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Title: The Works of Theophile Gautier, Volume 5 - The Romance of a Mummy and Egypt
Author: Gautier, Théophile, 1811-1872
Language: English
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[Illustration: Copyright 1901 by George D. Sproul

GILBO & CO.

_Tahoser listened with inattention more apparent than real to the song
of the musician._--Page 80.]



                 THE WORKS OF
               THÉOPHILE GAUTIER

                  VOLUME FIVE

           TRANSLATED AND EDITED BY
        PROFESSOR F. C. DE SUMICHRAST
 _Department of French, Harvard University_


                THE ROMANCE OF
                   A MUMMY

      _WITH AN INTRODUCTION BY THE EDITOR_



             THE ATHENAEUM SOCIETY
                   NEW YORK



 _Copyright, 1901, by_
 GEORGE D. SPROUL


 UNIVERSITY PRESS · JOHN WILSON
 AND SON · CAMBRIDGE, U.S.A.



_Contents_


             THE ROMANCE OF A MUMMY


 INTRODUCTION                       _Page_ 3

 PROLOGUE                               "  9

 THE ROMANCE OF A MUMMY                 " 68


                      EGYPT


 THE UNWRAPPING OF A MUMMY             " 299

 FROM ALEXANDRIA TO CAIRO              " 308

 EZBEKÎYEH SQUARE                      " 331

 ANCIENT EGYPT                         " 338



_List of Illustrations_


 Tahoser listened with inattention more apparent than
 real to the song of the musician.                        _Frontispiece_

 The Pharaoh slew but a short time ago three messengers
 with a blow of his sceptre.                                  _Page_ 229



_The Romance of a Mummy_



_THE ROMANCE
 OF A MUMMY_



Introduction


The subject of "The Romance of a Mummy" was possibly suggested to
Théophile Gautier by Ernest Feydeau, the author of "Fanny" and other
works of purely light literature, who published in 1858 a "General
History of Funeral Customs and Burials among the Ancients." This book
was reviewed by Gautier when it appeared, and it is most likely that he
had been previously made acquainted with its contents and had discussed
Egyptian funeral rites and modes of sepulture with the author, for it
was to Feydeau that he dedicated his novel when it was published in book
form by Hachette in 1858. An omnivorous reader, Gautier had no doubt
also perused the far more important works of Champollion, the decipherer
of the inscriptions on the Rosetta stone, who first gave the learned
world the key to the mysterious Egyptian hieroglyphic alphabet.
Champollion's "Monuments of Egypt and Nubia" had appeared in four
volumes from 1835 to 1845, and a continuation by himself and the Vicomte
Emmanuel de Rougé was completed in 1872. Champollion-Figeac's "Ancient
Egypt" had been published in 1840, having been preceded by Lenormant's
"The Museum of Egyptian Antiquities in the Louvre," in 1830, and
followed by Prisse d'Avennes' "Monuments of Egypt" in 1847. The
explorations and discoveries of Mariette, summed up in that writer's
"Selected Monuments and Drawings," issued in 1856, and the steady growth
of the Egyptian Museum in the Louvre, to which was added in 1852 the
magnificent Clot-Bey collection, must have attracted the attention of
Gautier, always keenly interested in art, literature, and erudition.

The account he gives, in his novel, of the ancient city of Thebes, of
the great necropolis in the valley of Biban el Molûk, of the
subterranean tombs, of the precautions taken by the designers to baffle
curiosity, of the form and ornamentation of the sarcophagi, of the
mummy-cases, of the mummy itself, of the manners, customs, dress, and
beliefs of the ancient Egyptians, are marvellously accurate. Nothing is
easier than to verify his descriptions by reference to the works of
Champollion, Mariette, Wilkinson, Rawlinson, Erman, Edwards, and
Maspero. Scarcely here and there will the reader find a possible error
in his statements. It is evident that he has not trusted alone to what
Feydeau told him, or to what he read in his book or in the works of
Egyptologists; he examined the antiquities in the Louvre for himself; he
noted carefully the scenes depicted on monuments and sarcophagi; he
traced the ornamentation in all its details; he studied the poses, the
attitudes, the expressions; he marked the costumes, the accessories; in
a word, he mastered his subject, and then only did he, with that
facility and certainty that amazed Balzac, write in swift succession the
chapters of the novel which appeared in the numbers of the "Moniteur
Universel" from March 11 to May 6, 1857.

His remark on Feydeau's book, "Picturesqueness in no wise detracts from
accuracy," might well be applied to his own "Romance," which fascinates
the reader with its evocation of a long vanished past and its
representation of a civilisation buried for centuries in mystery. The
weaving in of the wonders wrought by Moses and Aaron, of the
overwhelming of the Pharaoh, whether Thotmes or Rameses, is skilfully
managed, and imparts to the portions of the Biblical narrative used by
him a verisimilitude and a sensation of actuality highly artistic. The
purely erudite part of the work would probably not have interested the
general public, indifferent to the discoveries of archæology, but the
introduction of the human element of love at once captivated it; the
erudite appreciated the accuracy of the restoration of ancient times and
manners; the merely curious were pleased with a well told story,
cleverly set in a framework whose strangeness appealed to their love of
exoticism and novelty.

There have been added by the editor, as bearing upon the subject of the
"Romance of a Mummy," two or three chapters from the volume entitled
"The Orient," which is made up of a collection of sketches and letters
of travel written at different times, and of reviews of books upon
Eastern subjects, whether modern or ancient. The chapter describing a
trip to Egypt was the result of a flying visit paid to that country on
the occasion of the official opening of the Suez Canal in November,
1869. Gautier embarked on board the steamship "Moeris," of the
Messageries Impériales, at Marseilles. The very first night out he
slipped and fell down the companion steps, and broke his left arm above
the elbow. This painful accident did not prevent his fulfilling his
promise to keep the "Journal Officiel," with which he was then
connected, fully supplied with accounts of the land and the inauguration
ceremonies.



_The Romance of a Mummy_



Prologue


"I have a presentiment that we shall find in the valley of Biban el
Molûk a tomb intact," said to a high-bred-looking young Englishman a
much more humble personage who was wiping, with a big, blue-checked
handkerchief, his bald head, on which stood drops of perspiration, just
as if it had been made of porous clay and filled with water like a
Theban water-jar.

"May Osiris hear you!" replied the English nobleman to the German
scholar. "One may be allowed such an invocation in the presence of the
ancient _Diospolis Magna_. But we have been so often deceived hitherto;
treasure-seekers have always forestalled us."

"A tomb which neither the Shepherd Kings nor the Medes of Cambyses nor
the Greeks nor the Romans nor the Arabs have explored, and which will
give up to us its riches intact," continued the perspiring scholar, with
an enthusiasm which made his eyes gleam behind the lenses of his blue
glasses.

"And on which you will print a most learned dissertation which will give
you a place by the side of Champollion, Rosellini, Wilkinson, Lepsius,
and Belzoni," said the young nobleman.

"I shall dedicate it to you, my lord, for had you not treated me with
regal munificence, I could not have backed up my system by an
examination of the monuments, and I should have died in my little town
in Germany without having beheld the marvels of this ancient land,"
replied the scholar, with emotion.

This conversation took place not far from the Nile, at the entrance to
the valley of Biban el Molûk, between Lord Evandale, who rode an Arab
horse, and Dr. Rumphius, more modestly perched upon an ass, the lean
hind-quarters of which a fellah was belabouring. The boat which had
brought the two travellers, and which was to be their dwelling during
their stay, was moored on the other side of the Nile in front of the
village of Luxor. Its sweeps were shipped, its great lateen sails furled
on the yards. After having devoted a few days to visiting and studying
the amazing ruins of Thebes, gigantic remains of a mighty world, they
had crossed the river on a sandal, a light native boat, and were
proceeding towards the barren region which contains within its depths,
far down mysterious hypogea, the former inhabitants of the palaces on
the other bank. A few men of the crew accompanied Lord Evandale and Dr.
Rumphius at a distance, while the others, stretched out on the deck in
the shadow of the cabin, were peacefully smoking their pipes and
watching the craft.

Lord Evandale was one of those thoroughly irreproachable young noblemen
whom the upper classes of Britain give to civilisation. He bore
everywhere with him the disdainful sense of security which comes from
great hereditary wealth, a historic name inscribed in the "Peerage and
Baronetage"--a book second only to the Bible in England--and a beauty
against which nothing could be urged, save that it was too great for a
man. His clear-cut and cold features seemed to be a wax copy of the head
of Meleager or Antinoüs; his brilliant complexion seemed to be the
result of rouge and powder, and his somewhat reddish hair curled
naturally as accurately as an expert hairdresser or clever valet could
have made it curl. On the other hand, the firm glance of his steel-blue
eyes and the slightly sneering expression of his lower lip corrected
whatever there might be of effeminate in his general appearance.

As a member of the Royal Yacht Squadron, the young nobleman indulged
occasionally in a cruise on his swift yacht _Puck_, built of teak,
fitted like a boudoir, and manned by a small crew of picked seamen. In
the course of the preceding year he had visited Iceland; in the present
year he was visiting Egypt, and his yacht awaited him in the roads of
Alexandria. He had with him a scholar, a physician, a naturalist, an
artist, and a photographer, in order that his trip might not be
unfruitful. He was himself highly educated, and his society successes
had not made him forget his triumphs at Cambridge University. He was
dressed with that accuracy and careful neatness characteristic of the
English, who traverse the desert sands in the same costume which they
would wear when walking on the pier at Ramsgate or on the pavements of
the West End. A coat, vest, and trousers of white duck, intended to
repel the sun's rays, composed his costume, which was completed by a
narrow blue necktie with white spots, and an extremely fine Panama hat
with a veil.

Rumphius, the Egyptologist, preserved even in this hot climate the
traditional black coat of the scholar with its loose skirts, its curled
up collar, its worn buttons, some of which had freed themselves of their
silk covering. His black trousers shone in places and showed the warp.
Near the right knee an attentive observer might have remarked upon the
greyish ground of the stuff a systematic series of lines of richer tone
which proved that he was in the habit of wiping his pen upon this
portion of his clothes. His muslin cravat, rolled in the shape of a
cord, hung loosely around his neck, on which stood out strongly the
Adam's apple. Though he was dressed with scientific carelessness,
Rumphius was not any the handsomer on that account. A few reddish hairs,
streaked with gray, were brushed back behind his protruding ears, and
were puffed up by the high collar of his coat. His perfectly bald skull,
shining like a bone, overhung a prodigiously long nose, spongy and
bulbous at the end, so that with the blue discs of his glasses he looked
somewhat like an ibis,--a resemblance increased by his head sunk between
his shoulders. This appearance was of course entirely suitable and most
providential for one engaged in deciphering hieroglyphic inscriptions
and scrolls. He looked like a bird-headed god, such as are seen on
funeral frescoes, who had transmigrated into the body of a scholar.

The lord and the doctor were travelling towards the cliffs which
encircle the sombre valley of Biban el Molûk, the royal necropolis of
ancient Thebes, indulging in the conversation of which we have related a
part, when, rising like a Troglodyte from the black mouth of an empty
sepulchre--the ordinary habitation of the fellahs--another person,
dressed in somewhat theatrical fashion, abruptly entered on the scene,
stood before the travellers, and saluted them with the graceful salute
of the Orientals, which is at once humble, caressing, and noble.

This man was a Greek who undertook to direct excavations, who
manufactured and sold antiquities, selling new ones when the supply of
the old happened to fail. Nothing about him, however, smacked of the
vulgar exploiter of strangers. He wore a red felt fez from which hung a
long blue silk tassel; under the narrow edge of an inner linen cap
showed his temples, evidently recently shaved. His olive complexion, his
black eyebrows, his hooked nose, his eyes like those of a bird of prey,
his big moustaches, his chin almost divided into two parts by a mark
which looked very much like a sabre-cut, would have made his face that
of a brigand, had not the harshness of his features been tempered by the
assumed amenity and the servile smile of a speculator who has many
dealings with the public. He was dressed in very cleanly fashion in a
cinnamon-coloured jacket embroidered with silk of the same colour,
gaiters of the same stuff, a white vest adorned with buttons like
chamomile flowers, a broad red belt, and vast bulging trousers with
innumerable folds.

He had long since noted the boat at anchor before Luxor. Its size, the
number of the oarsmen, the luxury of the fittings, and especially the
English flag which floated from the stern, had led his mercantile
instinct to expect a rich traveller whose scientific curiosity might be
exploited, and who would not be satisfied with statuettes of blue or
green enamelled ware, engraved scarabæi, paper rubbings of hieroglyphic
panels, and other such trifles of Egyptian art.

He had followed the coming and going of the travellers among the ruins,
and knowing that they would not fail, after having sated their
curiosity, to cross the stream in order to visit the royal tombs, he
awaited them on his own ground, certain of fleecing them to some extent.
He looked upon the whole of this funereal realm as his own property,
and treated with scant courtesy the little subaltern jackals who
ventured to scratch in the tombs.

With the swift perception characteristic of the Greeks, no sooner had he
cast his eyes upon Lord Evandale than he quickly estimated the probable
income of his lordship and resolved not to deceive him, reasoning that
he would profit more by telling the truth than by lying. So he gave up
his intention of leading the noble Englishman through hypogea traversed
hundreds of times already, and disdained to allow him to begin
excavations in places where he knew nothing would be found; for he
himself had long since taken out and sold very dear the curiosities they
had contained.

Argyropoulos (such was the Greek's name), while exploring the portion of
the valley which had been less frequently sounded than others because
hitherto the search had never been rewarded by any find, had come to the
conclusion that in a certain spot, behind some rocks whose position
seemed to be due to chance, there certainly existed the entrance to a
passageway masked with peculiar care, which his great experience in this
kind of search had enabled him to recognise by a thousand signs
imperceptible to less clear-sighted eyes than his own, which were as
sharp and piercing as those of the vultures perched upon the entablature
of the temples. Since he had made that discovery, two years before, he
had bound himself never to walk or look in that direction lest he might
give a hint to the violators of tombs.

"Does your lordship intend to attempt excavations?" said he in a sort of
cosmopolitan dialect which those who have been in the ports of the
Levant and have had recourse to the services of the polyglot
dragomans--who end by not knowing any language--are well acquainted
with. Fortunately, both Lord Evandale and his learned companion knew the
various tongues from which Argyropoulos borrowed. "I can place at your
disposal," he went on, "some hundred energetic fellahs who, under the
spur of whip and bakshîsh, would dig with their finger-nails to the very
centre of the earth. We may try, if it pleases your lordship, to clear
away a buried sphinx or a shrine, or to open up a hypogeum."

On seeing that his lordship remained unmoved by this tempting
enumeration, and that a sceptical smile flitted across the doctor's
face, Argyropoulos understood that he had not to deal with easy dupes,
and he was confirmed in his intention to sell to the Englishman the
discovery on which he reckoned to complete his fortune and to give a
dowry to his daughter.

"I can see that you are scholars, not ordinary tourists, and that vulgar
curiosity does not bring you here," he went on, speaking in English less
mixed with Greek, Arabic, and Italian. "I will show you a tomb which has
hitherto escaped all searchers, which no one knows of but myself. It is
a treasure which I have carefully preserved for a person worthy of it."

"And for which you will have to be paid a high price," said his
lordship, smiling.

"I am too honest to contradict your lordship; I do hope to get a good
price for my discovery. Every one in this world lives by his trade. Mine
is to exhume Pharaohs and sell them to strangers. Pharaohs are becoming
scarce at the rate at which they are being dug up; there are not enough
left for everybody. They are very much in demand, and it is long since
any have been manufactured."

"Quite right," said the scholar; "it is some centuries since the
undertakers, dissectors, and embalmers have shut up shop, and the
Memnonia, peaceful dwellings of the dead, have been deserted by the
living."

The Greek, as he heard these words, cast a sidelong glance at the
German, but fancying from his wretched dress that he had no voice in the
matter, he continued to address himself exclusively to the young
nobleman.

"Are a thousand guineas too much, my lord, for a tomb of the greatest
antiquity, which no human hand has opened for more than three thousand
years, since the priests rolled rocks before its mouth? Indeed, it is
giving it away; for perhaps it contains quantities of gold, diamond, and
pearl necklaces, carbuncle earrings, sapphire seals, ancient idols in
precious metals, and coins which could be turned to account."

"You sly rascal!" said Rumphius, "you are praising up your wares, but
you know better than any one that nothing of the sort is found in
Egyptian tombs."

Argyropoulos, understanding that he had to do with clever men, ceased to
boast, and turning to Lord Evandale, he said to him, "Well, my lord,
does the price suit you?"

"I will give a thousand guineas," replied the young nobleman, "if the
tomb has not been opened; but I shall give nothing if a single stone has
been touched by the crow-bar of the diggers."

"With the additional proviso," added Rumphius the prudent, "that we
carry off everything we shall find in the tomb."

"Agreed!" said Argyropoulos, with a look of complete confidence. "Your
lordship may get ready your bank-notes and gold beforehand."

"Dr. Rumphius," said Lord Evandale to his acolyte, "it strikes me that
the wish you uttered just now is about to be realised. This man seems
sure of what he says."

"Heaven will it may be so!" replied the scholar, shaking his head
somewhat doubtfully; "but the Greeks are most barefaced liars, _Cretæ
mendaces_, says the proverb."

"No doubt this one comes from the mainland," answered Lord Evandale,
"and I think that for once he has told the truth."

The Greek walked a few steps ahead of the nobleman and the scholar like
a well-bred man who knows what is proper. He walked lightly and firmly,
like a man who feels that he is on his own ground.

The narrow defile which forms the entrance to the valley of Biban el
Molûk was soon reached. It had more the appearance of the work of man
than of a natural opening in the mighty wall of the mountain, as if the
Genius of Solitude had desired to make this realm of death inaccessible.
On the perpendicular rocky walls were faintly discernible shapeless
vestiges of weather-worn sculptures which might have been mistaken for
the asperities of the stone imitating the worn figures of a half-effaced
_basso-relievo_. Beyond the opening, the valley, which here widened
somewhat, presented the most desolate sight. On either side rose steep
slopes formed of huge masses of calcareous rock, rough, leprous-looking,
worn, cracked, ground to sand, in a complete state of decomposition
under the pitiless sun. They resembled bones calcined in the fire, and
yawned with the weariness of eternity out of their deep crevices,
imploring by their thousand cracks the drop of water which never fell.
The walls rose almost vertically to a great height, and their dentelated
crests stood out grayish-white against the almost black indigo of the
sky, like the broken battlements of a giant ruined fortress. The rays of
the sun heated to white heat one of the sides of the funeral valley, the
other being bathed in that crude blue tint of torrid lands which strikes
the people of the North as untruthful when it is reproduced by
painters, and which stands out as sharply as the shadows on an
architectural drawing.

The valley sometimes made sudden turns, sometimes narrowed into defiles
as the boulders and cliffs drew closer or apart. The thoroughly dry
atmosphere in these climates being perfectly transparent, there was no
aerial perspective in this place of desolation. Every detail, sharp,
accurate, bare, stood out, even in the background, with pitiless
dryness, and the distance could only be guessed at by the smaller
dimensions of objects. It seemed as though cruel nature had resolved not
to conceal any wretchedness, any sadness of this bare land, deader even
than the dead it contained. Upon the sun-lighted cliff streamed like a
cascade of fire a blinding glare like that which is given out by molten
metal; every rock face, transformed into a burning-glass, returned it
more ardent still. These reflections, crossing and recrossing each
other, joined to the flaming rays which fell from heaven and which were
reflected by the ground, produced a heat equal to that of an oven, and
the poor German doctor had hard work to wipe his face with his
blue-checked handkerchief, which was as wet as if it had been dipped in
water.

There was not a particle of loam to be found in the whole valley,
consequently not a blade of grass, not a bramble, not a creeper, not
even a patch of moss to break the uniformly whitish tone of the
torrified landscape. The cracks and recesses of the rocks did not hold
coolness enough for the thin, hairy roots of the smallest rock plant.
The place looked as if it held the ashes of a chain of mountains,
consumed in some great planetary conflagration, and the accuracy of the
parallel was completed by great black strips looking like cauterised
cicatrices which rayed the chalky slopes.

Deep silence reigned over this waste; no sign of life was visible; no
flutter of wing, no hum of insect, no flash of lizard or reptile; even
the shrill song of the cricket, that lover of burning solitudes, was
unheard. The soil was formed of a micaceous, brilliant dust like ground
sandstone, and here and there rose hummocks formed of the fragments of
stone torn from the depths of the chain, which had been excavated by the
persevering workmen of vanished generations, and the chisel of the
Troglodyte labourers who had prepared in the shadow the eternal
dwelling-places of the dead. The broken entrails of the mountain had
produced other mountains, friable heaps of small rocks which might have
been mistaken for the natural range.

On the sides of the cliffs showed here and there small openings
surrounded with blocks of stone thrown in disorder: square holes flanked
by pillars covered with hieroglyphs, the lintels of which bore
mysterious cartouches on which could yet be made out in a great yellow
disc the sacred scarabæus, the ram-headed sun, and the goddesses Isis
and Nephthys standing or kneeling.

These were the tombs of the ancient kings of Thebes. Argyropoulos did
not stop there, but led the travellers up a sort of steep slope, which
at first glance seemed nothing but a break on the side of the mountain,
choked in many places by fallen masses of rock, until they reached a
narrow platform, a sort of cornice projecting over the vertical cliff on
which the rocks, apparently thrown together by chance, nevertheless
exhibited on close examination some symmetrical arrangement.

When the nobleman, who was a practised athlete, and the doctor, who was
much less agile, had succeeded in climbing up to him, Argyropoulos
pointed with his stick to a huge stone and said with triumphant
satisfaction, "There is the spot!"

He clapped his hands in Oriental fashion, and straightway from the
fissures of the rocks, from the folds of the valley, hastened up pale,
ragged fellahs, who bore in their bronze-coloured arms crow-bars,
pick-axes, hammers, ladders, and all necessary tools. They escaladed the
steep slope like a legion of black ants; those who could not find room
on the narrow ledge on which already stood the Greek, Lord Evandale, and
Dr. Rumphius, hung by their hands and steadied themselves with their
feet against the projections in the rock. The Greek signed to three of
the most robust, who placed their crow-bars under the edges of the
boulder. Their muscles stood out upon their thin arms, and they pressed
with their whole weight on the end of the levers. At last the boulder
moved, tottered for a moment like a drunken man, and, urged by the
united efforts of Argyropoulos, Lord Evandale, Rumphius, and a few Arabs
who had succeeded in climbing the ledge, bounded down the slope. Two
other boulders of less size went the same way, one after another, and
then it was plain that the belief of the Greek was justified. The
entrance to a tomb, which had evidently escaped the investigations of
the treasure-seekers, appeared in all its integrity.

It was a sort of portico squarely cut in the living rock. On the two
side-walls a couple of pairs of pillars exhibited capitals formed of
bulls' heads, the horns of which were twisted like the crescent of Isis.
Below the low door, with its jambs flanked by long panels covered with
hieroglyphs, there was a broad, emblematic square. In the centre of a
yellow disc showed by the side of the scarabæus, symbol of successive
new births, the ram-headed god, the symbol of the setting sun. Outside
the disc, Isis and Nephthys, incarnations of the Beginning and the End,
were kneeling, one leg bent under the thigh, the other raised to the
height of the elbow, in the Egyptian attitude, the arms stretched
forward with an air of mysterious amazement, and the body clothed in a
close fitting gown girdled by a belt with falling ends. Behind a wall of
stone and unbaked brick, that readily yielded to the pickaxes of the
workmen, was discovered the stone slab which formed the doorway of the
subterranean monument. On the clay seal which closed it, the German
doctor, thoroughly familiar with hieroglyphs, had no difficulty in
reading the motto of the guardian of the funeral dwellings, who had
closed forever this tomb, the situation of which he alone could have
found upon the map of burial-places preserved in the priests' college.

"I begin to believe," said the delighted scholar to the young nobleman,
"that we have actually found a prize, and I withdraw the unfavourable
opinion which I expressed about this worthy Greek."

"Perhaps we are rejoicing too soon," answered Lord Evandale, "and we may
experience the same disappointment as Belzoni, when he believed himself
to be the first to enter the tomb of Menephtha Seti, and found, after he
had traversed a labyrinth of passages, walls, and chambers, an empty
sarcophagus with a broken cover; for the treasure-seekers had reached
the royal tomb through one of their soundings driven in at another point
in the mountain."

"Oh, no," answered the doctor; "the range is too broad here and the
hypogeum too distant from the others for these wretched people to have
carried their mines as far as this, even if they scraped away the rock."

While this conversation was going on, the workmen, urged by
Argyropoulos, proceeded to lift the great stone slab which filled up the
orifice of the passage. As they cleared away the slab in order to pass
their crow-bars under it, for Lord Evandale had ordered that nothing
should be broken, they turned up in the sand innumerable small
statuettes a few inches in height, of blue and green enamelled ware, of
admirable workmanship,--tiny funeral statuettes deposited there as
offerings by parents and friends, just as we place flowers on the
thresholds of our funeral chapels; only, our flowers wither, while after
more than three thousand years these witnesses of long bygone griefs are
found intact, for Egypt worked for eternity only.

When the door was lifted away, giving for the first time in thirty-five
centuries entrance to the light of day, a puff of hot air escaped from
the sombre opening as from the mouth of a furnace. The light, striking
the entrance of the funeral passage, brought out brilliantly the
colouring of the hieroglyphs engraved upon the walls in perpendicular
lines upon a blue plinth. A reddish figure with a hawk's-head crowned
with the _pschent_, the double crown of Upper and Lower Egypt, bore a
disc containing a winged globe, and seemed to watch on the threshold of
the tomb. Some fellahs lighted torches and preceded the two travellers,
who were accompanied by Argyropoulos. The resinous flame burned with
difficulty in the dense, stifling air which had been concentrated for so
many thousands of years under the heated limestone of the mountain, in
the labyrinths, passages, and blind ways of the hypogeum. Rumphius
breathed hard and perspired in streams; the impassible Evandale turned
hot and felt a moisture on his temples. As for the Greek, the fiery wind
of the desert had long since dried him up, and he perspired no more than
would a mummy.

The passage led directly to the centre of the chain, following a vein of
limestone of remarkable fineness and purity. At the end of the
passageway a stone door, sealed as the other had been with a clay seal
and surmounted by a winged globe, proved that the tomb had not been
violated and pointed to the existence of another passageway sunk deeper
still into the mountain.

The heat was now so intense that the young nobleman threw off his white
coat, and the doctor his black one. These were soon followed by their
vests and shirts. Argyropoulos, seeing that they were breathing with
difficulty, whispered a few words to a fellah, who ran back to the
entrance and brought two large sponges filled with fresh water, which
the Greek advised the two travellers to place on their mouths so that
they might breathe a fresher air through the humid pores, as is done in
Russian baths when the steam heat is raised to excess.

The door was attacked and soon gave way. A steep staircase cut in the
living rock was then seen descending. Against a green background edged
with a blue line were ranged on either side of the passageway
processions of symbolical statues, the colours of which were as bright
and fresh as if the artist's brush had laid them on the day before. They
would show for a second in the light of the torches, then vanish in the
shadow like the phantoms of a dream. Below these narrow frescoes, lines
of hieroglyphs, written perpendicularly like Chinese writing and
separated by hollow lines, excited the erudite by the sacred mystery of
their outlines. Along that portion of the walls which was not covered
with hieratic signs, a jackal lying on its belly, with outstretched paws
and pointed ears, and a kneeling figure wearing a mitre, its hand
stretched upon a circle, seemed to stand as sentries on either side of
the door, the lintel of which was ornamented with two panels placed side
by side, in which were figured two women wearing close-fitting gowns
and extending their feathered arms like wings.

"Look here!" said the doctor, taking breath when he reached the foot of
the staircase, and when he saw that the excavation sank deeper and
deeper still. "Are we going down to the centre of the earth? The heat is
increasing to such a degree that we cannot be far from the sojourn of
the damned."

"No doubt," answered Lord Evandale, "they followed the vein of
limestone, which sinks in accordance with the law of geological
undulations."

Another very steep passage came after the steps. The walls were lower,
covered with paintings, in which could be made out a series of
allegorical scenes, explained, no doubt, by the hieroglyphs inscribed
below. This frieze ran all along the passage, and below it were small
figures worshipping sacred scarabæi and the azure-coloured symbolical
serpent.

As he reached the end of the passage, the fellah who carried the torch
threw himself back abruptly, for the path was suddenly interrupted by
the mouth of a square well yawning black at the surface of the ground.

"There is a well, master," said the fellah, addressing himself to
Argyropoulos; "what am I to do?"

The Greek took the torch, shook it to make it blaze up, and threw it
into the small mouth of the well, bending cautiously over the opening.
The torch fell, twisting and hissing. Soon a dull sound was heard,
followed by a burst of sparks and a cloud of smoke, then the flame
burned up bright and clear, and the opening of the well shone in the
shadow like the bloodshot eye of a Cyclops.

"Most ingenious!" said the young nobleman. "This labyrinth, interrupted
by oubliettes, must have cooled the zeal of robbers and scholars."

"Not at all," replied the doctor. "Those seek gold, these truth, which
are the two most precious things in the world."

"Bring the knotted rope!" cried Argyropoulos to his Arabs. "We shall
explore and sound the walls of the well, for the passage no doubt runs
far beyond it."

Eight or ten men hung on to the rope, the end of which was let fall into
the well. With the agility of a monkey or of an athlete, Argyropoulos
caught hold of the swinging rope and let himself down some fifteen feet,
holding on with his hands and striking with his heels the walls of the
well. Wherever he struck the rock it gave out a dead, dull sound. Then
Argyropoulos let himself fall to the bottom of the well and struck the
ground with the hilt of his kandjar, but the compact rock did not
resound. Lord Evandale and the doctor, burning with eager curiosity,
bent over the edge at the risk of falling in headlong, and watched with
intense interest the search undertaken by the Greek.

"Hold hard!" cried he at last, annoyed at finding nothing; and he seized
the rope with his two hands to ascend.

The shadow of Argyropoulos, lighted from below by the torch which was
still burning at the bottom of the well, was projected against the
ceiling and cast on it a silhouette like that of a monstrous bird. His
sunburned face expressed the liveliest disappointment, and under his
moustache he was biting his lips.

"There is not a trace of a passage!" he cried; "and yet the excavation
cannot stop here."

"Unless," said Rumphius, "the Egyptian who ordered this tomb died in
some distant nome, on a voyage, or in battle, the work being then
abandoned, as is known to have been the case occasionally."

"Let us hope that by dint of searching we shall find some secret issue,"
returned Lord Evandale; "otherwise we shall try to drive a transverse
shaft through the mountain."

"Those confounded Egyptians were clever indeed at concealing the
entrances to their tombs,--always trying to find out some way of putting
poor people off the track. One would think that they laughed in
anticipation at the disappointment of searchers," grumbled Argyropoulos.
Drawing to the edge of the well, the Greek cast a glance, as piercing as
that of a night-bird, upon the wall of the little chamber which formed
the upper portion of the well. He saw nothing but the ordinary
characters of psychostasia,--Osiris the judge seated on his throne in
the regulation attitude, holding the crook in the one hand, the whip in
the other, and the goddesses of Justice and Truth leading the spirit of
the dead to the tribunal of Amenti. Suddenly he seemed to be struck with
a new idea, and turned sharply around. His long experience as an
excavator recalled to him a somewhat analogous case. In addition, the
desire of earning the thousand guineas of his lordship spurred up his
faculties. He took a pick-axe from the hands of a fellah, and began,
walking backward, to strike sharply right and left on the surface of the
rock, often at the risk of damaging some of the hieroglyphs or of
breaking the beak or the wing-sheath of the sacred hawk or the
scarabæus.

The wall, thus questioned, at last answered the hammer and sounded
hollow. An exclamation of triumph broke from the Greek and his eyes
flashed; the doctor and the nobleman clapped their hands.

"Dig here," said Argyropoulos, who had recovered his coolness, to his
men.

An opening large enough to allow a man to pass through was made. A
gallery running within the mountain around the obstacle which the well
offered to the profane, led to a square hall, the blue vault of which
rested upon four massive pillars ornamented by the red-skinned,
white-garmented figures which so often show, in Egyptian frescoes, the
full bust and the head in profile. This hall opened into another, the
vault of which was somewhat higher and supported by two pillars only.
Various scenes--the mystic bark, the bull Apis bearing the mummy towards
the regions of the West, the judgment of the soul and the weighing of
the deeds of the dead in the supreme scales, the offerings to the
funeral divinities--adorned the pillars and the hall. They were carved
in flat, low relief with sharp outline, but the painter's brush had not
completed the work of the chisel. By the care and delicacy of the work
might be judged the importance of the personage whose tomb it had been
sought to conceal from the knowledge of men.

After having spent a few moments in examining these carvings, which were
in the purest manner of the fine Egyptian style of the classical age,
the explorers perceived that there was no issue from the hall, and that
they had reached a sort of blind place. The air was becoming somewhat
rarified, the torches burned with difficulty and further augmented the
heat of the atmosphere, while the smoke formed a dense pall. The Greek
gave himself to the devil, but that did no good. Again the walls were
sounded without any result. The mountain, thick and compact, gave back
but a dead sound; there was no trace of a door, of a passage, or of any
sort of opening.

The young nobleman was plainly discouraged, and the doctor let fall his
arms by his side. Argyropoulos, who feared losing his thousand guineas,
exhibited the fiercest despair. However, the party was compelled to
retreat, for the heat had become absolutely suffocating.

They returned to the outer hall, and there the Greek, who could not make
up his mind to see his golden dream vanish in smoke, examined with the
most minute attention the shafts of the pillars to make certain that
they did not conceal some artifice, that they did not mask some trap
which might be discovered by displacing them; for in his despair he
mingled the realism of Egyptian architecture with the chimerical
constructions of the Arab tales. The pillars, cut out of the mountain
itself, in the centre of the hollowed mass, formed part of it, and it
would have been necessary to employ gunpowder to break them down. All
hope was gone.

"Nevertheless," said Rumphius, "this labyrinth was not dug for nothing.
Somewhere or another there must be a passage like the one which goes
around the well. No doubt the dead man was afraid of being disturbed by
importunate persons and he had himself carefully concealed; but with
patience and perseverance you can get anywhere. Perhaps a slab carefully
concealed, the joint of which cannot be seen, owing to the dust
scattered over the ground, covers some descent which leads, directly or
indirectly, to the funeral hall."

"You are right, doctor," said Evandale; "those accursed Egyptians
jointed stones as closely as the hinges of an English trap. Let us go on
looking."

The doctor's idea struck the Greek as sound, and he made his fellahs
walk about every part and corner of the hall, tapping the ground. At
last, not far from the third pillar a dull resonance struck on the
practised ear of the Greek. He threw himself on his knees to examine the
spot, brushing away with the ragged burnouse one of his Arabs had thrown
him the impalpable dust of thirty-five centuries. A black, narrow, sharp
line showed, and, carefully followed out, marked out on the ground an
oblong slab.

"Did I not tell you," cried the enthusiastic doctor, "that the passage
could not end in this way?"

"I am really troubled," said Lord Evandale, in his quaint, phlegmatic
British fashion, "at disturbing the last sleep of the poor unknown body
which did expect to rest in peace until the end of the world. The
dweller below would willingly dispense with our visit."

"The more so that a third party is lacking to make the presentation
formal," replied the doctor. "But do not be anxious, my lord, I have
lived long enough in the days of the Pharaohs to present you to the
illustrious personage who inhabits this subterranean passage."

Crow-bars were applied to the narrow fissure, and after a short time the
stone moved and was raised. A staircase with high, steep steps, sinking
into darkness, awaited the impatient travellers, who rushed down
pell-mell. A sloping gallery painted on both walls with figures and
hieroglyphs came next, then at the end of the gallery some more steps
leading to a short corridor, a sort of vestibule to a hall in the same
style as the first one, but larger and upborne by six pillars cut out of
the living rock. The ornamentation was richer, and the usual motives of
funeral paintings were multiplied on a yellow background. To the right
and to the left opened in the rock two small crypts or chambers filled
with funeral statuettes of enamelled ware, bronze, and sycamore wood.

"We are in the antechamber of the hall where the sarcophagus is bound to
be!" cried Rumphius, his clear gray eyes flashing with joy from below
his spectacles, which he had pushed back over his forehead.

"Up to the present," said Lord Evandale, "the Greek has kept his word.
We are the first living men who have penetrated so far since the dead,
whoever he may be, was left with eternity and the unknown in this tomb."

"Oh, he must be some great personage," replied the doctor; "a king or a
king's son, at the very least. I shall tell you later when I have
deciphered his cartouche. But first let us enter this hall, the finest,
the most important, which the Egyptians called the Golden Hall."

Lord Evandale walked ahead, a few steps before the less agile scholar,
though perhaps the latter deferentially wished to leave the pleasure of
the discovery to the young nobleman.

As he was about to step across the threshold, Lord Evandale bent forward
as if something unexpected had struck him. Though accustomed not to
manifest his emotions, he was unable to repress a prolonged and
thoroughly British "Oh!" On the fine gray powder which covered the
ground showed very distinctly, with the imprint of the toes and the
great bone of the heel, the shape of a human foot,--the foot of the last
priest or the last friend who had withdrawn, fifteen hundred years
before Christ, after having paid the last honours to the dead. The dust,
which in Egypt is as eternal as granite, had moulded the print and
preserved it for more than thirty centuries, just as the hardened
diluvian mud has preserved the tracks of the animals which last
traversed it.

"See," said Evandale to Rumphius, "that human footprint which is
directed towards the exit from the hypogeum! In what narrow passage of
the Libyan chain rests the mummified body that made it?"

"Who knows?" replied the scholar. "In any case, that light print, which
a breath would have blown away, has lasted longer than empires, than
religions and monuments believed eternal. The noble dust of Alexander
was used perhaps to stop a bung-hole, as Hamlet says, but the footprint
of this unknown Egyptian remains on the threshold of a tomb."

Urged by a curiosity which did not allow them much time for
recollection, the nobleman and the doctor entered the hall, taking care,
nevertheless, not to efface the wondrous footprint. On entering, the
impassible Evandale felt a strange emotion; it seemed to him, as
Shakespeare says, that the time was out of joint. The feeling of modern
life vanished, he forgot Great Britain and his name inscribed on the
rolls of the peerage, his seat in Lincolnshire, his mansion in the West
End, Hyde Park, Piccadilly, the Queen's Drawing-Room, the Yacht
Squadron, and all that constituted his English existence. An invisible
hand had turned upside down the sand-glass of eternity, and the
centuries which had fallen one by one, like the hours, in the solitude
of the night, were falling once more. History was as if it were not:
Moses was living, Pharaoh was reigning, and he, Lord Evandale, felt
embarrassed because he did not wear his beard in ringlets, and had not
an enamelled neck-plate and a narrow vestment wrinkling in folds upon
his hips,--the only suitable dress in which to be presented to a royal
mummy. A sort of religious horror filled him, although there was nothing
sinister about the place, as he violated this palace of death so
carefully protected against profanation. His attempt seemed to him
impious and sacrilegious, and he said to himself, "Suppose this Pharaoh
were to rise on his couch and strike me with his sceptre." For one
moment he thought of letting fall the shroud half lifted from the body
of this antique, dead civilisation, but the doctor, carried away by
scientific enthusiasm, and not a prey to such thoughts, shouted in a
loud voice, "My lord, my lord, the sarcophagus is intact!"

These words recalled Lord Evandale to reality. By swift projection of
his thought he traversed the thirty-five hundred years which he had gone
back in his reverie, and he answered, "Indeed, dear doctor, intact?"

"Oh, unexpected luck! oh, marvellous chance! oh, wondrous find!"
continued the doctor, in the excitement of a scholarly joy.

Argyropoulos, on beholding the doctor's enthusiasm, felt a pang of
remorse,--the only kind of remorse that he could feel,--at not having
asked more than twenty-five thousand francs. "I was a fool!" he said to
himself. "This shall not happen again. That nobleman has robbed me."

In order to enable the strangers to enjoy the beauty of the spectacle,
the fellahs had lighted all their torches. The sight was indeed strange
and magnificent. The galleries and halls which led to the sarcophagus
hall were flat-ceiled and not more than eight or ten feet high; but the
sanctuary, the one to which all these labyrinths led, was of much
greater proportions. Lord Evandale and Dr. Rumphius remained dumb with
admiration, although they were already familiar with the funereal
splendours of Egyptian art. Thus lighted up, the Golden Hall flamed, and
for the first time, perhaps, the colours of the paintings shone in all
their brilliancy. Red and blue, green and white, of virginal purity,
brilliantly fresh and amazingly clear, stood out from the golden
background of the figures and hieroglyphs, and attracted the eye before
the subjects which they formed could be discerned. At first glance it
looked like a vast tapestry of the richest stuffs. The vault, some
thirty feet high, formed a sort of azure velarium bordered with long
yellow palm-leaves. On the walls the symbolical globe spread its mighty
wings and the royal cartouches showed around. Farther on, Isis and
Nephthys waved their arms furnished with feathers like wings; the uræus
swelled its blue throat, the scarabæus unfolded its wings, the
animal-headed gods pricked up their jackal ears, sharpened their
hawk's-beaks, wrinkled their baboon faces, and drew into their shoulders
their vulture or serpent necks as if they were endowed with life.
Mystical consecrated boats (baris) passed by on their sledges drawn by
figures in attitudes of sadness, with angular gestures, or propelled by
half-naked oarsmen, they floated upon symbolical undulating waves.
Mourners kneeling, their hand placed on their blue hair in token of
grief, turned towards the catafalques, while shaven priests,
leopard-skin on shoulder, burned perfumes in a spatula terminating in a
hand bearing a cup under the nose of the godlike dead. Other personages
offered to the funeral genii lotus in bloom or in bud, bulbous plants,
birds, pieces of antelope, and vases of liquors. Acephalous figures of
Justice brought souls before Osiris, whose arms were set in inflexible
contour, and who was assisted by the forty-two judges of Amenti, seated
in two rows and bearing an ostrich-plume on their heads, the forms of
which were borrowed from every realm of zoölogy.

