A long silence fell. The curious activity of desert-life, interrupted for the time by the presence of the fugitives, resumed its tenor and droned on about them. The rasping grasshopper, the darting lizard, the scorpion creeping among the rocks, a high-flying bird, a small, skulking, wild beast put sound and movement in the desolation of the region. The horizon was marked by undulating hills to the west; to the east, by sharper peaks. The scant growth was blackened or partly covered with sand, and it fringed the distant uplands like a stubbly beard. The little ravines were darkened with hot shadows, but the bald slopes presented areas, shining with infinitesimal particles of quartz and mica, to a savage sun and an almost unendurable sky. From somewhere to the barren north the wind came like a breath of flame, ash-laden and drying. There was nothing of the cool, damp river breeze in this. They were in the hideous heart of the desert to whom death was monotony, resisting foreign life, an insult.
The two in the shortening shadow of the great rock were glad of the water-bottle. The necessity of comfortable shelter for Rachel began to appeal urgently to Kenkenes. He put aside his dreams and thought aloud.
“What cover may I offer thy dear head this night?” he began. “We may not return to the camp, for there of a surety they lie in wait for us. Toora is deserted and so tempting a spot for fugitives that it will be searched immediately. Not a hovel this side of the Nile but will be visited. I would take thee to my father—”
“Nay,” she said firmly. “I will take affliction to none other. Already have I undone two of the best of Egypt. I will carry the distress no further.”
After a silence he began again.
“How far wilt thou trust in me, Rachel?”
She raised her face and looked at him with serious eyes.
“In all things needful which thou wilt require of me.”
“And thou canst sleep this night in an open boat?”
“To-morrow, then,” he continued, taking her hand, “we shall reach Nehapehu, where I can hide thee with some of the peasantry on my father’s lands. And there thou canst abide until I go to Tape and return.
“Thou must know,” he continued, explaining, “the Athor of the hills is not my first sacrilege. Once I committed a worse. My father was the royal sculptor to Rameses and is now Meneptah’s murket.” Rachel glanced at him shyly and sought to withdraw her hand, for she recognized the loftiness of the title. But he retained his clasp. “He is a mighty genius. He planned and executed Ipsambul. For that, which is the greatest monument to Rameses, the Incomparable Pharaoh loved him, and while the king lived my father was overwhelmed with his favors. Nor did the royal sculptor’s good fortune wane, as is the common fate of favorites, for the great king planned that my father’s house should be honored even after his death though the dynasties change. So Rameses gave him a signet of lapis lazuli, and its inscription commanded him who sat at any time thereafter on the throne of Egypt to honor the prayer of its bearer in the unspeakable name of the Holy One.