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A Box of Tittle-Tattle

Tin Box1914. The date, printed on a tin box got our attention. One supposes it could be an error of some sort, the date being one-hundred years in the future, but given the odd goings on at Vauxhall last week and at the Marquess of Dansbury’s estate—blue lights and claims of travel to distant times—your Teatime Tattler staff believes the date is correct. Besides, it purports to hold tobacco from “Princess Mary’s Christmas Fund,” and who, pray tell, is Princess Mary?

What was inside, once we pried it open, however, was not tobacco. A folded sheet of paper, oddly yellowed, lay in it. When unfolded (carefully so as not to damage the brittle pages) the text turned out to be in French. Luckily, the Tattler staff was up to the task of translating.

Amiens, Christmas 1916

Dear Aunt Lumina,
The family sends greetings of the holy season along with our hope that those of you in Marseilles, far from the pounding of the guns, fare well and have plenty to eat.

We eke by here in Picardy, with fighting all around. In spite of it all the Christmas market went on in front of the Cathedral as it has in the past. If the booths held fewer goods, the cheer made up for it. The people of the city hold on to hope and (with a few exceptions) good morale.

Tin Box

Rosemarie Legrand

I regret to tell you that one exception is your niece by marriage Sabine Legrand. Even you must know she has ever been a bitter woman and the war has not softened her. I often thought the Good Lord chose to withhold the blessing of motherhood from her lest she inflict her misery on a child. Her jealousy of her poor sister in law Rosemarie—obvious for years—became a river of bile after the birth of little Marcel.

As you know Raoul Legrand died at the hands of the Germans last year, leaving Rosemarie in poverty and at the mercy of his sister. She was forced to move to her father’s cabin in the Floating Islands. Sabine would have us believe that that Rosemarie collaborated with German soldiers, selling her body for food and money. I could almost forgive a mother desperate to feed her son for doing something of that sort, but I find it difficult to believe Sabine. Bernard says Raoul made similar accusations in the taverns during his last leave. He told anyone who would listen that the German boy found dead among the Islands was Rosemarie’s lover. I don’t know what to believe.

Harry Wheatly, her Canadian soldier

Since the Christmas Market Sabine has taken up a different story. We all saw Rosemarie and Marcel walking about with a Canadian soldier who bought sweet cakes for the boy and his mother. Rosemarie certainly couldn’t afford them herself. Sabine tries to make this something dirty and scandalous. I refuse to listen to her.

The British, Canadian, and Australian troops stationed along the Somme have been kind in our dealings with them. One of them gave my Papa the enclosed box still half full of tobacco after commandeering use of his farm wagon to haul supplies. Papa as you know does not use tobacco. He asked me to send it on to Uncle Herbert.

Pray for us in Picardy, particularly for poor mothers such as Rosemarie Legrand struggling to survive long enough to see this war end. I hope she finds joy with her Canadian soldier, if only to spite Sabine. She deserves a crumb of happiness.

My love to the rest of the family,
Josephine

We at the Tattler hope so too.


 

 

About Never Too Late

Eight authors and eight different takes on four dramatic elements selected by our readers—an older heroine, a wise man, a Bible, and a compromising situation that isn’t. Set in a variety of locations around the world over eight centuries, welcome to the romance of the Bluestocking Belles’ 2017 Holiday and More Anthology.
It’s Never Too Late to find love!

Click here for a list of retailers and to find out about each story.

Click here to climb into the Bluestocking Belle’s Time Machine and hop through time with the Bluestocking Belles.

Caroline Warfield’s contribution, “Roses in Picardy” takes place in 1916

tin box

About the Author

 Caroline Warfield has been many things. Now retired to the urban wilds of Eastern Pennsylvania, she divides her time between writing and seeking adventures with her grandbuddy and the prince among men she married. Her new series sends the children of the heroes of her earlier books to seek their own happiness in the far-flung corners of the British Empire

 

Why Harry Went to War

Ottawa, September 1914

William Wheatly glared at his only son through a haze of smoke. He struggled to keep from covering his nose and mouth, assaulted by the stench of stale beer and unwashed bodies. During the interminable train ride from Calgary to the capital Will envisioned their confrontation, but he never imagined he would find him puking in a third rate tavern. He came to confront failing grades, not drunkenness.

He took two steps forward, rage washing through him. The whelp had no idea the sacrifices it took to send him to university. The whole family did without, made do, and reused just to pin their hopes on Harry, a slacker who obviously had more hair than sense.

