LORD OF THE SILENT.
Amon, King of the G.o.ds, Lord of the Silent who conies at the voice of the poor ... who gives bread to him who has none ... father of the orphan, husband of the widow ... though the servant offends him, he is merciful. Epithets and attributes of Amon-Re, a composite from various prayers 1.
"I challenge even you, Peabody, to find a silver lining in this situation," Emerson remarked. We were in the library at Amarna House, our home in Kent. As usual, Emerson's desk resembled an archaeological tell, piled high with books and papers and dusty with ashes from his pipe. The servants were strictly forbidden to touch his work, so the ashes were only disturbed when Emerson rooted around in one pile or another, looking for something. Leaning back in his chair, he stared morosely at the bust of Plato on the opposite bookshelf. Plato stared morosely back. He had replaced the bust of Socrates, which had been shattered by a bullet a few years ago, and his expression was not nearly so pleasant. The October morn was overcast and cool, a portent of the winter weather that would soon be upon us, and a reflection of the somber mood that affected most persons; and I was bound to confess that these were indeed times to try men's souls. When the war began in August of 1914, people were saying it would be over by Christmas. By the autumn of 1915, even the st.u.r.diest optimists had resigned themselves to a long, b.l.o.o.d.y conflict. After appalling casualties, the opposing armies on the western front had settled into the stalemate of trench warfare, and the casualties continued to mount. The attempt to force the Straits of the Dardanelles and capture Constantinople had been a failure. A hundred thousand men were pinned down on the beaches of Gallipoli, unable to advance because of the enemy's control of the terrain, unable to withdraw because the War Office refused to admit it had made a catastrophic mistake. Serbia was about to fall to the enemy. The Russian armies were in disarray. Italy had entered the war on our side, but her armies were stalled on the Austrian frontier. Attack from the air and from under the sea had added a new and hideous dimension to warfare. There was a bright spot, though, and I was quick to point it out. After a summer spent in England we were about to leave for Egypt and another season of the archaeological endeavors for which we have become famous. My distinguished husband would not have abandoned his excavations for anything less than Armageddon (and only if that final battle were being fought in his immediate vicinity). Though acutely conscious of the tragedy of world war, he was sometimes inclined to regard it as a personal inconvenience-"a confounded nuisance," to quote Emerson himself. It had certainly complicated our plans for that season. With overland travel to the Italian ports now cut off, there was only one way for us to reach Egypt, and German submarines prowled the English coast. Not that Emerson was concerned for himself; he fears nothing in this world or the next. It was concern for the others who were accustomed to join us in our yearly excavations that made him hesitate: for me; for our son Ramses and his wife, Nefret; for Ramses's friend David and his wife Lia, Emerson's niece; for her parents, Emerson's brother Walter and my dear friend Evelyn; and for Sennia, the little girl we had taken into our hearts and home after she was abandoned by her English father. "It only remains," I went on, "to decide how many of us will be going out this year. I had never supposed Lia would join us; the baby is only six months old and although he is a healthy little chap, one would not want to risk his falling ill. Medical services in Cairo have improved enormously since our early days there, but one cannot deny that they are not-" "d.a.m.n it, Amelia, don't lecture!" Emerson exclaimed. Emerson's temper has become the stuff of legend in Egypt; he is not called the Father of Curses for nothing. Sapphirine orbs blazing, heavy brows drawn together, he reached for his pipe. Emerson seldom calls me Amelia. Peabody, my maiden name, is the one he employs as a term of approbation and affection. Pleased to have stirred him out of his melancholy mood, I waited until his stalwart form relaxed and his handsome face took on a sheepish smile. "I beg your pardon, my love." "Granted," I replied magnanimously. The library door opened and Gargery, our butler, poked his head in. "Did you call, Professor?" "I didn't call you," Emerson replied. "And you know it. Go away, Gargery." Gargery's snub-nosed countenance took on a look of stubborn determination. "Would you and the madam care for coffee, sir?" "We just now finished breakfast," Emerson reminded him. "If I want something I will ask for it." "Shall I switch on the electric lights, sir? I believe we are due for a rainstorm. My rheumatism-" "Curse your rheumatism!" Emerson shouted. "Get out of here, Gargery." The door closed with something of a slam. Emerson chuckled. "He's as transparent as a child, isn't he?" "Has he been nagging you about taking him to Egypt this year?" "Well, he does it every year, doesn't he? Now he is claiming the damp winter climate gives him the rheumatics." "I wonder how old he is. He hasn't changed a great deal since we first met him. Hair of that sandy shade does not show gray, and he is still thin and wiry." "He's younger than we are," said Emerson with a chuckle. "It is not his age that concerns me, Peabody, my dear. We made a bad mistake when we allowed our butler to take a hand in our criminal investigations. It has given him ideas below his station." "You must admit he was useful," I said, recalling certain of those earlier investigations. "That year we left Nefret and Ramses here in England, one or both of them might have been abducted by Schlange's henchmen if it hadn't been for Gargery and his cudgel." "I don't know about that. Nefret defended herself admirably, and Ramses as well." Emerson puffed at his pipe. He claims tobacco calms his nerves. Certainly his voice was more affable when he went on. "However, I admit he was of considerable a.s.sistance the time we were locked in the dungeon under Mauldy Manor with the water rising and the house on fire and .. . What are you laughing about?" "Fond memories, my dear, fond memories. We really have led interesting lives, have we not?" "Too d.a.m.ned interesting. I would rather not go through another season like the last one." His voice grew gruff with an emotion his reticent British nature would not allow him to express. I knew what emotion it was, though, for I shared it. He was thinking of our son and how close we had come to losing him. Ramses had been in trouble of one sort or another as soon as he could crawl. In his younger days he had been kidnapped by master criminals and antiquities thieves, fallen into tombs and off cliffs . . . but a complete catalog would fill too many pages of this narrative. He had reached his mid-twenties alive and relatively unscathed; but maturity had not tempered his reckless nature, and he had never faced greater dangers than the ones he had encountered the winter of 1914-45. Everyone knew that the Turks were planning to attack the Suez Ca.n.a.l. What was not generally known was that they hoped to inspire a b.l.o.o.d.y uprising in Cairo to coincide with their attack, and divert troops from the Ca.n.a.l defenses. They found willing allies in a group of Egyptian nationalists, who were bitterly and justifiably resentful of Britain's refusal to consider their demands for independence. Kamil el-Wardani, the charismatic young leader of this group, was the most dangerous of the nationalists, but there were others who were ready and willing to cooperate with the enemy; so when Wardani was taken into custody, the authorities determined to keep his arrest a secret and have someone else replace him-someone loyal to England who would report on the enemy's plans, including the location of the arms the Turks were secretly supplying. There was only one man who could have carried off such a masquerade. Ramses's resemblance to the Egyptians among whom he had spent most of his life, his fluency in