The sliver of stone dropped from the fingers of the artist and his eyes wandered away, dreamy with thought. He remembered the story of the wrong of Rachel’s house, and it came home to him with overwhelming force that the feud between Egypt and Israel was the barrier between him and his love. He was punished for a crime his country had committed.
“Oh!” he exclaimed to himself. “Am I not surely suffering for the sins of my fathers? How cruelly sound thy reasoning is, O thou placid Hotep!”
The scribe saw that as the sculptor stood, the pleading hands of Athor all but touched his shoulders. Hotep went to him and turned him away from the statue. He knew he could not win his friend with the beauty of that waiting face appealing to him.
“Thus far thou hast borne with me, Kenkenes—and having grown bold thereby, I would go further. Return with me to Memphis and come hither no more. She will soon be comforted, if she is not already betrothed. Egypt needs thee—the Hathors have bespoken good fortune for thee—and thou art justified in aspiring to nothing less than the hand of a princess. Come back to Memphis and let her heal thee with her congruous love.”
“Nay, my Hotep, what a waste of words! I will go back to Memphis with thee, not for thy reasoning, but for mine own—nay, hers.”
“Hast thou—did the Israelite—” the scribe began in amazement, and paused, ashamed of his unbecoming curiosity.
“Aye; and let us speak of it no more. Thou hast my story, my confidence and my love. Keep the first and the rest shall be thine for ever.”
“And this?” questioned Hotep, nodding toward the statue, though he resolutely kept the face of Kenkenes turned from it.
“Let it be,” Kenkenes replied. Hotep hesitated, dissatisfied, but feared to insist on its destruction, so he went arm in arm with his friend down to the river, without a word of protest. “I will at him again when he is better,” he told himself, “and we will bury the exquisite sacrilege.”
There was an animated group of Hebrew children at the Nile drawing water, and among them was a golden-haired maiden. Hotep had but to glance at her to know that he looked on the glorious model of the pale divinity on the hill above. At the sound of their approach through the grain, she looked up. As she caught sight of Kenkenes, she started and flushed quickly and as quickly the color fled.
Since she was near the boat, Kenkenes stood close beside her for a moment while he pushed the bari into the water.
“Gods! What a noble pair!” Hotep ejaculated under his breath. But he saw Kenkenes bend near the Israelite, as if to make his final plea; a spasm of anguish contracted her white face, and she turned her head away. The incident, so eloquent to Rachel and Kenkenes, had been so swift and subtile in its enactment, that only the quick eye of Hotep detected it. Again he called on the gods in exclamation: