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Feather's Miscellany: Aneferti, The Pharaoh’s Daughter

John Waddington-Feather tells a ghostly love story involving an Egyptian princess who haunted a Yorkshire museum.

When Keighworth’s museum moved to Crag Castle from Albert Park, it took its ghost with it. But perhaps I ought to explain. Keighworth once boasted a fine Regency mansion. It was built in the neo-classical style for a wealthy mill family at the beginning of the nineteenth century, and stood four-square, beautifully proportioned with an impressive portico held up by Doric pillars. A long drive led up to it from a well built lodge at the eastern end of the parkland surrounding it. In front of the mansion house was a Ha-Ha to keep cattle and deer away from the lawn, and beyond the park its grounds led to outlying farmland as far as the River Aire.

Alas, its rural splendour was short-lived for Keighworth grew rapidly in the mid-nineteenth century from a small market town to a thriving textile town – and a mucky one at that. Its two rivers, the Aire and the Worth were fouled overnight. So was its atmosphere.

The parkland the fields round the Manor House were sold off in lots and rows of terrace houses were built over them. Garlic Lane, the track which skirted the Manor and its land, and along which horses used to race, became a paved road. Along it among the houses were built a foundry, stables for the council horses, shops, a scrap-iron yard, a metal mill and a woollen mill, and right a the end was a garage. Beyond on former farmland were the grounds of Keighworth Cricket Club and Keighworth Rugby League Club. The farmland vanished but its park remained a while; so did the Manor House – as a museum and baby clinic.

A word now about the old museum wouldn’t be amiss. It was a treasure house of history for adults; for youngsters a veritable Aladdin’s Cave. Glass exhibition cases were housed in the former Manor house ballroom, which you entered through a glass-roofed aviary, where a variety of exotic birds flew and sang. Just outside the main cage sat an ancient, cantankerous cockatoo on his perch. He fixed everyone who entered with a beady eye and woe betide anyone who tried to stroke him. His yellow crest would go up and he’d damned take your finger off with one tweak of his beak.

From the aviary you entered the museum proper – and what a sight greeted you. The museum had been well endowed with a large variety of exhibits brought back from across the globe by wealthy Keighworth industrialists. A row of big-game animal heads decorated the four walls: a lion and tiger, a grizzly bear, an elk, even a large elephant’s head, all staring down glassy-eyed and moth-eaten. There were display cases of pigeons and the original stuffed Airedale terrier. Once there had been a live chimpanzee kept somewhere in the museum. He, too, had ended up stuffed in a glass case. Then there were the egg collection, the moss collection and fine collection of local rocks. Down one side were a case full of early surgical instruments and a travelling dentist’s case. Just looking at the gadgets in it gave you toothache.

There were other exhibits too numerous to mention, but at the furthest end of the museum, where the light was always dim and which held its own ghastly aura was a collection of shrunken human heads brought back from Borneo by some Keighworth Victorian traveller; and right next to them was the prize exhibit as far as I was concerned – and Egyptian mummy. And it’s with her my ghost story begins.

Sir Joshua Whitcliff, an amateur archaeologist, had brought the mummy from one of his many trips to Egypt. Of course, these days he wouldn’t have been allowed, but those were the days of the British Empire, when rich British tourists could plunder at leisure, or conserve, depending how you regarded their trophies.

The mummy lay by itself prone in a glass-topped case covered with black, American oilcloth. When you rolled the covering back the impassive face of the mummy stared back at you from its painted wrappings. The sunlight had caught it over the years and the mummy had started to deteriorate. Part of the foot had crumbled and one brown, fossilised toe bone had come adrift and lay in the bottom of the case, setting wide-eyed schoolboys like myself wondering what other grisly remains lay behind the wrappings.

It was identified as the mummified body of a young princess, the daughter of a Pharaoh, who’d died three thousand years earlier. The stereotyped painting on the face gave no indication of how she looked when alive. That came later.

Years before when she’d been presented to the museum by the Whitcliff family, it was rumoured her ghost roamed the museum after dark. Certainly we lads didn’t hang around that part of the museum when dusk fell early in winter and an unearthly chill fell on the place. And when daylight ebbed, no one pulled back the black cover of the mummy case either. Old Hodgson, the caretaker, said he’d actually seen her when fire-watching during the war. She was a beautiful, young woman dressed in flowing white robes. He positively went starry-eyed when he described her smooth, olive skin; her lips as red as cherries and long, black hair. He said she stalked the museum all night as if looking for something – someone, but as soon as dawn broke, she disappeared; but, of course, no one believed him.

When the museum moved, she turned up at Crag Castle, a huge pseudo-baronial pile built by another Keighworth magnate in the late nineteen the century, then bought by yet another millionaire son of Keighworth, who handed it over to the town in the mid-twentieth century, when it became the home of a brand-new museum and art gallery. It expanded greatly and took on an educational rôle. An extensive art gallery was added and the large living rooms of the castle restored.

A director was appointed and under him a several assistants, all graduates and specialists in their own fields. One of them was Dr Moses Evans, a young archaeologist, whose passion was Egyptology. He was tall, dark and handsome. His wide shoulders and muscular neck reflected an earlier interest in athletics and swimming in which he’d won colours at university. But he was very shy and stammered. He could have pulled any girl and, indeed, many had fallen for him, but his shyness held him back, for whenever he met a young woman he became tongue-tied and blushed violently.

