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by Cynthia Bailey Pratt
Category: Romance/Historical Fiction
Description: Egyptologist Simon Archer thinks his long-time correspondent, a self-taught hieroglyphics expert, is an elderly woman. He is horrified to find that Julia Hanson is young, beautiful, and determined to accompany him on his expedition--something not done in 1849. Julia accidentally releases An-ket, a long-trapped Egyptian spirit who can make her way to Heaven only by bringing these two headstrong people together. Historical Paranormal Romance by Cynthia Bailey Pratt writing as Lynn Bailey; originally published by Jove
eBook Publisher: Belgrave House, 2000
eBookwise Release Date: July 2012
1 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [401 KB]
Reading time: 255-357 min.
Julia did not for a moment expect Simon Archer to fall in love with her at first sight. Though she imagined their meeting a thousand times, never more often than on the long mail-coach ride from York to London, she did not indulge in that pleasant fantasy. It would be enough if he liked her.
Certainly, their two-year correspondence had proved that they had many interests and opinions in common. They were united in their love for Egypt. Simon, who had spent many days there, and Julia, who had thus far never stepped foot off the British Isles, could both rhapsodize for pages about Egypt's arts, sciences and dusty charms.
Furthermore, each made no secret of their detestation of the dilettantes who plundered Egypt in search of mere trinkets, and agreed that the methods of the so-called archaeologists were hardly any better. Perhaps this was not the deepest foundation for a marriage, but she knew many happy couples who had started out with even fewer subjects to share over the breakfast table.
" 'Ere you are, Miss Hanson. The Bishop's Arms to the Bull an' Bush in just two days."
"We have made excellent time, Mr. Williams. I shall certainly write a letter to your superiors praising your courtesy on this journey."
" 'Twas a pleasure, miss," the guardsman said, touching his three-cornered hat.
The other passengers, a trio of attorneys come south for an important lawsuit, hung back while Miss Hanson descended. When they were all standing in the stableyard of the busy inn, she shook hands with each man in turn. "Thank you for your suggestion, Miss Hanson," the elder of the three said. "I will instruct my housekeeper to follow your recipe for that gargle to the letter!"
"They say the Roman senators swore by it, Mr. Galsworthy. Good-bye, gentlemen. The best of fortune to you."
The guard approached her again and pointed to where her luggage was piled. "I've told the landlord to give you a nice room, miss. If he gives you h'any trouble, you just tell me 'bout it."
"You've been so very kind, Mr. Williams. I do hope your little girl is feeling better." Gaily, Julia gave him two pounds as a tip, the coins clinking cheerfully. She entered the inn, finding it clean and well-furnished, if noisy.
Mr. Williams's good words indeed commanded the landlord's attention. She was shown to her room at once, a pleasant chamber near the back of the busy inn, and a bright brass can of hot water was already waiting on the washstand. She'd hardly taken off her hat before a knock on the door heralded a pot of tea, a plate of sandwiches, and today's edition of the Times. "Thank heaven!"
She could put on a cheerful face in front of people, but when alone, Julia admitted to herself that all was not well. The mail coach was astonishingly fast but surrendered in comfort what it made up for in speed. She'd been jolted and swayed, bounced and trounced over bad roads, until every bone in her twenty-seven year-old body ached like an old woman's on a rainy night.
There'd hardly been a moment at any stop to snatch a mouthful to eat. Due to the hasty circumstances of her departure from her home, she'd not thought to pack a hamper. Departing in the morning at dawn, she'd slept when she could, with her head against the frame of the coach, but she'd not slept. Even now, the bed in the corner of the room was beckoning to her with a seduction no siren could have bettered.
Julia considered lying down for half an hour but stoically put the temptation from her. Half an hour would make no dent in the exhaustion she felt, and she was all too aware that half an hour could well stretch into an entire evening. The maid who'd brought her food and taken away her crumpled gown didn't look to be the sort of stern disciplinarian who would coldheartedly wake her. Rather, she looked like a dear creature who'd let a tired girl sleep and sleep and say only, "You looked as if you needed it...."
To occupy herself, she turned to the papers. The small print swam before her eyes, but in a moment, seeing a name she recognized, the black lines steadied. Simon had an entire column devoted to his discoveries at Deir el-Bahari. Julia smiled as she read, for she knew far more details of the discovery of the priestess's tomb than the reporter did. Simon had written to her twice a week during the exciting days of the season's excavation. She could hardly bear to wait any longer before seeing the treasures he had found, though that anticipation paled beside her eagerness to meet the man himself.
