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SECOND MONTH OF INUNDATION, 20TH DAY
Renisenb stood looking out over the Nile.
In the distance she could hear faintly the upraised voices of her brothers, Yahmose and Sobek, disputing as to whether or not the dikes in a certain place needed strengthening. 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 farm lands 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 forgetthose 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....
"I will not think of it. It is over! Here I am at home. Everything is the same as it was. 1, 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 riverbank. She passed by the combins 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 wallsbut 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 colored columns, and then through into the house, passing through the big central chamber, with its colored 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, savoring 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: