Etext prepared by John Bickers, email@example.com Dagny, firstname.lastname@example.org
and Emma Dudding, email@example.com
MOON OF ISRAEL
A Tale of the Exodus
by H. Rider Haggard
This book suggests that the real Pharaoh of the Exodus was not Meneptah or Merenptah, son of Rameses the Great, but the mysterious usurper, Amenmeses, who for a year or two occupied the throne between the death of Meneptah and the accession of his son the heir-apparent, the gentle-natured Seti II.
Of the fate of Amenmeses history says nothing; he may well have perished in the Red Sea or rather the Sea of Reeds, for, unlike those of Meneptah and the second Seti, his body has not been found.
Students of Egyptology will be familiar with the writings of the scribe and novelist Anana, or Ana as he is here called.
It was the Author’s hope to dedicate this story to Sir Gaston Maspero, K.C.M.G., Director of the Cairo Museum, with whom on several occasions he discussed its plot some years ago. Unhappily, however, weighed down by one of the bereavements of the war, this great Egyptologist died in the interval between its writing and its publication. Still, since Lady Maspero informs him that such is the wish of his family, he adds the dedication which he had proposed to offer to that eminent writer and student of the past.
Dear Sir Gaston Maspero,
When you assured me as to a romance of mine concerning ancient Egypt, that it was so full of the “inner spirit of the old Egyptians” that, after kindred efforts of your own and a lifetime of study, you could not conceive how it had been possible for it to spring from the brain of a modern man, I thought your verdict, coming from such a judge, one of the greatest compliments that ever I received. It is this opinion of yours indeed which induces me to offer you another tale of a like complexion. Especially am I encouraged thereto by a certain conversation between us in Cairo, while we gazed at the majestic countenance of the Pharaoh Meneptah, for then it was, as you may recall, that you said you thought the plan of this book probable and that it commended itself to your knowledge of those dim days.
With gratitude for your help and kindness and the sincerest homage to your accumulated lore concerning the most mysterious of all the perished peoples of the earth,
Believe me to remain
Your true admirer,
H. Rider Haggard.
MOON OF ISRAEL
SCRIBE ANA COMES TO TANIS
This is the story of me, Ana the scribe, son of Meri, and of certain of the days that I have spent upon the earth. These things I have written down now that I am very old in the reign of Rameses, the third of that name, when Egypt is once more strong and as she was in the ancient time. I have written them before death takes me, that they may be buried with me in death, for as my spirit shall arise in the hour of resurrection, so also these my words may arise in their hour and tell to those who shall come after me upon the earth of what I knew upon the earth. Let it be as Those in heaven shall decree. At least I write and what I write is true.
I tell of his divine Majesty whom I loved and love as my own soul, Seti Meneptah the second, whose day of birth was my day of birth, the Hawk who has flown to heaven before me; of Userti the Proud, his queen, she who afterwards married his divine Majesty, Saptah, whom I saw laid in her tomb at Thebes. I tell of Merapi, who was named Moon of Israel, and of her people, the Hebrews, who dwelt for long in Egypt and departed thence, having paid us back in loss and shame for all the good and ill we gave them. I tell of the war between the gods of Egypt and the god of Israel, and of much that befell therein.
Also I, the King’s Companion, the great scribe, the beloved of the Pharaohs who have lived beneath the sun with me, tell of other men and matters. Behold! is it not written in this roll? Read, ye who shall find in the days unborn, if your gods have given you skill. Read, O children of the future, and learn the secrets of that past which to you is so far away and yet in truth so near.
As it chanced, although the Prince Seti and I were born upon the same day and therefore, like the other mothers of gentle rank whose children saw the light upon that day, my mother received Pharaoh’s gift and I received the title of Royal Twin in Ra, never did I set eyes upon the divine Prince Seti until the thirtieth birthday of both of us. All of which happened thus.
In those days the great Pharaoh, Rameses the second, and after him his son Meneptah who succeeded when he was already old, since the mighty Rameses was taken to Osiris after he had counted one hundred risings of the Nile, dwelt for the most part at the city of Tanis in the desert, whereas I dwelt with my parents at the ancient, white-walled city of Memphis on the Nile. At times Meneptah and his court visited Memphis, as also they visited Thebes, where this king lies in his royal tomb to-day. But save on one occasion, the young Prince Seti, the heir-apparent, the Hope of Egypt, came not with them, because his mother, Asnefert, did not favour Memphis, where some trouble had befallen her in youth–they say it was a love matter that cost the lover his life and her a sore heart–and Seti stayed with his mother who would not suffer him out of sight of her eyes.
Once he came indeed when he was fifteen years of age, to be proclaimed to the people as son of his father, as Son of the Sun, as the future wearer of the Double Crown, and then we, his twins in Ra–there were nineteen of us who were gently born–were called by name to meet him and to kiss his royal feet. I made ready to go in a fine new robe embroidered in purple with the name of Seti and my own. But on that very morning by the gift of some evil god I was smitten with spots all over my face and body, a common sickness that affects the young. So it happened that I did not see the Prince, for before I was well again he had left Memphis.
Now my father Meri was a scribe of the great temple of Ptah, and I was brought up to his trade in the school of the temple, where I copied many rolls and also wrote out Books of the Dead which I adorned with paintings. Indeed, in this business I became so clever that, after my father went blind some years before his death, I earned enough to keep him, and my sisters also until they married. Mother I had none, for she was gathered to Osiris while I was still very little. So life went on from year to year, but in my heart I hated my lot. While I was still a boy there rose up in me a desire–not to copy what others had written, but to write what others should copy. I became a dreamer of dreams. Walking at night beneath the palm-trees upon the banks of the Nile I watched the moon shining upon the waters, and in its rays I seemed to see many beautiful things. Pictures appeared there which were different from any that I saw in the world of men, although in them were men and women and even gods.
Of these pictures I made stories in my heart and at last, although that was not for some years, I began to write these stories down in my spare hours. My sisters found me doing so and told my father, who scolded me for such foolishness which he said would never furnish me with bread and beer. But still I wrote on in secret by the light of the lamp in my chamber at night. Then my sisters married, and one day my father died suddenly while he was reciting prayers in the temple. I caused him to be embalmed in the best fashion and buried with honour in the tomb he had made ready for himself, although to pay the costs I was obliged to copy Books of the Dead for nearly two years, working so hard that I found no time for the writing of stories.
When at length I was free from debt I met a maiden from Thebes with a beautiful face that always seemed to smile, and she took my heart from my breast into her own. In the end, after I returned from fighting in the war against the Nine Bow Barbarians, to which I was summoned like other men, I married her. As for her name, let it be, I will not think of it even to myself. We had one child, a little girl which died within two years of her birth, and then I learned what sorrow can mean to man. At first my wife was sad, but her grief departed with time and she smiled again as she used to do. Only she said that she would bear no more children for the gods to take. Having little to do she began to go about the city and make friends whom I did not know, for of these, being a beautiful woman, she found many. The end of it was that she departed back to Thebes with a soldier whom I had never seen, for I was always working at home thinking of the babe who was dead and how happiness is a bird that no man can snare, though sometimes, of its own will, it flies in at his window-place.
It was after this that my hair went white before I had counted thirty years.
Now, as I had none to work for and my wants were few and simple, I found more time for the writing of stories which, for the most part, were somewhat sad. One of these stories a fellow scribe borrowed from me and read aloud to a company, whom it pleased so much that there were many who asked leave to copy it and publish it abroad. So by degrees I became known as a teller of tales, which tales I caused to be copied and sold, though out of them I made but little. Still my fame grew till on a day I received a message from the Prince Seti, my twin in Ra, saying that he had read certain of my writings which pleased him much and that it was his wish to look upon my face. I thanked him humbly by the messenger and answered that I would travel to Tanis and wait upon his Highness. First, however, I finished the longest story which I had yet written. It was called the Tale of Two Brothers, and told how the faithless wife of one of them brought trouble on the other, so that he was killed. Of how, also, the just gods brought him to life again, and many other matters. This story I dedicated to his Highness, the Prince Seti, and with it in the bosom of my robe I travelled to Tanis, having hidden about me a sum of gold that I had saved.
So I came to Tanis at the beginning of winter and, walking to the palace of the Prince, boldly demanded an audience. But now my troubles began, for the guards and watchmen thrust me from the doors. In the end I bribed them and was admitted to the antechambers, where were merchants, jugglers, dancing-women, officers, and many others, all of them, it seemed, waiting to see the Prince; folk who, having nothing to do, pleased themselves by making mock of me, a stranger. When I had mixed with them for several days, I gained their friendship by telling to them one of my stories, after which I was always welcome among them. Still I could come no nearer to the Prince, and as my store of money was beginning to run low, I bethought me that I would return to Memphis.
One day, however, a long-bearded old man, with a gold-tipped wand of office, who had a bull’s head embroidered on his robe, stopped in front of me and, calling me a white-headed crow, asked me what I was doing hopping day by day about the chambers of the palace. I told him my name and business and he told me his, which it seemed was Pambasa, one of the Prince’s chamberlains. When I asked him to take me to the Prince, he laughed in my face and said darkly that the road to his Highness’s presence was paved with gold. I understood what he meant and gave him a gift which he took as readily as a cock picks corn, saying that he would speak of me to his master and that I must come back again.
I came thrice and each time that old cock picked more corn. At last I grew enraged and, forgetting where I was, began to shout at him and call him a thief, so that folks gathered round to listen. This seemed to frighten him. At first he looked towards the door as though to summon the guard to thrust me out; then changed his mind, and in a grumbling voice bade me follow him. We went down long passages, past soldiers who stood at watch in them still as mummies in their coffins, till at length we came to some broidered curtains. Here Pambasa whispered to me to wait, and passed through the curtains which he left not quite closed, so that I could see the room beyond and hear all that took place there.
