One sunset, shortly after his marriage, word came to the tent of Kenkenes that an Amalekite chieftain on his way to Egypt had paused for the night just without the encampment of Israel.
|Here may be an opportunity to speak with thy father,| Rachel suggested. The prospect of talking once again to those he had left behind was one too full of pleasure for the young Egyptian to receive calmly. Hurriedly he despatched one of his serving men to the Amalekite to bid him await a message. But Rachel called the messenger back.
|Tell the Amalekite that thou comest from an Egyptian noble. For such thy master is, and this chieftain is more willing to take command from Egypt than from Israel.|
The servant in his enthusiasm and the importance of his mission told the Amalekite that he came from a prince of Egypt.
The chieftain was a youth who had just succeeded his father over his people and was on his way to Memphis bearing tribute to Meneptah. To this tributary nation Egypt was remote, splendid and full of glamour. The name was synonymous of the world and all the glories thereof, and particularly had it appealed to the active imagination of this youth. He had seen many Egyptians, but they were naked prisoners laboring in the mines of Sinai, or overseers or scribes or the ancient exile who was governor of the province, -- and surely these were not representative of the land.
Now he was to get a glance at real Egypt.
In the early hours of the dawn a follower came to his pallet and told him in awed tones that the prince was without. Tremulous with pleasurable trepidation, he went out into the misty daybreak twilight of the open. And there he met an imperial stranger who towered over him as a palm over a shrub. At a single glance the Amalekite saw that there was a circlet of gold about the brow, that the face was fine and that the garments swept the sands. All this was significant, but when the stranger delivered him two rolls, one addressed to the chief of the royal scribes of the Pharaoh, the other to the royal murket, and paid him with a jewel, the Amalekite, convinced and satisfied, prostrated himself.
But we may not know what the youth thought when he found that there were few in all Egypt like this princely stranger.
After these writings came, with all fidelity, to the hands of those who loved him in Egypt, silence fell between them and Kenkenes.
Meneptah erected no more monuments after the eighth year of his reign, for in that year Mentu, the murket, died. None could fill his place, since to his name was attached the title |the Incomparable,| as befitted the artist of that great Pharaoh, likewise titled, who had so loved him and his genius. Meneptah, in memory of Mentu and his artist son who had served his king so well, set up no sculptor nor any murket in his place. It was the one graceful act in the life of the feeble king, the one resolution to which he held most tenaciously.
Though Mentu's union with Senci was short, it was most happy, save perhaps for the absence of Kenkenes. But after the letter came from the well-beloved son there was more cheer in the heart of the father. Kenkenes was not dead, only absent, as he would have been had he lived in Tanis or Thebes. Furthermore, the young man had spoken glowingly and at length on the future of Israel and the Promised Land, and Mentu told himself that he might visit Kenkenes one day in that new country.
Since there were no children in their house, Senci and the murket spoiled Anubis, and in the eyes of his devoted master the ape had earned his soft life. Shortly after the departure of Kenkenes Mentu discovered the ape burying something in the sand of the courtyard flower-beds. In spite of the favorite's vigorous protests Mentu overturned the tiny heap of earth and discovered therein the lapis-lazuli signet. There was but one explanation of the ape's possession of the gem. He had torn the scarab from about the neck of Unas when he flew in his face, the moment the light went out. After his nature, he kept the jewel because it was bright.
All these things -- the discovery of the signet in the tomb, the safety of Kenkenes when all the other first-born had died, and the testimony of the miracles to the power of Israel's God -- made the good murket think deeply. Indeed, all Egypt thought deeply after the Exodus of Israel, and to such extremes was this sober thinking carried that through very fear many added the name of the Hebrews' God to the Pantheon. Mentu did not go so far, because he saw the inconsistency in such procedure, but he shook his head and pondered and was not wholly satisfied with many things in the Osirian creed.
Of the love of Hotep and Masanath something yet remains to be told. It was common to examine the entire family of a traitor as to their complicity in his misdeeds, and the option lay with the Pharaoh whether or not they should bear some of his punishment. Har-hat was dead, the army destroyed at his hands. When the news of the disaster reached Tanis Meneptah's anger and grief knew no bounds.
