I rise slowly and walk to the door. “Good morning Sarah.” I say to her after I open the door. A tray for breakfast would be wonderful this morning. I hope it wont appear rude to everyone. Do you think it will?” I open the door and walk back into the room. Allowing her to enter. “I’ll just need a few minutes to clean up and get dressed. Would you mind brnging me something?”
When Sarah leaves and closes the door, I’ll quickly bath and get dressed. I’ll put on a nice dress, but not one that is too formal. Im not sure what the day holds. When Sarah comes back with breakfast, I’ll make small talk with her and see if she may be open to discuss some of the history about the house. If it seems appropriate, I’ll tell her what happened last night. I feel a nice connection with the young girl.
Gabriela dressed warmly in a tweed skirt and a sweater over her blouse with knee-high woolly socks. The house was chilly after the snow fall, though the countryside looked fresh and clean under the new blanket of soft white. By the time she was dressed, Sarah had returned with her tray. Only Angus McPherson was downstairs, she reported, so there was no slight in not going down.
“Lady Jane is staying in bed” said Sara. “Says she’s caught a chill and she do look pale. Miss. I heard there was something awful happened last night at the see-ance. Miss Eloise is still fast asleep.”
I listen to Sarah as she combs my hair again. “You know a lady could get used to this.” I say as I smile at her in the mirror. “I can never style my hair the way you do.” The situation turns more serious when she begins to mention the hunting’s in the chapel. I reach up for her hand when she mentions the weeping spirit that roams the upper hallway. I turn in my seat to face her. I take her hands and pull her close to me. She kneels in front of me while I sit. Looking her in the eye, I tell her everything about the night. I see the terror in her face. “I dont know why she appeared to me on my first night here, and not to you. You and your family have worked here for years. Please dont tell Lady Jane of this. I dont want to worry her. It seems she has caught a chill and wont be up and about today. Lets allow her to feel better first shall we?”
The young woman’s face, so close to hers is full of trust and sympathy. Gabriela can smell the faint scent of lavender soap on the girl’s skin and see the pupils in her eyes expand as she looks up at her. It is a very intimate moment. Sarah’s lips quiver slightly and she draws in her breath in a sigh.
In response to Gabriela’s questions about the history of the house, the young servant is pleased to show off her knowledge.
“The Hall’s been here since the time of Queen Elizabeth, Miss, though it’s been added on to a bit since then. There’s all sorts of stories about ghosts and such. I think all old house have them, don’t they. They say there’s a priest hole in the dining room, behind the fireplace, but I never seen it. And there’s supposed to be a weeping lady in white what walks the upper halls — that’s the hall outside your door, Miss. But I ain’t never seen her neither.
“And, of course, the chapel is haunted. That’s a more recent story, from my Grand Dad’s time. The chapels is as old as the Hall, but it was sacred ground, see, so no ghosts could haunt it. But they do say that one Sunday morning about fifty years back, when the family and half the village was in there saying their prayers that a woman in white come up out of the crypt, crying and calling out to people what was in the pews. Scared them half to death she did. Especially when she just sort of faded from view, right in front of the vicar, like.
“Same thing next week and the week after. She just kept on coming out of the crypt and crying like. Then fading away. Eventually, they just stopped using the chapel and the family now goes for Sunday service to the church in the village”
Sarah’s eyes were wide open and she had worked herself into a state of terror telling this tales. Even Gabriela could feel a shiver of the unholy in her spine at the image of the woman in white.
When Gabriela told the young woman what she had seen in the night and the footsteps in the garden, the girl put her fist in her mouth and went very pale.
“Then you seen her too, Miss. The ghost of the Hall. She’s real!”
A sudden knock at the door made both women start and then giggle at themselves for being so nervous.
“Pardon me, Miss,” said Meadows in his deep tones through the closed door, “but Sir Brian would like me to tell you that the gentlemen will be leaving in half an hour to catalog the items in the chapel. He hopes you will be able to attend the proceedings. Shall I tell him you will be there?”
