Moon of Israel
H. Rider Haggard
Part 3 out of 5
"And afterwards, Bakenkhonsu?"
"Afterwards--who knows? I am not a magician, at least not one of any
account, ask it of Ki. But I am very, very old and I have watched the
world, and I tell you that these things will happen, unless----" and
He dropped his voice.
"Unless Userti is bolder than I think, and kills her first or, better
still, procures some Hebrew to kill her--say, that cast-off lover of
hers. If you would be a friend to Pharaoh and to Egypt, you might
whisper it in her ear, Ana."
"Never!" I answered angrily.
"I did not think you would, Ana, who also struggle in this net of
moonbeams that is stronger and more real than any twisted out of palm
or flax. Well, nor will I, who in my age love to watch such human
sport and, being so near to them, fear to thwart the schemes of gods.
Let this scroll unroll itself as it will, and when it is open, read
it, Ana, and remember what I said to you this day. It will be a pretty
tale, written at the end with blood for ink. Oho! O-ho-ho!" and,
laughing, he hobbled from the room, leaving me frightened.
Moreover the Prince visited me every day, and even before I left my
bed began to dictate to me his report to Pharaoh, since he would
employ no other scribe. The substance of it was what he had
foreshadowed, namely that the people of Israel, having suffered much
for generations at the hands of the Egyptians, should now be allowed
to depart as their prophets demanded, and go whither they would
unharmed. Of the attack upon us in the pass he made light, saying it
was the evil work of a few zealots wrought on by fancied insult to
their god, a deed for which the whole people should not be called upon
to suffer. The last words of the report were:
"Remember, O Pharaoh, I pray thee, that Amon, god of the Egyptians,
and Jahveh, the god of the Israelites, cannot rule together in the
same land. If both abide in Egypt there will be a war of the gods
wherein mortals may be ground to dust. Therefore, I pray thee, let
After I had risen and was recovered, I copied out this report in my
fairest writing, refusing to tell any of its purport, although all
asked, among them the Vizier Nehesi, who offered me a bribe to
disclose its secret. This came to the ears of Seti, I know not how,
and he was much pleased with me about the matter, saying he rejoiced
to find that there was one scribe in Egypt who could not be bought.
Userti also questioned me, and when I refused to answer, strange to
say, was not angry, because, she declared, I only did my duty.
At last the roll was finished and sealed, and the Prince with his own
hand, but without speaking, laid it on the knees of Pharaoh at a
public Court, for this he would trust no one else to do. Amenmeses
also brought up his report, as did Nehesi the Vizier, and the Captain
of the guard which saved us from death. Eight days later the Prince
was summoned to a great Council of State, as were all others of the
royal House, together with the high officers. I too received a
summons, as one who had been concerned in these matters.
The Prince, accompanied by the Princess, drove to the palace in
Pharaoh's golden chariot, drawn by two milk-white horses of the blood
of those famous steeds that had saved the life of the great Rameses in
the Syrian war. All down the streets, that were filled with thousands
of the people, they were received with shouts of welcome.
"See," said the old councillor Bakenkhonsu, who was my companion in a
second chariot, "Egypt is proud and glad. It thought that its Prince
was but a dreamer of dreams. But now it has heard the tale of the
ambush in the pass and learned that he is a man of war, a warrior who
can fight with the best. Therefore it loves him and rejoices."
"Then, by the same rule, Bakenkhonsu, a butcher should be more great
than the wisest of scribes."
"So he is, Ana, especially if the butcher be one of men. The writer
creates, but the slayer kills, and in a world ruled of death he who
kills has more honour than he who creates. Hearken, now they are
shouting out your name. Is that because you are the author of certain
writings? I tell you, No. It is because you killed three men yonder in
the pass. If you would become famous and beloved, Ana, cease from the
writing of books and take to the cutting of throats."
"Yet the writer still lives when he is dead."
"Oho!" laughed Bakenkhonsu, "you are even more foolish than I thought.
How is a man advantaged by what happens when he is dead? Why, to-day
that blind beggar whining on the temple steps means more to Egypt than
all the mummies of all the Pharaohs, unless they can be robbed. Take
what life can give you, Ana, and do not trouble about the offerings
which are laid in the tombs for time to crumble."
"That is a mean faith, Bakenkhonsu."
"Very mean, Ana, like all else that we can taste and handle. A mean
faith suited to mean hearts, among whom should be reckoned all save
one in every thousand. Yet, if you would prosper, follow it, and when
you are dead I will come and laugh upon your grave, and say, 'Here
lies one of whom I had hoped higher things, as I hope them of your
"And not in vain, Bakenkhonsu, whatever may happen to the servant."
"That we shall learn, and ere long, I think. I wonder who will ride at
his side before the next Nile flood. By then, perchance, he will have
changed Pharaoh's golden chariot for an ox-cart, and you will goad the
oxen and talk to him of the stars--or, mayhap of the moon. Well, you
might both be happier thus, and she of the moon is a jealous goddess
who loves worship. Oho-ho! Here are the palace steps. Help me to
descend, Priest of the Lady of the Moon."
We entered the palace and were led through the great hall to a smaller
chamber where Pharaoh, who did not wear his robes of state, awaited
us, seated in a cedar chair. Glancing at him I saw that his face was
stern and troubled; also it seemed to me that he had grown older. The
Prince and Princess made obeisance to him, as did we lesser folk, but
he took no heed. When all were present and the doors had been shut,
"I have read your report, Son Seti, concerning your visit to the
Israelites, and all that chanced to you; and also the reports of you,
nephew Amenmeses, and of you, Officers, who accompanied the Prince of
Egypt. Before I speak of them, let the Scribe Ana, who was the chariot
companion of his Highness when the Hebrews attacked him, stand forward
and tell me all that passed."
So I advanced, and with bowed head repeated that tale, only leaving
out so far as was possible any mention of myself. When I had finished,
"He who speaks but half the truth is sometimes more mischievous than a
liar. Did you then sit in the chariot, Scribe, doing nothing while the
Prince battled for his life? Or did you run away? Speak, Seti, and say
what part this man played for good or ill."
Then the Prince told of my share in the fight, with words that brought
the blood to my brow. He told also how that it was I who, taking the
risk of his wrath, had ordered the guard of twenty men to follow us
unseen, had disguised two seasoned soldiers as chariot runners, and
had thought to send back the driver to summon help at the commencement
of the fray; how I had been hurt also, and was but lately recovered.
When he had finished, Pharaoh said:
"That this story is true I know from others. Scribe, you have done
well. But for you to-day his Highness would lie upon the table of the
embalmers, as indeed for his folly he deserves to do, and Egypt would
mourn from Thebes to the mouths of Nile. Come hither."
I came with trembling steps, and knelt before his Majesty. Around his
neck hung a beauteous chain of wrought gold. He took it, and cast it
over my head, saying:
"Because you have shown yourself both brave and wise, with this gold I
give you the title of Councillor and King's Companion, and the right
to inscribe the same upon your funeral stele. Let it be noted. Retire,
Scribe Ana, Councillor and King's Companion."
So I withdrew confused, and as I passed Seti, he whispered in my ear:
"I pray you, my lord, do not cease to be Prince's Companion, because
you have become that of the King."
Then Pharaoh ordered that the Captain of the guard should be advanced
in rank, and that gifts should be given to each of the soldiers, and
provision be made for the children of those who had been killed, with
double allowance to the families of the two men whom I had disguised
This done, once more Pharaoh spoke, slowly and with much meaning,
having first ordered that all attendants and guards should leave the
chamber. I was about to go also, but old Bakenkhonsu caught me by the
robe, saying that in my new rank of Councillor I had the right to
"Prince Seti," he said, "after all that I have heard, I find this
report of yours strange reading. Moreover, the tenor of it is
different indeed to that of those of the Count Amenmeses and the
officers. You counsel me to let these Israelites go where they will,
because of certain hardships that they have suffered in the past,
which hardships, however, have left them many and rich. That counsel I
am not minded to take. Rather am I minded to send an army to the land
of Goshen with orders to despatch this people, who conspired to murder
the Prince of Egypt, through the Gateway of the West, there to worship
their god in heaven or in hell. Aye, to slay them all from the
greybeard down to the suckling at the breast."
"I hear Pharaoh," said Seti, quietly.
"Such is my will," went on Meneptah, "and those who accompanied you
upon your business, and all my councillors think as I do, for truly
Egypt cannot bear so hideous a treason. Yet, according to our law and
custom it is needful, before such great acts of war and policy are
undertaken, that he who stands next to the throne, and is destined to
fill it, should give consent thereto. Do you consent, Prince of
"I do not consent, Pharaoh. I think it would be a wicked deed that
tens of thousands should be massacred for the reason that a few fools
waylaid a man who chanced to be of royal blood, because by
inadvertence, he had desecrated their sanctuary."
Now I saw that this answer made Pharaoh wroth, for never before had
his will been crossed in such a fashion. Still he controlled himself,
"Do you then consent, Prince, to a gentler sentence, namely that the
Hebrew people should be broken up; that the more dangerous of them
should be sent to labour in the desert mines and quarries, and the
rest distributed throughout Egypt, there to live as slaves?"
"I do not consent, Pharaoh. My poor counsel is written in yonder roll
and cannot be changed."
Meneptah's eyes flashed, but again he controlled himself, and asked:
"If you should come to fill this place of mine, Prince Seti, tell us,
here assembled, what policy will you pursue towards these Hebrews?"
"That policy, O Pharaoh, which I have counselled in the roll. If ever
I fill the throne, I shall let them go whither they will, taking their
goods with them."
Now all those present stared at him and murmured. But Pharaoh rose,
shaking with wrath. Seizing his robe where it was fastened at the
breast, he rent it, and cried in a terrible voice:
"Hear him, ye gods of Egypt! Hear this son of mine who defies me to my
face and would set your necks beneath the heel of a stranger god.
Prince Seti, in the presence of these royal ones, and these my
He said no more, for the Princess Userti, who till now had remained
silent, ran to him, and throwing her arms about him, began to whisper
in his ear. He hearkened to her, then sat himself down, and spoke
"The Princess brings it to my mind that this is a great matter, one
not to be dealt with hastily. It may happen that when the Prince has
taken counsel with her, and with his own heart, and perchance has
sought the wisdom of the gods, he will change the words which have
passed his lips. I command you, Prince, to wait upon me here at this
same hour on the third day from this. Meanwhile, I command all
present, upon pain of death, to say nothing of what has passed within
"I hear Pharaoh," said the Prince, bowing.
