The afternoon shadows were already growing long, when a splendid chariot drew up to the gates of the terrace-temple. Paaker, the chief pioneer, stood up in it, driving his handsome and fiery Syrian horses. Behind him stood an Ethiopian slave, and his big dog followed the swift team with his tongue out.
As he approached the temple he heard himself called, and checked the pace of his horses. A tiny man hurried up to him, and, as soon as he had recognized in him the dwarf Nemu, he cried angrily:
“Is it for you, you rascal, that I stop my drive? What do you want?”
“To crave,” said the little man, bowing humbly, “that, when thy business in the city of the dead is finished, thou wilt carry me back to Thebes.”
“You are Mena’s dwarf?” asked the pioneer.
“By no means,” replied Nemu. “I belong to his neglected wife, the lady Nefert. I can only cover the road very slowly with my little legs, while the hoofs of your horses devour the way-as a crocodile does his prey.”
“Get up!” said Paaker. “Did you come here on foot?”
“No, my lord,” replied Nemu, “on an ass; but a demon entered into the beast, and has struck it with sickness. I had to leave it on the road. The beasts of Anubis will have a better supper than we to-night.”
“Things are not done handsomely then at your mistress’s house?” asked Paaker.
“We still have bread,” replied Nemu, “and the Nile is full of water. Much meat is not necessary for women and dwarfs, but our last cattle take a form which is too hard for human teeth.”
The pioneer did not understand the joke, and looked enquiringly at the dwarf.
“The form of money,” said the little man, “and that cannot be chewed; soon that will be gone too, and then the point will be to find a recipe for making nutritious cakes out of earth, water, and palm-leaves. It makes very little difference to me, a dwarf does not need much—but the poor tender lady!”
Paaker touched his horses with such a violent stroke of his whip that they reared high, and it took all his strength to control their spirit.
“The horses’ jaws will be broken,” muttered the slave behind. “What a shame with such fine beasts!”
“Have you to pay for them?” growled Paaker. Then he turned again to the dwarf, and asked:
“Why does Mena let the ladies want?”
“He no longer cares for his wife,” replied the dwarf, casting his eyes down sadly. “At the last division of the spoil he passed by the gold and silver; and took a foreign woman into his tent. Evil demons have blinded him, for where is there a woman fairer than Nefert?”
“You love your mistress.”
“As my very eyes!”
During this conversation they had arrived at the terrace-temple. Paaker threw the reins to the slave, ordered him to wait with Nemu, and turned to the gate-keeper to explain to him, with the help of a handful of gold, his desire of being conducted to Pentaur, the chief of the temple.