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Authors: Elizabeth Peters

Tags: #Mystery & Detective - General, #Detective, #Mystery & Detective - Women Sleuths, #Excavations (Archaeology), #Mystery & Detective, #Mystery, #Women archaeologists, #Elizabeth - Prose & Criticism, #Fiction - Mystery, #Peabody, #General, #Egypt, #Amelia (Fictitious character), #Suspense, #Women Sleuths, #Women detectives - Egypt, #Mystery & Detective - Series, #Mystery Fiction, #Fiction, #Women detectives, #Peters

The Mummy Case

BOOK: The Mummy Case
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THE

MUMMY

 CASE

 

Elizabeth Peters

Book 3

 

                 

 

After the death of the author of these memoirs (of which this is the third volume to appear), her heirs felt that her animated (if biased) descriptions of the early days of excavation in Egypt should not be kept from historians of that period. Since certain episodes involve matters that might embarrass the descendants of the participants therein (and possibly render publisher and editor subject to legal action), it was agreed that the memoirs should appear in the guise of fiction. A certain amount of judicious editing was done, and many of the names were changed, including that of Mrs. "Emerson." However, in recent years rumors have circulated regarding the accuracy of these works and the identity of their author—originated, we suspect, by disaffected members of Mrs. "Emerson's" family, who resent their exclusion from the financial proceeds (modest though they are) of the works in question. The editor therefore wishes to disclaim all responsibility for, first, the opinions expressed herein, which are those of the late lamented Mrs. "Emerson"; and second, certain minor errors of fact, which are due in part to Mrs. "Emerson's" faulty memory and in even larger part to her personal eccentricities and prejudices.

The editor also wishes to apologize for the stylistic peculiarities of this foreword, which seems to have been unconsciously influenced by the literary style of Mrs. "Emerson." She would no doubt be pleased at such a demonstration of the influence she continues to exert on those who were affected by it during her long and vigorous life.

 

         

 

I never meant to marry. In my opinion, a woman born in the last half of the nineteenth century of the Christian era suffered from enough disadvantages without willfully embracing another. That is not to say that I did not occasionally indulge in daydreams of romantic encounters; for I was as sensible as any other female of the visible attractions of the opposite sex. But I never expected to meet a man who was my match, and I had no more desire to dominate a spouse than to be ruled by him. Marriage, in my view, should be a balanced stalemate between equal adversaries.

I had resigned myself to a life of spinsterhood when, at a somewhat advanced age, I met Radcliffe Emerson. Our first encounter was not romantic. Never will I forget my initial sight of Emerson, as we stood face to face in that dismal hall of the Boulaq Museum—his black beard bristling, his blue eyes blazing, his fists clenched, his deep baritone voice bellowing invectives at me for dusting off the antiquities. Yet even as I answered his criticism in kind, I knew in my heart that our lives would be intertwined.

I had several logical, sensible reasons for accepting Emerson's
offer of marriage. Emerson was an Egyptologist; and my first visit to the realm of the pharaohs planted seeds of affection for that antique land that were soon to blossom into luxuriant flower. Emerson's keen intelligence and acerbic tongue—which had won him the title "Father of Curses" from his devoted Egyptian workmen—made him a foeman worthy of my steel. And yet, dear Reader, these were not my real reasons for yielding to Emerson's suit. I deplore cliches, but in this case I must resort to one. Emerson swept me off my feet. I am determined to be completely candid as I pen these pages, for I have made certain they will not be published, at least during my lifetime. They began as a personal Journal, perused only by a Critic whose intimate relationship gave him access to my private thoughts— so he claimed at any rate; as his remarks on the style and content of my writing became more critical, I decided to disallow the claim and lock up my Journals. They are therefore mine alone, and unless my heirs decide that the scholarly world should not be deprived of the insights contained therein (which may well occur), no eyes but mine will read these words.

Why, then, the gentle Reader will ask, do I infer his or her existence by addressing her, or him? The answer should be obvious. Art cannot exist in a vacuum. The creative spirit must possess an audience. It is impossible for a writer to do herself justice if she is only talking to herself.