We both jump at the knock at the door and laugh as we’re brought back to reality. We laugh and hug each other in fun. Then I feel a connection. Maybe since I am not her employer, she feels more at ease with me. “Please Sarah, lets keep this conversation a secret between us okay? I feel like I can really trust you.” There is a moment of silence as we hold hands and looking at each other. If this were a date, I would expect the man to kiss me here. She then pulls away and takes my breakfast tray. “Wait Sarah.” I call to her. She turns and I can tell she is flushed. “You mentioned a Priest Hole behind the fireplace. I dont know what that is?”
“It’s a hiding place, built for priests back when being a Catholic could get you burned,” says the girl. “I’ve heard of it, but I never seen it.”
Meadows knocks again calling for Sarah. I walk sternly to the door opening it. “She is here Meadows! She is helping me. I heard what you said and plan on being with the men this morning. Tell them I will see them in 30 minutes.” I hold the door open for Sarah as she leaves.
Meadows draws himself up to his full height. His eyes smolder with indignation, but he is too polite to snap at a guest. He stands aside and glances fiercely at the young maid who scurries out of the room under his watchful eye. Gabriela is reminded that while she may be immune from the butler’s wrath, the other servants are not. And punishment may be delayed until well after she has left the Hall
“Meadows!” I call to him gathering myself. “Im sorry to had spoken to you that way, I didnt sleep well last night. Please forgive me.” I calmly whisper. “Could you tell me how Lady Jane and Eloise are doing? Im a bit concerned with them. Please let me know when I could check on them today. Id also like to explore the manor this afternoon. I find the house simply stunning. Is there someone on staff that can give me a tour in Jane’s absence?”
“I would be happy to escort you, Miss,” he says, unbending a bit at her apology. “Lady Jane is not well. She has a cold, and Miss Eloise has locked her door, asking only for coffee and to be left alone. I will pass along your concerns when I speak to them later.”
After my exchange with Meadows and Sarah, I check myself one last time in the mirror. After all, I will be spending the day with several very handsome men. I adjust my skirt and sweater, and decide to change my shoes, replacing them with my leather riding boots. The snow will be unforgiving if I simply wear shoes. I pull the leather boot straps tight under my knees and calves, and buckle them. I always feel so strong when Im in them. Plus, they look fantastic with my skirt and sweater. I grab my sketch pad and writing supplies, and slide them into my leather satchel. Buckling the front of the bag, I head downstairs to meet the men. The smell of coffee fills the stairwell and readies me for the day.
The gentlemen are gathering in the front hall, putting on their winter coats and hats. It is not very far to the chapel, perhaps a quarter of a mile down the main driveway, but the air is cold. Gabriela can feel it bite at her skin when the front door is opened. She puts on her own coat and gloves. The riding boots seem to be a good idea and they do indeed make her look smart and vaguely dangerous.
“At least one lady is up,” says Sir Brian. “Perhaps the others will rally.”
He waves her ahead of him as they leave the house and then walks alongside her as they make their way down the snow drifted driveway. Perhaps six inches of snow have fallen during the night, coating the trees and countryside in a glorious blanket of sparkling white. Somewhere in the distance she can see the smoke from chimneys on cottages and hear the faint sounds of children laughing.
“The village is over there,” says Sir Brian. “I expect the school is closed today. Tomorrow is the last day of school for the year. There is an awards ceremony. I will be presiding. Might I ask you to attend? My wife was to be giving away the prizes for the best pupils, but I’m sure they will be much honored to have a published author give out their awards. Jane is not well, you see.”
It takes only a few minutes to reach the deserted chapel which has a faintly sinister air about even in the snow. The entrance is dark and shadowy, almost like entering a cave. Fortunately, Angus McPherson and Professor Thorn have brought lanterns with them and they light the way inside. The pews are dusty and cobwebbed with disuse, The stained glass windows are filthy with bird droppings and let in very little light.
“It’s a gloomy place, isn’t it?” says Dr. McWhirter. “And they’ve set up shop down in the crypt, which is even darker and more depressing. But I suppose it is an appropriate place to store the coffins of these ancient Egyptians. Sacred ground and what have you.”
One by one they descend through a low archway beyond the tumble-down pulpit. A stone stair way curves round through a full turn and then opens out into a vaulted crypt that contains the ancient burial sites on the Leatherbys and now the plundered remains of a foreign tomb. There are more lanterns down her, left from their previous day’s work and the men set to, illuminating the space with glowing yellow light. A musky smell permeates the underground space, but at least it is not as cold down here as it was above.
