Great and small hurried after their arrival to the Regent’s palace, and the scribes—who distributed the letters and read the news which was intended for public communication, and the lists of those who had fallen or perished—were closely besieged with enquirers.
Man has nothing harder to endure than uncertainty, and generally, when in suspense, looks forward to bad rather than to good news. And the bearers of ill ride faster than the messengers of weal.
The Regent Ani resided in a building adjoining the king’s palace. His business-quarters surrounded an immensely wide court, and consisted of a great number of rooms opening on to this court, in which numerous scribes worked with their chief. On the farther side was a large, veranda-like hall open at the front, with a roof supported by pillars.
Here Ani was accustomed to hold courts of justice, and to receive officers, messengers, and petitioners. To-day he sat, visible to all comers, on a costly throne in this hall, surrounded by his numerous followers, and overlooking the crowd of people whom the guardians of the peace guided with long staves, admitting them in troops into the court of the “High Gate,” and then again conducting them out.
What he saw and heard was nothing joyful, for from each group surrounding a scribe arose a cry of woe. Few and far between were those who had to tell of the rich booty that had fallen to their friends.
An invisible web woven of wailing and tears seemed to envelope the assembly.
Here men were lamenting and casting dust upon their heads, there women were rending their clothes, shrieking loudly, and crying as they waved their veils “oh, my husband! oh, my father! oh, my brother!”
Parents who had received the news of the death of their son fell on each other’s neck weeping; old men plucked out their grey hair and beard; young women beat their forehead and breast, or implored the scribes who read out the lists to let them see for themselves the name of the beloved one who was for ever torn from them.
The passionate stirring of a soul, whether it be the result of joy or of sorrow, among us moderns covers its features with a veil, which it had no need of among the ancients.
Where the loudest laments sounded, a restless little being might be seen hurrying from group to group; it was Nemu, Katuti’s dwarf, whom we know.
Now he stood near a woman of the better class, dissolved in tears because her husband had fallen in the last battle.
“Can you read?” he asked her; “up there on the architrave is the name of Rameses, with all his titles. Dispenser of life,’ he is called. Aye indeed; he can create—widows; for he has all the husbands killed.”
Before the astonished woman could reply, he stood by a man sunk in woe, and pulling his robe, said “Finer fellows than your son have never been seen in Thebes. Let your youngest starve, or beat him to a cripple, else he also will be dragged off to Syria; for Rameses needs much good Egyptian meat for the Syrian vultures.”