BVC Announces The Jaguar Queen of Copal by Brenda W. Clough

The Jaguar Queen of Copal by Brenda W. Clough

The Jaguar Queen of Copal
The Thrilling Victorian Adventures of the Most Dangerous Woman in Europe
Book 3
by Brenda Clough

Walter Hartright returns to Central America to search for the leader of his expedition, and Marian’s husband Theo goes along, which leads to problems when they are kidnapped.


In 1849 Walter Hartright was one of the few survivors of an expedition to British Honduras. Now a letter, pleading for rescue, has arrived from Sir Ambridge Skyllington, the lead explorer. Is it truly he, or is this a fraud? Walter journeys into the jungle to find out, and Theo Camlet goes with him. When they are captured by native partisans Marian Halcombe Camlet sails to the rescue with cases of rifles. But it is 1864, a dangerous time to cross the Atlantic when the Union Navy is on the watch for smugglers.

PRAISE FOR VOLUME 1, MARIAN HALCOMBE:

Just last night finished reading Marian Halcombe: The Thrilling Victorian Adventures of the Most Dangerous Woman in Europe, by Brenda W. Clough, and I had such a good time! The steadfast alliance between Marian, the dangerous woman of the title, and her more decorous sister, Laura, is a delight, as is the growing consternation of the men – hero and villain alike – as they come to realize just exactly what – who! – it is they’re dealing with. The book’s voice is pitch perfect, which adds to the fun. I’m in for the next one. – Sharon Lee, co-author of the Liaden Universe® novels

It’s a sequel to The Woman In White – but it’s so much more than that. This is a bodice-ripping yarn, a Victorian melodrama with a modern sensibility, a delightful romp, a thriller and a romance and a comedy of manners all at once. I adored it. – Chaz Brenchley

Brenda Clough’s invincible and endearing Marian Halcombe Camlet easily enters the company of Jane Marple, Miss Maud Silver, Pamela North, and Prudence Ford as a British female sleuth in the mid-1800s. The Marian novels are an absolute joy to read. – Paul S. Piper

A ripping yarn! Thrilling, lushly Victorian, with a dashing heroine who is not even handsome, yet she bags a delightful husband – not without considerable heroic effort and derring-do – and upholds the finest traditions of pure womanhood! (Well… kinda.) – Jennifer Stevenson

Buy The Jaguar Queen of Copal at BVC Ebookstore

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Book 1

Walter Hartright’s narrative

In early 1863 Theophilus Camlet’s publishing empire was housed in a Janus-faced building that took up the end of a block bounded by Prince’s Street, Lisle Street and Leicester Street in Piccadilly. To the passerby it appeared to be two entirely separate concerns. On the bustling Prince’s Street side a panelled door painted a sober grey conducted the visitor into the reception room of Covenant Pamphlets and Printed Materials, the original business dedicated to improving literature, informative pamphlets, and tracts.

A Quaker-like atmosphere pervaded there, a polished oak floor and gleaming woodwork. The walls above the rail were hung with racks displaying available pamphlets, everything from “The Doctrine of Substitution According to the Church Fathers” to “Sailor Knots: An Introduction (With Diagrams)” to “The Propagation of Begonias and Other Tender Perennials,” this last penned by Camlet himself. Over the fireplace was an etching of the youthful Jesus astounding the elders in the temple, flanked by dour mezzotint portraits of the founders of the two businesses that had amalgamated to form Covenant. The mantelshelf was adorned with their best-seller, John Calvin in ten volumes, bound in brown calf. It was a respectable room, but quiet. Few visitors sat in the plain wooden chairs.

If one pushed through the crowds on Lisle Street to the less elegant Leicester Street side of the building, however, there was another panelled door, exactly similar except that it was painted a glossy blue. The crowded reception room of Sensational Books was twice as large as the Covenant side, and boasted a bright, figured carpet and a horsehair-upholstered suite of furniture. The walls above the wainscoting had never been painted, but this was of no moment, since they were solidly covered with framed book-cover illustrations. Camlet pioneered the application of a printed illustration onto the front cover of the cheaper book editions.

These images could charitably have been described as vivid. In pride of place over the mantel was the cover from the best-selling two-shilling edition of Daisy Darnell: The Most Dangerous Woman in Europe. A Titian-haired stunner wearing a low-cut, arsenic-green evening gown of the most extreme fashion gripped a gold-mounted air pistol in her white satin, opera-gloved hands. Her rosy upper lip was lifted in what might have been a smile but was more probably a snarl. No books were offered for the visitor’s perusal. They had been purloined so often that Camlet displayed only the covers and, in a wall-mounted glass case, the very air pistol in the illustration.

