The letter was from Hotep, conveying such information regarding his imprisonment as we already know. If was couched in the gentlest terms, and contained that essence of hope which loving spirits can extract from the most desperate situation, for another’s sake. But for all the kindly intent of the scribe, his news was none the less unhappy. The dreaded had come to pass, and the war between hope and fear was at an end. Kenkenes read the missive calmly, and paid the messenger according to his promise. The jailer, who had come with the man, read the sentence and bade the prisoner make his choice of labor.
“Anything, so it will but give me a glimpse of the horizon,” he said.
“Thou wilt pay dearly for thy sky,” the keeper cautioned him. “The softest labor is within doors.”
“Give me my wish according to the command of the prince.”
The jailer shrugged his shoulders. “As thou wilt. Make ready to follow the canal-workers, to-morrow.”
When the door fell shut again, Kenkenes returned to his pallet and re-read the scroll.
A year’s imprisonment! The sentence defined was the sum of daily shame, sorrow, homesickness and misanthropy. Shame in the proud man admits of no degrees of intensity. If it exist at all, it is superlative. To this was added the loss of Rachel. How little it would take to satisfy him, now that she was wholly denied to his eyes! Only to look down on her again, unseen, from his aery in the rocks over the valley!
Hotep had offered him hope, based on circumstantial evidence and fact. Har-hat could not add to his sentence. That was the only indisputable cheer he could give. But would Rameses stay the chief adviser’s hand, seeing that the winning of Masanath depended on the prince’s neutrality, as Hotep had explained? If Rachel fled to Mentu, as Kenkenes had bidden her, could the murket protect her, even at his own peril? Might not the heavy hand of the powerful favorite fall also on the head of the king’s architect? Wherein was the murket more immune than his son? Rachel’s destruction seemed to be decreed by the Hathors.
Such was his thought, and he raised himself to curse the Seven Sisters, and growing reckless, he included the unhelpful gods in his maledictions. The blasphemy comforted him strangely, and he persisted till his heated brain was cooled.
At dawn the next day he laid aside his fillet of gold, his trappings and noble dress, and donning the kilt or shenti of the prisoners, was handcuffed to another malefactor and taken forth to the sun-white plain between Thebes Diospolis and the Arabian, hills, to labor in the canals of the nome.
Here, looking continually upon crime, brutality and misery, he asked himself the divine motive in creating man, and having found no answer, he began to question man’s debt to the gods.