March and April had passed and now it was the first of May. Five days before, the ceremony of installation had been held for the murket and the cup-bearer and for four days thereafter the new officers passed through initiatory formalities. But on the fifth day the rites of investiture had been brought to an end, and Mentu and Nechutes entered on the routine of service.
To Mentu fell the dignified congratulations of his own world of sedate old nobles and stately women. But Nechutes was younger and well beloved by youthful Memphis, so on the night of the fifth day, the house of Senci was aglow and in her banquet-room there was much young revel in his honor.
Aromatic torches flaring in sconces lighted the friezes of lotus, the painted paneling on the walls, and the clustered pillars that upheld the ceiling of the chamber. The tables had been removed; the musicians and tumblers common to such occasions were not present, for the rout was small and sufficient unto itself for entertainment.
Gathered about a central figure, which must needs be the one of highest rank -- and in this instance it was the crown prince -- were the young guests. They were noblemen and gentlewomen of Memphis, freed for an evening from the restraint of pretentious affairs and spared the awesome repression of potentates and monitors.
Hotep was host and these were his guests.
First, there was Rameses, languid, cynical, sumptuous, and enthroned in a capacious fauteuil, significantly upholstered in purple and gold.
Close beside him and similarly enthroned was Ta-user. She wore a double robe of transparent linen, very fine and clinging in its texture. The over-dress was simply a white gauze, striped with narrow lines of green and gold. From the fillet of royalty about her forehead, an emerald depended between her eyes. Her zone was a broad braid of golden cords, girdling her beneath the breast, encompassing her again about the hips, and fastened at last in front by a diamond-shaped buckle of clustered emeralds. Her sandals were mere jeweled straps of white gazelle-hide, passing under the heel and ball of the foot. She was as daringly dressed as a lissome dancing-girl.
On a taboret at her right was Seti, the little prince. Although he was nearly sixteen he looked to be of even tenderer years. In him, the charms of the Egyptian countenance had been so emphasized, and its defects so reduced, that his boyish beauty was unequaled among his countrymen.
At his feet was Io, playing at dice with Ta-meri and Nechutes. Ta-meri was more than usually brilliant, and Nechutes, flushed with her favor, was playing splendidly and rejoicing beyond reason over his gains.
Opposite this group was another, the center of which was Masanath. She sat in the richest seat in the house of Senci. It was ivory tricked with gold; but small and young as the fan-bearer's daughter was, there was none in that assembly who might queen it as royally as she from its imperial depths. By her side was the boon companion of Rameses. He was Menes, surnamed |the Bland,| captain of the royal guard, a most amiable soldier and chiefly remarkable because, of all the prince's world, he was the only one that could tell the truth to Rameses and tell it without offense.
On the floor between Masanath and Menes was the son of Amon-meses, the Prince Siptah. He was a typical Oriental, bronze in hue, lean of frame, brilliant of eye, white of teeth, intense in temperament and fierce in his loves and hates. Religion comforted him through his appetites; in his sight craft was a virtue, intrigue was politics, and love was a fury. His eyes never left Ta-user for long, and his every word seemed to be inspired by some overweening emotion.
Aside from these there were others in the group. Some were sons and daughters of royalty, cousins of the Pharaoh's sons and of Ta-user and Siptah; many were children of the king's ministers, and all were noble.
Senci and Hotep's older sister, the Lady Bettis, a dark-eyed matron of thirty, presided in duenna-like guardianship over the rout. They sat in a diphros apart from the young revelers.
Kenkenes was momently expected. For the past two months he had been seen every evening wherever there was high-class revel in Memphis. But he had laughed perfunctorily and lapsed into preoccupation when none spoke to him, and his song had a sorry note in it, however happy the theme. But these were things apparent only to those that saw deeper than the surface.
|Where is Kenkenes?| Menes demanded. |Hath he forsworn us?|
|I saw him to-day,| Nechutes ventured, without raising his eyes from the game, |when we were fowling on the Nile below the city. He was alone, pulling down-stream, just this side of Masaarah.|
Hotep frowned and gave over any hope that Kenkenes would join the merrymaking that night. But at that moment, Ta-meri, who sat facing the entrance to the chamber, poised the dice-box in air and drew in a long breath. The guests followed her eyes.
