Chapter the Eighth or The Pickering Soiree
Mr. Taurus’ news about the tavern, or lack thereof, was disappointing but hardly unexpected. It seemed to Lady MacNeal that if anyone was going to talk it would most likely be after the caper. Assuming the thugs aren’t murdered. Adeline hated that she thought that, but her time working with the poor had taught her that often the jobs that paid handsomely would go terribly wrong for a young man who couldn’t afford morals. Of course, she didn’t know the thugs were promised they would be paid well, but to break into a upper middle class home during a party that attracted nobles, she certainly hoped they were paid well.
Mr. Taurus saw the pained expression on her face and patted her arm, “You never know Miss, it could be a single bloke sneaking in and stealing something from the upper floor.”
Adeline attempted a laugh that felt hollow, “Dear Mr. Taurus, you know me so well.”
Mr. Taurus smiled, “Only you would worry for the safety of the thieves.”
While Mr. Taurus assisted her into the carriage she considered how curious it was that the soiree was targeted at all. Anyone willing to pay real money received their goods from a reputable dealer, an enthusiast who had fallen on hard times or on a dig. It was very in vogue to be an amateur archeologist. However, the idea of actually stealing from another’s collection was absurd. A thief couldn’t display his ill-gotten gains, or he would be caught immediately. Nor could a blackguard sell it for similar reasons.
What Adeline couldn’t figure out was what other plausible reason there could be to steal an artifact. And why at a soiree? I thought bandits didn’t want witnesses. Unless, she paused as they rumbled over a particularly uncoordinated bit of cobblestones, perhaps the thieves had the guest list? It was possible that there could be some rather wealthy individuals. After all, I’m coming, and despite my best efforts I’m still filthy rich. She smiled, Edward did well for himself.
The carriage rolled to a stop. Anya had wanted to meet at Adeline’s, but Lady MacNeal refused. After all, she couldn’t have Anya walk all the way in the new clothes Adeline had purchased for the soiree when she owned a perfectly good carriage. “Anya! How is your mother? Getting better?”
Anya thumped into the carriage like a sack of potatoes, the elegant skirts struggling against Anya’s insistence for impropriety. “The priest has been praying over her every Sunday, but he insists that she has a great sin she needs to confess before the Divine will stretch out His hand to heal her. The doctor’s tonics help a good deal more, but Dravan doesn’t have enough work for me to stay there.” Anya’s face twisted in a grimace.
Lady Adeline shook her head in a slow sad motion, “I do wish you would let me help your mother. I could hire you for a time, or if you prefer, I could pay your mother’s medical bills. I could even get her into the university hospital.”
Anya frowned, “No. You have no need for a secretary and I’ll not have your charity. I’ll take your friendship, but naught else.”
Adeline found Anya’s stubbornness to be equal parts amusing and dangerous. Adeline had the money to save Anya’s mother, but her hands were tied without Anya’s acceptance. It was something she had learned working with the poor of London. She couldn’t force her help on people. She could offer it, extend it, but they had to take hold of it themselves.
Still, it seemed queer that Anya would let her buy clothes for the soiree, but not let her buy medicine for an ailing woman. Perhaps, while Anya was at work, she would send Cat over with a ‘get well’ basket? That was proper and not charity at all.
Mr. Taurus opened the carriage, “My Lady, we are arrived.” As Adeline stepped out he whispered, “I’ll be about keeping an eye out for the crooks.”
Cat held one of the horses’ bridals. The plan servants clothes were designed to blend into the background, but Adeline had trained herself to notice the unnoticed. Cat gave her a wink.
Adeline nodded slightly, making her way to the door of the Pickering residence and presented her invitation to the butler. The butler was the image of gentlemanly behavior and quite well groomed. Like Jeeves. She thought sadly. Unlike Jeeves, this butler was a Gnome.
The butler, a Mr. Bryne, looked at her with surprise when she presented her invitation, but with a quick look at the bottom he gave a relaxed sigh and let her in. With her height advantage, Adeline could see that although her name was on the list, it had been added in what appeared to be haste. Written in the same hand, she could see her name was a touch cramped on the bottom of the page.