There was always someone waiting there, nervous authors balancing boxes of manuscript on their knees, impatient artists with big, black portfolios, or occasionally an adventurer or reformed criminal hoping to peddle his life story.

A single receptionist presided over both these rooms, his kiosk being built into the party wall with a counter on either side. When I came in to the Sensational Books side in February, Mr. Totnes was just dissuading a trio of downcast schoolboys who had finished ogling the air pistol. “No, Miss Darnell does not reside here, young sirs. I am informed her current residence is Buenos Aires. I am afraid we do not have her direction. No, we cannot accept letters addressed to her.”

Mr. Totnes remembered me with cordiality. “Mr. Hartright, sir. Mr. Camlet mentioned you would be coming by before day’s end. Step straight on through, do. He’s nearly done with Mr. Flawne.” The schoolboys and waiting authors gazed at me with envy as I obeyed.

The offices on the ground floor were the original chambers dedicated to religious translation and pamphlets. Camlet’s own office was at the far end, an oak-panelled chamber with wide windows. These looked out onto the stableyard at the back. Bookcases held copies of every publication both presses had ever issued.

This room was adorned with neither lurid book covers nor religious imagery, but simply a family portrait over the fireplace. It was a recent one, painted only last season. In a profusion of vivid fuchsia silk skirts Marian stared boldly out, her brilliant dark eyes brighter than the diamonds at her throat. The children were grouped around her: lanky Micah standing at the back, blonde Lottie nearly as tall on the other side, Lester in white ruffles on a footstool with her usual open book, and William Walter Halcombe Camlet at his mother’s knee, clutching her finger. A glorious gold ring set with three square sapphires was just visible in his chubby baby grip.

The master of this little empire was a mild-mannered fellow of almost extraordinary ordinariness, with round, steel-rimmed spectacles, high in the forehead, and getting a little prosperous paunch under his grey suit. His faultlessly barbered fawn-brown hair had grey threads in it, and his side whiskers squared off his face by dipping down and then up into a moustache.

“Ten minutes, no more, Hartright,” Camlet greeted me. “The shilling railway edition is due out this year. Give Flawne and me the benefit of your artistic eye.”

“Art has nothing to do with it,” Sensational’s managing editor declared. “How d’ye do, Mr. Hartright. A pleasure to see you again. It is well known that purple does not display well on stands at the newsagents. Loathsome hue!”

“But the book is titled The Purple Pasha,” Camlet said. “We can’t escape it. And the young lady he’s rescuing does make a fine contrast.”

I gazed at the sketch on the display easel. It was executed in tempera on drawing board. The hero did indeed sport a purple turban and billowing cloak, and also a scimitar, a revolver, and bandoliers. A young woman cowering at his feet was being menaced by a not very anatomically correct lion, jaws agape to display a fine set of white fangs. “You are aware,” I said, “that lions live only in Africa.”

“Do they, indeed?” Mr. Flawne exclaimed. “How did editorial let that one slip by in serial publication, sir? We can make it a leopard if you like. The spots are quite fashionable.”

“The lion resides in the sultan’s zoological collection,” Camlet said. “No, we must keep the lion. But what if the cloak were, oh, green?”

“Scarlet,” Mr. Flawne suggested, scribbling a note. “And the lady in bright white, not grey, evening bodice on the gown instead of a day one, as low-cut as possible. A large, shining jewel and green feather in turban. No, scarlet, to go with the cloak. We want this image to leap up and smite the eye.”

“That it certainly will do,” I said. “Does anybody in Arabia wear a scarlet cloak?”

Both men shot me a look of incomprehension. Evidently facts were unimportant. “And don’t neglect to have her more …”

“More,” Mr. Flawne agreed.

Camlet explained to me, “More abundant. Hair, cheeks, lips –”

“Charms,” Mr. Flawne summarised. “I’ll set him on the changes. Next week?”

“That would be well,” Camlet agreed.

“My only advice to you,” I said, “is to have the artist take some sketches at the zoo. That animal’s legs clearly cannot bear its weight.”

Mr. Flawne heaved a sigh as he picked up the panel, but Camlet grinned. “See to it, Flawne.”

When the managing editor was gone, Camlet stood up and shook my hand. “Your timing is impeccable, Hartright. I’m just finished for the day. How long are you in town?”

“At least until the House adjourns at the end of March.”