All these figures, drawn in hollowed lines in the limestone and painted
in the brightest colours, were endowed with that motionless life, that
frozen motion, that mysterious intensity of Egyptian art, which was
hemmed in by the priestly rule, and which resembles a gagged man trying
to utter his secret.

In the centre of the hall rose, massive and splendid, the sarcophagus,
cut out of a solid block of black basalt and closed by a cover of the
same material, carved in the shape of an arch. The four sides of the
funeral monolith were covered with figures and hieroglyphs as carefully
engraved as the intaglio of a gem, although the Egyptians did not know
the use of iron, and the grain of basalt is hard enough to blunt the
best-tempered steel. Imagination loses itself when it tries to discover
the process by which that marvellous people wrought on porphyry and
granite as with a style on wax tablets.

At the angles of the sarcophagus were set four vases of oriental
alabaster, of most elegant and perfect outline, the carved covers of
which represented the man's head of Amset, the monkey head of Hapi, the
jackal head of Tuamutef, and the hawk head of Kebhsnauf. The vases
contained the visceræ of the mummy enclosed in the sarcophagus. At the
head of the tomb an effigy of Osiris with plaited beard seemed to watch
over the dead. Two coloured statues of women stood right and left of the
tomb, supporting, with one hand a square box on their head, and holding
in the other a vase for ablutions which they rested on their hip. The
one was dressed in a simple white skirt clinging to the hips and held up
by crossed braces; the other, more richly costumed, was wrapped in a
sort of narrow shift, covered with scales alternately red and green. By
the side of the first there were three water-jars, originally filled
with Nile water, which, as it evaporated, had left its mud, and a plate
holding some alimentary paste, now dried up. By the side of the second,
two small ships, like the model ships made in seaports, which reproduced
accurately, the one the minutest details of the boats destined to bear
the bodies from Diospolis to Memnonia, the other the symbolical boat in
which the soul is carried to the regions of the West. Nothing was
forgotten,--neither the masts, nor the rudder formed of one long sweep,
nor the pilot, nor the oarsmen, nor the mummy surrounded by mourners and
lying under the shrine on a bed with feet formed of lion's claws, nor
the allegorical figures of the funeral divinities fulfilling their
sacred functions. Both the boats and the figures were painted in
brilliant colours, and on the two sides of the prow, beak-like as the
poop, showed the great Osiris' eye, made longer still by the use of
antimony. The bones and skull of an ox scattered here and there showed
that a victim had been offered up as a scapegoat to the Fate which might
have disturbed the repose of the dead. Coffers painted and bedizened
with hieroglyphs were placed on the tomb; reed tables yet bore the final
offerings. Nothing had been touched in this palace of death since the
day when the mummy in its cartonnage and its two coffins had been placed
upon its basalt couch. The worm of the sepulchre, which can find a way
through the closest biers, had itself retreated, driven back by the
bitter scent of the bitumen and the aromatic essences.

"Shall I open the sarcophagus?" said Argyropoulos, after Lord Evandale
and Doctor Rumphius had had time to admire the beauty of the Golden
Hall.

"Unquestionably," replied the nobleman; "but take care not to chip the
edges of the cover as you put in your crow-bars, for I propose to carry
off the tomb and present it to the British Museum."

The whole company bent their efforts to displacing the monolith. Wooden
wedges were carefully driven in, and presently the huge stone was moved
and slid down the props prepared to receive it. The sarcophagus having
been opened, showed the first bier hermetically sealed. It was a coffer
adorned with paintings and gilding, representing a sort of shrine with
symmetrical designs, lozenges, quadrilles, palm leaves, and lines of
hieroglyphs. The cover was opened, and Rumphius, who was bending over
the sarcophagus, uttered a cry of surprise when he discovered the
contents of the coffin, having recognised the sex of the mummy by the
absence of the Osiris beard and the shape of the cartonnage. The Greek
himself appeared amazed. His long experience in excavations enabled him
to understand the strangeness of such a find. The valley of Biban el
Molûk contains the tombs of kings only: the necropolis of the queens is
situated farther away, in another mountain gorge. The tombs of the
queens are very simple, and usually consist of two or three passage-ways
and one or two rooms. Women in the East have always been considered as
inferior to men, even in death. Most of these tombs, which were broken
into at a very distant period, were used as receptacles for shapeless
mummies carelessly embalmed, which still exhibit traces of leprosy and
elephantiasis. How did this woman's coffin come to occupy this royal
sarcophagus, in the centre of this cryptic palace worthy of the most
illustrious and most powerful of the Pharaohs?

"This," said the doctor to Lord Evandale, "upsets all my notions and all
my theories. It overthrows the system most carefully built upon the
Egyptian funeral rites, which nevertheless have been so carefully
followed out during thousands of years. No doubt we have come upon some
obscure point, some forgotten mystery of history. A woman did ascend the
throne of the Pharaohs and did govern Egypt. She was called Tahoser, as
we learn from the cartouches engraved upon older inscriptions hammered
away. She usurped the tomb as she usurped the throne. Or perhaps some
other ambitious woman, of whom history has preserved no trace, renewed
her attempt."

"No one is better able to solve this difficult problem than you," said
Lord Evandale. "We will carry this box full of secrets to our boat,
where you will, at your leisure, decipher this historic document and
read the riddle set by these hawks, scarabæi, kneeling figures, serrated
lines, winged uræus, and spatula hands, which you read as readily as did
the great Champollion."

The fellahs, under the orders of Argyropoulos, carried off the huge
coffer on their shoulders, and the mummy, performing in an inverse
direction the funeral travel it had accomplished in the days of Moses,
in a painted and gilded bari preceded by a long procession, was embarked
upon the sandal which had brought the travellers, soon reached the
vessel moored on the Nile, and was placed in the cabin, which was not
unlike, so little do forms change in Egypt, the shrine of the funeral
boat.

Argyropoulos, having arranged about the box all the objects which had
been found near it, stood respectfully at the cabin door and appeared to
be waiting. Lord Evandale understood, and ordered his valet to pay him
the twenty-five thousand francs.

The open bier was placed upon rests in the centre of the cabin; it shone
as brilliantly as if the colours had been put on the day before, and
framed in the mummy, moulded within its cartonnage, the workmanship of
which was remarkably fine and rich. Never had ancient Egypt more
carefully wrapped up one of her children for the eternal sleep. Although
no shape was indicated by the funeral Hermes, ending in a sheath from
which stood out alone the shoulders and the head, one could guess there
was under that thick envelope a young and graceful form. The gilded
mask, with its long eyes outlined with black and brightened with enamel,
the nose with its delicate nostrils, the rounded cheek-bones, the
half-open lips smiling with an indescribable, sphinx-like smile, the
chin somewhat short in curve but of extreme beauty of contour, presented
the purest type of the Egyptian ideal, and testified by a thousand
small, characteristic details which art cannot invent, to the individual
character of the portrait. Numberless fine plaits of hair, tressed with
cords and separated by bandeaux, fell in opulent masses on either side
of the face. A lotus stem, springing from the back of the neck, bowed
over the head and opened its azure calyx over the dead, cold brow,
completing with a funeral cone this rich and elegant head-dress.

A broad necklace, composed of fine enamels cloisonnés with gold and
formed of several rows, lay upon the lower portion of the neck, and
allowed to be seen the clean, firm contour of two virgin breasts like
two golden cups.

The sacred ram-headed bird, bearing between its green horns the red disc
of the setting sun and supported by two serpents wearing the pschent and
swelling out their hoods, showed on the bosom of the figure its
monstrous form full of symbolic meaning. Lower down, in the spaces left
free by the crossed zones, and rayed with brilliant colours representing
bandages, the vulture of Phra, crowned with a globe, with outspread
wings, the body covered with symmetrically arranged feathers, and the
tail spread out fanwise, held in its talons the huge Tau, emblem of
immortality. The funeral gods, green-faced, with the mouths of monkeys
or jackals, held out with a gesture hieratic in its stiffness the whip,
the crook, and the sceptre. The eye of Osiris opened its red ball
outlined with antimony. Celestial snakes swelled their hoods around the
sacred discs; symbolical figures projected their feathered arms; and the
two goddesses of the Beginning and the End, their hair powdered with
blue dust, bare down to below the breasts and the rest of the body
wrapped in a close-fitting skirt, knelt in Egyptian fashion on green and
red cushions adorned with heavy tufts.

A longitudinal band of hieroglyphs, springing from the belt and running
down to the feet, contained no doubt some formal funeral ritual, or
rather, the names and titles of the deceased, a problem which Dr.
Rumphius promised himself to solve later.

The character of the drawing, the boldness of the lines, the brilliancy
of the colours in all these paintings denoted in the plainest manner to
a practised eye that they belonged to the finest period of Egyptian art.
When the English nobleman and his companion had sufficiently studied
this outer case, they drew the cartonnage from the box and set it up
against the side of the cabin, where the funeral form, with its gilded
mask, presented a strange spectacle, standing upright like a
materialised spectre and with a seeming attitude of life, after having
preserved so long the horizontal attitude of death on a basalt bed in
the heart of the mountain, opened up by impious curiosity. The soul of
the deceased, which had reckoned on eternal rest and which had taken
such care to preserve its remains from violation, must have been moved,
beyond the worlds, in the circuit of its travels and transmigrations.

Dr. Rumphius, armed with a chisel and a hammer, to separate the two
parts of the cartonnage of the mummy, looked like one of those funeral
genii which wear a bestial mask and which are seen in the paintings of
the hypogea crowding around the dead in the performance of some
frightful and mysterious rite; the clean profile of Lord Evandale, calm
and attentive, made him look like the divine Osiris awaiting the soul to
be judged.

The operation having been at length completed--for the doctor wished not
to scale off the gilding,--the box, resting on the ground, was separated
into two parts like the casing of a cast, and the mummy appeared in all
the brilliancy of its death toilet, coquettishly adorned as if it had
wished to charm the genii of the subterranean realms. On opening the
case, a faint, delightful, aromatic odour of cedar liquor, of sandal
powder, of myrrh and cinnamon spread through the cabin of the vessel;
for the body had not been gummed up and hardened with the black bitumen
used in embalming the bodies of ordinary persons, and all the skill of
the embalmers, the former inhabitants of Memnonia, seemed to have been
directed to the preservation of these precious remains.

The head was enveloped in a network of narrow bands of fine linen,
through which the face showed faintly. The essences in which they had
been steeped had dyed the tissue a beautiful tawny tint. Over the breast
a network of fine tubes of blue glass, very like the long jet beads
which are used to embroider Spanish bodices, with little golden drops
wherever the tubes crossed, fell down to the feet and formed a pearly
shroud worthy of a queen. The statuettes of the four gods of Amenti in
hammered gold shone brilliantly, and were symmetrically arranged along
the upper edge of the network, which ended below in a fringe of most
tasteful ornaments. Between the statuettes of the funeral gods was a
golden plate, above which a lapis-lazuli scarabæus spread out its long
golden wings. Under the mummy's head was placed a rich mirror of
polished metal, as if it had been desired to give the dead soul an
opportunity of beholding the spectre of its beauty during the long night
of the tomb. By the mirror lay a coffer of enamelled ware, of most
precious workmanship, which contained a necklace composed of ivory
rings alternating with beads, gold, lapis-lazuli, and cornelian. By the
side of the beauty had been placed also a narrow, square sandal-wood
basin in which, during her lifetime, the dead woman had performed her
perfumed ablutions. Three vases of wavy alabaster fastened to the bier,
as was also the mummy, by a layer of natron, contained, the first two,
essences, the scent of which could still be noticed, and the third,
antimony powder and a small spatula for the purpose of colouring the
edge of the eyelids and extending the outer angle according to the
antique Egyptian usage, still practised at the present time by Eastern
women.

"What a touching custom!" said Dr. Rumphius, excited by the sight of
these treasures; "what a touching custom it was to bury with a young
woman all her pretty toilet articles! For it is a young woman
unquestionably that these linen bands, yellow with time and with
essences, envelop. Compared with the Egyptians, we are downright
barbarians; hurried on by our brutal way of living, we have lost the
delicate sense of death. How much tenderness, how much regard, how much
love do not these minute cares reveal, these infinite precautions,
these useless caresses bestowed upon a senseless body,--that struggle to
snatch from destruction an adored form and to restore it intact to the
soul on the day of the supreme reunion!"

"Perhaps," replied Lord Evandale, very thoughtful, "our civilisation,
which we think so highly developed, is, after all, but a great decadence
which has lost even the historical remembrance of the gigantic societies
which have disappeared. We are stupidly proud of a few ingenious pieces
of mechanism which we have recently invented, and we forget the colossal
splendours and the vast works impossible to any other nation, which are
found in the ancient land of the Pharaohs. We have steam, but steam is
less powerful than the force which built the Pyramids, dug out hypogea,
carved mountains into the shapes of sphinxes and obelisks, sealed halls
with one great stone which all our engines could not move, cut out
monolithic chapels, and saved frail human remains from annihilation,--so
deep a sense of eternity did it already possess."

"Oh, the Egyptians," said Dr. Rumphius, smiling, "were wonderful
architects, amazing artists, and great scholars. A priest of Memphis
and of Thebes could have taught even our German scholars; and as regards
symbolism, they were greater than any symbolists of our day. But we
shall succeed eventually in deciphering their hieroglyphs and
penetrating their mysteries. The great Champollion has made out their
alphabet; we shall easily read their granite books. Meanwhile, let us
strip, as delicately as possible, this young beauty who is more than
three thousand years of age."

"Poor woman!" murmured the young lord. "Profane eyes will now behold the
mysterious charms which love itself perhaps never saw. Truly, under the
empty pretext of scientific pursuit, we are as barbarous as the Persians
of Cambyses, and if I were not afraid of driving to despair this worthy
scholar, I should enclose you again, without having stripped off your
last veil, within the triple box of your bier."

Dr. Rumphius raised from the casing the mummy, which was no heavier than
a child's body, and began to unwrap it with motherly skill and lightness
of touch. He first of all undid the outer envelope of linen, sewed
together and impregnated with palm wine, and the broad bands which here
and there girdled the body. Then he took hold of the end of a thin,
narrow band, the infinite windings of which enclosed the limbs of the
young Egyptian. He rolled up the band on itself as cleverly as the most
skilful embalmer of the City of the Dead, following it up in all its
meanderings and circumvolutions. As he progressed in his work, the
mummy, freed from its envelope, like a statue which a sculptor blocks
out of the marble, appeared more slender and exquisite in form. The
bandage having been unrolled, another narrower one was seen, intended to
bind the body more closely. It was of such fine linen, and so finely
woven, that it was comparable to modern cambric and muslin. This bandage
followed accurately every outline, imprisoning the fingers and the toes,
moulding like a mask the features of the face, which was visible through
the thin tissue. The aromatic balm in which it had been steeped had
stiffened it, and as it came away under the fingers of the doctor, it
gave out a little dry sound like that of paper that is being crushed or
torn. There remained but one turn to be taken off, and familiar though
he was with such work, Dr. Rumphius stopped for a moment, either
through respect for the dead, or through that feeling which prevents a
man from breaking open a letter, from opening a door, from raising a
veil which hides a secret that he burns to learn. He ascribed his
momentary pause to fatigue, and as a matter of fact, the perspiration
was dripping from his forehead without his thinking of wiping it with
his great blue-checked handkerchief; but fatigue had nothing to do with
it. Meanwhile the dead form showed through the fine, gauze-like stuff,
and some gold work shone faintly through it as well.

The last wrapping taken off, the young woman showed in the chaste nudity
of her lovely form, preserving, in spite of so many centuries that had
passed away, the fulness of her contours, and the easy grace of her pure
lines. Her pose, an infrequent one in the case of mummies, was that of
the Venus of Medici, as if the embalmers had wished to save this
beautiful body from the set attitude of death and to soften the
inflexible rigidity of the cadaver.

A cry of admiration was uttered at the same time by Rumphius and
Evandale at the sight of the marvel. Never did a Greek or Roman statue
present a more beautiful appearance. The peculiar characteristics of
the Egyptian ideal gave indeed to this lovely body, so miraculously
preserved, a slenderness and a grace lacking in antique marbles,--the
long hands, the high-bred, narrow feet, the nails shining like agate,
the slender waist, the shape of the breasts, small and turned up like a
sandal beneath the veil which enveloped it, the slightly protruding
contour of the hip, the roundness of the thigh, the somewhat long leg
recalling the slender grace of the musicians and dancers represented on
the frescoes of funeral repasts in the Thebes hypogea. It was a shape
still childish in its gracefulness, yet possessing already all the
perfections of a woman which Egyptian art expresses with such tender
suavity, whether it paints the walls of the passages with a brush, or
whether it patiently carves the hard basalt.

As a general rule mummies which have been filled with bitumen and natron
resemble black simulacra carved in ebony; corruption cannot attack them,
but the appearance of life is wholly lacking; the bodies have not
returned to the dust whence they came, but they have been petrified in a
hideous shape, which one cannot contemplate without disgust and terror.
In this case, the body, carefully prepared by surer, longer, and more
costly processes, had preserved the elasticity of the flesh, the grain
of the skin, and almost its natural colour. The skin, of a light brown,
had the golden tint of a new Florentine bronze, and the amber, warm tone
which is admired in the paintings of Giorgione and Titian covered with a
smoky varnish, was not very different from what must have been the
complexion of the young Egyptian during her lifetime. She seemed to be
asleep rather than dead. The eyelids, still fringed with their long
lashes, allowed eyes lustrous with the humid gleam of life to shine
between their lines of antimony. One could have sworn they were about to
shake off, as a light dream, their sleep of thirty centuries. The nose,
delicate and fine, preserved its pure outline; no depression deformed
the cheeks, which were as round as the side of a vase; the mouth,
coloured with a faint blush, had preserved its imperceptible lines, and
on the lips, voluptuously moulded, fluttered a melancholy and mysterious
smile, full of gentleness, sadness, and charm,--that tender and resigned
smile which pouts so prettily the lips of the adorable heads which
surmount the Canopean vases in the Louvre.

Around the forehead, low and smooth in accordance with the laws of
antique beauty, was massed jet-black hair divided and plaited into a
multitude of fine tresses which fell on either shoulder. Twenty golden
pins stuck into the tresses, like flowers in a ball head-dress, studded
with brilliant points the thick dark hair which might have been thought
artificial, so abundant was it. Two great earrings, round discs
resembling small bucklers, shimmered with yellow light by the side of
the brown cheeks. A magnificent necklace, composed of three rows of
divinities and amulets in gold and precious stones, encircled the neck
of the coquettish mummy, and lower down upon her breast hung two other
collars, the pearl, gold, lapis-lazuli, and cornelian rosettes of which
alternated symmetrically with the most perfect taste. A girdle of nearly
the same design enclosed her waist with a belt of gold and gems. A
double bracelet of gold and cornelian beads adorned her left wrist, and
on the index of the left hand shone a very small scarabæus of golden
cloisonné enamel, which formed a seal ring and was held by a gold thread
most marvellously plaited.

Strange were the sensations of the two men as they found themselves face
to face with a human being who had lived in the days when history was
yet young and was collecting the stories told by tradition; face to face
with a body contemporary with Moses, which yet preserved the exquisite
form of youth; as they touched the gentle little hand impregnated with
perfumes, which a Pharaoh perhaps had kissed; as they fingered the hair,
more durable than empire, more solid than granite monuments. At the
sight of the lovely dead girl, the young nobleman felt the retrospective
desire often inspired by the sight of a statue or a painting
representing a woman of past days famous for her beauty. It seemed to
him that he would have loved, had he lived three thousand years earlier,
that beauty which nothingness had refused to destroy; and the
sympathetic thought perhaps reached the restless soul that fluttered
above its profaned frame.

Far less poetic than the young nobleman, Dr. Rumphius was making the
inventory of the gems, without, however, taking them off; for Evandale
had ordered that the mummy should not be deprived of this last frail
consolation. To take away gems from a woman, even dead, is to kill her a
second time. Suddenly a papyrus roll concealed between the side and arm
of the mummy caught the doctor's eye.

"Oh!" said he, "this is no doubt a copy of the funeral ritual placed in
the inner coffin and written with more or less care according to the
wealth and rank of the person."

He unrolled the delicate band with infinite precautions. As soon as the
first lines showed, he exhibited surprise, for he did not recognise the
ordinary figures and signs of the ritual. In vain he sought in the usual
places for the vignettes representing the funeral, which serve as a
frontispiece to such papyri, nor did he find the Litany of the Hundred
Names of Osiris, nor the soul's passport, nor the petition to the gods
of Amenti. Drawings of a peculiar kind illustrated entirely different
scenes connected with human life, and not with the voyage of the shade
to the world beyond. Chapters and paragraphs seemed to be indicated by
characters written in red, evidently for the purpose of distinguishing
them from the remainder of the text, which was in black, and of calling
the attention of the reader to interesting points. An inscription placed
at the head appeared to contain the title of the work, and the name of
the grammat who had written or copied it,--so much, at least, did the
sagacious intuition of the doctor make out at the first glance.

"Undoubtedly, my lord, we have robbed Master Argyropoulos," said he to
Evandale, as he pointed out the differences between the papyrus and the
usual ritual. "This is the first time that an Egyptian manuscript has
been found to contain anything else than hieratic formulæ. I am bound to
decipher it, even if it costs me my sight, even if my beard grows thrice
around my desk. Yes, I shall ferret out your secret, mysterious Egypt!
Yes, I shall learn your story, you lovely dead; for that papyrus pressed
close to your heart by your lovely arm surely contains it. And I shall
be covered with glory, become the equal of Champollion, and make Lepsius
die of jealousy."

The nobleman and the doctor returned to Europe. The mummy, wrapped up
again in all its bandages and replaced within its three cases, rests
within Lord Evandale's park in Lincolnshire, in the basalt sarcophagus
which he brought at great expense from Biban el Molûk and which he did
not give to the British Museum. Sometimes Lord Evandale leans upon the
sarcophagus, sinks into a deep reverie, and sighs.

After three years of unflagging application, Dr. Rumphius succeeded in
deciphering the mysterious papyrus, save in some damaged parts, and in
others which contained unknown signs. And it is his translation into
Latin--which we have turned into French--that you are about to read,
under the name, "The Romance of a Mummy."



_The Romance of a Mummy_



I


Oph (that is the name of the city which antiquity called Thebes of the
Hundred Gates, or Diospolis Magna), seemed asleep under the burning
beams of the blazing sun. It was noon. A white light fell from the pale
sky upon the baked earth; the sand, shimmering and scintillating, shone
like burnished metal; shadows there were none, save a narrow, bluish
line at the foot of buildings, like the inky line with which an
architect draws upon papyrus; the houses, whose walls sloped well
inwards, glowed like bricks in an oven; every door was closed, and no
one showed at the windows, which were closed with blinds of reeds.

At the end of the deserted streets and above the terraces stood out in
the hot, transparent air the tips of obelisks, the tops of pylons, the
entablatures of palaces and temples, whose capitals, formed of human
faces or lotus flowers, showed partially, breaking the horizontal lines
of the roofs and rising like reefs amid the mass of private buildings.
Here and there above a garden wall shot up the scaly trunk of a palm
tree ending in a plume of leaves, not one of which stirred, for never a
breath blew. Acacias, mimosas, and Pharaoh fig-trees formed a cascade of
foliage that cast a narrow blue shadow upon the dazzling brilliancy of
the ground. These green spots refreshed and enlivened the solemn aridity
of the picture, which but for them would have been that of a dead city.

A few slaves of the Nahasi race, black complexioned, monkey-faced, with
bestial gait, alone braving the heat of the day, were bearing to their
masters' homes the water drawn from the Nile in jars that were hung from
a stick placed on their shoulder. Although they wore nothing but striped
drawers wrinkling on their hips, their torsos, brilliant and polished
like basalt, streamed with perspiration as they quickened their pace
lest they should scorch the thick soles of their feet on the pavements,
which were as hot as the floor of a vapour bath. The boatmen were asleep
in the cabins of their boats moored to the brick wall of the river quay,
sure that no one would waken them to cross to the other bank, where lay
the Memnonia quarter. In the highest heaven wheeled vultures, whose
shrill call, that at any other time would have been lost in the rumour
of the city, could be plainly heard in the general silence. On the
cornices of the monuments two or three ibises, one leg drawn up under
their body, their long bill resting on their breast, seemed to be
meditating deeply, and stood out against the calcined, whitish blue
which formed the background.

And yet all did not sleep. From the walls of a great palace whose
entablature, adorned with palmettoes, made a long, straight line against
the flaming sky, there came a faint murmur of music. These bursts of
harmony spread now and then through the diaphanous shimmer of the
atmosphere, and the eye might almost have followed their sonorous
undulations. Deadened by the thickness of the walls, the music was
strangely sweet. It was a song voluptuously sad, wearily languorous,
expressing bodily fatigue and the discouragement of passion. It was full
of the eternal weariness of the luminous azure, of the indescribable
helplessness of hot countries. As the slave passed by the wall,
forgetting the master's lash he would suspend his walk and stop to
breathe in that song, impregnated with all the secret homesickness of
the soul, which made him think of his far distant country, of his lost
love, and of the insurmountable obstacles of fate. Whence came that
song, that sigh softly breathed in the silence of the city? What
restless soul was awake when all around was asleep?

The straight lines and the monumental appearance of the façade of the
palace, which looked upon the face of the square, were typical of the
civil and religious architecture of Egypt. The dwelling could belong to
a princely or a priestly family only. So much was readily seen from the
materials of which it was built, the careful construction, and the
richness of the ornamentation.

In the centre of the façade rose a great building flanked by two wings
surmounted by a roof in the form of a truncated triangle. A broad,
deeply cut moulding of striking profile ended the wall, in which was
visible no opening other than a door placed, not symmetrically in the
centre, but in the corner of the building, no doubt to allow ample space
for the staircase within. A cornice in the same style as the entablature
surmounted this single door. The building projected from a wall on which
rested like balconies two stories of galleries, resembling open
porticoes, composed of pillars singularly fantastic in style. The bases
of these pillars represented huge lotus-buds, from the capsule of which,
as it opened its dentelated rim, sprang the shaft like a giant pistil,
swelling below, more slender at the top, girdled under the capital by a
collar of mouldings, and ending in a half-blown flower. Between the
broad bays were small windows with their sashes in two parts filled with
stained glass. Above ran a terraced roof flagged with huge slabs of
stone.

On the outer galleries great clay vases, rubbed inside with bitter
almonds and closed with leaves, resting upon wooden pedestals, cooled
the Nile water in the draughts of air. Tables bore pyramids of fruits,
sheaves of flowers and drinking-cups of different shapes; for the
Egyptians love to eat in the open air, and take their meals, so to
speak, upon the public street. On either side of the main building
stretched others rising to the height of one story only, formed of a row
of pillars engaged half-way up in a wall divided into panels in such a
manner as to form around the house a shelter closed to the sun and the
gaze of the outer world. All these buildings, enlivened by ornamental
paintings,--for the capitals, the shafts, the cornices, and the panels
were coloured,--produced a delightful and superb effect.

The door opened into a vast court surrounded by a quadrilateral portico
supported by pillars, the capitals of which showed on each face a
woman's head, with the ears of a cow, long, narrow eyes, slightly
flattened noses, and a broad smile; each wore a thick red cushion and
supported a cap of hard sandstone. Under the portico opened the doors of
the apartments, into which the light came softened by the shade of the
galleries. In the centre of the court sparkled in the sunshine a pool of
water, edged with a margin of Syêné granite. On the surface of the pond
spread the heart-shaped leaves of the lotus, the rose and blue flowers
of which were half closed as if overcome by the heat in spite of the
water in which they were plunged. In the flower-beds around the pool
were planted flowers arranged fanlike upon small hillocks, and along the
narrow walks laid out between the beds walked carefully two tame storks,
which from time to time snapped their bills and fluttered their wings as
if about to take flight. At the angles of the court the twisted trunks
of four huge persæas exhibited a mass of metallic green foliage. At the
end a sort of pylon broke the portico, and its large bay, framing in
the blue air, showed at the end of a long avenue a summer kiosk of rich
and elegant design. In the compartments traced on the right and on the
left of the arbour by dwarf trees cut into the shape of cones, bloomed
pomegranates, sycamores, tamarinds, periplocas, mimosas, and acacias,
the flowers of which shone like coloured lights on the deep green of the
foliage which overhung the walls.

The faint, sweet music of which we have spoken proceeded from one of the
rooms which opened into the interior portico. Although the sun shone
full into the court, the ground of which blazed in the flood of light, a
blue, cool shadow, transparently intense, filled the apartment, in which
the eye, blinded by the dazzling reverberation, sought to distinguish
shapes and at last made them out when it had become accustomed to the
semi-light. A tender lilac tone overspread the walls of the room, around
which ran a cornice painted in brilliant tones and enriched with small
golden palm-branches. Architectural designs skilfully combined formed on
the plain spaces panels which framed in ornaments, sheaves of flowers,
birds, diapers of contrasted colours, and scenes of domestic life.

At the back, near the wall, stood a strangely shaped bed, representing
an ox wearing ostrich-feathers with a disc between its horns, broadening
its back to receive the sleeper upon a thin red mattress, and stiffening
by way of feet its black legs ending in green hoofs, while its curled-up
tail was divided into two tufts. This quadruped bed, this piece of
animal furniture, would have seemed strange in any other country than
Egypt, where lions and jackals are also turned into beds by the fancy of
the workmen.

In front of the couch was placed a stool with four steps, which gave
access to it: at the head, a pillow of Oriental alabaster, destined to
support the neck without deranging the head-dress, was hollowed out in
the shape of a half moon. In the centre a table of precious wood carved
with exceeding care, stood upon a richly carved pedestal. A number of
objects were placed upon it: a pot of lotus flowers, a mirror of
polished bronze on an ivory stand, a vase of moss agate filled with
antimony powder, a perfume spatula of sycamore wood in the shape of a
woman bare to the waist stretching out as if she were swimming, and
appearing to attempt to hold her box above the water.

Near the table, on an armchair of gilded wood picked out with red, with
blue feet, and with lions for arms, covered with a thick cushion of
purple stuff starred with gold and crossed with black, the end of which
fell over the back, was seated a young woman, or rather, a young girl of
marvellous beauty, in a graceful attitude of nonchalance and melancholy.

Her features, of ideal delicacy, were of the purest Egyptian type, and
sculptors must have often thought of her as they carved the images of
Isis and Hathor, even at the risk of breaking the rigorous hieratic
laws. Golden and rosy reflections coloured her warm pallor, in which
showed her long black eyes, made to appear larger by lines of antimony,
and full of a languorous, inexpressible sadness. Those great dark eyes,
with the eyebrows strongly marked and the eyelids coloured, gave a
strange expression to the dainty, almost childish face. The half-parted
lips, somewhat thick, of the colour of a pomegranate flower, showed a
gleam of polished white and preserved the involuntary and almost painful
smile which imparts so sympathetic a charm to the Egyptian face. The
nose, slightly depressed at the root, where the eyebrows melted one into
another in a velvety shadow, rose in such pure lines, such delicate
outlines, and with such well-cut nostrils that any woman or goddess
would have been satisfied with it in spite of its slightly African
profile. The chin was rounded with marvellous elegance and shone like
polished ivory. The cheeks, rather rounder than those of the beauties of
other nations, added to the face an expression of extreme sweetness and
gracefulness.

This lovely girl wore for head-dress a sort of helmet formed of a Guinea
fowl, the half-closed wings of which fell upon her temples, and the
pretty, small head of which came down to the centre of her brow, while
the tail, marked with white spots, spread out on the back of her neck. A
clever combination of enamel imitated to perfection the plumage of the
bird. Ostrich-feathers, planted in the helmet like an aigrette,
completed this head-dress, which was reserved for young virgins, as the
vulture, the symbol of maternity, is worn only by women. The hair of the
young girl, of a brilliant black, plaited into tresses, hung in masses
on either side of her smooth, round cheeks, and fell down to her
shoulders. In the shadowy masses of the hair shone, like suns in a
cloud, great discs of gold worn as earrings. From the head-dress hung
gracefully down the back two long bands of stuff with fringed ends. A
broad pectoral ornament, composed of several rows of enamels, gold and
cornelian beads, and fishes and lizards of stamped gold, covered her
breast from the lower part of the neck to the upper part of the bosom,
which showed pink and white through the thin warp of the calasiris. The
dress, of a large checkered pattern, was fastened under the bosom with a
girdle with long ends, and ended in a broader border of transverse
stripes edged with a fringe. Triple bracelets of lapis-lazuli beads,
divided here and there by golden balls, encircled her slender wrists,
delicate as those of a child; and her lovely, narrow feet with long,
supple toes, were shod with sandals of white kid stamped with designs in
gold, and rested on a cedar stool incrusted with red and green enamel.

Near Tahoser (for this was the name of the young Egyptian) knelt, one
leg drawn back under the thigh and the other forming an obtuse angle, in
the attitude which the painters love to reproduce on the walls of
hypogea, a female harpist placed upon a sort of low pedestal, destined
no doubt to increase the resonance of the instrument. A piece of stuff
striped with coloured bands, the ends of which, thrown back, hung in
fluted lappets, bound her hair and framed in her face, smiling
mysteriously like that of a sphinx. A narrow dress, or rather sheath, of
transparent gauze outlined closely the youthful contours of her elegant,
slender form. Her dress, cut below the breast, left her shoulders,
chest, and arms free in their chaste nudity. A support, fixed to the
pedestal on which was placed the player, and traversed by a bolt in the
shape of a key, formed a rest for the harp, the weight of which, but for
that, would have borne wholly upon the shoulders of the young woman. The
harp, which ended in a sort of keyboard, rounded like a shell and
covered with ornamental paintings, bore at its upper end a sculptured
head of Hathor surmounted by an ostrich-plume. The nine cords were
stretched diagonally and quivered under the long, slender hands of the
harpist, who often, in order to reach the lower notes, bent with a
sinuous motion as if she were about to float on the waves of music and
accompany the vanishing harmony.

Behind her stood another musician, who might have been thought nude but
for the faint white haze which toned the bronze colour of her body. She
played on a sort of guitar with an exceedingly long handle, the three
cords of which were coquettishly adorned at their extremity with
coloured tufts. One of her arms, slender yet round, grasped the top of
the handle with a sculptural pose, while the other upheld the instrument
and touched the strings.

A third young woman, whose enormous mass of hair made her look all the
more slender, beat time upon a tympanum formed of a wooden frame
slightly curved inward, on which was stretched an onager-skin.

The harpist sang a plaintive melody, accompanied in unison,
inexpressibly sad. The words breathed vague aspirations, vague regrets,
a hymn of love to the unknown, and timid plaints of the rigour of the
gods and the cruelty of fate. Tahoser, leaning upon one of the lions of
her armchair, her hand under her cheek and her finger curved against her
temple, listened with inattention more apparent than real, to the song
of the musician. At times a sigh made her breast heave and raised the
enamels of her necklace. Sometimes a moist light caused by a growing
tear shone in her eye between the lines of antimony, and her tiny teeth
bit her lower lip as if she were fighting her own emotion.

"Satou," she said, clapping her delicate hands together to silence the
musician, who at once deadened with her palm the vibrations of the harp,
"your song enervates me, makes me languid, and would make me giddy like
overpowerful perfumes. The strings of your harp seem to be twisted with
the vibrations of my heart and sound painfully within my breast. You
make me almost ashamed, for it is my soul that mourns in your music. Who
can have told you my secrets?"

"Mistress," replied the harpist, "the poet and the musician know
everything; the gods reveal hidden things to them; they express in their
rhythm what the thought scarcely conceives and what the tongue
confusedly stammers. But if my song saddens you, I can, by changing its
mode, bring brighter ideas to your mind." And Satou struck the cords of
her harp with joyous energy, and with a quick measure which the tympanum
marked with more rapid strokes.

After this prelude she began a song praising the charms of wine, the
intoxication of perfumes, and the delight of the dance. Some of the
women, who, seated upon folding-stools formed of the necks of blue
swans, whose yellow bills clasped the frame of the seat, or kneeling
upon scarlet cushions filled with the down of thistles, had assumed
under the influence of Satou's music poses of utter languor, shivered;
their nostrils swelled; they breathed in the magic rhythm; they rose to
their feet, and, moved by an irresistible impulse, began to dance. A
head-dress, in the shape of a helmet cut out around the ear, enclosed
their hair, some locks of which escaped and fell upon their brown
cheeks, which the ardour of the dance soon turned rosy. Broad golden
circles beat upon their necks, and through their long gauze shifts,
embroidered at the top with pearls, showed their golden bronze bodies
which moved with the ease of an adder. They twisted, turned, swayed
their hips, bound with a narrow black girdle, threw themselves back,
bowed down, inclined their heads to right and left as if they found a
secret voluptuousness in touching their polished chins with their cold,
bare shoulders, swelled out their breasts like doves, knelt and rose,
pressed their hands to their bosom or voluptuously outspread their arms,
which seemed to flutter as the wings of Iris or Nephthys, dragged their
limbs, bent the knee, displayed their swift feet with little staccato
movements, and followed every undulation of the music. The maids,
standing against the wall to leave free space for the evolutions of the
dancers, marked the rhythm by snapping their fingers or clapping their
hands together. Some of these maids, absolutely nude, had no other
raiment than a bracelet of enamelled ware; others wore a narrow cloth
held by straps, and a few sprays of flowers twisted in their hair. It
was a strange and graceful sight. The buds and the flowers, gently
moving, shed their perfume through the hall, and these young women, thus
wreathed, might have suggested fortunate comparisons to poets.

But Satou had overestimated the power of her art. The joyous rhythm
seemed to increase Tahoser's melancholy. A tear rolled down her fair
cheek like a drop of Nile water on a nymphoea, and hiding her face in
the breast of her favourite maid, who leaned upon the armchair of her
mistress, she uttered with a sob, dovelike in its sadness, "Oh, my dear
Nofré, I am very sad and very unhappy!"



II


Nofré, anticipating some confidence, made a sign, and the harpist, the
two musicians, the dancers, and the maids silently withdrew one by one,
like the figures painted on frescoes. When the last had gone, the
favourite said to her mistress in a petting, sympathetic tone, like a
young mother soothing her child's tender grief,--

"What is the matter, dear mistress, that you are sad and unhappy? Are
you not young, so fair that the loveliest envy you, and free to do what
you please? And did not your father, the high-priest Petamounoph, whose
mummy rests concealed within a rich tomb,--did he not leave you great
wealth to do with as you please? Your palace is splendid, your gardens
vast and watered by transparent streams, your coffers of enamelled ware
and sycamore wood are filled with necklaces, pectorals, neck-plates,
anklets, finely wrought seal-rings. Your gowns, your calasiris, your
head-dresses are greater in number than the days of the year. Hopi, the
father of waters, regularly covers with his fertilising mud your
domains, which a vulture flying at top speed could scarce traverse from
sunrise to sunrise. And yet your heart, instead of opening joyously like
a lotus bud in the month of Hathor or of Choeak, closes and contracts
painfully."

Tahoser answered Nofré:--

"Yes, indeed, the gods of the higher zones have treated me favourably.
But what matter one's possessions if one lacks the one thing desired? An
unsatisfied wish makes the rich as poor, in his gilded, brightly painted
palace, in the midst of his heaps of grain, of perfumes and precious
things, as the most wretched workman of the Memnonia, who sops up with
sawdust the blood of the bodies, or the semi-nude negro driving on the
Nile his frail papyrus-boat under the burning midday sun."

Nofré smiled, and said with a look of imperceptible raillery,--

"Is it possible, O mistress, that a single one of your fancies has not
been fulfilled at once? If you want a jewel, you give the workman an
ingot of pure gold, cornelians, lapis-lazuli, agates, and hematite, and
he carries out the wished-for design. It is the same way with gowns,
cars, perfumes, flowers, and musical instruments. From Philæ to
Heliopolis your slaves seek out for you what is most beautiful and most
rare; and if Egypt does not hold what you want, caravans bring it to you
from the ends of the world."

The lovely Tahoser shook her pretty head and seemed annoyed at her
confidante's lack of intelligence.

"Forgive me, mistress," said Nofré, changing her tone as she understood
that she had made a mistake. "I had forgotten that it will soon be four
months since the Pharaoh left on his expedition to Upper Ethiopia, and
that the handsome oëris (general), who never passed under the terrace
without looking up and slowing his steps, accompanies His Majesty. How
well he looked in his uniform, how handsome, young, and bold!"

Tahoser's rosy lips half parted, as if she were about to speak, but a
faint, rosy flush spread over her cheeks, she bowed her head, and the
words ready to issue forth did not unfold their sonorous wings.

The maid thought she had guessed right, and continued,--

"In that case, mistress, your grief will soon end, for this morning a
breathless runner arrived, announcing the triumphal return of the king
before sundown. Have you not already heard innumerable rumours buzzing
confusedly over the city, which is awakening from its midday torpor?
List! The wheels of the cars sound upon the stone slabs of the streets,
and already the people are hurrying in compact bodies to the river bank,
to cross it and reach the parade ground. Throw off your languor and come
also to see that wondrous spectacle. When one is sad, one ought to
mingle with the crowd, for solitude feeds sombre thoughts. From his
chariot Ahmosis will smile graciously upon you, and you will return
happier to your palace."

