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- Moon of Israel - 2/49 -
So I came to Tanis at the beginning of winter and, walking to the palace of the Prince, boldly demanded an audience. But now my troubles began, for the guards and watchmen thrust me from the doors. In the end I bribed them and was admitted to the antechambers, where were merchants, jugglers, dancing-women, officers, and many others, all of them, it seemed, waiting to see the Prince; folk who, having nothing to do, pleased themselves by making mock of me, a stranger. When I had mixed with them for several days, I gained their friendship by telling to them one of my stories, after which I was always welcome among them. Still I could come no nearer to the Prince, and as my store of money was beginning to run low, I bethought me that I would return to Memphis.
One day, however, a long-bearded old man, with a gold-tipped wand of office, who had a bull's head embroidered on his robe, stopped in front of me and, calling me a white-headed crow, asked me what I was doing hopping day by day about the chambers of the palace. I told him my name and business and he told me his, which it seemed was Pambasa, one of the Prince's chamberlains. When I asked him to take me to the Prince, he laughed in my face and said darkly that the road to his Highness's presence was paved with gold. I understood what he meant and gave him a gift which he took as readily as a cock picks corn, saying that he would speak of me to his master and that I must come back again.
I came thrice and each time that old cock picked more corn. At last I grew enraged and, forgetting where I was, began to shout at him and call him a thief, so that folks gathered round to listen. This seemed to frighten him. At first he looked towards the door as though to summon the guard to thrust me out; then changed his mind, and in a grumbling voice bade me follow him. We went down long passages, past soldiers who stood at watch in them still as mummies in their coffins, till at length we came to some broidered curtains. Here Pambasa whispered to me to wait, and passed through the curtains which he left not quite closed, so that I could see the room beyond and hear all that took place there.
It was a small room like to that of any scribe, for on the tables were palettes, pens of reed, ink in alabaster vases, and sheets of papyrus pinned upon boards. The walls were painted, not as I was wont to paint the Books of the Dead, but after the fashion of an earlier time, such as I have seen in certain ancient tombs, with pictures of wild fowl rising from the swamps and of trees and plants as they grow. Against the walls hung racks in which were papyrus rolls, and on the hearth burned a fire of cedar-wood.
By this fire stood the Prince, whom I knew from his statues. His years appeared fewer than mine although we were born upon the same day, and he was tall and thin, very fair also for one of our people, perhaps because of the Syrian blood that ran in his veins. His hair was straight and brown like to that of northern folk who come to trade in the markets of Egypt, and his eyes were grey rather than black, set beneath somewhat prominent brows such as those of his father, Meneptah. His face was sweet as a woman's, but made curious by certain wrinkles which ran from the corners of the eyes towards the ears. I think that these came from the bending of the brow in thought, but others say that they were inherited from an ancestress on the female side. Bakenkhonsu my friend, the old prophet who served under the first Seti and died but the other day, having lived a hundred and twenty years, told me that he knew her before she was married, and that she and her descendant, Seti, might have been twins.
In his hand the Prince held an open roll, a very ancient writing as I, who am skilled in such matters that have to do with my trade, knew from its appearance. Lifting his eyes suddenly from the study of this roll, he saw the chamberlain standing before him.
"You came at a good time, Pambasa," he said in a voice that was very soft and pleasant, and yet most manlike. "You are old and doubtless wise. Say, are you wise, Pambasa?"
"Yes, your Highness. I am wise like your Highness's uncle, Khaemuas the mighty magician, whose sandals I used to clean when I was young."
"Is it so? Then why are you so careful to hide your wisdom which should be open like a flower for us poor bees to suck at? Well, I am glad to learn that you are wise, for in this book of magic that I have been reading I find problems worthy of Khaemuas the departed, whom I only remember as a brooding, black-browed man much like my cousin, Amenmeses his son--save that no one can call Amenmeses wise."
"Why is your Highness glad?"
"Because you, being by your own account his equal, can now interpret the matter as Khaemuas would have done. You know, Pambasa, that had he lived he would have been Pharaoh in place of my father. He died too soon, however, which proves to me that there was something in this tale of his wisdom, since no really wise man would ever wish to be Pharaoh of Egypt."
