The sudden night had just fallen, and there was an incomplete moon in the west. But already the desert was full of feeble shadows and silver interspaces, and all that tense silence of evening upon unpeopled localities.
Kenkenes stood upon the top of a huge monolith, listening. Below, with only her face in the faint moonlight, was Rachel, looking up to him. Anubis, oppressed by the voiceless expectancy of the two young people, crouched at his master's feet. For a while there was only the ringing turmoil of his own quickened blood in the young man's ears. But presently, up from the southern slope, rose the sound he had heard some minutes before -- a long, quavering note, ending in a high eery wail.
Kenkenes was familiar with the screams of wild beasts, and he knew the irreconcilable differences between them and the human voice. Instantly he sent back across the hollow a strong reply that the startled echoes repeated again and again. Almost immediately the first cry was repeated, but a desperate power had entered into it. Kenkenes dropped from his point of vantage.
|Some one calleth, of a surety,| he said, |and by the voice, it is a woman.|
|It is Deborah come up from the camp to seek for me!| Rachel exclaimed.
|I doubt not. But the gods are surely with her, to fend the beasts from her in this savage place. It is well we came this way.|
With all the haste possible on the rough slope, they descended. The ground was familiar to Kenkenes, for the niche was near the foot of the declivity.
Half-way down he called again, and the answer came up from the hiding-place of Athor. In another moment they were within and beside the prostrate form of the old Israelite. Rachel dropped on her knees, crying out in her solicitude. Her words were in the soft language of her own people and unintelligible to Kenkenes, but her voice trembled with concern. The old woman answered soothingly and at some length. The narrative was frequently broken by low exclamations from Rachel, and at its end the girl turned to Kenkenes with a sob of anger.
|The Lord God break them in pieces and His fury be upon them!| she cried. |They set upon her and beat her and left her to the jackals!|
|Set consume them!| Kenkenes responded wrathfully. |How came they upon you? Did you not return to camp?|
|Nay, the mother heart in me would not suffer me to desert Rachel. I stayed without this place, and ye outstripped me when ye fled. After a time the fat servitor, rousing out of his swoon, came forth from here, and another, who had been lurking in the rocks, joined him, and the pair, in searching for you, discovered me and beat me with maces, leaving me for dead.|
After a grim silence, broken only by the low weeping of Rachel, Kenkenes bade her continue.
|The search they made for you was not thorough, for one was ill and both were afraid. But they came upon the statue again, and the sight of it mocked them, so they overthrew it and broke it.|
Kenkenes drew a sharp breath and glanced at the place where Athor should have been. Except for themselves, the niche was evidently vacant. The old woman continued:
|Then they descended into the camp of Israel. After a time I heard the sound of voices as if there were many men in the hills, and the heart of me was afraid. With much pain and travail I crept into this place, and here sounds come but faintly. But I heard sufficient to know that there were many who sought diligently, but whether they were our own people or the minions of thine enemy, Rachel, I could not with safety discover.|
|Said they aught concerning their intents -- this pair, who set upon you?| Kenkenes asked.
|O, aye, they blustered, and if they bring half of their threats to pass, it will go ill with thee, Egyptian. They will set the priests upon thee immediately; the hills will be searched; the Nile will be picketed. It behooves thee to have a care for thyself. As for Rachel, I know not what will become of her. She is penned out in the desert, for the camp is to be watched, and they boast that the hunt will end only with her capture.|
|Let them look to it that it does not end with the choking of the swine who inspired it! I long to put him beyond the cure of leeches.|
He made no answer to Deborah's words concerning Rachel's plight. Deborah had disarranged his plans. He could not take the old woman, grievously wounded, on the long journey to Nehapehu, and, indeed, had she been well, his small boat might not hold together with a burden of three for a distance of half a hundred miles. For a moment his perplexity baffled his ingenuity.
It occurred to him that he might cross to the Memphian shore and procure a larger boat; but what would protect his helpless charges during the hours of absence, or in case he were taken? He realized that he dare not run a risk; his every movement must be safe and sure. He could not ask the wounded Israelite to return to the camp now, seeing that she had suffered mistreatment at the hands of Har-hat's servants and deserted not.
|If there were but a grotto in the rocks -- a cave or a tomb -- | he stopped and smote his hands together.
|By Apis! I have it -- the Tomb of the Discontented Soul!|
He turned to the two women, who had talked softly together in Hebrew, and spoke lightly in his relief.
|We have shelter for this night -- safer than any other place in all Egypt. Trouble no more concerning that. Let me hide my sacrilege and rob them of indisputable evidence against me, and then we shall get to our refuge.|
He lifted Deborah in his arms, and bearing her out into the open, left her with Rachel.