Meneptah rose to show that the Council was discharged, when the Vizier
Nehesi approached him, and asked:
"What of the Hebrew prisoners, O Pharaoh, those murderers who were
captured in the pass?"
"Their guilt is proved. Let them be beaten with rods till they die,
and if they have wives or children, let them be seized and sold as
"Pharaoh's will be done!" said the Vizier.
THE SMITING OF AMON
That evening I sat ill at ease in my work-chamber in Seti's palace,
making pretence to write, I who felt that great evils threatened my
lord the Prince, and knew not what to do to turn them from him. The
door opened, and old Pambasa the chamberlain appeared and addressed me
by my new titles, saying that the Hebrew lady Merapi, who had been my
nurse in sickness, wished to speak with me. Presently she came and
stood before me.
"Scribe Ana," she said, "I have but just seen my uncle Jabez, who has
come, or been sent, with a message to me," and she hesitated.
"Why was he sent, Lady? To bring you news of Laban?"
"Not so. Laban has fled away and none know where he is, and Jabez has
only escaped much trouble as the uncle of a traitress by undertaking
"What is the mission?"
"To pray me, if I would save myself from death and the vengeance of
God, to work upon the heart of his Highness, which I know not how to
"Yet I think you might find means, Merapi."
"----save through you, his friend and counsellor," she went on,
turning away her face. "Jabez has learned that it is in the mind of
Pharaoh utterly to destroy the people of Israel."
"How does he know that, Merapi?"
"I cannot say, but I think all the Hebrews know. I knew it myself
though none had told me. He has learned also that this cannot be done
under the law of Egypt unless the Prince who is heir to the throne and
of full age consents. Now I am come to pray you to pray the Prince not
"Why not pray to the Prince yourself, Merapi----" I began, when from
the shadows behind me I heard the voice of Seti, who had entered by
the private door bearing some writings in his hand, saying:
"And what prayer has the lady Merapi to make to me? Nay, rise and
speak, Moon of Israel."
"O Prince," she pleaded, "my prayer is that you will save the Hebrews
from death by the sword, as you alone have the power to do."
At this moment the doors opened and in swept the royal Userti.
"What does this woman here?" she asked.
"I think that she came to see Ana, wife, as I did, and as doubtless
you do. Also being here she prays me to save her people from the
"And I pray you, husband, to give her people to the sword, which they
have earned, who would have murdered you."
"And been paid, everyone of them, Userti, unless some still linger
beneath the rods," he added with a shudder. "The rest are innocent--
why should they die?"
"Because your throne hangs upon it, Seti. I say that if you continue
to thwart the will of Pharaoh, as by the law of Egypt you can do, he
will disinherit you and set your cousin Amenmeses in your place, as by
the law of Egypt he can do."
"I thought it, Userti. Yet why should I turn my back upon the right
over a matter of my private fortunes? The question is--is it the
She stared at him in amazement, she who never understood Seti and
could not dream that he would throw away the greatest throne in all
the world to save a subject people, merely because he thought that
they should not die. Still, warned by some instinct, she left the
first question unanswered, dealing only with the second.
"It is the right," she said, "for many reasons whereof I need give but
one, for in it lie all the others. The gods of Egypt are the true gods
whom we must serve and obey, or perish here and hereafter. The god of
the Israelites is a false god and those who worship him are heretics
and by their heresy under sentence of death. Therefore it is most
right that those whom the true gods have condemned should die by the
swords of their servants."
"That is well argued, Userti, and if it be so, mayhap my mind will
become as yours in this matter, so that I shall no longer stand
between Pharaoh and his desire. But is it so? There's the problem. I
will not ask you why you say that the gods of the Egyptians are the
true gods, because I know what you would answer, or rather that you
could give no answer. But I will ask this lady whether her god is a
false god, and if she replies that he is not, I will ask her to prove
this to me if she can. If she is able to prove it, then I think that
what I said to Pharaoh to-day I shall repeat three days hence. If she
is not able to prove it, then I shall consider very earnestly of the
matter. Answer now, Moon of Israel, remembering that many thousands of
lives may hang on what you say."
"O your Highness," began Merapi. Then she paused, clasped her hands
and looked upwards. I think that she was praying, for her lips moved.
As she stood thus I saw, and I think Seti saw also, a very wonderful
light grow on her face and gather in her eyes, a kind of divine fire
of inspiration and resolve.
"How can I, a poor Hebrew maiden, prove to your Highness that my God
is the true God and that the gods of Egypt are false gods? I know not,
and yet, is there any one god among all the many whom you worship,
whom you are prepared to set up against him?"
"Of a surety, Israelite," answered Userti. "There is Amon-Ra, Father
of the gods, of whom all other gods have their being, and from whom
they draw their strength. Yonder his statue sits in the sanctuary of
his ancient temple. Let your god stir him from his place! But what
will you bring forward against the majesty of Amon-Ra?"
"My God has no statues, Princess, and his place is in the hearts of
men, or so I have been taught by his prophets. I have nothing to bring
forward in this war save that which must be offered in all wars--my
"What do you mean?" asked Seti, astounded.
"I mean that I, unfriended and alone, will enter the presence of Amon-
Ra in his chosen sanctuary, and in the name of my God will challenge
him to kill me, if he can."
We stared at her, and Userti exclaimed:
"If he can! Hearken now to this blasphemer, and do you, Seti, accept
her challenge as hereditary high-priest of the god Amon? Let her life
pay forfeit for her sacrilege."
"And if the great god Amon cannot, or does not deign to kill you,
Lady, how will that prove that your god is greater than he?" asked the
Prince. "Perhaps he might smile and in his pity, let the insult pass,
as your god did by me."
"Thus it shall be proved, your Highness. If naught happens to me, or
if I am protected from anything that does happen, then I will dare to
call upon my god to work a sign and a wonder, and to humble Amon-Ra
before your eyes."
"And if your god should also smile and let the matter pass, Lady, as
he did by me the other day when his priests called upon him, what
shall we have learned as to his strength, or as to that of Amon-Ra?"
"O Prince, you will have learned nothing. Yet if I escape from the
wrath of Amon and my God is deaf to my prayer, then I am ready to be
delivered over into the hands of the priests of Amon that they may
avenge my sacrilege upon me."
"There speaks a great heart," said Seti; "yet I am not minded that
this lady should set her life upon such an issue. I do not believe
that either the high-god of Egypt or the god of the Israelites will
stir, but I am quite sure that the priests of Amon will avenge the
sacrilege, and that cruelly enough. The dice are loaded against you,
Lady. You shall not prove your faith with blood."
"Why not?" asked Userti. "What is this girl to you, Seti, that you
should stand between her and the fruit of her wickedness, you who at
least in name are the high-priest of the god whom she blasphemes and
who wear his robes at temple feasts? She believes in her god, leave it
to her god to help her as she has dared to say he will."
"You believe in Amon, Userti. Are you prepared to stake your life
against hers in this contest?"
"I am not so mad and vain, Seti, as to believe that the god of all the
world will descend from heaven to save me at my prayer, as this
impious girl pretends that she believes."
"You refuse. Then, Ana, what say you, who are a loyal worshipper of
"I say, O Prince, that it would be presumptuous of me to take
precedence of his high-priest in such a matter."
Seti smiled and answered:
"And the high-priest says that it would be presumptuous of him to push
so far the prerogative of a high office which he never sought."
"Your Highness," broke in Merapi in her honeyed, pleading voice, "I
pray you to be gracious to me, and to suffer me to make this trial,
which I have sought, I know not why. Words such as I have spoken
cannot be recalled. Already they are registered in the books of
Eternity, and soon or late, in this way or in that, must be fulfilled.
My life is staked, and I desire to learn at once if it be forfeit."
Now even Userti looked on her with admiration, but answered only:
"Of a truth, Israelite, I trust that this courage will not forsake you
when you are handed over to the mercies of Ki, the Sacrificer of Amon,
and the priests, in the vaults of the temple you would profane."
"I also trust that it will not, your Highness, if such should be my
fate. Your word, Prince of Egypt."
Seti looked at her standing before him so calmly with bowed head, and
hands crossed upon her breast. Then he looked at Userti, who wore a
mocking smile upon her face. She read the meaning of that smile as I
did. It was that she did not believe that he would allow this
beautiful woman, who had saved his life, to risk her life for the sake
of any or all the powers of heaven or hell. For a little while he
walked to and fro about the chamber, then he stopped and said suddenly
addressing, not Merapi, but Userti:
"Have your will, remembering that if this brave woman fails and dies,
her blood is on your hands, and that if she triumphs and lives, I
shall hold her to be one of the noblest of her sex, and shall make
study of all this matter of religion. Moon of Israel, as titular high-
priest of Amon-Ra, I accept your challenge on behalf of the god,
though whether he will take note of it I do not know. The trial shall
be made to-morrow night in the sanctuary of the temple, at an hour
that will be communicated to you. I shall be present to make sure that
you meet with justice, as will some others. Register my commands,
Scribe Ana, and let the head-priest of Amon, Roi, and the sacrificer
to Amon, Ki the Magician, be summoned, that I may speak with them.
She went, but at the door turned and said:
"I thank you, Prince, on my own behalf, and on that of my people.
Whatever chances, I beseech you do not forget the prayer that I have
made to you to save them, being innocent, from the sword. Now I ask
that I may be left quite alone till I am summoned to the temple, who
must make such preparation as I can to meet my fate, whatever it may
Userti departed also without a word.
"Oh! friend, what have I done?" said Seti. "Are there any gods? Tell
me, are there any gods?"
"Perhaps we shall learn to-morrow night, Prince," I answered. "At
least Merapi thinks that there is a god, and doubtless has been
commanded to put her faith to proof. This, as I believe, was the real
message that Jabez her uncle has brought to her."
It was the hour before the dawn, just when the night is darkest. We
stood in the sanctuary of the ancient temple of Amon-Ra, that was lit
with many lamps. It was an awful place. On either side the great
columns towered to the massive roof. At the head of the sanctuary sat
the statue of Amon-Ra, thrice the size of a man. On his brow, rising
from the crown, were two tall feathers of stone, and in his hands he
held the Scourge of Rule and the symbols of Power and Everlastingness.