“So we shall see a good deal of you. I’m delighted.” He took his top hat and umbrella from the stand behind the door, and picked up a pasteboard box. “For Marian.”

“You have her reading manuscript?”

“She enjoys contributing to the work and has a sterling track record. And it’s an easy task to fit in around the children.” Marian had been the first person to read and grasp the potential of Daisy Darnell, still far and away Sensation’s best-seller.

I followed Camlet out of the rear door into the yard, where his carriage waited for us. The coachman hastened to take my carpetbag.

“Matson, how are you?” I greeted him.

“Thriving, Mr. Hartright, thriving. And I hope Mrs. Hartright and the boys are well?”

From much practice the lie tripped easily off my tongue. “They are, thank you.”

Camlet followed me up into the carriage. “Marian has ordered a roast of beef for you, Hartright. And she’s invited a mutual friend she says you will be happy to see again.”

“Indeed?” Since I am a junior MP from Cumberland in the far north of England, I should have had little to say to a publishing magnate. But Laura and Marian are sisters closer than two blades of grass, inevitably giving us much in common.

“Yes, a childhood friend of Marian’s, Roderick Donthorne.”

Startled, I said, “Have you met Donthorne?”

“Oh yes, he’s been to dinner several times. He sent some pineapples when she was confined with William.”

“He’s in the Americas, then.”

“He’s been posted for the past year in Spanish Town, Jamaica, and is returned only for a month or so.”

I relaxed. Neither Marian nor Camlet knew that Donthorne had aspired to Marian’s hand. But he plainly could not be a danger to their union from the distance of a Caribbean island.

Camlet went on, “Tell me of dear Laura, Hartright. What Marian’s been reporting to me from her letters is worrying.”

“It’s been harrowing.” I could not convey in words the blackness of the personal events of this past season. My dearest wife had endured a miscarriage the year before last, and our hopes had been high that all was going well for her confinement this year. The stillbirth had been a terrible blow, the loss of what might have been a longed-for daughter. Camlet waited in sympathetic patience as I fought to control my voice.

“She has ever been delicate,” I said at last. “She’s not recovering well.”

“You have my deepest sympathy. Marian intends to make a long visit, I know, with all the children. She waits only for Micah’s Marlborough term to conclude at the end of June.”

“Nothing could give Laura more joy.” My brothers had perished of cholera while I was in swaddling clothes. Mysterious are the ways of Providence, for in middle life I acquired another. I gazed across at Camlet and seriously considered telling him all. He was the kindest and most excellent of men, devoted to his wife and family, an ideal confidant. But a noisy carriage ride through London was not the best occasion for a long, painful tale, and we had already turned onto the lane that circled Hampstead Heath.

My sister, Sarah, met us at Sandett House, waving to us from the portico as we drew up. My worthy mother had passed away only last year, and Sarah was still in mourning. Unrelieved black did not flatter her, making her look yellowy pale. Where I resembled my taller father Sarah took after Mother, with her slight figure and unfortunate tendency to freckle. We both had hair of the common colour, more tolerable in a man. In a female unprettiness can be an insuperable handicap.

“Hallo, Walter!” she cried as I descended. “Marian has me to make the numbers even. What do you think, she’s going to have Lottie, too. It will be her first grown-up dinner party.”

“I’m sure Marian doesn’t look to have an eleven-year-old conversing with Mr. Donthorne,” I said. “You and I must entertain her.”

While we talked, a stampede of children poured out the front door. Camlet was besieged by his offspring. Actually there were only three in number at this period, but they made tumult enough for a dozen. Lottie was nearly twelve, quite the pretty young miss with her blonde curls, and Lester – her full name, Celeste, was only used in scolding moments – was five, her black hair in two pigtails that stuck out from the sides of her head. Little William was still in short coats but the noisiest of all, bellowing like a bull until his father hoisted him to his shoulder.

“Where are your manners?” Camlet demanded. “Greet your uncle, Lottie. William, do you remember your Uncle Walter?”

The tot pushed his thumb into his mouth, too shy to say. Lottie bobbed a curtsy and said, “Uncle Walter, I hope I see you well.”

With preternatural maturity Lester held her little hand up to me. “Welcome, Uncle Walter. Will you be staying?”

I shook her hand solemnly. “No, child, I’ll be down the lane with your Aunt Sarah in the usual way. But I’ll be over often to see you all.”

“We would like to tour the buildings where you work,” Lottie said.

“I want to see the House,” Lester agreed.