Then he reentered the shadowy niche. The night was not too dark to show the interior. Athor, a torso, broken in twain, headless, armless, was prostrate. It had been pushed over against the great cube that sheltered it and the fall against the hard limestone had ruined it. Kenkenes clenched his hands and choked back the angry tears. To the artist the destruction partook of the heinousness of murder, of the pathos of death. He set about concealing the wreck with all speed, for he wished to be merciful to his eyes.
He collected the fragmentary members, and carrying them down the slope a little way, dug a grave for them in the sand. To the trench he rolled the trunk on the tamarisk cylinders, and buried all that was left of Athor the Golden. Over the grave he laid a flat stratum of rock that the wind might not uncover the ruin.
Returning to the niche, he took up the matting with its weight of chipped stone, and went down through the dark to the line of rocks opposite the quarries. There he permitted the rubble to slide with a mixture of earth, like a natural displacement, into the talus, of a similar nature, at the base of the cliff. The matting he shook and laid aside. It would serve for a bed in the tomb that night.
Then he destroyed the north wall. In the four months of its existence the sand had banked against it more than half its height. Each stone removed in the dismantling was carried away to a new place, until the whole fortification was, as once it had been, scattered up and down the slope. The light, dry sand he pitched with his wooden shovel against the great cube until it all lay where the wind would have piled it had no second wall stood in its way. By dawn the strong breeze from the north would cover every footprint and shovel-mark to a level once more. He went again to the line of rocks and threw the shovel with a sure aim and a strong arm into the quarries across the valley. To-morrow it would seem that an Israelite had forgotten one of his tools.
The work was done.
With an ache in his heart, Kenkenes returned to Deborah and Rachel.
|The shelter for us is in the cliff to the north, near Toora,| he began immediately. |It is a tomb, but others before us have partaken of the dead's hospitality.|
|How am I to reach it?| Deborah asked. |Is the place far?|
|A good hour's journey, but we go by water. Still, we must walk to the Nile.|
|That I can not do,| the old woman declared.
|Nay, but I can carry you,| Kenkenes replied, bending over her. She shrank away from him.
|Thou hast forgotten,| she protested.
|Not so,| he insisted stoutly. Taking her up, he settled her on one strong arm against his breast. The free hand he extended to Rachel, who had taken the matting, and together they went laboriously down the steep front of the hill. They proceeded cautiously, watching before and behind them lest they be surprised.
He had covered his boat well with the tangle of sedge and marsh-vines, and after a long space of search, he found it.
Once again he lifted Deborah and laid her in the bottom of the boat. With its triple burden, the bari sank low in the water, but Kenkenes wielded the oars carefully. The faint moonlight showed him the way. Now and then a red glimmer across the grain marked the location of a farmer's hut, but there was no other sign of life. Even at the Memphian shore there was little activity.
When the line of cultivation ended Kenkenes knew he was in the precincts of the Marsh of the Discontented Soul. He rowed across what he believed to be one-half of its width and drew into the reeds. The sound and movement awoke many creatures, which hurried away in the dark, and something slid off into the river with a splash. The lapping of the ripples sounded like a drinking beast. Kenkenes put a bold foot on the soggy sand and stepped out. Rachel followed him with bated breath. Anubis unceremoniously mounted his shoulder. He dragged the bari far up on the shore, once more lifted Deborah and started up the warm sand.
At the base of the limestone cliff he deposited his burden and brought together a little heap of dried reeds and flag blades. This he fired after many failures by striking together his chisel and a stone. Rachel hid the blaze from the Nile while he made and lighted a torch of twisted reeds and stamped out the fire. In the feeble moonlight he discerned a stairway of rough-hewn steps leading into a cavity in the wall. The southern side of the ascent was sheltered by an outstanding buttress of rock.