Arabic and several other languages, and his expertise in the dubious art of disguise made him the perfect candidate. It would be impossible to overstate the peril of his position: Wardani's men would have murdered him if they had learned his true ident.i.ty; the Germans and Turks would have murdered him if they suspected he was betraying their plans; and since "Wardani" had a price on his head, every police officer in Cairo was looking for him. Ramses and David, who had insisted on sharing the danger, had succeeded in preventing the uprising and had given the War Office a nice little bonus by exposing the traitor who had been selling information to the Central Powers; but each had suffered serious injuries and for several unfortunately unforgettable hours I had been afraid we were going to lose both of them. "What about David?" I asked. "Yes, there's another thing," Emerson grumbled. "He's become absolutely indispensable to me; there's not a finer artist or epigrapher in the business. But how can I ask him to leave his wife and child?" "You can't. The difficulty will be in preventing him from leaving them. He and Ramses are as close as brothers, and he feels he is the only person who can control Ramses's recklessness." "No one can do that," Emerson muttered. "I had hoped he'd settle down once he was married, but Nefret is almost as bad as-" He broke off with a grunt as the door opened again. This time it was Nefret herself who entered. "Did I hear my name mentioned?" she inquired innocently. Ramses was with her. He usually was. I speak quite impartially, without maternal prejudice of any kind, when I state that they were a very handsome couple. His aquiline features, bronzed complexion, and wavy black hair formed a striking contrast to her fairness. At six feet and a bit, he was considerably taller than she. The top of her golden-red head barely reached his chin-a particularly convenient height, as I had once overheard him remark in a suspiciously m.u.f.fled voice, when I happened to be pa.s.sing the half-open door of their room one afternoon. Naturally I did not pause or look in. I deduced that they had just returned from a morning ride, since both were suitably attired for that activity. Like Ramses, Nefret wore breeches and boots and a well-cut tweed coat. Fresh air and exercise had brought a pretty color to her cheeks, and loosened tendrils of hair curled over her temples. "Ah," said Emerson, self-consciously. "Er. Come in. We were just discussing our plans for the coming season." "I trust you had intended to consult us," said Nefret. "Father, you know we agreed that we wouldn't ever again keep secrets from one another." Though she had joined our family at the age of thirteen, after we rescued her from the remote oasis in the Western Desert where she had lived from birth, she had not used that affectionate form of address to Emerson, or called me Mother, until after she and Ramses had become one. Emerson had always loved her as dearly as a daughter; to hear that word from her lips reduced him to jelly. "Yes, yes, of course," he exclaimed. The young people seated themselves on the sofa, where Nefret proceeded to make herself comfortable, tucking her feet up and leaning against Ramses. He put his arm around her and gave me a sidelong smile. It was very pleasant to see the change in him since his marriage. As a child he had been perniciously verbose. As an adult he had employed speech to hide his feelings instead of expressing them, and he had schooled his countenance to such an extent that Nefret often teased him about his stone pharaoh face. I had given him several motherly lectures on the inadvisability of concealing emotions that were deep and warm, but Nefret's loving, impulsive nature had had a more profound effect. It is difficult for a man to remain aloof with a woman who worships the ground he walks on, particularly when he feels the same about her. "So," said Nefret briskly, "what was it you were saying, Father? I am as bad as ... shall I guess who?" "I only meant . . ." Emerson began. "We know what you meant," Ramses said. "Stop teasing him, Nefret. If you are worried about me, Father, you needn't be. I've no intention of getting involved with that lot again. This is going to be a purely archaeological season, with no distractions of any kind." "I've heard that before," Emerson said darkly. "We can only hope, I suppose. So you two were planning to come out with us?" "Of course," Nefret said. "We never considered anything else." Emerson shook his head. "You must weigh the danger, Nefret. Do you know how many ships we've lost to German submarines since the beginning of the year?" "No, and neither do you," Ramses said. "The Admiralty is trying to keep that information under wraps. I'm not arguing with you, Father, I'm only considering the alternatives logically. Are you planning to spend the rest of the war here in England?" He didn't wait for an answer, there was no need. "The Germans have agreed to spare pa.s.senger liners, especially neutrals-" "That's what they agreed before the Lusitania" I murmured. "If you are waiting for a guarantee, you won't get it," my son said, in a hard flat voice. I saw the fingers that rested on Nefret's shoulder tighten, and I knew they had argued this same issue before. It had been a waste of breath, as I could have told him. Ramses was as dedicated to Egyptology as was his father, and he knew how much Emerson depended on him. As for leaving her behind, safe in England, she wouldn't have stood for that, any more than I would. "Ah, well," I said cheerfully. "Looking at the situation logically, as you proposed, it is not as if we are strangers to danger. I expect the risk of being torpedoed is less than other risks we have faced, and if it should occur-" "We'll get out of it someway," Nefret said with a grin. "We always do." "That is the spirit," I exclaimed. "So it is agreed? The four of us and-who else? You will have to do without Seshat this year; the kittens are not due for several more weeks. What about David?" "He's staying here," Ramses said. "Have you talked with him?" Emerson asked. "Yes." His lips closed on the word, but Emerson's piercing look forced him to elaborate. "In the eyes of all but a few people in Cairo, David is still under suspicion as a rabid nationalist and a member of Wardani's former organization. He'd be subject to arrest and imprisonment if he returned, and the War Office wouldn't lift a finger to save him. That's the chance you take when you play the Great Game," he added, giving the last two words the ironic inflection with which he always p.r.o.nounced them. "If anything goes wrong, you are expendable." Nefret's blue eyes were troubled. "I'm glad he realizes that. He has other responsibilities now. Lia and the baby couldn't come out this year anyhow. Aunt Evelyn and Uncle Walter won't want to leave their first grandchild, or be away from England while w.i.l.l.y is in France." "No, of course not," I said. Evelyn and Walter had already lost one son, w.i.l.l.y's twin, a loss still keenly felt by all of us who had known and loved the lad. So far w.i.l.l.y had led a charmed life, but if he were wounded and sent home to recuperate, his mother would want to nurse him. "What about Sennia?" Emerson groaned. He adored the little girl, and had missed her desperately the previous year, but the dead children of the Lusitania still haunted him. "She'll be better off here," Ramses said. Nefret turned her head and looked up at him. "You will have to be the one to tell her, then. I simply suggested the possibility last week and she went into one of her tantrums." "The way you women let that child bully you is a disgrace." Ramses's heavy dark brows drew together. "She can control her temper perfectly well when she wants to. She only uses it to get her own way." "Are you volunteering to break the news?" his wife inquired sweetly. "I'd as soon face a charging lion," Ramses said with considerable feeling. Nefret laughed, and I said, "I trust, Ramses, you do not include me in your blanket condemnation of female inept.i.tude." "Good Lord, no. You're the only one in the family who can handle her. I'm afraid it's