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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : CHAPTER XXII THE FAN-BEARER'S QUEST

The Yoke by Elizabeth Miller

CHAPTER XXII THE FAN-BEARER'S QUEST

At sunset on the day after the festivities at the Lady Senci's, Hotep deserted his palace duties and came to the house of Mentu. He had in mind to try again to persuade his friend from his folly, for the scribe was certain that Kenkenes was once more returning to his sacrilege and the Israelite.

The old housekeeper informed him that the young master was not at home, though he was expected even now.

Hotep waited in the house of his aunt, neighbor to the murket, and about the middle of the first watch asked again for Kenkenes.

Nay, the young master had not returned. But would not the noble Hotep enter and await him?

The scribe, however, returned to the palace, and put off his visit until the next day.

The following noon a page brought him a message from his aunt, the Lady Senci. It was short and distressed.

|Kenkenes has not returned, Hotep, and since he is known to have gone upon the Nile, we fear that disaster has overtaken him. Come and help the unhappy murket. His household is so dismayed that it is useless. Come, and come quickly.|

The probability of the young artist's death in the Nile immediately took second place in the scribe's mind. Kenkenes had displayed to Hotep the effect of Rameses' savage boast to exterminate the Hebrews. It was that incident which had convinced the scribe that the Arabian hills would claim the artist on the morrow. He had not stopped to surmise the extremes to which Kenkenes would go, but his mysterious disappearance seemed to suggest that the lover had gone to the Israelitish camp to remain.

He made ready and repaired to the house of the murket. Mentu met him in the chamber of guests. By the dress of the great artist it would seem that he had returned at that moment from the streets.

Hotep sat down beside him, and with tact and well-chosen words told his story and summarized his narration with a mild statement of his suspicions.

There was no outbreak on the part of Mentu. But his broad chest heaved once, as though it had thrown off a great weight.

|But Kenkenes has been a dutiful son,| he said after a silence, |I can not think he would use me so cruelly -- no word of his intent or his whereabouts.|

The objection was plausible.

|Then, let us go to Masaarah and discover of a surety,| the scribe suggested.

When Atsu emerged from the mouth of the little valley into the quarries some time after the midday meal, he was confronted by the murket and the royal scribe. Neither of the men was unknown to him.

Hotep halted him.

|Was there a guest with the fair-haired Israelite maiden last night?| the scribe asked.

Atsu's face, pinched and darker than usual, blazed wrathfully.

|Have ye also joined yourselves with Har-hat to run that hard-pressed child to earth?| he exclaimed. |Do ye call yourselves men?|

|The gods forbid!| Hotep protested. |We do not concern ourselves with the maiden. It is the man who may be with her that we seek.|

The taskmaster made an angry gesture, and Hotep interrupted again.

|I do not question her decorum, and the man of whom I speak is of spotless character. He is lost and we seek him.|

|I can not help you; my wits are taxed in another search.|

Hotep's face showed light at the taskmaster's words.

|Is she also gone?| he asked mildly. |Then let me give you my word, that the discovery of one will also find the other.|

Atsu gazed with growing hope at the scribe.

|How is he favored?| he asked at last.

|He is tall, half a palm taller than his fellows; comely of countenance; young; in manner, amiable and courteous -- .|

Atsu interrupted him with a wave of his hand. |I saw him once -- good three months agone, but not since.|

The reply baffled Hotep for a moment. He realized that to find Kenkenes he must begin a search for Rachel.

|Good Atsu, he whom we seek is a friend to the maiden. He is much beloved by me -- by us. Whomsoever he befriendeth we shall befriend. Wilt thou tell us when and from whom the maiden fled?|

Atsu had become willing by this time. This amiable young noble might be able to lift the suspense that burdened his unhappy heart.

|Har-hat -- Set make a cinder of his heart! -- asked her at the hands of the Pharaoh for his harem -- |

Mentu interrupted him with a growling imprecation and Hotep's fair face darkened.

