H. Rider Haggard
Part 4 out of 5
in his regiments; hook-nosed Semites from the Lebanon; black,
barbarian savages from the shores of Punt--with such as these was that
Abi was the hope of every one of them; to him they looked for the
spoils of Egypt, and before them on Abi's throne they saw a woman who
stood between them and their ends, who in her ancient pride dared to
demand that he, her husband, should do homage to her, and who
to-morrow, if she conquered, would give them to the sword.
"Tear her to pieces!" they screamed, "the bastard whom childless
Pharaoh palmed off upon the land! She is a sorceress who keeps fat on
air--an evil spirit. Away with her! Or if you fear, then let us come!"
At length they had roared themselves hoarse; at length they grew
still. Then Abi, who all this while had stood there hesitating, and
now and again turning to hearken to Kaku who whispered in his ear,
looked up at Tua and spoke.
"You see and you hear, Queen," he said. "My people mistrust you, and
they are a rough people, I cannot hold them back for long. If once
they get at you, very soon that sweet body of yours will be in more
fragments than was Osiris after Set had handled him."
Now Tua, who hitherto had sat still and indifferent, like one who
takes no heed, seemed to awake, and answered:
"A bad example, Prince, for Osiris rose again, did he not?" Then she
leaned back and once more was silent.
"Do you still desire that I should do homage to you, Queen, I, your
husband?" he asked presently.
"Why not?" she replied. "I have spoken. A decree of Pharaoh may not be
changed, and though a woman, I am--Pharaoh."
Now Abi went white with rage, and turned to his guard to bid them drag
her from the throne. But she who was watching him, suddenly lifted her
sceptre and spoke in a new voice, a clear, strong voice that rang
through the hall, and even reached those who were gathered on the
"There is a question between you and me, O People," she said, "and it
is this--Shall I, your Queen, rule in Egypt, as my fathers ruled, or
shall yonder man rule whom by the decree of Amen I have taken for
husband? Now you who for the most part have the Hyksos blood running
in your veins, as he has, desire that he should rule, and you have
slain the good god, my father, and would make Abi king over you, and
see me his handmaid, one to give him children of my royal race, no
more. See, you are a multitude and my legions are far away, and I--I
am alone, one lamb among the jackals, thousands and thousands of
jackals who for a long while have been hungry. How, then, shall I
match myself against you?"
"You cannot," shouted a wild-eyed spokesman. "Come down, lamb, and
kneel before the lion, Abi, or we, the jackals, will rend you. We will
not acknowledge you, we who are of the fierce Hyksos blood. While the
obelisks stand that were set up by the great Hyksos Pharaoh whose
descendant was Abi's mother, while the obelisks stand that are set
there for all eternity, we will not acknowledge you. Come down and
take your place in our lord's harem, O Pharaoh's bastard daughter."
"Ah!" Tua repeated after him, "while the obelisks stand that the
Hyksos thief set up you will not acknowledge me, Pharaoh's bastard
Then she paused and seemed to grow disturbed; she sighed, wrung her
hands a little, and said in a choking voice:
"I am but one woman alone among you. My father, Pharaoh, is dead, and
you bid me lay down my rank and henceforth rule only through him who
trapped Pharaoh and brought him to his end. What, then, can I do?"
"Be a good maid and obey your husband, Bastard," mocked a voice, and
during the roar of laughter that followed Tua looked at the speaker,
an officer of Abi's, who had taken a great part in the slaughter of
Very strangely she looked at him, and those who stood by the man noted
that his lips became white, and that he turned so faint that had it
not been for the press about him he would have fallen. Presently he
seemed to recover, and asked the priests who were near to let him join
their circle, as among the outer throng the heat was too great for him
to bear. Thereon one of them nodded and made room for him, and he
passed in, which Tua noted also.
Now she was speaking again.
"Ill names to throw at Egypt's anointed queen, crowned and accepted by
the god himself in the sanctuary of his most holy temple," she said,
her eyes still resting on the brutal soldier. "Yet it is your hour,
and she must bear them who has no friends in Memphis. Oh! what shall I
do?" and again she wrung her hands. "Good People, it was sworn to me
that Amen, greatest of the gods, set his spirit within me when I was
born, and vowed that he would help me in the hour of my need. Of your
grace, then, give me space to pray to Amen. Look," and she pointed
before her, "yonder sinks the red ball of the sun; soon, soon it will
be gone--give me until it enters the gateways of the West to pray to
Amen, and then if no help comes I will bow me to your bidding, and do
homage to this noble Prince of the Hyksos blood, who snared Pharaoh
his brother, and by help of his magicians and of his spy, Merytra,
brought him to his end."
"Yes, my people, give her the space she asks," called Abi, who feared
nothing from Amen, a somewhat remote personage, and was afraid lest
some tumult should happen in the course of which this lovely, new-made
wife of his might be slain or injured.
So they gave her the space of time she asked. Standing up, Tua raised
her arms and eyes towards heaven, and began to pray aloud:
"Hear me, Amen my Father, in the House of thy Rest, as thou hast sworn
to do. O Amen my Father, thou seest my strait. Is it thy will that thy
daughter should degrade herself and thee before this man who slew his
king and brother, to whom thou hast commanded her to give the name of
husband? If it be so, I will obey; but if it be not so, then show thy
word by might or marvel, and cause him and his folk who mock my
majesty and name me bastard, to bow down before me. O Amen, they deny
thee in their hearts who worship other gods, as did the barbarians who
begat them and threw down thy shrines in Egypt, but I know that thou
sentest me forth, and in thee I put my trust, aye, even if thou slay
me. Amen my Father, yonder sinks that glory in which thou dost hide
thy spirit. Now, ere it be gone and night falls upon the world,
declare thyself in such fashion that all men may know that indeed I am
thy child; or if this be thy decree, desert me and Egypt, and leave me
to my shame."
She ended her prayer and, sinking back upon the throne, rested her
chin upon her hand, and gazed steadily upon the splendour of the
sinking sun. Nor did she gaze alone, for every man in that vast hall
turned himself about, and stared at its departing glory. There in the
red light they stood, and stared, and since the place was open to the
sky, the shadows of the two towering obelisks without fell on them
like the shadows of swords whereof the points met together at the foot
of Tua's throne. They did not believe that anything would happen, no,
not even the priests believed it who here at Memphis, the city of
Ptah, thought little of Amen, the god of Thebes. They thought that
this piteous prayer was but a last cry of dying faith wrung from a
proud and fallen woman in her wretchedness.
And yet, and yet they stared, for she had spoken with a strange
certainty like one who knew the god, and was she not named Star of
Amen, and were there not wondrous tales as to her birth, and had not a
lotus-bloom seemed to turn to gold and jewels in the hand of this
young, anointed Queen who bore the Cross of Life upon her breast? No,
nothing would happen, but still they stared.
It was a very strange sunset. For days the heat had been great, but
now it was fearful, also a marvellous stillness reigned in heaven and
earth. Nothing seemed to stir in all the city, no dog barked, no child
cried, no leaf quivered upon the tall palms; it might have been a city
of the dead.
Dense clouds arose upon the sky, and moved, though no wind blew. Where
the sun's rays touched them they were gold and red and purple, but
above these of an inky blackness. They took strange shapes those
clouds, and marshalled themselves like a host gathering for battle.
There were the commanders moving quickly to and fro; there the
chariots, and there the sullen lines of footmen with their gleaming
spears. Now one cloud higher than the rest seemed to shoot itself
across the arch of heaven, and its fashion was that of a woman with
outspread hair of gold. Her feet stood upon the sun, her body bent
itself athwart the sky, and upon the far horizon in the east her hands
held the pale globe of the rising moon.
The watchers were frightened at this cloud. "It is Isis with the moon
in her arms," said one. "Nay, it is the mother goddess Nout brooding
upon the world," answered another. And though they only spoke softly,
in that awful silence their voices reached Tua on the throne, and for
the first time her face changed, for on it came a cold, curious smile.
Kaku began to whisper into Abi's ear, and there was fear in the eyes
of both of them. He pointed with his finger at two stars, which of a
sudden shone out through the green haze above the sunset glow, and
then turned and looked at the Queen, urging his master eagerly. At
last Abi spoke.
"Ra is set," he said. "Come, let us make an end of all this folly."
"Not yet," answered Tua quietly, "not yet awhile."
As she said the words, of a sudden, as though at a given signal, all
the long lines of palm trees that grew in the rich gardens upon the
river banks were seen to bow themselves towards the east, as though
they did obeisance to the Queen upon her throne. Thrice they bowed
thus, without a wind, and then were straight and still once more. Next
the clouds rushed together as though a black pall had been drawn
across the heavens, only in the west the half-hidden globe of the sun
shone on through an opening in them, shone like a great and furious
eye. By slow degrees it sank, till nothing was left save a little rim
of fire. All the hall grew dark, and through the darkness Neter-Tua
could be heard calling on the name of Amen.
"Ra is dead!" shouted a voice. "Have done, Bastard, Ra is dead!"
"Aye," she answered in a cold triumphant cry, "but Amen lives. Behold
his sword, ye Traitors!"
As the words left her lips the heavens were cleft in twain by a
fearful flash of lightning, and in it the people saw that once again
the palm-trees bowed themselves, this time almost to the ground. Then
with a roar the winds were loosed, and beneath their feet the solid
earth began to heave as though a giant lifted it. Thrice it heaved
like a heaving wave, and the third time through the thick cover of the
darkness there rose a shriek of terror and of agony followed by the
awful crash of falling stones.
Now the whole sky seemed to melt in fire, and in that fierce light was
seen Tua, Star of Amen, seated on her throne, holding her sceptre to
the heavens, and laughing in triumphant merriment. Well might she
laugh, for the two great obelisks without the gate that the old Hyksos
lion had set up there to stand "to all eternity," had fallen across
the low pylons and the doors and crushed them. On to the heads of
those who watched beneath they had fallen, shattering in their fall
and carrying death to hundreds. Beneath the electrum cap of one of
them that had been hurled from it in its descent right into the circle
of the priests, lay a shapeless mass. It was that man who had mocked
the Queen and turned faint beneath her gaze.
Through the western ruin of the hall those who were left alive within
it fled out, a maddened mob, trampling each other to death by scores,
fighting furiously to escape the vengeance of Amen and his daughter.
