The encrimsoned sun sank slowly toward the crest of the Theban mountains. Another glorious Egyptian sunset burned against the horizon like fire in the heavens.
In fact, I did not at that moment behold it, since I was facing east. I had seen hundreds of sunsets, however, and my excellent imagination supplied a suitable mental picture. As the sky over Luxor darkened, the shadows of the bars covering doors and windows lengthened and blurred, lying like a tiger's stripes across the two forms squatting on the floor. One of them said, "Spoceeva."
"Russian," Ramses muttered. scribbling on his notepad. "Yesterday it was Amharic. The day before it sounded like -- "
"Gibberish," said his wife.
"No," Ramses insisted. "It has to mean something. They use root words from a dozen languages, and they obviously understand one another. See? He's nodding. They are standing up. They are going ... " His voice rose. "Leave the cat alone!"
The Great Cat of Re, stretched out along the back of the settee behind him, rose in haste and climbed to the top of his head, from which position it launched itself onto a shelf. Ramses put his notepad aside and looked severely at the two figures who stood before him. "Die Katze ist ganz verboten. Kedi, hayir. Em nedjeroo pa meeoo."
The Great Cat of Re grumbled in agreement. He had been a small, miserable-looking kitten when we acquired him, but Sennia had insisted on giving him that resounding appellation and, against all my expectations, he had grown into his name. His appearance was quite different from those of our other cats: longhaired, with an enormous plume of a tail, and a coat of spotted black on gray. With characteristic feline obstinacy he insisted on joining us for tea, though he knew he would have to go to some lengths to elude his juvenile admirers, who now burst into a melodious babble of protest, or, perhaps, explanation.
"Darling, let's stick to one language, shall we?" Nefret said. She was smiling, but I thought there was a certain edge to her voice. "They'll never learn to talk if you address them in ancient Egyptian and Anglo-Saxon."
"They know how to talk," Ramses said loudly, over the duet. "Recognizable human speech, however -- "
"Say Papa," Nefret coaxed. She leaned forward. "Say it for Mama."
"Bap," said the one whose eyes were the same shade of cornflower-blue.
"Perverse little beggars," said Ramses. The other child climbed onto his knee and buried her head against his chest. I suspected she was trying to get closer to the cat, but she made an engaging picture as she clung to her father. They were affectionate little creatures, much given to hugging and kissing, especially of each other.
"They're over two years old," Ramses went on, stroking the child's black curls. "I was speaking plainly long before that, wasn't I, Mother?"
"Dear me, yes," I said, with a somewhat sickly smile. To be honest -- which I always endeavor to be in the pages of my private journal -- I dreaded the moment when the twins began to articulate. Once Ramses learned to talk plainly, he never stopped talking except to eat or sleep, for over fifteen years, and the prolixity and pedantry of his speech patterns were extremely trying to my nerves. The idea of not one but two children following in the paternal footsteps chilled my blood.
Ever the optimist, I told myself there was no reason to anticipate such a disaster. The little dears might take after their mother, or me.
"Children learn at different rates," I explained to my son. "And twins, according to the best authorities, are sometimes slower to speak because they communicate readily with one another."
"And because they get everything they want without having to ask for it," Ramses muttered. The children obviously understood English, though they declined to speak it; his little daughter raised her head and fluttered her long lashes flirtatiously. He fluttered his lashes back at her. Charla giggled and gave him a hug.
The foregoing is excerpted from Children of the Storm by Elizabeth Peters. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from HarperCollins Publishers, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022.
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