The Earl, The Maid and the Vase of Amun

The Earl, the Maid and the Vase of Amun


‘No, there aren’t any ghosts, dear!’ The guide beamed down at the child who had tugged at her sleeve and  she  winked knowingly at the adults in the group of visitors to the stately home, completely missing the little boy’s  evident disappointment. The wink meant, yes, of course there is a ghost; dozens of ghosts; frightening ghosts. But we won’t talk about them. Better that way. And scarier.

The eager visitors were studying the portraits of the third, fourth and fifth  earls and their wives, the framed samplers, the mounted animal heads, the swords high  on the walls,  the tapestries,  but Amelia, alone at the back of the group, had paused. The others shuffled through the doorway into an ornately-decorated reception room. She heard gasps of delight and she knew what they had seen. The red silk walls, the opulence, the luxury, the view out into  the formal gardens. She remembered the smell of roses and heliotrope, lavender and honeysuckle.

‘Keep together, please!’ The sharp voice from the doorway made her jump. She smiled apologetically and automatically she too moved forward,  but the guide was addressing the people near her.  Guiltily they hurried on and, satisfied they had all been herded together, the woman smiled  and began the next part of her spiel.

Amelia hovered on the sidelines, not listening, intensely aware of that same little boy’s eyes on her. He was frowning. She responded with an uncomfortable smile but his only reaction was to  reach shyly   for his father’s hand and  huddle against him. Amelia turned away, concentrating on the bees and butterflies nosing the lavender beneath the window, sensing the warmth of the sunlight outside. In here as always  it was cold. Deathly cold.

‘Moving on, we  find ourselves in the Great Salon, designed by the  Seventh Earl on his return from his travels to Egypt in 1774.’

The floor echoed under their feet briefly as they  moved from carpet to parquet, then onto protective drugget mats laid out to save the fragile rugs. Was he here in the room, the Seventh Earl? He should be. He had put everything into this room. His heart and soul; his fortune; the time that remained to him on this earth.

‘Dad!’ The little boy was pulling at his father’s hand. ‘What’s wrong with that lady?’ The piercing voice cut through the guide’s exposition on the earl’s excavations at Luxor and there was a moment of total silence. His father glanced round, and hushed him, but they were all staring now,  at the place the child had indicated, the place where Amelia had been standing. The boy’s mother frowned. ‘Be quiet, Ben. It’s rude to make personal remarks,’ she whispered, embarrassed. She looked at a random selection of women in the group, obviously seeking one that looked in some way strange and, not finding a suitable candidate,  glared at them all. No-one noticed the tall figure in the corner of the room watching them, the sardonic smile, the raised eyebrow, the sudden startled attention he directed towards Amelia, his face barely more than a  wisp of shadow at the edges of the sunlight which filtered through the windows.

Amelia noticed. She had never seen him here before. Searching, always searching she had never found him. Unobtrusively she retreated behind the other sightseers,   drifting towards the windows as the guide once more resumed her summary of the seventh earl’s exploits in Egypt.  James’s exploits. ‘Here is the statuette of the goddess  Bast he retrieved from the tomb of one of the lesser-known kings – ’  She had forgotten the name. Amelia smiled.  ‘– and here in this cabinet is  his collection of canopic jars.’  The guide hadn’t yet mentioned the Amun Vase, the pride of the collection, carefully reconstructed from a thousand different pieces; the artefact for which men would kill; for which one man had killed.  Amelia  found he was looking straight at her.  His eyes were clear as water, his expression unreadable.

 ‘Dad!’ The little boy missed nothing.  ‘Is that lady a ghost? I can see through her!’

The others were used to  him now; there was a polite ripple of indulgent laughter.

‘He might not be so wrong,’ the guide said tolerantly.  ‘There is said to be  a ghost in this room, the ghost of one of the housemaids. She broke the earl’s most  priceless treasure while she was dusting  and in a fit of anger he hit her. As she fell she struck her head on the marble mantelpiece and died. They say he was overcome with remorse and one stormy  night under a full moon he went out into the park and hanged himself.’  Rolling her eyes, she directed  a look of mock horror towards Ben. It was supposed to make them all laugh.  No one did. Ben hid once more behind his father.

‘That’s not true!’  Amelia wanted to shout  the words out loud.  ‘She wasn’t dusting; he had made love to her; he had promised to marry her.  He had said he would give her the world!’

And she had believed him.

When she realised that he had lied she had taken her revenge. She had lifted the vase, his most precious possession,  and hurled it at him, knowing even as she did so that  the action would destroy her. But she hadn’t anticipated the depth of his rage. Nor that their drama would forever haunt the deserted rooms of his  ancestral home.

‘Amelia! Wait!’ The  shadowy  figure of the earl  drifted towards her.

Couldn’t the others hear him?  One of them could. Ben tugged at his  father’s hand.  ‘She’s called Amelia. And he’s called James.’

The guide’s eyes widened. ‘That’s true! It’s part of the legend.  How does he know that?’

‘He’s sorry,’ Ben went on. ‘He’s been trying  to find her.’

They were all staring round now, curiosity vying with unease, feeling the chill,  anxious to move on.

 But there was nothing to see.

The earl and his housemaid had gone, drifting through the window into the garden.




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