|Yesterday morning he sent three men to me,| the taskmaster continued, |with the document of gift from the Son of Ptah, but she saw them in time and fled into the desert. At that hour there were only women in the camp, and the three men made short work of me when I would have held them till she escaped. In three hours, two of them returned -- one, sick from hard usage, and the third, they said, had been pitched over the cliff-front into the valley of the Nile. They had not captured her and they were too much enraged to explain why they had not. During their absence I emptied the quarries of Israelites and posted them along the Nile to halt the Egyptians, if they came to the river with Rachel. But we let them return to Memphis empty-handed, and thereafter searched the hills till sunset. The maiden's foster-mother, it seems, fled with her, but neither of them, nor any trace of them, was to be found.|

|Does it not appear to thee,| Hotep asked, after a little silence, |that the same hand which so forcibly persuaded the Egyptians to abandon the pursuit may have led the maiden to a place of safety? My surmises have been right in general, O noble Mentu, but not in detail,| he continued, turning to the murket. |There is, however, the element of danger now to take the place of the gracelessness we would have laid to him. Thou knowest Har-hat, my Lord.|

He thanked the dark-faced taskmaster. |Have no concern for the maiden. She is safe, I doubt not.|

He took Mentu's arm and passing up through the Israelitish camp, climbed the slope behind it.

|It is my duty and thine to hide this lovely folly up here, ere these searching minions of Har-hat or frantic Israelites come upon it.|

The scribe's sense of direction and location was keen. It was one of the goodly endowments of the savage and the beast which the gods had added to the powers of this man of splendid intellect. He doubled back through the great rocks, his steps a little rapid and never hesitating, as though his destination were in full view. Mentu followed him, silent and moodily thoughtful. At last Hotep stopped.

Before them was a narrow aisle leading down from the summit of the hill. It was hemmed in on each side by tumbled masses of stone. The aisle terminated at its lower end in a long white drift of sand against a great cube. Instinct and reason told Hotep that here had been the hiding-place of Athor, but there was no sign that human foot had ever entered the spot. After a space of puzzlement, Hotep smiled.

|He hath made way with the sacrilege himself,| he said with relief in his voice; |I had not credited him with so much foresight. Nay, now, if the runaway will but come home, we will forgive him.|

Mentu said nothing. Indeed, since Hotep had told him of the recent doings of Kenkenes, the murket had had little to say. He had felt in his lifetime most of the sorrows that can overtake a man of his position and attainments -- but he had never known the chagrin of a wayward child. The fear that he was to know that humiliation, now, made his heart heavy beyond words.

As they turned away the sound of voices smote upon their ears.

|Near this spot, it must be, my Lord,| one said.

|Find the sacrilege, lout. We seek not the neighborhood of it.|

Hotep caught the murket's arm and drew him out of the aisle into hiding behind another great stone.

|This is the place; this is the place,| the first voice declared, and his statement was seconded by another and as positive a voice.

There was the sound of the new-comers emerging into the aisle, and immediately the first speaker exclaimed in a tone full of astonishment and disappointment:

|O, aye; I see!| the master assented with an irritating laugh.

|Har-hat!| Hotep whispered.

Another of the party broke in impatiently: |Make an end to this chase. Saw you any sacrilege, or was it a phantom of your stupid dreams?|

|Asar-Mut,| Mentu said under his breath.

The first voice and its second protested in chorus.

|As the gods hear me, I saw it!| the first went on. |It was a statue most sacrilegiously wrought and the man stood before it. It was cunningly hidden between two walls, and there is no spot on the desert that looks so much like the place as this. And yet, no wall -- no statue -- no sign of -- |

|How did you find it yesterday?| the fan-bearer asked.

|We followed the hag, and she, the girl. The pair of them were in sight of each other, as they ran.|

|How did they find it?|

|Magic! Magic!|

|There were three of you and one man overthrew you all?| the high priest commented suspiciously.

