“Aye, thou hast the stamp of its beauty upon thy face. A slave, here, with some balsam,” Atsu continued, addressing the sentry, “and a captain of the constabulary next. We will cure these Bedouins and their hurt at once.”
“Nay,” the visitor protested. “It is only a spear-slit in my hand, and a flying stirrup marred my face. I am well. Look to the Bedouins, however; they ran our messenger through—Set consume them!”
“Doubt not, we shall look to them. They grow strangely insolent of late.”
“Small wonder,” the other responded heartily. “Is not the whole north a seething pot of lawlessness; and by the demons of Amenti, is not the Israelite the fire under the caldron? Nay, but I shall have especial joy in damping him!”
The man laughed and dropped into the chair Atsu had offered him.
“Then thou art Horemheb, the new taskmaster over Pa-Ramesu?”
“So! has my news outridden me?” the man exclaimed in very evident amazement.
Ranas, indifferently clad in a hastily donned kamis, at this moment parted the curtains of his retreat and came forth with an apologetic courtesy.
“And thy messenger, sir? What of him?” he asked eagerly.
“Dead, and left at a wayside house.”
“And the message?” the old man persisted.
Horemheb surveyed him with increasing astonishment.
“Where hast thou these tidings?” he demanded. “They are scarce three hours old. Who reached thee with them before me?”
Atsu interposed and explained the interchange of letters.
“Oh,” said Horemheb. “So the correct message came to thee, nevertheless, good Atsu. But I can not tell thee aught of the other. It is lost.”
“Lost!” Ranas shrieked.
“Gods! old man. It was only pigment and papyrus, not gold or jewels. A kindly disposed Hebrew came to our help with some of his people, and we put the Bedouins to flight. But after the struggle, search as we might with torches which the Hebrew brought, the message was not to be found. A Bedouin made off with it, I doubt not.”
Ranas stood speechless for an instant, and then he rushed up to the new taskmaster.
“His name?” he demanded fiercely. “The Hebrew! What was he like? Where does he dwell?”
“A murrain on the maniac!” Horemheb exploded.
“He called himself Aaron!”
Ranas staggered against the wall for support and beat the air with his arms.
“Aaron, the brother of Mesu! O ye inscrutable Hathors!” he babbled. “A Bedouin made off with it! Oh! Oh! What idiocy!”
THE COLLAR OF GOLD
The next morning after his meeting with the golden-haired Israelite, Kenkenes came early to the line of rocks that topped the north wall of the gorge and, ensconced between the gray fragments, looked down unseen on her whenever she came to the valley’s mouth. All day long the children came staggering up from the Nile, laden with dripping hides, or returned in a free and ragged line down the green slope of the field to the river again.