Within the enclosure the priests lay prostrate on their faces, each
praying to his god for mercy. In front of the throne, upon his knees,
the royal crown shaken from his head, Abi grasped the feet of Neter-
Tua and screamed to her to forgive and spare him, whilst above,
shining like fire, That which sat upon the throne pointed with her
sceptre at the ruin and the rout, and laughed and laughed again.
Soon all were gone save the mumbling priests, the dying, the dead, and
Abi with his officers.
The clouds rolled off, the moon and the stars shone out, filling the
place with gentle light. Then Tua spoke, looking down at the wretched
Abi who grovelled before her.
"Say, now, Husband," she asked, "who is god in Egypt?"
"Amen your father," he gasped.
"And who is Pharaoh in Egypt?"
"You, and no other, O Queen."
"Ah!" she said, "it was over that matter that we quarrelled, did we
not? which forced me, whom you thought so helpless, to find helpers.
Look, there are their footsteps; they walk heavily, do they not, my
Uncle?" and she nodded towards the huge fragments of the broken
He glanced behind him at his ruined hall, at the dying and the dead.
"You are Pharaoh and no other," he repeated with a shudder. "Give
breath to your servant, and let him live on in your shadow."
"The first is not mine to give," she answered coldly, "though
perchance it may please Amen to hold you back a little while from that
place where you must settle your account with him who went before me,
and his companions who died in your streets. I hope so, for you have
work to do. As for the second--arise, you Priests and Officers, and
see this Prince of yours do homage to the Queen of Egypt."
They rose, and clung to each other trembling, for all the heart was
out of them. Then she pointed to her foot with the sceptre in her
hand, and in their presence Abi knelt down and kissed her sandal.
After him followed the others, the priests, the captains, the head-
stewards, and the butlers, till at length came Kaku, the astrologer,
who prostrated himself before her, trembling in every limb. But him
she would not suffer even to touch her sandals.
"Tell me," she said, drawing back her foot, "you who are a magician,
and have studied the secret writings, how does it chance that you
still live on, when for lesser crimes so many lie here dead, you who
are stained with the blood of Pharaoh?"
Hearing these words from which he presaged the very worst, Kaku beat
his head upon the ground, babbling denials of this awful crime, and at
the same time began to implore pardon for what he said he had not
"Cease," she exclaimed, "and learn that your life is spared for a
while, yes, and even Merytra's. Also you will retain your office of
Vizier--for a while."
Now he began to pour out thanks, but she stopped him, saying:
"Thank me not, seeing that you do not know the end of this matter.
Perchance it is hidden from you lest you should go mad, you and your
wife, Merytra, she who was the Pharaoh's Lady of the Footstool, and
sang him to sleep. Look at me, Wizard, and tell me, who am I?" and she
bent down over him.
He glanced up at her, and their eyes met, nor could he turn his head
"Come," she said, "as you may have learned to-night, I also have some
knowledge of the hidden things. For otherwise, why did the earth shake
and the everlasting pillars fall at my bidding? Now, between two of a
trade there should be no secrets, so I will tell you something that
perhaps you have already guessed, since I am sure that you will not
repeat it even to your master or to Merytra. For I will add this--that
the moment you repeat it will be the moment of your death, and the
beginning of that punishment which here I withhold. Now, in the Name
of the Eater-up of Souls, listen to me, O fashioner of waxen images!"
and, bending down, she whispered into his ear.
Another instant, and, stark horror written on his face, the tall shape
of Kaku was seen reeling backward, like to a drunken man. Indeed, had
not Abi caught him he would have fallen over the edge of the dais.
"What did she tell you?" he muttered, for the Queen, who seemed to
have forgotten all about him, was looking the other way.
But, making no answer, Kaku wrenched himself free and fled the place.
ABI LEARNS THE TRUTH
A moon had gone by, and on the first day of the new month Kaku the
Vizier sat in the Hall of the Great Officers at Memphis, checking the
public accounts of the city. It was not easy work, for during the past
ten days twice these accounts had been sent back to him by the command
of the Queen, or the Pharaoh as she called herself, with requests for
information as to their items, and other awkward queries. Abi had
overlooked such matters, recognising that a faithful servant was
worthy of his hire--provided that he paid himself. But now it seemed
that things were different, and that the amount received was the exact
amount that had to be handed over to the Crown, neither more nor less.
Well, there was a large discrepancy which must be made up from
somewhere, or, in other words, from Kaku's private store.
In a rage he caused the two head collectors of taxes to be brought
before him, and as they would not pay, bade the executioners throw
them down and beat them on the feet until they promised to produce the
missing sums, most of which he himself had stolen.
Then, somewhat soothed, he retired from the hall into his own office,
to find himself face to face with Abi, who was waiting for him. So
changed was the Prince from his old, portly self, so aged and thin and
miserable did he look, that in the dusk of that chamber Kaku failed to
recognise him. Thinking that he was some suppliant, he began to revile
him and order him to be gone. Then the fury of Abi broke out.
Rushing at him, he seized the astrologer by the beard and smote him on
the ears, saying: "Dog, is it thus that you speak to your king? Well,
on you at least I can revenge myself."
"Pardon, your Majesty," said Kaku, "I did not know you in these
shadows. Your Majesty is changed of late."
"Changed!" said Abi, letting him go. "Who would not be changed who
suffers as I do ever since I listened to your cursed counsel, and
tried to climb into the seat of Pharaoh? Before that I was happy. I
had my sons, I had my wives, as many as I wished. I had my revenues
and armies. Now everything has gone. My sons are dead, my women are
driven away, my revenues are taken from me, my armies serve another."
"At least," suggested Kaku, "you are Pharaoh, and the husband of the
most beautiful and the wisest woman in the world."
"Pharaoh!" groaned Abi. "The humblest mummy in the common city vaults
is a greater king than I am, and as for the rest----" and he stopped
and groaned again.
"What is the matter with your Majesty?" asked Kaku.
"The matter is that I have fallen under the influence of an evil
"The Star of Amen," suggested the astrologer.
"Yes, the Star of Amen, that lovely Terror whom you call my wife. Man,
she is no wife to me. Listen--there in the harem I went into the
chamber where she was, none forbidding me, and found her sitting
before her mirror and singing, clothed only in a thin robe of white,
and her dark hair--O Kaku, never did you see such hair--which fell
almost to the ground. She smiled on me, she spoke me fair, she drew me
with those glittering eyes of hers--yes, she even called me husband,
and sighed and talked of love, till at length I drew near to her and
threw my arms about her."
"And then, Kaku, she was gone, and where her sweet face should have
been I saw the yellow, mummied head of Pharaoh, he who is with Osiris,
that seemed to grin at me. I opened my arms again, and lo! there she
sat, laughing and shaking perfume from her hair, asking me, too, what
ailed me that I turned so white, and if such were the way of husbands?
"Well, that was nigh a month ago, and as it began, so it has gone on.
I seek my wife, and I find the mummied head of Pharaoh, and all the
while she mocks me. Nor may I see the others any more, for she has
caused them to be hunted hence, even those who have dwelt with me for
years, saying that she must rule alone."
"Is that all?" asked Kaku.
"No, indeed, for as she torments me, so she torments every other man
who comes near to her. She nets them with smiles, she bewitches them
with her eyes till they go mad for love of her, and then, still
smiling, she sends them about their business. Already two of them who
were leaders in the great plot have died by their own hands, and
another is mad, while the rest have become my secret but my bitter
foes, because they love my Queen and think that I stand between her
"Is that all?" asked Kaku again.
"No, not all, for my power is taken from me. I who was great, after
Pharaoh the greatest in all the land, now am but a slave. From morning
to night I must work at tasks I hate; I must build temples to Amen, I
must dig canals, I must truckle to the common herd, and redress their
grievances and remit their taxes. More, I must chastise the Bedouin
who have ever been my friends, and--next month undertake a war against
that King of Khita, with whom I made a secret treaty, and whose
daughter that I married has been sent back to him because I loved
"And then?" asked Kaku.
"Oh! then when the Khita have been destroyed and made subject to
Egypt, then her Majesty purposes to return in state to Thebes 'to
attend to the fashioning of my sepulchre' since, so she says, this is
a matter that will not bear delay. Indeed, already she makes drawings
for it, horrible and mystic drawings that I cannot understand, and
brings them to me to see. Moreover, Friend, know this, out of it opens
another smaller tomb for /you/. Indeed, but this morning she sent an
expedition to the desert quarries to bring thence three blocks of
stone, one for my sarcophagus, one for yours, and one for that of your
wife, Merytra. For she says that after the old fashion she purposes to
honour both of you with these gifts."
At these words Kaku could no longer control himself, but began to walk
up and down the room, muttering and snatching at his beard.
"How can you suffer it?" he said at length, "You who were a great
prince, to become a woman's slave, to be made as dirt beneath her
feet, to be held up to the mockery of those you rule, to see your
wives and household driven away from you, to be tormented, to be
mocked, to look on other men favoured before your eyes, to be
threatened with early death. Oh! how can you suffer it? Why do you not
kill her, and make an end?"
"Because," answered Abi, "because I dare not, since if I dreamed of
such a thing she would guess my thought and kill /me/. Fool, do you
not remember the fall of the eternal obelisks upon my captains, and
what befell that man who mocked her, calling her Bastard, and sought
refuge among the priests? No, I dare not lift a finger against her."
"Then, Prince, you must carry your yoke until it wears through to the
marrow, which will be when that sepulchre is ready."
"Not so," answered Abi, shivering, "for I have another plan; it is of
it that I am come to speak with you. Friend Kaku, /you/ must kill her.
Listen: you are a master of spells. The magic which prevailed against
the father will overcome the daughter also. You have but to make a
waxen image or two and breathe strength into them, and the thing is
done, and then--think of the reward."
"Indeed I am thinking, most noble Prince," replied the astrologer with
sarcasm. "Shall I tell you of that reward? It would be my death by
slow torture. Moreover, it is impossible, for if you would know the
truth, she cannot be killed."
"What do you mean, Fool?" asked Abi angrily. "Flesh and blood must bow
A sickly smile spread itself over Kaku's thin face as he answered:
"A saying worthy of your wisdom, Prince. Certainly the experience of
mankind is that flesh and blood must bow to death. Yes, yes, flesh and
"Cease grinning at me, you ape of the rocks," hissed the enraged Abi,
"or I will prove as much on your mocking throat," and snatching out
his sword he threatened him with it, adding: "Now tell me what you
"Prince," ejaculated Kaku, falling to his knees, "I may not, I cannot.
