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PRUS, Boleslaw

Pharaoh

CHAPTER XII

RAMSES passed most of the night in feverish imaginings. Once the vision of the state appeared to him as an immense labyrinth with strong walls through which no one could force a way, then again he saw the shadow of a priest who with one wise opinion had indicated to him the method of escape from that labyrinth. And now appeared unexpectedly before him two powers, the interest of the state, which he had not felt thus far, though he was heir to the throne; and the priesthood, which he wished to debase and then make his servant.

That was a burdensome night. The prince turned on his bed repeatedly, and asked himself whether he had not been blind, and if he had not received sight that day for the first time in order to convince himself of his folly and nothingness. How differently during those night hours did the warnings of his mother appear to him, and the restraint of his father in enouncing the supreme will, and even the stern conduct of the minister, Herhor.

"The state and the priesthood!" repeated the prince, half asleep, and covered with cold perspiration.

The heavenly deities alone know what would have happened had there been time to develop and ripen those thoughts which were circling that night in the soul of Ramses. Perhaps if he had become pharaoh he would have been one of the most fortunate and longest-lived rulers. Perhaps his name, carved in temples above ground and underground, would have come down to posterity surrounded with the highest glory. Perhaps he and his dynasty would not have lost the throne, and Egypt would have avoided great disturbance and the bitterest days of her history.

But the serenity of morning scattered the visions which circled above the heated head of the heir, and the succeeding days changed greatly his ideas of the inflexible interests of Egypt.

The visit of the prince to the prison was not fruitless. The investigating official made a report to the supreme judge immediately, the judge looked over the case again, examined some of the accused himself, and in the course of some days liberated the greater number; the remainder he brought to trial as quickly as possible.

When he who had complained of the damage done the prince's property did not appear, though summoned in the hall of the court and on the market- place, the case was dropped, and the rest of the accused were set at liberty.

One of the judges remarked, it is true, that according to law the prince's overseer should be prosecuted for false complaint, and, in case of conviction, suffer the punishment which threatened the defendants. This question too they passed over in silence.

The overseer disappeared from the eyes of justice, he was sent by the heir to the province of Takeus, and soon the whole box of documents in the case vanished it was unknown whither.

On hearing this, Prince Ramses went to the grand secretary and asked with a smile,

"Well, worthy lord, the innocent are liberated, the documents concerning them have been destroyed sacrilegiously, and still the dignity of the government has not been exposed to danger."


"My prince," answered the grand secretary, with his usual coolness, "I did not understand that Thou offerest complaints with one hand and wishest to withdraw them with the other. Worthiness, Thou wert offended by the rabble; hence it was thy affair to punish it. If Thou hast forgiven it, the state has nothing to answer."

"The state! the state!" repeated the prince. "We are the state," added he, blinking.

"Yes, the state is the pharaoh and his most faithful servants," added the secretary.

This conversation with such a high official sufficed to obliterate in the prince's soul those ideas of state dignity which were growing and powerful, though indistinct yet. "The state, then, is not that immovable, ancient edifice to which each pharaoh is bound to add one stone of glory, but rather a sand-heap, which each ruler reshapes as he pleases. In the state there are no narrow doors, known as laws, in passing through which each must bow his head, whoever he be, erpatr or earth-worker. In this edifice are various entrances and exits, narrow for the weak and small, very wide, nay, commodious for the powerful."

"If this be so," thought the prince, as the idea flashed on him, "I will make the order which shall please me."

At that moment Ramses remembered two people, the liberated black who without waiting for command had been ready to die for him, and that unknown priest.

"If I had more like them, my will would have meaning in Egypt and beyond it," said he to himself, and he felt an inextinguishable desire to find that priest.

"He is, in all likelihood, the man who restrained the crowd from attacking my house. On the one hand he knows law to perfection, on the other he knows how to manage multitudes."

"A man beyond price! I must have him."

From that time Ramses, in a small boat managed by one oarsman, began to visit the cottages in the neighborhood of his villa. Dressed in a tunic and a great wig, in his hand a staff on which a measure was cut out, the prince looked like an engineer studying the Nile and its overflows.

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