Uarda by Georg Ebers
An hour later a tall, plainly dressed woman crossed the Nile, with a dark-skinned boy and a slender youth by her side. The wrinkles on her brow and cheeks agreed little with her youthful features; but it would have been difficult to recognize in these three the proud princess, the fair young prince, and the graceful Nefert, who looked as charming as ever in the long white robe of a temple-student.
They were followed by two faithful and sturdy head-servants from among the litter-bearers of the princess, who were however commanded to appear as though they were not in any way connected with their mistress and her companions.
The passage across the Nile had been accomplished but slowly, and thus the royal personages had experienced for the first time some of the many difficulties and delays which ordinary mortals must conquer to attain objects which almost fly to meet their rulers. No one preceded them to clear the river, no other vessel made way for them; on the contrary, all tried to take place ahead of them, and to reach the opposite shore before them.
When at last they reached the landing-place, the procession had already passed on to the temple of Seti; Ameni had met it with his chorus of singers, and had received the God on the shore of the Nile; the prophets of the Necropolis had with their own hands placed him in the sacred Sam-bark of the House of Seti, which was artistically constructed of cedar wood and electrum set with jewels; thirty pastophori took the precious burden on their shoulders, and bore it up the avenue of Sphinxes--which led from the river to the temple--into the sanctuary of Seti, where Amon remained while the emissaries from the different provinces deposited their offerings in the forecourt. On his road from the shore kolchytes had run before him, in accordance with ancient custom, strewing sand in his path.
In the course of an hour the procession once more emerged into the open air, and turning to the south, rested first in the enormous temple of Anienophis III., in front of which the two giant statues stood as sentinels--they still remain, the colossi of the Nile valley. Farther to the south it reached the temple of Thotmes the Great, then, turning round, it clung to the eastern face of the Libyan hills--pierced with tombs and catacombs; it mounted the terraces of the temple of Hatasu, and paused by the tombs of the oldest kings which are in the immediate neighborhood; thus by sunset it had reached the scene of the festival itself, at the entrance of the valley in which the tomb of Setitt had been made, and in whose westernmost recesses were some of the graves of the Pharaohs of the deposed race.
This part of the Necropolis was usually visited by lamp-light, and under the flare of torches, before the return of the God to his own temple and the mystery-play on the sacred lake, which did not begin till midnight.
Behind the God, in a vase of transparent crystal, and borne high on a pole that all the multitude might see it, was the heart of the sacred ram.
Our friends, after they had laid their wreaths on the magnificent altars of their royal ancestors without being recognized, late in the afternoon joined the throng who followed the procession. They mounted the eastern cliff of the hills close by the tomb of Mena's forefathers, which a prophet of Amon, named Neferhotep--Mena's great-grandfather--had constructed. Its narrow doorway was besieged by a crowd, for within the first of the rock-chambers of which it consisted, a harper was singing a dirge for the long-since buried prophet, his wife and his sister. The song had been composed by the poet attached to his house; it was graven in the stone of the second rock-room of the tomb, and Neferhotep had left a plot of ground in trust to the Necropolis, with the charge of administering its revenues for the payment of a minstrel, who every-year at the feast of the dead should sing the monody to the accompaniment of his lute.
The charioteer well knew this dirge for his ancestor, and had often sung it to Nefert, who had accompanied him on her lute; for in their hours of joy also--nay especially--the Egyptians were wont to remember their dead.
Now the three companions listened to the minstrel as he sang:
"Now the great man is at rest, Gone to practise sweeter duties. Those that die are the elect Since the Gods have left the earth. Old men pass and young men come; Yea, a new Sun rises daily When the old sun has found rest In the bosom of the night. "Hail, O Prophet! on this feast day Odorous balsams, fragrant resins Here we bring--and offer garlands, Throwing flowers down before thee, And before thy much-loved sister, Who has found her rest beside thee. "Songs we sing, and strike the lyre To thy memory, and thine honor. All our cares are now forgotten, Joy and hope our breasts are filling; For the day of our departure Now draws near, and in the silence Of the farther shore is rest."