The lamplight flickered upon his stern and terrible face staring
towards the east. To his right was the statue of Mut, the Mother of
all things. On her head was the double crown of Egypt and the urŠus
crest, and in her hand the looped cross, the sign of Life eternal. To
his left sat Khonsu, the hawk-headed god of the moon. On his head was
the crescent of the young moon carrying the disc of the full moon; in
his right hand he also held the looped cross, the sign of Life
eternal, and in his left the Staff of Strength. Such was this mighty
triad, but of these the greatest was Amon-Ra, to whom the shrine was
dedicated. Fearful they stood towering above us against the background
Gathered there were Seti the Prince, clothed in a priest's white robe,
and wearing a linen headdress, but no ornaments, and Userti the
Princess, high-priestess of Hathor, Lady of the West, Goddess of Love
and Nature. She wore Hathor's vulture headdress, and on it the disc of
the moon fashioned of silver. Also were present Roi the head-priest,
clad in his sacerdotal robes, an old and wizened man with a strong,
fierce face, Ki the Sacrificer and Magician, Bakenkhonsu the ancient,
myself, and a company of the priests of Amon-Ra, Mut, and Khonsu. From
behind the statues came the sound of solemn singing, though who sang
we could not see.
Presently from out of the darkness that lay beyond the lamps appeared
a woman, led by two priestesses and wrapped in a long cloak. They
brought her to an open place in front of the statue of Amon, took from
her the cloak and departed, glancing back at her with eyes of hate and
fear. There before us stood Merapi, clad in white, with a simple
wimple about her head made fast beneath her chin with that scarabŠus
clasp which Seti had given to her in the city of Goshen, one spot of
brightest blue amid a cloud of white. She looked neither to right nor
left of her. Once only she glanced at the towering statue of the god
that frowned above, then with a little shiver, fixed her eyes upon the
pattern of the floor.
"What does she look like?" whispered Bakenkhonsu to me.
"A corpse made ready for the embalmers," I answered.
He shook his great head.
"Then a bride made ready for her husband."
Again he shook his head.
"Then a priestess about to read from the roll of Mysteries."
"Now you have it, Ana, and to understand what she reads, which few
priestesses ever do. Also all three answers were right, for in this
woman I seem to see doom that is Death, life that is Love, and spirit
that is Power. She has a soul which both Heaven and Earth have
"Aye, but which of them will claim her in the end?"
"That we may learn before the dawn, Ana. Hush! the fight begins."
The head-priest, Roi, advanced and, standing before the god, sprinkled
his feet with water and with perfume. Then he stretched out his hands,
whereon all present prostrated themselves, save Merapi only, who stood
alone in that great place like the survivor of a battle.
"Hail to thee, Amon-Ra," he began, "Lord of Heaven, Establisher of all
things, Maker of the gods, who unrolled the skies and built the
foundations of the Earth. O god of gods, appears before thee this
woman Merapi, daughter of Nathan, a child of the Hebrew race that owns
thee not. This woman blasphemes thy might; this woman defies thee;
this woman sets up her god above thee. Is it not so, woman?"
"It is so," answered Merapi in a low voice.
"Thus does she defy thee, thou Only One of many Forms, saying 'if the
god Amon of the Egyptians be a greater god than my god, let him snatch
me out of the arms of my god and here in this the shrine of Amon take
the breath from out my lips and leave me a thing of clay.' Are these
thy words, O woman?"
"They are my words," she said in the same low voice, and oh! I
shivered as I heard.
The priest went on.
"O Lord of Time, Lord of Life, Lord of Spirits and the Divinities of
Heaven, Lord of Terror, come forth now in thy majesty and smite this
blasphemer to the dust."
Roi withdrew and Seti stood forward.
"Know, O god Amon," he said, addressing the statue as though he wee
speaking to a living man, "from the lips of me, thy high-priest, by
birth the Prince and Heir of Egypt, that great things hang upon this
matter here in the Land of Egypt, mayhap even who shall sit upon the
throne that thou givest to its kings. This woman of Israel dares thee
to thy face, saying that there is a greater god than thou art and that
thou canst not harm her through the buckler of his strength. She says,
moreover, that she will call upon her god to work a sign and a wonder
upon thee. Lastly, she says that if thou dost not harm her and if her
god works no sign upon thee, then she is ready to be handed over to
thy priests and die the death of a blasphemer. Thy honour is set
against her life, O great God of Egypt, and we, thy worshippers, watch
to see the balance turn."
"Well and justly put," muttered Bakenkhonsu to me. "Now if Amon fails
us, what will you think of Amon, Ana?"
"I shall learn the high-priest's mind and think what the high-priest
thinks," I answered darkly, though in my heart I was terribly afraid
for Merapi, and, to speak truth, for myself also, because of the
doubts which arose in me and would not be quenched.
Seti withdrew, taking his stand by Userti, and Ki stood forward and
"O Amon, I thy Sacrificer, I thy Magician, to whom thou givest power,
I the priest and servant of Isis, Mother of Mysteries, Queen of the
company of the gods, call upon thee. She who stands before thee is but
a Hebrew woman. Yet, as thou knowest well, O Father, in this house she
is more than woman, inasmuch as she is the Voice and Sword of thine
enemy, Jahveh, god of the Israelites. She thinks, mayhap, that she has
come here of her own will, but thou knowest, Father Amon, as I know,
that she is sent by the great prophets of her people, those magicians
who guide her soul with spells to work thee evil and to set thee,
Amon, beneath the heel of Jahveh. The stake seems small, the life of
this one maid, no more; yet it is very great. This is the stake, O
Father: Shall Amon rule the world, or Jahveh. If thou fallest
to-night, thou fallest for ever; if thou dost triumph to-night, thou
dost triumph for ever. In yonder shape of stone hides thy spirit; in
yonder shape of woman's flesh hides the spirit of thy foe. Smite her,
O Amon, smite her to small dust; let not the strength that is in her
prevail against thy strength, lest thy name should be defiled and
sorrows and loss should come upon the land which is thy throne; lest,
too, the wizards of the Israelites should overcome us thy servants.
Thus prayeth Ki thy magician, on whose soul it has pleased thee to
pour strength and wisdom."
Then followed a great silence.
Watching the statue of the god, presently I thought that it moved, and
as I could see by the stir among them, so did the others. I thought
that its stone eyes rolled, I thought that it lifted the Scourge of
Power in its granite hand, though whether these things were done by
some spirit or by some priest, or by the magic of Ki, I do not know.
At the least, a great wind began to blow about the temple, stirring
our robes and causing the lamps to flicker. Only the robes of Merapi
did not stir. Yet she saw what I could not see, for suddenly her eyes
"The god is awake," whispered Bakenkhonsu. "Now good-bye to your fair
Israelite. See, the Prince trembles, Ki smiles, and the face of Userti
glows with triumph."
As he spoke the blue scarabŠus was snatched from Merapi's breast as
though by a hand. It fell to the floor as did her wimple, so that now
she appeared with her rich hair flowing down her robe. Then the eyes
of the statue seemed to cease to roll, the wind ceased to blow, and
again there was silence.
Merapi stooped, lifted the wimple, replaced it on her head, found the
scarabŠus clasp, and very quietly, as a woman who was tiring herself
might do, made it fast in its place again, a sight at which I heard
For a long while we waited. Watching the faces of the congregation, I
saw amazement and doubt on those of the priests, rage on that of Ki,
and on Seti's the flicker of a little smile. Merapi's eyes were closed
as though she were asleep. At length she opened them, and turning her
head towards the Prince said:
"O high-priest of Amon-Ra, has your god worked his will on me, or must
I wait longer before I call upon my God?"
"Do what you will or can, woman, and make an end, for almost it is the
moment of dawn when the temple worship opens."
Then Merapi clasped her hands, and looking upwards, prayed aloud very
sweetly and simply, saying:
"O God of my fathers, trusting in Thee, I, a poor maid of Thy people
Israel, have set the life Thou gavest me in Thy Hand. If, as I
believe, Thou art the God of gods, I pray Thee show a sign and a
wonder upon this god of the Egyptians, and thereby declare Thine
Honour and keep my breath within my breast. If it pleases Thee not,
then let me die, as doubtless for my many sins I deserve to do. O God
of my fathers, I have made my prayer. Hear it or reject it according
to Thy Will."
So she ended, and listening to her, I felt the tears rising in my
eyes, because she was so much alone, and I feared that this god of
hers would never come to save her from the torments of the priests.
Seti also turned his head away, and stared down the sanctuary at the
sky over the open court where the lights of dawn were gathering.
Once more there was silence. Then again that wind blew, very strongly,
extinguishing the lamps, and, as it seemed to me, whirling away Merapi
from where she was, so that now she stood to one side of the statue.
The sanctuary was filled with gloom, till presently the first rays of
the rising sun struck upon the roof. They fell down, down, as minute
followed minute, till at length they rested like a sword of flame upon
the statue of Amon-Ra. Once more that statue seemed to move. I thought
that it lifted its stone arms to protect its head. Then in a moment
with a rending noise, its mighty mass burst asunder, and fell in small
dust about the throne, almost hiding it from sight.
"Behold my God has answered me, the most humble of His servants," said
Merapi in the same sweet and gentle voice. "Behold the sign and the
"Witch!" screamed the head-priest Roi, and fled away, followed by his
"Sorceress!" hissed Userti, and fled also, as did all the others, save
the Prince, Bakenkhonsu, I Ana, and Ki the Magician.
We stood amazed, and while we did so, Ki turned to Merapi and spoke.
His face was terrible with fear and fury, and his eyes shone like
lamps. Although he did but whisper, I who was nearest to them heard
all that was said, which the others could not do.
"Your magic is good, Israelite," he muttered, "so good that it has
overcome mine here in the temple where I serve."
"I have no magic," she answered very low. "I obeyed a command, no
He laughed bitterly, and asked:
"Should two of a trade waste time on foolishness? Listen now. Teach me
your secrets, and I will teach you mine, and together we will drive
Egypt like a chariot."
"I have no secrets, I have only faith," said Merapi again.
