Rachel stood by the parapet on the top of the Memphian house of Har-hat. About her were no evidences of her former serfdom. She wore an ample robe of white linen, with blue selvages heavily fringed. About her neck was the collar of gold. The costume was distinctly Israelitish, elaborated somewhat at the suggestion of Masanath, to whom Rachel's golden beauty was a never-lessening wonder. Compared to the tiny gorgeous lady, Rachel was as a tall lily to a mimosa.
Masanath was comfortably pillowed on cushions, close to the Israelite. The rose-leaf flush on her little face was subdued and her dark eyes were larger than usual. The physical discomforts of the plagues had overtaken her; and Rachel, the only one of all the household who had passed unscathed through the troublous time, had been so tender a nurse that Masanath recovered with reluctance.
This was the Egyptian's first day on the housetop, and she was not happy. The great pots of glazed earthenware, each a small garden in size, were filled with baked earth. The locusts had taken her flowers. In the park below the grass was gone and the palm trees were shadowless. Her chariot horses had died in the stables; her pets had drooped and perished; her birds were missing one morning, and Rachel said they had flown to Goshen, where there were grain and grasses. Furthermore, the year of freedom had almost expired and she began to anticipate sorrowfully.
The period of the Israelite's residence with Masanath had been uneventful save for those grim, momentous days of plague and loss. Deborah had survived the removal to comfort in Memphis only a month. The brutal injuries inflicted by the servants of Har-hat had been too severe for her age-enfeebled frame to repair. So she died, blessing the two young girls who had attended her, and promising peace and happiness to come. Then they laid her in a new tomb cut in the rock face of the Libyan hills and wrote on her sarcophagus:
|She departed out of the land of Mizraim before her people.|
And this was prophecy.
Thus was Rachel left, but for Masanath, entirely alone. None of the afflictions had overtaken her. A mysterious Providence shielded her. Anubis, which she formally claimed as hers, was the only one of the numerous dumb dwellers in the fan-bearer's house that had escaped. And of him there is something to be told.
Shortly after the arrival of the Israelites in Memphis, Anubis disappeared for days.
|He is gone to visit the murket,| Masanath explained.
One noon Rachel, resting on the housetop with her hostess, saw him leisurely returning, by starts of interest and recollection. Behind him, walking cautiously, was a man.
|Anubis returneth,| Rachel said, sitting up.
Masanath raised herself and looked.
|Imhotep plagues mine eyes, or that is the murket following him,| she exclaimed.
Immediately Rachel began to tremble and, sinking back on her cushions, hid her face. Masanath continued to watch the approaching man.
|If he comes shall I send for thee?| she asked in a half-whisper.
The Israelite shook her head. |Only if he asks for me,| she answered.
|A pest on the creature!| Masanath exclaimed impatiently after a little silence. |He is torturing the man! Hath he forgot the place?|
She leaned over the parapet and called the ape. The murket looked up.
|Anubis is my guest, noble Mentu,| she replied. |Wilt thou not come up with him?|
The murket looked at her a moment before he answered.
|Nay, I thank thee, my Lady. I left the noonday meal that I might be led at the creature's will. He is restless since my son is gone.|
Every word of the murket's fell plainly on Rachel's ears. The tones were those of Kenkenes, grown older. The statement came to her as a call upon her knowledge of the young artist's whereabouts.
|Tell him -- tell him -- | she whispered desperately.
|What?| asked Masanath, turning about.
|Tell him where Kenkenes went!|
The Egyptian leaned over the parapet. |Fie! he is gone!| she said. |Nay, but I shall catch him;| and flying down through the house, out into the narrow passage, she overtook the murket.
This is what she told Rachel when she returned:
|I said to him: 'My Lord, I know where Kenkenes went.' And he said: 'Of a truth?' in the calmest way. 'Aye,' said I. 'It hath come to mine ears that he went to Tape,' 'That have I known for long,' he answered, after he had looked at me till I wished I were away. 'That have I known for long, and why he went and why he came not back,' and having said, he smoothed my hair and told me I was not much like my father, and departed without another word. To my mind he hath conducted himself most strangely. I doubt not he knows more than you or I, Rachel.|
To Masanath's dismay the Israelite flung herself face down on the rugs and wept. |He is not dead; he is not dead,| she cried.
The collapse of a composure so strong and bridled filled Masanath with consternation. Had Rachel's spirit been of weaker fiber the Egyptian's own forceful individuality would have longed to sustain it, but when it broke in its strength she knew that here was a stress of emotion too deep for her to soothe.
|Then if he is not dead,| she said, searching for something to say, |why weepest thou?|
|Alas! seest thou not, Masanath? He hath not returned to me; his father knows his story, and if he be not dead how shall I explain his absence save that he hath forgotten or repented?|
|Not so!| Masanath declared. |He is the soul of honor, and there is a mystery in this that the gods may explain in time. Comfort thee, Rachel, for there stirreth a hope in me.| Then with the utmost tact she told the story of the finding of Kenkenes' boat and the theory accepted in Memphis.
|I can offer thee hope,| she concluded, |but I can not even guess what should keep him so long. Of this be assured, however, he did not desert thee, Rachel.|
Enigmatical as it was, the incident was comforting to Rachel.