When the song ceased, several people pressed into the little oratory to express their gratitude to the deceased prophet by laying a few flowers on his altar. Nefert and Rameri also went in, and when Nefert had offered a long and silent prayer to the glorified spirits of her dead, that they might watch over Mena, she laid her garland beside the grave in which her husband's mother rested.
Many members of the court circle passed close to the royal party without recognizing them; they made every effort to reach the scene of the festival, but the crowd was so great that the ladies had several times to get into a tomb to avoid it. In each they found the altar loaded with offerings, and, in most, family-parties, who here remembered their dead, with meat and fruits, beer and wine, as though they were departed travellers who had found some far off rest, and whom they hoped sooner or later to see again.
The sun was near setting when at last the princess and her companions reached the spot where the feast was being held. Here stood numbers of stalls and booths, with eatables of every sort, particularly sweet cakes for the children, dates, figs, pomegranates, and other fruits. Under light awnings, which kept off the sun, were sold sandals and kerchiefs of every material and hue, ornaments, amulets, fans, and sun-shades, sweet essences of every kind, and other gifts for offerings or for the toilet. The baskets of the gardeners and flower-girls were already empty, but the money-changers were full of business, and the tavern and gambling booths were driving a brisk trade.
Friends and acquaintances greeted each other kindly, while the children showed each other their new sandals, the cakes they had won at the games, or the little copper rings they had had given to them, and which must now be laid out. The largest crowd was gathered to see the magicians from the House of Seti, round which the mob squatted on the ground in a compact circle, and the children were good-naturedly placed in the front row.
When Bent-Anat reached the place all the religious solemnity was ended.
There stood the canopy under which the king and his family were used to listen to the festal discourse, and under its shade sat to-day the Regent Ani. They could see too the seats of the grandees, and the barriers which kept the people at a distance from the Regent, the priests, and the nobles.
Here Ameni himself had announced to the multitude the miracle of the sacred heart, and had proclaimed that a new Apis had been found among the herds of the Regent Ani.
His announcement of these divine tokens had been repeated from mouth to mouth; they were omens of peace and happiness for the country through the means of a favorite of the Gods; and though no one said it, the dullest could not fail to see that this favorite was none other than Ani, the descendant of the great Hatasu, whose prophet had been graced by the transfer to him of the heart of the sacred rain. All eyes were fixed on Ani, who had sacrificed before all the people to the sacred heart, and received the high-priest's blessing.
Pentaur, too, had ended his discourse when Bent-Anat reached the scene of the festival. She heard an old man say to his son:
"Life is hard. It often seems to me like a heavy burden laid on our poor backs by the cruel Gods; but when I heard the young priest from the House of Seti, I felt that, after all, the Immortals are good, and we have much to thank them for."
In another place a priest's wife said to her son:
"Could you see Pentaur well, Hor-Uza? He is of humble birth, but he stands above the greatest in genius and gifts, and will rise to high things."
Two girls were speaking together, and one said to the other:
"The speaker is the handsomest man I ever saw, and his voice sounds like soft music."
"And how his eyes shone when he spoke of truth as the highest of all virtues!" replied the other. "All the Gods, I believe, must dwell in him."
Bent-Anat colored as these words fell on her ear. It was growing dark, and she wished to return home but Rameri wished to follow the procession as it marched through the western valley by torch-light, so that the grave of his grandfather Seti should also be visited. The princess unwillingly yielded, but it would in any case have been difficult to reach the river while every one was rushing in the opposite direction; so the two ladies, and Rameri, let themselves be carried along by the crowd, and by the time the daylight was gone, they found themselves in the western valley, where to-night no beasts of prey dared show themselves; jackals and hyenas had fled before the glare of the torches, and the lanterns made of colored papyrus.
The smoke of the torches mingled with the dust stirred by a thousand feet, and the procession moved along, as it were, in a cloud, which also shrouded the multitude that followed.
The three companions had labored on as far as the hovel of the paraschites Pinem, but here they were forced to pause, for guards drove back the crowd to the right and left with long staves, to clear a passage for the procession as it approached.
"See, Rameri," said Bent-Anat, pointing out the little yard of the hut which stood only a few paces from them. "That is where the fair, white girl lives, whom I ran over. But she is much better. Turn round; there, behind the thorn-hedge, by the little fire which shines full in your (her? D.W.) face--there she sits, with her grandfather."
