Authors: Emily Hendrickson
Tags: #Regency Romance
At last the dark brown, leathery-looking body came to view. The skin was tautly drawn across the skull. Arms had been placed in a protective position across the chest. A rare and beautifully shaped beetle-like heart scarab had been put on the last bit of bandaging that covered the chest of the body.
“I think this must have been a princess from the wealth wrapped herein. Note the smaller size of the head and the structure of the body. She does not reveal any sign of injury, and note, gentlemen, how perfectly formed she is.”
“Even her teeth look good,” one of the men observed.
“Must not have been fond of sweets,” another joked.
Emma wished they would all go away and leave her alone with the princess. She did not doubt for a moment that Sir Peter was correct in his assumptions. The body seemed so regal, and the scarabs and jewelry had been so wonderfully made that Emma had found it hard to contain her astonishment.
“What do you plan to do with the body now that you have it unwrapped?” Mr. Swinburne inquired as he hovered over the table holding the body and all the artifacts included with it.
“That shall require some thought. I may begin a sort of museum of my own ... with the items my father brought as the foundation for it. I should need some help, but I believe I have found just the person to assist me.” He glanced at the young artist to see the effect of his words on her. She had paled, but said nothing.
Instead, Emma began to sketch the body, carefully making a detailed drawing of the dear little scarab that had been placed directly over the heart. What a precious little thing it was. Emma intended to do full justice to the princess.
Gradually the voices faded away, although Emma took no notice. At last the room was empty, save for Emma and the Princess.
Peter reentered the room, pausing by the door to watch his little artist at work. He approached her, wondering just how capable she might be in her work. He did not have high hopes, but since he had no one else, he would make do with her efforts.
“I see you have been diligently at work. May I ask to see what you have done, old fellow?” Peter had decided he would not call her bluff, but treat her as though she had succeeded with her masquerade.
“Of course,” she replied, looking about her with surprise when she offered him her drawing pad. “Where is everyone? Have I stayed so very late?” She looked horrified. Peter wondered if her mother would ask uncomfortable questions were she not to arrive home shortly.
He didn’t answer at once, he was so captivated by the excellent drawings. She combined the skill of a draftsman with the delicacy of an artist. He could not have been more pleased.
“These are truly wonderful. May I have them? I’ll gladly pay you anything you ask, for I had intended to hire a professional. Couldn’t find one that would stomach the notion of drawing a mummy.”
“I had intended to take these home and work on them a bit more. I have colored pencils that would enhance them, particularly the jewelry,” she began.
“Bring them here, instead,” Peter said with the urgency he felt. He could not allow these drawings out of his hands to be possibly lost or destroyed. “Could you come tomorrow morning—work with me? I know how interested you are in antiquities. And I suspect you would not be averse to a bit of the ready, for I know full well what it can cost to be involved in a digging ... hiring all those chaps to muck about in the soil while you hunt for bits and pieces of Roman antiquities.”
She stiffened, then appeared to ponder his suggestion. Peter held his breath while she seemed to have a debate with herself. Did she need a bit of money? Most girls must, and he knew the Cheney fortune was not great.
“I would be most indebted to you if you could see your way to helping me out. I have a secretary who is a fine chap such as he can manage, but he cannot draw worth a fig.”
“I will have to think it over. May I take one of the sketches with me? I did two of the necklace. And then I really must fly. I will send you a note later if I may.”
There was nothing he could do short of keeping her captive, and one hardly did that sort of thing anymore.
“I trust you will think kindly on my offer and need of help—considering that you are someone who has similar interests. It would not be for so very long, I think.”
She merely nodded her head, while edging toward the door. Within minutes she had made her way down the stairs and out of the front door, clutching that one drawing of the necklace in her gloved hand. Radley had foreseen that she would need to leave soon and had summoned a hackney from the stand around the corner.
Peter stood by a window to watch the vehicle disappear down the street. He turned to face his butler and grimaced.
“She has gone, and I don’t know if she will come back or not. Dash it all, I’m not even certain who she is.”
