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- Uarda, Volume 4. - 1/10 -
[NOTE: There is a short list of bookmarks, or pointers, at the end of the file for those who may wish to sample the author's ideas before making an entire meal of them. D.W.]
By Georg Ebers
The afternoon shadows were already growing long, when a splendid chariot drew up to the gates of the terrace-temple. Paaker, the chief pioneer, stood up in it, driving his handsome and fiery Syrian horses. Behind him stood an Ethiopian slave, and his big dog followed the swift team with his tongue out.
As he approached the temple he heard himself called, and checked the pace of his horses. A tiny man hurried up to him, and, as soon as he had recognized in him the dwarf Nemu, he cried angrily:
"Is it for you, you rascal, that I stop my drive? What do you want?"
"To crave," said the little man, bowing humbly, "that, when thy business in the city of the dead is finished, thou wilt carry me back to Thebes."
"You are Mena's dwarf?" asked the pioneer.
"By no means," replied Nemu. "I belong to his neglected wife, the lady Nefert. I can only cover the road very slowly with my little legs, while the hoofs of your horses devour the way-as a crocodile does his prey."
"Get up!" said Paaker. "Did you come here on foot?"
"No, my lord," replied Nemu, "on an ass; but a demon entered into the beast, and has struck it with sickness. I had to leave it on the road. The beasts of Anubis will have a better supper than we to-night."
"Things are not done handsomely then at your mistress's house?" asked Paaker.
"We still have bread," replied Nemu, "and the Nile is full of water. Much meat is not necessary for women and dwarfs, but our last cattle take a form which is too hard for human teeth."
The pioneer did not understand the joke, and looked enquiringly at the dwarf.
"The form of money," said the little man, "and that cannot be chewed; soon that will be gone too, and then the point will be to find a recipe for making nutritious cakes out of earth, water, and palm-leaves. It makes very little difference to me, a dwarf does not need much--but the poor tender lady!"
Paaker touched his horses with such a violent stroke of his whip that they reared high, and it took all his strength to control their spirit.
"The horses' jaws will be broken," muttered the slave behind. "What a shame with such fine beasts!"
"Have you to pay for them?" growled Paaker. Then he turned again to the dwarf, and asked:
"Why does Mena let the ladies want?"
"He no longer cares for his wife," replied the dwarf, casting his eyes down sadly. "At the last division of the spoil he passed by the gold and silver; and took a foreign woman into his tent. Evil demons have blinded him, for where is there a woman fairer than Nefert?"
"You love your mistress."
"As my very eyes!"
During this conversation they had arrived at the terrace-temple. Paaker threw the reins to the slave, ordered him to wait with Nemu, and turned to the gate-keeper to explain to him, with the help of a handful of gold, his desire of being conducted to Pentaur, the chief of the temple.
The gate-keeper, swinging a censer before him with a hasty action, admitted him into the sanctuary. You will find him on the third terrace," he said, "but he is no longer our superior."
"They said so in the temple of Seti, whence I have just come," replied Paaker.
The porter shrugged his shoulders with a sneer, and said: "The palm-tree that is quickly set up falls down more quickly still." Then he desired a servant to conduct the stranger to Pentaur.
The poet recognized the Mohar at once, asked his will, and learned that he was come to have a wonderful vision interpreted by him.
Paaker explained before relating his dream, that he did not ask this service for nothing; and when the priest's countenance darkened he added:
"I will send a fine beast for sacrifice to the Goddess if the interpretation is favorable."
"And in the opposite case?" asked Pentaur, who, in the House of Seti, never would have anything whatever to do with the payments of the worshippers or the offerings of the devout.
"I will offer a sheep," replied Paaker, who did not perceive the subtle irony that lurked in Pentaur's words, and who was accustomed to pay for the gifts of the Divinity in proportion to their value to himself.
Pentaur thought of the verdict which Gagabu, only two evenings since, had passed on the Mohar, and it occurred to him that he would test how far the man's superstition would lead him. So he asked, while he suppressed a smile:
"And if I can foretell nothing bad, but also nothing actually good?"--
"An antelope, and four geese," answered Paaker promptly.
"But if I were altogether disinclined to put myself at your service?" asked Pentaur. "If I thought it unworthy of a priest to let the Gods be paid in proportion to their favors towards a particular person, like corrupt officials; if I now showed you--you--and I have known you from a school-boy, that there are things that cannot be bought with inherited wealth?"
The pioneer drew back astonished and angry, but Pentaur continued calmly--
"I stand here as the minister of the Divinity; and nevertheless, I see by your countenance, that you were on the point of lowering yourself by showing to me your violent and extortionate spirit.
"The Immortals send us dreams, not to give us a foretaste of joy or caution us against danger, but to remind us so to prepare our souls that we may submit quietly to suffer evil, and with heartfelt gratitude accept the good; and so gain from each profit for the inner life. I will not interpret your dream! Come without gifts, but with a humble heart, and with longing for inward purification, and I will pray to the Gods that they may enlighten me, and give you such interpretation of even evil dreams that they may be fruitful in blessing.
"Leave me, and quit the temple!"
Paaker ground his teeth with rage; but he controlled himself, and only said as he slowly withdrew:
"If your office had not already been taken from you, the insolence with which you have dismissed me might have cost you your place. We shall meet again, and then you shall learn that inherited wealth in the right hand is worth more than you will like."
"Another enemy!" thought the poet, when he found himself alone and stood erect in the glad consciousness of having done right.
During Paaker's interview with the poet, the dwarf Nemu had chatted to the porter, and had learned from him all that had previously occurred.
Paaker mounted his chariot pale with rage, and whipped on his horses before the dwarf had clambered up the step; but the slave seized the little man, and set him carefully on his feet behind his master.
"The villian, the scoundrel! he shall repent it--Pentaur is he called! the hound!" muttered the pioneer to himself.
The dwarf lost none of his words, and when he caught the name of Pentaur he called to the pioneer, and said--
"They have appointed a scoundrel to be the superior of this temple; his name is Pentaur. He was expelled from the temple of Seti for his immorality, and now he has stirred up the younger scholars to rebellion, and invited unclean women into the temple. My lips hardly dare repeat it, but the gate-keeper swore it was true--that the chief haruspex from the House of Seti found him in conference with Bent-Anat, the king's daughter, and at once deprived him of his office."
"With Bent-Anat?" replied the pioneer, and muttered, before the dwarf could find time to answer, "Indeed, with Bent-Anat!" and he recalled the day before yesterday, when the princess had remained so long with the priest in the hovel of the paraschites, while he had talked to Nefert and visited the old witch.
"I should not care to be in the priest's skin," observed Nemu, "for though Rameses is far away, the Regent Ani is near enough. He is a gentleman who seldom pounces, but even the dove won't allow itself to be attacked in is own nest."
Paaker looked enquiringly at Nemu.
"I know," said the dwarf "Ani has asked Rameses' consent to marry his daughter."
"He has already asked it," continued the dwarf as Paaker smiled incredulously, "and the king is not disinclined to give it. He likes making marriages--as thou must know pretty well."
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