Millie, rather concerned about the effect the incident had had on the children, swept Phoebe into the house.
“We’ll bring out some fruit punch for everyone. I think the poor kids are a bit shocked about the whole thing. I suppose you and Sphinx and Amy won’t mind having a fruit drink?” For the world she couldn’t keep a slight tartness out of her voice. Phoebe gave her a comprehensive grin.
“Not even slightly. Don’t worry about Dad, it’s just his way. Grandad Ramses was quite civilised a lot of the time, but Great-Grandad was – well, he and Great-Grandmother have become family legends. Apparently she once marched into a pub and demanded a beer. This was sometime in the middle of the Victorian era and the man she was with – a journalist – practically died of embarrassment, especially when she offered the barmaid a shawl because she looked cold with her shoulders exposed.”
Millie’s hand paused, arrested, in the action of reaching for a huge jug. She stared at Phoebe for a moment and then began to laugh.
“Honestly? She must have made a sensation!”
“I’ve always regretted that I never met her,” said Phoebe. “I’ve read all her diaries – her accounts of her first couple of excavations have been published, actually. As fiction, since none of us really want that particular notoriety. But yes, I think she did cause rather a few sensations.”
It was a relief, Phoebe felt, that Millie wasn’t quite as stand-offish as she’d appeared at first. Perhaps she had been shy. She was aware, even if the rest of the family weren’t, that the Emersons could be somewhat overwhelming.
A few minutes later Phoebe, carrying the enormous jug, followed Millie, bearing a tray of glasses, out onto the lawn. Sphinx was seated in the shade of a huge, spreading tree, surrounded by all the children, from seven-year-old Poppy to Will, at fourteen. Even Constance Rose sat beside Will, leaning against the broad trunk of the tree, gazing out across the garden as though not really listening. Amy and John were lying back in deckchairs nearby.
“Drinks!” called Millie, and Amy and John sat up. Sphinx looked round with a smile, then neatly caught a glass as the tray tipped. Millie scowled as she set the tray down, and Sphinx turned back.
“Ok,” he said, looking round the circle of intent faces. “The first thing you do if you’re mummifying someone is remove their brain. You’d use a special hooked instrument, and you pull bits of the tissue out through the nose. You’ve got to be really careful, as it can easily disfigure the face, and you want to preserve that as much as you can.”
“I know,” said Ricky. “And you put resin inside the skull to stop it collapsing. We were going to do that afterwards, ‘cos we didn’t have any resin.”
“Fair enough.” Sphinx nodded at his younger brother. “Now, where were you going to make the cut? Hang on a second – it’s easier if we’ve got a body to demonstrate on. Poppy, fancy becoming a mummy?”
“No, Sphinx, that’s taking things too far!” Millie almost spilt the fruit punch in her agitation. “You can’t start cutting Poppy open!”
“I don’t mean to cut her open,” said Sphinx, blinking. He looked at Millie for a moment with his head on one side. “Come and sit down. Poppy won’t be scared if you’re here.” Millie caught the tail end of his smile at Poppy and sat down quickly, while Poppy lay down on the grass. Phoebe rolled her eyes and handed out the rest of the drinks.
“Now, to remove the rest of the organs, you’d make an incision here.” Sphinx indicated the place on Poppy’s left side. “You leave the heart, as the ancient Egyptians believed that was the centre of a person’s being.”
Poppy seemed perfectly happy, so Millie got up and went to join Phoebe, who had joined Amy and John in the deckchairs.
“Did you get bored?” she said with a smile. “Sphinx will probably spend an hour telling them exactly how to mummify Poppy. Honestly, they are a lot of lunatics.”
“Ricky and Randa ought to know how to mummify someone by this time,” said Amy, shaking her head disapprovingly.
“They ought to know when someone’s dead, too,” said Millie, not entirely sure whether Amy and Phoebe were joking or not. They looked at her. “Well, if they’d started pulling her organs out she’d probably have died.”
“But they didn’t,” said Phoebe, in a reasonable tone.
“Only because Sphinx turned up and stopped them.”
Amy half sat up, leaning on her elbow, and looked at Millie, startled.
“I s’pose you’re right, really. I mean, it could have turned out much worse than it did.”
“Yes, it could,” said Millie firmly. Finally, they seemed to be seeing some sense.
“Oh well,” said Phoebe. “When Sphinx has finished you’d better teach them how to check whether someone’s alive or dead.”
“What? But I – right. Ok.”