Nemu looked enquiringly at his mistress, but Katuti turned to her daughter, and said in a warning voice:
“I have very serious things to discuss with you.”
“Indeed?” said her daughter, “but I cannot be stung by the flies all the same. Of course, if you wish it—”
“Nemu may stay then,” said Katuti, and her voice had the tone of that of a nurse who gives way to a naughty child. “Besides, he knows what I have to talk about.”
“There now!” said Nefert, kissing the head of the white cat, and she gave the fan back to the dwarf.
The widow looked at her daughter with sincere compassion, she went up to her and looked for the thousandth time in admiration at her pretty face.
“Poor child,” she sighed, “how willingly I would spare you the frightful news which sooner or later you must hear—must bear. Leave off your foolish play with the cat, I have things of the most hideous gravity to tell you.”
“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: