Secret War 1930
Pearl June Stanhope
Adventurer, researcher, archaeologist, martial artist and detective.
Repair: D6 (-2 without appropriate tools)
Knowledge (photography): D4
Knowledge (Chinese language): D8
Knowledge (Occult): D8
Knowledge (botany): D4
Knowledge (archaeology): D4
Chinese straight sword
Weapons repair kit
Leather jacket – torso, arms, legs +1
Chinese straight sword (longsword): damage Str+D8, weight 8
Total weight: 23
Weight limit: 30
Encumbrance penalty: 0
Minor: Phobia (enclosed spaces, earthquakes)
Martial artist (never unarmed, add +D4 to strength roll)
Name: Pearl June Stanhope
Date of birth: June 18th 1904
Siblings: Aurelia, born 1892
Pearl was born to Walter and Maria (née Canning) Stanhope in the parish of Littlebury outside Stratford on Avon in 1904, the younger of two daughters. Her mother was the last remaining descendant of a once-illustrious family that fell on hard times during the 19th century, and inherited their ancestral seat, Grampton Hall, where Pearl was raised, along with a small quantity of land which provided enough income to maintain the hall – just about. Her father, who is somewhat older than Maria, was a cleric with a small independent income, most of which went towards the studies in science and history that consumed much of his time; consequently his parish duties were performed somewhat haphazardly. Maria was a botanist and illustrator of botanical texts, and was also keen on photography (when the family could afford the equipment).
Pearl was raised among piles of books and half-finished manuscripts in Grampton Hall, many of whose rooms were unused by the family and were full of the mysterious clutter of previous generations. Her much-older sister Aurelia married young and moved to America with her husband while Pearl was still a small child. Experiments with sending Pearl to boarding school ended in failure; her inquisitive nature put her at odds with traditional teaching methods, as well as her teachers, and escaping posed very little challenge. After running away from two different schools, the rest of her childhood was spent primarily in the company of her eccentric parents, who educated her in their respective fields of expertise. She also learned a smattering of auto maintenance from the family’s gardener-cum-handyman Peter Bull.
In 1922, Pearl was accepted into the ladies-only Girton College at Cambridge University, to read Chinese languages and history. In the summer of 1924, she travelled to Peking to study in the imperial libraries of the Forbidden City, discovering references to a previously unexcavated tomb in the Shaanxi province. On returning to Cambridge, her research was initially hailed as ground-breaking, but it quickly became clear that Professor Emmanuel Goddard, her former tutor and a leading researcher in the field, was determined to discredit or suppress her discovery at any cost. Attempting to publish her research despite Goddard’s opposition, Pearl discovered the existence of a shadowy network of individuals disguised as a Cambridge secret society, working against her, and calling itself The Fellowship of the Seven Scrolls. After ignoring a variety of threats, and one attempted hit-and-run, Pearl discovered her rooms had been ransacked and her notes stolen. Deciding to try a different tack, she left Cambridge without obtaining her diploma, cashed in an inheritance from a great-uncle, and sailed for Peking to try and prove her theories.
Encountering the renegade Sinologist William Browne, Pearl persuaded him to mount an archaeological dig on the site she had identified in the Wei River Valley, near the Qin mountains of central China. The location of this tomb, which belonged to an enormously powerful and famously cruel Qin dynasty warlord, had been presumed lost, but Pearl had managed to pinpoint its location by triangulating details from some previously-forgotten manuscripts. The team initially had some success, unearthing a number of fabulous and arcane sculptures in the exterior portions of the tomb, but were struck by bad fortune before managing to excavate the inner chambers. A small earthquake caused a chamber to collapse, killing six of the dig’s staff, and a number of others were struck down by a virulent flu. When bandits attacked the camp and took a number of prisoners, including Browne, Pearl was forced to flee, leaving most of her money and possessions behind, and make her own way back to the city of Xi’an. The Chinese authorities, busy trying to contain a local gang war, were disinclined to pursue the bandits, and Pearl’s own researches proved fruitless, although she made a number of useful contacts at the time. (1925)
For the next several years, Pearl travelled throughout China, pursuing her historical researches where possible and attempting to discover the fate of her companions. Initially it seemed that her bad luck might have been the results of agents of the Seven Scrolls having pursued her to the Far East, but soon it became apparent that Pearl’s problems had a more supernatural cause. Eventually finding herself at a northern Chinese Taoist monastery which housed some of the oldest surviving scrolls on the subject, she was advised by an ancient sage that the tomb of Meng Hua should never have been opened, and that she should consider herself lucky to have escaped with her life. Accepting this judgment, Pearl remained at the monastery to study philosophy and martial arts, and after two peaceful years, believed herself to have escaped the curse that had plagued her travels. On deciding to return to Britain, however (1930), her troubles resurfaced, starting with her pocket being picked and escalating to her accidentally becoming embroiled in a murder case in Shanghai. In this case, she only escaped arrest by having an old friend and tavern-keeper provide her with a false alibi.
Working her way piecemeal across the continent by train, road, and occasionally by camel, Pearl travelled via the north of India and Central Asia to Istanbul and from there across Europe. In Prague, her funds ran out and she was forced to disguise herself as a man and apply for the only work she could find, as an apprentice mechanic, where the skills she had learned as a child came in useful. Becoming good friends with her employer Miklos and his wife, she did not resume her journey for nearly a year, until an urgent letter arrived from home requesting her return. Presenting her with a leaving gift, her employer informed her that they had known all along she was female, but had not wanted to upset her by letting on. Travelling by train and steamer, Pearl took less than three weeks to make her return to England, and arrived back to Littlebury to discover the still-smoking remains of Grampton Hall, which had burned down in mysterious circumstances only a short time before.
In hot pursuit of her parents, who had fled to their daughter Aurelia’s family in New England, Pearl boarded a Cunard liner at Southampton. However, during the stormy and eventful crossing, she reconsidered her decision to rejoin her family. Disembarking at New York, she decided instead that she would find some respectable independent work to support herself while she redoubled her efforts to lift the curse that had dogged her since the Shaanxi excavation. Sitting in an all-night diner with a coffee, a doughnut and a newspaper, she circled a classified ad for secretarial work with a small but respectable firm, and decided to start there.
Pearl has a phobia of earthquakes and enclosed spaces, since 1926, and an obsessive need to investigate things she doesn’t understand. She was born into the Church of England but now considers herself more of a Taoist. In her spare time, when she has any, Pearl practices her martial arts skills and reads Chinese poetry to keep her hand in. She likes an occasional pink gin and trip to the opera, when funds allow (at the moment, they don’t). She keeps her hair fashionably (and practically) short, and is almost never seen without her hat, gloves and umbrella.