“Thou evadest,” Meneptah contended smiling.
“Because, O King, I should advise against thine inclinations.”
“Wherefore?” Meneptah demanded again, this time with some asperity.
“We hold the Hebrews,” was the undisturbed reply; “through destruction and plague we have held them. They boast the calamities as sendings from their God. Egypt’s afflictions multiply; every resort hath failed us. One is left—to free the slaves and test their boast.”
Meneptah’s face had grown deprecatory.
“Dost thou espouse the cause of thy nation’s enemy?” he asked.
“I espouse the cause of the oppressed, and which, now, is more oppressed—Egypt or the Hebrew?”
This was different sort of persuasion from that which the king had heard since Har-hat took up the fan. The scribe was compelling him by reason; the man’s personality was not entering at all into the argument. Meneptah’s high brows knitted. He felt his feeble resolution filter away; his inclination to hold the Hebrews stayed with him, but the power to withstand Hotep’s strong argument was not in him.
“What wouldst thou have me do?” he asked querulously.
“I am but a mouthpiece for thy realm; I counsel not for myself. The strait of Egypt demands that thou set the Hebrew free, yield his goods and his children to him, and be rid of him and his plagues for ever.”
Hotep spoke as if he were reciting a law from the books of the great God Toth. His tone did not invite further contention. He had read the king his duty, and it behooved the king to obey. A silence ensued, and by the signs growing on Meneptah’s face, Hotep predicted acquiescence. It can not be said, however, that he noted them hopefully. Much time would elapse in which much contrary persuasion was possible before Israel could depart from Egypt.
Rameses came out of the dusk at the end of the corridor. The king raised himself eagerly and summoned his son.
“Hither, my Rameses!”
With suspense in his soul, Hotep saw the prince approach. Rameses had never expressed himself upon the Hebrew question, and the scribe knew full well that neither himself nor Har-hat, nor all the ministers, nor heaven and earth could militate against the counsel of that grim young tyrant. Meneptah spoke with much appeal in his voice.
“Rameses, I need thee. Awake out of thy dream and help me. What shall I do with the Hebrews?”
“I have trusted to my father’s sufficient wisdom to help him in his strait, without advice of mine,” was the indifferent reply.
“Aye; but I crave thy counsel, now, my son.”
“Then, neither god nor devil could make me loose my grasp did I wish to hold the Hebrews!”
Hotep sighed, inaudibly, and was moved to depart, had not lack of the king’s permission made him stay.
“But consider the losses to my realm,” Meneptah made perfunctory protest. The prince’s full lip curled.