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by Elizabeth Peters
William Morrow, 2007
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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 clichés, 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 I am determined to be completely candid as I pen these pages, for I have made certain they will not be published, at least during my lifetime.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 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 I 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. . . .
Excerpted from The Mummy Case by Elizabeth Peters. Copyright © 2007 by Elizabeth Peters. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.