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- Uarda, Volume 7. - 4/10 -
worthy of death."
"He acted under pressure of necessity," replied Ameni. "And a man so favored by the Gods as he, is not to be lightly given up because an untimely impulse of generosity prompted him to rash conduct. I know-- I can see that you wish him ill. Promise me, as you value me as an ally, that you will not attempt his life."
"Oh, willingly!" smiled the Regent, giving the high-priest his hand.
"Accept my sincere thanks," said Ameni. "Pentaur was the most promising of my disciples, and in spite of many aberrations I still esteem him highly. When he was telling us of what had occurred to-day, did he not remind you of the great Assa, or of his gallant son, the Osirian father of the pioneer Paaker?"
"The likeness is extraordinary," answered Ani, "and yet he is of quite humble birth. Who was his mother?"
"Our gate-keeper's daughter, a plain, pious, simple creature."
"Now I will return to the banqueting hall," said Ani, after a fete moments of reflection. "But I must ask you one thing more. I spoke to you of a secret that will put Paaker into our power. The old sorceress Hekt, who has taken charge of the paraschites' wife and grandchild, knows all about it. Send some policeguards over there, and let her be brought over here as a prisoner; I will examine her myself, and so can question her without exciting observation."
Ameni at once sent off a party of soldiers, and then quietly ordered a faithful attendant to light up the so-called audience-chamber, and to put a seat for him in an adjoining room.
While the banquet was going forward at the temple, and Ameni's messengers were on their way to the valley of the kings' tombs, to waken up old Hekt, a furious storm of hot wind came up from the southwest, sweeping black clouds across the sky, and brown clouds of dust across the earth. It bowed the slender palm-trees as an archer bends his bow, tore the tentpegs up on the scene of the festival, whirled the light tent-cloths up in the air, drove them like white witches through the dark night, and thrashed the still surface of the Nile till its yellow waters swirled and tossed in waves like a restless sea.
Paaker had compelled his trembling slaves to row him across the stream; several times the boat was near being swamped, but he had seized the helm himself with his uninjured hand, and guided it firmly and surely, though the rocking of the boat kept his broken hand in great and constant pain. After a few ineffectual attempts he succeeded in landing. The storm had blown out the lanterns at the masts--the signal lights for which his people looked--and he found neither servants nor torch-bearers on the bank, so he struggled through the scorching wind as far as the gate of his house. His big dog had always been wont to announce his return home to the door-keeper with joyful barking; but to-night the boatmen long knocked in vain at the heavy doer. When at last he entered the court- yard, he found all dark, for the wind had extinguished the lanterns and torches, and there were no lights but in the windows of his mother's rooms.
The dogs in their open kennels now began to make themselves heard, but their tones were plaintive and whining, for the storm had frightened the beasts; their howling cut the pioneer to the heart, for it reminded him of the poor slain Descher, whose deep voice he sadly missed; and when he went into his own room he was met by a wild cry of lamentation from the Ethiopian slave, for the dog which he had trained for Paaker's father, and which he had loved.
The pioneer threw himself on a seat, and ordered some water to be brought, that he might cool his aching hand in it, according to the prescription of Nebsecht.
As soon as the old man saw the broken fingers, he gave another yell of woe, and when Paaker ordered him to cease he asked:
"And is the man still alive who did that, and who killed Descher?"
Paaker nodded, and while he held his hand in the cooling water he looked sullenly at the ground. He felt miserable, and he asked himself why the storm had not swamped the boat, and the Nile had not swallowed him. Bitterness and rage filled his breast, and he wished he were a child, and might cry. But his mood soon changed, his breath came quickly, his breast heaved, and an ominous light glowed in his eyes. He was not thinking of his love, but of the revenge that was even dearer to him.
"That brood of Rameses!" he muttered. "I will sweep them all away together--the king, and Mena, and those haughty princes, and many more-- I know how. Only wait, only wait!" and he flung up his right fist with a threatening gesture.
The door opened at this instant, and his mother entered the room; the raging of the storm had drowned the sound of her steps, and as she approached her revengeful son, she called his name in horror at the mad wrath which was depicted in his countenance. Paaker started, and then said with apparent composure:
"Is it you, mother? It is near morning, and it is better to be asleep than awake in such an hour."
