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- Uarda, Volume 4. - 3/10 -
"They scent the fresh meat," answered the physician, Nebsecht. "Throw them the entrails, when you have done; the legs and back you can roast. Be careful how you cut out the heart--the heart, soldier. There it is! What a great beast."
Nebsecht took the ram's heart in his hand, and gazed at it with the deepest attention, whilst the old paraschites watched him anxiously. At length:
"I promised," he said, "to do for you what you wish, if you restore the little one to health; but you ask for what is impossible."
"Impossible?" said the physician, "why, impossible? You open the corpses, you go in and out of the house of the embalmer. Get possession of one of the canopi,
[Vases of clay, limestone, or alabaster, which were used for the preservation of the intestines of the embalmed Egyptians, and represented the four genii of death, Amset, Hapi, Tuamutef, and Khebsennuf. Instead of the cover, the head of the genius to which it was dedicated, was placed on each kanopus. Amset (tinder the protection of Isis) has a human head, Hapi (protected by Nephthys) an ape's head, Tuamutef (protected by Neith) a jackal's head, and Khebsennuf (protected by Selk) a sparrow-hawk's head. In one of the Christian Coptic Manuscripts, the four archangels are invoked in the place of these genii.]
lay this heart in it, and take out in its stead the heart of a human being. No one--no one will notice it. Nor need you do it to-morrow, or the day after tomorrow even. Your son can buy a ram to kill every day with my money till the right moment comes. Your granddaughter will soon grow strong on a good meat-diet. Take courage!"
"I am not afraid of the danger," said the old man, "but how can I venture to steal from a dead man his life in the other world? And then--in shame and misery have I lived, and for many a year--no man has numbered them for me--have I obeyed the commandments, that I may be found righteous in that world to come, and in the fields of Aalu, and in the Sun-bark find compensation for all that I have suffered here. You are good and friendly. Why, for the sake of a whim, should you sacrifice the future bliss of a man, who in all his long life has never known happiness, and who has never done you any harm?"
"What I want with the heart," replied the physician, "you cannot understand, but in procuring it for me, you will be furthering a great and useful purpose. I have no whims, for I am no idler. And as to what concerns your salvation, have no anxiety. I am a priest, and take your deed and its consequences upon myself; upon myself, do you understand? I tell you, as a priest, that what I demand of you is right, and if the judge of the dead shall enquire, 'Why didst thou take the heart of a human being out of the Kanopus?' then reply--reply to him thus, 'Because Nebsecht, the priest, commanded me, and promised himself to answer for the deed.'"
The old man gazed thoughtfully on the ground, and the physician continued still more urgently:
"If you fulfil my wish, then--then I swear to you that, when you die, I will take care that your mummy is provided with all the amulets, and I myself will write you a book of the Entrance into Day, and have it wound within your mummy-cloth, as is done with the great.
[The Books of the Dead are often found amongst the cloths, (by the leg or under the arm), or else in the coffin trader, or near, the mummy.]
That will give you power over all demons, and you will be admitted to the hall of the twofold justice, which punishes and rewards, and your award will be bliss."
"But the theft of a heart will make the weight of my sins heavy, when my own heart is weighed," sighed the old man.
Nebsecht considered for a moment, and then said: "I will give you a written paper, in which I will certify that it was I who commanded the theft. You will sew it up in a little bag, carry it on your breast, and have it laid with you in the grave. Then when Techuti, the agent of the soul, receives your justification before Osiris and the judges of the dead, give him the writing. He will read it aloud, and you will be accounted just."
[The vignettes of Chapter 125 of the Book of the Dead represent the Last Judgment of the Egyptians. Under a canopy Osiris sits enthroned as Chief Judge, 42 assessors assist him. In the hall stand the scales; the dog headed ape, the animal sacred to Toth, guides the balance. In one scale lies the heart of the dead man, in the other the image of the goddess of Truth, who introduces the soul into the hall of justice Toth writs the record. The soul affirms that it has not committed 42 deadly sins, and if it obtains credit, it is named "maa cheru," i.e. "the truth-speaker," and is therewith declared blessed. It now receives its heart back, and grows into a new and divine life.]
"I am not learned in writing," muttered the paraschites with a slight mistrust that made itself felt in his voice.
"But I swear to you by the nine great Gods, that I will write nothing on the paper but what I have promised you. I will confess that I, the priest Nebsecht, commanded you to take the heart, and that your guilt is mine."