Spare me, it is a secret of the gods."
"Then get you gone to the gods, you lying cur, and talk it over with
them," answered Abi, lifting the sword, "for at least she will not
blame me if I send you there."
"Mercy, mercy!" gasped Kaku, sprawling on the ground, while his lord
held the sword above his bald head, thinking that he would choose
speech rather than death.
It was at this moment, while the astrologer's fate trembled in the
balance, that a sound of voices reached their ears, and above them the
ring of a light, clear laugh which they knew well. Forgetting his
purpose, Abi stepped to the window-place, and looked through the
opening of the shutters. Presently he turned, beckoning to Kaku, and
"Come and look; there is always time for you to die."
The Vizier heard, and, creeping on his hands and knees to the window-
place, raised himself and peeped through the shutter. This was what he
saw. In the walled garden below, the secret garden of the palace,
stood the queen Neter-Tua, and the sunlight piercing through the
boughs of a flowering tree, fell in bright bars upon her beauty. She
was not alone, for before her knelt a man wearing the rich robes of a
noble. Kaku knew him at once, for although still young, he was Abi's
favourite captain, an officer whom he loved, and had raised to high
place because of his wit and valour, having given him one of his
daughters in marriage. Also he had played a chief part in the great
plot against Pharaoh, and it was he who had dealt the death-blow to
Mermes, the husband of the lady Asti.
Now he was playing another part, namely that of lover to the Queen,
for he clasped the hem of her robe in his hands, and kissed it with
his lips, and pleaded with her passionately. They could catch some of
He had risked his life to climb the wall. He worshipped her. He could
not live without her. He was ready to do her bidding in all things--to
gather a band and slay Abi; it would be easy, for every man was
jealous of the Prince, and thought him quite unworthy of her. Let her
give him her love, and he would make her sole Pharaoh of Egypt again,
and be content to serve her as a slave. At least let her say one kind
word to him.
Thus he spoke, wildly, imploringly, like a man that is drunk with
passion and knows not what he says or does, while Neter-Tua listened
calmly, and now and again laughed that light, low laugh of hers.
At length he rose and strove to take her hand, but, still laughing,
she waved him back, then said suddenly:
"You slew Mermes when he was weak with wounds, did you not, and he was
my foster-father. Well, well, it was done in war, and you must be a
brave man, as brave as you are handsome, for otherwise you would
scarcely have ventured here where a word of mine would give you to
your death. And now get you gone, Friend, back to my Lord's daughter
who is your wife, and if you dare--tell her where you have been and
why, you who are so brave a man," and once more she laughed.
Again he began his passionate implorings, begging for some token, till
at length she seemed to melt and take pity on him, for stretching out
her hand, she chose a flower from the many that grew near, and gave it
to him, then pointed to the trees that hid the wall, among which
presently he vanished, reeling in the delirium of his joy.
She watched him go, smiling very strangely, then, still smiling,
looked down at the bush whence she had plucked the flower, and Kaku
noted that it was one used only by the embalmers to furnish coronals
for the dead.
But Abi noted no such thing. Forgetting his quarrel with Kaku and all
else, he gasped, and foamed in his jealous rage, muttering that he
would kill that captain, yes, and the false Queen, too, who dared to
listen to a tale of love and give the lover flowers. Yes, were she ten
times Pharaoh he would kill her, as he had the right to do, and, the
naked sword still in his hand, he turned to leave the place.
"If that is your will, Lord," said Kaku in a strained voice, "bide
"Why, man?" asked Abi.
"Because her Majesty comes," he answered, "and this chamber is quiet
and fitting. None enter it save myself."
As he spoke the words the door opened, and closed again, and before
them stood Neter-Tua, Star of Amen.
In the dusk of that room the first thing that seemed to catch her eye
was the bared blade in Abi's hand. For a moment she looked at it and
him, also at Kaku crouching in the corner, then asked in her quiet
"Why is your sword drawn, O Husband?"
"To kill you, O Wife," he answered furiously, for his rage mastered
She continued to look at him a little while and said, smiling in her
"Indeed? But why more now than at any other time? Has Kaku's counsel
given you courage?"
"Need you ask, shameless woman? Does not this window-place open on to
"Oh! I remember, that captain of yours--he who slew Mermes, your
daughter's husband who made love to me--so well that I rewarded him
with a funeral flower, knowing that you watched us. Settle your
account with him as you and his wife may wish; it is no matter of
mine. But I warn you that if you would take men's lives for such a
fault as this, soon you will have no servants left, since they all are
sinners who desire to usurp your place."
Then Abi's fury broke out. He cursed and reviled her, he called her by
ill names, swearing that she should die, who bewitched all men and was
the love of none, and who made him a mock and a shame in the sight of
Egypt. But Neter-Tua only listened until at length he raved himself to
"You talk much and do little," she said at length. "The sword is in
your hand, use it, I am here."
Maddened by her scorn he lifted the weapon and rushed at her, only to
reel back again as though he had been smitten by some power unseen. He
rested against the wall, then again rushed and again reeled back.
"You are a poor butcher," she said at length, "after so many years of
practice. Let Kaku yonder try. I think he has more skill in murder."
"Oh! your Majesty," broke in the astrologer, "unsay those cruel words,
you who know that rather than lift hands against you I would die a
"Yes," she answered gravely, "the Prince Abi suggested it to you but
now, did he not, after you had suggested it to him, and you refused--
for your own reasons?"
Then the sword fell from Abi's hand, and there was silence in that
"What were you talking of, Abi, before you peeped through the shutters
and saw that captain of yours and me together in the garden, and why
did you wish to kill this dog?" she went on presently. "Must I answer
for you? You were talking of how you might be rid of me, and you
wished to kill him because he did not dare to tell you why he could
not do the deed, knowing that if he did so he must die. Well, since
you desire to know, you shall learn, and now. Look on me, wretched
Man, whom men name my husband. Look on me, accursed Slave, whom Amen
has given into my hand to punish here upon the earth, until you pass
to his yonder in the Under-world."
He looked up, and Kaku looked also, because he could not help it, but
what they saw they never told. Only they fell down upon their faces,
both of them, and groaned; beating the floor with their foreheads.
At length the icy terror seemed to be lifted from their hearts, and
they dared to glance up again, and saw that she was as she had been, a
most royal and lovely woman, but no more.
"What are you?" gasped Abi. "The goddess Sekhet in the flesh, or Isis,
Queen of Death, or but dead Tua's ghost sent here for vengeance?"
"All of them, or none of them, as you will, though, Man, it is true
that I am sent here for vengeance. Ask the Wizard yonder. He knows,
and I give him leave to say."
"/She is the Double of Amen's daughter/," moaned Kaku. "She is her Ka
set free to bring doom upon those who would have wronged her. She is a
ghost armed with the might of the gods, and all we who have sinned
against dead Pharaoh and her and her father Amen are given into her
hand to be tormented and brought to doom."
"Where, then, is Neter-Tua, who was Queen of Egypt?" gasped Abi,
rolling his great eyes. "Is she with Osiris?"
"I will tell you, Man," answered the royal Shape. "She is not dead--
she lives, and is gone to seek one she loves. When she returns with
him and a certain Beggar, then I shall depart and you will die, both
of you, for such is the punishment decreed upon you. Until then, arise
and do my bidding."
THE BOAT OF RA
Tua, Star of Amen, opened her eyes. For some time already she had lain
as one lies between sleep and waking, and it seemed to her that she
heard the sound of dipping oars, and of water that rippled gently
against the sides of a ship. She thought to herself that she dreamed.
Doubtless she was in her bed in the palace at Thebes, and presently,
when it was light, her ladies would come to waken her.
In the palace at Thebes! Why, now she remembered that it was months
since she had seen that royal city, she who had travelled far since
then, and come at last to white-walled Memphis, where many terrible
things had befallen her. One by one they came into her mind; the
snare, Pharaoh's murder by magic, the battle, and the slaughter of her
guards, the starvation in the tower, with death on one hand, and the
hateful Abi on the other; the wondrous vision of that spirit who wore
her face, and said she was the guardian Ka given to her at birth, the
words it spoke, and her dread resolve; and last of all Asti and
herself standing in the lofty window niche, then a flame of fire
before her face, and that fearful downward rush.
Oh! without a doubt it was over; she was dead, and these dreams and
memories were such as come to the dwellers in the Under-world. Only
then why did she hear the sound of lapping water, and of dipping oars?
Very slowly she opened her eyes, for Tua greatly feared what she might
see. Light flowed upon her, the light of the moon which hung in a
clear sky like some great lamp of gold. By it she saw that, robed all
in white, she lay upon a couch in a pavilion, whereof the silken
curtains were drawn back in front, and tied to gilded posts. At her
side, wrapped in a grey robe, lay another figure, which she knew for
Asti. It was still, so still that she was sure it must be dead, yet
she knew that this was Asti. Perchance Asti dreamed also, and could
hear in her dreams; at least, she would speak to her.
"Asti," she whispered, "Asti, can you hear me?"
The grey figure at her side stirred, and the head turned towards her.
Then the voice of Asti, none other, answered:
"Aye, Lady, I hear and see. But say, where are we now?"
"In the Under-world, I think, Asti. Oh! that fire was death, and now
we journey to the Place of Souls."
"If so, Lady, it is strange that we should still have eyes and flesh
and voices as mortal women have. Let us sit up and look."
So they sat up, their arms about each other, and peered through the
open curtains. Behold! they were on a ship more beautiful than any
they had ever seen, for it seemed to be covered with gold and silver,
while sweet odours floated from its hold. Their pavilion was set in
the centre of the ship and looking aft, they perceived lines of white-
clad rowers seated at their oars in the shadow of the bulwarks, and on
the high stern--also robed in white--a tall steersman whose face was
veiled, behind whom in the dim glimpses of the moon, they caught sight
of a wide and silvery river, and on its distant banks palms and temple
"It is the Boat of Ra," murmured Tua, "which bears us down the River
of Death to the Kingdom behind the Sun."
Then she sank back upon her cushions, and once more fell into swoon or
Tua woke again, and lo! the sun was shining brightly, and at her side
sat Asti watching her. Moreover, in front of them was set a table
spread with delicate food.
"Tell me what has chanced, Nurse," she said faintly, "for I am
bewildered, and know not in what world we wander."
"Our own, Queen, I think," answered Asti, "but in charge of those who
are not of it, for surely this is no mortal boat, nor do mortals guide
her to her port. Come, we need food. Let us eat while we may."