So the Nile rose and subsided, the winter came and went, and now it was near the middle of March, Masanath forgot Kenkenes and remembered her own sorrow now that its consummation was surely approaching. During the hours that darkened gradually Rachel was to her an ever-responsive comforter. Even in the dead of night, if the weight of her care burdened her dreams so that she stirred or murmured, she was instantly soothed till she slept again. Usually the day did not harass her with oppression, but if she grew suddenly afraid, Rachel was at her side to comfort her -- never urging, either to rebellion or submission, but ever offering hope.
So the little Egyptian came to love the Israelite with the love that demands rather than gives -- the love of a child for the mother, of the benefited for the benefactor. Gradually Rachel lost sight of her own trouble in her devotion to Masanath. She had no time for her own thoughts. Each passing day brought the Egyptian's martyrdom nearer, and Rachel's uses hourly increased.
This day Masanath, who had been ill, was unusually downcast.
|It may be,| she said with more cheer in her tones than had been in her previous remarks, |that I shall die before they can wed me to Rameses.|
|Nay, why not say that the Lord God will interfere before that time?|
|Evil and power have joined hands against me, and even the gods are helpless against such collusion,| Masanath answered drearily.
|The sorrows of Egypt are not yet at an end; mayhap the hand of the God of Israel will overtake the prince.|
|Thy God is afflicting, not helping; He will not spare me.|
|The hand of the Lord is lifted against Egypt. Will He bless the land, then, with such a queen as thou wouldst be?|
|Nay, but thine is a strange God! Mark thou, I doubt Him not! But ai! I should face Him for ever in sackcloth and ashes lest He smite me for smiling and living my life without care.|
|Hath an ill befallen Israel?|
|If thou art Israel, nay! Thou hast flourished in this dread time like a palm by a deep well.|
|So he prospereth all his chosen.|
Masanath shook her head and looked away. From the stairway Nan approached.
|Unas hath come from Tanis, my Lady,| she said with suppressed excitement. Masanath sat up, trembling.
|Isis grant he hath not come to take thee to marriage,| the waiting woman breathed. Rachel laid an inquiring hand on the little Egyptian's arm.
|My father's courier,| she explained. |Let him come up,| she continued to Nari. The waiting woman bowed and left her.
Rachel arose and took a place on the farther side of the hypostyle, with the screens of matting between her and Masanath. She was still in hiding.
The fat servitor came up presently.
|The gracious gods have had thee under their sheltering wings during these troublous times,| he said, bowing. |It is worth the trip from Tanis to look upon thee.|
|Thy words are fair, Unas. How is it with my father?| Masanath asked with stiff lips.
|The gods are good to the Pharaoh. They permit the wise Har-hat to continue in health to render service to his sovereign.|
Masanath, dreading the news, asked after it at once. Men have killed themselves for fear of death.
|Thou hast come to conduct me to court?|
|That is the gracious will of my master.|
Masanath half rose from her seat. |When?| she asked almost inaudibly.
|In twenty days; no more. I have a mission to perform and shall go hence immediately. But I shall return in twenty days, never fear, my Lady.|
Masanath saw that he mocked her. Her wrath was an effective counter-irritant for her trouble. She was calm again.
|Then, if thy message is delivered, go!|
He backed out and descended the stairway.
When she was sure he was gone she flung herself, in a paroxysm of wild grief and despair, face down on her cushions. At that moment a cold hand caught her arm. She looked up and saw Rachel. All the blue had gone from the Israelite's eyes, leaving them black with dreadful conviction. The color had receded from her cheeks and her figure was rigid.
|Who was that man?| she demanded in a voice low with concentrated emotion.
|Unas, my father's man. What is amiss, Rachel?|
The Israelite stood for a moment as though she permitted the intelligence to assemble all the further facts that it entailed. Then she turned away and walked swiftly toward the well of the stair.
|Rachel! Thou -- what -- thou hast not answered me,| Masanath called.
|There is naught to be said. I -- it were best that I go to my people now, since thou goest to marriage,| was the unready reply.
|Thou wilt return to thy people! Rachel! Nay, nay I Thou art all I have. Come back! Come back!| Masanath cried, running after her.
Rachel hesitated, trembling with a multitude of emotions.
|It were better I should go,| she insisted, trying to escape Masanath's clasp. |If I go now I can reach my people and be hidden safely.|
The little Egyptian flung herself upon the Israelite, weeping.
|Art thou, too, deserting me -- thou, who art the last to befriend me? What have I done that thou shouldst desert me?|
|Naught! Naught! Thou dear unfortunate!| was the passionate reply. |But I must go! I must!|
|Thou must flee from sure safety to only possible security!| Masanath demanded through her tears. |If I must wed this terrible prince, I shall put my misery to some use. I shall ask thy liberty at his hands and thou shalt live with me for ever, my one comfort, my one support.|
|But Israel departeth shortly -- |
|Thou shalt not go,| Masanath declared hysterically. |I will not suffer thee! The doors shall be barred against thy departure!|
Rachel turned her head away and pushed back her hair. Her plight was desperate. Meanwhile Masanath went on.
|It is not like thee, Rachel, to desert me! I had not dreamed thee so selfish -- so cruel!|
|Sister!| Rachel cried, |thou torturest me!| On a sudden Masanath raised her head and gazed at the Israelite.
|What possessed thee to go?| she demanded. |Is it Rameses who hath beset thee?|
Rachel shook her head and avoided Masanath's eye.
|Tell me,| the Egyptian insisted. |There is mystery in this. What had my father's man to do with thy hasty resolution to depart?|
There was no answer. Masanath put the Israelite back from her a little and repeated her question.
|I can not tell thee,| Rachel responded slowly.