"Woman," he went on, "woman or devil, will you take me for friend or
foe? Here I have been shamed, since it was to me and not to their gods
that the priests trusted to destroy you. Yet I can still forgive.
Choose now, knowing that as my friendship will lead you to rule, to
life and splendour, so my hate will drive you to shame and death."
"You are beside yourself, and know not what you say. I tell you that I
have no magic to give or to withhold," she answered, as one who did
not understand or was indifferent, and turned away from him.
Thereon he muttered some curse which I could not catch, bowed to the
heap of dust that had been the statue of the god, and vanished away
among the pillars of the sanctuary.
"Oho-ho!" laughed Bakenkhonsu. "Not in vain have I lived to be so very
old, for now it seems we have a new god in Egypt, and there stands his
Merapi came to the prince.
"O high-priest of Amon," she said, "does it please you to let me go,
for I am very weary?"
THE DEATH OF PHARAOH
It was the appointed day and hour. By command of the Prince I drove
with him to the palace of Pharaoh, whither her Highness the Princess
refused to be his companion, and for the first time we talked together
of that which had passed in the temple.
"Have you seen the lady Merapi?" he asked of me.
I answered No, as I was told that she was sick within her house and
lay abed suffering from weariness, or I knew not what.
"She does well to keep there," said Seti, "I think that if she came
out those priests would murder her if they could. Also there are
others," and he glanced back at the chariot that bore Userti in state.
"Say, Ana, can you interpret all this matter?"
"Not I, Prince. I thought that perhaps your Highness, the high-priest
of Anon, could give me light."
"The high-priest of Amon wanders in thick darkness. Ki and the rest
swear that this Israelite is a sorceress who has outmatched their
magic, but to me it seems more simple to believe that what she says is
true; that her god is greater than Amon."
"And if this be true, Prince, what are we to do who are sworn to the
gods of Egypt?"
"Bow our heads and fall with them, I suppose, Ana, since honour will
not suffer us to desert them."
"Even if they be false, Prince?"
"I do not think that they are false, Ana, though mayhap they be less
true. At least they are the gods of the Egyptians and we are
Egyptians." He paused and glanced at the crowded streets, then added,
"See, when I passed this way three days ago I was received with shouts
of welcome by the people. Now they are silent, every one."
"Perhaps they have heard of what passed in the temple."
"Doubtless, but it is not that which troubles them who think that the
gods can guard themselves. They have heard also that I would befriend
the Hebrews whom they hate, and therefore they begin to hate me. Why
should I complain when Pharaoh shows them the way?"
"Prince," I whispered, "what will you say to Pharaoh?"
"That depends on what Pharaoh says to me. Ana, if I will not desert
our gods because they seem to be the weaker, though it should prove to
my advantage, do you think that I would desert these Hebrews because
they seem to be weaker, even to gain a throne?"
"There greatness speaks," I murmured, and as we descended from the
chariot he thanked me with a look.
We passed through the great hall to that same chamber where Pharaoh
had given me the chain of gold. Already he was there seated at the
head of the chamber and wearing on his head the double crown. About
him were gathered all those of royal blood and the great officers of
state. We made our obeisances, but of these he seemed to take no note.
His eyes were almost closed, and to me he looked like a man who is
very ill. The Princess Userti entered after us and to her he spoke
some words of welcome, giving her his hand to kiss. Then he ordered
the doors to be closed. As he did so, an officer of the household
entered and said that a messenger had come from the Hebrews who
desired speech with Pharaoh.
"Let him enter," said Meneptah, and presently he appeared.
He was a wild-eyed man of middle age, with long hair that fell over
his sheepskin robe. To me he looked like a soothsayer. He stood before
Pharaoh, making no salutation.
"Deliver your message and be gone," said Nehesi the Vizier.
"These are the words of the Fathers of Israel, spoken by my lips,"
cried the man in a voice that rang all round the vaulted chamber. "It
has come to our ears, O Pharaoh, that the woman Merapi, daughter of
Nathan, who has refuged in your city, she who is named Moon of Israel,
has shown herself to be a prophetess of power, one to whom our God has
given strength, in that, standing alone amidst the priests and
magicians of Amon of the Egyptians, she took no harm from their
sorceries and was able with the sword of prayer to smite the idol of
Amon to the dust. We demand that this prophetess be restored to us,
making oath on our part that she shall be given over safely to her
betrothed husband and that no harm shall come to her for any crimes or
treasons she may have committed against her people."
"As to this matter," replied Pharaoh quietly, "make your prayer to the
Prince of Egypt, in whose household I understand the woman dwells. If
it pleases him to surrender her who, I take it, is a witch or a
cunning worker of tricks, to her betrothed and her kindred, let him do
so. It is not for Pharaoh to judge of the fate of private slaves."
The man wheeled round and addressed Seti, saying:
"You have heard, Son of the King. Will you deliver up this woman?"
"Neither do I promise to deliver her up nor not to deliver her up,"
answered Seti, "since the lady Merapi is no member of my household,
nor have I any authority over her. She who saved my life dwells within
my walls for safety's sake. If it pleases her to go, she can go; if it
pleases her to remain, she can remain. When this Court is finished I
give you safe-conduct to appear and in my presence learn her pleasure
from her lips."
"You have your answer; now be gone," said Nehesi.
"Nay," cried the man, "I have more words to speak. Thus say the
Fathers of Israel: We know the black counsel of your heart, O Pharaoh.
It has been revealed to us that it is in your mind to put the Hebrews
to the sword, as it is in the mind of the Prince of Egypt to save them
from the sword. Change that mind of yours, O Pharaoh, and swiftly,
lest death fall upon you from heaven above."
"Cease!" thundered Meneptah in a voice that stilled the murmurs of the
court. "Dog of a Hebrew, do you dare to threaten Pharaoh on his own
throne? I tell you that were you not a messenger, and therefore
according to our ancient law safe till the sun sets, you should be
hewn limb from limb. Away with him, and if he is found in this city
after nightfall let him be slain!"
Then certain of the councillors sprang upon the man and thrust him
forth roughly. At the door he wrenched himself free and shouted:
"Think upon my words, Pharaoh, before this sun has set. And you, great
ones of Egypt, think on them also before it appears again."
They drove him out with blows and the doors were shut. Once more
Meneptah began to speak, saying:
"Now that this brawler is gone, what have you to say to me, Prince of
Egypt? Do you still give me the counsel that you wrote in the roll? Do
you still refuse, as heir of the Throne, to assent to my decree that
these accursed Hebrews be destroyed with the sword of my justice?"
Now all turned their eyes on Seti, who thought a while, and answered:
"Let Pharaoh pardon me, but the counsel that I gave I still give; the
assent that I refused I still refuse, because my heart tells me that
so it is right to do, and so I think will Egypt be saved from many
When the scribes had finished writing down these words Pharaoh asked
"Prince of Egypt, if in a day to come you should fill my place, is it
still your intent to let this people of the Hebrews go unharmed,
taking with them the wealth that they have gathered here?"
"Let Pharaoh pardon me, that is still my intent."
Now at these fateful words there arose a sigh of astonishment from all
that heard them. Before it had died away Pharaoh had turned to Userti
and was asking:
"Are these your counsel, your will, and your intent also, O Princess
"Let Pharaoh hear me," answered Userti in a cold, clear voice, "they
are not. In this great matter my lord the Prince walks one road and I
walk another. My counsel, will, and intent are those of Pharaoh."
"Seti my son," said Meneptah, more kindly than I had ever heard him
speak before, "for the last time, not as your king but as your father,
I pray you to consider. Remembering that as it lies in your power,
being of full age and having been joined with me in many matters of
government, to refuse your assent to a great act of state, so it lies
in my power with the assent of the high-priests and of my ministers to
remove you from my path. Seti, I can disinherit you and set another in
your place, and if you persist, that and no less I shall do. Consider,
therefore, my son."
In the midst of an intense silence Seti answered:
"I have considered, O my Father, and whatever be the cost to me I
cannot go back upon my words."
Then Pharaoh rose and cried:
"Take note all you assembled here, and let it be proclaimed to the
people of Egypt without the gates, that they take note also, that I
depose Seti my son from his place as Prince of Egypt and declare that
he is removed from the succession to the double Crown. Take note that
my daughter Userti, Princess of Egypt, wife of the Prince Seti, I do
not depose. Whatever rights and heritages are hers as heiress of Egypt
let those rights and heritages remain to her, and if a child be born
of her and Prince Seti, who lives, let that child be heir to the
Throne of Egypt. Take note that, if no such child is born or until
it is born, I name my nephew, the count Amenmeses, son of by brother
Khaemuas, now gathered to Osiris, to fill the Throne of Egypt when I
am no more. Come hither, Count Amenmeses."
He advanced and stood before him. Then Pharaoh lifted from his head
the double crown he wore and for a moment set it on the brow of
Amenmeses, saying as he replaced it on his own head:
"By this act and token do I name and constitute you, Amenmeses, to be
Royal Prince of Egypt in place of my son, Prince Seti, deposed.
Withdraw, Royal Prince of Egypt. I have spoken."
"Life! Blood! Strength!" cried all the company bowing before Pharaoh,
all save the Prince Seti who neither bowed nor stirred. Only he cried:
"And I have heard. Will Pharaoh be pleased to declare whether with my
royal heritage he takes my life? If so, let it be here and now. My
cousin Amenmeses wears a sword."
"Nay, Son," answered Meneptah sadly, "your life is left to you and
with it all your private rank and your possessions whatsoever and
wherever they may be."
"Let Pharaoh's will be done," replied Seti indifferently, "in this as
in all things. Pharaoh spares my life until such time as Amenmeses his
successor shall fill his place, when it shall be taken."
Meneptah started; this thought was new to him.
"Stand forth, Amenmeses," he cried, "and swear now the threefold oath
that may not be broken. Swear by Amon, by Ptah, and by Osiris, god of
death, that never will you attempt to harm the Prince Seti, your
cousin, either in body or in such state and prerogative as remain to
him. Let Roi, the head-priest of Amon, administer the oath now before
So Roi spoke the oath in the ancient form, which was terrible even to
hear, and Amenmeses, unwillingly enough as I thought, repeated it
after him, adding however these words at the end, "All these things I
swear and all these penalties in this world and the world to be I
invoke upon my head, provided only that when the time comes the Prince
Seti leaves me in peace upon the throne to which it has pleased
Pharaoh to decree to me."
