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The Yoke by Elizabeth Miller


On the morning of the eighteenth day, immediately after sunrise, Rachel came to the curtains over Masanath's door, and put them aside.

Within, she saw her hostess yet in her bed-gown, her hair disordered and her tiny feet bare. She stood before a shrine of silver, the statue of Isis in turquoise displayed therein, and an offering of pressed dates before it. But there was no sign of devotion or humility in the attitude of the Egyptian. One plump arm was stretched toward the image and the hand was tightly clenched. Neither was there any reverence in her voice.

Rachel dropped the curtain and waited. The words came distinctly through the linen hangings.

|Thou false one! thou ingrate! Is it for this that every day I have sent two fat ducks to the altar in thy name? Is it that I must be separated from my beloved and wedded to the man I hate, that I have prayed to thee day and night? Who hath been more faithful to thee and whom hast thou served more cruelly? Mark thou! If thou darest to cause this thing to come to pass, night nor day shall I rest until I have found the bones of Osiris and scattered them to the four winds of heaven! So carefully shall I hide them, so widely shall I scatter them, that no help of Nepthys, Toth or Anubis shall let thee gather them up again! Aye, I will do it, though I die in the doing and remain unburied, I swear by Set! Remember thou!|

Rachel went softly away.

After a time she returned. She had covered her white dress with a mantle of brown linen and over her head she wore a wimple of the same material. Her hair had been coiled and secured with a bodkin. When she put her hand under the wimple and drew it across her mouth, only her fair skin and blue eyes distinguished her from any other Egyptian lady dressed for a long journey.

She lifted the curtains and entered, and it was long before she came forth again. Then her eyes were hidden and her head bowed, for she had bidden farewell to Masanath. She was returning to Goshen.

In the street before the house she entered her litter and with Pepi walking beside her went to the Nile. And there they were joined by Anubis. He had been absent for days, so his greeting was extravagant, his loyalty inalienable. He entered the bari Pepi had loaded with Rachel's belongings, and would not be coaxed or menaced into disembarking.

|Nay, let him come,| Rachel said at last. |Thou canst set him on the shore opposite the tomb. He will leave us willingly there.|

So they pushed away.

Rachel wrapped her wimple about her face and removed it once only to gaze at the quarries of Masaarah. They were deserted. Months before, directly after the affliction of the Nile, the Israelites had been returned to Goshen.

After the bari had passed below the stone wharf, Rachel covered herself and neither spoke nor moved. Her heart was heavy beyond words.

Pepi broke the silence once.

|Shall we drop the ape first, my Lady?|

Rachel shook her head. Anubis was her last hold on Kenkenes.

At the Marsh of the Discontented Soul, the bari nosed among the reeds and grounded gently. Rachel stood for a moment gazing sadly across the stretch of sand toward the abrupt wall against which it terminated inland. Pepi, already on shore, reached a patient hand toward her and awaited her awakening. Anubis landed with a bound and made in a series of wide circles for the cliff. His escape aroused Rachel and she stepped out of the boat. After a moment's thought, she bade Pepi pull away from the shore and await her at a safe distance.

|I shall stay no longer than to write my whereabouts on the tomb, but thy boat here may attract the attention of others on the river, and hereafter they might ask what thou didst in this place. And I am not afraid.|

The slow Egyptian obeyed reluctantly, shaking his head as he stood away from shore.

With a sigh that was almost a sob, Rachel walked back over the sand toward the cave that had been her only shelter once.

She did not fear it. Kenkenes had crossed this gray level of sand in the night and its wet border at the river had borne the print of his sandal. He had made the tomb a home for her, he had knelt on its rock pavement and kissed her hands in its dusk and had passed its threshold, like a shadow, to return no more. And here, too, was the other faithful suggestion of her lost love -- the pet ape. How his fitful fidelities had directed themselves to her! She caught him up as he passed her. He struggled, turned in her arms, and then became passive, breathing loudly.

She climbed the rough steps and sat down on the topmost one to think.

She was surrounded with old evidences of her sorrow. Nor was there any cheer before her. Escape was in prospect, but it was liberty without light or peace -- a gray freedom without hope, purpose or fruit. Her retrospect gradually brightened, never to brilliance but to a soft luminance, brightest at the farthermost point and sad like the dying daylight. She summarized her griefs -- danger, death, suspense, shame and long hopelessness. The lonely girl's stock of unhappiness took her breath away and she pushed back the wimple as if to clear away the oppression.

Anubis realized his moment of freedom was short and with an instant bound he was out and gone.

In no little dismay Rachel started in pursuit, but she had not moved ten paces from the bottom of the steps before she paused, transfixed.

An Egyptian, not Pepi, was hauling a boat into the reeds. The craft secure, he turned up the slant, walking rapidly.

