The Pharaoh and the Priest by Bolesław Prus

CHAPTER I

In the thirty-third year of the happy reign of Rameses XII., Egypt
celebrated two festivals which filled all its faithful inhabitants
with pride and delight.

In the month of Mechir–that is, during January–the god Khonsu
returned to Thebes covered with costly gifts. For three years and nine
months he had travelled in the country of Buchten, where he restored
health to the king’s daughter, Bentres, and expelled an evil spirit
not only from the royal family, but even from the fortress.

So in the month Farmuti (February) Mer-Amen-Rameses XII., the lord
of Upper and Lower Egypt, the ruler of Phœnicia and nine nations,
after consultation with the gods to whom he was equal, named as
erpatr, or heir to the throne, his son, aged twenty years,
Cham-Sem-Merer-Amen-Rameses.

This choice delighted the pious priests, the worthy nomarchs, the
valiant army, the faithful people, and every creature living in Egypt,
because the older sons of the pharaoh, who were born of a Hittite
princess, had been visited by an evil spirit through enchantments
which no one had the power to investigate. One son of twenty-seven
years was unable to walk after reaching maturity; the second opened
his veins and died; the third, through poisoned wine, which he would
not cease drinking, fell into madness, and believing himself a monkey,
passed whole days among tree branches.

But the fourth son, Rameses, born of Queen Nikotris, daughter of the
priest Amenhôtep, was as strong as the bull Apis, as brave as a lion,
and as wise as the priests. From childhood he surrounded himself with
warriors, and while still a common prince, used to say,–

“If the gods, instead of making me the youngest son of his holiness,
had made me a pharaoh, like Rameses the Great, I would conquer nine
nations, of which people in Egypt have never heard mention; I would
build a temple larger than all Thebes, and rear for myself a pyramid
near which the tomb of Cheops would be like a rosebush at the side of
a full-grown palm-tree.”

On receiving the much desired title of heir, the young prince begged
his father to be gracious and appoint him to command the army corps of
Memphis. To this his holiness, Rameses XII., after consultation with
the gods, to whom he was equal, answered that he would do so in case
the heir could give proof that he had skill to direct a mass of troops
arrayed for battle.

A council was called under the presidency of the minister of war,
San-Amen-Herhor, high priest of the great sanctuary of Amon in Thebes.

The council decided in this way: “The heir to the throne, in the
middle of the month Mesore, will take ten regiments, disposed along
the line which connects Memphis with the city of Pi-Uto, situated on
the Bay of Sebenico.

“With this corps of ten thousand men prepared for battle, provided
with a camp and with military engines, the heir will betake himself
eastward along the highroad from Memphis toward Hittite regions, which
road lies on the boundary between the land of Goshen and the
wilderness. At this time General Nitager, commander of the army which
guards the gates of Egypt from attacks of Asiatic people, will move
from the Bitter Lakes against the heir, Prince Rameses.

“Both armies, the Asiatic and the Western, are to meet near Pi-Bailos,
but in the wilderness, so that industrious husbandmen in the land of
Goshen be not hindered in their labors.

“The heir will be victorious if he does not let himself be surprised
by Nitager, that is, if he concentrates all his forces and succeeds in
putting them in order of battle to meet the enemy.

“His worthiness Herhor, the minister of war, will be present in the
camp of Prince Rameses, and will report to the pharaoh.”

Two ways of communication formed the boundary between the land of
Goshen and the desert. One was the transport canal from Memphis to
Lake Timrah; the other was the highroad. The canal was in the land of
Goshen, the highroad in the desert which both ways bounded with a half
circle.

The canal was visible from almost every point upon the highroad.
Whatever artificial boundaries might be, these neighboring regions
differed in all regards. The land of Goshen, though a rolling country,
seemed a plain; the desert was composed of limestone hills and sandy
valleys. The land of Goshen seemed a gigantic chessboard the green and
yellow squares of which were indicated by the color of grain and by
palms growing on their boundaries; but on the ruddy sand of the desert
and its white hills a patch of green or a clump of trees and bushes
seemed like a lost traveller.

On the fertile land of Goshen from each hill shot up a dark grove of
acacias, sycamores, and tamarinds which from a distance looked like
our lime-trees; among these were concealed villas with rows of short
columns, or the yellow mud huts of earth-tillers. Sometimes near the
grove was a white village with flat-roofed houses, or above the trees
rose the pyramidal gates of a temple, like double cliffs, many-colored
with strange characters. From the desert beyond the first row of
hills, which were a little green, stared naked elevations covered with
blocks of stone. It seemed as if the western region, sated with excess
of life, hurled with regal generosity to the other side flowers and
vegetables, but the desert in eternal hunger devoured them in the
following year and turned them into ashes.