Kenkenes stood in the doorway, the curtain thrust aside and above him. His voluminous festal robes were deeply edged with gold, but his arms, bare to the shoulder, and his strong brown neck were without their usual trappings of jewels. The omission seemed intentional, as if the young man had meant to contrast the ornament of young strength and grace with the glitter and magnificence of the other guests. He had succeeded well.
Perhaps to most of those present, the young man's presence was not unusual, but Hotep was not blind to a manifest alteration in his manner. There was cynicism in the corners of his mouth, and a hint of hurt or temper was evident in the tension of his nostril and the brilliance of his eyes. Hotep had no need of seers and astrologers, for his perception served him in all tangible things. He knew something untoward had set Kenkenes to thinking about himself, and guessing where the young artist had gone that evening, he surmised further how he had been received.
And though he was sorry in his heart for his friend's unhappiness, he confessed his admiration for Rachel.
|Late,| cried Hotep, rising.
|Thy pardon, Hotep,| Kenkenes replied, advancing into the chamber, |I had an errand of much importance to Masaarah and it was fruitless. It shall trouble me no more.|
Hotep lifted his brows, as though he exclaimed to himself, and made no answer. Kenkenes greeted the guests with a wave of his hand and did obeisance before Rameses.
|Thou speakest of Masaarah, my Kenkenes,| the crown prince commented after the salutation, |and it suggests an inquiry I would make of thee. Dost thou go on as sculptor, or wilt thou follow thy father into the art of building?|
|Since the Pharaoh chose for my father, he shall choose for me also.|
|Nay, the Pharaoh did not choose,| Rameses objected dryly. |It was I.|
|Of a truth? Then thou shalt choose for me, O my generous Prince.|
|Follow thy father. I would have thee for my murket. Nay, it is ever so. I mold the Pharaoh and he gets the credit.|
|And thou, the blame, when blame accrues from the molding,| Menes put in very distinctly, though under his breath.
|But be thou of cheer, O Son of the Sun,| Kenkenes added. |When thou art Pharaoh, thou canst retaliate upon thine own heir, in the same fashion.|
|Thou givest him tardy comfort, O Son of Mentu,| Siptah commented with an unpleasant laugh. |He will lose all recollection of the grudge, waiting so long.|
Rameses turned his heavy eyes toward the speaker, but Kenkenes halted any remark the prince might have made.
|Nay, let it pass,| he said placidly, dropping into a chair. |All this savors too much of the future and is out of place in the happy improvidence of the present.|
|Let it all pass?| Ta-user asked. |Nay, I would hold the prince to the promise he made a moment agone, when the choosing of the new murket comes round again.|
|Do thou so, for me, then, when that time comes,| Kenkenes interrupted.
Ta-user laughed very softly and delivered the young artist a level look of understanding from her topaz eyes. |I fear thou art indeed improvident,| she continued, |if thou leavest thy future to others.|
|Then all the world is improvident, since it belongeth to others to shape every man's future. But Hotep, the lawgiver, denies this thing. He holds that every man builds for himself.|
|Right, Hotep!| Rameses exclaimed. |It was such belief that made a world-conqueror of my grandsire.|
|Nay, thy pardon, O my Prince. Hotep's counsel will not always hold,| Kenkenes objected.
|Give me to know wherein it faileth,| the prince demanded.
|Alas! in a thousand things. In truth a man even draws his breath by the leave of others.|
|By the puny god, Harpocrates!| the prince cried, scoffing. |That is the weakest avowal I have heard in a moon!|
Kenkenes flushed, and Rameses, recovering from his amusement, pressed his advantage.
|Let me give thee a bit of counsel from mine own store that thou mayest look with braver eyes on life. Take the world by the throat and it will do thy will.|
|Again I dispute thee, O Rameses.|
|Name thy witness,| the prince insisted. Kenkenes leaned on his elbow toward him.
|Canst thou force a woman to love thee?| he asked simply.
