“If the Lord God of Israel overtake him not,” he said, returning to the king, “then must I! For, in my good intent, it seems that I have undone thee. Hotep,” he continued, taking the scribe’s hands, “let my father know that I died not with the first-born. Also, thou seest the danger into which the nation hath descended in this hour. Help thou the king! I return not. Farewell.”
He kissed the scribe on the lips, and freeing himself from his clinging hands, ran through the broken line of the royal guards.
The army was already a compact cluster in the center of a rolling cloud of dust to the south.
When Nechutes had aroused him before daybreak, the cup-bearer had brought Hotep with him, and while the messenger broke his fast, he had availed himself of the scribe’s presence to learn many things. Not the smallest part of his information was the fact that the Pharaoh’s scouts had located Israel encamped on a sedgy plain at the base of a great hill on the northern-most arm of the Red Sea. Meneptah’s army had marched twenty-five miles due south of Pithom and pitched its tents for the night. It was twenty-five miles from that point to Baal-Zephon or the hill before which Israel had camped. The fugitives had chosen the smoothest path for travel, keeping along the Bitter Lakes that their cattle might feed. Their track led in a southeasterly direction.
But Har-hat, making off with the army, had struck due south. He had chosen this line for more than one advantage it offered. The Arabian desert approached the sea in a series of plateaux or steps. The most westerly was surmounted by a ridge of high hills, higher probably than any other chain within the boundaries of Egypt. The most easterly overlooked the sea-beach and was originally, it may be, the old sea margin. At points the table-land advanced within sight of the water; at other localities an intervening space of several miles lay between it and the sea. The summit was flat, at least smooth enough for the passage of horsemen, and at all times it was a good field for strategic manoeuverings by an army arrayed against anything which might be on the beach below.
If Meneptah’s scouts had reported truly, Israel had behind it a hill, east of it the sea. West of it the army would approach. South only could it flee, into a torrid, arid, uninhabited desert.
The slaves were entrapped. The pursuer had but to follow the pursued in the only open direction, and overtake the starving, thirsting multitude at last. But from Har-hat’s movement he had meant to continue along this plateau, out of sight of Israel, until he had posted part of his army in the way of escape to the south. Kenkenes reached this conclusion without much pondering. He had his own manoeuverings in mind. Of the captain of Israel, Prince Mesu, he would discover, first, if the Lord God had prepared him against Har-hat. This grave question answered to the repose of his mind concerning the welfare of Israel, the path of his next duty would be clearly laid for him. He would join the army and take the life of the fan-bearer, for the sake of all he loved, and Egypt. In the course of the day’s events his motive had been exalted from the personal desire for revenge to the high intent of a patriot. He felt most confident that he would forfeit his own life in the act.