The stunted vegetation, exiled to cliffs and sands, clung to the lower
places until, by means of ditches made in the sides of the raised
highroad, men conducted water from the canals to it. In fact, hidden
oases between naked hills along that highway drank in the divine
water. In these oases grew wheat, barley, grapes, palms, and
tamarinds. The whole of such an oasis was sometimes occupied by one
family, which when it met another like itself at the market in
Pi-Bailos might not even know that they were neighbors in the desert.

On the fifteenth of Mesore the concentration of troops was almost
finished. The regiments of Prince Rameses, which were to meet the
Asiatic forces of Nitager, had assembled on the road above the city of
Pi-Bailos with their camp and with some military engines.

The heir himself directed all the movements. He had organized two
parties of scouts. Of these the first had to watch the enemy, the
other to guard its own army from attack, which was possible in a hilly
region with many ravines. Rameses, in the course of a week, rode
around and examined all the regiments, marching by various roads,
looking carefully to see if the soldiers had good weapons and warm
mantles for the night hours, if in the camps there was dried bread in
sufficiency as well as meat and dried fish. He commanded, besides,
that the wives, children, and slaves of warriors marching to the
eastern boundary should be conveyed by canal; this diminished the
number of chariots and eased the movements of the army.

The oldest generals admired the zeal, knowledge, and caution of the
heir, and, above all, his simplicity and love of labor. His court,
which was numerous, his splendid tent, chariots, and litters were left
in the capital, and, dressed as a simple officer, he hurried from
regiment to regiment on horseback, in Assyrian fashion, attended by
two adjutants.

Thanks to this concentration, the corps itself went forward very
swiftly, and the army was near Pi-Bailos at the time appointed.

It was different with the prince’s staff, and the Greek regiment
accompanying it, and with some who moved military engines.

The staff, collected in Memphis, had the shortest road to travel;
hence it moved latest, bringing an immense camp with it. Nearly every
officer, and they were young lords of great families, had a litter
with four negroes, a two-wheeled military chariot, a rich tent, and a
multitude of boxes with food and clothing, also jars full of beer and
wine. Besides, a numerous troop of singers and dancers, with music,
had betaken themselves to journey behind the officers; each woman
must, in the manner of a great lady, have a car drawn by one or two
pair of oxen, and must have also a litter.

When this throng poured out of Memphis, it occupied more space on the
highway than the army of Prince Rameses. The march was so slow that
the military engines which were left at the rear moved twenty-four
hours later than was ordered. To complete every evil the female
dancers and singers, on seeing the desert not at all dreadful in that
place, were terrified and fell to weeping. To calm these women it was
necessary to hasten with the night camp, pitch tents, arrange a
spectacle, and a feast afterward.

The night amusement in the cool, under the starry sky, with wild
nature for a background, pleased dancers and singers exceedingly; they
declared that they would travel thenceforth only through the desert.
Meanwhile Prince Rameses sent an order to turn all women back to
Memphis at the earliest and urge the march forward.

His dignity Herhor, minister of war, was with the staff, but only as a
spectator. He had not brought singers himself, but he made no remarks
to officers. He gave command to carry his litter at the head of the
column, and accommodating himself to its movements, advanced or rested
under the immense fan with which his adjutant shaded him.

Herhor was a man of forty and some years of age, strongly built,
concentrated in character. He spoke rarely, and looked at people as
rarely from under his drooping eyelids. He went with arms and legs
bare, like every Egyptian, his breast exposed; he had sandals on his
feet, a short skirt about his hips, an apron with blue and white
stripes. As a priest, he shaved his beard and hair and wore a panther
skin hanging from his left shoulder. As a soldier, he covered his head
with a small helmet of the guard; from under this helmet hung a
kerchief, also in blue and white stripes; this reached his shoulders.
Around his neck was a triple gold chain, and under his left arm a
short sword in a costly scabbard. His litter, borne by six black
slaves, was attended always by three persons: one carried his fan,
another the mace of the minister, and the third a box for papyrus.
This third man was Pentuer, a priest, and the secretary of Herhor. He
was a lean ascetic who in the greatest heat never covered his shaven
head. He came of the people, but in spite of low birth he occupied a
high position in the state; this was due to exceptional abilities.

Though the minister with his officials preceded the staff and held
himself apart from its movements, it could not be said that he was
unconscious of what was happening behind him. Every hour, at times
every half hour, some one approached Herhor’s litter,–now a priest of
lower rank, an ordinary “servant of the gods,” a marauding soldier, a
freedman, or a slave, who, passing as it were indifferently the silent
retinue of the minister, threw out a word. That word Pentuer recorded
sometimes, but more frequently he remembered it, for his memory was
amazing.

