David, his best friend, closely resembled him, with his bronzed complexion, curly black hair, and long-fringed dark eyes. We were not certain of Davids precise age; he was Abdullahs grandson, but his mother and father had been estranged from the old man and David had worked for a notorious forger of antiquities in Luxor until we freed him from virtual slavery. He was, I thought, a year or two older than Ramses.
Nefret, our adopted daughter, was the third member of the youthful triumvirate. Golden fair instead of dark, open and candid instead of secretive, she and her foster brother could not have been more unlike. Her upbringing had been even more extraordinary than his or Davids, for she had been raised from birth to the age of thirteen in a remote oasis in the Western Desert,where the old religion of Egypt was still practiced. We had gone there a decade ago, at considerable risk to ourselves, in search of her parents, who had vanished into the desert, and we had no idea she existed until that unforgettable night when she appeared before us in the robes of a high priestess of Isis, her gold-red hair and rose-white complexion unmistakable evidence of her ancestry. I often wondered if she ever thought of those strange days, and of Tarek, prince of the Holy Mountain, who had risked his life and throne to help us get her back to England. She never spoke of him. Perhaps I ought to be worrying about her too.
I knew why Davids dark eyes were so sad and his face so somber; he had become engaged this past winter to Emersons niece Lia and saw less of her than a lovers heart desired. Lias parents had been won over to the match with some difficulty, for David was a purebred Egyptian, and narrow-minded English society frowned on such alliances. I was thinking seriously of going to Yorkshire for a time, to visit Walter and Evelyn, Lias parents, and have one of my little talks with them.
Nefrets cat, Horus, did his best to trip Ramses up when they came into the room together, but since Ramses was familiar with the cats nasty tricks, he was nimble enough to avoid him. Horus detested everybody except Nefret, and everybody except Nefret detested him. It was impossible to discipline the evil-minded beast, however, since Nefret always took his part. After an insolent survey of the room, Horus settled down at her feet.
Emerson was the last to join us. He had been working on his excavation report, as his ink-speckled shirt and stained fingers testified. "Where is tea?" he demanded.
"It will be in shortly. Come and sit down," Nefret said, taking his arm. She was the brightest spot in the room, with the lights shining on her golden head and smiling face. Emerson loved to have her fuss over him (goodness knows he got little fussing from me these days), and his dour face softened as she settled him in a comfortable chair and pulled up a hassock for his feet. Ramses watched the pretty scene with a particularly blank expression; he waited until Nefret had settled onto the arm of Emersons chair before joining David on the settee, where they sat like matching painted statues. Was it perhaps the uncertainty of our future plans that made my son look as gloomy as his love-struck friend?
I determined to make one more effort to break through Emersons stubbornness.
"I was in receipt today of a letter from Annie Quibell," I began. "She and James are returning to Cairo shortly to resume their duties at the Museum."
Emerson said, "Hmph," and stirred sugar into his tea.
I continued. "She asked when we are setting out for Egypt, and what are our plans for this season. James wished her to remind you that the most interesting sites will all be taken if you dont make your application soon."
"I never apply in advance," Emerson growled. "You know that. So does Quibell."
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