It is 1870. When amateur archaeologist Adam Carver and his loyal but obdurate retainer Quint are visited in their lodgings in London's Doughty Street by an attractive young woman, their landlady is not pleased. The visitor's arrival pitches Carver and Quint headlong into an elaborate mystery which comes to center on the existence (or not) of a lost text in Ancient Greek, one that may reveal the whereabouts of the treasure hoard of Philip II of Macedonia. Two deaths soon ensue as master and manservant follow what clues they can grasp in the roughest and most genteel parts of the teeming metropolis, with the whiff of cordite and blackmail never far from their nostrils. The scene shifts to Athens and the wilder fastness of a Greece gripped by political unrest as Carver and Quint join forces with Adam's former Cambridge tutor in an attempt to track down the elusive text. But nothing is quite what it seems, and no one involved is prepared for the final, shocking denouement amidst the extraordinary hilltop monasteries of Meteora.
About the Author
Nick Rennison is a bookseller, author, and editor whose titles include 100 Must-Read Classic Novels, The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes, and the Pocket Essentials Guide to Robin Hood. He is a regular reviewer of historical fiction for BBC History Magazine and the Sunday Times.
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By Nick Rennison
Atlantic Books LtdCopyright © 2013 Nicholas Rennison
All rights reserved.
Crouched over the shallow bath of chemicals in his dark room, Adam Carver watched an image begin to appear on the photographic plate resting in it. Slowly, out of the darkness, the ghostly outlines of buildings in a London street emerged. Walls and tiled roofs, silvery grey on the plate, swam into view through the liquid in the tray. Adam gave a brief sigh of pleasure as the picture took shape. It was interrupted by a sudden irruption of light into the small room as the door was thrown open.
'What is it, Quint? I'm busy. And shut that blasted door. The light will spoil the photograph.'
'Some'un to see you.'
'Who is it?'
'A lady would scarcely call on me here in Doughty Street, Quint. Not alone.'
'Well, maybe she's a lady, maybe she ain't. But she's here. She's in the sitting room.'
Still bent over the photographic equipment, Adam looked over his shoulder. He watched impatiently as Quint closed the door of the dark room, returning it to its usual crepuscular gloom. He heard Quint's footsteps retreating along the passageway. Adam wondered who could possibly be waiting for him in the sitting room. No lady he knew would risk her reputation by visiting a single gentleman in his rooms. And those few women of his acquaintance who were not ladies knew better than to come calling upon him at home. There was but one way to find out, of course. Whoever she was, it was the height of impoliteness to leave her waiting alone.
However, Adam was annoyed to be disturbed. His work had been going so well. In the course of the morning, he had brought three views of London streets from the darkness into the light. If ever he had cause to question what he was doing, a successful session in the dark room was enough to quell his doubts. He was recording the city for posterity, for a future that Londoners in this thirty-third year of Victoria's reign could not imagine. If Macaulay's New Zealander, sitting on the broken arches of Westminster Bridge, were ever truly to gaze out over the ruins of London, then he would have a guide to what had once been. Adam's photographs and those of other pioneers he knew would survive to show the visitor what had been lost. Some friends – Professor Fields for one – had chastised him for deserting archaeology and the classical world for this new pastime of photographing the city's architecture but Adam knew he was, in his own way, still serving the same end. He was assisting the archaeologists of the future. Had the technology existed in the past, what would Fields not give for photographs of Periclean Athens or the Rome of the Caesars?
There was, though, no help for it. He would have to leave his labours and look to learn what this woman wanted. He took the plate from the bath and placed it carefully on the workbench, which ran along one side of the room. He removed the long white frock coat he had taken to wearing to protect his everyday clothing from the chemicals he used, donned the jacket he had been wearing earlier and exited the dark room.
Quint was loitering at the far end of the passageway where the door to the sitting room opened. He pointed a stubby forefinger through the door and mouthed, 'In there,' as if he thought that Adam might have temporarily forgotten where his own sitting room was.