Silence fell, and Masanath spoke at last, in a decided voice.
|Thou art within my house, and so under my command. Thou shalt not leave me! I have said!| She turned to go back to her cushions. Rachel followed her.
|I pray thee, Masanath -- |
|Hold thy peace. Let us have no more of this.|
Rachel grew paler, and she clasped her hands as though praying for fortitude. At last she broke out:
|Masanath! Masanath! That man -- that Unas -- attended the noble who halted me on the road to the Nile, that morning; he was the one sent back to Memphis for the document of gift; he pursued me into the hills. He is the servant of the man who follows me!|
The Egyptian recoiled as though she had been struck.
|Nay, nay,| she cried, throwing up her hands as though to ward off the conviction. |Not my father! Not he! Thou art wrong, Rachel!|
|Would to the Lord God that I were, my sister! But I am not mistaken in that face. He was the one that disputed with Kenkenes -- was the one Kenkenes choked. Never was there another man with such a voice, such a face, such a figure! It is he!|
Masanath wrung her hands.
|Tell it over again. Describe the noble to me.|
|He was third in the procession and drove black horses -- |
|Holy Mother Isis! his horses were black. The first two would have been the princes of the realm, the next the fan-bearer. Nay, I dare not hope that it is not true. Since he would barter his own daughter for a high place, he would not hesitate to take by force the daughter of another. O Mother of Sorrows, hide me! my father! my father!| she wailed.
Under the combined weight of her griefs, she dropped on the carpeted pavement and wept without control. All of Rachel's fear and horror were swept away in a wave of compunction and pity. She lifted the little Egyptian back upon her cushions again and, kneeling beside her, took the bowed head against her heart. Her hair fell forward and framed the two sorrowing faces in a shower of gold.
|Lo! I have been a guest under thy roof and at thy board, a pensioner upon thy cheer, and now, even while my heart was full of gratitude, have I encroached upon thy happiness and broken thine overburdened heart. Forgive me, Masanath. Let me not come between thee and thy father, sister! Let me return to my people, for Israel shortly goeth forth. Doubt it not. Then shall I be out of his reach, and the Lord will not lay up the sin against him. Furthermore, dost thou not remember Deborah's words while the spirit of prophecy was upon her? Promised she not peace for us, and happiness and long tranquillity to follow these days of sorrow? Do thou have faith, Masanath. Cease not to hope, for the forces of evil have never yet triumphed wholly.|
|Nay, but how shall that restore my pride in my father?| Masanath sobbed. |How shall I ever think of him without the bitterness of shame? What must the world think of him -- of me? Now I know what the murket meant. He knew, and Kenkenes knew and all -- Alas! alas!| she broke forth in fresh grief, |and Hotep knows!|
Rachel could say no more, for in this sorrow no comfort could avail.
She stroked the little Egyptian's hair and let the wounded heart soothe itself.
Presently Masanath's mind wandered from the new villainy of her father to the memory of the older offense and she wept afresh.
|If thou goest, Rachel, there is none left to comfort me,| she mourned. |I am alone -- desolate, and the powers of Egypt are arrayed against me!| Rachel was hearing her own plight given expression. She put aside any thought of herself and applied herself to Masanath's need.
|Nay, there is Hotep,| she whispered. |He loves thee, and if there is aught in prophecy, he will comfort thee when I am gone.|
|But thou shalt not go,| Masanath cried. |Stay with me, Rachel.|
|Thy father's servant returneth in twenty days. As I have said, if I go now, I can reach my people and be hidden safely.|
The Egyptian held fast to the Israelite and wept.
|Nay, Rachel. Stay with me. Thou art all I have!|
Rachel turned her head and gazed toward the south. Across the housetops, the far-off sickle of the Nile curved into a crevice between the hills and disappeared. Somewhere beyond that blue and broken sky-line her last claim to Egypt had been lost. Why should she stay when Kenkenes was gone? Meanwhile Masanath went on pleading.
If she departed, the next day's sun might dawn upon him in Memphis, searching and sorrowing because he found her not. The hour of separation might be delayed for twenty days -- in that time he might come.
|I will stay till my people go -- if they depart within twenty days,| Rachel made answer. |But I must be gone ere thy father's servant returns.|
Masanath rebelled, sobbing.
|Nay, weep not. The hour is distant. In that time, since these are days of miracles, thy sorrows and mine may have faded like a mist. Come, no more. Let us bide the workings of the good God.|
Imhotep -- The physician-god.