I stared over their heads at Camlet, who said, “Lottie reads the Times aloud to the little ones, and Lester is much interested in the idea of government.”

“I would rather meet the Queen,” Lester confided, “but perhaps she does not receive casual callers.”

“I believe not,” I agreed, faintly. In spite of his stern admonitions Camlet is a notoriously indulgent parent, soft as tallow. He allows his children complete liberty of all the books and reading materials in the house. Little Lester taught herself to read at the age of four, a feat so precocious that Marian had quietly consulted a doctor fearing, not without cause, that the learning would unseat the child’s reason.

But their medical man is an advanced fellow who simply advised supplementing books with all the ordinary childish diversions. Reassured, the parents dropped the reins and let the children roam as they would through the fields of letters. What the girls would grow up to be, heaven only knew.

My sister, Sarah, was of entirely an opposite disposition. She seized Lottie’s hand and cried, “I long to see your new mantle, Lottie! Is it really of tartan plaid?”

As they dashed off I said, “It’s good of you to let Sarah have the run of your home like this, Camlet. I fear she’s lonely, alone in the cottage now that Mother is gone.”

“She is Lottie’s best friend,” Camlet said. “With Micah at school Lottie could not ride out every day, were it not for her aunt’s company.”

“Since Sarah cannot afford to keep a mount it’s entirely your generosity that makes it possible.”

“It’s Micah’s pony, when he’s here. And I’m sure you will wish to learn to ride, eh, Lester?”

With practised skill the child climbed up onto the baluster, not at all impeded by her frock and pinafore, and from there into her father’s grasp. “Shall you teach me, papa?”

“You may begin this very summer, at Limmeridge,” I said.

“Yes, it’s much easier and more pleasant in the country,” Camlet agreed. “Do you think Sarah could be persuaded to accompany Marian? Otherwise she’ll indeed be rather forlorn here in town.”

“I intend to invite her again.” A Londoner born and bred, Sarah claimed to find the rural Cumberland accent incomprehensible. She and Mother had never been comfortable at Limmeridge for long. But perhaps now my sister could be persuaded to make a longer stay in the north country.

“Suggest that Marian will be grateful for help on the journey with the children,” Camlet advised.

I held the door for him, burdened as he was. “It has struck me before, Camlet, that you have learned cunning from your wife.”

“It’s nothing but efficiency. The position of giving a favour is always more pleasant than that of receiving one.”

“I,” Marian cried, just descending into the hall, “cunning? You dare, Walter?” She kissed my cheek in greeting, but the pity and concern in her dark, brilliant eyes made me realise how sorrow had marked me. “Oh, Walter,” she said more softly. “I can read in your face all of poor Laura’s sufferings. Rest assured I shall fly to her side the moment I may!”

“I need not ask after your health, I can see,” I said. Marian had entirely recovered from the incidents after the birth of little William, and was the picture of feminine vigour, her thick, black hair knotted at the back of her head and her rather ugly features lit with joy.

She laughed at the sight of her husband, draped with children as a Christmas tree with garlands. “My dearest, your best grey suit! Look what these monkeys have done to it!”

“A stiff clothes brush and it will be well,” Camlet said, brushing ineffectually at the grit on the front of his coat. Since Lester had inserted her toes into his waistcoat pockets and was putting her full weight upon them, the garment was in imminent danger of ruin. I handed my carpetbag to the housemaid and lent a hand by peeling little Lester off his front and taking her into my own arms. William responded by pulling off his father’s spectacles and licking the lenses.

Marian extricated the spectacles from his sticky grasp. With one expert wriggle Lester freed herself from my arms and slid to the marble hallway floor.

“I fail to see how you can entertain a guest to dinner in all this huggermugger,” I said.

“Oh, Roderick is used to family suppers,” Marian said. “William, your father needs his glasses. It’s very wrong to make them so dirty.” She took the tot, at last freeing her husband to shed his greatcoat.

One does not kiss a woman, even a wife, in the presence of others. But the glow in his hazel eyes, the way she held his hand, made the pain twist in my heart.

“We are not dressing for dinner, are we?” I said, quickly.

“No, indeed,” she replied. “But I’m sure you’d like to wash. I’ll take these two and imprison them with Nurse. Roderick should be here in, let me see, twenty minutes.” She dipped two fingers into Camlet’s waistcoat pocket and drew out his watch to see the time.

When I rejoined them in the drawing room, Camlet was just pouring sherry. “You’ve lost weight, Hartright.”

