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- Uarda, Volume 7. - 3/10 -
"He has you there, you youngsters," cried Gagabu. "What have you to say, Septah?"
"Wine is a poison," said the morose haruspex, "for it makes fools of wise men."
"Then you have little to fear from it, alas!" said Gagabu laughing. "Proceed, my lord of the chase."
"The rim of the beaker," was the answer, "is like the lip of the woman you love. Touch it, and taste it, and it is as good as the kiss of a bride."
"General--the turn is yours."
"I wish the Nile ran with such wine instead of with water," cried the soldier, "and that I were as big as the colossus of Atnenophis, and that the biggest obelisk of Hatasu were my drinking vessel, and that I might drink as much as I would! But now--what have you to say of this noble liquor, excellent Gagabu?"
The second prophet raised his beaker, and gazed lovingly at the golden fluid; he tasted it slowly, and then said with his eyes turned to heaven:
"I only fear that I am unworthy to thank the Gods for such a divine blessing."
"Well said!" exclaimed the Regent Ani, who had re-entered the room unobserved. "If my wine could speak, it would thank you for such a speech."
"Hail to the Regent Ani!" shouted the guests, and they all rose with their cups filled with his noble present.
He pledged them and then rose.
"Those," said he, "who have appreciated this wine, I now invite to dine with me to-morrow. You will then meet with it again, and if you still find it to your liking, you will be heartily welcome any evening. Now, good night, friends."
A thunder of applause followed him, as he quitted the room.
The morning was already grey, when the carousing-party broke up; few of the guests could find their way unassisted through the courtyard; most of them had already been carried away by the slaves, who had waited for them--and who took them on their heads, like bales of goods--and had been borne home in their litters; but for those who remained to the end, couches were prepared in the House of Seti, for a terrific storm was now raging.
While the company were filling and refilling the beakers, which raised their spirits to so wild a pitch, the prisoner Pentaur had been examined in the presence of the Regent. Ameni's messenger had found the poet on his knees, so absorbed in meditation that he did not perceive his approach. All his peace of mind had deserted him, his soul was in a tumult, and he could not succeed in obtaining any calm and clear control over the new life-pulses which were throbbing in his heart.
He had hitherto never gone to rest at night without requiring of himself an account of the past day, and he had always been able to detect the most subtle line that divided right from wrong in his actions. But to-night he looked back on a perplexing confusion of ideas and events, and when he endeavored to sort them and arrange them, he could see nothing clearly but the image of Bent-Anat, which enthralled his heart and intellect.
He had raised his hand against his fellow-men, and dipped it in blood, he desired to convince himself of his sin, and to repent but he could not; for each time he recalled it, to blame and condemn himself, he saw the soldier's hand twisted in Uarda's hair, and the princess's eyes beaming with approbation, nay with admiration, and he said to himself that he had acted rightly, and in the same position would do the same again to-morrow. Still he felt that he had broken through all the conditions with which fate had surrounded his existence, and it seemed to him that he could never succeed in recovering the still, narrow, but peaceful life of the past.
His soul went up in prayer to the Almighty One, and to the spirit of the sweet humble woman whom he had called his mother, imploring for peace of mind and modest content; but in vain--for the longer he remained prostrate, flinging up his arms in passionate entreaty, the keener grew his longings, the less he felt able to repent or to recognize his guilt. Ameni's order to appear before him came almost as a deliverance, and he followed the messenger prepared for a severe punishment; but not afraid --almost joyful.
In obedience to the command of the grave high-priest, Pentaur related the whole occurrence--how, as there was no leech in the house, he had gone with the old wife of the paraschites to visit her possessed husband; how, to save the unhappy girl from ill-usage by the mob, he had raised his hand in fight, and dealt indeed some heavy blows.
"You have killed four men," said Ameni, "and severely wounded twice as many. Why did you not reveal yourself as a priest, as the speaker of the morning's discourse? Why did you not endeavor to persuade the people with words of warning, rather than with brute force?"
"I had no priest's garment," replied Pentaur. "There again you did wrong," said Ameni, "for you know that the law requires of each of us never to leave this house without our white robes. But you cannot pretend not to know your own powers of speech, nor to contradict me when I assert that, even in the plainest working-dress, you were perfectly able to produce as much effect with words as by deadly blows!" "I might very likely have succeeded," answered Pentaur, "but the most savage temper ruled the crowd; there was no time for reflection, and when I struck down the villain, like some reptile, who had seized the innocent girl, the lust of fighting took possession of me. I cared no more for my own life, and to save the child I would have slain thousands."
"Your eyes sparkle," said Ameni, "as if you had performed some heroic feat; and yet the men you killed were only unarmed and pious citizens, who were roused to indignation by a gross and shameless outrage. I cannot conceive whence the warrior-spirit should have fallen on a gardener's son--and a minister of the Gods."
"It is true," answered Pentaur, "when the crowd rushed upon me, and I drove them back, putting out all my strength, I felt something of the warlike rage of the soldier, who repulses the pressing foe from the standard committed to his charge. It was sinful in a priest, no doubt, and I will repent of it--but I felt it."
"You felt it--and you will repent of it, well and good," replied Ameni. "But you have not given a true account of all that happened. Why have you concealed that Bent-Anat--Rameses' daughter--was mixed up in the fray, and that she saved you by announcing her name to the people, and commanding them to leave you alone? When you gave her the lie before all the people, was it because you did not believe that it was Bent-Anat? Now, you who stand so firmly on so high a platform--now you standard- bearer of the truth answer me."
Pentaur had turned pale at his master's words, and said, as he looked at the Regent:
"We are not alone."
"Truth is one!" said Ameni coolly. "What ycu can reveal to me, can also be heard by this noble lord, the Regent of the king himself. Did you recognize Bent-Anat, or not?"
"The lady who rescued me was like her, and yet unlike," answered the poet, whose blood was roused by the subtle irony of his Superior's words. "And if I had been as sure that she was the princess, as I am that you are the man who once held me in honor, and who are now trying to humiliate me, I would all the more have acted as I did to spare a lady who is more like a goddess than a woman, and who, to save an unworthy wretch like me, stooped from a throne to the dust."
"Still the poet--the preacher!" said Ameni. Then he added severely. "I beg for a short and clear an swer. We know for certain that the princess took part in the festival in the disguise of a woman of low rank, for she again declared herself to Paaker; and we know that it was she who saved you. But did you know that she meant to come across the Nile?"
"How should I?" asked Pentaur.
"Well, did you believe that it was Bent-Anat whom you saw before you when she ventured on to the scene of conflict?"
"I did believe it," replied Pentaur; he shuddered and cast down his eyes.
"Then it was most audacious to drive away the king's daughter as an impostor."
"It was," said Pentaur. "But for my sake she had risked the honor of her name, and that of her royal father, and I--I should not have risked my life and freedom for--"
"We have heard enough," interrupted Ameni.
"Not so," the Regent interposed. "What became of the girl you had saved?"
"An old witch, Hekt by name, a neighbor of Pinem's, took her and her grandmother into her cave," answered the poet; who was then, by the high- priest's order, taken back to the temple-prison.
Scarcely had he disappeared when the Regent exclaimed:
"A dangerous man! an enthusiast! an ardent worshipper of Rameses!"
"And of his daughter," laughed Ameni, but only a worshipper. Thou hast nothing to fear from him--I will answer for the purity of his motives."
"But he is handsome and of powerful speech," replied Ani. "I claim him as my prisoner, for he has killed one of my soldiers."
Ameni's countenance darkened, and he answered very sternly:
"It is the exclusive right of our conclave, as established by our charter, to judge any member of this fraternity. You, the future king, have freely promised to secure our privileges to us, the champions of your own ancient and sacred rights."
"And you shall have them," answered the Regent with a persuasive smile. "But this man is dangerous, and you would not have him go unpunished."
"He shall be severely judged," said Ameni, "but by us and in this house."
"He has committed murder!" cried Ani. "More than one murder. He is
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