist and his eyes wandered away, dreamy with thought. He remembered the story of the wrong of Rachel's house, and it came home to him with overwhelming force that the feud between Egypt and Israel was the barrier between him and his love. He was punished for a crime his country had committed.
|Oh!| he exclaimed to himself. |Am I not surely suffering for the sins of my fathers? How cruelly sound thy reasoning is, O thou placid Hotep!|
The scribe saw that as the sculptor stood, the pleading hands of Athor all but touched his shoulders. Hotep went to him and turned him away from the statue. He knew he could not win his friend with the beauty of that waiting face appealing to him.
|Thus far thou hast borne with me, Kenkenes -- and having grown bold thereby, I would go further. Return with me to Memphis and come hither no more. She will soon be comforted, if she is not already betrothed. Egypt needs thee -- the Hathors have bespoken good fortune for thee -- and thou art justified in aspiring to nothing less than the hand of a princess. Come back to Memphis and let her heal thee with her congruous love.|
|Nay, my Hotep, what a waste of words! I will go back to Memphis with thee, not for thy reasoning, but for mine own -- nay, hers.|
|Hast thou -- did the Israelite -- | the scribe began in amazement, and paused, ashamed of his unbecoming curiosity.
|Aye; and let us speak of it no more. Thou hast my story, my confidence and my love. Keep the first and the rest shall be thine for ever.|
|And this?| questioned Hotep, nodding toward the statue, though he resolutely kept the face of Kenkenes turned from it.
|Let it be,| Kenkenes replied. Hotep hesitated, dissatisfied, but feared to insist on its destruction, so he went arm in arm with his friend down to the river, without a word of protest. |I will at him again when he is better,| he told himself, |and we will bury the exquisite sacrilege.|
There was an animated group of Hebrew children at the Nile drawing water, and among them was a golden-haired maiden. Hotep had but to glance at her to know that he looked on the glorious model of the pale divinity on the hill above. At the sound of their approach through the grain, she looked up. As she caught sight of Kenkenes, she started and flushed quickly and as quickly the color fled.
Since she was near the boat, Kenkenes stood close beside her for a moment while he pushed the bari into the water.
|Gods! What a noble pair!| Hotep ejaculated under his breath. But he saw Kenkenes bend near the Israelite, as if to make his final plea; a spasm of anguish contracted her white face, and she turned her head away. The incident, so eloquent to Rachel and Kenkenes, had been so swift and subtile in its enactment, that only the quick eye of Hotep detected it. Again he called on the gods in exclamation:
|She is saner than he!|
On the way back to Memphis he maintained a thoughtful silence. Since he had seen Rachel, he began to understand the love of Kenkenes for her.