Kenkenes had spent two weeks in Goshen in systematic search for Rachel.
The labor had been time-consuming and fruitless.
More than two million Israelites were encamped about Pa-Ramesu, and among this host Kenkenes had searched thoroughly and fearlessly. He was an Egyptian and a noble, and Israel did not make his way easy. But all Judah knew Rachel and loved her, and the first the young man came upon was a quarryman who had known of Rachel's flight from Har-hat and of her protection at the hands of an Egyptian. Therefore when Kenkenes bore witness, by his stature, that he was the protecting Egyptian, and by his testimony concerning the God of Israel, that he was worthy, this friendly son of Judah began to suspect that Rachel would be glad to see the young noble, and he joined Kenkenes in his search. Furthermore, he softened the hearts of the tribe toward the Egyptian and they tolerated him with some assumption of grace.
The other tribes gave him no heed except to glower at him in the camp-ways or to mutter after him when he had passed. Seeing that Judah suffered him, they did not fall on him. Thus the young man was safe. As for the notice Kenkenes took of Israel, it began and ended with his inquiry after Rachel, the daughter of Maai the Compassionate, a son of Judah. His earnestness absorbed him. Otherwise he was but partly conscious of great preparations making in camp, of tremendous excitement, heightening of zeal and vast meetings after nightfall, when he had withdrawn to a far-off meadow to sleep in the grass.
When he had searched throughout the length and breadth of Israel and found Rachel not, he led his horse from the distant meadow, where he had been pastured, and turned his head toward Tanis.
While he was binding the saddle of sheep's wool about the Arab's narrow girth he was surprised to find that the friendly son of Judah had followed him to the pasture. The man approached, as though one spirit urged him and another held him back, and offered Kenkenes the shelter of his tent for the night.
Somewhat gratified and astonished, Kenkenes, thanked him and declined. Still the Hebrew lingered and urged him with strange persistence. Kenkenes expressed his gratitude, but would not stay.
Having taken the road toward Tanis where Rachel might be in the hands of Har-hat, his heart seemed to turn to iron in his breast. All the energies and aims of his youth seemed to resolve into one grim and inexorable purpose.
It was far into the second watch when he left Pa-Ramesu. But the great city of tents was not yet sleeping.
The horse was anxious for a journey after a fortnight of idleness and he bade fair to keep pace with his rider's impatience. The Arabian hills had sunk below the sky-line and the Libyan desert was not marked by any eminence. With Pa-Ramesu behind him, a wide unbroken horizon belted the dusky landscape. The lights winked out over Goshen and the hamlets were not visible except as Kenkenes came upon them. The shepherd dogs barked afar off, or now and then a wakened bird cheeped drowsily, or the waters in the canals rippled over a pebbly space.
But these sounds ceased unaccountably, at last, and a silence settled down till the atmosphere was tense with stillness. A deadening hand seemed to cover the night.
The silence roused Kenkenes and he realized the solemnity of the earth, the vastness of the sky and the majesty of the solitude. Mysteriously affected, he withdrew within himself and humbly acknowledged the One God.
At midnight a chill struck the breeze and he drew his mantle about him while he rode. The wind freshened and a heated counter-current from the desert met it and they whirled away, rustling through the grassy country.
The Arab reduced his gallop so suddenly that Kenkenes was jolted. The small peaked ears of the horse went up and he showed a disposition to move sidewise into the meadow growth beside the way.
|A wild beast hath taken the road,| Kenkenes thought.
The horse brought up, with a start, his prominent muscles twitching, and sniffed the air strongly.
A high oscillation in the atmosphere descended on Kenkenes.
The Arab reared, snorting, and then crouched, quivering with wild terror in every limb.
Unconscious, even of the movement, Kenkenes threw up his arm as if to ward off the blow and bent upon his horse's neck.
Gust after gust of icy air swept down on his head, as if winnowed by frozen wings. Then with a backward waft, colder than any wind he had ever known, the hovering Presence passed.
Instantly the horse plunged and took the road toward Tanis as if stung by a lash. Kenkenes, shaken and full of solemn dread, did well to keep his saddle. He grasped the stout leather bridle with strong hands, but he might have curbed the hurricane as easily. The Arab stretched his gaunt length, running low, and the haunted night reechoed with the sound of his hoofs. The land of Goshen lay east and west, with a slight divergence toward the north. The road to Tanis ran due north. It was not long until Kenkenes' flying steed brought him in sight of the un-Israelite Goshen. Illuminated windows starred the plain and the wind shrilling in Kenkenes' ears bore uncanny sounds. A turf-thatched hovel at the roadside showed a light as they swept by and a long scream clove the air, but the Arab was not to be halted.
The murmurous wind did not soothe him, and the wakeful night had a terror for him that he could not outrun. He veered sharply and galloped through the pastures to avoid a roadside hamlet that shrieked and moaned. He leaped irrigation canals and brush hedges, swept through fields and gardens, until, at last, by dint of persuasion, coupled with the animal's growing fatigue, Kenkenes succeeded in drawing the horse down into a milder pace.
The young man made no effort to fathom the mysterious visitation. Instead, he bowed his head and rode on, awed and humbled.
The night wore away and the gray of the morning showed him, strange-featured, the misty levels, meadows, fields and gardens of northern Goshen. The wind faltered and died; the stars, strewn down the east, paled and went out, one by one. Fragmentary clouds toward the sunrise became apparent, tinted, silvered and at last, like flakes of gold, scattered down to a point of intensest brilliance on the horizon. A lark sprang out of the wet, wind-mown grass of a meadow and shot up, up till it was lost in radiance and only a few of its exquisite notes filtered down to earth again.
A brazen rim showed redly on the horizon and the next instant the sun bounded above the sky-line.
It was the morning after the Passover, and Kenkenes, the son of Mentu, was the only Egyptian first-born that lived to see it break.