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A Minor Mummy Caper

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In the past, Rupert Carsington would have listed a thousand places in London he would rather visit than the British Museum. Manton’s Oxford Street workshop. Gentleman Jackson’s Saloon. Tattersalls. Any variety of sporting events. But at present, he was perfectly content trailing behind Daphne and Cousin Tryphena as they discussed hieroglyphs and ancient Coptic. Every few minutes they would pause at one of the displays, and Daphne would turn to him and explain the significance of a symbol, or how similar two cartouches were, or how dissimilar, in a far more interesting manner than any of Cousin Tryphena’s lectures.

Then they would continue on to the next display, and Rupert was free to observe the movement of Daphne’s skirts, or the tendrils of hair escaping from her bonnet. To be truthful, he found Daphne infinitely more fascinating than anything within the British Museum, and dedicated most of his attention to her accordingly.

They were nearing the Rosetta Stone in its metal cradle, and Rupert could not help but overhear the short, overdressed man who seemed to be holding court in front of the stone.

“No doubt the symbols were not meant to be deciphered, and are merely some sort of sacred decoration. Dr. Young made a good attempt, but I doubt even he could have learned anything of use from them. I think—”

“But Dr. Young is only one man,” Cousin Tryphena interrupted. “Many scholars continue to study the stone. I believe there is a man in France attempting it now—what is his name, my dear?” she asked, turning to Daphne.

“Monsieur Champollion,” Daphne input eagerly. “He conferred with Dr. Young some years past, and has great knowledge of the Coptic language. I suspect that Dr. Young’s failure came from his inability to recognize that the hieroglyphic and ancient Coptic texts are not exact translations of the Greek…”

The man stared at Cousin Tryphena and Daphne, and the others around him began to murmur. He coughed. “I fear we have not been introduced.”

Daphne turned expectantly to Rupert, and he strode up. “This is my cousin Tryphena Saunders, and my wife Daphne Carsington. Mrs. Carsington is a brilliant scholar of the ancient Egyptian language. Loves deciphering those rolled-up thingums. Rupert Carsington,” he finished, thrusting out his hand. “And you are?”

The man coughed again and gestured for one of the others to make his introductions. A taller man to his right spoke up. “This is Sir Gerves Smithe. A great collector of antiquities.”

Sir Gerves did not extend his hand. “Surprising who the museum will allow in these days.” He turned back to his crowd. “As I was saying, it’s a pity the stone was broken. Who knows what the rest of it would have looked like?”

“True,” Daphne interjected. “But from similar royal decrees, we can surmise that there were more rows of hieroglyphic writing—”

“—Mr. Banks speculated a dozen, but I think perhaps fourteen,” said Cousin Tryphena.

“—and possibly a scene on top with the pharaoh and the gods,” added Daphne. “If you look here, there is a hieroglyph resembling a tablet with a rounded top. I suspect that was the original shape of the stone, before the damage occurred.”

Sir Gerves eyed her distastefully. “I find it sad when women assume understanding beyond their capabilities. I am surprised you allow this behavior, Carsington.”

Daphne began to quiver beside him, and Rupert could feel the hear of her anger billowing and building around her. He decided to intervene in his usual manner. “Why would I? Seems to me that Mrs. Carsington’s knowledge of ancient Egyptian things far exceeds your own, yet I don’t see her holding court with a bunch of lackeys in the middle of the British Museum. She’s climbed down inside pyramids and trekked around ruins and written all sorts of articles. What about you? Have you even been to Egypt?”

This time it was Sir Gerves’s turn to billow over with anger. “Your reputation for idiocy is well known, Carsington. I pity your father for raising such a gang of uncontrollable buffoons.”

He set off with his crowd of hangers-on, bloviating as he went. “The consul in Egypt has procured me a lovely little mummy. I thought to hold a party to unwrap it. It should be most diverting.”

“He’s the idiot,” Daphne ground out, clenching her fists. “Any scholar knows that the hieroglyphs are syllables, it’s just a question of correctly assigning each symbol to its corresponding sound.”

Rupert nodded, but in his head he kept hearing Sir Gerves’s final words. “…little mummy—hold a party to unwrap it—most diverting.”

“My dear, you must not take it too hard,” Cousin Tryphena soothed. “He is merely one of those who acquire antiquities because they are fashionable. His opinion is worthless.”

“…little mummy—unwrap it—most diverting,” reverberated through Rupert’s head. “…little mummy—unwrap it—most diverting.”

“I know, sighed Daphne. “But it’s hurtful, being reminded of how society views female scholarship.” She turned to Rupert. “Shall we go?”

