Art by Shutterstock
by Elizabeth Peters
“It is wonderful to be back in Luxor again,” the old man said softly, gazing through the open windows of the veranda at the eastern mountains, flushed with the subtle lavender shadows of evening.
“A toast to you, my friends,” he continued, raising his glass of whiskey in salute. “And to your kindness in taking me into your home for my last visit to Egypt.”
My esteemed spouse, the greatest Egyptologist of this or any other era, raised his formidable eyebrows and said, in his bluff manner, “Balderdash, Wintergreen! Curse it, you are only a few years older than I, and I have every intention of living to be a hundred.”
“Language, Emerson,” I chided.
Wintergreen smiled. “My dear Frau Professor Emerson, I have heard far worse language from your distinguished husband. He holds nothing back! Perhaps that is what keeps him looking so young and healthy.”
I could not help agreeing. Emerson’s thick black hair, scarcely touched with white, his stalwart frame, and his flashing blue eyes contrasted painfully with the withered face and scanty white locks of the Swiss professor.
Wintergreen and his manservant had arrived only that morning, on the train from Cairo. After my first look at him I had revised my plan of offering him the suite of rooms normally occupied by our ward, Sennia, who was away at school, or the house nearby, which belonged to our son, Ramses, and his family. They were visiting friends in Cairo, so the house was empty. But I did not like the idea of having so frail an old gentleman so far away.
That he was in a highly nervous state had been apparent from the first. While we sat over luncheon, the Great Cat of Re had wandered in, his plumy tail waving, and the mere sight of the animal had prompted a high-pitched shriek from Wintergreen. As befitted his name, the Great Cat of Re was a large and imposing animal. Professor Wintergreen’s scream must have increased his interest, or perhaps it was simply the natural instinct of felines to seek out those who least appreciate them. He headed straight for Wintergreen and had to be forcibly removed by Fatima, our dedicated housekeeper. Fatima must have shut him up somewhere, for he had not turned up since. Even so, Wintergreen kept looking from side to side, as if expecting to see the cat staring at him from under the settee.
“So kind,” the old man murmured, gazing forlornly into his empty glass. “To offer me the comfort of your home.”
“It is no trouble at all,” I replied, hoping I was not mistaken. Having an ailurophobe for a guest was a confounded nuisance. The Great Cat of Re usually had the run of the house, and he did not take kindly to being incarcerated. I could hear howls of protest in the distance.
“Emerson, I believe Professor Wintergreen would like another glass of whiskey.”
“I observe, my dear Peabody, that your own glass is empty,” replied Emerson, starting to rise.
“Raimond will serve us,” Wintergreen said. He gestured to the young man who stood stiffly at attention behind his chair and pantomimed the filling of glasses.
With his stocky frame and coarse features, Raimond resembled a pugilist more than a trained manservant. His ears were large and malformed, and his nose had a decided bend. He had not spoken a word since his arrival, and I wondered if he might be mute.
“Perhaps I had better show him,” I said, rising in my turn. “Preparing a proper whiskey and soda requires some experience.”
“You will find Raimond quick to learn,” Wintergreen said.
“He doesn’t appear to have been quick to learn English,” I remarked, demonstrating the proper proportions of whiskey to soda and the use of the gasogene.
“He understands the language perfectly,” Wintergreen replied, sounding like a proud father. “But naturally he prefers to speak German, and he is not loquacious. It is an admirable trait in a servant, you must agree.”
Raimond indicated to me, with the utmost courtesy but still in silence, that he would continue the task. He filled the second glass, imitating my movements precisely. Then he turned to look at his master.
“You have had two whiskeys, Herr Professor Doktor,” he said, in a hoarse but not unpleasant voice.
“One more won’t hurt me, Raimond. Proceed, if you please.”
Raimond obeyed. Wintergreen chuckled. “You see how he looks after me? I tell him it does not matter. My fate is foretold; no act of mine can alter or delay it.”