“What the Hell do you think you are doing?” He roared at his son. The boy lifted his head, gave a wobbly smile and planted his face on the filthy table.

“Mr. Wheatly! Harry wasn’t expecting you.”

Will shot a furious glance at the speaker, a boy he vaguely remembered from Harry’s visit home the previous summer. “Obviously not,” he ground out through clenched teeth. “I can see why he’s failing at least.”

WWIThe boy—he thought his name was Brodie, but couldn’t remember clearly—sat up straight. “No sir! Harry is no drunkerd. At least it isn’t—I mean…”

“What exactly do you mean, Mr.—Brodie, is it?”

“Yes sir, Angus Brodie. Harry’s ever a good fellow. Don’t drink—well beyond the occasional pint, it’s just Miss Albright, you see.”

“Albright? Who the Hell is she?”

Brodie registered shock. “Everyone knows Elsbeth Albright!”

wwi“The chit in the papers? The one that is marrying the Governor General’s nephew? What does she have to do with my son?” Will demanded.

“Led him on. Harry thought—he may be a damned fool, but she flirted with him all winter and he believed—that is…”

A kind of peace came over Will. Better a fool over a woman than over a bottle of rum, he thought. Harry isn’t the first boy whose first love broke his heart. “Well, that’s over then,” he murmured.

‘Yes, Sir, though between us, I don’t think it ever really started except in Harry’s mind.

Will nodded. “Help me get him out of here Brodie, there’s a good man.”

“To his rooms, then?”

Will thought about that. If they took him to his rooms he’d have to leave him there. “No,” he said at last. “To the Chateau Laurier.”

Brodie’s eyes widened at that but he didn’t argue. He pulled Harry up with remarkable gentleness and put an arm around his shoulders.

###

wwiHarry awoke with a sick stomach and a head full of carpenters pounding hammers in his brain. Why did I wake at all? He wondered. A voice, calling his name, sounded far away. It was a man’s voice, not Elsbeth’s. At the thought of her he squeezed his eyes shut. He didn’t want to wake up ever again.

“Harry, damn it, wake up! It’s almost noon.”

There it was again. He opened one eye and then the other on the last sight he hoped to see. His father scowled down at him.

An hour, a bath, and two cups of coffee later he stared back at his father in sullen silence, He had stopped listening to the lecture an hour before.

“Don’t be a damned fool. A woman like that never planned to take you seriously. She used you to practice her games and snares.”

Harry surged to his feet. “You don’t know her,” he shouted. “It wasn’t her. It was that damned father of hers. Wants to cozy up to the Governor General. Thinks the rest of us are dirt under his feet. Elsbeth isn’t like him.” Harry wished he believed it a bit more strongly. He very much feared his father may be right.

“We didn’t send you here to chase women. How are you going to get into law school?”

“I don’t want to be lawyer!” Harry snapped.

“What do you plan to do with yourself? Be the best educated farmer in Saskatchewan?”
“I want to be a writer. You don’t need university for that. Elsbeth said—”
“Don’t mention that woman’s name to me again. Bad enough she’s queening it all over Ottawa.”

Harry turned on his heel.

“Where are you going?” his father demanded when he strode toward the door.

“I don’t know. Anywhere but here.”

###

wwiIt was long past dark when Harry returned, sober, safe, and unsmiling. Relief so strong he couldn’t even be angry flooded Will. Visions of Harry flinging himself into the Rideau locks had haunted him all afternoon.

“Harry, thank God. Where have you been?”

“I enlisted.” Harry raised his chin and glared at his father, daring him to criticize.

Ice froze Will’s heart. Canada had technically been at war since August when Britain entered the war, but little war frenzy had reached Saskatchewan. Here in the capital, however he had seen posters, and newspapers. He’d heard the beligerant language in the hotel lobby. “Enlisted,” he gasped, hoping he had misheard.

“Borden is calling for an expeditionary force to fight the Kaiser. I’m going to do my bit.” The boy’s chin rose a bit higher. “Don’t try to argue me out of it. I signed. There is no going back. We report to Valcartier for training in three weeks.”

Three weeks? Will’s heart sank. “You damned fool. If you’re determined to throw your life away over some chit who never was worth a Yankee dollar, go ahead. But before you go you better go home and say good-bye to your mother and grandmother.”

Harry turned green. “But I—”

“You owe them that much. It isn’t as if you have any university career to resurrect.”

