My dear Mr. Clemens,
Our Rambles have taken us to Cairo where we have found refuge in Shepheard’s Hotel des Anglais, a tolerable semblance of a civilized hostelry in this exotic outpost. The drinks in the private dining room and outdoor veranda are at least satisfying to the palate and a blessing after heat and sand threaten to choke one.
I digress. As I have throughout our travels, I notice here a tendency of otherwise well-bred English travelers here to throw off the ornaments of their breeding and behave in ways that would shock their peers in London. I am pleased to report that observation does not apply to that illustrious personage, the Duke of Sudbury, ambassador to the Sultan’s viceroy here. When I observe him arriving and departing Shepheard’s he is always perfectly groomed as befitting and English gentleman.
The duke does strike one as high in the instep, and has haughtily rebuffed attempts to approach him on numerous occasions—but again I digress.
I have been quite amazed at the number of travelers taking advantage of Waghorn’s Overland Mail to travel from India via Suez. They cross to Cairo via caravan and sail the Nile to embark from Alexandria via steamer. All and sundry pause here at Shepheard’s for a restorative rest. All are generally respectably turned out if dusty from sand and in need of ablutions.
Imagine my horror this morning when three of Wagner’s latest arrivals sauntered into the hotel not only in native dress, but filthy. The greater shock, Mr. Clemens, came with recognition. The duke’s own nephew, Richard Mallet was among them. Though dressed in Arabic garb, and bearing a complexion brown as a native from sun damage, it was he. Piercing blue eyes glared at me from a face so browned by the sun as to look native. I suspected his identity then. When he pulled off his horrid headdress, the blond hair, combined with his great height gave him away. He and his companions, one of them a native woman, were swiftly escorted to the duke’s suite in the exclusive upper floor.
Imagine my relief later. My loyal maid has a gift for befriending local servants, one that has proved valuable at every stop for gathering information. She tells me that the sister of one of the hotel’s under cooks works in the home of Doctor Charles Cloutier, the famous French medical director to the viceroy. She recognized Mallet’s companion as Ana Cloutier, the man’s daughter, and not some native hussy at all.
My relief was short-lived after some thought. Why would a respectable woman, even a French one, wear native dress and come to a hotel of this class looking like she had been dragged through the desert for weeks without bathing? Her feet, bare, but for some sort of native shoe, were visible to any man who cared to ogle her ankles.
How, I wondered, could the Duke of Sudbury abide having such a creature inflicted on his suite? He must be devistated by his nephew’s disgraceful behavior.
Your devoted correspondent,
Eunice Higgenbloom of Sussex
PS—We have since discovered more peculiar information. My maid’s acquaintance has since discovered that the lady in question cannot possibly be Miss Cloutier for that poor lady is most certainly dead. The reports of her demise come from impeccable sources.
About the Book
Richard Mallet comes to Egypt with dreams of academic glory. He will be the one to unravel the secrets of the ancient Kushite language. Armed with license to dig, he sets out for Meroë, where the Blue Nile meets the White. He has no room in his life for dalliance or entanglements, and he certainly doesn’t expect to face insurrection and unrest.
Analiese Cloutier seeks no glory—only the eradication of disease among the Egyptian women and children of Khartoum. She has no interest whatsoever in romantic nonsense and will not allow notions about a lady’s proper role to interfere with her work. She doesn’t expect to have that work manipulated for political purposes.
Neither expects to be enchanted by the amorous power of moonlight in the ruins of Karnak, or to be forced to marry before they can escape revolution. Will their flight north take them safely to Cairo? If it does, can they build something real out of their shattered dreams?