Ta-user glanced at the prince and the sleepy black eyes of the heir narrowed.
|Let us get back to the issue,| he said. |We spoke of others shaping the future of men. You may not force a woman to love you, but no love or lack of love of a woman should misshape the destiny of any man.|
|That is a matter of difference in temperament, my Prince,| Ta-user put in.
|It may be, but it is the expression of mine own ideas,| he answered roughly.
The lashes of the princess were smitten down immediately and Siptah's canine teeth glittered for a moment, one set upon the other. Kenkenes patted his sandal impatiently and looked another way. His gaze fell on Io. She had lost interest in the game. The color had receded from her cheeks and now and again her lips trembled. Kenkenes looked and saw that Seti's eyes were adoring Ta-user, who smiled at him. With a sudden rush of heat through his veins, the young artist turned again to Io, and watched till he caught her eye. With a look he invited her to come to him. She laid down the dice, during the momentary abstraction of her playing-mates, and murmuring that she was tired, came and sat at the feet of her champion.
|Wherefore dost thou retreat, Io?| Ta-user asked. |Art vanquished?|
|At one game, aye!| the girl replied vehemently.
Kenkenes laid his hand on her head and said to her very softly:
|If only our pride were spared, sweet Io, defeat were not so hard.|
The girl lifted her face to him with some questioning in her eyes.
|Knowest thou aught of this game, in truth?| she asked.
He smiled and evaded. |I have not been fairly taught.|
Ta-meri gathered up the stakes and Nechutes, collecting the dice, went to find her a seat. But while he was gone, she wandered over to Kenkenes and leaned on the back of his chair.
|Let me give thee a truth that seemeth to deny itself in the expression,| Io said, turning so that she faced the young artist.
|Say on,| he replied, bending over her.
|The more indifferent the teacher in this game of love, the sooner you learn,| said Io. Kenkenes took the tiny hand extended toward him in emphasis and kissed it.
|Sorry truth!| he said tenderly. As he leaned back in his chair he became conscious of Ta-meri's presence and turned his head toward her. Her face was so near to him that he felt the glow from her warm cheek. His gaze met hers and, for a moment, dwelt.
All the attraction of her gorgeous habiliments, her warm assurance and her inceptive tenderness detached themselves from the general fusion and became distinct. Her beauty, her fervor, her audacity, were not unusually pronounced on this occasion, but the spell for Kenkenes was broken and the inner working's were open to him. Different indeed was the picture that rose before his mind -- a picture of a fair face, wondrously and spiritually beautiful; of the quick blush and sweet dignity and unapproachable womanhood. His eyes fell and for a moment his lids were unsteady, but the color surged back into his cheeks and his lips tightened.
He took Io's hands, which were clasped across his knee, and rising, gave the chair to Ta-meri. He found a taboret for himself, and as he put it down at her feet, he saw Nechutes fling himself into a chair and scowl blackly at the nomarch's daughter. Kenkenes sighed and interested himself in the babble that went on about him.
The first word he distinguished was the name of Har-hat, pronounced in clear tones. Menes, who sat next to Kenkenes, put out his foot and trod on the speaker's toes. The man was Siptah.
|Choke before thou utterest that name again,| the captain said in a whisper, |else thou wilt have Rameses abusing Har-hat before his daughter.|
|What matters it to me, his temper or her hurt?| Siptah snarled.
|Churl!| responded Menes, amiably.
|What is amiss between the heir and the fan-bearer?| Kenkenes asked.
|Everything! Rameses fairly suffocates in the presence of the new adviser. The Pharaoh is sadly torn between the twain. He worships Rameses and, body of Osiris! how he loves Har-hat! But sometime the council chamber with the trio therein will fall -- the walls outward, the roof, up -- mark me!|
Again, clear and with offensive emphasis, Siptah's voice was heard disputing, in the general babble.
|Magnify the cowardice of the Rebu if you will, but it was Har-hat who made them afraid,| he was saying.
