Uarda by Georg Ebers
Before the sun had risen the next morning, Nemu got himself ferried over the Nile, with the small white ass which Mena's deceased father had given him many years before. He availed himself of the cool hour which precedes the rising of the sun for his ride through the Necropolis.
Well acquainted as he was with every stock and stone, he avoided the high roads which led to the goal of his expedition, and trotted towards the hill which divides the valley of the royal tombs from the plain of the Nile.
Before him opened a noble amphitheatre of lofty lime-stone peaks, the background of the stately terrace-temple which the proud ancestress of two kings of the fallen family, the great Hatasu, had erected to their memory, and to the Goddess Hathor.
Nemu left the sanctuary to his left, and rode up the steep hill-path which was the nearest way from the plain to the valley of the tombs.
Below him lay a bird's eye view of the terrace-building of Hatasu, and before him, still slumbering in cool dawn, was the Necropolis with its houses and temples and colossal statues, the broad Nile glistening with white sails under the morning mist; and, in the distant east, rosy with the coming sun, stood Thebes and her gigantic temples.
But the dwarf saw nothing of the glorious panorama that lay at his feet; absorbed in thought, and stooping over the neck of his ass, he let the panting beast climb and rest at its pleasure.
When he had reached half the height of the hill, he perceived the sound of footsteps coming nearer and nearer to him.
The vigorous walker had soon reached him, and bid him good morning, which he civilly returned.
The hill-path was narrow, and when Nemu observed that the man who followed him was a priest, he drew up his donkey on a level spot, and said reverently:
"Pass on, holy father; for thy two feet carry thee quicker than my four."
"A sufferer needs my help," replied the leech Nebsecht, Pentaur's friend, whom we have already seen in the House of Seti, and by the bed of the paraschites' daughter; and he hastened on so as to gain on the slow pace of the rider.
Then rose the glowing disk of the sun above the eastern horizon, and from the sanctuaries below the travellers rose up the pious many-voiced chant of praise.
Nemu slipped off his ass, and assumed an attitude of prayer; the priest did the same; but while the dwarf devoutly fixed his eyes on the new birth of the Sun-God from the eastern range, the priest's eyes wandered to the earth, and his raised hand fell to pick up a rare fossil shell which lay on the path.
In a few minutes Nebsecht rose, and Nemu followed him.
"It is a fine morning," said the dwarf; "the holy fathers down there seem more cheerful to-day than usual."
The surgeon laughed assent. "Do you belong to the Necropolis?" he said. "Who here keeps dwarfs?"
"No one," answered the little man. "But I will ask thee a question. Who that lives here behind the hill is of so much importance, that a leech from the House of Seti sacrifices his night's rest for him?"
"The one I visit is mean, but the suffering is great," answered Nebsecht.
Nemu looked at him with admiration, and muttered, "That is noble, that is ----" but he did not finish his speech; he struck his brow and exclaimed, "You are going, by the desire of the Princess Bent-Anat, to the child of the paraschites that was run over. I guessed as much. The food must have an excellent after-taste, if a gentleman rises so early to eat it. How is the poor child doing?"
There was so much warmth in these last words that Nebsecht, who had thought the dwarf's reproach uncalled for, answered in a friendly tone:
"Not so badly; she may be saved."
"The Gods be praised!" exclaimed Nemu, while the priest passed on.
Nebsecht went up and down the hillside at a redoubled pace, and had long taken his place by the couch of the wounded Uarda in the hovel of the paraschites, when Nemu drew near to the abode of his Mother Hekt, from whom Paaker had received the philter.
The old woman sat before the door of her cave. Near her lay a board, fitted with cross pieces, between which a little boy was stretched in such a way that they touched his head and his feet.
Hekt understood the art of making dwarfs; playthings in human form were well paid for, and the child on the rack, with his pretty little face, promised to be a valuable article.
As soon as the sorceress saw some one approaching, she stooped over the child, took him up board and all in her arms, and carried him into the cave. Then she said sternly:
"If you move, little one, I will flog you. Now let me tie you."
"Don't tie me," said the child, "I will be good and lie still."
"Stretch yourself out," ordered the old woman, and tied the child with a rope to the board. "If you are quiet, I'll give you a honey-cake by-and-bye, and let you play with the young chickens."
The child was quiet, and a soft smile of delight and hope sparkled in his pretty eyes. His little hand caught the dress of the old woman, and with the sweetest coaxing tone, which God bestows on the innocent voices of children, he said:
"I will be as still as a mouse, and no one shall know that I am here; but if you give me the honeycake you will untie me for a little, and let me go to Uarda."
"She is ill!--what do you want there?"
"I would take her the cake," said the child, and his eyes glistened with tears.
The old woman touched the child's chin with her finger, and some mysterious power prompted her to bend over him to kiss him. But before her lips had touched his face she turned away, and said, in a hard tone:
"Lie still! by and bye we will see." Then she stooped, and threw a brown sack over the child. She went back into the open air, greeted Nemu, entertained him with milk, bread and honey, gave him news of the girl who had been run over, for he seemed to take her misfortune very much to heart, and finally asked:
"What brings you here? The Nile was still narrow when you last found your way to me, and now it has been falling some time.