“I’m going to steal his mummy,” he said. Then—“No! I’m going to rescue it.”

 


 

The Carsingtons dropped Cousin Tryphena back at her home, then continued to Hargate House in uncomfortable silence. After a few moments, Daphne broke it.

“If we’re going to rescue this poor mummy, we shall need a plan. A proper plan,” she said, looking at Rupert askance. “Not one of your reckless improvisations, mind you.”

Rupert grinned at her. “I thought you wouldn’t approve.”

She shook her head. “I do not have your reticence in regard to mummified remains, and I believe that there is value in studying how they were prepared and bound and so forth. But to unwrap a mummy for sport, for amusement…” She trailed off.

He took her hand in his and stroked her palm. “It’s not decent. The dead deserve our respect. I couldn’t stop that horrible spectacle I saw years ago, but I can stop this one.”

She gave his hand a squeeze, and then gathered her thoughts. “Firstly, we need to ascertain where Sir Gerves lives and his typical movements. Secondly, we will observe his house and discover where he is keeping the mummy. Thirdly, we will surreptitiously enter his house and remove the mummy. And fourthly—”

“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” Rupert said, dragging her across the seat until she pressed against him. “We’ll determine where he lives and plan the rest later.”

“But we should—”

He leaned over and pressed his lips to the spot behind her ear. “We have ten minutes or so before we reach Hargate House,” he rumbled against her skin.

Her hand released his and began to travel towards his neck. “Oh!” she said. “Yes! We should make the most of it.”

And so they did.

 


 

That evening during dinner, Lord Hargate asked Daphne about their day. “I believe you accompanied Cousin Tryphena to the British Museum again. Did you have a pleasant time?”

“Oh yes,” agreed Daphne. “She offered me some very helpful suggestions about one of the cartouches from my papyrus copy. But then we had an unfortunate encounter with a man who was not at all receptive to my ideas. Are you familiar with a Sir Gerves Smithe?”

Lord Hargate raised his eyebrows. “An unfortunate encounter?” he repeated.

Rupert glanced at Daphne, but all her attention seemed to be directed at her soup.

“Cousin Tryphena and I attempted to correct him on a few matters relating to the ancient Egyptian scripts, and I fear he did not appreciate our interjections,” she said.

“Horribly rude about it,” Rupert added.

Lord Hargate nodded. “Not a pleasant man. His father made a fortune in banking, and loaned enough money to the Crown that he was made a baronet. Sir Gerves collects antiquities, I understand.”

Lady Hargate turned to Daphne. “Have you seen that ostentatious Neoclassical building on Wimpole Street?”

“The ones that looks like a Greek temple built by a—a somewhat unsteady architect?”

“The drunken temple!” Rupert cried. “That’s Sir Gerves’s house?”

His mother gave him a disapproving look. “It is a little much.”

“It has columns every two feet along the front! The architect had to be—”

“Somewhat overeager to impress, I believe,” Lord Hargate cut in. “The father acquired a number of artifacts from Greece and Italy, but Sir Gerves is more interested in ancient Egypt. I believe he pays the British consul in Cairo to send him papyri and the like.”

“I hope we never run into him again,” Daphne said vehemently.

“What are your plans for tomorrow?” Lady Hargate asked.

Daphne and Rupert exchanged a very knowing glance. “I thought we might go for a ride,” Rupert said.

 


 

The next morning found Daphne and Rupert (and Tom, and Leena) inside a hackney coach overlooking the front of Sir Gerves’s Grecian monstrosity. They had all watched Sir Gerves leave on foot for his club, and were now arguing over who should be sent forth as a scout.

Tom was very eager to venture out and gather all the information. “I beg you, let me go forth and I will find out everything we must know of this man! Everything!”

Leena was prophesying dire results if Tom was sent, and insisted on going instead. “Send me, mistress, for my English is better and I can use my feminine wiles.”

Daphne studied first one and then the other, then looked at Rupert. He shrugged.

“Leena will go around back and talk with the servants. Try to find out where Sir Gerves keeps the mummy, but let your conversation flow naturally towards the subject. Tom will wait on the street and retrieve Leena if needed. Mr. Carsington and I will wait in the carriage and keep watch out for Sir Gerves’s return. Understood?”

All nodded. Leena gathered up her props (a basket full of laundry), smoothed down her skirt and apron, and poked at her maid’s cap. She slowly descended the coach and headed towards the back alley. Tom exited behind her and slunk behind a tree to watch.

“And now we wait,” Daphne said.

