Theo stumbled out of the room, pushing her goggles up onto her head. She waved her hand around, trying to dissipate some of the smoke. Her gray tabby kitten looked up from her bed on the library shelves, looking for all the world as if she were disgusted at this recent turn of events. "Rrrr. Rrrr-ow!"
"Well, Lady Grey, that didn't work out so well, did it? I wonder what would happen if I..." She walked away, absently pushing her curls up and out of her face.
"Theo-DOSIA Grace MUS-grave! What infernal experiment are you working on now!?! Must we always put up with your noises and foul smells?" Yelled her mother, walking in the room with a look on her face that could freeze molten lava.
"Mother, it was just a minor mishap. I would never work on something dangerous in the house. This is an improvement on the most recent steam engine designs. I wouldn't do anything to cause major trouble." Theo said contritely.
"Mind you, Theodosia, I will not continue to put up with this. If only your Father were here..." She broke off with a sob.
"Mother..." Theo stopped and just held her mother close.
It had been a year and a half since Lord Musgrave's untimely death. Lady Musgrave was in half mourning, just re-entering the social scene. She probably would have remained in deep mourning if it hadn't been for the necessity (in her eyes) of marrying off her daughters. And that meant going to and throwing parties. It wasn't to improve the family fortunes, Lord Musgrave had been a good businessman and the estate was in excellent shape. No, Lady Musgrave just wanted her daughters to enjoy the same happiness she had in her marriage. Besides, Theo was 27, almost at an un-marriageable age! If she didn't wed soon, she would be considered an old maid.
"Oh, if only I had accepted his offer to join him in Cairo! He wouldn't have been traveling and gotten himself killed." When Lady Musgrave said this, it was almost as if she considered it a personal affront to her dignity that he had died.
"Mother, it's not your fault. It's no one's fault. It was just an accident. That's all, just an accident. Oh Mother, how I wish I could go back in time and change things."
"There, there, Theodosia. I'm alright. I ... I will be alright. I try to think of what the Queen would do. I will get through this. I have you and the rest of the family to lean on." Lady Musgrave left the room, sorrow written all over her face.
"Oh Lady Grey!" Theo picked up her kitten and cuddled her. "I am proud of Mother, it has been so very difficult. I can't believe it's nearly been a year and a half since Father's death. Sometimes it seems so much less time than that. It seems like only yesterday that Father was preparing for his trip." Her eyes misted as she thought of one of the last conversations she had with her father before his departure.
Lady Grey reached up and patted Theo's face gently. "Mrrr?"
"He wished Mother would go with him last time. He missed her being his traveling companion."
'"She used to turn some heads I tell you, still could! Always kept her head. Did I tell you of the time we had that bandit board our little boat?"'
He said to me the day he left. I remember telling him that bandit had not been prepared for an English lady who didn't cower and scream. '
"She grabbed that spyglass, and smashed it down his head as he bent over!" He said with a hearty laugh. "Right before he passed out, he gave your mother such an incredulous look! Ah, I miss that. And you must finish your apprenticeship before I will let you travel again, young lady!"'
"He was hoping for me to finish my studies quickly. I was so confident I would have everything completed in three months time. Then I would have more time to find a better fuel for steam engines. I'm sure I can make it work. I'm so close!" Her eyes lit up at the prospect.
'"I always said you can accomplish anything you put your mind to, Theo."' he said confidently.
"I so appreciated him always encouraging me to reach for the stars"
As she was reminiscing, Barnaby knocked on the door. "Miss, there's a shipment that has just been delivered, I believe you should take a look at it."
Intrigued, Theo and Lady Grey followed him downstairs. In her father's old study were some shipping crates. She looked at the bill of lading. "It's was addressed to me, and it's from my father!" Stunned, she sat down and gestured for Giles to begin opening crates. "There is no letter, no explanation. Just crates of artifacts from his latest excursion to Egypt." She looked at the bill of lading once again. "They began their journey a month prior to Fathers death. Egyptian shipping has never been its best, unless you pay double the usual rate, and hire guards. Even then you take your chances." She explained to the men. "Actually, I'm surprised it even got shipped." She stopped, intrigued by one of the crates contents.
Theo stood and went to examine the crate. "No, Giles, please, don't touch this one." She examined the contents of the crate before she reached in. "A single urn, nothing particularly interesting about it. But packed all by itself." She picked it up, oh so carefully! Upon turning it over, she gasped in surprise. "Barnaby, I believe I could use a cup of tea. I think I need to be alone for just a moment, please." She said gently to the butler. He nodded, touched her shoulder and he and Giles left. "Look at the design, Lady Grey! It's breathtaking."
Instead of reminiscing mournfully, Theo quickly looked around to make sure the windows were closed, and no one could see what happened next. Satisfied that no one was around, and hoping she would have a few minutes alone, she ignored the urn and began rummaging around in the crate. "Where is it, I know it must be here!" she said to Lady Grey, who was only interested in playing with the discarded paper. "Packing material, more packing material. Ah, wedged between two slats, all but invisible. It's a letter!" She opened the letter with shaking hands.
"My dearest daughter,
If you are reading this then my fears are real. I hope I am just being paranoid. The alternative is too awful to contemplate. My dear, don't say anything to your mother. By this time, she will know I am dead. It's up to you to ...." The letter ended abruptly. Theo flipped the paper over to see if there was more.
"To what?" Theo searched the crate one more time, to see if there was anything else she had missed. "Nothing!" She looked at the rest of the crates. "None of them fit the pre-arranged code Father and I devised. One artifact, packed alone, decorated side down. How frustrating! I know I'm not going to find anything else." She sat down hard.
Lady Grey batted the paper under a credenza where she could no longer reach it. "Mrrrr!" she cried angrily before she sat down to wash herself.
"I wholeheartedly concur." Theo said.