No one in the noisy throng of the staff paid attention to these
details. The officers, sons of great lords, were too much occupied by
running, by noisy conversation, or by singing, to notice who
approached the minister; all the more since a multitude of people were
pushing along the highway.

On the sixteenth of Mesore the staff of Prince Rameses, together with
his dignity the minister, passed the night under the open sky at the
distance of five miles from the regiments which were arranged in
battle order across the highway beyond the city of Pi-Bailos.

In that early morning which precedes our six o’clock, the hills grew
violet, and from behind them came forth the sun. A rosy light flowed
over the land of Goshen. Villages, temples, palaces of magnates, and
huts of earth-tillers looked like sparks and flames which flashed up
in one moment from the midst of green spaces. Soon the western horizon
was flooded with a golden hue, and the green land of Goshen seemed
melting into gold, and the numberless canals seemed filled with molten
silver. But the desert hills grew still more marked with violet, and
cast long shadows on the sands, and darkness on the plant world.

The guards who stood along that highway could see with the utmost
clearness fields, edged with palms, beyond the canal. Some fields were
green with flax, wheat, clover; others were gilded with ripening
barley of the second growth. Now earth-tillers began to come out to
field labor, from huts concealed among trees; they were naked and
bronze-hued; their whole dress was a short skirt and a cap. Some
turned to canals to clear them of mud, or to draw water. Others
dispersing among the trees gathered grapes and ripe figs. Many naked
children stirred about, and women were busy in white, yellow, or red
shirts which were sleeveless.

There was great movement in that region. In the sky birds of prey
from the desert pursued pigeons and daws in the land of Goshen. Along
the canal squeaking sweeps moved up and down, with buckets of
fertilizing water; fruit-gatherers appeared and disappeared among the
trees, like colored butterflies. But in the desert, on the highway,
swarmed the army and its servants. A division of mounted lancers shot
past. Behind them marched bowmen in caps and petticoats; they had bows
in their hands, quivers on their shoulders, and broadswords at their
right sides. The archers were accompanied by slingers who carried bags
with missiles and were armed with short swords.

A hundred yards behind them advanced two small divisions of footmen,
one division armed with darts, the other with spears. Both carried
rectangular shields; on their breasts they had thick coats, as it were
armor, and on their heads caps with kerchiefs behind to ward off the
sun-rays. The caps and coats had blue and white stripes or yellow and
black stripes, which made those soldiers seem immense hornets.

Behind the advance guard, surrounded by a retinue of mace-bearers,
pushed on the litter of the minister, and behind it, with bronze
helmets and breastplates, the Greek companies, whose measured tread
called to mind blows of heavy hammers. In the rear was heard the
creaking of vehicles, and from the side of the highway slipped along
the bearded Phœnician merchant in his litter borne between two asses.
Above all this rose a cloud of golden dust, and heat also.

Suddenly from the vanguard galloped up a mounted soldier and informed
Herhor that Prince Rameses, the heir to the throne, was approaching.
His worthiness descended from the litter, and at that moment appeared
a mounted party of men who halted and sprang from their horses. One
man of this party and the minister began to approach each other,
halting every few steps and bowing.

“Be greeted, O son of the pharaoh; may he live through eternity!” said
the minister.

“Be greeted and live long, O holy father!” answered Rameses; then he
added,–

“Ye advance as slowly as if your legs were sawn off, while Nitager
will stand before our division in two hours at the latest.”

“Thou hast told truth. Thy staff marches very slowly.”

“Eunana tells me also,” here Rameses indicated an officer standing
behind him who was covered with amulets, “that ye have not sent scouts
to search ravines. But in case of real war an enemy might attack from
that side.”

“I am not the leader, I am only a judge,” replied the minister,
quietly.

“But what can Patrokles be doing?”

“Patrokles is bringing up the military engines with his Greek
regiment.”

“But my relative and adjutant, Tutmosis?”

“He is sleeping yet, I suppose.”

Rameses stamped impatiently, and was silent. He was a beautiful youth,
with a face almost feminine, to which anger and sunburn added charm.
He wore a close-fitting coat with blue and white stripes, a kerchief
of the same color behind his helmet, a gold chain around his neck, and
a costly sword beneath his left arm.

“I see,” said the prince, “that thou alone, Eunana, art mindful of my
honor.”

The officer covered with amulets bent to the earth.

“Tutmosis is indolent,” said the heir. “Return to thy place, Eunana.
Let the vanguard at least have a leader.”

Then, looking at the suite which now surrounded him as if it had
sprung from under the earth on a sudden, he added,–

“Bring my litter. I am as tired as a quarryman.”

“Can the gods grow tired?” whispered Eunana, still standing behind
him.

“Go to thy place!” said Rameses.