 


 

“It’s been too long,” Daphne fretted. “Perhaps we should have sent Tom instead. We shouldn’t have let them come to London. We should have made them stay back in Cairo with Yusef and Nafisah and the baby. If anything happens—”

“Yusef and Nafisah were glad to stay in Egypt, because they only speak Arabic. Tom and Leena wanted to come,” Rupert said. “Leena will be fine. No doubt she’ll wring far more out of an unsuspecting stablehand than Tom ever could. And you’re forgetting that Tom is five feet away behind that tree.” He pointed out the window.

Daphne took a deep breath. “You’re right. I just wish we were doing something.”

“We will, soon enough. Once we know where he’s keeping the mummy, we’ll sneak in at night while Sir Gerves is out. I hope you brought some dark clothes to London.”

She leaned forward. “I have the perfect outfit in mind. I think you’ll—oh, here she comes!”

Leena strolled out of the back alley, the basket propped against her hip. She circled around to the far side of the carriage and climbed in.

“That man talked far too much of his master’s business. Good for us, but bad for him, I think.”

Rupert jumped out of the coach to give the hackney driver directions, then he and Tom climbed back inside.

“What did you find out?” Daphne asked as the carriage lumbered off.

“Sir Gerves has many Egyptians anteekahs,” Leena began, then paused to pull off her maid’s cap. “How can anyone wear this?”

“But the mummy,” Rupert prompted.

“Yes, the man said Sir Gerves has a mummy. Sent along from the consul, that useless man. It is in an empty storeroom below-stairs, because Sir Gerves did not like the smell.”

“So he makes his servants endure it? The wretch,” muttered Rupert.

Daphne stayed him with a hand on his forearm. “One mummy, by itself, should smell a little musty but nothing like that overpowering stench of decay you find in the tombs. Since the internal organs are removed and the body dried out, I suspect they originally smelled of spices and incense more than anything else.”

She turned back to Leena. “But if it’s below-stairs, it will be much more difficult to remove it without being seen. What are his usual evening plans?”

“He is out most nights. Tonight he plans to attend some Lady’s to play cards,” Leena said.

“Lady Pruitt?” Rupert asked.

Leena nodded.

“If he’s at Lady Pruitt’s entertainment, he’ll be out until well after midnight,” Rupert told Daphne. “I say we risk it.”

“The man also said that Sir Gerves is planning his party for Friday. You do not have much time,” Leena warned.

“Tonight then,” Daphne decided. “I wish we had a floor plan of the house. ‘Below-stairs’ is not much to go off.”

“It is in the storeroom two doors from the butler’s pantry. It is not kept locked. And the staff are lazy and rarely close the upper windows.”

Rupert turned to stare at Leena blankly. “He told me much. I used my feminine wiles,” she said smugly.

 


 

After dinner, Rupert knocked on the door to Daphne’s dressing room. “Are you ready?” he asked.

“Almost,” she called back. “Come in.”

He entered, and immediately halted. She was wearing what appeared to be a dark green dress, the waist sitting a little lower than the previous classical fashion. But as she turned to face him, he could see that the sides of her narrow skirt were slit all the way up past her hips, and underneath she was wearing Turkish trousers in the same dark green as the dress.

“It’s not black, but it’s still a dark color,” Daphne said.

Rupert said nothing. His mind seemed to have lost most cognitive ability.

“Are you all right?” she asked, coming closer. Her trousers swished into view with each step, and even as she stopped before him they were still visible at the sides.

“That’s new,” he finally managed.

“My trousers were so useful in Egypt, and I know women have sometimes worn leggings under their riding habits. So I designed it myself and had the modiste make it. She had many doubts of its propriety, but I was the one paying so she gave in.”

She looked up at him. “Do you like it?”

He nodded.

“Are you certain? Your expression is odd.”

He put his hands on her waist and slid them lower, toying with the slits of her skirt. “I like it immensely. Are you wearing a corset underneath?”

Daphne slapped his hands away, laughing. “Not now! We have to sneak into Sir Gerves’s house.”

“Later?”

Her eyelashes dropped down, and then she skewered him with a particularly sultry look. “Later,” she promised.

 


 

Daphne and Rupert crept from Hargate House and hailed a hackney cab, and this time they sent it on its way after arriving at Sir Gerves’s.

“We have no idea how long we’ll be, and we can always hail another,” Rupert explained.

“But what will we do with the mummy?” Daphne asked.

“Who knows?” said Rupert cheerfully. “I’ll expect we’ll roll it up in a carpet like Cleopatra or whoever.”

