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The Yoke by Elizabeth Miller


Meanwhile Kenkenes seldom saw a human face. Food and water in red clay vessels, bearing the seal of Thebes, were set inside his door by disembodied hands. At intervals he saw the keeper, always attended by the inevitable scribe, but the visit was a matter of inspection and rarely was the prisoner addressed.

Though he grew to expect these visits, each time the bar rattled down he trembled with the hope that the jailer brought him freedom. Each successive disappointment was as acute as the last, made more poignant by the torturing certainty that his hopes were vain. The effect of one was not at all counteracted by the other.

Some time after dawn the sun thrust a golden bar, full of motes, across the door, a foot above his head. In a space the beam was withdrawn. The heat and dust of the midday came, instead. Gnats wove their mazes in the narrow casement that opened on the outside world, and now and then the twitter of birds sounded very close to it. Kenkenes knew how they flashed as they flew in the sun. They were prodigal of freedom. At nightfall, if he stood at full height against the door, he could see a thread of cooling sky with a single star in its center.

This was all his knowledge of the world. Hour after hour he paced the narrow length of the cell, till the circumscribed round made him dizzy. If he flung himself on his straw pallet, he did not rest. The mind has no charity for the body. If there is to be no mental repose it is vain to hope for physical. When the inactivity of his uneasy pallet became intolerable, he resumed his pace.

He expected the return of his messenger in twenty days after the man's departure. At the expiration of that time his suspense and apprehension became more and more desperate at the passing of each new day. In rapid succession he accepted and rejected the thought that the messenger had played him false, had been assassinated and robbed; that Meneptah had recalled the signet, or had added the penalty of suspense to his indorsement of Har-hat's fiat of imprisonment.

When the climax of his sensations was reached, his self-sufficiency collapsed and he entered into ceaseless supplication of the gods. He vowed costly sacrifices to them, adding promises of self-abnegation which became more comprehensive as his distress increased. At the end of a month he had consecrated everything at his command. Then he subsided into a numb endurance till what time his prayers should be answered.

Eight days later, about mid-afternoon, while he lay on his pallet, the door was flung open and his messenger stood without. With a cry, Kenkenes leaped to his feet and wrenched the scroll from the man's hand. With unsteady fingers he ripped off the linen cover and read.

The letter was from Hotep, conveying such information regarding his imprisonment as we already know. If was couched in the gentlest terms, and contained that essence of hope which loving spirits can extract from the most desperate situation, for another's sake. But for all the kindly intent of the scribe, his news was none the less unhappy. The dreaded had come to pass, and the war between hope and fear was at an end. Kenkenes read the missive calmly, and paid the messenger according to his promise. The jailer, who had come with the man, read the sentence and bade the prisoner make his choice of labor.

|Anything, so it will but give me a glimpse of the horizon,| he said.

|Thou wilt pay dearly for thy sky,| the keeper cautioned him. |The softest labor is within doors.|

|Give me my wish according to the command of the prince.|

The jailer shrugged his shoulders. |As thou wilt. Make ready to follow the canal-workers, to-morrow.|

When the door fell shut again, Kenkenes returned to his pallet and re-read the scroll.

A year's imprisonment! The sentence defined was the sum of daily shame, sorrow, homesickness and misanthropy. Shame in the proud man admits of no degrees of intensity. If it exist at all, it is superlative. To this was added the loss of Rachel. How little it would take to satisfy him, now that she was wholly denied to his eyes! Only to look down on her again, unseen, from his aery in the rocks over the valley!

Hotep had offered him hope, based on circumstantial evidence and fact. Har-hat could not add to his sentence. That was the only indisputable cheer he could give. But would Rameses stay the chief adviser's hand, seeing that the winning of Masanath depended on the prince's neutrality, as Hotep had explained? If Rachel fled to Mentu, as Kenkenes had bidden her, could the murket protect her, even at his own peril? Might not the heavy hand of the powerful favorite fall also on the head of the king's architect? Wherein was the murket more immune than his son? Rachel's destruction seemed to be decreed by the Hathors.

Such was his thought, and he raised himself to curse the Seven Sisters, and growing reckless, he included the unhelpful gods in his maledictions. The blasphemy comforted him strangely, and he persisted till his heated brain was cooled.

At dawn the next day he laid aside his fillet of gold, his trappings and noble dress, and donning the kilt or shenti of the prisoners, was handcuffed to another malefactor and taken forth to the sun-white plain between Thebes Diospolis and the Arabian, hills, to labor in the canals of the nome.

Here, looking continually upon crime, brutality and misery, he asked himself the divine motive in creating man, and having found no answer, he began to question man's debt to the gods.

He was going the way of all the weak in faith. He had pleaded with his deities, and they had not heard him. He asked himself what he had done to deserve their disfavor. The sacrilege of Athor was too slight an offense -- if offense it were -- and here again he paused, set his teeth and swore that he had done no wrong and the god or man that accused him was impotent, unjust and ignorant. Once again he asked himself what he had done to deserve ill-use at the hands of the Pantheon. They had turned a deaf ear to him, and why should he render them further homage? The doctrine of divine Love, displayed through chastisement, was not in the Osirian creed.

His eyes grew bold through rebellion and he attacked the wild inconsistencies of the faith with the destructive instrument of reason. Each deduction led him on, fascinated, in his apostasy. Each crumbling tenet started another toward ruin. Finding no sound obstacle to stay him, he fell with avidity to rending the Pantheon.

But he found no cheer nor any hope that day when he told himself bitterly, |There is no God.|

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