“But perhaps thou wilt command me, O image of the moon, to search the
ravines?” asked the officer, in a low voice. “Command, I beg thee, for
wherever I am my heart is chasing after thee to divine thy will and
accomplish it.”

“I know that thou art watchful,” answered Rameses. “Go now and look
after everything.”

“Holy father,” said Eunana, turning to the minister, “I commend my
most obedient service to thy worthiness.”

Barely had Eunana gone when at the end of the marching column rose a
still greater tumult. They looked for the heir’s litter, but it was
gone. Then appeared, making his way through the Greek warriors, a
youth of strange exterior. He wore a muslin tunic, a richly
embroidered apron, and a golden scarf across his shoulder. But he was
distinguished above all by an immense wig with a multitude of tresses,
and an artificial beard like cats’ tails.

That was Tutmosis, the first exquisite in Memphis, who dressed and
perfumed himself even during marches.

“Be greeted, Rameses!” exclaimed the exquisite, pushing aside officers
quickly. “Imagine thy litter is lost somewhere; thou must sit in mine,
which really is not fit for thee, but it is not the worst.”

“Thou hast angered me,” answered the prince. “Thou sleepest instead of
watching the army.”

The astonished exquisite stopped.

“I sleep?” cried he. “May the man’s tongue wither up who invented that
calumny! I, knowing that thou wouldst come, have been ready this hour
past, and am preparing a bath for thee and perfumes.”

“While thus engaged, the regiment is without a commander.”

“Am I to command a detachment where his worthiness the minister of war
is, and such a leader is present as Patrokles?”

Rameses was silent; meanwhile Tutmosis, approaching him, whispered,–

“In what a plight thou art, O son of the pharaoh! Without a wig, thy
hair and dress full of dust, thy skin black and cracked, like the
earth in summer. The queen, most deserving of honor, would drive me
from the court were she to look at thy wretchedness.”

“I am only tired.”

“Then take a seat in my litter. In it are fresh garlands of roses,
roast birds, and a jug of wine from Cyprus. I have kept also hidden in
the camp,” added he in a lower voice, “Senura.”

“Is she here?” asked the prince; and his eyes, glittering a moment
before, were now mist covered.

“Let the army move on,” said Tutmosis; “we will wait here for her.”

Rameses recovered himself.

“Leave me, tempter! The battle will come in two hours.”

“What! a battle?”

“At least the decision as to my leadership.”

“Oh, laugh at it!” smiled the exquisite. “I would swear that the
minister of war sent a report of it yesterday, and with it the
petition to give thee the corps of Memphis.”

“No matter if he did. To-day I have no thought for anything but the
army.”

“In thee this wish for war is dreadful, war during which a man does
not wash for a whole month, so as to die in– Brr! But if thou couldst
see Senura, only glance at her–”

“For that very reason I shall not glance at her,” answered Rameses,
decisively.

At the moment when eight men were bringing from beyond the Greek ranks
the immense litter of Tutmosis for the use of Rameses, a horseman
raced in from the vanguard. He dropped from his horse and ran so
quickly that on his breast the images of the gods or the tablets with
their names rattled loudly. This was Eunana in great excitement.

All turned to him, and this gave him pleasure apparently.

“Erpatr, the loftiest lips,” cried Eunana, bending before Rameses.
“When, in accordance with thy divine command, I rode at the head of a
detachment, looking carefully at all things, I noticed on the highroad
two beautiful scarabs. Each of these sacred beetles was rolling an
earth ball toward the sands near the roadside–”

“What of that?” interrupted Rameses.

“Of course,” continued Eunana, glancing toward Herhor, “I and my
people, as piety enjoins, rendered homage to the golden symbols of the
sun, and halted. That augury is of such import that no man of us would
make a step forward unless commanded.”

“I see that thou art a pious Egyptian, though thou hast the features
of a Hittite,” answered the worthy Herhor; and turning to certain
dignitaries standing near, he added,–

“We will not advance farther by the highway, for we might crush the
sacred beetles. Pentuer, can we go around the road by that ravine on
the right?”

“We can,” answered the secretary. “That ravine is five miles long,
and comes out again almost in front of Pi-Bailos.”

“An immense loss of time!” interrupted Rameses, in anger.

“I would swear that those are not scarabs, but the spirits of my
Phœnician usurers,” said Tutmosis the exquisite. “Not being able,
because of their death, to receive money from me, they will force me
now to march through the desert in punishment!”

The suite of the prince awaited the decision with fear; so Rameses
turned to Herhor,–

“What dost thou think of this, holy father?”

“Look at the officers,” answered the priest, “and thou wilt understand
that we must go by the ravine.”

Now Patrokles, leader of the Greeks, pushed forward and said to the
heir,–

“If the prince permit, my regiment will advance by the highway. My
soldiers have no fear of beetles!”