Now some there murmured that this was not enough, since in their
hearts there were few who did not love Seti and grieve to see him thus
stripped of his royal heritage because his judgment differed from that
of Pharaoh over a matter of State policy. But Seti only laughed and
"Let be, for of what value are such oaths? Pharaoh on the throne is
above all oaths who must make answer to the gods only and from the
hearts of some the gods are far away. Let Amenmeses not fear that I
shall quarrel with him over this matter of a crown, I who in truth
have never longed for the pomp and cares of royalty and who, deprived
of these, still possess all that I can desire. I go my way
henceforward as one of many, a noble of Egypt--no more, and if in a
day to come it pleases the Pharaoh to be to shorten my wanderings, I
am not sure that even then I shall grieve so very much, who am content
to accept the judgment of the gods, as in the end he must do also.
Yet, Pharaoh my father, before we part I ask leave to speak the
thoughts that rise in me."
"Say on," muttered Meneptah.
"Pharaoh, having your leave, I tell you that I think you have done a
very evil work this day, one that is unpleasing to those Powers which
rule the world, whoever and whatsoever they may be, one too that will
bring upon Egypt sorrows countless as the sand. I believe that these
Hebrews whom you unjustly seek to slay worship a god as great or
greater than our own, and that they and he will triumph over Egypt. I
believe also that the mighty heritage which you have taken from me
will bring neither joy nor honour to him by whom it has been
Here Amenmeses started forward, but Meneptah held up his hand, and he
"I believe, Pharaoh--alas! that I must say it--that your days on earth
are few and that for the last time we look on each other living.
Farewell, Pharaoh my father, whom still I love mayhap more in this
hour of parting than ever I did before. Farewell, Amenmeses, Prince of
Egypt. Take from me this ornament which henceforth should be worn by
you only," and lifting from his headdress that royal circlet which
marks the heir to the throne, he held it to Amenmeses, who took it
and, with a smile of triumph, set it on his brow.
"Farewell, Lords and Councillors; it is my hope that in yonder prince
you will find a master more to your liking that ever I could have
been. Come, Ana, my friend, if it still pleases you to cling to me for
a little while, now that I have nothing left to give."
For a few moments he stood still looking very earnestly at his father,
who looked back at him with tears in his deep-set, faded eyes.
Then, though whether this was by chance I cannot say, taking no note
of the Princess Userti, who gazed at him perplexed and wrathful, Seti
drew himself up and cried in the ancient form:
"Life! Blood! Strength! Pharaoh! Pharaoh! Pharaoh!" and bowed almost
to the ground.
Meneptah heard. Muttering beneath his breath, "Oh! Seti, my son, my
most beloved son!" he stretched out his arms as though to call him
back or perhaps to clasp him. As he did so I saw his face change. Next
instant he fell forward to the ground and lay there still. All the
company stood struck with horror, only the royal physician ran to him,
while Roi and others who were priests began to mutter prayers.
"Has the good god been gathered to Osiris?" asked Amenmeses presently
in a hoarse voice, "because if it be so, I am Pharaoh."
"Nay, Amenmeses," exclaimed Userti, "the decrees have not yet been
sealed or promulgated. They have neither strength nor weight."
Before he could answer the physician cried:
"Peace! Pharaoh still lives, his heart beats. This is but a fit which
may pass. Begone, every one, he must have quiet."
So we went, but first Seti knelt down and kissed his father on the
An hour later the Princess Userti broke into the room of his palace
where the Prince and I were talking.
"Seti," she said, "Pharaoh still lives, but the physicians say he will
be dead by dawn. There is yet time. Here I have a writing, sealed with
his signet and witnessed, wherein he recalls all that he decreed in
the Court to-day, and declares you, his son, to be the true and only
heir of the throne of Egypt."
"Is it so, wife? Tell me now how did a dying man in a swoon command
and seal this writing?" and he touched the scroll she held in her
"He recovered for a little while; Nehesi will tell you how," she
replied, looking him in the face with cold eyes. Then before he could
speak, she added, "Waste no more breath in questions, but act and at
once. The General of the guards waits below; he is your faithful
servant. Through him I have promised a gift to every soldier on the
day that you are crowned. Nehesi and most of the officers are on our
side. Only the priests are against us because of that Hebrew witch
whom you shelter, and of her tribe whom you befriend; but they have
not had time to stir up the people nor will they attempt revolt. Act,
Seti, act, for none will move without your express command. Moreover,
no question will be raised afterwards, since from Thebes to the sea
and throughout the world you are known to be the heir of Egypt."
"What would you have me do, wife?" asked Seti, when she paused for
lack of breath.
"Cannot you guess? Must I put statecraft into your head as well as a
sword into your hand? Why that scribe of yours, who follows your heels
like a favoured dog, would be more apt a pupil. Hearken then.
Amenmeses has sent out to gather strength, but as yet there are not
fifty men about him whom he can trust." She leant forward and
whispered fiercely, "Kill the traitor, Amenmeses--all will hold it a
righteous act, and the General waits your word. Shall I summon him?"
"I think not," answered Seti. "Because Pharaoh, as he has a right to
do, is pleased to name a certain man of royal blood to succeed him,
how does this make that man a traitor to Pharaoh who still lives? But,
traitor or none, I will not murder my cousin Amenmeses."
"Then he will murder you."
"Maybe. That is a matter between him and the gods which I leave them
to settle. The oath he swore to-day is not one to be lightly broken.
But whether he breaks it or not, I also swore an oath, at least in my
heart, namely that I would not attempt to dispute the will of Pharaoh
whom, after all, I love as my father and honour as my king, Pharaoh
who still lives and may, as I hope, recover. What should I say to him
if he recovered or, at the worst, when at last we meet elsewhere?"
"Pharaoh never will recover; I have spoken to the physician and he
told me so. Already they pierce his skull to let out the evil spirit
of sickness, after which none of our family have lived for very long."
"Because, as I hold, thereby, whatever priests and physicians may say,
they let in the good spirit of death. Ana, I pray you if I----"
"Man," she broke in, striking her hand upon the table by which she
stood, "do you understand that while you muse and moralise your crown
is passing from you?"
"It has already passed, Lady. Did you not see me give it to
"Do you understand that you who should be the greatest king in all the
world, in some few hours if indeed you are allowed to live, will be
nothing but a private citizen of Egypt, one at whom the very beggars
may spit and take no harm?"
"Surely, Wife. Moreover, there is little virtue in what I do, since on
the whole I prefer that prospect and am willing to take the risk of
being hurried from an evil world. Hearken," he added, with a change of
tone and gesture. "You think me a fool and a weakling; a dreamer also,
you, the clear-eyed, hard-brained stateswoman who look to the
glittering gain of the moment for which you are ready to pay in blood,
and guess nothing of what lies beyond. I am none of these things,
except, perchance, the last. I am only a man who strives to be just
and to do right, as right seems to me, and if I dream, it is of good,
not evil, as I understand good and evil. You are sure that this
dreaming of mine will lead me to worldly loss and shame. Even of that
/I/ am not sure. The thought comes to me that it may lead me to those
very baubles on which you set your heart, but by a path strewn with
spices and with flowers, not by one paved with the bones of men and
reeking with their gore. Crowns that are bought with the promise of
blood and held with cruelty are apt to be lost in blood, Userti."
She waved her hand. "I pray you keep the rest, Seti, till I have more
time to listen. Moreover if I need prophecies, I think it better to
turn to Ki and those who make them their life-study. For me this is a
day of deeds, not dreams, and since you refuse my help, and behave as
a sick girl lost in fancies, I must see to myself. As while you live I
cannot reign alone or wage war in my own name only, I go to make terms
with Amenmeses, who will pay me high for peace."
"You go--and do you return, Userti?"
She drew herself to her full height, looking very royal, and answered
"I do not return. I, the Princess of Egypt, cannot live as the wife of
a common man who falls from a throne to set himself upon the earth,
and smears his own brow with mud for a urŠus crown. When your
prophecies come true, Seti, and you crawl from your dust, then perhaps
we may speak again."
"Aye, Userti, but the question is, what shall we say?"
"Meanwhile," she added, as she turned, "I leave you to your chosen
counsellors--yonder scribe, whom foolishness, not wisdom, has whitened
before his time, and perchance the Hebrew sorceress, who can give you
moonbeams to drink from those false lips of hers. Farewell, Seti, once
a prince and my husband."
"Farewell, Userti, who, I fear, must still remain my sister."
Then he watched her go, and turning to me, said:
"To-day, Ana, I have lost both a crown and a wife, yet strange to tell
I do not know which of these calamities grieves me least. Yet it is
time that fortune turned. Or mayhap all the evils are not done. Would
you not go also, Ana? Although she gibes at you in her anger, the
Princess thinks well of you, and would keep you in her service.
Remember, whoever falls in Egypt, she will be great till the last."
"Oh! Prince," I answered, "have I not borne enough to-day that you
must add insult to my load, you with whom I broke the cup and swore
"What!" he laughed. "Is there one in Egypt who remembers oaths to his
own loss? I thank you, Ana," and taking my hand he pressed it.
At that moment the door opened, and old Pambasa entered, saying:
"The Hebrew woman, Merapi, would see you; also two Hebrew men."
"Admit them," said Seti. "Note, Ana, how yonder old time-server turns
his face from the setting sun. This morning even it would have been
'to see your Highness,' uttered with bows so low that his beard swept
the floor. Now it is 'to see you' and not so much as an inclination of
the head in common courtesy. This, moreover, from one who has robbed
me year by year and grown fat on bribes. It is the first of many
bitter lessons, or rather the second--that of her Highness was the
first; I pray that I may learn them with humility."
While he mused thus and, having no comfort to offer, I listened sad at
heart, Merapi entered, and a moment after her the wide-eyed messenger
whom we had seen in Pharaoh's Court, and her uncle Jabez the cunning
merchant. She bowed low to Seti, and smiled at me. Then the other two
appeared, and with small salutation the messenger began to speak.
"You know my demand, Prince," he said. "It is that this woman should
be returned to her people. Jabez, her uncle, will lead her away."
"And you know my answer, Israelite," answered Seti. "It is that I have
no power over the coming or the going of the lady Merapi, or at least
wish to claim none. Address yourself to her."
