“Far be it from me to humiliate him publicly. Let him have a care, hereafter, that he does not humiliate himself.”
“I thank thee, O Rameses.”
Saluting the prince, Hotep departed.
That night he wrote to Kenkenes and to Mentu, and the two messengers departed ere midnight.
THE IDOLS CRUMBLE
Meanwhile Kenkenes seldom saw a human face. Food and water in red clay vessels, bearing the seal of Thebes, were set inside his door by disembodied hands. At intervals he saw the keeper, always attended by the inevitable scribe, but the visit was a matter of inspection and rarely was the prisoner addressed.
Though he grew to expect these visits, each time the bar rattled down he trembled with the hope that the jailer brought him freedom. Each successive disappointment was as acute as the last, made more poignant by the torturing certainty that his hopes were vain. The effect of one was not at all counteracted by the other.
Some time after dawn the sun thrust a golden bar, full of motes, across the door, a foot above his head. In a space the beam was withdrawn. The heat and dust of the midday came, instead. Gnats wove their mazes in the narrow casement that opened on the outside world, and now and then the twitter of birds sounded very close to it. Kenkenes knew how they flashed as they flew in the sun. They were prodigal of freedom. At nightfall, if he stood at full height against the door, he could see a thread of cooling sky with a single star in its center.
This was all his knowledge of the world. Hour after hour he paced the narrow length of the cell, till the circumscribed round made him dizzy. If he flung himself on his straw pallet, he did not rest. The mind has no charity for the body. If there is to be no mental repose it is vain to hope for physical. When the inactivity of his uneasy pallet became intolerable, he resumed his pace.
He expected the return of his messenger in twenty days after the man’s departure. At the expiration of that time his suspense and apprehension became more and more desperate at the passing of each new day. In rapid succession he accepted and rejected the thought that the messenger had played him false, had been assassinated and robbed; that Meneptah had recalled the signet, or had added the penalty of suspense to his indorsement of Har-hat’s fiat of imprisonment.
When the climax of his sensations was reached, his self-sufficiency collapsed and he entered into ceaseless supplication of the gods. He vowed costly sacrifices to them, adding promises of self-abnegation which became more comprehensive as his distress increased. At the end of a month he had consecrated everything at his command. Then he subsided into a numb endurance till what time his prayers should be answered.
Eight days later, about mid-afternoon, while he lay on his pallet, the door was flung open and his messenger stood without. With a cry, Kenkenes leaped to his feet and wrenched the scroll from the man’s hand. With unsteady fingers he ripped off the linen cover and read.