By the end of July, all our tempers had become strained. It continued to rain, Emerson continued to sulk, Rose continued to snuffle, and Gargery's nagging never stopped. "Oh, madam, you need me, you know you do; only see what happened last year when I was not there to look after you -- Mr. Ramses and Mr. David kidnapped and you carried off by that Master Criminal chap, and poor Abdullah murdered and -- "
"Do be quiet, Gargery!" I shouted. "I asked you to serve tea. I did not invite a lecture."
Gargery stiffened and looked down his snub nose at me. I am one of the few people who is shorter than he, and he takes full advantage. "Tea will be in shortly,madam," he said, and stalked out.
I seldom shout at the servants -- in point of fact, Gargery is the only one I do shout at. As a butler he was something of an anomaly, and his unusual talents, such as his skill at wielding a cudgel, had proved helpful to us in the past. However, he was no longer a young man and he certainly could not have prevented any of the disasters that had befallen us. I sighed and rubbed my eyes. It wasneed I say?raining. The drawing room was a chill, shadowy cavern, lit by a single lamp, and my thoughts were as cold and dark. Gargerys words had brought back the memory of that awful day when I held
Abdullah clasped in my arms and watched in helpless horror as scarlet drenched the white of his robes. He had taken in his own body the bullets meant for me.
"So, Sitt, am I dying?" he gasped.
I would not have insulted him with a lie. "Yes," I said.
A spark lit in his dimming eyes, and he launched into the familiar complaint. "Emerson. Look after her. She is not careful. She takes foolish chances . . ."
Emersons face was almost as white as that of his dying friend, but he managed to choke out a promise.
I had not realized how much I cared for Abdullah until I was about to lose him. I had not realized the depth of his affection for me until I heard his final, whispered wordswords I had never shared with a living soul. The bitter knowledge that I would never hear that deep voice or see that stern bearded face again was like a void in my heart.
The door opened and my foster daughters voice remarked, "Goodness, but it is as gloomy as a cell in here. Why are you sitting in the dark, Aunt Amelia?"
"Gargery neglected to switch on the lights," I replied, sniffing. "Curse it, I believe I am catching Roses cold. Ramses, will you oblige?"
My son pressed the switches and the light illumined the three forms standing in the doorwayRamses, David, and Nefret. The children were usually together.
They werent children, though; I had to keep reminding myself of that. Ramses had just celebrated his twentieth birthday. His height matched Emersons six feet, and his form, though not as heavily muscled as that of his father, won admiring glances from innumerable young ladies (and a few older ones).
Some persons might (and indeed did) claim that Ramsess upbringing had been quite unsuitable for an English lad of good family. From an early age he had spent half the year with us in Egypt, hobnobbing with archaeologists and Egyptians of all classes. He was essentially self-educated, since his father did not approve of English public schools, and Ramses did not approve of schools at all. He had been an extremely trying child, given to bombastic speeches and a habit of interfering in the business of other persons, which often led to a desire on the part of those persons to mutilate or murder him. Yet somehowI could not claim all the credit, though heaven knows I had done my besthe had turned into a personable young man, linguistically gifted, well-mannered, and taciturn. Too taciturn, perhaps? I never thought I would see the day when I regretted his abominable loquacity, but he had got into the habit of keeping his thoughts to himself and of concealing his feelings behind a mask Nefret called his "stone-pharaoh face." He had been looking particularly stony of late. I was worried about Ramses.
From Guardian of the Horizon, pages 1-8, by Elizabeth Peters. HarperCollins Publishers. Used by permission.
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No Man's Land
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