The family is one of nature's masterpieces.
-- George Santayana
Now, I won't go into grand detail about the reasons for my spending the night in military jail. Suffice it to say that an officer lost a pocket-watch in the casbah and that it was found on my person. That, as any barrister worth his salt will tell you, is what is commonly known as circumstantial evidence.
In point of fact, I did not steal the officer's pocket-watch. I didn't care tuppence for the sodding thing, it was a cheap bit of second-rate work and I was ashamed to have it found on my person. I was holding onto it for a chap of my acquaintance, who was supposed to pop round and retrieve it. Instead, however, the officer in question and his cronies popped round and retrieved me from the bar.
I don't know why they put me in military jail. I'm not even sure if the blighters are allowed to do that sort of thing to civilians, especially moderately wealthy civilians from good families. But as there were four of them, and they were dirty great burly fellows, I did as I was told and avoided asking any questions that might warrant physical violence. I'm not much of a hand at fisticuffs. I believe in calm, rational discussion. Which is why, when Evie came to collect me, I was calmly and rationally banging on the bars with a tin plate and screaming to be set free.
"Jonathan!!" she yelled, hands over her ears.
I ceased both banging and screaming and thrust my arms through the bars as far as they would go. "Sis!"
She made a funny, sour face, deliberately steering clear of my waving arms. Then she placed hands on hips, assuming the lecture position. "Picking an officer's pocket, Jonathan?"
My sister, unfortunately, was born with a hereditary congenital defect that I happened to have escaped. She had a conscience. Dashed inconvenient at times. But I couldn't help but love the pesky little creature--especially at times like these, when she was there to look out for me, as I'd always looked out for her.
"I'm innocent, I tell you."
Evie made a rude noise.
"But I am, old mum! I was keeping the watch for a friend. I'd no idea it was stolen, Evie, I swear." That much was true. When a friend asks me to keep something, I never ask from whence it came. That can get awfully sticky.
Evie sighed, and shook her head. Before she really could start in on me, however, a stone-faced young man, with the most admirable set of mustaches I'd ever seen in my life, came in and unlocked the door to my cell.
My first act, on becoming a free man, was to embrace my deliverer. Evie was, no doubt, less than thrilled to be embraced by a chap who'd spent the night in a military jail, but she endured it with customary fortitude. I tucked her arm securely in mine and we exited proudly. Well, I was proud. I felt I'd been vindicated. I've no doubt that Evie would have been embarrassed, had this been the first time. As it was, she seemed resigned, but still mildly irritated.
"You're very lucky," she told me as we strolled along the streets, luxuriating in the morning air. "They were going to hold you longer, but Rick had a little talk with them."
"Aha." My sister's boy-friend, one Richard O'Connell, was a rather large American fellow, and not renowned for his diplomacy. I had no doubt that his 'little talk' involved very few actual words. "Well, name the place, and I'll meet him there an hour and buy him a drink."
"Jon, it's ten-thirty in the morning," she said mildly.
"Well, I'm glad someone's aware of the time, since I no longer have a watch..." This earned me a swat to the back of the head with the book she was carrying. Either the book or the smack seemed to jog my memory, and I exclaimed, "I say, Evie, aren't you supposed to be at the museum?" Personally, I can't understand why women decided they wanted to work for a living. If I were a woman, I'd have been perfectly satisfied to be kept. I don't think I'd be averse to that in any case.
She huffed impatiently. "I couldn't very well leave you in jail all day, now could I? Look, I've left a note telling Dr. Stuart that you were ill and I went to check on you. So, if anyone asks, you were very, very sick last night."
I nodded. Unlike Dr. Bey, with whom I'd had some rather unsavory dealings, the new curator knew very little about our happy family and would probably believe that load of bollocks.
"I don't want you going anywhere for a drink until at least noon," she continued. You'd think she were the elder sibling and not I. "You're looking rather seedy, Jon--even more so than usual. Go back to your rooms, have a bath, take a nap..."
"Yes, yes yes. Quite."
"I mean it!"
"Fine, Evie. No going out for a drink before noon. I promise." Which didn't rule out the decanter on my sitting room table.
"Thank you." She gave my arm a squeeze. Evie never could stay cross with me for long. I once gave every one of her dolls crew cuts, and not fifteen minutes later she was practically begging me to take her along when I went to play cricket with my chums. Today she seemed particularly buoyant. "I want you to be rested for tonight."
"Why, what's happening tonight?" How drunk had I really been yesterday?
"You're taking me out for drinks."
"Am I, now?" Evie never went anywhere 'for drinks'. I hadn't been aware the expression was even in her vocabulary. Apparently O'Connell was a better influence on her than I'd suspected.
"Yes. It's all been arranged." She grinned at me. Cheeky brat. She expected me to simply drop everything because she commanded that it be so. For a supposedly modern woman, my sister had some very antiquated notions when it suited her. "We'll go someplace nice, with music. And dancing. You can dress up. We'll order martinis and pretend to be wealthy sophisticates. It'll do you good."
"Evie, how do you know I don't have plans for the evening?"
"You've never planned for anything in your life," she replied. "Plotted, perhaps. Not planned."
