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Tomb of the Golden Bird
By Elizabeth Peters
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. Copyright © 2006 Elizabeth Peters
All right reserved.
Seated on the terrace of Shepheard's Hotel, I watched with interest as a tall young man stopped and turned, as if in response to the calling of his name. Yet this was not the fourteenth century b.c., but the year of our Lord 1922; and the tall man was no ancient pharaoh. Though his bronzed skin and black hair resembled those of an Egyptian, his height and bearing proclaimed him for what he was -- an English gentleman of the finest quality. He was also my son, "Ramses" Walter Peabody Emerson, who was better known in Egypt by his sobriquet.
He raised his hand to his brow, and realized that (as usual) he was not wearing a hat. In lieu of removing that which was not present he inclined his head in greeting, and one of his rare, attractive smiles warmed his thin face. I craned my neck and half rose from my chair in order to see the individual who had occasioned this response, but the crowds that filled the street blocked my view. Cairo traffic had grown worse since my early days in Egypt; motorcars now mingled with donkeys and camels, carts and carriages, and the disgusting effluvions their engines emitted offended the nostrils more than the odors of the above-mentioned beasts -- to which, admittedly, I had become accustomed.
I deduced that the person my son addressed was of short stature, and most probably female (basing this latter assumption on Ramses's attempt to remove his hat and the affability of his smile). A portly person wearing a very large turban and mounted on a very small donkey passed in front of my son, and by the time he had gone by Ramses was wending his way toward the steps of the hotel and the table where I sat awaiting him.
"Who was that?" I demanded.
"Good afternoon to you too, Mother." Ramses bent to kiss my cheek.
"Good afternoon. Who was that?"
"Who was whom?"
"Ramses," I said warningly.
My son abandoned his teasing. "I believe you are not acquainted with her, Mother. Her name is Suzanne Malraux, and she studied with Mr. Petrie."
"Ah yes," I said. "You are mistaken, Ramses, I heard of her last year from Professor Petrie. He described her work as adequate."
"That sounds like Petrie." Ramses sat down and adjusted his long legs under the table. "But you must give him credit; he has always been willing to train women in archaeology."
"I have never denied Petrie any of the acclaim that is his due, Ramses."
Ramses's smile acknowledged the ambiguity of the statement. "Training is one thing, employment another. She has been unable to find a position."
I wondered if Ramses was implying that we take the young woman on to our staff. She might have approached him rather than his father or me. He was, I admit, more approachable, particularly by young ladies. Let me hasten to add that he did not invite the approaches. He was devoted to his beautiful wife Nefret, but it might be asking too much of a lady who is approaching a certain time of life to allow her husband close association with a younger female. Miss Malraux was half French. And she was bound to be attracted to Ramses. Women were. His gentle manners (my contribution) and athletic frame (his father's), his somewhat exotic good looks, and a certain je ne sais quoi (in fact I knew perfectly well what it was, but refused to employ the vulgar terms currently in use . . .).
No, despite our need for additional staff, it might not be advisable.
"Have you had any interesting encounters?" Ramses asked, looking over the people taking tea on the terrace. They were the usual sort -- well dressed, well groomed, and almost all white -- if that word can be used to describe complexions that ranged from pimply pale to sunburned crimson.
"Lord and Lady Allenby stopped to say hello," I replied. "He was most agreeable, but I understand why people refer to him as the Bull. He has that set to his jaw."
"He has to be forceful. As high commissioner he is under fire from the imperialists in the British government and the Nationalists in Egypt. On the whole, I can only commend his efforts."
I did not want to talk politics. The subject was too depressing.
"There is your father," I said. "Late as usual."
Ramses looked over his shoulder at the street. There was no mistaking Emerson. He is one of the finest-looking men I have ever beheld: raven locks and eyes of a penetrating sapphirine blue, a form as impressive as it had been when I first met him, he stood a head taller than those around him and his booming voice was audible some distance away. He was employing it freely, greeting acquaintances in a mixture of English and Arabic, the latter liberally salted with the expletives that have given him the Egyptian sobriquet of Father of Curses. Egyptians had become accustomed to this habit and replied with broad grins to remarks such as "How are you, Ibrahim, you old son of an incontinent camel?" My distinguished husband, the finest Egyptologist of this or any era, had earned the respect of the Egyptians with whom he had lived for so many years because he treated them as he did his fellow archaeologists. That is to say, he cursed all of them impartially when they did something that vexed him. It was not difficult to vex Emerson. Few people lived up to his rigid professional standards, and time had not mellowed his quick temper.
"He's got someone with him," said Ramses.
"Well, well," I said. "What a surprise."
The individual who followed in Emerson's mighty wake was none other than Howard Carter.
Perhaps I should explain the reason for my sarcasm, for such it was. Howard was one of our oldest friends, an archaeologist whose career had undergone several reversals and recoveries. He was presently employed . . .
Excerpted from Tomb of the Golden Bird by Elizabeth Peters Copyright © 2006 by Elizabeth Peters. Excerpted by permission.
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