He put the torch into Rachel's hand, and, taking up Deborah, climbed a dozen steps to a dark opening half-closed by a fallen door. Pushing the obstruction aside with his foot, he entered. When they were all within he closed the entrance and unrolled the reeds.
There was a helter-skelter of mice past them and a rustle of retiring insects. The torch blazed brightly and showed him a squat copper lamp on the floor of the outer chamber. The vessel contained sandy dregs of oil and a dirty floss of cotton. With an exclamation of surprise Kenkenes lighted the wick, and after a little sputtering, it burned smokily.
|Nay, now, how came a lamp in this tomb?| he asked without expecting an answer.
The chamber was low-roofed and small -- the whole interior rough with chisel-marks. To the eyes of the sculptor, accustomed to the gorgeous frescoes in the tombs of the Memphian necropolis, the walls looked bare and pitiful. There were several prayers in the ancient hieroglyphics, but no ancestral records or biographical paintings. Several strips of linen were scattered over the floor, with the customary litter of dried leaves, dust, refuse brought by rodents, cobwebs and the cast-off chrysalides of insects. In one corner was a bronze jar, Kenkenes examined it and found it contained cocoanut-oil for burning.
|Of a truth this is intervention of the gods,| he commented, a little dazed, but filling his lamp nevertheless.
Ahead of him was a black opening leading into the second chamber. He stooped, and entering, held the lamp above his head. He cried out, and Rachel came to his side.
In the center of the room was a stone sarcophagus of the early, broad, flat-topped pattern. In one corner was a two-seated bari, in another a mattress of woven reeds. Leaning against the sarcophagus was a wooden rack containing several earthenware amphorae; on the floor about it was a touseled litter of waxed outer cerements torn from mummies. All these things they observed later. Now their wide eyes were fixed on the top of the coffin. At one time there had been a dozen linen sacks set there, but the mice and insects had gnawed most of them away. The bottoms and lower halves yet remained, forming calyxes, out of which tumbled heaps of gold and silver rings, zones, bracelets, collars and masks from sarcophagi -- all of gold; images of Isis in lapis lazuli and amethyst; scarabs in garnets and hematite, Khem in obsidian, Bast in carnelian, Besa in serpentine, signets in jasper, and ropes of diamonds which had been Babylonian gems of spoil.
|The plunder of Khafra and Sigur, by my mummy!| Kenkenes ejaculated.
|Will they return?| Rachel asked, in a voice full of fear.
|They are gathered to Amenti for their misdeeds many months agone,| he explained. |See how thickly the dust lies here without a print upon it. They were tomb-robbers. None of the authorities could discover their hiding-place, and lo! here it is.|
He walked round the sarcophagus and found at the head, on the floor, several bronze cases sealed with pitch. He opened one of them with some difficulty. Flat packages wrapped with linen lay within.
|Dried gazelle-meat, -- and I venture there is wine in those amphorae. They lived here, I am convinced, and fed upon the food offerings they filched from the tombs. Was there ever such intrepid lawlessness?|
|Here is a snare and net,| Rachel reported.
|Did they not profit by superstition? As long as they were here they were safe. They did not fear the spirit.|
|The spirit?| Deborah, still in the outer chamber, repeated with interest.
|The spirit of this tomb,| Kenkenes explained, returning to her. In a few words he told her the story as Hotep had told it to him.
|Canst thou discover the name?| she asked when he had finished.
|The sarcophagus is plain. There is no inscription within yonder crypt, for I have this moment looked. But let me examine this writing here by the door.|
After a while he spoke again. |The name is not given. It says only this:
'The Spouse to Potiphar,
Captain of the Royal Guard to
Apepa, Child of the Sun,
In the Twelfth Year of Whose Luminous Reign
Rejected by the Forty-two at On, because of
She Lies Here,
Until Admitted to the Divine Pardon of Osiris.'|
|Aye, I know,| Deborah responded. |It is history to the glory of a son of Abraham. Him, who brought our people here, she would have tempted, but he would have none of her. Therefore she bore false witness against him and he was thrust into prison.
|But the God of Israel does not suffer for ever His chosen to be unjustly served, and he was finally exalted over Upper and Lower Mizraim. And honor and long life and a perfumed memory are his, and she -- lo! she hath done one good thing. Her house hath become a shelter for the oppressed and for that may she find peace at last.|
Kenkenes looked at the old woman with admiring eyes. The quaint speech of the Hebrews had always fascinated him, but now it had become melody in his ears. In this, the first moment of mental idleness since midday, he had time to think on Deborah. He knew that he had seen her before, and now he remembered that it was she who had transfixed him with a look on an occasion when Israel had first come to Masaarah.