The awkward silence that followed was broken by—of course—Emerson. “What the devil are you talking about, Wintergreen? What fate?” READ MORE
Art by Shutterstock
by Elizabeth Elwood
Clive Rowland didn’t mind the London smog of 1952. Only once had he ventured out in it, along with his mother and his sister, Hazel, and he had been amazed how the yellow haze had swallowed up the houses, hedges, and pavement, preventing them from seeing more than a single step in front of them. His mother had tied scarves around their noses, but they had turned back before they’d gone more than halfway along the street. She had been so worried about the effect of the smog on her children’s lungs that, after that, she kept them home from school. Clive couldn’t have been happier. Their father was away in Canada, and life was super because Mum and Nan were content to let him while away the time reading Famous Five books, playing with his model-train set, and doing jigsaw puzzles.
At present, he was sitting at the table by the French doors, piecing together a picture of a royal-blue steam engine crossing a viaduct. The curtains were closed to block out the murky chill of the December afternoon, and the lamp in the corner emitted a warm golden glow. The light washed over the rows of paper chains, half made up and strung out along the dining table, a cheerful promise of Christmas soon to come. Clive’s sister was curled up on the fireside rug with a Rupert Bear annual, and Mum and Nan, in the armchairs on either side, were talking across her as they drank tea and gossiped about their neighbours. From his seat by the French doors, Clive could hear every word. Mum was talking about Mr. Isham, the father of his best friend, Geoffrey, who lived at Number 10, five houses away, and had the absolutely best garden for playing adventure games. Clive recognized the edge in his mother’s voice. It was the same tone she used when she talked about Mr. Jones, the butcher, who, she said, always weighed short rations.
“It sounds as if Harold has be-come increasingly difficult since the accident.”
Olive Rowland got up and retrieved the teapot from the sideboard. She topped up her mother’s cup, refilled her own, and returned the teapot to the sideboard. “Jean has tried to help, but it’s no use,” she said. “Everything she does makes him fly into a rage. He even shouted at her for doing some cleanup in the garden.” She sighed as she sat back down. “I hope the crash didn’t cause him to have a stroke.”
Geoffrey’s father had been in the three-train collision at the Harrow & Wealdstone station. It had happened several weeks ago, during the morning rush hour. Mr. Isham had been on his way to work when the commuter train had smashed into the row of carriages. According to Nan, he’d been lucky to come out alive, because more than a hundred people had been killed and everyone was saying it was the worst peacetime rail crash ever. Clive and Hazel had gone up the road with their mother to view the site, and all three of them had been stunned to see the pyramid of coaches rising above the station, a hazy grey mountain framed in shimmering clouds of dust that hovered idly in the cold October air.
Clive’s grandmother shook her head. “There’s trouble all right,” she said, “but it’s problems on the home front.” Nan considered herself an authority on Geoffrey’s family because she was friends with Mrs. Coburn, the old lady who lived in the other half of the Ishams’ semidetached house. Amy Coburn heard a lot through the adjoining wall.
The high backs of the Parker Knoll chairs screened all but the top of Nan’s grizzled hair from view, but Clive didn’t have to see the expression on her face to know how the black eyes were gleaming under the bushy grey eyebrows. Nan reminded him of the grandma in the Giles cartoons. He could hear the glint of glee that always accompanied her prognostications of gloom and doom. Nan drained her teacup and set it back on the saucer. “If Harold keeps it up,” she said darkly, “he’ll drive Jean away, just as he did his first wife.”
Olive let out another sigh.
“We were all so happy when the war ended, but look at us now. We’re in our seventh year of rationing, then that terrible accident, and now, this dreadful smog—when will it ever end?”
Clive found an edge piece the colour of the viaduct and set it in his puzzle. He did not share his mother’s impatience with the weather; he hoped the fog would continue for another week, then lift in time for them to go to the Christmas pantomime. His uncle worked at Kodak, and every year the employees mounted a panto there. This year was to be Aladdin. Uncle Jim was playing the Dame, and Aunty Betty had got tickets for the whole family. Geoffrey would be there too, because his oldest sister worked at Kodak. Sally Isham was playing the Princess Scheherazade. READ MORE