“Hear me, father. Last night, after Rameses—after he—after he left me, he met Ta-user. And the talk between them was of such nature that she knelt to him and he flung her off. They were between me and mine apartments, and I could not but know of it. When he left her she made such threats that it were treason for me to give them voice again. What she asked of him I surmise. It could not have been other than a prayer to him, to fulfil what was expected of him concerning her. Thou knowest the breach between the Pharaoh and his brother, Amon-meses, is but feebly bridged till Rameses shall heal the wound in marriage with Ta-user. His failure, added to the vehement contempt he displayed for her last night, shall make that breach ten times as deep and ever receding, so there can be no healing of it.”
Har-hat flung his head back and laughed heartily.
“Thou timid child! frightened with the ravings of a discarded wanton. She and her following of churls can do nothing against the Son of Ptah. The moles in the necropolis are richer than they. None of loyal Egypt will espouse their cause, and without money how shall they get them mercenaries? Nay, why vex thee with matters of state? All that is required of thee is thy heart for Rameses, no more.”
“Judge not for Rameses, I pray thee,” she insisted, coming near him. “Knowing that I love him not, perchance he might be gentler with Ta-user did he see his peril.”
Again Har-hat laughed.
“I am not blind, O little reluctant,” he said. “I know the secret spring of thy concern for Egypt—for Ta-user—for Rameses. I have not told thee all the stake upon thy love for the prince. Does it not seem that since a maiden will not love one winsome man there must be another already installed in her heart?”
She drew back, changing color.
“How little of the court-lady thou art, Masanath,” he broke oft, looking at her face. “Thy sensations are too near the surface. Thou must teach thy face to dissemble. It was this very eloquence of countenance that betrayed thy foolish preferences. Mind thee, I know it to be but a maiden fancy which, discouraged, dies. But have a care lest it bring disaster upon him whom thou hast put in jeopardy of the fierce power of the prince.”
Masanath’s eyes widened with terror. The fan-bearer continued: “I have but to mention the name of Hotep—”
She clutched at her heart.
“Ah?” he observed with mild interrogation in the word. “How foolish thy caprice! Hotep does not thank thee. His marble spirit hath set its loves upon ink-pots and papyri and such pulseless things. How I should reproach myself if I must undo him—”
“Nay, bring no disaster on the head of the noble Hotep,” she begged. “He—I—there is naught between us.”
“It is even as I had thought. I shall tell Rameses and send him to thee,” he said, moving away.