up to you, Mother." "Oh, dear," I murmured. "I would really rather not." Nefret let out another of her rich chuckles. "It is comical to see the two of you confronting one another. The resemblance is strong in any case, but when you are both in a temper it's like seeing two Aunt Amelias, one grown up and the other six years old." Though Nefret usually called me Mother, sometimes she slipped and referred to me by the name she had used for so many years. I didn't mind. What I did mind was the a.s.sumption-shared, it was clear, by all parties-that it was up to me to reason with Sennia. She seldom tried her tricks on me, but if anything could throw her into a tantrum, it would be the threat of being separated from Ramses. She loved all of us, but he was her idol-foster father, elder brother, playmate, rescuer. "Oh, very well," I said. "I am accustomed to having all the unpleasant tasks left to me. I will speak with her tomorrow. Or the next day." "Or the day after?" Ramses suggested. I gave him a hard look and Nefret gave him a pinch-little reminders that if he continued to amuse himself at my expense he might find himself saddled with the job after all. The lines at the corners of his mouth deepened, but he said meekly, "Thank you, Mother." "Hmph," I said. "That is settled, then. I will begin making my usual lists, and you, Emerson, will find out about sailings. I trust you have not forgotten that we are dining out this evening." None of us enjoys formal dinner parties, and visits to London were not pleasant these days. However, this had been an invitation we could not easily decline. The Cecils were one of the oldest and most prominent of the English n.o.ble families. They had served their country as soldiers and parliamentarians; the father of the present marquess had been Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary. Social sn.o.bbery is a weakness from which I do not suffer. The first overture from Lord Salisbury had been for a weekend at Hatfield-an invitation for which many would have unhesitatingly sold their souls to Old Nick-but even if I had been inclined to accept, Emerson had put his foot down flatly on that. "Good Gad, Amelia, have you taken leave of your senses? Three days with a mixed bag of vapid women and hunting squires and bleating politicians? I would run amok after three hours." "You know what he wants, don't you?" "Yes," said Emerson, through his teeth. "And he is not going to get it." Salisbury did not give up so easily. A second invitation, to dinner at the family mansion in London, followed soon after my declining the first. I knew perfectly well that he was not moved by a desire to make our acquaintance; he was under pressure from other persons who were not inclined to give up easily either. I pointed this out to my grumbling husband, and he finally agreed that we might as well face his lordship down and put an end to the matter once and for all. He began grumbling again as we dressed, for Emerson hates formal attire. It took the combined efforts of myself and Rose, our devoted housekeeper, to get him into his evening clothes and locate his studs and cufflinks, and he might have backed out if I had not agreed to his demand that he drive the motorcar instead of letting the chauffeur do so. Such little concessions are necessary if the marital state is to flourish. It was a concession on my part, for Emerson drives with a panache that keeps one in a constant state of trepidation. There was less traffic than usual, however; since the zeppelin raids had begun, a blackout was in effect and most people endeavored to get indoors before darkness fell. To be honest, I had forgotten about this or I would not have allowed Emerson to drive. We reached Berkeley Square without incident, however, the only damage being to my nerves. The party was small and intimate-our four selves, Salisbury and his lady, and another gentleman, fair-haired, languidly graceful, smiling, and supercilious. After the other introductions had been performed, Salisbury said, "You know my brother, I believe?" We did. It is impossible not to know other members of the Anglo-Egyptian community in Cairo. Lord Edward Cecil was the Financial Adviser to the Sultan (in other words, he and Englishmen like him ran the government). Our acquaintance with him was slight, since the social set of which he was a prominent member was composed of boring officials and their even more boring ladies. One would have supposed, however, from the warmth of his greeting, that he was among our closest friends. He was particularly gracious to Ramses, whom he and his circle had snubbed the year before because of Ramses's outspoken opposition to the war. If I had had any doubts about the purpose of the evening's entertainment, Lord Edward's behavior would have dispelled them. No one was ill-bred enough to refer to the matter then, or during dinner. The seating arrangements were awkward, owing to the uneven number of guests, but Lady Salisbury had done the best she could, placing me between Salisbury and his brother, and Nefret across the table with Ramses and Emerson. When the butler brought in the decanters, Lady Salisbury rose and caught my eye. I smiled pleasantly at her and remained seated. "You will excuse me, I hope, Lady Salisbury. Since I have a personal interest in the subject the gentlemen intend to discuss, I prefer to join in." Lord Edward's eyes moved from me to Nefret, who looked as if she had taken root on her chair. His elegantly shaped brows lifted. "I told you so, Jimmy." "You needn't rub it in." Like the other gentlemen, Salisbury had risen to his feet. "My dear .. ." Breeding shows. The poor woman had been thrown completely off her stride by my unorthodox behavior, but she was quick to recover. She swept elegantly out of the room and the men resumed their chairs. For a few moments no one spoke. I was waiting, as seemed proper, for Salisbury or Lord Edward to introduce the subject, and they also seemed to be waiting. Emerson, who has not my gift of patience, was about to burst into speech when the door opened and a man entered. He was of medium height and build, with shining black hair slicked back from his forehead, and a face like a wedge. His sharp nose and pointed chin appeared to have squeezed his lips between them. His stretched skin and the fine lines that covered it, especially around the eyes, were unmistakable signs of long years spent in the tropics-not in Egypt, or I would have known him-possibly in India. He took the chair Lady Salisbury had vacated and fixed a cold stare on me. His attempt to disconcert me was of course a failure. I stared back at him. "If this gentleman-I use the term loosely, since he was obviously listening at the door-if he is to join in our discussion, perhaps he will be good enough to mention his name." The thin lips opened a crack. "Smith." "Dear me, how unoriginal," I remarked. "Will you take a gla.s.s of port, Mrs. Emerson?" Salisbury inquired. He sounded a trifle rattled. "No, thank you, nor a cigar. Feel free to smoke, if you like; far be it from me to mar the atmosphere of masculine congeniality." "You've already done that," said Emerson approvingly. "Let's get down to business, shall we? We have wasted enough time already, and I want to get home. The answer is no." He pushed his chair back. "Don't be so precipitate, Emerson," I said. "The answer is no, but there are several questions I would like to have answered. First-" "You are both being precipitate," Nefret said. "And patronizing. He can speak for himself." She had dressed in her finest. Her blue frock was a Worth original and she wore a parure of Persian turquoises set in gold and diamonds. Not that she needed such adornments to set off her youthful beauty and her aristocratic bearing. She had done it for him-to make him proud of her. Indignation had brought bright spots of temper to her cheeks and made her blue eyes flash; even the enigmatic Mr. Smith paid her the compliment of a quick, indrawn breath. I realized she was absolutely furious with everyone-including me and Emerson. All eyes turned toward Ramses. Long fingers wrapped round the stem of his gla.s.s, he had been staring fixedly at the ruby liquid that filled it. Now he looked up. "No." "But my dear chap, you haven't even heard the proposal," Lord Edward said smoothly. "Make it, then," Ramses said pleasantly. Brows raised, Lord Edward glanced at the man who sat at the other end of the table. Smith had not spoken except to give a name that was certainly not his own. Now he said, "I cannot and will not discuss important business while women are present. If they insist on remaining we will have to arrange a meeting for another time and place."