Mr. Bryne announced Lady MacNeal and Miss Anya O’Mally to Dr. and Mrs. Pickering. Their hosts warmly received Lady MacNeal. “Our condolences for the loss of your husband and son.”
Lady Adeline nodded her thanks. It had been years, but she still dressed in mourning colors. Tonight she was in an elegant deep purple dress with accents of lavender. It was unpleasant to have people constantly offering their condolences, but that was the trade off for continuing to publicly mourn. “Your invitation said you would be doing a dissection of the mummy?”
Mrs. Pickering began to fret, her downcast eyes almost rising to meet Lady MacNeal’s for a moment before dropping back to the ground, “I hope it won’t offend your sensibilities!”
Lady MacNeal laughed softly, “Indeed not. I would have sent my regrets if I thought I couldn’t stomach the investigation.”
Anya had slipped through the receiving line with barely a handshake on her way to the library where all the trophies were displayed. But then she wasn’t saturated with wealth either.
Courtly manners seems attracted to wealth in an alarming fashion. It is almost as if the more capital a person has, the more manners are afforded to them. Adeline thought to herself, excusing herself from her hosts and making her way after Anya into the library. The library encompassed much of the ground floor, which as a bibliophile, Adeline appreciated. However, to her dismay, an unwholesome amount of the library was taken up with displaying the artifacts Dr. Pickering had brought home with him instead of proper books.
There were bookcases, of course. Large, heavy bookcases lined the walls of the library. Their subjects ranging from the mundane medical text to the history, architecture, and burial rites of ancient Egypt. The bookcases were tall enough to necessitate a wheeled staircase, which presently rested folded up against the far wall.
Several French doors in the outer wall led to a comfortable balcony. The doors were closed against London’s daily crepuscular and creeping, inclement of penetrating fog. The was a door tucked up near the wheeled staircase. It was closed, most likely to keep curious guests from wandering where they didn’t belong. Always a challenge, Adeline lamented. There was always someone trying to poke about where they didn’t belong.
A steady and strong fire blazed in an ornately carved stone fireplace, set into the inner wall. Once again limiting space for bookshelves.
Adeline liked the rather clever way the glass cases were nestled between bookcases and placed in a pleasant manner throughout the middle of the library. Large, glass-fronted cabinets displayed tall items, including several animal mummies, stone statues and chunks of colorful frescoes cleft from the tomb walls. Glass cabinets allowed Adeline and others to get a closer view of the many smaller, flat objects: bits of papyrus scrolls, collars of gold and lapis lazuli, rings set with carnelians, pottery shards, decorated axe heads, and many blue faience amulets in the shapes of miniature gods, mummies, ankhs, scarabs, and wadjet eyes.
After a quick overview of the other objects, Adeline found herself drawn to the display’s centerpiece, the mummy Dr. Pickering was to dissect. It was standing upright on a special frame, the dancing flames from the fire casting an otherworldly glow on it. The ornately carved and bejeweled sarcophagus lid was impressive. Behind the sarcophagus stand was a medical examination table and surgical tools. A shiver went down Adeline’s spine. The longer she stood in the presence of the mummy, the more unease she felt.
Adeline was unfamiliar with much of the Egyptian works, in spite of being the British Museum’s primary donor. Her husband, Edward, had been a Colonel and served in India with Lord Farcical – one of his Lieutenant Colonels. Edward’s sister, Josephine, currently lived in India. India is where little Edward was… killed. With so much of her life tied up in the country, it was no surprise that her home was an elegant cross between British and Indian culture. The only thing she refused to have in her house was snakes. She abhorred serpents. Her revulsion was unfortunate given the theme of the evening. The sarcophagus she was standing before was covered in etchings of twisting, coiling, striking and writhing vipera.
Anya appeared at her elbow, “Adeline, this is quite strange.”
