“Speak on,” replied Nefert. “To-day I cannot fear the worst. Mena’s star, the haruspex told me, stands under the sign of happiness, and I enquired of the oracle in the temple of Besa, and heard that my husband is prospering. I have prayed in the temple till I am quite content. Only speak!—I know my brother’s letter from the camp had no good news in it; the evening before last I saw you had been crying, and yesterday you did not look well; even the pomegranate flowers in your hair did not suit you.”
“Your brother,” sighed Katuti, “has occasioned me great trouble, and we might through him have suffered deep dishonor—”
“We-dishonor?” exclaimed Nefert, and she nervously clutched at the cat.
“Your brother lost enormous sums at play; to recover them he pledged the mummy of your father—”
“Horrible!” cried Nefert. “We must appeal at once to the king;—I will write to him myself; for Mena’s sake he will hear me. Rameses is great and noble, and will not let a house that is faithfully devoted to him fall into disgrace through the reckless folly of a boy. Certainly I will write to him.”
She said this in a voice of most childlike confidence, and desired Nemu to wave the fan more gently, as if this concern were settled.
In Katuti’s heart surprise and indignation at the unnatural indifference of her daughter were struggling together; but she withheld all blame, and said carelessly:
“We are already released, for my nephew Paaker, as soon as he heard what threatened us, offered me his help; freely and unprompted, from pure goodness of heart and attachment.”
“How good of Paaker!” cried Nefert. “He was so fond of me, and you know, mother, I always stood up for him. No doubt it was for my sake that he behaved so generously!”
The young wife laughed, and pulling the cat’s face close to her own, held her nose to its cool little nose, stared into its green eyes, and said, imitating childish talk:
“There now, pussy—how kind people are to your little mistress.”
Katuti was vexed daughter’s childish impulses.
“It seems to me,” she said, “that you might leave off playing and trifling when I am talking of such serious matters. I have long since observed that the fate of the house to which your father and mother belong is a matter of perfect indifference to you; and yet you would have to seek shelter and protection under its roof if your husband—”
“Well, mother?” asked Nefert breathing more quickly.
As soon as Katuti perceived her daughter’s agitation she regretted that she had not more gently led up to the news she had to break to her; for she loved her daughter, and knew that it would give her keen pain.
So she went on more sympathetically:
“You boasted in joke that people are good to you, and it is true; you win hearts by your mere being—by only being what you are. And Mena too loved you tenderly; but ‘absence,’ says the proverb, ’is the one real enemy,’ and Mena—”