“Even so. A precious talisman, and a rare one.”
“It was lost.”
“Nay! Lost! Alas, that is losing the favor of Osiris. What a calamity!” The old man shook his head and his gray brows knitted.
“But the place in which it was lost is small, and I would search for it again.”
“That is wise. The gods aid them who surrender not.”
By this time the old man’s face had become inquiring.
“There is need for the signet now—”
“The noble Mentu, in trouble?” the old man queried.
“The son of the noble Mentu is in trouble—the purity of an innocent one at stake, and the foiling of a villain to accomplish,” Kenkenes answered earnestly.
“A sore need. Is it— Wouldst thou have me aid thee?”
“Thou hast said. I come to thee to crave thy permission to search again for the signet.”
“Nay, but I give it freely. Yet I do not understand.”
“The signet was lost in the tomb of the Incomparable Pharaoh. May I not visit the crypt?”
The old man thought a moment. “Aye, thou canst search. If thou wilt come for me to-morrow—”
“Nay, I would go this very night.”
The keeper’s face sobered and he shook his head.
“Deny me not, I pray thee,” Kenkenes entreated earnestly. “Thou, who hast lived so many years, hast at some time weighed the value of a single moment. In the waste or use of the scant space between two breaths have lives been lost, souls smirched, the unlimited history of the future turned. And never was a greater stake upon the saving of time than in this strait—which is the peril of spotless womanhood.”
The old man rubbed his head. “Aye, I know, I know. Thy haste is justifiable, but—”
“I can go alone. There is no need that thou shouldst waste an hour of thy needed sleep for me. I pledge thee I shall conduct myself without thee as I should beneath thine eye. Most reverently will I enter, most reverently search, most reverently depart, and none need ever know I went alone.”
The ancient keeper weakened at the earnestness of the young man.
“And thou wilt permit no eye to see thee enter or come forth from the valley?”
“Most cautious will I be—most secret and discreet.”
“Canst thou open the gates?”
“I have not forgotten from the daily practice that was mine for many weeks.”
“Then go, and let no man know of this. Amen give thee success.”
Kenkenes thanked him gratefully and went at once.
The moon was in its third quarter, but it was near midnight and the valley of the Nile between the distant highlands to the east and west was in soft light. On the eastern side of the river there was only a feeble glimmer from a window where some chanting leech stood by a bedside, or where a feast was still on. But under the luster of the waning moon Thebes lost its outlines and became a city of marbles and shadows and undefined limits.