But he did not remind her of the incident. Instead, he set about counteracting any effect that might follow should her memory, unaided, recall the occurrence. He had put her down on the matting, and the running spiders and slower insects worried her.
|A murrain on the bugs,| he said. |We shall have a creepy night of it. Let us bottle this treasure and lay the mattress out of their reach on the sarcophagus. Endure them a while, Deborah, till we make thee a refuge.|
He set the lamp in the opening from the outer into the inner crypt and entered the second chamber. Rachel followed him, and the old Israelite watched them with brilliant eyes.
Kenkenes swept the jewels as if they had been almonds into an empty amphora and returned it to the rack. The mattress he laid upon the broad top of the sarcophagus.
|A line of oil run around the coffin will keep the insects away,| Rachel ventured. Kenkenes returned to the outer chamber for the jar of oil; but Rachel took it from him.
|Let me be thy handmaid,| she said softly.
He did not protest, and she reentered the crypt.
|Luckily the mattress is large enough for the two of you,| Kenkenes observed to Deborah, |but it will be hard sleeping.|
|The Hebrews are not spoiled with couches of down,| she replied.
|There are enough of the wrappings in yonder to take off the hardness, but even with the matting over them they will be gruesome things to sleep upon. They would bewitch your dreams. But mayhap ye will not suffer from one night's discomfort.|
|Where go we to-morrow?|
Kenkenes did not answer immediately. Another plan for Rachel's security had been growing in his mind, and his heart leaped at the prospect of its acceptance by her.
|There is a large boat here, and we might go to On,| he began at last. |There is one way possible to save Rachel from this man as long as I live, and I would she were to be persuaded into accepting the conditions.|
|Name them and let me judge.|
He hesitated for proper words and his cheeks flushed. Deborah looked at him with comprehension in her gaze.
|Rachel is not blind to my love for her, and thou, too, art discerning. Yet I would declare myself. I love Rachel, and I would take her to wife. Then, not even the Pharaoh could take her from me by law.|
Deborah raised herself with difficulty, and after peering into the inner chamber to see where Rachel was, approached him softly.
|Thou lovest Rachel. Aye, that is a tale I have heard oftener than I have fingers to count upon. From the first men of her tribe I have heard it, from the best of Egypt and the worst. But she kept her heart and stayed by my side. Now thou comest, young, comely, gifted with fair speech and full of fervor. Thou lovest as she would be loved, and her heart goes out to thee, even as thou wouldst have it -- in love.|
Kenkenes' face glowed and his fine eyes shone with joy.
|But mark thou!| she continued passively. |If thou wouldst save her, think upon some other way, for thou mayest not wed her. Jehovah planteth the faith of Abraham anew in Israel. In Rachel and in Rachel's house it died not during the hundred years of the bondage. Therefore the name is godly. Of her, what would thy heart say? Hath she not beauty, hath she not wisdom, hath she not great winsomeness? There is none like her in these days among all the children of Abraham. To her Israel looketh for example, for, since she compelleth by her grace, those who behold her will consider whatever she doeth as good. Great is the reward of him who can direct and directeth aright, but shall he not appear abominable in the sight of the Lord if he useth his power to lead astray? Lo! if she wed thee, to her people it will seem that she would say: 'Behold, this man is fair in my sight, and it is good for the chosen of the Lord to take the idolater into his bosom.' There is a multitude in Israel, which, like sheep, follow blindly as they are led. Great will be the labor to engrave the worship of the Lord God in their hearts, when all the powers of Israel shall strive to do that thing for them. How shall there be any success if Moses and the appointed of the Lord bid them worship, while the husband or wife that dwelleth in their tent saith 'Worship not'? To these, Rachel's marriage with thee would be justification and incentive to incline toward idolaters and idols. Then there are the wise and discerning who know that Rachel hath turned away from the best among her people. How, then, shall she be fallen in their sight if she wed with an idolater?
|She knoweth all these things and she keepeth a firm hold upon herself, but she hath not said these things to thee lest her strength fail her.|
And thus was the mystery explained to him.