“What is?” Adeline said, turning slightly toward Anya.
“All of the pieces Dr. Pickering brought back from his most recent dig have snakes on them.”
Adeline shivered. “Oh?”
Anya sighed, “I know you don’t know anything about Egypt, but really. Egypt has no gods that are represented by a serpent. Ra sometimes has a snake because in the mythology he was bitten by a cobra, but that’s it. Only the monster Apep was a serpent.”
“This is a very ornate coffin to have carvings of a monster.”
“Yes.” Anya nodded firmly, “I believe that whoever is inside must have belonged to a cult of the monster Apep.”
“Could that have any bearing on the theft? Perhaps the cult lives and they wish to awaken their master?” Adeline glanced around the room, “Can you tell how many of the artifacts are real and how many are fakes?” It was a common problem that the museum was constantly spending great deals of money trying to verify their artifacts were authentic.
Anya’s eyes gleamed with lucripetousness, “Every artifact with the snakes is real, past that it is about fifty-fifty. Which is very impressive.”
“How can you tell?”
Anya launched into an overly complicated explanation Adeline did not bother to follow closely. Her explanation was on par with Dravan’s when he spoke of magic and he felt like she hadn’t given him the respect due to an older brother.
This… superiority… from Anya was new and Adeline found she did not care for it. “Interesting. Well, learn all you can and keep a weather eye out.”
Adeline was neither the first, nor the last guest to arrive. Mr. and Mrs. Robert arrived after Mr. Taurus pulled away, as well as Dr. and Mrs. Tweeden and a beastman she had never been introduced to. The beastman was a polar bear, certainly rare in England. He was clearly foreign and a hyperborean. He spoke loudly and with confidence. He was a man who gave orders and rarely took them. Judging by his accent, he must be Russian. Since Russia was currently at war with Britain, and Russians were uncommon, this could only be the renowned surgeon Dr. Tolstoy.
She longed to speak to him, to introduce herself, but such an action would be so inappropriate as to be inconceivable. She could only hope that perhaps her host would introduce her before whatever unpleasantness broke out. She sighed, turning around only to come face to face with Lord Farcical.
“Lady MacNeal! My days have been dark and lonely without a glimpse of your radiant smile. Just the sight of you has made me redivivus!” He kissed the back of her hand, “I’m glad someone was able to talk you out of your seclusion.”
“Thank you for your concern, Lord Farcical. Your flattery however has fallen on ears too old to perceive it.” But she said it with a slight smile ruining her admonition. She added, frankly, “I can always count on you to brighten my day.”
A boyish grin spread across his face, “Well now you’ve spoiled the game! I should never know when I am receiving a rebuke in jest or in truth.” He nodded to the other partygoers, “This is a rather quaint soiree, is it not?”
“Pity about the thieves.”
Adeline started. Her eyes flashed to Lord Farcical. Of course Cat had told her that Lord Farcical had received a note of his own, but she didn’t think he would be so bold. “What do you know of these supposed thieves?”
He shook his head in mock sadness, “Presently? Nothing. But I brought my pistol just in case.”
Mr. Gerald Tweedle, who had been speaking with Lord Longfellow, disengaged himself and came to their conversation. “My Lady,” he said bowing over her hand, “my condolences for your husband.” Gerald was the head curator of the British Museum and very aware whose hand it was that fed him. He was a Gnome, like Dravan, and even though he was on the tall side, he still had to crane his neck back to look at Lady Adeline properly.
Adeline smiled sadly, “Thank you, Mr. Tweedle. I hope our new wing is seeing good use?”
“Oh, yes! I’m trying to gather enough artifacts of each Egyptian god to justify an exhibit, but it had been hard going, you know, as soon as someone hears what you are interested in, all manner of counterfeits are being made. Why, just this week I had to turn away twelve pots of Sobek because they were fakes. Which is truly a shame because there has been so little found of him.”
“Perhaps you would care to speak to Miss Anya? She has a rare eye and can spot a counterfeit a mile away.”
