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As the nineteenth century turns into the twentieth, the world looks to a future of revolutionary science and extraordinary machines. Archaeologist Eleanor Folley looks back to Egypt’s ancient mysteries and her mother’s inexplicable, haunting disappearance. Agent Virgil Mallory, a man with ghosts and monsters of his own, brings evidence of a crime, taking them both on a thrilling adventure that carries them from Paris to Egypt, and from the present to the ancient past. Uncovering the truth exposes a dangerous game of life, death, and uncanny powers!
Read an Excerpt
FROM CHAPTER ONE
Paris, France ~ October 1889
Virgil Mallory came into Eleanor Folley’s life during the autumn of her thirtieth year, a time when she should have been perfectly content to be with her father, books, or specimens from the field. Hers was not the life of a nun, she assured people (indeed, many presumed she had been packed off to a convent school, considering her Unfortunate Youth), but that of a librarian. No difference, her adviser and fellow librarian Juliana had argued.
“Would you look at that?”
Juliana’s voice beckoned, and Eleanor looked up from the collection of Senegal shells she was sorting, a fine and disorganized mess after yesterday’s hordes of younger Exposition visiteurs. She peered over the table at Juliana, at the gold ribbons that wrapped her auburn hair into a perfect Psyche knot. The woman’s interest seemed captured by something more than the airships passing over the clear glass roof of the Exposition Universelle all morning.
“Is it another elephant?” Eleanor asked, her voice thin after a restless night. Two elephants had already passed through the Galerie des Machines that morning—one of living flesh, one of cleverly engineered clockwork. Eleanor was hard-pressed to say which beast was more remarkable, as each was astounding in its own way. Both beasts had responded to the commands of their handlers—abattre, debout, révérence—though the living elephant had been less amused at the idea of showing a leg than the clockwork creature had.
Eleanor placed a cowrie shell back in its proper bin and stood, brushing dust from her skirt as she straightened it. She longed for her trousers, but had made a promise to her father: trousers were permissible for adventuring, but skirts were required in public. The Exposition Universelle in Paris was as public as anything could be, Eleanor supposed, with citizens of almost every nation coming to gawk at Eiffel’s tower, the Negro village, and the Galerie des Machines, in which they now found themselves. The gallery was massive, constructed of glass and iron, hinged arches vaulting above to enclose the largest interior space in the world. The way the light filtered through the glass intensified the colors of frescos, burnished the gleam of machines, and even seemed to make people glow—everything and everyone appeared gilded, as if having emerged from the pages of an illuminated manuscript
Though the Folleys had been in Paris five months, it remained a daily wonder for Eleanor to work among the other exhibitors. The opportunity to show their research, inventions, and collection was something that might not come again. Eleanor appreciated, too, the chance it gave her to soak in the variety of languages and attempt to bend her tongue around them. While French was second nature to her, there were other less common languages she longed to explore.
Such conversations rained down from the elevated track that circled the gallery above the exhibition space. Visitors could walk, or ride in carriages, above the machines but also among them, as a variety of flying beasts flaunted their lavish designs. Mechanical pterodactyls, owls, and sparrows reeled in the sunlight that streamed through the glass ceiling. More than one of the miniature mechanical dodos had found itself entangled in a lady’s hat or hair, and it soon became a desired distinction. If you hadn’t had an encounter with a dodo, your Exposition experience was not complete.
Folley’s Nicknackatarium had never known such an honor. Eleanor tried to remind herself that it was an honor, even as other exhibitors tried to turn their inclusion into something else; most felt the Folleys didn’t belong here or with them—surely it could be only chance or pity that found them within these circles. Her father’s reputation as an archaeologist had never been sterling, and marrying an Egyptian only deepened the tarnish. In the wake of Dalila Folley’s disappearance, his status in archaeological circles dropped even lower. The Folleys were Irish, after all, people murmured; even his daughter had gone a-roving, so what precisely could one expect? Eleanor often wondered which straw would break him, but his love of the field never faltered.
“Not an elephant,” Juliana said as Eleanor joined the older woman at the edge of the main display table within the Folley booth. “Nor a dodo.”
What Eleanor saw might well have been another extraordinary clockwork creature, so little sense did it make at first. Her father was speaking with a young man, and in an environment where people the world over had come to witness the marvels of science and industry, one man speaking to another should have been in no way exceptional.
Yet her father did not speak to young men, and indeed went out of his way to avoid them. According to her father, men aged fifty or older were the only people who made for decent conversationalists; there was no sense in wasting words on anyone—save daughters, he would add with a wink to Eleanor.
The only young men he might exempt from his strict policy were those who chanced to unearth a mythical tomb or bring him a piece of sand-crusted evidence to add to his life’s research. Had you discovered the intact head of the Winged Victory of Samothrace, Renshaw Folley would see you straight away!
This young man was not Moorish, Indian, or Javanese, so it wasn’t his origin that her father found interesting, but something else. His features were unremarkable from a distance, skin pale and features drawn, as if he had not been out of doors in years. He appeared average in every way, clad in a simple ditto suit of coal black, black cravat tied haphazardly beneath the beard that covered his chin. His hair was cut to his jawline, longer than fashion dictated, and rather disorderly, unable to settle on one color; bits of blond curled in the midst of darker brown. The brown matched his eyes—something in his eyes . . . he was not as young as she had first thought. Her attention flicked to the bright pin he wore in his lapel: a gold letter M curled within a copper twist of clouds. Eleanor’s mouth flattened into a thin line at the sight of the symbol.
“Do you know him?” Juliana whispered.
“Only his kind,” Eleanor said somewhat hoarsely, her mouth having gone dry. She did not wish to know why an agent of Mistral was here, even as she very much did want to know. She had always felt the organization could be more than it was—if only someone cared to take the time to make it so. Had he come to escort them out, to remind them they were Irish and should, at the least, go back to Dublin if they could go no farther? “And he smells odd.”
Eleanor could not name the scent that rose even above the gentle lily fragrance Juliana wore; perhaps the young man had walked through Professor Twine’s Miracle Steam Bath before he’d come here. The scent could be anything, for the petite professor claimed he could enhance his steam with any scent from past or present. Eleanor wished to smell her mother once more—bergamot, black tea, sun-drawn sweat from days on digs—but had yet to visit Twine to see if it might be possible. She closed her hand into a fist within the folds of her skirt, making an effort not to reach for the comforting lump of the ring she wore on a chain hidden beneath her blouse. Even so, her mind whispered the poem in which she often sought shelter: Backward, turn backward, O time, in thy flight; Make me a child again, just for to-night.
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