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- Uarda, Volume 3. - 4/13 -
When she became a widow, she was received as a sister with her children by her brother-in-law, Paaker's father. She lived in a house of her own, enjoyed the income of an estate assigned to her by the old Mohar, and left to her son-in-law the care of educating her son, a handsome and overbearing lad, with all the claims and pretensions of a youth of distinction.
Such great benefits would have oppressed and disgraced the proud Katuti, if she had been content with them and in every way agreed with the giver. But this was by no means the case; rather, she believed that she might pretend to a more brilliant outward position, felt herself hurt when her heedless son, while he attended school, was warned to work more seriously, as he would by and by have to rely on his own skill and his own strength. And it had wounded her when occasionally her brother-in- law had suggested economy, and had reminded her, in his straightforward way, of her narrow means, and the uncertain future of her children.
At this she was deeply offended, for she ventured to say that her relatives could never, with all their gifts, compensate for the insults they heaped upon her; and thus taught them by experience that we quarrel with no one more readily than with the benefactor whom we can never repay for all the good he bestows on us.
Nevertheless, when her brother-in-law asked the hand of her daughter for his son, she willingly gave her consent.
Nefert and Paaker had grown up together, and by this union she foresaw that she could secure her own future and that of her children.
Shortly after the death of the Mohar, the charioteer Mena had proposed for Nefert's hand, but would nave been refused if the king himself had not supported the suit of his favorite officer. After the wedding, she retired with Nefert to Mena's house, and undertook, while he was at the war, to manage his great estates, which however had been greatly burthened with debt by his father.
Fate put the means into her hands of indemnifying herself and her children for many past privations, and she availed herself of them to gratify her innate desire to be esteemed and admired; to obtain admission for her son, splendidly equipped, into a company of chariot-warriors of the highest class; and to surround her daughter with princely magnificence.
When the Regent, who had been a friend of her late husband, removed into the palace of the Pharaohs, he made her advances, and the clever and decided woman knew how to make herself at first agreeable, and finally indispensable, to the vacillating man.
She availed herself of the circumstance that she, as well as he, was descended from the old royal house to pique his ambition, and to open to him a view, which even to think of, he would have considered forbidden as a crime, before he became intimate with her.
Ani's suit for the hand of the princess Bent-Anat was Katuti's work. She hoped that the Pharoah would refuse, and personally offend the Regent, and so make him more inclined to tread the dangerous road which she was endeavoring to smooth for him. The dwarf Nemu was her pliant tool.
She had not initiated him into her projects by any words; he however gave utterance to every impulse of her mind in free language, which was punished only with blows from a fan, and, only the day before, had been so audacious as to say that if the Pharoah were called Ani instead of Rameses, Katuti would be not a queen but a goddess for she would then have not to obey, but rather to guide, the Pharaoh, who indeed himself was related to the Immortals.
Katuti did not observe her daughter's blush, for she was looking anxiously out at the garden gate, and said:
"Where can Nemu be! There must be some news arrived for us from the army."
"Mena has not written for so long," Nefert said softly. "Ah! here is the steward!"
Katuti turned to the officer, who had entered the veranda through a side door:
"What do you bring," she asked.
"The dealer Abscha," was the answer, "presses for payment. The new Syrian chariot and the purple cloth--"
"Sell some corn," ordered Katuti.
"Impossible, for the tribute to the temples is not yet paid, and already so much has been delivered to the dealers that scarcely enough remains over for the maintenance of the household and for sowing."
"Then pay with beasts."
"But, madam," said the steward sorrowfully, "only yesterday, we again sold a herd to the Mohar; and the water-wheels must be turned, and the corn must be thrashed, and we need beasts for sacrifice, and milk, butter, and cheese, for the use of the house, and dung for firing."
[In Egypt, where there is so little wood, to this day the dried dung of beasts is the commonest kind of fuel.]
Katuti looked thoughtfully at the ground.
"It must be," she said presently. "Ride to Hermonthis, and say to the keeper of the stud that he must have ten of Mena's golden bays driven over here."
"I have already spoken to him," said the steward, "but he maintains that Mena strictly forbade him to part with even one of the horses, for he is proud of the stock. Only for the chariot of the lady Nefert "
"I require obedience," said Katuti decidedly and cutting short the steward's words, "and I expect the horses to-morrow."
"But the stud-master is a daring man, whom Mena looks upon as indispensable, and he--"
"I command here, and not the absent," cried Katuti enraged, "and I require the horses in spite of the former orders of my son-in-law."
Nefert, during this conversation, pulled herself up from her indolent attitude. On hearing the last words she rose from her couch, and said, with a decision which surprised even her mother--
"The orders of my husband must be obeyed. The horses that Mena loves shall stay in their stalls. Take this armlet that the king gave me; it is worth more than twenty horses."
The steward examined the trinket, richly set with precious stones, and looked enquiringly at Katuti. She shrugged her shoulders, nodded consent, and said--
"Abscha shall hold it as a pledge till Mena's booty arrives. For a year your husband has sent nothing of importance."
When the steward was gone, Nefert stretched herself again on her couch and said wearily:
"I thought we were rich."
"We might be," said Katuti bitterly; but as she perceived that Nefert's cheeks again were glowing, she said amiably, "Our high rank imposes great duties on us. Princely blood flows in our veins, and the eyes of the people are turned on the wife of the most brilliant hero in the king's army. They shall not say that she is neglected by her husband. How long Mena remains away!"
"I hear a noise in the court," said Nefert. "The Regent is coming."
Katuti turned again towards the garden.
A breathless slave rushed in, and announced that Bent-Anat, the daughter of the king, had dismounted at the gate, and was approaching the garden with the prince Rameri.
Nefert left her couch, and went with her mother to meet the exalted visitors.
As the mother and daughter bowed to kiss the robe of the princess, Bent- Anat signed them back from her. "Keep farther from me," she said; "the priests have not yet entirely absolved me from my uncleanness."
"And in spite of them thou art clean in the sight of Ra!" exclaimed the boy who accompanied her, her brother of seventeen, who was brought up at the House of Seti, which however he was to leave in a few weeks--and he kissed her.
"I shall complain to Ameni of this wild boy," said Bent-Anat smiling. "He would positively accompany me. Your husband, Nefert, is his model, and I had no peace in the house, for we came to bring you good news."
"From Mena?" asked the young wife, pressing her hand to her heart.
"As you say," returned Bent-Anat. "My father praises his ability, and writes that he, before all others, will have his choice at the dividing of the spoil."
Nefert threw a triumphant glance at her mother, and Katuti drew a deep breath.
Bent-Anat stroked Nefert's cheeks like those of a child. Then she turned to Katuti, led her into the garden, and begged her to aid her, who had so early lost her mother, with her advice in a weighty matter.
"My father," she continued, after a few introductory words, "informs me that the Regent Ani desires me for his wife, and advises me to reward the fidelity of the worthy man with my hand. He advises it, you understand- he does not command."
"And thou?" asked Katuti.
"And I," replied Bent-Anat decidedly, "must refuse him."
Bent-Anat made a sign of assent and went on:
"It is quite clear to me. I can do nothing else."
"Then thou dost not need my counsel, since even thy father, I well know, will not be able to alter thy decision."
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