After Rameses had been interred at Thebes beside his fathers, and the court had returned to Memphis, the king summoned Masanath, the sole representative of the family of Har-hat, to give reason why she should not be accused of complicity in the treason of her father.
Meneptah had taken counsel with none on this step. Perhaps he had an inkling that it would be unpopular; perhaps he thought he was but fulfilling the law. Hotep was at On comforting his family, who mourned over Bettis, and most of the other ministers were scattered over Egypt lamenting their own dead, and few expected the ungallant act of the king.
But one day, when all the court had reassembled, Masanath came into the great council chamber. Alone and dressed in mourning, she seemed so little and defenseless that Meneptah stirred uncomfortably in his throne. Slowly she approached the dais and fell on her knees before the king. The great gathering of courtiers held its breath, wondering and pitying.
Such was the scene upon which Hotep came all unknowing. At a glance he understood the situation. It was too much for his well-bridled spirit. With a cry, full of horror, indignation and compassion, he dropped his writing-case and scroll, and, rushing forward, flung himself on his knees beside her, one arm about her, the other extended in supplication to the Pharaoh.
Meneptah, who, from the moment of Masanath's entrance into the council chamber, had begun to repent his ill-advised act, was glad to be won over. At the end of Hotep's impassioned story he came down from the dais, and raising Masanath, kissed her and put her into the young man's arms. Supplementing his pardon with command, he ordered his scribe to marry the sad little orphan at once and take her away from the scene of her sorrows till Isis restored her in spirits again.
The alacrity with which this royal command was obeyed proved how acceptable it was to the lovers. By the next sunset they were going by a slow and sumptuous boat down the broad bosom of the Nile toward the sea, but they had no care whether or not they ever reached their destination.
After some months spent on the coast, Masanath grew stronger and began to live with much appreciation of the joys of existence. On their return to Memphis Hotep was made fan-bearer in Har-hat's place, and for the remaining fourteen years of Meneptah's reign practically ruled over Egypt.
Vastly different, however, was his favoritism from the favoritism of Har-hat. During the wise administration of the young adviser Egypt recovered something of her former glory, lost in the dreadful plague-ridden days preceding the Exodus. The army was reorganized first, for Ta-user's party began to make demonstrations the hour that the news of the Red Sea disaster reached the Hak-heb. All public building and national extravagance were halted, and the surplus treasure was expended in restocking the fields and granaries and restoring commerce. Within five years after the Exodus the great check Egypt had met in her nineteenth dynasty was not greatly apparent.
So the land recovered from the plagues, but its ruler never. The death of Rameses lay like a heavy sin and torturing remorse on his conscience. He wept till the feeble eyes lost their sight, but not their susceptibility to tears. At last, succumbing to melancholia, he became a child, for whom Hotep reigned and for whom the queen cared with touching devotion.
The story of Seti is history. It is needless to say that his rough usage at the hands of Ta-user awakened him, but it was long before he found courage to return to Io, the sweetheart of his childhood. Yet, when he did, after the manner of her kind, she wept over him and took him back without a word of reproach. So the fair-faced sister of Hotep came to be queen over Egypt and took another title with Nefer-ari as prefix, and the quaint Danaid name, Io, was lost to all lips but Seti's and Hotep's.
After Seti came to the throne he continued Hotep in the advisership and prepared to reign happily. But in a little time the Thebaid, long disaffected, seceded from the federation of Egypt and crowned Amon-meses king of Thebes. Seti gathered his army, marched against the rebellious district, put Amon-meses to the sword and reduced the Thebaid to submission. Then he returned to Memphis for another space of prosperity.
At the end of a year Ta-user and Siptah, after much browbeating of the Hak-heb, raised funds sufficient to purchase mercenaries. Then, with Ta-user at the head in barbaric splendor, they descended on Memphis.
The course Seti pursued has puzzled historians. He gathered up his family, his court, his treasure, and without so much as lifting a spear, fled into Ethiopia. After some time Ta-user sent to him and conferred upon him the title of the Prince of Cush.