The slow eyes of Rameses turned in the direction of the tacit challenge. Menes' black brows knitted at Siptah, but Kenkenes came to the rescue. A lyre, the inevitable instrument of ancient revels, was near him and he caught it up, sweeping his fingers strongly across the strings.
A momentary silence fell, broken at once by the applause of the peace-loving, who cried, |Sing for us, Kenkenes!|
He shook his head, smiling. |I did but test the harmony of the strings; harmony is grateful to mine ear.|
Menes' lips twitched. |If harmony is here,| he said with meaning, |you will find it in the instrument.|
Again, a voice from the general conversation broke in -- this time from Rameses.
|Kenkenes hath outlasted an army of other singers. I knew him as such when mine uncles yet lived and my father was many moves from the throne. It was while we dwelt unroyally here in Memphis. They made thee sing in the temple, Kenkenes. Dost thou remember?|
|Aye,| Ta-user took it up. |They made thee sing in the temple and it went sore against thee, Kenkenes. Most of the upper classes in the college here were hoarse or treble by turns, and the priests required thee by force from thy tutors because thou couldst sing. Thou wast a stubborn lad, as pretty as a mimosa and as surly as a caged lion. I can see thee now chanting, with a voice like a lark, and frowning like a very demon from Amenti!|
The princess laughed musically at her own narration and received the applause of the others with a serene countenance. She had repaid Kenkenes for his implied championship of her cause earlier in the evening.
|Art still as reluctant, Kenkenes?| the Lady Senci called to him.
Kenkenes looked at the lyre and did not answer at once. There was no song in his heart and a moody silence seemed more like to possess his lips. His audience, too, was not in the temper for song. He took in the expression of the guests with a single comprehensive glance. Siptah's hands were clenched and his face was blackened with a frown. Ta-user's silken brows were lifted, and even the pallid countenance of the prince was set and his eyes were fixed on nothing. Seti was entangled by the princess' witchery and he saw no one else. Io, blanched and miserable, forgotten by Seti, forgot all others. In his heart Kenkenes knew that Nechutes was unhappy and Hotep and Masanath; and even if there were those in the banquet-room who had no overweening sorrow, the evident discontent of the troubled oppressed them.
Far from finding inspiration for song in the faces of the guests, Kenkenes felt an impulse to rush out of the atmosphere of unrest and unhappiness into the solitary night, where no intrusion of another's sorrow could dispute the great triumph of his own grief. The bitter soul in him longed to laugh at the idea of singing.
The hesitation between Senci's invitation and his answer was not noticeable. He put the instrument out of his reach, tossing it on a cushion a little distance away.
|Not so reluctant,| he said, turning his face toward the lady, |as unready. I have exhausted my trove of songs for this self-same company, -- wherefore they will not listen to reiteration, which is ever insipid.|
Senci wisely accepted his excuse, and pressed him no further. One or two of the more observant members of the company looked at him, with comprehension in their eyes. Seldom, indeed, had Kenkenes refused to sing, and his reluctance corroborated their suspicions that all was not well with the young artist.
The irrepressible Menes observed to Io in one of his characteristic undertones, but so that all the company heard it: |What makes us surly to-night? Look at Kenkenes; I think he is in love! What aileth thee, sweet Io? Hast lost much to that gambling pair -- Ta-meri and Nechutes? And behold thy fellows! What a sulky lot! I am the most cheerful spirit among us.|
|Boast not,| she responded; |it is not a virtue in you. You would be blithe in Amenti, for one can not get mournful music out of a timbrel.|
The soldier's eyes opened, and he caught at her, but she eluded him and growled prettily under her breath.
|Come, Bast,| he cried, making after her. |Kit, kit, kit!|
She sprang away with a little shriek and Kenkenes, throwing out his arm, caught her and drew her close.
|Menes is malevolent -- | he began.
|Aye, malevolent as Mesu!| she panted.
|What!| the soldier cried. |Has the Hebrew sorcerer already become a bugbear to the children?|
|If he become not a bugbear to all Egypt, we may thank the gods,| Siptah put in.
