Uarda by Georg Ebers
Pentauer also soon quitted the but of the paraschites.
Lost in meditation, he went along the hill-path which led to the temple which Ameni had put under his direction.
He foresaw many disturbed and anxious hours in the immediate future.
The sanctuary of which he was the superior, had been dedicated to her own memory, and to the goddess Hathor, by Hatasu,
a great queen of the dethroned dynasty.
The priests who served it were endowed with peculiar chartered privileges, which hitherto had been strictly respected. Their dignity was hereditary, going down from father to son, and they had the right of choosing their director from among themselves.
Now their chief priest Rui was ill and dying, and Ameni, under whose jurisdiction they came, had, without consulting them, sent the young poet Pentaur to fill his place.
They had received the intruder most unwillingly, and combined strongly against him when it became evident that he was disposed to establish a severe rule and to abolish many abuses which had become established customs.
They had devolved the greeting of the rising sun on the temple-servants; Pentaur required that the younger ones at least should take part in chanting the morning hymn, and himself led the choir. They had trafficked with the offerings laid on the altar of the Goddess; the new master repressed this abuse, as well as the extortions of which they were guilty towards women in sorrow, who visited the temple of Hathor in greater number than any other sanctuary.
The poet-brought up in the temple of Seti to self-control, order, exactitude, and decent customs, deeply penetrated with a sense of the dignity of his position, and accustomed to struggle with special zeal against indolence of body and spirit--was disgusted with the slothful life and fraudulent dealings of his subordinates; and the deeper insight which yesterday's experience had given him into the poverty and sorrow of human existence, made him resolve with increased warmth that he would awake them to a new life.
The conviction that the lazy herd whom he commanded was called upon to pour consolation into a thousand sorrowing hearts, to dry innumerable tears, and to clothe the dry sticks of despair with the fresh verdure of hope, urged him to strong measures.
Yesterday he had seen how, with calm indifference, they had listened to the deserted wife, the betrayed maiden, to the woman, who implored the withheld blessing of children, to the anxious mother, the forlorn widow,--and sought only to take advantage of sorrow, to extort gifts for the Goddess, or better still for their own pockets or belly.
Now he was nearing the scene of his new labors.
There stood the reverend building, rising stately from the valley on four terraces handsomely and singularly divided, and resting on the western side against the high amphitheatre of yellow cliffs.
On the closely-joined foundation stones gigantic hawks were carved in relief, each with the emblem of life, and symbolized Horus, the son of the Goddess, who brings all that fades to fresh bloom, and all that dies to resurrection.
On each terrace stood a hall open to the east, and supported on two and twenty archaic pillars.
On their inner walls elegant pictures and inscriptions in the finest sculptured work recorded, for the benefit of posterity, the great things that Hatasu had done with the help of the Gods of Thebes.
There were the ships which she had to send to Punt
to enrich Egypt with the treasures of the east; there the wonders brought to Thebes from Arabia might be seen; there were delineated the houses of the inhabitants of the land of frankincense, and all the fishes of the Red Sea, in distinct and characteristic outline.
On the third and fourth terraces were the small adjoining rooms of Hatasu and her brothers Thotmes II. and III., which were built against the rock, and entered by granite doorways. In them purifications were accomplished, the images of the Goddess worshipped, and the more distinguished worshippers admitted to confess. The sacred cows of the Goddess were kept in a side-building.
As Pentaur approached the great gate of the terrace-temple, he became the witness of a scene which filled him with resentment.
A woman implored to be admitted into the forecourt, to pray at the altar of the Goddess for her husband, who was very ill, but the sleek gate-keeper drove her back with rough words.
"It is written up," said he, pointing to the inscription over the gate, "only the purified may set their foot across this threshold, and you cannot be purified but by the smoke of incense."
"Then swing the censer for me," said the woman, and take this silver ring--it is all I have."
"A silver ring!" cried the porter, indignantly. "Shall the goddess be impoverished for your sake! The grains of Anta, that would be used in purifying you, would cost ten times as much."
"But I have no more," replied the woman, "my husband, for whom I come to pray, is ill; he cannot work, and my children--"
"You fatten them up and deprive the goddess of her due," cried the gate-keeper. "Three rings down, or I shut the gate."