“If she is an acquaintance of yours then I would be delighted.”
Adeline pointed Anya out. She was bent over a glass case that contained rather ornate golden clasps that were holding a delicate piece of papyrus. She was murmuring furiously to herself. Mr. Tweedle nodded his thanks and left to continue his tour around the room.
Captain Reginald Carrington slapped Lord Farcical on the back, making him stagger a few paces, “John, my boy! I haven’t seen you at the club in weeks, where have you been?”
John Farcical regained himself, “I assure you Reggy, I jolly well live at the club.”
As the two began recanting old war stories, Adeline excused herself. Captain Carrington reeked of whiskey in a rather unhealthy way and she didn’t care for how he swayed improperly close to her.
She walked the short distance to a case holding a mummified cat. It pained her to see the creature bound up and gawked at for all eternity, but there was a part of her that understood. A loyal friend, prepared to stand by you in the afterlife as they did on earth. There is something quite romantic about that notion. “Where is your master?” she murmured, leaning in close.
Mr. Robert, disengaged from his wife, came to join her at the glass case. Though he was not currently smoking, the stale smell of tobacco clung to his clothes and waifed from his lips when he spoke. He threw off a foul smell that seemed to be headed directly for her refined and delicate nose. “Good evening. Pity it weren’t more engaging.” His words contrasted with the way he peered intently at the mummified feline.
“I am enjoying it rather much.” She glanced down at his right hand which was miming holding a pipe, “You seem to enjoy that mundungus quite a deal.”
Mr. Robert, a short and stout dwarf, ran his eyes up her, “Why thank you. Yes, I do.”
He didn’t seem to perceive her slight, which is just as well. She didn’t care for rudeness, but… His pipe tobacco is just so foul! Edward at least found tobacco that didn’t smell so atrocious! Anyway, she didn’t care for the way he looked at her. She wore her mourning clothes past the time necessary because she still mourned her husband’s death and because she didn’t want men hounding her.
Lord Longfellow, a luminary, came to her rescue with his wife Lady Scarlet on his slender, elven arm. “My dear Lady Adeline! I’m so glad to see you out mucking about with us poor, common folk.” He smiled kindly.
He is so very supportive of my work with the poor. Adeline smiled, inclining her head. “Well, if you and your lovely wife had but asked, I would have graced your presence long ago.” Adeline always enjoyed seeing what Scarlet would wear. It was far too provocative for a woman of Adeline’s experience and station. Yet, there was a definite class in the way the young woman carried herself that Adeline couldn’t help but adore. She was so kind, even when harpies were swarming her and picking at her for her supposed past. Adeline didn’t know if the rumors were true, but if they were, Adeline wasn’t so arrogant to believe herself above fault, and her work with the poor had taught her that desperate people did desperate things.
Lady Scarlet Longfellow, a human whose clothes always mimicked her name, smiled and extended an arm, “My dear Adeline, I believe our host is about to begin dinner. Would you care to walk with us?”
Relief crept toward Adeline’s mouth, “Of course, I would, my dear.” She laid her hand gently on Scarlet’s wrist.
 (of the weather, the elements, etc.) severe, rough, or harsh; stormy. Or not kind or merciful.
 glazed earthenware or pottery, especially a fine variety with highly colored designs.
 Also known as the Eye of Horus, it is an ancient Egyptian symbol of protection, royal power and good health. The eye is personified in the goddess Wadjet (also written as Wedjat, or “Udjat”, Uadjet, Wedjoyet, Edjo or Uto). It is also known as ‘The Eye of Ra‘. The name Wadjet is derived from “wadj” meaning “green”, hence “the green one”, and was known to the Greeks and Romans as “uraeus” from the Egyptian “iaret” meaning “risen one” from the image of a cobra rising up in protection.
 Latin for snake, viper or adder
 To be money-hungry or greedy
 An inhabitant of an extremely northern region
 Restored to life, or to full liveliness
 A person of great intellectual or spiritual stature; one who spreads the light of truth and beauty around him.