|Thou bowest down to a beetle,| she went on without pausing. |Thou worshipest a cat; thou offerest up sacrifice to an image and conservest abominable and heathen rites. Thou art an idolater, and as such thou art not for Rachel. And yet, this further: if thou canst become a worshiper of the true God, thou shalt take her. Never have I seen an Egyptian won over to the faith of Abraham, but there approacheth a time of wonders and I shall not marvel.|
To Egypt its faith was paramount. Israel in its palmiest days was not more vigilantly, jealously fanatical than Egypt. Every worshiper was a zealot; every ecclesiast an inquisitor. Church and State were inseparably united; law was fused with religion; science and the arts were governed by hieratic canons.
The individual ate, slept and labored in the name of the gods, and national matters proceeded as the Pantheon directed by the ecclesiastical mouthpiece.
Life was an ephemeral preface to the interminable and actual existence of immortality. Temporal things were transient and only of probationary value. The tomb was the ultimate and hoped-for, infinite abiding-place.
To the ideal Osirian his faith was the essential fiber in the fabric of his existence, to withdraw which meant physical and spiritual destruction. The forfeiture of his faith for Rachel, therefore, appealed to Kenkenes as a demand upon his blood for his breath's sake. His plight was piteous; never were alternatives so apparently impossible.
At first there was no coherent thought in the young man's mind. His consciousness seemed to be full of rebellion, longing and amazement. Never in his life had he been refused anything he greatly desired, when he had justice on his side. Now he was rejected, not for a shortcoming, but, according to his religious lights, for a virtue instead. His gaze searched the visible portion of the other chamber and found Rachel. In the half-light he saw that she had cast herself down against the sarcophagus, face toward the stone, her whole attitude one of weary depression.
Piteous as was the sight, there was comfort in it for him. Rachel loved him so much that she was bowed with the conflict between her love and her duty. His manhood reasserted itself. Love in youth bears hope with it in the face of the most hopeless hindrances. With the blood of the Orient in his veins and the fire of youth to heighten its ardor, he was not to be wholly and for ever cast down. Furthermore, there was Rachel to be comforted.
He turned to Deborah.
|Let it pass, then. Deny me not the joy of loving her, nor her the small content of loving me. If there should be change, let it be in thy prohibitions, not in our love. Enough. Art thou weary? Wouldst thou sleep?|
|Nay,| she answered bluntly.
|Then I would take counsel with thee. Thou knowest the end of Israel?| he asked.
|I know the purpose of the Pharaoh, but there is no end to Israel.|
|Not yet, perchance,| he said calmly, |or never. But we shall not put trust in auguries. The oppression of the people is already begun at Pa-Ramesu and the brick-fields. Ye shall not return to those dire hardships. Ye can not return to Masaarah. In Memphis I offer my father's house, but Rachel refuses it. In Nehapehu there is safety among the peasantry on the murket's lands. My father lost an all-powerful signet in the tomb of the Incomparable Pharaoh at Tape, and did not search for it because he believed that Rameses had taken it away from him. The king will honor it and grant whatever petition I make to him. If ye are unafraid to abide in this tomb for the few remaining hours of this night I shall take you to Nehapehu at dawn. There ye can abide till I go to Tape and return. What sayest thou?|
The old woman looked at him quietly for a moment.
|Is this place safe?| she asked.
|The forty-two demons of Amenti could not drive an Egyptian into this tomb.|
|How comes it that thou art not afraid?|
|I have no belief in spirits.|
|Nor have we. Why need we go hence? We shall abide here till thou shalt return.|
|In this place!| Kenkenes exclaimed, recoiling. |Nay! I shall be gone sixteen days at least.|
|We shall not fear to live in a tomb, we who have defied untombed death daily. We shall remain here.|
|This hole -- this cave of death!|
|We have shelter, and by thine own words, none will molest us here. We are not spoiled with soft living, nor would we take peril to any. Without are fowls, herbs, roots, water -- within, security, meat and wine. We shall not fear the dead whom, living, Joseph rebuked. We shall be content and well housed.|
|But thou art wounded,| he essayed.
