“Then, I was born out of servitude. My great grandsire was exempted by Seti when Israel went into bondage. His children and all his house were given to profit by the covenant. But the name grew wealthy and powerful to the third generation. My father was Maai the Compassionate, who loved his brethren better than himself. Them he helped. Rameses the Great forgot his father’s promise when he found he had need of my father’s treasure—” she paused and continued as if the recital hurt her. “There were ten—four of my mother’s house, six of my father’s. To the mines and the brick-fields they were sent, and in a little space I was all that was left.”
Horrified and conscience-stricken, Kenkenes made as if to speak, but she went on hurriedly.
“My mother’s nurse, Deborah, who went with us into servitude, is learned, having been taught by my mother, and I have been her pupil.”
“And there is not one of thy blood—not one guardian kinsman left to thee?” Kenkenes asked slowly.
Up to this moment, during every interview with Rachel, Kenkenes had forsworn some little prejudice, or sacrificed some of his blithe self-esteem. But the tragic narrative swept all these supports from him and left him solitary to face the charge of indirect complicity in murder. He was an Egyptian—a loyal supporter of the government and its policies; he had profited by Israel’s toil, and if he succeeded to his father’s office, Israel would serve him directly in his labor for the Pharaoh to be. He had known that Israel was oppressed, that Israel died of hard labor, and he had pitied it, as the humane soul in him had felt for the overworked draft-oxen or the sacrifices that were led bleating to the altars. Perhaps he had even casually decried the policy that sent women into the brick-fields and did men to death in a year in the mines. But his own conscience had not been hurt, nor had he taken the misdeed home to himself.
Now his sensations were vastly different. He felt all the guilt of his nation, and he had nothing to offer as amends but his own humiliation. Of this he had an overwhelming plenitude and his eloquent face showed it. With an effort he raised his head and spoke.
“Rachel, if my humiliation will satisfy thee even a little as vengeance upon Egypt, do thou shame me into the dust if thou wilt.”
“I do not understand thee,” she said with dignity.
“Believe me. I would help thee in some wise, and alas! there is no other way by deed or word that I could prove my sorrow.”
Tears leaped into her eyes.
“Nay! Nay!” she exclaimed. “Thou dost wrong me, Kenkenes. What wickedness were mine to make the one contrite, guiltless heart in Egypt suffer for all the unrepentant and the wrong-doers of the land!”
Once again he took her hand and kissed it, because the act was more eloquent than words at that moment.