Gabriela watches with fascination as the archeologists begin their scholarly process of cataloging the finds. Professor Thorn has already produced a list that he summarized at the dinner table last night. He now begins to add details as they look more closely at each object.
Their immediate attention is on the sarcophagi: Two fairly plain, one much decorated and painted with hieroglyphs that have faded to faint stains with time. Thorn and McPherson spend a great deal of time trying to decipher the sense of the glyphs.
“Would you mind sketching things for us?” ask Sir Brian. “There’s an interesting cabinet over here that I find much more fascinating than those old bone boxes.”
He directs her attention to a tall cabinet made of black wood much inlaid with ivory and silver.
“I’m waiting for our learned friends to open it,” he says. “I think it may contain the real treasures of this trove. Something about it calls to me.”
Indeed, Gabriela can feel a fascination about the object as well. In the soft illumination from the lanterns the silver runes inscribed upon it almost seem to glow with a faint bluish light.
I walk down the stairs behind the men: Sir Brian, Agnus and Dr. Throm. I crouch down to avoid the low ceiling as I step off the final stair and enter the Leatherby family crypt. I stand quietly alone to the side of the stairs and watch the men enter the room and light the other lanterns. Seeing the room for the first time, it takes me a moment to get familiar with things. A sense of awe comes over me as I see the Egyptian items. A cold draft finds a way beneath my coat and under my sweater. I feel a shiver go across my chest and around my back, triggering goose bumps everywhere. A cold draft must have crept down the staircase to find me. It causes me to step into the room as if obeying a summon to enter. I flip the collar on my wool coat up over the back of my neck and hold the front of my coat tighter to me. I think to myself how I wish for longer hair as I step towards the items.
I walk to the main sarcophagus in the middle of the room and stand next to it. I see the detail on the surface. I run my left hand across the top feeling the carvings. My black leather glove masking my touch. I slide my gloves off, crouch down eye level to the surface and feel the carvings with my fingers. “It’s simply beautiful.” I whisper to myself. After my close inspection, I walk along its side running my bare hand down the case while Iooking at the smaller items around me. At Sir Brian’s direction, I see the black cabinet. It stands alone against the far wall. Im not sure what to make of it. But something familiar about it strikes me. I move closer and feel it’s surface. Maybe dark wood? Im not quite sure. Then I notice it. Small inscriptions set on the surface. They almost glow with a soft blue hue. Could this be what I remember! The other night. From the window. But how? This was under the chapel and well out of my view. It does cause me to stir.
Sir Brian calls for my attention again asking me to sketch. I unbutton my coat and set it aside since it is warmer down here away from the outside elements. I sit against a wooden crate and open my leather satchel removing my sketch book and pencils. I hop up onto the crate, cross my legs as a proper lady should, flip to a blank page, and quickly find a subject. Everything! I begin to sketch the items in the room as they sit. Leaving no detail out. I sketch quickly as if under some unknown haste. Once complete, I quickly turn the page and start anew. This time I sketch each of the men as they work. A few times I witness Angus and even Dr. Throm distracted at my knee caps. Typical men, a woman’s bare knees gets their attention even during the most exciting of times. However the old Professor seemed to stare the longest. Maybe he’s not so absent minded. The old pervert. But I didnt mind. Let him look, it was quite charming knowing a man of his age still has eyes for a young lady.
Before long, I had 6 to 10 sketches and decide to set my book down and walk to Sir Brian. He sits on a stood looking over hieroglyphs on a tablet. I move up behind him resting my hand on the back of his shoulder. “I’ve documented everything as you’ve asked.” Not hearing a reply, I continue. “What do you make of all this? Can you read the writings? And that dark cabinet. What do you think is inside?”
Sir Brian and Professor Thorn both look over Gabriela’s sketches. The professor smiles shyly at her. He’s clearly nervous around beautiful women.
“These are excellent, my dear,” he says in his dry upper crust accent. “Perhaps this evening we can try adding a drop of water color to these ones you have done of the two lesser sarcophagi? That will make them very attractive, I think.
