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- Uarda, Volume 7. - 5/10 -

which lay on a bench with other arms. Her heart shrunk within her, and with a trembling voice she exclaimed:

"I forbid this mad vengeance--do you hear? Will you give it up? You do not move? No! you will not! Ye Gods, what can I do?"

She wrung her hands in despair; then she hastily crossed the room, snatched out one of the arrows, and strove to break it. Paaker sprang from his seat, and wrenched the weapon from her hand; the sharp point slightly scratched the skin, and dark drops of blood flowed from it, and dropped upon the floor.

The Mohar would have taken the wounded hand, for Setchem, who had the weakness of never being able to see blood flow--neither her own nor anybody's else--had turned as pale as death; but she pushed him from her, and as she spoke her gentle voice had a dull estranged tone.

"This hand," she said--"a mother's hand wounded by her son--shall never again grasp yours till you have sworn a solemn oath to put away from you all thoughts of revenge and murder, and not to disgrace your father's name. I have said it, and may his glorified spirit be my witness, and give me strength to keep my word!"

Paaker had fallen on his knees, and was engaged in a terrible mental struggle, while his mother slowly went towards the door. There again she stood still for a moment; she did not speak, but her eyes appealed to him once more.

In vain. At last she left the room, and the wind slammed the door violently behind her. Paaker groaned, and pressed his hand over his eyes.

"Mother, mother!" he cried. "I cannot go back--I cannot."

A fearful gust of wind howled round the house, and drowned his voice, and then he heard two tremendous claps, as if rocks had been hurled from heaven. He started up and went to the window, where the melancholy grey dawn was showing, in order to call the slaves. Soon they came trooping out, and the steward called out as soon as he saw him:

"The storm has blown down the masts at the great gate!"

"Impossible!" cried Paaker.

"Yes, indeed!" answered the servant. "They have been sawn through close to the ground. The matmaker no doubt did it, whose collar-bone was broken. He has escaped in this fearful night."

"Let out the dogs," cried the Mohar. "All who have legs run after the blackguard! Freedom, and five handfuls of gold for the man who brings him back."

The guests at the House of Seti had already gone to rest, when Ameni was informed of the arrival of the sorceress, and he at once went into the hall, where Ani was waiting to see her; the Regent roused himself from a deep reverie when he heard the high-priest's steps.

"Is she come?" he asked hastily; when Ameni answered in the affirmative Ani went on meanwhile carefully disentangling the disordered curls of his wig, and arranging his broad, collar-shaped necklace:

"The witch may exercise some influence over me; will you not give me your blessing to preserve me from her spells? It is true, I have on me this Houss'-eye, and this Isis-charm, but one never knows."

"My presence will be your safe-guard," said Ameni. "But-no, of course you wish to speak with her alone. You shall be conducted to a room, which is protected against all witchcraft by sacred texts. My brother," he continued to one of the serving-priests, "let the witch be taken into one of the consecrated rooms, and then, when you have sprinkled the threshold, lead my lord Ani thither."

The high-priest went away, and into a small room which adjoined the hall where the interview between the Regent and the old woman was about to take place, and where the softest whisper spoken in the larger room could be heard by means of an ingeniously contrived and invisible tube.

When Ani saw the old woman, he started back is horror; her appearance at this moment was, in fact, frightful. The storm had tossed and torn her garment and tumbled all her thick, white hair, so that locks of it fell over her face. She leaned on a staff, and bending far forward looked steadily at the Regent; and her eyes, red and smarting from the sand which the wind had flung in her face, seemed to glow as she fixed them on his. She looked as a hyaena might when creeping to seize its prey, and Ani felt a cold shiver and he heard her hoarse voice addressing him to greet him and to represent that he had chosen a strange hour for requiring her to speak with him.

When she had thanked him for his promise of renewing her letter of freedom, and had confirmed the statement that Paaker had had a love- philter from her, she parted her hair from off her face--it occurred to her that she was a woman.

The Regent sat in an arm-chair, she stood before him; but the struggle with the storm had tired her old limbs, and she begged Ani to permit her to be seated, as she had a long story to tell, which would put Paaker into his power, so that he would find him as yielding as wax. The Regent signed her to a corner of the room, and she squatted down on the pavement.

When he desired her to proceed with her story, she looked at the floor for some time in silence, and then began, as if half to herself:

"I will tell thee, that I may find peace--I do not want, when I die, to be buried unembalmed. Who knows but perhaps strange things may happen in the other world, and I would not wish to miss them. I want to see him again down there, even if it were in the seventh limbo of the damned. Listen to me! But, before I speak, promise me that whatever I tell thee, thou wilt leave me in peace, and will see that I am embalmed when I am dead. Else I will not speak."

