"Yes; and it struck me as peculiar at the time that he said of 'God's' not of 'the gods','" I reflected. "Evidently he thinks there is but one God. The whole matter is altogether peculiar."
"Here are the facts," replied the doctor. "Listen to them attentively. We have dropped down into a civilization here upon Mars which coincides in every important particular with that of the Ancient Egyptians on Earth. They are great builders, erecters of monuments, raisers of grain, polygamists, and they now have a young Hebrew ruler, corresponding in every important respect with Joseph. We chance to have arrived during the seventh year of plenty of Joseph's rule. Grain abounds; the soil brings it forth 'by handfuls.' It is, 'as the sand of the sea, very much,' and the Pharaoh, probably at the suggestion of his young ruler, is storing it up----"
"By all the Patriarchs!" I interrupted. "They are running a wheat corner, and I didn't know it! Go on, go on!"
"These are all very singular coincidences with a history which was enacted many thousands of years ago on Earth. Now, how can you explain their strange recurrence here?" he queried.
"How should I know? I haven't been lying awake! How do you explain them?" I asked, full of interest.
"I have tossed on my pillows in there for three hours evolving a theory for it. If it is correct, our opportunities here in Kem are simply enormous. Now listen, and don't interrupt me. The Creator has given all the habitable planets the same great problem of life to work out. Every one of His worlds in its time passes through the same general history. This runs parallel on all of them, but at a different speed on each. The swift ones, nearest to the sun, have hurried through it, and may be close upon the end. But this is a slow planet, whose year is almost twice as long as the Earth's, and more than three times that of Venus. The seasons pass sluggishly here, and history ripens slowly. This world has only reached that early chapter in the story equivalent to Ancient Egypt on Earth. We have forged far ahead of that, and on Venus they have worked out far more of the story than we know anything about. If Mercury is habitable yet, his people may have reached almost the end, but it is most probable that life has not started there; when it does begin, it will be worked out four times as rapidly as it has on Earth."
"Then a seven years' famine will begin here next year, and I am in charge of the world's entire wheat supply!" I gasped, almost overwhelmed by the speculative possibilities which this unfolded.
"It is not likely that there will be more than a general similarity of the history. But Zaphnath has told us that this is the seventh year of plenty. If the famine begins soon, it will be fair to suppose it will for about seven crops. In its later developments the entire history may change when the crucial period comes, and have a very different outcome. But we are now almost at the beginnings of civilized history. Joseph, the first Jew in Egypt, is a ruler here, and your entire race must follow him hither, and pass through a miserable captivity. Even if you remained here all your life, you would not last that long; but upon the later doings of your people and their treatment of the Martian Messiah, when He comes, depend the future conditions of this planet. Will it be different then from the Earthly story? It is an extremely interesting theory to follow to the end, but that would take thousands of years, and we are concerned with the present."
"Doctor, if this theory be true, then we are nothing short of prophets here!" I exclaimed, still struggling with the wonderful bearings of the idea on our personal welfare.
"In a general way we are prophets, but Zaphnath has forestalled us on immediate matters. Let us keep our own counsel as to any foreknowledge. If we disclose it, we may suddenly lose our opportunities, and, besides, we shall be powerless to change history here in any important respect."
"I might prevent Zaphnath from bringing all Israel down into Egypt, and thus save them from that captivity," I exclaimed.
"Then you would forestall a Moses, and prevent the miraculous deliverance of your people, and all the paternal care which God bestowed upon them during that time. You will never be able to do this. Zaphnath is in the way. He is headstrong and wilful. He is an active thinker and a hard worker among a race of idlers, who live only to enjoy the fulness of a rich land. He knows the greater activity and industry of his own people, and he will wish to make them masters of this goodly land. I will warrant that his head is full of plans at this very moment for bringing his old father and all his race down here to give them important places. See how readily he gave the keystone of the whole situation to you. It will pay you better to keep on good terms with him. Instead of trying to change the situation, let us make the best of it as we find it."
"Well, I must say the present situation is attractive enough to me," I said, and then inquired, "How many gold coins have you, Doctor?"
"I have only a hundred half eagles and a little silver coin," he replied; "and I wish to be very sure of the correctness of my theory before I undertake any speculations with that."