“Your soldiers have no fear of royal tombs even,” added the minister.
“Still it cannot be safe in them since no one has ever returned.”

The Greek pushed back to the suite confounded.

“Confess, holy father,” hissed the heir, with the greatest anger,
“that such a hindrance would not stop even an ass on his journey.”

“True, but no ass will ever be pharaoh,” retorted the minister,
calmly.

“In that case thou, O minister, wilt lead the division through the
ravine!” exclaimed Rameses. “I am unacquainted with priestly tactics;
besides, I must rest. Come with me, cousin,” said he to Tutmosis; and
he turned toward some naked hills.

CHAPTER II

Straightway his worthiness Herhor directed his adjutant who carried
the mace to take charge of the vanguard in place of Eunana. Then he
commanded that the military engines for hurling great stones leave the
road, and that the Greek soldiers facilitate passage for those engines
in difficult places. All vehicles and litters of staff-officers were
to move in the rear.

When Herhor issued commands, the adjutant bearing the fan approached
Pentuer and asked,–

“Will it be possible to go by this highway again?”

“Why not?” answered the young priest. “But since two sacred beetles
have barred the way now, we must not go farther; some misfortune might
happen.”

“As it is, a misfortune has happened. Or hast thou not noticed that
Prince Rameses is angry at the minister? and our lord is not
forgetful.”

“It is not the prince who is offended with our lord, but our lord with
the prince, and he has reproached him. He has done well; for it seems
to the young prince, at present, that he is to be a second Menes.”

“Or a Rameses the Great,” put in the adjutant.

“Rameses the Great obeyed the gods; for this cause there are
inscriptions praising him in all the temples. But Menes, the first
pharaoh of Egypt, was a destroyer of order, and thanks only to the
fatherly kindness of the priests that his name is still
remembered,–though I would not give one brass uten on this, that the
mummy of Menes exists.”

“My Pentuer,” added the adjutant, “thou art a sage, hence knowest that
it is all one to us whether we have ten lords or eleven.”

“But it is not all one to the people whether they have to find every
year a mountain of gold for the priests, or two mountains of gold for
the priests and the pharaoh,” answered Pentuer, while his eyes
flashed.

“Thou art thinking of dangerous things,” said the adjutant, in a
whisper.

“But how often hast thou thyself grieved over the luxuries of the
pharaoh’s court and of the nomarchs?” inquired the priest in
astonishment.

“Quiet, quiet! We will talk of this, but not now.”

In spite of the sand the military engines, drawn each by two bullocks,
moved in the desert more speedily than along the highway. With the
first of them marched Eunana, anxiously. “Why has the minister
deprived me of leadership over the vanguard? Does he wish to give me a
higher position?” asked he in his own mind.

Thinking out then a new career, and perhaps to dull the fears which
made his heart quiver, he seized a pole and, where the sands were
deeper, propped the balista, or urged on the Greeks with an outcry.

They, however, paid slight attention to this officer.

The retinue had pushed on a good half hour through a winding ravine
with steep naked walls, when the vanguard halted a second time. At
this point another ravine crossed the first; in the middle of it
extended a rather broad canal.

The courier sent to the minister of war with notice of the obstacle
brought back a command to fill the canal immediately.

About a hundred soldiers with pickaxes and shovels rushed to the work.
Some knocked out stones from the cliff; others threw them into the
ditch and covered them with sand.

Meanwhile from the depth of the ravine came a man with a pickaxe
shaped like a stork’s neck with the bill on it. He was an Egyptian
slave, old and entirely naked. He looked for a while with the utmost
amazement at the work of the soldiers; then, springing between them on
a sudden, he shouted,–

“What are ye doing, vile people? This is a canal.”

“But how darest thou use evil words against the warriors of his
holiness?” asked Eunana, who stood there.

“Thou must be an Egyptian and a great person, I see that,” said the
slave; “so I answer thee that this canal belongs to a mighty lord; he
is the manager and secretary of one who bears the fan for his
worthiness the nomarch of Memphis. Be on thy guard or misfortune will
strike thee!”

“Do your work,” said Eunana, with a patronizing tone, to the Greek
soldiers who began to look at the slave.

They did not understand his speech, but the tone of it arrested them.

“They are filling in all the time!” said the slave, with rising fear.
“Woe to thee!” cried he, rushing at one of the Greeks with his
pickaxe.

The Greek pulled it from the man, struck him on the mouth, and brought
blood to his lips; then he threw sand into the canal again.

The slave, stunned by the blow, lost courage and fell to imploring.

“Lord,” said he, “I dug this canal alone for ten years, in the night
time and during festivals! My master promised that if I should bring
water to this little valley he would make me a servant in it, give me
one fifth of the harvests, and grant me freedom–do you hear? Freedom
to me and my three children!–O gods!”

