Some one of his assailants had found his heart with a knife and this was death, he thought.
Then strange, far-off murmurings filled his ears. From the river and beside him went up wild, hoarse cries of men in mortal terror. Memphis began to drone like a vast and troubled hive. The distant pastures became blatant and the poultry near the huts of rustics cackled in wild dismay. In the hills about beasts whimpered and the air was full of the screaming of bewildered birds.
With the awakening of sound, Kenkenes knew that another plague had befallen Egypt.
The dread that might have transfixed him was overcome by the instant recollection of Rachel’s peril. No restraining hands were upon him, but he stood yet a space attempting to catch some rift in the thick night. There was not one ray of light.
While he waited it was more distinctly borne in upon him that during that space Rachel might suffer. He would go to her.
The night made a wall ahead of him which was imminent and indiscernible. It was like a great weight upon his shoulders and a pitfall at his feet.
He crouched and fumbled before him. His apprehension was physical; his mind urged him; his body rebelled. He would have run but he could barely force one foot ahead of the other. Illusory obstacles confronted him. He waved his arms and put forward a foot. The ground was lower than he thought, and he stepped weightily. He brought up the other foot laboriously, hesitatingly. This was not advance, but time-losing.
Meanwhile, what might not be happening to Rachel in this chaos of gloom and clamor? Why need he hide his escape? None of these near-by assailants had any care now save for his own safety.
He called her name loudly and listened.
There was no answer in her voice.
He forced himself to move, but had the next step led into an abyss his feet could not have been more reluctant. He flailed the air with his arms and accomplished another pace. He realized that he could not reach, in an hour, at this rate, the spot in which he had last seen her. Again he called, using his full lung power, but the only reply was an echo, or the hoarse supplications of men, near him and on the river. The river! Had Rachel gone that way too far and beyond retreat? The thought chilled him with terror and horror.
He execrated himself for his trepidation and strove wildly to proceed; but strive as he might he could not advance. How long since the darkness had fallen, and he had moved but two paces from the spot in which it had overtaken him! The outcry near him subsided into low murmurs of terror, and none lifted a voice in answer to his distracted call.
If Rachel had been near she would have replied to him. The alternatives he had to choose as her possible fate were death in the Nile or capture by Unas. The one he fought away from him wildly, the other made him frantic. And the realization of his own helplessness, with the picture of her distress at that moment, crushed him.