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- Uarda, Volume 3. - 2/13 -
He had listened with affable condescension to the complaint of a landed proprietor, whose cattle had been driven off for the king's army, and had promised that his case should be enquired into. The plundered man was leaving full of hope; but when the scribe who sat at the feet of the Regent enquired to whom the investigation of this encroachment of the troops should be entrusted, Ani said: "Each one must bring a victim to the war; it must remain among the things that are done, and cannot be undone."
The Nomarch--[Chief of a Nome or district.]--of Suan, in the southern part of the country, asked for funds for a necessary, new embankment. The Regent listened to his eager representation with benevolence, nay with expressions of sympathy; but assured him that the war absorbed all the funds of the state, that the chests were empty; still he felt inclined--even if they had not failed--to sacrifice a part of his own income to preserve the endangered arable land of his faithful province of Suan, to which he desired greeting.
As soon as the Nomarch had left him, he commanded that a considerable sum should be taken out of the Treasury, and sent after the petitioner.
From time to time in the middle of conversation, he arose, and made a gesture of lamentation, to show to the assembled mourners in the court that he sympathized in the losses which had fallen on them.
The sun had already passed the meridian, when a disturbance, accompanied by loud cries, took possession of the masses of people, who stood round the scribes in the palace court.
Many men and women were streaming together towards one spot, and even the most impassive of the Thebans present turned their attention to an incident so unusual in this place.
A detachment of constabulary made a way through the crushing and yelling mob, and another division of Lybian police led a prisoner towards a side gate of the court. Before they could reach it, a messenger came up with them, from the Regent, who desired to be informed as to what happened.
The head of the officers of public safety followed him, and with eager excitement informed Ani, who was waiting for him, that a tiny man, the dwarf of the Lady Katuti, had for several hours been going about in the court, and endeavoring to poison the minds of the citizens with seditious speeches.
Ani ordered that the misguided man should be thrown into the dungeon; but so soon as the chief officer had left him, he commanded his secretary to have the dwarf brought into his presence before sundown.
While he was giving this order an excitement of another kind seized the assembled multitude.
As the sea parted and stood on the right hand and on the left of the Hebrews, so that no wave wetted the foot of the pursued fugitives, so the crowd of people of their own free will, but as if in reverent submission to some high command, parted and formed a broad way, through which walked the high-priest of the House of Seti, as, full robed and accompanied by some of the "holy fathers," he now entered the court.
The Regent went to meet him, bowed before him, and then withdrew to the back of the hall with him alone. It is nevertheless incredible," said Ameni, "that our serfs are to follow the militia!"
"Rameses requires soldiers--to conquer," replied the Regent.
"And we bread--to live," exclaimed the priest.
"Nevertheless I am commanded, at once, before the seed-time, to levy the temple-serfs. I regret the order, but the king is the will, and I am only the hand."
"The hand, which he makes use of to sequester ancient rights, and to open a way to the desert over the fruitful land."
["With good management," said the first Napoleon, "the Nile encroaches upon the desert, with bad management the desert encroaches upon the Nile."]
"Your acres will not long remain unprovided for. Rameses will win new victories with the increased army, and the help of the Gods."
"The Gods! whom he insults!"
"After the conclusion of peace he will reconcile the Gods by doubly rich gifts. He hopes confidently for an early end to the war, and writes to me that after the next battle he wins he intends to offer terms to the Cheta. A plan of the king's is also spoken of--to marry again, and, indeed, the daughter of the Cheta King Chetasar."
Up to this moment the Regent had kept his eyes cast down. Now he raised them, smiling, as if he would fain enjoy Ameni's satisfaction, and asked:
"What dost thou say to this project?"
"I say," returned Ameni, and his voice, usually so stern, took a tone of amusement, "I say that Rameses seems to think that the blood of thy cousin and of his mother, which gives him his right to the throne, is incapable of pollution."
"It is the blood of the Sun-god!"