Rameses laughed scornfully, but Ta-user and Seti spoke simultaneously:
|Siptah speaks truly.|
|Yea, Menes,| the heir scoffed; |he hath already become a bugbear to the infants. Hear them confess it?|
Siptah buried his clenched hand in a cushion on the floor near him.
|O thou paternal Prince,| he said, |repeat us a prayer of exorcism as a father should, and rid us of our fears.|
|And pursuant of the custom bewailed an hour agone, we shall return thanks to the Pharaoh, for the things thou dost achieve, O our Rameses,| Menes added.
|If there are any prayers said,| the prince replied, |the Hebrews will say them. Mine exorcism will be harsher than formulas.|
The rest of the company ceased their undertone and listened.
|Wilt thou tell us again what thou hast said, O Prince?| Kenkenes asked.
|Mine exorcism of the Hebrew sorcerer, Mesu, will be harsher than formulas. I shall not beseech the Israelites and it will avail them naught to beseech me.|
|Thou art ominous, Light of Egypt,| Kenkenes commented quietly. |Wilt thou open thy heart further and give us thy meaning?|
|Hast lived out of the world, O Son of Mentu? The exorcism will begin ere long. In this I give thee the history of Israel for the next few years and close it. I shall not fall heir to the Hebrews when I come to wear the crown of Egypt.|
|Are they to be sent forth?| Kenkenes asked in a low tone.
Rameses laughed shortly.
|Thou art not versed in the innuendoes of court-talk, my Kenkenes. Nay, they die in Egypt and fertilize the soil.|
|It will raise a Set-given uproar, Rameses,| Menes broke in with meek conviction; |and as thou hast said -- to the king, the credit -- to his advisers, the blame.|
|Nay; the process is longer and more natural,| the prince replied carelessly. |It is but the same method of the mines. Who can call death by hard labor, murder?|
The full brutality of the prince's meaning struck home. Kenkenes gripped the arm of Ta-meri's chair with such power that the sinews stood up rigid and white above the back of the brown hand. Luckily, all of the guests were contemplating Rameses with more or less horror. They did not see the color recede from the young artist's face or his eyes ignite dangerously.
Masanath sat up very straight and leveled a pair of eyes shining with accusation at the prince.
|Of a truth, was thine the fiat?| she demanded.
|Even so, thou lovely magistrate,| he answered with an amused smile. |Was it not a masterful one?|
Hotep delivered her a warning glance, but she did not heed it. Austere Ma, the Defender of Truth, could have been as easily crushed.
|Masterful!| she cried. |Nay! Menes, lend me thy word. Of all Set-given, pitiless, atrocious edicts, that is the cruelest! Shame on thee!|
At her first words, Rameses raised himself from his attitude of languor into an upright and intensely alert position. The company ceased to breathe, but Kenkenes heaved a soundless sigh of relief. Masanath had uttered his denunciations for him.
Meanwhile the prince's eyes began to sparkle, a rich stain grew in his cheeks and when she made an end he was the picture of animated delight. For the first time in his life he had been defied and condemned.
But his gaze did not disturb Masanath. Her eyes dared him to resent her censure. The prince had no such purpose in mind.
|O by Besa! here is what I have sought for so long,| he exclaimed, at last. |Hither! thou treasure, thou dear, defiant little shrew! Thou art more to me than all the wealth of Pithom. Hither, I tell thee!|
But she did not move. The company was breathing with considerable relief by this time, but not a few of them were casting furtive glances at Ta-user.
|Hither!| Rameses commanded, stamping his foot. |Nay, I had forgot she defies my power. Behold, then, I come to thee.|
Masanath anticipated his intent, and rising with much dignity, she put the ivory throne between her and the prince. Cool and self-possessed she gathered up her lotuses, as fresh after an evening in her hand as they were when the slaves gathered them from the Nile; found her fan and made other serene preparations to depart. Rameses, fended from her by the chair, stood before her and watched with a smile in his eyes.