"Nonsense! What is money for, but to double, and then to double the result again!" I exclaimed. "You work out this great theory, and then fail to grasp its commercial importance to us. You and I will embark in the grain business, with our entire stock of gold, the first thing in the morning. We have iron enough to live on."
"I didn't come here to go into business," he answered. "I have a grand scientific career to pursue, and last night's appointment puts me in just the position to carry it out."
"Go ahead with it then, but invest your gold coins in my enterprise. I will manage it all," I said, reaching for my belt under my pillow. "I have here three hundred eagles and one hundred double eagles,--five thousand dollars in all. I scarcely need your five hundred dollars, but I don't wish to see you left out, and buying bread of me at a dollar a loaf in a short time. Gold must have an enormous value here, considering the small amount of it used as ornaments in the Pharaoh's household, and the general currency of iron money. Three of these double eagles would make a pair of ear pendants equal to his. I wonder how he would like to have pure gold bracelets on all his women instead of those rough iron things? And wheat must be cheaper than dirt after seven enormous crops. I will buy all the grain he has to sell before to-morrow night! Even if your theory is all wrong, we can't lose much."
"That is all very well, but we may as well be sure," he replied cautiously. "You can find out much by a few discreet questions to Zaphnath in the morning."
"The trouble about the whole matter is, that I will be obliged to do business through him altogether until we learn this language. Come, you must contribute your share. I have furnished the Hebrew, you must learn the Kemish at once through those wise men. But I can't wait for that. I will make Zaphnath teach me the necessary shop words and stock phrases for carrying on the grain business to-morrow. I can't perform my new duties unless he does that."
However, the doctor did not respond wholly to my new enthusiasm. He was sleepy, and retired yawning to his own room to get the rest which had evaded him. But I lay and tossed on the pillows, revolving a hundred plans, and feeling anything but sleepy. Presently I thought of a scheme, which would demonstrate whether there was anything in the doctor's theory. I knew it would just suit him, and I sprang up and knocked gently on his door, saying,-- "I have it, Doctor. Here is the very idea!" There was no answer, so I knocked louder and listened. I heard him breathing heavily in deep slumber. After all, the morrow would do for ideas; just then he needed sleep.
A Plagiarist of Dreams Being unable to sleep, I arose early to get the refreshment of a morning walk. I passed quietly through the next room, where the doctor was still sleeping soundly, out into the courtyard. I was scarcely outside when I heard a familiar, excited barking, and Two-spot ran across the open space toward me as fast as his four short legs and his very active tail would carry him. His frantic jumping up toward me was extremely comical, for he sprang with more than twice the swiftness I was accustomed to seeing, almost to a level with my face, but he fell very slowly to the ground with only one third the speed that he would have fallen on Earth. He could jump, with almost the agility of a flea, and yet he fell back deliberately like a gas ball. He was evidently enjoying his muscles as much as I had mine. When he made a particularly high jump, I caught him in my hands and patted him fondly.
"So you didn't fly away with the projectile? Or, did you go with it, and is it safely back again, somewhere? How I wish you could speak my language and tell me all you know! These different tongues are a great bother, aren't they, Two-spot?"
He answered me volubly, but apart from the fact that he quite agreed with me, I could not understand his message. Had I been able to, it might have made a very great difference to me.
There was a beautiful, filmy snow on the ground, which had fallen during the night. It was scarcely more than a heavy hoar frost, and as the sun sprang up without any warning twilight, the snow melted and left the surface damp and fresh. As I afterwards learned, this thin snow fell almost every night of the year, except for the warmest month of summer when the grain ripened. There were hardly ever any violent storms or quick showers. The thin air made heavy clouds or severe atmospheric movements impossible. But the coolness of night, after a day of feeble but direct and tropical sunshine, precipitated the moisture in the form of those delightful feathers of darkness. I also learned that the months were distinguished by the time of night when this snow fell; for it was precipitated directly after sunset in the winter, but gradually later into the night as summer advanced, and finally just before daybreak. The month in which none fell at all was midsummer, of course. It had scarcely finished falling this morning when I came out into it.
