“I have seen other women in love,” said Nemu, “but—”
“But,” exclaimed the old witch with such a sharp laugh that the girls all looked up, “they behaved differently to Nefert—I believe you, for there is not one in a thousand that loves as she does. It is a sickness that gives raging pain—like a poisoned arrow in an open wound, and devours all that is near it like a fire-brand, and is harder to cure than the disease which is killing that coughing wench. To be possessed by that demon of anguish is to suffer the torture of the damned—or else,” and her voice sank to softness, “to be more blest than the Gods, happy as they are. I know—I know it all; for I was once one of the possessed, one of a thousand, and even now—”
“Well?” asked the dwarf.
“Folly!” muttered the witch, stretching herself as if awaking from sleep. “Madness! He—is long since dead, and if he were not it would be all the same to me. All men are alike, and Mena will be like the rest.”
“But Paaker surely is governed by the demon you describe?” asked the dwarf.
“May be,” replied his mother; “but he is self-willed to madness. He would simply give his life for the thing because it is denied him. If your mistress Nefert were his, perhaps he might be easier; but what is the use of chattering? I must go over to the gold tent, where everyone goes now who has any money in their purse, to speak to the mistress—”
“What do you want with her?” interrupted Nemu. “Little Uarda over there,” said the old woman, “will soon be quite well again. You have seen her lately; is she not grown beautiful, wonderfully beautiful? Now I shall see what the good woman will offer me if I take Uarda to her? the girl is as light-footed as a gazelle, and with good training would learn to dance in a very few weeks.”
Nemu turned perfectly white.
“That you shall not do,” said he positively.
“And why not?” asked the old woman, “if it pays well.”
“Because I forbid it,” said the dwarf in a choked voice.
“Bless me,” laughed the woman; “you want to play my lady Nefert, and expect me to take the part of her mother Katuti. But, seriously, having seen the child again, have you any fancy for her?”
“Yes,” replied Nemu. “If we gain our end, Katuti will make me free, and make me rich. Then I will buy Pinem’s grandchild, and take her for my wife. I will build a house near the hall of justice, and give the complainants and defendants private advice, like the hunch-back Sent, who now drives through the streets in his own chariot.”
“Hm—” said his mother, “that might have done very well, but perhaps it is too late. When the child had fever she talked about the young priest who was sent from the House of Seti by Ameni. He is a fine tall fellow, and took a great interest in her; he is a gardener’s son, named Pentaur.”
“Pentaur?” said the dwarf. “Pentaur? He has the haughty air and the expression of the old Mohar, and would be sure to rise; but they are going to break his proud neck for him.”