She knocked and a short, compact man with grey, thinning hair, cloudy blue eyes, and the reddest lips she’d ever seen on a man answered. In a way, he reminded her of Rupert Bear. He wore a red sweater vest over an open-collared white shirt, unfashionable brown plaid cuffed trousers that looked a size too big, and well-worn brown, wing-tipped shoes.
“You must be Esme Crippen.” He gestured for her and Electra to come inside. He closed the door and extended his hand. “Will Davison.”
“I’m Esme,” she said, shaking his hand. “This is my sister, Electra.”
“Electra, a fine literary name,” Davison said as they shook hands.
Esme took a quick scan of the cluttered office, surprised a curator, even of a small museum, hadn’t a secretary.
“You said you’re looking for a drawing lent to us by the National Gallery in 1960. The Black Prince at Crecy, you said.”
“Yes. Does it sound familiar?”
“I was an apprentice here then. I believe I know the work you’re speaking of, an impressively detailed rendering considering the environment. It was done on vellum, we believe for the king, as colored inks were used, including gold, although no gold leaf was applied. We think the work was probably done by one of his priests. Unfortunately it was placed into storage back in the seventies and the facility burned to the ground in 1979.”
The news sucked every ounce of energy from her. She had so much hope. Why didn’t Davison tell her over the phone and save her the trip? The bloody drive took three hours. Bad enough to waste those hours not to mention they’d hit the London rush hour on the return. She’d like to wrap her hands around his scrawny neck and shake the fillings from his teeth.
“Fortunately,” he continued, “We had a copy made prior to the drawing going into storage. “The original was fragile, obviously. The curator and I worried it might deteriorate more if it stayed on display. As the Black Prince was the subject, and is such a big part of Canterbury’s history, we did want to keep a representation exhibited. We had it copied in oil. It hangs in the main room of the museum. Come, I’ll show you.”
He led them to a side door of his office that also served as a door to the rear of the museum proper. This section of the museum displayed artifacts and pictures from the Victorian period up to and including the hard fought air war, the Battle of Britain.
Through another archway to the next room, Davison led them to a painting. The gilded-framed oil was about a meter wide and a half meter high and hung in the center of one wall.
“Remarkable isn’t it?” he said. “It depicts the aftermath of the battle. This is where the young prince raised up so many young men who fought alongside him to knighthood.”
“Oh my God,” Esme whispered. Shocked, she stared unable to take her eyes from the painting. How could this be? Identical down to the wound on the chin. She’d seen the scar on Stephen’s chin up close.
Unlike the larger, more famous sister institutions, the simpler Museum of Canterbury didn’t employ infrared protective alarms that go off when a visitor gets too close to an exhibit.
Davison’s hand on her arm stopped Esme as she stepped forward, fingers inches from the canvas. “No touching allowed, Ms. Crippen,” he warned and removed his hand.
“Sorry,” she said, moving back to drop onto the bench in front of the painting.
“What is it?” Electra asked.
“Are you ill, my dear?” Davison asked.
She shook her head, too numb to speak.
Electra joined her on the bench. “You look like you’re going to faint. You’re white as a ghost.”
“Would you like some water, Miss Crippen?”
Finally, she found her voice. “No. Thank you but I’m fine,” she told Electra and Davison.
Esme turned from the painting to ask, “Is this an exact copy of the original?”
“Yes. The curator at the time was meticulous man and would not approve even the slightest deviation.”
He nodded. “Very.”
She held up her hand to stop Electra’s question. “Thank you, Mr. Davison. This is more than I expected when I asked about the drawing. If it’s all right, I’d like a few minutes more to appreciate the excellent artistry.”
“No worries, Miss Crippen. If you require no more of me, I’m going to return to my office. Take as much time as you like. The museum is open until five.” Davison gave each a polite tip of his head and left.
As soon as he was out of the room, Electra said, “Esme talk to me. There’s something up with you and this painting. I want to know what.”
“The young man kneeling, two over from the prince’s left, the one holding a bloody gauntleted hand under his chin.”
“What about him?”
“He looks just like Stephen.”
From Electra’s sour expression, she found the explanation anticlimactic. “That’s all? Jeez, I thought it was something really big.”
“You don’t understand. He could be Stephen’s double. That’s not all. The man standing behind him I’d swear is Alex Lancaster. A younger version but hand to heart, I think it’s him.”
“I’ve only seen pictures of Alex Lancaster when he’s been in the press. I agree. It does look like him. But it isn’t either Stephen or Alex since those men,” she tipped her chin toward the painting, “lived close to seven hundred years ago. Why are you weirding out?”
Esme ignored the question. Too many of her own occupied her thoughts. How had his face wound up on this medieval man: the narrow too long nose, the strong jaw, the broad forehead, even the shape of his eyes...his injury didn’t change the slight downward tip to the outside corners?
“Hello,” Electra waved her hand in front of Esme’s face.
“Stop it.” She dug her cell phone out. Conscious of how light and shadow might affect the shots, she took pictures of the painting from different angles.
Electra tugged on her arm, pulling the camera away from her face. “He’s not Stephen. Maybe he’s his ancestor, five-hundred times removed, but he’s not Stephen.” She let out a heavy sigh.
Connect with author, Chris Karlsen!
I was born and raised in Chicago. My father was a history professor and my mother was, and is, a voracious reader. I grew up with a love of history and books.
My parents also love traveling, a passion they passed onto me. I wanted to see the places I read about, see the land and monuments from the time periods that fascinated me. I’ve had the good fortune to travel extensively throughout Europe, the Near East, and North Africa.
I am a retired police detective. I spent twenty-five years in law enforcement with two different agencies. My desire to write came in my early teens. After I retired, I decided to pursue that dream. I write two different series. My paranormal romance series is called, Knights in Time. My romantic thriller series is, Dangerous Waters.
I currently live in the Pacific Northwest with my husband, four rescue dogs and a rescue horse.