I sprang to the top of the wall, and was watching the quick rising of the Sun, and enjoying the sensation of looking fixedly at his orb without being dazzled, when I noticed that there was a dark notch in the lower left-hand part of his disc! Soon after I distinguished, somewhat farther in, a faint and smaller dark spot. This must be the beginning of the double transit of the Earth and the Moon! I experienced a sensation of joy in finding the home planet again. I confess it had given me a curious shock not to be able to see it in the heavens. It was more comfortable to have it back in the sky again, and at last I knew just where we were in the calendar. On Earth it was the third day of August, 1892. The summer there was at its height, and all my friends were as busy and as deeply immersed in their own affairs as if their little spot had no idea of coquetting with the Sun. Possibly a dozen pairs of studious eyes out of the teeming hundreds of millions on Earth were turned Marsward. This led me to wonder what all-absorbing topics of sport, politics, or war may fill the minds of the possible million people on Venus, when the Earth is so much excited over one of the infrequent and picturesque transits of that planet across the Sun.
But the doctor and Zaphnath must know of this! I hastened into the ante-chamber and called out,-- "Come, get up! I have already discovered two very significant things this morning."
"What are they?" he asked wearily between yawns.
"Two-spot and the Earth!" I exclaimed. "The former crossed my path in the courtyard, and the latter is just now crossing the Sun. Where is the telescope? quick!"
The doctor was not long in propping it up by the east window, and I went to look for a servant. By repeating the word "Zaphnath" several times, I made him understand that we wished the attendance of the young ruler, and he started for him.
By this time the notch was almost a complete circle of dark shadow within the lower edge of the Sun. The smaller spot, one-fourth the diameter, was forging ahead like a herald to clear the way. Zaphnath soon arrived, for he lived in another part of the Palace. He quietly pressed his cheek to mine, but in my excitement I had seized his hand, and with a pressure which must have hurt his shrinking flesh, I exclaimed,-- "This is the day of thy greatness, O Zaphnath, for, behold, the Blue Star is already upon the face of the Day-Giver!" I led him hastily to the telescope, and explained to him that the smaller forward spot was caused by a moon like Phobos, and that the Earth was really a round ball, like the Sun. He looked intently for a long time, and then turning about to me he said,-- "It is well ye left just when ye did, for the fire of the Day-Giver hath by this time burned every living thing upon your star! See how she hastens through his hot flames."
I attempted to explain that the Earth was more than twice as far from the Sun as she was from us; but he believed the evidence of his eyes, and I had to give it up in despair.
"I pray thee, bring this Larger Eye to the Council Chamber. I must summon all the wise men at once to behold this wonder. How long will it continue?"
The doctor told me it might last almost two hours; but I found it impossible to convey any idea of this period of time to Zaphnath, until I told him that it would continue half the time of the crossing of Phobos, who had just risen dimly in the west.
We made a quick breakfast on fruit like grapes and a wheaten gruel, and hastened to the chamber where we had been received the day before. Zaphnath was already there, and so were eleven of the grey-beards. We did not wait for the twelfth, but Zaphnath led the doctor to the place at the centre of their oval table, which thus filled all the seats. Then the young ruler ascended his throne and thus addressed them:-- "While ye have tossed and tumbled in an idle slumber, two things of grave importance have happened touching you. The Pharaoh, acting upon my urgent advices, hath appointed this grey-beard from the Blue Star to be your chief; and now the Blue Star herself hath re-appeared upon the very face of the Day-Giver, even as these, her people, told us yesterday that she must do."
Just at this point the belated wise man came straggling in, a slow surprise growing upon him when he saw that his seat was taken. Zaphnath then turned, addressing him,-- "Thou hast not heard, O lazy idler in the lap of morning, what I have just spoken to thy brothers? Then go thou to yonder Larger Eye and speak truthfully to these grey-beards all that thou seest."
I adjusted the instrument, and placed him in the proper position to see. He looked long and carefully, then left the instrument and looked with the unaided eye. Coming back he gazed again, and finally spoke very slowly, as if resigning his life with the words:-- "I am old, and my sight deceiveth me, O my brothers, for when I gaze into this mysterious instrument the Day-Giver suddenly groweth very large, and hath two blots of shadow upon the upper half of his brightness. But when I look with my proper eyes, he keeps his size, and there are still spots upon him, but they are upon his lower side."