He was mentioned again in a large advertisement. Julia studied it, her head to the side. She couldn't understand it and decided at last that this 'Dr. Mystery' was simply using Simon's name without permission to draw people to his "fabulous exhibition of the wonders of the unseen!"
Putting aside the paper, Julia turned to the task at hand.
When she had taken out her best walking dress to give to the maid, she'd disordered her valise. It took time to excavate her badly needed hairbrush. She had not the courage to look in the mirror until she was armed for the battle ahead.
As she feared, her never very ruly hair had taken advantage of the situation to become a vastly frizzled bush. "If only ..." Julia said, trying to force the brush through the tangles, "I had lived a hundred years ago when this was the mode! Or if I had lived in Egypt so I could have shaved it off!"
Not for her the smooth styles of the day, with little curls at the sides! She had enough to do to tame the wild mass into a neat bun at the back of her neck. When it was at last subdued, the maid had returned with her freshly pressed gown.
With her help, Julia turned to dressing. There, too, she avoided the present fashion. Her skirt was just wide enough to escape notice but she'd eliminated the huge sleeves and lashings of trimming, having no wish to resemble an overdecorated cake. Her heart was given to the slim, multitudinously pleated garments of the ancient Egyptians and nothing could be imagined more opposite to that ideal than the present craze for excess.
"Oh, miss, you do look nice!"
"Thank you, Mary. Will you ask your father to call a cab for me?" Julia buy this time had heard all about Mary's family, her dreams of marrying the butcher's son in the next street, and the time Mary's mother was sure she'd glimpsed the queen and Prince Albert driving by.
Before leaving, Julia took one last peep in the glass. Simon Archer need not love her at first sight, but neither should he look at her in disgust. She could only pray that brunettes with a certain lushness of outline appealed to him.
Simon Archer gazed adoringly at the most entrancing female face he'd ever beheld. Her beautiful dark hair fell in smooth ripples to either side of her softly rounded cheeks. Her deep eyes looked slightly past him, but surely their liquid gleam would soon light on his face. Then the austere mouth would smile.
"The coffin is in a remarkable state of preservation," he said. "We packed it in a case carefully padded with cotton so that there would be no scratches on the gold. It's a rather soft alloy."
The two gentlemen of the British Museum nodded politely. But the eyes of one slid repeatedly to the glitter of gold in the next case. A broad pectoral collar inset with a heavenly falcon, several bracelets of golden beads interspersed with red carnelian and blue turquoise, small rings, and the charms and amulets of a superstitious people had been placed carefully on the same pale velvet that lined modem-day jeweler's boxes.
With a sigh, Simon said, "Of course, the gold jewelry is what most people will want to see."
"Yes," said the director of the antiquities exhibit. "A queen's ransom. Quite the most complete set I have ever heard of."
His assistant, plump and prim in a high collar, added, "The ladies will be imagining themselves attired in them. No doubt, Mr. Archer, you'll be besieged with requests for private viewings."
Sir Walter Armbruster's thick eyebrows rose as he smiled. "Naturally, you'll be permitted to enter the museum whenever you wish."
"You're very kind. Sir Walter, Mr. Keene, but there is only one woman I would ever permit to handle these objects. My collaborator."
"You've a collaborator? And she is a woman?" The gentlemen of the museum glanced at one another. Simon Archer's misogyny was well-known in spite of, or perhaps as a result of, having three sisters and a charming mother.
"A certain Miss Hanson, of Yorkshire."
"You surprise me, Mr. Archer. Of what use has this woman been to you?"
With his fingertip, Simon traced a line of the hieroglyphs that were incised over virtually every inch of the coffin's polished surface. "She has an almost masculine gift for translation," he said. "She corresponded with the great Champollion from the time he was appointed conservator of the Louvre's Egyptian collection until his death. He discussed with her in detail the technique whereby he decoded the Rosetta Stone. From her letters to me, I conclude that she is a truly remarkable woman, whom age has not faded one whit of her vivacity or interest in Egypt." Smiling warmly, knowing the men must think him overly enthusiastic, he concluded, "I fancy that she and the Lady An-ket here would get on famously."
"I am very eager to meet her."
