Uarda : a Romance of Ancient Egypt — Volume 10

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UARDA

Volume 10.

By Georg Ebers

CHAPTER XLII.

The cloudless vault of heaven spread over the plain of Pelusium, the
stars were bright, the moon threw her calm light over the thousands of
tents which shone as white as little hillocks of snow. All was silent,
the soldiers and the Egyptians, who had assembled to welcome the king,
were now all gone to rest.

There had been great rejoicing and jollity in the camp; three enormous
vats, garlanded with flowers and overflowing with wine, which spilt with
every movement of the trucks on which they were drawn by thirty oxen,
were sent up and down the little streets of tents, and as the evening
closed in tavern-booths were erected in many spots in the camp, at which
the Regent’s servants supplied the soldiers with red and white wine. The
tents of the populace were only divided from the pavilion of the Pharaoh
by the hastily-constructed garden in the midst of which it stood, and the
hedge which enclosed it.

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.

“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?”

“No one knows of it,” replied the dwarf, “but Katuti, Paaker, and I; we
three shall lay the brands to the spots we have fixed upon. I am going
to the rooms of Bent-Anat; Katuti, who can go in and out as she pleases,
will set fire to the stairs, which lead to the upper story, and which
fall by touching a spring; and Paaker to the king’s apartments.”

“Good-good, it may succeed,” gasped the old woman. “But what was the
scream in your tent?” The dwarf seemed doubtful about answering; but
Hekt went on:

“Speak without fear—the dead are sure to be silent.” The dwarf,
trembling with agitation, shook off his hesitation, and said:

“I have found Uarda, the grandchild of Pinem, who had disappeared, and I
decoyed her here, for she and no other shall be my wife, if Ani is king,
and if Katuti makes me rich and free. She is in the service of the
Princess Bent-Anat, and sleeps in her anteroom, and she must not be burnt
with her mistress. She insisted on going back to the palace, so, as she
would fly to the fire like a gnat, and I would not have her risk being
burnt, I tied her up fast.”

“Did she not struggle?” said Hekt.

“Like a mad thing,” said the dwarf. “But the Regent’s dumb slave, who

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