Having established this important point, I return to my narrative.

Not only did Emerson sweep me off my feet, I swept him off his. (I speak figuratively, of course.) By current standards 1 am not beautiful. Fortunately for me, Emerson's tastes in this area, as in most others, are highly original. My complexion, which others find sallow and dark, he described (on one memorable occasion) as resembling the honey of Hymettus; my coarse, jet-black hair, which refuses to remain confined in braids, buns, or nets, arouses in him a peculiar variety of tactile enjoyment; and his remarks about my figure, which is unfashionably slender in some areas and overly endowed in others, cannot be reproduced, even here.

By any standards Emerson is a remarkably fine-looking man. He stands over six feet tall, and his stalwart frame possesses the elasticity and muscular development of youth, thanks to a vigorous outdoor life. Under the rays of the benevolent Egyptian sun his brawny arms and rugged face turn golden-brown, forming a striking setting for the sapphire brilliance of his eyes. The removal of his beard, at my urgent request, uncovered a particularly attractive dimple in his chin. Emerson prefers to call it a cleft, when he refers to the feature at all; but it is a dimple. His hair is sable, thick and soft, shining with Titian gleams in the sunlight....

But enough of that. Suffice it to say that the wedded state proved highly agreeable, and the first years of our marriage were fully as pleasant as I had expected. We spent the winter in Egypt, excavating by day and sharing the delightful privacy of an (otherwise) unoccupied tomb by night; and the summer in England with Emerson's brother Walter, a distinguished philologist, and the husband of my dear friend Evelyn. It was a thoroughly satisfactory existence. I cannot imagine why I, who am normally as farsighted and practical as a woman can be, did not realize that the matrimonial state quite often leads to another, related state. I refer, of course, to motherhood.

When the possibility of this interesting condition first manifested itself I was not excessively put out. According to my calculations, the child would be born in the summer, enabling me to finish the season's work and get the business over and done with before returning to the dig in the autumn. This proved to be the case, and we left the infant—a boy, named after his uncle Walter—in the care of that gentleman and his wife when we set out for Egypt in October.

What ensued was not entirely the child's fault. I had not anticipated that Emerson's next view of his son the following spring would induce a doting idiocy that manifested itself in
baby talk, and in a reluctance to be parted from the creature. Ramses, as the child came to be called, merited his nickname; he was as imperious in his demands and as pervasive in his presence as that most arrogant of ancient Egyptian god-kings must have been. He was also alarmingly precocious. A lady of my acquaintance used that term to me, after Ramses, aged four, had treated her to a lecture on the proper method of excavating a compost heap—hers, in point of fact. (Her gardener was extremely abusive.) When I replied that in my opinion the adjective was ill-chosen, she believed me to be offended. What I meant was that the word was inadequate. "Catastrophically precocious" would have been nearer the mark.

Despite his devotion to the child, Emerson pined in the dreary climate of England. I refer not only to its meteorological climate, but to the sterile monotony of academic life to which my husband had been doomed by his decision to forgo his Egyptian excavations. He would not go to Egypt without Ramses, and he would not risk the boy's health in that germ-infested part of the world. Only an appeal from a lady in distress (who turned out to be, as I suspected from the first, a thoroughgoing villainess) drew him from Ramses' side; and, seeing him glow and expand among his beloved antiquities, I determined that never again would 1 allow him to sacrifice himself for family commitments.

We decided to take Ramses with us the following year, but a series of distressing events allowed me to postpone that pleasure. My dear friend and sister-in-law, Evelyn, who had produced four healthy children without apparent effort, suffered two successive disappointments (as she called them). The second miscarriage threw her into a state of deep depression. For some reason (possibly related to her confused mental condition) she found Ramses' company comforting and burst into tears when we proposed to take him away. Walter added his appeals, claiming that the boy's merry little tricks kept Evelyn from brooding. I could well believe that, because it required the concentrated attention of every adult in the household to restrain Ramses from self-immolation and a widespread destruction of
property. We therefore yielded to the pleas of Ramses' aunt and uncle, I with gracious forbearance, Emerson with grudging reluctance.