"Ahmosis loves me, but I do not love him," answered Tahoser.

"You speak as a maid," replied Nofré, who was very much smitten with the
handsome officer, and who thought that the disdainful nonchalance of
Tahoser was assumed. In point of fact, Ahmosis was a very handsome
fellow. His profile resembled that of the images of the gods carved by
the most skilful sculptors. His proud, regular features equalled in
beauty those of a woman; his slightly aquiline nose, his brilliant black
eyes lengthened with antimony, his polished cheeks, smooth as Oriental
alabaster, his well-shaped lips, his tall, handsome figure, his broad
chest, his narrow hips, his strong arms on which, however, no muscle
stood out in coarse relief, were all that were needed to seduce the most
difficult to please; but Tahoser did not love him, whatever Nofré might
think. Another idea, which she refrained from expressing, for she did
not believe Nofré capable of understanding her, helped the young girl to
make up her mind. She threw off her languor, and rose from her armchair
with a vivacity quite unexpected after the broken-down attitude she had
preserved during the singing and the dancing.

Nofré, kneeling before her, fastened on her feet sandals with turned-up
ends, cast scented powder on her hair, drew from a box several bracelets
in the shape of serpents, and a few rings with sacred scarabæi for gems,
put on her cheeks a green powder which immediately turned rose-colour as
it touched the skin, polished her nails with a cosmetic, and adjusted
the somewhat rumpled folds of her calasiris like a zealous maid who
means that her mistress shall show to the greatest advantage. Then she
called two or three servants, and ordered them to make ready the boat
and transport to the other side of the river the chariot and oxen.

The palace, or if this name seems too pompous, the dwelling of Tahoser,
rose close to the Nile, from which it was separated by gardens only.
Petamounoph's daughter, her hand resting on Nofré's shoulder, and
preceded by her servants, walked down to the water-gate through the
arbour, the broad leaves of which, softening the rays of the sun,
flecked with light shadows her lovely face. She soon reached the wide
brick quay, on which swarmed a mighty multitude, awaiting the departure
or return of the boats.

The vast city held now only the sick, the invalids, old people unable to
move, and the slaves left in charge of the houses. Through the streets,
the squares, the dromos (temple avenues), down the sphinx avenues,
through the pylons, along the quays, flowed streams of human beings all
bound for the Nile. The multitude exhibited the strangest variety. The
Egyptians were there in largest numbers, and were recognisable by their
clean profile, their tall, slender figures, their fine linen robes or
their carefully pleated calasiris. Some, their heads enveloped in
striped green or blue cloth, with narrow drawers closely fitting to
their loins, showed to the belt their bare torsos the colour of baked
clay. Against this mass of natives stood out divers members of exotic
races: negroes from the Upper Nile, as black as basalt gods, their arms
bound round with broad ivory rings, their ears adorned with barbaric
ornaments; bronzed Ethiopians, fierce-eyed, uneasy, and restless in the
midst of this civilisation, like wild beasts in the glare of day;
Asiatics with their pale-yellow complexion and their blue eyes, their
beard curled in spirals, wearing a tiara fastened by a band, and draped
in heavily embroidered, fringed robes; Pelasgi, dressed in wild beasts'
skins fastened on the shoulder, showing their curiously tattooed legs
and arms, wearing feathers in their hair, with two long love-locks
hanging down. Through the multitude gravely marched shaven-headed
priests with a panther's-skin twisted around their body in such a way
that the head of the animal formed a sort of belt-buckle, byblos shoes
on their feet, in their hand a tall acacia-stick on which were engraved
hieroglyphic characters; soldiers, their silver-studded daggers by their
side, their bucklers on their backs, their bronze axes in their hands;
distinguished personages, their breasts adorned with neck-plates of
honour, to whom the slaves bowed low, bringing their hands close to the
ground; and sliding along the walls with humble and sad mien, poor,
half-nude women travelling along bowed under the weight of their
children suspended from their neck in rags of stuff or baskets of
espartero; while handsome girls, accompanied by three or four maids,
passed proudly with their long, transparent dresses knotted under their
breasts with long, floating scarfs, sparkling with enamels, pearls, and
gold, and giving out a fragrance of flowers and aromatic essences.

Among the foot-passengers went litters borne by Ethiopians running
rapidly and rhythmically; light carts drawn by spirited horses with
plumed headgear; ox chariots moving slowly along and bearing a whole
family. Scarcely did the crowd, careless of being run over, draw aside
to make room, and often the drivers were forced to strike with their
whips those who were slow or obstinate in moving away.

The greatest animation reigned on the river, which, notwithstanding its
breadth, was so covered with boats of all kinds that the water was
invisible along the whole stretch of the city; all manner of craft, from
the bark with raised poop and prow and richly painted and gilded cabin
to the light papyrus skiff,--everything had been called into use. Even
the boats used to ferry cattle and to carry freight, and the reed rafts
kept up by skins, which generally carried loads of clay vessels, had
not been disdained. The waters of the Nile, beaten, lashed, and cut by
oars, sweeps, and rudders, foamed like the sea, and formed many an eddy
that broke the force of the current.

The build of the boats was as varied as it was picturesque. Some were
finished off at each end with a great lotus flower curving inwards, the
stem adorned with fluttering flags; others were forked at the poop which
rose to a point; others again were crescent-shaped, with horns at either
end; others bore a sort of a castle or platform on which stood the
pilots; still others were composed of three strips of bark bound with
cords, and were driven by a paddle. The boats for the transport of
animals and chariots were moored side by side, supporting a platform on
which rested a floating bridge to facilitate embarking and disembarking.
The number of these was very great. The horses, terrified, neighed and
stamped with their sounding hoofs; the oxen turned restlessly towards
the shore their shining noses whence hung filaments of saliva, but grew
calmer under the caresses of their drivers. The boatswains marked time
for the rowers by striking together the palms of their hands; the
pilots, perched on the poop or walking about on the raised cabins,
shouted their orders, indicating the manoeuvres necessary to make way
through the moving labyrinth of vessels. Sometimes, in spite of all
precautions, boats collided, and crews exchanged insults or struck at
each other with their oars. These countless crafts, most of them painted
white and adorned with ornaments of green, blue, or red, laden with men
and women dressed in many-coloured costumes, caused the Nile to
disappear entirely over an extent of many miles, and presented under the
brilliant Egyptian sun a spectacle dazzling in its changefulness. The
water, agitated in every direction, surged, sparkled, and gleamed like
quicksilver, and resembled a sun shattered into millions of pieces.

Tahoser entered her barge, which was decorated with wondrous richness.
In the centre stood a cabin, its entablature surmounted with a row of
uræus-snakes, the angles squared to the shape of pillars, and the walls
adorned with designs. A binnacle with pointed roof stood on the poop,
and was matched at the other end by a sort of altar enriched with
paintings. The rudder consisted of two huge sweeps, ending in heads of
Hathor, that were fastened with long strips of stuff and worked upon
hollow posts. On the mast shivered--for the east wind had just risen--an
oblong sail fastened to two yards, the rich stuff of which was
embroidered and painted with lozenges, chevrons, birds, and chimerical
animals in brilliant colours; from the lower yard hung a fringe of great
tufts.

The moorings cast off and the sail braced to the wind, the vessel left
the bank, sheering with its sharp prow between the innumerable boats,
the oars of which became entangled and moved about like the legs of a
scarabæus thrown over on its back. It sailed on carelessly amidst a
stream of insults and shouts. Its greater power enabled it to disdain
collisions which would have run down frailer vessels. Besides, Tahoser's
crew were so skilful that their vessel seemed endowed with life, so
swiftly did it obey the rudder and avoid in the nick of time serious
obstacles. Soon it had left behind the heavily laden boats with their
cabins filled with passengers inside, and on the roof three or four rows
of men, women, and children crouching in the attitude so dear to the
Egyptian people. These individuals, so kneeling, might have been
mistaken for the assistant judges of Osiris, had not their faces,
instead of bearing the expression of meditation suited to funeral
councillors, expressed the most unmistakable delight. The fact was that
the Pharaoh was returning victorious, bringing vast booty with him.
Thebes was given up to joy, and its whole population was proceeding to
welcome the favourite of Ammon Ra, Lord of the Diadem, the Emperor of
the Pure Region, the mighty Aroëris, the Sun God and the Subduer of
Nations.

Tahoser's barge soon reached the opposite bank. The boat bearing her car
came alongside almost at the same moment. The oxen ascended the flying
bridge, and in a few minutes were yoked by the alert servants who had
been landed with them.

The oxen were white spotted with black, and bore on their heads a sort
of tiara which partly covered the yoke; the latter was fastened by broad
leather straps, one of which passed around the neck of the oxen, and the
other, fastened to the first, passed under their belly. Their high
withers, their broad dewlaps, their clean limbs, their small hoofs,
shining like agate, their tails with the tuft carefully combed, showed
that they were thorough-bred and that hard field-work had never deformed
them. They exhibited the majestic placidity of Apis, the sacred bull,
when it receives homage and offerings.

The chariot, extremely light, could hold two or three persons standing.
The semicircular body, covered with ornaments and gilding arranged in
graceful curved lines, was supported by a sort of diagonal stay, which
rose somewhat beyond the upper edge and to which the traveller clung
with his hand when the road was rough or the speed of the oxen rapid. On
the axle, placed at the back of the body in order to diminish the
jolting, were two six-spoked wheels held by keyed bolts. On top of a
staff planted at the back of the vehicle spread a parasol in the shape
of palm leaves.

Nofré, bending over the edge of the chariot, held the reins of the oxen,
bridled like horses, and drove the car in the Egyptian fashion, while
Tahoser, motionless by her side, leaned a hand, studded with rings from
the little finger to the thumb, on the gilded moulding of the shell.
These two lovely maidens, the one brilliant with enamels and precious
stones, the other scarcely veiled in a transparent tunic of gauze,
formed a charming group on the brilliantly painted car. Eight or ten
men-servants, dressed in tunics with transverse stripes, the folds of
which were massed in front, accompanied the equipage, keeping step with
the oxen.

On this side of the river the crowd was not less great. The inhabitants
of the Memnonia quarters and of the neighbouring villages were arriving
in their turn, and every moment the boats, landing their passengers on
the brick quay wall, brought additional sight-seers to swell the
multitude. The wheels of innumerable chariots, all driving towards the
parade ground, flashed like suns in the golden dust which they raised.
Thebes at that moment must have been as deserted as if a conqueror had
carried away its people into captivity.

The frame, too, was worthy of the picture. In the midst of green fields
whence rose the aigrettes of the dôm palms, showed in bright colours
houses of pleasaunce, palaces, and summer homes surrounded by sycamores
and mimosas. Pools of water sparkled in the sunshine, the festoons of
vines climbed on the arched arbours, and in the background stood out the
gigantic pylons of the palace of Rameses Meïamoun, with its huge pylons,
its enormous walls, its gilded and painted flagstaffs from which the
colours blew out in the wind; and further to the north the two colossi
sitting in postures of eternal immobility, mountains of granite in human
shape, before the entrance to the Amenophium, showed through a bluish
haze, half masking the still more distant Rhamesseium, and beyond it the
tomb of the high-priest, but allowing the palace of Menephta to be seen
at one of its angles.

Nearer the Lybian chain, from the Memnonian quarter inhabited by the
undertakers, dissectors, and embalmers, went up into the blue air the
red smoke of the natron boilers, for the work of death never ceased; in
vain did life spread tumultuously around, the bandages were being
prepared, the cases moulded, the coffins carved with hieroglyphs, and
some cold body was stretched out upon the funeral bed, with feet of lion
or jackal, waiting to have its toilet made for eternity.

On the horizon, but, owing to the transparency of the air, seeming to be
much nearer, the Libyan mountains showed against the clear sky their
limestone crests and their barren slopes hollowed out into hypogea and
passages.

Looking towards the other bank the prospect was no less wondrous.
Against the vaporous background of the Arabian chain, the gigantic pile
of the Northern Palace, which distance itself could scarce diminish,
reared above the flat-roofed dwellings its mountains of granite, its
forest of giant pillars, rose-coloured in the rays of the sunshine. In
front of the palace stretched a vast esplanade reaching down to the
river by a staircase placed at the angles; in the centre an avenue of
ram-headed sphinxes perpendicular to the Nile, led to a huge pylon, in
front of which stood two colossal statues and a pair of obelisks, the
pyramidions of which, rising above the cornice, showed their
flesh-coloured points against the uniform blue of the sky. Beyond and
above the boundary wall rose the side façade of the temple of Ammon.
More to the right were the temples of Khons and Oph. A giant pylon, seen
in profile and facing to the south, and two obelisks sixty cubits in
height, marked the beginning of that marvellous avenue of two thousand
sphinxes with lions' bodies and rams' heads, which reached from the
Northern Palace to the Southern Palace. On the pedestals could be seen
swelling the huge quarters of the first row of these monsters, that
turned their backs to the Nile. Farther still, there showed faintly in
the rosy light cornices on which the mystic globe outspread its vast
wings, heads of placid-faced colossi, corners of mighty buildings,
needles of granite, terraces rising above terraces, columns of palm
trees growing like tufts of grass amid these vast constructions; and the
Palace of the South uprose, with high painted walls, flag-adorned
staffs, sloping doors, obelisks, and herds of sphinxes. Beyond, as far
as the eye could reach, Oph stretched out with its palaces, its priests'
colleges, its houses, and in the dimmest distance the crests of its
walls and the summits of its gates showed as faint blue lines.

Tahoser gazed upon the prospect which was so familiar to her, but her
glance expressed no admiration; however, as she passed a house almost
buried amid luxuriant vegetation, she lost her apathy, and seemed to
seek on the terraces and on the outer gallery some well-known form.

A handsome young man, carelessly leaning against one of the slender
pillars of the building, appeared to be watching the crowd, but his dark
eyes, with their dreamy look, did not rest on the chariot which bore
Tahoser and Nofré.

Meanwhile the hand of the daughter of Petamounoph clung nervously to
the edge of the car; her cheeks turned pale under the light touch of
rouge which Nofré had put on, and as if she felt herself fainting, she
breathed in rapidly and often the scent of her nosegay of lotus.



III


In spite of her usual perspicacity, Nofré had not noticed the effect
produced on her mistress by the sight of the careless stranger. She had
observed neither her pallor, followed by a deep blush, nor the brighter
gleam of her glance nor the rustling of the enamels and pearls of her
necklace rising and falling with her bosom. It is true that her whole
attention was given to the management of the equipage, which presented a
good deal of difficulty in view of the ever denser masses of sight-seers
crowding to be present at the triumphal entrance of the Pharaoh.

At last the car reached the parade ground, a vast enclosure carefully
levelled for military displays. Great banks, which must have cost thirty
enslaved nations the labour of years, formed a bold framework for the
immense parallelogram. Sloping revetment walls of unbaked bricks covered
the banks, and the crests were lined many files deep by hundreds of
thousands of Egyptians, whose white or brightly striped costumes
fluttered in the sun with that constant motion characteristic of a
multitude even when it seems to be motionless. Behind this ring of
spectators the cars, chariots, and litters watched by the coachmen,
drivers, and slaves, seemed to be the camp of a migrating nation, so
great was their number; for Thebes, the wonder of the ancient world,
reckoned more inhabitants than do certain kingdoms. The fine, smooth
sand of the vast arena lined with a million people, sparkled under the
light, falling from a sky as blue as the enamel of the Osiris
statuettes.

On the southern side of the parade ground the revetment wall was cut
through by a road which ran towards Upper Egypt along the foot of the
Libyan chain. At the opposite corner the revetment was again cut so that
the road was prolonged to the palace of Rameses Meïamoun through the
thick brick walls. Petamounoph's daughter and Nofré, for whom the
servants had made room, stood on this corner on the top of the wall, so
that they could see the whole procession pass at their feet.

A mighty rumour, low, deep, and powerful, like that of an advancing
ocean, was heard in the distance and drowned the innumerable noises
arising from the crowd, as the roar of a lion silences the yelping of a
tribe of jackals. Soon the separate sounds of the instruments were heard
amidst the thunderous noise produced by the driving of war chariots and
the rhythmic marching of the soldiers. A sort of reddish mist like that
raised by the desert wind filled the sky in that direction, and yet
there was no breeze,--not a breath of air,--and the most delicate
branches of the palms were as motionless as if they had been carved on
granite capitals. Not a hair moved on the wet temples of the women, and
the fluted lappets of their head-dresses fell limp behind their backs.
The dusty mist was produced by the army on the march, and hovered above
it like a dun-coloured cloud.

The roar increased, the cloud of dust opened, and the first files of
musicians debouched into the vast arena, to the intense delight of the
multitude, which, notwithstanding its respect for the majesty of the
Pharaoh, was beginning to weary of waiting under a sunshine which would
have melted any but Egyptian skulls.

The advance guard of musicians stopped for a few moments. Delegations of
priests and deputations of the chief inhabitants of Thebes crossed the
parade ground to meet the Pharaoh, and drew up in double line in
attitudes of the deepest respect so as to leave a free passage for the
procession.

The music, which alone might have formed a small army, was composed of
drums, tambourines, trumpets, and sistra. The first squad passed,
blowing a sounding blare of triumph through its short copper bugles that
shone like gold. Every one of these musicians carried a second bugle
under his arm, as if the instrument were likely to be worn out before
the man. The costume of the trumpeters consisted of a short tunic bound
by a sash the broad ends of which fell in front. A narrow band upholding
two ostrich-plumes fastened their thick hair. The plumes thus placed
looked like the antennæ of a scarabæus, and imparted to those who wore
them a quaint, insect-like appearance.

The drummers, clad in a mere pleated kilt and bare to the belt, struck
with sycamore sticks the wild-ass-skin stretched over their kettledrums
suspended from a leather baldric, keeping the time which the drum major
marked by clapping his hands as he frequently turned towards them. Next
to the drummers came the sistrum players, who shook their instruments
with sharp, quick movements, and at regular intervals made the metal
rings sound upon the four bronze bars. The tambourine players carried
transversely before them their oblong instrument fastened by a scarf
passed behind their neck, and struck with both fists the skin stretched
on either end.

Each band numbered not less than two hundred men, but the storm of sound
produced by the bugles, drums, sistra, and tambourines, which would have
been deafening within the palace, was in no wise too loud or too
tremendous under the vast cupola of the heavens, in the centre of that
immense space, amid buzzing multitudes, at the head of an army which
baffles enumeration and which was advancing with the roar of great
waters. Besides, were eight hundred musicians too many to precede the
Pharaoh, beloved of Ammon Ra, represented by colossi of basalt and
granite sixty cubits high, whose name was written on the cartouches of
imperishable monuments, and whose story was carved and painted upon the
walls of the hypostyle halls, on the sides of pillars, in endless
_bassi-relievi_ and innumerable frescoes? Was it too much indeed for a
king who dragged a hundred conquered nations by their hair, and from the
height of his throne ruled the nations with his whip? For the living
Sun that flamed on dazzled eyes? For one who, save that he did not
possess eternal life, was a god?

Behind the music came the captive barbarians, strange to look at, with
bestial faces, black skins, woolly hair, as much like monkeys as men,
and dressed in the costume of their country,--a skirt just above the
hips held by a single brace, embroidered with ornaments in divers
colours. An ingenious cruelty had directed the binding together of the
prisoners. Some were bound by the elbows behind the back; others by
their hands raised above their head, in the most uncomfortable position;
others again had their wrists caught in stocks; others with their neck
in an iron collar or held by a rope which fastened a whole file of them,
with a loop for each victim. It seemed as if the object sought had been
to thwart as much as possible natural attitudes in the fettering of
these poor wretches, who marched before their conqueror awkwardly and
with difficulty, rolling their big eyes and twisting and writhing in
pain. Guards marched at their side, striking them with sticks to make
them keep time.

Next came, bowed with shame, exposed in their wretched, deformed nudity,
dark-complexioned women, with long hanging tresses, carrying their
children in a piece of stuff fastened around their brow,--a vile herd
intended for the meanest uses. Others, young, handsome and fairer, their
arms adorned with broad bracelets of ivory, their ears pulled down by
great metal discs, wrapped themselves in long, wide-sleeved tunics
embroidered around the neck and falling in fine, close folds down to
their ankles, on which rattled anklets,--poor girls, snatched from their
country, their parents, their lovers perhaps; yet they smiled through
their tears, for the power of beauty is boundless, strangeness gives
birth to caprice, and perhaps the royal favour awaited some of these
barbaric captives in the secret depths of the harem. Soldiers
accompanied them and kept the multitude from crowding upon them.

The standard-bearers followed, bearing on high the golden staff of their
ensigns, which represented mystic baris, sacred hawks, heads of Hathor
surmounted by ostrich-plumes, winged ibex, cartouches bearing the king's
name, crocodiles, and other warlike or religious symbols. Long white
streamers spotted with black spots were tied to these standards, and
fluttered gracefully on the march.

At the sight of the standards which announced the arrival of the
Pharaoh, the deputations of priests and notables stretched out their
hands in supplication towards him, or let them fall on their knees, the
palms turned up. Some even prostrated themselves, their knees close to
the body, their faces in the dust, in an attitude of absolute submission
and deep adoration, while the spectators waved great palm-branches.

A herald or reader, holding in his hand a roll covered with hieroglyphic
signs, marched along between the standard-bearers and the
incense-burners, who preceded the king's litter. He shouted, in a loud
voice as sonorous as a brazen trumpet, the victories of the Pharaoh; he
related the fortunes of the Pharaoh's battles, announced the number of
captives and of war chariots taken from the enemy, the amount of the
booty, the measures of gold-dust, the elephants' tusks, the
ostrich-plumes, the quantities of balsamic gum, the giraffes, lions,
panthers, and other rare animals. He named the barbaric chiefs who had
been slain by the javelins of His Majesty the Almighty Aroëris,
favourite of the gods. At each proclamation the people uttered a mighty
shout, and from the top of the revetment banks threw down upon the
conqueror's pathway long, green palm-branches.

At last the Pharaoh appeared. Priests, who turned and faced him at
regular intervals, swung their censers, after having cast incense upon
the coals lighted in a little bronze cup which was held by a hand at the
end of a sort of sceptre topped by a sacred animal's head. They marched
respectfully backwards while the scented blue smoke rose to the nostrils
of the triumphant sovereign, apparently as indifferent to these honours
as if he were a god of bronze or basalt.

Twelve oëris, or military chiefs, their heads covered with a light
helmet surmounted by an ostrich-plume, bare to the belt, their loins
wrapped in a loin cloth of stiff folds, wearing their buckler hanging
from their belt, supported a sort of dais on which rested the throne of
the Pharaoh. This was a chair with feet and arms formed of lions, with a
high back provided with a cushion that fell over it, and adorned on its
sides with a network of rose and blue flowers. The feet, the arms, and
the edges of the throne were gilded, while brilliant colours filled the
places left empty. On either side of the litter four fan-bearers waved
huge feather fans, semicircular in form, carried at the end of long,
gilded handles. Two priests bore a huge cornucopia richly ornamented,
whence fell quantities of giant lotus-flowers.

The Pharaoh wore a helmet shaped like a mitre and cut out around the
ears, where it fell over the neck by way of a protection. On the blue
ground of the helmet sparkled innumerable dots like birds' eyes, formed
of three circles, black, white, and red. It was adorned with scarlet and
yellow lines, and the symbolic uræus snake, twisting its golden scales
on the fore part, rose and swelled above the royal brow. Two long,
purple, fluted lappets fell upon his shoulders and completed this
majestic head-dress.

A broad necklace, of seven rows of enamels, gems, and golden beads,
swelled on the Pharaoh's breast and shone in the sun. His upper garment
was a sort of close-fitting jacket, of rose and black checkers, the ends
of which, shaped like narrow bands, were twisted tightly several times
around the bust. The sleeves, which came down to the biceps and were
edged with transverse lines of gold, red, and blue, showed round, firm
arms, the left provided with a broad wristlet of metal intended to
protect it from the switch of the cord when the Pharaoh shot an arrow
from his triangular bow. His right arm was adorned with a bracelet
formed of a serpent twisted several times on itself, and in his hand he
held a long golden sceptre ending in a lotus-bud. The rest of the body
was enveloped in the finest linen cloth with innumerable folds, held to
the hips by a girdle inlaid with plates of enamel and gold. Between the
jacket and the belt, the torso showed, shining and polished like rose
granite worked by a skilful workman. Sandals with pointed upturned toes
protected his long narrow feet, which were held close to one another
like the feet of the gods on the walls of the temples. His smooth,
beardless face with its great, regular features, which it seemed
impossible for any human emotion to alter, and which the blood of vulgar
life did not colour, with its deathlike pallor, its closed lips, its
great eyes made larger still by black lines, the eyelids of which never
closed any more than did those of the sacred hawk,--inspired through its
very immobility respect and awe. It seemed as though those fixed eyes
gazed upon eternity and the infinite only; surrounding objects did not
appear to be reflected in them. The satiety of enjoyment, of will
satisfied the moment it was expressed, the isolation of a demigod who
has no fellow among mortals, the disgust of worship, and the weariness
of triumph had forever marked that face, implacably sweet and of
granite-like serenity. Not even Osiris judging the souls of the dead
could look more majestic and more calm. A great tame lion, lying by his
side upon the litter, stretched out its enormous paws like a sphinx upon
a pedestal, and winked its yellow eyes. A rope fixed to the litter,
fastened to the Pharaoh the chariots of the conquered chiefs. He dragged
them behind him like animals in a leash. These vanquished chiefs, in
gloomy, fierce attitudes, whose elbows, drawn together by their points,
formed an ugly angle, staggered awkwardly as they were dragged by the
cars driven by Egyptian coachmen.

Next came the war chariots of the young princes of the royal family,
drawn by pairs of thorough-bred horses of noble and elegant shape, with
slender legs and muscular quarters, their manes cut close and short,
shaking their heads adorned with red plumes, frontlets, and headgear of
metal bosses. A curved pole, adorned with scarlet squares, pressed down
on their withers, and supported two small saddles surmounted with balls
of polished brass held together by a light yoke, with curved ends.
Girths and breast-harnesses richly embroidered, and superb housings
rayed with blue or red and fringed with tufts, completed their strong,
graceful, and light harness.

The body of the car, painted red and green, and ornamented with plates
and bosses of bronze like the boss on the bucklers, had on either side
two great quivers placed diagonally in opposite directions, the one
containing javelins, and the other arrows. On either side a carved and
gilded lion, its face wrinkled with a dreadful grin, seemed to roar, and
to be about to spring at the foe.

The young princes wore for a head-dress a narrow band which bound their
hair and in which twisted, as it swelled its hood, the royal asp. For
dress they wore a tunic embroidered around the neck and the sleeves with
brilliant embroidery and bound at the waist with a leather belt fastened
with a metal plate on which were engraved hieroglyphs. Through the belt
was passed a long, triangular, brazen-bladed poniard, the handle of
which, fluted transversely, ended in a hawk's-head. On the car, by the
side of each prince, stood the driver, whose business it was to drive
during the battle, and the equerry charged with warding off with a
buckler the blows directed at the fighter, while he himself shot his
arrows or hurled the javelins which he took from the quivers at the
sides.

Behind the princes came the chariots which formed the Egyptian cavalry,
to the number of twenty thousand, each drawn by two horses and carrying
three men. These chariots came ten abreast, with wheels almost touching
yet never meeting, so skilful were the drivers. Some lighter cars,
intended for skirmishes and reconnaissances came foremost, bearing a
single warrior, who in order to have his hands free while fighting,
passed the reins around his body. By leaning to the right, to the left
or backwards, he directed and stopped his horses, and it was truly
marvellous to see these noble animals, which seemed left to themselves,
guided by imperceptible movements and preserving an unchangingly regular
gait.

On one of these chariots the elegant Ahmosis, Nofré's protégé, showed
his tall figure and cast his glance over the multitude, trying to make
out Tahoser.

The trampling of the horses held in with difficulty, the thunder of the
bronze-bound wheels, the metallic justling of weapons, imparted to the
procession an imposing and formidable character well calculated to
strike terror into the bravest souls. Helmets, plumes, corselets covered
with green, red, and yellow scales, gilded bows, brazen swords, flashed
and gleamed fiercely in the sun shining in the heavens above the Libyan
chain like a great Osiris eye, and one felt that the charge of such an
army must necessarily sweep the nations before it even as the storm
drives the light straw. Under these numberless wheels the earth
resounded and trembled as if in the throes of an earthquake.

Next to the chariots came the infantry battalions marching in order, the
men carrying their shields on the left arm, and a lance, a javelin, a
bow, a sling, or an axe in the right hand. The soldiers wore helmets
adorned with two horse-hair tails. Their bodies were protected by a
cuirass of crocodile-skin; their impassible look, the perfect regularity
of their motions, their coppery complexion, deepened still more by the
recent expedition to the burning regions of Upper Egypt, the desert dust
which lay upon their clothes, inspired admiration for their discipline
and courage. With such soldiers Egypt could conquer the world.

Then came the troops of the allies, easily known by the barbarous shape
of their helmets, like mitres cut off, or else surmounted with a
crescent stuck on a point. Their broad-bladed swords, their saw-edged
axes, must have inflicted incurable wounds.

Slaves carried the booty announced by the herald on their shoulders or
on stretchers, and belluaria led panthers, wild-cats, crawling as if
they sought to hide themselves, ostriches flapping their wings, giraffes
overtopping the crowd with their long necks, and even brown bears taken,
it was said, in the Mountains of the Moon.

The King had long since entered his palace, yet the defile was still
proceeding. As he passed the revetment on which stood Tahoser and Nofré,
the Pharaoh, whose litter, borne upon the shoulders of oëris, placed him
above the crowd on a level with the young girl, had slowly fixed upon
her his dark glance. He had not turned his head, not a muscle of his
face had moved, and his features had remained as motionless as the
golden mask of a mummy, yet his eyes had turned between his painted
eyelids towards Tahoser, and a flash of desire had lighted up their
sombre discs, an effect as terrific as if the granite eyes of a divine
simulacrum, suddenly lighted up, were to express a human thought. He
had half raised one of his hands from the arm of his throne, a gesture
imperceptible to every one, but which one of the servants marching near
the litter noticed, and at once looked towards the daughter of
Petamounoph.

Meanwhile night had suddenly fallen, for there is no twilight in
Egypt,--night, or rather a blue day, treading close upon the yellow day.
In the azure of infinite transparency gleamed unnumbered stars, their
twinkling light reflected confusedly in the waters of the Nile, which
was stirred by the boats that brought back to the other shore the
population of Thebes; and the last cohorts of the army were still
tramping across the plain, like a gigantic serpent, when the barge
landed Tahoser at the gate of her palace.



IV


The Pharaoh reached his palace, situated a short distance from the
parade ground on the left bank of the Nile. In the bluish transparency
of the night the mighty edifice loomed more colossal still, and its huge
outlines stood out with terrifying and sombre vigour against the purple
background of the Libyan chain. The feeling of absolute power was
conveyed by that mighty, immovable mass, upon which eternity itself
could make no more impression than a drop of water on marble. A vast
court surrounded by thick walls, adorned at their summits with deeply
cut mouldings, lay in front of the palace. At the end of the court rose
two high columns with palm-leaf capitals, marking the entrance to a
second court. Behind these columns rose a giant pylon, consisting of two
huge masses enclosing a monumental gate, intended rather for colossi of
granite than for mere flesh and blood. Beyond these propylæa, and
filling the end of a third court, the palace proper appeared in its
formidable majesty. Two buildings projected squarely forward, like the
bastions of a fortress, exhibiting on their faces low _bassi-relievi_
of vast size, which represented, in the consecrated manner, the
victorious Pharaoh scourging his enemies and trampling them under foot;
immense pages of history carved with a chisel on colossal stone books
which the most distant posterity was yet to read. These buildings rose
much higher than the pylons. The cornices, curving outwards and topped
with great stones so arranged as to form battlements, showed superbly
against the crest of the Libyan Mountains, which formed the background
of the picture.

The façade of the palace connected these buildings and filled up the
whole of the intervening space. Above its giant gateway, flanked with
sphinxes, showed three rows of square windows, through which streamed
the light from the interior and which formed upon the dark wall a sort
of luminous checker-board. From the first story projected balconies,
supported by statues of crouching prisoners.

The officers of the king's household, the eunuchs, the servants, and the
slaves, informed of the approach of His Majesty by the blare of the
trumpets and the roll of the drums, had proceeded to meet him, and
waited, kneeling and prostrate, in the court paved with great stone
slabs. Captives, of the despised race of Scheto, bore urns filled with
salt and olive oil, in which was dipped a wick, the flame of which
crackled bright and clear. These men stood ranged in line from the
basalt gate to the entrance of the first court, motionless like bronze
lamp-bearers.

Soon the head of the procession entered the pylon and the bugles and the
drums sounded with a din which, repeated by the echoes, drove the
sleeping ibises from the entablatures. The bearers stopped at the gate
in the façade between the two pavilions; slaves brought a footstool with
several steps and placed it by the side of the litter. The Pharaoh rose
with majestic slowness and stood for a few moments perfectly motionless.
Thus standing on a pedestal of shoulders, he soared above all heads and
appeared to be twelve cubits high. Strangely lighted, half by the rising
moon, half by the light of the lamps, in a costume in which gold and
enamels sparkled intermittently, he resembled Osiris, or Typhon rather.
He descended the steps as if he were a statue, and at last entered the
palace.

A first inner court, framed in by a row of huge pillars covered with
hieroglyphs, that bore a frieze ending in volutes, was slowly crossed
by the Pharaoh in the midst of a crowd of prostrate slaves and maids.

Then appeared another court surrounded by a covered cloister, and short
columns, the capitals of which were formed of a cube of hard sandstone,
on which rested the massive architrave. The imprint of indestructibility
marked the straight lines and the geometric forms of this architecture
built with pieces of mountains. The pillars and the columns seemed to
strike firmly into the ground in order to upbear the weight of the
mighty stones placed on the cubes of their capitals, the walls to slope
inwards so as to have a firmer foundation, and the stones to join
together so as to form but one block; but polychromous decorations and
_bassi-relievi_ hollowed out and enriched with more brilliant tints
added, in the daytime, lightness and richness to these vast masses,
which when night had fallen, recovered all their imposing effect.

Under the cornice, in the Egyptian style, the unchanging lines of which
formed against the sky a vast parallelogram of deep azure, quivered, in
the intermittent breath of the breeze, lighted lamps placed at short
distances apart. The fish-pond in the centre of the court mingled, as
it reflected them, their red flashes with the blue gleams of the moon.
Rows of shrubs planted around the basin gave out a faint, sweet perfume.
At the back opened the gate of the harem and of the private apartments,
which were decorated with peculiar magnificence.

Below the ceiling ran a frieze of uræus snakes, standing on their tails
and swelling their hoods. On the entablature of the door, in the hollow
of the cornice, the mystic globe outspread its vast, imbricated wings;
pillars ranged in symmetrical lines supported heavy sandstone blocks
forming soffits, the blue ground of which was studded with golden stars.
On the walls vast pictures, carved in low, flat relief and coloured with
the most brilliant tints, represented the usual scenes of the harem and
of home life. The Pharaoh was seen on his throne, gravely playing at
draughts with one of his women who stood nude before him, her head bound
with a broad band from which rose a mass of lotus flowers. In another
the Pharaoh, without parting with any of his sovereign and sacerdotal
impassibility, stretched out his hand and touched the chin of a young
maid dressed in a collar and bracelet, who held out to him a bouquet of
flowers. Elsewhere he was seen undecided and smiling, as if he had
slyly put off making a choice, in the midst of the young queens, who
strove to overcome his gravity by all sorts of caressing and graceful
coquetries.

Other panels represented female musicians and dancers, women bathing,
flooded with perfumes and massaged by slaves,--the poses so elegant, the
forms so youthfully suave, and the outlines so pure, that no art has
ever surpassed them.

Rich and complicated ornamental designs, admirably carried out in
harmonious green, blue, red, yellow, and white, covered the spaces left
empty. On cartouches and bands in the shape of stelæ were inscribed the
titles of the Pharaoh and inscriptions in his honour.

On the shafts of the huge columns were decorative or symbolical figures
wearing the pschent, armed with the tau, following each other in
procession, and whose eyes, showing full upon a side face, seemed to
look inquisitively into the hall. Lines of perpendicular hieroglyphs
separated the zones of personages. Among the green leaves carved on the
drum of the capital, buds and lotus flowers stood out in their natural
colours, imitating baskets of bloom.

Between each pair of columns an elegant table of cedar bore on its
platform a bronze cup filled with scented oil, from which the cotton
wicks drew an odoriferous light. Groups of tall vases, bound together
with wreaths, alternated with the lamps and held at the foot of each
pillar sheaves of golden grain mingled with field grasses and balsamic
plants.

In the centre of the hall a round porphyry table, the disc of which was
supported by the statue of a captive, disappeared under heaped-up urns,
vases, flagons, and pots, whence rose a forest of gigantic artificial
flowers; for real flowers would have appeared mean in the centre of that
vast hall, and nature had to be proportioned to the mighty work of man.
These enormous calyxes were of the most brilliant golden yellow, azure,
and purple.

At the back rose the throne, or chair, of the Pharaoh, the feet of
which, curiously crossed and bound by encircling ribbing, had in their
re-entering angles four statuettes of barbaric Asiatic or African
prisoners recognisable by their beards and their dress. These figures,
their elbows tied behind their backs, and kneeling in constrained
attitudes, their bodies bowed, bore upon their humbled heads the
cushion, checkered with gold, red, and black, on which sat their
conqueror. Faces of chimerical animals from whose mouths fell, instead
of a tongue, a long red tuft, adorned the crossbars of the throne.

On either side of it were ranged, for the princes, less splendid, though
still extremely elegant and charmingly fanciful chairs; for the
Egyptians are no less clever at carving cedar, cypress, and sycamore
wood, in gilding, colouring, and inlaying it with enamels, than in
cutting in the Philoe or Syêné quarries monstrous granite blocks for the
palaces of the Pharaohs and the sanctuaries of the gods.

The King crossed the hall with a slow, majestic step, without his
painted eyelids having once moved; nothing indicated that he heard the
cries of love that welcomed him, or that he perceived the human beings
kneeling or prostrate, whose brows were touched by the folds of the
calasiris that fell around his feet. He sat down, placing his ankles
close together and his hands on his knees in the solemn attitude of the
gods.

The young princes, handsome as women, took their seats to the right and
left of their father. The servants took off their enamelled necklaces,
their belts, and their swords, poured flagons of scent upon their hair,
rubbed their arms with aromatic oils, and presented them with wreaths of
flowers, cool, perfumed collars, odorous luxuries better suited to the
festival than the heavy richness of gold, of precious stones and pearls,
which, for the matter of that, harmonise admirably with flowers.

Lovely nude slaves, whose slender forms showed the graceful transition
from childhood to youth, their hips circled with a narrow belt that
concealed none of their charms, lotus flowers in their hair, flagons of
wavy alabaster in their hands, timidly pressed around the Pharaoh and
poured palm oil over his shoulders, his arms, and his torso, polished
like jasper. Other maids waved around his head broad fans of painted
ostrich-feathers on long ivory or sandal-wood handles, that, as they
were warmed by their small hands, gave forth a delightful odour. Others
placed before the Pharaoh stalks of nymphoea that bloomed like the cup
of the censers. All these attentions were rendered with a deep devotion,
and a sort of respectful awe, as if to a divine, immortal personage,
called down by pity from the superior zones to the vile tribe of men;
for the king is the Son of the gods, the favoured of Phré, the protégé
of Ammon Ra.

The women of the harem had risen from their prostrate attitude, and
seated themselves on superb, carved and gilded chairs, with red-leather
cushions filled with thistle-down. Thus ranged, they formed a line of
graceful, smiling heads which a painter would have loved to reproduce.
Some were dressed in tunics of white gauze with stripes alternately
opaque and transparent, the narrow sleeves of which left bare the
delicate, round arms covered with bracelets from the wrist to the elbow:
others, bare to the waist, wore a skirt of pale lilac rayed with darker
stripes, and covered with a fillet of little rose beads which showed in
the diaper the cartouche of the Pharaoh traced on the stuff; others wore
red skirts with black-pearl fillets; others again, draped in a tissue as
light as woven air, as transparent as glass, wound the folds around
them, and managed to show off coquettishly the shape of their lovely
bosoms; others were enclosed in a sheath covered with blue, green, or
red scales which moulded their forms accurately; and others again had
their shoulders covered with a sort of pleated cape, and their fringed
skirts were fastened below the breast with a scarf with long, floating
ends.

The head-dresses were no less varied. Sometimes the plaited hair was
spun out into curls; sometimes it was divided into three parts, one of
which fell down the back and the other two on either side of the cheeks.
Huge periwigs, closely curled, with numberless cords maintained
transversely by golden threads, rows of enamels, or pearls, were put on
like helmets over young and lovely faces, which sought of art an aid
which their beauty did not need.

All these women held in their hands a flower of the blue or white lotus,
and breathed amorously, with a fluttering of their nostrils, the
penetrating odour which the broad calyx exhaled. A stalk of the same
flower, springing from the back of their necks, bowed over their heads
and showed its bud between their eyebrows darkened with antimony.

In front of them black or white slaves, with no other garment than a
waist girdle, held out to them necklaces of flowers made of crocuses,
the blooms of which, white outside, are yellow inside, purple
safflowers, golden-yellow chrysanthemums, red-berried nightshade,
myosotis whose flowers seemed made of blue enamel of the statues of
Isis, and nepenthes whose intoxicating odour makes one forget
everything, even the far-distant home.

