The tent of the Regent himself was distinguished from all the others by its size and magnificence; to the right of it was the encampment of the different priestly deputations, to the left that of his suite; among the latter were the tents of his friend Katuti, a large one for her own use, and some smaller ones for her servants. Behind Ani’s pavilion stood a tent, enclosed in a wall or screen of canvas, within which old Hekt was lodged; Ani had secretly conveyed her hither on board his own boat. Only Katuti and his confidential servants knew who it was that lay concealed in the mysteriously shrouded abode.
While the banquet was proceeding in the great pavilion, the witch was sitting in a heap on the sandy earth of her conical canvas dwelling; she breathed with difficulty, for a weakness of the heart, against which she had long struggled, now oppressed her more frequently and severely; a little lamp of clay burned before her, and on her lap crouched a sick and ruffled hawk; the creature shivered from time to time, closing the filmy lids of his keen eyes, which glowed with a dull fire when Hekt took him up in her withered hand, and tried to blow some air into his hooked beak, still ever ready to peck and tear her.
At her feet little Scherau lay asleep. Presently she pushed the child with her foot. “Wake up,” she said, as he raised himself still half asleep. “You have young ears—it seemed to me that I heard a woman scream in Ani’s tent. Do you hear any thing?”
“Yes, indeed,” exclaimed the little one. “There is a noise like crying, and that—that was a scream! It came from out there, from Nemu’s tent.”
“Creep through there,” said the witch, “and see what is happening!”
The child obeyed: Hekt turned her attention again to the bird, which no longer perched in her lap, but lay on one side, though it still tried to use its talons, when she took him up in her hand.
“It is all over with him,” muttered the old woman, “and the one I called Rameses is sleeker than ever. It is all folly and yet—and yet! the Regent’s game is over, and he has lost it. The creature is stretching itself—its head drops—it draws itself up—one more clutch at my dress—now it is dead!”
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.