So they ate and drank heartily enough, and when they had finished even
dared to go out of the pavilion. Looking around them they saw that
they stood upon a high deck in the midst of a great ship, but that
this ship was enclosed with a net of silver cords in which they could
find no opening. Looking through its meshes they noted that the oars
were inboard, and the great purple sails set upon the mast, also that
the rowers were gone, perchance to rest beneath the deck, while on the
forecastle of the ship stood the captain, white-robed and masked, and
aft the steersman, also still masked, so that they could see nothing
of their faces. Now, too, they were no longer sailing on a river, but
down a canal bordered by banks of sand on either side, beyond which
stretched desert farther than the eye could reach.
Asti studied the desert, then turned and said:
"I think I know this canal, Lady, for once I sailed it as a child. I
think it is that which was dug by the Pharaohs of old, and repaired
after the fall of the Hyksos kings, and that it runs from Bubastis to
that bay down which wanderers sail towards the rising sun."
"Mayhap," answered Tua. "At least, this is the world that bore us and
no other, and by the mercy of Amen and the power of my Spirit we are
still alive, and not dead, or so it seems. Call now to the captain on
yonder deck; perhaps he will tell whither he bears us in his magic
So Asti called, but the captain made no sign that he saw or heard her.
Next she called to the steersman, but although his veiled face was
towards them, he also made no sign, so that at last they believed
either that these were spirits or that they were men born deaf and
dumb. In the end, growing weary of staring at this beautiful ship, at
the canal and the desert beyond it, and of wondering where they were,
and how they came thither, they returned to the pavilion to avoid the
heat of the sun. Here they found that during their absence some hand
unseen had arranged the silken bed-clothing on their couches and
cleared away the fragments of their meal, resetting the beautiful
table with other foods.
"Truly here is wizardry at work," said Tua, as she sank into a
leather-seated ivory chair that was placed ready.
"Who doubts it?" answered Asti calmly. "By wizardry were you born; by
wizardry was Pharaoh slain; by wizardry we are saved to an end that we
cannot guess; by wizardry, or what men so name, does the whole world
move; only being so near we see it not."
Tua thought a while, then said:
"Well, this golden ship is better than the sty of Abi the hog, nor do
I believe that we journey to no purpose. Still I wonder what that
spirit who named herself my Ka does on the throne of Egypt; also how
we came on board this boat, and whither we sail."
"Wonder not, for all these things we shall learn in due season, and
for my part, although I hate him I am sorry for Abi," answered Asti
So they sat there in the pavilion watching the desert, over the sands
of which their ship seemed to move, till at length the sun grew low,
and they went to walk upon the deck. Then they returned to eat of the
delicious food that was always provided for them in such plenty, and
at nightfall sought their couches, and slept heavily, for they needed
When they awoke again, it was daylight, though no sun shone through
the skies, and their vessel rolled onward across a wide and sullen sea
out of sight of land. Also the silken pavilion about them was gone,
and replaced by a cabin of massive cedar wood, though of this, being
sated with marvels, Tua and Asti took little note. Indeed, having
neither of them been on an angry ocean before, a strange dizziness
overcame them, which caused them to sleep much and think little for
three whole days and nights.
At length, one evening as the sun sank, they perceived that the
violent motion of the vessel had ceased with the roaring of the gale
above, which for all this while had driven them onward at such fearful
speed. Venturing from their cedar house, they saw that they had
entered the mouth of a great river upon the banks of which grew
enormous trees that sent out long crooked roots into the water, and
that among these roots crouched crocodiles and other noisome reptiles.
Also the white-robed oarsmen had appeared again, and, as there was no
wind, rowed the ship up the river, till at length they came to a spit
of sand which jutted out into the stream, and here cast anchor.
Now Tua's and Asti's desire for food returned to them, and they ate.
Just as they had finished their meal, and the sun was sinking
suddenly, there appeared before them two masked men, each of whom bore
a basket in his hand. Asti began to question them, but like the
captain and the steersman, they seemed to be deaf and dumb. At least
they made no answer, only prostrated themselves humbly, and pointed
towards the shore where now Tua saw a fire burning on a rock, though
who had lit it she did not know.
"They mean us to leave the ship," said Asti. "Come, Queen, let us
follow our fortunes, for doubtless these are high."
"As you will," answered Tua, "seeing that we should scarcely have been
brought here to no end."
So they accompanied the men to the side of that splendid vessel, for
now the netting that confined them had been removed, to find that a
gangway had been laid from its bulwark to the shore. As they stepped
on to this gangway their masked companions handed to each of them one
of the baskets, then again bowed humbly and were gone. Soon they
gained the bank, and scarcely had their feet touched it when the
gangway was withdrawn, and the great oars began to beat the muddy
Round swung the ship, and for a minute hung in midstream. There stood
the captain on the foredeck, and there was the steersman at the helm,
and the red light of the sinking sun turned them into figures of
flame. Suddenly with a simultaneous motion these men tore off their
masks so that for a moment Asti and Tua saw their faces--and behold!
the face of the captain was the face of Pharaoh, Tua's father, and the
face of the steersman was the face of Mermes, Asti's husband.
For one moment only did they see them, then a dark cloud hid the dying
sun, and when it passed that ship was gone, whither they knew not.
The two women looked at each other, and for the first time were much
"Truly," said Tua, "we are haunted if ever mortals were, for yonder
ship has ghosts for mariners."
"Aye, Lady," answered Asti, "so have I thought from the first. Still,
take heart, for these ghosts once were men who loved us well, and
doubtless they love us still. Be sure that for no ill purpose have we
been snatched out of the hand of Abi, and brought living and unharmed
by the shades of Pharaoh your sire, and Mermes my husband, to this
secret shore. See, yonder burns a fire, let us go to it, and await
what may befall bravely, knowing that at least it can be naught but
So they went to the rock and, darkness being come, sat themselves down
by the fire, alongside of which lay wood for its replenishment, and
near the wood soft robes of camel-hair to shield them from the cold.
These robes they put on with thankfulness, and, having fed the flame,
bethought them of and opened the baskets which were given to them when
they left the ship. The first basket, that which Asti held, they found
to contain food, cakes, dried meats and dates, as much as one woman
could carry. But the second, that which had been given to Tua, was
otherwise provided, for in the mouth of it lay a lovely harp of ivory
with golden strings, whereof the frame was fashioned to the shape of a
woman. Tua drew it out and looked at it by the light of the fire.
"It is my own harp," she said in an awed voice, "the harp that the
Prince of Kesh, whom Rames slew, brought as a gift to me, to the notes
of which I sang the Song of the Lovers but just before the giver died.
Yes, it is my own harp that I left in Thebes. Say, now, Nurse, how
came it here?"
"How came /we/ here?" answered Asti shortly. "Answer my question and I
will answer yours."
Then, laying down the harp, Tua looked again into her basket and found
that beneath a layer of dried papyrus leaves were hidden pearls,
thousands of pearls of all sizes, and of such lustre and beauty as she
had never seen. They were strung upon threads of silk, all those of a
like size being set upon a single thread, except the very biggest,
which were as great as a finger nail, or even larger, that lay wrapped
up separately in cloth at the bottom of the basket.
"Surely," said Tua, amazed, "no Queen in all the earth ever had a
dower of such priceless pearls. Moreover, what good they and the harp
can be to us in this forest I may not guess."
"Doubtless we shall discover in due course," answered Asti;
"meanwhile, let us thank the gods for their gifts and eat."
So they ate, and then, having nothing else to do, lay down by the fire
and would have slept.
But scarcely had they closed their eyes when the forest seemed to
awake. First from down by the river there came dreadful roarings which
they knew must be the voice of lions, for there were tame beasts of
this sort in the gardens at Thebes. Next they heard the whines and
wimperings of wolves and jackals, and mingled with them great
snortings such as are made by the rhinoceros and the river-horse.
Nearer, nearer came these awful sounds, till at length they saw yellow
eyes moving like stars in the darkness at the edge of the forest,
while cross the patch of sand beneath their rock galloped swift shapes
which halted and sniffed towards them. Also on the river side of them
appeared huge, hog-like beasts, with gleaming tusks, and red cavernous
mouths, and beyond these again, crashing through the brushwood, a
gigantic brute that bore a single horn upon its snout.
"Now our end is at hand," said Tua faintly, "for surely these
creatures will devour us."
But Asti only threw more wood upon the fire and waited, thinking that
the flame would frighten them away. Yet it did not, for so curious, or
so hungry were they, that the lions crept and crept nearer, and still
more near, till at length they lay lashing their tails in the distance
almost within springing distance of the rock, while on the farther
side of these, like a court waiting on its monarch, gathered the
hyenas and other beasts.
"They will spring presently," whispered Tua.
"Did the Spirits of the divine Pharaoh your father, and of Mermes my
lord, bring us here in the Boat of Ra that we should be devoured by
wild animals, like lost sheep in the desert?" asked Asti. Then, as
though by an inspiration, she added, "Lady, take that harp of yours,
and play and sing to it."
So Tua took the harp and swept its golden chords, and, lifting up her
lovely voice, she began to sing. At first it trembled a little, but by
degrees, as she forgot all save the music, it grew strong, and rang
out sweetly in the silence of the forest, and the great, slow-moving
river. And lo! as she sang thus, the wild brutes grew still, and
seemed to listen as though they were charmed. Yes, even a snake
wriggled out from between the rocks and listened, waving its crested
head to and fro.
At length Tua ceased, and as the echoes died away the brutes, every
one of them, turned and vanished into the forest or the river, all
save the snake that coiled itself up and slept where it was. So
stillness came again, and Tua and Asti slept also, nor did they wake
until the sun was shining in the heavens.
Then they arose wondering, and went down over the patch of sand that
was marked with the footprints of all the beasts to the river's brink,
and drank and washed themselves, peering the while through the mists,
for they thought that perchance they would see that golden ship with
the veiled crew which had carried them from Memphis, returned and
awaiting them in midstream.
But no ship was there; nothing was there except the river-horses which
rose and sank, and the crocodiles on the mud-banks, and the wildfowl
that flighted inward from the sea to feed. So they went back to the
ashes of their fire and ate of the food in Asti's basket, and, when
they had eaten, looked at each other, not knowing what to do. Then Tua
"Come, Nurse, let us be going. Up the river and down the river we
cannot walk, for there are nothing but weeds and mud, so we must
strike out through the forest, whither the gods may lead us."
