“Perhaps your brother has written for him; I see no line in his handwriting.”
Nefert on her side glanced at the letter, but not to read it, only to seek some trace of the well-known handwriting of her husband.
Like all the Egyptian women of good family she could read, and during the first two years of her married life she had often—very often—had the opportunity of puzzling, and yet rejoicing, over the feeble signs which the iron hand of the charioteer had scrawled on the papyrus for her whose slender fingers could guide the reed pen with firmness and decision.
She examined the letter, and at last said, with tears in her eyes:
“Nothing! I will go to my room, mother.”
Katuti kissed her and said, “Hear first what your brother writes.”
But Nefert shook her head, turned away in silence, and disappeared into the house.
Katuti was not very friendly to her son-in-law, but her heart clung to her handsome, reckless son, the very image of her lost husband, the favorite of women, and the gayest youth among the young nobles who composed the chariot-guard of the king.
How fully he had written to-day—he who weilded the reed-pen so laboriously.
This really was a letter; while, usually, he only asked in the fewest words for fresh funds for the gratification of his extravagant tastes.
This time she might look for thanks, for not long since he must have received a considerable supply, which she had abstracted from the income of the possessions entrusted to her by her son-in-law.
She began to read.
The cheerfulness, with which she had met the dwarf, was insincere, and had resembled the brilliant colors of the rainbow, which gleam over the stagnant waters of a bog. A stone falls into the pool, the colors vanish, dim mists rise up, and it becomes foul and clouded.
The news which her son’s letter contained fell, indeed, like a block of stone on Katuti’s soul.
Our deepest sorrows always flow from the same source as might have filled us with joy, and those wounds burn the fiercest which are inflicted by a hand we love.
The farther Katuti went in the lamentably incorrect epistle—which she could only decipher with difficulty—which her darling had written to her, the paler grew her face, which she several times covered with her trembling hands, from which the letter dropped.
Nemu squatted on the earth near her, and followed all her movements.
When she sprang forward with a heart-piercing scream, and pressed her forehead to a rough palmtrunk, he crept up to her, kissed her feet, and exclaimed with a depth of feeling that overcame even Katuti, who was accustomed to hear only gay or bitter speeches from the lips of her jester—
“Mistress! lady! what has happened?”
Katuti collected herself, turned to him, and tried to speak; but her pale lips remained closed, and her eyes gazed dimly into vacancy as though a catalepsy had seized her.