"I could not rest in my rooms," answered Setchem. "The storm howled so wildly, and I am so anxious, so frightfully unhappy--as I was before your father died."
Then stay with me," said Paaker affectionately, and lie down on my couch."
"I did not come here to sleep," replied Setchem. "I am too unhappy at all that happened to you on the larding-steps, it is frightful! No, no, my son, it is not about your smashed hand, though it grieves me to see you in pain; it is about the king, and his anger when he hears of the quarrel. He favors you less than he did your lost father, I know it well. But how wildly you smile, how wild you looked when I carne in! It went through my bones and marrow."
Both were silent for a time, and listened to the furious raging of the storm. At last Setchem spoke. "There is something else," she said, "which disturbs my mind. I cannot forget the poet who spoke at the festival to-day, young Pentaur. His figure, his face, his movements, nay his very voice, are exactly like those of your father at the time when he was young, and courted me. It is as if the Gods were fain to see the best man that they ever took to themselves, walk before them a second time upon earth."
"Yes, my lady," said the black slave; "no mortal eye ever saw such a likeness. I saw him fighting in front of the paraschites' cottage, and he was more like my dead master than ever. He swung the tent-post over his head, as my lord used to swing his battle-axe."
"Be silent," cried Paaker, "and get out-idiot! The priest is like my father; I grant it, mother; but he is an insolent fellow, who offended me grossly, and with whom I have to reckon--as with many others."
"How violent you are!" interrupted his mother, "and how full of bitterness and hatred. Your father was so sweet-tempered, and kind to everybody."
"Perhaps they are kind to me?" retorted Paaker with a short laugh. "Even the Immortals spite me, and throw thorns in my path. But I will push them aside with my own hand, and will attain what I desire without the help of the Gods and overthrow all that oppose me."
"We cannot blow away a feather without the help of the Immortals," answered Setchem. "So your father used to say, who was a very different man both in body and mind from you! I tremble before you this evening, and at the curses you have uttered against the children of your lord and sovereign, your father's best friend."
"But my enemy," shouted Paaker. "You will get nothing from me but curses. And the brood of Rameses shall learn whether your husband's son will let himself be ill-used and scorned without revenging him self. I will fling them into an abyss, and I will laugh when I see them writhing in the sand at my feet!"
"Fool!" cried Setchem, beside herself. "I am but a woman, and have often blamed myself for being soft and weak; but as sure as I am faithful to your dead father--who you are no more like than a bramble is like a palm-tree--so surely will I tear my love for you out of my heart if you --if you--Now I see! now I know! Answer me-murderer! Where are the seven arrows with the wicked words which used to hang here? Where are the arrows on which you had scrawled 'Death to Mena?'"
With these words Setchem breathlessly started forward, but the pioneer drew back as she confronted him, as in his youthful days when she threatened to punish him for some misdemeanor. She followed him up, caught him by the girdle, and in a hoarse voice repeated her question. He stood still, snatched her hand angrily from his belt, and said defiantly:
"I have put them in my quiver--and not for mere play. Now you know."
Incapable of words, the maddened woman once more raised her hand against her degenerate son, but he put back her arm.
"I am no longer a child," he said, "and I am master of this house. I will do what I will, if a hundred women hindered me!" and with these words he pointed to the door. Setchem broke into loud sobs, and turned her back upon him; but at the door once more she turned to look at him. He had seated himself, and was resting his forehead on the table on which the bowl of cold water stood.
Setchem fought a hard battle. At last once more through her choking tears she called his name, opened her arms wide and exclaimed:
"Here I am--here I am! Come to my heart, only give up these hideous thoughts of revenge."
But Paaker did not move, he did not look up at her, he did not speak, he only shook his head in negation. Setchem's hands fell, and she said softly:
"What did your father teach you out of the scriptures? 'Your highest praise consists in this, to reward your mother for what she has done for you, in bringing you up, so that she may not raise her hands to God, nor He hear her lamentation.'"
At these words, Paaker sobbed aloud, but he did not look at his mother. She called him tenderly by his name; then her eyes fell on his quiver,
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