It was a small room like to that of any scribe, for on the tables were palettes, pens of reed, ink in alabaster vases, and sheets of papyrus pinned upon boards. The walls were painted, not as I was wont to paint the Books of the Dead, but after the fashion of an earlier time, such as I have seen in certain ancient tombs, with pictures of wild fowl rising from the swamps and of trees and plants as they grow. Against the walls hung racks in which were papyrus rolls, and on the hearth burned a fire of cedar-wood.
By this fire stood the Prince, whom I knew from his statues. His years appeared fewer than mine although we were born upon the same day, and he was tall and thin, very fair also for one of our people, perhaps because of the Syrian blood that ran in his veins. His hair was straight and brown like to that of northern folk who come to trade in the markets of Egypt, and his eyes were grey rather than black, set beneath somewhat prominent brows such as those of his father, Meneptah. His face was sweet as a woman’s, but made curious by certain wrinkles which ran from the corners of the eyes towards the ears. I think that these came from the bending of the brow in thought, but others say that they were inherited from an ancestress on the female side. Bakenkhonsu my friend, the old prophet who served under the first Seti and died but the other day, having lived a hundred and twenty years, told me that he knew her before she was married, and that she and her descendant, Seti, might have been twins.
In his hand the Prince held an open roll, a very ancient writing as I, who am skilled in such matters that have to do with my trade, knew from its appearance. Lifting his eyes suddenly from the study of this roll, he saw the chamberlain standing before him.
“You came at a good time, Pambasa,” he said in a voice that was very soft and pleasant, and yet most manlike. “You are old and doubtless wise. Say, are you wise, Pambasa?”
“Yes, your Highness. I am wise like your Highness’s uncle, Khaemuas the mighty magician, whose sandals I used to clean when I was young.”
“Is it so? Then why are you so careful to hide your wisdom which should be open like a flower for us poor bees to suck at? Well, I am glad to learn that you are wise, for in this book of magic that I have been reading I find problems worthy of Khaemuas the departed, whom I only remember as a brooding, black-browed man much like my cousin, Amenmeses his son–save that no one can call Amenmeses wise.”
“Why is your Highness glad?”
“Because you, being by your own account his equal, can now interpret the matter as Khaemuas would have done. You know, Pambasa, that had he lived he would have been Pharaoh in place of my father. He died too soon, however, which proves to me that there was something in this tale of his wisdom, since no really wise man would ever wish to be Pharaoh of Egypt.”
Pambasa stared with his mouth open.
“Not wish to be Pharaoh!” he began–
“Now, Pambasa the Wise,” went on the Prince as though he had not heard him. “Listen. This old book gives a charm ‘to empty the heart of its weariness,’ that it says is the oldest and most common sickness in the world from which only kittens, some children, and mad people are free. It appears that the cure for this sickness, so says the book, is to stand on the top of the pyramid of Khufu at midnight at that moment when the moon is largest in the whole year, and drink from the cup of dreams, reciting meanwhile a spell written here at length in language which I cannot read.”
“There is no virtue in spells, Prince, if anyone can read them.”
“And no use, it would seem, if they can be read by none.”
“Moreover, how can any one climb the pyramid of Khufu, which is covered with polished marble, even in the day let alone at midnight, your Highness, and there drink of the cup of dreams?”
“I do not know, Pambasa. All I know is that I weary of this foolishness, and of the world. Tell me of something that will lighten my heart, for it is heavy.”
“There are jugglers without, Prince, one of whom says he can throw a rope into the air and climb up it until he vanishes into heaven.”
“When he has done it in your sight, Pambasa, bring him to me, but not before. Death is the only rope by which we climb to heaven–or be lowered into hell. For remember there is a god called Set, after whom, like my great-grandfather, I am named by the way–the priests alone know why–as well as one called Osiris.”
“Then there are the dancers, Prince, and among them some very finely made girls, for I saw them bathing in the palace lake, such as would have delighted the heart of your grandfather, the great Rameses.”
“They do not delight my heart who want no naked women prancing here. Try again, Pambasa.”
“I can think of nothing else, Prince. Yet, stay. There is a scribe without named Ana, a thin, sharp-nosed man who says he is your Highness’s twin in Ra.”
“Ana!” said the Prince. “He of Memphis who writes stories? Why did you not say so before, you old fool? Let him enter at once, at once.”
Now hearing this I, Ana, walked through the curtains and prostrated myself, saying,
“I am that scribe, O Royal Son of the Sun.”
“How dare you enter the Prince’s presence without being bidden—-” began Pambasa, but Seti broke in with a stern voice, saying,
“And how dare you, Pambasa, keep this learned man waiting at my door like a dog? Rise, Ana, and cease from giving me titles, for we are not at Court. Tell me, how long have you been in Tanis?”
“Many days, O Prince,” I answered, “seeking your presence and in vain.”
“And how did you win it at last?”
“By payment, O Prince,” I answered innocently, “as it seems is usual. The doorkeepers—-“
“I understand,” said Seti, “the doorkeepers! Pambasa, you will ascertain what amount this learned scribe has disbursed to ‘the doorkeepers’ and refund him double. Begone now and see to the matter.”
So Pambasa went, casting a piteous look at me out of the corner of his eye.
“Tell me,” said Seti when he was gone, “you who must be wise in your fashion, why does a Court always breed thieves?”
“I suppose for the same reason, O Prince, that a dog’s back breeds fleas. Fleas must live, and there is the dog.”
“True,” he answered, “and these palace fleas are not paid enough. If ever I have power I will see to it. They shall be fewer but better fed. Now, Ana, be seated. I know you though you do not know me, and already I have learned to love you through your writings. Tell me of yourself.”
So I told him all my simple tale, to which he listened without a word, and then asked me why I had come to see him. I replied that it was because he had sent for me, which he had forgotten; also because I brought him a story that I had dared to dedicate to him. Then I laid the roll before him on the table.
“I am honoured,” he said in a pleased voice, “I am greatly honoured. If I like it well, your story shall go to the tomb with me for my Ka to read and re-read until the day of resurrection, though first I will study it in the flesh. Do you know this city of Tanis, Ana?”
I answered that I knew little of it, who had spent my time here haunting the doors of his Highness.
“Then with your leave I will be your guide through it this night, and afterwards we will sup and talk.”
I bowed and he clapped his hands, whereon a servant appeared, not Pambasa, but another.
“Bring two cloaks,” said the Prince, “I go abroad with the scribe, Ana. Let a guard of four Nubians, no more, follow us, but at a distance and disguised. Let them wait at the private entrance.”
The man bowed and departed swiftly.
Almost immediately a black slave appeared with two long hooded cloaks, such as camel-drivers wear, which he helped us to put on. Then, taking a lamp, he led us from the room through a doorway opposite to that by which I had entered, down passages and a narrow stair that ended in a courtyard. Crossing this we came to a wall, great and thick, in which were double doors sheathed with copper that opened mysteriously at our approach. Outside of these doors stood four tall men, also wrapped in cloaks, who seemed to take no note of us. Still, looking back when we had gone a little way, I observed that they were following us, as though by chance.
How fine a thing, thought I to myself, it is to be a Prince who by lifting a finger can thus command service at any moment of the day or night.
Just at that moment Seti said to me:
“See, Ana, how sad a thing it is to be a Prince, who cannot even stir abroad without notice to his household and commanding the service of a secret guard to spy upon his every action, and doubtless to make report thereof to the police of Pharaoh.”
There are two faces to everything, thought I to myself again.
THE BREAKING OF THE CUP
We walked down a broad street bordered by trees, beyond which were lime-washed, flat-roofed houses built of sun-dried brick, standing, each of them, in its own garden, till at length we came to the great market-place just as the full moon rose above the palm-trees, making the world almost as light as day. Tanis, or Rameses as it is also called, was a very fine city then, if only half the size of Memphis, though now that the Court has left it I hear it is much deserted. About this market-place stood great temples of the gods, with pylons and avenues of sphinxes, also that wonder of the world, the colossal statue of the second Rameses, while to the north upon a mound was the glorious palace of Pharaoh. Other palaces there were also, inhabited by the nobles and officers of the Court, and between them ran long streets where dwelt the citizens, ending, some of them, on that branch of the Nile by which the ancient city stood.
Seti halted to gaze at these wondrous buildings.
“They are very old,” he said, “but most of them, like the walls and those temples of Amon and Ptah, have been rebuilt in the time of my grandfather or since his day by the labour of Israelitish slaves who dwell yonder in the rich land of Goshen.”
“They must have cost much gold,” I answered.
“The Kings of Egypt do not pay their slaves,” remarked the Prince shortly.
Then we went on and mingled with the thousands of the people who were wandering to and fro seeking rest after the business of the day. Here on the frontier of Egypt were gathered folk of every race; Bedouins from the desert, Syrians from beyond the Red Sea, merchants from the rich Isle of Chittim, travellers from the coast, and traders from the land of Punt and from the unknown countries of the north. All were talking, laughing and making merry, save some who gathered in circles to listen to a teller of tales or wandering musicians, or to watch women who danced half naked for gifts.
Now and again the crowd would part to let pass the chariot of some noble or lady before which went running footmen who shouted, “Make way, Make way!” and laid about them with their long wands. Then came a procession of white-robed priests of Isis travelling by moonlight as was fitting for the servants of the Lady of the Moon, and bearing aloft the holy image of the goddess before which all men bowed and for a little while were silent. After this followed the corpse of some great one newly dead, preceded by a troop of hired mourners who rent the air with their lamentations as they conducted it to the quarter of the embalmers. Lastly, from out of one of the side streets emerged a gang of several hundred hook-nosed and bearded men, among whom were a few women, loosely roped together and escorted by a company of armed guards.
“Who are these?” I asked, for I had never seen their like.
“Slaves of the people of Israel who return from their labour at the digging of the new canal which is to run to the Red Sea,” answered the Prince.
