“For these and kindred inefficiencies art thou removed from the government over Pa-Ramesu.
“I hereby bestow upon thee another office within the limits of thy capacity. Thou wilt take up the flagellum over Masaarah when thou hast surrendered Pa-Ramesu to thy successor.
“By this thou shalt learn that the Pharaohs will be ably served.
“Horemheb of Bubastis, thy successor, accompanieth these.
“Give him honor. Meneptah.”
The diction was manifestly the king’s. None other of high estate would have inspired so spiteful a letter. But the appointment to Masaarah made Atsu forget the sting in the second reading. To Masaarah! To Masaarah and Rachel! He folded the broken sheet and thrust it into his bosom. Meeting the keen eye of his guest, the color rushed back to the taskmaster’s face and he summoned two attendant Hebrews to wait upon the old man while he went forth to gain composure in the air.
After the old man had been fed and given such other comfort as the soldier’s house afforded, the taskmaster returned. Then Ranas shifted his position so that he might watch his host’s face most intelligently, and turned to the real purpose of his visit.
“Thou canst see, my master, that if thy message bore the wrapping for the epistle to Snofru, the message to the holy father must have borne thy name. Thou hast received no letter as yet which was not intended for thee?”
The question was delivered politely, but the old man thrust his curious face forward and shook his head with a combination of interrogation and dissent, which was highly insincere.
“I have received naught which was not intended for me,” the taskmaster replied warmly.
After a moment’s intent contemplation of Atsu’s face the courier went on: “Nay, so had I thought. The messenger came to Snofru with all speed and out-stripped the courier bound for Pa-Ramesu. It is even as I had thought. He may arrive shortly, but I must tarry till he comes.”
Atsu assented bluntly, and after that if they talked it was of impersonal things and in a desultory manner. When night came Atsu called his attendants and had the weary old man put to bed in a curtained corner of the house. For himself there was no sleep.
At midnight there came the beat of hoofs on the dust-muffled ways of Pa-Ramesu. A sentry knocked at the door of the commander and announced a visitor. Atsu, who still sat under the unextinguished reed light, greeted the new-comer with an exclamation of concern. The man was covered with dust, his dress was torn and bloody, his right hand swathed in cloths, and his lip, right cheek and eye were swollen and discolored.
“By Horus, friend, thou lookest ill-used,” the taskmaster exclaimed. “What has befallen thee?”
“Naught—naught of any lasting hurt,” the newcomer replied carelessly. “We were set upon by a troop of murdering Bedouins this side of Bubastis and had a pretty fight.”