There was no mistaking that commanding stature.

Anubis descended on him like an arrow. The man saw the ape, halted a fraction of an instant, caught sight of Rachel, and with a cry, his arms flung wide, broke into a run toward her.

The ape bounded for his shoulder, but missed and alighted at one side, chattering raucously. The running man did not pause.

The world revolved slowly about Rachel, and the sustaining structure of her frame seemed to lose its rigidity. She put out her hands, blindly, and they were caught and clasped about Kenkenes' neck. And there in the strong support of his tightening arms, her face hidden against the leaping heart, all time and matters of the world drifted away. In their place was only a vast content, featureless and full of soft dusk and warmth.

Gone were all the demure resolutions, the memory of faith or unfaith. Nothing was patent to her except that this was the man she loved and he had returned from the dead.

Presently she became vaguely aware that he was speaking. Though a little unsteady and subdued, it was the same melody of voice that she seemed to have known from the cradle.

|Rachel! Rachel!| he was saying, |why didst thou not go to my father as I bade thee? Nay, I do not chide thee. The joy of finding thee hath healed me of the wrench when I found thee not, at my father's house, at dawn to-day. But tell me. Why didst thou not go?|

|I -- I feared -- | she faltered after a silence.

|My father? Nay, now, dost thou fear me? Not so; and my father is but myself, grown old. He was only a little less mad with fear than I, when he discovered that thou shouldst have come to him so long ago, and camest not. It damped his joy in having me again, and I left him pale with concern. Did I not tell thee how good he is?|

|Aye, it was not that I feared him, but that I feared that thou -- | And she paused and again he helped her.

|That I was dead? That I had played thee false? Rachel! But how couldst thou know? Forgive me. Since the tenth night I left thee I have been in prison.|

|In prison!| she exclaimed, lifting her face. |Alas, that I did not think of it. It is mine to beg thy forgiveness, Kenkenes, and on my very knees!|

|So thou didst think it, in truth!| She hid her face again and craved his pardon.

But he pressed her to him and soothed her.

|Nay, I do not chide thee. Had I been in thy place, I might have thought the same. But it is past -- gone with the horrors of this horrible season -- Osiris be thanked!|

|Thanks be to the God of Israel,| she demanded from her shelter.

|And the God of Israel,| he said obediently.

|Nay, to the God of Israel alone,| she insisted, raising her head.

He laughed a little and patted her hands softly together.

|It was but the habit in me that made me name Osiris. There is no god for me, but Love.|

|So long, so long, Kenkenes, and not any change in thee?| she sighed. |How hath Egypt been helped of her gods, these grievous days?|

|The gods and the gods, and ever the gods!| he said. |What have we to do with them? Deborah bade me turn from them and this I have done with all sincerity. Much have I pondered on the question and this have I concluded. Egypt's holy temples have been vainly built; her worship has been wasted on the air. There was and is a Creator, but, Rachel, that Power whose mind is troubled with the great things is too great to behold the petty concerns of men. My fortunes and thine we must direct, for though we implored that Power till we died from the fervor of our supplications, It could not hear, whose ears are filled with the murmurings of the traveling stars. Why we were created and forgotten, we may not know. How may we guess the motives of anything too great for us to conceive? Whatsoever befalls us results from our use at the hands of men, or from the nature of our abiding-place. We must defend ourselves, prosper ourselves and live for what we make of life. After that we shall not know the troubles and the joys of the world, for the tombs are restful and soundless. Is it not so, my Rachel?|

She shook her head. |Thou hast gone astray, Kenkenes. But thou wast untaught -- |

|I have reasoned, Rachel, and the Power I have found in my ponderings, makes all the gods seem little. Thy God must manifest himself more fearfully; he must overthrow my reasoning before I can bow to him. And if, of a surety, he is greater than the Power I have made, will he need my adoration or listen to my prayers? Nay, nay, my Rachel. If thou wilt have me worship, let me fall on my face to thee -- |

She interrupted him with a quick gesture.

|Kenkenes, have I prayed in vain for the light to fall on thee?| she asked sadly.