Pambasa stared with his mouth open.
"Not wish to be Pharaoh!" he began--
"Now, Pambasa the Wise," went on the Prince as though he had not heard him. "Listen. This old book gives a charm 'to empty the heart of its weariness,' that it says is the oldest and most common sickness in the world from which only kittens, some children, and mad people are free. It appears that the cure for this sickness, so says the book, is to stand on the top of the pyramid of Khufu at midnight at that moment when the moon is largest in the whole year, and drink from the cup of dreams, reciting meanwhile a spell written here at length in language which I cannot read."
"There is no virtue in spells, Prince, if anyone can read them."
"And no use, it would seem, if they can be read by none."
"Moreover, how can any one climb the pyramid of Khufu, which is covered with polished marble, even in the day let alone at midnight, your Highness, and there drink of the cup of dreams?"
"I do not know, Pambasa. All I know is that I weary of this foolishness, and of the world. Tell me of something that will lighten my heart, for it is heavy."
"There are jugglers without, Prince, one of whom says he can throw a rope into the air and climb up it until he vanishes into heaven."
"When he has done it in your sight, Pambasa, bring him to me, but not before. Death is the only rope by which we climb to heaven--or be lowered into hell. For remember there is a god called Set, after whom, like my great-grandfather, I am named by the way--the priests alone know why--as well as one called Osiris."
"Then there are the dancers, Prince, and among them some very finely made girls, for I saw them bathing in the palace lake, such as would have delighted the heart of your grandfather, the great Rameses."
"They do not delight my heart who want no naked women prancing here. Try again, Pambasa."
"I can think of nothing else, Prince. Yet, stay. There is a scribe without named Ana, a thin, sharp-nosed man who says he is your Highness's twin in Ra."
"Ana!" said the Prince. "He of Memphis who writes stories? Why did you not say so before, you old fool? Let him enter at once, at once."
Now hearing this I, Ana, walked through the curtains and prostrated myself, saying,
"I am that scribe, O Royal Son of the Sun."
"How dare you enter the Prince's presence without being bidden----" began Pambasa, but Seti broke in with a stern voice, saying,
"And how dare you, Pambasa, keep this learned man waiting at my door like a dog? Rise, Ana, and cease from giving me titles, for we are not at Court. Tell me, how long have you been in Tanis?"
"Many days, O Prince," I answered, "seeking your presence and in vain."
"And how did you win it at last?"
"By payment, O Prince," I answered innocently, "as it seems is usual. The doorkeepers----"
"I understand," said Seti, "the doorkeepers! Pambasa, you will ascertain what amount this learned scribe has disbursed to 'the doorkeepers' and refund him double. Begone now and see to the matter."
So Pambasa went, casting a piteous look at me out of the corner of his eye.
"Tell me," said Seti when he was gone, "you who must be wise in your fashion, why does a Court always breed thieves?"
"I suppose for the same reason, O Prince, that a dog's back breeds fleas. Fleas must live, and there is the dog."
"True," he answered, "and these palace fleas are not paid enough. If ever I have power I will see to it. They shall be fewer but better fed. Now, Ana, be seated. I know you though you do not know me, and already I have learned to love you through your writings. Tell me of yourself."
So I told him all my simple tale, to which he listened without a word, and then asked me why I had come to see him. I replied that it was because he had sent for me, which he had forgotten; also because I brought him a story that I had dared to dedicate to him. Then I laid the roll before him on the table.
"I am honoured," he said in a pleased voice, "I am greatly honoured. If I like it well, your story shall go to the tomb with me for my Ka to read and re-read until the day of resurrection, though first I will study it in the flesh. Do you know this city of Tanis, Ana?"
I answered that I knew little of it, who had spent my time here haunting the doors of his Highness.
"Then with your leave I will be your guide through it this night, and afterwards we will sup and talk."
I bowed and he clapped his hands, whereon a servant appeared, not Pambasa, but another.
"Bring two cloaks," said the Prince, "I go abroad with the scribe, Ana. Let a guard of four Nubians, no more, follow us, but at a
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