"Let me have the writing then," murmured the old man.
The physician wiped the perspiration from his forehead, and gave the paraschites his hand. "To-morrow you shall have it," he said, "and I will not leave your granddaughter till she is well again."
The soldier engaged in cutting up the ram, had heard nothing of this conversation. Now he ran a wooden spit through the legs, and held them over the fire to roast them. The jackals howled louder as the smell of the melting fat filled the air, and the old man, as he looked on, forgot the terrible task he had undertaken. For a year past, no meat had been tasted in his house.
The physician Nebsecht, himself eating nothing but a piece of bread, looked on at the feasters. They tore the meat from the bones, and the soldier, especially, devoured the costly and unwonted meal like some ravenous animal. He could be heard chewing like a horse in the manger, and a feeling of disgust filled the physician's soul.
"Sensual beings," he murmured to himself, "animals with consciousness! And yet human beings. Strange! They languish bound in the fetters of the world of sense, and yet how much more ardently they desire that which transcends sense than we--how much more real it is to them than to us!"
"Will you have some meat?" cried the soldier, who had remarked that Nebsecht's lips moved, and tearing a piece of meat from the bone of the joint he was devouring, he held it out to the physician. Nebsecht shrank back; the greedy look, the glistening teeth, the dark, rough features of the man terrified him. And he thought of the white and fragile form of the sick girl lying within on the mat, and a question escaped his lips.
"Is the maiden, is Uarda, your own child?" he said.
The soldier struck himself on the breast. "So sure as the king Rameses is the son of Seti," he answered. The men had finished their meal, and the flat cakes of bread which the wife of the paraschites gave them, and on which they had wiped their hands from the fat, were consumed, when the soldier, in whose slow brain the physician's question still lingered, said, sighing deeply:
"Her mother was a stranger; she laid the white dove in the raven's nest."
"Of what country was your wife a native?" asked the physician.
"That I do not know," replied the soldier.
"Did you never enquire about the family of your own wife?"
"Certainly I did: but how could she have answered me? But it is a long and strange story."
"Relate it to me," said Nebsecht, "the night is long, and I like listening better than talking. But first I will see after our patient."
When the physician had satisfied himself that Uarda was sleeping quietly and breathing regularly, he seated himself again by the paraschites and his son, and the soldier began:
"It all happened long ago. King Seti still lived, but Rameses already reigned in his stead, when I came home from the north. They had sent me to the workmen, who were building the fortifications in Zoan, the town of Rameses.--[The Rameses of the Bible. Exodus i. ii.]--I was set over six men, Amus,--[Semites]--of the Hebrew race, over whom Rameses kept such a tight hand.
[For an account of the traces of the Jews in Egypt, see Chabas, Melanges, and Ebers, AEgypten und die Bucher Moses]
Amongst the workmen there were sons of rich cattle-holders, for in levying the people it was never: 'What have you?' but 'Of what race are you?' The fortifications and the canal which was to join the Nile and the Red Sea had to be completed, and the king, to whom be long life, health, and prosperity, took the youth of Egypt with him to the wars, and left the work to the Amus, who are connected by race with his enemies in the east. One lives well in Goshen, for it is a fine country, with more than enough of corn and grass and vegetables and fish and fowls, and I always had of the best, for amongst my six people were two mother's darlings, whose parents sent me many a piece of silver. Every one loves his children, but the Hebrews love them more tenderly than other people. We had daily our appointed tale of bricks to deliver, and when the sun burnt hot, I used to help the lads, and I did more in an hour than they did in three, for I am strong and was still stronger then than I am now.
"Then came the time when I was relieved. I was ordered to return to Thebes, to the prisoners of war who were building the great temple of Amon over yonder, and as I had brought home some money, and it would take a good while to finish the great dwelling of the king of the Gods, I thought of taking a wife; but no Egyptian. Of daughters of paraschites there were plenty; but I wanted to get away out of my father's accursed caste, and the other girls here, as I knew, were afraid of our uncleanness. In the low country I had done better, and many an Amu and Schasu woman had gladly come to my tent. From the beginning I had set my mind on an Asiatic.
"Many a time maidens taken prisoners in war were brought to be sold, but either they did not please me, or they were too dear. Meantime my money melted away, for we enjoyed life in the time of rest which followed the working hours. There were dancers too in plenty, in the foreign quarter.
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