Harry opened his mouth to object and closed it. His eyes held a world of sadness that cut his father to the quick. He nodded then. “I’ll go. But you can’t stop me. I’m going to fight.”

wwi

About the Book

Never Too Late: Eight authors and eight different takes on four dramatic elements selected by our readers—an older heroine, a wise man, a Bible, and a compromising situation that isn’t.

Set in a variety of locations around the world over eight centuries, welcome to the romance of the Bluestocking Belles’ 2017 Holiday Anthology. It’s never too late for love!

Links to Various Retailers

About Roses in Picardy by Caroline Warfield

After two years at the mercy of the Canadian Expeditionary force and the German war machine, Harry is out of metaphors for death, synonyms for brown, and images of darkness. When he encounters color among the floating islands of Amiens and life in the form a widow and her little son, hope ensnares him.

Rosemarie Legrand’s husband left her a tiny son, no money, and a savaged reputation when he died. She struggles to simply feed the boy and has little to offer a lonely soldier.

wwi

 

Scandal in Venice

VeniceThis house is not a brothel.  I Signora Rossi conduct a respectable boarding house—respectable! All Venice knows. And I tell you true. Those English aristos, they bring disgrace on my business. One would expect an earl and his sister to bring renown to an establishment like mine. Instead the Earl of Ambler and that disgraceful sister of his bring me ruin.

When they arrive, I already suspect. His so-called sister comes with no maid, no older lady to, what you call, chaperone. What kind of “lady,” travels with men and no older woman? The clink of their coin sounded more real than their story; I swallowed my misgivings. Perhaps a respectable older woman, delayed along the road, did follow. So far I see no sign of her. The earl, he looks younger so perhaps he really is her brother. She calls herself Lady Charlotte Tyree.

The earl comes in drunk, loud— very late the first night, shouting that he met that English poet Byron, another aristo. A very bad set, that. Me, I try to warn the woman, but the earl? Like most men, he don’t listen. If he visits Venice to study our architecture or take in Tinteretto, I see no sign of it. The few days he doesn’t sleep all day he runs off with that poet to Lazaretto and the Armenians. Only the girl spends time in our many lovely churches. She does the sketching and the studying. Perhaps he plans to pass her work off as his—idiota.

The girl behaves well enough. I began to think her respectable and pity her the company of her spoiled brother. Last week everything changes. Due pescatori still in their fishing clothes and drunk as lords, drop the earl at my door smelling of fish and rotten water. The boy tried to swim Il Canal Grande like his idol, an even bigger fool. He spews canal water—and worse—on my floors. 

VeniceNow scandal in my house. I not bargain for scandal. The medico—the one with the horrid children and nasty mother—he arrives. I stand at my door and before I can blink he comes down my stairs carrying that girl over his shoulder. He dumps her in his ancient gondola and leaves his helper upstairs with the earl. No coin. Not one word to me.

Santa madre di Dio! What is a widow to do?

About the Book: Lady Charlotte’s Christmas Vigil

It’s 1818 and Byron is in Venice. When Lady Charlotte Tyree’s feckless brother attempts to mimic his idol and swim the Grand Canal, putrid fever lays him flat and strands her there. Venice, Christmas, a handsome Italian doctor… her life is about to take an interesting turn.

Pre-order from Amazon or Epub from Smashwords

About the Author

Caroline Warfield, a Bluestocking Belle and regular contributor to The Teatime Tattler, writes historical romance. In addition to her holiday novellas, she writes novels set in the Regency and immediate post-Regency eras.  In her newest series, Children of Empire, three cousins driven apart by lies and deceit, find their way home from the farthest corners of the British Empire—and find love along the way.

Find out more here.

Whispers in a Corner of Cairo

The dining room of the Hotel des Anglais in Cairo hummed with conversation and bustled with activity. Waiters in white saw to every comfort. Gentlemen in formal dress surveyed the diners from their perch near the door, ready to step in if needed. Della Faulkner thought that they well should. A baronet’s granddaughter, she had fine sense of what was due her sort.

Cairo

The Dining Room, Hotel des Anglais, Cairo (later Shepheard’s Hotel)

She huddled at a table in the far corner with two other ladies in perfectly proper English dress, and perfectly proper English bonnets, their faces bright with a sheen brought on by Egypt’s oppressive heat. They lingered over after-dinner cordials, their husbands having departed in search of something more fortifying. After a voyage on the new mail steamer and a harrowing trip across the desert from Suez, they were in great need of civilized comforts.