He smiled and moved closer, looking down into her face as he had done when he studied it as Athor.

|Nay, hast thou done that, and hast thou not been heard? Thou dost but fix me in mine unbelief. Did any god exist he would have heard thy supplications. Come, let us make an end of this. There are sweeter themes I would discuss. Where hast thou been, these many months? Not here in this haunted cave?|

His lightness sank her hope to the lowest ebb. A sudden hurt reached her heart. His unregeneracy suggested unfaithfulness to her. Their positions had been reversed. It was she that had been denied. Duty reasserted itself with a chiding sting.

|I have been a guest with Masanath -- |

|The daughter of Har-hat!| he cried, retreating a step.

|The daughter of mine enemy,| she went on. |She found me here by accident and took me to her home in Memphis. There Deborah died. And there, eighteen days agone, I discovered who it was that sheltered me, and now I return to my people.|

|The fan-bearer did not find thee?| he demanded at once.

|Nay. Unseen, I looked upon his man. Alas! the wound to the daughter-love in Masanath! On the morrow she departeth for Tanis where she will wed with the Prince Rameses.|

Kenkenes' hands fell to his sides. |Nay, now! Of a surety, this is the maddest caprice the Hathors ever wrought. In the house of thine enemy! Well for me I did not know it! I should have died from very apprehension. And all these months thou wast within sight of my father's doors!|

|I saw him once,| she said.

|And discovered not thyself! How cruelly thou hast used thyself, Rachel. He would have told thee, long ago, why I came not back.|

|Aye, now I know; but, Kenkenes, I could not go, fearing -- |

|Enough. I forgot. Come, let us go hence. Memphis and my father's house await thee now.|

|But I go to my people, even now,| she answered, with averted face and unready words.

Kenkenes whitened.

|And leave me?| he asked quietly.

|Think me not ungrateful,| she said. |I have said no words of thanks since there is none that can express a tithe of my great indebtedness to thee.|

|I have achieved nothing for thee. Not even have I won thy freedom. I have failed. But shameless in mine undeserts, I am come to ask my reward nevertheless.| He was very near to her, his face full of purpose and intensity, his voice of great restraint.

|That which once thou didst refuse to hear, thou hast known for long by other proof than words,| he went on. |Let me say it now. I love thee, Rachel.| Taking her cold hands he drew her back to him.

|Once I forbore,| he continued, the persuasive calm in his manner heightening, |because I knew it would hurt thee to say me 'nay,' I told myself that I was brave, then, when the actual loss of thee was distant. But thou wilt leave me now and my fortitude for thy sake is gone. I am selfish because I love thee so. The extreme is reached. I can withstand no more. Dost thou love me, Rachel?|

What need for him to wait for the word that gave assent? Was there not eloquent testimony in her every feature and in every act of that hour he had been with her? But his hands trembled, holding hers, till she told him |aye.|

|Then ask what thou wilt of me,| he said, the restraint gone, desperation taking its place. |I submit, so thou dost yield thyself to me. Shall I pray thy prayers, kneel in thy shrines? Shall I go with thee into slavery? Shall I learn thy tongue, turn my back on my people, become one of Israel and hate Egypt? These things will I do, and more, so I shall find thee all mine own when they are done.|

But she freed her hands to cover her face and weep. Kenkenes sighed from the very heaviness of his unhappiness.

|Thou shouldst hate me, if, to win thee, I bowed in pretense to thy God,| he said weakly.

Perhaps his words awakened a hope or perhaps they made her desperate. Whatever the sensation, she raised her head and spoke with a sudden assumption of calm:

|Naught could make me hate thee, Kenkenes, but I should know if thou didst pretend. Thou art as transparent as air. Thou art honest, guileless -- too good to be lost to the Bosom that must have thrilled with joy when he beheld what a beautiful soul His hands had wrought. Few of His believers have conceived the greatness of Jehovah as thou hast, O my Kenkenes. In that art thou proved ripe for His worship. Thou hast found His might to be so limitless that thou thinkest thyself as naught in His sight. In that hast thou gone astray. The mind is gross that can not heed the weak and small. Shall we say that the spinner of the gossamer, the painter of the rose is not fine? Shall He forget His daintiest, frailest works for His mightiest? Thou, artist and creator thyself, Kenkenes, answer for Him. Nay; not so! He, who hath an ear to the lapse between an hour and an hour, hath counted His song-birds and numbered His blossoms. For are they, being small, less wondrous than the heavens, His handiwork? Shall He then fail to hear the voice of His sons in whom He hath taken greater pains?|

She paused for a moment and looked at him. His expression urged her on.

|Does it not trouble thee when I, whom thou hast but lately known, am in sorrow? How much more then does thine unhappiness vex His holy heart, who fashioned thee, who blew the breath of life into thy nostrils! Wilt thou deny the Hand that led thee to me, here, in this hour -- that cared for me during the season of distress and peril? Nay, my beloved, there is no greater virtue than gratitude. It is an essential in the make-up of the great of heart -- wilt thou put it out of thy fine nature?|

Again she paused, and this time he answered in a half-whisper:

|Thou dost shake me in mine heresy.|

|It is but newly seated in thy credence,| she said eagerly, |and is easy to be put aside -- easier to cast off than was the idolatry. Put it away in truth from thee and grieve thy Lord God no more.|

|Would that I could, now, this hour. We may discipline the soul and chasten the body, but how may we govern the mind and its disorderly beliefs? It laughs at the sober restraint of the will; my heart is broken for its sake, but it is reprobate still.|

|And I have not won thee?| she asked, shrinking from him.