Presently he waved his hand to the other guests.
|Arise; the princess is going,| he commanded.
In the stir and rustle, laughter and talk of the guests, getting up at the prince's sign -- for it was customary to permit the highest of rank to dismiss a company -- Masanath slipped from among them and attempted to leave unnoticed. But Rameses was before her and had taken possession of her hand before she could elude him. As Kenkenes passed them on his way to the door her soft shoulders were squared; she had drawn herself as far away from the prince as she might and was otherwise evincing her discomfort extravagantly.
Before them was Hotep, outwardly undisturbed, smiling and complacent. At one side was Ta-user, at the other Seti, and Io hung on Hotep's arm.
The young artist walked past them hurriedly, moved to leave all the ferment and agitation behind him. If he had thought to forget his sorrows among the light-hearted revel of those that did not sorrow, he misdirected his search.
At the doors the Lady Senci met him and drew him over to the diphros, now vacated by Bettis.
And there she took his face between her hands and kissed him.
|Hail! thou son of the murket!| she said.
|Having much, I am given more,| he responded. |Behold the prodigality of good fortune. The Hathors exalt me in the world and add thereto a kiss from the Lady Senci.|
|I was impelled truly,| she confessed, |but by thine own face as well as by the Hathors. Kenkenes, if I did not know thee, I should say thou wast pretending -- thou, to whom pretense is impossible.|
He did not answer, for there was no desire in his heart to tell his secret; his experience with Hotep had warned him. Yet the unusual winsomeness of his father's noble love was hard to resist.
|Thy manner this evening betrays thee as striving to hide one spirit and show another,| she continued, seeing he made no response.
|Thou hast said,| he admitted at last; |and I have not succeeded. That is a sorry incapacity, for the world has small patience with a man who can not make his face lie.|
|Bitter! Thou!| she chid.
|Have I not spoken truly?| he persisted.
|Aye, but why rebel? No man but hides a secret sorrow, and this would be a tearful world did every one weep when he felt like it.|
|But I am most overwhelmingly constrained to weep, so I shall stay out of the world and vex it not.|
She looked at him with startled eyes.
|Art thou so troubled, then?| she asked in a lowered tone.
|Doubly troubled -- and hopelessly,| he replied, his eyes away from her.
She came nearer and, putting up her hands, laid them on his shoulders.
|You are so young, Kenkenes -- -so young, and youth is like to make much of the little first sorrows. Furthermore, these are troublous days. Saw you not the temper of the assembly to-night? Egypt is a-quiver with irritation. Every little ripple in the smooth current of life seems magnified -- each man seeketh provocation to vent his causeless exasperation. And when such ferment worketh in the gathering of the young, it is portentous. It bodeth evil! You are but caught in the fever, my Kenkenes, and your little vexations are inflamed until they hurt, of a truth. Get to your rest, and to-morrow her smile will be more propitious.|
Kenkenes looked at the uplifted face and noted the laugh in the eyes.
|What a tattling face is mine,| he said, |Is her name written there also?| He drew his fingers across his forehead.
|No need; I have been young and many are the young that have wooed and wed beneath mine eyes. I know the signs.| She nodded sagely and continued after a little pause:
|I shall not pry further into your sorrow, Kenkenes; but you are good and handsome, and winsome, and wealthy, and young, and it is a stony heart that could hold out long against you. I would wager my mummy that the maiden is this instant well-nigh ready to cast herself at your feet, save that your very excellence deters her. Go, now, and let your dreams be sweeter than these last waking hours have been.|
Again she kissed him and let him go.