"What is it you wish with me, Priest?" asked Merapi quickly.
"That you should return to the town of Goshen, daughter of Nathan.
Have you no ears to hear?"
"I hear, but if I return, what will you of me?"
"That you who have proved yourself a prophetess by your deeds in
yonder temple should dedicate your powers to the service of your
people, receiving in return full forgiveness for the evils you have
wrought against them, which we swear to you in the name of God."
"I am no prophetess, and I have wrought no evils against my people,
Priest. I have only saved them from the evil of murdering one who has
shown himself their friend, even as I hear to the laying down of his
crown for their sake."
"That is for the Fathers of Israel and not for you to judge, woman.
"It is neither for them nor for me, but for God only." She paused,
then added, "Is this all you ask of me?"
"It is all the Fathers ask, but Laban asks his affianced wife."
"And am I to be given in marriage to--this assassin?"
"Without doubt you are to be given to this brave soldier, being
"And if I refuse?"
"Then, Daughter of Nathan, it is my part to curse you in the name of
God, and to declare you cut off and outcast from the people of God. It
is my part to announce to you further that your life is forfeit, and
that any Hebrew may kill you when and how he can, and take no blame."
Merapi paled a little, then turning to Jabez, asked:
"You have heard, my uncle. What say you?"
Jabez looked round shiftily, and said in his unctuous voice:
"My niece, surely you must obey the commands of the Elders of Israel
who speak the will of Heaven, as you obeyed them when you matched
yourself against the might of Amon."
"You gave me a different counsel yesterday, my uncle. Then you said I
had better bide where I was."
The messenger turned and glared at him.
"There is a great difference between yesterday and to-day," went on
Jabez hurriedly. "Yesterday you were protected by one who would soon
be Pharaoh, and might have been able to move his mind in favour of
your folk. To-day his greatness is stripped from him, and his will has
no more weight in Egypt. A dead lion is not to be feared, my niece."
Seti smiled at this insult, but Merapi's face, like my own, grew red,
as though with anger.
"Sleeping lions have been taken for dead ere now, my uncle, as those
who would spurn them have discovered to their cost. Prince Seti, have
you no word to help me in this strait?"
"What is the strait, Lady? If you wish to go to your people and--to
Laban, who, I understand, is recovered from his hurts, there is naught
between you and me save my gratitude to you which gives me the right
to say you shall not go. If, however, you wish to stay, then perhaps I
am still not so powerless to shield or smite as this worthy Jabez
thinks, who still remain the greatest lord in Egypt and one with those
that love him. Therefore should you desire to remain, I think that you
may do so unmolested of any, and least of all by that friend in whose
shadow it pleases you to sojourn."
"Those are very gentle words," murmured Merapi, "words that few would
speak to a maid from whom naught is asked and who has naught to give."
"A truce to this talk," snarled the messenger. "Do you obey or do you
rebel? Your answer."
She turned and looked him full in the face, saying:
"I do not return to Goshen and to Laban, of whose sword I have seen
"Mayhap you will see more of it before all is done. For the last time,
think ere the curse of your God and your people falls upon you, and
after it, death. For fall I say it shall, I, who, as Pharaoh knows
to-day, am no false prophet, and as that Prince knows also."
"I do not think that my God, who sees the hearts of those that he has
made, will avenge himself upon a woman because she refuses to be
wedded to a murderer whom of her own will she never chose, which,
Priest, is the fate you offer me. Therefore I am content to leave
judgment in the hands of the great Judge of all. For the rest I defy
you and your commands. If I must be slaughtered, let me die, but at
least let me die mistress of myself and free, who am no man's love, or
wife, or slave."
"Well spoken!" whispered Seti to me.
Then this priest became terrible. Waving his arms and rolling his wild
eyes, he poured out some hideous curse upon the head of this poor
maid, much of which, as it was spoken rapidly in an ancient form of
Hebrew, we did not understand. He cursed her living, dying, and after
death. He cursed her in her love and hate, wedded or alone. He cursed
her in child-bearing or in barrenness, and he cursed her children
after her to all generations. Lastly, he declared her cut off from and
rejected by the god she worshipped, and sentenced her to death at the
hands of any who could slay her. So horrible was that curse that she
shrank away from him, while Jabez crouched about the ground hiding his
eyes with his hands, and even I felt my blood turn cold.
At length he paused, foaming at the lips. Then, suddenly, shouting,
"After judgment, doom!" he drew a knife from his robe and sprang at
She fled behind us. He followed, but Seti, crying, "Ah, I thought it,"
leapt between them, as he did so drawing the iron sword which he wore
with his ceremonial dress. At him he sprang and the next thing I saw
was the red point of the sword standing out beyond the priest's
Down he fell, babbling:
"Is this how you show your love for Israel, Prince?"
"It is how I show my hate of murderers," answered Seti.
Then the man died.
"Oh!" cried Merapi wringing her hands, "once more I have caused Hebrew
blood to flow and now all this curse will fall on me."
"Nay, on me, Lady, if there is anything in curses, which I doubt, for
this deed was mine, and at the worst yonder mad brute's knife did not
fall on you."
"Yes, life is left if only for a little while. Had it not been for
you, Prince, by now, I----" and she shuddered.
"And had it not been for you, Moon of Israel, by now I----" and he
smiled, adding, "Surely Fate weaves a strange web round you and me.
First you save me from the sword; then I save you. I think, Lady, that
in the end we ought to die together and give Ana here stuff for the
best of all his stories. Friend Jabez," he went on to the Israelite
who was still crouching in the corner with the eyes starting from his
head, "get you back to your gentle-hearted people and make it clear to
them why the lady Merapi cannot companion you, taking with you that
carrion to prove your tale. Tell them that if they send more men to
molest your niece a like fate awaits them, but that now as before I do
not turn my back upon them because of the deeds of a few madmen or
evil-doers, as I have given them proof to-day. Ana, make ready, since
soon I leave for Memphis. See that the Lady Merapi, who will travel
alone, has fit escort for her journey, that is if it pleases her to
depart from Tanis."
THE CROWNING OF AMENMESES
Now, notwithstanding all the woes that fell on Egypt and a certain
secret sorrow of my own, began the happiest of the days which the gods
have given me. We went to Mennefer or Memphis, the white-walled city
where I was born, the city that I loved. Now no longer did I dwell in
a little house near to the enclosure of the temple of Ptah, which is
vaster and more splendid than all those of Thebes or Tanis. My home
was in the beautiful palace of Seti, which he had inherited from his
mother, the Great Royal Wife. It stood, and indeed still stands, on a
piled-up mound without the walls near to the temple of the goddess
Neit, who always has her habitation to the north of the wall, why I do
not know, because even her priests cannot tell me. In front of this
palace, facing to the north, is a great portico, whereof the roof is
borne upon palm-headed, painted columns whence may be seen the most
lovely prospect in Egypt. First the gardens, then the palm-groves,
then the cultivated land, then the broad and gentle Nile and, far
away, the desert.
Here, then, we dwelt, keeping small state and almost unguarded, but in
wealth and comfort, spending our time in the library of the palace, or
in those of the temples, and when we wearied of work, in the lovely
gardens or, perchance, sailing upon the bosom of the Nile. The lady
Merapi dwelt there also, but in a separate wing of the palace, with
certain slaves and servants whom Seti had given to her. Sometimes we
met her in the gardens, where it pleased her to walk at the same hours
that we did, namely before the sun grew hot, or in the cool of the
evening, and now and again when the moon shone at night. Then the
three of us would talk together, for Seti never sought her company
alone or within walls.
Those talks were very pleasant. Moreover they grew more frequent as
time went on, since Merapi had a thirst for learning, and the Prince
would bring her rolls to read in a little summer-house there was. Here
we would sit, or if the heat was great, outside beneath the shadow of
two spreading trees that stretched above the roof of the little
pleasure-house, while Seti discoursed of the contents of the rolls and
instructed her in the secrets of our writing. Sometimes, too, I read
them stories of my making, to which it pleased them both to listen, or
so they said, and I, in my vanity, believed. Also we would talk of the
mystery and the wonder of the world and of the Hebrews and their fate,
or of what passed in Egypt and the neighbouring lands.
Nor was Merapi altogether lonesome, seeing that there dwelt in Memphis
certain ladies who had Hebrew blood in their veins, or were born of
the Israelites and had married Egyptians against their law. Among
these she made friends, and together they worshipped in their own
fashion with none to say them nay, since here no priests were allowed
to trouble them.
For our part we held intercourse with as many as we pleased, since few
forgot that Seti was by blood the Prince of Egypt, that is, a man
almost half divine, and all were eager to visit him. Also he was much
beloved for his own sake and more particularly by the poor, whose
wants it was his delight to relieve to the full limit of his wealth.
Thus it came about that whenever he went abroad, although against his
will, he was received with honours and homage that were almost royal,
for though Pharaoh could rob him of the Crown he could not empty his
veins of the blood of kings.
It was on this account that I feared for his safety, since I was sure
that through his spies Amenmeses knew all and would grow jealous of a
dethroned prince who was still so much adored by those over whom of
right he should have ruled. I told Seti of my doubts and that when he
travelled the streets he should be guarded by armed men. But he only
laughed and answered that, as the Hebrews had failed to kill him, he
did not think that any others would succeed. Moreover he believed
there were no Egyptians in the land who would lift a sword against
him, or put poison in his drink, whoever bade them. Also he added
"The best way to escape death is to have no fear of death, for then
Osiris shuns us."
Now I must tell of the happenings at Tanis. Pharaoh Meneptah lingered
but a few hours and never found his mind again before his spirit flew
to Heaven. Then there was great mourning in the land, for, if he was
not loved, Meneptah was honoured and feared. Only among the Israelites
there was open rejoicing, because he had been their enemy and their
prophets had foretold that death was near to him. They gave it out
that he had been smitten of their God, which caused the Egyptians to
hate them more than ever. There was doubt, too, and bewilderment in
Egypt, for though his proclamation disinheriting the Prince Seti had
been published abroad, the people, and especially those who dwelt in
the south, could not understand why this should have been done over a
matter of the shepherd slaves who dwelt in Goshen. Indeed, had the
Prince but held up his hand, tens of thousands would have rallied to
his standard. Yet this he refused to do, which astonished all the
world, who thought it marvellous that any man should refuse a throne
which would have lifted him almost to the level of the gods. Indeed,
to avoid their importunities he had set out at once for Memphis, and
there remained hidden away during the period of mourning for his
father. So it came about that Amenmeses succeeded with none to say him
nay, since without her husband Userti could not or would not act.