“Being in the minority party is no bed of roses,” I replied, accepting a glass. “I am not gifted by God to be a politician.”

“What’s this I hear?” Roderick Donthorne exclaimed, at the door. “You were elected, Hartright. Surely the mandate of the people is sufficient for you.” He came forward to clasp my hand, a tall, lean man some years older than myself, with pince-nez, a tidy black imperial and silver streaks in his sleek, dark hair. I tried not to resent this raillery. My life seemed full of sharp points and pitfalls, and here was another sore place, my reelection next year.

“Let us emulate the sundial, and mark only sunny things,” Marian said. “Tell me of your journey, Roderick. You’re quite brown from the tropical sun! Are you in town for the season?”

“All depends upon the whim of the Foreign Minister,” he replied. “Russell looks to have me return to the Americas fairly soon. Which is why I must catch up with all my favourite acquaintance while I may. The Atlantic crossing took but sixteen days, a gloriously speedy trip…”

A prey to gloom, I retreated with my glass to the sofa to watch my hosts and their guest. Donthorne seemed to be quite at home, exchanging witticisms with Marian and vying with her to make Camlet laugh. I had to remember to ask Marian if he had married yet. Did it look quite proper for a bachelor to run tame in the house like this?

Nor was it cheering when Lottie and Sarah appeared. Not for the first time, the oddity of aunt and niece struck me. Sarah was five-and-twenty, Lottie not yet twelve, yet they chattered and giggled like peers. Lottie was very tall for her age. The first Mrs. Camlet had been six feet tall. More slight, Sarah was exactly Lottie’s height. Sarah’s perpetual immaturity meant that others – her childhood friends, her schoolmates, even I myself – moved steadily past her into a wider life while she stayed forever behind, clinging to conventionalities but never becoming adult.

This had not been an issue while my mother lived. But what now? What would become of Sarah as the years passed? Could she manage, living alone in the cottage here? Mother and Sarah had been maintained in modest independence for years upon the investments made by my excellent father, and latterly I contributed a quarterly sum as well. Gloomily I reflected that, as her last living relative, one of my tasks during this visit would be to look over Sarah’s household accounts. This was the first quarter she had managed the household entirely on her own.

Even when we moved into the dining room I was sober. Donthorne laughingly claimed the right to escort the only eligible female in, which is to say Sarah. Was it good or bad, that Sarah regarded this with as much interest as if she were on the arm of I myself, or Camlet? It was not maidenly modesty. She acted like a schoolgirl, not like a grown woman, a demeanor that could not but be decidedly off-putting to any possible suitor. Marriage, the natural solution to her plight, seemingly never occurred to her mind. It was as if, having been set in the path of immaturity, she could not leave it.

Leaving Camlet to take his daughter in, Marian took my arm. “How downcast you are, Walter,” she said, with great kindness. “Every hurt Laura takes is a wound to yourself, it is plain. Are you so sad at home, or do you endeavour to keep up her spirits?”

“It is my duty to maintain a courageous front, both for her and the boys,” I replied.

“But perhaps it’s a relief to come to town and think of other things.” We sat down and she went on, “I know. I have the perfect diversion to take you out of yourself. Have you read The Purple Pasha?”

I was unable to suppress a smile. “The first run was too costly for my pocket. But Camlet showed me the illustration for the cover of the cheap edition.”

“So you have not read the story! Walter, it’s so low, you’ll be thrilled. The Purple Pasha is actually of the Anglo-Irish nobility, a Lord Dexter Alneck who is in exile from Britain because his brother has deceitfully taken the title. So he goes to Egypt, where an English governess, Miss Matilda Wardlow, is being wooed by a sultan…”

The yarn was utterly preposterous but possessed an undeniable fascination, and certainly was distracting. Camlet had found a lucrative literary vein to mine, books longer and more respectable than penny dreadfuls but every bit as full of action and adventure. The Purple Pasha was exactly in Sensational’s line. The three volumes of his adventures, concluding with his grand wedding to Miss Wardlow at St. George’s, Hanover Square, had sold in landslide numbers to the lending libraries, and the cheap edition would harvest yet more readers. By the time Marian had recounted the gist I had absorbed a substantial meal, several glasses of Camlet’s excellent wine, and a jam roly-poly. All of a sudden the world seemed a sunnier place.

We returned to the drawing room for tea. The girls abandoned us to go and admire some gloves upstairs, so we were able to converse. “Hartright, I was hoping to see you,” Donthorne began. “I have a document I would like your opinion on.”