I explained to Zaphnath that the telescope made things look wrong side up, just as it made them look larger, and I focussed it upon the Gnomons to convince the wise man of this. Then the youth spoke to him again:-- "The Pharaoh hath appointed this grey-beard from the Blue Star to be chief of all the wise men, and as there can be but twelve, thou art no longer one. Unto thee, however, is given the duty of teaching our language to the chief. See that thou doest it well, for the lives of all of you, having now been forfeited by the law, are in his hands. But so long as his wisdom spares you, ye shall live."
As there was now a lull, I saw an opportunity for my plan which I had not yet found time to explain to the doctor. I translated to him as I proceeded, however,-- "Tell me, O Zaphnath, is it the custom here to relate dreams to the wise men for interpretation? I had last night a most peculiar one, and I will give this golden coin to whomsoever is able to explain its meaning." All the great eyes opened wide and round at beholding the eagle I held up to view. So large a piece of gold must have been uncommon. The youth replied,-- "It is, in truth, an obsolete formality to submit dreams to the wise men, for they have interpreted none since I came into Kem. But let us hear it; if they cannot make it known, mayhap I can do so."
"I dreamed that I stood by the great river which runneth just without thy city walls, and I saw coming up out of the water, as if they had been fishes, seven familiar beasts, such as I have not seen since I came to Kem. Knowest thou here such large, useful animals, each having a long tail and four legs, and whose peaceful habit is to eat the grass of the fields, which, having digested, the female yieldeth back in a white fluid very fit to drink?"
"It is kine thou meanest," answered Zaphnath. "In truth there are but few within the city, but they are well known, for in the land of my father my people do naught but to breed and raise them and send them hither for ploughing in the fields. At the season of planting thou shalt see many of them."
"I saw seven kine, most sleek and plump of flesh, feeding in a green meadow by the river; but suddenly there came up out of the water in the same manner two lean and shrunken kine, whose withered bones rattled against their dry skins, they were so poor and hungry. And they stayed not to eat the grass of the meadow, but fell upon and devoured their fatter sisters----"
"Saidst thou two?" interrupted Zaphnath.
"Two of the lean and shrunken, but they ate the fat-fleshed, which were seven," I answered, watching Zaphnath and the wise men closely, for he was translating to them phrase by phrase as I spoke. He faltered when I described the eating up of the fat cattle; there were wondering and inquiring looks among the wise men and a constant chattering in Kemish. I waited patiently for some time, then waving my coin I demanded,-- "Can none of the grey-beards declare the meaning to me?"
There were more consultations among themselves and with Zaphnath, and presently he said,-- "Before the wise men can declare thy dream, they demand to know whether the lean kine only slaughtered the sleek ones, or if they ate them wholly up? And were they filled and satisfied when they had eaten their fatter sisters?"
"In truth, I forgot to say that they devoured the fat kine wholly and completely, yet it could not be known that they had eaten anything, they were still so lean and ill-favoured."
This caused even a greater chattering than before, and the youth finally asked,-- "Didst thou dream aught more, or is this all?"
"Truly I had another dream, but it was different. I thought that all the wheat in the field grew upon one stalk in seven great kernels; then a shrivelled and withered stalk began to spring up; when suddenly a rapping on my door awakened me, and I dreamed no more."
The effect which this produced was most curious. Blank surprise, hidden cunning, anxious debating and uneasy hesitation, succeeded each other among the wise men. I watched it with great interest, and perceived the doctor's satisfaction, but I again demanded the interpretation.
"Know, then, O dreamer," answered Zaphnath, "that we understand not only the import of all that thou hast dreamed, but even what thou wouldst have dreamed hadst thou not been wakened! But, in spite of thy handsome offer, it doth not appear fit or proper to us that the interpretation of it should be made known to thee. Tell me, however, hast thou had conversation with any other person in Kem, save with me and with the wise men?"
"Thou knowest well, O Zaphnath, that I speak not the Kemish tongue, and can understand or communicate only through thy interpretation. I have spoken with no one on all of Ptah except through thee, and if thou wilt not declare my dream I care not, for while ye have been debating among yourselves I have learned its meaning!"
"Thou understandest it already!" he exclaimed. "Pray tell us, then, how thou hast learned it."