“I wonder if your aunt might be of assistance? She might know which of the young ladies of the
could do such a thing. It might be no bad thing were you to frequent a few of the balls and parties for a time. You might find her there,” Radley suggested in an offhand manner.
“Hah!” Peter declared with affection, “I believe you are trying to find me a wife, old fellow.”
“Now, Sir Peter, would I do such a thing?”
The two men, opponents of long standing, chuckled.
Peter turned again to consider the suggestion made by his butler, who actually was something closer to a friend, considering all they had gone through over the years. He had an excellent point. Peter decided he would take himself off and shock the
by appearing at a few of the parties. His good aunt would know which ones to attend.
* * * *
Emma exited the hackney in front of Lady Titheridge’s with more haste than grace. Dashing up the steps, she smiled with relief when Leland opened the door for her, spiriting her up the stairs to the small bedroom where Braddon awaited her.
While the abigail removed the paint and eased Emma from her brother’s garments, Emma pleaded with her to hurry.
“Calm down, my dear,” Lady Titheridge urged as she entered the room. “I feel certain your dear mama will be mollified when you hand her these.”
She held up coveted vouchers for Almack’s in one hand, while smiling at Emma, secure in the knowledge that with the sight of these esteemed slips of paper all queries would be forgotten by Mrs. Cheney.
“Oh, my. Mama will surely be pleased,” Emma said in a most subdued manner, awed at the turn in her circumstances.
“Now, tell me all about it. What was it like? Was it very grisly to see the skeleton? Were you able to make sketches?” Lady Titheridge inquired in a rush.
“It was utterly fascinating, ma’am. The body was not the least frightening. Your nephew believes it to be that of a princess. Fancy that! And I made some sketches.” Emma reached for the one she had managed to take along with her. “He kept all the others, but I brought you this one to see.”
“And this is a necklace that had been placed on her body? How curious. Not unlike what we do, I suppose,” her ladyship mused.
“Oh, but ma’am,” Emma interrupted in her hurry to be gone, “he wants me to come tomorrow to draw some more, color what I have done. What shall I do?”
“He said nothing about your disguise?” her ladyship inquired with a sharp look at Emma.
Emma shook her head. “Not a word. But he was much occupied with the mummy and all the important gentlemen who were there. I doubt if he paid me much attention.”
Lady Titheridge looked a trifle doubtful at that, but said nothing.
Emma repeated, “What shall I do?”
“Why, I believe you ought to go. Goodness knows he has been hunting for someone to assist him for an age. He has an able secretary, although I believe he broke an arm not too long ago. At any rate, I recall Peter telling me that the man was not the least help in working with the Egyptian research.” Lady Titheridge sank down upon a pretty little chair close to the window, holding out the vouchers for Almack’s to Emma.
“I do not know if I can continue the disguise, this charade,” Emma said in a whisper, looking to her ladyship with worried eyes.
“Nonsense, my dear. Leave the clothes here with us for the time being. Braddon will work a few miracles with them and perhaps increase your wardrobe a trifle. It is very important to my nephew that he is able to accomplish this task. I will do anything I may to help him in this effort.” Her ladyship gave Emma an assessing look. “You are a godsend, my dear. You have the daring and the talent to carry this off, I am convinced. It will only be for a brief time. Surely you can do it? Try,” her ladyship pleaded.
“I do not know, ma’am. I take such a risk.”
“But what a wonderful risk! Think of it! No ordinary young woman would be permitted to handle such antiquities, or even see them, for that matter. You would be drawing the precious artifacts from a long-dead princess. That could happen but once in a lifetime. Would it not be worth everything?” her ladyship coaxed.
“Everything?” Emma whispered, echoing her ladyship. Emma considered what was at stake. Were she uncovered, her disguise revealed, she risked her entire future. The scandal didn’t bear thinking about. Dare she spend a few days in close proximity to Sir Peter to draw those fabulous jewels and scarabs, the other things he wished recorded? She set aside the image of a tall, handsome gentleman for the moment.
She would be paid a sum of money to do this drawing, and that enticed her more than anything else, which said a great deal for her desire for a bit of income. If she were to attend Almack’s, her best white muslin must be replaced at once.