She scouted his words with heroic scorn. |Nay, let us have no more. If thou canst accomplish this thing for Rachel, do it with a light heart, for we shall be safe. If thou art successful, Israel will rise up and call thee blessed; if thou failest, the sons of Abraham will still remember thee with respect.|
No humility, no cringing gratitude in this. Queen Hatasu, talking with her favorite general, could not have commended him in a more queenly way.
To Kenkenes it seemed that their positions had been reversed. He craved to serve them and they suffered him.
|I shall go then to-night,| he said simply.
|Nay, bide with us to-night, for thou art weary. There is no need for such haste.|
He opened his lips to protest, his objections manifesting themselves in his manner. But she waved them aside.
|Thou hast the marks of hard usage upon thee,| she said; |thou hast slaved for us since midday, and now the night is far spent. Thine eyes are heavy for sleep, thy face is weary. And before thee is a task which will require thy keenest wit, thy steadiest hand. Thou owest it to Rachel and to thyself to go forth with the eye of a hawk and the strength of a young lion.|
Because of Rachel's name in her argument he yielded and turned immediately to the subject of their lonesome residence in the haunted tomb. |If aught befall me,| he said, |for I am in the unknowable hands of the Hathors, disguise thyself and Rachel. If thou art skilled in altering thou canst find pigment among the roots of the Nile. Dye her hair and stain her face, take the boat and go to my father's house in Memphis. He is Mentu, the murket to the Pharaoh -- a patriot and a friend to the kings. He knows not the Hebrew, but he is generous, hospitable and kind to the oppressed of whatever blood. Tell him Rachel's trouble and of me. I am his only child, and my name on thy lips will win thee the best of his board, the shelter of his roof, the protection of his right arm. Wait for me, however, in this place till a month hath elapsed.
|Keep the amphorae filled with water, fresh every day, and preserve a stock of food within the tomb always to stand you in good stead if Rachel's enemy discover her hiding-place and besiege it.|
His eyes ignited and his face grew white.
|Starve within this cave,| he went on intensely, approaching her, |but deliver her not into his hands, I charge thee, for the welfare of thy immortal soul. If thou art beset and there is no escape, before she shall live for the despoiler -- take her life!|
Deborah scanned him narrowly, and when he made an end she opened her lips as though to speak. But something deterred her, and she moved away from him.
|Come, spread the matting, Rachel,| she said. |The master will stay with us to-night.|
Obediently the girl came, still white of face, but composed. She made a pallet of one roll of the matting, generously sprinkled the floor about it with oil to keep away the insects, put the lamp behind the amphora rack, hung her scarf over the frame that the light might not shine in her guest's eyes, and set the door a little aside to let the cool night air enter from the river. Having completed her service, she bade him a soft good-night and disappeared into the inner crypt, where Deborah had gone before her.
Kenkenes immediately flung himself upon the pallet because Rachel's hands had made it, and in a moment became acutely conscious of all the ache of body and the pain of soul the day had brought him. The first deprived him of comfort, the second of his peace, and there was the smell of dawn on the breeze before he fell asleep.
After sunset the next day Deborah roused him. He awoke restored in strength and hungry. The old Israelite had prepared some of the gazelle-meat for him, and this, with a draft of wine from an amphora, refreshed him at once. Provisions had been put in his wallet, and a double handful of golden rings, with several jewels, much treasure in small bulk, had been wrapped in a strip of linen and was ready for him. By the time all preparations were complete the night had come.
He bade Deborah farewell and took Rachel's hand. It was cold and trembled pitifully. Without a word he pressed it and gave it back. He had reached the entrance, when it seemed that a suppressed sound smote on his ears, and he stopped. Deborah, her face grown stern and hard, had moved a step or two forward and stood regarding Rachel sharply. Neither saw her.
|Did you speak, Rachel?| Kenkenes asked. He fancied that her arms had fallen quickly as he turned.
|Nay, except to bid thee take care of thyself, Kenkenes,| she faltered, |more for thine own sake than for mine.|
He returned and, on his knee, pressed her hand to his lips.
|God's face light thee and His peace attend thee,| she continued. The blessing was full of wondrous tenderness and music. He knew how her face looked above him; how the free hand all but rested on his head, and for a moment his fortitude seemed about to desert him. But she whispered:
And he arose and went forth.
The tombs of the Orient in ancient times were common places of refuge for fugitives, lepers and outcasts.