* Ramses raised his eyebrows. They were very thick and very black, and they tilted up at the corners in a way that gave his face a decidedly skeptical expression. "There would be no point in such a meeting. I was prepared to listen to your proposition as a matter of courtesy, but I cannot conceive of anything that would induce me to take on another a.s.signment." "I'm afraid we can't accept that without an attempt, at least, to make you change your mind," Salisbury said in his calm, well-bred voice. "Your duty to your country-" "Duty," Nefret repeated. Her voice was unsteady and the pretty color had faded from her cheeks. Her eyes moved to Lord Edward. "You would know about that, wouldn't you? You were a soldier, leading your men into battle, sword in hand, with flags flying and bugles sounding the charge. I've been told it's quite exciting while it lasts, and when it's over you can bask in the admiration of the ladies and discuss the brilliance of your strategy with your fellow officers over a gla.s.s of port." Lord Edward was no fool. He didn't try to stop her. "Not at all the same," said Nefret, "as walking a sword's edge, instead of carrying one, not for a few glorious hours but for month after dragging month. No bugles, no flags; dark alleys and dirty little back rooms, never knowing, when you enter one of them, whether you'll get a knife in the ribs from someone who has found out who you are. No praise, no admiration, only white feathers from stupid women and insults from men like your friends, Lord Edward. And you. He was staring at his clasped hands, and his cheeks were a trifle flushed. "I had to do that, Miss-Mrs. Emerson. It was for his own protection." "And now you want him to do it again. h.e.l.l and d.a.m.nation, you all know what happened to him when he went after the traitor your pompous lot never even suspected. How dare you speak of duty to him?" "His Majesty's government is well aware of his contribution," Lord Salisbury said stiffly. Ramses had listened without comment, his eyes on Nefret's face. Now they moved to Salisbury. "And that of David Todros? He risked far more than I, and he did it for a country that insults him and denies him social and political equality. My wife . . ." His voice lingered on the word. "My wife gives me too much credit. I just happened to have the right qualifications for that particular job. I took it on because I hoped to save lives, including the lives of the Egyptians who thought they were fighting for the independence of their country. I was, and am, in complete sympathy with their aims. I don't like violence and I'm sick to death of role-playing and deception, and of putting my friends and family at risk." "Not to mention yourself," said Emerson, who had controlled himself longer than I had expected. "Your part in that business and your real ident.i.ty are known to a number of unpleasant individuals, including the chief of the Turkish secret service. If they so much as suspect you are back in the game, they'll be down on you like a pack of pariah dogs. Anyhow, I can't spare you. I need you on the dig." "Is Egyptology more important than fighting this war?" Mr. Smith demanded. Emerson's sapphire-blue eyes widened in surprise. "Of course." It was deliberate aggravation, at which Emerson excels; but when Mr. Smith's lips curled in a sneer-an expression for which they were well-suited-Emerson abandoned irony for blunt and pa.s.sionate speech. "This war has been a monumental blunder from the start! Britain is not solely responsible, but by G.o.d, gentlemen, she must share the blame, and she will pay a heavy price: the best of her young men, future scholars and scientists and statesmen, and ordinary, decent men who might have led ordinary, decent lives. And how will it end, when you tire of your game of soldiers? A few boundaries redrawn, a few transitory political advantages, in exchange for an entire continent laid waste and a million graves! What I do may be of minor importance in the total acc.u.mulation of knowledge, but at least I don't have blood on my hands." He drew a long breath and, having expressed his feelings to his satisfaction, went on in a calmer voice. "Well, that's settled. Good night, gentlemen. Thank you for a most entertaining evening." We emerged from the civilized luxury of the house into bedlam. I had been vaguely aware of sounds from outside the thick walls and heavily curtained windows, but had been too preoccupied to pay much attention. They were clearly audible now-loud popping sounds, like a series of corks being removed from champagne bottles. The sky overhead was patterned with moving strips of light. "Dear me," I said, drawing my evening wrap closer around my throat. "It appears to be an air raid. That must have been what Lord Salisbury was trying to tell us. Perhaps we ought to have listened to him instead of rushing away." "Do you want to take cover?" Emerson inquired. "There is a tube station down the street." "What would be the point of that? Bombs fall at random. I want to go home." In the lull between the guns I heard another sound-a distant humming. "Look," Nefret whispered. "Up there." They looked very pretty and harmless, floating like great silvery fish in a sea of black. The searchlights stabbed at them, and another series of explosions rattled the air. "Those aren't bombs, they are our guns," Ramses said. "From the batteries in Hyde Park. Father, will you allow me to drive? I hope you won't mind my suggesting that my night vision-" "This is no time for courteous debate," I exclaimed. "Where is the motorcar? Ramses, you drive." Emerson took my arm. "Yes, we may as well go on. There are only three of the confounded things and they seem to be well north of here. Once the Germans start getting their aeroplanes across in force it will be a different matter." "Emerson, will you please stop making pessimistic remarks and hurry?" The sky over the East End was red with reflected flames. They were aiming at the docks, and hitting them too, if I was any judge. I couldn't take my eyes off those pretty silvery shapes. Why the devil couldn't our guns bring them down? Guns in Hyde Park and on the Embankment . . . What would be next, aerial duels over Buckingham Palace? Inside my gloves my palms were sticky with perspiration. I despised myself for cowardice, but this was my first air raid and I hated it-not only the feeling of helplessness, but the remoteness of the business. If someone is going to kill me I want him to take a personal interest. Ramses drove with what seemed to me excessive slowness- until he came to a sudden stop just in time to avoid a dark form that wandered out into the roadway directly in front of him. "Drunk," he said, as the individual proceeded on his wavering path. "It takes some people that way," Emerson remarked. He turned, his arm over the back of the seat. "Sorry you didn't have that port, Peabody?" "No. But I will be ready for a stiff whiskey and soda when we get home." "So will we all. Cheer up, my love, it's almost over. They can't keep this up all night." I could no longer see the zeppelins and the guns were not sounding so often. I couldn't tell where we were; Ramses had taken a roundabout path. The neighborhood seemed to be one of small shops and warehouses. I was beginning to relax when there was a shout from Emerson and a weird whistling noise. Ramses's shoulders twisted and the car shuddered and spun and jolted over the curb. It came to a jarring stop, but the sound of the impact was drowned out by a violent explosion. I found myself on the floor of the vehicle, with Nefret on top of me trying to cover my head with her