“Now, by Horus,” he began, “am I to be denied by an Israelite that which the favoring Hathors designed I should have? Not while the arts of strategy abide within me. The children, I take it, will come here with the water,” he cogitated, stamping upon the wet and deserted ledge which he had reached, “and here will she be, also.”
He raised his eyes to the ragged line of rocks topping the northern wall of the gorge.
“I shall perch myself there like a sacred hawk and filch her likeness. Nay, now that I come to ponder on it, it is doubtless better that she know naught about it. She might drop certain things to the Egyptians hereabout that would lead to mine undoing. The gods are with me, of a truth.”
He descended into the larger valley and went singing toward the Nile.
THE PUNISHMENT OF ATSU
One late afternoon, in the streets of Pa-Ramesu, a curious new-comer bowed before Atsu, the commander of Israel of the treasure city. The visitor was old and tremulous from fatigue, and the stains of hard travel were evident upon him.
“Greeting, Atsu. The peace of the divine Mother attend thee,” he said. “Snofru, the beloved of Ra at On, sends thee greeting by his servant, Ranas.”
“Greeting,” the taskmaster replied, after he had inspected the white-browed servant. “The shelter of my roof and the bread of my board are thine;” adding after a little pause, “and in truth thou seemest to need these things.”
The old man smiled an odd wry smile and followed lamely after the long swinging stride of the commander toward the headquarters on the knoll.
Within the house of Atsu, Ranas delivered into the hands of the soldier the message that Kenkenes had brought to Snofru. While Atsu undid the roll the old servant made voluble apologies for the broken seal. The commander stepped to the doorway for better light and read the writing.
The old servant back in the dusk of the interior saw the stern face harden, the heavy brows knit blackly, the dusky red fade from the cheek. Ranas knew what the soldier read, for he had had the roll with its broken seal, from On to Memphis and from Memphis back to On again. But with all his astuteness he could not have guessed what extremes of wrath and grief the insulted taskmaster suffered. The sheet rolled itself together again and was broken and crushed in the iron fingers that gripped it. Presently he tossed it aside. Hardly had it left his hand before he hastened to pick it up, straightened it out and re-read it feverishly. He forgot the old servant; but had he remembered the man’s curious gaze, no resolution could have hidden that joy which slowly wrote itself upon his face. There was balm in the barb for all the wound it made. This is what he read:
“To Atsu, Commander over the Builders of Pa-Ramesu, These: To mine ears hath come report of mutiny and idleness through thy weak government of my bond-people. Also that thou hast enforced my commands but feebly, and so defeated my purposes, which were my sire’s, after whose illustrious example I reign.