“I’ve finished by catalog. It is much as I described last night. Now we must try to open the sarcophagi. I think we shall start with the lesser two. They look quite ordinary compared to this black and silver sarcophagus, which I must confess is quite unusual.”
When she asks about the cabinet, he nods and actually comes close enough to rest his hand on her arm.
“You have a keen eye, Miss Middleton. This is quite strange to find in an Egyptian tomb. The design is Chinese. Quite as old as the Pharos, but from somewhere else altogether. If this is indeed an original artifact, we shall have to rethink much of our accepted history, I shouldn’t be surprised.”
He turns back to Sir Brian.
“His methods may be unorthodox, but your young adventurer has brought you a major archeological find, my young friend. I can guarantee that scholars the world over will be analyzing these objects for years to come.”
Sir Brian puffs up and grins as Thorn refers to his notes again.
“Let me see. As I indicated last night we have three large crates, three medium crates, three small crates and three boxes.” He points to each in turn, the wooden crates have all been disassembled to reveal their contents
From each of the large crates a stone sarcophagus has been removed. One is clearly the main item, black and silver with much decoration and hieroglyphs, two are more ordinary caskets.
The first of the medium crates contained a reed boat and a wooden chariot, much desiccated and decayed. The second crate held a mahogany and silver throne in fine condition. And the third crate has disgorged a black wooden and bone cabinet also in surprisingly good condition. It is this object which has captured Gabriela’s fascination
From the smaller crates a sacrificial alter of basalt inlaid with quartz and silver has been removed along with three small wooden chests inlaid with gold and jewels and a statue of the goddess Bast or Sekhmet in gold and ebony. This alone must be worth thousands of pounds as an object of art itself. According to Thorn its scholarly value may be much higher.
And finally the smaller boxes have been opened and their contents displayed upon a makeshift table. Arrayed before them in the soft glow of the lanterns are seven alabaster funery jars, a pair of broken stellae removed from the entrance to the tomb, both densely carved with hieroglyphs, and various ritual weapons including an axe, a bow and a dagger.
“A staggering haul,” says Thorn.
McPherson, in his shirt sleeves in the close atmosphere of the crypt, smiles broadly and winks at Gabriela.
“I’m going to be a rich man,” he laughs. “Perhaps you would consent to have dinner with me at Simpsons on the Strand, Miss Middleton – when we go back to town that is.”
Professor Thorn bridles at this clear advance on the young lady and sniffs loudly.
“It’s not treasure, young man. It’s history. It is priceless, but you cannot simply sell it.”
“Not going to,” says McPherson with a grin. “Sir Brian will reward me as he sees fit. That’s our gentlemen’s agreement. And from what you’re saying, Professor, it’s a legendary find. It will make him famous. And he will do right by me. I trust him.”
Sir Brian nods uncomfortably at the brash young Scotsman.
“Quite right, young man. But let’s get on with it shall we. Open the sarcophagi? These two first.”
Tools are fetched from a kit supplied by Thorn. Sharp chisels are driven carefully into the crevices between the lid and the main box of the ancient stone coffins. These are levered up enough to get crowbars under the lip of the lid and then with a concerted heave, the lid is lifted up and aside before being lowered down carefully so as not to crack the painted surfaces.
Gabriela wrinkles her nose, anticipating a smell of rot from within the coffin, but there is only the faint odor of sandal wood and cinnamon. The dry, brittle carcass within its shroud is long past decomposition, and if the job was done right when these two fellows were laid to rest, the pitch and bitumen used to preserve their bodies would have staved off the effects of the dry air altogether.
Both mummies are very similar. Gabriela sketches them quickly in morbid fascination as Thorn looks at inscriptions on the inside of the stone boxes. These are much clearer than those on the exterior.
“This is odd,” he says. “Favored servants were often buried with their masters, but these two are set as guards. ‘Lest he stir again’, it says. Most unusual.”
As the professor examines the bindings on the mummies, Sir Brian and Gabriela turn their attention to cabinet. There is clearly a lock and hinges, but on close examination with the lanterns, the doors seem to be fused completely with the main body of the cabinet. There is not even a sign of a seam between them, as if the whole thing had been carved from a single block of wood and merely made to resemble a cabinet.