Marian said, “Did you bring it from Jamaica?”

“Yes. The Governor was puzzled what to do with it, and so kicked it up to London. Am I correct, Hartright, in remembering that you were a member of the ill-starred Skyllington expedition to British Honduras in 1849?”

“I was indeed,” I said, startled. “How do you know of it?”

“Marian mentioned it some years ago,” Donthorne said. “It occurred to me that you might be familiar with the handwriting of the late Sir Ambridge Skyllington, the leader of the expedition. Our thought was to seek out any surviving relatives who might recognise his fist, but it’s certain to be difficult after all this time. When Marian so kindly invited me to dine, I realised you might oblige.”

“I’ve certainly seen his writing,” I said cautiously, “but it’s been many years.”

Donthorne took a leather case from his breast pocket and extracted an ordinary modern envelope. Within was a limp sheet of native paper. This was yellow with weather and much stained with what appeared to be either vegetable sap or perspiration. He handed it to me.

I spread it delicately out on the drawing room table near the lamp so that I could make out the brownish, scrawled words. Much of the text was hardly legible but at the bottom, where the folding of the document had protected it, the signature was more plain, dashed in a scrawl of brown ink: Ambridge Ivor Skyllington.

“It looks like his signature,” I said. “I have, somewhere up at Limmeridge House, the letter he wrote to me, offering me the position of expedition artist. I could find it, and we could lay them side by side. Sir Ambridge died when we were attacked by the Indians.”

“You’re certain of that.” Behind the pince-nez Donthorne’s dark gaze was suddenly very sharp.

“I saw him fall, pierced by their darts.” Of itself my heart seemed to squeeze in my chest. The mind may master the terror, but the body does not forget fleeing for one’s life. “We couldn’t recover any of the fallen. Eight men were lost that day.”

“A terrible thing,” Marian said, shuddering. “I prayed every day for your safety.”

“I expect this is some part of the expedition’s old papers,” I said. “It looks antique enough.”

“A reasonable assumption. However…” From his pocket Donthorne drew a loupe, a small magnifying glass that folded out of its case. “At the FO we have document experts. Have a look at that line, up there at the top,” he said, handing me the glass. Marian brought a second lamp over, so that the illumination was doubled.

“Cachamel Settlement,” I read. “November 21, 1862. Last year.”

“A forgery,” Camlet said.

“What does the letter itself say?”

“It’s easier to read under powerful magnification,” Donthorne said. “But it is a plea, Hartright. For rescue.”

“A forgery,” Marian agreed. “Walter saw him die.”

“Say rather that I saw him fall.” An artist is trained to retain what he sees, and for the first time now in years I called up the memory: the solar topee tumbling from his head as the arrows thudded into his chest. Skyllington toppling backwards with a crash into the jungle undergrowth. Our yells of horror. With an effort I went on. “It’s notionally possible, I suppose, that he survived his injuries.”

“And has been in captivity all this time.” Donthorne shook his head. “That is our fear. I would be very glad to see your letter from thirteen years ago, Hartright. We need to prove this signature is genuine. Because if it’s a fraud then certainly no action need be taken.”

“And what if it is not? If it’s a genuine cry for rescue?”

“Then the question still remains open. The British government is increasingly losing its appetite for the rescue of hapless explorers.”

Marian’s great dark eyes flashed. “Even British subjects?”

“You’ve read of the search for Sir John Franklin. There was a point when no fewer than eleven British ships were on that quest. That was an expensive and sharp lesson. Look your letter out for me, Hartright, and send it to my office.”

This I promised to do, adding, “Poor devil. Surely Skyllington’s dead and buried.”

“Much the happiest thing,” Marian declared. “How could any man bear to be held in durance in the jungle all this time? Theo, it sounds like something the Purple Pasha should be called in to deal with.”

Instantly diverted, Donthorne said, “The Purple Pasha? Great heavens, Camlet, I’ve heard of it. During the monsoon season we passed Daisy Darnell from hand to hand at the consulate until it fell to pieces. But why was her hair red? I had understood the first Mrs. Camlet was fair, like her daughter.”

“Why, it was to benefit you, Donthorne,” Camlet said. “All the people who know that the my first wife Margaret was the notorious anarchist Daisy Darnell are here now in this room.”

“Your son and daughter, her children, continue ignorant?”

“I want their childhood to be unclouded. And to change her appearance in fiction shall also save the Foreign Office a deal of trouble from her confederates.” With this, the conversation became general, and nothing more of interest was said for the rest of the evening.

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