Are you sent by your mistress, or do you want my help? All the world is alike. No one goes to see any one else unless he wants to make use of him. What shall I give you?"
"I want nothing," said the dwarf, "but--"
"You are commissioned by a third person," said the witch, laughing. "It is the same thing. Whoever wants a thing for some one else only thinks of his own interest."
"May be," said Nemu. "At any rate your words show that you have not grown less wise since I saw you last--and I am glad of it, for I want your advice."
"Advice is cheap. What is going on out there?" Nemu related to his mother shortly, clearly, and without reserve, what was plotting in his mistress's house, and the frightful disgrace with which she was threatened through her son.
The old woman shook her grey head thoughtfully several times: but she let the little man go on to the end of his story without interrupting him. Then she asked, and her eyes flashed as she spoke:
"And you really believe that you will succeed in putting the sparrow on the eagle's perch--Ani on the throne of Rameses?"
"The troops fighting in Ethiopia are for us," cried Nemu. "The priests declare themselves against the king, and recognize in Ani the genuine blood of Ra."
"That is much," said the old woman.
"And many dogs are the death of the gazelle," said Nemu laughing.
"But Rameses is not a gazelle to run, but a lion," said the old woman gravely. "You are playing a high game."
"We know it," answered Nemu. But it is for high stakes--there is much to win."
"And all to lose," muttered the old woman, passing her fingers round her scraggy neck. "Well, do as you please--it is all the same to me who it is sends the young to be killed, and drives the old folks' cattle from the field. What do they want with me?"
"No one has sent me," answered the dwarf. I come of my own free fancy to ask you what Katuti must do to save her son and her house from dishonor."
"Hm!" hummed the witch, looking at Nemu while she raised herself on her stick. "What has come to you that you take the fate of these great people to heart as if it were your own?"
The dwarf reddened, and answered hesitatingly, "Katuti is a good mistress, and, if things go well with her, there may be windfalls for you and me."
Hekt shook her head doubtfully.
"A loaf for you perhaps, and a crumb for me!" she said. "There is more than that in your mind, and I can read your heart as if you were a ripped up raven. You are one of those who can never keep their fingers at rest, and must knead everybody's dough; must push, and drive and stir something. Every jacket is too tight for you. If you were three feet taller, and the son of a priest, you might have gone far. High you will go, and high you will end; as the friend of a king--or on the gallows."
The old woman laughed; but Nemu bit his lips, and said:
"If you had sent me to school, and if I were not the son of a witch, and a dwarf, I would play with men as they have played with me; for I am cleverer than all of them, and none of their plans are hidden from me. A hundred roads lie before me, when they don't know whether to go out or in; and where they rush heedlessly forwards I see the abyss that they are running to."
"And nevertheless you come to me?" said the old woman sarcastically.
"I want your advice," said Nemu seriously. "Four eyes see more than one, and the impartial looker-on sees clearer than the player; besides you are bound to help me."
The old woman laughed loud in astonishment. "Bound!" she said, "I? and to what if you please?"
"To help me," replied the dwarf, half in entreaty, and half in reproach. "You deprived me of my growth, and reduced me to a cripple."
"Because no one is better off than you dwarfs," interrupted the witch.
Nemu shook his head, and answered sadly--
"You have often said so--and perhaps for many others, who are born in misery like me--perhaps-you are right; but for me--you have spoilt my life; you have crippled not my body only but my soul, and have condemned me to sufferings that are nameless and unutterable."
The dwarf's big head sank on his breast, and with his left hand he pressed his heart.
The old woman went up to him kindly.
"What ails you?" she asked, "I thought it was well with you in Mena's house."
"You thought so?" cried the dwarf. "You who show me as in a mirror what I am, and how mysterious powers throng and stir in me? You made me what I am by your arts; you sold me to the treasurer of Rameses, and he gave me to the father of Mena, his brother-in-law. Fifteen years ago! I was a young man then, a youth like any other, only more passionate, more restless, and fiery than they. I was given as a plaything to the young Mena, and he harnessed me to his little chariot, and dressed me out with ribbons and feathers, and flogged me when I did not go fast enough. How the girl--for whom I would have given my life--the porter's daughter, laughed when I, dressed up in motley, hopped panting in front of the chariot and the young lord's whip whistled in my ears wringing the sweat from my brow, and the blood from my broken heart. Then Mena's father died, the boy, went to school, and I waited on the wife of his steward, whom Katuti banished to Hermonthis. That was a time! The little daughter of the house made a doll of me,
laid me in the cradle, and made me shut my eyes and pretend to sleep, while love and hatred, and great projects were strong within me. If I tried to resist they beat me with rods; and when once, in a rage, I forgot myself, and hit little Mertitefs hard, Mena, who came in, hung me up in the store-room to a nail by my girdle, and left me to swing there; he said he had forgotten to take me down again. The rats fell upon me; here are the scars, these little white spots here--look! They perhaps will some day wear out, but the wounds that my spirit received in those hours have not yet ceased to bleed. Then Mena married Nefert, and, with her, his mother-in-law, Katuti, came into the house. She took me from the steward, I became indispensable to her; she treats me like a man, she values my intelligence and listens to my advice,--therefore I will make her great, and with her, and through her, I will wax mighty. If Ani mounts the throne, we wilt guide him--you, and I, and she! Rameses must fall, and with him Mena, the boy who degraded my body and poisoned my soul!"