"The chief wise man hath declared it to me in my own tongue!" I exclaimed, with a meaning look toward the doctor, who had been speaking to me to urge caution. "He saith that the seven sleek kine are the Kemish people, and the two lean and ill-favoured are we two from the Earth--for are not thy people larger and plumper than we!--and the seven denoteth their much greater number. But the dream meaneth that we two, poor and hungry, might eat up all your people and become their masters."
There was still more delighted jabbering and excited comment. Then Zaphnath arose, and turning graciously to the doctor said to him,-- "Thy marvellous interpretation, O chief grey-beard, is most correct and wise, and it hath wholly eaten ours up! We quite agree with thy superior wisdom, for thou only hast read the dream aright!"
Getting into the Corner The doctor's new official position carried with it the use of a spacious, rambling dwelling, situated just inside the gate where we had met Miss Blank. It was thus conveniently located for the doctor's duties at the observatories on the plateau. Another house would have been assigned to me, but I preferred to live with the doctor, and I desired to keep my eye on those enormous stone structures which our telescope had quickly relegated to scientific uselessness.
We had established ourselves comfortably in this house, surrounded ourselves with a modest retinue of servants, and were rapidly becoming acquainted with Kemish life and manners. The doctor learned the language laboriously from the deposed wise man, who had no means of communicating with him except in the tongue he was teaching. Thus it happened that the doctor could teach me in a few hours in the evening what it had taken him all day to learn. Naturally I picked up the most common phrases used in receiving and handling the grain, by hearing them frequently; but I soon learned that I must pronounce them with exactly the same intonation and emphasis, or they were not understood. Knowing but one language themselves, they had no facility in recognising mispronounced words, or in guessing at the meaning of incomplete phrases on which I stumbled.
The most difficult thing I encountered was their method of telling the time. During the day it was reckoned rationally enough by the passage of the Sun, which was never obscured by clouds and could always be seen. Every house had a small hole in the roof, at a fixed distance from the floor, and the daily track and varying shape of the spot of sunshine thus admitted gave names to the periods of the day. There seemed to be a settled superstition that no house was fortunate unless this spot of sunshine entered by the door in the morning. For this reason the principal door in nearly every house was built in the west, so that the rising Sun would cast its spot first on the porch outside and then gradually creep in through the door, across the floor, and up the opposite wall late in the afternoon. Of course there were daylight periods in the early morning and late afternoon when the Sun was too low to cast a spot, and these were known by terms which are best translated "before the clock" and "after the clock."
No one dared to make a social call while the Sun was still outside the door, but friends were best welcome when the Sun was just entering it. Moreover, whoever slept until the Sun had entered the door was looked upon as an irredeemable sluggard. The track of the spot from the door-sill to the wall opposite was measured by linear distance from the centre or noon-position of the spot. As in different houses the apertures through which the clock-light was admitted were always the same distance from the floor, such expressions as "two feet before noon," or "a foot and a quarter after noon" (which I translate from the Kemish) always had a definite and exact meaning. The nearer the spot drew to noon the more exactly circular it became and the more slowly it moved. Therefore, very fine measurements were needed in the middle of the day, and an inch near noon represented nearly as much time as a foot in the morning or evening.
But the daylight methods were simplicity itself compared with the night methods, which were calculated on an entirely different system, based on the combined movements of the two moons, neither of which agreed or coincided with the movement of the Sun in any close degree. I urged upon the doctor, as one of his earliest duties, the necessity of reforming their calendar and establishing a uniform method of denoting the time, to extend throughout the day and night. But on this point he failed to agree with me.
"What are our seconds, minutes, hours, and weeks after all?" he queried. "They are only arbitrary and meaningless divisions of time, which we have found necessary because we have a very meagre heavenly clockwork; but here they have a very elaborate one. Our day is a rational period based on the Sun's revolution. Here they have seen fit to give up the Sun-day to simplify matters and stick to a Moon-day. Their two contrary moons furnish a rational, if rather intricate, method of telling the time at night. They are best understood by imagining them to represent the two hands of a clock. The smaller moon is what may be called a 'week hand,' completing its revolution in five and a half Sun-days; which they have for convenience divided into six Moon-days of twenty-two hours each. The larger moon makes two complete revolutions in a day, just as the hour hand of a clock does; and it really makes but little difference that it travels around the dial in an opposite direction to that of the 'week hand,' or that they both gain two hours a day on the Sun. These are mere details, that one gets used to in the end."
