Daughter of the God-King
Hattie Blackhouse was aware that she had—-regrettably—something of a temper, and that this trait often led to impetuous decisions that were not always thought-out in a rational manner. Fortunately, because she had lived a solitary life in the Cornish countryside, few had experienced either her temper or her impetuosity, and she had thus far avoided embarrassing herself in public. Until now, of course.
“Have you a card of invitation?” asked the respectful under-footman. He asked in English, which meant he had taken one look at their clothes and concluded they were either impoverished refugees or English, as the Parisian ladies around them were very much à la mode.
“We do not,” she replied evenly, and lifted her chin. Now that she saw how grand it all was she conceded that it had been—perhaps—not the best idea to show up here at such a place uninvited and that she may indeed wind up as a public spectacle, but she had no one to blame but herself. Her old governess–the traitorous Swansea–had been a gentle, indulgent woman who had only interfered that one time when Hattie had taken a crop to the gardener’s boy after he tied a can to the Tremaine dog’s tail, and even then the distraught governess had apologized for curbing Hattie’s impulse to beat the boy soundly, but the gardener was a good one and good gardeners were apparently few and far between. I must remind Robbie that I did a good deed for Sophie, Hattie thought as she squared her shoulders on the threshold of the Prussian Embassy. I have a feeling he may not be best pleased when I make my appearance; but truly, coming here seemed such a good idea at the time, and I was sick to death of being exiled in Cornwall.
“Perhaps we should have sent a card ‘round to your fiancé, first.” Bing’s tone was dry and deferential, but Hattie was given the uneasy feeling that Bing was well-aware this was all a hoax. Even more reason not to tell her freshly-minted companion that she had shoved an intruder down the back stairs of their Parisian townhouse less than an hour ago. Although the jury was still out, Bing seemed the sort of person who may have felt it necessary to notify the gendarmes, and Hattie didn’t have the time, just now; she was going to confront Robbie–another traitor in what seemed to be an unending list.
“I’m afraid we haven’t any calling cards, Bing; and we are gate-crashers of the first order.”
“Very well,” said Bing, unruffled. “It is a good thing I am armed, then.”
Hattie hid a smile as they stepped forward in the line to be announced at the Ambassador’s soirée—fortunately it hadn’t been a ball, as Hattie didn’t own a ball gown. Truth to tell, didn’t own anything suitable for a Parisian soirée, either, but this was the least of her concerns; as she was preparing for this outing at her parent’s townhouse, she had heard a noise coming from the back stairwell and after flinging open the door, had been astonished to confront a man, equally astonished in beholding her before him. On instinct, she had shoved him as hard as she was able and he had tumbled backward down the stairs as she slammed the door shut and bolted the lock. A burglar, she assured herself; someone who thought the place was still empty and unaware that they had lately taken up residence. Although he hadn’t seemed like a burglar and had stared at her in such an odd way; as though he was seeing a ghost.
She moved forward another step, frowning in distraction. She hoped Robbie was here at the Embassy, as she may have need of reinforcements—there was the other man lurking on the corner of the street yesterday, also. For pity’s sake, it was as though no one had ever seen a girl from Cornwall before, and her clothes were not that bad, surely.
“Hathor,” Bing prompted under her breath, and Hattie brightened to bestow a smile on the footman at the door, resplendent in his livery. The man looked over her head for parents or presenters–no hard task as she was rather short in stature—and then seemed surprised to behold no one there. But Hattie had successfully shoved the intruder down the stairs, and buoyed by this thought, she announced with confidence, “I am Miss Blackhouse; I am here with my companion, Miss Bing.”
Understandably nonplussed, the footman inquired in a discreet tone, “You have no card of invitation, mademoiselle?”
At this juncture, Bing, who was tall and spare and very correct, offered in a shocked tone, “Perhaps you do not recognize the name, my good man. This is Miss Blackhouse, the daughter of the famous Blackhouses; the Ambassador will be thrilled she has chosen his soirée over all the others.”