"Be merciful," said the woman, weeping. "What will become of us if Hathor does not help my husband?"
"Will our goddess fetch the doctor?" asked the porter. "She has something to do besides curing sick starvelings. Besides, that is not her office. Go to Imhotep or to Chunsu the counsellor, or to the great Techuti herself, who helps the sick. There is no quack medicine to be got here."
"I only want comfort in my trouble," said the woman.
"Comfort!" laughed the gate-keeper, measuring the comely young woman with his eye. "That you may have cheaper."
The woman turned pale, and drew back from the hand the man stretched out towards her.
At this moment Pentaur, full of wrath, stepped between them.
He raised his hand in blessing over the woman, who bent low before him, and said, "Whoever calls fervently on the Divinity is near to him. You are pure. Enter."
As soon as she had disappeared within the temple, the priest turned to the gate-keeper and exclaimed: "Is this how you serve the goddess, is this how you take advantage of a heart-wrung woman? Give me the keys of this gate. Your office is taken from you, and early to-morrow you go out in the fields, and keep the geese of Hathor."
The porter threw himself on his knees with loud outcries; but Pentaur turned his back upon him, entered the sanctuary, and mounted the steps which led to his dwelling on the third terrace.
A few priests whom he passed turned their backs upon him, others looked down at their dinners, eating noisily, and making as if they did not see him. They had combined strongly, and were determined to expel the inconvenient intruder at any price.
Having reached his room, which had been splendidly decorated for his predecessor, Pentaur laid aside his new insignia, comparing sorrowfully the past and the present.
To what an exchange Ameni had condemned him! Here, wherever he looked, he met with sulkiness and aversion; while, when he walked through the courts of the House of Seti, a hundred boys would hurry towards him, and cling affectionately to his robe. Honored there by great and small, his every word had had its value; and when each day he gave utterance to his thoughts, what he bestowed came back to him refined by earnest discourse with his associates and superiors, and he gained new treasures for his inner life.
"What is rare," thought he, "is full of charm; and yet how hard it is to do without what is habitual!" The occurrences of the last few days passed before his mental sight. Bent-Anat's image appeared before him, and took a more and more distinct and captivating form. His heart began to beat wildly, the blood rushed faster through his veins; he hid his face in his hands, and recalled every glance, every word from her lips.
"I follow thee willingly," she had said to him before the hut of the paraschites. Now he asked himself whether he were worthy of such a follower.
He had indeed broken through the old bonds, but not to disgrace the house that was dear to him, only to let new light into its dim chambers.
"To do what we have earnestly felt to be right," said he to himself, "may seem worthy of punishment to men, but cannot before God."
He sighed and walked out into the terrace in a mood of lofty excitement, and fully resolved to do here nothing but what was right, to lay the foundation of all that was good.
"We men," thought he, "prepare sorrow when we come into the world, and lamentation when we leave it; and so it is our duty in the intermediate time to fight with suffering, and to sow the seeds of joy. There are many tears here to be wiped away. To work then!" The poet found none of his subordinates on the upper terrace. They had all met in the forecourt of the temple, and were listening to the gate-keeper's tale, and seemed to sympathize with his angry complaint--against whom Pentaur well knew.
With a firm step he went towards them and said:
"I have expelled this man from among us, for he is a disgrace to us. To-morrow he quits the temple."
"I will go at once," replied the gate-keeper defiantly, "and in behalf of the holy fathers (here he cast a significant glance at the priests), ask the high-priest Ameni if the unclean are henceforth to be permitted to enter this sanctuary."
He was already approaching the gate, but Pentaur stepped before him, saying resolutely:
"You will remain here and keep the geese to-morrow, day after to-morrow, and until I choose to pardon you." The gate-keeper looked enquiringly at the priests. Not one moved.
"Go back into your house," said Pentaur, going closer to him.
The porter obeyed.
Pentaur locked the door of the little room, gave the key to one of the temple-servants, and said: "Perform his duty, watch the man, and if he escapes you will go after the geese to-morrow too. See, my friends, how many worshippers kneel there before our altars--go and fulfil your office. I will wait in the confessional to receive complaints, and to administer comfort."
