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- Uarda, Volume 8. - 5/10 -


On the uttermost peak of the hill, where it was most exposed to the wind, were the smelting furnaces, and a manufactory where a peculiar green glass was prepared, which was brought into the market under the name of Mafkat, that is to say, emerald. The genuine precious stone was found farther to the south, on the western shore of the Red Sea, and was highly prized in Egypt.

Our friends had already for more than a month belonged to the mining- community of the Mafkat valley, and Pentaur had never learned how it was that he had been brought hither with his companion Nebsecht, instead of going to the sandstone quarries of Chennu.

That Uarda's father had effected this change was beyond a doubt, and the poet trusted the rough but honest soldier who still kept near him, and gave him credit for the best intentions, although he had only spoken to him once since their departure from Thebes.

That was the first night, when he had come up to Pentaur, and whispered: "I am looking after you. You will find the physician Nebsecht here; but treat each other as enemies rather than as friends, if you do not wish to be parted."

Pentaur had communicated the soldier's advice to Nebsecht, and he had followed it in his own way.

It afforded him a secret pleasure to see how Pentaur's life contradicted the belief in a just and beneficent ordering of the destinies of men; and the more he and the poet were oppressed, the more bitter was the irony, often amounting to extravagance, with which the mocking sceptic attacked him.

He loved Pentaur, for the poet had in his keeping the key which alone could give admission to the beautiful world which lay locked up in his own soul; but yet it was easy to him, if he thought they were observed, to play his part, and to overwhelm Pentaur with words which, to the drivers, were devoid of meaning, and which made them laugh by the strange blundering fashion in which he stammered them out.

"A belabored husk of the divine self-consciousness." "An advocate of righteousness hit on the mouth." "A juggler who makes as much of this worst of all possible worlds as if it were the best." "An admirer of the lovely color of his blue bruises." These and other terms of invective, intelligible only to himself and his butt, he could always pour out in new combinations, exciting Pentaur to sharp and often witty rejoinders, equally unintelligible to the uninitiated.

Frequently their sparring took the form of a serious discussion, which served a double purpose; first their minds, accustomed to serious thought, found exercise in spite of the murderous pressure of the burden of forced labor, and secondly, they were supposed really to be enemies. They slept in the same court-yard, and contrived, now and then, to exchange a few words in secret; but by day Nebsecht worked in the turquoise-diggings, and Pentaur in the mines, for the careful chipping out of the precious stones from their stony matrix was the work best suited to the slight physician, while Pentaur's giant-strength was fitted for hewing the ore out of the hard rock. The drivers often looked in surprise at his powerful strokes, as he flung his pick against the stone.

The stupendous images that in such moments of wild energy rose before the poet's soul, the fearful or enchanting tones that rang in his spirit's ear-none could guess at.

Usually his excited fancy showed him the form of Bent-Anat, surrounded by a host of men--and these he seemed to fell to the earth, one-by-one, as-he hewed the rock. Often in the middle of his work he would stop, throw down his pick-axe, and spread out his arms--but only to drop them with a deep groan, and wipe the sweat from his brow.

The overseers did not know what to think of this powerful youth, who often was as gentle as a child, and then seemed possessed of that demon to which so many of the convicts fell victims. He had indeed become a riddle to himself; for how was it that he--the gardener's son, brought up in the peaceful temple of Seti--ever since that night by the house of the paraschites had had such a perpetual craving for conflict and struggle?

The weary gangs were gone to rest; a bright fire still blazed in front of the house of the superintendent of the mines, and round it squatted in a circle the overseers and the subalterns of the troops.

"Put the wine-jar round again," said the captain, "for we must hold grave council. Yesterday I had orders from the Regent to send half the guard to Pelusium. He requires soldiers, but we are so few in number that if the convicts knew it they might make short work of us, even without arms. There are stones enough hereabouts, and by day they have their hammer and chisel. Things are worst among the Hebrews in the copper-mines; they are a refractory crew that must be held tight. You know me well, fear is unknown to me--but I feel great anxiety. The last fuel is now burning in this fire, and the smelting furnaces and the glass-foundry must not stand idle. Tomorrow we must send men to Raphidim

[The oasis at the foot of Horeb, where the Jews under Joshua's command conquered the Amalekites, while Aaron and Hur held up Moses' arms. Exodus 17, 8.]

to obtain charcoal from the Amalekites. They owe us a hundred loads still. Load the prisoners with some copper, to make them tired and the natives civil. What can we do to procure what we want, and yet not to weaken the forces here too much?"