“This is precisely why I said we need a plan,” Daphne complained. “If you must insist—”

Rupert clapped a hand over her mouth and dragged her into the darkened shrubbery on the side of the house. They folded up their cloaks and hid them against the wall. He pointed at an open window on the upper story. She nodded.

Rupert reached into an inside jacket pocket and produced a coil of rope. Slinging it over his shoulder, he began his ascent.

At least the drunken temple architect was good for one thing, Daphne decided. Between the columns and uneven plaster and the frankly riotous landscaping, Rupert made it to the window in double quick time. He ducked into the room, and the end of the rope flew out the window to halt by her waist.

Daphne made her way up the rope, deciding that her trousers were imminently suited for such a task. Perhaps she should have the modiste make her up a few more sets for Egypt, that she could alternate with more native attire—

Rupert tugged her up the last few feet of rope and hauled her over the windowsill. They appeared to be in a spare bedroom—rather spare, she thought, considering the building’s exterior. But perhaps Sir Gerves spent all his money on his wardrobe and his antiquities, and did not care about his furnishings. Rupert finished recoiling the rope and returned it to his jacket pocket. They headed towards the door.

Daphne slowly pulled it open, and they inched out into the hallway. The lack of candlelight reassured her, and she headed to the right towards the main staircase.

Rupert pulled her back. “No,” he breathed in her ear. “Let’s use the servants stairs.”

“More chance of running into someone,” she whispered.

“But there might be a footman at the front door, and then we would definitely be seen,” he said.

She turned to the left instead and made her way along the corridor. It seemed endless, but eventually they stood in front of a small, nondescript door. Daphne pushed it open and saw a narrow, dim staircase.

“Here it is,” she said. Then she heard the footsteps and froze.

 


 

Rupert shut the door and grabbed her hand.

“Quickly,” she hissed, coming alive again and dragging him towards another door. He let himself be pulled into an even sparer bedroom than the first, and while Daphne stood analyzing all the possible hiding places he shoved her into the wardrobe and jumped in behind her.

“What—” began Daphne as he pulled the door closed.

It was not a large wardrobe, and Rupert was even larger. He had to hold his head at an angle, and his left hand was trapped between Daphne and the side of the wardrobe. He inched it back until it was resting more comfortably against her hip.

Daphne set her ear against the door. “They’re walking down the corridor,” she murmured. “They just opened a door—not ours.”

As she leaned back, she seemed to remember where they were, and her body stiffened. Her hands reached out, patting the top and sides and back of the wardrobe.

“We’re fine,” he reassured her. His hand drifted up her trousers until it was resting against her waistband, under the skirt.

“Stop whispering,” she said, whispering herself. “You have no concept of how far your voice carries.”

He began to turn her towards him with his right hand, and she relaxed into him. He moved his left hand further up, past her waistband, and discovered soft, warm skin. He started a slow stroke, up and down, up and down. “You aren’t wearing a corset,” he said, pleased.

Daphne’s brain re-engaged with an almost audible click. “Rupert, we are in a wardrobe,” she hissed.

“Never been in a wardrobe with you before. Thought I’d make the most of it.”

“In someone else’s house!”

He shrugged.

She considered this for a moment, then shook her head. “No. Later!”

His hand slowly reappeared, and he leaned down to rumble in her ear. “I will hold you to that.”

She placed her ear against the door again. “More footsteps. We’ll never get down there tonight. There’s too many people on the stairs.”

Reluctantly, Rupert agreed. He left the wardrobe and glanced out the window. It also looked out on the unlit side of the house.

“Come,” he said, pushing up the window and readying his rope. “Let’s make a surreptitious exit, and then you can plan what we do next.”

 


 

“We’ve been approaching this all the wrong way,” Daphne said the next morning as she paced in the drawing room. Rupert lay stretched out on a settee and merely waved his hand for her to continue. “We should never have gone there without a definite plan in place, and several backup plans in case of all possible contingencies.

“First,” she decided, “we need more information.”

 


 

Leena climbed back into the hackney and glared at them with a baleful eye. “I will not go back,” she spat. “If you need more, send Tom.”

“Did your feminine wiles not work?” Rupert asked genuinely.

“They worked,” Leena said. “They worked too well. After this, he will expect things.”

She turned to Daphne. “People are coming Thursday to decorate. And Friday morning they are having florists. Many palm trees and such.”

Daphne’s face lit up. “That’s it!” she said as they all looked at her expectantly. “I know how we’ll get in and how we’ll get out.”

 


 

Rupert went to the florist Leena named and worked out a deal whereby he and Tom would be allowed to carry in palm trees, and the florist would earn an extra thirty pounds. Sir Gerves never paid his bills on time, so the florist would have granted them anything for thirty pounds.