"Doctor, you argue like the old farmer I used to know, who stuck to the clock handed down by his grandfather, and maintained that no new-fangled arrangement kept as good time. It was true that the striking apparatus had long ago failed to agree with the hands; and the hands themselves, owing to the accumulated inaccuracies of years, no longer denoted the real time; nevertheless, whenever it struck seven he could always be sure that the hands were pointing to a quarter-past twelve, and it was then just twenty-two minutes to three. This was something he could depend upon with a certainty which quite compensated for the annoyance of incessant calculations and mental corrections."
"Pray leave joking aside and consider the wonderful nightly clockwork here, which makes automatic time-keepers unnecessary. This accommodating inner moon, within the brief space of five hours, goes through the phases of a thin crescent, first quarter, and just as it approaches fulness it submits to a total eclipse, followed by a waning quarter, then the reverse crescent of an old moon, and finally it sets where the Sun must soon rise. It is a wonderful heavenly clock, which is never obscured by clouds, and turns its face toward every one alike."
"Yes, but one must remember that this hurrying moon gains two hours a day on the Sun, and therefore goes through her performance that much earlier each night. Besides, she is capable of rising twice in the same night occasionally."
"Those are mere details that one learns to allow for. Moreover, consider the convenience of being able to tell the day of the week by the smaller moon. If it is just risen, we know we are on the eve of the first day of the week; if it is high or eclipsed, it must be the second day; and if it is sinking in the west, it is the third day----"
"But for the last half of the week it is not seen at all, and one is free to guess which day it is," I interrupted. "Then no two days of the week begin at the same hour. The first day begins with sunrise, the second two hours before sunrise, the third four hours before, and the fourth at midnight, and so on--two hours earlier each day till the week ends, when they throw in a whole night for good measure and begin the next week at sunrise again!"
"Yes, that arrangement is made necessary because their Moon-day will not agree with their Sun-day in any other manner. But it is rather remarkable that the two moons agree with each other so well, the larger one making twelve revolutions while the smaller makes one, so that at the end of every week they both rise together, but on opposite sides of the horizon, which is the signal for that night to be disregarded in the count. The next week begins on the following morning, the first rising of the larger moon being disregarded, and her second rising being the one reckoned from."
We were discussing this during our noon-day meal, and, when we had finished, I walked with the doctor out to the plateau, where I was supervising some important work on the Gnomons; for I had not been ten days in Kem until I attempted to buy, with my gold coins, a large amount of wheat from the Pharaoh. Through the interference and objection of Zaphnath, however, I failed utterly in getting any. But the gold had its effect just the same, and later the Pharaoh showed an evident willingness to part with anything in his possession in order to get a liberal number of the smaller coins. But I put a very high value upon the gold, comparing closely with the worth of diamonds upon Earth, and refused to part with any, until one day the wisdom of buying the Gnomons occurred to me. I considered the project carefully, and finally made him an offer of a hundred half-eagles for them. Many of the small ones had been built to watch the course of the birth-stars of his various ancestors, and these were now in a sense monuments to his dynasty. He reserved these and a small one, built to observe his own star of nativity, and finally sold me all the large important ones, upon the doctor's representation that they were no longer needed for astronomical purposes. He specified only that they must not be torn down, but that I might use them as I should see fit.
As I have said before, the Gnomons contained numerous large, long chambers, and it only became necessary to put a permanent bottom in these to convert them into enormous warehouses. All the storage places inside the city were rapidly filling with grain, which poured in at every gate on tens of thousands of mules. The plenteous crop, already ripening, would have to be housed somewhere, and even if I did not succeed in buying a large store of grain for myself, I knew how to make a storehouse eat up a large portion of the value of the grain it housed. I had seen wheat, stored year after year, finally become the property of the elevator owner, by virtue of his charges.