He raised his hands and turned again to Eunana,–

“They do not understand me, these vagrants from beyond the sea,
descendants of dogs, brothers to Jews and Phœnicians! But listen,
lord, to me! For ten years, while other men went to fairs and dances
or sacred processions, I stole out into this dreary ravine. I did not
go to the grave of my mother, I only dug; I forgot the dead so as to
give freedom with laud to my children, and to myself even one free day
before death. Ye, O gods, be my witnesses how many times has night
found me here! how many times have I heard the wailing cries of hyenas
in this place, and seen the green eyes of wolves! But I did not flee,
for whither was I, the unfortunate, to flee, when at every path terror
was lurking, and in this canal freedom held me back by the feet? Once,
beyond that turn there, a lion came out against me, the pharaoh of
beasts. The pickaxe dropped from my hands, I knelt down before him,
and I, as ye see me, said these words: ‘O lord! is it thy pleasure to
eat me? I am only a slave.’ But the lion took pity, the wolf also
passed by; even the treacherous bats spared my poor head; but thou, O
Egyptian–”

The man stopped; he saw the retinue of Herhor approaching. By the fan
he knew him to be a great personage, and by the panther skin, a
priest. He ran to the litter, therefore, knelt down, and struck the
sand with his forehead.

“What dost thou wish, man?” asked the dignitary.

“O light of the sun, listen to me!” cried the slave. “May there be no
groans in thy chamber, may no misfortune follow thee! May thy works
continue, and may the current not be interrupted when thou shalt sail
by the Nile to the other shore–”

“I ask what thy wish is,” repeated Herhor.

“Kind lord,” said the man, “leader without caprice, who conquerest the
false and createst the true, who art the father of the poor, the
husband of the widow, clothing for the motherless, permit me to spread
thy name as the equal of justice, most noble of the nobles.”[1]

[1] Authentic speech of a slave.

“He wishes that this canal be not filled in,” said Eunana.

Herhor shrugged his shoulders and pushed toward the place where they
were filling the canal. Then the despairing man seized his feet.

“Away with this creature!” cried his worthiness, pushing back as
before the bite of a reptile.

The secretary, Pentuer, turned his head; his lean face had a grayish
color. Eunana seized the man by the shoulders and pulled, but, unable
to drag him away from the minister’s feet, he summoned warriors. After
a while Herhor, now liberated, passed to the other bank of the canal,
and the warriors tore away the earth-worker, almost carrying him to
the end of the detachment. There they gave the man some tens of blows
of fists, and subalterns who always carried canes gave him some tens
of blows of sticks, and at last threw him down at the entrance to the
ravine.

Beaten, bloody, and above all terrified, the wretched slave sat on the
sand for a while, rubbed his eyes, then sprang up suddenly and ran
groaning toward the highway,–

“Swallow me, O earth! Cursed be the day in which I saw the light, and
the night in which it was said, ‘A man is born!’ In the mantle of
justice there is not the smallest shred for a slave. The gods
themselves regard not a creature whose hands are for labor, whose
mouth was made only for weeping, and whose back is for clubs. O death,
rub my body into ashes, so that there, beyond on the fields of Osiris,
I be not born into slavery a second time.”

CHAPTER III

Panting with anger, Prince Rameses rushed up the hill, while behind
him followed Tutmosis. The wig of the exquisite had turned on his
head, his false beard had slipped down, and he carried it in his hand.
In spite of exertion he would have been pale had it not been for the
layers of rouge on his face.

At last Rameses halted at the summit. From the ravine came the outcry
of warriors and the rattle of the onrolling balistas; before the two
men stretched the immense plain of Goshen, bathed continually in
sun-rays. That did not seem land, but a golden cloud, on which the
mind painted a landscape in colors of silver, ruby, pearl, and topaz.

“Look,” cried the heir to Tutmosis, stretching out his hand, “those
are to be my lands, and here is my army. Over there the loftiest
edifices are palaces of priests, and here the supreme chief of the
troops is a priest! Can anything like this be suffered?”

“It has always been so,” replied Tutmosis, glancing around with
timidity.

“That is not true! I know the history of this country, which is hidden
to thee. The leaders of armies and the masters of officials were the
pharaohs alone, or at least the most energetic among them. Those
rulers did not pass their days in making offerings and prayers, but in
managing the state.”

“If it is the desire of his holiness to pass his days that way?” said
Tutmosis.

“It is not my father’s wish that nomarchs should govern as they please
in the capitals of provinces. Why, the governor of Ethiopia considered
himself as almost equal to the king of kings. And it cannot be my
father’s wish that his army should march around two golden beetles
because the minister of war is a high priest.”

“He is a great warrior,” whispered Tutmosis, with increasing
timidity.