The priests separated and went to the votaries. Pentaur once more mounted the steps, and sat down in the narrow confessional which was closed by a curtain; on its wall the picture of Hatasu was to be seen, drawing the milk of eternal life from the udders of the cow Hathor.
He had hardly taken his place when a temple-servant announced the arrival of a veiled lady. The bearers of her litter were thickly veiled, and she had requested to be conducted to the confession chamber. The servant handed Pentaur a token by which the high-priest of the great temple of Anion, on the other bank of the Nile, granted her the privilege of entering the inner rooms of the temple with the Rechiu, and to communicate with all priests, even with the highest of the initiated.
The poet withdrew behind a curtain, and awaited the stranger with a disquiet that seemed to him all the more singular that he had frequently found himself in a similar position. Even the noblest dignitaries had often been transferred to him by Ameni when they had come to the temple to have their visions interpreted.
A tall female figure entered the still, sultry stone room, sank on her knees, and put up a long and absorbed prayer before the figure of Hathor. Pentaur also, seen by no one, lifted his hands, and fervently addressed himself to the omnipresent spirit with a prayer for strength and purity.
Just as his arms fell the lady raised her head. It was as though the prayers of the two souls had united to mount upwards together.
The veiled lady rose and dropped her veil.
It was Bent-Anat.
In the agitation of her soul she had sought the goddess Hathor, who guides the beating heart of woman and spins the threads which bind man and wife.
"High mistress of heaven! many-named and beautiful!" she began to pray aloud, "golden Hathor! who knowest grief and ecstasy--the present and the future--draw near to thy child, and guide the spirit of thy servant, that he may advise me well. I am the daughter of a father who is great and noble and truthful as one of the Gods. He advises me--he will never compel me--to yield to a man whom I can never love. Nay, another has met me, humble in birth but noble in spirit and in gifts--"
Thus far, Pentaur, incapable of speech, had overheard the princess.
Ought he to remain concealed and hear all her secret, or should he step forth and show himself to her? His pride called loudly to him: "Now she will speak your name; you are the chosen one of the fairest and noblest." But another voice to which he had accustomed himself to listen in severe self-discipline made itself heard, and said--"Let her say nothing in ignorance, that she need be ashamed of if she knew."
He blushed for her;--he opened the curtain and went forward into the presence of Bent-Anat.
The Princess drew back startled.
"Art thou Pentaur," she asked, "or one of the Immortals?"
"I am Pentaur," he answered firmly, "a man with all the weakness of his race, but with a desire for what is good. Linger here and pour out thy soul to our Goddess; my whole life shall be a prayer for thee."
The poet looked full at her; then he turned quickly, as if to avoid a danger, towards the door of the confessional.
Bent-Anat called his name, and he stayed his steps:
"The daughter of Rameses," she said, "need offer no justification of her appearance here, but the maiden Bent-Anat," and she colored as she spoke, "expected to find, not thee, but the old priest Rui, and she desired his advice. Now leave me to pray."
Bent-Anat sank on her knees, and Pentaur went out into the open air.
When the princess too had left the confessional, loud voices were heard on the south side of the terrace on which they stood.
She hastened towards the parapet.
"Hail to Pentaur!" was shouted up from below. The poet rushed forward, and placed himself near the princess. Both looked down into the valley, and could be seen by all.
"Hail, hail! Pentaur," was called doubly loud, "Hail to our teacher! come back to the House of Seti. Down with the persecutors of Pentaur--down with our oppressors!"
At the head of the youths, who, so soon as they had found out whither the poet had been exiled, had escaped to tell him that they were faithful to him, stood the prince Rameri, who nodded triumphantly to his sister, and Anana stepped forward to inform the honored teacher in a solemn and well-studied speech, that, in the event of Ameni refusing to recall him, they had decided requesting their fathers to place them at another school.
The young sage spoke well, and Bent-Anat followed his words, not without approbation; but Pentaur's face grew darker, and before his favorite disciple had ended his speech he interrupted him sternly.
