“Give me my burden now,” she said. “Thou hast affronted thy rank for me, and I thank thee many times.”
The sculptor paused and for a moment stood embarrassed. It went sorely against his gallantry to lay the burden again upon her and he said as much.
“Nay, Egypt has no qualms against loading the Hebrew,” she said quietly. “Wouldst thou put thy nation to shame?”
Kenkenes opened his eyes in some astonishment.
“Now am I even more loath,” he declared. “What art thou called?”
“It hath an intrepid sound, but Athor would become thee better. Now I am a sculptor from the city, come to study thy women for a frieze,” he continued unblushingly, “and I would go no farther in my search. Rachel repeated will be beauty multiplied. Let me see thee once in a while,—to-morrow.”
A sudden flush swept over her face and her eyes darkened.
“It shall not keep thee from thy labor,” he added persuasively.
The color deepened and she made a motion of dissent.
“Nay! thou dost not refuse me!” he exclaimed, his astonishment evident in his voice.
“Of a surety,” she replied. “Give me my burden, I pray thee.”
Dumb with amazement, too genuine to contain any anger, Kenkenes obeyed. As she went up the shady gorge, walking unsteadily under the heavy pitcher, he stood looking after her in eloquent silence.
And in eloquent silence he turned at last and continued down the valley. There was nothing to be said. His appreciation of his own discomfiture was too large for any expression.
In a few steps he met the short captain who governed the quarries. Kenkenes guessed his office by his dress. He was adorned in festal trappings, for he had spent most of the day in revel across the Nile.
“Dost thou know Rachel, the Israelitish maiden?” Kenkenes asked, planting himself in the man’s way.
“The yellow-haired Judahite?” the man inquired, a little surprised.
“Even so,” was the reply.
The soldier nodded.
“Look to it that she is put to light labor,” the sculptor continued, gazing loftily down into the narrow eyes. The soldier squared off and inspected the nobleman. It did not take him long to acknowledge the young sculptor’s right to command.
“It does not pay to be tender with an Israelite,” the man answered sourly.
Kenkenes thrust his hand into the folds of his tunic over his breast and, drawing forth a number of golden rings strung on a cord, jingled them musically.
The soldier grinned.
“That will coax a man out of his dearest prejudice. I will put her over the children.”
Kenkenes dropped the money into the man’s palm.
“I shall have an eye to thee,” he said warningly. “Cheat me not.”
He went his way. The incident restored to him the power of speech.