Sir Brian takes one of Professor Thorn’s chisels and positions it where there must logically be a gap between the door and the body. Striking the chisel with the hammer lightly has no effect. He hits the tool harder, but this also does not even mark the wood.
“Give me a go,” says Angus, stepping forward and flexing his muscles. He is a powerful young man and as he comes close to her, Gabriela is very aware of his virile scent: sweat and an exciting raw muskiness that makes her glad it is dark down here as she flushes bright red at her physical reaction to him. She is no longer cold at all.
The powerful Scotsman settles the chisel blade in place and whacks it as hard as he can with the hammer.
“Damn!” he swears when there is no effect.
“Give me that small sledge hammer,” he points to another tool, much heavier than the hammer he has been using.
“Be careful,” warns Thorn looking up from his studies as he hears the brash young man curse out loud.
McPherson swings the sledge hammer with all his might. The chisel snaps in half and the blade flies off into the darkness. The stub remaining in his hand, with a sharp fragment of broken steel impales the young man’s left hand, gashing him badly.
“Christ’s blood that hurts!” he screams, unmindful of a woman’s ears.
Blood gushes from the wound soaking the front of the cabinet and dripping onto the crypt floor.
“Let me see,” says Dr. McWhirter, pressing forward. He performs a quick field dressing on the wound with his handkerchief, staunching the flow of blood, but McPherson is pale and sweating profusely now.
“He’s lost a fair bit of blood,” says the doctor. “Let’s get him back to the Hall immediately while he can still climb the stairs on his own. I don’t fancy carrying this big lump up those narrow steps.”
I scream as I witness the accident happen to Duncan’s hand. I stand with my hand over my mouth shocked. I watch the Dr. rush to his side and wrap his hand in a cloth. I turn and see the blood splattered on the black cabinet and feel faint at the sight of it. I swoon and catch myself on the edge of the large wooden crate. Professor Thorn sees me catch myself and rushes to help stabilize me. “Are you okay, Miss Middleton?” he asks. Holding my arm with one hand and my lower back with his other.
“I get faint at the sight of blood Professor. I’ll be alright. Thanks you. You’re a very kind gentleman.” I say tapping his hand.
We move to rush Mr McWhirter upstairs to tend to his wounds. I watch Sir Brian blow out the lanterns taking only one with him. He turns and hands the lantern to me and asks that I fetch my sketch book. The men hurry up the stairs as I turn to reenter the room. I hear their voices grow silent as they head up the spiral staircase.
Quickly, leaving all their gear where it is, the men help McPherson up the steps to the main part of the deserted chapel. Gabriela turns round at the last minute to fetch her sketch book.
Lifting her lantern high to find the leather binder, she sees the front of the wooden cabinet glowing blue. As she watches in fascination and a creeping sense of horror, the blood that had soaked the wood in a curtain of red is slowly absorbed and as it is sucked in to the body of the cabinet, the silvery sigils visibly pulse and glow with an unearthly energy.
Despite the rough bandage that McWhiter had applied in the crypt, the young archaeologist’s hand had bleed profusely, quickly soaking the linen handkerchief. As she exited the chapel to catch up with the others, Gabriela noticed a trail of blood spatters on the dusty stone floor and then on the bright white snow outside. With a lump of terror in her throat (2 SAN) she hurried up to catch the gentlemen who were moving rather slowly with McPherson supported between them.
I am alone. Fear grips me almost immediately. I turn to leave, then catch myself. I force myself to go back into the crypt to find my sketch book and leather satchel. I walk to the back of the main crypt and find my things on the floor next to the wooden crate I sat on that morning. The crate is now open and its lid almost hid my satchel from me.
I crouch down to gather my things when I hear it! Faint whispering. I freeze! I cant tell where it is coming from but it sends a shiver down my spine. I gather my things hastily and stand up face to face with the cabinet made of wood and bone. I stand there frozen. Almost trapped by its power over me. I feel drawn to it. Almost as if it calls for me. I walk closer to it and hold out my hand. I gently place my hand on it. I can feel and hear my own heart beat. Then I happens. The cabinet begins to glow with a faint blueish hue. I hear whispering again and pull my hand away. It feels wet. I turn and run to the stairs.