These slaves were followed by others, who on the upturned palm of their
right hands bore cups of silver or bronze full of wine, and in the left
held napkins with which the guests wiped their lips.

The wines were drawn from amphoræ of clay, glass, or metal held in
elegant woven baskets placed on four-footed pedestals made of a light,
supple wood interlaced in ingenious fashion. The baskets contained seven
sorts of wines: date wine, palm wine, and wine of the grape, white, red,
and green wines, new wine, Phoenician and Greek wines, and white
Mareotis wine with a bouquet of violets.

The Pharaoh also took a cup from the hands of his cup-bearer standing
near his throne, and put to his royal lips the strengthening drink.

Then sounded the harps, the lyres, the double flutes, the lutes,
accompanying a song of triumph which choristers, ranged opposite the
throne, one knee on the ground, accentuated as they beat time with the
palms of their hands.

The repast began. The dishes, brought by Ethiopians from the vast
kitchens of the palace, where a thousand slaves were busy preparing the
feast in a fiery atmosphere, were placed on tables close by the guests.
The dishes, of scented wood admirably carved, of bronze, of earthenware
or porcelain enamelled in brilliant colours, held large pieces of beef,
antelope legs, trussed geese, siluras from the Nile, dough drawn out
into long tubes and rolled, cakes of sesamum and honey, green
watermelons with rosy meat, pomegranates full of rubies, grapes the
colour of amber or of amethyst. Wreaths of papyrus crowned these dishes
with their green foliage. The cups were also wreathed in flowers, and in
the centre of the table, amid a vast heap of golden-coloured bread
stamped with designs and marked with hieroglyphs, rose a tall vase
whence emerged, spraying as it fell, a vast sheaf of persolutas,
myrtles, pomegranates, convolvulus, chrysanthemums, heliotropes,
seriphiums, and periplocas, a mingling of colours and of scents. Under
the tables, around the supporting pillar, were arranged pots of lotus.
Flowers, flowers everywhere, even under the seats of the guests! The
women wore them on their arms, round their necks, on their heads in the
shape of bracelets, necklaces, and crowns; the lamps burned amid huge
bouquets, the dishes disappeared under leaves, the wines sparkled amid
violets and roses. It was a most characteristic, gigantic debauch of
flowers, a colossal orgy of scents, unknown to other nations.

Slaves constantly brought from the gardens, which they plundered without
diminishing their wealth, armfuls of rose laurel, of pomegranate, of
lotus, to renew the flowers which had faded, while servants cast grains
of nard and cinnamon upon the red-hot coals of the censers.

When the dishes and the boxes carved in the shape of birds, fishes, and
chimeras, which held the sauces and condiments, had been cleared away,
as well as the ivory, bronze, or wooden spatulæ, and the bronze and
flint knives, the guests washed their hands, and cups of wine and
fermented drinks kept on passing around.

The cup-bearer drew with a long-handled ladle the dark wine and the
transparent wine from two great, golden vases adorned with figures of
horses and rams, which were held in equilibrium in front of the Pharaoh
by means of tripods on which they were set.

Female musicians appeared--for the orchestra of male musicians had
withdrawn. A wide gauze tunic covered their slender, youthful bodies,
veiling them no more than the pure water of a pool conceals the form of
the bather who plunges into it. Papyrus wreaths bound their thick hair
and fell to the ground in long tendrils; lotus flowers bloomed on top of
their heads; great golden rings sparkled in their ears, necklaces of
enamel and pearl encircled their necks, and bracelets clanked and
rattled on their wrists. One played on the harp, another on the lute, a
third on the double flute, crossing her arms and using the right for the
left flute and the left for the right flute; a fourth placed
horizontally against her breast a five-stringed lyre; a fifth struck the
onager-skin of a square drum; and a little girl seven or eight years of
age, with flowers in her hair and a belt drawn tight around her, beat
time by clapping her hands.

The dancers came in. They were slight, slender, and as lithe as
serpents; their great eyes shone between the black lines of their lids,
their pearly teeth between the red bars of their lips. Long curls
floated down on their cheeks. Some wore full tunics striped white and
blue, which floated around them like a mist; others wore mere pleated
short skirts falling over the hips to the knees, which allowed their
beautiful, slender legs and round muscular thighs to be easily seen.
They first assumed poses of languid voluptuousness and indolent grace,
then, waving branches of bloom and clinking castanets, shaped like the
head of Hathor, striking tambourines with their little closed hands, or
making the tanned skin of drums resound under their thumbs, they gave
themselves up to swifter steps and to bolder postures; they pirouetted,
they whirled with ever-increasing ardour. But the Pharaoh, thoughtful
and dreamy, did not condescend to bestow a glance of satisfaction upon
them; his fixed gaze did not even fall upon them.

They withdrew, blushing and confused, pressing their palpitating breasts
with their hands.

Dwarfs with twisted feet, with swollen and deformed bodies, whose
grimaces were fortunate enough at times to bring a smile to the
majestic, stony face of the Pharaoh, were no more successful; their
contortions did not bring a single smile to his lips, the corners of
which remained obstinately fixed.

To the sound of strange music produced by triangular harps, sistra,
castanets, cymbals, and bugles, Egyptian clowns wearing high, white
mitres of ridiculous shape advanced, closing two fingers of their hand
and stretching out the other three, repeating their grotesque gestures
with automatic accuracy, and singing extravagant songs full of
dissonances. His Majesty never changed countenance.

Women wearing a small helmet from which depended three long cords ending
in a tassel, their wrists and ankles bound with black leather bands, and
wearing close fitting drawers suspended by a single brace passed over
their shoulders, performed tricks of strength and contortions each more
surprising than another; posturing, throwing themselves back, bending
their supple bodies like willow branches, and touching the ground with
their necks without displacing their heels, supporting in that
impossible attitude the weight of their companions; others juggled with
a ball, two balls, three balls, before, behind, their arms crossed,
astride of or standing upon the loins of one of the women of the
company. One, indeed, the cleverest, put on blinkers like Tmei, the
goddess of justice, and caught the globes in her hands without letting a
single one fall. The Pharaoh was not moved by these marvels.

He cared no more either for the prowess of two combatants who, wearing a
cestus on the left arm, fought with sticks. Men throwing at a block of
wood knives which struck with miraculous accuracy the spot indicated did
not interest him either. He even refused the draught-board which the
lovely Twea, whom he looked upon usually with favour, presented to him
as she offered herself as an adversary. In vain Amense, Taïa, Hont-Reché
ventured upon timid caresses. He rose and withdrew to his apartments
without having uttered a word.

Motionless on the threshold stood the servant who, during the triumphal
procession, had noticed the imperceptible gesture of His Majesty.

He said: "O King, loved of the gods! I left the procession, crossed the
Nile on a light papyrus-bark and followed the vessel of the woman on
whom your hawk glance deigned to fall. She is Tahoser, the daughter of
the priest Petamounoph."

The Pharaoh smiled and said: "It is well. I give thee a chariot and its
horses, a pectoral ornament of beads of lapis-lazuli and cornelian, with
a golden circle weighing as much as the green basalt weight."

Meanwhile the sorrowing women pulled the flowers from their hair, tore
their gauze robes, and sobbed, stretched out upon the polished stone
floors which reflected, mirror-like, the image of their beautiful
bodies, saying, "One of these accursed barbaric captives must have
stolen our master's heart."



V


On the left bank of the Nile stood the villa of Poëri, the young man who
had filled Tahoser with such emotion when, proceeding to view the
triumphal return of the Pharaoh, she had passed in her ox-drawn car
under the balcony whereon leaned carelessly the handsome dreamer.

It was a vast estate, having something of the farm and something of the
house of pleasaunce, which stretched between the banks of the river and
the foothills of the Libyan chain, over an immense extent of ground,
covered during the inundation by the reddish waters laden with
fertilising mud, and which during the rest of the year was irrigated by
skilfully planned canals.

A wall, built of limestone drawn from the neighbouring mountains,
enclosed the garden, the store-houses, the cellars, and the dwelling.
The walls sloped slightly inwards and were surmounted by an acroter with
metal spikes, capable of stopping whosoever might attempt to climb over.
Three doors, the leaves of which were hung on massive pillars, each
adorned with a giant lotus-flower planted on top of the capital, were
cut in the wall on three of the sides. In place of the fourth door rose
a building which looked out into the garden from one of its façades, and
on the road from the other.

The building in no respect resembled the houses in Thebes. The architect
had not sought to reproduce either the heavy foundations, the great
monumental lines, or the rich materials of city buildings, but had
striven to attain elegant lightness, refreshing simplicity, and pastoral
gracefulness in harmony with the verdure and the peacefulness of the
country.

The lower courses of the building, which the Nile reached in times of
high flood, were of sandstone, and the rest of the building of sycamore
wood. Tall, fluted columns, extremely slender and resembling the staffs
of the standards before the king's palace, sprang from the ground and
rose unbroken to the palm-leaved cornice, where swelled out, under a
simple cube, their lotus-flowered capitals.

The single story built above the ground-floor did not rise as high as
the mouldings which bordered the terraced roof, and thus left an empty
space between the ceiling and the flat roof of the villa. Short, small
pillars, with flowery capitals, divided into groups of four by the tall
columns, formed an open gallery around this aerial apartment open to
every wind.

Windows broader at the base than at the top of the opening, in
accordance with the Egyptian style, and closed with double sashes,
lighted the first story. The ground-floor was lighted by narrower
windows placed closer to each other.

Above the door, which was adorned with deep mouldings, was a cross
planted in a heart and framed in a parallelogram cut in the lower part
to allow the sign of favourable omen to pass; the meaning being, as
every one knows, "A good house."

The whole building was painted in soft, pleasant colours; the lotus of
the capitals showed alternately red and blue in the green capsules; the
gilded palm-leaves of the cornices stood out upon a blue background; the
white walls of the façades set off the painted framework of the windows,
and lines of red and green outlined panels and imitated the joints of
the stone.

Outside the enclosing wall, which was built flush with the dwelling,
stood a row of trees cut to a point, which formed a screen against the
dusty southern wind, always laden with the desert heat.

In front of the building grew a vast vineyard. Stone shafts with lotus
capitals placed at symmetrical distances outlined, through the vineyard,
walks cutting each other at right angles. Boughs of vine leaves joined
one plant to another and formed a succession of leafy arches under which
one could walk erect. The ground, carefully raked and heaped up at the
foot of each plant, contrasted by its brown colour with the bright green
of the leaves, amid which played the sunbeams and the breeze.

On either side of the building two oblong pools bore upon their
transparent surface aquatic birds and flowers. At the corners of these
pools four great palm-trees spread out fanwise their green wreath of
leaves at the top of their scaly trunks.

Compartments, regularly traced by narrow paths, divided the garden
around the vineyard, marking the place of each different crop. Along a
sort of belt walk which ran entirely around the enclosure dôm palms
alternated with sycamores, squares of ground were planted with fig,
peach, almond, olive, pomegranate and other fruit trees; others, again,
were planted with ornamental trees only: the tamarisk, the cassia, the
acacia, the myrtle, the mimosa, and some still rarer gum-trees found
beyond the cataracts of the Nile, under the Tropic of Cancer, in the
oases of the Libyan Desert, and upon the shores of the Erythrean Gulf;
for the Egyptians are very fond of cultivating shrubs and flowers, and
they exact new species as a tribute from the peoples they have
conquered.

Flowers of all kinds, and many varieties of watermelons, lupines, and
onions adorned the beds. Two other pools of greater size, fed by the
covered canal leading from the Nile, each bore a small boat to enable
the master of the estate to enjoy the pleasure of fishing. Fishes of
divers forms and brilliant colours played in the limpid waters among the
stalks and the broad leaves of the lotus. Banks of luxuriant vegetation
surrounded these pools and were reflected in their green mirror.

Near each pool rose a kiosk formed of slender columns bearing a light
roof and surrounded by an open balcony whence one could enjoy the sight
of the waters and breathe the coolness of the morning and the evening
while reclining on a rustic seat of wood and reeds.

The garden, lighted by the rising sun, had a bright, happy, restful
look. The green of the trees was so brilliant, the colours of the
flowers so splendid, air and light filled so joyously the vast enclosure
with breeze and sunbeams, the contrast of the rich greenness with the
bare whiteness of the chalky sterility of the Libyan chain, the crest of
which was seen above the walls cutting into the blue sky, was so marked
that one felt the wish to stop and set up one's tent there. It looked
like a nest purposely built for a longed-for happiness.

Along the walks travelled servants bearing on their shoulders a yoke of
bent wood, from the ends of which hung by ropes two clay jars filled at
the reservoirs, the contents of which they poured into small basins dug
at the foot of each plant. Others, handling a jar suspended from a pole
working on a post, filled with water a wooden gutter which carried it to
the parts of the garden that needed irrigating. Gardeners were clipping
the trees to a point or into an elliptical shape. With the help of a hoe
formed of two pieces of hard wood bound by a cord and thus making a
hook, other workmen were preparing the ground for planting.

It was a delightful sight to see these men with their black, woolly
hair, their bodies the colour of brick, dressed only in a pair of white
drawers, going and coming amid the greenery with orderly activity,
singing a rustic song to which their steps kept time. The birds perched
on the trees seemed to know them, and scarcely to fly off when, as they
passed, they rubbed against the branches.

The door of the building opened, and Poëri appeared on the threshold.
Though he was dressed in the Egyptian fashion, his features were not in
accordance with the national type, and it took no long observation to
see that he did not belong to the native race of the valley of the Nile.
He was assuredly not a _Rot'en'no_. His thin aquiline nose, his flat
cheeks, his serious-looking, closed lips, the perfect oval of his face,
were essentially different from the African nose, the projecting
cheek-bones, the thick lips, and broad face characteristic of the
Egyptians. Nor was his complexion the same; the copper tint was replaced
by an olive pallor, which the rich, pure blood flushed slightly; his
eyes, instead of showing black between their lines of antimony, were of
a dark blue like the sky of night; his hair, silkier and softer, curled
in less crisp undulations, and his shoulders did not exhibit that
rigid, transversal line which is the characteristic sign of the race as
represented on the statues of the temples and the frescoes of the tombs.

All these characteristics went to form a remarkable beauty, which
Petamounoph's daughter had been unable to resist. Since the day when
Poëri had by chance appeared to her, leaning upon the gallery of the
building--which was his favourite place when he was not busy with the
farm work--she had returned many times under pretext of driving, and had
made her chariot pass under the balcony of the villa; but although she
had put on her handsomest tunics, fastened around her neck her richest
necklaces and encircled her wrists with her most wondrously chased
bracelets, wreathed her hair with the freshest lotus-flowers, drawn to
the temples the black line of her eyes, and brightened her cheeks with
rouge, Poëri had never seemed to pay the smallest attention to her.

And yet Tahoser was rarely beautiful, and the love which the pensive
tenant of the villa disdained, the Pharaoh would willingly have
purchased at a great price. In exchange for the priest's daughter he
would have given Twea, Taïa, Amense, Hont-Reché, his Asiatic captives,
his vases of gold and silver, his necklaces of gems, his war chariots,
his invincible army, his sceptre,--all, in a word, even his tomb, on
which since the beginning of his reign had been working in the darkness
thousands upon thousands of workmen.

Love is not the same in the hot regions swept by a fiery wind as on the
icy shores where calm descends from heaven with the cold; it is not
blood but fire that flows in the veins. So Tahoser languished and
fainted, though she breathed perfumes, surrounded herself with flowers,
and drank draughts that bring forgetfulness. Music wearied her or
overexcited her feelings; she had ceased to take any pleasure in the
dances of her companions; at night, sleep fled from her eyelids, and
breathless, stifling, her breast heaving with sighs, she would leave her
sumptuous couch and stretch herself out upon the broad slabs of the
pavement, pressing her bosom against the hard granite as if she wished
to breathe in its coolness.

On the night which followed the triumphal entry of the Pharaoh, Tahoser
felt so unhappy and life seemed so empty that she determined not to die
without having made at least one last effort.

She wrapped herself up in a piece of common stuff, kept on but a single
bracelet of odoriferous wood, twisted a piece of striped gauze around
her head, and with the first light of the dawn, without being heard by
Nofré, who was dreaming of the handsome Ahmosis, she left her room,
crossed the garden, drew the bolts of the water gate, proceeded to the
quay, waked a waterman asleep in his papyrus boat, and had herself
transported to the other bank of the stream.

Staggering and pressing her little hand to her heart to still its
beating, she drew near Poëri's dwelling.

It was now broad daylight, and the gates were opening to give passage to
the ox teams going to work, and to the flocks going forth to pasture.

Tahoser knelt on the threshold and placed her hand above her head with a
supplicating gesture, more beautiful, perhaps, even in this humble
attitude and in her mean dress. Her bosom rose and fell and tears
streamed down her pale cheeks.

Poëri saw her and took her for what she was, indeed, a most unhappy
woman.

"Enter," said he; "enter without fear. This house is hospitable."



VI


Tahoser, encouraged by the friendly words of Poëri, abandoned her
supplicating attitude and rose. A rich glow flushed her cheek but now so
pale; shame came back to her with hope; she blushed at the strange
action to which love had driven her; she hesitated to pass the threshold
which she had crossed so often in her dreams. Her maidenly scruples,
stifled for a time by passion, resumed their power in the presence of
reality.

The young man, thinking that timidity, the companion of misfortune,
alone prevented Tahoser from entering the house, said to her in a soft,
musical voice marked by a foreign accent,--

"Enter, maiden, and do not tremble so. My home is large enough to
shelter you. If you are weary, rest; if you are thirsty, my servants
will bring you pure water cooled in porous clay-jars; if you are hungry,
they will set before you wheaten bread, dates, and dried figs."

Petamounoph's daughter, encouraged by these hospitable words, entered
the house, which justified the hieroglyph of welcome inscribed upon the
gate.

Poëri took her to a room on the ground-floor, the walls of which were
painted with green vertical bands ending in lotus flowers, making the
apartment pleasant to the eye. A fine mat of reeds woven in symmetrical
designs covered the floor. At each corner of the room great sheaves of
flowers filled tall vases, held in place by pedestals, and scattered
their perfume through the cool shade of the hall. At the back a low
sofa, the wood-work of which was ornamented with foliage and chimerical
animals, tempted with its broad bed the fatigued or idle guest. Two
chairs, the seats made of Nile reeds, with sloping back, strengthened by
stays, a wooden foot-stool cut in the shape of a shell and resting upon
three legs, an oblong table, also three-legged, bordered with inlaid
work and ornamented in the centre with uræus snakes, wreaths, and
agricultural symbols, and on which was placed a vase of rose and blue
lotus,--completed the furniture of the room, which was pastoral in its
simplicity and gracefulness.

Poëri sat down on the sofa. Tahoser, bending one leg under her thigh
and raising one knee, knelt before the young man who fixed upon her a
glance full of kindly questioning. She was most lovely in that attitude.
The gauze veil in which she was enveloped exhibited, as it fell back,
the rich mass of her hair bound with a narrow white ribbon, and revealed
her gentle, sweet, sad face. Her sleeveless tunic showed her lovely arms
bare to the shoulder and left them free.

"I am called Poëri," said the young man; "I am steward of the royal
estates, and have the right to wear the gilded ram's-horns on my state
head-dress."

"And I am called Hora," replied Tahoser, who had arranged her little
story beforehand. "My parents are dead, their goods were sold by their
creditors, leaving me just enough to pay for their burial; so I have
been left alone and without means. But since you are kind enough to
receive me, I shall repay you for your hospitality. I have been taught
the work of women, although my condition did not oblige me to perform
it. I can spin and weave linen with thread of various colours; I can
imitate flowers and embroider ornaments on stuffs; I can even, when you
are tired by your work and overcome by the heat of the day, delight you
with song, harp, or lute."

"Hora, you are welcome to my dwelling," said the young man. "You will
find here, without taxing your strength,--for you seem to me to be
delicate,--occupation suitable for a maiden who has known better days;
among my maids are gentle and good girls who will be pleasant companions
for you, and who will show you how we live in this pastoral home. So the
days will pass, and perhaps brighter ones will dawn for you. If not, you
can quietly grow old in my home in the midst of abundance and peace. The
guest whom the gods send is sacred."

Having said these words, Poëri arose, as if to avoid the thanks of the
supposed Hora, who had prostrated herself at his feet and was kissing
them, as do wretches who have just been granted a favour; but the lover
in her had taken the place of the suppliant, and her ripe, rosy lips
found it hard to leave those beautiful, clean, white feet that resembled
the jasper feet of the gods.

Before going out to superintend the work of the farm, Poëri turned
around on the threshold of the room and said,--

"Hora, remain here until I have appointed a room for you. I shall send
you some food by one of my servants."

And he walked away quietly, the whip which marked his rank hanging from
his wrist. The workmen saluted him, placing one hand on their head and
the other to the ground, but by the cordiality of their salute it was
easily seen that he was a kind master. Sometimes he stopped to give an
order or a piece of advice, for he was greatly skilled in matters of
agriculture and gardening. Then he resumed his walk, looking to the
right and left and carefully inspecting everything. Tahoser, who had
humbly accompanied him to the door, and had crouched on the threshold,
her elbow on her knee and her chin on the palm of her hand, followed him
with her glance until he disappeared under the leafy arches. She kept on
looking long after he had passed out by the gate into the fields.

A servant, in accordance with an order which Poëri had given when he
went out, brought on a tray a goose-leg, onions baked in the ashes,
wheaten bread and figs, and a jar of water closed with myrtle flowers.

"The master sends you this. Eat, maiden, and regain your strength."

Tahoser was not very hungry, but her part required that she should
exhibit some appetite; the poor must necessarily devour the food which
pity throws them. So she ate, and drank a long draught of the cool
water. The servant having gone, she resumed her contemplative attitude.
Innumerable contradictory thoughts filled her mind: sometimes with
maidenly shame she repented the step she had taken; at others, carried
away by her passion, she exulted in her own audacity. Then she said to
herself: "Here I am, it is true, under Poëri's roof; I shall see him
freely every day; I shall silently drink in his beauty, which is more
that of a god than of a man; I shall hear his lovely voice, which is
like the music of the soul. But will he, who never paid any attention to
me when I passed by his home dressed in my most brilliant garments,
adorned with my richest gems, perfumed with scents and flowers, mounted
on my painted and gilded car surmounted by a sunshade, and surrounded
like a queen with a retinue of servants,--will he pay more attention to
the poor suppliant maiden whom he has received through pity and who is
dressed in mean stuff? Will my wretchedness accomplish what my wealth
could not do? It may be, after all, that I am ugly, and that Nofré
flatters me when she maintains that from the unknown sources of the Nile
to the place where it casts itself into the sea there is no lovelier
maid than her mistress. Yet no,--I am beautiful; the blazing eyes of men
have told me so a thousand times, and especially have the annoyed airs
and the disdainful pouts of the women who passed by me confirmed it.
Will Poëri, who has inspired me with such mad passion, never love me? He
would have received just as kindly an old, wrinkled woman with withered
breasts, clothed in hideous rags, and with feet grimy with dust. Any one
but he would at once have recognised, under the disguise of Hora,
Tahoser the daughter of the high-priest Petamounoph; but he never cast
his eyes upon me any more than does the basalt statue of a god upon the
devotees who offer up to it quarters of antelope and baskets of lotus."

These thoughts cast down the courage of Tahoser. Then she regained
confidence, and said to herself that her beauty, her youth, her love
would surely at last move that insensible heart. She would be so sweet,
so attentive, so devoted, she would use so much art and coquetry in
dressing herself, that certainly Poëri would not be able to resist. Then
she promised herself to reveal to him that the humble servant-maid was a
girl of high rank, possessing slaves, estates, and palaces, and she
foresaw, in her imagination, a life of splendid and radiant happiness
following upon a period of obscure felicity.

"First and foremost, let me make myself beautiful," she said, as she
rose and walked towards one of the pools.

On reaching it, she knelt upon the stone margin, washed her face, her
neck, and her shoulders. The disturbed water showed her in its mirror,
broken by innumerable ripples, her vague, trembling image which smiled
up to her as through green gauze; and the little fishes, seeing her
shadow and thinking that crumbs of bread were about to be thrown to
them, drew near the edge in shoals. She gathered two or three lotus
flowers which bloomed on the surface of the pool, twisted their stems
around the band that held in her hair, and made thus a head-dress which
all the skill of Nofré could never have equalled, even had she emptied
her mistress's jewel-caskets.

When she had finished and rose refreshed and radiant, a tame ibis, which
had gravely watched her, drew itself up on its two long legs, stretched
out its long neck, and flapped its wings two or three times as if to
applaud her.

Having finished her toilet, Tahoser resumed her place at the door of the
house and waited for Poëri. The heavens were of a deep blue; the light
shimmered in visible waves through the transparent air; intoxicating
perfumes rose from the flowers and the plants; the birds hopped amid the
branches, pecking at the berries; the fluttering butterflies chased one
another. This charming spectacle was rendered yet more bright by human
activity, which enlivened it by the communication of a soul. The
gardeners came and went, the servants returned laden with panniers of
grass or vegetables; others, standing at the foot of the fig trees,
caught in baskets the fruits thrown to them by monkeys trained to pluck
them and perched on the highest branches.

Tahoser contemplated with delight this beautiful landscape, the
peacefulness of which was filling her soul, and she said to herself,
"How sweet it would be to be beloved here, amid the light, the scents,
and the flowers."

Poëri returned. He had finished his tour of inspection, and withdrew to
his room to spend the burning hours of the day. Tahoser followed him
timidly, and stood near the door, ready to leave at the slightest
gesture, but Poëri signed to her to remain.

She came forward timidly and knelt upon the mat.

"You tell me, Hora, that you can play the lute. Take that instrument
hanging upon the wall, strike its cords and sing me some old air, very
sweet, very tender, and very slow. The sleep which comes to one cradled
by music is full of lovely dreams."

The priest's daughter took down the mandore, drew near the couch on
which Poëri was stretched, leaned the head of the lute against the
wooden bed-head hollowed out in the shape of a half-moon, stretched her
arm to the end of the handle of the instrument, the body of which was
pressed against her beating heart, let her hand flutter along the
strings, and struck a few chords. Then she sang in a true, though
somewhat trembling voice, an old Egyptian air, the vague sigh breathed
by the ancestors and transmitted from generation to generation, and in
which recurred constantly one and the same phrase of a sweet and
penetrating monotony.

"In very truth," said Poëri, turning his dark blue eyes upon the maid,
"you know rhythm as does a professional musician, and you might practise
your art in the palaces of kings. But you give to your song a new
expression; the air you are singing, one would think you are inventing
it, and you impart to it a magical charm. Your voice is no longer that
of mourning; another woman seems to shine through you as the light
shines from behind a veil. Who are you?"

"I am Hora," replied Tahoser. "Have I not already told you my story?
Only, I have washed from my face the dust of the road, I have smoothed
out the folds in my crushed gown and put a flower in my hair. If I am
poor, that is no reason why I should be ugly, and the gods sometimes
refuse beauty to the rich. But does it please you that I should go on?"

"Yes. Repeat that air; it fascinates, benumbs me, it takes away my
memory like a cup of nepenthe. Repeat it until sleep and forgetfulness
fall upon my eyelids."

Poëri's eyes, fixed at first upon Tahoser, soon were half-closed, and
then completely so. The maiden continued to strike the strings of the
mandore, and sang more and more softly the refrain of her song. Poëri
slept. She stopped and fanned him with a palm-leaf fan thrown on the
table.

Poëri was handsome, and sleep imparted to his pure features an
indescribable expression of languor and tenderness. His long eyelashes
falling upon his cheeks seemed to conceal from him a celestial vision,
and his beautiful, red, half-open lips trembled as if they were speaking
mute words to an invisible being. After a long contemplation, emboldened
by silence and solitude, Tahoser, forgetting herself, bent over the
sleeper's brow, kept back her breath, pressed her heart with her hand,
and placed a timid, furtive, winged kiss upon it. Then she drew back
ashamed and blushing. The sleeper had faintly felt in his dream
Tahoser's lips; he uttered a sigh and said in Hebrew, "Oh, Ra'hel,
beloved Ra'hel!"

Fortunately these words of an unknown tongue conveyed no meaning to
Tahoser, and she again took up the palm-leaf fan, hoping yet fearing
that Poëri would awake.



VII


When day dawned, Nofré, who slept on a cot at her mistress's feet, was
surprised at not hearing Tahoser call her as usual by clapping her
hands. She rose on her elbow and saw that the bed was empty; yet the
first beams of the sun, striking the frieze of the portico, were only
now beginning to cast on the wall the shadow of the capitals and of the
upper part of the shafts of the pillars. Usually Tahoser was not an
early riser, and she rarely rose without the assistance of her women.
Neither did she ever go out until after her hair had been dressed, and
perfumed water had been poured over her lovely body, while she knelt,
her hands crossed upon her bosom.

Nofré, feeling uneasy, put on a transparent gown, slipped her feet into
sandals of palm fibre, and set out in search of her mistress. She looked
for her first under the portico of the two courts, thinking that, unable
to sleep, Tahoser had perhaps gone to enjoy the coolness of dawn in the
inner cloisters; but she was not there.

"Let me visit the garden," said Nofré to herself; "perhaps she took a
fancy to see the night dew sparkle on the leaves of the plants and to
watch for once the awakening of the flowers."

Although she traversed the garden in every direction, she found it
absolutely untenanted. Nofré looked along every walk, under every
arbour, under every arch, into every grove, but unsuccessfully. She
entered the kiosk at the end of the arbour, but she did not find
Tahoser; she hastened to the pond, in which her mistress might have
taken a fancy to bathe, as she sometimes did with her companions, upon
the granite steps which led from the edge of the basin to the bottom of
fine sand. The broad nymphoea-leaves floated on the surface, and did not
appear to have been disturbed; the ducks, plunging their blue necks into
the calm water, alone rippled it, and they saluted Nofré with joyous
cries.

The faithful maid began to feel seriously alarmed; she roused the whole
household. The slaves and the maids emerged from their cells, and
informed by Nofré of the strange disappearance of Tahoser, proceeded to
make most minute search. They ascended the terraces, rummaged every
room, every corner, every place where she might possibly be. Nofré, in
her agitation, even opened the boxes containing the dresses and the
caskets holding the jewels, as if they could possibly have held her
mistress. Unquestionably Tahoser was not within the dwelling.

An old and consummately prudent servant bethought himself of examining
the sand of the walks in search of the footprints of his young mistress.
The heavy bolts of the gate leading into the city were in place, and
this proved that Tahoser had not gone out that way. It is true that
Nofré had carelessly traversed every path, marking them with her
sandals, but by bending close to the ground, old Souhem speedily noticed
among Nofré's footprints a slight imprint made by a narrow, dainty sole
belonging to a much smaller foot than the maid's. He followed this
track, which led him, passing under the arbour, from the pylon in the
court to the water gate. The bolts, as he pointed out to Nofré, had been
drawn, and the two leaves of the door were held merely by their weight;
therefore Petamounoph's daughter had gone out that way. Farther on the
track was lost; the brick quay had preserved no trace; the boatman who
had carried Tahoser across had not returned to his station; the others
were asleep, and when questioned replied that they had seen nothing.
One, however, did report that a woman, poorly dressed and belonging
apparently to the lowest class, had been ferried over early to the other
side of the river to the Memnonia quarter, no doubt to carry out some
funeral rite. This description, which in no way tallied with the elegant
Tahoser, completely upset the suppositions of Nofré and Souhem.

They returned to the house sad and disappointed. The men and women
servants sat down on the ground in desolate attitudes, letting one of
their hands hang down, its palm turned up, and placing the other on
their head, all of them calling together in plaintive chorus, "Woe! woe!
woe! Our mistress is gone!"

"By Oms, the dog of the lower regions, I shall find her," said old
Souhem, "even if I have to walk living to the very confines of the
Western Region to which travel the dead. She was a kind mistress; she
gave us food in abundance, did not exact excessive labour, and caused us
to be beaten only when we deserved it and in moderation. Her foot was
not heavy on our bowed necks, and in her home a slave might believe
himself free."

"Woe! woe! woe!" repeated the men and women as they cast dust upon their
heads.

"Alas! dear mistress, who knows where you are now?" said her faithful
maid, whose tears were flowing. "Perchance some enchanter compelled you
to leave your palace through a spell in order to work his odious will on
you. He will lacerate your fair body, will draw your heart out through a
cut like that made by the dissectors, will throw your remains to the
ferocious crocodiles, and on the day of reunion your mutilated soul will
find shapeless remains only. You will not go to join, at the end of the
passages of which the undertaker keeps the plan, the painted and gilded
mummy of your father, the high-priest Petamounoph, in the funeral
chamber which has been cut out for you."

"Calm yourself, Nofré," said old Souhem; "let us not despair too soon.
It may be that Tahoser will soon return. She has no doubt yielded to
some fancy which we cannot guess, and presently we shall see her come
back, gay and smiling, holding aquatic flowers in her hands."

Wiping her eyes with the corner of her dress, the maid nodded assent.
Souhem crouched down, bending his knees like those of the dog-faced
figures which are roughly carved out of a square block of basalt, and
pressing his temples between his dry hands, seemed to reflect deeply.
His face of a reddish brown, his sunken eyes, his prominent jaws, the
deeply wrinkled cheeks, his straight hair framing in his face like
bristles, made him altogether like the monkey-faced gods. He was
certainly not a god, but he looked very much like a monkey.

The result of his meditations, anxiously awaited by Nofré, was thus
expressed: "The daughter of Petamounoph is in love."

"Who told you?" cried Nofré, who thought that she was the only one who
could read her mistress's heart.

"No one; but Tahoser is very beautiful; she has already beheld sixteen
times the rise and fall of the Nile. Sixteen is the number symbolical of
voluptuousness; and for some time past she has been calling at
unaccustomed hours her players on the harp, the lute, and the flute,
like one who seeks to calm the agitation of her heart by music."

"You speak sensibly, and wisdom dwells in your old bald head. But how
have you learned to know women,--you who merely dig the earth in the
garden and bear jars of water on your shoulders?"

The slave opened his lips with a silent smile and exhibited two rows of
teeth fit to crush date-stones. The grin meant, "I have not always been
old and a captive."

Enlightened by Souhem's suggestion, Nofré immediately thought of the
handsome Ahmosis, the oëris of the Pharaoh, who so often passed below
the terrace, and who had looked so splendid on his war chariot in the
triumphal procession. As she was in love with him herself, though she
was not fully aware of it, she assumed that her mistress shared her
feelings. She put on a somewhat heavier dress and repaired to the
officer's dwelling. It was there, she fancied, that Tahoser would
certainly be found.

The young officer was seated on a low seat at the end of the room. On
the walls hung trophies of different weapons: the leather tunic covered
with bronze plates on which was engraved the cartouche of the Pharaoh;
the brazen poniard, with the jade handle open-worked to allow the
fingers to pass through; the flat-edged battle-axe, the falchion with
curved blade; the helmet with its double plume of ostrich-feathers; the
triangular bow; and the red-feathered arrows. His distinctive necklaces
were placed upon pedestals, and open coffers showed booty taken from the
enemy.

When he saw Nofré, whom he knew well, standing on the threshold, he felt
quick pleasure, his brown cheeks flushed, his muscles quivered, his
heart beat high. He thought Nofré brought him a message from Tahoser,
although the priest's daughter had never taken notice of his glances;
but the man to whom the gods have imparted the gift of beauty easily
fancies that all women fall in love with him. He rose and took a few
steps towards Nofré, whose anxious glance examined the corners of the
room to make sure whether Tahoser was there or not.

"What brings you here, Nofré?" said Ahmosis, seeing that the young maid,
full of her search, did not break silence. "Your mistress is well, I
hope, for I think I saw her yesterday at the Pharaoh's entry."

"You should know whether my mistress is well better than any one else,"
replied Nofré; "for she has fled from her home without informing any one
of her intentions. I could swear by Hathor that you know the refuge
which she chose."

"She has disappeared!--what are you talking about?" cried Ahmosis, with
a surprise that was unquestionably genuine.

"I thought she loved you," said Nofré, "and sometimes the best-behaved
maidens lose their heads. So she is not here?"

"The god Phrah, who sees everything, knows where she is, but not one of
his beams, which end in hands, has fallen on her within these walls.
Look for yourself and visit every room."

"I believe you, Ahmosis, and I must go; for if Tahoser had come, you
could not conceal it from her faithful Nofré, who would have asked
nothing better than to serve your loves. You are handsome; she is very
rich and a virgin; the gods would have beheld your marriage with
pleasure."

Nofré returned to the house more anxious and more upset than before. She
feared that the servants might be suspected of having killed Tahoser in
order to seize on her riches, and that the judges would seek to make
them confess under torture what they did not actually know.

The Pharaoh, on his part, was also thinking of Tahoser. After having
made the libations and the offerings required by the ritual, he had
seated himself in the inner court of the harem, and was sunk in thought,
paying no attention to the gambols of his women, who, nude and crowned
with flowers, were disporting themselves in the transparent waters of
the piscina, splashing each other and uttering shrill, sonorous bursts
of laughter, in order to attract the attention of the master, who had
not made up his mind, contrary to his habit, which of them should be the
favourite queen that week.

It was a charming picture which these beautiful women presented; in a
framework of shrubs and flowers, in the centre of the court, surrounded
by columns painted in brilliant colours, in the clear light of an azure
sky, across which flew from time to time an ibis with outstretched neck
and trailing legs, their shapely bodies shone in the water like
submerged statues of jasper.

Amense and Twea, weary of swimming, had emerged from the water, and
kneeling on the edge of the basin, were spreading out to dry in the sun
their thick black hair, the long locks of which made their white skins
seem whiter still. A few last drops of water ran down their shining
shoulders and their arms polished like jade. Maids rubbed them with
aromatic oil and essences, while a young Ethiopian girl held out the
calyx of a large flower so that they might breathe its perfume.

It might have been thought that the artist who had carved the decorative
_bassi-relievi_ of the rooms in the harem had taken these graceful
groups as models; but the Pharaoh could not have looked with a colder
glance at the designs cut in the stone. Perched on the back of his
armchair the tame monkey was eating dates and cracking its jaws; against
the master's legs the tame cat rubbed itself, arching its back; the
deformed dwarf pulled the monkey's tail and the cat's moustaches, making
the one scratch and the other chatter, a performance which usually
caused His Majesty to smile; but His Majesty was not in a smiling mood
on that day. He put the cat aside, made the monkey get off the armchair,
smote the dwarf on the head, and walked toward the granite apartments.

Each of those rooms was formed of blocks of prodigious size, and closed
by stone gates which no human power could have forced unless the secret
of opening them were known. Within these halls were kept the riches of
the Pharaoh, and the booty taken from conquered nations. They held
ingots of precious metals, crowns of gold and silver, neckplates and
bracelets of cloisonné enamel, earrings which shone like the disc of
Moui, necklaces of seven rows of cornelian, lapis-lazuli, red jasper,
pearls, agates, sardonyx, and onyx; exquisitely chased anklets, belts,
with plates engraved with hieroglyphs, rings with scarabæi set in them;
quantities of fishes, crocodiles, and hearts stamped out of gold,
serpents in enamel twisted on themselves; bronze vases, flagons of wavy
alabaster, and of blue glass on which wound white spirals; coffers of
enamelled ware; boxes of sandal wood of strange and chimerical forms;
heaps of aromatic gums from all countries; blocks of ebony; precious
stuffs so fine that a whole piece could have been pulled through a ring;
white and black ostrich plumes, and others coloured in various ways;
monstrously huge elephant's-tusks, cups of gold, silver, gilded glass;
statues marvellous both as regards the material and the workmanship.

In every room the Pharaoh caused to be taken a litter-load borne by two
robust slaves of Kousch and Scheto, and clapping his hands, he called
Timopht, the servant who had followed Tahoser, and said to him, "Have
all these things taken to Tahoser, the daughter of the high-priest
Petamounoph, from the Pharaoh."

Timopht placed himself at the head of the procession, which crossed the
Nile on a royal barge, and soon the slaves with their load reached
Tahoser's house.

"For Tahoser, from the Pharaoh," said Timopht, knocking at the door.

At the sight of those treasures Nofré nearly fainted, half with fear,
half with amazement. She dreaded lest the King should put her to death
on learning that the priest's daughter was no longer there.

"Tahoser has gone," said she, tremulously, "and I swear by the four
sacred geese, Amset, Sis, Soumauts, and Kebhsniv, which fly to the four
quarters of the wind, that I know not where she is."

"The Pharaoh beloved of Phré, favourite of Ammon Ra, has sent these
gifts,--I cannot take them back. Keep them until Tahoser is found. You
shall answer for them on your head. Have them put away in rooms and
guarded by faithful servants," replied the envoy of the King.

When Timopht returned to the palace and, prostrate, his elbows close to
his sides, his brow in the dust, said that Tahoser had vanished, the
King became very wroth, and he struck the slab of the flooring so
fiercely with his sceptre that the slab was split.



VIII


Tahoser, nevertheless, scarce bestowed a thought on Nofré, her favourite
maid, or on the anxiety which her absence would necessarily cause. The
beloved mistress had completely forgotten her beautiful home in Thebes,
her servants, and her ornaments,--a most difficult and incredible thing
in a woman. The daughter of Petamounoph had not the least suspicion of
the Pharaoh's love for her; she had not observed the glance full of
desire which had fallen upon her from the heights of that majesty which
nothing on earth could move. Had she seen it, she would have deposited
the royal love as an offering, with all the flowers of her soul, at the
feet of Poëri.