“He a great warrior? Because he dispersed a handful of Libyan robbers
ready to flee at the mere sight of Egyptians. But see what our
neighbors are doing. Israel delays in paying tribute and pays less and
less of it. The cunning Phœnician steals a number of ships from our
fleet every year. On the east we are forced to keep up a great army
against the Hittites, while around Babylon and Nineveh there is such a
movement that it is felt throughout all Mesopotamia.

“And what is the outcome of priestly management? This, that while my
great-grandfather had a hundred thousand talents of yearly income and
one hundred and sixty thousand troops, my father has barely fifty
thousand talents and one hundred and twenty thousand troops.

“And what an army! Were it not for the Greek corps, which keeps them
in order as a dog watches sheep, the Egyptian soldiers to-day would
obey only priests and the pharaoh would sink to the level of a
miserable nomarch.”

“Whence hast thou learned this?” asked Tutmosis, with astonishment.

“Am I not of a priestly family? And besides, they taught me when I was
not heir to the throne. Oh, when I become pharaoh after my
father,–may he live through eternity!–I will put my bronze-sandalled
foot on their necks. But first of all I will seize their treasures,
which have always been bloated, but which from the time of Rameses the
Great have begun to swell out, and to-day are so swollen that the
treasure of the pharaoh is invisible because of them.”

“Woe to me and to thee!” sighed Tutmosis. “Thou hast plans under which
this hill would bend could it hear and understand them. And where are
thy forces, thy assistance, thy warriors? Against thee the whole
people will rise, led by a class of men with mighty influence. But who
is on thy side?”

Rameses listened and fell to thinking. At last he said,–

“The army–”

“A considerable part of it will follow the priests.”

“The Greek corps–”

“A barrel of water in the Nile.”

“The officials–”

“Half of them belong to the priests.”

The prince shook his head sadly, and was silent.

From the summit they went down by a naked and stony slope to the
opposite base of the hill. Then Tutmosis, who had pushed ahead
somewhat, cried,–

“Has a charm fallen on my eyes? Look, Rameses! Why, a second Egypt is
concealed between these cliffs!”

“That must be an estate of some priest who pays no taxes,” replied the
prince, bitterly.

In the depth before their feet lay a rich valley in the form of a fork
the tines of which were hidden between cliffs. At the juncture of the
tines a number of servants’ huts were visible, and the beautiful
little villa of the owner or manager. Palm-trees grew there, grapes,
olives, figs with aerial roots, cypresses, even young baobabs. In the
centre flowed a rivulet, and at the source of it, some hundreds of
yards higher up, small gardens were visible.

When they had gone down among grape-vines covered with ripe clusters,
they heard a woman’s voice which called, or rather sang in pensive
notes:

“Where art thou gone from me, where art thou, hen of mine? Thou hast
fled, thou art gone from me. I give thee drink and clean grain; what I
give is so good that slaves envy thee. Where art thou gone, my
hen–wilt thou not answer me? Night will come down on thee, think of
that; thou wilt not reach thy home, where all are at work for thee.
Come; if thou come not, a falcon will fly from the desert and tear the
heart out of thee. If he come thou wilt call in vain, as I now call in
vain to thee. Give answer, or I shall be angry and leave this place.
If I leave thou’lt go home on thy own feet.”

The song came toward the two men. The songstress was a few yards from
them when Tutmosis thrust his head from between the bushes, and
said,–

“Just look, Rameses, but that is a beautiful maiden!”

Instead of looking, the prince sprang into the path and stopped the
road before the songstress. She was really a beautiful maiden, with
Grecian features and a complexion like ivory. From under the veil on
her head peeped forth an immense mass of dark hair, wound in a knot.
She wore a white trailing robe which she held on one side with her
hand; under the transparent covering were maiden breasts shaped like
apples.

“Who art thou?” cried Rameses.

The threatening furrows vanished from his forehead and his eyes
flashed.

“O Jehovah! O Father!” cried she, frightened, halting motionless on
the path.

But she grew calm by degrees, and her velvety eyes resumed their
expression of mild sadness.

“Whence hast thou come?” inquired she of Rameses, with a voice
trembling a little. “I see that thou art a soldier, but it is not
permitted soldiers to come here.”

“Why is it not permitted?”

“Because this is the land of a great lord named Sesofris.”

“Ho! ho!” laughed Rameses.

“Laugh not, for thou wilt grow pale soon. The lord Sesofris is
secretary to the lord Chaires, who carries his fan for the most worthy
nomarch of Memphis. My father has seen him and fallen on his face
before him.”

“Ho! ho! ho!” repeated Rameses, laughing continually.

“Thy words are very insolent,” said the maiden, frowning. “Were
kindness not looking from thy face, I should think thee a mercenary
from Greece or a bandit.”

