She contemplated the dead hawk in her lap for some minutes, then she took it up, flung it into a corner of the tent, and exclaimed:
“Good-bye, King Ani. The crown is not for you!” Then she went on: “What project has he in hand now, I wonder? Twenty times he has asked me whether the great enterprise will succeed; as if I knew any more than he! And Nemu too has hinted all kinds of things, though he would not speak out. Something is going on, and I—and I? There it comes again.”
The old woman pressed her hand to her heart and closed her eyes, her features were distorted with pain; she did not perceive Scherau’s return, she did not hear him call her name, or see that, when she did not answer him, he left her again. For an hour or more she remained unconscious, then her senses returned, but she felt as if some ice-cold fluid slowly ran through her veins instead of the warm blood.
“If I had kept a hawk for myself too,” she muttered, “it would soon follow the other one in the corner! If only Ani keeps his word, and has me embalmed!
“But how can he when he too is so near his end. They will let me rot and disappear, and there will be no future for me, no meeting with Assa.”
The old woman remained silent for a long time; at last she murmured hoarsely with her eyes fixed on the ground:
“Death brings release, if only from the torment of remembrance. But there is a life beyond the grave. I do not, I will not cease to hope. The dead shall all be equally judged, and subject to the inscrutable decrees.—Where shall I find him? Among the blest, or among the damned? And I? It matters not! The deeper the abyss into which they fling me the better. Can Assa, if he is among the blest, remain in bliss, when he sees to what he has brought me? Oh! they must embalm me—I cannot bear to vanish, and rot and evaporate into nothingness!”
While she was still speaking, the dwarf Nemu had come into the tent; Scherau, seeing the old woman senseless, had run to tell him that his mother was lying on the earth with her eyes shut, and was dying. The witch perceived the little man.
“It is well,” she said, “that you have come; I shall be dead before sunrise.”
“Mother!” cried the dwarf horrified, “you shall live, and live better than you have done till now! Great things are happening, and for us!”
“I know, I know,” said Hekt. “Go away, Scherau—now, Nemu, whisper in my ear what is doing?” The dwarf felt as if he could not avoid the influence of her eye, he went up to her, and said softly—“The pavilion, in which the king and his people are sleeping, is constructed of wood; straw and pitch are built into the walls, and laid under the boards. As soon as they are gone to rest we shall set the tinder thing on fire. The guards are drunk and sleeping.”
“Well thought of,” said Hekt. “Did you plan it?” “I and my mistress,” said the dwarf not without pride. “You can devise a plot,” said the old woman, “but you are feeble in the working out. Is your plan a secret? Have you clever assistants?”