"Which runs but half pure in his veins, but wholly pure in thine."
The Regent made a deprecatory gesture, and said softly, with a smile which resembled that of a dead man:
"We are not alone."
No one is here," said Ameni, "who can hear us; and what I say is known to every child."
"But if it came to the king's ears--" whispered Ani, "he--"
"He would perceive how unwise it is to derogate from the ancient rights of those on whom it is incumbent to prove the purity of blood of the sovereign of this land. However, Rameses sits on the throne; may life bloom for him, with health and strength!"--[A formula which even in private letters constantly follows the name of the Pharaoh.]
The Regent bowed, and then asked:
"Do you propose to obey the demand of the Pharaoh without delay?"
"He is the king. Our council, which will meet in a few days, can only determine how, and not whether we shall fulfil his command."
"You will retard the departure of the serfs, and Rameses requires them at once. The bloody labor of the war demands new tools."
"And the peace will perhaps demand a new master, who understands how to employ the sons of the land to its greatest advantage--a genuine son of Ra."
The Regent stood opposite the high-priest, motionless as an image cast in bronze, and remained silent; but Ameni lowered his staff before him as before a god, and then went into the fore part of the hall.
When Ani followed him, a soft smile played as usual upon his countenance, and full of dignity he took his seat on the throne.
"Art thou at an end of thy communications?" he asked the high-priest.
"It remains for me to inform you all," replied Ameni with a louder voice, to be heard by all the assembled dignitaries, "that the princess Bent- Anat yesterday morning committed a heavy sin, and that in all the temples in the land the Gods shall be entreated with offerings to take her uncleanness from her."
Again a shadow passed over the smile on the Regent's countenance. He looked meditatively on the ground, and then said:
"To-morrow I will visit the House of Seti; till then I beg that this affair may be left to rest."
Ameni bowed, and the Regent left the hall to withdraw to a wing of the king's palace, in which he dwelt.
On his writing-table lay sealed papers. He knew that they contained important news for him; but he loved to do violence to his curiosity, to test his resolution, and like an epicure to reserve the best dish till the last.
He now glanced first at some unimportant letters. A dumb negro, who squatted at his feet, burned the papyrus rolls which his master gave him in a brazier. A secretary made notes of the short facts which Ani called out to him, and the ground work was laid of the answers to the different letters.
At a sign from his master this functionary quitted the room, and Ani then slowly opened a letter from the king, whose address: "To my brother Ani," showed that it contained, not public, but private information.
On these lines, as he well knew, hung his future life, and the road it should follow.
With a smile, that was meant to conceal even from himself his deep inward agitation, he broke the wax which sealed the short manuscript in the royal hand.
"What relates to Egypt, and my concern for my country, and the happy issue of the war," wrote the Pharaoh, "I have written to you by the hand of my secretary; but these words are for the brother, who desires to be my son, and I write to him myself. The lordly essence of the Divinity which dwells in me, readily brings a quick 'Yes' or 'No' to my lips, and it decides for the best. Now you demand my daughter Bent-Anat to wife, and I should not be Rameses if I did not freely confess that before I had read the last words of your letter, a vehement 'No' rushed to my lips. I caused the stars to be consulted, and the entrails of the victims to be examined, and they were adverse to your request; and yet I could not refuse you, for you are dear to me, and your blood is royal as my own. Even more royal, an old friend said, and warned me against your ambition and your exaltation. Then my heart changed, for I were not Seti's son if I allow myself to injure a friend through idle apprehensions; and he who stands so high that men fear that he may try to rise above Rameses, seems to me to be worthy of Bent-Anat. Woo her, and, should she consent freely, the marriage may be celebrated on the day when I return home. You are young enough to make a wife happy, and your mature wisdom will guard my child from misfortune. Bent-Anat shall know that her father, and king, encourages your suit; but pray too to the Hathors, that they may influence Bent-Anat's heart in your favor, for to her decision we must both submit."
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