“He is not a bandit yet, but some day he may become the greatest
bandit this land has ever suffered,” said Tutmosis the exquisite,
arranging his wig.

“And thou must be a dancer,” answered the girl, grown courageous. “Oh!
I am even certain that I saw thee at the fair in Pi-Bailos, enchanting
serpents.”

The two young men fell into perfect humor.

“But who art thou?” asked Rameses of the girl, taking her hand, which
she drew back.

“Be not so bold. I am Sarah, the daughter of Gideon, the manager of
this estate.”

“A Jewess,” said Rameses; and a shadow passed over his face.

“What harm in that? what harm in that?” cried Tutmosis. “Dost think
that Jewesses are less sweet than Egyptian girls? They are only more
modest and more difficult, which gives their love an uncommon charm.”

“So ye are pagans,” said Sarah, with dignity. “Rest, if ye are tired,
pluck some grapes for yourselves, and go with God. Our servants are
not glad to see guests like you.”

She wished to go, but Rameses detained her.

“Stop! Thou hast pleased me, and may not leave us in this way.”

“The evil spirit has seized thee; no one in this valley would dare to
speak thus to me,” said Sarah, now indignant.

“Yes; for, seest thou,” interrupted Tutmosis, “this young man is an
officer of the priestly regiment of Ptah, and a secretary of the
secretary of a lord who carries his fan over the fan-carrier of the
nomarch of Habu.”

“Surely he must be an officer,” answered Sarah, looking with
thoughtfulness at Rameses. “Maybe he is a great lord himself?” added
she, putting her finger on her lips.

“Whoever I am, thy beauty surpasses my dignity,” answered he,
suddenly. “But tell me, is it true that the Jews eat pork?”

Sarah looked at him offended; and Tutmosis added,–

“How evident it is that thou knowest not Jewesses! I tell thee that a
Jew would rather die than eat pork, which, for my part, I do not
consider as the worst–”

“But do they eat cats?” insisted Rameses, pressing Sarah’s hand and
looking into her eyes.

“And that is a fable, a vile fable!” exclaimed Tutmosis. “Thou mightst
have asked me about those things instead of talking nonsense. I have
had three Jewish mistresses.”

“So far thou hast told the truth, but now thou art lying,” called out
Sarah. “A Jewess would not be any man’s mistress,” added she, proudly.

“Even the mistress of the secretary of a lord who carries the fan for
the nomarch of Memphis?” asked Tutmosis, jeeringly.

“Even–”

“Even the mistress of the lord who carries the fan?”

Sarah hesitated, but answered,–

“Even.”

“Then perhaps she would not become the mistress of the nomarch?”

The girl’s hands dropped. With astonishment she looked in turn at the
young men; her lips quivered, and her eyes filled with tears.

“Who are ye?” inquired she, alarmed. “Ye have come down from the
hills, like travellers who wish bread and water, but ye speak to me as
might the greatest lords. Who are ye? Thy sword,” said she, turning to
Rameses, “is set with emeralds, and on thy neck is a chain of such
work as even our lord, the great Sesofris, has not in his treasury.”

“Better tell me if I please thee,” insisted Rameses, pressing her hand
and looking into her eyes tenderly.

“Thou art beautiful, as beautiful as the angel Gabriel; but I fear
thee, for I know not who thou art.”

Then from beyond the hilltop was heard the sound of a trumpet.

“They are calling thee!” cried Tutmosis.

“And if I were as great a lord as thy Sesofris?” asked Rameses.

“Then maybe–” answered Sarah.

“And if I carried the fan of the nomarch of Memphis?”

“Thou mayest be even as great as that–”

Somewhere beyond the hill was heard the second trumpet.

“Come, Rameses!” insisted the frightened Tutmosis.

“But if I were–heir to the throne, wouldst thou come to me?” cried
the prince.

“O Jehovah!” exclaimed Sarah, dropping on her knees.

From various points trumpets summoned, now urgently.

“Let us run!” cried Tutmosis, in desperation. “Dost thou not hear the
alarm in the camp?”

Rameses took the chain from his neck quickly and threw it on Sarah.

“Give this to thy father. I will buy thee from him. Be in health.”

He kissed her lips passionately, and she embraced his knees. He tore
away, ran a couple of paces, turned again, and again fondled her
beautiful face and dark hair with kisses, as if he heard not those
impatient calls to the army.

“In the name of his holiness the pharaoh, I summon thee, follow me!”
cried Tutmosis; and he seized the prince’s hand.

They ran toward the trumpet-calls. Rameses tottered at moments like a
drunken man, and turned his head. At last they were climbing the
opposite hill.

“And this man,” thought Tutmosis, “wants to battle with the
priesthood!”