The Morland Expedition: Part 2 - The Tale of the Mummy
28th December 1889
Muurbloem Hall (formerly Huxley Hall), Monsmere, England
Kit and I have returned to Britain for a brief spell at the behest of his business partner, Heer Klaus Muurbloem. Having celebrated with us at Dawsbury several times in recent months, he has invited both Morlands and Levicks up to his family's residence – my formal marital home – for the Christmas season. Mrs. Chattoway and Professor O'Malley were invited also.
We flew to Monsmere directly, meeting my family there on the 23rd as they themselves arrived. It is nothing less than a marvel for me to see a house that brought me such loneliness and misery transformed into a loving family dwelling: the many Christmas decorations enhancing the warm, welcoming air. As our hosts greeted us cheerily, Mrs. Chattoway's first instinct was to head towards the kitchen, but a quick-thinking Mieke intervened, taking her guest by the arm and leading her and the Professor – our housekeeper's seemingly constant companion - towards the drawing-room, chatting away in her broken English. I guess the dear old lady is more used to being the one serving rather than the one served.
The Masters Muurbloem, Johan and Caspar, were both thrilled to see Pippin again, and the young trio have spent many hours playing together – often involving Darwin in their games. Caspar continued to ask me questions about the puppy's workings (he is now near fluent in English, although his accent remains), whereas Johan, still a boy of few words (or English ones, at least) was just extremely excited to have a hound of his own to play with for a few days. The boys, bless their hearts, were even willing to try and adopt George as a playmate, but my cherubic nephew, not yet six months old, is still rather too small for that. Johan, through a translating Caspar, suggested he could climb a tree with the baby on his back: an offer that Fiona declined as politely as she could muster, stifling a giggle.
At one point in the early evening, I spotted the children creeping along the corridors single-file. Pippin led the pack, clutching Johan's hand as he walked directly behind her, wielding a wooden sword. Darwin loyally stayed at the young lady's heel, and Caspar brought up the rear, open book in hand, conversing with his brother in frantic Dutch. They looked for all the world like adventurers on some great jungle expedition. Still, with Pippin's heritage, and the trio's blossoming friendship, that may well be what the future holds – who can say?
On Christmas Eve, the Muurbloems treated us to a most luxurious dinner. As Mrs. Chattoway sat with us at table, she appeared to be ill-at-ease: I spotted her constantly glancing around, muttering something under her breath. After everyone had cleared their plates, I had to leave momentarily to... ahem... "go and see my aunt". As I passed our dear housekeeper on my way out, I overheard what she was saying.
"Montagus est pater, Fiona est mater, Georgus est filius..."
Whilst I was in "my aunt's room", Mrs. Chattoway herself came to... ahem... "pay her a call".
"I didn't realise you knew Latin," I told her, with genuine surprise.
She blushed fiercely.
"Professor O'Malley is teaching me," she replied, sheepishly. "I never had much of an education – never got the chance. I can read, write and count, but nothing fancy, like yourself and Master Montague. I wanted to learn something proper, like how to read some of those clever books you have in the library. They're all in Latin, so the Professor said he'd teach me. In the evenings, he comes to visit me in the kitchen for private lessons."
All of a sudden, her face grew ghostly pale.
"Please don't tell your brother!"
I laughed. I wondered if Latin lessons were the only activity occurring in Mrs. Chattoway's kitchen when the sun went down.
"Don't worry, I won't," I promised. "But you should be proud of yourself. You seem to be an eager student."
"I only know a few phrases so far, my lady. But I like to try and practice them."
"How, then, would you describe me?"
She pondered the question momentarily, before breaking out into a rigid recitation.
"Clara est filia," she said. "Clara est soror. Clara est uxor."
"And here's one more for you," I whispered. "Clara est m -"
Before I could say any more, Klaus' booming, jovial voice burst through the walls from the parlour, informing the disheartened children it was time for bed, and inviting us adults to gather for drinks and conversation.
After the children had been tucked in and had slipped into the arms of Morpheus - no doubt dreaming of presents - Mieke meekly asked if I would share a tale from my recent honeymoon travels. I will share this same tale with you now.
After leaving Reykjavik, my husband and I settled on Cairo as our next destination. As well as a warmer climate, the Egyptology craze that has swept Britain in recent years would practically ensure the presence of an English-speaking archaeological expedition - hopefully offering us a chance for us to experience Egypt's rich ancient history, and perchance be a part of some new great discovery.
To widen our social circle during our stay, we decided to vacate the Aurora temporarily – leaving it in the safety of the airship port – and take up lodgings in the grandest hotel we could find. This proved to be a wise move on our part. Whilst at breakfast one morning, we made the acquaintance of a visiting academic from the British Museum – one Doctor Michael Mortimer, archaeologist and Egyptologist. After making introductions, it transpired that Kit's name was not unknown to him: he had read of his royal rescue heroics in The Times. To demonstrate my own adventurous spirit, I regaled him with stories of my travels, which he listened to with great rapture.