We stood still to watch them go by, and I noted how proudly their eyes flashed and how fierce was their bearing although they were but men in bonds, very weary too and stained by toil in mud and water. Presently this happened. A white-bearded man lagged behind, dragging on the line and checking the march. Thereupon an overseer ran up and flogged him with a cruel whip cut from the hide of the sea-horse. The man turned and, lifting a wooden spade that he carried, struck the overseer such a blow that he cracked his skull so that he fell down dead. Other overseers rushed at the Hebrew, as these Israelites were called, and beat him till he also fell. Then a soldier appeared and, seeing what had happened, drew his bronze sword. From among the throng sprang out a girl, young and very lovely although she was but roughly clad.
Since then I have seen Merapi, Moon of Israel, as she was called, clad in the proud raiment of a queen, and once even of a goddess, but never, I think, did she look more beauteous than in this hour of her slavery. Her large eyes, neither blue nor black, caught the light of the moon and were aswim with tears. Her plenteous bronze-hued hair flowed in great curls over the snow-white bosom that her rough robe revealed. Her delicate hands were lifted as though to ward off the blows which fell upon him whom she sought to protect. Her tall and slender shape stood out against a flare of light which burned upon some market stall. She was beauteous exceedingly, so beauteous that my heart stood still at the sight of her, yes, mine that for some years had held no thought of woman save such as were black and evil.
She cried aloud. Standing over the fallen man she appealed to the soldier for mercy. Then, seeing that there was none to hope for from him, she cast her great eyes around until they fell upon the Prince Seti.
“Oh! Sir,” she wailed, “you have a noble air. Will you stand by and see my father murdered for no fault?”
“Drag her off, or I smite through her,” shouted the captain, for now she had thrown herself down upon the fallen Israelite. The overseers obeyed, tearing her away.
“Hold, butcher!” cried the Prince.
“Who are you, dog, that dare to teach Pharaoh’s officer his duty?” answered the captain, smiting the Prince in the face with his left hand.
Then swiftly he struck downwards and I saw the bronze sword pass through the body of the Israelite who quivered and lay still. It was all done in an instant, and on the silence that followed rang out the sound of a woman’s wail. For a moment Seti choked–with rage, I think. Then he spoke a single word–“Guards!”
The four Nubians, who, as ordered, had kept at a distance, burst through the gathered throng. Ere they reached us I, who till now had stood amazed, sprang at the captain and gripped him by the throat. He struck at me with his bloody sword, but the blow, falling on my long cloak, only bruised me on the left thigh. Then I, who was strong in those days, grappled with him and we rolled together on the ground.
After this there was great tumult. The Hebrew slaves burst their rope and flung themselves upon the soldiers like dogs upon a jackal, battering them with their bare fists. The soldiers defended themselves with swords; the overseers plied their hide whips; women screamed, men shouted. The captain whom I had seized began to get the better of me; at least I saw his sword flash above me and thought that all was over. Doubtless it would have been, had not Seti himself dragged the man backwards and thus given the four Nubian guards time to seize him. Next I heard the Prince cry out in a ringing voice:
“Hold! It is Seti, the son of Pharaoh, the Governor of Tanis, with whom you have to do. See,” and he threw back the hood of his cloak so that the moon shone upon his face.
Instantly there was a great quiet. Now, first one and then another as the truth sunk into them, men began to fall upon their knees, and I heard one say in an awed voice:
“The royal Son, the Prince of Egypt struck in the face by a soldier! Blood must pay for it.”
“How is that officer named?” asked Seti, pointing to the man who had killed the Israelite and well-nigh killed me.
Someone answered that he was named Khuaka.
“Bring him to the steps of the temple of Amon,” said Seti to the Nubians who held him fast. “Follow me, friend Ana, if you have the strength. Nay, lean upon my shoulder.”
So resting upon the shoulder of the Prince, for I was bruised and breathless, I walked with him a hundred paces or more to the steps of the great temple where we climbed to the platform at the head of the stairs. After us came the prisoner, and after him all the multitude, a very great number who stood upon the steps and on the flat ground beyond. The Prince, who was very white and quiet, sat himself down upon the low granite base of a tall obelisk which stood in front of the temple pylon, and said:
“As Governor of Tanis, the City of Rameses, with power of life and death at all hours and in all places, I declare my Court open.”
“The Royal Court is open!” cried the multitude in the accustomed form.
“This is the case,” said the Prince. “Yonder man who is named Khuaka, by his dress a captain of Pharaoh’s army, is charged with the murder of a certain Hebrew, and with the attempted murder of Ana the scribe. Let witnesses be called. Bring the body of the dead man and lay it here before me. Bring the woman who strove to protect him, that she may speak.”
The body was brought and laid upon the platform, its wide eyes staring up at the moon. Then soldiers who had gathered thrust forward the weeping girl.
“Cease from tears,” said Seti, “and swear by Kephera the creator, and by Maat the goddess of truth and law, to speak nothing but the truth.”
The girl looked up and said in a rich low voice that in some way reminded me of honey being poured from a jar, perhaps because it was thick with strangled sobs:
“O Royal Son of Egypt, I cannot swear by those gods who am a daughter of Israel.”
The Prince looked at her attentively and asked:
“By what god then can you swear, O Daughter of Israel?”
“By Jahveh, O Prince, whom we hold to be the one and only God, the Maker of the world and all that is therein.”
“Then perhaps his other name is Kephera,” said the Prince with a little smile. “But have it as you will. Swear, then, by your god Jahveh.”
Then she lifted both her hands above her head and said:
“I, Merapi, daughter of Nathan of the tribe of Levi of the people of Israel, swear that I will speak the truth and all the truth in the name of Jahveh, the God of Israel.”
“Tell us what you know of the matter of the death of this man, O Merapi.”
“Nothing that you do not know yourself, O Prince. He who lies there,” and she swept her hand towards the corpse, turning her eyes away, “was my father, an elder of Israel. The captain Khuaka came when the corn was young to the Land of Goshen to choose those who should work for Pharaoh. He wished to take me into his house. My father refused because from my childhood I had been affianced to a man of Israel; also because it is not lawful under the law for our people to intermarry with your people. Then the captain Khuaka seized my father, although he was of high rank and beyond the age to work for Pharaoh, and he was taken away, as I think, because he would not suffer me to wed Khuaka. A while later I dreamed that my father was sick. Thrice I dreamed it and ran away to Tanis to visit him. But this morning I found him and, O Prince, you know the rest.”
“Is there no more?” asked Seti.
The girl hesitated, then answered:
“Only this, O Prince. This man saw me with my father giving him food, for he was weak and overcome with the toil of digging the mud in the heat of the sun, he who being a noble of our people knew nothing of such labour from his youth. In my presence Khuaka asked my father if now he would give me to him. My father answered that sooner would he see me kissed by snakes and devoured by crocodiles. ‘I hear you,’ answered Khuaka. ‘Learn, now, slave Nathan, before to-morrow’s sun arises, you shall be kissed by swords and devoured by crocodiles or jackals.’ ‘So be it,’ said my father, ‘but learn, O Khuaka, that if so, it is revealed to me who am a priest and a prophet of Jahveh, that before to-morrow’s sun you also shall be kissed by swords and of the rest we will talk at the foot of Jahveh’s throne.’
“Afterwards, as you know, Prince, the overseer flogged my father as I heard Khuaka order him to do if he lagged through weariness, and then Khuaka killed him because my father in his madness struck the overseer with a mattock. I have no more to say, save that I pray that I may be sent back to my own people there to mourn my father according to our custom.”
“To whom would you be sent? Your mother?”
“Nay, O Prince, my mother, a lady of Syria, is dead. I will go to my uncle, Jabez the Levite.”
“Stand aside,” said Seti. “The matter shall be seen to later. Appear, O Ana the Scribe. Swear the oath and tell us what you have seen of this man’s death, since two witnesses are needful.”
So I swore and repeated all this story that I have written down.
“Now, Khuaka,” said the Prince when I had finished, “have you aught to say?”
“Only this, O Royal One,” answered the captain throwing himself upon his knees, “that I struck you by accident, not knowing that the person of your Highness was hidden in that long cloak. For this deed it is true that I am worthy of death, but I pray you to pardon me because I knew not what I did. The rest is nothing, since I only slew a mutinous slave of the Israelites, as such are slain every day.”
“Tell me, O Khuaka, who are being tried for this man’s death and not for the striking of one of royal blood by chance, under which law it is lawful for you to kill an Israelite without trial before the appointed officers of Pharaoh.”
“I am not learned. I do not know the law, O Prince. All that this woman said is false.”
“At least it is not false that yonder man lies dead and that you slew him, as you yourself admit. Learn now, and let all Egypt learn, that even an Israelite may not be murdered for no offence save that of weariness and of paying back unearned blow with blow. Your blood shall answer for his blood. Soldiers! Strike off his head.”
The Nubians leapt upon him, and when I looked again Khuaka’s headless corpse lay by the corpse of the Hebrew Nathan and their blood was mingled upon the steps of the temple.
“The business of the Court is finished,” said the Prince. “Officers, see that this woman is escorted to her own people, and with her the body of her father for burial. See, too, upon your lives that no insult or harm is done to her. Scribe Ana, accompany me hence to my house where I would speak with you. Let guards precede and follow me.”
He rose and all the people bowed. As he turned to go the lady Merapi stepped forward, and falling upon her knees, said:
“O most just Prince, now and ever I am your servant.”
Then we set out, and as we left the market-place on our way to the palace of the Prince, I heard a tumult of voices behind us, some in praise and some in blame of what had been done. We walked on in silence broken only by the measured tramp of the guards. Presently the moon passed behind a cloud and the world was dark. Then from the edge of the cloud sprang out a ray of light that lay straight and narrow above us on the heavens. Seti studied it a while and said:
“Tell me, O Ana, of what does that moonbeam put you in mind?”
“Of a sword, O Prince,” I answered, “stretched out over Egypt and held in the black hand of some mighty god or spirit. See, there is the blade from which fall little clouds like drops of blood, there is the hilt of gold, and look! there beneath is the face of the god. Fire streams from his eyebrows and his brow is black and awful. I am afraid, though what I fear I know not.”
