“Do what you will,” interrupted her indignant daughter, “but do not vilify the generous man who has never hindered you from throwing away his property on your son’s debts and your own ambition. Since the day before yesterday I have learned that we are not rich; and I have reflected, and I have asked myself what has become of our corn and our cattle, of our sheep and the rents from the farmers. The wretch’s estate was not so contemptible; but I tell you plainly I should be unworthy to be the wife of the noble Mena if I allowed any one to vilify his name under his own roof. Hold to your belief, by all means, but one of us must quit this house—you or I.”
At these words Nefert broke into passionate sobs, threw herself on her knees by her couch, hid her face in the cushions, and wept convulsively and without intermission.
Katuti stood behind her, startled, trembling, and not knowing what to say. Was this her gentle, dreamy daughter? Had ever a daughter dared to speak thus to her mother? But was she right or was Nefert? This question was the pressing one; she knelt down by the side of the young wife, put her arm round her, drew her head against her bosom, and whispered pitifully:
“You cruel, hard-hearted child; forgive your poor, miserable mother, and do not make the measure of her wretchedness overflow.”
Then Nefert rose, kissed her mother’s hand, and went silently into her own room.
Katuti remained alone; she felt as if a dead hand held her heart in its icy grasp, and she muttered to herself:
“Ani is right—nothing turns to good excepting that from which we expect the worst.”
She held her hand to her head, as if she had heard something too strange to be believed. Her heart went after her daughter, but instead of sympathizing with her she collected all her courage, and deliberately recalled all the reproaches that Nefert had heaped upon her. She did not spare herself a single word, and finally she murmured to herself: “She can spoil every thing. For Mena’s sake she will sacrifice me and the whole world; Mena and Rameses are one, and if she discovers what we are plotting she will betray us without a moment’s hesitation. Hitherto all has gone on without her seeing it, but to-day something has been unsealed in her—an eye, a tongue, an ear, which have hitherto been closed. She is like a deaf and dumb person, who by a sudden fright is restored to speech and hearing. My favorite child will become the spy of my actions, and my judge.”
She gave no utterance to the last words, but she seemed to hear them with her inmost ear; the voice that could speak to her thus, startled and frightened her, and solitude was in itself a torture; she called the dwarf, and desired him to have her litter prepared, as she intended going to the temple, and visiting the wounded who had been sent home from Syria.
“And the handkerchief for the Regent?” asked the little man.