Sneak Peek Saturday! Scamp and the Legend of Laguna Verde! The Temple of Viracocha!
Miss Hortense directed Aunt Couns and Miss Frost to their dressing rooms. Standing Ellis on the alterations block, Miss Hortense leaned close and whispered eagerly, “So, what are you searchin’ for this time?”
“I don’t know,” Ellis whispered back.
“Oh, dear, you know you can trust me! I’ve never given away any of your secrets!” Miss Hortense quietly protested.
“I know that! I could trust you with my life, Miss Hortense. Dad’s just been so tight-lipped about this trip! And now he’s gotten me a bodyguard! I’ve been racking my brain wondering. I mean what could we be searching for that’s so dangerous that Dad thinks I need a bodyguard?” Ellis breathed.
“Well, it is South America. There’s a lot of wild, undeveloped territory there. Not to mention the jungles and the Andes!” Miss Hortense pondered. “Your lovely mum, God rest her soul, was always captivated by South America.”
“I know I was born there,” said Ellis.
“I remember your mum telling me!” Miss Hortense whispered excitedly. “She was in the Temple of Viracocha, the god of sea and sky.”
Ellis felt her eyes blur as a violent shiver shot down her spine!
“Are you all right, dear? You’re not taking a cold, are ya?”
“No, Miss Hortense, please go on,” Ellis managed between deep breaths to clear her head.
“Anyway, your mum told me she and your dad had just discovered the altar room and entered it. She said she was so excited that it threw her into an early labor and that within minutes you were born. Your father had wrapped you up in his camp shirt. And when she got to hold you and look at you, your dad took a photograph. Your mum said his flash powder sent a great flourish of light around the chamber. Apparently, it terrified the local guides outside, and they ran away.” Miss Hortense laughed. “Oh, she was so proud of you! She said you were a born adventurer!”
Drawing a steadying breath to clear her head, Ellis digested that information. I wonder . . .
“Miss Hortense, will you tell me how my mother died?” whispered Ellis. “Dad clams up, and Aunt Couns and Uncle Allan are quiet too. I only know it was an accident in front of this store.”
Miss Hortense shifted uncomfortably. “I don’t know, Ellis, that might not be my place, love,” she said in a low, worried voice.
“But you were here, and you know the truth. I just want to know the truth.” Ellis pleaded quietly.
Miss Hortense studied Ellis for a long moment. She sighed deeply.
“You were just a wee thing, not even a year old. Your lovely mum pushed your pram in here to show you off to me. She’d just come from the jewelry store down the street. She’d placed that locket you’re wearing now around your neck. Said she’d had your initials engraved on it, said it was an heirloom handed down through her generations.”
Ellis’s slim fingers flew to the locket on her chest.
“Grace was all smiles as she handed your bonny baby self to me. ‘Hortense,’ she beamed softly, ‘Meet Ellis, my pearl!’ Ah, you was bonny, all right, with those emerald eyes and that shock of red hair. We had a glorious time making over you, even Mr. Abercrombie took a turn holding you! I’ll never forget it. I had you bouncing on me knee when I asked your mum if you’d grow up to be an archaeologist too. But—” Miss Hortense stopped abruptly.
“Don’t stop! But what?”
Miss Hortense searched Ellis’s eyes and said, “Well, she got a kind o’ queer look on her face. It was a look of pride and joy and sadness all wrapped up in one, and she grew real serious like when she answered. She said, “Hortense, Ellis will live an extraordinary life. She’s special—more special than anyone in the world realizes.”
Ellis felt a warmth flow through her. Her body tingled as though a thousand butterflies had landed on her. The back of her eyes burned, and an uncomfortable knot formed at the base of her throat. “Go on,” she croaked.
“Well, we bundled you back up in the pram, and I walked with your mum to the storefront where we said our goodbyes. I’d just come back inside when I heard the sound, a terrible roaring sound. I looked just in time—just in time to see—it was awful!” Miss Hortense whispered fiercely. Her eyes got teary.
“Oh, but I can’t tell ya,” she faltered.
“Please . . . I need to know. The truth is better than all the hundreds of things I’ve come up with in my head.”
Miss Hortense nodded and drew a sturdy breath. “An automobile jumped the curb at a roaring speed. It was racing at your pram. Your mum, God bless her, threw herself in front of your carriage. There was a loud screech and a great flash o’ green light. When I could see, there lay your poor mum dead on the sidewalk. You should have been dead, too, but your pram sat untouched, ner’ a scratch on it. I still don’t know how you survived. It was a miracle.”