Asti nodded, and, clad in the light warm clothes of camel-hair, they
set the baskets upon their heads after the fashion of the peasant
women of Egypt and started forward, the harp of ivory and of gold
hanging upon Tua's back.
For hour after hour they marched thus through the forest, threading
their path between the big boles of the trees, and heading always for
the south, for that way ran the woodland glades beyond which was dense
bush. Great apes chattered above them in the tree tops, and now and
again some beast of prey crossed their path and vanished in the
underwood, but nothing else did they see. At length, towards midday,
the ground began to rise, and the trees grew smaller and farther
apart, till at last they reached the edge of a sandy desert, and
walked out to a little oasis, where the green grass showed them they
would find water. In this oasis there was a spring, and by the edge of
it they sat down and drank, and ate of their store of food, and
afterwards slept a while.
Suddenly Tua, in her sleep, heard a voice, and, awaking with a start,
saw a man who stood near by, leaning on a thornwood staff and
contemplating them. He was a very strange man, apparently of great
age, for his long white hair fell down upon his shoulders, and his
white beard reached to his middle. Once he must have been very tall,
but now he was bent with age, and the bones of his gaunt frame thrust
out his ragged garments. His dark eyes also were horny, indeed it
seemed as though he could scarcely see with them, for he leaned
forward to peer at their faces where they lay. His face was scored by
a thousand wrinkles, and almost black with exposure to the sun and
wind, but yet of a marvellous tenderness and beauty. Indeed, except
that it was far more ancient, and the features were on a larger and a
grander scale, it reminded Tua of the face of Pharaoh after he was
"My Father," said Tua, sitting up, for an impulse prompted her to name
this wanderer thus, "say whence do you come, and what would you with
"My Daughter," answered the old man in a sweet, grave voice, "I come
from the wilderness which is my home. Long have I outlived all those
of my generation, yes, and their children also. Therefore the
wilderness and the forest that do not change are now my only friends,
since they alone knew me when I was young. Be pitiful now to me, for I
am poor, so poor that for three whole days no food has passed my lips.
It was the smell of the meat which you have with you that led me to
you. Give me of that meat, Daughter, for I starve."
"It is yours, O----" and she paused.
"I am called Kepher."
"Kepher, Kepher!" repeated Tua, for she thought it strange that a
beggar-man should be named after that scarabŠus insect which among the
Egyptians was the symbol of eternity. "Well, take and eat, O Kepher,"
she said, and handed him the basket that contained what was left to
them of their store.
The beggar took it, and having looked up to heaven as though to ask a
blessing on his meal, sat down upon the sand and began to devour the
"Lady," said Asti, "he will eat it all, and then we shall starve in
this desert. He is a locust, not a man," she added, as another cake
"He is our guest," answered Tua gravely, "let him take what we have to
For a while Asti was silent, then again she broke out into
"Peace, Nurse," replied Tua, "I have said that he is our guest, and
the law of hospitality may not be broken."
"Then the law of hospitality will bring us to our deaths," muttered
"If so, so let it be, Nurse; at least this poor man will be filled,
and for the rest, as always, we must trust to Amen our father."
Yet as she spoke the words tears gathered in her eyes, for she knew
that Asti was right, and now that all the food was gone, on which with
care they might have lived for two days or more, soon they would
faint, and perish, unless help came to them, which was not likely in
that lonesome place. Once, not so long ago, they had starved for lack
of sustenance, and it was the thought of that slow pain so soon to be
renewed, that brought the water to her eyes.
Meanwhile Kepher, whose appetite for one so ancient was sharp indeed,
finished the contents of the basket down to the last date, and handed
it back to Tua with a bow, saying:
"I thank you, Daughter; the Queen of Egypt could not have entertained
me more royally," and he peered at her with his horny eyes. "I who
have been empty for long, am full again, and since I cannot reward you
I pray to the gods that they will do so. Beautiful Daughter, may you
never know what it is to lack a meal."
At this saying Tua could restrain herself no more. A large tear from
her eyes fell upon Kepher's rough hand as she answered with a little
"I am glad that you are comforted with meat, but do not mock us,
Friend, seeing that we are but lost wanderers who very soon must
starve, since now our food is done."
"What, Daughter?" asked the old man in an astonished voice, "what? Can
I believe that you gave all you had to a beggar of the wilderness, and
sat still while he devoured it? And is it for this reason that you
"Forgive me, Father, but it is so," answered Tua. "I am ashamed of
such weakness, but recently my friend here and I have known hunger,
very sore hunger, and the dread of it moves me. Come, Asti, let us be
going while our strength remains in us."
Kepher looked up at the name, then turned to Tua and said:
"Daughter, your face is fair, and your heart is perfect, since
otherwise you would not have dealt with me as you have done. Still, it
seems that you lack one thing--undoubting faith in the goodness of the
gods. Though, surely," he added in a slow voice, "those who have
passed yonder lion-haunted forest without hurt should not lack faith.
Say, now, how came you there?"
"We are ladies of Egypt," interrupted Asti, "or at least this maiden
is, for I am but her old nurse. Man-stealing pirates of Phťnicia
seized us while we wandered on the shores of the Nile, and brought us
hither in their ship, by what way we do not know. At length they put
into yonder river for water, and we fled at night. We are escaped
slaves, no more."
"Ah!" said Kepher, "those pirates must mourn their loss. I almost
wonder that they did not follow you. Indeed, I thought that you might
be other folk, for, strangely enough, as I slept in the sand last
night, a certain spirit from the Under-world visited me in my dreams,
and told me to search for one Asti and another lady who was with her--
I cannot remember the name of that lady. But I do remember the name of
the spirit, for he told it to me; it was Mermes."
Now Asti gave a little cry, and, springing up, searched Kepher's face
with her eyes, nor did he shrink from her gaze.
"I perceive," she said slowly, "that you who seem to be a beggar are
also a seer."
"Mayhap, Asti," he answered. "In my long life I have often noted that
sometimes men are more than they seem--and women also. Perhaps you
have learned the same, for nurses in great houses may note many things
if they choose. But let us say no more. I think it is better that we
should say no more. You and your companion--how is she named?"
"Neferte," answered Asti promptly.
"Neferte, ah! Certainly that was not the name which the spirit used,
though it is true that other name began with the same sound, or so I
think. Well, you and your companion, Neferte, escaped from those
wicked pirates, and managed to bring certain things with you, for
instance, that beautiful harp, wreathed with the royal /urŠi/, and--
but what is in that second basket?"
"Pearls," broke in Tua quickly.
"And a large basket of pearls. Might I see them? Oh! do not be afraid,
I shall not rob those whose food I have eaten, it is against the
custom of the desert."
"Certainly," answered Tua. "I never thought that you would rob us, for
if you were of the tribe of thieves, surely you would be richer, and
less hungry than you seem. I only thought that you were almost blind,
Father Kepher, and therefore could not know the difference between a
pearl and a pebble."
"My feeling still remains to me, Daughter Neferte," he answered with a
Then Tua gave him the basket. He opened it and drew out the strings of
pearls, feeling them, smelling and peering at them, touching them with
his tongue, especially the large single ones which were wrapped up by
themselves. At length, having handled them all, he restored them to
the basket, saying drily:
"It is strange, indeed, Nurse Asti, that those Syrian man-stealers
attempted no pursuit of you, for here, whether they were theirs or
not, are enough gems to buy a kingdom."
"We cannot eat pearls," answered Asti.
"No, but pearls will buy more than you need to eat."
"Not in a desert," said Asti.
"True, but as it chances there is a city in this desert, and not so
very far away."
"Is it named Napata?" asked Tua eagerly.
"Napata? No, indeed. Yet, I have heard of such a place, the City of
Gold they called it. In fact, once I visited it in my youth, over a
hundred years ago."
"A hundred years ago! Do you remember the way thither?"
"Yes, more or less, but on foot it is over a year's journey away, and
the path thither lies across great deserts and through tribes of
savage men. Few live to reach that city."
"Yet I will reach it, or die, Father."
"Perhaps you will, Daughter Neferte, perhaps you will, but I think not
at present. Meanwhile, you have a harp, and therefore it is probable
that you can play and sing; also you have pearls. Now the inhabitants
of this town whereof I spoke to you love music. Also they love pearls,
and as you cannot begin your journey to Napata for three months, when
the rain on the mountains will have filled the desert wells, I suggest
that you would do wisely to settle yourselves there for a while. Nurse
Asti here would be a dealer in pearls, and you, her daughter, would be
a musician. What say you?"
"I say that I should be glad to settle myself anywhere out of this
desert," said Tua wearily. "Lead us on to the city, Father Kepher, if
you know the way."
"I know the way, and will guide you thither in payment for that good
meal of yours. Now come. Follow me." And taking his long staff he
strode away in front of them.
"This Kepher goes at a wonderful pace for an old man," said Tua
presently. "When first we saw him he could scarcely hobble."
"Man!" answered Asti. "He is not a man, but a spirit, good or bad, I
don't know which, appearing as a beggar. Could a man eat as much as he
did--all our basketful of food? Does a man talk of cities that he
visited in his youth over a hundred years ago, or declare that my dead
husband spoke to him in his dreams? No, no, he is a ghost like those
upon the ship."
"So much the better," answered Tua cheerfully, "since ghosts have been
good friends to us, for had it not been for them I should have been
dead or shamed to-day."
"That we shall find out at the end of the story," said Asti, who was
cross and weary, for the heat of the sun was great. "Meanwhile, follow
on. There is nothing else to do."
For hour after hour they walked, till at length towards evening, when
they were almost exhausted, they struggled up a long rise of sand and
rocks, and from the crest of it perceived a large walled town set in a
green and fertile valley not very far beneath them. Towards this town
Kepher, who marched at a distance in front, guided them till they
reached a clump of trees on the outskirts of the cultivated land. Here
he halted, and when they came up to him, led them among the trees.
"Now," he said, "drop your veils and bide here, and if any should come
to you, say that you are poor wandering players who rest. Also, if it
pleases you, give me a small pearl off one of those strings, that I
may go into the city, which is named Tat, and sell it to buy you food
and a place to dwell in."
"Take a string," said Tua faintly.
"Nay, nay, Daughter, one will be enough, for in this town pearls are
rare, and have a great value."
So she gave him the gem, or rather let him take it from the silk,
which he re-fastened very neatly for one who seemed to be almost
blind, and strode off swiftly towards the town.