After the days of embalmment were accomplished the body of Pharaoh
Meneptah was carried up the Nile to be laid in his eternal house, the
splendid tomb that he had made ready for himself in the Valley of Dead
Kings at Thebes. To this great ceremony the Prince Seti was not
bidden, lest, as Bakenkhonsu told me afterwards, his presence should
cause some rising in his favour, with or without his will. For this
reason also the dead god, as he was named, was not suffered to rest at
Memphis on his last journey up the Nile. Disguised as a man of the
people the Prince watched his father's body pass in the funeral barge
guarded by shaven, white-robed priests, the centre of a splendid
procession. In front went other barges filled with soldiers and
officers of state, behind came the new Pharaoh and all the great ones
of Egypt, while the sounds of lamentation floated far over the face of
the waters. They appeared, they passed, they disappeared, and when
they had vanished Seti wept a little, for in his own fashion he loved
"Of what use is it to be a king and named half-divine, Ana," he said
to me, "seeing that the end of such gods as these is the same as that
of the beggar at the gate?"
"This, Prince," I answered, "that a king can do more good than a
beggar while the breath is in his nostrils, and leave behind him a
great example to others."
"Or more harm, Ana. Also the beggar can leave a great example, that of
patience in affliction. Still, if I were sure that I should do nothing
but good, then perhaps I would be a king. But I have noted that those
who desire to do the most good often work the greatest harm."
"Which, if followed out, would be an argument for wishing to do evil,
"Not so," he answered, "because good triumphs at the last. For good is
truth and truth rules earth and heaven."
"Then it is clear, Prince, that you should seek to be a king."
"I will remember the argument, Ana, if ever time brings me an
opportunity unstained by blood," he answered.
When the obsequies of Pharaoh were finished, Amenmeses returned to
Tanis, and there was crowned as Pharaoh. I attended this great
ceremony, bearing coronation gifts of certain royal ornaments which
the Prince sent to Pharaoh, saying it was not fit that he, as a
private person, should wear them any longer. These I presented to
Pharaoh, who took them doubtfully, declaring that he did not
understand the Prince Seti's mind and actions.
"They hide no snare, O Pharaoh," I said. "As you rejoice in the glory
that the gods have sent you, so the Prince my master rejoices in the
rest and peace which the gods have given him, asking no more."
"It may be so, Scribe, but I find this so strange a thing, that
sometimes I fear lest the rich flowers of this glory of mine should
hide some deadly snake, whereof the Prince knows, if he did not set it
"I cannot say, O Pharaoh, but without doubt, although he could work no
guile, the Prince is not as are other men. His mind is both wide and
"Too deep for me," muttered Amenmeses. "Nevertheless, say to my royal
cousin that I thank him for his gifts, especially as some of them were
worn, when he was heir to Egypt, by my father Khaemuas, who I would
had left me his wisdom as well as his blood. Say to him also that
while he refrains from working me harm upon the throne, as I know he
has done up to the present, he may be sure that I will work him none
in the station which he has chosen."
Also I saw the Princess Userti who questioned me closely concerning
her lord. I told her everything, keeping naught back. She listened and
"What of that Hebrew woman, Moon of Israel? Without doubt she fills my
"Not so, Princess," I answered. "The Prince lives alone. Neither she
nor any other woman fills your place. She is a friend to him, no
"A friend! Well, at least we know the end of such friendships. Oh!
surely the Prince must be stricken with madness from the gods!"
"It may be so, your Highness, but I think that if the gods smote more
men with such madness, the world would be better than it is."
"The world is the world, and the business of those who are born to
greatness is to rule it as it is, not to hide away amongst books and
flowers, and to talk folly with a beautiful outland woman, and a
scribe however learned," she answered bitterly, adding, "Oh! if the
Prince is not mad, certainly he drives others to madness, and me, his
spouse, among them. That throne is his, his; yet he suffers a cross-
grained dolt to take his place, and sends him gifts and blessings."
"I think your Highness should wait till the end of the story before
you judge of it."
She looked at me sharply, and asked:
"Why do you say that? Is the Prince no fool after all? Do he and you,
who both seem to be so simple, perchance play a great and hidden game,
as I have known men feign folly in order to do with safety? Or has
that witch of an Israelite some secret knowledge in which she
instructs you, such as a woman who can shatter the statue of Amon to
fine dust might well possess? You make believe not to know, which
means that you will not answer. Oh! Scribe Ana, if only it were safe,
I think I could find a way to wring the truth out of you, although you
do pretend to be but a babe for innocence."
"It pleases your Highness to threaten and without cause."
"No," she answered, changing her voice and manner, "I do not threaten;
it is only the madness that I have caught from Seti. Would you not be
mad if you knew that another woman was to be crowned to-morrow in your
place, because--because----" and she began to weep, which frightened
me more than all her rough words.
Presently she dried her tears, and said:
"Say to my lord that I rejoice to hear that he is well and send him
greetings, but that never of my own wish will I look upon his living
face again unless indeed he takes another counsel, and sets himself to
win that which is his own. Say to him that though he has so little
care for me, and pays no heed to my desires, still I watch over his
welfare and his safety, as best I may."
"His safety, Princess! Pharaoh assured me not an hour ago that he had
naught to fear, as indeed he fears naught."
"Oh! which of you is the more foolish," she exclaimed stamping her
foot, "the man or his master? You believe that the Prince has naught
to fear because that usurper tells you so, and he believes it--well,
because he fears naught. For a little while he may sleep in peace. But
let him wait until troubles of this sort or of that arise in Egypt
and, understanding that the gods send them on account of the great
wickedness that my father wrought when death had him by the throat and
his mind was clouded, the people begin to turn their eyes towards
their lawful king. Then the usurper will grow jealous, and if he has
his way, the Prince will sleep in peace--for ever. If his throat
remains uncut, it will be for one reason only, that I hold back the
murderer's hand. Farewell, I can talk no more, for I say to you that
my brain is afire--and to-morrow he should have been crowned, and I
with him," and she swept away, royal as ever, leaving me wondering
what she meant when she spoke of troubles arising in Egypt, or if the
words were but uttered at hazard.
Afterwards Bakenkhonsu and I supped together at the college of the
temple of Ptah, of which because of his age he was called the father,
when I heard more of this matter.
"Ana," he said, "I tell you that such gloom hangs over Egypt as I have
never known even when it was thought that the Ninebow Barbarians would
conquer and enslave the land. Amenmeses will be the fifth Pharaoh whom
I have seen crowned, the first of them when I was but a little child
hanging to my mother's robe, and not once have I known such
"That may be because the crown passes to one who should not wear it,
He shook his head. "Not altogether. I think this darkness comes from
the heavens as light does. Men are afraid they know not of what."
"The Israelites," I suggested.
"Now you are near to it, Ana, for doubtless they have much to do with
the matter. Had it not been for them Seti and not Amenmeses would be
crowned to-morrow. Also the tale of the marvel which the beautiful
Hebrew woman wrought in the temple yonder has got abroad and is taken
as an omen. Did I tell you that six days gone a fine new statue of the
god was consecrated there and on the following morning was found lying
on its side, or rather with its head resting on the breast of Mut?"
"If so, Merapi is blameless, because she has gone away from this
"Of course she has gone away, for has not Seti gone also? But I think
she left something behind her. However that may be, even our new
divine lord is afraid. He dreams ill, Ana," he added, dropping his
voice, "so ill that he has called in Ki, the Kherheb,[*] to interpret
[*] "Kherheb" was the title of the chief official magician in ancient
"And what said Ki?"
"Ki could say nothing or, rather, that the only answer vouchsafed to
him and his company, when they made inquiry of their Kas, was that
this god's reign would be very short and that it and his life would
"Which perhaps did not please the god Amenmeses, Bakenkhonsu?"
"Which did not please the god at all. He threatened Ki. It is a
foolish thing to threaten a great magician, Ana, as the Kherheb Ki,
himself indeed told him, looking him in the eyes. Then he prayed his
pardon and asked who would succeed him on the throne, but Ki said he
did not know, as a Kherheb who had been threatened could never
remember anything, which indeed he never can--except to pay back the
"And did he know, Bakenkhonsu?"
By way of answer the old Councillor crumbled some bread fine upon the
table, then with his finger traced among the crumbs the rough likeness
of a jackal-headed god and of two feathers, after which with a swift
movement he swept the crumbs onto the floor.
"Seti!" I whispered, reading the hieroglyphs of the Prince's name, and
he nodded and laughed in his great fashion.
"Men come to their own sometimes, Ana, especially if they do not seek
their own," he said. "But if so, much must happen first that is
terrible. The new Pharaoh is not the only man who dreams, Ana. Of late
years my sleep has been light and sometimes I dream, though I have no
magic like to that of Ki."
"What did you dream?"
"I dreamed of a great multitude marching like locusts over Egypt.
Before them went a column of fire in which were two hands. One of
these held Amon by the throat and one held the new Pharaoh by the
throat. After them came a column of cloud, and in it a shape like to
that of an unwrapped mummy, a shape of death standing upon water that
was full of countless dead."
Now I bethought me of the picture that the Prince and I had seen in
the skies yonder in the land of Goshen, but of it I said nothing. Yet
I think that Bakenkhonsu saw into my mind, for he asked:
"Do /you/ never dream, Friend? You see visions that come true--
Amenmeses on the throne, for instance. Do you not also dream at times?
No? Well, then, the Prince? You look like men who might, and the time
is ripe and pregnant. Oh! I remember. You are both of you dreaming,
not of the pictures that pass across the terrible eyes of Ki, but of
those that the moon reflects upon the waters of Memphis, the Moon of
Israel. Ana, be advised by me, put away the flesh and increase the
spirit, for in it alone is happiness, whereof woman and all our joys
are but earthly symbols, shadows thrown by that mortal cloud which
lies between us and the Light Above. I see that you understand,
because some of that light has struggled to your heart. Do you
remember that you saw it shining in the hour when your little daughter
died? Ah! I thought so. It was the gift she left you, a gift that will
grow and grow in such a breast as yours, if only you will put away the
flesh and make room for it, Ana. Man, do not weep--laugh as I do, Oho-
ho! Give me my staff, and good-night. Forget not that we sit together
at the crowning to-morrow, for you are a King's Companion and that
rank once conferred is one which no new Pharaoh can take away. It is
like the gift of the spirit, Ana, which is hard to win, but once won
more eternal than the stars. Oh! why do I live so long who would bathe
in it, as when a child I used to bathe in Nile?"