"I wish you might, Sir Walter. I did invite her to come south to see the exhibition, but it is a considerable journey even for a young lady. I should not like to see any of my sisters attempt it, let alone my mother."
"Indeed not. You shall have to write her of your triumph, Mr. Archer. And not only of your triumph here, I trust. Perhaps you'd be good enough to come to my offices later. I have a bottle of excellent whiskey and I'd consider it an honor to drink to your success this evening."
Simon shuffled his feet, feeling a surge of embarrassment. The gleam of amusement in young Mr. Keene's eyes didn't make him any more comfortable. 'Thank you, Sir Walter. I must say I find your attitude surprising. So many other scientists seem to think I'm only lending credence to this fellow's outrageous claims by attending his demonstration."
"If science is to advance, Mr. Archer, we must be open to the truth even in unpalatable forms, and willing, too, to expose it even at the risk of our dignity. These spiritualistic fakirs are capable of doing great harm. This so-called Dr. Mystery seems to be the worst of the lot. I hope to read in tomorrow's Times that you have exposed him for the fraud he is."
Simon bowed as Sir Walter left the room. Mr. Keene lingered for a moment until his superior had gone from earshot. "Lady Armbruster is said to be very fond of fortune-tellers and others of that ilk," he said in a well-bred undertone. "I don't know whether she has been to any of 'Dr. Mystery's' performances. Although it wouldn't surprise me."
"Women are notoriously prone to attending such displays. It excites their credulity."
"Not women only, by what I've heard. There are a few highly placed ministers who are attending this fellow's claptrap sessions."
"Led there, no doubt, by their wives."
Mr. Keene said, "Yes, poor souls. God, who'd live under the cat's foot? We bachelors are the fortunate ones. Go where we please, live how we like, answer to no one." He brought out his watch from his waistcoat pocket. "Except to our superiors at the museum. Pardon me for leaving you, Archer. An important patron awaits my talent for pouring lea."
"If showing this exhibition ahead of schedule will help bring the money in ..."
"You're too kind," Mr. Keene said with a grin. "But this patron's interest is in China, not Egypt."
"There is no accounting for taste."
"No indeed. I hope we shall meet again later?"
"I look forward to it."
Left alone at last with the exhibition displays, Simon walked around them as fussily as a housewife. He picked off a piece of nearly microscopic fluff from the extended arm of An-ket's coffin and straightened one of the cards. He drew out his handkerchief and gave a rub to the glass case, believing he saw a finger mark.
Cloth still in hand, Simon grinned at himself. No one who had ever been privileged to see the disordered masses that covered his desk would believe he could be so meticulous about the exhibition. Perhaps fame had changed him?
For there was no denying that he suddenly had fame. The fortunate loss of a goat down a ravine had led him to the treasures that had attracted the interest of the world. No one had ever found anything like what he had discovered that blisteringly hot day along the cliffs. Wild rumors had circulated that Archer had found an undisturbed tomb. The news hadn't been quite that good, but it had been good enough.
The tomb of the Priestess of Hathor had been robbed in antiquity. Impossible to visualize the riches it must have once contained, but how tempting to try to conjure from these remaining pieces the fabulous wealth of ancient Egypt. The thieves had been clever, tunneling into the living rock in search of the spoil. Yet for some superstitious reason they had stopped short of hacking the coffin apart for the gold. Neither had they opened it in order to steal her jewelry or to tear the resined bandages to search for the precious amulets such mummies contained.
Simon hadn't done that, either, though as a scientist he should have done so. He excused himself by saying that the embalmers had used so much of the precious resin that the body had become almost a solid mass. To retrieve the amulets would have entailed a violent assault. Better to leave her in peace.
Her jewelry had been loose inside the unopened coffin. The collar of beads looked as though it had been torn from her neck and then dropped onto her torso. The household objects, of no particular intrinsic value though priceless in terms of knowledge, had been scattered about the coffin as though by careless feet.
For reasons unknown, the thieves had never returned to finish their work. The lady's cosmetic box, still with the unguents fresh in their wax-sealed alabaster jars, would have brought a fine price, yet it lay in the dust. So did forty-two shabti, the little figures who would do her bidding in the afterlife. An ivory cat, small enough to be cupped in two hands, and her polished bronze mirror had been found, broken like many of the shabti, but still recognizable.
