“He will be put to it to hold his high place in the face of the prince’s disfavor,” Kenkenes cogitated.
“Nay, but he presses the prince hard for generalship. It must be so, since he could win the king’s good will over the protest of Rameses. So I doubt not he can hold his own at court by prudence and strategy.”
Meanwhile Ta-meri, in the depths of her chair, gazed at the pair resentfully. They had grown interested in weighty things and had seemingly forgotten her. So she sighed and bethought her how to punish them.
“What a relief it will be when the Pharaoh returns to Memphis!” she murmured in the pause that now followed. “He will be more welcome to me than the Nile overflow. The city has been a desert to me since he departed.”
Nechutes looked at her with reproach in his eyes.
“Consider the desert, O sweet Oasis,” Kenkenes said softly. “Is not its portion truly grievous if its single palm complain?”
The lady dropped her eyes and her cheeks glowed even through the dusk. After the long interval of Nechutes’ blunt love-making the sculptor’s subtleties fell most gratefully on her ear.
Nechutes scowled, sighed and finally spoke.
“Tape is afflicted in anticipation of the king’s departure,” he observed disjointedly.
“Tape does not love Meneptah as Memphis loves him,” Kenkenes answered. “Hast thou not this moment heard Memphis pine for him? Tape would not have spoken thus. She would have said: ’Would that the king were here that I might ask a boon of him.’ Memphis is the cradle of kings; Tape, their tomb. Memphis is full of reverence for the Pharaohs; Tape, of pride; Memphis of loyalty; Tape, of boon-craving. Meneptah returns to the bosom of his mother when he returns to Memphis.”
“But he will not remain here long,” Nechutes went on. “He goes to Tanis to be near the scene of the Israelitish unrest.”
“Alas, Ta-meri, and wilt thou droop again?” Kenkenes asked.
“I fear,” she assented with a little sigh. Then, after a pause, she asked: “Does the murket follow the court?”
Kenkenes shook his head. “Not when the Pharaoh travels. But should he depart permanently from Memphis my father would go. Many of the court returning hither will not proceed to Tanis. The city will not be so desolate then as now.”
“Nay, but I am glad,” she said. “Those who remain will suffice.”
“Of a truth?” Nechutes demanded angrily.
“Have I not said?” she replied.
Nechutes rose slowly and made his way to a chair some distance away from her. Kenkenes immediately guessed why the cup-bearer was hurt, but the lady was innocent. He knew that he had but to speak to restore Nechutes to favor.
Meanwhile the lady, amazed and deeply offended at the desertion of the cup-bearer, had turned her back on him. Kenkenes arose.
Ta-meri sat up in alarm.