During this speech the old woman had stood in silence opposite the dwarf. Now she sat down on her rough wooden seat, and said, while she proceeded to pluck a lapwing:
"Now I understand you; you wish to be revenged. You hope to rise high, and I am to whet your knife, and hold the ladder for you. Poor little man! there, sit down-drink a gulp of milk to cool you, and listen to my advice. Katuti wants a great deal of money to escape dishonor. She need only pick it up--it lies at her door." The dwarf looked at the witch in astonishment.
"The Mohar Paaker is her sister Setchem's son. Is he not?"
"As you say."
"Katuti's daughter Nefert is the wife of your master Mena, and another would like to tempt the neglected little hen into his yard."
"You mean Paaker, to whom Nefert was promised before she went after Mena."
"Paaker was with me the day before yesterday."
"Yes, with me, with old Hekt--to buy a love philter. I gave him one, and as I was curious I went after him, saw him give the water to the little lady, and found out her name."
"And Nefert drank the magic drink?" asked the dwarf horrified. "Vinegar and turnip juice," laughed the old witch. "A lord who comes to me to win a wife is ripe for any thing. Let Nefert ask Paaker for the money, and the young scapegrace's debts are paid."
"Katuti is proud, and repulsed me severely when I proposed this."
"Then she must sue to Paaker herself for the money. Go back to him, make him hope that Nefert is inclined to him, tell him what distresses the ladies, and if he refuses, but only if he refuses, let him see that you know something of the little dose."
The dwarf looked meditatively on the ground, and then said, looking admiringly at the old woman: "That is the right thing."
"You will find out the lie without my telling you," mumbled the witch; "your business is not perhaps such a bad one as it seemed to me at first. Katuti may thank the ne'er-do-well who staked his father's corpse. You don't understand me? Well, if you are really the sharpest of them all over there, what must the others be?"
"You mean that people will speak well of my mistress for sacrificing so large a sum for the sake--?"
"Whose sake? why speak well of her?" cried the old woman impatiently. "Here we deal with other things, with actual facts. There stands Paaker--there the wife of Mena. If the Mohar sacrifices a fortune for Nefert, he will be her master, and Katuti will not stand in his way; she knows well enough why her nephew pays for her. But some one else stops the way, and that is Mena. It is worth while to get him out of the way. The charioteer stands close to the Pharaoh, and the noose that is flung at one may easily fall round the neck of the other too. Make the Mohar your ally, and it may easily happen that your rat-bites may be paid for with mortal wounds, and Rameses who, if you marched against him openly, might blow you to the ground, may be hit by a lance thrown from an ambush. When the throne is clear, the weak legs of the Regent may succeed in clambering up to it with the help of the priests. Here you sit-open-mouthed; and I have told you nothing that you might not have found out for yourself."
"You are a perfect cask of wisdom!" exclaimed the dwarf.
"And now you will go away," said Hekt, "and reveal your schemes to your mistress and the Regent, and they will be astonished at your cleverness. To-day you still know that I have shown you what you have to do; to-morrow you will have forgotten it; and the day after to-morrow you will believe yourself possessed by the inspiration of the nine great Gods. I know that; but I cannot give anything for nothing. You live by your smallness, another makes his living with his hard hands, I earn my scanty bread by the thoughts of my brain. Listen! when you have half won Paaker, and Ani shows himself inclined to make use of him, then say to him that I may know a secret--and I do know one, I alone--which may make the Mohar the sport of his wishes, and that I may be disposed to sell it."
"That shall be done! certainly, mother," cried the dwarf. "What do you wish for?"
"Very little," said the old woman. "Only a permit that makes me free to do and to practise whatever I please, unmolested even by the priests, and to receive an honorable burial after my death."
"The Regent will hardly agree to that; for he must avoid everything that may offend the servants of the Gods."
"And do everything," retorted the old woman, "that can degrade Rameses in their sight. Ani, do you hear, need not write me a new license, but only renew the old one granted to me by Rameses when I cured his favorite horse. They burnt it with my other possessions, when they plundered my house, and denounced me and my belongings for sorcery. The permit of Rameses is what I want, nothing more."
"You shall have it," said the dwarf. "Good-by; I am charged to look into the tomb of our house, and see whether the offerings for the dead are regularly set out; to pour out fresh essences and have various things renewed. When Sechet has ceased to rage, and it is cooler, I shall come by here again, for I should like to call on the paraschites, and see how the poor child is."