“You have a poet’s mind, Ana. Still, what you see I see and of this I am sure, that some sword of vengeance is indeed stretched out over Egypt because of its evil doings, whereof this light may be the symbol. Behold! it seems to fall upon the temples of the gods and the palace of Pharaoh, and to cleave them. Now it is gone and the night is as nights were from the beginning of the world. Come to my chamber and let us eat. I am weary, I need food and wine, as you must after struggling with that lustful murderer whom I have sent to his own place.”
The guards saluted and were dismissed. We mounted to the Prince’s private chambers, in one of which his servants clad me in fine linen robes after a skilled physician of the household had doctored the bruises upon my thigh over which he tied a bandage spread with balm. Then I was led to a small dining-hall, where I found the Prince waiting for me as though I were some honoured guest and not a poor scribe who had wondered hence from Memphis with my wares. He caused me to sit down at his right hand and even drew up the chair for me himself, whereat I felt abashed. To this day I remember that leather- seated chair. The arms of it ended in ivory sphinxes and on its back of black wood in an oval was inlaid the name of the great Rameses, to whom indeed it had once belonged. Dishes were handed to us–only two of them and those quite simple, for Seti was no great eater–by a young Nubian slave of a very merry face, and with them wine more delicious than any I had ever tasted.
We ate and drank and the Prince talked to me of my business as a scribe and of the making of tales, which seemed to interest him very much. Indeed one might have thought that he was a pupil in the schools and I the teacher, so humbly and with such care did he weigh everything that I said about my art. Of matters of state or of the dreadful scene of blood through which we had just passed he spoke no word. At the end, however, after a little pause during which he held up a cup of alabaster as thin as an eggshell, studying the light playing through it on the rich red wine within, he said to me:
“Friend Ana, we have passed a stirring hour together, the first perhaps of many, or mayhap the last. Also we were born upon the same day and therefore, unless the astrologers lie, as do other men–and women–beneath the same star. Lastly, if I may say it, I like you well, though I know not how you like me, and when you are in the room with me I feel at ease, which is strange, for I know of no other with whom it is so.
“Now by a chance only this morning I found in some old records which I was studying, that the heir to the throne of Egypt a thousand years ago, had, and therefore, as nothing ever changes in Egypt, still has, a right to a private librarian for which the State, that is, the toilers of the land, must pay as in the end they pay for all. Some dynasties have gone by, it seems, since there was such a librarian, I think because most of the heirs to the throne could not, or did not, read. Also by chance I mentioned the matter to the Vizier Nehesi who grudges me every ounce of gold I spend, as though it were one taken out of his own pouch, which perhaps it is. He answered with that crooked smile of his:
“‘Since I know well, Prince, that there is no scribe in Egypt whom you would suffer about you for a single month, I will set the cost of a librarian at the figure at which it stood in the Eleventh Dynasty upon the roll of your Highness’s household and defray it from the Royal Treasury until he is discharged.’
“Therefore, Scribe Ana, I offer you this post for one month; that is all for which I can promise you will be paid whatever it may be, for I forget the sum.”
“I thank you, O Prince,” I exclaimed.
“Do not thank me. Indeed if you are wise you will refuse. You have met Pambasa. Well, Nehesi is Pambasa multiplied by ten, a rogue, a thief, a bully, and one who has Pharaoh’s ear. He will make your life a torment to you and clip every ring of gold that at length you wring out of his grip. Moreover the place is wearisome, and I am fanciful and often ill-humoured. Do not thank me, I say. Refuse; return to Memphis and write stories. Shun courts and their plottings. Pharaoh himself is but a face and a puppet through which other voices talk and other eyes shine, and the sceptre which he wields is pulled by strings. And if this is so with Pharaoh, what is the case with his son? Then there are the women, Ana. They will make love to you, Ana, they even do so to me, and I think you told me that you know something of women. Do not accept, go back to Memphis. I will send you some old manuscripts to copy and pay you whatever it is Nehesi allows for the librarian.”
“Yet I accept, O Prince. As for Nehesi I fear him not at all, since at the worst I can write a story about him at which the world will laugh, and rather than that he will pay me my salary.”
“You have more wisdom than I thought, Ana. It never came into my mind to put Nehesi in a story, though it is true I tell tales about him which is much the same thing.”
He bend forward, leaning his head upon his hand, and ceasing from his bantering tone, looked me in the eyes and asked:
“Why do you accept? Let me think now. It is not because you care for wealth if that is to be won here; nor for the pomp and show of courts; nor for the company of the great who really are so small. For all these things you, Ana, have no craving if I read your heart aright, you who are an artist, nothing less and nothing more. Tell me, then, why will you, a free man who can earn your living, linger round a throne and set your neck beneath the heel of princes to be crushed into the common mould of servitors and King’s Companions and Bearers of the Footstool?”
“I will tell you, Prince. First, because thrones make history, as history makes thrones, and I think that great events are on foot in Egypt in which I would have my share. Secondly, because the gods bring gifts to men only once or twice in their lives and to refuse them is to offend the gods who gave them those lives to use to ends of which we know nothing. And thirdly”–here I hesitated.
“And thirdly–out with the thirdly for, doubtless, it is the real reason.”
“And thirdly, O Prince–well, the word sounds strangely upon a man’s lips–but thirdly because I love you. From the moment that my eyes fell upon your face I loved you as I never loved any other man–not even my father. I know not why. Certainly it is not because you are a prince.”
When he heard these words Seti sat brooding and so silent that, fearing lest I, a humble scribe, had been too bold, I added hastily:
“Let your Highness pardon his servant for his presumptuous words. It was his servant’s heart that spoke and not his lips.”
He lifted his hand and I stopped.
“Ana, my twin in Ra,” he said, “do you know that I never had a friend?”
“A prince who has no friend!”
“Never, none. Now I begin to think that I have found one. The thought is strange and warms me. Do you know also that when my eyes fell upon your face I loved you also, the gods know why. It was as though I had found one who was dear to me thousands of years ago but whom I had lost and forgotten. Perhaps this is but foolishness, or perhaps here we have the shadow of something great and beautiful which dwells elsewhere, in the place we call the Kingdom of Osiris, beyond the grave, Ana.”
“Such thoughts have come to me at times, Prince. I mean that all we see is shadow; that we ourselves are shadows and that the realities who cast them live in a different home which is lit by some spirit sun that never sets.”
The Prince nodded his head and again was silent for a while. Then he took his beautiful alabaster cup, and pouring wine into it, he drank a little and passed the cup to me.
“Drink also, Ana,” he said, “and pledge me as I pledge you, in token that by decree of the Creator who made the hearts of men, henceforward our two hearts are as the same heart through good and ill, through triumph and defeat, till death takes one of us. Henceforward, Ana, unless you show yourself unworthy, I hide no thought from you.”
Flushing with joy I took the cup, saying:
“I add to your words, O Prince. We are one, not for this life alone but for all the lives to be. Death, O Prince, is, I think, but a single step in the pylon stair which leads at last to that dizzy height whence we see the face of God and hear his voice tell us what and why we are.”
Then I pledged him, and drank, bowing, and he bowed back to me.
“What shall we do with the cup, Ana, the sacred cup that has held this rich heart-wine? Shall I keep it? No, it no longer belongs to me. Shall I give it to you? No, it can never be yours alone. See, we will break the priceless thing.”
Seizing it by its stem with all his strength he struck the cup upon the table. Then what seemed to be to me a marvel happened, for instead of shattering as I thought it surely would, it split in two from rim to foot. Whether this was by chance, or whether the artist who fashioned it in some bygone generation had worked the two halves separately and cunningly cemented them together, to this hour I do not know. At least so it befell.
“This is fortunate, Ana,” said the Prince, laughing a little in his light way. “Now take you the half that lies nearest to you and I will take mine. If you die first I will lay my half upon your breast, and if I die first you shall do the same by me, or if the priests forbid it because I am royal and may not be profaned, cast the thing into my tomb. What should we have done had the alabaster shattered into fragments, Ana, and what omen should we have read in them?”
“Why ask, O Prince, seeing that it has befallen otherwise?”
Then I took my half, laid it against my forehead and hid it in the bosom of my robe, and as I did, so did Seti.
So in this strange fashion the royal Seti and I sealed the holy compact of our brotherhood, as I think not for the first time or the last.
Seti rose, stretching out his arms.
“That is finished,” he said, “as everything finishes, and for once I am sorry. Now what next? Sleep, I suppose, in which all ends, or perhaps you would say all begins.”
As he spoke the curtains at the end of the room were drawn and between them appeared the chamberlain, Pambasa, holding his gold-tipped wand ceremoniously before him.
“What is it now, man?” asked Seti. “Can I not even sup in peace? Stay, before you answer tell me, do things end or begin in sleep? The learned Ana and I differ on the matter and would hear your wisdom. Bear in mind, Pambasa, that before we are born we must have slept, since of that time we remember nothing, and after we are dead we certainly seem to sleep, as any who have looked on mummies know. Now answer.”
The chamberlain stared at the wine flask on the table as though he suspected his master of having drunk too much. Then in a hard official voice he said:
“She comes! She comes! She comes, offering greetings and adoration to the Royal Son of Ra.”
“Does she indeed?” asked Seti. “If so, why say it three times? And who comes?”
“The high Princess, the heiress of Egypt, the daughter of Pharaoh, your Highness’s royal half-sister, the great lady Userti.”
“Let her enter then. Ana, stand you behind me. If you grow weary and I give leave you can depart; the slaves will show you your sleeping- place.”
Pambasa went, and presently through the curtain appeared a royal- looking lady splendidly apparelled. She was accompanied by four waiting women who fell back on the threshold and were no more seen. The Prince stepped forward, took both her hands in his and kissed her on the brow, then drew back again, after which they stood a moment looking at each other. While they remained thus I studied her who was known throughout the land as the “Beautiful Royal Daughter,” but whom till now I had never seen. In truth I did not think her beautiful, although even had she been clad in a peasant’s robe I should have been sure that she was royal. Her face was too hard for beauty and her black eyes, with a tinge of grey in them, were too small. Also her nose was too sharp and her lips were too thin. Indeed, had it not been for the delicately and finely-shaped woman’s form beneath, I might have thought that a prince and not a princess stood before me. For the rest in most ways she resembled her half-brother Seti, though her countenance lacked the kindliness of his; or rather both of them resembled their father, Meneptah.