Although she was half inclined to laugh out loud, Hattie made an attempt to look famous as the footman’s eyes widened and he quickly passed her along to the host after murmuring an apology. “Miss Blackhouse and her companion, Miss Ding.”
“Bing,” Hattie interjected impatiently. “Miss Bing.”
But her correction was swallowed up in the reaction of the Prussian Ambassador, a large, rather burly man with a gray goatee and an impressive array of medals displayed along his blue sash, which was itself impressive due to his girth. “Miss Blackhouse,” he exclaimed in astonishment, and lifted a monocle to his eye. “Welcome—why, indeed; welcome.”
Hoping that the footman was paying attention, Hattie took his hand with a sense of relief that she was not to be shown the door, and then was forced to stand as he clasped her hand in both of his with no indication he would release her anytime soon. “The tomb of the god-king’s daughter,” he pronounced in tones of deep emotion as the candlelight glinted off his monocle. “An amazing find—it quite takes one’s breath away. Tell me, do your parents know the identity of the princess as yet?”
Another fervent Egyptologist, she thought with resignation; she had met his type before and unfortunately they were thick on the ground nowadays, with everyone mad for all things Egyptian and the world’s fancy being caught by the tombs being uncovered in the Valley of the Kings.
“I believe not,” she equivocated. Best not to mention that she rarely heard from either of her negligent parents; her information instead was gleaned from the local newspapers—or Bing, who was well-informed due to her late brother. Reminded, Hattie offered, “There does seem to be a curse, though.” As soon as she said it, she inwardly winced—she was thoughtless to mention it in front of poor Bing, who still wore mourning-black.
But Bing did not falter, and added, “Indeed; several lives have been lost under unexplained circumstances.”
The Ambassador’s eyes widened and he glanced to those still waiting in the receiving line, clearly torn between his duties as host and his burning desire to buttonhole Hattie and quiz her about this fascinating bit of information. He called out, “Monsieur le Baron; your aid, if you please.”
Hattie turned to meet the newcomer, tamping down her impatience. She had used her connection with her parents to crash this party and it was only fair that she pay the piper for a few minutes before she went off in search of Robbie. He wouldn’t fail her, although she fully anticipated a dressing-down later in private. Hopefully it wouldn’t be as bad as when she’d gotten lost on the Tor back home—and truly, that had not been her fault.
The Baron was revealed as an elegant, silver-haired man who approached with his hands clasped behind his back. “Yes? Might I be of assistance?”
With barely suppressed exultation, the Ambassador introduced him to Hattie. “Baron du Pays, my dear.” And then, with a great deal of significance, “Monsieur le Baron, if you would entertain Miss Blackhouse while I attend to my duties here—she brings the latest news from the excavations.”
The Baron could be seen to go quite still for a moment, his gaze fixed upon Hattie’s, until he found his voice and bowed over her hand in the elegant manner known only to Frenchmen. “Enchanté, Mademoiselle Blackhouse.” The pale blue eyes then fixed upon hers again with an expression she could not quite interpret—assessing, or calculating, or–or something. “I was so fortunate as to have met your parents once; extraordinary people.” He looked up to a companion, who approached to join him. “Monsieur Chauvelin; come meet Mademoiselle Blackhouse.”
But Hattie was astonished to recognize her former intruder, and coldly riposted with a great deal of meaning, “I believe we have already met, monsieur.”
She could hear Bing’s soft intake of breath at her tone, but the man only shook his head and gravely disclaimed, “I do not recall such a felicity, mademoiselle.”
“If you will excuse us,” Hattie said with a curt bow and then turned away, a surprised Bing in her wake. In her abrupt movement, she met the eye of a man who appeared to be watching her from the side, although he quickly turned away and melted into the crowd. He appeared to be a civil servant of some stripe; his manner unprepossessing, his dress understated. But something in his bearing—his cool assurance, perhaps—belied his appearance and made her wonder why he watched her. This is a very strange sort of soirée, she thought; in Cornwall we may not be à la mode, but everyone certainly has better manners.
