« PreviousContinue »
that is collectively–here and there. I embodied her in a single figure at my knee, as became her position. But she wasn't satisfied-collectively and individually she declared she amounted to as much as I did, and pointed at our seventy-two sons.
“No, I was never understood by that lot. I was never a hero in my own house. So I had to order another statue, putting her at my side. You saw it down-stairs. It is very beautiful, of course, and is a good likeness of her, collectively. She always made a good composite picture, but is it fair to me? She was never regarded in that important way, except by herself.
“Yes, it is very pleasant here—very indeed. The last time I was allowed to reincarnate, I was still in the cave at Der al-Bahari, where they stored us when Cambyses came along and raided Thebes. Cambyses burned a number of my temples. It was too bad. The cave was a poor place, but safe. My tomb was much pleasanter, though it was not as grand as I had intended it to be. I meant to have the finest tomb in the valley, but my contractor cheated me.
“The men who furnished the materials paid him large sums and gave me very poor returns. His name was Baksheesh, which is how the word originated, though it means several things now, I believe."
“How interesting!” I interrupted. “We would call that grafting in our country.”
“Very likely; I didn't find out that he was grafting, as you say, until quite late, then I put him into a block of concrete and built him into a temple. He made a very good block; he is there yet. After that there was no trouble for a while."
"I saw something of the kind at Algiers--one Geronimo,” I began
"Later, three thousand years later. I originated the idea—it has been often adopted since. Those people along the Coast adopted a good many of my ideas, but they never get the value out of them. It put an end to baksheesh-graft as you call it-in Thebes, and it would be valuable to-day in Cairo, I should think. A wall around Cairo could be built in that way—there is enough material.”
The King rested a little on his other arm, then continued:
“Speaking of my tomb. I am glad I am not there. I attract much more attention here than if I were on exhibition in that remote place. There's Amenophis II. I understand that he's very proud of the fact that he's the only king left in his tomb. I don't envy him at all. I have a hundred visitors where he has one. They are passing by me here in a string all day, and when they are your countrymen I can hear a good deal even through the thick glass. I find it more interesting to stay here in my case through the day, than to be stalking about the underworld, attending sacrifices to Anubis and those other gods. I was always fond of activity and progress.”
“You keep up with your doings, then?”
“Well, not altogether. You see, I cannot go about in the upper world. I catch only a word of things from the tourists. I hear they have a new kind of boat on the Nile."
“Yes, indeed,” I said. “A boat that is run by steam-a mixture of fire and water-and is lit by electricity—a form of lightning."
I thought he would be excited over these things, and full of questions; but he only reflected a little and asked,
“What is the name of that boat?”
“Oh, there are many of them. The one I came down on was called the Memnon.”
“There it is,” he said, sadly. “I am discredited, you see. I suppose they couldn't name it 'Rameses the Great.'"
“Ah, but there is one of that name, too." He brightened a little, but grew sad again. “Only one?” he said.
“Do you think there should be more of that name?” I asked. He sat up quite straight.
“In my time they would all have borne that great name,” he said.
“And—ah, wouldn't that be a bit confusing ?”
“Not at all. I have set up as many as a hundred statues in one temple—all of Rameses the Great. They were not at all confusing. You knew all of them immediately.”
"True enough; and now I think of it, perhaps you have not heard that they have made your portrait as you lie here, and, by a magic process of ours, have placed it on a sort of papyrus tablet-a postal card we call it—and by another process have sent thousands of them over the world.”
He looked at me with eyes that penetrated my conscience.
“Is that statement true?” he asked, tremulously.
"It is every word. Your portrait is as familiar to the world to-day as it was here in Egypt three thousand years ago."
The great peace that had rested on the king's face came back to it. The piercing eyes closed restfully, and he slipped back on his pillow.
“Then, after all, I am vindicated,” he murmured. “I have not lived and died in vain."
A hand was resting on my shoulder. The sun was shining in, and a threatening guard was standing over me.
It was nothing. Five francs allayed his indignation. Five francs is a large baksheesh in Cairo, but I did not begrudge it, as matters stood.