Rupert went off and rented a wagon and two carthorses. Daphne would not let him risk his own, identifiable horses; Lord Hargate had eyes everywhere.

Daphne found a long chest full of bed linens in the attic of Hargate House, and Rupert snuck it down to join their rented wagon.

Rupert also took a secret detour to Cousin Tryphena’s house to borrow some necessary supplies.

And then they waited until Friday morning.

 


 

Daphne and Leena sat in the back of the wagon, in the alley behind Sir Gerves’s house, and watched as groups of workmen carried in (small) palm trees and (even smaller) palm grasses and a score of other exotic plants.

“They’ve been caught,” Leena announced. “Sir Gerves has found them and is calling the authorities, and they will be imprisoned and hung!”

Daphne hushed her. “They’re simply being cautious.”

“Three times they went in and three times they came out. But the fourth time they went in I heard a raven, and that is a terrible omen! I told you no good would come of this,” Leena said.

“You told me nothing of the sort!” Daphne bit her lip to keep from laughing. “You volunteered yourself.”

“I should not have,” Leena muttered darkly. “When I found your slippers upside down this morning, I should have—oh, mistress! Here they come!”

Two workmen—one very large, the other quite small—hurried towards the wagon, a long bundle wrapped in cloth carried between them.

“Quick, open the chest,” Rupert barked.

Daphne swung the lid open, and the cloth bundle was gently placed inside almost before she could blink. Rupert slammed it closed and then hung over one of the wheels dry-retching. Daphne leaned over and rubbed his back.

“I hate that…stench,” he eventually said, standing up and taking a deep breath. “Let’s go.”

Rupert and Daphne climbed up on the front seat, and Tom clambered into the back with Leena. Rupert twitched the reins and they set off.

“Well?” Daphne said after a short silence. “What happened?”

Rupert shook his head. “It was the simplest thing. Tom and I kept carrying in plants, and I could see that the staff was all scattered and no one was paying much mind to what another did.

“So we walked in that storeroom and shut the door. The mummy was on a table, so we maneuvered a drop cloth under him and then tried to bundle him up without touching him.” He smiled sheepishly. “And then I spread the old dried out linen scraps everywhere.”

“What?”

“I thought I’d have to rip up an old sheet, but Cousin Tryphena had loads of them. She assured me they weren’t from mummies, but they certainly looked the part,” he said.

“When did you go to Cousin Tryphena’s?” Daphne asked.

“Oh, after I bribed the florist and rented the wagon.” Rupert laughed. “I wish I could see Sir Gerves’s face when he walks into the storeroom and finds this fellow missing and the table and floor littered with scraps of old linen. Risen from the grave to haunt him!”

“Oh, surely not,” Daphne said.

“It’s what he deserves,” Rupert insisted.

“What should we do with the poor thing?” Daphne asked, twisting back to look at the chest. “We don’t have room for him in our luggage, what with everything we’ve packed so far.”

“He deserves a proper burial,” Rupert decided. “But not in London. I think he’ll be comfortable in the chest until we can arrange things.”

“Leave a note,” Daphne said. “I don’t want anyone to open that chest expecting bed linens, only to find a mummy inside.”

“Yes ma’am.” He smiled. “Glad we had a genius brain to plan everything for us.”

“Well,” Daphne said. “Glad we had a hulking brute to do all the dirty work for us.”

She leaned forward to press her lips against his. The reins slipped from his hands as he pulled her towards him, but a yowl from the back drove them apart again.

“Are you crazy?” Leena cried. “You are driving. Do that later!”

Rupert picked the reins back up and winked at Daphne. “Later?” he asked.

“Later,” she agreed.

 


 

A FEW MONTHS LATER

 

Lord Hargate was reading the newspaper in his study when his wife knocked and entered.

“Mrs. Lewis found this note on one of the linen chests up in the attic. I thought you would like to see it.”

She handed him the piece of paper and he read:

FATHER,

PLEASE DO NOT LET ANYONE OPEN THIS CHEST BECAUSE THERE IS A MUMMY INSIDE. DAPHNE AND I RESCUED THIS FELLOW FROM SIR GERVES SMITHE, BUT SINCE WE DID NOT HAVE TIME TO GIVE HIM A PROPER BURIAL I HAVE LEFT HIM HERE FOR SAFEKEEPING. DAPHNE ASSURES ME THAT HE WILL BE FINE, BUT DO NOT OPEN THE LID! THERE IS A BIT OF A SMELL. I WILL DEAL WITH HIM THE NEXT TIME WE ARE HOME.

YOUR SON,
RUPERT