Again she kissed him and let him go.
In the corridor without, he received his mantle and kerchief from a servant and continued toward the outer portals. But before he reached them, Ta-meri stepped out of a cross-corridor and halted. Never before did her eyes so shine or her smile so flash within the cloud of gauzes that mantled and covered her. Kenkenes wondered for a moment if he must explain the change in his countenance to her also. But the beauty had herself in mind at that moment.
“Kenkenes, thou hast given me no opportunity to wish thee well, as the son of the murket.”
“Ah, but in this nook thy good wishes will be none the less sincere nor my delight any less apparent.”
“Most heartily I give thee joy!”
Kenkenes kissed her hand. “And wilt thou say that to Nechutes and put him in the highest heaven?”
“Already have I wished him well,” she responded, pretending to pout, “but he repaid me poorly.”
“Nay! What did he?”
“Begged me to become his wife.”
“And having given him the span, thou didst yield him the cubit also when he asked it?” he surmised.
“Nay, not yet. But—shall I?” she lifted her face and looked at him, smiling and bewitchingly beautiful. Her eyes dared him; her lips invited him; all her charms rose up and besought him. For a moment, Kenkenes was startled. If he had believed that Ta-meri loved him never so slightly, his sensations would have been most distressing. But he knew and was glad to know that he awakened nothing deeper than a superficial partiality, which lasted only as long as he was in her sight to please her eye. In spite of his consternation, he could think intelligently enough to surmise what had inspired her words. The Lady Senci had guessed the nature of his trouble; even Menes had hinted a suspicion of the truth in a bantering way. What would prevent the beauty from seeing it also and preempting to herself the honors of his disheartenment? But he was in no mood for a coquettish tilt with her. His sober face was not more serious than his tone when he made answer:
“Do not play with him, Ta-meri. He is worthy and loves thee most tenderly. Thou lovest him. Be kind to thine own heart and put him to the rack no more. Thou art sure of him and I doubt not it pleases thee to tantalize thyself a little while; but Nechutes, who must endure the lover’s doubts, is suffering cruelly. Thou art a good child, Ta-meri; how canst thou hurt him so?”
He paused, for her eyes, growing remorseful, had wandered away from him. He knew he had reasoned well. The guests in the banquet-room began to emerge, talking and laughing. The voice of Nechutes was not heard among them. Kenkenes glanced toward the group and saw the cup-bearer a trifle in advance, his sullen face averted.
“He comes yonder,” Kenkenes added in a whisper, “poor, moody boy! Go back to him and take him all the happiness I would to the gods I knew. Farewell.”