His voice was at first reproachful, and then complaining, and loud as he spoke, only sorrow rang in his tones, and not anger.
"In truth," he concluded, "every word that I have spoken to you I could but find it in me to regret, if it has contributed to encourage you to this mad act. You were born in palaces; learn to obey, that later you may know how to command. Back to your school! You hesitate? Then I will come out against you with the watchman, and drive you back, for you do me and yourselves small honor by such a proof of affection. Go back to the school you belong to."
The school-boys dared make no answer, but surprised and disenchanted turned to go home.
Bent-Anat cast down her eyes as she met those of her brother, who shrugged his shoulders, and then she looked half shyly, half respectfully, at the poet; but soon again her eyes turned to the plain below, for thick dust-clouds whirled across it, the sound of hoofs and the rattle of wheels became audible, and at the same moment the chariot of Septah, the chief haruspex, and a vehicle with the heavily-armed guard of the House of Seti, stopped near the terrace.
The angry old man sprang quickly to the ground, called the host of escaped pupils to him in a stern voice, ordered the guard to drive them back to the school, and hurried up to the temple gates like a vigorous youth. The priests received him with the deepest reverence, and at once laid their complaints before him.
He heard them willingly, but did not let them discuss the matter; then, though with some difficulty, he quickly mounted the steps, down which Bent-Anat came towards him.
The princess felt that she would divert all the blame and misunderstanding to herself, if Septah recognized her; her hand involuntarily reached for her veil, but she drew it back quickly, looked with quiet dignity into the old man's eyes, which flashed with anger, and proudly passed by him. The haruspex bowed, but without giving her his blessing, and when he met Pentaur on the second terrace, ordered that the temple should be cleared of worshippers.
This was done in a few minutes, and the priests were witnesses of the most painful, scene which had occurred for years in their quiet sanctuary.
The head of the haruspices of the House of Seti was the most determined adversary of the poet who had so early been initiated into the mysteries, and whose keen intellect often shook those very ramparts which the zealous old man had, from conviction, labored to strengthen from his youth up. The vexatious occurrences, of which he had been a witness at the House of Seti, and here also but a few minutes since, he regarded as the consequence of the unbridled license of an ill-regulated imagination, and in stern language he called Pentaur to account for the "revolt" of the school-boys.
"And besides our boys," he exclaimed, "you have led the daughter of Rameses astray. She was not yet purged of her uncleanness, and yet you tempt her to an assignation, not even in the stranger's quarters--but in the holy house of this pure Divinity." Undeserved praise is dangerous to the weak; unjust blame may turn even the strong from the right way. Pentaur indignantly repelled the accusations of the old man, called them unworthy of his age, his position, and his name, and for fear that his anger might carry him too far, turned his back upon him; but the haruspex ordered him to remain, and in his presence questioned the priests, who unanimously accused the poet of having admitted to the temple another unpurified woman besides Bent-Anat, and of having expelled the gate-keeper and thrown him into prison for opposing the crime.
The haruspex ordered that the "ill-used man" should be set at liberty.
Pentaur resisted this command, asserted his right to govern in this temple, and with a trembling voice requested Septah to quit the place.
The haruspex showed him Ameni's ring, by which, during his residence in Thebes, he made him his plenipotentiary, degraded Pentaur from his dignity, but ordered him not to quit the sanctuary till further notice, and then finally departed from the temple of Hatasu.
Pentaur had yielded in silence to the signet of his chief, and returned to the confessional in which he had met Bent-Anat. He felt his soul shaken to its very foundations, his thoughts were confused, his feelings struggling with each other; he shivered, and when he heard the laughter of the priests and the gatekeeper, who were triumphing in their easy victory, he started and shuddered like a man who in passing a mirror should see a brand of disgrace on his brow.
But by degrees he recovered himself, his spirit grew clearer, and when he left the little room to look towards the east--where, on the farther shore, rose the palace where Bent-Anat must be--a deep contempt for his enemies filled his soul, and a proud feeling of renewed manly energy. He did not conceal from himself that he had enemies; that a time of struggle was beginning for him; but he looked forward to it like a young hero to the morning of his first battle.