It was now the middle of June, the height of Egyptian summer. In a little space the marshes, which had been, for eight months, favorite haunts of fowlers, would be submerged, for the inundation was not far away.
Masanath would hunt for wild-duck and marsh-hen, while there was yet time.
It was an hour after sunrise. Her raft, built of papyrus, was boat-shaped and graceful as a swan. Pepi was at the long-handled sweep in the stern. Masanath sat in the middle, which was heaped with nets, throw-sticks, and bows and arrows. A pair of decoy birds, tame and unfettered, stood near her, craning their small heads, puzzled at the movement of the boat which was undecipherable since they were motionless. Nari sat in the prow, her hands folded, her face quite expressionless. The service of the day was out of the routine, but as a good servant, she was capable of adapting herself to the change.
The little craft darted away from the painted landing for pleasure boats, and reaching midstream, was turned toward the north. The current caught it and swept it along like a leaf.
As they passed the stone wharf at Masaarah, Nari looked toward the quarries with a show of interest on her face. She even caught her breath to speak. Masanath noted her animation.
“What is it, Nari?”
“Naught but a bit of gossip that came to mine ears, last night, and the sight of Masaarah urged me to tell it again. It is said the Hebrews of these quarries rose against the new driver and drove him out of the camp, crying, ‘Return us our Atsu, return us our Atsu.’”
“What folly!” Masanath exclaimed. “If they had been the host which crowds Goshen to her bounds, it might serve. But this handful in rebellion against Egypt! The military of the Memphian nome will crush them as if they had been so many ants.”
“I know,” the serving-woman admitted. “The soldier I had it from, said that the city commandant would move against them by noon this day.”
“The gods help them!” Pepi put in.
“Thy prayer is too late, Pepi,” Masanath answered. “The gods should have cautioned them ere they took the step. And yet,” she continued, musing, “straits may become so sore that aught but endurance is welcome.”
Her servants looked at her and at each other, understanding.
Nari went on:
“But the soldier told me further that the Israelites had spent the night chanting and dancing before their God, and it seems from this spot that the quarries are empty. They do not fear, boasting their God’s care.”
Masanath shook her head. “He must look to them at once, ere the soldiery fall upon them. His time for aid is short,” she said.
A silence fell, and the raft passed below Masaarah. Again Nari spoke, proving that she had heard and thought upon the last words of her mistress.
“Are not the gods omnipotent and everywhere?”