To the friends of the young Pharaoh it was patent that he feared to meet Ta-user. Having succumbed once to her influence, to his undoing and the misery of his beloved Io, he dared not come under the all-compelling eyes of the sorceress again. So he surrendered his crown and his country for his soul's sake.
But fifty years after, Seti's son, the formidable Set-Nekt, returned into Egypt and restored the Rameside house on a basis so solid that another glorious dynasty arose thereon, second only in brilliance to that which had gone out in the anarchy of Siptah and Ta-user's reign. This done, he wreaked personal vengeance upon the usurpers of his father's throne. He broke open the tomb of Siptah and Ta-user, threw out their bodies to the jackals, obliterated the inscriptions, enlarged the crypt, put his own and his father's history on the walls and used it for his mausoleum when he died.
And this was the deadliest retaliation he could inflict in his father's name.
Much of this Kenkenes learned from the lips of Egyptian merchants whom he met in Canaan, forty years after the Exodus.
Kenkenes was a proselyte who had found his God for himself. He believed as he drew his breath and as his heart beat, involuntarily and without any lapse. Never could a son of Israel have surrendered himself more eagerly to the law. Its good and its purposes were ever before his eyes, and his footsteps led in the paths that it lighted. Though he saw not the Lord in a burning bush nor talked with Him on Sinai, he found Him on the lonely uplands of the sheep-ranges and heard Him in the voiceless night on the limitless desert. The young Egyptian was not yet twenty years old at the time of the numbering before Sinai, and he entered the Promised Land with Joshua and Caleb. For verily he walked with God all the days of his life.
It must not be supposed that there was no serene life nor any happiness in the long wandering of forty years. A generation of oriental adults practically dies out in that time. The passing of the elders of Israel, though it was accomplished by plagues and sendings for iniquities, was as the passing of the old in the Orient to-day. The encampment was not continually filled with calamity and great mourning -- far from it. There were long stretches of peace and plenty, extending almost uninterruptedly for years, and those who followed the law escaped the intervals of catastrophe.
Kenkenes was among the chosen people but not of them, partly because he was of the execrated race of the oppressors and partly because the most of Israel had nothing in common with the nobleman. But Moses loved him and found joy in his company. Joshua loved him and had him by his side when Israel warred. Caleb and Aaron loved him because he was godly, and Miriam was proud of him and was mild in his presence. He took no public part in the people's affairs, yet who shall say that he was not near when Bezaleel wrought the wondrous angels for the ark? Who shall say that his purest jewel did not enter the breast-plate of the high priest? There are many names embraced in that general term, |every wise-hearted man among them that wrought the work of the tabernacle.|
So when Israel took up the forty years of pasture-hunting in Paran, Kenkenes made his tent beautiful and pitched it always apart from the multitude, and here he was contented all the days that Israel tarried in that place. Under his care his flocks increased, his cattle multiplied and his camels were not few, and he laid up riches for the four stalwart sons and the golden-haired daughter who were to live after him.
From the moment of his union with his beautiful wife, through the long years of semi-isolation that he knew thereafter, he grew closer and closer to Rachel. She filled all his needs as Israel failed to supply them, and he missed neither friend nor neighbor when she was near. Rachel knew wherein she was more fortunate than other women and her content and her devotion were beyond measure. So Kenkenes and Rachel were lovers all the days of their lives.
If ever they grew reminiscent there was one name spoken more tenderly than any other -- the name of Atsu. Kenkenes would grow sad of countenance and he would look away, but there was no jealousy in his heart for the tears of Rachel weeping over the task-master who died for her.
The collar of golden rings became popular in Israel, and, after many modifications effected by time and fashion, it came at last to be the insignia of the virtuous woman. For centuries it was worn and no one knows when the custom died out.
The genius of Kenkenes did not die. His voice enriched with age, and the rocky vales wherein his flocks wandered had melodious echoes whenever he followed the sheep. But he never used chisel upon stone again. His sons were artists after him, but they were handicapped also. And so it continued for many generations until the Temple of Solomon was built. Then, though the plans came from the Lord, and artisans were brought from Tyre, it was the descendants of Kenkenes who made the Temple beautiful |with carved figures of cherubim and palm trees and open flowers, within and without.|