While driving her spindle with her toe to make it ascend along the
thread,--for this was the task which had been set her,--she followed
with her glance every motion of the young Hebrew, her looks enveloped
him like a caress. She silently enjoyed the happiness of remaining near
him in the building to which he had given her access.

If Poëri had turned towards her, he would no doubt have been struck by
the moist brilliancy of her eyes, the sudden blushes which flushed her
fair cheeks, the quick beating of her heart which might be guessed by
the rising and falling of her bosom; but seated at a table, he bent over
a leaf of papyrus on which, with the help of a reed, taking ink from a
hollowed slab of alabaster, he inscribed accounts in demotic numbers.

Did Poëri perceive the evident love of Tahoser for him? Or for some
secret reason, did he pretend not to perceive it? His manner towards her
was gentle and kindly, but reserved, as if he sought to prevent or repel
some importunate confession which it would have given him pain to reply
to. And yet the sham Hora was very beautiful. Her charms, betrayed by
the poverty of her dress, were all the more beautiful; and just as in
the hottest hours of the day a luminous vapour is seen quivering upon
the gleaming earth, so did an atmosphere of love shimmer around her. On
her half-open lips her passion fluttered like a bird that seeks to take
its flight; and softly, very softly, when she was sure that she would
not be heard, she repeated like a monotonous cantilena, "Poëri, I love
you."

It was harvest time, and Poëri went out to oversee the workmen. Tahoser,
who could no more leave him than the shadow can leave the body, followed
him timidly, fearing lest he should tell her to remain in the house; but
the young man said to her in a voice marked by no accent of anger,--

"Grief is lightened by the sight of the peaceful work of agriculture,
and if some painful remembrance of vanished prosperity weighs down your
soul, it will disappear at the sight of this joyous activity. These
things must be novel to you, for your skin, which the sun has never
kissed, your delicate feet, your slender hands, and the elegance with
which you drape yourself in the piece of coarse stuff which serves you
for a vestment, prove to me that you have always inhabited cities, and
have lived in the midst of refinement and luxury. Come, then, and sit
down, while still turning your spindle, under the shadow of that tree,
where the harvesters have hung up, to keep it cool, the skin which holds
their drink."

Tahoser obeyed and sat down under the tree, her arms crossed on her
knees and her knees up to her chin. From the garden wall, the plain
stretched to the foot of the Libyan chain like a yellow sea over which
the least breath of air drove waves of gold. The light was so intense
that the golden tone of the grain whitened in places and became silvery.
In the rich mud of the Nile the grain had grown strong, straight, and
high like javelins, and never had a richer harvest, flaming and
crackling with heat, been outspread in the sun. The crop was abundant
enough to fill up to the ceiling the range of vaulted granaries which
rose near the cellars.

The workmen had already been a long while at work, and here and there
out of the waves of the corn showed their woolly or close-shaven heads
covered with pieces of white stuff, and their naked torsos the colour of
baked brick. They bent and rose with a regular motion, cutting the grain
just below the ear, as regularly as if they had followed a line marked
out by a cord. Behind them in the furrows walked the gleaners with
esparto bags, in which they placed the harvested ears, and which they
then carried on their shoulders, or suspended from a cross-bar and with
the help of a companion, to grinding-mills situated some distance apart.
Sometimes the breathless harvesters stopped to take breath, and putting
their sickles under their right arm drank a draught of water. Then they
quickly resumed their work, fearing the foreman's stick.

The harvested grain was spread on the threshing-floor in layers evened
with a pitchfork, and slightly higher on the edges on account of the
additional basketfuls which were being poured on.

Then Poëri signed to the ox-driver to bring on his animals. They were
superb oxen with long horns, curved like the head-dress of Isis, with
high withers, deep dewlaps, clean, muscular limbs; the brand of the
estate, stamped with a red-hot iron, showed upon their flanks. They
walked slowly, bearing a horizontal yoke which bore equally upon the
heads of the four.

They were driven on to the threshing-floor; urged by the double-lashed
whip, they began to trample in a circle, making the grain spring from
the ear under their cloven hoofs; the sun shone on their lustrous coats,
and the dust which they raised ascended to their nostrils, so that after
going around about twenty times, they would lean one against another,
and in spite of the hissing whip which lashed their flanks, they would
unmistakably slacken their pace. To encourage them, the driver who
followed them, holding by the tail the nearest animal, began to sing in
a joyous, quick rhythm the old ox-song: "Turn for yourselves, O oxen,
turn for yourselves; measures for you, and measures for your masters."
And the team, with new spirit, started on and disappeared in a cloud of
yellow dust that sparkled like gold.

The work of the oxen done, came servants who, armed with wooden scoops,
threw the grain into the air and let it fall to separate it from the
straw, the awn, and the shell. The grain thus winnowed was put into
bags, the numbers of which were noted by a scribe, and carried to the
lofts, which were reached by ladders.

Tahoser under the shadow of her tree enjoyed this animated and grandiose
spectacle, and often her heedless hand forgot to spin the thread. The
day was waning, and already the sun, which had risen behind Thebes, had
crossed the Nile and was sinking towards the Libyan chain, behind which
its disc sets every evening. It was the hour when the cattle returned
from the fields to the stable. She watched near Poëri the long pastoral
procession.

First was seen advancing the vast herd of oxen, some white, others red,
some black with lighter spots, others piebald, others brindled. They
were of all colours and all sizes. They passed by, lifting up their
lustrous mouths whence hung filaments of saliva, opening their great,
gentle eyes; the more impatient, smelling the stables, half raised
themselves for a moment and peered above the horned multitude, with
which, as they fell, they were soon confounded; the less skilful,
outstripped by their companions, uttered long, plaintive bellows as if
to protest. Near the oxen walked the herds with their whip and their
rolled up cord.

On arriving near Poëri they knelt down, and, with their elbows close to
their sides, touched the ground with their lips as a mark of respect.
Scribes wrote down the number of heads of cattle upon tablets.

Behind the oxen came the asses, trotting along and kicking under the
blows of the donkey drivers. These had smooth-shaven heads, and were
dressed in a mere linen girdle, the end of which fell between their
legs. The donkeys went past, shaking their long ears and trampling the
ground with their little, hard hoofs. The donkey drivers performed the
same genuflection as the ox-herds, and the scribes noted also the exact
number of the animals.

Then it was the turn of the goats. They arrived, headed by the he-goat,
their broken and shrill voices trembling with pleasure; the goat-herds
had much difficulty in restraining their high spirits and in bringing
back to the main body the marauding ones which strayed away. They were
counted, like the oxen and the asses, and with the same ceremonial the
goat-herds prostrated themselves at Poëri's feet.

The procession was closed by the geese, which, weary with walking on the
road, balanced themselves on their web feet, flapped their wings
noisily, stretched out their necks, and uttered hoarse cries. Their
number was taken, and the tablets handed to the steward of the domain.
Long after the oxen, the asses, the goats, and the geese had gone in, a
column of dust which the wind could not sweep away still rose slowly
into the heavens.

"Well, Hora," said Poëri to Tahoser, "has the sight of the harvest and
the flocks amused you? These are our pastoral pleasures. We have not
here, as in Thebes, harpists and dancers; but agriculture is holy; it is
the nurse of man, and he who sows a grain of corn does a deed agreeable
to the gods. Now come and take your meal with your companions. For my
part, I am going back to the house to calculate how many bushels of
wheat the ears have produced."

Tahoser put one hand to the ground and the other on her head as a mark
of respectful assent, and withdrew.

In the dining-hall laughed and chattered a number of young servants as
they ate their onions and cakes of doora and dates. A small earthenware
vase full of oil, in which dipped a wick, gave them light,--for night
had fallen,--and cast a yellow light upon their brown cheeks and bodies
which no garment veiled. Some were seated on ordinary wooden seats,
others leaned against the wall with one leg drawn up.

"Where does the master go like that every evening?" said a little,
sly-looking maid, as she peeled a pomegranate with pretty, monkey-like
gestures.

"The master goes where he pleases," replied a tall slave, who was
chewing the petals of a flower. "Is he to tell you what he does? It is
not you, in any case, who will keep him here."

"Why not I as well as another?" answered the child, piqued.

The tall slave shrugged her shoulders.

"Hora herself, who is fairer and more beautiful than any of us, could
not manage it. Though he bears an Egyptian name and is in the service of
the Pharaoh, he belongs to the barbarous race of Israel, and if he goes
out at night, it is no doubt to be present at the sacrifices of children
which the Hebrews perform in desert places, where the owl hoots, the
hyena howls, and the adder hisses."

Tahoser quietly left the room without a word, and concealed herself in
the garden behind the mimosa bushes. After waiting two hours, she saw
Poëri issue forth into the country. Light and silent as a shadow, she
started to follow him.



IX


Poëri, who was armed with a strong palm stick, walked towards the river
along a causeway built over a field of submerged papyrus which, leafy at
their base, sent up on either hand their straight stalks six and eight
cubits high, ending in a tuft of fibre and looking like the lances of an
army in battle array.

Holding in her breath and walking on tiptoe, Tahoser followed him on the
narrow road. There was no moon that night, and the thick papyrus would
in any case have been sufficient to conceal the young girl, who remained
somewhat behind.

An open space had to be crossed. The sham Hora let Poëri go on first,
bent down, made herself as small as she could, and crawled along the
ground. Next they entered a mimosa wood, and, concealed by the clumps of
trees, Tahoser was able to proceed without having to take as many
precautions. She was so close to Poëri, whom she feared to lose sight of
in the darkness, that very often the branches that he pushed aside
slapped her in the face; but she paid no attention to this. A feeling
of burning jealousy drove her to seek the solution of the mystery, which
she did not interpret as did the servants in the house. Not for one
moment had she believed that the young Hebrew went out thus every night
to perform any infamous and profane rite; she believed that a woman was
at the bottom of these nocturnal excursions, and she wanted to know who
her rival was. The cold kindness of Poëri had proved to her that his
heart was already won; otherwise, how could he have remained insensible
to charms famous throughout Thebes and the whole of Egypt? Would he have
pretended not to understand a love that would have filled with pride
oëris, priests, temple scribes, and even princes of the royal blood?

On reaching the river shore, Poëri descended a few steps cut out of the
slope of the bank, and bent down as if he were casting off a rope.
Tahoser, lying flat on the summit of the bank, above which the top of
her head alone showed, saw to her great despair that the mysterious
stroller was casting off a light papyrus bark, narrow and long like a
fish, and that he was making ready to cross the river. The next moment
he sprang into the boat, shoved off with his foot, and sculled into the
open with a single oar placed at the stern of the skiff.

The poor girl was plunged in grief and despair: she was going to lose
track of the secret which it was so important that she should learn.
What was she to do? Retrace her steps, her heart a prey to suspicion and
uncertainty, the worst of evils? She summoned all her courage and soon
made up her mind. It was useless to think of looking for another boat.
She let herself down the bank, drew off her dress in a twinkling, and
fastened it in a roll upon her head; then she boldly plunged into the
river, taking care not to splash. As supple as a water-snake, she
stretched out her lovely arms over the dark waves in which quivered the
reflection of the stars, and began to follow the boat at a distance. She
swam superbly, for every day she practised with her women in the vast
piscina in her palace, and no one cleaved the waters more skilfully than
Tahoser.

The current, less swift at this point, did not greatly hinder her, but
in the centre of the stream she had to strike out in the boiling water
and to swim faster in order to avoid being carried to leeward. Her
breath came shorter and quicker, and yet she held it in lest the young
Hebrew should hear her. Sometimes a higher wave lapped with its foam her
half-open lips, wetted her hair, and even reached her dress rolled up in
a bundle. Happily for her,--for her strength was beginning to give
way,--she soon found herself in stiller water. A bundle of reeds coming
down the river touched her as it passed, and filled her with quick
terror. The dark, green mass looked in the darkness like the back of a
crocodile; Tahoser thought she had felt the rough skin of the monster;
but she recovered from her terror and said, as she swam on, "What matter
if the crocodiles eat me up, if Poëri loves me not?"

There was real danger, especially at night. During the day the constant
crossing of boats and the work going on along the quays drove away the
crocodiles, which went to shores less frequented by man to wallow in the
mud and to sun themselves; but at night they became bold again.

Tahoser did not think of them; love is no calculator, and even if she
had thought of this form of peril, she would have braved it, timid
though she was, and frightened by an obstinate butterfly that mistaking
her for a flower kept fluttering around her.

Suddenly the boat stopped, although the bank was still some distance
away. Poëri, ceasing to scull, seemed to cast an uneasy glance around
him. He had perceived the whitish spot made on the water by Tahoser's
rolled up dress. Thinking she was discovered, the intrepid swimmer
bravely dived, resolved not to come to the surface, even were she to
drown, until Poëri's suspicions had been dispelled.

"I could have sworn somebody was swimming behind me," said Poëri, as he
went on sculling again; "but who would venture into the Nile at such a
time as this? I must have been crazy. I mistook for a human head covered
with linen a tuft of white reeds, or perhaps a mere flake of foam, for I
can see nothing now."

When Tahoser, whose temples were beginning to beat violently, and who
began to see red flashes in the dark waters of the river, rose hastily
to fill her lungs with a long breath of air, the papyrus boat had
resumed its confident way, and Poëri was handling the scull with the
imperturbable phlegm of the allegorical personages who row the barge of
Maut on the _bassi-relievi_ and the paintings of the temples. The bank
was only a few strokes off; the vast shadow of the pylons and the huge
walls of the Northern Palace--the dark pile of which was faintly seen
surmounted by the pyramidions of six obelisks through the violet blue of
the night--spread immense and formidable over the river, and sheltered
Tahoser, who could swim without fear of being noticed.

Poëri landed a little below the palace and fastened his boat to a post
so as to find it on his return. Then he took his palm stick and ascended
the slope of the quay with a swift step.

Poor Tahoser, almost worn out, clung with her stiffened hands to the
first step of the stair, and with difficulty drew from the stream her
dripping limbs, which the contact of the air made heavier as she
suddenly felt the fatigue. But the worst of her task was over. She
climbed the steps, one hand pressed to her quick-beating heart, the
other placed on her head to steady her rolled up and soaked dress. After
having noticed the direction in which Poëri was walking, she sat down on
top of the bank, untied her dress, and put it on. The contact of the wet
stuff made her shudder slightly, yet the night air was soft and the
southern breeze blew warm; but she was stiff and feverish, and her
little teeth were chattering. She summoned up her energy, and gliding
close by the sloping walls of the giant buildings, she managed not to
lose sight of the young Hebrew, who turned around the corner of the
mighty brick walls of the palace and entered the streets of Thebes.

After walking for some fifteen minutes, the palaces, the temples, the
splendid dwellings vanished, and were replaced by humbler houses;
granite, sandstone, and limestone were replaced by unbaked bricks and by
clay worked with straw. Architectural design disappeared; low huts
showed around like blisters or warts upon lonely places, upon waste
fields, and were changed by the darkness into monstrous shapes. Pieces
of wood and moulded bricks arranged in heaps obstructed the way. Out of
the silence rose strange, troubling sounds: an owl whirled through the
air, lean dogs, raising their long, pointed noses, followed with
plaintive bay the erratic flight of a bat; scorpions and frightened
reptiles scurrying by, made the dry grass rattle.

"Could Harphre have spoken the truth?" thought Tahoser, impressed by the
sinister aspect of the place. "Is it possible that Poëri comes here to
sacrifice a child to those barbarous gods who love blood and suffering?
Never was any place better fitted for cruel rites."

Meanwhile, profiting by the shadow of corners, the ends of walls, the
clumps of vegetation, and the unevenness of the ground, she kept at the
same distance from Poëri.

"Even if I were to be present as an invisible witness at some scene as
frightful as a nightmare, to hear the cries of the victim, to see the
priest, his hands red with blood, draw from the little body the smoking
heart, I should go on to the end," said Tahoser to herself, as she saw
the young Hebrew enter a hut built of clay, through the crevices of
which shone a few rays of yellow light.

When Poëri was fairly within, the daughter of Petamounoph approached,
though not a pebble cracked under her light step, nor a dog marked her
presence by a bark. She went around the hut, pressing her hand to her
heart and holding in her breath, and discovered, by seeing it shine
against the dark ground of the clay wall, a crack wide enough to allow
her glance to penetrate the interior. A small lamp lighted the room,
which was less bare than might have been supposed from the outward
appearance of the cabin. The smooth walls were as polished as stucco.
On wooden pedestals, painted in various colours, were placed vases of
gold and silver; jewels sparkled in half-open coffers; dishes of
brilliant metal shone on the wall; and a nosegay of rare flowers bloomed
in an enamelled jar in the centre of a small table. But it was not these
details which interested Tahoser, although the contrast of this
concealed luxury with the external poverty of the dwelling had at first
somewhat surprised her. Her attention was irresistibly attracted by
another object.

On a low platform covered with matting was a marvellously beautiful
woman of an unknown race. She was fairer than any of the maids of Egypt,
as white as milk, as white as a lily, as white as the ewes which have
just been washed. Her eyebrows were curved like ebony bows, and their
points met at the root of the thin, aquiline nose, the nostrils of which
were as rosy as the interior of a shell; her eyes were like doves' eyes,
bright and languorous; her lips were like two bands of purple, and as
they parted showed rows of pearls; her hair hung on either side of her
rosy cheeks in black, lustrous locks like two bunches of ripe grapes.
Earrings shimmered in her ears, and necklaces of golden plates inlaid
with silver sparkled around a neck that was round and polished like an
alabaster column. Her dress was peculiar. It consisted of a full tunic
embroidered with stripes and symmetrical designs of various colours,
falling from her shoulders half-way down her legs and leaving her arms
free and bare.

The young Hebrew sat down by her on the matting, and spoke to her words
which Tahoser could not understand, but the meaning of which she
unfortunately guessed too well; for Poëri and Ra'hel spoke in the
language of their country, so sweet to the exile and captive. Yet hope
dies hard in the loving breast.

"Perhaps it is his sister," said Tahoser, "and he goes to see her in
secret, being unwilling that it should be known that he belongs to that
enslaved race."

Then she put her eye to the crevice and listened with painful and
intense attention to the harmonious and rhythmic language, every
syllable of which held a secret which she would have given her life to
learn, and which sounded in her ears vague, swift, and unmeaning like
the wind in the leaves and the water on the bank.

"She is very beautiful for a sister," she murmured, as she cast a
jealous glance upon the strange and charming face with its red lips and
its pale complexion that was set off by ornaments of exotic shapes, and
the beauty of which had something fatally mysterious about it.

"Oh, Ra'hel, my beloved Ra'hel!" repeated Poëri often.

Tahoser remembered having heard him whisper that name while she was
fanning him in his sleep.

"He thought of her even in his dreams. No doubt Ra'hel is her name." And
the poor child felt in her breast a sharp pang as if all the uræus
snakes of the entablatures, all the royal asps of the Pharaonic crowns,
had struck their venomous fangs in her heart.

Ra'hel bowed her head on Poëri's shoulder like a flower overladen with
sunshine and love; the lips of the young man touched the hair of the
lovely Jewess, who fell back slowly, yielding her brow and half-closed
eyes to his earnest and timid caress. Their hands, which had sought each
other, were now clasped and feverishly pressed together.

"Oh, why did I not surprise him in some impious and mysterious ceremony,
slaying with his own hands a human victim, drinking its blood in a cup
of black ware, rubbing his face with it? It seems to me that I should
have suffered less than at the sight of that lovely woman whom he
embraces so timidly," murmured Tahoser in a faint voice as she sank on
the ground in a corner by the hut.

Twice she strove to rise, but she fell back on her knees. Darkness came
over her, her limbs gave way, and she fell in a swoon.

Meanwhile Poëri issued from the hut, giving a last kiss to Ra'hel.



X


The Pharaoh, raging and anxious on hearing of the disappearance of
Tahoser, had given way to that desire for change which possesses a heart
tormented by an unsatisfied passion. To the deep grief of Amense,
Hont-Reché, and Twea, his favourites, who had endeavoured to retain him
in the Summer Palace by all the resources of feminine coquetry, he now
inhabited the Northern Palace on the other side of the Nile. His fierce
preoccupation was irritated by the presence and the chatter of his
women; they displeased him because they were not Tahoser. He now thought
ugly those beauties who had seemed to him formerly so fair; their young,
slender, graceful bodies, their voluptuous attitudes, their long eyes
brightened by antimony and flashing with desire, their purple lips,
white teeth, and languishing smiles,--everything in them, even the
perfume of their cool skin, as delicate as a bouquet of flowers or a box
of scent, had become odious to him. He seemed to be angry with them for
having loved them, and to be unable to understand how he could have
been smitten by such vulgar charms. When Twea touched his breast with
the slender, pink finger of her little hand, shaking with emotion, as if
to recall the remembrance of former familiarities; when Hont-Reché
placed before him the draught-board supported by two lions back to back,
in order to play a game; when Amense presented him with a lotus-flower
with respectful, supplicating grace, he could scarcely refrain from
striking them with his sceptre, and his royal eyes flashed with such
disdain that the poor women who had ventured on such boldness, withdrew
abashed, their eyes wet with tears, and leaned silently against the
painted wall, trying by their motionlessness to appear to be part of the
paintings on the frescoes.

To avoid these scenes of tears and violence, he had withdrawn to the
palace of Thebes, alone, taciturn, and sombre; and there, instead of
remaining seated on his throne in the solemn attitude of the gods and of
kings, who, being almighty, neither move nor make a gesture, he walked
feverishly up and down through the vast halls. Strange was it to see
that tall Pharaoh with imposing mien, as formidable as the granite
colossi, his like, making the stone floors resound under his curved
sandals. When he passed, the terrified guards seemed to be petrified and
to turn to stone. They remained breathless, and not even the double
ostrich-feather in their headgear dared tremble. When he had passed,
they scarce ventured to whisper, "What is the matter to-day with the
Pharaoh?"

Had he returned from his expedition a beaten man, he could not have been
more morose and sombre. If, instead of having won ten victories, slain
twenty thousand enemies, brought back two thousand virgins chosen from
among the fairest, a hundred loads of gold-dust, a thousand loads of
ebony and elephants' tusks, without counting the rare products and the
strange animals,--if, instead of all this, Pharaoh had seen his army cut
to pieces, his war chariots overthrown and broken, if he had escaped
alone from the rout under a shower of arrows, dusty, blood-covered,
taking the reins from the hands of his driver dead by his side,--he
certainly could not have appeared more gloomy and more desperate. After
all, the land of Egypt produces soldiers in abundance; innumerable
horses neigh and paw the ground in the palace stables; and workmen could
soon bend wood, melt copper, sharpen brass. The fortune of war is
changeable, but a disaster may be atoned for. To have, however, wished
for a thing which did not at once come to him, to have met with an
obstacle between his will and the carrying out of that will, to have
hurled like a javelin a desire which had not struck its mark,--that was
what amazed the Pharaoh who dwelt in the higher plane of almightiness.
For one moment it occurred to him that he was only a man.

So he wandered through the vast courts, down the avenues of giant
pillars, passed under the mighty pylons, between the lofty monolithic
obelisks and the colossi which gazed upon him with their great,
frightened eyes. He traversed the hypostyle hall and the maze of the
granitic forest with its one hundred and sixty-two pillars tall and
strong as towers. The figures of gods, of kings, and of symbolic beings
painted on the walls seemed to fix upon him their great eyes, drawn in
black upon their profile masks, the uræus snakes to twist and swell
their hoods, the bird-faced divinities to stretch out their necks, the
globes to spread over the cornices their fluttering wings of stone. A
strange, fantastic life animated these curious figures, and peopled with
living swarms the solitudes of the vast hall, which was as large as an
ordinary palace. The divinities, the ancestors, the chimerical
monsters, eternally motionless, were amazed to see the Pharaoh,
ordinarily as calm as themselves, striding up and down as though he were
a man of flesh, and not of porphyry and basalt.

Weary of roaming about that mysterious forest of pillars that upbore a
granite heaven, like a lion which seeks the track of its prey and scents
with its wrinkled nose the moving sand of the desert, the Pharaoh
ascended one of the terraces of the palace, stretched himself on a low
couch, and sent for Timopht.

Timopht appeared at once, and advanced from the top of the stairs to the
Pharaoh, prostrating himself at every step. He dreaded the wrath of the
master whose favour he had, for a moment, hoped he had gained. Would the
skill he had shown in discovering the home of Tahoser be a sufficient
excuse for the crime of losing track of the lovely maid?

Raising one knee and leaving the other bent, Timopht stretched out his
arms with a supplicating gesture.

"O King, do not doom me to death or to be beaten beyond measure. The
beauteous Tahoser, the daughter of Petamounoph, on whom your desire
deigned to descend as the hawk swoops down upon the dove, will doubtless
be found; and when, returned to her home, she sees your magnificent
gifts, her heart will be touched, and she will come of herself to take,
among the women that dwell in your harem, the place which you will
assign to her."

"Did you question her servants and her slaves?" said the King. "The
stick loosens the most rebellious tongue, and suffering makes men and
women say what they would otherwise hide."

"Nofré and Souhem, her favourite maid and her oldest servant, told me
that they had noticed the bolts of the garden gate drawn back, that
probably their mistress had gone out that way. The gate opens on the
river, and the water does not preserve the track of boats."

"What did the boatmen of the Nile say?"

"They had seen nothing. One man alone said that a poorly dressed woman
crossed the stream with the first light of day; but it could not be the
beautiful and rich Tahoser, whose face you have yourself noticed, and
who walks like a queen in her superb garments."

Timopht's logic did not appear to convince the Pharaoh. He leaned his
chin on his hand and reflected for a few moments. Poor Timopht waited
in silence, fearing an explosion of fury. The King's lips moved as if he
were speaking to himself.

"That mean dress was a disguise. Yes, it must have been. Thus disguised,
she crossed to the other side of the river. Timopht is a fool, who
cannot see anything. I have a great mind to have him thrown to the
crocodiles or beaten to death. But what could be her reason? A maid of
high birth, the daughter of a high-priest, to escape thus from her
palace, alone and without informing any one of her intention! It may be
there is some love affair at the bottom of this mystery."

As this thought occurred to him, the Pharaoh's face flushed red as if
under the reflection of a fire; the blood had rushed from his heart to
his face. The redness was followed by dreadful pallor; his eyebrows
writhed like the uræus in his diadem, his mouth was contracted, he
grated his teeth, and his face became so terrible that the terrified
Timopht fell on his face upon the pavement as falls a dead man.

But the Pharaoh resumed his coolness, his face regained its majestic,
weary, placid look, and seeing that Timopht did not rise, he kicked him
disdainfully.

When Timopht, who already saw himself stretched on the funeral bed
supported by jackal's feet in the Memnonia quarter, his side open, his
stomach emptied, and himself ready to be plunged into a bath of
pickle,--when Timopht raised himself, he dared not look up to the King,
but remained crouched on his heels, a prey to the bitterest anguish.

"Come, Timopht!" said His Majesty, "rise up, run, and despatch
emissaries on all sides; have temples, palaces, houses, villas, gardens,
yea, the meanest of huts searched, and find Tahoser. Send chariots along
every road; have the Nile traversed in every direction by boats; go
yourself and ask those whom you meet if they have not seen such and such
a woman. Violate the tombs, if she has taken refuge in the abodes of
death, far within some passage or hypogeum. Seek her out as Isis sought
her husband Osiris torn away by Typhon, and, dead or alive, bring her
back,--or by the uræus of my pschent, by the lotus of my sceptre, you
shall perish in hideous tortures."

Timopht went off with the speed of a deer to carry out the orders of the
Pharaoh, who, somewhat calmer, took one of those poses of tranquil
grandeur which the sculptors love to give to the colossi set up at the
gates of the temples and palaces, and calm as beseems those whose
sandals, covered with drawings of captives with bound elbows, rest upon
the heads of nations, he waited.

A roar as of thunder sounded around the palace, and had the sky not been
of unchangeable, lapis-lazuli blue it might have been thought that a
storm had burst unexpectedly. The sound was caused by the swiftly
revolving wheels of the chariots galloping off in every direction, and
shaking the very ground. Soon the Pharaoh perceived from the top of the
terrace the boats cleaving the stream under the impulse of the rowers,
and his messengers scattering on the other bank through the country. The
Libyan chain, with its rosy light, and its sapphire blue shadows,
bounded the horizon and formed a background to the giant buildings of
Rameses, Amenhôtep, and Amen Phtases; the pylons with their sloping
angles, the walls with their spreading cornices, the colossi with their
hands resting on their knees, stood out, gilded by the sunbeams, their
size undiminished by distance.

But the Pharaoh looked not at these proud edifices. Amid the clumps of
palms and the cultivated fields, houses and painted kiosks rose here and
there, standing out against the brilliant colours of the vegetation.

Under one of these roofs, on one of these terraces, no doubt, Tahoser
was hiding; and by some spell he wished he could raise them or make them
transparent.

Hours followed on hours. The sun had sunk behind the mountains, casting
its last rays on Thebes, and the messengers had not returned. The
Pharaoh preserved his motionless attitude. Night fell on the city, cool,
calm, blue; the stars came out and twinkled in the deep azure. On the
corner of the terrace the Pharaoh, silent, impassible, stood out dark
like a basalt statue fixed upon the entablature. Several times the birds
of night swept around his head ere settling on it, but terrified by his
deep, slow breathing, they fled with startled wings.

From the height where he sat, the King overlooked the city lying at his
feet. Out of the mass of bluish shadow uprose the obelisks with their
sharp pyramidions; the pylons, giant doors traversed by rays; high
cornices; the colossi rising shoulder-high above the sea of buildings;
the propylæa; the pillars, with capitals swelled out like huge granite
flowers; the corners of temples and of palaces, brought out by a silvery
touch of light. The sacred pools spread out shimmering like polished
metal; the human-headed and the ram-headed sphinxes aligned along the
avenues, stretched out their hind-quarters; and the flat roofs were
multiplied infinitely, white under the moonlight, in masses cut here and
there into great slices by the squares and the streets. Red points
studded the darkness as if the stars had let sparks fall upon the earth.
These were lamps still burning in the sleeping city. Still farther,
between the less crowded buildings, faintly seen shafts of palm trees
waved their fans of leaves; and beyond, the contours and the shapes were
merged in a vaporous immensity, for even the eagle's glance could not
have reached the limits of Thebes; and on the other side old Hopi was
flowing majestically towards the sea.

Soaring in sight and thought over that vast city of which he was the
absolute master, the Pharaoh reflected sadly on the limits set to human
power, and his desire, like a raging vulture, gnawed at his heart. He
said to himself: "All these houses contain beings who at the sight of me
bow their faces into the dust, to whom my will is the will of the gods.
When I pass upon my golden car or in my litter borne by the oëris,
virgins feel their bosoms swell as their long, timid glance follows me;
the priests burn incense to me in their censers, the people wave palms
and scatter flowers; the whistling of one of my arrows makes the nations
tremble; and the walls of pylons huge as precipitous mountains are
scarce sufficient to record my victories; the quarries can scarce
furnish granite enough for my colossal statues. Yet once, in my superb
satiety, I form a wish, and that wish I cannot fulfil. Timopht does not
reappear. No doubt he has failed. Oh, Tahoser, Tahoser! How great is the
happiness you will have to bestow on me to make up for this long
waiting!"

Meanwhile the messengers, Timopht at their head, were visiting the
houses, examining the roads, inquiring after the priest's daughter,
describing her to the travellers they met; but no one could answer them.
The first messenger appeared on the terrace and announced to the Pharaoh
that Tahoser could not be found. The Pharaoh stretched out his sceptre,
and the messenger fell dead, in spite of the proverbial hardness of the
Egyptian skull. A second came up; he stumbled against the body of his
comrade stretched on the slabs; he trembled, for he saw that the Pharaoh
was angry.

"What of Tahoser?" said the Pharaoh, without changing his attitude.

"O Majesty! all trace of her is lost," replied the poor wretch, kneeling
in the darkness before the black shadow, which was more like a statue of
Osiris than a living king.

The granite arm was outstretched from the motionless torso, and the
metal sceptre fell like a thunderbolt. The second messenger rolled on
the ground by the side of the first.

The third shared the same fate.

Timopht, in the course of his search, reached the house of Poëri, who,
having returned from his nocturnal excursion, had been amazed that
morning at not seeing the sham Hora. Harphre and the servants who, the
night before, had supped with her, did not know what had become of her;
her room had been found empty; she had been sought for in vain through
the gardens, the cellars, the granaries, and the washing-places.

Poëri replied, when questioned by Timopht, that it was true that a young
girl had presented herself at his gate in the supplicating posture of
misfortune, imploring hospitality on her knees; that he had received her
kindly; had offered her food and shelter; but that she had left in a
mysterious fashion for a reason which he could not fathom. In what
direction had she gone? That he did not know. No doubt, having rested,
she had continued on her way to some unknown place. She was beautiful,
sad, wore a garment of common stuff, and appeared to be poor. Did the
name of Hora which she had given stand for that of Tahoser? It was for
Timopht to answer that question.

Provided with this information, Timopht returned to the palace, and
keeping well out of the reach of the Pharaoh's sceptre, he repeated what
he had learned.

"What did she go to Poëri's for?" said the Pharaoh to himself. "If Hora
is really Tahoser, she loves Poëri. And yet, no! for she would not have
fled thus, after having been received under his roof. I shall find her
again, even if I have to upset the whole of Egypt from the Cataracts to
the Delta."



XI


Ra'hel, who from the threshold of the hut was watching Poëri go away,
thought she heard a faint sigh. She listened; some dogs were baying to
the moon, an owl uttered its doleful hoot, and the crocodiles moaned
between the reeds of the river, imitating the cry of a child in
distress. The young Israelite was about to re-enter the hut when a more
distinct moan, which could not be attributed to the vague sounds of
night, and which certainly came from a human breast, again struck her
ear. Fearing some ambush, she drew cautiously near the place whence came
the sound, and close to the wall of the hut she perceived in the blue
transparent darkness the shape of a body fallen to the ground. The wet
drapery outlined the limbs of the false Hora and betrayed her sex.

Ra'hel, seeing that she had to do with a fainting woman only, lost all
fear and knelt by her, questioning the breathing of her lips and the
beating of her heart; the one was just expiring on the pale lips, the
other scarce beat under the cold breasts.

Feeling the water which had soaked the stranger's dress, Ra'hel thought
at first that it was blood, and imagined that the woman must be the
victim of a murder. In order to help her to better purpose, she called
Thamar, her servant, and the two women carried Tahoser into the hut.
They laid her upon the couch. Thamar held up a lamp, while Ra'hel,
bending over the girl, looked for the wound; but no red streak showed
upon the pallor of Tahoser, and her dress had no crimson stain.

They stripped off her wet garment, and cast over her a piece of striped
wool, the gentle warmth of which soon restored her suspended
circulation. Tahoser slowly opened her eyes and cast around her a
terrified glance like that of a captured gazelle. It took her some time
to regain control of her thoughts. She could not understand how she
happened to be in that room, on the bed, where but a moment ago she had
seen Poëri and the young Israelite seated side by side with clasped
hands, speaking of love, while she, breathless, amazed, watched through
the crack of the wall; but soon memory returned, and with it the feeling
of her situation.

The light fell full on Ra'hel's face. Tahoser studied it silently,
grieved to find her so perfectly beautiful. In vain, with all the
fierceness of feminine jealousy, she tried to note defects in her; she
felt herself not vanquished, but equalled; Ra'hel was the Hebrew ideal,
as Tahoser was the Egyptian. Hard though it was to her loving heart, she
was compelled to admit that Poëri's love was justified and well
bestowed. The eyes with their full black eyelashes, the beautiful nose,
the red mouth with its dazzling smile, the long, elegant oval face, the
arms, full near the shoulders and ending in childish hands, the round,
plump neck which, as it turned, formed folds more beautiful than
necklaces of gems,--all this, set off by a quaint, exotic dress, was
sure to please.

"I made a great mistake," said Tahoser to herself, "when I presented
myself to Poëri in the humble attitude of a suppliant, trusting to my
charms overpraised by flatterers. Fool that I was! I acted as a soldier
who should go to war without breastplate or weapons. If I had appeared
in all my splendour, covered with jewels and enamels, standing on my
golden car followed by my numerous slaves, I might perhaps have touched
his fancy, if not his heart."

"How do you feel now?" said Ra'hel in Egyptian to Tahoser; for by the
outline of the face and the dressing of the hair, she had perceived that
the maiden did not belong to the Israelitish race. The sound of her
voice was sympathetic and sweet, and the foreign accent added greater
grace to it.

Tahoser was touched in spite of herself, and replied, "I feel better.
Your kind care will soon have restored me."

"Do not tire yourself with speaking," answered the Israelite, placing
her hand on Tahoser's lips. "Try to sleep, to regain your strength.
Thamar and I will watch over you."

Her agitation, the swim across the Nile, the long walk through the poor
quarters of Thebes, had wearied out Petamounoph's daughter; her delicate
frame was exhausted, and soon her long lashes closed, forming a dark
semicircle upon her cheeks flushed with fever. Sleep came to her, but
broken, restless, distorted by strange dreams, troubled by threatening
hallucinations; nervous shivers made the sleeper start, and broken
words, replying to the dream dialogue, were spoken by the half-opened
lips.

Seated at the bed head, Ra'hel followed the changes in the features of
Tahoser; troubled when she saw them contract and fill with grief,
quieted again when the girl calmed down. Thamar, crouching beside her
mistress, was also watching the priest's daughter, but her face
expressed less kindliness. Coarse instincts showed in the wrinkles of
her brow, pressed down by the broad band of the Hebrew head-dress; her
eyes, still bright in spite of her age, sparkled with curious
questionings in their brown and wrinkled orbits; her bony nose, shining
and curved like a vulture's beak, seemed to scent out secrets; and her
lips, slightly moving, appeared to be framing interrogations.

She was very much concerned about this stranger picked up at the door of
the hut. Whence came she? How did she happen to be there? What was her
purpose? Who could she be? Such were the questions which Thamar asked
herself, and to which, very regretfully, she could find no satisfactory
replies. Besides, Thamar, like all old women, was prejudiced against
beauty, and in this respect Tahoser proved very unpleasant to her. The
faithful servant forgave beauty in her mistress only; for her good looks
she considered as her property, and she was proud and jealous of them.

Seeing that Ra'hel kept silence, the old woman rose and sat down near
her, and winking her eyes, the brown lids of which rose and fell like a
bat's wing, she whispered in the Hebrew tongue, "Mistress, nothing good
will come of this woman."

"Why do you think so, Thamar?" answered Ra'hel, in the same low tone and
using the same language.

"It is strange," went on the suspicious Thamar, "that she should have
fainted there, and not elsewhere."

"She fell at the spot where weakness came upon her."

The old woman shook her head doubtfully.

"Do you suppose," said Poëri's beloved, "that her faint was simulated?
The dissector might have cut her side with his sharp stone, so like a
dead body did she seem. Her dull eyes, her pale lips, her pallid cheeks,
her limp limbs, her skin as cold as that of the dead,--these things
cannot be counterfeited."

"No, doubtless," replied Thamar, "although there are women clever enough
to feign all these symptoms, for some reason or another, so skilfully as
to deceive the most clear-sighted. I believe that the maiden had
swooned, as a matter of fact."

"Then what are you suspicious of?"

"How did she happen to be there in the middle of the night; in this
distant quarter inhabited only by the poor captives of our tribe whom
the cruel Pharaoh employs in making brick, and to whom he refuses the
straw necessary to burn the bricks? What motive brought that Egyptian
woman to our wretched huts? Why was her garment soaking wet, as if she
had just emerged from a pool or from the river?"

"I know no more than you do," replied Ra'hel.

"Suppose she were a spy of our masters'," said the old woman, whose
fierce eyes were lighted up with hatred. "Great events are
preparing,--who knows whether the alarm has not been given?"

"How could that young girl, ill as she is, hurt us? She is in our hands,
weak, alone, ill. Besides, we can, at the least suspicious sign, keep
her prisoner until the day of deliverance."

"In any case, she is not to be trusted. See how delicate and soft are
her hands!"

And old Thamar raised one of the arms of the sleeping Tahoser.

"In what respect can the fineness of her skin endanger us?"

"Oh, imprudent youth!" said Thamar; "oh, mad youth! which cannot see
anything, which walks through life trustfully, without believing in
ambushes, in brambles under the grass, in hot coals under the ashes, and
which would gladly caress a viper, believing it to be only a snake. Open
your eyes! That woman does not belong to the class of which she seems to
be; her thumb has never been flattened on the thread of the spindle, and
that little hand, softened by essences and pomades, has never worked.
Her poverty is a disguise."

Thamar's words appeared to impress Ra'hel; she examined Tahoser more
attentively. The lamp shed upon her its trembling rays, and the delicate
form of the priest's daughter showed in the yellow light relaxed in
sleep. The arm which Thamar had raised still rested upon the mantle of
striped wool, showing whiter by contrast with the dark stuff; the wrist
was circled with a bracelet of sandal wood, the commonplace adornment of
the coquetry of poverty; but if the ornament was rude and roughly
chased, the flesh it covered seemed to have been washed in the perfumed
bath of riches. Then Ra'hel saw how beautiful was Tahoser, but the
discovery excited no evil feeling in her heart; Tahoser's beauty
softened, instead of irritating her as it did Thamar; she could not
believe that such perfection concealed a vile and perfidious soul; and
in this respect her youthful candour judged more correctly than the long
experience of her maid.

Day at last dawned, and Tahoser's fever grew worse. She was delirious at
times, and then would fall into a prolonged slumber.

"If she were to die here," said Thamar, "we should be accused of having
killed her."