In the corridor without, he received his mantle and kerchief from a servant and continued toward the outer portals. But before he reached them, Ta-meri stepped out of a cross-corridor and halted. Never before did her eyes so shine or her smile so flash within the cloud of gauzes that mantled and covered her. Kenkenes wondered for a moment if he must explain the change in his countenance to her also. But the beauty had herself in mind at that moment.
|Kenkenes, thou hast given me no opportunity to wish thee well, as the son of the murket.|
|Ah, but in this nook thy good wishes will be none the less sincere nor my delight any less apparent.|
|Most heartily I give thee joy!|
Kenkenes kissed her hand. |And wilt thou say that to Nechutes and put him in the highest heaven?|
|Already have I wished him well,| she responded, pretending to pout, |but he repaid me poorly.|
|Nay! What did he?|
|Begged me to become his wife.|
|And having given him the span, thou didst yield him the cubit also when he asked it?| he surmised.
|Nay, not yet. But -- shall I?| she lifted her face and looked at him, smiling and bewitchingly beautiful. Her eyes dared him; her lips invited him; all her charms rose up and besought him. For a moment, Kenkenes was startled. If he had believed that Ta-meri loved him never so slightly, his sensations would have been most distressing. But he knew and was glad to know that he awakened nothing deeper than a superficial partiality, which lasted only as long as he was in her sight to please her eye. In spite of his consternation, he could think intelligently enough to surmise what had inspired her words. The Lady Senci had guessed the nature of his trouble; even Menes had hinted a suspicion of the truth in a bantering way. What would prevent the beauty from seeing it also and preempting to herself the honors of his disheartenment? But he was in no mood for a coquettish tilt with her. His sober face was not more serious than his tone when he made answer:
|Do not play with him, Ta-meri. He is worthy and loves thee most tenderly. Thou lovest him. Be kind to thine own heart and put him to the rack no more. Thou art sure of him and I doubt not it pleases thee to tantalize thyself a little while; but Nechutes, who must endure the lover's doubts, is suffering cruelly. Thou art a good child, Ta-meri; how canst thou hurt him so?|
He paused, for her eyes, growing remorseful, had wandered away from him. He knew he had reasoned well. The guests in the banquet-room began to emerge, talking and laughing. The voice of Nechutes was not heard among them. Kenkenes glanced toward the group and saw the cup-bearer a trifle in advance, his sullen face averted.
|He comes yonder,| Kenkenes added in a whisper, |poor, moody boy! Go back to him and take him all the happiness I would to the gods I knew. Farewell.|
He pressed her hand and continued toward the door.
Once again he was hailed, this time by Rameses. He halted, stifling a groan, and returned to the prince. Nechutes and Ta-meri had disappeared.
|One other thing, I would tell thee, Kenkenes,| the prince said, |and then thou mayest go. The Pharaoh heard a song to the sunrise on the Nile some time ago and I identified the voice for him. He would have thee sing for him, Kenkenes.|
|The Pharaoh's wish is law,| was the slow answer.
|Oh, it was not a command,| Rameses replied affably, for he was still holding Masanath's hand and therefore in high good humor with himself. |In truth he said the choice should be thine whether thou wilt or not. He would not insist that a nobleman become his minstrel. But more of this later; the gods go with thee.|
Kenkenes bowed and escaped.
In his room a few moments later, he lighted his lamp of scented oils and contemplated the comforts about him. His conscience pointed a condemning finger at him. Here was luxury to the point of uselessness for himself; across the Nile was the desolate quarry-camp for his love. In Memphis he had robed himself in fine linen and reveled, had eaten with princes and slept sumptuously -- in his strength and his manhood and unearned idleness. And she, but a tender girl, had toiled for the quarry-workers and fasted and now faced death in the hideous extermination purposed for her race.
He ground his teeth and prayed for the dawn.
He forgot that he had come away from the Arabian hills because she repelled him; he remembered his scruples concerning their social inequality, only to revile himself; Hotep's caution was more than ever a waste of words to him. He forgot everything except that he was here in comfort, she, there in want and in peril, and he had not rescued her.
He did not sleep. He tossed and counted the hours.
|Sing for the Pharaoh!| he exclaimed, |aye, I will sing till the throat of me cracks -- not for the reward of his good will alone, but for Rachel's liberty. That first, and the unraveling of this puzzle thereafter.|