"Man or spirit, I wonder if we shall see him again?" said Asti.
Tua made no answer--she was too tired, but resting herself against the
bole of a tree, fell into a doze. When she awoke again it was to see
that the sun had sunk, and that before her stood the beggar Kepher,
and with him two black men, each of whom led a saddled mule.
"Mount, Friends," he said, "for I have found you a lodging."
So they mounted, and were led to the gate of the city which at the
word of Kepher was opened for them, and thence down a long street to a
house built in a walled garden. Into this house they entered, the
black men leading off the mules, to find that it was a well-furnished
place with a table ready set in the ante-room, on which was food in
plenty. They ate of it, all three of them, and when they had finished
Kepher bade a woman who was waiting on them, lead them to their
chamber, saying that he himself would sleep in the garden.
Thither then they went without more questions, and throwing themselves
down upon beds which were prepared for them, were soon fast asleep.
TUA AND THE KING OF TAT
In the morning, after Tua and Asti had put on the clean robes that lay
to their hands, and eaten, suddenly they looked up and perceived that
Kepher, the ancient beggar of the desert, was in the room with them,
though neither of them had heard or seen him enter.
"You come silently, Friend," said Asti, looking at him with a curious
eye. "A Double could not move with less noise, and--where is your
shadow?" she added, staring first at the sun without, and then at the
floor upon which he stood.
"I forgot it," he answered in his deep voice. "One so poor as I am
cannot always afford a shadow. But look, there it is now. And for the
rest, what do you know of Doubles which those who are uninstructed
cannot discern? Now I have heard of a Lady in Egypt who by some chance
bore your name, and who has the power, not only to see the Double, but
to draw it forth from the body of the living, and furnish it with
every semblance of mortal life. Also I have heard that she who reigns
in Egypt to-day has such a Ka or Double that can take her place, and
none know the difference, save that this Ka, which Amen gave her at
her birth, works the vengeance of the gods without pity or remorse.
Tell me, Friend Asti, when you were a slave-woman in Egypt did you
ever hear talk of such things as these?"
Now he looked at Asti, and Asti looked at him, till at length he moved
his old hands in a certain fashion, whereon she bowed her head and was
But Tua, who was terrified at this talk, for she knew not what would
befall them if the truth were guessed, broke in, saying:
"Welcome, Father, however it may please you to come, and with or
without a shadow. Surely we have much to thank you for who have found
us this fine house and servants and food--by the way, will you not eat
"Nay," he answered, smiling, "as you may have guessed yesterday, I
touch meat seldom; as a rule, once only in three days, and then take
my fill. Life is so short that I cannot waste time in eating."
"Oh!" said Tua, "if you feel thus whose youth began more than a
hundred years ago, how must it seem to the rest of us? But, Father
Kepher, what are we to do in this town Tat?"
"I have told you, Maiden. Asti here will deal in pearls and other
goods, and you will sing, but always behind the curtain, since here in
Tat you must suffer no man to see your beauty, and least of all him
who rules it. Now give me two more pearls, for I go out to buy for you
other things that are needful, and after that perhaps you will see me
no more for a long while. Yet if trouble should fall upon you, go to
the window-place wherever you may be, and strike upon that harp of
yours, and call thrice upon the name of Kepher. Doubtless there will
be some listening who will hear you and bring me the news in the
Desert, where I dwell who do not love towns, and then I may be able to
"I thank you, my Father, and I will remember. But pardon me if I ask
how can one so----" and she paused.
"So old, so ragged and so miserable give help to man or woman--that is
what you would say, Daughter Neferte, is it not? Well, judge not from
the outward seeming; good wine is often found in jars of common clay,
and the fire hid in a rough flint can destroy a city."
"And therefore a wanderer who can swallow his own shadow can aid
another wanderer in distress," remarked Tua drily. "My Father, I
understand, who although I am still young, have seen many things and
ere now been dragged out of deep water by strange hands."
"Such as those of Phťnician pirates," suggested Kepher. "Well, good-
bye. I go to purchase what you need with the price of these pearls,
and then the Desert calls me for a while. Remember what I told you,
and do not seek to leave this town of Tat until the rain has fallen on
the mountains, and there is water in the wells. Good-bye, Friend Asti,
also; when I come again we will talk more of Doubles, until which time
may the great god of Egypt--he is called Amen, is he not?--have you
and your Lady in his keeping."
Then he turned and went.
"What is that man?" asked Tua when they had heard the door of the
house close behind him.
"Man?" answered Asti. "I have told you that he is no man. Do men
unfold their shadows like a garment? He is a god or a ghost, wearing a
"Man or ghost, I like him well for he has befriended us in our need,
"That we shall know when he has done with us," answered Asti.
An hour later, whilst they were still talking of Kepher and all the
marvels that had befallen them, porters began to arrive, bearing
bundles which, when opened, were found to contain silks and broideries
in gold and silver thread, and leather richly worked, such as the
Arabs make, and alabaster pots of ointments, and brass work from
Syria, and copper jars from Cyprus, with many other goods, all very
costly, and in number more than enough for a wealthy trader's store.
These goods the porters set out on the mats and shelves of the large
front room of the house that opened to the street, which room seemed
to have been built to receive them. Then they departed, asking no
fees, and there appeared a man riding a fine white horse, who
dismounted, and, bowing low towards the screen of pierced wood-work
behind which Tua and Asti were hidden, laid a writing upon a little
table, and rode away. When he had gone Asti opened the door in the
screen and took the writing which she found she could read well
enough, for it was in the Egyptian character and language.
It proved to be the title-deed of the house and garden conveyed to
them jointly, and also of the rich goods which the porters had
brought. At the foot of this document was written--
"Received by Kepher the Wanderer in payment of the above house and
land and goods, three pearls and one full meal of meat and dates."
Then followed the seal of Kepher in wax, a finely cut scarabŠus
holding the symbol of the sun between its two front feet.
"A proud seal for a tattered wanderer, though it is but his name writ
in wax," said Tua.
But Asti only answered:
"If small pearls have such value in this city, what price will the
large ones bring? Well, let us to our business, for we have time upon
our hands, and cannot live upon pearls and costly stuffs."
So it happened that Neter-Tua, Star of Amen, Queen of Egypt, and Asti
her Nurse, the Mistress of Magic, became merchants in the town of Tat.
This was the manner of their trade. For one hour in the morning, and
one in the afternoon, Asti, heavily veiled, and a woman of the
servants whom they had found in the house, would sit on stools amidst
the goods and traffic with all comers, selling to those who would buy,
and taking payment in gold dust or other articles of value, or buying
from those who would sell. Then when the hour drew towards its close
Tua would sweep her harp behind the screen that hid her and begin to
sing, whereon all would cease from their chaffering and listen, for
never before had they heard so sweet a voice. Indeed, at these times
the broad street in front of their house was packed with people, for
the fame of this singing of hers went through the city and far into
the country that lay beyond. Then the traffic came to an end, with her
song, and leaving their goods in charge of the servants, Tua and Asti
departed to the back rooms of the house, and ate their meals or
wandered in the large, walled garden that lay behind.
Thus the weeks went on and soon, although they sold few of the pearls,
and those the smallest, for of the larger gems they said little or
nothing, they began to grow rich, and to hoard up such a weight of
gold in dust and nuggets, and so many precious things, that they
scarcely knew what they should do with them. Still Tat seemed to be a
peaceful city, or at the least none tried to rob or molest them,
perhaps because a rumour was abroad that these strangers who had come
out of the Unknown were under the protection of some god.
There was nothing to show how or why this rumour had arisen in the
city, but on account of it, if for no other reason, these pearl-
merchants, as they were called, suffered no wrong, and although they
were only undefended women, whatever credit they might give, the debt
was always paid. Also their servants, to whom they added as they had
means, were all faithful to them. So there they remained and traded,
keeping their secrets and awaiting the appointed hour of escape, but
never venturing to leave the shelter of their own walls.
Now, as it happened, when they came thither the King of Tat was away
making war upon another king whose country lay upon the coast, but
after they had dwelt for many weeks in the place, this King, who was
named Janees, returned victorious from his war and prepared to
celebrate a triumph.
While he was making ready for this triumph his courtiers told him of
these pearl-merchants, and, desiring pearls for his adornment on that
great day, he went in disguise to the house of those who sold them. As
it chanced he arrived late, and requested to see the gems just as Tua,
according to her custom, was playing upon her harp. Then she began to
sing, and this King Janees, who was a man of under forty years of age,
listened intently to her beautiful voice, forgetting all about the
pearls that he had come to buy. Her song finished, the veiled Asti
rose, and bowing to all the company gathered in the street, bade her
servants shut up the coffers and remove the goods.
"But I would buy pearls, Merchant, if you have such to sell," said
"Then you must return this afternoon, Purchaser," replied Asti,
scanning his pale and haughty face, "for even if you were the King of
Tat I would not sell to you out of my hours."
"You speak high words, Woman," exclaimed Janees angrily.
"High or low, they are what I mean," answered Asti, and went away.
The end of it was that this King Janees returned at the evening hour,
led thither more by a desire to hear that lovely voice again than to
purchase gems. Still he asked to see pearls, and Asti showed him some
which he thrust aside as too small. Then she produced those that were
larger, and again he thrust them aside, and so it went on for a long
while. At length from somewhere in her clothing Asti drew two of the
biggest that she had, perfect pearls of the size of the middle nail of
a man's finger, and at the sight of these the eyes of Janees
brightened, for such gems he had never seen before. Then he asked the
price. Asti answered carelessly that it was doubtless more than he
would wish to pay, since there were few such pearls in the whole
world, and she named a weight in gold that caused him to step back
from her amazed, for it was a quarter of the tribute that he had taken
from his new-conquered kingdom.
"Woman, you jest," he said, "surely there is some abatement."
"Man," she answered, "I jest not; there is no abatement," and she
replaced the pearls in her garments.
Now he grew very angry, and asked:
"Did you know that I am the King of Tat, and if I will, can take your
pearls without any payment at all?"
"Are you?" asked Asti, looking at him coolly. "I should never have
guessed it. Well, if you steal my goods, as you say you can, you will
be King of Thieves also."
Now those who heard this saying laughed, and the King thought it best
to join in their merriment. Then the bargaining went on, but before it
was finished, at her appointed hour Tua began to sing behind the
"Have done," said the King to Asti, "to-morrow you shall be paid your
price. I would listen to that music which is above price."