He’d been working at Crag Castle only a few months, overseeing the move from Albert Park, and was completely wrapped up in his work, staying after hours cataloguing and recording till well into the night. As the mummy was the only Egyptian object in the museum, he’d been drawn to it at once, trying to decipher the faded hieroglyphics painted on the frail coverings and establish the exact identity and history of the mummy inside.

Then it happened! He was working on the mummy late one night when the ghost appeared. Just as his finger traced the faded name on the wrappings, a woman’s voice behind him pronounced it aloud: “Aneferti,” she said.

Startled, he spun round. “W…w…who are you?” he stammered.

“Aneferti,” she repeated in a voice as warm as the desert air and as sweet as Solomon’s Song.

He removed his spectacles and wiped them. He’d been working too long and was imagining things, but she remained there before him, young and beautiful. She smiled and said with urgency in her voice, “You’re not seeing things. I’m real. I’ve waited long for you, Moses, almost three thousand years. Yet time is as nothing in eternity.”

He looked closer at the young woman and as their eyes met a strange feeling thrilled through him. From the moment he’d seen the mummy he’d been attracted to it and had wanted to know who the person was inside. Now he knew, and as he gazed his fill of her, the chemistry of love began working between them. Yet he could only gaze. He couldn’t touch or feel.

***

In the days and weeks that followed, she returned again and again each night, telling him her story and how much she loved him. She was the daughter of the Pharaoh who had his palace at Rameses, where the Hebrew child Moses had been taken from the river by one of Aneferti’s older sisters, a princess like herself brought up at Pharaoh’s court, where Moses, too, was raised. As Aneferti grew up, unknown to Moses she fell in love with him, but her love was never returned. She died young in one of the plagues sent down on Egypt by the vengeful god of the Hebrews to force Pharaoh to let them go, and after her death she was mummified.

“But even in death I never forgot Moses,” she said. “My love for him was so great. And now, as I knew I would, I have found him again – you!”

Dr Evans smiled. This was taking it too far. “My d..d..dear Aneferti,” he stammered, “how c..c..can that possible be? My family has no c..c..connection at all with Egypt.”

“No?” she smiled back. “Your mother’s Jewish, isn’t she?”

“Y..y..yes,” said Dr Evans hesitantly.

“Then in your very scientific age, it’s possible there could be a genetic connection right back to my age three thousand years ago,” she said triumphantly

“This is crazy!” he said. “I, a d..d..descendent of Moses!”

“Why not?” she said; and her voice grew warmer. “You’re very like him to look at – tall, dark and very handsome.”

He looked into her alluring eyes which held him, ghost or not. She was indeed very beautiful and by now he’d fallen head over heels in love with her. But what could they do? He was of the flesh; she was of the spirit. It was she who resolved their dilemma.

Dr Evans was to go to Dendera in Egypt to the Temple of Hathor. He was to take with him that part of her mummy’s wrappings which bore her name and leave it at the feet of a statue called Bel. That was all. Other powers at work would do the rest., so Dr Evans carefully removed from the mummy the fragile strip of bandage bearing Aneferti’s name and took it home.

The next week, right out of the blue a visit to Egypt was arranged for him by his director to study on a month’s course in the National museum in Cairo; and he was to liaise closely with an Egyptian research worker while he was there.

When he arrived in Egypt Dr Evans did exactly as Aneferti had directed. He went to Dendera and booked in at a hotel. The next morning at sunrise, before it grew too hot, he drove straight to the Temple of Hathor. There was no one about at that hour, yet he felt a strange presence alongside him all the way through the long avenue of columns lining the great hall of the temple; for each column was crowned by the head of the goddess Hathor staring down at him as he walked along.

Then suddenly he halted. Facing him as he entered the inner courtyard was the ugliest statue he’d seen, that of the god Bal, a bandy-legged dwarf-god who protected people from evil. Standing before it, Dr Evans took the strip of cloth bearing Aneferti’s name from his case and as directed by Aneferti laid it at the feet of Bal, but no sooner did it touch the ground than it disappeared! He looked again, but it had gone and an uncanny atmosphere settled about him; just like that in Albert Park Museum years before.

As he turned to go, a warm, reassuring voice said: “It is accomplished, Moses.” Then silence. He turned but there was no one there, so he walked slowly back the way he’d come, wondering what on earth was going to happen next.

Returning to Cairo he went to keep his appointment at the National Egyptian Museum and meet the research worker he would be working with on the course. A soft-spoken, smiling attendant met him at the reception desk and escorted him to the office he was to share with the research worker. It had been newly furnished and the attendant explained that Dr Ferti was new also. Dr Evans thanked him, as the attendant smiled his mysterious smile again and left.

Dr Evans looked at his watch and wondered how long his new colleague would be, gazing through the window while he waited. He hadn’t to wait long and he turned as the door opened. Then he gasped. Before him smiling with her arms outstretched to greet him, stood Dr Anna Ferti, the beautiful embodiment of Princess Aneferti…

And so, dear reader, I’ll leave it to you to imagine the rest of this ghostly love-story, which ended happily ever after; for after all, if you’ve read this far, your imagination must be able to give an ending to this story as well as any I could manage.

John Waddington-Feather ©

**

(“The Museum Mystery” is a full-length detective novel in the Blake Hartley series, based on the mummy in Cliff Castle Museum, Keighley, and published by Feather books at www.waddysweb.freeuk.com or P.O. Box 438, Shrewsbury SY3 0WN, U.K. at £5.99, $12 US)

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