arms. "Nefret?" Ramses wrenched the door open and lifted her up. He added, rather as an afterthought, "Mother?" "Quite all right," I croaked. "What the devil was that?" Emerson's large hands untangled me and raised me to my feet. "Don't sit down yet, the seat is covered with debris, including broken gla.s.s. Steady, my dear. Any damage?" "Not to me. Nefret pushed me down and shielded my body with hers. Is she hurt?" "A few cuts on her arms," Ramses said. There was blood on his face and on Emerson's. The windscreen had shattered, spraying them both with gla.s.s. For a time we stood staring blankly at one another. Except for the gaping hole in the street and the crumpled bonnet of the motorcar, the entire incident might have been a horrible dream. The night was still, and only a tranquil half-moon lit the dark sky. The car was jammed up against a brick wall next to what appeared to be a factory. The moonlight was bright enough to enable me to read the sign. It stuck in my mind, as inconsequential facts do at such times: BRUBAKER'S BEST PATENTED BRACES. "Well, well," said Emerson. "Let's see if we can get the confounded thing to start, shall we? That was inspired driving, my boy." "Pure luck. If there hadn't been a brick wall handy . . ." He was still holding Nefret by the shoulders. "It was one of our own sh.e.l.ls." We did not get home until two in the morning. One of the tires had to be changed, and although the engine had started at Emerson's first vigorous turn of the handle, it jerked and coughed whenever Ramses changed gears. Gargery, who had been waiting up for us, turned pale at the sight of the blood-streaked, disheveled crew and wanted to ring the doctor at once. "You see wot 'appens when you go off on your own," he exclaimed indignantly. Nefret reminded him that she was a doctor and Emerson shouted, "h.e.l.l and d.a.m.nation, Gargery, not even you could protect us from an exploding sh.e.l.l. Serve the whiskey, and then go to bed." Soon thereafter, Nefret took Ramses off to their room, and I did the same with Emerson. He objected violently when I tried to apply iodine to his cuts, but I did it anyhow. Thanks to Nefret, I had got off without a scratch. "I have not had a chance to say this," I remarked, over Emerson's mumbled curses, "but that was a very eloquent speech, Emerson. Well done, my dear." "Bah," said Emerson. "It relieved my feelings, but it had not the slightest effect. People like Cecil and Salisbury are so swathed in self-conceit, common sense cannot penetrate." "Not to mention Mr. Smith. Obviously that is not his real name." "Obviously." Emerson swiped irritably at the iodine that was running down into his mouth. "We know what he is, at any rate. Curse these people, they so enjoy mystification and subterfuge." "I can't help being a little curious as to what he had in mind." "I am not at all curious," Emerson said. "And I hope to heaven Ramses isn't either. He meant it, didn't he? He has done his part. He wouldn't change his mind-would he?" "No, my dear," I said firmly. "But they may not give up so easily. Smith is an underling, a go-between. I feel certain he was sent by someone higher up. Perhaps Kitchener himself." "I don't care if he was sent by the King or the Prime Minister or G.o.d Almighty. They cannot force Ramses to take on another a.s.signment and he knows as well as I do that it would be foolhardy in the extreme. If he doesn't," Emerson added, with a snap of his teeth, "I will have Nefret point it out to him in terms he can't ignore." FROM Ma.n.u.sCRIPT H The voices came floating out of the darkness. "Tie his arms and feet and let's get out of here." "Leave him alive? Are you mad? He knows who I am." "Kill him, then. Or shall I cut his throat for you?" "Oh, no. I've looked forward to killing him for a long time. Take him downstairs." Down to the filthy little room in the cellar, where the greasy coils of the whip hung from a hook on the wall and old bloodstains darkened the floor. Suddenly he was there, sight and feeling restored: the air clammy against his bare back, the ropes tight around his wrists. Once he had believed he feared the kurbash more than death itself. Now, watching his enemy lift the heavy length of hippopotamus hide, he knew he'd been wrong. He was sweating with terror, but he didn't want to die, not yet, not like this, without a chance of fighting back. He closed his eyes and turned his face away ... and felt against his cheek, not the rough stone of the wall, but a surface rounded and warm and gently yielding. "It's all right," she said softly. "I'm here. Wake up, my love. It was only a dream." He had reached out to her in his sleep and she had moved instantly to meet his need, drawing his head to her breast. Ramses let his breath out and relaxed the arm that had gripped her. There would be bruises on her fair skin the next day, where his fingers had closed over her side. "Sorry. I didn't mean to wake you. Go back to sleep." "Don't be an idiot," said his wife. "It's my fault. I shouldn't have brought the subject up tonight." "How did you know that was what-" "You talked." "Oh." He knew he was being even more of an idiot when he pulled away and turned onto his back. They had been married a little over six months, and he still hadn't got over the wonder of winning her, of a closeness of mind and body and spirit greater than he'd ever dared imagine. He no longer minded admitting his weaknesses-not to her ... not much-but whimpering like a frightened child with a nightmare . .. Nefret got out of bed. Surefooted and silent in the dark, she found the candle that was standard equipment in case the electricity failed. Ramses wondered what unfailing instinct had told her he couldn't have endured the abrupt glare of electric bulbs. The gentle candlelight left his face in shadow and sent shimmers of gold through the tumbled ma.s.ses of her hair. She had left it to hang loose, as he loved to see it and touch it. "You're still shutting me out," she said, sitting down on the side of the bed. "I know why. You want to spare me. You can't. I saw what he'd done to you. Do you suppose I don't think of it, dream of it? I wish he were still alive so I could do the same to him." She meant it. Her face had the remote, inhuman calm of a G.o.ddess delivering judgment. Sometimes he forgot that his sophisticated, beautiful English wife had been High Priestess of Isis in an isolated region where the old G.o.ds of Egypt were still worshiped. "At least you had the satisfaction of killing him," he said, and then wished he had bitten his tongue off before he spoke. "Oh, G.o.d, I'm sorry. Of all the filthy things to say!" "Why? It's true. That's what has been preying on your mind, isn't it? After all those years of being tormented by him, hating him as much as he hated you, you never got the chance to pay him back. You wouldn't be human if you didn't resent me just a little." "That's b.l.o.o.d.y nonsense. Resent you for saving my life?" "Thereby adding insult to injury." She was smiling, but her lips were tremulous. "I'm glad we can talk about it now. Dear heart, don't you realize you couldn't have punished him as he deserved, even if he had been in your power, with no one to see and no one to stop you? You're too d.a.m.ned decent even to gloat over a fallen enemy." "You make me sound like the most ghastly prig," Ramses muttered. He could feel his taut muscles relaxing, though. Maybe she was right. As she frequently reminded him, she knew him better than he knew himself. Nefret leaned over him and took his face between her hands. "You do have a few faults." "Thank you. That makes me feel a great deal better." "And one of them," said Nefret, turning her head as he raised his, so that his lips came to rest on her cheek instead of her mouth, "is being too hard on yourself. Don't do that, I haven't finished." He took her by the shoulders and pulled her down till she was lying across him. She was laughing or crying-he couldn't tell which, he only felt the tremors that shook her body. "Sweetheart, don't cry. What's the matter?" She raised herself, planting her elbows painfully on his chest. Two tears, one from each eye, slid with exquisite slowness