That was all. Yet it was enough, with her nested coffins, to make him well-known. His anger against a spiritualist who had the gall to claim a direct psychic link to some phony pharaoh made him famous.
A page, dressed in blue livery, appeared at the door to the exhibition room. Despite his neat appearance, there were still black smears from his fingers on the folded note he handed to Simon.
In the neat hand he knew as well as his own, Simon read, Miss Hanson presents her compliments to Mr. Archer.
"Who gave you this, boy?"
"A lady. Downstairs."
Of course, she probably couldn't climb the stairs. Well, if necessary, he'd carry her up. He was more than strong enough, thanks to his labors in the field, to carry one elderly lady up two flights of steps. His exhibition wouldn't be here now without her encouragement during those dark days when nothing went right.
"Want me to tell 'er to come up?" the page asked.
"No, certainly not. A lady of her years? I'll come down." Simon flicked back the hair at his temples and settled his dark coat on his shoulders. He had to stop and straighten his clothing a second time before entering the main floor of the museum. For some reason, which he told himself was mere courtesy, he'd hurried down the flights as though rushing to meet his destiny.
The spacious main floor was rendered rather cold by the shining expanse of marble floor and high ceiling. The sun shone down through a skylight, quite brightly for a change. Of course, Simon always felt slightly chilly in England no matter how enthusiastically the sun consented to shine.
He stood there, looking about him. A group of schoolboys in straw-boaters followed a schoolmaster who was admonishing them in a nasal voice not to touch anything. Several fashionable ladies sauntered by, attended by several gentlemen who would never take their eyes from so much living beauty to gaze on any antiquity. A decidedly unfashionable lady stood gazing about her as though she had walked by accident into some ancient temple of learning and did not now know what to do with herself. Two scholars, whom he knew by sight, were arguing some esoteric point about Babylonia on their way to tea.
Simon felt puzzled. Had Miss Hanson, exhausted by her journey and the excitements of London, retired to a cloakroom? Certainly there was no one of her age here.
Then two elderly ladies, attired alike in black bombazine, appeared at the far end of the entrance hall. One walked with a stick while the other supported her. The younger was in her fifties, perhaps, while under her lace cap the other woman showed a face lined and seamed enough to have been nearer eighty. This, then, must be Miss Hanson.
With a heart full of happiness, Simon approached more boldly. "Miss Hanson?" he asked with a bow. "I'm Simon Archer."
"What does the gentleman want, Veronica?" the older lady said in a voice that piped like an elderly bird's.
"I don't know, Mother. Pardon us!"
Ever more puzzled, Simon stood aside as Veronica hurried her mother away as quickly as possible. From behind him, he heard a little cough. It was the young woman who'd been standing all alone. "I beg your pardon ..."
"The guards in the rooms are happy to answer any questions the public may pose."
The anticipation on her face faded a trifle. Simon felt ashamed of himself. He supposed even young women were permitted to be curious about the past, though he wished they could do it without continually asking foolish questions. "Pardon me, miss. You wished to ask a question ... ?"
She had an attractive smile, her full pink lips soft over small white teeth. For the rest, she was rather plain though with a good, smooth skin. Her eyes were gray under slightly too heavy brows. "I was going to ask if you are Mr. Archer? The archaeologist?"
"Yes, I am. But the exhibition of my findings doesn't open until tomorrow."
"I know." She put out a gloved hand as if to stop him when he would have walked away. He hoped she would not turn out to be a tuft hunter, eager for a few words with the celebrity of the hour, but he was afraid she was. Why else would she so boldly accost a total stranger, merely because she'd overheard his name?
He said nothing and once again the brightness of her eyes seemed to dim a trifle as though whatever she expected had not occurred. What did she want from him? He did not have two heads, nor did he have a fund of witticisms that she could quote to her friends when she boasted of having met him. "If you'll excuse me, I must look for someone I'm meeting...."
"Yes, I know. Miss Hanson." Her hand, rather large for a young lady's, fluttered toward herself.
"You know Miss Hanson?"
She nodded, eagerly.
"Where is she?" Simon asked, looking past the young lady, expecting to see his "good genius" standing behind her. "Is she your sister? No, you are too young. Your aunt, perhaps?"
"My aunt, sir, is at home in Yorkshire keeping house, or so I trust, for my father. Besides, her name is Miss Norris. I am Miss Hanson."