He pressed her hand and continued toward the door.
Once again he was hailed, this time by Rameses. He halted, stifling a groan, and returned to the prince. Nechutes and Ta-meri had disappeared.
“One other thing, I would tell thee, Kenkenes,” the prince said, “and then thou mayest go. The Pharaoh heard a song to the sunrise on the Nile some time ago and I identified the voice for him. He would have thee sing for him, Kenkenes.”
“The Pharaoh’s wish is law,” was the slow answer.
“Oh, it was not a command,” Rameses replied affably, for he was still holding Masanath’s hand and therefore in high good humor with himself. “In truth he said the choice should be thine whether thou wilt or not. He would not insist that a nobleman become his minstrel. But more of this later; the gods go with thee.”
Kenkenes bowed and escaped.
In his room a few moments later, he lighted his lamp of scented oils and contemplated the comforts about him. His conscience pointed a condemning finger at him. Here was luxury to the point of uselessness for himself; across the Nile was the desolate quarry-camp for his love. In Memphis he had robed himself in fine linen and reveled, had eaten with princes and slept sumptuously—in his strength and his manhood and unearned idleness. And she, but a tender girl, had toiled for the quarry-workers and fasted and now faced death in the hideous extermination purposed for her race.
He ground his teeth and prayed for the dawn.
He forgot that he had come away from the Arabian hills because she repelled him; he remembered his scruples concerning their social inequality, only to revile himself; Hotep’s caution was more than ever a waste of words to him. He forgot everything except that he was here in comfort, she, there in want and in peril, and he had not rescued her.
He did not sleep. He tossed and counted the hours.
“Sing for the Pharaoh!” he exclaimed, “aye, I will sing till the throat of me cracks—not for the reward of his good will alone, but for Rachel’s liberty. That first, and the unraveling of this puzzle thereafter.”
Since the day Kenkenes had wounded her hand with the knife, Rachel had seen him but twice in many weeks.
One mid-morning, the oxen were unyoked from the water-cart and led ambling up to the pit where a monolith, too huge to be moved by men alone, had been taken forth and was to be transferred to the Nile. The bearers carried water directly from the river during this time, and it was given Rachel to govern them in the departure from the routine.
Suddenly she became aware that some one approached through the grain, and when she raised her head, she looked up into the face of Kenkenes. It was Kenkenes, indeed, but Kenkenes in robes of rustling linen and trappings of gold. Never had she seen so stately an Egyptian, nor any so entitled to the name of nobleman. In quick succession she experienced the moving sensations of surprise, pride in him, and depression. The last fell on her with the instant recollection of duty, when his face bent appealingly over hers. Trembling, she turned away from him, and when she looked again, he was returning to Memphis.