So Janees listened like one fascinated, for Tua was singing her best.
Step by step he drew ever nearer to the screen, though this Asti did
not notice, for she was engaged in locking up her goods. At length he
reached it, and thrusting his fingers through the openings in the
pierced woodwork, rested his weight upon it like a man who is faint,
as perhaps he was with the sweetness of that music. Then of a sudden,
by craft or chance, he swung himself backward, and with him came the
frail screen. Down it clattered to the floor, and lo! beyond it,
unveiled, but clad in rich attire, stood Tua sweeping her harp of
ivory and gold. Like sunlight from a cloud the bright vision of her
beauty struck the eyes of the people gathered there, and seemed to
dazzle them, since for a while they were silent. Then one said:
"Surely this woman is a queen," and another answered:
"Nay, she is a goddess," but ere the words had left his lips Tua was
As for Janees the King, he stared at her open-mouthed, reeling a
little upon his feet, then, as she fled, turned to Asti, saying:
"Is this Lady your slave?"
"Nay, King, my daughter, whom you have done ill to spy upon."
"Then," said Janees slowly, "I who might do less, desire to make this
daughter of yours my Queen--do you understand, Merchant of Pearls--my
Queen, and as a gift you shall have as much gold again as I have
promised for your gems."
"Other kings have desired as much and offered more, but she is not for
you or any of them," answered Asti, looking him in the face.
Now Janees made a movement as though he would strike her, then seemed
to change his mind, for he replied only:
"A rough answer to a fair offer, seeing that none know who you are or
whence you come. But there are eyes upon us. I will talk with you
again to-morrow; till then, rest in peace."
"It is useless," began Asti, but he was already gone.
Presently Asti found Tua in the garden, and told her everything.
"Now I wish that Kepher of the Desert were at hand," said Tua
nervously, "for it seems that I am in a snare, who like this Janees no
better than I did Abi or the Prince of Kesh, and will never be his
"Then I think we had better fly to the wilderness and seek him there
this very night, for, Lady, you know what chances to men who look upon
"I know what chanced to the Prince of Kesh, and what will chance to
Abi at the hands of one I left behind me, I can guess; perhaps this
Janees will fare no better. Still, let us go."
Asti nodded, then by an afterthought went into the house and asked
some questions of the servants. Presently she returned, and said:
"It is useless; soldiers are already stationed about the place, and
some of our women who tried to go out have been turned back, for they
say that by the King's order none may leave our door."
"Now shall I strike upon the harp and call upon the name of Kepher, as
he bade me?" asked Tua.
"I think not yet awhile, Lady. This danger may pass by or the night
bring counsel, and then he would be angry if you summoned him for
naught. Let us go in and eat."
So they went in, and while they sat at their food suddenly they heard
a noise, and looking up, perceived by the light of the lamp that women
were crowding into the room led by two eunuchs.
Tua drew a dagger from her robe and sprang up, but the head eunuch, an
old, white-haired man, bowed low before her, and said:
"Lady, you can kill me if you will, for I am unarmed, but there are
many more of us without, and to resist is useless. Hearken; no harm
shall be done to you or to your companion, but it is the King's desire
that one so royal and beautiful should be better lodged than in this
place of traffic. Therefore he has commanded me to take you and all
your household and all your goods to no less a place than his own
palace, where he would speak with you."
"Sheathe the dagger and waste no words upon these slaves, Daughter,"
said Asti. "Since we have no choice, let us go."
So after they had veiled and robed, they suffered themselves to be led
out and placed in a double litter with their pearls and gold, while
the King's women collected all the rest of their goods and took them
away together with their servants, leaving the house quite empty.
Then, guarded by soldiers, they were borne through the silent streets
till they came to great gates which closed behind them, and having
passed up many stairs, the litter was set down in a large and
beautiful room lit with silver lamps of scented oil. Here, and in
other rooms beyond, they found women of the royal household and their
own servants already arranging their possessions.
Soon it was done, and food and wine having been set for them, they
were left alone in that room, and stood looking at each other.
"Now shall I strike and call?" said Tua, lifting the harp which she
had brought with her. "Look, yonder is a window-place such as that of
which Kepher spoke."
"Not yet, I think, Lady. Let us learn all our case ere we call for
help," and as the words left her lips the door opened, and through it,
clad in his royal robes, walked Janees the King.
Now in the centre of this great room was a marble basin filled with
pure water which, perhaps, had served as the bath of the queens who
dwelt there in former days, or, perhaps, was so designed for the sake
of coolness in times of heat. Tua and Asti stood upon one side of this
basin, and to the other came the King, so that the water lay between
them. Thrice he bowed to Tua, then said:
"Lady, who, as your servants tell me, are known as Neferte, a maiden
of Egypt, and for lack of the true name, doubtless this will serve,
Lady, I come to ask your pardon for what must seem to you to be a
grievous wrong. O Lady Neferte, this must be my excuse, that I have no
choice. By fortune, good or ill, I know not which, this day I beheld
your face, and now but one desire is left to me, to behold it again,
and for all my life. Lady, the Goddess of Love, she, whom in Egypt you
name Hathor, has made me her slave, so that I no longer think of pomp
or power or wealth, or of other women, but of you and you only. Lady,
I would do you no harm, for I offer you half my throne. You and you
alone shall be my Queen. Speak now."
"King Janees," answered Tua, "what evil spirit has entered into you
that you should wish to make a Queen of a singing-girl, the daughter
of a merchant who has wandered to your city? Let me go, and keep that
high place for one of the great ones of the earth. Send now to Abi,
who I have heard rules as Pharaoh in Egypt, and ask a daughter of his
blood, for they say that he has several; or to some of the princes of
Syria, or to the King of Byblos by Lebanon, or to the lords of Kesh,
or across the desert to the Emperor of Punt, and let this poor
singing-girl go her ways."
"This poor singing-girl," repeated Janees after her, "who, or whose
mother," and he bowed to Asti with a smile, "has pearls to sell that
are worth the revenue of a kingdom; this singing-girl, the ivory
figure on whose harp is crowned with the royal /urŠi/ of Egypt; this
singing-girl whose chiselled loveliness is such as might be found
perhaps among the daughters of ancient kings; this singing-girl whose
voice can ravish the hearts of men and beasts! Well, Lady Neferte, I
thank you for your warning, still I am ready to take my chance, hoping
that my children will not be made ashamed by the blood of such a
singing-girl as this, who, as I saw when that screen fell, has stamped
upon her throat the holy sign they worship on the Nile."
"I am honoured," answered Tua coldly, "yet it may not be. Among my own
humble folk I have a lover, and him I will wed or no man."
"You have a lover! Then hide his name from me, lest presently I should
play Set to his Osiris and rend him into pieces. You shake your head,
knowing doubtless that the man is great, yet I tell you that I will
conquer him and rend him into pieces for the crime of being loved by
you. Listen now! I would make you my Queen, but Queen or not, mine you
shall be who lie in my power. I will not force you, I will give you
time. But if on the morning of the third day from this night you still
refuse to share my throne, why, then you shall sit upon its
Now, in her anger, Tua threw back her veil, and met him eye to eye.
"You think me great," she said, "and truly you are right, for whatever
is my rank, with me go my gods, and in their strength my innocence is
great. Let me be, you petty King of Tat, lest I lift up my voice to
heaven, and call down upon you the anger of the gods."
"Already, Lady, you have called down upon me the anger of a goddess,
that Hathor of whom I spoke, and for the rest I fear them not. Let
them do their worst. On the third night from this night, as Queen or
slave, I swear that you shall be mine. This woman here, whom you call
your mother, shall be witness to my oath, and to its end."
"Aye, King," broke in Asti, "I will be witness, but as to the end of
that oath I do not know it yet. Would you like to learn? In my own
country I was held to have something of a gift, I mean in the way of
magic. It came to me, I know not whence, and it is very uncertain--at
times it is my servant, and at times I can do nothing. Still, for your
sake, I would try. Is it your pleasure to see that end of which you
spoke, the end of your attempt to force yonder maiden to be your queen
"Aye, Woman," answered Janees, "if you have a trick, show it--why
"So be it, King; but, of course, I have your word that you will not
blame me if by any chance the trick should not prove to your liking--
your royal word. Now stand you there, and look into this water while I
pray our gods, the gods of my own country, to be gracious, and to show
you what shall be your state at this same hour on the third night from
now, which you say and hope shall be the night of your wedding. Sing,
my Daughter, sing that old and sacred song which I have taught you. It
will serve to while away the tedium of our waiting until the gods
declare themselves, if such be their will."
Then Asti knelt down by the pool, and bent her head, and stretched out
her hands over the water, and Tua touched the strings of her harp and
began to chant very solemnly in an unknown tongue. The words of that
chant were low and sweet, yet it seemed to Janees that they fell like
ice upon his hot blood, and froze it within his veins. At first he
kept his eyes fixed upon her beauty, but by slow degrees something
drew them down to the water of the pool.
Look! A mist gathered on its blackness. It broke and cleared and
there, as in a mirror, he saw a picture. He saw himself lying stripped
and dead, a poor, naked corpse with wide eyes that stared to heaven,
and gashed throat and sides whence the blood ran upon the marble floor
of his own great hall, ruined by fire, with its scorched pillars
pointing like fingers to the moon. There he lay alone, and by him
stood a hound, his own hound, that lifted up its head and seemed to
The last words of Tua's chant died away, and with them that picture
passed. Janees leapt back from the edge of the pool, glaring at Asti.
"Sorceress!" he cried, "were you not my guest who names herself the
mother of her who shall be my Queen, I swear that to-night you should
die by torture in payment of this foul trick of yours."
"Yet as it is," answered Asti, "I think that I shall not die, since
those who call upon the gods must not quarrel with their oracle.
Moreover, I know now what you saw, and it may be nothing but a fantasy
of your brain or of mine. Now let us sleep, I pray you, O King, for we
are weary, and leave its secrets to the future. In three days we shall
know what they may be."
Then, without another word, Janees turned and left them.
"What was it that lay in the pool, Nurse?" asked Tua. "I saw nothing."
"The shadow of a dead man, I think," answered Asti grimly. "Some
jealous god has looked upon this poor King whose crime is that he
desires you, and therefore he must die. Of a truth it goes ill with
your lovers, O Star of Amen, and sometimes I wonder if one who is dear
to me will meet with better fortune at those royal eyes of yours. If
ill befalls him I think that at the last I may learn to hate you, whom
from the first I cherished."
Now at the thought that she might bring death to Rames also, Tua's
tears began to gather, and her voice choked in her throat.
"Say not such evil-omened words," she sobbed, "since you know well
that if he is taken hence for whose sake I endure all these things,
then I must follow him over the edge of the world. Moreover, you are
unjust. Did I slay the Prince of Kesh, or was it another?"
"Another, Queen, but for your sake."
"And would you have had me wed Abi the hog, the murderer of my father,
and of your lord? Again, was it I who but now showed this barbarian
chief a shadow in the water, or was it Asti the witch, Asti the
prophetess of Amen? Lastly, will the man die, if die he must, because
he loves me, which, being a woman I can forgive him, or because he
laid the hands of violence upon me to force me to be his queen or
mistress, which I forgive him not? Oh! Asti, you know well I am not as
other women are. Perchance it is true that some blood that is not
human runs in me; at least I fulfil a doom laid on me before my birth,
and working woe or working weal, I go as my feet are led by ghosts and
gods. Why, then, do you upbraid me?" and she ceased and wept outright.
"Nay, nay, be comforted, I upbraid you not," answered Asti, drawing
her to her breast. "Who am I that I should cast reproaches at Amen's
Star and daughter and my Queen? I know well that the house of your
fate is built, that sail you up stream or sail you down stream, you
must pass its gate at last. It was fear for Rames that made me speak
so bitterly, Rames my only child, if, indeed, he is left to me, for I
who have so much wisdom cannot learn from man or spirit whether he
lives here or with Osiris, since some black veil hangs between our
souls. I fear lest the gods, grown jealous of that high love of yours,
should wreak their wrath upon him who has dared to win it, and bring
Rames to the grave before his time, and the thought of it rends my
Now it was Tua's turn to play the comforter.
"Surely," she said, "surely, my Foster-mother, you forget the promise
of Amen, King of the Gods, which he made ere I was born, to Ahura who
bore me, that I should find a royal lover, and that from his love and
mine should spring many kings and princes, and that this being so,
Rames must live."
"Why must he live, Lady, seeing that even if he can be called royal,
there are others?"
"Nay, Asti," murmured Tua, laying her head upon her breast, "for me
there are no others, nor shall any child of mine be born that does not
name Rames father. Whatever else is doubtful, this is sure. Therefore
Rames lives, and will live, or the King of the gods has lied."
"You reason well," said Asti, and kissed her. Then she thought for a
moment, and added: "Now to our work, it is the hour. Take the harp, go
to the window-place, and call as the beggar-man bade you do in your
So Tua went to the window-place and looked down on the great courtyard
beneath that was lit with the light of the moon. Then she struck on
the harp, and thrice she cried aloud:
"/Kepher! Kepher! Kepher!/"
And each time the echo of her cry came back louder and still more
loud, till it seemed as though earth and heaven were filled with the
sound of the name of Kepher.
THE BEGGAR AND THE KING
It was the afternoon of the third day. Tua and Asti, seated in the
window-place of their splendid prison, looked through the wooden
screen down into the court below, where, according to his custom at
this hour, Janees the King sat in the shadow to administer justice and
hear the petitions of his subjects. The two women were ill at ease,
for the time of respite had almost passed.
"Night draws near," said Tua, "and with it will come Janees. Look how
he eyes this window, like a hungry lion waiting to be fed. Kepher has
made no sign; perchance after all he is but a wandering beggar-man
filled with strange fancies, or perchance he is dead, as may well
happen at his age. At least, he makes no sign, nor does Amen, to whom
I have prayed so hard, send any answer to my prayers. I am forsaken.
Oh! Asti, you who are wise, tell me, what shall I do?"
"Trust in the gods," said Asti. "There are still three hours to
sundown, and in three hours the gods, to whom time is nothing, can
destroy the world and build it up again. Remember when we starved in
the pylon tower at Memphis, and what befell us there. Remember the
leap to death and the Boat of Ra, and those by whom it was captained.
Remember and trust in the gods."
"I trust--in truth I trust, Asti, but yet--oh! let us talk of
something else. I wonder what has chanced in Memphis since we left it
in so strange a fashion? Do you think that awful Ka of mine queens it
there with Abi for a husband? If so, I almost grieve for Abi, for she
had something in her eyes which chilled my mortal blood, and yet you
say she is a part of me, a spirit who cannot die, cast in my mould,
and given to me at birth. I would I had another Ka, and that you could
draw it forth again, Asti, to bewitch this Janees, and hold him while
we fled. See, that case draws to an end at length. Janees is giving
judgment, or rather his councillor is, for he prompts him all the
time. Can you not hear his whispers? As for Janees himself, his
thoughts are here, I feel his eyes burn me through this wooden screen.
He is about to rise. Why! Who comes? Awake, Nurse, and look."
Asti obeyed. There in the gate of the court she saw a tall man, white-
bearded, yellow-faced, horny-eyed, ancient, who, clad in a tattered
robe, leaned upon his staff of thornwood, and stared about him blindly
as though the sun bewildered him. The guards came to thrust him away,
but he waved his staff, and they fell back from him as though there
were power in that staff. Now his slow, tortoise-like eyes seemed to
catch sight of the glittering throne, and of him who sat upon it, and
with long strides he walked to the throne and halted in front of it,
again leaning on his staff.
"Who is this fellow," asked Janees in an angry voice, "who stands here
and makes no obeisance to the King?"
"Are you a king?" asked Kepher. "I am very blind. I thought you were
but a common man such as I am, only clad in bright clothes. Tell me,
what is it like to be a king, and have all things beneath your feet.
Do you still hope and suffer, and fear death like a common man? Is the
flesh beneath your gold and purple the same as mine beneath my rags?
Do old memories torment you, memories of the dead who come no more?
Can you feel griefs, and the ache of disappointment?"
"Do I sit here to answer riddles, Fool?" answered Janees angrily.
"Turn the fellow out. I have business."
Now guards sprang forward to do the King's bidding, but again Kepher
waved his staff, and again they fell back. Certainly it seemed as
though there were power in that staff.
"Business, King," he said. "Not of the State, I think, but with one
who lodges yonder," and he nodded towards the shuttered room whence
Tua watched him. "Well, that is three hours hence after the sun has
set, so you still have time to listen to my prayer, which you will do,
as it is of this same lady with whom you have business."
"What do you know of the lady, you old knave, and of my dealings with
her?" asked Janees angrily.
"Much of both, O King, for I am her father, and--shall I tell the
"Her father, you hoary liar!" broke in Janees.
"Aye, her father, and I have come to tell you that as our blood is
more ancient than yours, I will not have you for a son-in-law, any
more than that daughter of mine will have you for a husband."
Now some of the courtiers who heard these words laughed outright, but
Janees did not laugh, his dark face turned white with rage, and he
gasped for breath.
"Drag this madman forth," he shouted at length, "and cut out his
Again the guards sprang forward, but before ever they reached him
Kepher was speaking in a new voice, a voice so terrible that at the
sound of it they stopped, leaving him untouched.
"Beware how you lay a finger on me, you men of Tat," he cried, "for
how know you who dwells within these rags? Janees, you who call
yourself a King, listen to the commands of a greater king, whose
throne is yonder above the sun. Ere night falls upon the earth, set
that maiden upon whom you would force yourself and her companion and
all her goods without your southern gate, and leave them there
unharmed. Such is the command of the King of kings, who dwells on
"And what if I mock at the command of this King?" asked Janees.
"Mock not," replied Kepher. "Bethink you of a certain picture that the
lady Asti showed you in the water, and mock not."
"It was but an Egyptian trick, Wizard, and one in which I see you had
a hand. Begone, I defy you and your sorceries, and your King. To-night
that maid shall be my wife."
"Then, Janees, Lord of Tat, listen to the doom that I am sent to
decree upon you. To-night you shall have another bride, and her name
is Death. Moreover, for their sins, and because their eyes are evil,
and they have rejected the worship of the gods, many of your people
shall accompany you to darkness, and to-morrow another King, who is
not of your House, shall rule in Tat."
Kepher ceased speaking, then turned and walked slowly down the court
of judgment and through its gates, nor did any so much as lift a
finger to stay him, for now about this old man there seemed to be a
majesty which made them strengthless.
"Bring that wizard back and kill him here," shouted Janees presently,
as the spell passed off them, and like hounds from a leash they sprang
forward to do the bidding of the King.
But without the walls they could not find him. A woman had seen him
here, a child had seen him there, some slaves had watched him pass
yonder, and ran away because they noted that he had no shadow. At
length, after many a false turn, they tracked him to the southern
gate, and there the guard said that just such a beggar-man had passed
through as they were about to close the gate, vanishing into the
sandstorm which blew without. They followed, but so thickly blew that
sand that they lost each other in their search, and but just before
sundown returned to the palace singly, where in his rage the king
commanded them to be beaten with rods upon their feet.
Now the darkness came, and at the appointed hour Janees, hardening his
heart, went up into the chamber where dwelt Tua and Asti, leaving his
guard of eunuchs at the door. The lamps were lit within that chamber,
and the window-places closed, but without the desert wind howled
loudly, and the air was blind with sand. On the farther side of the
marble basin, as once before, Tua and Asti stood awaiting him.
"Lady," he said, "it is the appointed hour, and I seek your answer."
"King," replied Tua, "hear me, and for your own sake--not for mine. I
am more than I seem. I have friends in the earth and air, did not one
of them visit you to-day in yonder court? Put away this madness and
let me be, for I wish you good, not evil, but if you so much as lay a
finger on me, then I think that evil draws near, or at the best I die
by my own hand."
"Lady," replied Janees in a cold voice, "have done with threats; I
await your answer."
"King," said Tua, "for the last time I plead with you. You think that
I lie to save myself, but it is not so. I would save you. Look now,"
and she threw back her veil and opened the wrappings about her throat.
"Look at that which is stamped upon my breast, and think--is it well
to offer violence to a woman who bears this holy seal?"
"I have heard of such a one," said Janees hoarsely, for the sight of
her beauty maddened him. "They say that she was born in Thebes, and of
a strange father, though, if so, how came she here? I am told that she
reigns as Pharaoh in Egypt."
"Ask that question of your oracles, O King, but remember that rumour
does not always lie, and let the daughter of that strange father go."
"There is another who claims to be your father, Lady, if by now my
soldiers have not scourged him to his death--a tattered beggar-man."
Back to Full Books