“Do we seek out Mr. Tremaine, Hathor?” Bing walked along beside her as though her charge had not just snubbed two distinguished gentlemen for no apparent reason.
“We do, Bing. And I am heartily sick of the tedious god-king and his equally tedious daughter.”
“As you say,” Bing replied.
Robbie was tall, and so she quickly scanned the assembly, looking for his blond head and wishing she could whistle for him. In the process, her gaze rested upon the self-assured civil servant, who had managed to stay parallel with her despite the crowded quarters. Lifting her chin, she gave him a quelling look just so that he was aware she was on to him, and then at long last spotted Robbie’s form at a small distance in the crowd. He was surrounded by a group of people, and bent his head for a moment to listen to a blonde woman, who was trying to speak to him over the noise of the throng. “I see him, Bing–and not a moment too soon. Come along.”
But before she could squeeze in his direction, Hattie was confronted by the Prussian Ambassador himself, who gallantly handed her a glass of punch and indicated he would like to speak to her in a quieter corner. Short of pulling her hand from his and pushing yet another one bodily to the floor, she had little choice but to comply, and followed him to an alcove in the corner, taking a quick glance to mark Robbie’s location in the process.
“Did you enjoy speaking with Baron du Pays, Miss Blackhouse? He is the French vice-consul in Egypt.”
“Oh—is he indeed?” It wanted only this; Hattie had probably launched an international incident by her snub, but surely a vice-consul shouldn’t be consorting with burglars. As if on cue, that gentleman came over to join them, although this time he was not accompanied by the aforesaid burglar which was just as well, as Hattie may have felt it necessary to dress him down and she was truly trying to control her temper.
With an air of extreme interest, her host crossed his arms over his be-medaled chest and rocked back on his heels. “If you would, Miss Blackhouse, tell me more of the curse; could it be the wrath of the ancients, visited upon those who disturb their legacy?”
“One can only wonder,” Hattie replied, as diplomatically as she was able. She barely refrained from muttering a curse herself—one that Robbie himself had taught her. How anyone could believe that lifeless objects could be ‘cursed’ was beyond her comprehension but the superstitious were a stubborn breed and—apparently–could be found at the highest levels of diplomacy, which told its own tale. She glanced sidelong at Robbie, and saw that he was conferring with the self-assured civil servant, and then lifted his head to glance with surprise in her direction. Which was rather strange; why would the gentleman know that it was Robbie she sought out? Bing surreptitiously touched her elbow to draw her attention back to the conversation, and Hattie pulled her gaze back to the Ambassador’s magnified eye.
“. . . and the tomb with no clue as to the princess’s identity. Extraordinary.”
For two pins, Hattie would have asked why any rational person would feel this topic was of the least importance, but so as not to embarrass poor Bing she attempted to re-focus; after all, the Ambassador was her host and she should not allow Robbie to think she was incapable of deporting herself in diplomatic circles. Although it was a dull group, truth be told, and it was hard to believe the intrepid boy next door had willingly chosen this sort of life. “It is believed she was the daughter of some famous pharaoh,” offered Hattie vaguely, stealing a glance toward Robbie as he made his way toward her. Oddly enough, he had the blonde woman in tow—she was quite old–at least thirty, if she was a day. Perhaps the woman required his support due to her advanced age.
“Seti,” murmured Bing behind her in an undertone.
“The Great Seti,” added Hattie smoothly. “The god-king; presumably her father.”
The Ambassador leaned forward, his expression avid at having such an intriguing scrap of information to tout to his fellow aficionados. “Indeed? And have your parents discovered why a princess’s tomb was found in the Valley of the Kings? The only female to be found–most unusual.”
At this juncture, Robbie arrived and greeted her with astonishment. “Hattie, by all that’s holy—however did you come to be here?” As he turned to explain their acquaintanceship to their host, Hattie realized she couldn’t very well confess that she had come to Paris for the express purpose of trying to convince him to marry her, and with this in mind she retreated to a less-crazed explanation. “I came to visit my parents, Robbie.”