The sight of the slips of paper—and such powerful persuasions they were—resolved her dilemma.
“I will try my best to please him,” Emma said at last.
“Good,” her ladyship said with great satisfaction clear in her voice.
Emma placed the vouchers carefully in her reticule, caught up her pelisse, then begged a hurried leave from Lady Titheridge before dashing down the stairs to the carriage awaiting her. It was not a hackney but her ladyship’s personal vehicle.
At Emma’s look of surprise, Leland unbent enough to explain, “Her ladyship is that taken with you, miss. I believe you remind her of herself when she was a girl.” Looking as though he might have said more than he ought, he assisted Emma into the carriage.
Her thoughts were in a tumbled whirl on the drive back to the Cheney residence. How was she to handle this affair? Her ladyship had suggested she inform her mother that Lady Titheridge had begged Emma to assist her with a project. Emma concluded that her ladyship had the right of it. Mrs. Cheney would not care what it was as long as her daughter would be able to attend Almack’s. Morning visits while Mrs. Cheney was still abed were nothing to be worried about.
“Emma, my dear, you are very late. We are to attend the opera with Mrs. Bascomb this evening. Where
you been” Mrs. Cheney demanded in her refined way when Emma slipped into the morning room.
“Lady Titheridge seems to have taken a fancy to me, Mother. Just look what she gave me before I left to come home.” Emma pulled the coveted slips from her reticule to hand them to her mother.
“Vouchers!” Mrs. Cheney fluttered a handkerchief to her brow, then groped for her vinaigrette. “You will need a new dress immediately, for we must attend this coming Wednesday, naturally. Oh, bless Mrs. Bascomb for persuading us to attend the musical program at Lady Titheridge’s. I have hopes for you yet, my dear.”
Her hopes were nothing as compared to Emma’s.
Emma watched the footman depart with her note to Sir Peter. “Be firm,” she admonished herself. It was too late to turn faint of heart. She had agreed, as she promised Lady Titheridge, to do her best to assist Sir Peter.
Her mother, as usual, was still abed when Emma slipped from the house. This time Emma calmly informed Oldham that she was off to Lady Titheridge’s—which was true as far as it went. No one need know that from there she whisked herself over to Sir Peter’s establishment once she changed into her disguise.
She looked forward to seeing more of his house. What she had glimpsed yesterday afternoon, when she could tear her eyes from the mummy and the amulets, was fascinating.
Sir Peter had elected to decorate his house in the Egyptian style; unusual friezes had been painted on the walls. The furniture, such as the chairs she had observed, reflected the motif as well, and Emma wondered just how comfortable it might be. Or was he so busy that he never took time to lounge about? He did not fit the image of a dandy, for not one of them would admit to being interested in anything so scholarly as antiquities.
No, he was unique. He dressed in the height of fashion, albeit in a restrained elegance. Yet he clearly was totally absorbed in his specialty. From what Lady Titheridge said. Sir Peter had not paid the least attention to acquiring a wife. Emma found that tidbit of information most interesting—and curious.
She approached the house on Bruton Street with some trepidation. After sending off the note, she had taken time to color in the necklace from memory, and she wondered how close she had come to the original.
The same jolly-looking man let her into the house, and Emma envied Sir Peter his butler. He was not the least starched-up and looked as though he might actually have sympathies. When he smiled at her, Emma somehow felt secure.
“I am here to assist Sir Peter,” Emma said in her pretending-to-be-George voice.
“Right this way, sir.” The butler led Emma down a long hall. To one side she caught sight of a room painted pale green and decorated in white with Egyptian motifs. She wondered if that settee might possibly be comfortable, with its curved back and quite Egyptian style.
They entered into a large, well-lit workroom. Glass cases filled with Egyptian artifacts stood around the walls with a few cases in the center of the room next to a large mahogany table of simple design. Spread out on the table were all the drawings that Emma had done the day before.
She wrinkled her nose at the smell of the room, which seemed faintly acrid. Somehow the scent of ages permeated the air. She resolved to bring some cinnamon-spiced potpourri with her next time she came.