The prince stood on tip-toe, looked into the humble plot of ground, and then said in a subdued voice "What a lovely creature! But what is she doing with the old man? He seems to be praying, and she first holds a handkerchief before his mouth, and then rubs his temples. And how unhappy she looks!"
"The paraschites must be ill," replied Bent-Anat. "He must have had too much wine down at the feast," said Rameri laughing. "No doubt of it! Only look how his lips tremble, and his eyes roll. It is hideous--he looks like one possessed."
"He is unclean too!" said Nefert.
"But he is a good, kind man, with a tender heart," exclaimed the princess eagerly. "I have enquired about him. He is honest and sober, and I am sure he is ill and not drunk."
"Now she is standing up," said Rameri, and he dropped the paper-lantern which he had bought at a booth. "Step back, Bent-Anat, she must be expecting some one. Did you ever see any one so very fair, and with such a pretty little head. Even her red hair becomes her wonderfully; but she staggers as she stands--she must be very weak. Now she has sat down again by the old man, and is rubbing his forehead. Poor souls! look how she is sobbing. I will throw my purse over to them."
"No, no!" exclaimed Bent-Anat. "I gave them plenty of money, and the tears which are shed there cannot be staunched with gold. I will send old Asnath over to-morrow to ask how we can help them. Look, here comes the procession, Nefert. How rudely the people press! As soon as the God is gone by we will go home."
"Pray do," said Nefert. "I am so frightened!" and she pressed trembling to the side of the princess.
"I wish we were at home, too," replied Bent-Anat.
"Only look!" said Rameri. "There they are. Is it not splendid? And how the heart shines, as if it were a star!"
All the crowd, and with them our three friends, fell on their knees.
The procession paused opposite to them, as it did at every thousand paces; a herald came forward, and glorified, in a loud voice, the great miracle, to which now another was added--the sacred heart since the night had come on had begun to give out light.
Since his return home from the embalming house, the paraschites had taken no nourishment, and had not answered a word to the anxious questions of the two frightened women. He stared blindly, muttered a few unintelligible words, and often clasped his forehead in his hand. A few hours before he had laughed loud and suddenly, and his wife, greatly alarmed, had gone at once to fetch the physician Nebsecht.
During her absence Uarda was to rub her grandfather's temples with the leaves which the witch Hekt had laid on her bruises, for as they had once proved efficacious they might perhaps a second time scare away the demon of sickness.
When the procession, with its thousand lamps and torches, paused before the hovel, which was almost invisible in the dusk, and one citizen said to another: "Here comes the sacred heart!" the old man started, and stood up. His eyes stared fixedly at the gleaming relic in its crystal case; slowly, trembling in every limb, and with outstretched neck he stood up.
The herald began his eulogy of the miracle.
Then, while all the people were prostrate in adoration, listening motionless to the loud voice of the speaker, the paraschites rushed out of his gate, striking his forehead with his fists, and opposite the sacred heart, he broke out into a mad, loud fit of scornful laughter, which re-echoed from the bare cliffs that closed in the valley.
Horror full on the crowd, who rose timidly from their knees.
Ameni, who too, was close behind the heart, started too and looked round on the author of this hideous laugh. He had never seen the paraschites, but he perceived the glimmer of his little fire through the dust and gloom, and he knew that he lived in this place. The whole case struck him at once; he whispered a few significant words to one of the officers who marched with the troops on each side of the procession; then he gave the signal, and the procession moved on as if nothing had happened.
The old man tried with still more loud and crazy laughter to reach and seize the heart, but the crowd kept him back; and while the last groups passed on after the priests, he contrived to slip back as far as the door of his hovel, though much damaged and hurt.
There he fell, and Uarda rushed out and threw herself over the old man, who lay on the earth, scarcely recognizable in the dust and darkness.
"Crush the scoffer!"
"Tear him in pieces!"
"Burn down the foul den!"
"Throw him and the wench into the fire!" shouted the people who had been disturbed in their devotions, with wild fury.
Two old women snatched the lanterns froth the posts, and flung them at the unfortunate creatures, while an Ethiopian soldier seized Uarda by the hair, and tore her away from her grandfather.