Adam walked through the door with Quint close on his heels. He was both delighted and disconcerted to find that the lady waiting there unchaperoned was a beautiful young woman. A very beautiful young woman. Seated on the only chair in the room that was not covered with old newspapers and magazines, everything about her invited admiring attention. Her auburn hair, which looked unfashionably natural, was long and lustrous and nearly hid the small pillbox hat that was perched in it. Her milky pale complexion clearly owed nothing to powder or cosmetics. Her greenish-blue eyes danced and sparkled with life. Cosmo Jardine, the Pre-Raphaelite painter Adam had known since his schooldays in Shrewsbury, would have had no hesitation in describing her as 'a stunner'.
Faced by her charms, Adam was suddenly conscious of the bachelor disarray in which he lived, of the piles of books strewn around the room and the papers scattered everywhere. He drew his finger through dust that was lying thickly on the table in the centre of the room. To his slight embarrassment, he noticed that his finger was stained with the chemicals he had just been using.
'The place is filthy, Quint. I'm embarrassed that our visitor should see us amidst such squalor.'
Adam bowed slightly towards the woman as he spoke. She acknowledged him with an almost coquettish tilt of her head.
'Well, I ain't got neither the time nor the inclination to be prancing around with a feather duster,' Quint said. 'If you're planning on getting finicky about a bit of dirt, we'd best get a maid.' With that, he turned and walked out of the room.
Adam looked again at the young woman, smiled and shrugged his shoulders. 'Quint,' he said, 'is a temperamental soul. We were both members of an expedition to Macedonia in sixty-seven. We sailed home from Salonika together and he has been with me ever since. I would call him my valet except that, as you see, he has few of the attributes usually associated with a manservant.' Adam smiled again. 'Of course, I have few of the attributes usually associated with a master. So we are well matched.'
'Mr Quint was politesse itself when he showed me to the room, Mr Carver. I can have no complaints on that score.' The woman was perfectly self-possessed and seemed amused rather than upset by the disorder surrounding her. 'And I am not such a dainty housekeeper myself that I am likely to worry over a bit of dust. I have something to discuss with you important enough to make a little domestic disorder seem a trifle in comparison.'
Her English was perfect but Adam noticed that she spoke with just the smallest hint of a foreign accent.
'I am at a loss to know what this business might be, madam.' Adam remained politely puzzled. 'I might wish it were otherwise but I am obliged to confess that I have not had the pleasure of meeting you until now.'
'No, we have not met. But, nonetheless, I know something of you, Mr Carver.'
'Indeed – and what is it that you know? Something that shows me to advantage, I trust?'
'I know that your name is Adam Brunel Carver. That your father was Charles Carver, the railway baron.'
Adam started slightly at the mention of the name. Even now, more than four years after he had watched his father's coffin being lowered into the ground at Kensal Green Cemetery, he disliked reminders of the death. Did the woman, he wondered, know the circumstances in which Charles Carver had departed this world? He doubted it. So few people did. Two of his father's colleagues had made it their business to keep the details from gaining any wider circulation, and burial at Kensal Green would have been impossible had they not succeeded. But it was unlikely this auburn-haired beauty knew anything of that. Indeed, Adam found it difficult to hazard a guess how she knew anything of the Carvers at all. Or why she had arrived at his rooms here in Doughty Street.
'I know that you were obliged to leave Cambridge when your father died,' his visitor continued, 'and that you travelled with Professor Burton Fields in European Turkey. And with Mr Quint, it seems. That you published a book when you returned called Travels in Ancient Macedon which made you quite the literary lion.'
Adam had recovered his poise. He laughed. 'The small celebrity I won when my book appeared has lasted little longer than the money the publisher paid me. If I were ever a lion, I have lost my roar these last few months.'
'There are still many people who admire your book very much.'
'Yourself amongst them, I hope, Miss ...?' Adam left the question mark over his visitor's name hanging in the air, but the attempt to discover her identity was unsuccessful. She simply ignored it.
'Indeed, I admire your book so much, Mr Carver, that I have put my reputation at risk of compromise by coming here to tell you so myself.'
'I can assure you that no one will know of your visit save myself and Quint. Now, I am the soul of discretion and Quint can keep a secret even in his cups. So your reputation is as safe as the gold in the Bank of England.'
