Valley of the Kings, Egypt, 1922
Everyone loves a manic. Euphemia Edwina Estrogen, yes, the one and the same scandalous gay divorcee of the London Estrogens, was on a beguiling high. Following the tantalizing clues found by lawyer and adventurer Theodore Davis in 1907, Howard Carter and his benefactor, George Edward Stanhope Molyneux Herbert, 5th Earl of Carnarvon, had just made the archaeological discovery of the century, here in the Valley of the Kings, and Madame Estrogen was going to seriously augment her fortune.
Ever the savvy business woman, as soon as the news of the discovery broke, under her newly minted working name, ‘Madame Tula-ankhaman’, Euphemia set up a sumptuously lavish tent, inspired by the one in that Hollywood heart-throb Rudolph Valentino’s movie The Sheik. Along the inner walls of her palatial tent were elaborate, hand carved, Victorian curio cases brimming with her notorious collection of the exotic. Her two personal favorite showpieces in her public collection being: the bottom half of a baby crocodile with an infant mummy’s upper torso sewn on top; and, a spectacular hoard of ancient Egyptian cosmetic paraphernalia.
On entering Madame Tula’s Palais de Mysteres, clients would be greeted by the lovely Madame Tula, who would be seated at her folding wooden table painted with mysterious hieroglyphic symbols. Her tantalizingly large nipples always erect, Madame would provocatively receive prospective clients with her characteristic enigmatic smile, and an enchanting roll of her hypnotic emerald green eyes. Madame, only partially concealed under an extremely risqué and provocative diaphanous butterfly winged metallic tissue dress, with tactically-placed stars covering her voluptuous breasts and raven black pubis1, was unapologetically accentuated by an abundance of priceless jewels pilfered from the tombs of the ancients by some of her eminent admirers.
1 An exact copy of the dress worn by Thad Bara in her 1917 epic classic Cleopatra.
For a pharaonic sum, Madame would read palms and tarot cards, and surreptitiously sell natural hand-dipped rubber latex ‘little somethings for the weekend’ 2 under the table to the rich and famous, who came in droves to the season’s place to be and be seen.
2 a.k.a Bob, Camisa De Venus (Portuguese for Venus Shirt), Cock Sock, Condom, Condominium, Condomus Maximus, Dick-Sock, Dinger, Dobber, English Raincoat, Dr. Power’s French Preventatives, English Riding Coat, Franger, French Letter, Gentleman’s Jerkin, Globo, (Spanish for Balloon), The Goalie, Hats, Gummimand (Danish for Rubberman), Hazmat Suit, Jimmie Hatz, Jimmy, Jimmy Hat, Johnnies, Johnny Bag, Koteca (Indonesian for Penis Gourd), Love Glove, Love Sock, Mr. Prevention, Nodding Sock, Okpuamu, (Nigerian for Penis Hat), Ovsver (Hungarian for Safety Tool), Pei Dang Vi (Cantoneese for Bulletproof Vest), Pariser (for Francophobic Germans), Poshie, Prophelactic, Raincoat, Robber, Robber Johnnies, Rubber, Rubber Magic, Rubber Straitjacket, Rubberz, Salami Sling, Sex Shark Warmer, Sheaths, Snake Charmer, The Tour Guide, Willie Hat, and Willie Warmer.
An enchanting, sagacious schemer with dreams of a lifestyle of flapper “eat-drink-and be-merry for-tomorrow-we-die” cheekiness, Euphemia had come to Egypt primarily to escape her Presbyterian Father’s non-stop Scowl. The Scowl – which had not left his stiffening Victorian upper-lip since her divorce four years ago – had taken on a life of its own and was becoming his trademark in the social pages’ political cartoons.
From Euphemia’s perspective, the utterly delicious word ‘scandal’ was being positively misused and abused in her case. In the immediate postwar sea of tears for a lost generation of young men and the guilty exuberance of the not dead, Euphemia had met and quickly eloped with a man-toy she thought fit the bill of someone of her social standing. However, after her father found out that the “Commonwealth’s Sausage-King” turned out to be what her scandalized father called a sodomite, and even worse, a German in an Englishman’s disguise, he forced the couple to divorce by threatening Mr. Sausage with social exposure.
Euphemia, whose man-motto was the same as her serial-monogamist mother’s, and her serial-monogamist grandmother’s before her, “It is better to marry a rich man than a merely upper-middle class one”, was rather fond of Mr. S. as he was uber-rich, an extremely drôle punster, and could afford to keep her in the lifestyle that she very consciously chose to remain accustomed to. Euphemia’s marriage and divorce, which were rumoured to be one of those little post-war mistakes, were quickly forgotten by anyone who mattered, except by Mr. Estrogen’s Scowl, in about five minutes.
Euphemia came into the inheritance that her mother had left her only child, on her untimely, and rather inconvenient death from Encephalitis lethargica, a secondary effect of the 1918 influenza. Her Mother had made the rather bad choice of helping the brave and handsome, albeit poor, British troops who had staged camp in Étaples, France – the epicenter of that best forgotten pandemic.
In part because of the manner in which her mother died, Euphemia developed a pathological aversion to any type of charity work – which she deemed as simply vulgar and the last refuge of the underachieving rich. She would never forgive her mother for having given in to that insipid plebeian temptation to directly help others.