over the curve of her cheeks. "I didn't mean to," she said with a gulp. "I was determined not to. But I'm too frightened to play fair. Promise me-" "Anything, my dearest. What are you afraid of?" "You! Promise me you won't give in to Smith and Salisbury and the rest of them." "You heard me refuse. I hated the whole b.l.o.o.d.y business, Nefret-the deceit and the lies, the betrayal of people who trusted me, the worry I caused Mother and Father. You can't suppose I'd do it again." She shook her head vehemently. "I know you too well, Ramses. If they convinced you that there was a job only you could do, and that innocent people would be injured or killed if you didn't do it, you'd agree. I won't let you. I couldn't stand it. Not now, when we've only had a few months together. Swear to me-" "Please don't cry," Ramses said desperately. "I can't stand that. I'll swear by anything you like." "Thank you." She brushed a last tear from her face and leaned closer. "Have you ever wondered why I'm so desperately in love with you? Not because you're tall and handsome and-ooh." She let out a breathless giggle as his wandering hands settled into place. "Well, that has a little something to do with it. Darling, I know I can't keep you safe and out of trouble. I love your courage and your strength and your maddening habit of taking unnecessary risks, and the way you champion the underdog. All I'm asking is the right to share the danger. If you won't let me fight for you as you would for me-" The sentence ended in a gasp of expelled breath as he caught her to him. "Do you have the faintest idea how much I love you?" "Tell me. Show me."
The air raid had been an enlightening experience. It was by no means the first of the war-there had been a number of attacks, on London and various towns on the east coast-but it was the first for me, and it had reminded me of a truth I knew well, but sometimes forgot: that perfect safety is not to be found in this imperfect world and that facing danger is sometimes less dangerous than trying to avoid it. Or, to put it as Emerson did: G.o.d has a peculiar sense of humor. It would be just like Him to drop a bomb on our house in Kent after we had decided to avoid the perils of travel by sea. The incident had not changed my opinion about Sennia's coming with us, however. After the earlier raids, Evelyn had suggested we send her to them in Yorkshire, and this seemed to me the most sensible solution. I feared Sennia would not see it in that light. Since I am not in the habit of postponing unpleasant duties, I decided to speak to her next morning. Sennia was in the day nursery, so busy with some private game that she did not hear me approach. I stood in the doorway watching for a while. The room was cheery and bright; toys and books filled the shelves, pretty rugs covered the floors, and a fire burned on the hearth. The day was not cold, but Basima, Sennia's Egyptian nursemaid, found our English weather chilly. There was even a cat stretched out on the hearth rug. Horus did not resemble an amiable domestic puss even when he was asleep. Like all our cats, he was the descendant of a pair of Egyptian felines; his brindled coat and large ears were reminiscent of the large hunting cats shown in Egyptian wall paintings. He opened one eye, identified me as (relatively) harmless, and closed it again. There was another thing, I thought; if Sennia came with us, Horus would have to come too. He behaved like a fiend with everyone in the family except the child and Nefret, who had been his former- one could hardly say owner, not with Horus-a.s.sociate until he abruptly transferred his loyalties to Sennia. Sennia was building with her blocks. The towering structure was obviously intended to represent a pyramid, and I was not left long in doubt as to the ident.i.ties of the small doll shapes she moved up and down the slopes. "Uncle David and the Professor and Aunt Amelia and Aunt Nefret and Aunt Lia and baby Abdullah-no, baby, you cannot climb the pyramid, you must lie here on the sand and wait for us, it is very boring, but babies are very boring-and Ramses and"-her voice rose to a triumphant squeal-"and me!" They were on the summit, of course. This did not bode well. She called almost everyone by the courtesy t.i.tles of Aunt or Uncle, since her precise relationship to us would have been hard to define. It was not hard to explain, but a number of people still believed, despite our denials, that she was Ramses's illegitimate daughter. The resemblance between them was primarily one of coloring-brown skin and curling black hair. Her resemblance to me was stronger; she had the steely-gray eyes and determined chin I had inherited from my father. Sennia had got them, not from Ramses but from my brother's son. My nephew was one of the few truly evil men I had ever encountered. He had abandoned his child to a life of poverty and eventual prost.i.tution, and for years he had been Ramses's bitter enemy. I could only thank heaven that Sennia had forgotten him, and that he was now out of our lives forever. The unfortunate baby doll, pushed off to one side, gave me a new insight into Sennia's real feelings about Lia and David's son. She behaved impeccably with him, but it was not surprising that she would be jealous of him and the attention he got from the rest of us. (It is quite a normal response, so psychology tells us, and I am a firm believer in psychology when it agrees with my own opinions.) Sennia was the only one who called him by his full name, which was that of his great-grandfather, one of the finest men I had ever known. One day he would be worthy of it, but it was far too formal an appellation for such a fat, jolly little creature. The rest of us employed various pet names, some of which were so silly I hesitate to repeat them. Emerson was one of the worst offenders; he relapsed into babbling idiocy with infants. The infants seemed to like it, though; little Dolly (my name for him) broke into a broad toothless grin whenever Emerson came near him. I announced my presence with a slight cough, and Sennia came running to me. She threw both arms around my waist and squeezed as hard as she could. "Goodness gracious," I exclaimed. "I believe you are even stronger than you were yesterday." "And taller. See?" I patted the curly black head pressed against my midriff, but felt obliged to point out that she was standing on tiptoe. Sennia grinned. She had very pretty, even, little white teeth. At the moment two of them were missing, which gave her smile a childish charm. "You always catch me, Aunt Amelia. Ramses never does." "He wouldn't. All right, my dear, we must get to work. Where is your reading book?" She had it and her other books ready, neatly arranged on the desk. She enjoyed her lessons, in part because they gave her the opportunity of being with the people she loved. Eventually she would have to have tutors for music and languages and other advanced subjects, but she was still very young and we took it in turn to teach her what we-and she!