“Greeting, Sister,” he said, eyeing her with a smile in which I caught a gleam of mockery. “Purple-bordered robes, emerald necklace and enamelled crown of gold, rings and pectoral, everything except a sceptre–why are you so royally arrayed to visit one so humble as your loving brother? You come like sunlight into the darkness of the hermit’s cell and dazzle the poor hermit, or rather hermits,” and he pointed to me.
“Cease your jests, Seti,” she replied in a full, strong voice. “I wear these ornaments because they please me. Also I have supped with our father, and those who sit at Pharaoh’s table must be suitably arrayed, though I have noted that sometimes you think otherwise.”
“Indeed. I trust that the good god, our divine parent, is well to-night as you leave him so early.”
“I leave him because he sent me with a message to you.” She paused, looking at me sharply, then asked, “Who is that man? I do not know him.”
“It is your misfortune, Userti, but one which can be mended. He is named Ana the Scribe, who writes strange stories of great interest which you would do well to read who dwell too much upon the outside of life. He is from Memphis and his father’s name was–I forget what. Ana, what was your father’s name?”
“One too humble for royal ears, Prince,” I answered, “but my grandfather was Pentaur the poet who wrote of the deeds of the mighty Rameses.”
“Is it so? Why did you not tell me that before? The descent should earn you a pension from the Court if you can extract it from Nehesi. Well, Userti, his grandfather’s name was Pentaur whose immortal verses you have doubtless read upon temple walls, where our grandfather was careful to publish them.”
“I have–to my sorrow–and thought them poor, boastful stuff,” she answered coldly.
“To be honest, if Ana will forgive me, so do I. I can assure you that his stories are a great improvement on them. Friend Ana, this is my sister, Userti, my father’s daughter though our mothers were not the same.”
“I pray you, Seti, to be so good as to give me my rightful titles in speaking of me to scribes and other of your servants.”
“Your pardon, Userti. This, Ana, is the first Lady of Egypt, the Royal Heiress, the Princess of the Two Lands, the High-priestess of Amon, the Cherished of the Gods, the half-sister of the Heir-apparent, the Daughter of Hathor, the Lotus Bloom of Love, the Queen to be of– Userti, whose queen will you be? Have you made up your mind? For myself I know no one worthy of so much beauty, excellence, learning and–what shall I add–sweetness, yes, sweetness.”
“Seti,” she said stamping her foot, “if it pleases you to make a mock of me before a stranger, I suppose that I must submit. Send him away, I would speak with you.”
“Make a mock of you! Oh! mine is a hard fate. When truth gushes from the well of my heart, I am told I mock, and when I mock, all say–he speaks truth. Be seated, Sister, and talk on freely. This Ana is my sworn friend who saved my life but now, for which deed perhaps he should be my enemy. His memory is excellent also and he will remember what you say and write it down afterwards, whereas I might forget. Therefore, with your leave, I will ask him to stay here.”
“My Prince,” I broke in, “I pray you suffer me to go.”
“My Secretary,” he answered with a note of command in his voice, “I pray you to remain where you are.”
So I sat myself on the ground after the fashion of a scribe, having no choice, and the Princess sat herself on a couch at the end of the table, but Seti remained standing. Then the Princess said:
“Since it is your will, Brother, that I should talk secrets into other ears than yours, I obey you. Still”–here she looked at me wrathfully –“let the tongue be careful that it does not repeat what the ears have heard, lest there should be neither ears nor tongue. My Brother, it has been reported to Pharaoh, while we ate together, that there is tumult in this town. It has been reported to him that because of a trouble about some base Israelite you caused one of his officers to be beheaded, after which there came a riot which still rages.”
“Strange that truth should have come to the ears of Pharaoh so quickly. Now, my Sister, if he had heard it three moons hence I could have believed you–almost.”
“Then you did behead the officer?”
“Yes, I beheaded him about two hours ago.”
“Pharaoh will demand an account of the matter.”
“Pharaoh,” answered Seti lifting his eyes, “has no power to question the justice of the Governor of Tanis in the north.”
“You are in error, Seti. Pharaoh has all power.”
“Nay, Sister, Pharaoh is but one man among millions of other men, and though he speaks it is their spirit which bends his tongue, while above that spirit is a great greater spirit who decrees what they shall think to ends of which we know nothing.”
“I do not understand, Seti.”
“I never thought you would, Userti, but when you have leisure, ask Ana here to explain the matter to you. I am sure that /he/ understands.”
“Oh! I have borne enough,” exclaimed Userti rising. “Hearken to the command of Pharaoh, Prince Seti. It is that you wait upon him to-morrow in full council, at an hour before noon, there to talk with him of this question of the Israelitish slaves and the officer whom it has pleased you to kill. I came to speak other words to you also, but as they were for your private ear, these can bide a more fitting opportunity. Farewell, my Brother.”
“What, are you going so soon, Sister? I wished to tell you the story about those Israelites, and especially of the maid whose name is–what was her name, Ana?”
“Merapi, Moon of Israel, Prince,” I added with a groan.
“About the maid called Merapi, Moon of Israel, I think the sweetest that ever I have looked upon, whose father the dead captain murdered in my sight.”
“So there is a woman in the business? Well, I guessed it.”
“In what business is there not a woman, Userti, even in that of a message from Pharaoh. Pambasa, Pambasa, escort the Princess and summon her servants, women everyone of them, unless my senses mock me. Good- night to you, O Sister and Lady of the Two Lands, and forgive me–that coronet of yours is somewhat awry.”
At last she was gone and I rose, wiping my brow with a corner of my robe, and looking at the Prince who stood before the fire laughing softly.
“Make a note of all this talk, Ana,” he said; “there is more in it than meets the ear.”
“I need no note, Prince,” I answered; “every word is burnt upon my mind as a hot iron burns a tablet of wood. With reason too, since now her Highness will hate me for all her life.”
“Much better so, Ana, than that she should pretend to love you, which she never would have done while you are my friend. Women oftimes respect those whom they hate and even will advance them because of policy, but let those whom they pretend to love beware. The time may come when you will yet be Userti’s most trusted councillor.”
Now here I, Ana the Scribe, will state that in after days, when this same queen was the wife of Pharaoh Saptah, I did, as it chanced, become her most trusted councillor. Moreover, in those times, yes, and even in the hour of her death, she swore from the moment her eyes first fell on me she had known me to be true-hearted and held me in esteem as no self-seeker. More, I think she believed what she said, having forgotten that once she looked upon me as her enemy. This indeed I never was, who always held her in high regard and honour as a great lady who loved her country, though one who sometimes was not wise. But as I could not foresee these things on that night of long ago, I only stared at the Prince and said:
“Oh! why did you not allow me to depart as your Highness said I might at the beginning? Soon or late my head will pay the price of this night’s work.”
“Then she must take mine with it. Listen, Ana. I kept you here, not to vex the Princess or you, but for a good reason. You know that it is the custom of the royal dynasties of Egypt for kings, or those who will be kings, to wed their near kin in order that the blood may remain the purer.”
“Yes, Prince, and not only among those who are royal. Still, I think it an evil custom.”
“As I do, since the race wherein it is practised grows ever weaker in body and in mind; which is why, perhaps, my father is not what his father was and I am not what my father is.”
“Also, Prince, it is hard to mingle the love of the sister and of the wife.”
“Very hard, Ana; so hard that when it is attempted both are apt to vanish. Well, our mothers having been true royal wives, though hers died before mine was wedded by my father, Pharaoh desires that I should marry my half-sister, Userti, and what is worse, she desires it also. Moreover, the people, who fear trouble ahead in Egypt if we, who alone are left of the true royal race born of queens, remain apart and she takes another lord, or I take another wife, demand that it should be brought about, since they believe that whoever calls Userti the Strong his spouse will one day rule the land.”
“Why does the Princess wish it–that she may be a queen?”
“Yes, Ana, though were she to wed my cousin, Amenmeses, the son of Pharaoh’s elder brother Khaemuas, she might still be a queen, if I chose to stand aside as I would not be loth to do.”
“Would Egypt suffer this, Prince?”
“I do not know, nor does it matter since she hates Amenmeses, who is strong-willed and ambitious, and will have none of him. Also he is already married.”
“Is there no other royal one whom she might take, Prince?”
“None. Moreover she wishes me alone.”
“Because of ancient custom which she worships. Also because she knows me well and in her fashion is fond of me, whom she believes to be a gentle-minded dreamer that she can rule. Lastly, because I am the lawful heir to the Crown and without me to share it, she thinks that she would never be safe upon the Throne, especially if I should marry some other woman, of whom she would be jealous. It is the Throne she desires and would wed, not the Prince Seti, her half-brother, whom she takes with it to be in name her husband, as Pharaoh commands that she should do. Love plays no part in Userti’s breast, Ana, which makes her the more dangerous, since what she seeks with a cold heart of policy, that she will surely find.”
“Then it would seem, Prince, that the cage is built about you. After all it is a very splendid cage and made of gold.”
“Yes, Ana, yet not one in which I would live. Still, except by death how can I escape from the threefold chain of the will of Pharaoh, of Egypt, and of Userti? Oh!” he went on in a new voice, one that had in it both sorrow and passion, “this is a matter in which I would have chosen for myself who in all others must be a servant. And I may not choose!”
“Is there perchance some other lady, Prince?”
“None! By Hathor, none–at least I think not. Yet I would have been free to search for such a one and take her when I found her, if she were but a fishergirl.”
“The Kings of Egypt can have large households, Prince.”