Inspired by the real life adventures of the intrepid Gertrude Margaret Lowthian Bell in the Middle East, Euphemia dreamed of becoming an adventurer herself.
Euphemia reasoned, unreasonably since she was a “Bright Young Thing”, that if she stayed in England she would probably become yet another, dreary, surplus woman3 – and women were simply not her forte.
- 3 Three quarters of a million British soldiers were killed during the Great War. This resulted in the Surplus Two Million – women for whom marriage, children and socially acceptable sexual outlet died alongside their men.
Euphemia strongly believed that not living beyond your means was inexcusably unimaginative – and she had significant means. Thus, she saw it as her economic and social duty to begin to dip into the rather large sum of money at her disposal, and go on an extended Grand Tour. She spent two years traveling through Europe, the Middle East and North Africa under the premise of completing her education, sans chaperone, sans servants, and despite her father’s protestations.
During her travels to exotic locales Euphemia discovered that she had a way with tongues, including languages, and rapidly became a polyglot who never ended a sentence with a preposition nor a diaeresis (just too fussy), which in turn opened many intriguing doors. She also discovered that she was easily satisfied with the best in all things. When she visited Egypt, a couple of tumultuous years before Egyptian independence from Great Britain, she felt for the first time in her life that she was home and decided to stay for a while.
Euphemia moved into a private apartment on the top floor of the Winter Palace in Luxor, located on the banks of the River Nile. The Palace was already legendary as the archaeological excavation headquarters for the world’s largest open-air museum, and the place to see and be seen within the U-nous-crowd, and luckily it was beyond the simple means of most of the non-U-les-crowd. The Winter Palace proved to be the ideal location to establish and diversify her business portfolio.
In addition to significant wealth, Euphemia had also inherited a peculiar legacy from her maternal grandmother. She had an extreme passion for collecting amorous rendez-vous with antiquarian benefits. To be discerning, Euphemia limited her collection to archaeologists who insisted on providing her with valuable momentos that had to be at least a thousand years old. Anything younger was just not worth it. Her collection started back in London during the Great War, when her natural hourglass figure had personified the ideal Gibson Girl in the society pages (although she was an old Bloomsbury Girl, devoted to “love, the creation and enjoyment of aesthetic experience and the pursuit of knowledge”) when one of her collectibles in a state of deshabille and languorous post-coital glow presented her with a Mycenian clay tablet from Knossos inscribed with Linear B.
One of her many beaus, a Middle Kingdom Egyptian epigrapher, who had all the seductively charming vices that Euphemia admired, was on his first expedition with the newly founded Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago. The dashing young Montagu (a.k.a. Monty) McNaughty, Ph.D., taught her the sublime art of the ancient tongue in return for her confectionery smooches, and, more and more frequently, a moderate handful of firm breast. In time, with the help of the most agreeable Mr. McNaughty, Euphemia possessed a rather decent grasp of hieroglyphs.
On a particularly quiet evening, when the dry and dusty low pressure harmattan trade winds had died down, Euphemia and Mr. McNaughty walked hand in hand up the escarpment which surrounded the desolate Valley of the Queens in search of a quite spot to engage in some whoopie.
Out of breath after their evening constitutional, the two sat in contented silence, drinking British gin with quinine, as an anti-malarial precaution bien sur, from the silver flask Euphemia always wore, held in place by her outer left thigh garter belt. They watched the full moon rise from behind a prominent sandblasted fairy chimney hoodoo rock formation that looked like a champagne bottle just about to pop. Using the long, slender, red lacquer-tipped pointer finger on her left hand, Euphemia drew a hieroglyph in the iron-stained pink sand.
“Says you! No, my love, you have it wrong,” Mr. McNaughty gently cooed in a mildly condescending professorial voice that Euphemia, ever the modernist, registered and tucked away for future reference.
“That’s a ‘glyph depicting a combination of the symbols of a sinfully bestial joining of the god Thoth and his sometimes reputed, but still not proven, consort Hathor, the goddess of beauty. No such cartouche is noted in my Penultimate Guide to Translating Hieroglyphs, which, as I have told you before, is perhaps the most exciting scholarly contribution in the highly competitive world of epigraphy since Jean-François Champollion and Thomas Young translated parts of the Classical Egyptian hieroglyphs from the Classical Greek and Demotic Egyptian on the Rosetta Stone a hundred years ago.”
“Are you quite certain? I am sure I have seen it,” said Euphemia, pouting prettily with her slightly smeared painted blood red lips like a currently vogue vamp in heat.
“You most likely saw it on one of those fraudulent antiquities being sold in Cairo by the basketful. Mr. Carter and Earl Carnarvon’s most recent discovery seems to have created quite a market for them – even though the tomb has yet to be officially opened,” declared Mr. McNaughty.
Euphemia paused. Could this man be trusted? Which did not mean was he an honest man; the lovely Madame Tula would have nothing to do with the utterly scrupulous! The real question was – would he help her? She deliberated for a moment and then decided that he might be of some non-carnal use to her.
“Monty dearest, while I may be a professional charlatan – oh, don’t pretend to look so shocked – I have a particular passion for which I need advice.” Euphemia then proceeded to tell him of her rapidly accumulating collection.
In the end, the congenial Mr. McNaughty proved himself most worthy of her confidence and the warmth between her thighs.