|Holy Father!| the servant protested wildly, |he was a giant -- a monster for bigness. Besides, there were but two of us, after he had all but throttled me.|

Har-hat laughed again. |Aye, and after he pitched Nak over the cliff, there was but one. But tell me this: was he noble or a churl?|

|He wore the circlet.|

Mentu's long fingers bent as if he longed for a throat between them.

|The craven invented his giant to salve his valor,| the priest said.

|It may be,| the fan-bearer replied musingly, |but thy nephew, holy Father, is conspicuously tall and well-muscled. Likewise, he is a sculptor. Furthermore, the two slaves came home badly abused. Unas has some proof for his tale -- |

|Kenkenes is the soul of fidelity,| the high priest retorted warmly. |He has had unnumbered opportunities to betray the gods and he has ever been steadfast.|

|Nay, I did not impugn him. The similarity merely appealed to me. Let us get down into the valley and question that villain Atsu. I would know what became of the girl.|

|Mine interests are solely with the ecclesiastical features of the offense, my Lord,| Asar-Mut replied. |I would get back to Memphis.|

|Bear us company a little longer, holy Father. The taskmaster may tell us somewhat of this blaspheming sculptor-giant.|

When the last sound of the departing men died away, Mentu turned across the hill toward the Nile-front of the cliff.

|Nay, I will go back to Memphis first,| he said grimly. |Mayhap Kenkenes hath returned. If Asar-Mut should question him, he would not evade nor equivocate, so I shall send him away that he may not meet his uncle. I would not have him lie, but he shall not accomplish his own undoing.|

But days of seeking followed, growing frantic as time went on, and there was no trace of the lost artist. Even his pet ape did not return. Asar-Mut questioned Mentu closely concerning the fidelity of Kenkenes to the faith and the ritual.

|I ask after his soul,| he explained. But he gained no evidence from Mentu.

On the fourteenth day after the disappearance of the young sculptor, Sepet, the boatman that had hired his bari to Kenkenes, found the boat among the wharf piling. It was overturned, its bottom ripped out, one side crushed as if a river-horse had played with it. In the small compartment at the tiller were provisions for a light lunch; a wallet, empty; a rope and a plummet of bronze used to moor a boat in midstream while the sportsman fished; the light woolen mantle worn as often for protection against the sun as against the cold, and other things to prove that Kenkenes had met with disaster.

The fate of the young man seemed to be explained. The great house of Mentu was darkened; the servants went unkempt and the artist wore a blue scarf knotted about his hips. The high priest dismissed the subject of the sacrilege from his mind, now that his nephew was dead. The people of Memphis who knew Kenkenes mourned with Mentu; the festivities were dull without him, and there were some, like Io and the Lady Senci, who went into retirement and were not to be comforted.

But Har-hat presented jeweled housings to Apis for the prospering of his search after Rachel, and set about assisting the god with all his might. He sent couriers, armed with a description and warrant for the arrest of Kenkenes and the Israelite, into all the large cities of Egypt. He ransacked Pa-Ramesu and the brick-fields, Silsilis, Syene, where there were quarries, and especially Thebes, which was large and remote, a tempting place for fugitives.

When he heard the news of the young sculptor's death, he actually sent a message of condolence to Mentu, much to the tearful and unspeakable rage of the heart-broken murket. Yet, with all the limitless resources placed at the command of a bearer of the king's fan, Har-hat continued to search for the young artist, until word came to him from Thebes several days later.

His next move was to bring to the notice of the Pharaoh that the taskmaster Atsu was pampering the Israelites of Masaarah and defeating the ends of the government. Furthermore, the overseer had treated with contempt the personal commands of the fan-bearer. So Atsu was removed entirely from over the Hebrews, reduced to the rank of a common soldier, and returned to the nome from which he came, in the coif and tunic of a cavalryman.

Thus it was that Har-hat avenged himself for the loss of Rachel, put all aid out of her reach, and kept up an unceasing pursuit of her.

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