The half of his up-journey was done and the conflict of hope and doubt marshaled feasible argument for and against the success of his mission. In some manner the destruction of Khu-aten offered, in its example of Egypt’s fury against progress, a parallel to his own straits.
In his boyhood he had heard the Pharaoh Khu-n-Aten anathematized by the shaven priests, and in the depths of his heart he had been startled to find no sympathy for their rage against the artist-king.
Ritual-bound Egypt had resented liberty of worship—a liberalism that lacked naught in zeal or piety, but added grace to the Osirian faith. In his beauty-worship, Kenkenes was not narrow. He would not confine it to glyptic art, nor indeed to art alone—all the uses of life might be bettered by it. His appreciation of Khu-n-Aten’s ambition had been passive before, but when his own spirit experienced the same fire and the same reproach, his sympathy became hearty partizanship.
His mind wandered back again to the ruin. How fiercely Egypt had resented the schism of a Pharaoh, a demi-god, the Vicar of Osiris! The words of Rachel came back to him like an inspiration:
“Thou hast nation-wide, nation-old, nation-defended prejudice to overcome, and thou art but one, Kenkenes.”
But one, indeed, and only a nobleman. Could he hope to change Egypt when a king might not? Behold, how he was suffering for a single and simple breach of the law. At the thought he paused and asked himself:
“Am I suffering for the sacrilege?”
The admission would entail a terrifying complexity.
If he were suffering punishment for the statue, what punishment had been his for the sacrilegious execution of the Judgment of the Dead in the tomb of Rameses II? What, other than the reclamation of the signet by the Incomparable Pharaoh, even as Mentu had said? If the hypothesis held, he had committed sacrilege, he had offended the gods, and might not the accumulated penalty be—O unspeakable—the loss of Rachel?
On the other hand, if the signet were still in the tomb, Rameses had not reclaimed it—Rameses had not been offended. The ritual condemned his act, but if Rameses in the realm of inexorable justice and supernal wisdom did not, how should he reconcile the threats of the ritual and the evident passiveness of the royal soul? If he found the signet and achieved his ends, aside from its civil power over him, what weight would the canonical thunderings have to his inner heart?
Once again he paused. The deductions of his free reasoning led him upon perilous ground. They made innuendoes concerning the stability of the other articles of hieratical law. He was startled and afraid of his own arguments.
“Nay, by the gods,” he muttered to himself, “it is not safe to reason with religion.”
But every stroke of his oar was active persistence in his heresy.