I was not only putting a bottom to the storage chambers, but converting the inclined slopes of the largest Gnomons into a passable mule-trail, by roughening and corrugating the surface to give the patient animals a surer foot-hold, so they might climb to the top to discharge their cargoes. This was a simple form of elevator, and I laughed to think what some of my former acquaintances would think of it! One of the smaller Gnomons had already been completed to receive my share of the grain which I earned in the Pharaoh's service, and to this I was adding such meagre purchases as I could make from the small farmers. These, however, were not numerous, for the land was mostly in the hands of the Pharaoh and of a few large owners, more or less bound to him. I was therefore not a little surprised now upon approaching to see a long line of mules picking their way up the inclined side of the finished Gnomon, and as they reached the top their drivers emptied the pair of sacks they bore into my storehouse. Including the drove of unladen animals at the bottom of the Gnomon, there must have been a hundred in all, and I was awaited by the chief driver, who rode one sleek mule covered with a soft blanket of feather texture, and had another similarly saddled by his side. After a slow salute of each hand upon his cheek, he said to me,-- "My master, the glorious Hotep, sendeth to the keeper of the Pharaoh's grain a present of two hundred bags of wheat, and wisheth to know if it be true that thou desirest to buy a large store of grain with gold? For hath not Hotep the gathered harvests of two full years in his bins, and upon his fertile lands the largest crop in all Kem (save only that of the Pharaoh) is nodding and awaiting the warm, ripening breath of the Snowless Month! Yet Hotep hath no use for iron money, for he is weighted and fettered with it already; but if thou desirest to bargain with him for as much yellow gold as thou hast bartered to the Pharaoh, he will be most pleased to treat with thee, and sendeth me with this ambling mule to fetch thee. Will it please thee to come with me now to his palace within the city?"
"What do you think, Doctor? This Hotep must be almost a rival to the Pharaoh, if he has stored so much grain and owns so many ripening fields. He must have seen the new gold ornaments upon the Pharaoh's women, which have rendered him envious. If, indeed, he has such a vast quantity of grain to sell, I will deck him out with gold, such as will turn the Pharaoh green with envy! I shall lose no time in seeing him;" and so saying I mounted the mule, and assured the chief driver I would express my thanks in person to the great Hotep.
He conducted me to the opposite side of the city, and, as we crossed a height near its centre, he pointed out to me the long fields of his master lining the left bank of the river. There were miles of waving grain just beginning to turn from a luxuriant green to the lighter yellow tints of harvest. Presently we approached a large palace, which I had often before seen from afar against the distant wall of the city, but had never known. Upon entering, I observed every sign of the same idle luxury which marked the Pharaoh's dwelling, but none of that regal disdain or imperial haughtiness which separated every one but his favourite women from the immediate presence of the monarch.
I was graciously received in a large, lighted chamber, where Hotep reclined lazily upon a billowy heap of downy cushions, surrounded by many women. He only arose from his elbow to a sitting posture when I saluted him. Without saying a word to him, I approached, and, loosening my belt from about my waist, I unbuckled its mouth and poured out upon a large cushion by his side my three hundred shining golden eagles. The effect was electrical, for they were twice the size and three times as many as the coins I had given the Pharaoh. It must have seemed impossible to him that I could possess larger coins, and more of them, than he had seen upon the monarch's favourites. He was simply delighted with the mere view, and his women crowded around or ran out in haste to bring in their absent sisters to behold a marvel of riches such as Kem had never seen. But though they wondered and gloated over the sight, none of them touched a coin until I spoke.
"I pray thee, most gracious Hotep, examine all these coins, and pass them among thy women to see if they be pleased with them. Observe their regularity of form and beauty of design, and test the music they give forth when cast upon thy floor of stone. Mayhap, thou wouldst rather own all these than to be cumbered with so much grain."
Thereupon Hotep seized a heaping handful, which he poured jingling from one palm to the other, and all the women delved their pretty fingers into the shining heap and passed the coins to their admiring sisters, until not one was left upon the cushion.
"Thy Chief of Harvests hath made known to me, O Hotep, that thou still hast the full crops of two years. Wilt thou tell me how many bags of grain grow upon thy fields at a single crop?"
"Are not the number of my mules a thousand and one, and bear they not two bags each? To gather a single harvest, each faithful animal must make five trips each day for the period of an hundred days."
I had often estimated an average mule-load at five bushels, upon which basis each crop would aggregate two and a half million bushels. This seemed impossible for a single farmer, but his fields wearied the sight to follow down the left bank of the Nasr-Nil.
"If thou wilt leave all this gold with me, I will deliver by my mules to thy storehouses upon the plateau all the grain of my past two crops with which my whole palace here is cumbered."
