Katuti was silent for a moment.
“And the king’s sons?” she asked with an anxious sigh.
“The Gods be praised,” replied the steward, “they succeeded in letting themselves down to the ground by a rope made of their garments knotted together, and some were already safe when I came away.”
Katuti’s face clouded darkly; once more she sent forth her messenger. The minutes of his absence seemed like days; her bosom heaved in stormy agitation, then for a moment she controlled herself, and again her heart seemed to cease beating—she closed her eyes as if her anguish of anxiety was too much for her strength. At last, long after sunrise, the steward reappeared.
Pale, trembling, hardly able to control his voice, he threw himself on the ground at her feet crying out:
“Alas! this night! prepare for the worst, mistress! May Isis comfort thee, who saw thy son fall in the service of his king and father! May Amon, the great God of Thebes, give thee strength! Our pride, our hope, thy son is slain, killed by a falling beam.”
Pale and still as if frozen, Katuti shed not a tear; for a minute she did not speak, then she asked in a dull tone:
“The Gods be praised!” answered the servant, “he is safe-rescued by Mena!”
“Burnt!—they found his body disfigured out of all recognition; they knew him again by the jewels he wore at the banquet.”
Katuti gazed into vacancy, and the steward started back as from a mad woman when, instead of bursting into tears, she clenched her small jewelled hands, shook her fists in the air, and broke into loud, wild laughter; then, startled at the sound of her own voice, she suddenly became silent and fixed her eyes vacantly on the ground. She neither saw nor heard that the captain of the watch, who was called “the eyes and ears of the king,” had come in through the door of her tent followed by several officers and a scribe; he came up to her, and called her by her name. Not till the steward timidly touched her did she collect her senses like one suddenly roused from deep sleep.
“What are you doing in my tent?” she asked the officer, drawing herself up haughtily.
“In the name of the chief judge of Thebes,” said the captain of the watch solemnly. “I arrest you, and hail you before the high court of justice, to defend yourself against the grave and capital charges of high treason, attempted regicide, and incendiarism.”
“I am ready,” said the widow, and a scornful smile curled her lips. Then with her usual dignity she pointed to a seat and said:
“Be seated while I dress.”
The officer bowed, but remained standing at the door of the tent while she arranged her black hair, set her diadem on her brow, opened her little ointment chest, and took from it a small phial of the rapid poison strychnine, which some months before she had procured through Nemu from the old witch Hekt.