-felt she should learn. The curriculum was admittedly somewhat unorthodox. It included not only reading and writing and simple arithmetic, but hieroglyphic Egyptian and archaeology. Sennia had insisted on studying both. If Ramses had been a plumber, she would have demanded to learn about drains. We were deep in the adventures of little Polly and little Ben and their dog Spot when Basima bustled in. She had been late returning the breakfast tray to the kitchen, she explained, because Sennia had had to be persuaded to eat her porridge. "I do not care for porridge," said Sennia, in Ramses's very tones. "It is boring." I stifled a laugh. It would not have done to encourage her, but it was amusing to hear her imitate her hero's speech patterns and accent. She was bilingual, speaking Arabic and English with equal facility, and in her haughtier moods she brought back fond (and not so fond) memories of the little boy who had acquired his nickname of Ramses because, to quote his father, he was as swarthy as an Egyptian and as arrogant as a pharaoh. "Porridge is good for you," I said firmly. "I don't want to hear of you refusing your healthy breakfast again, or talking back to Basima." "I did not talk back. I would never be rude to Basima. I only pointed out-" "Enough," I exclaimed, as Basima nodded and beamed fatuously at her charge. She and the other servants, including Gargery, would have let Sennia skin them alive if she had indicated an interest in doing so. We finished the lesson without further interruption; but when it was over, Sennia had another complaint. "I find little Ben and little Polly very boring, Aunt Amelia. Can't we read a more interesting book?" "You find too many things boring," I said (though secretly I was just as bored with little Ben and little Polly, to say nothing of the dog). "Sometimes it is necessary to suffer boredom in order to be educated and learn manners." Sennia, who had heard this before and was not at all impressed with my argument, shifted ground. "It is time for my hieroglyph lesson. Where is Ramses?" "In hiding" was the correct answer, which I did not give. He wouldn't appear until the storm had pa.s.sed. The sooner I got it over, the better. "Come here and sit by me," I said. "We must have a serious conversation." A quarter of an hour later I left the room, feeling like a villain and a murderer. Sennia lay flat on the rug next to the cat, her face , buried in her arms and her body shaking with sobs. Horus alternated between licking her hair and snarling at me. I was in no greater favor with Basima; she had not dared intervene, but the looks she shot me expressed her feelings quite well. Emerson was waiting for me at the top of the stairs. "How did it go?" "I am surprised you need ask. Everyone in the house must have heard her initial reaction." Emerson pa.s.sed his sleeve across his wet forehead. The house was not especially warm; it was sheer nerves that made him perspire. "But it has been quiet for some minutes," he said anxiously. "You convinced her?" "I informed her of our decision," I corrected. "You cannot suppose I would allow a child to overrule me." In late October we sailed from Southampton. Horus shared the cabin of Basima and Sennia.
The voyage was without incident of a military nature, but it provided one surprise. Gargery did not make his appearance until we were two days out of Southampton. He chose his moment well, waiting until after Emerson had had several cups of coffee and we were taking our morning promenade on deck. No doubt he hoped the presence of several dozen witnesses would force my husband to control himself. In this he was not correct. Emerson came to a dead halt when he saw the familiar form advancing toward him. Gargery drew himself up to his full height of five and a half feet, snapped off a salute, and got out three words-"Reporting for duty"-before Emerson seized him by the collar and began shaking him. It was the sight of Sennia's scandalized face that stopped Emerson after only a few bad words. "Confound it!" he exclaimed, winding down. "What do you mean by this, you rascal? How dare you disobey me?" "People are staring, Emerson," I pointed out. "Don't hurt him!" Sennia cried, throwing her arms round Gargery. Between Emerson's grip on his collar and Sennia's pa.s.sionate grasp of his diaphragm, Gargery had not breath enough to speak; I could not help noticing that he looked very pleased with himself, however. Ramses and Nefret had been following at a discreet distance. Now they joined us. "Perhaps," said Ramses, "we ought to continue this-er- discussion in private, Father." Emerson's grip relaxed and Gargery, who had been standing on his toes, staggered and caught himself. "Haven't got my sea legs quite yet, sir," he remarked. "Soon will. As I was saying, sir, I am reporting for duty." We had our private discussion, in a corner of the smoking room. It was a fine, bright day, so most of the pa.s.sengers were on deck enjoying the sunshine. Gargery offered no excuses except the one that was, for him, sufficient. "I couldn't let you go off by yourselves, not after all the terrible trouble you got into last year." Gargery did not know the details of the "terrible trouble," for the truth of that business was and would be buried deep in the secret files of the War Office, but it had been impossible to hide certain of the consequences from him and the others. I had therefore, with my usual skill, composed a narrative that explained what could not be concealed and avoided what could not be explained. After all, as Gargery admitted, we got ourselves into trouble almost every year with one set of criminals or another. So far as he and our other friends were concerned, the boys' injuries had been incurred in the course of another encounter with our old nemesis, the Master Criminal, and his gang of antiquities thieves. Pursuing his advantage, Gargery went on with mounting indignation. "What's more, sir and madam, you went and let those two get married out there in Egypt, without us being present or even being told, sir and madam, till it was all over. We took that most unkindly, sir and madam." Nefret was trying so hard not to laugh, she was incapable of speech, but Ramses managed to interpose a word. "We got married again in England, Gargery, primarily to please you and Rose. A man doesn't make that sort of sacrifice lightly." "Well, yes, sir," said Gargery, with the air of one graciously conceding a point. "It was good of you, Mr. Ramses. And very nice it was, I must say, with all the flowers and Miss Nefret pretty as a picture and the master blowing his nose every few minutes and Rose and Miss Lia and Miss Evelyn crying and you the picture of a proud husband and-" "Yes, quite," said Ramses. He was somewhat flushed, whether with embarra.s.sment or suppressed laughter, I could not tell. "We know all about it, Gargery. We were there." "Me, too," said Sennia. In fact, it had been partially on Sennia's account that Ramses had agreed to "make an a.s.s of myself" in full formal dress, in the presence of the press and various curiosity seekers, at no less an establishment than St. Margaret's at Westminster. Sennia had been devastated by the news of his marriage. As she explained indignantly to me, she had counted on marrying him herself, when she was a little older. It required a great deal of tact on Nefret's part to win her over, and part of the price of acceptance was the offer of being a member of an elaborate wedding, attired in her fluffiest frock and bedecked with flowers. (She behaved throughout the ceremony rather as if she were giving the groom away.) Though the whole business was something of a nuisance, it pleased a good many people and satisfied a nagging doubt of my own as to the legitimacy of the original arrangement. Father Bennett of the Anglican Church had been unwilling to act as promptly as I wanted, and the amiable but very elderly Coptic priest who officiated kept forgetting the words. The handsome flush that had darkened Emerson's cheeks was not caused by embarra.s.sment or laughter. He knew he had lost considerable ground during the exchange and was trying to think how to regain it without offending Sennia. "You need me, sir and madam," said Gargery. "Especially with Mr. David staying behind and little miss along." "Oh-er-bah," said Emerson, with a wary look at Sennia. She was watching him like a small protective dragon. He forced a sickly, unconvincing smile. "Hmph." "So that's settled," said Nefret. "Come, Ramses, we haven't done our mile round the deck yet. Will you join us, Sennia?" "I will stay with Gargery." She took his hand. And stay with him she did, during most of the daylight hours for the remainder of the voyage. It took Emerson several days to get back in her good graces. "Curse it," he remarked gloomily. "I daren't so much as scowl at the rascal." "She is fiercely protective of all those she loves, Emerson. She would take your part just as vigorously if someone were unkind to you." "D'you think so?" Emerson considered this idea. "I refuse to pick a quarrel with you so that Sennia can defend you. She'll get over it; just be polite to Gargery." "d.a.m.nation," said Emerson. I have never cared for Alexandria. It has no pharaonic monuments worth mentioning, and the city is a blend of the worst of