"I fear thou holdest thy grain too dearly, and that thou knowest not the value of this gold. What is more plenteous in Kem than wheat? There be more bags of it than the stars in heaven. But this gold I bring is more than all the store of it upon Ptah before I came. Pray give it back again," I said, gathering up the few pieces which had been returned to the cushion, and glancing about among the women as if searching for the rest. They returned them slowly, but Hotep still held his handful. After a brief pause, I continued,-- "Hast thou not a fair crop growing which thou mightest also give me, so that no other than Hotep shall receive any of these coins?"
"In truth, I have never ridden as far as my waving fields stretch down the Nasr-Nil; but one cannot sell what hath not fully ripened, for who knoweth what it may turn out to be?"
"Then I must beg thee to return my coins," I answered slowly; but, unbuckling the other end of my belt, I poured out upon another cushion the hundred magnificent double eagles which I was holding in reserve. Then, taking a particularly bright one of these, I continued,-- "But as thou hast been generous and thoughtful enough to send me a present, O Hotep, I desire to return one to thee, such as no man in Kem ever possessed before. Will it please thee to accept this disc of gold as large as the lesser moon that creeps across the sky? And with it go my wishes that Hotep's crops may always be great and plentiful."
Slowly and unwillingly the women returned the eagles to the cushion, while they stared in wonder at the heap of larger coins. Hotep filtered the handful through his fingers to the cushion, and accepted the double eagle with gladness. With his eyes fixed on the second heap he seemed to be thinking deeply and making calculations.
"The people are wont to call thee Iron Man, but I believe thou art golden!" he ruminated, and then suddenly, "For these heaps of riches, large and small, what desirest thou of all my possessions? Wilt thou have all my grain and half my land? Shall I give to thee all my fields which cannot be seen from the palace here?"
"Why should I wish thy land when I have no cattle to till it, nor mules to gather the harvest? In lieu of the land, give me only a share of what it should produce for a few years. Now give heed to the bargain I will make with thee. If thou wilt deliver to my storehouses, upon the plateau, all the gathered grain of thy past two crops, and all the grain thou shalt gather from this growing crop (save only what thou needest for seed), and half of each of the crops of the three succeeding years,--provided, however, that you assure me each year as much as thy thousand mules can carry in an hundred journeys;--then thou mayest keep all this store of gold, which is, indeed, all that both of us from the Blue Star possess."
He seemed to be revolving these terms slowly in his mind to be sure of them, and then called out to his servants,-- "Bring in spiced wine, and bid my Chief of Harvests enter! He shall be witness that Hotep agrees to this compact, and, should I die before it is fulfilled, he shall see that it is carried out to the last year. But wilt thou leave all this gold with me now, or must I wait until the harvests are delivered?"
"What Hotep promiseth me I believe, as certainly as if it were done already. I will leave the gold with thee, knowing thou wilt perform the contract in every item; but if thou failest in any year, thou shalt return to me one small gold-piece for each trip that thy thousand mules fall short of an hundred."
He agreed, and arose and recited the terms of the compact to his Chief of Harvests, charging him to carry it out, and to cause to be engraved a small stone cylinder as a permanent record of its provisions, as it was their custom to do in such cases. Then filling three goblets with rich spiced wine, he exclaimed,-- "For thy sake, O most generous youth, may the Nasr-Nil fondly nurse every harvest, and may the gentle Snowless Month ripen them in such abundance as they have never shown before! And may Hotep's mules grow old and weary bearing the plenty to thy storehouses!"
Humanity on Ptah The magnificent abundance of the seventh great harvest, which ripened late in the year of our arrival, attracted a multitude of both men and animals from all the out-lying countries into Kem to assist in gathering it, and many of them remained to spend their gains in the luxuries of the great city. It was an unparalleled period of prosperity and plenty; and though the rich wasted everything with a careless hand, the poor were better provided for than they had ever been.
Like an endless caravan Hotep's mules trailed across the city day by day, and emptied their cargoes into the bottomless pits of the Gnomons. And Hotep's thousand cattle tramped his threshing-floors during the long winter, and until the later nightly snows signalled the coming of a tardy spring; and yet the patient mules streamed through the city, and wore deeper paths into the sides of the Gnomons, until one by one the great chambers were filled and sealed.