Death Comes as the End Agatha Christie A novel of anger, jealousy, betrayal and murder in 2000 BCIt is Egypt, 2000 BC, where death gives meaning to life. At the foot of a cliff lies the broken, twisted body of Nofret, concubine to a Ka-priest. Young, beautiful and venomous, most agree that she deserved to die like a snake.Yet Renisenb, the priest’s daughter, believes that the woman’s death was not fate, but murder. Increasingly, she becomes convinced that the source of evil lurks within her own father’s household.As the wife of an eminent archaeologist, Agatha Christie took part in several expeditions to the Middle East. Drawing upon this experience and exhaustive research, she wrote this serial killer mystery laid in Egypt 4000 years ago. Copyright (#ulink_5a02235f-0053-5567-8758-fd4f7241bf07) Published by HarperCollinsPublishers Ltd 1 London Bridge Street London SE1 9GF www.harpercollins.co.uk (http://www.harpercollins.co.uk) First published in Great Britain by Collins, The Crime Club 1944 Death Comes as the End™ is a trade mark of Agatha Christie Limited and Agatha Christie® and the Agatha Christie Signature are registered trade marks of Agatha Christie Limited in the UK and elsewhere. Copyright © 1944 Agatha Christie Limited. All rights reserved. www.agathachristie.com (http://www.agathachristie.com) Cover by designedbydavid.co.uk (http://designedbydavid.co.uk) © HarperCollins/Agatha Christie Ltd 2017 Agatha Christie asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work. A catalogue copy of this book is available from the British Library. This novel is entirely a work of fiction. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in it are the work of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or localities is entirely coincidental. All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. By payment of the required fees, you have been granted the non-exclusive, non-transferable right to access and read the text of this e-book on screen. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, down-loaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of HarperCollins. Source ISBN: 9780008196325 Ebook Edition © March 2017 ISBN: 9780007422265 Version: 2017-04-11 Dedication (#ulink_39f34572-a516-56f7-be52-36631fd579ea) TO PROFESSOR S.R.K. GLANVILLE Dear Stephen, It was you who originally suggested to me the idea of a detective story set in Ancient Egypt, and but for your active help and encouragement this book would never have been written. I want to say here how much I have enjoyed all the interesting literature you have lent me and to thank you once more for the patience with which you have answered my questions and for the time and trouble you have expended. The pleasure and interest which the writing of the book has brought to me you already know. Your affectionate and grateful friend, Contents Cover (#u628f227e-2393-5561-966b-1d347a7757b7) Title Page (#u5494e88a-c697-54fb-a177-93db1a27bad0) Copyright (#u340c305a-613c-5a18-ba6f-9732f3944ad0) Dedication (#ubb14b739-07ae-57a9-ac23-4ea709701c2e) Author’s Note (#u38148a85-909b-59f4-8d22-6f1fc9c2817a) PART ONE: Inundation (#u1f32757a-26b2-55d8-818c-b873595051cb) 1. Second Month—20th Day (#uf1d57ef0-aedf-50f7-babd-c00bc1ff257c) 2. Third Month—4th Day (#u4733f930-b255-5153-ab61-0cdf1128e747) 3. Third Month—14th Day (#ue2ae65af-95ce-557c-81e6-5d8e9ccf83bf) 4. Third Month—15th Day (#u63e5e8be-ccc6-5c6a-b63f-1955d96956f3) 5. Fourth Month—5th Day (#ua462de3f-8e98-5e64-934e-6252df5c062a) PART TWO: Winter (#u6929a66f-1f95-51d4-8a2e-5c3306d2042f) 6. First Month—4th Day (#u4296ab41-a7e0-560b-941b-3f47883866c7) 7. First Month—5th Day (#litres_trial_promo) 8. Second Month—10th Day (#litres_trial_promo) 9. Second Month—10th Day (#litres_trial_promo) 10. Fourth Month—6th Day (#litres_trial_promo) PART THREE: Summer (#litres_trial_promo) 11. First Month—11th Day (#litres_trial_promo) 12. First Month—12th Day (#litres_trial_promo) 13. First Month—23rd Day (#litres_trial_promo) 14. First Month—25th Day (#litres_trial_promo) 15. First Month—30th Day (#litres_trial_promo) 16. Second Month—1st Day (#litres_trial_promo) 17. Second Month—1st Day (#litres_trial_promo) 18. Second Month—10th Day (#litres_trial_promo) 19. Second Month—15th Day (#litres_trial_promo) 20. Second Month—15th Day (#litres_trial_promo) 21. Second Month—16th Day (#litres_trial_promo) 22. Second Month—17th Day (#litres_trial_promo) 23. Second Month—17th Day (#litres_trial_promo) Also by Agatha Christie (#litres_trial_promo) About the Publisher (#litres_trial_promo) Author’s Note (#ulink_191eece2-2f88-5819-af71-ff27133aef95) The action of this book takes place on the West bank of the Nile at Thebes in Egypt about 2000 BC. Both place and time are incidental to the story. Any other place at any other time would have served as well: but it so happened that the inspiration of both characters and plot was derived from two or three Egyptian letters of the XI Dynasty, found about 20 years ago by the Egyptian Expedition of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, in a rock tomb opposite Luxor, and translated by Professor (then Mr) Battiscombe Gunn in the Museum’s Bulletin. It may be of interest to the reader to note that an endowment for Kaservice—an everyday feature of ancient Egyptian civilization—was very similar in principle to a mediæval chantry bequest. Property was bequeathed to the Ka-priest in return for which he was expected to maintain the tomb of the testator, and to provide offerings at the tomb on certain feast days throughout the year for the repose of the deceased’s soul. The terms ‘Brother’, ‘Sister’ in Egyptian texts, regularly mean ‘Lover’ and are frequently interchangeable with ‘Husband’, ‘Wife’. They are so used on occasion in this book. The Agricultural calendar of Ancient Egypt, consisting of three seasons of four months of thirty days, formed the background of peasant life, and with the addition of five intercalary days at the end of the year was used as the official calendar of 365 days to the year. This ‘Year’ originally began with the arrival in Egypt of the flood-water of the Nile in the third week of July by our reckoning; but the absence of a Leap Year caused it to lag through the centuries, so that, at the time of our story, the official New Year’s Day fell about six months earlier than the opening of the agricultural year, i.e. in January instead of July. To save the reader from continually having to make allowance for this six months, however, the dates here used as Chapter headings are stated in terms of the agricultural year of the time, i.e. Inundation—late July to late November; Winter—late November to late March; and Summer—late March to late July. A.C. 1944 PART ONE (#ulink_a92a5109-9e25-5941-b955-4fbe316703d6) CHAPTER 1 (#ulink_48cee536-b051-5764-ae17-4663dbb8ec54) Second Month of Inundation 20th Day (#ulink_48cee536-b051-5764-ae17-4663dbb8ec54) Renisenb stood looking over the Nile. In the distance she could hear faintly the upraised voices of her brothers, Yahmose and Sobek, disputing as to whether or no the dykes in a certain place needed strengthening or not. Sobek’s voice was high and confident as always. He had the habit of asserting his views with easy certainty. Yahmose’s voice was low and grumbling in tone, it expressed doubt and anxiety. Yahmose was always in a state of anxiety over something or other. He was the eldest son, and during his father’s absence on the Northern Estates the management of the farmlands was more or less in his hands. Yahmose was slow, prudent and prone to look for difficulties where none existed. He was a heavily built, slow moving man with none of Sobek’s gaiety and confidence. From her early childhood Renisenb could remember hearing these elder brothers of hers arguing in just those selfsame accents. It gave her suddenly a feeling of security … She was at home again. Yes, she had come home … Yet as she looked once more across the pale, shining river, her rebellion and pain mounted again. Khay, her young husband, was dead … Khay with his laughing face and his strong shoulders. Khay was with Osiris in the Kingdom of the dead—and she, Renisenb, his dearly loved wife, was left desolate. Eight years they had had together—she had come to him as little more than a child—and now she had returned widowed, with Khay’s child, Teti, to her father’s house. It seemed to her at this moment as though she had never been away … She welcomed that thought … She would forget those eight years—so full of unthinking happiness, so torn and destroyed by loss and pain. Yes, forget them, put them out of her mind. Become once more Renisenb, Imhotep the ka-priest’s daughter, the unthinking, unfeeling girl. This love of a husband and brother had been a cruel thing, deceiving her by its sweetness. She remembered the strong bronze shoulders, the laughing mouth—now Khay was embalmed, swathed in bandages, protected with amulets in his journey through the other world. No more Khay in this world to sail on the Nile and catch fish and laugh up into the sun whilst she, stretched out in the boat with little Teti on her lap, laughed back at him … Renisenb thought: ‘I will not think of it. It is over! Here I am at home. Everything is the same as it was. I, too, shall be the same presently. It will all be as before. Teti has forgotten already. She plays with the other children and laughs.’ Renisenb turned abruptly and made her way back towards the house, passing on the way some loaded donkeys being driven towards the river bank. She passed by the cornbins and the outhouses and through the gateway into the courtyard. It was very pleasant in the courtyard. There was the artificial lake, surrounded by flowering oleanders and jasmines and shaded by sycamore fig trees. Teti and the other children were playing there now, their voices rising shrill and clear. They were running in and out of the little pavilion that stood at one side of the lake. Renisenb noticed that Teti was playing with a wooden lion whose mouth opened and shut by pulling a string, a toy which she herself had loved as a child. She thought again, gratefully, ‘I have come home …’ Nothing was changed here, all was as it had been. Here life was safe, constant, unchanging. Teti was now the child and she one of the many mothers enclosed by the home walls—but the framework, the essence of things, was unchanged. A ball with which one of the children was playing rolled to her feet and she picked it up and threw it back, laughing. Renisenb went on to the porch with its gaily coloured columns, and then through into the house, passing through the big central chamber, with its coloured frieze of lotus and poppies and so on to the back of the house and the women’s quarters. Upraised voices struck on her ear and she paused again, savouring with pleasure the old familiar echoes. Satipy and Kait—arguing as always! Those well-remembered tones of Satipy’s voice, high, domineering and bullying! Satipy was her brother Yahmose’s wife, a tall, energetic, loud-tongued woman, handsome in a hard, commanding kind of way. She was eternally laying down the law, hectoring the servants, finding fault with everything, getting impossible things done by sheer force of vituperation and personality. Everyone dreaded her tongue and ran to obey her orders. Yahmose himself had the greatest admiration for his resolute, spirited wife, though he allowed himself to be bullied by her in a way that had often infuriated Renisenb. At intervals, in the pauses in Satipy’s high-pitched sentences, the quiet, obstinate voice of Kait was heard. Kait was a broad, plain-faced woman, the wife of the handsome, gay Sobek. She was devoted to her children and seldom thought or spoke about anything else. She sustained her side of the daily arguments with her sister-in-law by the simple expedient of repeating whatever statement she had originally made with quiet, immovable obstinacy. She displayed neither heat nor passion, and never considered for a moment any side of a question but her own. Sobek was extremely attached to his wife and talked freely to her of all his affairs, secure in the knowledge that she would appear to listen, make comforting sounds of assent or dissent, and would remember nothing inconvenient, since her mind was sure to have been dwelling on some problem connected with the children all the time. ‘It’s an outrage, that’s what I say,’ shouted Satipy. ‘If Yahmose had the spirit of a mouse he would not stand it for a moment! Who is in charge here when Imhotep is absent? Yahmose! And as Yahmose’s wife it is I who should have the first choice of the woven mats and cushions. That hippopotamus of a black slave should be—’ Kait’s heavy, deep voice cut in: ‘No, no, my little one, do not eat your doll’s hair. See, here is something better—a sweet—oh, how good …’ ‘As for you, Kait, you have no courtesy, you don’t even listen to what I say—you do not reply—your manners are atrocious.’ ‘The blue cushion has always been mine … Oh look at little Ankh—she is trying to walk …’ ‘You are as stupid as your children, Kait, and that is saying a good deal! But you shall not get out of it like this. I will have my rights, I tell you.’ Renisenb started as a quiet footfall sounded behind her. She turned with a start and with the old, familiar feeling of dislike at seeing the woman Henet standing behind her. Henet’s thin face was twisted into its usual half-cringing smile. ‘Things haven’t changed much, you’ll be thinking, Renisenb,’ she said. ‘How we all bear Satipy’s tongue, I don’t know! Of course, Kait can answer back. Some of us aren’t so fortunate! I know my place, I hope—and my gratitude to your father for giving me a home and food and clothing. Ah, he’s a good man, your father. And I’ve always tried to do what I can. I’m always working—giving a hand here and a hand there—and I don’t expect thanks or gratitude. If your dear mother had lived it would have been different. She appreciated me. Like sisters we were! A beautiful woman she was. Well, I’ve done my duty and kept my promise to her. “Look after the children, Henet,” she said when she was dying. And I’ve been faithful to my word. Slaved for you all, I have, and never wanted thanks. Neither asked for them nor got them! “It’s only old Henet,” people say, “she doesn’t count.” Nobody thinks anything of me. Why should they? I just try and be helpful, that’s all.’ She slipped like an eel under Renisenb’s arm and entered the inner room. ‘About these cushions, you’ll excuse me, Satipy, but I happened to hear Sobek say—’ Renisenb moved away. Her old dislike of Henet surged up. Funny how they all disliked Henet! It was her whining voice, her continual self-pity and the occasional malicious pleasure she took in fanning the flames of a discussion. ‘Oh well,’ thought Renisenb, ‘why not?’ It was, she supposed, Henet’s way of amusing herself. Life must be dreary for her—and it was true that she worked like a drudge and that no one was ever grateful. You couldn’t be grateful to Henet—she drew attention to her own merits so persistently that it chilled any generous response you might have felt. Henet, thought Renisenb, was one of those people whose fate it is to be devoted to others and to have no one devoted to them. She was unattractive to look at, and stupid as well. Yet she always knew what was going on. Her noiseless way of walking, her sharp ears, and her quick peering eyes made it a certainty that nothing could long be a secret from her. Sometimes she hugged her knowledge to herself—at other times she would go around from one person to another, whispering, and standing back delightedly to observe the results of her tale-telling. At one time or another everyone in the household had begged Imhotep to get rid of Henet, but Imhotep would never hear of such a thing. He was perhaps the only person who was fond of her; and she repaid his patronage with a fulsome devotion that the rest of the family found quite nauseating. Renisenb stood uncertainly for a moment, listening to the accelerated clamour of her sisters-in-law, fanned by the flame of Henet’s interference, then she went slowly towards the small room where her grandmother, Esa, sat by herself, attended by two little black slave girls. She was busy now inspecting certain linen garments that they were displaying to her and scolding them in a characteristic, friendly fashion. Yes, it was all the same. Renisenb stood, unnoticed, listening. Old Esa had shrunk a little, that was all. But her voice was the same and the things that she was saying were the same, word for word, almost, as Renisenb could remember them before she herself had left home eight years ago … Renisenb slipped out again. Neither the old woman nor the two little black slave girls had noticed her. For a moment or two Renisenb paused by the open kitchen door. A smell of roasting ducks, a lot of talking and laughing and scolding all going on at once; a mound of vegetables waiting to be prepared. Renisenb stood quite still, her eyes half closed. From where she stood she could hear everything going on at once. The rich, varied noises of the kitchen, the high, shrill note of old Esa’s voice, the strident tones of Satipy and, very faintly, the deeper, persistent contralto of Kait. A babel of women’s voices—chattering, laughing, complaining, scolding, exclaiming … And suddenly Renisenb felt stifled, encircled by this persistent and clamorous femininity. Women—noisy, vociferous women! A houseful of women—never quiet, never peaceful—always talking, exclaiming, saying things—not doing them! And Khay—Khay silent and watchful in his boat, his whole mind bent on the fish he was going to spear … None of this clack of tongues, this busy, incessant fussiness. Renisenb went swiftly out of the house again into hot, clear stillness. She saw Sobek coming back from the fields and saw in the distance Yahmose going up towards the Tomb. She turned away and took the path up to the limestone cliffs where the Tomb was. It was the Tomb of the great Noble Meriptah and her father was the mortuary priest responsible for its upkeep. All the estate and land was part of the endowment of the Tomb. When her father was away the duties of the ka-priest fell upon her brother Yahmose. When Renisenb, walking slowly up the steep path, arrived, Yahmose was in consultation with Hori, her father’s man of business and affairs, in a little rock chamber next door to the offering chamber of the Tomb. Hori had a sheet of papyrus spread out on his knees and Yahmose and he were bending over it. Both Yahmose and Hori smiled at Renisenb when she arrived and she sat down near them in a patch of shade. She had always been very fond of her brother Yahmose. He was gentle and affectionate to her and had a mild and kindly disposition. Hori, too, had always been gravely kind to the small Renisenb and had sometimes mended her toys for her. He had been a grave, silent young man when she went away, with sensitive, clever fingers. Renisenb thought that though he looked older he had changed hardly at all. The grave smile he gave her was just the same as she remembered. Yahmose and Hori were murmuring together: ‘Seventy-three bushels of barley with Ipi the younger …’ ‘The total then is two hundred and thirty of spelt and one hundred and twenty of barley.’ ‘Yes, but there is the price of the timber, and the crop was paid for in oil at Perhaa …’ Their talk went on. Renisenb sat drowsily content with the men’s murmuring voices as a background. Presently Yahmose got up and went away, handing back the roll of papyrus to Hori. Renisenb sat on in a companionable silence. Presently she touched a roll of papyrus and asked: ‘Is that from my father?’ Hori nodded. ‘What does he say?’ she asked curiously. She unrolled it and stared at those marks that were meaningless to her untutored eyes. Smiling a little, Hori leaned over her shoulder and traced with his finger as he read. The letter was couched in the ornate style of the professional letter writer of Heracleopolis. ‘The Servant of the Estate, the Ka servant Imhotep says: ‘May your condition be like that of one who lives a million times. May the God Herishaf, Lord of Heracleopolis and all the Gods that are aid you. May the God Ptah gladden your heart as one who lives long. The son speaks to his mother, the Ka servant to his mother Esa. How are you in your life, safety and health? To the whole household, how are you? To my son Yahmose, how are you in your life, safety and health? Make the most of my land. Strive to the uttermost, dig the ground with your noses in the work. See, if you are industrious I will praise God for you—’ Renisenb laughed. ‘Poor Yahmose! He works hard enough, I am sure.’ Her father’s exhortations had brought him vividly before her eyes—his pompous, slightly fussy manner, his continual exhortations and instructions. Hori went on: ‘Take great care of my son Ipy. I hear he is discontented. Also see that Satipy treats Henet well. Mind this. Do not fail to write about the flax and the oil. Guard the produce of my grain—guard everything of mine, for I shall hold you responsible. If my land floods, woe to you and Sobek.’ ‘My father is just the same,’ said Renisenb happily. ‘Always thinking that nothing can be done right if he is not here.’ She let the roll of papyrus slip and added softly: ‘Everything is just the same …’ Hori did not answer. He took up a sheet of papyrus and began to write. Renisenb watched him lazily for some time. She felt too contented to speak. By and by she said dreamily: ‘It would be interesting to know how to write on papyrus. Why doesn’t everyone learn?’ ‘It is not necessary.’ ‘Not necessary, perhaps, but it would be pleasant.’ ‘You think so, Renisenb? What difference would it make to you?’ Renisenb slowly considered for a moment or two. Then she said slowly: ‘When you ask me like that, truly I do not know, Hori.’ Hori said, ‘At present a few scribes are all that are needed on a large estate, but the day will come, I fancy, when there will be armies of scribes all over Egypt.’ ‘That will be a good thing,’ said Renisenb. Hori said slowly: ‘I am not so sure.’ ‘Why are you not sure?’ ‘Because, Renisenb, it is so easy and it costs so little labour to write down ten bushels of barley, or a hundred head of cattle, or ten fields of spelt—and the thing that is written will come to seem like the real thing, and so the writer and the scribe will come to despise the man who ploughs the fields and reaps the barley and raises the cattle—but all the same the fields and the cattle are real—they are not just marks of ink on papyrus. And when all the records and all the papyrus rolls are destroyed and the scribes are scattered, the men who toil and reap will go on, and Egypt will still live.’ Renisenb looked at him attentively. She said slowly: ‘Yes, I see what you mean. Only the things that you can see and touch and eat are real … To write down “I have two hundred and forty bushels of barley” means nothing unless you have the barley. One could write down lies.’ Hori smiled at her serious face. Renisenb said suddenly: ‘You mended my lion for me—long ago, do you remember?’ ‘Yes, I remember, Renisenb.’ ‘Teti is playing with it now … It is the same lion.’ She paused and then said simply: ‘When Khay went to Osiris I was very sad. But now I have come home and I shall be happy again and forget—for everything here is the same. Nothing is changed at all.’ ‘You really think that?’ Renisenb looked at him sharply. ‘What do you mean, Hori?’ ‘I mean there is always change. Eight years is eight years.’ ‘Nothing changes here,’ said Renisenb with confidence. ‘Perhaps then, there should be change.’ Renisenb said sharply: ‘No, no, I want everything the same!’ ‘But you yourself are not the same Renisenb who went away with Khay.’ ‘Yes I am! Or if not, then I soon shall be again.’ Hori shook his head. ‘You cannot go back, Renisenb. It is like my measures here. I take half and add to it a quarter, and then a tenth and then a twenty-fourth—and at the end, you see, it is a different quantity altogether.’ ‘But I am just Renisenb.’ ‘But Renisenb has something added to her all the time, so she becomes all the time a different Renisenb!’ ‘No, no. You are the same Hori.’ ‘You may think so, but it is not so.’ ‘Yes, yes, and Yahmose is the same, so worried and so anxious, and Satipy bullies him just the same, and she and Kait were having their usual quarrel about mats or beads, and presently when I go back they will be laughing together, the best of friends, and Henet still creeps about and listens and whines about her devotion, and my grandmother was fussing with her little maid over some linen! It was all the same, and presently my father will come home and there will be a great fuss, and he will say “why have you not done this?” and “you should have done that,” and Yahmose will look worried and Sobek will laugh and be insolent about it, and my father will spoil Ipy who is sixteen just as he used to spoil him when he was eight, and nothing will be different at all!’ She paused, breathless. Hori sighed. Then he said gently: ‘You do not understand, Renisenb. There is an evil that comes from outside, that attacks so that all the world can see, but there is another kind of rottenness that breeds from within—that shows no outward sign. It grows slowly, day by day, till at last the whole fruit is rotten—eaten away by disease.’ Renisenb stared at him. He had spoken almost absently, not as though he were speaking to her, but more like a man who muses to himself. She cried out sharply: ‘What do you mean, Hori? You make me afraid.’ ‘I am afraid myself.’ ‘But what do you mean? What is this evil you talk about?’ He looked at her then, and suddenly smiled. ‘Forget what I said, Renisenb. I was thinking of the diseases that attack the crops.’ Renisenb sighed in relief. ‘I’m glad. I thought—I don’t know what I thought.’ CHAPTER 2 (#ulink_0eb0553e-73e5-5ef5-a0b3-2c046f175524) Third Month of Inundation 4th Day (#ulink_0eb0553e-73e5-5ef5-a0b3-2c046f175524) Satipy was talking to Yahmose. Her voice had a high strident note that seldom varied its tone. ‘You must assert yourself. That is what I say! You will never be valued unless you assert yourself. Your father says this must be done and that must be done and why have you not done the others? And you listen meekly and reply yes, yes, and excuse yourself for the things that he says should have been done—and which, the Gods know, have often been quite impossible! Your father treats you as a child—as a young, irresponsible boy! You might be the age of Ipy.’ Yahmose said quietly: ‘My father does not treat me in the least as he treats Ipy.’ ‘No, indeed.’ Satipy fell upon the new subject with renewed venom. ‘He is foolish about that spoiled brat! Day by day Ipy gets more impossible. He swaggers round and does no work that he can help and pretends that anything that is asked of him is too hard for him! It is a disgrace. And all because he knows that your father will always indulge him and take his part. You and Sobek should take a strong line about it.’ Yahmose shrugged his shoulders. ‘What is the good?’ ‘You drive me mad, Yahmose—that is so like you! You have no spirit. You’re as meek as a woman! Everything that your father says you agree with at once!’ ‘I have a great affection for my father.’ ‘Yes, and he trades on that! You go on meekly accepting blame and excusing yourself for things that are no fault of yours! You should speak up and answer him back as Sobek does. Sobek is afraid of nobody!’ ‘Yes, but remember, Satipy, that it is I who am trusted by my father, not Sobek. My father reposes no confidence in Sobek. Everything is always left to my judgement, not his.’ ‘And that is why you should be definitely associated as a partner in the estate! You represent your father when he is away, you act as ka-priest in his absence, everything is left in your hands—and yet you have no recognized authority. There should be a proper settlement. You are now a man of nearly middle age. It’s not right that you should be treated still as a child.’ Yahmose said doubtfully: ‘My father likes to keep things in his own hands.’ ‘Exactly. It pleases him that everyone in the household should be dependent upon him—and upon his whim of the moment. It is bad, that, and it will get worse. This time when he comes home you must tackle him boldly—you must say that you demand a settlement in writing, that you insist on having a regularized position.’ ‘He would not listen.’ ‘Then you must make him listen. Oh that I were a man! If I were in your place I would know what to do! Sometimes I feel that I am married to a worm.’ Yahmose flushed. ‘I will see what I can do—I might, yes, I might perhaps speak to my father—ask him—’ ‘Not ask—you must demand! After all, you have the whip hand of him. There is no one but you whom he can leave in charge here. Sobek is too wild, your father does not trust him, and Ipy is too young.’ ‘There is always Hori.’ ‘Hori is not a member of the family. Your father relies on his judgement, but he would not leave authority except in the hands of his own kin. But I see how it is; you are too meek and mild—and there is milk in your veins, not blood! You don’t consider me, or our children. Not till your father is dead shall we ever have our proper position.’ Yahmose said heavily: ‘You despise me, don’t you, Satipy?’ ‘You make me angry.’ ‘Listen, I tell you that I will speak to my father when he comes. There, it is a promise.’ Satipy murmured under her breath: ‘Yes—but how will you speak? Like a man—or like a mouse?’ Kait was playing with her youngest child, little Ankh. The baby was just beginning to walk and Kait encouraged her with laughing words, kneeling in front of her and waiting with outstretched arms until the child lurched precariously forward and toddled on uncertain feet into her mother’s arms. Kait had been displaying these accomplishments to Sobek, but she realized suddenly that he was not attending, but was sitting with his handsome forehead furrowed into a frown. ‘Oh, Sobek—you were not looking. You do not see. Little one, tell your father he is naughty not to watch you.’ Sobek said irritably: ‘I have other things to think of—yes, and worry about.’ Kait leaned back on her heels, smoothing her hair back from her heavy dark brows where Ankh’s fingers had clutched it. ‘Why? Is there something wrong?’ Kait spoke without quite giving all her attention. The question was more than half mechanical. Sobek said angrily: ‘The trouble is that I am not trusted. My father is an old man, absurdly old-fashioned in his ideas, and he insists on dictating every single action here—he will not leave things to my judgement.’ Kait shook her head and murmured vaguely: ‘Yes, yes, it is too bad.’ ‘If only Yahmose had a little more spirit and would back me up there might be some hope of making my father see reason. But Yahmose is so timid. He carries out every single instruction my father gives him to the letter.’ Kait jingled some beads at the child and murmured: ‘Yes, that is true.’ ‘In this matter of the timber I shall tell my father when he comes that I used my judgement. It was far better to take the price in flax and not in oil.’ ‘I am sure you are right.’ ‘But my father is as obstinate over having his own way as anyone can be. He will make an outcry, will shout out, “I told you to transact the business in oil. Everything is done wrong when I am not here. You are a foolish boy who knows nothing!” How old does he think I am? He doesn’t realize that I am now a man in my prime and he is past his. His instructions and his refusals to sanction any unusual transactions mean that we do not do nearly as good business as we might do. To attain riches it is necessary to take a few risks. I have vision and courage. My father has neither.’ Her eyes on the child, Kait murmured softly: ‘You are so bold and so clever, Sobek.’ ‘But he shall hear some home truths this time if he dares to find fault and shout abuse at me! Unless I am given a free hand I shall leave. I shall go away.’ Kait, her hand stretched out to the child, turned her head sharply, the gesture arrested. ‘Go away? Where would you go?’ ‘Somewhere! It is insupportable to be bullied and nagged at by a fussy, self-important old man who gives me no scope at all to show what I can do.’ ‘No,’ said Kait sharply. ‘I say no, Sobek.’ He stared at her, recalled by her tone into noticing her presence. He was so used to her as a merely soothing accompaniment to his talk that he often forgot her existence as a living, thinking, human woman. ‘What do you mean, Kait?’ ‘I mean that I will not let you be foolish. All the estate belongs to your father, the lands, the cultivation, the cattle, the timber, the fields of flax—all! When your father dies it will be ours—yours and Yahmose’s and our children’s. If you quarrel with your father and go off, then he may divide your share between Yahmose and Ipy—already he loves Ipy too much. Ipy knows that and trades on it. You must not play into the hands of Ipy. It would suit him only too well if you were to quarrel with Imhotep and go away. We have our children to think of.’ Sobek stared at her. Then he gave a short surprised laugh. ‘A woman is always unexpected. I did not know you had it in you, Kait, to be so fierce.’ Kait said earnestly: ‘Do not quarrel with your father. Do not answer him back. Be wise for a little longer.’ ‘Perhaps you are right—but this may go on for years. What my father should do is to associate us with him in a partnership.’ Kait shook her head. ‘He will not do that. He likes too much to say that we are all eating his bread, that we are all dependent on him, that without him we should all be nowhere.’ Sobek looked at her curiously. ‘You do not like my father very much, Kait.’ But Kait had bent once more to the toddling baby. ‘Come, sweetheart—see, here is your doll. Come, then—come …’ Sobek looked down at her black bent head. Then, with a puzzled look, he went out. Esa had sent for her grandson Ipy. The boy, a handsome, discontented-looking stripling, was standing before her whilst she rated him in a high shrill voice, peering at him out of her dim eyes that were shrewd although they could now see little. ‘What is this I hear? You will not do this, and you will not do that? You want to look after the bulls, and you do not like going with Yahmose or seeing to the cultivating? What are things coming to when a child like you says what he will or will not do?’ Ipy said sullenly: ‘I am not a child. I am grown now—and why should I be treated as a child? Put to this work or that with no say of my own and no separate allowance. Given orders all the time by Yahmose. Who does Yahmose think he is?’ ‘He is your older brother and he is in charge here when my son Imhotep is away.’ ‘Yahmose is stupid, slow and stupid. I am much cleverer than he is. And Sobek is stupid too for all that he boasts and talks about how clever he is! Already my father has written and has said that I am to do the work that I myself choose—’ ‘Which is none at all,’ interpolated old Esa. ‘And that I am to be given more food and drink, and that if he hears I am discontented and have not been well treated he will be very angry.’ He smiled as he spoke, a sly upcurving smile. ‘You are a spoiled brat,’ said Esa with energy. ‘And I shall tell Imhotep so.’ ‘No, no, grandmother, you would not do that.’ His smile changed, it became caressing if slightly impudent. ‘You and I, grandmother, we have the brains of the family.’ ‘The impudence of you!’ ‘My father relies on your judgement—he knows you are wise.’ ‘That may be—indeed it is so—but I do not need you to tell me so.’ Ipy laughed. ‘You had better be on my side, grandmother.’ ‘What is this talk of sides?’ ‘The big brothers are very discontented, don’t you know that? Of course you do. Henet tells you everything. Satipy harangues Yahmose all day and all night whenever she can get hold of him. And Sobek has made a fool of himself over the sale of the timber and is afraid my father will be furious when he finds out. You see, grandmother, in another year or two I shall be associated with my father and he will do everything that I wish.’ ‘You, the youngest of the family?’ ‘What does age matter? My father is the one that has the power—and I am the one who knows how to manage my father!’ ‘This is evil talk,’ said Esa. Ipy said softly: ‘You are not a fool, grandmother … You know quite well that my father, in spite of all his big talk, is really a weak man—’ He stopped abruptly, noting that Esa had shifted her head and was peering over his shoulder. He turned his own head, to find Henet standing close behind him. ‘So Imhotep is a weak man?’ said Henet in her soft whining voice. ‘He will not be pleased, I think, to hear that you have said that of him.’ Ipy gave a quick uneasy laugh. ‘But you will not tell him, Henet … Come now, Henet—promise me … Dear Henet …’ Henet glided towards Esa. She raised her voice with its slightly whining note. ‘Of course, I never want to make trouble—you know that … I am devoted to all of you. I never repeat anything unless I think it is my duty …’ ‘I was teasing grandmother, that was all,’ said Ipy. ‘I shall tell my father so. He will know I could not have said such a thing seriously.’ He gave Henet a short, sharp nod and went out of the room. Henet looked after him and said to Esa: ‘A fine boy—a fine, well-grown boy. And how bravely he speaks!’ Esa said sharply: ‘He speaks dangerously. I do not like the ideas he has in his head. My son indulges him too much.’ ‘Who would not? He is such a handsome, attractive boy.’ ‘Handsome is as handsome does,’ said Esa sharply. She was silent a moment or two, then she said slowly: ‘Henet—I am worried.’ ‘Worried, Esa? What would worry you? Anyway, the master will soon be here and then all will be well.’ ‘Will it? I wonder.’ She was silent once more, then she said: ‘Is my grandson Yahmose in the house?’ ‘I saw him coming towards the porch a few moments ago.’ ‘Go and tell him I wish to speak with him.’ Henet departed. She found Yahmose on the cool porch with its gaily coloured columns and gave him Esa’s message. Yahmose obeyed the summons at once. Esa said abruptly: ‘Yahmose, very soon Imhotep will be here.’ Yahmose’s gentle face lighted up. ‘Yes, that will indeed be good.’ ‘All is in order for him? Affairs have prospered?’ ‘My father’s instructions have been carried out as well as I could compass them.’ ‘What of Ipy?’ Yahmose sighed. ‘My father is over-indulgent where that boy is concerned. It is not good for the lad.’ ‘You must make that clear to Imhotep.’ Yahmose looked doubtful. Esa said firmly: ‘I will back you up.’ ‘Sometimes,’ said Yahmose, sighing, ‘there seems to be nothing but difficulties. But everything will be right when my father comes. He can make his own decisions then. It is hard to act as he would wish in his absence—especially when I have no authority, and only act as his delegate.’ Esa said slowly: ‘You are a good son—loyal and affectionate. You have been a good husband too, you have obeyed the proverb that says that a man should love his wife and make a home for her, that he should fill her belly and put clothes on her back, and provide expensive ointments for her toilet and that he should gladden her heart as long as she lives. But there is a further precept—it goes like this: Prevent her from getting the mastery. If I were you, grandson, I should take that precept to heart …’ Yahmose looked at her, flushed deeply and turned away. CHAPTER 3 (#ulink_b7ddaf92-738d-557b-b393-f466c42f807e) Third Month of Inundation 14th Day (#ulink_b7ddaf92-738d-557b-b393-f466c42f807e) Everywhere there was bustle and preparation. Hundreds of loaves had been baked in the kitchen, now ducks were roasting; there was a smell of leeks and garlic and various spices. Women were shouting and giving orders, serving men ran to and fro. Everywhere ran the murmur: ‘The master—the master is coming …’ Renisenb, helping to weave garlands of poppies and lotus flowers, felt an excited happiness bubbling up in her heart. Her father was coming home! In the last few weeks she had slipped imperceptibly back into the confines of her old life. That first sense of unfamiliarity and strangeness, induced in her, she believed, by Hori’s words, had gone. She was the same Renisenb—Yahmose, Satipy, Sobek and Kait were all the same—now, as in the past, there was all the bustle and fuss of preparations for Imhotep’s return. Word had come ahead that he would be with them before nightfall. One of the servants had been posted on the river bank to give warning of the master’s approach, and suddenly his voice rang out loud and clear giving the agreed call. Renisenb dropped her flowers and ran out with the others. They all hastened towards the mooring place on the river bank. Yahmose and Sobek were already there in a little crowd of villagers, fishermen and farm labourers, all calling out excitedly and pointing. Yes, there was the barge with its great square sail coming fast up the river with the North wind bellying out the sail. Close behind it was the kitchen barge crowded with men and women. Presently Renisenb could make out her father sitting holding a lotus flower and with him someone whom she took to be a singer. The cries on the bank redoubled, Imhotep waved a welcoming hand, the sailors were heaving and pulling on the halyards. There were cries of ‘Welcome to the master,’ calls upon the Gods, and thanks for his safe return, and a few moments later Imhotep came ashore, greeting his family and answering the loud salutations that etiquette demanded. ‘Praise be to Sobek, the child of Neith, who has brought you safely on the water!’ ‘Praise be to Ptah, south of the Memphite wall, who brings you to us! Thanks be to Ré who illumines the Two Lands!’ Renisenb pressed forward, intoxicated with the general excitement. Imhotep drew himself up importantly and suddenly Renisenb thought: ‘But he is a small man. I thought of him as much bigger than that.’ A feeling that was almost dismay passed over her. Had her father shrunk? Or was her own memory at fault? She thought of him as rather a splendid being, tyrannical, often fussy, exhorting everybody right and left, and sometimes provoking her to quiet inward laughter, but nevertheless a personage. But this small, stout, elderly man, looking so full of his own importance and yet somehow failing to impress—what was wrong with her? What were these disloyal thoughts that came into her head? Imhotep, having finished the sonorous and ceremonial phrases, had arrived at the stage of more personal greetings. He embraced his sons. ‘Ah, my good Yahmose, all smiles, you have been diligent in my absence, I am sure … And Sobek, my handsome son, still given to merriness of heart, I see. And here is Ipy—my dearest Ipy—let me look at you—stand away—so. Grown bigger, more of a man, how it rejoices my heart to hold you again! And Renisenb—my dear daughter—once more in the home. Satipy, Kait, my no less dear daughters … And Henet—my faithful Henet—’ Henet was kneeling, embracing his knees, and ostentatiously wiping tears of joy from her eyes. ‘It is good to see you, Henet—you are well—happy? As devoted as ever—that is pleasant to the heart … ‘And my excellent Hori, so clever with his accounts and his pen! All has prospered? I am sure it has.’ Then, the greetings finished and the surrounding murmur dying down, Imhotep raised his hand for silence and spoke out loud and clear. ‘My sons and daughters—friends. I have a piece of news for you. For many years, as you all know, I have been a lonely man in one respect. My wife (your mother, Yahmose and Sobek) and my sister (your mother, Ipy) have both gone to Osiris many years ago. So to you, Satipy and Kait, I bring a new sister to share your home. Behold, this is my concubine, Nofret, whom you shall love for my sake. She has come with me from Memphis in the North and will dwell here with you when I go away again.’ As he spoke he drew forward a woman by the hand. She stood there beside him, her head flung back, her eyes narrowed, young, arrogant and beautiful. Renisenb thought, with a shock of surprise: ‘But she’s quite young—perhaps not as old as I am.’ Nofret stood quite still. There was a faint smile on her lips—it had more derision in it than any anxiety to please. She had very straight black brows and a rich bronze skin, and her eyelashes were so long and thick that one could hardly see her eyes. The family, taken aback, stared in dumb silence. With a faint edge of irritation in his voice, Imhotep said: ‘Come now, children, welcome Nofret. Don’t you know how to greet your father’s concubine when he brings her to his house?’ Haltingly and stumblingly the greetings were given. Imhotep, affecting a heartiness that perhaps concealed some uneasiness, exclaimed cheerfully: ‘That’s better! Nofret, Satipy and Kait and Renisenb will take you to the women’s quarters. Where are the trunks? Have the trunks been brought ashore?’ The round-topped travelling trunks were being carried from the barge. Imhotep said to Nofret: ‘Your jewels and your clothes are here safely. Go and see to their bestowing.’ Then, as the women moved away together, he turned to his sons. ‘And what of the estate? Does all go well?’ ‘The lower fields that were rented to Nakht—’ began Yahmose, but his father cut him short. ‘No details now, good Yahmose. They can wait. Tonight is rejoicing. Tomorrow you and I and Hori here will get to business. Come, Ipy, my boy, let us walk to the house. How tall you have grown—your head is above mine.’ Scowling, Sobek walked behind his father and Ipy. Into Yahmose’s ear he murmured: ‘Jewels and clothes—did you hear? That is where the profits of the Northern estates have gone. Our profits.’ ‘Hush,’ whispered Yahmose. ‘Our father will hear.’ ‘What if he does? I am not afraid of him as you are.’ Once in the house, Henet came to Imhotep’s room to prepare the bath. She was all smiles. Imhotep abandoned a little of his defensive heartiness. ‘Well, Henet, and what do you think of my choice?’ Although he had determined to carry things off with a high hand, he had known quite well that the arrival of Nofret would provoke a storm—at least in the women’s part of the house. Henet was different. A singularly devoted creature. She did not disappoint him. ‘She is beautiful! Quite beautiful! What hair, what limbs! She is worthy of you, Imhotep, what can I say more than that? Your dear wife who is dead will be glad that you have chosen such a companion to gladden your days.’ ‘You think so, Henet?’ ‘I am sure of it, Imhotep. After mourning her so many years it is time that you once more enjoyed life.’ ‘You knew her well … I, too, felt it was time to live as a man should live. Er ahem—my sons’ wives and my daughter—they will take this with resentment perhaps?’ ‘They had better not,’ said Henet. ‘After all, do they not all depend upon you in this house?’ ‘Very true, very true,’ said Imhotep. ‘Your bounty feeds and clothes them—their welfare is entirely the result of your efforts.’ ‘Yes, indeed.’ Imhotep sighed. ‘I am continually active on their behalf. I sometimes doubt if they realize all they owe to me.’ ‘You must remind them of it,’ said Henet, nodding her head. ‘I, your humble devoted Henet, never forget what I owe you—but children are sometimes thoughtless and selfish, thinking, perhaps, that it is they who are important and not realizing that they only carry out the instructions that you give.’ ‘That is indeed most true,’ said Imhotep. ‘I have always said you were an intelligent creature, Henet.’ Henet sighed. ‘If others only thought so.’ ‘What is this? Has anyone been unkind to you?’ ‘No, no—that is, they do not mean it—it is a matter of course to them that I should work unceasingly (which I am glad to do)—but a word of affection and appreciation, that is what makes all the difference.’ ‘That you will always have from me,’ said Imhotep. ‘And this is always your home, remember.’ ‘You are too kind, master.’ She paused and added: ‘The slaves are ready in the bathroom with the hot water—and when you have bathed and dressed, your mother asks that you should go to her.’ ‘Ah, my mother? Yes—yes, of course …’ Imhotep looked suddenly slightly embarrassed. He covered his confusion by saying quickly: ‘Naturally—I had intended that—tell Esa I shall come.’ Esa, dressed in her best pleated linen gown, peered across at her son with a kind of sardonic amusement. ‘Welcome, Imhotep. So you have returned to us—and not alone, I hear.’ Imhotep, drawing himself up, replied rather shamefacedly: ‘Oh, so you have heard?’ ‘Naturally. The house is humming with the news. The girl is beautiful, they say, and quite young.’ ‘She is nineteen and—er—not ill looking.’ Esa laughed—an old woman’s spiteful cackle. ‘Ah, well,’ she said, ‘there’s no fool like an old fool.’ ‘My dear mother. I am really at a loss to understand what you mean.’ Esa replied composedly: ‘You always were a fool, Imhotep.’ Imhotep drew himself up and spluttered angrily. Though usually comfortably conscious of his own importance, his mother could always pierce the armour of his self-esteem. In her presence he felt himself dwindling. The faint sarcastic gleam of her nearly sightless eyes never failed to disconcert him. His mother, there was no denying, had never had an exaggerated opinion of his capabilities. And although he knew well that his own estimate of himself was the true one and his mother’s a maternal idiosyncrasy of no importance—yet her attitude never failed to puncture his happy conceit of himself. ‘Is it so unusual for a man to bring home a concubine?’ ‘Not at all unusual. Men are usually fools.’ ‘I fail to see where the folly comes in.’ ‘Do you imagine that the presence of this girl is going to make for harmony in the household? Satipy and Kait will be beside themselves and will inflame their husbands.’ ‘What has it to do with them? What right have they to object?’ ‘None.’ Imhotep began to walk up and down angrily. ‘Can I not do as I please in my own house? Do I not support my sons and their wives? Do they not owe the very bread they eat to me? Do I not tell them so without ceasing?’ ‘You are too fond of saying so, Imhotep.’ ‘It is the truth. They all depend on me. All of them!’ ‘And are you sure that this is a good thing?’ ‘Are you saying that it is not a good thing for a man to support his family?’ Esa sighed. ‘They work for you, remember.’ ‘Do you want me to encourage them in idleness? Naturally they work.’ ‘They are grown men—at least Yahmose and Sobek are—more than grown.’ ‘Sobek has no judgement. He does everything wrong. Also he is frequently impertinent which I will not tolerate. Yahmose is a good obedient boy—’ ‘A good deal more than a boy!’ ‘But sometimes I have to tell him things two or three times before he takes them in. I have to think of everything—be everywhere! All the time I am away, I am dictating to scribes—writing full instructions so that my sons can carry them out … I hardly rest—I hardly sleep! And now when I come home, having earned a little peace, there is to be fresh difficulty! Even you, my mother, deny my right to have a concubine like other men—you are angry—’ Esa interrupted him. ‘I am not angry. I am amused. There will be good sport to watch in the household—but I say all the same that when you go North again you had best take the girl with you.’ ‘Her place is here, in my household! And woe to any who dare ill-treat her.’ ‘It is not a question of ill-treatment. But remember, it is easy to kindle a fire in dry stubble. It has been said of women that “the place where they are is not good …”’ Esa paused and said slowly: ‘Nofret is beautiful. But remember this: Men are made fools by the gleaming limbs of women, and lo, in a minute they are become discoloured cornelians …’ Her voice deepened as she quoted: ‘A trifle, a little, the likeness of a dream, and death comes as the end …’ CHAPTER 4 (#ulink_321e2906-63cc-5f0e-a300-a5a51370cedc) Third Month of Inundation 15th Day (#ulink_321e2906-63cc-5f0e-a300-a5a51370cedc) Imhotep listened to Sobek’s explanation of the sale of the timber in ominous silence. His face had grown very red and a small pulse was beating in his temple. Sobek’s air of easy nonchalance wore a little thin. He had intended to carry things off with a high hand, but in the face of his father’s gathering frowns, he found himself stammering and hesitating. Imhotep finally cut him short impatiently. ‘Yes, yes, yes—you thought that you knew more than I did—you departed from my instructions—it is always the same—unless I am here to see to everything …’ He sighed. ‘What would become of you boys without me I cannot imagine!’ Sobek went on doggedly: ‘There was a chance of making a much bigger profit—I took the risk. One cannot always be pettifogging and cautious!’ ‘There is nothing cautious about you, Sobek! You are rash and much too bold and your judgement is always wrong.’ ‘Do I ever have a chance to exercise my judgement?’ Imhotep said dryly: ‘You have done so this time—and against my express orders—’ ‘Orders? Have I always got to take orders? I am a grown man.’ Losing control of his temper, Imhotep shouted: ‘Who feeds you, who clothes you? Who thinks of the future? Who has your welfare—the welfare of all of you—constantly in mind? When the river was low and we were threatened with famine, did I not arrange for food to be sent South to you? You are lucky to have such a father—who thinks of everything! And what do I ask in return? Only that you should work hard, do your best, and obey the instructions I send you—’ ‘Yes,’ shouted Sobek. ‘We are to work for you like slaves—so that you can buy gold and jewels for your concubine!’ Imhotep advanced towards him, bristling with rage. ‘Insolent boy—to speak like that to your father. Be careful or I will say that this is no longer your home—and you can go elsewhere!’ ‘And if you are not careful I will go! I have ideas, I tell you—good ideas—that would bring in wealth if I was not tied down by pettifogging caution and never allowed to act as I choose.’ ‘Have you finished?’ Imhotep’s tone was ominous. Sobek, a trifle deflated, muttered angrily: ‘Yes—yes—I have no more to say—now.’ ‘Then go and see after the cattle. This is no time for idling.’ Sobek turned and strode angrily away. Nofret was standing not far away and as he passed her she looked sideways at him and laughed. At her laugh the blood came up in Sobek’s face—he made an angry half step towards her. She stood quite still, looking at him out of contemptuous half-closed eyes. Sobek muttered something and resumed his former direction. Nofret laughed again, then walked slowly on to where Imhotep was now turning his attention to Yahmose. ‘What possessed you to let Sobek act in that foolish fashion?’ he demanded irritably. ‘You should have prevented it! Don’t you know by now that he has no judgement in buying and selling? He thinks everything will turn out as he wants it to turn out.’ Yahmose said apologetically: ‘You do not realize my difficulties, father. You told me to entrust Sobek with the sale of the timber. It was necessary therefore that it should be left to him to use his judgement.’ ‘Judgement? Judgement? He has no judgement! He is to do what I instruct him to do—and it is for you to see that he does exactly that.’ Yahmose flushed. ‘I? What authority have I?’ ‘What authority? The authority I give you.’ ‘But I have no real status. If I were legally associated with you—’ He broke off as Nofret came up. She was yawning and twisting a scarlet poppy in her hands. ‘Won’t you come to the little pavilion by the lake, Imhotep? It is cool there and there is fruit waiting for you and Keda beer. Surely you have finished giving your orders by now.’ ‘In a minute, Nofret—in a minute.’ Nofret said in a soft, deep voice: ‘Come now. I want you to come now …’ Imhotep looked pleased and a little sheepish. Yahmose said quickly before his father could speak: ‘Let us just speak of this first. It is important. I want to ask you—’ Nofret spoke directly to Imhotep, turning her shoulder on Yahmose: ‘Can you not do what you want in your own house?’ Imhotep said sharply to Yahmose: ‘Another time, my son. Another time.’ He went with Nofret and Yahmose stood on the porch looking after them. Satipy came out from the house and joined him. ‘Well,’ she demanded eagerly, ‘have you spoken to him? What did he say?’ Yahmose sighed. ‘Do not be so impatient, Satipy. The time was not—propitious.’ Satipy gave an angry exclamation. ‘Oh yes—that is what you would say! That is what you will always say. The truth is you are afraid of your father—you are as timid as a sheep—you bleat at him—you will not stand up to him like a man! Do you not recall the things you promised me? I tell you I am the better man of us two! You promise—you say: “I will ask my father—at once—the very first day.” And what happens—’ Satipy paused—for breath, not because she had finished—but Yahmose cut in mildly: ‘You are wrong, Satipy. I began to speak—but we were interrupted.’ ‘Interrupted? By whom?’ ‘By Nofret.’ ‘Nofret! That woman! Your father should not let his concubine interrupt when he is speaking of business to his eldest son. Women should not concern themselves with business.’ Possibly Yahmose wished that Satipy herself would live up to the maxim she was enunciating so glibly, but he was given no opportunity to speak. His wife swept on: ‘Your father should have made that clear to her at once.’ ‘My father,’ said Yahmose drily, ‘showed no signs of displeasure.’ ‘It is disgraceful,’ Satipy declared. ‘Your father is completely bewitched by her. He lets her say and do as she pleases.’ Yahmose said thoughtfully: ‘She is very beautiful …’ Satipy snorted. ‘Oh, she has looks of a kind. But no manners! No upbringing! She does not care how rude she is to all of us.’ ‘Perhaps you are rude to her?’ ‘I am the soul of politeness. Kait and I treat her with every courtesy. Oh, she shall have nothing of which to go complaining to your father. We can wait our time, Kait and I.’ Yahmose looked up sharply. ‘How do you mean—wait your time?’ Satipy laughed meaningfully as she moved away. ‘My meaning is woman’s meaning—you would not understand. We have our ways—and our weapons! Nofret would do well to moderate her insolence. What does a woman’s life come to in the end, after all? It is spent in the back of the house—amongst the other women.’ There was a peculiar significance in Satipy’s tone. She added: ‘Your father will not always be here … He will go away again to his estates in the North. And then—we shall see.’ ‘Satipy—’ Satipy laughed—a hard-sounding, high laugh, and went back into the house. By the lake the children were running about and playing. Yahmose’s two boys were fine, handsome little fellows, looking more like Satipy than like their father. Then there were Sobek’s three—the youngest a mere toddling baby. And there was Teti, a grave, handsome child of four years old. They laughed and shouted, threw balls—occasionally a dispute broke out and a childish wail of anger rose high and shrill. Sitting sipping his beer, with Nofret beside him, Imhotep murmured: ‘How fond children are of playing by water. It was always so, I remember. But, by Hathor, what a noise they make!’ Nofret said quickly: ‘Yes—and it could be so peaceful … Why do you not tell them to go away whilst you are here? After all when the master of the house wants relaxation a proper respect should be shown. Don’t you agree?’ ‘I—well—’ Imhotep hesitated. The idea was new to him but pleasing. ‘I do not really mind them,’ he finished, doubtfully. He added rather weakly: ‘They are accustomed to play here always as they please.’ ‘When you are away, yes,’ said Nofret quickly. ‘But I think, Imhotep, considering all that you do for your family, they should show more sense of your dignity—of your importance. You are too gentle—too easygoing.’ Imhotep sighed placidly. ‘It has always been my failing. I never insist on the outward forms.’ ‘And therefore these women, your son’s wives, take advantage of your kindness. It should be understood that when you come here for repose, there must be silence and tranquillity. See, I will go and tell Kait to take her children away and the others too. Then you shall have peace and contentment here.’ ‘You are a thoughtful girl, Nofret—yes, a good girl. You are always thinking of my comfort.’ Nofret murmured: ‘Your pleasure is mine.’ She got up and went to where Kait was kneeling by the water playing with a little model barge which her second child, a rather spoilt-looking-boy, was trying to float. Nofret said curtly: ‘Will you take the children away, Kait?’ Kait stared up at her uncomprehendingly. ‘Away? What do you mean? This is where they always play.’ ‘Not today. Imhotep wants peace. These children of yours are noisy.’ Colour flamed into Kait’s heavy face. ‘You should mend your ways of speech, Nofret! Imhotep likes to see his sons’ children playing here. He has said so.’ ‘Not today,’ said Nofret. ‘He has sent me to tell you to take the whole noisy brood into the house, so that he can sit in peace—with me.’ ‘With you …’ Kait stopped abruptly in what she had been about to say. Then she got up and walked to where Imhotep was half-sitting, half-lying. Nofret followed her. Kait spoke without circumlocution. ‘Your concubine says I am to take the children away from here? Why? What are they doing that is wrong? For what reason should they be banished?’ ‘I should have thought the wish of the master of the house was enough,’ said Nofret softly. ‘Exactly—exactly,’ said Imhotep pettishly. ‘Why should I have to give reasons? Whose house is this?’ ‘I suppose it is she who wants them away.’ Kait turned and looked Nofret up and down. ‘Nofret thinks of my comfort—of my enjoyment,’ said Imhotep. ‘No one else in this house ever considers it—except perhaps poor Henet.’ ‘So the children are not to play here any more?’ ‘Not when I have come here to rest.’ Kait’s anger flamed forth suddenly: ‘Why do you let this woman turn you against your own blood? Why should she come and interfere with the ways of the house? With what has always been done.’ Imhotep suddenly began to shout. He felt a need to vindicate himself. ‘It is I who say what is to be done here—not you! You are all in league to do as you choose—to arrange everything to suit yourselves. And when I, the master of the house, come home, no proper attention is paid to my wishes. But I am master here, let me tell you! I am constantly planning and working for your welfare—but am I given gratitude, are my wishes respected? No. First, Sobek is insolent and disrespectful, and now you, Kait, try to browbeat me! What am I supporting you all for? Take care—or I shall cease to support you. Sobek talks of going—then let him go and take you and your children with him.’ For a moment Kait stood perfectly still. There was no expression at all on her heavy, rather vacant face. Then she said in a voice from which all emotion had been eliminated: ‘I will take the children into the house …’ She moved a step or two, pausing by Nofret. In a low voice Kait said: ‘This is your doing, Nofret. I shall not forget. No, I shall not forget …’ CHAPTER 5 (#ulink_709c0d60-5bf5-5faa-b238-5a81b9356e4a) Fourth Month of Inundation 5th Day (#ulink_709c0d60-5bf5-5faa-b238-5a81b9356e4a) Imhotep breathed a sigh of satisfaction as he finished his ceremonial duties as Mortuary Priest. The ritual had been observed with meticulous detail—for Imhotep was in every respect a most conscientious man. He had poured the libations, burnt incense, and offered the customary offerings of food and drink. Now, in the cool shade of the adjacent rock chamber where Hori was waiting for him, Imhotep became once more the land-owner and the man of affairs. Together the two men discussed business matters, prevailing prices, and the profits resulting from crops, cattle, and timber. After half an hour or so, Imhotep nodded his head with satisfaction. ‘You have an excellent head for business, Hori,’ he said. The other smiled. ‘I should have, Imhotep. I have been your man of affairs for many years now.’ ‘And a most faithful one. Now, I have a matter to discuss with you. It concerns Ipy. He complains that his position is subordinate.’ ‘He is still very young.’ ‘But he shows great ability. He feels that his brothers are not always fair to him. Sobek, it seems, is rough and over-bearing—and Yahmose’s continual caution and timidity irk him. Ipy is high-spirited. He does not like taking orders. Moreover he says that it is only I, his father, who have the right to command.’ ‘That is true,’ said Hori. ‘And it has struck me, Imhotep, that that is a weakness here on the estate. May I speak freely?’ ‘Certainly, my good Hori. Your words are always thoughtful and well considered.’ ‘Then I say this. When you are away, Imhotep, there should be someone here who has real authority.’ ‘I trust my affairs to you and to Yahmose—’ ‘I know that we act for you in your absence—but that is not enough. Why not appoint one of your sons as a partner—associate him with you by a legal deed of settlement?’ Imhotep paced up and down frowning. ‘Which of my sons do you suggest? Sobek has an authoritative manner—but he is insubordinate—I could not trust him. His disposition is not good.’ ‘I was thinking of Yahmose. He is your eldest son. He has a gentle and affectionate disposition. He is devoted to you.’ ‘Yes, he has a good disposition—but he is too timid—too yielding. He gives in to everybody. Now if Ipy were only a little older—’ Hori said quickly: ‘It is dangerous to give power to too young a man.’ ‘True—true—well, Hori, I will think of what you have said. Yahmose is certainly a good son … an obedient son …’ Hori said gently but urgently: ‘You would, I think, be wise.’ Imhotep looked at him curiously. ‘What is in your mind, Hori?’ Hori said slowly: ‘I said just now that it is dangerous to give a man power when he is too young. But it is also dangerous to give it to him too late.’ ‘You mean that he has become too used to obeying orders and not to giving them. Well, perhaps there is something in that.’ Imhotep sighed. ‘It is a difficult task to rule a family! The women in particular are hard to manage. Satipy has an ungovernable temper, Kait is often sulky. But I have made it clear to them that Nofret is to be treated in a proper fashion. I think I may say that—’ He broke off. A slave was coming panting up the narrow pathway. ‘What is this?’ ‘Master—a barge is here. A scribe called Kameni has come with a message from Memphis.’ Imhotep got up fussily. ‘More trouble,’ he exclaimed. ‘As sure as Ra sails the Heavens this will be more trouble! Unless I am on hand to attend to things everything goes wrong.’ He went stamping down the path and Hori sat quite still looking after him. There was a troubled expression on his face. Renisenb had been wandering aimlessly along the bank of the Nile when she heard shouts and commotion and saw people running towards the landing stage. She ran and joined them. In the boat that was pulling to shore stood a young man, and just for a moment, as she saw him outlined against the bright light, her heart missed a beat. A mad, fantastic thought leapt into her mind. ‘It is Khay,’ she thought. ‘Khay returned from the Underworld.’ Then she mocked herself for the superstitious fancy. Because in her own remembrance, she always thought of Khay as sailing on the Nile, and this was indeed a young man of about Khay’s build—she had imagined a fantasy. This man was younger than Khay, with an easy, supple grace, and had a laughing, gay face. He had come, he told them, from Imhotep’s estates in the North. He was a scribe and his name was Kameni. A slave was despatched for her father and Kameni was taken to the house where food and drink were put before him. Presently her father arrived and there was much consultation and talking. The gist of it all filtered through into the women’s quarters with Henet, as usual, as the purveyor of the news. Renisenb sometimes wondered how it was that Henet always contrived to know all about everything. Kameni, it seemed, was a young scribe in Imhotep’s employ—the son of one of Imhotep’s cousins. Kameni had discovered certain fraudulent dispositions—a falsifying of the accounts, and since the matter had many ramifications and involved the stewards of the property, he had thought it best to come South in person and report. Renisenb was not much interested. It was clever, she thought, of Kameni to have discovered all this. Her father would be pleased with him. The immediate outcome of the matter was that Imhotep made hurried preparations for departure. He had not meant to leave for another two months, but now the sooner he was on the spot the better. The whole household was summoned and innumerable exordiums and recommendations were made. This was to be done and that. Yahmose was on no account to do such and such a thing. Sobek was to exercise the utmost discretion over something else. It was all, Renisenb thought, very familiar. Yahmose was attentive, Sobek was sulky. Hori, as usual, was calm and efficient. Ipy’s demands and importunities were put aside with more sharpness than usual. ‘You are too young to have a separate allowance. Obey Yahmose. He knows my wishes and commands.’ Imhotep placed a hand on his eldest son’s shoulder. ‘I trust you, Yahmose. When I return we will speak once more of a partnership.’ Yahmose flushed quickly with pleasure. He drew himself a little more erect. Imhotep went on: ‘See only that all goes well in my absence. See to it that my concubine is well treated—and with due honour and respect. She is in your charge. It is for you to control the conduct of the women of the household. See that Satipy curbs her tongue. See also that Sobek duly instructs Kait. Renisenb, also, must act towards Nofret with courtesy. Then I will have no unkindness shown toward our good Henet. The women, I know, find her tiresome sometimes. She has been here long and thinks herself privileged to say many things that are sometimes unwelcome. She has, I know, neither beauty nor wit—but she is faithful, remember, and has always been devoted to my interests. I will not have her despised and abused.’ ‘Everything shall be done as you say,’ said Yahmose. ‘But Henet sometimes makes trouble with her tongue.’ ‘Pah! Nonsense! All women do. Not Henet more than another. Now as to Kameni, he shall remain here. We can do with another scribe and he can assist Hori. As for that land that we have rented to the woman Yaii—’ Imhotep went off into meticulous details. When at last all was ready for the departure Imhotep felt a sudden qualm. He took Nofret aside and said doubtfully: ‘Nofret, are you content to remain here? Would it be, perhaps, best if, after all, you came with me?’ Nofret shook her head and smiled. ‘You will not be long absent,’ she said. ‘Three months—perhaps four. Who knows?’ ‘You see—it will not be long. I shall be content here.’ Imhotep said fussily: ‘I have enjoined upon Yahmose—upon all my sons—that you are to have every consideration. On their heads be it if you have anything of which to complain!’ ‘They will do as you say, I am sure, Imhotep.’ Nofret paused. Then she said, ‘Who is there here whom I can trust absolutely? Someone who is truly devoted to your interests? I do not mean one of the family.’ ‘Hori—my good Hori? He is in every way my right hand—and a man of good sense and discrimination.’ Nofret said slowly: ‘He and Yahmose are like brothers. Perhaps—’ ‘There is Kameni. He, too, is a scribe. I will enjoin on him to place himself at your service. If you have anything of which to complain, he will write down your words with his pen and despatch the complaint to me.’ Nofret nodded appreciatively. ‘That is a good thought. Kameni comes from the North. He knows my father. He will not be influenced by family considerations.’ ‘And Henet,’ exclaimed Imhotep. ‘There is Henet.’ ‘Yes,’ said Nofret, reflectively. ‘There is Henet. Suppose that you were to speak to her now—in front of me?’ ‘An excellent plan.’ Henet was sent for and came with her usual cringing eagerness. She was full of lamentations over Imhotep’s departure. Imhotep cut her short with abruptness. ‘Yes, yes, my good Henet—but these things must be. I am a man who can seldom count on any stretch of peace or rest. I must toil ceaselessly for my family—little though they sometimes appreciate it. Now I wish to speak to you very seriously. You love me faithfully and devotedly, I know—I can leave you in a position of trust. Guard Nofret here—she is very dear to me.’ ‘Whoever is dear to you, master, is dear to me,’ Henet declared with fervour. ‘Very good. Then you will devote yourself to Nofret’s interests?’ Henet turned towards Nofret who was watching her under lowered lids. ‘You are too beautiful, Nofret,’ she said. ‘That is the trouble. That is why the others are jealous—but I will look after you—I will warn you of all they say and do. You can count on me!’ There was a pause whilst the eyes of the two women met. ‘You can count on me,’ Henet repeated. A slow smile came to Nofret’s lips—a rather curious smile. ‘Yes,’ she said. ‘I understand you, Henet. I think I can count on you.’ Imhotep cleared his throat noisily. ‘Then I think all is arranged—yes—everything is satisfactory. Organization—that has always been my strong point.’ There was a dry cackle of laughter and Imhotep turned sharply to see his mother standing in the entrance of the room. She was supporting her weight on a stick and looked more dried up and malevolent than ever. ‘What a wonderful son I have!’ she observed. ‘I must not delay—there are some instructions to Hori—’ Muttering importantly, Imhotep hurried from the room. He managed to avoid meeting his mother’s eye. Esa gave an imperious nod of the head to Henet—and Henet glided obediently out of the room. Nofret had risen. She and Esa stood looking at each other. Esa said: ‘So my son is leaving you behind? You had better go with him, Nofret.’ ‘He wishes me to stay here.’ Nofret’s voice was soft and submissive. Esa gave a shrill chuckle. ‘Little good that would be if you wanted to go! And why do you not want to go? I do not understand you. What is there for you here? You are a girl who has lived in cities—who has perhaps travelled. Why do you choose the monotony of day after day here—amongst those who—I am frank—do not like you—who in fact dislike you?’ ‘So you dislike me?’ Esa shook her head. ‘No—I do not dislike you. I am old and though I can see but dimly—I can still see beauty and enjoy it. You are beautiful, Nofret, and the sight of you pleases my old eyes. Because of your beauty I wish you well. I am warning you. Go North with my son.’ Again Nofret repeated: ‘He wishes me to stay here.’ The submissive tone was now definitely impregnated with mockery. Esa said sharply: ‘You have a purpose in remaining here. What is it, I wonder? Very well, on your own head be it. But be careful. Act discreetly. And trust no one.’ She wheeled abruptly and went out. Nofret stood quite still. Very slowly her lips curved upwards in a wide, catlike smile. PART TWO (#ulink_cb5645cd-8703-5e66-bfaa-53558aa8c881) CHAPTER 6 (#ulink_5fad21bd-4177-5987-8835-e86ff17b9a0b) First Month of Winter 4th Day (#ulink_5fad21bd-4177-5987-8835-e86ff17b9a0b) Renisenb had got into the habit of going up to the Tomb almost every day. Sometimes Yahmose and Hori would be there together, sometimes Hori alone, sometimes there would be no one—but always Renisenb was aware of a curious relief and peace—a feeling almost of escape. She liked it best when Hori was there alone. There was something in his gravity, his incurious acceptance of her coming, that gave her a strange feeling of contentment. She would sit in the shade of the rock chamber entrance with one knee raised and her hands clasped round it, and stare out over the green belt of cultivation to where the Nile showed a pale gleaming blue and beyond it to a distance of pale soft fawns and creams and pinks, all melting hazily into each other. She had come the first time, months ago now, on a sudden wish to escape from a world of intense femininity. She wanted stillness and companionship—and she had found them here. The wish to escape was still with her, but it was no longer a mere revulsion from the stress and fret of domesticity. It was something more definite, more alarming. She said to Hori one day: ‘I am afraid …’ ‘Why are you afraid, Renisenb?’ He studied her gravely. Renisenb took a minute or two to think. Then she said slowly: ‘Do you remember saying to me once that there were two evils—one that came from without and one from within?’ ‘Yes, I remember.’ ‘You were speaking, so you said afterwards, about diseases that attack fruit and crops, but I have been thinking—it is the same with people.’ Hori nodded slowly. ‘So you have found that out … Yes, you are right, Renisenb.’ Renisenb said abruptly: ‘It is happening now—down there at the house. Evil has come—from outside! And I know who has brought it. It is Nofret.’ Hori said slowly: ‘You think so?’ Renisenb nodded vigorously. ‘Yes, yes, I know what I am talking about. Listen, Hori, when I came up to you here and said that everything was the same even to Satipy and Kait quarrelling—that was true. But those quarrels, Hori, were not real quarrels. I mean Satipy and Kait enjoyed them—they made the time pass—neither of the women felt any real anger against each other! But now it is different. Now they do not just say things that are rude and unpleasant—they say things that they mean shall hurt—and when they have seen that a thing hurts then they are glad! It is horrid, Hori—horrid! Yesterday Satipy was so angry that she ran a long gold pin into Kait’s arm—and a day or two ago Kait dropped a heavy copper pan full of boiling fat over Satipy’s foot. And it is the same everywhere—Satipy rails at Yahmose far into the night—we can all hear her. Yahmose looks sick and tired and hunted. And Sobek goes off to the village and stays there with women and comes back drunk and shouts and boasts and says how clever he is!’ ‘Some of these things are true, I know,’ said Hori, slowly. ‘But why should you blame Nofret?’ ‘Because it is her doing! It is always the things she says—little things—clever things—that start it all. She is like the goad with which you prick oxen. She is clever, too, in knowing just what to say. Sometimes I think it is Henet who tells her …’ ‘Yes,’ said Hori thoughtfully. ‘That might well be.’ Renisenb shivered. ‘I don’t like Henet. I hate the way she creeps about. She is so devoted to us all, and yet none of us want her devotion. How could my mother have brought her here and been so fond of her?’ ‘We have only Henet’s word for that,’ said Hori drily. ‘Why should Henet be so fond of Nofret and follow her round and whisper and fawn upon her? Oh, Hori, I tell you I am afraid! I hate Nofret! I wish she would go away. She is beautiful and cruel and bad!’ ‘What a child you are, Renisenb.’ Then Hori added quietly: ‘Nofret is coming up here now.’ Renisenb turned her head. Together they watched Nofret come slowly up the steep path that led up the cliff face. She was smiling to herself and humming a little tune under her breath. When she reached the place where they were, she looked round her and smiled. It was a smile of amused curiosity. ‘So this is where you slip away to every day, Renisenb.’ Renisenb did not answer. She had the angry, defeated feeling of a child whose refuge has been discovered. Nofret looked about her again. ‘And this is the famous Tomb?’ Конец ознакомительного фрагмента. Текст предоставлен ООО «ЛитРес». Прочитайте эту книгу целиком, купив полную легальную версию (https://www.litres.ru/agata-kristi/death-comes-as-the-end/?lfrom=334617187) на ЛитРес. 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