In his amaze Smith had forgotten fear. From his hiding-place he watched them intently. Some of them he knew by their faces. There, for instance, was the long-necked Khu-en-aten, talking somewhat angrily to the imperial Rameses II. Smith could understand what he said, for this power seemed to have been given to him. He was complaining in a high, weak voice that on this, the one night of the year when they might meet, the gods, or the magic images of the gods who were put up for them to worship, should not include _his_ god, symbolized by the “Aten,” or the sun’s disc.
“I have heard of your Majesty’s god,” replied Rameses; “the priests used to tell me of him, also that he did not last long after your Majesty flew to heaven. The Fathers of Amen gave you a bad name; they called you ‘the heretic’ and hammered out your cartouches. They were quite rare in my time. Oh, do not let your Majesty be angry! So many of us have been heretics. My grandson, Seti, there”–and he pointed to a mild, thoughtful-faced man–“for example. I am told that he really worshipped the god of those Hebrew slaves whom I used to press to build my cities. Look at that lady with him. Beautiful, isn’t she? Observe her large, violet eyes! Well, she was the one who did the mischief, a Hebrew herself. At least, they tell me so.”
“I will talk with him,” answered Khu-en-aten. “It is more than possible that we may agree on certain points. Meanwhile, let me explain to your Majesty—-”
“Oh, I pray you, not now. There is my wife.”
“Your wife?” said Khu-en-aten, drawing himself up. “Which wife? I am told that your Majesty had many and left a large family; indeed, I see some hundreds of them here to-night. Now, I–but let me introduce Nefertiti to your Majesty. I may explain that she was my _only_ wife.”
“So I have understood. Your Majesty was rather an invalid, were you not? Of course, in those circumstances, one prefers the nurse whom one can trust. Oh, pray, no offence! Nefertari, my love–oh, I beg pardon! –Astnefert–Nefertari has gone to speak to some of her children–let me introduce you to your predecessor, the Queen Nefertiti, wife of Amenhotep IV.–I mean Khu-en-aten (he changed his name, you know, because half of it was that of the father of the gods). She is interested in the question of plural marriage. Good-bye! I wish to have a word with my grandfather, Rameses I. He was fond of me as a little boy.”
At this moment Smith’s interest in that queer conversation died away, for of a sudden he beheld none other than the queen of his dreams, Ma-Mee. Oh! there she stood, without a doubt, only ten times more beautiful than he had ever pictured her. She was tall and somewhat fair-complexioned, with slumbrous, dark eyes, and on her face gleamed the mystic smile he loved. She wore a robe of simple white and a purple-broidered apron, a crown of golden _uraei_ with turquoise eyes was set upon her dark hair as in her statue, and on her breast and arms were the very necklace and bracelets that he had taken from her tomb. She appeared to be somewhat moody, or rather thoughtful, for she leaned by herself against a balustrade, watching the throng without much interest.
Presently a Pharaoh, a black-browed, vigorous man with thick lips, drew near.
“I greet your Majesty,” he said.
She started, and answered: “Oh, it is you! I make my obeisance to your Majesty,” and she curtsied to him, humbly enough, but with a suggestion of mockery in her movements.
“Well, you do not seem to have been very anxious to find me, Ma-Mee, which, considering that we meet so seldom—-”
“I saw that your Majesty was engaged with my sister queens,” she interrupted, in a rich, low voice, “and with some other ladies in the gallery there, whose faces I seem to remember, but who I think were _not_ queens. Unless, indeed, you married them after I was drawn away.”
“One must talk to one’s relations,” replied the Pharaoh.
“Quite so. But, you see, I have no relations–at least, none whom I know well. My parents, you will remember, died when I was young, leaving me Egypt’s heiress, and they are still vexed at the marriage which I made on the advice of my counsellors. But, is it not annoying? I have lost one of my rings, that which had the god Bes on it. Some dweller on the earth must be wearing it to-day, and that is why I cannot get it back from him.”
“Him! Why ‘him’? Hush; the business is about to begin.”