"Look here, what about O'Connell? Get him to take you dancing," I snapped.
"I've been out with him every night this week." She didn't say it in a regretful tone; she was simply stating a fact. One that I happened to have already been aware of.
"Yes." As dear old Dad always said, if you can't say anything nice, then just keep your silly trap shut.
"I miss my favourite dance partner."
Until recently, her only dance partner. My sister may be a bit of a looker when she's cleaned herself up, granted, but get her on a dance floor and she's a holy terror in pointy shoes. She stomps on a chap's feet like you wouldn't believe. I'd learned to avoid the tread of lead, through years of practice trotting her about at various social functions (after all, I was never going to be able to fob her off on some unlucky fellow if she wouldn't even look up from her book whenever we went to parties). No man, besides myself, had ever asked her for a dance more than once. Evie, being Evie, assumed this was because she wasn't as pretty as the other girls. Not the case. But not even the most ardent admirer relishes having his toes broken.
I didn't reply. She watched me, face fixed in mute appeal. I didn't see how I could possibly turn her down.
"Besides, Rick won't dance with me. He hates it."
That made it easier. "I see."
She sighed. "Don't be petty, Jonathan."
"I'm not being anything," I shot back. "I'm just knackered, that's all. I did spend the night in jail, you know."
I could tell that she wanted very badly to believe me. Evie is a person with such intense and concentrated strength of will that it often overcomes her better judgement. It did so in this case.
"You don't drink martinis, anyhow," I added.
She smiled. "You can have mine."
Now that was more like it. I offered her my hand to shake. "It's a deal."
She grasped my hand firmly, and we parted at the corner of the road without another word. I watched her walk away. I hated to admit it, even to myself, but I missed her. She could be damnably silly at times; she dressed like a spinster and carried herself like bloody royalty; but she was my baby sister, the only one I'd ever have. I'd been through hell to get her back, and now I was going to lose her anyway.
To O'Connell, of all people.
Oh, I knew she was a bit infatuated with him at the beginning. Evie very rarely professes to dislike someone that much, so I knew something was up when she kept going on about how horrid he was. What surprised me, more than anything, was the way he took to her. The man was a pugnacious bruiser--six feet of walking, talking muscle--but Evelyn seemed to bring out a softer side of him. When I watched him try to talk to her, there were moments when I nearly split my sides trying to keep from laughing. It was obvious that the poor chap knew very little about nice girls, and even less concerning how they expected to be treated.
But rather than simply dismissing him, Evie showed surprising patience. If I had stolen Burns' toolkit, she'd have given me a sound dressing-down and demanded that I put it back. When O'Connell did it, all she did was titter to herself, and gaze after him with a sort of quiet longing I'd never seen on her face before. Longing mingled with something else, something I knew well: determination.
Well, at the ripe old age of twenty-four, I supposed it was about time she got her nose out of a book and took notice of the opposite sex. They certainly took notice of her; more than once, I'd had to threaten a chum of mine with bodily harm if he so much as breathed the same air as Evie. You see, I choose my companions because we have traits in common, and I will say quite candidly that the last thing I want is to see someone like me trying to make time with my dear sweet little sister. Because I know myself. She deserves better than that.
I couldn't see it. It was one thing to lose your head over someone in the middle of the desert, after narrowly escaping death; that, I could understand. But when we got back to Cairo, and divvied up the treasure--well, frankly, I expected O'Connell to be gone within the week. I knew his type, and they weren't the stationary sort. I didn't say anything to Evie about this; I simply waited, certain that the day would soon come when she'd turn up on my doorstep, all tears and sniffles, bleating about how O'Connell had buggered off to Delhi or Shanghai or what have you. But the blighter stayed, and what was more, he persisted. He showed up at her door with flowers and chocolates. He took her to dinner, and accompanied her on her frenzied sprees through the shops and stalls of the marketplace. He convinced her to play hooky from work and go gallivanting off, heaven only knew where--Evie, my Evie, the girl who, as a child, had wept soulfully whenever illness forced her to miss a day of school!
One morning, she turned up to a breakfast appointment with a finely crafted circlet of gold and emeralds dangling from her slim wrist. Jewellery is something I know a good deal about, if I do say so myself; I know enough, at least, to spot quality when I see it. I didn't know where O'Connell had found the bracelet, or how, but there was no doubt in my mind that he had either murdered someone for it, or paid a small fortune. Moreover, emeralds are Evie's birthstone, a detail which definitely augured unexpected forethought on his part. Either that, or sheer blind luck.
The days became weeks, and the weeks stretched on into months, and he was still underfoot. Evie began to see him more and more frequently--which resulted in my seeing less and less of her. And then, I hit upon a horrible realization: perhaps he wasn't going to leave. Perhaps his intentions towards my sister were entirely honourable.
Now, I'd known for a long time that this was coming; I didn't expect Evie to stay single forever, just to keep me company. But knowing a thing and accepting it when it actually comes to pass are different beasts entirely.
I stood at that corner, staring blankly off into the distance and being jostled by passers-by, until I saw her disappear into the museum. She didn't look back, even once.