European and Eastern characteristics, with little of the charm of Cairo's shadowy old streets. This year the harbor was crowded with shipping, including a depressing number of hospital vessels. Alex had been the center of operations for the Gallipoli Campaign; the brave lads from Australia and New Zealand had sailed from there, in high spirits and with promises of a quick return. They had returned only too soon. There were so many wounded, the hospitals could not take them all in; the Red Cross flag flew over many villas and houses in and around the city. It was a relief to board the train for Cairo, and only the need to hide our feelings from the child kept us from gloomy introspection and gloomier conversation. However, being back in Egypt was pleasure enough to take our minds off sadder subjects, and when we pulled into the central station in Cairo, we were met by a shouting, cheering crowd-members of the family that had worked for and with us for so many years. Abdullah, our reis and dear friend, was gone now, but his children and grandchildren and nephews and nieces and cousins formed a close-knit clan. As soon as the train came to a stop, eager hands pulled us from the carriage, and we were immediately surrounded. Fatima, Abdullah's daughter-in-law and our Egyptian housekeeper, s.n.a.t.c.hed Sennia out of Basima's arms; Selim, Abdullah's youngest son who had replaced him as reis, began questioning Emerson about the season's work; Daoud, towering a full head above the others, demanded news of his adored Lia and the baby; Ali and Yussuf, Ibrahim and Mahmud embraced us all in turn. They then escorted us in a triumphal procession to the carriages they had waiting. As soon as we were in our carriage, Emerson began to grumble. "Confound the cursed cabs, they are too slow. Why didn't Selim bring the motorcar?" I had ordered Selim not to. Emerson would have insisted on driving it, and Emerson's notion of operating a motorcar is to head straight for his destination without slackening speed or changing direction. This is not a good method with slow-moving carts and camels. There are a good many of both in the streets of Cairo. Instead of pointing this out, I remarked, with the tact I have developed over many years of marriage, "I expect he wanted to make a spectacle of our arrival. You see how handsomely the carriages are decorated." "Spectacle is the word," Emerson grunted, throwing himself into a corner and folding his arms. "Sennia is enjoying it." I looked back at the carriage following ours. Bright-red ta.s.sels hung from the horses' harnesses and bells jingled. I could see Sennia jumping around like a cricket, and Gargery trying to hold on to her. After we had gone a short distance Emerson forgot his pique and began looking for old acquaintances in the crowd. Since he is acquainted with practically every beggar, thief, and merchant in Cairo, he found a good many of them, and his stentorian greetings were answered in kind. "Salaam aleikhum, Father of Curses! Marhaba!" Our procession made its way through the city, across the bridge, and along the road to Giza toward the house we had taken for the past several seasons. Comfortable in the knowledge that our devoted friends would have everything in order for our arrival, I breathed deeply of the dry, warm air and with greedy eyes took in the sights and sounds that were so dear and familiar. Not even the dust kicked up by the hooves of horses and donkeys could spoil my pleasure. I was back in Egypt, the home of my heart. What thrilling discoveries awaited me that season! I felt certain the tombs of ancient Giza held undiscovered treasures. And with any luck, we might run across a gang of tomb robbers or even a murderer. Another group of friends awaited us in the courtyard of the house. Sennia was immediately gathered up by Kadija, Daoud's wife, who had been too shy to come to the railroad station. We had all learned to admire this very large, very dignified woman, who had the dark brown skin of her Nubian mother. She and Nefret were especially close; as soon as Kadija had given Sennia a hearty hug, she pa.s.sed the child on to the others who were waiting to greet her and turned to Nefret. "You are blooming like a flower, Nur Misur," she murmured, as they embraced. "Is it happiness or some other cause that puts the light in your eyes?" I had wondered myself. They had been married for eight months-not that I was counting-and one might have supposed that by this time . . . Naturally I would never have ventured to ask directly, so you may believe I awaited Nefret's response with considerable interest. Unfortunately at that moment Fatima came bustling up to inform me that she had prepared a feast of all our favorite dishes and that the food would be cold if we did not come at once. I asked for a little time to remove the dust of travel, a request which was granted. Our rooms were in perfect order, as I had expected. "She has put rose petals in the wash water again," Emerson said resignedly. Though it would have been difficult to fault Fatima's arrangements, there were always a few household matters to be attended to before we could begin work. The house had not the charm of others we had inhabited-I still regretted the loss of our residence in Luxor, which I had had built to my own specifications-but it was comfortable and commodious, with numerous balconies and a flat roof which we used as an open-air sitting room. We were in the habit of taking tea there whenever the weather was fine, enjoying the views of the city and the Giza pyramids and watching the sun go down in a blaze of fiery color. However, certain members of the family did not find the house commodious enough. Nefret had already spoken to me about her and Ramses taking up residence on our dahabeeyah, which we kept moored at the tourist dock near the house. I could think of no reasonable objection to the scheme; over the years the boat had served as living quarters for various members of the family, and although it had become somewhat cramped for all of us it was roomy enough for two-especially if the two were close. So when Nefret raised the subject again-the first morning after our arrival-I a.s.sured her I would do everything I could to facilitate the move. Emerson was the biggest stumbling block. He always objects to "wasting time" on household ch.o.r.es. When I first met him he was living quite comfortably, by his standards, in an empty tomb chapel, and it took me quite some time (and a lot of argument) to overcome his preference for tents over houses and a splash in the Nile over a nice neat bath chamber. He had us out at Giza the day after we arrived. The previous season we had begun excavating some of the private tombs at Giza, called mastabas because their shape resembled that of the benches outside Egyptian houses. These splendid tombs belonged to the n.o.bles and princes of the Old Kingdom; laid to rest near their royal master, they hoped to share the eternity of endless bliss that awaited him. The neatly drawn plans readers will find in volumes of excavation reports, including our own, give a misleading picture. The rows of precise rectangles representing the streets of tombs show them as they were laid out four thousand years ago. When modern explorers first visited the site, it was a wilderness of broken stone and undulating sand. Only the head of the Sphinx showed above the sand; temples and tombs had been buried deep. And, as subsequent excavation proved, the tombs had been robbed and the temples vandalized in ancient times. The same pharaohs who composed pious inscriptions praising their kingly ancestors tore the monuments of those ancestors apart in order to use the stones for their own temples. Some of our archaeological predecessors had added to the confusion, digging more or less at random and carrying off statues and even the painted and carved stones from the walls of the chapels. Many of them hadn't even bothered to keep accurate records of what they found and where they found it. These objects were now scattered across Europe and America in various museum collections. After the foun
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