“Nay,” he replied to this evidence, “it is a different woman. Between myself and Ta-meri it is even odds, and the vanquished will have deserved his defeat.”
That evening—it was several days after the face of the goddess had begun to emerge from the block of stone—he went to the upper end of the gorge and passed through the camp on his way home, that he might meet his model.
The laborers had not returned from the quarries, though the evening meal bubbled and fumed over the fires in the narrow avenue between the tents. Kenkenes passed by on the outskirts of the encampment and went on.
Deep shadow lay on the stone-pits when Kenkenes reached the mouth of the gorge, and a cool wind from the Nile swept across the grain. The day’s work had been prolonged in the lowering of a huge slab from its position in its native bed. The monolith was already on the brink of the wooden incline, and every man was at the windlasses by which the cables controlling its descent were paid out. Kenkenes saw at a glance that none of the water-bearers was present, and he knew the lovely Israelite was with them. He did not pause.
Before the sound of the quarry stir had been left behind he heard a sharp report, the frightened shrieks of women and shouts of warning. He looked back in time to see the huge stone turn part way round on the chute and rush, end first, earthward. Expectant silence fell, broken only by the vicious snarl of a flying windlass crank. But in an instant the great slab struck the earth with a thunderous sound that reverberated again and again from the barren hills about. A vast all-enveloping cloud of dust and earth filled the hollow quarry like smoke from an explosion. But there was no further outcry, and through the outskirts of the lifting cloud men were seen making deliberate preparations to repair the parted cable. Assured that no calamity had occurred, Kenkenes went on.
In a few steps he met the children water-bearers flying to the scene of the accident. Not one of them bore a water-skin. The excited young Hebrews did not stop to question the sculptor, but ran on, and were swallowed up in dust.
Half-way to the Nile he came upon her whom he sought. She was standing alone in the midst of ten sheepskins, and the grain was wetted with the spilled water. He pointed to the discarded hides about her.
“The camp will go thirsty if the runaways do not return,” he said. “Thy burden is too heavy for even me to-night.”
“They will return,” she answered.
“Aye, it was naught but a parting cable and a falling rock. I was near and saw no evidence of disaster. Had the children asked me, I should have told them as much.”
“They will return,” she repeated, and Kenkenes fancied that there was a dismissal in this quiet repetition. But he did not mean to see it. He went on, with a smile.
“I am glad they did not stop, for I wanted to see thee, with that frightened longing of a man who hath resolved on confession and meeteth his confessor on a sudden. Now that the moment hath arrived I marvel how I shall make my peace with Athor, whose command I most deliberately broke.”