At this moment Pinem's wife appeared, and with her Pentaur. She had found not Nebsecht, but Pentaur, who had returned to the temple after his speech. She had told him of the demon who had fallen upon her husband, and implored him to come with her. Pentaur immediately followed her in his working dress, just as he was, without putting on the white priest's robe, which he did not wish to wear on this expedition.
When they drew near to the paraschites' hovel, he perceived the tumult among the people, and, loud above all the noise, heard Uarda's shrill cry of terror. He hurried forward, and in the dull light of the scattered fire-brands and colored lanterns, he saw the black hand of the soldier clutching the hair of the helpless child; quick as thought he gripped the soldier's throat with his iron fingers, seized him round the body, swung him in the air, and flung him like a block of stone right into the little yard of the hut.
The people threw themselves on the champion in a frenzy of rage, but he felt a sudden warlike impulse surging up in him, which he had never felt before. With one wrench he pulled out the heavy wooden pole, which supported the awning which the old paraschites had put up for his sick grandchild; he swung it round his head, as if it were a reed, driving back the crowd, while he called to Uarda to keep close to him.
"He who touches the child is a dead man!" he cried. "Shame on you!--falling on a feeble old man and a helpless child in the middle of a holy festival!"
For a moment the crowd was silent, but immediately after rushed forward with fresh impetus, and wilder than ever rose the shouts of:
"Tear him to pieces! burn his house down!"
A few artisans from Thebes closed round the poet, who was not recognizable as a priest. He, however, wielding his tent-pole, felled them before they could reach him with their fists or cudgels, and down went every man on whom it fell. But the struggle could not last long, for some of his assailants sprang over the fence, and attacked him in the rear. And now Pentaur was distinctly visible against a background of flaring light, for some fire-brands had fallen on the dry palm-thatch of the hovel behind him, and roaring flames rose up to the dark heavens.
The poet heard the threatening blaze behind him. He put his left hand round the head of the trembling girl, who crouched beside him, and feeling that now they both were lost, but that to his latest breath he must protect the innocence and life of this frail creature, with his right hand he once more desperately swung the heavy stake.
But it was for the last time; for two men succeeded in clutching the weapon, others came to their support, and wrenched it from his hand, while the mob closed upon him, furious but unarmed, and not without great fear of the enormous strength of their opponent.
Uarda clung to her protector with shortened breath, and trembling like a hunted antelope. Pentaur groaned when he felt himself disarmed, but at that instant a youth stood by his side, as if he bad sprung from the earth, who put into his hand the sword of the fallen soldier--who lay near his feet--and who then, leaning his back against Pentaur's, faced the foe on the other side. Pentaur pulled himself together, sent out a battle-cry like some fighting hero who is defending his last stronghold, and brandished his new weapon. He stood with flaming eyes, like a lion at bay, and for a moment the enemy gave way, for his young ally Rameri, had taken a hatchet, and held it up in a threatening manner.
"The cowardly murderers are flinging fire-brands," cried the prince. "Come here, girl, and I will put out the pitch on your dress."
He seized Uarda's hand, drew her to him, and hastily put out the flame, while Pentaur protected them with his sword.
The prince and the poet stood thus back to back for a few moments, when a stone struck Pentaur's head; he staggered, and the crowd were rushing upon him, when the little fence was torn away by a determined hand, a tall womanly form appeared on the scene of combat, and cried to the astonished mob:
"Have done with this! I command you! I am Bent-Anat, the daughter of Rameses."
The angry crowd gave way in sheer astonishment. Pentaur had recovered from the stunning blow, but he thought he must be under some illusion. He felt as if he must throw himself on his knees before Bent-Anat, but his mind had been trained under Ameni to rapid reflection; he realized, in a flash of thought, the princess's position, and instead of bowing before her he exclaimed:
"Whoever this woman may be, good folks, she is not Bent-Anat the princess, but I, though I have no white robe on, am a priest of Seti, named Pentaur, and the Cherheb of to-day's festival. Leave this spot, woman, I command you, in right of my sacred office."
And Bent-Anat obeyed.
Pentaur was saved; for just as the people began to recover from their astonishment just as those whom he had hurt were once more inciting the mob to fight just as a boy, whose hand he had crushed, was crying out: "He is not a priest, he is a sword's-man. Down with the liar!"