Ani bowed consent.

"No-no," she said. "I will tell thee what to swear 'If I do not keep my word to Hekt--who gives the Mohar into my power--may the Spirits whom she rules, annihilate me before I mount the throne.' Do not be vexed, my lord--and say only 'Yes.' What I can tell, is worth more than a mere word."

"Well then--yes!" cried the Regent, eager for the mighty revelation.

The old woman muttered a few unintelligible words; then she collected herself, stretched out her lean neck, and asked, as she fixed her sparkling eyes on the man before her:

"Did'st thou ever, when thou wert young, hear of the singer Beki? Well, look at me, I am she."

She laughed loud and hoarsely, and drew her tattered robe across her bosom, as if half ashamed of her unpleasing person.

"Ay!" she continued. "Men find pleasure in grapes by treading them down, and when the must is drunk the skins are thrown on the dung-hill. Grape-skins, that is what I am--but you need not look at me so pitifully; I was grapes once, and poor and despised as I am now, no one can take from me what I have had and have been. Mine has been a life out of a thousand, a complete life, full to overflowing of joy and suffering, of love and hate, of delight, despair, and revenge. Only to talk of it raises me to a seat by thy throne there. No, let me be, I am used now to squatting on the ground; but I knew thou wouldst hear me to the end, for once I too was one of you. Extremes meet in all things--I know it by experience. The greatest men will hold out a hand to a beautiful woman, and time was when I could lead you all as with a rope. Shall I begin at the beginning? Well--I seldom am in the mood for it now-a-days. Fifty years ago I sang a song with this voice of mine; an old crow like me? sing! But so it was. My father was a man of rank, the governor of Abydos; when the first Rameses took possession of the throne my father was faithful to the house of thy fathers, so the new king sent us all to the gold mines, and there they all died--my parents, brothers, and sisters. I only survived by some miracle. As I was handsome and sang well, a music master took me into his band, brought me to Thebes, and wherever there was a feast given in any great house, Beki was in request. Of flowers and money and tender looks I had a plentiful harvest; but I was proud and cold, and the misery of my people had made me bitter at an age when usually even bad liquor tastes of honey. Not one of all the gay young fellows, princes' sons, and nobles, dared to touch my hand. But my hour was to come; the handsomest and noblest man of them all, and grave and dignified too--was Assa, the old Mohar's father, and grandfather of Pentaur--no, I should say of Paaker, the pioneer; thou hast known him. Well, wherever I sang, he sat opposite me, and gazed at me, and I could not take my eyes off him, and--thou canst tell the rest! no! Well, no woman before or after me can ever love a man as I loved Assa. Why dost thou not laugh? It must seem odd, too, to hear such a thing from the toothless mouth of an old witch. He is dead, long since dead. I hate him! and yet--wild as it sounds--I believe I love him yet. And he loved me--for two years; then he went to the war with Seti, and remained a long time away, and when I saw him again he had courted the daughter of some rich and noble house. I was handsome enough still, but he never looked at me at the banquets. I came across him at least twenty times, but he avoided me as if I were tainted with leprosy, and I began to fret, and fell ill of a fever. The doctors said it was all over with me, so I sent him a letter in which there was nothing but these words: 'Beki is dying, and would like to see Assa once more,' and in the papyrus I put his first present--a plain ring. And what was the answer? a handful of gold! Gold--gold! Thou may'st believe me, when I say that the sight of it was more torturing to my eyes than the iron with which they put out the eyes of criminals. Even now, when I think of it--But what do you men, you lords of rank and wealth, know of a breaking heart? When two or three of you happen to meet, and if thou should'st tell the story, the most respectable will say in a pompous voice: 'The man acted nobly indeed; he was married, and his wife would have complained with justice if he had gone to see the singer.' Am I right or wrong? I know; not one will remember that the other was a woman, a feeling human being; it will occur to no one that his deed on the one hand saved an hour of discomfort, and on the other wrought half a century of despair. Assa escaped his wife's scolding, but a thousand curses have fallen on him and on his house. How virtuous he felt himself when he had crushed and poisoned a passionate heart that had never ceased to love him! Ay, and he would have come if he had not still felt some love for me, if he had not misdoubted himself, and feared that the dying woman might once more light up the fire he had so carefully smothered and crushed out. I would have grieved for him-- but that he should send me money, money!--that I have never forgiven; that he shall atone for in his grandchild." The old woman spoke the last words as if in a dream, and without seeming to remember her hearer. Ani shuddered, as if he were in the presence of a mad woman, and he involuntarily drew his chair back a little way.

The witch observed this; she took breath and went on: "You lords, who walk in high places, do not know how things go on in the depths beneath you; you do not choose to know.

Uarda, Volume 7. - 5/10

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