The reaction to this disclosure was a rather heavy silence, with the Baron lowering his gaze to the floor and Robbie’s expression suddenly shuttered. Hattie looked from one to the other in surprise but was forced to acknowledge the blonde woman with Robbie, who said with a doubtful smile, “Here—-in Paris? But I recently left your parents in Thebes.”
“Did you indeed?” Hattie was very much afraid her tone may have indicated her displeasure at having been shown to be equivocating, not to mention it was of all things annoying that this too-tall blonde knew more about her parents than she did. She hastily added, “I thought they would be here in Paris, instead; I meant to surprise them, you see.”
The Baron took the opportunity to interject, “A coincidence; I have recently journeyed from Thebes, myself.”
Again, there was a tense silence in response to this observation and the woman did not acknowledge this remark with even a glance in his direction. Hattie, alive to the undercurrent, wondered why they had all converged upon her when they didn’t seem to like each other very much and half-hoped for an open quarrel so that she could use the opportunity to speak privately with Robbie. Not to mention the self-assured gentleman was now standing at the vice-consul’s back, pretending to converse with a woman wielding a flirtatious fan even though Hattie was well-aware he was eavesdropping on their conversation. Why, every man-jack on the premises appears to be prodigiously interested in my doings, she thought with surprise; it is all very strange.
The Ambassador informed the newcomers, “We were discussing the latest Blackhouse discovery–the tomb of the god-king’s daughter.”
“Extraordinary,” agreed the Baron. “Indeed, the artifacts uncovered include the sacred sword Shefrh Lelmelwek—the Glory of Kings, bestowed by the gods on the pharaoh himself.”
Hattie didn’t need to look at Bing to feel her companion’s surprise. It appeared the vice-consul was indeed lately come from the excavation at Thebes, and he was very well-informed. Bing’s brother had indicated in his letters that the discovery of the mythical sword was a well-kept secret.
With an attitude that bordered on the rapturous, the Ambassador looked to Hattie, wide of eye. “Such a mystery! How could such a wonder have been bestowed upon a mere female? And how could she have warranted a tomb in the Valley of the Kings?”
Hattie did her best to come up with an answer, wishing she had paid more attention when Bing was speaking of such things. “We must suppose that she some performed some extraordinary service so as to be a heroine in the eyes of the Eighteenth Dynasty.”
Bing made a small sound behind her which indicated Hattie was mixing her dynasties again—but honestly, who could keep them straight? It was three thousand years ago, for the love of heaven. But correction was to come from the blonde woman, who announced in an indulgent tone, “Seti was Nineteenth Dynasty, I believe.”
Curbing an urgent desire to make a cutting remark, Hattie recalled her circumstances and subsided. “Yes—yes I am sorry; I misspoke.” She then caught the self-assured gentleman’s gaze upon her again and realized he was amused. Why, he is laughing at me, the wretch; I should spill my punch on him, just to show how little I appreciate being the object of his amusement—or being exposed as ignorant in matters Egyptian. The man turned away as Hattie sipped her punch, thinking that this was an odd sort of party—and Robbie was making no effort to have a private word which was perplexing in itself; if nothing else, he should want to take her aside to give her a bear-garden jawing for surprising him in such a way.
But he had his own surprise that, as it turned out, would trump hers. Robbie turned to the woman in warm approval, and pulled her hand through his arm. “Madame Auguste knows a great deal about the excavations—she lived in Egypt for years.”
“No more,” she laughed. “Now I will be an Englishwoman.”
“England’s gain,” offered the Ambassador gallantly, and sketched a small bow.
With a smile that bordered on the patronizing, the woman addressed Hattie. “Only think, Mademoiselle Blackhouse, we shall be neighbors, you and I.”
With dawning horror, Hattie found she was having trouble putting together a coherent thought. “Is that so?” she managed, and almost dispassionately noted that she could now hear her heartbeat in her ears–never a good sign.
“Wish me happy, Hattie,” Robbie revealed with his easy smile. “Madame has agreed to marry me, and I am the luckiest of men.”