A voice from the crowd exclaimed:
"Make way for my white robe, and leave the preacher Pentaur alone, he is my friend. You most of you know me."
"You are Nebsecht the leech, who set my broken leg," cried a sailor.
"And cured my bad eye," said a weaver.
"That tall handsome man is Pentaur, I know him well," cried the girl, whose opinion had been overheard by Bent-Anat.
"Preacher this, preacher that!" shouted the boy, and he would have rushed forward, but the people held him back, and divided respectfully at Nebsecht's command to make way for him to get at those who had been hurt.
First he stooped over the old paraschites.
"Shame upon you!" he exclaimed.--You have killed the old man."
"And I," said Pentaur, "Have dipped my peaceful hand in blood to save his innocent and suffering grandchild from a like fate."
"Scorpions, vipers, venomous reptiles, scum of men!" shrieked Nebsecht, and he sprang wildly forward, seeking Uarda. When he saw her sitting safe at the feet of old Hekt, who had made her way into the courtyard, he drew a deep breath of relief, and turned his attention to the wounded.
"Did you knock down all that are lying here?" he whispered to his friend.
Pentaur nodded assent and smiled; but not in triumph, rather in shame; like a boy, who has unintentionally squeezed to death in his hand a bird he has caught.
Nebsecht looked round astonished and anxious. "Why did you not say who you were?" he asked. "Because the spirit of the God Menth possessed me," answered Pentaur. "When I saw that accursed villain there with his hand in the girl's hair, I heard and saw nothing, I--"
"You did right," interrupted Nebsecht. "But where will all this end?"
At this moment a flourish of trumpets rang through the little valley. The officer sent by Ameni to apprehend the paraschites came up with his soldiers.
Before he entered the court-yard he ordered the crowd to disperse; the refractory were driven away by force, and in a few minutes the valley was cleared of the howling and shouting mob, and the burning house was surrounded by soldiers. Bent-Anat, Rameri, and Nefert were obliged to quit their places by the fence; Rameri, so soon as he saw that Uarda was safe, had rejoined his sister.
Nefert was almost fainting with fear and excitement. The two servants, who had kept near them, knit their hands together, and thus carried her in advance of the princess. Not one of them spoke a word, not even Rameri, who could not forget Uarda, and the look of gratitude she bid sent after him. Once only Bent-Anat said:
"The hovel is burnt down. Where will the poor souls sleep to-night?"
When the valley was clear, the officer entered the yard, and found there, besides Uarda and the witch Hekt, the poet, and Nebsecht, who was engaged in tending the wounded.
Pentaur shortly narrated the affair to the captain, and named himself to him.
The soldier offered him his hand.
"If there were many men in Rameses' army," said he, who could strike such a blow as you, the war with the Cheta would soon be at an end. But you have struck down, not Asiatics, but citizens of Thebes, and, much as I regret it, I must take you as a prisoner to Ameni."
"You only do your duty," replied Pentaur, bowing to the captain, who ordered his men to take up the body of the paraschites, and to bear it to the temple of Seti.
"I ought to take the girl in charge too," he added, turning to Pentaur.
"She is ill," replied the poet.
"And if she does not get some rest," added Nebsecht, "she will be dead. Leave her alone; she is under the particular protection of the princess Bent-Anat, who ran over her not long ago."
"I will take her into my house," said Hekt, "and will take care of her. Her grandmother is lying there; she was half choked by the flames, but she will soon come to herself--and I have room for both."
"Till to-morrow," replied the surgeon. "Then I will provide another shelter for her."
The old woman laughed and muttered: "There are plenty of folks to take care of her, it seems."
The soldiers obeyed the command of their leader, took up the wounded, and went away with Pentaur, and the body of Pinem.
Meanwhile, Bent-Anat and her party had with much difficulty reached the river-bank. One of the bearers was sent to find the boat which was waiting for them, and he was enjoined to make haste, for already they could see the approach of the procession, which escorted the God on his return journey. If they could not succeed in finding their boat without delay, they must wait at least an hour, for, at night, not a boat that did not belong to the train of Amon--not even the barge of a noble--might venture from shore till the whole procession was safe across.
