Pentaur had turned pale at his master’s words, and said, as he looked at the Regent:
“We are not alone.”
“Truth is one!” said Ameni coolly. “What you can reveal to me, can also be heard by this noble lord, the Regent of the king himself. Did you recognize Bent-Anat, or not?”
“The lady who rescued me was like her, and yet unlike,” answered the poet, whose blood was roused by the subtle irony of his Superior’s words. “And if I had been as sure that she was the princess, as I am that you are the man who once held me in honor, and who are now trying to humiliate me, I would all the more have acted as I did to spare a lady who is more like a goddess than a woman, and who, to save an unworthy wretch like me, stooped from a throne to the dust.”
“Still the poet—the preacher!” said Ameni. Then he added severely. “I beg for a short and clear answer. We know for certain that the princess took part in the festival in the disguise of a woman of low rank, for she again declared herself to Paaker; and we know that it was she who saved you. But did you know that she meant to come across the Nile?”
“How should I?” asked Pentaur.
“Well, did you believe that it was Bent-Anat whom you saw before you when she ventured on to the scene of conflict?”
“I did believe it,” replied Pentaur; he shuddered and cast down his eyes.
“Then it was most audacious to drive away the king’s daughter as an impostor.”
“It was,” said Pentaur. “But for my sake she had risked the honor of her name, and that of her royal father, and I—I should not have risked my life and freedom for—”
“We have heard enough,” interrupted Ameni.
“Not so,” the Regent interposed. “What became of the girl you had saved?”
“An old witch, Hekt by name, a neighbor of Pinem’s, took her and her grandmother into her cave,” answered the poet; who was then, by the high-priest’s order, taken back to the temple-prison.
Scarcely had he disappeared when the Regent exclaimed:
“A dangerous man! an enthusiast! an ardent worshipper of Rameses!”
“And of his daughter,” laughed Ameni, but only a worshipper. Thou hast nothing to fear from him—I will answer for the purity of his motives.”
“But he is handsome and of powerful speech,” replied Ani. “I claim him as my prisoner, for he has killed one of my soldiers.”
Ameni’s countenance darkened, and he answered very sternly:
“It is the exclusive right of our conclave, as established by our charter, to judge any member of this fraternity. You, the future king, have freely promised to secure our privileges to us, the champions of your own ancient and sacred rights.”
“And you shall have them,” answered the Regent with a persuasive smile. “But this man is dangerous, and you would not have him go unpunished.”
“He shall be severely judged,” said Ameni, “but by us and in this house.”