Various opinions were given, and at last it was settled that a small division, guarded by a few soldiers, should be sent out every day to supply only the daily need for charcoal.

It was suggested that the most dangerous of the convicts should be fettered together in pairs to perform their duties.

The superintendent was of opinion that two strong men fettered together would be more to be feared if only they acted in concert.

"Then chain a strong one to a weak one," said the chief accountant of the mines, whom the Egyptians called the 'scribe of the metals.' "And fetter those together who are enemies."

"The colossal Huni, for instance, to that puny spat row, the stuttering Nebsecht," said a subaltern.

"I was thinking of that very couple," said the accountant laughing.

Three other couples were selected, at first with some laughter, but finally with serious consideration, and Uarda's father was sent with the drivers as an escort.

On the following morning Pentaur and Nebsecht were fettered together with a copper chain, and when the sun was at its height four pairs of prisoners, heavily loaded with copper, set out for the Oasis of the Amalekites, accompanied by six soldiers and the son of the paraschites, to fetch fuel for the smelting furnaces.

They rested near the town of Alus, and then went forward again between bare walls of greyish-green and red porphyry. These cliffs rose higher and higher, but from time to time, above the lower range, they could see the rugged summit of some giant of the range, though, bowed under their heavy loads, they paid small heed to it.

The sun was near setting when they reached the little sanctuary of the 'Emerald-Hathor.'

A few grey and black birds here flew towards them, and Pentaur gazed at them with delight.

How long be had missed the sight of a bird, and the sound of their chirp and song! Nebsecht said: "There are some birds--we must be near water."

And there stood the first palm-tree!

Now the murmur of the brook was perceptible, and its tiny sound touched the thirsty souls of the travellers as rain falls on dry grass.

On the left bank of the stream an encampment of Egyptian soldiers formed a large semicircle, enclosing three large tents made of costly material striped with blue and white, and woven with gold thread. Nothing was to be seen of the inhabitants of these tents, but when the prisoners had passed them, and the drivers were exchanging greetings with the out- posts, a girl, in the long robe of an Egyptian, came towards them, and looked at them.

Pentaur started as if he had seen a ghost; but Nebsecht gave expression to his astonishment in a loud cry.

At the same instant a driver laid his whip across their shoulders, and cried laughing:

"You may hit each other as hard as you like with words, but not with your hands."

Then be turned to his companions, and said: "Did you see the pretty girl there, in front of the tent?"

"It is nothing to us!" answered the man he addressed. "She belongs to the princess's train. She has been three weeks here on a visit to the holy shrine of Hathor."

"She must have committed some heavy sin," replied the other. "If she were one of us, she would have been set to sift sand in the diggings, or grind colors, and not be living here in a gilt tent. Where is our red- beard?"

Uarda's father had lingered a little behind the party, for the girl had signed to him, and exchanged a few words with him.

"Have you still an eye for the fair ones?" asked the youngest of the drivers when be rejoined the gang.

"She is a waiting maid of the princess," replied the soldier not without embarrassment. "To-morrow morning we are to carry a letter from her to the scribe of the mines, and if we encamp in the neighborhood she will send us some wine for carrying it."

"The old red-beard scents wine as a fox scents a goose. Let us encamp here; one never knows what may be picked up among the Mentu, and the superintendent said we were to encamp outside the oasis. Put down your sacks, men! Here there is fresh water, and perhaps a few dates and sweet Manna for you to eat with it.

["Man" is the name still given by the Bedouins of Sinai to the sweet gum which exudes from the Tamarix mannifera. It is the result of the puncture of an insect, and occurs chiefly in May. By many it is supposed to be the Manna of the Bible.]

But keep the peace, you two quarrelsome fellows--Huni and Nebsecht."


Uarda, Volume 8. - 5/10

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