'I am grateful for your assurance, sir.' The woman, sitting demurely amidst the chaos, spoke quietly and apparently seriously, but Adam could not help but notice a hint of half-hidden irony in her voice. 'I thought long and hard before I decided to visit you. I know that perhaps I should have left my card first or come with a chaperone. Or acted in almost any way other than that in which I have acted. But I was so determined to see you.'
Adam was sensible of the suggestion of play-acting, even insincerity, in his visitor's manner but it was not every day that a beautiful woman expressed determination to see him. He decided that he was happy enough to ignore any doubts he might have about the reasons for her arrival on his doorstep.
'I am sure that your reasons for acting as you have done are important enough to outweigh any minor transgressions of etiquette, madam.'
'You are right. I do have important reasons for coming. But, before I vouchsafe them to you, I must tell you something of myself.'
Not a moment before time, Adam thought to himself but he said nothing.
'My name is Emily Maitland. I am not a native of London. Indeed, I have not spent time here since I was a small girl. My mother and I have been abroad for many years. We have made our home in a number of places. Constantinople. Athens. Rhodes. For the last three years we have lived in Salonika. A city which, of course, you know.'
'An unusual city in which to make your home, Miss Maitland.'
Adam was surprised. He recalled the harbour at Salonika and the houses rising gradually from the water up the steep slopes to the castle on the summit. He remembered the white walls of the city and the long stone fingers of the minarets pointing heavenwards. From a distance it was a beautiful sight, but it was also an unhealthy spot with a reputation for malaria. Why would a young woman and her mother choose to live there? Salonika, he remembered, had its small English community, mainly merchants and traders, but he could not believe that it included many women living on their own.
'There are reasons for our choice of Salonika,' Emily said, sensing his surprise, although she made no attempt to reveal what they were. 'We travelled to London in the spring of this year. A distant relative of my father had died and we were beneficiaries in his will. We needed to visit the lawyers to make the proper arrangements to receive our legacy.'
The young woman paused and looked up at Adam. He smiled and made a gesture that he hoped would be interpreted as an encouragement to go on.
'However, I need not trouble you with the details of our family affairs,' she continued. Adam found himself very nearly agreeing with his visitor but he bit his tongue. 'I must hurry on to the point in my story when it will become clear why I have called upon you in so unconventional a fashion.'
Miss Maitland moved her hand across the front of her dress, as if brushing from it a fragment of lint she had just noticed.
'When your expedition arrived in Salonika in the summer of sixty- seven, my mother and I had only just become residents of the city ourselves. We were staying in a hotel by the waterfront. We saw you land from the Constantinople steamer. As you disembarked we could see you were English. We decided that —'
Adam was never to know what Miss Maitland and her mother had decided. Her words were interrupted by the most terrific uproar from the direction of the dark room. The sound was as if a shell had exploded in a glass factory. As the noise ceased, Adam and his visitor looked at one another in shocked surprise. He was the first to recover composure.
'If you will excuse me for just a moment, I will endeavour to discover what Quint is doing.' He bowed himself out of the room, leaving the woman sitting amidst the disordered books and papers. 'And why he is making that infernal racket as he is doing it,' he added to himself as he left.
He was gone just long enough to learn that Quint, his amour propre injured by the remarks about dirt and dust, had been cleaning the equipment in the dark room when several of the glass plates had – of their own volition, according to Quint – crashed to the floor. Lingering only briefly to curse his servant for his clumsiness, Adam made haste to return to the sitting room and his guest. 'I must apologise for Quint. A bull in a china ...' His words dried up as he realised he was addressing an empty room. There was no one sitting in the chair. Emily Maitland was gone.CHAPTER 2
The following day found Adam sitting in the Marco Polo Club, listening to Mr Moorhouse talk about whatever subjects flitted briefly through his butterfly mind. The Marco Polo, established in the early 1800s by a group of army officers who had served in India and travelled in the rest of Asia, was not the best-known of London's gentlemen's clubs but it was, its members felt, the most agreeable and, in its own particular way, the most prestigious. Only those who had, at some time in their lives, travelled extensively beyond the comforts of civilisation were allowed membership in the Marco Polo: a little dilettante journeying through France or Italy was insufficient qualification for admission. Adam himself had been hard pressed to convince the membership committee that his travels in the mountains of Macedonia had been dangerous and discomforting enough to allow the doors of the Marco Polo to be opened to him. Only the support of the club's secretary, Baxendale, a man who had spent two winters in the 1850s sharing an igloo with a family of Eskimos in northern Canada and was thus able to speak authoritatively on the subjects of danger and discomfort, provided Adam with an entrée. Baxendale had enjoyed Travels in Ancient Macedon and let it be known that he believed its author would be a worthy addition to the club's membership roll. Within days of the secretary expressing his opinion, Adam was admitted to the Marco Polo. In the thirteen months since his admission, he had grown to love the club and had spent many happy days in its Pall Mall premises.