Our newfound cordiality brought opportunity. Dr. Mortimer informed us that his team were going to the Valley of the Kings that very day to open a newly-discovered tomb: one they believed belonged to a Prince Harkhebi, son of a great pharaoh. As passionate, curious adventurers ourselves, perhaps we would care to join them?
Naturally, Kit and I accepted the offer at once.
By noon, we were watching, spellbound, as Dr. Mortimer's team as they slowly prised open the tomb's long undisturbed entrance. A set of hieroglyphs above the doorway caught Kit's eye, and he asked our gracious host what they meant. Translated, Dr. Mortimer said, the message appeared to be curse that warned of terrible fates for whoever disturbed this sacred place. However, he assured us, that was simply superstitious poppycock, and we should pay it no heed. All the same, my husband chose to take my hand and clutch it tightly as we were passed lanterns and led inside the ancient wonder before us.
After quite some time of exploring a maze of beautifully painted corridors – a glorious regal history etched onto the walls all around us – Dr. Mortimer stepped into a side chamber, and gasped in delight. For there, within, was the prince's golden sarcophagus, as well as all manner of relics and treasures. It was truly breathtaking to behold... and indeed, as I looked upon it, my own breath grew shallow and scarce. As I croaked out Kit's name weakly, I was overcome by a great dizziness, and moments later, all went black.
Some time later, I was stirred slowly back into consciousness by the loud sound of my husband furiously bickering with Dr. Mortimer. Kit was adamant that the academic must know of some kind of ancient ritual they could perform: one to placate Prince Harkhebi's spirit and ensure my recovery from the mysterious malady that had befallen me. Our learned companion, however, staunchly insisted that there was no curse to fear.
I awoke to find myself laid out on the plush bed of me and my husband's hotel suite, looking up into the face of the expedition's young, timid and newly-qualified physician, Dr. Luke Morgan, waiting patiently and quietly to examine me – doing his utmost to avoid the confrontation. As I opened my eyes, he announced my awakening to the other two gentlemen, and Kit immediately rushed to my side – stroking my hair and asking after me with great love and concern. Dr. Morgan asked for my consent to an examination, and I gave it willingly: myself as puzzled as anyone as to why I appeared to have suddenly taken ill.
Mortimer excused himself politely, and waited outside for news. Kit, however, remained by me throughout the procedure, and I could see in his eyes that he feared the worst. But his terror was short-lived. Anguish swiftly turned to joy as Dr. Morgan made his diagnosis, and explained the wonderful, yet not supernatural, cause of my faint.
I am expecting a baby.
Dr. Morgan estimated that the child was conceived in early September, meaning I will deliver them in late May or early June next year. Kit and I are so overjoyed, we can scarcely contain it – it took us great pains to keep our blessing concealed from our families in the recent weeks, but having already received the Muurbloems' Christmas invitation, we were eager to break the news face-to-face. Given my "delicate" condition, Kit asked me if I wanted to remain in England after our Yuletide visit, but I refused. I may be with child, but I am determined to see as much as the world as I can before they arrive, and they become my world completely.
My retelling of this event on Christmas Eve – an ideal opportunity that I seized to announce my pregnancy to everyone gathered – was met with an eruption of happiness. We have been showered with congratulatory words and gestures from everyone ever since, especially my brother.
On Boxing Day, Kit and I flew up to Saltaire to visit the Morlands, longing to inform them without any further delay that they were going to become grandparents. Rosie was almost hysterical with joy, and immediately asked if they, too, may move to Dawsbury Manor and live with us, allowing them to be forever present in their grandchild's life. We agreed without hesitation, but Jim, whilst likewise thrilled about the baby, didn't take kindly to his wife's plan. He liked the house they had always lived in and they way things were within it, he grumbled, and didn't want to abandon his humble but proud home.
In the end, a rather eccentric, yet ingenuous, compromise was reached between father and son. Kit, with his newfound wealth, has commissioned builders to construct an exact replica of the Morland's current home in the grounds of the Dawsbury Estate – not too far from the housekeeper's residence, Honeysuckle Cottage, long occupied by Mrs. Chattoway. Everything in the building to be fittingly known as "Morland House", from the structure to its furnishings, is to be a perfect match. There, Jim can dwell happily in his familiar surroundings, whilst still being well within a mile of his family and the luxuries of the Manor, which even he is bound to seek out and appreciate from time to time.
Montague, having consented to the project (it is his estate, after all), has kindly agreed to supervise the work whilst we are away, for in the New Year, Kit and I intend to resume our travels. From the direction of the wind, I have an overwhelming feeling that we shall we carried towards the East...
All best wishes of the season to you, and may you have a pleasant and prosperous 1890!
I remain, your good and loyal friend,