When we returned from Egypt the following spring, Ramses seemed nicely settled at Chalfont, and I saw no reason to alter the arrangement. I knew, however, that this excellent situation (excellent for Evelyn, I mean, of course) could not endure forever. But I decided not to worry about it. "Sufficient unto the day," as the Scripture says.

The day duly arrived. It was during the third week in June. I was at work in the library trying to get Emerson's notes in order before he returned from London with the next installment. Some dark premonition undoubtedly brushed my mind; for though I am not easily distracted, particularly from a subject that enthralls me as much as Eighteenth Dynasty rock-cut tombs, I found myself sitting with idle hands, staring out at the garden. It was at its best that lovely summer afternoon; the roses were in bloom and my perennial borders were looking their loveliest. None of the plants had been trampled or dug up; the blossoms had been culled with tender deliberation by the expert in that trade, not torn out, roots and all, to make bouquets for the servants and the dogs; the smooth green turf was unmarked by small booted feet or the holes of amateur excavation. Never before had I seen it in that pristine condition. Ramses had begun walking a month after we moved into the house. A gentle nostalgia suffused me and I brooded in quietude until my meditation was interrupted by a knock on the door.

Our servants are trained to knock before entering. This custom confirms the suspicions of our county neighbors that we are uncouth eccentrics, but I see no reason why the well-to-do should lack the privacy poor people enjoy. When Emerson and I are working or when we are alone in our bedchamber we do not appreciate being interrupted. One knock is allowed. If there is no response, the servant goes quietly away.

"Come in," I called.

'It is a telegram, madam," said Wilkins, tottering toward me
with a tray. Wilkins is perfectly hale and hearty, but he makes a point of tottering, in order not to be asked to do anything he doesn't want to do. I took the telegram, and again the wings of shadowy foreboding brushed my spirit. Wilkins quavered (he quavers for the same reason he totters), "I hope it is not bad news, madam."

I perused the telegram. "No," I said. "On the contrary, it appears to be good news. We will be leaving for Chalfont tomorrow, Wilkins. Make the arrangements, if you please."

"Yes, madam. I beg your pardon, madam..."

"Yes, Wilkins?"

"Will Master Ramses be returning home with you?"

"Possibly."

A shadow of some passionate emotion passed rapidly over Wilkins' face. It did not linger; Wilkins knows what is proper.

"That will be all, Wilkins," I said sympathetically.

"Yes, madam. Thank you, madam." He weaved an erratic path to the door.

With a last wistful look at my beautiful garden I returned to my labors. Emerson found me so engaged when he returned. Instead of giving me the affectionate embrace to which I was accustomed, he mumbled a greeting, flung a handful of papers at me, and seated himself at his desk, next to mine.

An ordinary, selfish spouse might have made a playful comment on his preoccupation and demanded her due in the form of non-verbal greetings. I glanced at the new notes and remarked temperately, "Your date for the pottery checks with Petrie's chart, then? That should save time in the final—"

"Not enough time," Emerson grunted, his pen driving furiously across the page. "We are badly behind schedule, Pea-body. From now on we work day and night. No more strolls in the garden, no more social engagements until the manuscript is completed."

I hesitated to break the news that in all probability we would soon have with us a distraction far more time-consuming than social engagements or strolls. And, since most archaeologists
consider themselves prompt if they publish the results of their work within ten years, if at all, I knew something must have happened to inspire this fiend-ridden haste. It was not difficult to surmise what that something was.

"You saw Mr. Petrie today?" I asked.

"Mmmp," said Emerson, writing.

"I suppose he is preparing his own publication."

Emerson threw his pen across the room. His eyes blazed. "He has finished it! It goes to the printer this week. Can you imagine such a thing?"

BOOK: The Mummy Case
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