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XLV

A VISIT WITH RAMESES II.

HAVE never quite known just how it was I hapI pened to be overlooked and deserted that next evening at the Museum. I remember walking miles through its wonderful galleries; I recollect standing before the rare group of Rameses and his queenrecently discovered and put in place—the most beautiful sculpture in Egypt; I recall that we visited the room of Mr. Theodore Davis and looked on all the curiously modern chairs and couches and the perfectly preserved chariot taken from the tombs opened in the Valley of the Kings; also the room where all the royal jewels are kept, marvellous necklaces and amulets, and every ornament that would delight a king or queen in any age; I have a confused impression of hundreds of bronze and thousands of clay figures taken from tombs; I know that, as a grand climax, we came at last to the gem of the vast collection, the room where Seti I., Rameses the Great, and the rest of the royal dead, found at Der al-Bahari, lie asleep. I remember, too, that I was tired then, monumentally tired in the thought that this was the last word in Egypt; that we were done; that there was no need of keeping up and alive for further endeavor—that only before us lay the sweet anticipation of rest.

The others were tired, too, but they wanted to buy some things in the little salesroom down-stairs, and were going, presently. They would come back and see the kings again, later. I said I would stay there and commune a little alone with the great Seti, and his royal son, who, in that dim long ago, had remembered himself so numerously along the Nile. They meant to come back, no doubt, the party, I mean; they claim now that the main museum was already closed when they had finished their purchases, and they supposed I had gone. It does not matter, I have forgiven them, whatever their sin.

It was pleasant and restful there, when they had left me. I dropped down on a little seat against the wall and looked at those still figures, father and son, kings, mighty warriors and temple-builders when the glory of Egypt was at full flood.

It was an impressive thought that those stately temples up the Nile, which men travel across the world to see, were built by these two; that the statues are their statues; that the battles and sacrifices depicted on a thousand walls were their battles and their sacrifices; that they loved and fought and conquered, and set up monuments in those far-off centuries when history was in its sunrise, yet lie here before us in pe son to-day, frail drift on the long tide of years.

And it was a solemn thought that their life story is forever done—that any life story can last but a little while. Tossed up out of the unexplored, one's feet some day touch the earth—the ancient earth that had been going on so long before we came. Then, for a few years, we bustle importantly up and down

fight battles and build temples, maybe—and all at once slip back into the uncharted waste, while the world—the ancient world-fights new battles, builds new temples, sends new ships across the sea, though we have part in it no more, no more—forever, and forever.

Looking at those two, who in their brief sojourn had made and recorded some of the most ancient history we know, I recalled portions of their pictured story on the temple walls and tried to build a human semblance of their daily lives. Of course they were never troubled with petty things, I thought; economies, frivolities, small vanities, domestic irritations

—these were modern. They had been as gods in the full panoply of a race divinely new. They had been

But it was too much of an effort. I was too worn. I could only look at them, and envy the long nap they were having there under the glass in that still, pleasant room.

I was a good deal surprised, then, when I fancied I saw Rameses stir and appear a little restless in his sleep. It was even more interesting to see him presently slide away the glass and sit up. I thought there must be some mistake, and I was going to get an attendant, when he noticed me and seemed to guess my thought.

“It's all right,” he said, “you needn't call any one. The place closed an hour ago and there is only a guard down-stairs, who is asleep by this time. It happens to be my night to reincarnate and I am glad you are here to keep me company. You can tell me a good

deal, no doubt. These people here don't know anything.” He waved a hand to the sleepers about him. “They are allowed only one night in a thousand years. The gods allow me a night in every century. I was always a favorite of the gods. It is fortunate you happened to stop with us to-night."

“It is fortunate,” I said. “I shall be envied by my race. I have just been trying to imagine something of your life and period. That is far more interesting than to-day. Tell me something about it."

Rameses rested comfortably on the side of his case.

“Oh, well,” he said, reflectively, “of course mine was a great period—a very great period. Egypt was never so great as it was under my rule. It was my rule that made it great — my policy, of course, and my vigorous action. I was always for progress and war. The histories you have of my period are poor things. They never did me justice, but it was my own fault, of course. I did not leave enough records of my work. I was always a modest man—too modest for my own good, everybody said that.

“I was religious, too, and built temples wherever there was room. It is said that I claimed temples that I did not build. Nonsense!—I built all the temples. I built Karnak; I built Luxor; I built Abou-Simbel; I built Abydos; I built the Pyramids; I built the Sphinx; I invented the sacred bulls; I was all there was to religion, in Egypt. I was all there was to Egypt. I was the whole thing. It is a pity I did not make a record of these things somewhere."

“There are a few statues of you,” I suggested, “and inscriptions—they seem to imply—”.

“Ah yes,” he said, “but not many. It was slow work carving those things. I could have had many more, if the workmen had been more industrious. But everything was slow, and very costly-very costly indeed-why, I spent a fortune on that temple of Karnak alone. You saw what I did there; those ram-headed sphinxes nearly bankrupted me. I had to cut down household expenses to finish them.

“Yes, my wife objected a good deal-I speak collectively, of course, signifying my domestic com: panionship—there were fourteen of her.

:: “Şhe wanted jewelry-collectively-individually, too, for that matter-and it took such a lot to go around. You saw all those things in the next room. They were for her; they were for that matrimonial collection; I could never satisfy the female craving for such things. Why, I bought one round of necklaces that cost as much as a ram-headed sphinx. Still she was not satisfied. . Then she was sorry afterward-collectively—and bought me a sphinx as a present-got it made cheap somewhere with her picture carved on the front of it. You may have noticed it-third on the right as you come out. I used it-I had to--but it was a joke. When wives buy things for their husbands it is quite often so. : "Oh yes, I was a great king, of course, and the greatest warrior the world has ever seen; but my path was not all roses. My wife—my household collection-wanted their statues placed by the side of mine. Individually! Think of what a figure I would have cut! It was a silly notion. What had they done to deserve statues ? I did it, though

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