“A brawl,” she thought. But the noise seemed to emerge into the street, and there came the sound of flying footsteps and frantic knocks upon doors without. The sound seemed to swell and spread abroad, widening and heightening. Wild shrieks and husky broken shouts swept up from all quarters of the town, and the whole air was full of a vast murmur of many voices, calling and wailing, excited, tremulous and full of fear.
Masanath passed into the outer room to the window that looked upon the city.
Every house had a light, which flickered and appeared at this window and that, and the streets were full of flying messengers, who cried out as they ran. Now and then a chariot, drawn at full speed, dashed past, and by the fluttering robes of the occupants Masanath guessed them to be physicians. All Tanis was in uproar, and its alarm possessed her at once.
She turned to awaken Nari, when she heard inside the palace excited words and hurrying feet. Some one ran, barefoot, past her door, calling under his breath upon the gods. At that moment an incisive shriek cut the increasing murmur in the palace and died away in a long shuddering wail of grief.
“Awake, awake, Nari!” Masanath cried, shaking the sleeping woman. “Something has befallen the city. It is in the palace and everywhere.”
Meanwhile a chorus of screams smote upon her ears and the wild outcries of men filled the great palace with terrifying clamor.
Masanath, shaking with dread, wrung her hands and wept. Nari, stupid with fear, sat up and listened.
Presently some one came running and beat, with frenzied hands, upon the door.
“Open! Open! In the name of Osiris!” cried a voice which, though it quaked with consternation, Masanath recognized as her father’s.
She flew to the door and wrenched it open. Har-hat, half-dressed, stood before it.
“Father, what manner of sending is this?” she cried.
“Death!” he panted. “Come with me!” He caught her arm and ran, dragging her after him down the corridor, half-lighted, but murmurous with sound.
“What is it, father?” she begged as he hurried her on.
“The gods only know. Rameses hath been smitten and is dying, or even now is dead!”
“Rameses!” she breathed in a terrified whisper. “Rameses! And an hour ago I talked with him—so strong, so resolute, so full of life—O Holy Isis!”
“It is a pestilence sent by Mesu. The whole city is afflicted. Ptah shield us!”
The hangings that covered the entrance to each suite of chambers had been thrown aside and the interiors were vacant. But the farther end of the hall was filled with terrified courtiers in all attitudes and degrees of extravagant demonstration of grief. Men and women were fallen here and there on the pavement or supporting themselves by pillar and wall, wailing, tearing their hair, wounding their faces, rending their garments.