"She will not die," replied Ra'hel, putting a cup of cool water to the
lips of the sick girl.

"If she does, I shall throw her body by night into the Nile," continued
the obstinate Thamar, "and the crocodiles will undertake to make it
disappear."

The day passed, the night came, and at the accustomed hour Poëri, having
given the usual signal, appeared as he had done the night before on the
threshold of the hut.

Ra'hel came to meet him, her finger on her lips, and signed to him to
keep silence and to speak low, for Tahoser was sleeping. Poëri, whom
Ra'hel led by the hand to the bed on which Tahoser rested, at once
recognised the sham Hora, whose disappearance had preoccupied him a
good deal, especially since the visit of Timopht, who was looking for
her in his master's name.

Marked astonishment showed in his face as he rose, after having bent
over the bed to make quite certain that the young girl who lay there was
the one whom he had welcomed, for he could not understand how she
happened to be in this place. His look of surprise smote Ra'hel to the
heart. She stood in front of Poëri to read the truth in his eyes, placed
her hands upon his shoulders, and fixing her glance upon him, said, in a
dry, sharp voice which contrasted with her speech, usually as gentle as
the cooing of a dove,--

"So you know her?"

Thamar grinned with satisfaction; she was proud of her perspicacity, and
almost glad to see her suspicions as regarded the stranger partially
justified.

"Yes," replied Poëri, quietly.

The bright eyes of the old woman sparkled with malicious curiosity.

Ra'hel's face resumed its expression of trustfulness; she no longer
doubted her lover.

Poëri told her that a girl calling herself Hora had presented herself at
his home as a suppliant; that he had received her as any guest should
be received; that the next day she had disappeared from among the maids,
and that he could not understand how she happened to be there. He also
added that the emissaries of the Pharaoh were everywhere looking for
Tahoser, the daughter of the high-priest Petamounoph, who had
disappeared from her palace.

"You see that I was right, mistress," said Thamar, triumphantly. "Hora
and Tahoser are one and the same person."

"That may be," replied Poëri, "but there are a number of difficulties
which my reason does not explain. First, why should Tahoser, if it is
she, don this disguise? Next, by what miracle do I meet here the maiden
whom I left last night on the other bank of the Nile, and who certainly
could not know whither I was going?"

"No doubt she followed you," said Ra'hel.

"I am quite sure that at that time there was no other boat on the river
but mine."

"That is the reason her hair was so dripping-wet and her garments
soaked. She must have swum across the Nile."

"That may well be,--I thought for a moment that I had caught sight in
the darkness of a human head above the waters."

"It was she, poor child!" said Ra'hel; "her fatigue and her fainting
corroborate it, for after your departure I picked her up stretched
senseless outside the hut."

"No doubt that is the way things occurred," said the young man. "I can
see the acts, but I cannot understand the motive."

"Let me explain it," said Ra'hel, smiling, "although I am but a poor,
ignorant woman, and you are compared, as regards your vast knowledge, to
the priests of Egypt who study night and day within sanctuaries covered
with mystic hieroglyphs, the hidden meaning of which they alone can
penetrate. But sometimes men, who are so busy with astronomy, music, and
numbers, do not guess what goes on in a maiden's heart. They can see a
distant star in the heavens; they do not notice a love close to them.
Hora--or rather, Tahoser, for it is she--took this disguise to penetrate
into your house and to live near you; jealous, she glided in the shadow
behind you; at the risk of being devoured by the crocodiles in the river
she swam across the Nile. On arriving here she watched us through some
crack in the wall, and was unable to bear the sight of our happiness.
She loves you because you are very handsome, very strong, and very
gentle. But I do not care, since you do not love her. Now do you
understand?"

A faint blush coloured Poëri's cheeks; he feared lest Ra'hel were angry
and spoke thus to entrap him, but her clear, pure glance betrayed no
hidden thought. She was not angry with Tahoser for loving the man whom
she loved herself.

In her dreams Tahoser saw Poëri standing by her; ecstatic joy lighted up
her features, and half raising herself, she seized the hand of the young
man to bear it to her lips.

"Her lips are burning," said Poëri, withdrawing his hand.

"With love as much as with fever," replied Ra'hel, "but she is really
ill. Suppose Thamar were to fetch Mosche. He is wiser than the wise men
and the wizards of Pharaoh, every one of whose wonders he imitates. He
knows the secret properties of plants, and makes drinks of them which
would bring the dead to life. He shall cure Tahoser, for I am not cruel
enough to wish her to lose her life."

Thamar went off grumbling, and soon returned, followed by a very tall
old man, whose majestic aspect inspired reverence. A long white beard
fell down over his breast, and on either side of his brow two huge
protuberances caught and retained the light. They looked like two horns
or two beams. Under his thick eyebrows his eyes shone like fire. He
looked, in spite of his simple dress, like a prophet or a god.

Acquainted with the state of things by Poëri, he sat down by Tahoser's
couch, and said, as he stretched his hand over her: "In the name of the
Mighty One beside whom all other gods are idols and demons,--though you
do not belong to the elect of the Lord,--maiden, be cured!"



XII


The tall old man withdrew solemnly, leaving, as it were, a trail of
light behind him. Tahoser, surprised at feeling her sickness suddenly
leave her, cast her eyes around the room, and soon, wrapping herself in
the blanket with which the young Israelite had covered her, she put her
feet to the ground and sat up on the edge of the bed. Fatigue and fever
had completely left her; she was as fresh as after a long rest, and her
beauty shone in all its purity. Pushing back with her little hands the
plaited masses of her hair behind her ears, she showed her face lighted
up with love, as if she desired Poëri to read it; but seeing that he
remained motionless near Ra'hel without encouraging her by a sign or a
glance, she rose slowly, drew near the young Israelite girl, and threw
her arms around her neck. She remained thus, her head in Ra'hel's bosom,
wetting it with her hot tears. Sometimes a sob she could not repress
shook her convulsively upon her rival's breast.

The complete yielding up of herself, and her evident misery, touched
Ra'hel. Tahoser confessed herself beaten, and implored her pity by mute
supplication, appealing to her womanly generosity.

Ra'hel, much moved, kissed her and said,--

"Dry your tears and be not so sorrowful. You love Poëri? Well, love him,
and I shall not be jealous. Yacoub, a patriarch of our race, had two
wives; one was called Ra'hel as I am, and the other Leah. Yacoub
preferred Ra'hel, and yet Leah, who was not beautiful like you, lived
happily with him."

Tahoser knelt at Ra'hel's feet and kissed her hand. Ra'hel raised her
and put her arm around her waist. They formed a charming group, these
two women of different races, exhibiting, as they did, the
characteristic beauty of each: Tahoser elegant, graceful, and slender,
like a child that has grown too fast; Ra'hel dazzling, blooming, and
superb in her precocious maturity.

"Tahoser," said Poëri, "for that is your name, I think,--Tahoser,
daughter of the high-priest Petamounoph?"

The young girl nodded assent.

"How is it that you, who live in Thebes in a rich palace, surrounded by
slaves, and whom the handsomest among the Egyptians desire,--how is it
you have chosen to love me, a son of a race reduced to slavery, a
stranger who does not share your religious beliefs and who is separated
from you by so great a distance?"

Ra'hel and Tahoser smiled, and the high-priest's daughter replied,--

"That is the very reason."

"Although I enjoy the favour of the Pharaoh, although I am the steward
of his domains and wear gilded horns in the festivals of agriculture, I
cannot rise to you. In the eyes of the Egyptians I am but a slave, and
you belong to the priestly caste, the highest and most venerated. If you
love me--and I cannot doubt that you do--you must give up your rank."

"Have I not already become your servant? Hora kept nothing of Tahoser,
not even the enamelled collars and the transparent gauze calasiris; that
is why you thought me ugly."

"You will have to give up your country and follow me to unknown regions,
through the desert where burns the sun, where blows the fire-wind, where
the moving sand tangles and effaces the paths, where no tree grows,
where no well springs, through the lost valleys of death strewn with
whitened bones that mark the way."

"I shall go," said Tahoser, quietly.

"That is not all," continued Poëri. "Your gods are not mine,--your gods
of brass, basalt, and granite, fashioned by the hand of man, your
monstrous idols with heads of eagle, monkey, ibis, cow, jackal, and
lion, which assume the faces of beasts as if they were troubled by the
human face on which rests the reflection of Jehovah. It is said, 'Thou
shalt worship neither stone nor wood nor metal.' Within these temples
cemented with the blood of oppressed races grin and crouch the hideous,
foul demons which usurp the libations, the offerings, and the
sacrifices. One only God, infinite, eternal, formless, colourless, fills
the immensity of the heavens which you people with a multitude of
phantoms. Our God has created us; you have created your gods."

Although Tahoser was deeply in love with Poëri, his words affected her
strangely, and she drew back in terror. The daughter of the high-priest
had been brought up to venerate the gods whom the young Hebrew was
boldly blaspheming; she had offered up on their altars bouquets of
flowers, and she had burned perfumes before their impassible images;
amazed and delighted, she had walked through their temples splendid with
brilliant paintings. She had seen her father performing the mysterious
rites; she had followed the procession of priests who bore the symbolic
bari through the enormous pylons and the endless sphinx avenues; she had
admired tremblingly the psychostasis where the trembling soul appears
before Osiris armed with the whip and the pedum, and she had noted with
a dreamy glance the frescoes representing the emblematic figures
travelling towards the regions of the West. She could not thus yield up
all her beliefs. She was silent for a few moments, hesitating between
religion and love. Love won the day, and she said:

"You shall tell me of your God; I will try to understand him."

"It is well," said Poëri; "you shall be my wife. Meanwhile remain here,
for the Pharaoh, no doubt in love with you, is having you sought
everywhere by his emissaries. He will never discover you under this
humble roof, and in a few days we shall be out of his power. But the
night is waning and I must depart."

Poëri went off, and the two young women, lying side by side on the soft
bed, soon fell asleep, holding each other's hands like two sisters.

Thamar, who during the foregoing scene had remained crouched in her
corner of the room, looking like a bat hanging from a corner by its
talons, and had been muttering broken words and frowning, now unfolded
her bony limbs, rose to her feet, and bending over the bed, listened to
the breathing of the two sleepers. When the regularity of their
breathing convinced her that they were sound asleep, she went towards
the door, walking with infinite precaution. Once outside, she sprang
with swift steps in the direction of the Nile, shaking off the dogs who
hung on with their teeth at the edge of her tunic, or dragging them
through the dust until they let go; or she glared at them with such
fierce eyes that they drew back with frightened yelps and let her pass
by.

She had soon passed the dangerous and deserted places inhabited at night
by the members of the thieves' association, and entered the wealthy
quarter of Thebes. Three or four streets bordered with tall buildings,
the shadows of which fell in great angles, led her to the outer wall of
the palace, which was the object of her trip. The difficulty was to
enter,--no easy matter at that time of the night for an old Hebrew
servant with dusty feet and shabby garments.

[Illustration: Copyright 1901, by George D. Sproul

GILBO & CO.

_The Pharaoh slew but a short time ago three messengers with a blow of
his sceptre._]

She went to the main pylon, before which watched, stretched at length,
fifty ram-headed sphinxes, arranged in two lines like monsters
ready to crush between their granite jaws the imprudent ones who should
attempt to force a passage. The sentinels stopped her, struck her
roughly with the shafts of their javelins, and then asked her what she
wished.

"I want to see the Pharaoh," replied the old woman, rubbing her back.

"That's right,--very nice! Waken for this witch the Pharaoh, favourite
of Phré, beloved of Ammon Ra, the destroyer of nations!" said the
soldiers, laughing loudly.

Thamar repeated obstinately, "I want to see the Pharaoh at once."

"A very good time you have chosen for it! The Pharaoh slew but a short
time ago three messengers with a blow of his sceptre. He sits on his
terrace, motionless and sinister like Typhon, the god of evil," said a
soldier who condescended to give this explanation.

Ra'hel's maid endeavoured to force her way through; the javelins rattled
on her head like hammers on an anvil. She began to yell like a bird
plucked alive.

An officer came out on hearing the tumult; the soldiers stopped beating
Thamar.

"What does this woman want?" said the officer, "and why are you beating
her in this way?"

"I want to see the Pharaoh," cried Thamar, dragging herself to the knees
of the officer.

"Out of the question," replied the latter; "it is out of the
question,--even if, instead of being a low wretch, you were one of the
greatest personages in the kingdom."

"I know where is Tahoser," whispered the old woman in his ear, laying
stress on each syllable.

On hearing this, the officer took Thamar by the hand, led her through
the first pylon and through the avenue of pillars and the hypostyle hall
into a second court, where rose the granite sanctuary, with its two
outer columns with lotus capitals. There, calling Timopht, he handed
Thamar over to him.

Timopht led the servant to the terrace where sat the Pharaoh, gloomy and
silent.

"Keep well out of the reach of his sceptre," was the advice Timopht gave
to the Israelite.

As soon as she perceived the King through the darkness, Thamar threw
herself with her face to the stone flags, by the side of the bodies
which had not yet been removed, and then sitting up, she said in a firm
voice, "O Pharaoh, do not slay me, I bring you good news."

"Speak without fear," replied the King, whose fury had passed away.

"Tahoser, whom your messengers have sought in the four corners of the
world,--I know where she is."

At the name of Tahoser, Pharaoh rose as if moved by a spring and stepped
towards Thamar, who was still kneeling.

"If you speak the truth, you may take from my granite halls as much as
you can lift of gold and precious stones."

"I will put her in your hands, you may be sure," said the old woman,
with a strident laugh.

What was the motive which had led Thamar to inform the Pharaoh of the
retreat where the priest's daughter was in hiding?

She wished to prevent a union which she disliked. She entertained
towards the race of Egypt, a blind, fierce, unreasoning, almost bestial
hatred, and the thought of breaking Tahoser's heart delighted her. Once
in the hands of the Pharaoh, Ra'hel's rival would be unable to escape;
the granite walls of the palace would keep their prey.

"Where is she?" said Pharaoh; "tell me the spot. I want to see her at
once."

"Your Majesty, I alone can guide you. I know the windings of those
loathsome quarters, where the humblest of your servants would disdain to
set foot. Tahoser is there, in a clay and straw hut which nothing marks
from the huts which surround it, amid the heaps of bricks which the
Hebrews make for you outside the regular dwellings of the city."

"Very well, I will trust you. Timopht, have a chariot brought around."

Timopht disappeared. Soon the wheels were heard rolling over the stones
of the court, and the horses stamping and pawing as the equerries
fastened them to the yoke.

The Pharaoh came down, followed by Thamar. He sprang up on the chariot,
took the reins, and seeing that Thamar hesitated,--

"Come, get up," he said.

He clucked his tongue, and the horses started. The awakened echoes gave
back the sound of the wheels, which sounded like low thunder through the
vast halls, in the midst of the night silence. The hideous old woman,
clinging with her bony fingers to the rim of the chariot by the side of
the godlike Pharaoh, presented a strange sight, which fortunately was
seen by none but the stars twinkling in the deep blue heavens. She
resembled one of the evil genii of mysterious face which accompany the
guilty souls to Hades.

"Is this the way?" said the Pharaoh to the woman at the forks of a
street.

"Yes," replied Thamar, stretching her withered hand in the right
direction.

The horses, urged on by the whip, sprang forward, and the chariot leaped
upon the stones with a noise of brass.

Meanwhile Tahoser slept by the side of Ra'hel. A strange dream filled
her sleep. She seemed to be in a temple of immense size. Huge columns of
prodigious height upbore the blue ceiling studded with stars like the
heavens; innumerable lines of hieroglyphs ascended and descended along
the walls between the panels of symbolic frescoes painted in bright
colours. All the gods of Egypt had met in this universal sanctuary, not
as brass, basalt, or porphyry effigies, but as living shapes. In the
first rank were seated the gods Knef, Buto, Phtah, Pan-Mendes, Hathor,
Phré, Isis; then came the twelve celestial gods,--six male gods:
Rempha, Pi-Zeous, Ertosi, Pi-Hermes, Imuthi; and six female deities:
the Moon, Ether, Fire, Air, Water, Earth. Behind these swarmed vaguely
and indistinctly three hundred and sixty-five Decans, the familiar
dæmons of each day. Next appeared the terrestrial deities: the second
Osiris, Haroeri, Typhon, the second Isis, Nephthys, the dog-headed
Anubis, Thoth, Busiris, Bubastis, the great Serapis. Beyond, in the
shade, were faintly seen idols in form of animals,--oxen, crocodiles,
ibises, hippopotami. In the centre of the temple, in his open
mummy-case, lay the high-priest Petamounoph, who, the bandages having
been unwound from his face, gazed with an ironical air at that strange
and mysterious assembly. He was dead, not living, and spoke, as it often
happens in dreams; and he said to his daughter, "Question them and ask
them if they are gods."

And Tahoser proceeded to put to each one that question, and each and all
replied: "We are only numbers, laws, forces, attributes, effluvia, and
thoughts of God, but not one of us is the true God."

Then Poëri appeared on the threshold of the temple, and took Tahoser by
the hand and led her to a light so brilliant that in comparison with it
the sun would have seemed black, and in the centre of which blazed in a
triangle words unknown to her.

Meanwhile Pharaoh's chariot flew over all obstacles, and the axles of
the wheels rayed the walls in the narrow lanes.

"Pull in your horses," said Thamar to the Pharaoh; "the noise of the
wheels in this solitude and silence might startle the fugitive, and she
would again escape you."

The Pharaoh thought this advice sound, and in spite of his impatience
made his horses slacken their impetuous pace.

"There is the place," said Thamar; "I left the door open. Go in. I shall
look after the horses."

The king descended from the chariot, and bowing his head, entered the
hut. The lamp was still burning, and shed its dying beams on the two
sleeping girls. The Pharaoh caught up Tahoser in his strong arms and
walked towards the door of the hut.

When the priest's daughter awoke, and saw flaming near her face the
shining face of the Pharaoh, she thought at first that it was one of the
fancies of her dream transformed; but the air of night which struck her
face soon restored her to the sense of reality. Mad with terror, she
tried to scream, to call for help; the cry remained in her throat,--and
then, who would have helped her against the Pharaoh?

With one bound the King sprang on to his chariot, threw the reins around
his back, and pressing to his breast the half-dead Tahoser, sent his
coursers at their top speed towards the Northern Palace.

Thamar glided like a serpent into the hut, crouched down in her
accustomed place, and gazed with a look almost as tender as a mother's
on her dear Ra'hel, who was still sound asleep.



XIII


The draught of cold air, due to the speed of the chariot, soon made
Tahoser recover from her faint. Pressed and crushed against the breast
of the Pharaoh, by his two stony arms, her heart had scarce room to
beat, and the hard enamelled collars were making their mark on her
heaving bosom. The horses, whose reins the King slackened by bending
towards the front of the car, rushed furiously forward, the wheels went
round like whirlwinds, the brazen plates justled, the heated axles
smoked. Tahoser, terrified, saw vaguely, as in a dream, flash to the
right and left vast masses of buildings, clumps of trees, palaces,
temples, pylons, obelisks, colossi, which the night made more fantastic
and terrible. What were the thoughts that filled her mind during that
mad rush? She thought as little as thinks a dove, fluttering in the
talons of a hawk which is carrying it away to its eyrie. Mute terror
stupefied her, made her blood run cold and dulled her feelings. Her
limbs hung limp; her will was relaxed like her muscles, and, had she not
been held firmly in the arms of the Pharaoh, she would have slipped and
fallen in a heap on the bottom of the chariot like a piece of stuff
which is let drop. Twice she thought she felt upon her cheek a burning
breath and two lips of fire; she did not attempt to turn away her head,
terror had killed modesty in her. When the chariot struck violently
against a stone, a dim instinct of self-preservation made her cling with
her hands to the shoulder of the King and press closer to him; then she
let herself go again and leaned with her whole weight, light though it
was, upon those arms which held her.

The chariot entered the avenue of sphinxes, at the end of which rose a
giant pylon crowned with a cornice on which the symbolic globe displayed
its wings; the lessening darkness allowed the priest's daughter to
recognise the King's palace. Then despair filled her heart; she
struggled, she strove to free herself from the embrace which held her
close; she pressed her frail hands against the stony breast of the
Pharaoh, stiffened out her arms, throwing herself back over the edge of
the chariot. Her efforts were useless, her struggles were vain. Her
ravisher brought her back to his breast with an irresistible, slow
pressure, as if he would have driven her into it. She tried to scream;
her lips were closed with a kiss.

Meanwhile the horses in three or four strides reached the pylon, under
which they passed at full gallop, glad to return to the stable, and the
chariot rolled into the vast court. The servants hastened up and sprang
to the heads of the horses, whose bits were white with foam.

Tahoser cast a terrified glance around her. High brick walls formed a
vast square enclosure in which rose on the east a palace, on the west a
temple, between two great pools, the piscinæ of the sacred crocodiles.
The first rays of the sun, the orb of which was already rising behind
the Arabian mountains, flushed with rosy light the top of the buildings,
the lower portions of which were still plunged in bluish shadows.

There was no hope of flight. The buildings, though in no wise gloomy,
had a look of irresistible strength, of absolute will, of eternal
persistence: a world catastrophe alone could have opened an issue
through these thick walls, through these piles of hard sandstone. To
overthrow the pylons built of fragments of mountains, the earth itself
would have had to quake; even a conflagration could only have licked
with its fiery tongues those indestructible blocks.

Poor Tahoser did not have at her command such violent means, and she was
compelled to allow herself to be carried like a child by the Pharaoh,
who had sprung from his chariot.

Four high columns with palm-leaf capitals formed the propylæum of the
palace into which the king entered, still pressing to his breast the
daughter of Petamounoph. When he had passed through the door, he gently
placed his burden on the ground, and seeing Tahoser stagger, he said to
her: "Be reassured. You rule the Pharaoh, and the Pharaoh rules the
world."

These were the first words he had spoken to her.

If love followed the dictates of reason, Tahoser would certainly have
preferred the Pharaoh to Poëri. The King was endowed with supreme
beauty. His great, clean, regular features seemed to be chiselled, and
not the slightest imperfection could be detected in them. The habit of
command had given to his glance that penetrating gleam which makes
divinities and kings so easily recognisable. His lips, one word from
which would have changed the face of the world and the fate of nations,
were of a purple red, like fresh blood upon the blade of a sword, and
when he smiled, they possessed that grace of terrible things which
nothing can resist. His tall, well proportioned, majestic figure
presented the nobility of form admired in the temple statues; and when
he appeared solemn and radiant, covered with gold, enamels, and gems, in
the midst of the bluish vapour of the censers, he did not seem to belong
to that frail race which from generation to generation falls like
leaves, and is stretched, sticky with bitumen, in the dark depths of the
mummy pits.

What was poor Poëri by the side of this demigod? Nevertheless, Tahoser
loved him.

The wise have long since given up attempting to explain the heart of
woman. They are masters of astronomy, astrology, and arithmetic; they
know the origin of the world, and can tell where were the planets at the
very moment of creation; they are sure that the moon was then in the
constellation of Cancer, the sun in that of the Lion, Mercury in that of
the Virgin, Venus in the Balance, Mars in the Scorpion, Jupiter in
Sagittarius, Saturn in Capricorn; they trace on papyrus or granite the
direction of the celestial ocean, which goes from the east to the west;
they have summed up the number of stars strewn over the blue robe of
the Goddess Neith, and make the sun travel in the lower or the superior
hemisphere with the twelve diurnal and the twelve nocturnal baris under
the conduct of the hawk-headed pilot and of Neb Wa, the Lady of the
Bark; they know that in the second half of the month of Tobi, Orion
influences the left ear, and Sirius the heart; but they are absolutely
ignorant why a woman prefers one man to another, a wretched Israelite to
an illustrious Pharaoh.

After having traversed several halls with Tahoser, whom he led by the
hand, the King sat down on a seat in the shape of a throne in a superbly
decorated room.

Golden stars gleamed in the blue ceiling, and against the pillars which
supported the cornice were placed the statues of kings wearing the
pschent, their legs merging into the block of stone and their arms
crossed on their chest, looking into the room with frightful intensity
out of their black-lined eyes. Between every two pillars burned a lamp
placed upon a pedestal, and on the base of the walls was represented a
sort of ethnographic procession: the nations of the four quarters of the
world were represented there with their particular faces and their
particular dress.

At the head of the series, guided by Horus the shepherd of the nations,
walked the man of men, the Egyptian, the Rot'en'no with a gentle face,
slightly aquiline nose, plaited hair, and his dark red skin brought out
by the whiteness of the loin-cloth; next came the negro or Nahasi, with
his black skin, thick lips, protruding cheekbones and woolly hair; then
the Asiatic or Namou, with yellow flesh-colour, strongly aquiline nose,
thick black beard cut to a point, wearing a striped skirt fringed with
tufts; then the European or Tamhou, the least civilised of all,
differing from the others by his white complexion, his red beard and
hair, his blue eyes, an undressed ox-skin cast over his shoulder, and
his arms and legs tattooed. The other panels were filled with various
subjects, scenes of war and triumph and hieroglyphic inscriptions.

In the centre of the room, on a table supported by prisoners bound by
the elbows, so skilfully carved that they seemed to live and suffer,
bloomed a vast bouquet of flowers whose sweet scent perfumed the
atmosphere.

So in this vast hall, surrounded by the effigies of his ancestors, all
things spoke and sang of the glory of the Pharaoh. The nations of the
world walked behind Egypt and acknowledged her supremacy, and he
governed Egypt. Yet the daughter of Petamounoph, far from being dazzled
by this splendour, thought of the rustic villa, of Poëri, and especially
of the mean hut of mud and straw in the Hebrew quarter, where she had
left Ra'hel,--Ra'hel, from henceforward the happy and only spouse of the
young Hebrew.

The Pharaoh held the tips of the fingers of Tahoser, who stood before
him, and he fixed upon her his hawk eyes, the eyelids of which never
moved. The young girl had no other garment than the drapery substituted
by Ra'hel for the dress which had been soaked during the swim across the
Nile, but her beauty was in no wise impaired. She remained thus, half
nude, holding with one hand the coarse stuff which slipped, and the
whole upper portion of her beautiful body appeared in its golden
fairness. When she was adorned with her jewels, one was tempted to
regret that any part of her form should be concealed by her necklaces,
her bracelets, and her belts of gold or of gems; but on seeing her thus
devoid of all ornament, admiration was satisfied, or rather exalted.
Certainly many very beautiful women had entered the Pharaoh's harem, but
not one of them comparable to Tahoser; and the eyes of the King flashed
such burning glances that, unable to bear their brilliancy, she was
obliged to cast down her eyes.

In her heart, Tahoser was proud of having excited love in the Pharaoh;
for who is the woman, however perfect she may be, who has not some
vanity. Yet she would have preferred to follow the young Hebrew into the
desert. The King terrified her, she felt herself dazzled by the
splendour of his face, and her limbs gave way under her.

The Pharaoh noticed her emotion, and made her sit down at his feet on a
red cushion adorned with tufts.

"Oh, Tahoser," he said, kissing her hair, "I love you. When I saw you
from the top of my triumphal palanquin, borne higher than the heads of
men by the generals, an unknown feeling entered into my soul. I, whose
every desire is forestalled, desired something; I understood that I was
not everything. Until then I had lived solitary in my almightiness, in
the depths of my vast palaces, surrounded by mere shadows which called
themselves women, and who had no more effect upon me than the painted
figures in the frescoes. I heard in the distance, muttering and
complaining low, the nations upon whose heads I wipe my sandals or
which I lift by their hair, as I am represented doing on the symbolical
_bassi-relievi_ of the palaces, and in my cold breast, as strong as that
of a basalt god, I never heard the beat of my own heart. It seemed to me
that there was nowhere on earth a being like myself, a being who could
move me. In vain I brought back from my expeditions into foreign lands
choice virgins and women famous for their beauty in their own country; I
cast them aside like flowers, after having breathed their scent for a
moment. None inspired me with a desire to see her again. When they were
present, I scarce glanced at them; when they were absent, I immediately
forgot them. Twea, Taïa, Amense, Hont-Reché, whom I have kept to avoid
the disgust of having to find others who the next day would have been as
indifferent as themselves, have never been, when in my arms, aught but
vain phantoms, perfumed and graceful forms, beings of another race with
whom my nature could not mingle any more than the leopard can mate with
the gazelle, the dweller in the air with the dweller in the waters. I
had come to think that, placed by the gods apart from and above all
mortals, I was never to share either their pains or their joys. Fearful
weariness, like that which no doubt tires the mummies, who, wrapped up
in their bands, wait in their caves in the depths of the hypogea until
the soul shall have finished the cycle of migrations,--a fearful
weariness had fallen upon me on my throne; for I often remained with my
hands on my knees like a granite colossus, thinking of the impossible,
the infinite, the eternal. How many a time have I thought of raising the
veil of Isis, at the risk of falling blasted at the feet of the goddess.
Perhaps, I said to myself, that mysterious face is the one I have been
dreaming of, the one which is to inspire me with love. If earth refuses
me happiness, I shall climb to heaven. But I saw you; I felt a strange,
unaccustomed sensation; I understood that there existed outside myself a
being necessary, imperious, and fatal to me, whom I could not live
without, and who possessed the power of making me unhappy. I was a king,
almost a god, and you, O Tahoser, have made of me a man."

Never, perhaps, had the Pharaoh uttered so long a speech; usually a
word, a gesture, a motion of the eye sufficed to manifest his will,
which was immediately divined by a thousand attentive, restless eyes;
performance followed his thought, as the lightning follows the
thunder-clap. But with desire he seemed to have given up his granitic
majesty; he spoke and explained himself like a mortal.

Tahoser was a prey to singular emotion. However much she felt the honour
of having inspired love in the man preferred of Phré, in the favoured of
Ammon Ra, the destroyer of nations, in the terrifying, solemn and superb
being upon whom she scarce dared to gaze, she felt no sympathy for him,
and the idea of belonging to him filled her with terror and repulsion.
To the Pharaoh who had carried off her body she could not give her soul,
which had remained with Poëri and Ra'hel; and as the King appeared to
await a reply, she said,--

"How is it, O King, that amid all the maids of Egypt your glance should
have fallen on me,--on me whom so many others surpass in beauty, in
talent, in gifts of all sorts? How is it that in the midst of clumps of
white, blue, and rose lotus, with open corollas, with delicate scent,
you have chosen the modest blade of grass which nothing marks?"

"I know not, but I know that you alone exist in this world for me, and
that I shall make kings' daughters your servants."

"But suppose I do not love you?" said Tahoser, timidly.

"What care I, if I love you," replied the Pharaoh. "Have not the most
beautiful women in the world thrown themselves down upon my threshold
weeping and moaning, tearing their cheeks, beating their breasts,
plucking out their hair, and have they not died imploring a glance of
love which never fell upon them? Never has passion in any one made my
heart of brass beat within my stony breast. Resist me, hate if you
will,--you will only be more charming; for the first time an obstacle
will have come in the way of my will, and I shall know how to overcome
it."

"But suppose I love another?" continued Tahoser, more boldly.

At this suggestion the eyebrows of the Pharaoh were bent; he violently
bit his lower lip, in which his teeth left white marks, and he pressed
to the point of hurting her the fingers of the maid which he still held.
Then he cooled down again, and said in a low, deep voice,--

"When you shall have lived in this palace, in the midst of these
splendours, surrounded by the atmosphere of my love, you will forget
everything as does he who eats nepenthe. Your past life will appear to
you like a dream, your former feelings will vanish as incense upon the
coals of the censer. The woman who is loved by the King no longer
remembers men. Go, come; accustom yourself to Pharaonic magnificence;
help yourself as you please to my treasures; make gold flow, heap up
gems; order, make, unmake, raise, destroy; be my mistress, my wife, my
queen. I give you Egypt with its priests, its armies, its toilers, its
numberless population, its palaces, its temples and cities. Crumple it
up as you would crumple up gauze,--I will win other kingdoms for you,
larger, fairer, and richer. If the world is not sufficient, I will
conquer planets for you, I will dethrone the gods. You are she whom I
love; Tahoser, the daughter of Petamounoph is no more."



XIV


When Ra'hel awoke, she was amazed not to find Tahoser by her side, and
cast her glance around the room, thinking the Egyptian had already
risen. Crouching in a corner, her arms crossed on her knees, her head
upon her arms, which formed a bony pillow, Thamar slept,--or rather,
pretended to sleep; for through the long locks of her disordered hair
which fell to the ground, might have been seen her eyes as yellow as
those of an owl, gleaming with malicious joy and satisfied wickedness.

"Thamar," cried Ra'hel, "what has become of Tahoser?"

The old woman, as if startled into wakefulness by the voice of her
mistress, slowly uncoiled her spider-like limbs, rose to her feet,
rubbed several times her brown eyelids with the back of her left hand,
yellower than that of a mummy, and said with a well assumed air of
astonishment: "Is she not there?"

"No," replied Ra'hel; "and did I not yet see her place hollowed out on
the bed by the side of my own, and hanging on that peg the gown which
she threw off, I could believe that the strange events of the past night
were but an illusion and a dream."

Though she was perfectly well aware of the manner of Tahoser's
disappearance, Thamar raised a piece of the drapery stretched in the
corner of the room, as if the Egyptian might have been concealed behind
it. She opened the door of the hut and standing on the threshold
minutely explored the neighbourhood with her glance; then turning
towards the interior, she signed negatively to her mistress.

"It is strange," said Ra'hel, thoughtfully.

"Mistress," said the old woman, drawing near the Israelite, with a
gentle, petting tone, "you know that I disliked the foreign woman."

"You dislike every one, Thamar," replied Ra'hel, smiling.

"Except you, mistress," answered the old woman, placing to her lips one
of the young woman's hands.

"I know it. You are devoted to me."

"I never had any children, and sometimes I fancy that I am your mother."

"Good Thamar," said Ra'hel, moved.

"Was I wrong," continued Thamar, "to consider her appearance so strange?
Her disappearance explains it. She said she was Tahoser, the daughter of
Petamounoph. She was nothing but a fiend which took that form to seduce
and tempt a child of Israel. Did you see how troubled she was when Poëri
spoke against the idols of wood, stone, and metal, and how difficult it
was for her to say, 'I will try to believe in your God'? It seemed as
though the words burnt her lips like hot coals."

"The tears which fell upon my breast were genuine tears,--a woman's
tears," said Ra'hel.

"Crocodiles weep when they want, and hyenas laugh to attract their
prey," continued the old woman. "The evil spirits which prowl at night
in the stones and ruins know many a trick and play every part."

"So, according to you, poor Tahoser was nothing but a phantom raised up
by hell?"

"Unquestionably," replied Thamar. "Is it likely that the daughter of the
priest Petamounoph would have fallen in love with Poëri and preferred
him to the Pharaoh, who, it is said, loves her?"

Ra'hel, who did not admit that any one in the world was superior to
Poëri, did not think this unlikely.

"If she loved him as much as she said she did, why did she run off when,
with your consent, he accepted her as his second wife? It was the
condition that she must renounce the false gods and adore Jehovah which
put to flight that devil in disguise."

"In any case, that devil had a very sweet voice and very tender eyes."

At bottom Ra'hel was perhaps not greatly dissatisfied with the
disappearance of Tahoser; she thus kept wholly to herself the heart
which she had been willing to share, and yet she had the merit of the
sacrifice she had made.

Under pretext of going to the market, Thamar went out and started for
the King's palace, her cupidity not having allowed her to forget his
promise. She had provided herself with a great bag of coarse cloth which
she proposed to fill with gold.

When she appeared at the palace gate the soldiers did not beat her as
they had done the first day. She enjoyed the king's favour, and the
officer of the guard made her enter at once. Timopht brought her to the
Pharaoh.

When he perceived the vile old hag crawling towards his throne like a
crushed insect, the King remembered his promise and gave orders to open
one of the granite chambers of the treasury, and to allow her to take as
much gold as she could carry away. Timopht, whom Pharaoh trusted, and
who knew the secret of the lock, opened the stone gate.

The vast mass of gold sparkled in the sunbeams, but the brilliancy of
the metal was no brighter than the glance of the old woman. Her eyes
turned yellow and flashed strangely. After a few moments of dazzled
contemplation, she pulled up the sleeves of her patched tunic and bared
her withered arms, on which the muscles stood out like cords, and which
were deeply wrinkled above the elbow; then she opened and closed her
curved fingers, like the talons of a griffin, and sprang at the mass of
golden bars with fierce and bestial avidity. She plunged her arms amid
the ingots, moved them, stirred them round, rolled them over, threw them
up; her lips trembled, her nostrils swelled, and down her spine ran
convulsive tremors. Intoxicated, mad, shaken by trepidation and
spasmodic laughter, she cast handfuls of gold into her bag, saying,
"More! more! more!" so that soon it was full up to the mouth.

Timopht, amused at the sight, let her have her way, not dreaming that
such a skinny spectre could move so enormous a weight. But Thamar bound
the mouth of her sack with a cord, and to the great surprise of the
Egyptian, lifted it on her back. Avarice lent to that broken-down frame
unexpected strength of muscles; all the nerves and fibres of the arms,
the neck, the shoulders, strained to breaking, bore up under a mass of
metal which would have made the most robust Nahasi porter bow down. Her
brows bent, like those of an ox when the ploughshare strikes a stone,
Thamar staggered out of the palace, knocking up against the walls,
walking almost on all-fours, for every now and then she put her hands
out to save herself from being crushed under her burden. But at last she
got out, and the load of gold was her legitimate property. Breathless,
exhausted, covered with sweat, her back bruised and her fingers cut, she
sat down at the palace gate upon her beloved sack, and never did any
seat appear to her so soft. After a short time, she perceived a couple
of Israelites, passing by with a litter on which they had been bearing a
burden. She called them, and promising them a handsome reward, induced
them to take up the sack and to follow her. The Israelites, preceded by
Thamar, went down the streets of Thebes, reached the waste places
studded with mud huts and placed the sack in one of them. Thamar paid
them grumblingly the promised reward.

Meanwhile Tahoser had been installed in a splendid apartment, a regal
apartment as beautiful as that of the Pharaoh. Elegant pillars with
lotus capitals upbore the starry roof, framed in by a cornice of blue
palm-branches painted upon a golden background. Panels of a tender
lilac-colour with green lines ending in flower buds showed symmetrically
on the walls; fine matting covered the stone slabs of the flooring;
sofas, inlaid with plates of metal alternating with enamels, and covered
with black stuffs adorned with red circles, armchairs with lions' feet,
with cushions that fell over the back, stools formed of swans' necks
interlaced, piles of purple leather cushions filled with thistle-down,
seats which could hold two persons, tables of costly woods supported by
statues of Asiatic captives,--formed the furniture of the room.

On richly carved pedestals rested tall porcelain vases and great golden
bowls, the workmanship of which was even more precious than the
material. One of them with a slender base, was supported by two horses'
heads with fringed hoods and harness. The handles were formed of two
lotus stalks gracefully falling over two rose ornaments; on the cover
were ibises with erect ears and sharp horns, and on the body of the vase
were represented gazelles flying from the dogs amid stalks of papyrus.
Another, no less curious, had for cover a monstrous Typhon head, adorned
with palms and grimacing between two vipers. The sides were ornamented
with leaves and denticulated bands.

One of the bowls, supported by two figures wearing mitres and dressed in
robes with broad borders, with one hand upbearing the handle and with
the other the foot, amazed by its huge size and the perfection and
finish of the ornamentation. The other, smaller and more perfect in
shape perhaps, spread out gracefully; the slender and supple bodies of
jackals whose paws rested upon the edge as if the animals sought to
drink, formed the handles. Metal mirrors, framed with deformed faces, as
though to give the beauty who looked into them the pleasure of contrast,
coffers of cedar or sycamore wood painted and ornamented, caskets of
enamelled ware, flagons of alabaster, onyx, and glass, boxes of
perfumes,--all these testified to the magnificence that the Pharaoh
lavished upon Tahoser. The precious objects contained in that room were
well worth a kingdom's ransom.

Seated upon an ivory seat, Tahoser looked at the stuffs and gems shown
her by nude maidens, who scattered around the wealth contained in the
coffers. Tahoser had just emerged from the bath, and the aromatic oils
with which she had been rubbed, still further softened her delicate,
satin-like skin; her flesh was almost translucent. She was of superhuman
beauty, and when she gazed upon the burnished metal mirror, with her
eyes brightened with antimony, she could not help smiling upon her
reflection. A full gauze robe enveloped her fair form without veiling
it. For sole ornament she wore a necklace composed of lapis-lazuli
hearts surmounted by crosses, hanging from a string of gold and pearls.

The Pharaoh appeared on the threshold of the hall. A golden asp bound
his thick hair, and a calasiris, the folds of which, brought forward,
formed a point, enclosed his body from the belt to the knees; a single
necklace encircled his unconquered, muscular neck.

On perceiving the King, Tahoser rose from her seat to prostrate herself,
but the Pharaoh came to her, raised her up, and made her sit down.

"Do not thus humble yourself, Tahoser," he said in a gentle voice. "I
will you to be my equal. I am weary of being alone in the universe.
Although I am almighty and possess you, I shall wait until you love me
as if I were but a man. Put away all fear; be a woman with a woman's
will, sympathies, antipathies, and caprices. I have never seen one. But
if your heart at last speaks in my favour, hold out to me, when I enter
your room, in order that I may know it, the lotus flower out of your
hair."

Though he strove to prevent it, Tahoser threw herself at the knees of
the Pharaoh and let fall a tear upon his bare feet.

"Why is my soul Poëri's?" she said to herself as she resumed her place
upon the ivory seat.

Timopht, putting one hand on the ground and the other on his head,
entered the room.