Mr Moorhouse, Adam's conversational partner on this particular day, was the oldest member of the club. Many decades before, when Lord Byron had set a fashion for discontented young men of fortune to journey abroad in search of experiences unavailable in England, the 25-year-old Mr Moorhouse had set sail for the Middle East. Landing at the ancient port of Sidon, he had travelled on to Damascus and then set off through the wilds of the Syrian desert, accompanied only by a supposedly faithful Arab servant named Ibrahim. Eighty miles into their journey, Ibrahim had handed Mr Moorhouse over to a Bedouin chieftain in return for two camels and a dozen goatskins filled with water. The Bedouin, delighted to gain a young and handsome Frankish servant for so low a price, had immediately set Mr Moorhouse to work on a series of humiliating, indeed disgusting, tasks about his encampment. It had cost the British consul in Damascus three weeks of negotiation and ten more camels to arrange his countryman's release.
By the time he was free and able to sail home, Mr Moorhouse had been cured permanently of any further desire to leave his native land. Now, more than fifty years after his Levantine adventure, he rarely set foot outside London. He sat for hours in the smoking room of the Marco Polo, puffing contentedly on a succession of foul-smelling cigars and indulging in amiably inconsequential conversation with anyone prepared to join him at his table. Adam found him a curiously relaxing companion.
'Clever fellow, that Boucicault,' Mr Moorhouse remarked out of the blue, after several minutes of silence. 'Saw that play of his, After Dark, at the Princess's a couple of seasons ago. Did you see it?'
Adam said he had not had the pleasure.
'Damned great train comes thundering across the stage halfway through it.' Mr Moorhouse made vague, waving motions with his hands to indicate the size of the train. 'Man lying bound to the tracks. Engine getting closer and closer. Train whistle going like billy-o. Terribly exciting. Thought I was going to have conniptions.'
Adam said he was sorry he had missed it.
'Train didn't hit him, though. God knows how. Think I must
have looked away for a second and next thing you know, the man's up and free. Never did work out how the blazes they did it.'
Mr Moorhouse fell silent again, as if he was still struggling to understand the logistical details of the sensational scenes he had seen two years earlier. Adam returned to his own thoughts, many of which circled around the attractive figure of the young woman who had called at Doughty Street the previous day. Who had she really been? Was her name really Emily Maitland? And what had been her purpose in flouting convention so flagrantly by visiting him in his rooms? Although his vanity had been tickled by her claim to be an admirer of his book, he was not sure he believed her. Nor was he sure he believed her interrupted tale of watching the Fields expedition arrive at Salonika's waterfront. The professor, he remembered, had gone out of his way to ensure that they had arrived without fanfare. It was unlikely that she and her mother could have learned their names or that they were English. And why would she knock on his door three years later in order to inform him of the fact that she had seen him in Salonika? It made no sense. He was at a loss to imagine any reason for her visit. And, once she was there, why had she left so suddenly and without a word of explanation? Quint's noisy destruction of the plates in the dark room had been a shock, but surely not sufficient to scare a young woman into flight. Certainly not one who seemed so self-possessed as Miss Maitland. Adam was faced with plenty of questions but few answers. After a minute, his companion broke in upon his thoughts.
Excerpted from Carver's Quest by Nick Rennison. Copyright © 2013 Nicholas Rennison. Excerpted by permission of Atlantic Books Ltd.
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Table of Contents
ContentsPART ONE: LONDON,
PART TWO: ATHENS,
PART THREE: THESSALY AND BEYOND,