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When I am in one of my philosophical moods, I am inclined to wonder whether all families are as difÞcult as mine.
I was in such a mood as I dressed for dinner on the penultimate evening of our voyage. We would dock at Alexandria in two days, unless, of course, the ship was sunk by a German torpedo. A winter voyage from England to Egypt is never comfortable; but in that fateful December of 1916, after more than two years of war, the possibility of submarine attack had been added to the perils of rough seas and stormy weather.
I was not thinking of that danger -- for I make it a habit never to worry about matters that are beyond my control -- nor of the difÞculty of trying to keep my footing while the þoor of the cabin rose and fell and the oil lamps swung wildly on their brackets -- for mine is the sort of mind that rises above such things -- but perhaps these considerations did affect me more than I realized, giving a pessimistic cast to my normally cheerful reþections.
Mind you, I had no legitimate grounds for complaint about my immediate family. My husband, Radcliffe Emerson, is the most distinguished Egyptologist of this or any other era. His sapphirine-blue eyes, the cleft, or dimple, in his strong chin, his thick sable hair, and muscular but symmetrical frame are additional attractions to me and, I regret to say, to innumerable other females.
He has a few minor eccentricities: his command of invective, which has earned him the Egyptian sobriquet of Father of Curses, his explosive temper, his autocratic, arbitrary method of dealing with theauthorities of the Service des Antiquités, which had led in the past to our being barred from most of the interesting sites in Egypt...
Well, but no proud mother could have asked for a better son than mine. Ramses had been named for his Uncle Walter, but everyone called him by the nickname given him by his father in infancy. He was as handsome and intellectually gifted as his father, idealistic, kind, and courageous...A little too courageous, perhaps? He had been one of the most infuriating children I have ever had the misfortune to encounter, and his reckless disregard for danger, when he believed the cause he supported to be morally right, was one trait that I had been unable to eradicate. The most terrifying of his adventures had occurred during the winter of 1914-15, when he had taken on a secret assignment for the War OfÞce. He and his best friend, David, had completed their mission successfully, but both had been seriously injured, and Ramses's true identity had been exposed to agents of the Central Powers. I had hoped his marriage would sober him, but although he was as passionately attached to his beautiful wife as Emerson was to my humble self, Nefret had not been the calming inþuence for which I had hoped. She would have thrown herself in front of a charging lion if Ramses were its destined prey, but what I wanted was someone who would prevent him from provoking lions in the Þrst place.
Nefret had been our ward, dear as a daughter, before she married our son. As a Þrm believer in the equality of the female gender, I could only approve the determination with which she had achieved against considerable odds her goal of qualifying as a surgeon. As a person of high moral principles I could only commend her for spending part of her large fortune in establishing in Cairo a hospital for women that served even the lowest and most despised members ofthat sex. If only she would consent to settle down -- devote her ardent energies to medicine and to archaeology, and to Ramses -- and perhaps...
The boat gave a great lurch and I dropped the earring I was endeavoring to insert. With a muttered “Curse it” I lowered myself to hands and knees and began feeling about on the þoor -- without, I hardly need say, losing the track of my mental musing.
Honesty compels me to admit that the propensity of my son and daughter to become engaged with individuals who desired to wreak grave bodily harm upon them was not entirely their fault. Emerson and I tended to attract such individuals too. Over the years we had dealt -- effectively, I hardly need add -- with murderers, forgers, tomb robbers, and criminals of various sorts. Several of them had been related to us.
As I crawled under the dressing table in pursuit of the elusive earring, I remembered something Emerson had said about my side of the family, to the effect that not one of them had any redeeming qualities whatever. This was rude, but undeniably correct. One of my nephews had been -- I am happy to employ the past tense -- a thoroughly repellent human being. Sennia, his little daughter by a Cairo prostitute, who had been callously abandoned by her father, was now part of our family.
The boat bounced again and the top of my head came into painful contact with the underside of the dressing table. Since I was alone, with no one to overhear, I permitted myself a few expletives. I do not approve of bad language, but everybody else in the family employs it freely. It is Emerson's fault. He cannot or will not restrain himself and of course the children emulate him. There are times when Nefret's language...
The cursed earring continued to elude me, but I endeavored, as is my habit, to look on the bright side. Emerson's kin were exemplary human beings: his brother Walter, a true scholar and gentleman; Walter's wife, my close friend Evelyn; and their Þne brood of children, in which category I must include the husband of their daughter Lia. David, a talented artist and trained Egyptologist, and Ramses's best friend, was the grandson of our dear departed reis Abdullah. We... The Golden One. Copyright © by Elizabeth Peters. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.