“Tell me exactly what you heard Mr. Badawi say,” Della demanded for the second time. As the eldest and, in her opinion, highest ranking of their number, she assumed the right to demand. Frustration that she had missed a confrontation between the Egyptian manager for the Nile and Oriental Company, their local contact, with a scandalous fellow passenger gave her voice more force than normal.

Alice Fuller, the nervous woman next to her, jumped at the sound. A tiny woman, she blinked several times while she babbled, “He said, ‘if you are not married.’ I heard that distinctly, didn’t you Bertha? ‘If’ he said.”

Cairo

The Lobby, Hotel des Anglais, Cairo (later Shepheard’s Hotel)

The third woman, a sour-faced matron of indeterminable years glowered at Alice and sighed deeply. “We weren’t eavesdropping, mind, but when we saw Captain Wheatly conversing with Mr. Badawi in the lobby, we feared yet more difficulties and moved closer. This entire journey has been a nightmare. I so regret letting Albert talk me into the overland route.”

Della brushed that aside. “Yes, yes, but what did you hear?”

“He all but accused Wheatly of lying to him, but I did not hear the proof.”

“Tell me ladies, did the couple act as if they were married when aboard ship?” The speaker, the lone man in their company, leaned forward. Della detected an unattractive eagerness behind his air of unconcern. Egbert Weaver appeared encroaching to her, though the others professed to find his quiet manner charming. Quiet he may be, but the man didn’t miss much that went on, always hovering nearby listening.

“Well, the way they carried on on deck, they should be married,” Alice giggled. “Remember Bertha? Right there in front of us?”

Della sniffed. “No better than she ought to be if you ask me, latching on to an officer and pretending to care for those children of his.” She shuddered.

“Is there something odd about his children?” Weaver asked, his face a mask of sympathy.

Alice leaned toward him to whisper, “They are dark. Indian, no doubt. His but not hers—you know…” She raised her eyebrows.

“Oh say the word, Alice! Bastards, Mr. Weaver. I would bet my bonnet on it,” Della proclaimed. “And if he isn’t married to the woman traveling with them—well!”

“We don’t know that, Della. He told me he was widowed. As to his current companion, they had two cabins, as I recall,” Bertha pointed out.

cairo steamship

Della rolled her eyes. “You are too softhearted, Bertha. None of that means squat and you know it. Who slept in which bed and why, I should like to know,” she hissed under her breath.
“Are you saying they are married, but slept apart,” Weaver began, “Or—”

“Look!” Alice said bouncing in her seat and wagging her head toward the door. All eyes followed her direction. The subject of their little talk, Captain Frederick Wheatly, led his “wife,” Clare into the dinning room. Two dark-skinned girls followed, gazing around at the room and the diners.

“Who is that young man who stood up to greet them?” Alice whispered, when the boy seated the two little girls as if they were grand ladies.

“I don’t know, but the fool acts like they belong here.”

All four pairs of eyes watched the tableau on the far side of the room, as if trying to ferret out the truth. Moments later, an older man with the air of great consequence entered accompanied by an outburst of excessive bowing and fussing on the part of staff. He stood well over six feet tall, his white-blond hair reflecting candlelight. He walked directly to the Wheatlys’ table, and the diners rose to greet him.

Della gasped.

“What is it?” Bertha asked anxiously.

“Not what. Who. Wheatly just introduced that woman to the Duke of Sudbury. I believe that young man dining with them is his nephew, Richard Mallet.”

Alice covered her mouth with her serviette, eyes wide, unable to speak. Bertha, too, stared back at the group. Before their fascinated eyes, the duke smiled at the children, spoke briefly with Wheatly and his companion, and left, taking the captain with him.

“Well!” Della declared. “I should like to hear that conversation.” She turned her attention back to her companions only to sigh with an irritation she didn’t attempt to disguise. “Mr. Weaver, what are you scribbling?” The little man bent over a small notebook writing rapidly.

“Merely taking a few notes, ladies,” he said ,snapping the notebook shut and rising to his feet. “If you will excuse me, I think I’ll have a chat with Badawi before I turn in to catch up on my correspondence.”

“Correspondence with whom, Mr. Weaver?” Della demanded.

A slow smile lit his face. “Why, with my friend Mr. Clemens, editor of The Teatime Tattler. He will love what I have to share.” With a tip of his hat, he left them.

cairo empire reluctant About the Book

The Reluctant Wife:  Children of Empire, Book 2

When all else fails, love succeeds…

Captain Fred Wheatly’s comfortable life on the fringes of Bengal comes crashing down around him when his mistress dies, leaving him with two children he never expected to have to raise. When he chooses justice over army regulations, he’s forced to resign his position, leaving him with no way to support his unexpected family. He’s already had enough failures in his life. The last thing he needs is an attractive, interfering woman bedeviling his steps, reminding him of his duties.

All widowed Clare Armbruster needs is her brother’s signature on a legal document to be free of her past. After a failed marriage, and still mourning the loss of a child, she’s had it up to her ears with the assumptions she doesn’t know how to take care of herself, that what she needs is a husband. She certainly doesn’t need a great lout of a captain who can’t figure out what to do with his daughters. If only the frightened little girls didn’t need her help so badly.

Clare has made mistakes in the past. Can she trust Fred now? Can she trust herself? Captain Wheatly isn’t ashamed of his aristocratic heritage, but he doesn’t need his family and they’ve certainly never needed him. But with no more military career and two half-caste daughters to support, Fred must turn once more—as a failure—to the family he let down so often in the past. Can two hearts rise above past failures to forge a future together?

Find it here: https://www.amazon.com/Reluctant-Wife-Children-Empire-Book-ebook/dp/B06XYRRR1R/

Children of Empire: Three cousins, torn apart by lies and deceit and driven to the far reaches of the empire, struggle to find their way home. The first book is The Renegade Wife

About Caroline Warfield

Traveler, poet, librarian, technology manager—Caroline Warfield has been many things, but above all she is a romantic. Having retired to the urban wilds of eastern Pennsylvania, she reckons she is on at least her third act, happily working in an office surrounded by windows while she lets her characters lead her to adventures in England and the far-flung corners of the British Empire. She nudges them to explore the riskiest territory of all, the human heart.

Caroline is of course, a Bluestocking Belles. In addition to  The Teatime Tattler, she regularly writes for  History Imagined.

Website http://www.carolinewarfield.com/

Amazon Author http://www.amazon.com/Caroline-Warfield/e/B00N9PZZZS/

Good Reads http://bit.ly/1C5blTm

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/carolinewarfield7

Twitter @CaroWarfield

Email warfieldcaro@gmail.com

 

 

Whispers From Calcutta

A Missive from Calcutta, seat of the Bengal Presidency

The Colonel's Wife CalcuttaMost of England’s fine young men, who labor far from home and are faced daily with coarseness and Foreign Influence on all sides, hunger for the refinement and civility of Proper Company. Know that the Respectable Ladies of Calcutta take it as our Sacred Duty to be exemplars of Culture in this outpost. We take our role with the utmost seriousness.

Unfortunately those who lack beneficial influences sometimes succumb to the specious charms of Hindustan and stray from right behavior. We bring one such incident to your attention lest you think we fail in our Christian Duty.

calcutta

Girl by S Elayaraja

While, as we said, most True Gentlemen welcome the tender hand of English Womanhood, the occasional clerk—even the rare officer—strays from right behavior in this heathenish climate. We have been disheartened lately over the behavior of a certain Captain who parades his mixed-blood by-blows across Calcutta and attempts to impose them on some of the Better Schools. Those fine institutions are not deceived and have shut their doors to the two imps of Satan whose behavior is reported to be forward and pushing, with little apprehension of Conduct Expected of their Proper Place.

Clare Armbruster CalcuttaUnfortunately a Certain Woman hinders our efforts to ensure that we protect the Children of Respectable English Families from such influences. Miss Clare Armbruster thrust herself into our company upon the recommendation of her brother, a fine major of my husband’s regiment. The brother, being sadly misled regarding his sister’s character, although wise in the ways of the world, commended her to my Influence. The Impulsive and Obdurate young woman resisted wisdom at every turn.

Fred Wheatly CalcuttaOne puzzled where she might fit in our company—certainly not a Senior in Precedence and yet, owing to the rank of her brother, not to be consigned to the Lower Rungs with the wives of subalterns. Still we accepted her into our society, and yet she refused to be led. She stubbornly evaded all efforts to introduce her to the right sort of unmarried officer and was seen consorting with the very captain who brazenly flaunted his base-born children among us.

We provided a companion, a meek and Respectable Widow, to accompany Miss Armbruster home to England in the hopes that removal from this heathenish clime would curb her tendencies, but word has reached us that she evaded the woman who sailed without her. Miss Armbruster has in fact set herself up to care for the Captain’s bastards (forgive my coarse language, but there truly is no other word for this Regrettable Condition) even as Captain Wheatly himself stands before a disciplinary hearing for Gross Negligence and Violation of Duty.

We wash our hands of the woman, Gentle Readers. I write to assure you that the Respectable Ladies of Calcutta did our best in this matter should word of it reach London. As wife of the regimental colonel I speak for the senior wives of the Bengal Army officer corps. Standards will be upheld even in this outpost.

Mrs. Walton Davis
______________________________________________

About the Book

When all else fails, love succeeds…

Captain Fred Wheatly’s comfortable life on the fringes of Bengal comes crashing down around him when his mistress dies, leaving him with two children he never expected to have to raise. When he chooses justice over army regulations, he’s forced to resign his position, leaving him with no way to support his unexpected family. He’s already had enough failures in his life. The last thing he needs is an attractive, interfering woman bedeviling his steps, reminding him of his duties.

All widowed Clare Armbruster needs is her brother’s signature on a legal document to be free of her past. After a failed marriage, and still mourning the loss of a child, she’s had it up to her ears with the assumptions she doesn’t know how to take care of herself, that what she needs is a husband. She certainly doesn’t need a great lout of a captain who can’t figure out what to do with his daughters. If only the frightened little girls didn’t need her help so badly.

Clare has made mistakes in the past. Can she trust Fred now? Can she trust herself? Captain Wheatly isn’t ashamed of his aristocratic heritage, but he doesn’t need his family and they’ve certainly never needed him. But with no more military career and two half-caste daughters to support, Fred must turn once more—as a failure—to the family he let down so often in the past. Can two hearts rise above past failures to forge a future together?

Find it on Amazon

Giveaway

To celebrate the release of The Reluctant Wife, Caroline will give a kindle copy to one randomly selectedperson who leaves a comment.

The prequel to this book, A Dangerous Nativity, is always **FREE**. You can get a copy here: http://www.carolinewarfield.com/bookshelf/a-dangerous-nativity-1815/

Excerpt

“Steamer? Here?”

The shipping agent nodded. “Why not? It’s the coming thing. It cuts the trip from six months to two if conditions are right.”

“Two months! But Suez? What happens then?” Clare’s mind spun with images. Shortening time shipboard with two girls had obvious appeal.

“In Suez, the company arranges with a local pasha for overland travel to Cairo. From there, travel down the Nile and to Alexandria via the Mahmoudiyah Canal,” he said, watching her reactions.

“And from Alexandria to England,” Clare said. The agent nodded. “Another steamer?” At his nod, she remembered something else. “You did say ‘mail service,’ did you not?”

“Indeed. Steamship companies start with government backing for the mail but rarely make a profit at it. The Pharaoh is designed with 120 passenger cabins, all first class.” He leaned forward. “The thing is, Miss Armbruster, while a few people are eager to try the next new thing, others are more reluctant. It leaves in ten days and isn’t full. I can get you a cabin—or two if you prefer—for half price.”

He had her attention. Ten days! What if Fred isn’t back on time? And they will want a deposit. She weighed the time saved against keeping Meghal from falling prey to Nile crocodiles.

“As tempting as your offer is, I fear we need to secure a berth on The Madras Queen. I can only put one pound on deposit now, but when the, ah, girls’ father returns, I’ll manage the full amount.”

A subtle shift in posture and expression were the only clues that he found her answer troubling. She suspected his sudden reluctance had nothing to do with money.

“Mr. Wheatly, the girls’ father, wishes me to convey them to family in London. His connections are highly respectable, I assure you.”

He took her money. A wrinkled brow marred his effort to smile, but when he spoke she heard compassion and understanding in his tone. “The Madras Queen is your best choice. A woman traveling alone with children might not find the overland route suitable.”

That settled, she led the girls back to their temporary home, stopping only to lunch on naan with a delightful paste of chickpea and curry. She would miss the spices of India. She would miss many things.

Meghal continued to speculate about steamships and elephants all the way back and up the stairs.

“If not an elephant, then why not a camel? I would so like to ride a camel,” she declared, rounding the top of the stairs and approaching their door. It opened before Clare could touch it.

She stopped breathing for a moment at the sight of him—one hand on the door handle, the other holding a satchel—smiling through a coating of road dust.

“What’s this about a camel?” he demanded. “Who plans to travel by camel?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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