On the following day at the appointed hour I went to the great hall of
the palace, that in which I had first seen Meneptah, and took my stand
in the place allotted to me. It was somewhat far back, perhaps because
it was not wished that I, who was known to be the private scribe of
Seti, should remind Egypt of him by appearing where all could see me.
Great as was the hall the crowd filled it to its furthest corners.
Moreover no common man was present there, but rather every noble and
head-priest in Egypt, and with them their wives and daughters, so that
all the dim courts shone with gold and precious gems set upon festal
garments. While I was waiting old Bakenkhonsu hobbled towards me, the
crowd making way for him, and I could see that there was laughter in
his sunken eyes.
"We are ill-placed, Ana," he said. "Still if any of the many gods
there are in Egypt should chance to rain fires on Pharaoh, we shall be
the safer. Talking of gods," he went on in a whisper, "have you heard
what happened an hour ago in the temple of Ptah of Tanis whence I have
just come? Pharaoh and all the Blood-royal--save one--walked according
to custom before the statue of the god which, as you know, should bow
its head to show that he chooses and accepts the king. In front of
Amenmeses went the Princess Userti, and as she passed the head of the
god bowed, for I saw it, though all pretended that they did not see.
Then came Pharaoh and stood waiting, but it would not bow, though the
priests called in the old formula, 'The god greets the king.'
"At length he went on, looking as black as night, and others of the
blood of Rameses followed in their order. Last of all limped Saptah
and, behold! the god bowed again."
"How and why does it do these things?" I asked, "and at the wrong
"Ask the priests, Ana, or Userti, or Saptah. Perhaps the divine neck
has not been oiled of late, or too much oiled, or too little oiled, or
prayers--or strings--may have gone wrong. Or Pharaoh may have been
niggard in his gifts to that college of the great god of his House.
Who am I that I should know the ways of gods? That in the temple where
I served at Thebes fifty years ago did not pretend to bow or to
trouble himself as to which of the royal race sat upon the throne.
Hush! Here comes Pharaoh."
Then in a splendid procession, surrounded by princes, councillors,
ladies, priests, and guards, Amenmeses and the Royal Wife, Urnure, a
large woman who walked awkwardly, entered the hall, a glittering band.
The high-priest, Roi, and the chancellor, Nehesi, received Pharaoh and
led him to his throne. The multitude prostrated itself, trumpets blew
and thrice the old salute of "Life! Blood! Strength! Pharaoh! Pharaoh!
Pharaoh!" was cried aloud.
Amenmeses rose and bowed, and I saw that his heavy face was troubled
and looked older. Then he swore some oath to gods and men which Roi
dictated to him, and before all the company put on the double crown
and the other emblems, and took in his hands the scourge and golden
sickle. Next homage was paid. The Princess Userti came first and
kissed Pharaoh's hand, but bent no knee. Indeed first she spoke with
him a while. We could not hear what was said, but afterwards learned
that she demanded that he should publicly repeat all the promises
which her father Meneptah had made to her before him, confirming her
in her place and rights. This in the end he did, though it seemed to
me unwillingly enough.
So with many forms and ancient celebrations the ceremony went on, till
all grew weary waiting for that time when Pharaoh should make his
speech to the people. That speech, however, was never made, for
presently, thrusting past us, I saw those two prophets of the
Israelites who had visited Meneptah in this same hall. Men shrank from
them, so that they walked straight up to the throne, nor did even the
guards strive to bar their way. What they said there I could not hear,
but I believe that they demanded that their people should be allowed
to go to worship their god in their own fashion, and that Amenmeses
refused as Meneptah had done.
Then one of them cast down a rod and it turned to a snake which hissed
at Pharaoh, whereon the Kherheb Ki and his company also cast down rods
that turned to snakes, though I could only hear the hissing. After
this a great gloom fell upon the hall, so that men could not see each
other's faces and everyone began to call aloud till the company broke
up in confusion. Bakenkhonsu and I were borne together to the doorway
by the pressure of the people, whence we were glad enough to see the
Thus ended the crowning of Amenmeses.
THE MESSAGE OF JABEZ
That night there were none who rejoiced in the streets of the city,
and save in the palace and houses of those of the Court, none who
feasted. I walked abroad in the market-place and noted the people
going to and fro gloomily, or talking together in whispers. Presently
a man whose face was hidden in a hood began to speak with me, saying
that he had a message for my master, the Prince Seti. I answered that
I took no messages from veiled strangers, whereon he threw back his
hood, and I saw that it was Jabez, the uncle of Merapi. I asked him
whether he had obeyed the Prince, and borne the body of that prophet
back to Goshen and told the elders of the manner of the man's death.
"Yes," he answered, "nor were the Elders angry with the Prince over
this matter. They said that their messenger had exceeded his
authority, since they had never told him to curse Merapi, and much
less attempt to kill her, and that the Prince did right to slay one
who would have done murder before his royal eyes. Still they added
that the curse, having once been spoken by this priest, would surely
fall upon Merapi in this way or in that."
"What then should she do, Jabez?"
"I do not know, Scribe. If she returns to her people, perchance she
will be absolved, but then she must surely marry Laban. It is for her
"And what would you do if you were in her place, Jabez?"
"I think that I should stay where I was, and make myself very dear to
Seti, taking the chance that the curse may pass her by, since it was
not lawfully decreed upon her. Whichever way she looks, trouble waits,
and at the worst, a woman might wish to satisfy her heart before it
falls, especially if that heart should happen to turn to one who will
"Why do you say 'who will be Pharaoh,' Jabez?" I asked, for we were
standing in an empty place alone.
"That I may not tell you," he replied cunningly, "yet it will come
about as I say. He who sits upon the throne is mad as Meneptah was
mad, and will fight against a strength that is greater than his until
it overwhelms him. In the Prince's heart alone does the light of
wisdom shine. That which you saw to-day is only the first of many
miracles, Scribe Ana. I can say no more."
"What then is your message, Jabez?"
"This: Because the Prince has striven to deal well with the people of
Israel and for their sake has cast aside a crown, whatever may chance
to others, let him fear nothing. No harm shall come to him, or to
those about him, such as yourself, Scribe Ana, who also would deal
justly by us. Yet it may happen that through my niece Merapi, on whose
head the evil word has fallen, a great sorrow may come to both him and
her. Therefore, perhaps, although setting this against that, she may
be wise to stay in the house of Seti, he, on the balance, may be wise
to turn her from his doors."
"What sorrow?" I asked, who grew bewildered with his dark talk, but
there was no answer, for he had gone.
Near to my lodging another man met me, and the moonlight shining on
his face showed me the terrible eyes of Ki.
"Scribe Ana," he said, "you leave for Memphis to-morrow at the dawn,
and not two days hence as you purposed."
"How do you know that, Magician Ki?" I answered, for I had told my
change of plan to none, not even to Bakenkhonsu, having indeed only
determined upon it since Jabez left me.
"I know nothing, Ana, save that a faithful servant who has learned all
you have learned to-day will hurry to make report of it to his master,
especially if there is some other to whom he would also wish to make
report, as Bakenkhonsu thinks."
"Bakenkhonsu talks too much, whatever he may think," I exclaimed
"The aged grow garrulous. You were at the crowning to-day, were you
"Yes, and if I saw aright from far away, those Hebrew prophets seemed
to worst you at your own trade there, Kherheb, which must grieve you,
as you were grieved in the temple when Amon fell."
"It does not grieve me, Ana. If I have powers, there may be others who
have greater powers, as I learned in the temple of Amon. Why therefore
should I feel ashamed?"
"Powers!" I replied with a laugh, for the strings of my mind seemed
torn that night, "would not craft be a better word? How do you turn a
stick into a snake, a thing which is impossible to man?"
"Craft might be a better word, since craft means knowledge as well as
trickery. 'Impossible to man!' After what you saw a while ago in the
temple of Amon, do you hold that there is anything impossible to man
or woman? Perhaps you could do as much yourself."
"Why do you mock me, Ki? I study books, not snake-charming."
He looked at me in his calm fashion, as though he were reading, not my
face, but the thoughts behind it. Then he looked at the cedar wand in
his hand and gave it to me, saying:
"Study this, Ana, and tell me, what is it."
"Am I a child," I answered angrily, "that I should not know a priest's
rod when I see one?"
"I think that you are something of a child, Ana," he murmured, all the
while keeping those eyes of his fixed upon my face.
Then a horror came about. For the rod began to twist in my hand and
when I stared at it, lo! it was a long, yellow snake which I held by
the tail. I threw the reptile down with a scream, for it was turning
its head as though to strike me, and there in the dust it twisted and
writhed away from me and towards Ki. Yet an instant later it was only
a stick of yellow cedar-wood, though between me and Ki there was a
snake's track in the sand.
"It is somewhat shameless of you, Ana," said Ki, as he lifted the
wand, "to reproach me with trickery while you yourself try to confound
a poor juggler with such arts as these."
Then I know not what I said to him, save the end of it was that I
supposed he would tell me next that I could fill a hall with darkness
at noonday and cover a multitude with terror.
"Let us have done with jests," he said, "though these are well enough
in their place. Will you take this rod again and point it to the moon?
You refuse and you do well, for neither you nor I can cover up her
face. Ana, because you are wise in your way and consort with one who
is wiser, and were present in the temple when the statue of Amon was
shattered by a certain witch who matched her strength against mine and
conquered me, I, the great magician, have come to ask /you/--whence
came that darkness in the hall to-day?"
"From God, I think," I answered in an awed whisper.
"So I think also, Ana. But tell me, or ask Merapi, Moon of Israel, to
tell me--from what god? Oh! I say to you that a terrible power is
afoot in this land and that the Prince Seti did well to refuse the
throne of Egypt and to fly to Memphis. Repeat it to him, Ana."
Then he too was gone.
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