I call out to the men as I climb the stairs making sure they did not leave me. When I reach the main floor of the Chapel, it is bright from the afternoon sun. The light shines through the stain glass. I look at my hand and and see Duncan’s blood. I whip it on my skirt and run out of the Chapel. The men have walked quite a ways from me by now. I must have stayed longer than I thought. My heart is racing as I run to catch them. They smile as they see my fear.
“Dont laugh at me!” I scold them. “I heard something when I was alone.”
“What did you hear?” Sir Brian asked in a patronizing tone. Everyone stopped and look at me for my response. “Nothing…. It was just the wind rushing across the vaulted ceiling.” I say. Everyone chuckles except Professor Thorn. He believes me I sense.
“Well, I for one found the place very ghoulish,” said Major Greggs, coming to her defense. “I’m not surprised that a sensitive soul like Miss Middleton was scared down there. And as for odd noises, I expect the crypt is a veritable hostel for small wildlife in this weather – squirrels, badgers, and what have you.”
Gabriela was glad that he did not mention mice or rats, though of course her imagination immediately supplied the image of the nasty rodents scurrying around in the dark corners down there. She shuddered at the thought. Nevertheless, it was very gallant of him to offer a plausible explanation for whatever noises she may have heard.
We all continue to walk quickly to the Leatherby Manor. “Dont go dying on me Mr. McWhirter.” I say with a smile attempting to lighten the mood. “You owe me dinner.”
Back at the Hall, Meadows and Miller hurried out to help support Angus McPherson through the front door. Another young man, dressed very roughly as a groom came from the back of the house to help everyone pull off snowy boots and take away coats to be dried and brushed clean of cobwebs and dirt. McPherson was half carried up the main stairs, but called down to her at the turn of the staircase that he would hold her to the promise of dinner in London.
“I’ll fetch my bag,” said Dr. McWhirter mounting the stairs two at a time after them. “That wound will need stitching. And a shot of morphine will help him sleep though the pain. Have the cook boil a large pot of water and bring several clean towels.”
As an afterthought he too paused at the first curve in great staircase and called down.
“Have the kitchen staff prepare a bowl of hot beef broth as well and bring up a jug of beer. He has lost a lot of blood and will need to replenish his fluids.”
Sir Brian relayed the instructions to his servants and then he too went upstairs to see how Lady Jane was doing. Professor Thorn, Major Greggs and Gabriela were drawn to the heat of a roaring fire in the drawing room. Eloise Shires, the young French medium, was reclined on the sofa in front of the fire looking as beautiful as a freshly painted picture by Titian. She was drinking a cup of tea and nibbling at a cookie, the last of several judging by the crumbs on her plate. The remains of the Sunday newspaper were scattered about her feet.
“Bonjours, mes amis!” she called brightly to them as they entered the cheerful room, cold and damp from their trek in the snow and their long day in the chilly subterranean crypt.
“You have enjoyed your beastly dead mummies, no?” she laughed and batted her long lashes at Major Greggs who positively glowed at her attention.
“Me? I have spent my day in idleness, reading the newspaper and sitting by the fire. C’est tres bien, n’est ce pas?
“Madame Jane, she has the sneezes and does not come downstairs, so I am all alone and bored. But now you are returned and we shall talk and tell stories and laugh, shall we not, as friends do at holiday times?”
Meadows entered silently with a tray bearing a fresh tea pot and a coffee service as well. In a trice more cups appeared on the sideboard along with a mounded platter of baked goods: small cakes colorfully iced to look like wrapped Christmas presents and a selection of freshly baked cookies. Alongside these he set a silver tray with a decanter of fine sherry and a set of crystal glasses.
The grandfather clock in the front hall chimed the half hour. Gabriela checked her watch. It was three thirty and already the bright sunshine outside was slipping away as long shadows crept across the sparkling snow. The day had passed quickly while they worked in the crypt. She vaguely remembered a lunch of sandwiches and warm drinks being served, but she was ravenously hungry again and the cookies smelled divine.
“So, Mlle. Gabriela, tell me what you have seen in this treasure trove from ancient Egypt,” said Eloise, patting the sofa, inviting her to sit next to her. “And has the curse of the tomb struck down our brave explorer?”