“I know it. Are there not still scores whom I should call aunt and uncle? I think that my grandsire, Rameses, blessed Egypt with quite three hundred children, and in so doing in a way was wise, since thus he might be sure that, while the world endures, in it will flow some the blood that once was his.”
“Yet in life or death how will that help him, Prince? Some must beget the multitudes of the earth, what does it matter who these may have been?”
“Nothing at all, Ana, since by good or evil fortune they are born. Therefore, why talk of large households? Though, like any man who can pay for it, Pharaoh may have a large household, I seek a queen who shall reign in my heart as well as on my throne, not a “large household,” Ana. Oh! I am weary. Pambasa, come hither and conduct my secretary, Ana, to the empty room that is next to my own, the painted chamber which looks toward the north, and bid my slaves attend to all his wants as they would to mine.”
“Why did you tell me you were a scribe, my lord Ana?” asked Pambasa, as he led me to my beautiful sleeping-place.
“Because that is my trade, Chamberlain.”
He looked at me, shaking his great head till the long white beard waved across his breast like a temple banner in the faint evening breeze, and answered:
“You are no scribe, you are a magician who can win the love and favour of his Highness in an hour which others cannot do between two risings of the Nile. Had you said so at once, you would have been differently treated yonder in the hall of waiting. Forgive me therefore what I did in ignorance, and, my lord, I pray it may please you not to melt away in the night, lest my feet should answer for it beneath the sticks.”
It was the fourth hour from sunrise of the following day that, for the first time in my life I found myself in the Court of Pharaoh standing with other members of his household in the train of his Highness, the Prince Seti. It was a very great place, for Pharaoh sat in the judgment hall, whereof the roof is upheld by round and sculptured columns, between which were set statues of Pharaohs who had been. Save at the throne end of the hall, where the light flowed down through clerestories, the vast chamber was dim almost to darkness; at least so it seemed to me entering there out of the brilliant sunshine. Through this gloom many folk moved like shadows; captains, nobles, and state officers who had been summoned to the Court, and among them white- robed and shaven priests. Also there were others of whom I took no count, such as Arab headmen from the desert, traders with jewels and other wares to sell, farmers and even peasants with petitions to present, lawyers and their clients, and I know not who besides, through which of all these none were suffered to advance beyond a certain mark where the light began to fall. Speaking in whispers all of these folk flitted to and fro like bats in a tomb.
We waited between two Hathor-headed pillars in one of the vestibules of the hall, the Prince Seti, who was clad in purple-broidered garments and wore upon his brow a fillet of gold from which rose the uræus or hooded snake, also of gold, that royal ones alone might wear, leaning against the base of a statue, while the rest of us stood silent behind him. For a time he was silent also, as a man might be whose thoughts were otherwhere. At length he turned and said to me:
“This is weary work. Would I had asked you to bring that new tale of yours, Scribe Ana, that we might have read it together.”
“Shall I tell you the plot of it, Prince?”
“Yes. I mean, not now, lest I should forget my manners listening to you. Look,” and he pointed to a dark-browed, fierce-eyed man of middle age who passed up the hall as though he did not see us, “there goes my cousin, Amenmeses. You know him, do you not?”
I shook my head.
“Then tell me what you think of him, at once before the first judgment fades.”
“I think he is a royal-looking lord, obstinate in mind and strong in body, handsome too in his way.”
“All can see that, Ana. What else?”
“I think,” I said in a low voice so that none might overhear, “that his heart is as black as his brow; that he has grown wicked with jealousy and hate and will do you evil.”
“Can a man grow wicked, Ana? Is he not as he was born till the end? I do not know, nor do you. Still you are right, he is jealous and will do me evil if it brings him good. But tell me, which of us will triumph at the last?”
While I hesitated what to answer I became aware that someone had joined us. Looking round I perceived a very ancient man clad in a white robe. He was broad-faced and bald-headed, and his eyes burned beneath his shaggy eyebrows like two coals in ashes. He supported himself on a staff of cedar-wood, gripping it with both hands that for thinness were like to those of a mummy. For a while he considered us both as though he were reading our souls, then said in a full and jovial voice:
Seti turned, looked at him, and answered:
“Greeting, Bakenkhonsu. How comes it that you are still alive? When we parted at Thebes I made sure—-“
“That on your return you would find me in my tomb. Not so, Prince, it is I who shall live to look upon you in your tomb, yes, and on others who are yet to sit in the seat of Pharaoh. Why not? Ho! ho! Why not, seeing that I am but a hundred and seven, I who remember the first Rameses and have played with his grandson, your grandsire, as a boy? Why should I not live, Prince, to nurse your grandson–if the gods should grant you one who as yet have neither wife nor child?”
“Because you will get tired of life, Bakenkhonsu, as I am already, and the gods will not be able to spare you much longer.”
“The gods can endure yet a while without me, Prince, when so many are flocking to their table. Indeed it is their desire that one good priest should be left in Egypt. Ki the Magician told me so only this morning. He had it straight from Heaven in a dream last night.”
“Why have you been to visit Ki?” asked Seti, looking at him sharply. “I should have thought that being both of a trade you would have hated each other.”
“Not so, Prince. On the contrary we add up each other’s account; I mean, check and interpret each other’s visions, with which we are both of us much troubled just now. Is that young man a scribe from Memphis?”
“Yes, and my friend. His grandsire was Pentaur the poet.”
“Indeed. I knew Pentaur well. Often has he read me to sleep with his long poems, rank stuff that grew like coarse grass upon a deep but half-drained soil. Are you sure, young man, that Pentaur was your grandfather? You are not like him. Quite a different kind of herbage, and you know that it is a matter upon which we must take a woman’s word.”
Seti burst out laughing and I looked at the old priest angrily, though now that I came to think of it my father always said that his mother was one of the biggest liars in Egypt.
“Well, let it be,” went on Bakenkhonsu, “till we find out the truth before Thoth. Ki was speaking of you, young man. I did not pay much attention to him, but it was something about a sudden vow of friendship between you and the Prince here. There was a cup in the story too, an alabaster cup that seemed familiar to me. Ki said it was broken.”
Seti started and I began angrily:
“What do you know of that cup? Where were you hid, O Priest?”
“Oh, in your souls, I suppose,” he answered dreamily, “or rather Ki was. But I know nothing, and am not curious. If you had broken the cup with a woman now, it would have been more interesting, even to an old man. Be so good as to answer the Prince’s question as to whether he or his cousin Amenmeses will triumph at the last, for on that matter both Ki and I are curious.”
“Am I a seer,” I began again still more angrily, “that I should read the future?”
“I think so, a little, but that is what I want to find out.”
He hobbled towards me, laid one of his claw-like hands upon my arm, and said in a new voice of command:
“Look now upon that throne and tell me what you see there.”
I obeyed him because I must, staring up the hall at the empty throne. At first I saw nothing. Then figures seemed to flit around it. From among these figures emerged the shape of the Count Amenmeses. He sat upon the throne, looking about him proudly, and I noted that he was no longer clad as a prince but as Pharaoh himself. Presently hook-nosed men appeared who dragged him from his seat. He fell, as I thought, into water, for it seemed to splash up above him. Next Seti the Prince appeared to mount the throne, led thither by a woman, of whom I could only see the back. I saw him distinctly wearing the double crown and holding a sceptre in his hand. He also melted away and others came whom I did not know, though I thought that one of them was like to the Princess Userti.
Now all were gone and I was telling Bakenkhonsu everything I had witnessed like a man who speaks in his sleep, not by his own will. Suddenly I woke up and laughed at my own foolishness. But the other two did not laugh; they regarded me very gravely.
“I thought that you were something of a seer,” said the old priest, “or rather Ki thought it. I could not quite believe Ki, because he said that the young person whom I should find with the Prince here this morning would be one who loved him with all the heart, and it is only a woman who loves with all the heart, is it not? Or so the world believes. Well, I will talk the matter over with Ki. Hush! Pharaoh comes.”
As he spoke from far away rose a cry of–
“Life! Blood! Strength! Pharaoh! Pharaoh! Pharaoh!”
THE COURT OF BETROTHAL
“Life! Blood! Strength!” echoed everyone in the great hall, falling to their knees and bending their foreheads to the ground. Even the Prince and the aged Bakenkhonsu prostrated themselves thus as though before the presence of a god. And, indeed, Pharaoh Meneptah, passing through the patch of sunlight at the head of the hall, wearing the double crown upon his head and arrayed in royal robes and ornaments, looked like a god, no less, as the multitude of the people of Egypt held him to be. He was an old man with the face of one worn by years and care, but from his person majesty seemed to flow.
With him, walking a step or two behind, went Nehesi his Vizier, a shrivelled, parchment-faced officer whose cunning eyes rolled about the place, and Roy the High-priest, and Hora the Chamberlain of the Table, and Meranu the Washer of the King’s Hands, and Yuy the private scribe, and many others whom Bakenkhonsu named to me as they appeared. Then there were fan-bearers and a gorgeous band of lords who were called King’s Companions and Head Butlers and I know not who besides, and after these guards with spears and helms that shone like god, and black swordsmen from the southern land of Kesh.
But one woman accompanied his Majesty, walking alone immediately behind him in front of the Vizier and the High-priest. She was the Royal Daughter, the Princess Userti, who looked, I thought, prouder and more splendid than any there, though somewhat pale and anxious.
Pharaoh came to the steps of the throne. The Vizier and the High- priest advanced to help him up the steps, for he was feeble with age. He waved them aside, and beckoning to his daughter, rested his hand upon her shoulder and by her aid mounted the throne. I thought that there was meaning in this; it was as though he would show to all the assembly that this princess was the prop of Egypt.
For a little while he stood still and Userti sat herself down on the topmost step, resting her chin upon her jewelled hand. There he stood searching the place with his eyes. He lifted his sceptre and all rose, hundreds and hundreds of them throughout the hall, their garments rustling as they rose like leaves in a sudden wind. He seated himself and once more from every throat went up the regal salutation that was the king’s alone, of–
“Life! Blood! Strength! Pharaoh! Pharaoh! Pharaoh!”
