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- Uarda, Volume 10. - 4/10 -
Pentaur had his insensible friend carried to his tent, and helped the physicians to bind up his burns. When the cry of fire had been first raised, Pentaur was sitting in earnest conversation with the high-priest; he had learned that he was not the son of a gardener, but a descendant of one of the noblest families in the land. The foundations of life seemed to be subverted under his feet, Ameni's revelation lifted him out of the dust and set him on the marble floor of a palace; and yet Pentaur was neither excessively surprised nor inordinately rejoiced; he was so well used to find his joys and sufferings depend on the man within him, and not on the circumstances without.
As soon as he heard the cry of fire, he hastened to the burning pavilion, and when he saw the king's danger, he set himself at the head of a number of soldiers who had hurried up from the camp, intending to venture an attempt to save Rameses from the inside of the house. Among those who followed him in this hopeless effort was Katuti's reckless son, who had distinguished himself by his valor before Kadesh, and who hailed this opportunity of again proving his courage. Falling walls choked up the way in front of these brave adventurers; but it was not till several had fallen choked or struck down by burning logs, that they made up their minds to retire--one of the first that was killed was Katuti's son, Nefert's brother.
Uarda had been carried into the nearest tent. Her pretty head lay in Bent-Anat's lap, and Nefert tried to restore her to animation by rubbing her temples with strong essences. Presently the girl's lips moved: with returning consciousness all she had seen and suffered during the last hour or two recurred to her mind; she felt herself rushing through the camp with her father, hurrying through the corridor to the princess's rooms, while he broke in the doors closed by Katuti's orders; she saw Bent-Anat as she roused her, and conducted her to safety; she remembered her horror when, just as she reached the door, she discovered that she had left in her chest her jewel, the only relic of her lost mother, and her rapid return which was observed by no one but by the leech Nebsecht.
Again she seemed to live through the anguish she had felt till she once more had the trinket safe in her bosom, the horror that fell upon her when she found her escape impeded by smoke and flames, and the weakness which overcame her; and she felt as if the strange white-robed priest once more raised her in his arms. She remembered the tenderness of his eyes as he looked into hers, and she smiled half gratefully but half displeased at the tender kiss which had been pressed on her lips before she found herself in her father's strong arms.
"How sweet she is!" said Bent-Anat. "I believe poor Nebsecht is right in saying that her mother was the daughter of some great man among the foreign people. Look what pretty little hands and feet, and her skin is as clear as Phoenician glass."
While the friends were occupied in restoring Uarda to animation, and in taking affectionate care of her, Katuti was walking restlessly backwards and forwards in her tent.
Soon after she had slipped out for the purpose of setting fire to the palace, Scherau's cry had waked up Nefert, and Katuti found her daughter's bed empty when, with blackened hands and limbs trembling with agitation, she came back from her criminal task.
Now she waited in vain for Nemu and Paaker.
Her steward, whom she sent on repeated messages of enquiry whether the Regent had returned, constantly brought back a negative answer, and added the information that he had found the body of old Hekt lying on the open ground. The widow's heart sank with fear; she was full of dark forebodings while she listened to the shouts of the people engaged in putting out the fire, the roll of drums, and the trumpets of the soldiers calling each other to the help of the king.
To these sounds now was added the dull crash of falling timbers and walls.
A faint smile played upon her thin lips, and she thought to herself: "There--that perhaps fell on the king, and my precious son-in-law, who does not deserve such a fate--if we had not fallen into disgrace, and if since the occurrences before Kadesh he did not cling to his indulgent lord as a calf follows a cow."
She gathered fresh courage, and fancied she could hear the voice of Ethiopian troops hailing the Regent as king--could see Ani decorated with the crown of Upper and Lower Egypt, seated on Rameses' throne, and herself by his side in rich though unpretending splendor. She pictured herself with her son and daughter as enjoying Mena's estate, freed from debt and increased by Ani's generosity, and then a new, intoxicating hope came into her mind. Perhaps already at this moment her daughter was a widow, and why should she not be so fortunate as to induce Ani to select her child, the prettiest woman in Thebes, for his wife? Then she, the mother of the queen, would be indeed unimpeachable, and all-powerful. She had long since come to regard the pioneer as a tool to be cast aside, nay soon to be utterly destroyed; his wealth might probably at some future time be bestowed upon her son, who had distinguished himself at Kadesh, and whom Ani must before long promote to be his charioteer or the commander of the chariot warriors.
Flattered by these fancies, she forgot every care as she walked faster and faster to and fro in her tent. Suddenly the steward, whom she had this time sent to the very scene of the fire, rushed into the tent, and with every token of terror broke to her the news that the king and his charioteer were hanging in mid air on a narrow wooden parapet, and that unless some miracle happened they must inevitably be killed. It was said that incendiaries had occasioned the fire, and he, the steward, had hastened forward to prepare her for evil news as the mangled body of the pioneer, which had been identified by the ring on his finger, and the poor little corpse of Nemu, pierced through by an arrow, had been carried past him.
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.
"My mirror!" she called to a maid servant, who squatted in a corner of the tent. She held the metal mirror so as to conceal her face from the captain of the watch, put the little flask to her lips and emptied it at one mouthful. The mirror fell from her hand, she staggered, a deadly convulsion seized her--the officer rushed forward, and while she fixed her dying look upon him she said:
"My game is lost, but Ameni--tell Ameni that he will not win either."
She fell forward, murmured Nefert's name, struggled convulsively and was dead.
When the draught of happiness which the Gods prepare for some few men, seems to flow clearest and purest, Fate rarely fails to infuse into it some drop of bitterness. And yet we should not therefore disdain it, for it is that very drop of bitterness which warns us to drink of the joys of life thankfully, and in moderation.
The perfect happiness of Mena and Nefert was troubled by the fearful death of Katuti, but both felt as if they now for the first time knew the full strength of their love for each other. Mena had to make up to his wife for the loss of mother and brother, and Nefert to restore to her husband much that he had been robbed of by her relatives, and they felt that they had met again not merely for pleasure but to be to each other
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