|Give me time -- teach me more -- return not to Goshen. Come back to Memphis with me!| he begged in rapid words, pressing after her. |No man uncovered so great a problem, alone, in a moment. How shall I find God in an hour?|

|O had I the tongue of Miriam!| she exclaimed.

|Go not yet. Wilt thou give me up, after a single effort? Miriam could not win me, nor all thy priests. I shall be led by thee alone. A day longer -- an hour -- |

|But after the manner of man, thou wilt put off and wait and wait. Thou art too able, Kenkenes, too full of power for aid of mine -- |

|Rachel, if thou goest into Goshen -- | he began passionately, but she clutched him wildly, as if to hold him, though death itself dragged at her fingers.

|Hide me!| she gasped in a terrified whisper. |The servant of Har-hat!|

At the mention of his enemy's name, Kenkenes turned swiftly about.

Two half-clad Nubians were at the river's edge, hauling up an elegant passage boat. It was deep of draft and had many sets of oars. Approaching over the sand, hesitatingly, and with timid glances toward the tomb beyond, were four others. The foremost was the youth he had seen in Thebes. The next wore a striped tunic. Fourth and last was Unas.

|Now, by my soul,| Kenkenes exclaimed aloud, |there is no more mystery concerning the boy.| He turned and took Rachel in his arms.

|Now, do thou test the helpfulness of thy God! I have been tricked and I see no help for us. Enter the tomb and close the door, and since thou lovest honor better than liberty, let this be thine escape.|

He put his only weapon, his dagger, into her hands. For an instant he gazed at her tense white face; then bending over her, he kissed her once and put her behind him.

|Go,| he said.

|What want ye?| he demanded of the men.

|A slave,| Unas answered evilly, stepping to the fore.

|Your authority?| The fat courier flourished a document and held up a blue jewel, hanging about his neck. Meneptah had forgotten his promise to return the lapis-lazuli signet to Mentu.

|Thou art undone, knave!| the courier added with a short laugh. He clapped his hands and the four Nubians advanced rapidly upon Kenkenes. There was to be no parley.

Kenkenes glanced at the youth. He was not full grown, -- spare, light and small in stature.

|I am sorry for thee, boy,| Kenkenes muttered. |Thy gods judge between thee and me!|

The Nubians, two by two, each man ready to spring, rushed.

With a bound, Kenkenes seized the youth by the ankles and swung him like an animate bludgeon over his head. The attacking party was too precipitate to halt in time and the yelling weapon swung round, horizontally mowing down the foremost pair of men like wooden pins. The weight of the boy, more than the force of the blow, jerked him from the sculptor's hands. Kenkenes recovered himself and retreated. As he did so, he stumbled on a fragment of rock. He wrenched it from its bed and balanced it above his head.

The powerful figure with the primitive weapon was too savage a picture for the remaining pair to contemplate at close quarters. Unas had made no movement to help in the assault. He had felt the weight of the sculptor's hand and had evidently published the savagery of the young man to his assistants. They had come prepared to capture an athletic malefactor, but here was a jungle tiger brought to bay. They retired till their fallen fellows should arise.

The vanquished were struggling to gain their feet, and Kenkenes noted it with concern. He was not gaining in this lull. There were other stones about him. He hurled the fragment with a sure aim, and a Nubian, who had been overthrown, dropped limply and stretched himself on the sand.

With a howl the remaining three charged. They were too close for the second missile of Kenkenes to do any slaughter, and he went down under the combined attack, fighting insanely.

|Slit his throat,| Unas shrieked, tumbling on the captive, as Kenkenes' superhuman struggles threatened to shake them off. One of the men raised himself and made ready to obey. Holding to Kenkenes with one hand, he drew a knife from his belt and prepared to strike.

At that instant, the captive caught sight of a pale woman-face, the eyes blazing with vengeance. There was a flash of a white-sleeved arm and the thump and jolt of a dagger driven strongly through flesh. The murderous Nubian yelled and tumbled, kicking, on the sand. He carried a knife at the juncture of the neck and shoulder.

Instantly there was a chorus of yells.

|She-devil! Hyena!|

Unas detached himself from the struggle and plunged after Rachel, now in full sight of Kenkenes. He saw her retreat, warding off the fat courier with her hands; he saw her stumble and fall; he saw Anubis fly, with a chatter of rage, in the face of the courier, and struggling mightily, he threw off his captors, and leaped to his feet.

And then the light went out in Egypt!

It was not uncommon for Egyptians to threaten their gods.

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