“Make haste, and keep close to me,” cried Kaschta. “Half an hour more, and we shall be under shelter, if I do not lose my way.”
Then a horse broke down, and with great difficulty was got up again; the rain fell with increased violence, the night grew darker, and the soldier often found himself brought to a stand-still, feeling for the path with his hands; twice he thought he had lost it, but he would not give in till he had recovered the track. At last he stood still, and called Pentaur to come to him.
“Hereabouts,” said he, “the cave must be; keep close to me—it is possible that we may come upon some of the pioneer’s people. Provisions and fuel were always kept here in his father’s time. Can you see me? Hold on to my girdle, and bend your head low till I tell you you may stand upright again. Keep your axe ready, we may find some of the Cheta or bandits roosting there. You people must wait, we will soon call you to come under shelter.”
Pentaur closely followed his guide, pushing his way through the dripping brushwood, crawling through a low passage in the rock, and at last emerging on a small rocky plateau.
“Take care where you are going!” cried Kaschta. “Keep to the left, to the right there is a deep abyss. I smell smoke! Keep your hand on your axe, there must be some one in the cave. Wait! I will fetch the men as far as this.”
The soldier went back, and Pentaur listened for any sounds that might come from the same direction as the smoke. He fancied he could perceive a small gleam of light, and he certainly heard quite plainly, first a tone of complaint, then an angry voice; he went towards the light, feeling his way by the wall on his left; the light shone broader and brighter, and seemed to issue from a crack in a door.
By this time the soldier had rejoined Pentaur, and both listened for a few minutes; then the poet whispered to his guide:
“They are speaking Egyptian, I caught a few words.”
“All the better,” said Kaschta. “Paaker or some of his people are in there; the door is there still, and shut. If we give four hard and three gentle knocks, it will be opened. Can you understand what they are saying?”
“Some one is begging to be set free,” replied Pentaur, “and speaks of some traitor. The other has a rough voice, and says he must follow his master’s orders. Now the one who spoke before is crying; do you hear? He is entreating him by the soul of his father to take his fetters off. How despairing his voice is! Knock, Kaschta—it strikes me we are come at the right moment—knock, I say.”
The soldier knocked first four times, then three times. A shriek rang through the cave, and they could hear a heavy, rusty bolt drawn back, the roughly hewn door was opened, and a hoarse voice asked:
“Is that Paaker?”
“No,” answered the soldier, “I am Kaschta. Do not you know me again, Nubi?”