They awaited the messenger's signal in the greatest anxiety, for Nefert was perfectly exhausted, and Bent-Anat, on whom she leaned, felt her trembling in every limb.
At last the bearer gave the signal; the swift, almost invisible bark, which was generally used for wild fowl shooting, shot by--Rameri seized one end of an oar that the rower held out to him, and drew the little boat up to the landing-place.
The captain of the watch passed at the same moment, and shouting out, "This is the last boat that can put off before the passage of the God!"
Bent-Anat descended the steps as quickly as Nefert's exhausted state permitted. The landing-place was now only dimly lighted by dull lanterns, though, when the God embarked, it would be as light as day with cressets and torches. Before she could reach the bottom step, with Nefert still clinging heavily to her arm, a hard hand was laid on her shoulder, and the rough voice of Paaker exclaimed:
"Stand back, you rabble! We are going first." The captain of the watch did not stop him, for he knew the chief pioneer and his overbearing ways. Paaker put his finger to his lips, and gave a shrill whistle that sounded like a yell in the silence.
The stroke of oars responded to the call, and Paaker called out to his boatmen:
"Bring the boat up here! these people can wait!" The pioneer's boat was larger and better manned than that of the princess.
"Jump into the boat!" cried Rameri.
Bent-Anat went forward without speaking, for she did not wish to make herself known again for the sake of the people, and for Nefert's; but Paaker put himself in her way.
"Did I not tell you that you common people must wait till we are gone. Push these people's boat out into the stream, you men."
Bent-Anat felt her blood chill, for a loud squabble at once began on the landing-steps.
Rameri's voice sounded louder than all the rest; but the pioneer exclaimed:
"The low brutes dare to resist? I will teach them manners! Here, Descher, look after the woman and these boys!"
At his call his great red hound barked and sprang forward, which, as it had belonged to his father, always accompanied him when he went with his mother to visit the ancestral tomb. Nefert shrieked with fright, but the dog at once knew her, and crouched against her with whines of recognition.
Paaker, who had gone down to his boat, turned round in astonishment, and saw his dog fawning at the feet of a boy whom he could not possibly recognize as Nefert; he sprang back, and cried out:
"I will teach you, you young scoundrel, to spoil my dog with spells--or poison!"
He raised his whip, and struck it across the shoulders of Nefert, who, with one scream of terror and anguish, fell to the ground.
The lash of the whip only whistled close by the cheek of the poor fainting woman, for Bent-Anat had seized Paaker's arm with all her might.
Rage, disgust, and scorn stopped her utterance; but Rameri had heard Nefert's shriek, and in two steps stood by the women.
"Cowardly scoundrel!" he cried, and lifted the oar in his hand. Paaker evaded the blow, and called to the dog with a peculiar hiss:
"Pull him down, Descher."
The hound flew at the prince; but Rameri, who from his childhood, had been his father's companion in many hunts and field sports, gave the furious brute such a mighty blow on the muzzle that he rolled over with a snort.
Paaker believed that he possessed in the whole world no more faithful friend than this dog, his companion on all his marches across desert tracts or through the enemy's country, and when he saw him writhing on the ground his rage knew no bounds, and he flew at the youngster with his whip; but Rameri--madly excited by all the events of the night, full of the warlike spirit of his fathers, worked up to the highest pitch by the insults to the two ladies, and seeing that he was their only protector--suddenly felt himself endowed with the strength of a man; he dealt the pioneer such a heavy blow on the left hand, that he dropped his whip, and now seized the dagger in his girdle with his right.
Bent-Anat threw herself between the man and the stripling, who was hardly more than a boy, once more declared her name, and this time her brother's also, and commanded Paaker to make peace among the boatmen. Then she led Nefert, who remained unrecognized, into the boat, entered it herself with her companions, and shortly after landed at the palace, while Paaker's mother, for whom he had called his boat, had yet a long time to wait before it could start. Setchem had seen the struggle from her litter at the top of the landing steps, but without understanding its origin, and without recognizing the chief actors.
The dog was dead. Paaker's hand was very painful, and fresh rage was seething in his soul.
"That brood of Rameses!" he muttered. "Adventurers! They shall learn to know me. Mena and Rameses are closely connected--I will sacrifice them both."