"O King," he said, "a mysterious personage seeks to speak to you. His
gray beard falls down to his waist, shining horns emerge from his bare
brow, and his eyes shine like fire. An unknown power precedes him, for
all the guards fall back and all the gates open before him. What he says
must be done, and I have come to you in the midst of your pleasures,
even were death to be the punishment of my audacity."

"What is his name?" said the King.

"Mosche," replied Timopht.



XV


The King passed into another hall to receive Mosche, and sat down on a
throne, the arms of which were formed of lions, hung a broad pectoral
ornament on his breast, and assumed a pose of supreme indifference.

Mosche appeared, accompanied by another Hebrew, called Aharon. August
though the Pharaoh was, as he sat on his golden throne, surrounded by
his officers and his fan-bearers, within that high hall with its huge
columns, against that background of paintings which depicted the deeds
of his ancestors or his own, Mosche was no less imposing. In him the
majesty of age equalled the majesty of sovereignty. Although he was
seventy years old, he seemed endowed with manly vigour, and nothing in
him showed decadence into senility. The wrinkles on his brow and his
cheeks, like the marks of the chisel on the granite, made him venerable
without telling his age. His brown and wrinkled neck was joined to his
powerful shoulders by gaunt but still powerful muscles, and a network of
sinewy veins showed upon his hands, which did not tremble as old men's
hands generally do. A soul more energetic than a human soul vivified his
body, and on his face shone in the shadow a strange light. It seemed
like the reflection of an invisible sun.

Without prostrating himself, as was the custom when men approached the
King, Mosche drew near the throne of the Pharaoh and said to him: "Thus
saith the Lord God of Israel: 'Let my people go, that they may hold a
feast unto me in the wilderness.'"

The Pharaoh replied, "Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice to
let Israel go? I know not the Lord, neither will I let Israel go."

Without being intimidated by the King's words, the tall old man replied
unhesitatingly, for the stuttering which had formerly affected him had
disappeared,--

"The God of the Hebrews hath met with us. Let us go, we pray thee, three
days' journey into the desert, and sacrifice unto the Lord our God; lest
he fall upon us with pestilence, or with the sword."

Aharon confirmed by a nod the demand of Mosche.

"Wherefore do ye, Mosche and Aharon, let the people from their works?"
replied the Pharaoh. "Happily for you I am to-day in a clement humour,
for I might have had you beaten with rods, had your tongues and ears
cut off, or thrown you living to the crocodiles. Know, for I tell you
so, there is no other god than Ammon Ra, the supreme and primeval being,
at once male and female; who is his own father and his own mother, whose
husband he is also; from whom come all the other gods which unite heaven
to earth and which are but forms of those two obscure principles. The
wise know it, and the priests, who have long studied mysteries in the
colleges and in the temples consecrated to his diverse representations.
Do not, therefore, allege another god of your own invention to move the
Hebrews to revolt, and to prevent them from doing their appointed work.
Your pretext of sacrifice is plain,--you wish to flee. Withdraw from
before me, and continue to mould clay for my royal and priestly
buildings, for my pyramids, my palaces, and my walls. Go! I have
spoken."

Mosche, seeing that he could not move the Pharaoh's heart, and that if
he insisted he would excite his wrath, withdrew in silence, followed by
Aharon in dismay.

"I have obeyed the Lord God," said Mosche to his companion when they had
crossed the pylon, "but the Pharaoh remains as insensible as if I had
been speaking to those granite figures seated upon thrones at the
palace gates, or to those idols with heads of dogs, monkeys, or hawks to
which the priests burn incense within the depths of the sanctuaries.
What shall we reply to the people when they question us on the result of
our mission?"

The Pharaoh, fearing lest the Hebrews should bethink themselves of
throwing off their yoke in accordance with the suggestions of Mosche,
made them work more severely than before, and refused them straw to make
their bricks. Thenceforth the children of Israel spread throughout
Egypt, plucking the stubble and cursing their tyrants; for they were
very unhappy, and they said that the advice of Mosche had increased
their misery.

One day Mosche and Aharon reappeared in the palace, and once again
called upon the King to let the Hebrews go to sacrifice unto the Lord in
the wilderness.

"What proof have I," replied the Pharaoh, "that it is the Lord who sends
you to me to tell me these things, and that you are not, as I fancy,
vile impostors?"

Aharon threw down his wand before the King, and the wood began to twist,
to curl, to grow scales, to move its head and tail, to rise up, and to
utter horrible hissings: the wand had been changed into a serpent. Its
rings grated over the flags, it swelled its hood, it whipped out its
forked tongue, and rolling its red eyes, seemed to select the victim
which it was about to bite.

The officers and servants ranged around the throne remained motionless
and mute with terror at the sight of this prodigy; the bravest half drew
their swords.

But the Pharaoh was in no wise moved. A disdainful smile flitted over
his lips, and he said,--

"Is that all you can do? The miracle is slight, and the prodigy poor.
Send for my wise men, my sorcerers and my magicians."

They came. They were men of venerable and mystic appearance, with shaven
heads, wearing sandals of byblos, dressed in long linen robes, holding
in their hands wands on which were engraved hieroglyphs. They were
yellow and dried up like mummies by night watches, study, and austerity;
the fatigue entailed by successive initiations could be read upon their
faces, in which their eyes alone seemed to retain life.

They drew up in a line before the throne of the Pharaoh without paying
the least attention to the serpent, which wriggled, crawled, and
hissed.

"Can you," said the King, "change your wands into reptiles as Aharon has
done?"

"O King, is it for such child's play," said the oldest of the band,
"that you have sent for us from the recesses of the secret chambers
where under the starry ceilings, by the light of the lamps, we are
meditating, bending over undecipherable papyri, kneeling before the
hieroglyphic stelæ with their mysterious, deep meanings, forcing the
secrets of nature, calculating the power of numbers, bearing our
trembling hand to the border of the veil of the great Isis? Let us go
back, for life is short, and the wise man has scarce time to tell to
another the word which he has learned. Let us go back to our
laboratories. The merest juggler, the first charmer of serpents who
plays the flute on the public squares, will suffice to satisfy you."

"Ennana, do what I wish," said the Pharaoh to the chief of the wise men
and the magicians.

Old Ennana turned towards the band of sages, who remained standing
motionless, their minds already lost again in deep meditations.

"Cast down every man your rod as you whisper the magic word."

The rods fell together with a sharp sound upon the stone slabs, and the
wise men resumed their perpendicular attitude like the statues placed
against the pillars of the tombs. They did not even deign to look at
their feet to see if the miracle were being wrought, so sure were they
of the power of their formula.

And then was seen a strange and horrible sight. The rods twisted like
branches of green wood in the fire, the ends flattened out into the
shape of heads, thinned out into the shape of tails. Some remained
smooth, others became scaly, according to the kind of serpent. All these
swarmed and crawled and hissed, interlaced and knotted into hideous
knots. There were vipers bearing the mark of the spearhead upon their
low brows, horned snakes with menacing protuberances, greenish, viscous
hydras, asps with movable fangs, yellow trigonocephalæ, orvets or blind
serpents, crotalidæ with short heads, black skins, and rattles on their
tails, amphisbena, which can glide forward or backward, boas opening
mouths wide enough to swallow an ox, serpents with eyes surrounded with
discs like those of owls;--the pavement of the hall was covered with
them.

Tahoser, who shared the throne of the Pharaoh, raised her beautiful bare
feet and pulled them back under her, pale with terror.

"Well," said the Pharaoh to Mosche, "you see that the skill of my
magicians equals, and even surpasses yours; their rods have turned into
serpents like that of Aharon. Invent another prodigy if you seek to
convince me."

Mosche stretched forth his hand, and Aharon's serpent glided towards the
twenty-four reptiles. The struggle was not long; it soon had swallowed
the hideous things, real or seeming creations of the wise men of Egypt.
Then it resumed its former wand shape.

This result seemed to amaze Ennana. He bent his head, thought for a
moment, and said, like a man who perceives something: "I shall find the
word and the sign. I have interpreted wrongly the fourth hieroglyph of
the fifth perpendicular line in which is the spell of serpents. O King,
do you still need us?" said the chief of the wise men aloud. "I long to
resume the reading of Hermes Trismegistus, which contains more important
secrets than these sleight-of-hand tricks."

The Pharaoh signed to the old man that he might withdraw, and the silent
procession returned to the depths of the palace.

The King re-entered the harem with Tahoser. The priest's daughter,
terrified and still trembling at these prodigies, knelt down before him
and said: "O Pharaoh, do you not fear to anger by your resistance the
unknown god who has ordered these Israelites to go a three days' journey
into the desert to sacrifice unto him? Let Mosche and his Hebrews depart
to fulfil their rites, for perhaps the Lord, as they call him, will
afflict the land of Egypt and bring death upon us."

"What! does that reptile jugglery frighten you?" replied the Pharaoh.
"Did you not see that my wise men produced serpents with their wands?"

"Yes, but Aharon's devoured them, and that is an ill omen."

"What matters it? Am I not the favourite of Phré, the preferred of Ammon
Ra? Have I not under my sandals the effigies of conquered nations? With
one breath I shall sweep away when I please the whole of that Hebrew
race, and I shall see if their god can protect them."

"Beware, Pharaoh," said Tahoser, who remembered Poëri's words about the
power of Jehovah. "Do not allow pride to harden your heart. Mosche and
Aharon terrify me; they must be supported by a more powerful god, for
they braved your wrath."

"If their god is so powerful," said the Pharaoh, answering the fear
expressed by Tahoser, "would he leave them thus captives, humiliated and
bowing like beasts of burden under the harvest labour? Let us forget
these vain prodigies and live in peace. Think rather of the love I bear
you, and remember that the Pharaoh is more powerful than the Lord, the
fanciful god of the Hebrews."

"Yes, you are the destroyer of the nations and the ruler of thrones, and
men are before you like grains of sand blown by the southern wind. I
know it," replied Tahoser.

"And yet I cannot make you love me," said the Pharaoh, with a smile.

"The ibex fears the lion, the dove dreads the hawk, the eye shrinks from
the sun, and I can see you yet only through terror and blazing light. It
takes human weakness a long time to become familiar with royal majesty;
a god always terrifies a mortal."

"You fill me with regret, Tahoser, that I am not the first-comer, an
officer, a nomarch, a priest, a labourer, or even less. But since I
cannot make the King into a man, I can make a queen out of the woman and
bind the golden uræus upon your lovely brow. The Queen will no longer
dread the King."

"Even when you make me sit by you on your throne, my thoughts remain
kneeling at your feet. But you are so good in spite of your superhuman
beauty, your power so boundless and your splendour so dazzling, that
perhaps my heart will grow bold and will dare to beat against yours."

Thus talked the Pharaoh and Tahoser. The priest's daughter could not
forget Poëri, and sought to gain time by flattering the passion of the
King. To escape from the palace, to find the young Hebrew again, was
impossible. Besides, Poëri had accepted her love rather than shared it.
Ra'hel, in spite of her generosity, was a dangerous rival; and then, the
love of the Pharaoh touched the priest's daughter,--she desired to love
him, and perhaps she was not so far from doing so as she believed.



XVI


A few days later the Pharaoh was driving along the Nile, standing on his
chariot and followed by his court. He had gone forth to observe the
height of the flood, when in the centre of the road appeared, like two
phantoms, Aharon and Mosche. The king drew in his horses, the foam of
whose mouths was already flecking the breast of the tall, motionless old
man.

Mosche, with slow and solemn voice repeated his adjuration.

"Prove to me by some wonder the power of your god," answered the King,
"and I will grant your request."

Turning towards Aharon, who was a few steps behind him, Mosche said,
"Take thy rod, and stretch out thine hand upon the waters of Egypt, upon
their streams, upon their rivers, and upon their ponds, and upon all
their pools of water, that they may become blood; and that there may be
blood throughout all the land of Egypt, both in vessels of wood and in
vessels of stone."

Aharon lifted up his rod and smote the waters that were in the river.
The train of the Pharaoh awaited the result anxiously. The King, who had
a heart of brass within a breast of granite, smiled disdainfully,
trusting in the skill of his wise men to confound the foreign magicians.
As soon as the river had been smitten by the rod of the Hebrew,--the rod
which had been a serpent,--the waters began to turn muddy and to boil;
their mud colour was gradually changed; reddish tones began to mingle
with it; then the whole mass assumed a sombre purple colour, and the
Nile seemed a river of blood with scarlet waves that edged the banks
with rosy foam. It seemed to reflect a vast conflagration or a sky rayed
by lightning, but the atmosphere was calm, Thebes was not burning, and
the unchanging azure spread over the red stream, marked here and there
by the white bellies of dead fishes. The long crocodiles, using their
crooked paws, emerged from the river on to the bank, and the heavy
hippopotami, like blocks of rose granite covered with leprous, black
moss, fled through the reeds, or raised above the stream their mighty
heads, unable to breathe in that water of blood. The canals, the
fish-ponds, and the pools had all turned the same colour, and the
vessels full of water were red like the basins in which the blood of
victims is collected.

The Pharaoh was not astonished at the wonder, and said to the Hebrews,--

"This miracle might terrify a credulous and ignorant people, but it has
nothing surprising for me. Let Ennana and the wise men come. They will
repeat this enchantment."

The wise men came, led by their chief. Ennana cast a glance on the river
and its purple waves, and saw at once what was the matter.

"Restore things to their primitive condition," he said to Mosche's
companion; "I will repeat your wonder."

Aharon again smote the stream, which at once resumed its natural colour.
Ennana nodded briefly, like an impartial expert who does justice to the
skill of a colleague; he considered the enchantment was well wrought for
one who had not had, like himself, the opportunity of studying wisdom in
the mysterious chambers of the labyrinth, where a very few of the
initiated can alone enter, so trying are the tests which have to be
undergone.

"It is my turn now," he said; and he stretched out over the Nile his rod
engraved with hieroglyphic signs, muttering a few words of a tongue so
old that it had probably ceased to be understood even in the days of
Mene, the first king of Egypt,--a language spoken by sphinxes, with
syllables of granite.

A vast red flood stretched suddenly from one bank to the other, and the
Nile again rolled ensanguined waves to the sea. The twenty-four
magicians saluted the king as if they were about to withdraw.

"Remain," said the Pharaoh.

They resumed their impassible countenances.

"Have you no other proof of your mission than that? My wise men, you
see, imitate your wonders very well."

Without appearing discouraged by the ironical words of the King, Mosche
replied: "In seven days' time, if you have not made up your mind to let
Israel go into the desert to sacrifice to the Lord according to their
rites, I shall return and perform another wonder before you."

At the end of seven days Mosche reappeared. He spoke to his servant
Aharon the words of the Lord:--

"Stretch out thine hand with thy rod over the streams, over the rivers,
and over the ponds, and cause the frogs to come up upon the land of
Egypt."

As soon as Aharon had done as he was bidden, millions of frogs emerged
from the canals, the rivers, and the marshes; they covered the fields
and the roads, they hopped upon the steps of the temples and the
palaces, they invaded the sanctuaries and the most secret chambers;
legions of other frogs followed those which had first appeared; they
were found in the houses, in the kneading-troughs, in the ovens, in the
coffers; no one could step anywhere without crushing some. As if moved
by springs, they jumped between peoples' legs, to the right and the
left, forward and backward; as far as the eye could reach, they were
seen rippling, hopping, jumping past one another, for they already
lacked room, and their numbers grew, their ranks became denser, they
formed heaps here and there; innumerable green backs turned the
countryside into a sort of animated green meadow, on which their yellow
eyes shone like flowers. The animals,--horses, asses, goats,--terrified
and startled, fled across the fields, but everywhere came upon the
loathsome swarms.

The Pharaoh, who from the threshold of his palace beheld this rising
tide of frogs with weariness and disgust, crushed as many as he could
with the end of his sceptre and pushed back the others with his curved
sandals, but his labour was lost; more frogs came no one knew whence,
and took the places of the dead, swarming more than they did, croaking
more than they did, more loathsome, more uncomfortable, bolder, showing
the vertebræ on their backs, staring at him with their big, round eyes,
spreading out their webbed feet, wrinkling the white skin of their
throats. The vile animals seemed endowed with intelligence, and they
formed denser shoals around the King than anywhere else.

The swarming flood grew and still grew: on the knees of the colossi, on
the cornices of the palaces, on the backs of the sphinxes, on the
entablatures of the temples, on the shoulders of the gods, on the
pyramidions of the obelisks, the hideous reptiles, with swollen backs
and indrawn feet, had taken up their places. The ibises, which at first
had rejoiced at this unexpected treat, and had lanced them with their
long beaks, now alarmed by this mighty invasion fled to the upper
regions of the sky, snapping their long bills.

Aharon and Mosche triumphed. Ennana, having been summoned, was sunk in
thought; his finger, placed upon his bald brow, his eyes half-closed, he
seemed to be seeking within his memory for a forgotten magic formula.

The Pharaoh, somewhat uneasy, turned towards him. "Well, Ennana, have
you lost your mind by dint of thought? Is this wonder beyond the reach
of your wisdom?"

"In no wise, O King; but when a man is engaged in measuring the infinite
and calculating eternity and in spelling out the incomprehensible, it
may happen that he does not at once recall the odd word which rules
reptiles, makes them live or destroys them. Watch! all this vermin is
about to vanish."

The old magician waved his wand and whispered a few words; in an instant
the fields, the squares, the roads, the quays along the stream, the
streets in the city, the courts of the palaces, the rooms of the houses,
were cleansed of their croaking guests, and restored to their primitive
condition.

The King smiled, proud of the power of his magician.

"It is not enough to have broken the spell of Aharon," said Ennana; "I
shall repeat it."

Ennana waved his wand in the opposite direction and muttered the
contrary formula. Immediately the frogs reappeared in greater numbers
than before, leaping and croaking. In a twinkling the whole land was
covered with them, and then Aharon stretched out his rod, and the
Egyptian magician was unable to dispel the invasion called up by his
enchantment. In vain he spoke the mysterious words, the incantation had
lost its power. The bands of wise men withdrew, pursued by the loathsome
scourge, and the brows of the Pharaoh were bent with anger, but he
hardened his heart and would not grant the prayer of Mosche; his pride
strove to struggle and to fight against the unknown God of Israel.

However, unable to get rid of the terrible reptiles, Pharaoh promised
Mosche, if he would intercede for him with his God, to grant the Hebrews
permission to go into the desert to sacrifice.

The frogs died or returned to the waters, but the Pharaoh hardened his
heart, and in spite of the gentle remonstrances of Tahoser, he did not
keep his promise.

Then was let loose upon Egypt a multitude of scourges and plagues. A
fierce warfare was waged between the wise men and the two Hebrews whose
wonders they reproduced. Mosche changed all the dust in Egypt into lice;
Ennana did the same. Mosche took two handfuls of ashes of the furnace
and sprinkled them toward the heaven in the sight of the Pharaoh, and
immediately they became a boil breaking forth with blains upon man and
upon beast among the Egyptians, but not upon the Hebrews.

"Imitate that wonder!" cried the Pharaoh, beside himself with anger, and
as red as if he were standing in front of a fiery furnace, as he
addressed himself to the chief of the wise men.

"It would be useless," replied the old man, in a tone of discouragement.
"The finger of the Unknown is in all this; our vain formulæ cannot
prevail against that mysterious power. Submit, and let us return to our
sanctuaries to study this new god, this Lord, who is more powerful than
Ammon Ra, Osiris, and Typhon. The learning of Egypt has been overcome,
the riddle of the sphinx cannot be answered, and the vast mystery of the
great Pyramid covers nothingness only."

As the Pharaoh still refused to let the Hebrews go, all the cattle of
the Egyptians were smitten with death; the Israelites lost not a single
head.

A wind from the south arose and blew all night long, and in the morning
when day dawned, a vast red cloud concealed the whole of the heavens.
Through the dun-coloured fog the sun shone red like a buckler in the
forge, and seemed to have lost its beams. The cloud was different from
other clouds, it was a living cloud; the noise of its wings was heard;
it alighted on the earth, not in the shape of great drops of rain, but
in shoals of rose, yellow, and green grasshoppers, more numerous than
the grains of sand in the Libyan desert. They followed each other in
swarms like the straw blown about by the storm; the air was darkened;
they filled up the ditches, the ravines, the streams; they put out by
their mere mass the fires lighted to destroy them; they struck against
obstacles and then heaped up and overcame them. If a man opened his
mouth, he breathed one in; they found their way into the folds of the
clothing, into the hair, into the nostrils; their dense columns made
chariots turn back; they overthrew the solitary passer-by and soon
covered him. Their formidable army, springing and flying, marched over
Egypt from the Cataracts to the Delta, over an immense breadth of
country, destroying the grass, reducing the trees to the condition of
skeletons, devouring plants to the roots, leaving behind but a bare
earth trodden down like a threshing-floor.

At the request of the Pharaoh Mosche made the scourge cease. An
extremely violent west wind carried all the grasshoppers into the Sea of
Weeds; but the Pharaoh's obstinate heart, harder than brass, porphyry,
or basalt, would not relent.

Hail, a scourge unknown to Egypt, fell from Heaven amid blinding
lightning and deafening thunder, in enormous stones, cutting, bruising,
breaking everything, mowing down the grain as if with a scythe. Then
black, opaque, horrifying darkness, in which lights were extinguished as
in the depths of the airless passages, spread its heavy clouds over the
land of Egypt, so fair, so luminous, so golden under its azure sky,
where the night is clearer than the daytime in other climes. The
terrified people, believing themselves already shrouded in the
impenetrable darkness of the sepulchre, groped their way or sat down by
the propylæa, uttering plaintive cries and tearing their clothes.

One night, a night of terror and of horror, a spectre flew across the
whole of Egypt, entering every house the door of which was not marked
with red, and the first-born of the males died, the son of the Pharaoh
as well as the son of the meanest hind; yet the King, notwithstanding
all these dread signs, would not yield.

He remained within the recesses of his palace, fierce, silent, gazing at
the body of his son stretched out upon the funeral couch with the
jackals' feet, and heedless of the tears of Tahoser which wetted his
hand.

Mosche stood upon the threshold of the room without any one having
introduced him, for all the servants had fled hither and thither; and he
repeated his demand with imperturbable serenity.

"Go," said Pharaoh at last, "and sacrifice unto your God as you please."

Tahoser threw herself on the King's neck, and said to him, "Now I love
you, for you are a man, and not a god of granite."



XVII


The Pharaoh did not answer Tahoser; he gazed with a sombre eye upon the
body of his first-born son; his untamed pride rebelled, even as he
yielded. In his heart he did not believe in the Lord, and he explained
away the scourges which had smitten Egypt by attributing them to the
magic power of Mosche and Aharon, which was greater than that of his
magicians. The thought of yielding exasperated his violent, fierce soul.

But even had he wished to retain the Israelites, his terrified people
would not have allowed it. The Egyptians, dreading to die, would all
have driven out the foreigners who were the cause of their ills and
suffering. They kept away from them with superstitious terror, and when
the great Hebrew passed, followed by Aharon, the bravest fled, fearing
some new prodigy, and they said, "Is not the rod of his companion about
to turn into a serpent again and coil itself around us?"

Had Tahoser then forgotten Poëri when she threw her arms around the
Pharaoh's neck? In no wise; but she felt, springing up within the
King's obstinate soul, projects of vengeance and of extermination; she
feared massacres in which would have fallen the young Hebrew and the
gentle Ra'hel,--a general destruction, which this time would have
changed the waters of the Nile into real blood; and she strove to turn
away the King's wrath by her caresses and gentle words.

The funeral procession came for the body of the young prince, to carry
it to the Memnonia quarter, where it was to undergo the preparation for
embalming, which lasts seventy days. The Pharaoh saw the body depart
with a gloomy look, and he said, as if filled with a melancholy
presentiment,--

"Now have I no longer a son, O Tahoser. If I die, you will be Queen of
Egypt."

"Why speak of death?" said the priest's daughter; "years will follow
years without leaving a trace of their passage upon your robust body,
and generations will fall around you like the leaves around a tree which
remains standing."

"Have I not been vanquished,--I who am invincible?" replied the Pharaoh.
"Of what use are the _bassi-relievi_ of the temples and the palaces
which represent me armed with a scourge and a sceptre, driving my war
chariot over bodies, and dragging by their hair subject nations, if I am
obliged to yield to the spells of a foreign magician,--if the gods to
whom I have raised so many vast temples, built for eternity, do not
defend me against the unknown god of that low race? The prestige of my
power is forever gone; my wise men, reduced to silence, abandon me; my
people murmur against me. I am only a mighty simulacrum. I willed, and I
could not perform. You were right when you said just now, Tahoser, that
I am a man. I have come down to the level of men. But since you love me
now, I shall try to forget; I shall wed you when the funeral ceremonies
are over."

Fearing lest the Pharaoh should recall his word, the Hebrews were
getting ready for departure, and soon their cohorts started, led by a
cloud of smoke during the day and a pillar of fire by night. They took
their way through the sandy wastes that lie between the Nile and the Sea
of Weeds, avoiding the tribes which might have opposed their passage.
One after another, the Hebrew tribes defiled in front of the copper
statue made by the magicians, which possessed the property of stopping
escaping slaves, but this time the spell, which had been invincible for
centuries, failed to work; the Lord had destroyed it. The vast
multitude advanced slowly, covering the land with its flocks, its beasts
of burden laden with the riches borrowed from the Egyptians, dragging
the enormous baggage of a nation which is suddenly migrating. The human
eye could see neither the head nor the tail of the column, which
disappeared on either horizon in a cloud of dust. If any one had sat
down by the roadside to see pass the whole procession, he would have
seen the sun rise and set more than once. Men came and came and came
always. The sacrifice to the Lord was a vain pretext; Israel was leaving
the land of Egypt forever, and the mummy of Yusouf, in its painted and
gilded case, was carried along on the shoulders of bearers who were
relieved at regular intervals.

So the Pharaoh became very wroth indeed, and resolved to pursue the
fleeing Hebrews. He ordered six hundred war chariots to be prepared,
called together his commanders, bound around his body his broad
crocodile-leather belt, filled the two quivers in his car with arrows
and javelins, drew on his wrist his brazen bracelet which deadens the
vibration of the cord, and started, followed by a nation of soldiers.
Furious and formidable, he urged his horses to their topmost speed, and
behind him the six hundred chariots sounded with the noise of brass like
earthly thunder. The foot-soldiers hastened on, but they were unable to
keep up with his impetuous speed.

Often the Pharaoh was obliged to stop and await the rest of his army.
During these halts he struck with his fist the edge of his chariot,
stamped with impatience, and ground his teeth. He bent towards the
horizon, seeking to perceive, behind the sand whirled by the wind, the
fleeing tribes of the Hebrews, and raged at the thought that every hour
increased the interval which separated them. Had not his officers held
him back, he would have driven straight before him at the risk of
finding himself single-handed against a whole people.

They were no longer traversing the green valley of Egypt, but plains
varied with many changing hills and barred with undulations like the
surface of the sea; the framework of the land was visible through the
thin soil. Jagged rocks, broken into all sorts of shapes, as if giant
animals had trampled them under foot when the earth was still in a
condition of mud, on the day when it emerged from chaos, broke the
stretches here and there, and relieved from time to time by their
abrupt breaks the flat horizon-line which merged into that of the sky in
a zone of reddish mist. At vast distances grew palm trees, outspreading
their dusty leaves near some spring, frequently dried up, and in the mud
of which the thirsty horses plunged their bloodshot nostrils.

But the Pharaoh, insensible to the rain of fire which fell from the
white-hot heavens, at once gave the signal for departure, and horsemen
and footmen started again on the march. Bodies of oxen or beasts of
burden lying on either side, with spirals of vultures sweeping around
above them, marked the passage of the Hebrews, and prevented the angry
King from losing their track.

A swift army, practised to marching, goes faster than a migrating people
which drags with it women, children, old men, baggage, and tents; so the
distance was rapidly diminishing between the Egyptian troops and the
Israelite tribes.

It was near Pi-ha'hiroth that the Egyptians came up with the Hebrews.
The tribes were camped on the shore, but when the people saw shining in
the sun the golden chariot of the Pharaoh, followed by his war chariots
and his army, they uttered a mighty shout of terror, and began to curse
Mosche, who had led them to destruction.

In point of fact their situation was desperate: in front of the Hebrews
was the line of battle, behind them the deep sea. The women rolled on
the ground, tearing their clothes, pulling at their hair, beating their
breasts.

"Why did you not leave us in Egypt? Slavery is better than death, and
you have led us into the desert to die. Were you afraid that we should
not have sepulchres enough?"

Thus yelled the multitudes, furious with Mosche, who remained
impassible. The bolder took up their arms and prepared to defend
themselves, but the confusion was frightful, and the war chariots, when
they charged through that compact mass, would certainly make an awful
slaughter.

Mosche stretched out his hand over the sea, after having called upon the
name of the Lord, and then took place a wonder which no magician could
have repeated; there arose an east wind of startling violence which blew
through the waters of the Sea of Weeds like the share of a giant plough,
throwing to right and left briny mountains crowned with crests of foam.
Divided by the impetuosity of that irresistible wind, which would have
swept away the pyramids like grains of dust, the waters rose like liquid
walls and left free between them a broad way which could be traversed
dry shod. Through their translucency, as behind thick glass, were seen
marine monsters twisting and squirming, terrified at being surprised by
daylight in the mysterious depths of the abyss.

The Hebrew tribes rushed through this miraculous issue, forming a human
torrent that flowed between two steep banks of green waters. An
innumerable race marked with two millions of black dots the livid bottom
of the gulf, and impressed its feet upon mud which the belly of the
leviathans alone had rayed; and the terrible wind still blew, passing
over the heads of the Hebrews, whom it would have thrown to the ground
like grain, and keeping back by its breath the heap of roaring waters.

It was the breath of the Lord which was dividing the sea.

Terrified at the wonder, the Egyptians hesitated to pursue the Hebrews,
but the Pharaoh, with that high courage which nothing could daunt, urged
on his horses, which reared and plunged, lashing them in turn with his
terrible thonged whip, his eyes bloodshot, foaming at the lips, and
roaring like a lion whose prey is escaping. He at last compelled them to
enter that strangely opened road. The six hundred cars followed. The
Israelites of the rear guard, among whom were Poëri, Ra'hel, and Thamar,
believed themselves lost when they saw the enemy taking the same road
that they had traversed. But when the Egyptians were fairly within the
gulf, Mosche made a sign, the wheels of the cars fell off, and there was
a horrible confusion of horses and warriors falling against each other.
Then the mountains of water, miraculously sustained, suddenly fell, and
the sea closed in, whirling in its foam men and animals and chariots
like straw caught by the eddies in the current of a river.

Alone the Pharaoh, standing within his chariot, which had come to the
surface, shot, drunk with pride and anger, the last arrows of his quiver
against the Hebrews, who were now reaching the other shore. Having
exhausted his arrows, he took up his javelin, and although already
nearly half engulfed, with his arm alone above the water, he hurled it,
a powerless weapon, against the unknown God whom he still braved from
the depths of the abyss. A mighty billow, which rolled two or three
times over the edge of the sea, engulfed the last remains.

Nothing was left of the glory and of the army of the Pharaoh.

On the other bank Miriam, the sister of Aharon, exulted and sang as she
played on the timbrel, and all the women of Israel beat time upon
onager-skins. Two millions of voices were singing the hymn of
deliverance.



XVIII


Tahoser in vain awaited Pharaoh, and then reigned over Egypt. Then she
also died after a short time. She was placed in the magnificent tomb
which had been prepared for the king, whose body was never found; and
her story, written upon papyrus, with the headings of the pages in red
characters, by Kakevou, a scribe of the double chamber of light and
keeper of the books, was placed by her side under the network of bands.

Was it the Pharaoh or Poëri she regretted? Kakevou the scribe does not
tell us, and Dr. Rumphius, who translated the hieroglyphs of the
Egyptian grammat, did not venture to settle the question.

As for Lord Evandale, he never married, although he was the last of his
race. His young countrywomen cannot understand his coldness towards
their sex. But it would never occur to them that Lord Evandale is
retrospectively in love with Tahoser, the daughter of the high-priest
Petamounoph, who died three thousand five hundred years ago. Yet there
are English crazes which have less sound reason for their existence than
this one.



_Egypt_



_EGYPT_



THE UNWRAPPING OF A MUMMY


During the Exhibition of 1857, I was invited to be present at the
opening of one of the mummy cases in the collection of Egyptian
antiquities, and at the unwrapping of the mummy it contained. My
curiosity was indeed lively. My readers will easily understand the
reason: the scene at which I was to be present I had imagined and
described beforehand in the "Romance of a Mummy." I do not say this to
draw attention to my book, but to explain the peculiar interest I took
in this archæological and funereal meeting.

When I entered the room, the mummy, already taken from the case, was
laid on a table, its human shape showing indistinctly through the
thickness of the wrappings. On the faces of the coffin was painted the
Judgment of the Soul, the scene which is usually represented in such
cases. The soul of the dead woman, led by two funeral genii, the one
hostile, the other favourable, was bowing before Osiris, the great
judge of the dead, seated on his throne, wearing the pschent, the
conventional beard on the chin, and a whip in his hand. Farther on, the
dead woman's actions, good or bad, represented by a pot of flowers and a
rough piece of stone, were being weighed in scales. A long line of
judges, with heads of lions, hawks, or jackals, were awaiting in
hieratic attitudes the result of the weighing before delivering
judgment. Below this painting were inscribed the prayers of the funeral
ritual and the confession of the dead, who did not own to her faults,
but stated, on the contrary, those she had not committed,--"I have not
been guilty of murder, or of theft, or of adultery," etc. Another
inscription contained the genealogy of the woman, both on the father's
and on the mother's side. I do not transcribe here the series of strange
names, the last of which is that of Nes Khons, the lady enclosed in the
case, where she believed herself sure of rest while awaiting the day on
which her soul would, after many trials, be reunited to its
well-preserved body, and enjoy supreme felicity with its own flesh and
blood; a broken hope, for death is as disappointing as life.

The work of unrolling the bandages began; the outer envelope, of stout
linen, was ripped open with scissors. A faint, delicate odour of
balsam, incense, and other aromatic drugs spread through the room like
the odour of an apothecary's shop. The end of the bandage was then
sought for, and when found, the mummy was placed upright to allow the
operator to move freely around her and to roll up the endless band,
turned to the yellow colour of écru linen by the palm wine and other
preserving liquids.

Strange indeed was the appearance of the tall rag-doll, the armature of
which was a dead body, moving so stiffly and awkwardly with a sort of
horrible parody of life, under the hands that were stripping it, while
the bandages rose in heaps around it. Sometimes the bandages held in
place pieces of stuff like fringed serviettes intended to fill hollows
or to support the shape.

Pieces of linen, cut open in the middle, had been passed over the head
and, fitted to the shoulders, fell down over the chest. All these
obstacles having been removed, there appeared a sort of veil like coarse
India muslin, of a pinkish colour, the soft tone of which would have
delighted a painter. It appears to me that the dye must have been
anatto, unless the muslin, originally red, turned rose-colour through
the action of the balsam and of time. Under the veil there was another
series of bandages, of finer linen, which bound the body more closely
with their innumerable folds. Our curiosity was becoming feverish, and
the mummy was being turned somewhat quickly. A Hoffmann or an Edgar Poe
could have found here a subject for one of his weird tales. It so
happened that a sudden storm was lashing the windows with heavy drops of
rain that rattled like hail; pale lightnings illumined on the shelves of
the cupboards the old yellowed skulls and the grimacing death's-heads of
the Anthropological Museum; while the low rolling of the thunder formed
an accompaniment to the waltz of Nes Khons, the daughter of Horus and
Rouaa, as she pirouetted in the impatient hands of those who were
unwrapping her.

The mummy was visibly growing smaller in size, and its slender form
showed more and more plainly under its diminishing wrappings. A vast
quantity of linen filled the room, and we could not help wondering how a
box which was scarcely larger than an ordinary coffin had managed to
hold it all. The neck was the first portion of the body to issue from
the bandages; it was covered with a fairly thick layer of naphtha which
had to be chiselled away. Suddenly, through the black remains of the
natron, there flashed on the upper part of the breast a bright gleam of
gold, and soon there was laid bare a thin sheet of metal, cut out into
the shape of the sacred hawk, its wings outspread, its tail fanlike like
that of eagles in heraldry. Upon this bit of gold--a funeral jewel not
rich enough to tempt body-snatchers--had been written with a reed and
ink a prayer to the gods, protectors of the tombs, asking that the heart
and the visceræ of the dead should not be removed far from her body. A
beautiful microscopic hawk, which would have made a lovely watch-charm,
was attached by a thread to a necklace of small plates of blue glass, to
which was hung also a sort of amulet in the shape of a flail, made of
turquoise-blue enamel. Some of the plates had become semi-opaque, no
doubt owing to the heat of the boiling bitumen which had been poured
over them, and then had slowly cooled.

So far, of course, nothing unusual had been found; in mummy cases there
are often discovered numbers of these small trifles, and every curiosity
shop is full of similar blue enamelled-ware figures; but we now came
upon an unexpected and touchingly graceful detail. Under each armpit of
the dead woman had been placed a flower, absolutely colourless, like
plants which have been long pressed between the leaves of a herbarium,
but perfectly preserved, and to which a botanist could readily have
assigned a name. Were they blooms of the lotus or the persea? No one of
us could say. This find made me thoughtful. Who was it that had put
these poor flowers there, like a supreme farewell, at the moment when
the beloved body was about to disappear under the first rolls of
bandages? Flowers that are three thousand years old, so frail and yet so
eternal, make a strange impression upon one.

There was also found amid the bandages a small fruit-berry, the species
of which it is difficult to determine. Perhaps it was a berry of the
nepenthe, which brought oblivion. On a bit of stuff, carefully detached,
was written within a cartouche the name of an unknown king belonging to
a dynasty no less forgotten. This mummy fills up a vacant place in
history and tells of a new Pharaoh.

The face was still hidden under its mask of linen and bitumen, which
could not be easily detached, for it had been firmly fixed by an
indefinite number of centuries. Under the pressure of the chisel a
portion gave way, and two white eyes with great black pupils shone with
fictitious life between brown eyelids. They were enamelled eyes, such as
it was customary to insert in carefully prepared mummies. The clear,
fixed glance, gazing out of the dead face, produced a terrifying effect;
the body seemed to behold with disdainful surprise the living beings
that moved around it. The eyebrows showed quite plainly upon the orbit,
hollowed by the sinking of the flesh. The nose, I must confess,--and in
this respect Nes Khons was less pretty than Tahoser,--had been turned
down to conceal the incision through which the brain had been drawn from
the skull, and a leaf of gold had been placed on the mouth as the seal
of eternal silence. The hair, exceedingly fine, silky, and soft, dressed
in light curls, did not fall below the tops of the ears, and was of that
auburn tint so much prized by Venetian women. It looked like a child's
hair dyed with henna, as one sees it in Algeria. I do not think that
this colour was the natural one; Nes Khons must have been dark like
other Egyptians, and the brown tone was doubtless produced by the
essences and perfumes of the embalmer.

Little by little the body began to show in its sad nudity. The reddish
skin of the torso, as the air came in contact with it, assumed a bluish
bloom, and there was visible on the side the cut through which had been
drawn the entrails, and from which escaped, like the sawdust of a
ripped-up doll, the sawdust of aromatic wood mixed with resin in grains
that looked like colophony. The arms were stretched out, and the bony
hands with their gilded nails imitated with sepulchral modesty the
gesture of the Venus of Medici. The feet, slightly contracted by the
drying up of the flesh and the muscles, seemed to have been shapely and
small, and the nails were gilded like those of the hand.

What was she, after all, this Nes Khons, daughter of Horus and Rouaa,
called Lady in her epitaph? Young or old, beautiful or ugly? It would be
difficult to say. She is now not much more than a skin covering bones,
and it is impossible to discover in the dry, sharp lines the graceful
contours of Egyptian women, such as we see them depicted in temples,
palaces, and tombs. But is it not a surprising thing, one that seems to
belong to the realm of dreams, to see on a table, in still appreciable
shape, a being which walked in the sunshine, which lived and loved five
hundred years before Moses, two thousand years before Jesus Christ? For
that is the age of the mummy which the caprice of fate drew from its
cartonnage in the midst of the Universal Exposition, amid all the
machinery of our modern civilisation.



FROM ALEXANDRIA TO CAIRO


The railway to Cairo runs first along a narrow strip of sand which
separates the Baheirehma'adieh, or Lake of Aboukir, from Lake Mareotis,
now filled with salt water. As you go towards Cairo, Lake Mareotis is on
your right and the Lake of Aboukir on your left. The former stretches
out like a sea between shores so low that they disappear, and thus make
it impossible to estimate the size of the lake, which melts away into
the sky on the horizon.

The sunlight fell perpendicularly upon its smooth waters, and made them
flash and sparkle until the eye was weary; in other places, the gray
waters lay stagnant amid the gray sands, or else were of the dead white
of tin. It would have been easy to believe one's self in the Holland
Polders, travelling along one of the sleepy inland seas. The heavens
were as colourless as Van der Velde's skies, and the travellers, who,
trusting to painters, had dreamed of a blaze of colour, gazed with
amazement upon the vast extent of absolutely flat, grayish toned land,
which in no wise recalled Egypt, at least such as one imagines it to be.
On the side opposite Lake Mareotis rose, in the midst of luxuriant
gardens, the country homes of the rich merchants of the city, of the
government officials and of the consuls, painted in bright colours,
sky-blue, rose or yellow, picked out with white, and here and there the
great sails of boats, bound to Foueh or to Rosetta through the
Mahmoudieh Canal, showed above the vegetation and seemed to be
travelling on dry land. This curious effect, which always causes
surprise, is often met with in the neighbourhood of Leyden, Dordrecht,
and Haarlem, and in swampy countries where the water lies level with the
ground, and sometimes even, kept in by dikes, is higher than the level
of the country by several yards.