In the silence that followed I heard him say, to the Princess, I think:
“Amenmeses I see, and others of our kin, but where is my son Seti, the Prince of Egypt?”
“Watching us no doubt from some vestibule. My brother loves not ceremonials,” answered Userti.
Then, with a little sigh, Seti stepped forward, followed by Bakenkhonsu and myself, and at a distance by other members of his household. As he marched up the long hall all drew to this side or that, saluting him with low bows. Arriving in front of the throne he bent till his knee touched the ground, saying:
“I give greeting, O King and Father.”
“I give greeting, O Prince and Son. Be seated,” answered Meneptah.
Seti seated himself in a chair that had been made ready for him at the foot of the throne, and on its right, and in another chair to the left, but set farther from the steps, Amenmeses seated himself also. At a motion from the Prince I took my stand behind his chair.
The formal business of the Court began. At the beckoning of an usher people of all sorts appeared singly and handed in petitions written on rolled-up papyri, which the Vizier Nehesi took and threw into a leathern sack that was held open by a black slave. In some cases an answer to his petition, whereof this was only the formal delivery, was handed back to the suppliant, who touched his brow with the roll that perhaps meant everything to him, and bowed himself away to learn his fate. Then appeared sheiks of the desert tribes, and captains from fortresses in Syria, and traders who had been harmed by enemies, and even peasants who had suffered violence from officers, each to make his prayer. Of all of these supplications the scribes took notes, while to some the Vizier and councillors made answer. But as yet Pharaoh said nothing. There he sat silent on his splendid throne of ivory and gold, like a god of stone above the altar, staring down the long hall and through the open doors as though he would read the secrets of the skies beyond.
“I told you that courts were wearisome, friend Ana,” whispered the Prince to me without turning his head. “Do you not already begin to wish that you were back writing tales at Memphis?”
Before I could answer some movement in the throng at the end of the hall drew the eyes of the Prince and of all of us. I looked, and saw advancing towards the throne a tall, bearded man already old, although his black hair was but grizzled with grey. He was arrayed in a white linen robe, over which hung a woollen cloak such as shepherds wear, and he carried in his hand a long thornwood staff. His face was splendid and very handsome, and his black eyes flashed like fire. He walked forward slowly, looking neither to the left nor the right, and the throng made way for him as though he were a prince. Indeed, I thought that they showed more fear of him than of any prince, since they shrank from him as he came. Nor was he alone, for after him walked another man who was very like to him, but as I judged, still older, for his beard, which hung down to his middle, was snow-white as was the hair on his head. He also was dressed in a sheepskin cloak and carried a staff in his hand. Now a whisper rose among the people and the whisper said:
“The prophets of the men of Israel! The prophets of the men of Israel!”
The two stood before the throne and looked at Pharaoh, making no obeisance. Pharaoh looked at them and was silent. For a long space they stood thus in the midst of a great quiet, but Pharaoh would not speak, and none of his officers seemed to dare to open their mouths. At length the first of the prophets spoke in a clear, cold voice as some conqueror might do.
“You know me, Pharaoh, and my errand.”
“I know you,” answered Pharaoh slowly, “as well I may, seeing that we played together when we were little. You are that Hebrew whom my sister, she who sleeps in Osiris, took to be as a son to her, giving to you a name that means ‘drawn forth’ because she drew you forth as an infant from among the reeds of Nile. Aye, I know you and your brother also, but your errand I know not.”
“This is my errand, Pharaoh, or rather the errand of Jahveh, God of Israel, for whom I speak. Have you not heard it before? It is that you should let his people go to do sacrifice to him in the wilderness.”
“Who is Jahveh? I know not Jahveh who serve Amon and the gods of Egypt, and why should I let your people go?”
“Jahveh is the God of Israel, the great God of all gods whose power you shall learn if you will not hearken, Pharaoh. As for why you should let the people go, ask it of the Prince your son who sits yonder. Ask him of what he saw in the streets of this city but last night, and of a certain judgment that he passed upon one of the officers of Pharaoh. Or if he will not tell you, learn it from the lips of the maiden who is named Merapi, Moon of Israel, the daughter of Nathan the Levite. Stand forward, Merapi, daughter of Nathan.”
Then from the throng at the back of the hall came forward Merapi, clad in a white robe and with a black veil thrown about her head in token of mourning, but not so as to hide her face. Up the hall she glided and made obeisance to Pharaoh, as she did so, casting one swift look at Seti where he sat. Then she stood still, looking, as I thought, wonderfully beautiful in that simple robe of white and the evil of black.
“Speak, woman,” said Pharaoh.
She obeyed, telling all the tale in her low and honeyed voice, nor did any seem to think it long or wearisome. At length she ended, and Pharaoh said:
“Say, Seti my son, is this truth?”
“It is truth, O my Father. By virtue of my powers as Governor of this city I caused the captain Khuaka to be put to death for the crime of murder done by him before my eyes in the streets of the city.”
“Perchance you did right and perchance you did wrong, Son Seti. At least you are the best judge, and because he struck your royal person, this Khuaka deserved to die.”
Again he was silent for a while staring through the open doors at the sky beyond. Then he said:
“What would ye more, Prophets of Jahveh? Justice has been done upon my officer who slew the man of your people. A life has been taken for a life according to the strict letter of the law. The matter is finished. Unless you have aught to say, get you gone.”
“By the command of the Lord our God,” answered the prophet, “we have this to say to you, O Pharaoh. Lift the heavy yoke from off the neck of the people of Israel. Bid that they cease from the labour of the making of bricks to build your walls and cities.”
“And if I refuse, what then?”
“Then the curse of Jahveh shall be on you, Pharaoh, and with plague upon plague shall he smite this land of Egypt.”
Now a sudden rage seized Meneptah.
“What!” he cried. “Do you dare to threaten me in my own palace, and would ye cause all the multitude of the people of Israel who have grown fat in the land to cease from their labours? Hearken, my servants, and, scribes, write down my decree. Go ye to the country of Goshen and say to the Israelites that the bricks they made they shall make as aforetime and more work shall they do than aforetime in the days of my father, Rameses. Only no more straw shall be given to them for the making of the bricks. Because they are idle, let them go forth and gather the straw themselves; let them gather it from the face of the fields.”
There was silence for a while. Then with one voice both the prophets spoke, pointing with their wands to Pharaoh:
“In the Name of the Lord God we curse you, Pharaoh, who soon shall die and make answer for this sin. The people of Egypt we curse also. Ruin shall be their portion; death shall be their bread and blood shall they drink in a great darkness. Moreover, at the last Pharaoh shall let the people go.”
Then, waiting no answer, they turned and strode away side by side, nor did any man hinder them in their goings. Again there was silence in the hall, the silence of fear, for these were awful words that the prophets had spoken. Pharaoh knew it, for his chin sank upon his breast and his face that had been red with rage turned white. Userti hid her eyes with her hand as though to shut out some evil vision, and even Seti seemed ill at ease as though that awful curse had found a home within his heart.
At a motion of Pharaoh’s hand the Vizier Nehesi struck the ground thrice with his wand of office and pointed to the door, thus giving the accustomed sign that the Court was finished, whereon all the people turned and went away with bent heads speaking no words one to another. Presently the great hall was emptied save for the officers and guards and those who attended upon Pharaoh. When everyone had gone Seti the Prince rose and bowed before the throne.
“O Pharaoh,” he said, “be pleased to hearken. We have heard very evil words spoken by these Hebrew men, words that threaten your divine life, O Pharaoh, and call down a curse upon the Upper and the Lower Land. Pharaoh, these people of Israel hold that they suffer wrong and are oppressed. Now give me, your son, a writing under your hand and seal, by virtue of which I shall have power to go down to the Land of Goshen and inquire of this matter, and afterwards make report of the truth to you. Then, if it seems to you that the People of Israel are unjustly dealt by, you may lighten their burden and bring the curse of their prophets to nothing. But if it seems to you that the tales they tell are idle then your words shall stand.”
Now, listening, I, Ana, thought that Pharaoh would once more be angry. But it was not so, for when he spoke again it was in the voice of one who is crushed by grief or weariness.
“Have your will, Son,” he said. “Only take with you a great guard of soldiers lest these hook-nosed dogs should do you mischief. I trust them not, who, like the Hyksos whose blood runs in many of them, were ever the foes of Egypt. Did they not conspire with the Ninebow Barbarians whom I crushed in the great battle, and do they not now threaten us in the name of their outland god? Still, let the writing be prepared and I will seal it. And stay. I think, Seti, that you, who were ever gentle-natured, have somewhat too soft a heart towards these shepherd slaves. Therefore I will not send you alone. Amenmeses your cousin shall go with you, but under your command. It is spoken.”
“Life! Blood! Strength!” said both Seti and Amenmeses, thus acknowledging the king’s command.
Now I thought that all was finished. But it was not so, for presently Pharaoh said:
“Let the guards withdraw to the end of the hall and with them the servants. Let the King’s councillors and the officers of the household remain.”
Instantly all saluted and withdrew out of hearing. I, too, made ready to go, but the Prince said to me:
“Stay, that you may take note of what passes.”
Pharaoh, watching, saw if he did not hear.
“Who is that man, Son?” he asked.
“He is Ana my private scribe and librarian, O Pharaoh, whom I trust. It was he who saved me from harm but last night.”
“You say it, Son. Let him remain in attendance on you, knowing that if he betrays our council he dies.”
Userti looked up frowning as though she were about to speak. If so, she changed her mind and was silent, perhaps because Pharaoh’s word once spoken could not be altered. Bakenkhonsu remained also as a Councillor of the King according to his right.
When all had gone Pharaoh, who had been brooding, lifted his head and spoke slowly but in the voice of one who gives a judgment that may not be questioned, saying:
“Prince Seti, you are my only son born of Queen Ast-Nefert, royal Sister, royal Mother, who sleeps in the bosom of Osiris. It is true that you are not my first-born son, since the Count Ramessu”–here he pointed to a stout mild-faced man of pleasing, rather foolish appearance–“is your elder by two years. But, as he knows well, his mother, who is still with us, is a Syrian by birth and of no royal blood, and therefore he can never sit upon the throne of Egypt. Is it not so, my son Ramessu?”
“It is so, O Pharaoh,” answered the Count in a pleasant voice, “not do I seek ever to sit upon that throne, who am well content with the offices and wealth that Pharaoh has been pleased to confer upon me, his first-born.”
“Let the words of the Count Ramessu be written down,” said Pharaoh, “and placed in the temple of Ptah of this city, and in the temples of Ptah at Memphis and of Amon at Thebes, that hereafter they may never be questioned.”
The scribes in attendance wrote down the words and, at a sign from the Prince Seti, I also wrote them down, setting the papyrus I had with me on my knee. When this was finished Pharaoh went on.
“Therefore, O Prince Seti, you are the heir of Egypt and perhaps, as those Hebrew prophets said, will ere long be called upon to sit in my place on its throne.”
“May the King live for ever!” exclaimed Seti, “for well he knows that I do not seek his crown and dignities.”
“I do know it well, my son; so well that I wish you thought more of that crown and those dignities which, if the gods will, must come to you. If they will it not, next in the order of succession stands your cousin, the Count Amenmeses, who is also of royal blood both on his father’s and his mother’s side, and after him I know not who, unless it be my daughter and your half-sister, the royal Princess Userti, Lady of Egypt.”
Now Userti spoke, very earnestly, saying:
“O Pharaoh, surely my right in the succession, according to ancient precedent, precedes that of my cousin, the Count Amenmeses.”
Amenmeses was about to answer, but Pharaoh lifted his hand and he was silent.
“It is matter for those learned in such lore to discuss,” Meneptah replied in a somewhat hesitating voice. “I pray the gods that it may never be needful that this high question should be considered in the Council. Nevertheless, let the words of the royal Princess be written down. Now, Prince Seti,” he went on when this had been done, “you are still unmarried, and if you have children they are not royal.”
“I have none, O Pharaoh,” said Seti.
“Is it so?” answered Meneptah indifferently. “The Count Amenmeses has children I know, for I have seen them, but by his wife Unuri, who also is of the royal line, he has none.”
Here I heard Amenmeses mutter, “Being my aunt that is not strange,” a saying at which Seti smiled.
“My daughter, the Princess, is also unmarried. So it seems that the fountain of the royal blood is running dry—-“
“Now it is coming,” whispered Seti below his breath so that only I could hear.
“Therefore,” continued Pharaoh, “as you know, Prince Seti, for the royal Princess of Egypt by my command went to speak to you of this matter last night, I make a decree—-“
“Pardon, O Pharaoh,” interrupted the Prince, “my sister spoke to me of no decree last night, save that I should attend at the court here to-day.”
“Because I could not, Seti, seeing that another was present with you whom you refused to dismiss,” and she let her eyes rest on me.
“It matters not,” said Pharaoh, “since now I will utter it with my own lips which perhaps is better. It is my will, Prince, that you forthwith wed the royal Princess Userti, that children of the true blood of the Ramessides may be born. Hear and obey.”
Now Userti shifted her eyes from me to Seti, watching him very closely. Seated at his side upon the ground with my writing roll spread across my knee, I, too, watched him closely, and noted that his lips turned white and his face grew fixed and strange.
“I hear the command of Pharaoh,” he said in a low voice making obeisance, and hesitated.
“Have you aught to add?” asked Meneptah sharply.
“Only, O Pharaoh, that though this would be a marriage decreed for reasons of the State, still there is a lady who must be given in marriage, and she my half-sister who heretofore has only loved me as a relative. Therefore, I would know from her lips if it is her will to take me as a husband.”
Now all looked at Userti who replied in a cold voice:
“In this matter, Prince, as in all others I have no will but that of Pharaoh.”
“You have heard,” interrupted Meneptah impatiently, “and as in our House it has always been the custom for kin to marry kin, why should it not be her will? Also, who else should she marry? Amenmeses is already wed. There remains only Saptah his brother who is younger than herself—-“
“So am I,” murmured Seti, “by two long years,” but happily Userti did not hear him.
“Nay, my father,” she said with decision, “never will I take a deformed man to husband.”
Now from the shadow on the further side of the throne, where I could not see him, there hobbled forward a young noble, short in stature, light-haired like Seti, and with a sharp, clever face which put me in mind of that of a jackal (indeed for this reason he was named Thoth by the common people, after the jackal-headed god). He was very angry, for his cheeks were flushed and his small eyes flashed.
“Must I listen, Pharaoh,” he said in a little voice, “while my cousin the Royal Princess reproaches me in public for my lame foot, which I have because my nurse let me fall when I was still in arms?”
“Then his nurse let his grandfather fall also, for he too was club- footed, as I who have seen him naked in his cradle can bear witness,” whispered old Bakenkhonsu.
“It seems so, Count Saptah, unless you stop your ears,” replied Pharaoh.
“She says she will not marry me,” went on Saptah, “me who from childhood have been a slave to her and to no other woman.”
“Not by my wish, Saptah. Indeed, I pray you to go and be a slave to any woman whom you will,” exclaimed Userti.
“But I say,” continued Saptah, “that one day she shall marry me, for the Prince Seti will not live for ever.”
“How do you know that, Cousin?” asked Seti. “The High-priest here will tell you a different story.”
Now certain of those present turned their heads away to hide the smile upon their faces. Yet on this day some god spoke with Saptah’s voice making him a prophet, since in a year to come she did marry him, in order that she might stay upon the throne at a time of trouble when Egypt would not suffer that a woman should have sole rule over the land.
But Pharaoh did not smile like the courtiers; indeed he grew angry.
“Peace, Saptah!” he said. “Who are you that wrangle before me, talking of the death of kings and saying that you will wed the Royal princess? One more such word and you shall be driven into banishment. Hearken now. Almost am I minded to declare my daughter, the Royal Princess, sole heiress to the throne, seeing that in her there is more strength and wisdom than in any other of our House.”
“If such be Pharaoh’s will, let Pharaoh’s will be done,” said Seti most humbly. “Well I know my own unworthiness to fill so high a station, and by all the gods I swear that my beloved sister will find no more faithful subject than myself.”
“You mean, Seti,” interrupted Userti, “that rather than marry me you would abandon your right to the double crown. Truly I am honoured. Seti, whether you reign or I, I will not marry you.”
“What words are these I hear?” cried Meneptah. “Is there indeed one in this land of Egypt who dares to say that Pharaoh’s decree shall be disobeyed? Write it down, Scribes, and you, O Officers, let it be proclaimed from Thebes to the sea, that on the third day from now at the hour of noon in the temple of Hathor in this city, the Prince, the Royal Heir, Seti Meneptah, Beloved of Ra, will wed the Royal Princess of Egypt, Lily of Love, Beloved of Hathor, Userti, Daughter of me, the god.”
“Life! Blood! Strength!” called all the Court.
Then, guided by some high officer, the Prince Seti was led before the throne and the Princess Userti was set beside him, or rather facing him. According to the ancient custom a great gold cup was brought and filled with red wine, to me it looked like blood. Userti took the cup and, kneeling, gave it to the Prince, who drank and gave it back to her that she might also drink in solemn token of their betrothal. Is not the scene graven on the broad bracelets of gold which in after days Seti wore when he sat upon the throne, those same bracelets that at a future time I with my own hands clasped about the wrists of dead Userti?
Then he stretched out his hand which she touched with her lips, and bending down he kissed her on the brow. Lastly, Pharaoh, descending to the lowest step of the throne, laid his sceptre, first upon the head of the Prince, and next upon that of the Princess, blessing them both in the name of himself, of his Ka or Double, and of the spirits and Kas of all their forefathers, kings and queens of Egypt, thus appointing them to come after him when he had been gathered to the bosom of the gods.
These things done, he departed in state, surrounded by his court, preceded and followed by his guards and leaning on the arm of the Princess Userti, whom he loved better than anyone in the world.
A while later I stood alone with the Prince in his private chamber, where I had first seen him.
“That is finished,” he said in a cheerful voice, “and I tell you, Ana, that I feel quite, quite happy. Have you ever shivered upon the bank of a river of a winter morning, fearing to enter, and yet, when you did enter, have you not been pleased to find that the icy water refreshed you and made you not cold but hot?”
“Yes, Prince. It is when one comes out of the water, if the wind blows and no sun shines, that one feels colder than before.”
“True, Ana, and therefore one must not come out. One should stop there till one–drowns or is eaten by a crocodile. But, say, did I do it well?”
“Old Bakenkhonsu told me, Prince, that he had been present at many royal betrothals, I think he said eleven, and had never seen one conducted with more grace. He added that the way in which you kissed the brow of her Highness was perfect, as was all your demeanour after the first argument.”
“And so it would remain, Ana, if I were never called upon to do more than kiss her brow, to which I have been accustomed from boyhood. Oh! Ana, Ana,” he added in a kind of cry, “already you are becoming a courtier like the rest of them, a courtier who cannot speak the truth. Well, nor can I, so why should I blame you? Tell me again all about your marriage, Ana, of how it began and how it ended.”
Whether or no the Prince Seti saw Userti again before the hour of his marriage with her I cannot say, because he never told me. Indeed I was not present at the marriage, for the reason that I had been granted leave to return to Memphis, there to settle my affairs and sell my house on entering upon my appointment as private scribe to his Highness. Thus it came about that fourteen full days went by from that of the holding of the Court of Betrothal before I found myself standing once more at the gate of the Prince’s palace, attended by a servant who led an ass on which were laden all my manuscripts and certain possessions that had descended to me from my ancestors with the title-deeds of their tombs. Different indeed was my reception on this my second coming. Even as I reached the steps the old chamberlain Pambasa appeared, running down them so fast that his white robes and