Where the salt water ends, the aspect of the country changes, not
gradually, but suddenly; on the one hand absolute barrenness, on the
other exuberant vegetation; and wherever irrigation brings a drop of
water, plants spring up, and the sterile dust becomes fertile soil. The
contrast is most striking. We had passed Lake Mareotis, and on either
side of the railroad stretched fields of _doora_ or maize, of cotton
plants in various stages of growth, some opening their pretty yellow
flowers, others shedding the white silk from their pods. Gutters full of
muddy water rayed the black ground with lines that shone here and there
in the light. These were fed by broader canals connected with the Nile.
Small dikes of earth, easily opened with a blow of a pickaxe, dammed up
the waters until watering-time. The rough wheels of the sakiehs, turned
by buffaloes, oxen, camels, or asses, raised the water to higher levels.
Sometimes, even, two robust fellahs, perfectly naked, tawny and shining
like Florentine bronzes, standing on the edge of a canal and balancing
like a swing a basket of waterproof esparto suspended from two ropes of
which they held the ends, skimmed the surface of the water and dashed it
into the neighbouring field with amazing dexterity. Fellahs in short
blue tunics were ploughing, holding the handle of a primitive plough
drawn by a camel and a humpbacked Soudanese ox; others gathered cotton
and maize; others dug ditches; others again dragged branches of trees by
way of a harrow over the furrows which the inundation had scarce left.
Everywhere was seen an activity not much in accord with the traditional
Oriental idleness.

The first fellahin villages seen on the right and left of the road
impress one curiously. They are collections of huts of unbaked brick
cemented with mud, with flat roofs occasionally topped with a sort of
whitewashed turret for pigeons, the sloping walls of which faintly
recall the outline of a truncated Egyptian pylon. A door as low as that
of a tomb, and two or three holes pierced in the wall are the only
openings in these huts, which look more like the work of termites than
that of men. Often half the village--if such a name can be given to
these earthen huts--has been washed away by the rains or sapped by the
flood; but no great harm is done; with a few handfuls of mud the house
is soon rebuilt, and five or six days of sunshine suffice to make it
inhabitable.

This description, scrupulously exact, does not give a very attractive
idea of a fellahin village; but plant by the side of these cubes of gray
earth a clump of date palms, have a camel or two kneel down in front of
the doors, which look like the mouths of warrens, let a woman come out
from one of them draped in her long blue gown, holding a child by the
hand and bearing a jar of water on her head, light it all up with
sunlight, and you have a charming and characteristic picture.

The thing which strikes the most inattentive traveller as soon as he
steps into this Lower Egypt, where from time immemorial the Nile has
been accumulating its mud in thin layers, is the close intimacy of the
fellah and the earth. Autochthone is the name that best fits him; he
springs from the clay which he treads, he is made out of it, and scarce
has emerged from it. He manipulates it, presses it as a child presses
its nurse's breast, to draw from its brown bosom the milk of fertility.
He sinks waist-deep into its fertile mud, drains it, waters it, dries
it, according to its needs; cuts canals in it, builds up levees upon it,
draws from it the clay with which he constructs his family dwelling and
with which he will cement his tomb. Never was a respectful son more
careful of his old mother; he does not leave her as do those vagabond
children who forsake their natal roof in search of adventures. He
remains there, always attentive to the least want of his antique
ancestor, the black earth of Kamé. If she thirsts, he gives her drink,
if she is troubled by too much humidity, he dries it; in order not to
wound her, he works her almost without tools, with his hands; his
plough merely scratches the telluric skin, which the inundation covers
each year with a new epidermis. As you watch him going and coming upon
that soaking ground, you feel that he is in his element. In his blue
garment, which resembles a pontiff's robe, he presides over the marriage
of earth and water, he unites the two principles which, warmed by the
sun, give birth to life. Nowhere is this harmony between man and the
soil so visible; nowhere does the earth play so important a part. It
imparts its colour to everything. The houses have the earth tint; the
bronze complexion of the fellahs recalls it; the trees covered with fine
dust, the waters laden with mud, conform to that fundamental harmony;
the animals themselves wear its livery; the dun-coloured camel, the gray
ass, the slate-blue buffalo, the ash-coloured pigeon, and the reddish
birds all fit in with the general tone.

Another thing which surprises one is the animation visible throughout
the country. On the levees along the canals and on those which traverse
the inundated portions, there moves a mob of passers-by and of
travellers. There is no road so frequented in France, even in the
neighbourhood of a populous city. Eastern people do not remain much in
their houses, and the smallest pretext is sufficient for them to set
forth, especially as they have not to think, as we have, of the weather;
the barometer is always at set fair, and rain is so uncommonly rare that
a man would be glad to get a soaking.

There is nothing more enjoyable, more varied and instructive than the
procession of people who are going about their business and who show in
succession in the opening of the carriage window, as in a frame in which
engravings or water-colours are constantly changing.

First, camels ambling along with a resigned and melancholy look,
swinging their long necks, curious animals whose awkward shapes recall
the attempts of a vanished creation. On the hump of the foremost is
perched the turbaned driver, as majestic as Eleazar, the servant of
Abraham, going to Mesopotamia to seek a wife for Isaac; he yields with
lazy suppleness to the rough, but regular motions of the animal;
sometimes smoking his chibouque as if he were seated at the door of a
café, or pressing the slow pace of his steed. Camels like to go in
single file; they are accustomed to it, and five or six are usually tied
together, sometimes even more; and thus the caravan travels along,
showing quaint against the flat lines of the horizon, and for want of
any object of comparison, apparently of vast size. On either side of the
line trot three or four swift-footed lads, armed with wands; for in the
East beasts of burden never lack hostlers and whippers-in. Some of the
camels are reddish, others sorrel, others brown, some even are white,
but dun is the most frequent colour. They carry stones, wood, grass
bound with esparto cords, bundles of sugar-cane, boxes, furniture,--in
fact, whatever in our country would be loaded on carts. Just now we
might have thought ourselves in Holland as we passed along those gray
stretches of submerged ground, but the illusion is soon dispelled; as
the camel swings along the canal bank, you feel that you are approaching
Cairo, and not Amsterdam.

Next come horsemen, bestriding thin, but spirited horses; droves of
small donkeys, their masters perched on their cruppers, almost on their
tails, their legs almost touching the ground, ready to be used in case
the tricky animal falls or jibs, or even indulges, as it often does, in
a roll in the dust of the road. In the East the ass is neither contemned
nor considered ridiculous as it is in France; it has preserved its
Homeric and biblical nobility, and every one bestrides it without
hesitation, the rich and the poor, the old and the young, women as well
as men.

Now along the canal comes a charming group: a young woman robed in a
long blue mantle, the folds of which fall chastely around her, is seated
upon an ass which a man, still vigorous but whose beard is already
streaked with gray and white hairs, leads carefully. In front of the
mother, who supports it with one hand, is a naked child, exquisitely
beautiful, happy and delighted at his trip. It is a picture of the
Flight into Egypt; the figures lack nothing but a fine golden halo
around their heads. The Virgin, the Child Jesus, and Saint Joseph must
have looked like that, and so must their flight have been in the living
and simple reality; their equipage was not much finer. What a pity that
some great painter, Perugino, Raphael, or Albert Dürer, does not happen
to be here.

Damanhûr, which the railroad traverses, looks very much as must have
looked the ancient cities of Egypt, now buried under the sand or fallen
into dust. It is surrounded by sloping walls built of unbaked bricks or
of pisé which preserves its earthy colour. The flat-roofed houses rise
one above another like a collection of cubes dotted with little black
holes. A few dovecotes, the cupolas of which are whitewashed, and one or
two minarets striped with red and white, alone impart to the antique
appearance of that city the modern aspect of Islamism. On the top of the
terraces women, squatting on mats or standing in their long robes of
brilliant colours, are looking at us, no doubt attracted by the passing
of the train. As they show against the sky, they are wondrously elegant
and graceful. They look like statues erected on the top of buildings or
the front of temples.

The moment the train stopped, it was invaded by a band of women and
children, offering fresh water, bitter oranges, and honey confections to
the travellers; and it was delightful to see these brown faces showing
at the carriage window their bright smile and their white teeth. I
should have liked to remain some time in Damanhûr, but travel, like
life, is made up of sacrifices. How many delightful things one is
compelled to leave by the roadside, if one wishes to reach the end. A
man cannot see everything, and must be satisfied with seeing a few
things. So I had to leave Damanhûr and to behold that dream from afar
without being able to traverse it. As far as I could see, even through
my glass, the land reached to the horizon line, intersected by canals,
broken by gutters, shimmering with pools of water, with scattered clumps
of sycamore trees and date palms, with long strips of cultivated ground,
water-wheels rising here and there, and enlivened by the incessant
coming and going of the labourers who followed, on the backs of camels,
horses, or asses, or on foot, the narrow road bordering the levees. At
intervals there arose, under the shade of a mimosa, the white cupola of
a tomb; sometimes a nude child stood motionless on the edge of the water
in the attitude of unconscious reverie, not even turning his head to see
the train fly along. This deep gravity in childhood is peculiar to the
East. What could that boy, standing on his lump of earth as a Stylites
on his pillar, be thinking of? From time to time flocks of pigeons, busy
feeding, flew off with a sudden whir as the train passed by, and
alighted farther away on the plain; aquatic birds swam swiftly through
the reeds that outstretched behind them, pretty wagtails hopped about,
wagging their tails, on the crest of the levees; and in the heavens at a
vast height, soared hawks, falcons, and gerfalcons, sweeping in great
circles. Buffaloes wallowed in the mud of the ditches, and flocks of
black sheep with hanging ears, very like goats, were hurrying along
driven by the shepherds. The antique simplicity of the costume of the
young herdsmen, with their short tunics, white or blue, faded by the
sun, their bare legs, their dusty, naked feet, their felt caps, their
crooks, recalled the patriarchal scenes of the Bible.

At the next station we stopped, and I got out to have a look at the
landscape. I had scarcely gone a few steps when a wondrous sight met my
astonished eyes: before me was the Nile, old Hapi, to give it its
ancient Egyptian name, the inexhaustible Father of Waters. Through one
of those involuntary plastic impressions which act upon the imagination,
the Nile called up to my mind the colossal marble god in one of the
lower halls of the Louvre, carelessly leaning on his elbow and, with
paternal kindliness, allowing himself to be climbed over by the little
children which represent cubits, and the various phases of the
inundation. Well, it was not under this mythological aspect that the
great river appeared to me for the first time. It was flowing in flood,
spreading out broadly like a torrent of reddish mud which scarcely
looked like water as it swelled and rushed by irresistibly. It looked
like a river of soil; scarcely did the reflection of the sky imprint
here and there upon the gloomy surface of its tumultuous waves a few
light touches of azure. It was still almost at the height of its rise,
but the flood had the tranquil power of a regular phenomenon, and not
the convulsive disorder of a scourge. The majesty of that vast sheet of
water laden with fertilising mud produces an almost religious
impression. How many vanished civilisations have been reflected for a
time in that ever-flowing wave! I remained absorbed as I gazed at it,
sunk in thought, and feeling that strange sinking of the heart which one
experiences after desire has been fulfilled, and reality has taken the
place of the dream. What I was looking at was indeed the Nile, the real
Nile, the river which I had so often endeavoured to discover by
intuition. A sort of stupor nailed me to the bank, and yet it was a very
natural thing that I should come across the Nile in Egypt in the very
centre of the Delta. But man is subject to such artless astonishment.

Dhahabîyehs and felûkas spreading their great lateen sails were tacking
across the river, passing from one shore to the other, and recalling the
shape of the mystic baris of the times of the Pharaohs.

We set out again. The aspect of the country was still the same; fields
of cotton, maize, doora, stretched as far as the eye could reach. Here
and there glimmered the portions of the ground covered by the flood.
Slate-blue buffaloes wallowed in the pools and emerged covered with mud;
water birds stood along the edges, and sometimes flew off as the train
passed, watched by families of fellahs, squatting on the banks of the
ditches. Along the road travelled the endless procession of camels,
asses, oxen, black goats, and foot-passengers, which enlivened to such
an extent that peaceful, flat landscape. I had already noticed when in
Holland the additional importance given to figures by a flat country;
the lack of hills makes them stand out, and as they usually show against
the sky they loom larger. I seemed to see pass by the zones of painted
_bassi-relievi_ representing agricultural scenes which occasionally
formed part of the decoration of the halls of Egyptian tombs. Here and
there rose villages or farms, the lines of whose sloping, earth-gray
walls recalled the substructures of antique temples. Groups of sycamore
and mimosa trees, set off by clumps of date palms, brought out the soft
tones of the walls by the contrast of their rich verdure. Elsewhere I
caught sight of fellahin huts surmounted by whitewashed dovecotes,
placed side by side like beehives or the minarets of a mosque. We soon
reached Tantah, a somewhat important town, to which the fine mosque of
Seyd Ahmed Badouy attracts pilgrims twice a year, and the fairs of which
are frequented by the caravans.

Tantah, from the railway station,--for the train does not stop long
enough to allow travellers to visit the town,--has an animated and
picturesque aspect. Amid the houses in the Arab style with their
look-outs and their awnings, rise buildings in that Oriental-Italian
style dear to persons of progress and of modern ideas, painted in soft
colours, ochre, salmon, or sky-blue; flat-roofed clay huts; over all,
the minarets of the mosque, the white cupolas of a few tombs, and the
inevitable fig trees and palms rising above the low garden walls.
Between the town and the station stretches waste ground, a sort of
fair-ground, on which are camps, huts of reed or of date-palm branches,
tents formed of old rags of cloth and sometimes of the linen of an
unrolled turban. The inhabitants of these frail dwellings cook in the
open air. The coffee is made, a cup at a time, in a small brass kettle,
and on plates of tin are cooked the thin doora cakes. The fuel is
camel's-dung. The fellahs suck eagerly the sweetish juice of the
sugar-cane cut into short pieces, and the slices of watermelon show
within the green skin their ripe, rosy, flesh, spotted with black seeds.
Women, as graceful as statues, come and go, holding the end of their
veil between their teeth so as to conceal one half of the face, and
bearing on their heads Theban jars or copper vases; while the men,
squatting on the ground or on small carpets, their knees up to their
chins, forming an acute angle like the legs of locusts, in an attitude
which no European could assume, and recalling the judges of Amenti
ranged in rows one behind another on the papyri of funeral rituals,
preserve that dreamy immobility so dear to Orientals when they have
nothing to do; for to move about merely for exercise, as Christians do,
strikes them as utter folly.

Dromedaries, alone or grouped in circles, kneeling under their burdens,
stretch out their long legs on the sand, motionless in the burning sun.
Asses, some of which are daintily harnessed, with saddles of red morocco
rising in a boss on the withers, and with headstalls adorned with tufts,
and others with an old carpet for a saddle-cloth, were waiting for the
travellers who were to stop at Tantah to bear them from the station to
the town. The donkey drivers, clothed in short blue and white tunics,
bare-armed and bare-legged, their heads covered with a fez, a wand in
their hand, and resembling the slender figures of shepherds or youths
which are so exquisitely drawn on the bodies of Greek vases, stood near
their animals in an indolent attitude, which they abandoned as soon as a
chance customer came their way. Then they indulged in mad
gesticulations, guttural cries, and fought with each other until the
unfortunate tourist ran the risk of being torn to pieces or stripped of
the best part of his garments. Tawny, wandering dogs with jackal ears,
fallen indeed from their old position, and forgetting apparently that
they counted Anubis, the dog-headed _Anubis latrator_, among their
ancestors, passed in and out among the groups, but without taking the
least interest in what was going on.

The bonds which in Europe unite the dog to man do not exist in the East;
its social instinct has not been developed, its sympathies have not been
appealed to; it has no master, and lives in a savage state. No services
are asked of it, and it is not cared for; it has no home and dwells in
holes which it makes, unless it stays in some open tomb; no one feeds
it; it hunts for itself, gorging on dead bodies and unnamable débris.
There is a proverb which says that wolves do not eat each other; Eastern
dogs are less scrupulous; they readily devour their sick, wounded, or
dead companions. It seemed strange to me to see dogs which did not make
any advances to me, and did not seek to be caressed, but maintained a
proud and melancholy reserve.

Little girls in blue gowns and little negroes in white tunics came up to
the carriages, offering pastry, cakes, bitter oranges, lemons, and
apples,--yes, apples. Eastern people seem to be very fond of that acid
Northern fruit which, along with wretched, granulous pears, forms part
of every dessert, at which of course one never gets either pomegranates,
or bananas, or dates, or oranges, or purple figs, or any native fruits,
which are no doubt left to the common people.

The whistle of the engine sounded, and we were again carried away
through that very humid and very green Delta. However, as we advanced
there showed on the horizon lines of rosy land from which vegetable life
was wholly absent. The sand of the desert advances with its waves, as
sterile as those of the sea, eternally disturbed by the winds and
beating upon the islet of cultivated earth surrounded and stormed by
dusty foam, as upon a reef which it endeavours to cover up. In Egypt,
whatever lies above the level of the flood is smitten with death. There
is no transition; where stops Osiris, Typhon begins; here luxuriant
vegetation, there not a blade of grass, not a bit of moss, not a single
one of the adventurous plants which grow in solitary and lonely
places,--nothing but ground-up sandstone without any mixture of loam.
But if a drop of Nile water falls upon it, straightway the barren sand
is covered with verdure. These strips of pale salmon-colour form a
pleasant contrast with the rich tints of the great plain of verdure
spread out before us.

Soon we came upon another arm of the Nile, the Phatnitic branch, which
flows into the sea near Damietta. It is crossed by the railway, and on
the other side lie the ruins of ancient Athrebys, over which has been
built a fellahin village. The train sped along, and soon on the right,
above the line of green, turning almost black in the dazzling light,
showed in the azure distance the triangular silhouette of the pyramids
of Cheops and Chephren, appearing, from where I first beheld them, like
a single mountain with a piece taken out of the summit. The marvellous
clearness of the atmosphere made them appear nearer, and had I not been
aware of the real distance I should have found it difficult to estimate
it correctly. It is quite natural to catch sight of the pyramids as one
approaches Cairo; it is to be expected and it is expected, yet the sight
causes extraordinary emotion and surprise. It is impossible to describe
the effect produced by that vaporous outline so faint that it almost
melts into the colour of the sky, and that, if one had not been
forewarned, it might escape notice. Neither years nor barbarians have
been able to overthrow these artificial mountains, the most gigantic
monuments, except, perhaps, the Tower of Babel, ever raised by man. For
five thousand years they have been standing there,--almost as old as the
world, according to the biblical account. Even our own civilisation,
with its powerful methods of destruction, could scarcely manage to tear
them down. The pyramids have seen ages and dynasties flow by like
billows of sand, and the colossal Sphinx with its noseless face ever
smiles at their feet with its ironical and mysterious smile. Even after
they were opened they kept their secret, and yielded up but the bones of
oxen by the side of an empty sarcophagus. Eyes that have been closed so
long that Europe, perchance, had not emerged from the flood when those
eyes beheld the light, gazed upon them from where I am; they are
contemporaneous with vanished empires, with strange races of men since
swept from the surface of the earth; they have beheld civilisations that
we know nothing of; heard spoken the tongues which men seek to make out
in hieroglyphics, known manners which would appear to us as strange as a
dream. They have been there so long that the stars have changed their
places, and they belong to a past so prodigiously fabulous that behind
them the dawn of the world seems to shine.

While these thoughts flashed through my mind we were rapidly approaching
Cairo,--Cairo, of which I had talked so often with poor Gérard de
Nerval, with Gustave Flaubert, and Maxime Du Camp, whose tales had
excited my curiosity to the highest pitch. In the case of cities which
one has desired to see from childhood, and which one has long inhabited
in dreams, one is apt to conceive a fantastic notion which it is very
difficult to efface, even in presence of reality. The sight of an
engraving, of a picture, often forms a starting-point. My Cairo, built
out of the materials of the "Thousand and One Nights," centred around
the Ezbekîyeh Place, the strange painting of which Marilhat had sent
from Egypt to one of the first exhibitions which followed the Revolution
of July. Unless I am mistaken, it was his first picture, and whatever
the perfection which he afterwards attained, I do not believe that he
ever painted a work fuller of life, more individual, and more striking.
It made a deep and curious impression upon me; I went time and again to
see it; I could not take my eyes off it, and it exercised upon me a sort
of nostalgic fascination. It was from that painting that my dreams
started upon fantastic trips through the narrow streets of ancient Cairo
once traversed by Caliph Haroun al Raschid and his faithful vizier
Jaffier, under the disguise of slaves or common people. My admiration
for the painting was so well known that Marilhat's family gave me, after
the death of the famous artist, the pencil sketch of the subject made on
the spot, and which he had used as a study for the finished work.

And now we had arrived. A great mob of carriages, asses, donkey drivers,
porters, guides, dragomans, rioted in front of the railway station,
which is at Boulah, a short distance from old Cairo. When we had
recovered our luggage, and I had been installed with my friend in a
handsome open carriage preceded by a _saïs_, it was with secret delight
that I heard the Egyptian providence which watched over us in its
_Nizam_ uniform and its magenta fez, call out to the coachman, "Hotel
Shepheard, Ezbekîyeh Place." I was going to lodge in my dream.



EZBEKÎYEH SQUARE


A few minutes later the carriage stopped before the steps of the Hotel
Shepheard, which has a sort of veranda provided with chairs and sofas
for the convenience of travellers who desire to enjoy the cool air. We
were received cordially, and given a fine room, very high-ceiled, with
two beds provided with mosquito-nets, and a window looking out upon the
Ezbekîyeh Square.

I did not expect to find Marilhat's painting before me, unchanged, and
merely enlarged to the proportions of reality. The accounts of tourists
who had recently returned from Egypt had made me aware that the
Ezbekîyeh no longer looked the same as formerly, when the waters of the
Nile turned it into a lake in times of flood, and when it still
preserved its true Arab character.

Huge mimosas and sycamores fill up the centre of the square with domes
of foliage so intensely green that it looks almost black. On the left
rises a row of houses, among which are to be seen, side by side with the
newer buildings, old Arab dwellings more or less modernised. A great
number of moucharabiehs had disappeared. There remains a sufficient
number of them, however, to preserve the Oriental character of this side
of the square.

Above the trees on the other side of the square, higher than the line of
the roofs, are seen four or five minarets, the shafts of which, built in
courses alternately blue and red, stand out against the azure sky. On
the right the scarps of Mokattam, of a rosy gray, show their bare sides,
on which no vegetation is apparent. The trees of the square conceal the
newer buildings, and thus my dream was not too much upset.

Being an invalid, I had to be somewhat careful, and required two or
three days of complete rest. If the reader is fond of travel, he will
understand how great was my desire to begin exploring that labyrinth of
picturesque streets in which swarms a vari-coloured crowd, but it was
out of the question for the time being. I thought that Cairo, more
complaisant in this respect than the mountain to the prophet, would come
to me if I could not go to it, and as a matter of fact, Cairo was polite
enough to do so.

While my luckier companions started to visit the city, I settled myself
on the veranda. It was the best place I could have chosen, for even
leaving out the people on the Square, the veranda roof sheltered many
curious characters. There were dragomans, most of them Greeks or Copts,
wearing the fez and a short, braided jacket and full trousers; cavasses
richly costumed in oriental fashion, scimetar on the hip, _kandjar_ in
the belt, and silver-topped cane in the hand; native servants in white
drawers and blue or pink gowns; little negroes, bare-armed and
bare-legged, dressed in short tunics striped with brilliant colours;
dealers selling kuffîyehs, gandouras, and oriental stuffs manufactured
in Lyons, photographic views of Egypt and of Cairo, or pictures of
national types,--to say nothing of the travellers themselves, who,
having come from all parts of the world, certainly deserved to be looked
at.

Opposite the hotel, on the other side of the road, stood in the shade of
the mimosas the carriages placed at the disposal of the invited guests
by the splendid hospitality of the Khedive. An inspector, blind in one
eye, with a turban rolled around his head and wearing a long blue
caftan, called them up and gave the drivers the orders of the
travellers. There also stood the battalion of donkey drivers with their
long-eared steeds. I am told that there are no less than eighty
thousand donkeys in Cairo. That number does not seem to be exaggerated.
There are donkeys at every corner, around every mosque, and in the most
deserted places there suddenly appear from behind a wall a donkey driver
and a donkey that place themselves at your service. These asses are very
pretty, spirited, and bright-tempered; they have not the piteous look
and the air of melancholy resignation of the asses of our own country,
which are ill fed, beaten, and contemned. You feel that they think as
much of themselves as other animals do, and that they are not the whole
day long a butt for stupid jokes. Perhaps they are aware that Homer
compared Ajax to an ass, a comparison which is ridiculous in the West;
and they also remember that one of their ancestors bore Miriam, the
Virgin Mother of Issa, under the sycamore of Matarieh. Their coat varies
from dark-brown to white, through all the shades of dun and gray. Some
have white stars and fetlocks. The handsomest are clipped with ingenious
coquetry so as to make around the legs patterns which make them look as
if they were wearing open-worked stockings. When they are white, the end
of the tail and the mane are dyed with henna. Of course this is only in
the case of thorough-bred animals, of the aristocracy of the asinine
race, and is not indulged in with the common herd.

Their harness consists of a headstall adorned with tresses, tufts of
silk and wool, sometimes coral beads or copper plates, and of a morocco
saddle, usually red, rising up in front to prevent falls, but without
any cantle. The saddle is placed upon a piece of carpet or striped
stuff, and is fastened by a broad girth which passes diagonally under
the animal's tail like a crupper-strap; another girth fastens the
saddle-cloth, and two short stirrups flap against the animal's sides.
The harness is more or less rich according to the means of the donkey
driver and the rank of his customers, but I am speaking merely of asses
which stand for hire. No one in Cairo considers it undignified to ride
an ass,--old men, grown men, dignitaries, townspeople, all use them.
Women ride astride, a fashion which in no wise compromises their
modesty, thanks to the enormous folds of their broad trousers which
almost completely conceal their feet. They often carry before them,
placed upon the saddle-bow, a small, half-nude, child which they steady
with one hand while with the other they hold the bridle. It is usually
women of importance who indulge in this luxury, for the poor fellahin
women have no other means of locomotion than their little feet. These
beauties, as we may suppose them to be, since they are masked more
closely than society ladies at the Opera ball, wear over their garments
a _habbarah_, a sort of black taffeta sack, which fills with air and
swells in the most ungraceful fashion if the animal's pace is quickened.

In the East a rider, whether on horseback or on an ass, is always
accompanied by two or three footmen. One runs on ahead with a wand in
his hand to clear the way, the second holds the animal's bridle, and the
third hangs on by its tail, or at least puts his hand on the crupper.
Sometimes there is a fourth who flits about and stirs up the animal with
a switch. Every minute Decamp's "Turkish Patrol," that startling
painting which made such a sensation in the Exhibition of 1831, passed
before me, amid a cloud of dust, and made me smile; but no one appeared
to notice the comicality of the situation: a stout man dressed in white
with a broad belt around his waist, perched on a little ass and followed
by three or four poor devils, thin and tanned, with hungry mien, who
through excess of zeal and in hope of backshish, seem to carry along the
rider and his steed.

I must be forgiven all this information about the asses and their
drivers, but these occupy so large a space in life at Cairo that they
are entitled to the importance which they really possess.



ANCIENT EGYPT


The solemn title must not terrify the reader. M. Ernest Feydeau's book
is, in spite of its title, most attractive reading. In his case science
does not mean weariness, as happens too often. The author of "Funeral
Customs and Sepulture among the Ancient Nations" desired to be
understood of all, and everybody may profit by his long and careful
researches. He has not sealed his work with seven seals, as if it were
an apocalyptic volume, to be understood by adepts only; he has sought
clearness, distinctness, colour, and he has given to archæology the
plastic form which it almost always lacks. What is the use of heaping
together materials in disorder, stones which are not made to form part
of a building, colours which are not turned into pictures? What does the
public, for whom, after all, books are meant, get out of so many obscure
works, cryptic dissertations, deep researches, with which learned
authors seem to mask entrances, as the ancient Egyptians--the comparison
is a proper one here--masked the entrances to their tombs and their
mummy pits so that no one might penetrate into them? What is the use of
carving in darkness endless panels of hieroglyphs which no eye is to
behold and the key to which one keeps for one's self? M. Ernest Feydeau
is bold enough to desire to be an artist as well as a scholar; for
picturesqueness in no wise detracts from accuracy, though erudites
generally affect to believe the contrary. Did not Augustin Thierry draw
his intensely living, animated, dramatic, and yet thoroughly true
"Stories of the Merovingian Times" from the colourless, diffuse,
ill-composed history of Gregory of Tours? Did not Sauval's unreadable
work become "Notre-Dame de Paris" in Victor Hugo's hands? Did not Walter
Scott, by his novels, Shakespeare by his dramas, render the greatest
services to history by giving life to dead chronicles, by putting into
flesh and blood heroes on whom forgetfulness had scattered its dust in
the solitude of libraries? Does any one suppose that the chroniclers of
the future will not consult Balzac to advantage, and look upon his work
as a precious mine of documents? How great would be the interest excited
by a similar account, domestic, intimate and familiar, by a Greek or a
Roman author? We can have some idea of this from the fragments of
Petronius and the Tales of Apuleius, which tell us more about life in
the days of antiquity than the gravest writers, who often forget men
while dwelling upon facts.

In an essay on the history of manners and customs which forms the
introduction to his book, M. Ernest Feydeau has discussed this question
of colour applied to science with much spirit, logic, and eloquence. He
proves that it is possible, without falling into novel writing, without
indulging in imaginativeness, and while preserving the gravity and the
authority of history, to group around facts, by the intelligent reading
of texts, by the study and the comparison of the monuments, the manners,
the customs, the books of vanished races, to show man at a particular
time, to put as a background to each event the landscape, the city, or
the interior in which it occurred, and in the conqueror's hand the
weapon which he really carried. Ideas have forms, events take place amid
certain surroundings, individuals wear costumes which archæology,
properly understood, can restore to them. That is its proper task.
History draws the outline with a graver, archæology must fill it in with
colour. Understood in this way, history makes the past present. The
innovating archæologist, by an apparently paradoxical inspiration, has
asked of death the secret of life; he has studied the tomb, which has
yielded up to him not only the mysteries of destruction, but the customs
and the national life of all the nations of antiquity. The sepulchre has
faithfully preserved what the memory of man has forgotten and what has
been lost in scattered libraries. The tomb alone, opening its sombre
lips, has replied to the questions of to-day; it knows what historians
do not know; it is impartial, and has no interest in lying, apart from
the innocent imposture of the epitaph. Each generation, as it sinks
forever under the ground, after having lived and moved for a few moments
on its surface, inscribes upon the walls of its funeral dwelling the
true expression of its acts, its beliefs, its customs, its arts, its
luxuries, its individuality, all that was seen then and that shall never
again be seen, and then the hand of man rolls boulders, the desert heaps
up sand, the waters of the stream deposit mud upon the forgotten
entrance to the necropolis. The pits are filled up, the subterranean
passages are effaced, the tombs sink and disappear under the dust of
empires. A thousand, two thousand, three thousand, four thousand years
pass by, and a lucky stroke of the pick reveals a whole nation within a
coffin.

The ancients, differing in this respect from the moderns, spent their
life in preparing their last dwelling. The history of their funerals
contains, therefore, the germ of their whole history. But that history,
full of intimate details, mysterious facts, and documents at times
enigmatical, is not to be written like the other form of history which
men are satisfied to repeat from age to age. It is amazing how many
years the author had to spend in study and research in order to write
his book, to bring together his materials, to analyse and to compare
them.

After having clearly defined what he means by archæology, the author
enters upon his subject. Going back to the beginnings of the world, he
depicts the amazement and the grief of man when for the first time he
saw his fellow-man die. The entrance on earth of that unknown and
terrible power which has since been called death is solemn and tragical.
The body is lying there motionless and cold amid its brethren, who are
amazed at the sleep which they cannot break, at the livid pallor and the
stiffness of the limbs. Horror succeeds surprise when the signs of
decomposition become visible. The body is concealed under leaves, under
stones heaped up within caverns, and each one wonders with terror
whether that death is an exceptional case, or whether the same fate
awaits every one in a more or less distant future. Deaths become more
numerous as the primitive family grows older, and at last the conviction
comes that it is an inevitable fate. The remembrance of the ancestors,
the apparition of their ghosts in the wonders of dreams, the anxiety as
to the fate of the soul after the destruction of the body, give rise,
along with the presentiment of another life, to the first idea of God.
Death teaches eternity and proves irrefragably the existence of a power
superior to that of man. The belief in metempsychosis, in the migration
of the soul, in other spheres, in reward and punishment according to the
works done by men in the flesh, arose among nations in accordance with
the degree of civilisation which they had attained. Among the least
civilised these doctrines exist in a state of confusion, remain vague,
uncouth, surcharged with superstition and peculiarities. Nevertheless,
everywhere the mystery of the tomb is venerated.

It may be affirmed that no nation was so preoccupied with death as
ancient Egypt. It is a strange sight to behold that people preparing its
tomb from childhood, refusing to yield up its dust to the elements, and
struggling against destruction with invincible obstinacy. Just as the
layers of Nile mud have overlaid one another since the birth of time,
the generations of Egypt are ranged in order at the bottom of the mummy
pits of the hypogea and the pyramids of the necropolis, their bodies
intact--for the worm of the tomb dare not attack them, repelled as it is
by the bitter bituminous odours. But for the sacrilegious devastations
of man, that dead people would be found complete, and its numberless
multitudes might cover the earth. Imagination is staggered when it
attempts to calculate the probable numbers; if Egyptian civilisation had
lasted ten centuries longer, the dead would have ended by expelling the
living from their native land. The necropolis would have invaded the
city, and the stark mummies in their bandages would have stood up by the
wall of the hearth.

You cannot have forgotten the marvellous chapter on "A Bird's-eye view
of Paris," an amazing restoration by a poet, in which archæology itself,
in spite of the progress it has made, would find it difficult to
discover a flaw. Well, what Victor Hugo has done for mediæval Paris, M.
Ernest Feydeau has attempted for the Thebes of the Pharaohs, and his
restoration, as complete as it is possible for it to be, and which no
historian had attempted, stands out before us as sharply as a plan in
relief, and with all the perspective of a panorama. Thebes of the
Hundred Gates, as Homer called it,--antiquity has told us nothing more
about this ancestress of capitals; but M. Ernest Feydeau takes us
walking with him through the city of Rameses; he shows us all its
monuments, its temples, its palaces, the dwellings of the inhabitants,
the gardens, the harbour, the fleet of vessels; he draws and colours the
costumes of the people; he enters the harems, and shows us the
travelling musicians, the dancers, the enslaved nations which built for
the Egyptians, the soldiers manoeuvring on the parade ground, the
processions of Ammon, the foreign peoples which come seeking refuge and
corn, the caravans of thirty-five hundred years ago bringing in the
tribute. Then he describes the colleges of priests, the quarters
inhabited by the embalmers, the minutest details of the embalming
processes, the funeral rites, the construction of the thousands of
hypogea and mummy pits which are to receive the mummies. Finally he
shows us, passing through the streets of that strange city, the funeral
procession of a royal scribe upon its catafalque, drawn by oxen,--the
numberless mourners, the hosts of servants bearing alms and offerings. I
regret that the length of that passage does not allow of my quoting it
in full and enabling the reader to mark the union of a beautiful style
with scientific knowledge. Unquestionably no modern traveller has ever
given a more picturesque description of any existing city,
Constantinople, Rome, or Cairo. The artist seems to be seated upon the
terrace of a palace, drawing and painting from nature as if he were a
contemporary of Rameses, and as if the sands had not covered with their
shroud, through which show a few gigantic ruins, the city forever
vanished. And yet he indulges in no chance supposition, in no rash
padding. Every detail he gives is supported by the most authentic
documents. M. Ernest Feydeau put aside every doubtful piece of
information and all that appeared susceptible of being interpreted in
more than one way. He seems to have been anxious to forestall the
suspicious mistrust of scholars, who object to having the dry results of
erudition clothed in poetic language, and who do not believe that a
treatise on archæology can possibly be read with as much interest as a
novel.

As I have said, the Egyptians have left us no books, and had they done
so the art of deciphering hieroglyphics or even phonetic or demotic
writing is not yet assured enough to allow of absolute trust being put
in it. Happily the Egyptians performed a work of such mightiness that it
amazes the beholder. By the side of the hieroglyphic inscriptions they
carved on the walls of palaces and temples, on the sides of pylons, the
faces of the corridors and the bays of funeral chambers, on the faces of
the sarcophagi and on the stelæ, on the covers and the interior
cartonnages of the mummies,--in short, on every smooth surface of rock,
whether sandstone or granite, basalt or porphyry, with an ineffaceable
line coloured with tints that the long succession of ages has not
faded,--scenes in which we find in detail the habits and customs and the
ceremonies of the oldest civilisation in the world. It seems as if those
strange and mysterious people, foreseeing the difficulty which posterity
would experience in deciphering their hieroglyphics, intrusted their
translation to drawing, and made the hypogea tell the secret kept by
the papyri.

Royal ceremonies, triumphal entries, the payments of tribute, all the
incidents of military life, of agriculture, sport, fishing, banqueting,
dances, the intimate life of the harem, all is reproduced in these
endless paintings, so clearly drawn, with the difference in races,
variety of types, shape of chariots, of weapons, of arms, of furniture,
of utensils, of food, of plants, still clearly visible to-day. A maker
of musical instruments could certainly make a harp, a lyre, or a sistrum
from the pattern of those upon which are playing the female musicians at
the funeral repast represented in one of the tombs of the necropolis of
Thebes. The model of a dog-cart in a plate of modern carriages is not
drawn more accurately than the profile of the chariot seen in the
funeral procession of the ecclesiastical scribe of Amenoph III, a king
of the eighteenth dynasty.

The author has not confined himself to these purely material details. He
has examined the funeral papyri which, more or less valuable, are found
with each mummy; he has carefully studied the allegorical signs which
represent the judgment of the soul, the good and evil deeds of which
are weighed before Osiris and the forty-two judges, and thus he has
mastered the mysterious beliefs of the Egyptians on the question of the
future life. The soul, whether it was conducted to Amenti or driven into
the infernal regions--that is, towards the West--by the dog-headed
monkeys, who appear to have been a sort of dæmons charged with the
carrying out of sentences,--the soul was, nevertheless, not freed from
all connection with the body; its relative immortality depended in some
sort upon the integrity of the latter; the alteration, the deprivation
of one of the limbs was supposed to be felt by the soul, the form of
whose impalpable spectre would have been mutilated and could not have
traversed, wanting a leg or an arm, the cycle of migrations or
metempsychoses. Hence the religious care taken of the human remains, the
infallible methods and the minute precautions of the embalmers, the
perfect solidity and the secret location of the tombs, of which the
priests alone possessed the plan, the constant thought of eternity in
death which characterised in so striking a manner the ancient Egyptians
and makes them a nation apart, incomprehensible to modern nations, which
are generally so eager to give back to the earth and to cause to
disappear the generations which have preceded them.

During his long and intimate acquaintance with Egypt, M. Ernest Feydeau,
who is not only an archæologist but also a poet, after he had sounded
the mysteries of the old kingdom of the Pharaohs, became passionately
attached to that art which the Greek ideal--which nevertheless is
indebted to it for more than one lesson--has caused us to despise too
much. He has understood, both as a painter and a sculptor, a beauty
which is so different from our own standard and which is yet so real.

Hathor, the Egyptian Venus, seems to him as beautiful as the Venus of
Milo. Without entirely sharing that feeling, I confess to admiring
greatly the clean outline, so pure, so slender, and so full of life. In
spite of the hieratic restrictions which did not allow the consecrated
attitude to be varied, art shows out in more than one direction. There
is a beauty of a strange and penetrating charm foreign to our own habits
in the heads with their delicate profiles, their great eyes made larger
by the use of antimony, the somewhat thick lips with their faint, dreamy
pout, or their vague smile resembling that of the sphinx, in the
rounded cheeks upon which hang broad discs of gold, in the brows shaded
by lotus flowers, in the temples framed in by the narrow tresses of the
hair, powdered with blue powder, which are shown in funeral processions.
How youthful, how fresh, how pure are the tall, slender bodies, the
swelling bosoms, the supple waists, the narrow hips of these dancers and
musicians who beat time with their long, slender fingers and their long,
narrow feet. The Etruscans themselves have never produced anything more
light, more graceful, and more elegant upon the bodies of their finest
vases, and in more than one famous Greek bas-relief can be recognised
attitudes and gestures borrowed from the frescoes of the necropolis and
the tombs of Egypt. It is from Egypt also that Greece took, while
diminishing their huge size, its Doric and Ionic orders and its
Corinthian capital, in which the acanthus takes the place of the lotus
flower.



 [Transcriber's Note:


  The following spelling and punctuation errors have been corrected:

  Page 9: " has been added before "I." ("I have a presentiment that)
  Page 46: ' was removed before "Amset." (the man's head of Amset)
  Page 232: A period was added after "foot." (would disdain to set foot.)
  Page 246: "Taia" changed to "Taïa." (Twea, Taïa, Amense,)
  Page 349: "forty-twa" changed to "forty-two." (Osiris and the forty-two
  judges,)

  All other inconsistencies have been retained.]





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