Beguiled by Her Betrayer(6)By: Louise Allen
‘I am going to the next village, Father, not Cairo. I have no desire to flirt with French officers, one was more than enough. I will be back in time to cook your dinner, for I will leave after breakfast, and if Mr Bredon is still not fully himself tomorrow I will leave food and water by his bed.’
Surely after twenty-four hours he would soon recover and she could get him out of her bed space? It had been tiring, rising every hour to sponge his face and get water between his lips and, however tired she was, it had been strangely difficult to get back to sleep each time. Mr Call-Me-Quin Bredon was a disturbing presence whilst semi-conscious and in a fever. Goodness knows what he would be like in his full senses. She was not looking forward to another night with him.
Cleo finished sweeping the sand from the mat around her father’s trestle table and gathered his day’s paperwork into a tin box. He would want his supper soon, but there was the remains of the spit-cooked kid and some flatbread and dates, so that would take little time. Then, when he retired to his bed with a book, she’d clear up, water the donkey again, feed it, secure the tent flaps, check on her patient and, at last, go to bed herself.
‘Mr Bredon can visit the officers himself,’ a deep, slightly husky, voice remarked. Cleo dropped the lid of the box, narrowly missing her fingertips. The American, draped in a passable attempt at a toga, was leaning against the tent pole. He was white under the tan and he was supporting his left wrist with his right hand, but his blue eyes were clear and there was a faint, healthy, trace of perspiration on his skin.
‘You must excuse me, sir, but I failed to ask Madame Valsac your name,’ he continued with as much smooth courtesy as a man entering a drawing room.
Cleo got a grip on herself. This was becoming untidy and she disliked untidiness. Mr Bredon should be lying down so she knew where he was and what he was doing. If he made himself even more ill, she was stuck with nursing him that much longer. ‘This is Mr Quintus Bredon, who should be in bed, Father.’ Mr Bredon merely smiled faintly. ‘He is an American and was set upon by Bedouin raiders,’ she reminded him. ‘Mr Bredon, this is my father, Sir Philip Woodward.’
‘Sir Philip.’ The blasted man even managed a passable bow while keeping control of his toga. ‘I must thank you for your hospitality. May I ask, which day this is?’
‘You arrived here yesterday at about this time,’ Cleo said as she picked up her broom. ‘And you have been feverish ever since. I suggest you go back to bed.’
Her father grunted and waved a hand at the other folding chair. ‘Nonsense. He’s on his feet now, isn’t he? You’re a scholar, sir? What do you know about this stone they’re supposed to have dug up at Rosetta eighteen months ago, eh? Can’t get any sense out of anyone, couldn’t get to see it in Cairo.’
‘I’ve heard of it, of course, Sir Philip, but I did not see it in Cairo either.’ Bredon raised an eyebrow at Cleo and gestured towards the chair. She shook her head, flapped her hands and mouthed sit. He was too heavy to have to pick up again if he collapsed. With a frown, he sat. ‘But I am an engineer, I fear I know nothing about it, nor about hieroglyphic symbols.’
‘Yes, but are they symbols?’
Cleo rolled her eyes and left, abandoning her patient to his fate. He would not be able to beat a strategic retreat as Thierry had used to do by pleading military business and she had no time to wait around while her father lectured a new victim. On top of everything else she supposed she had better get his garments clean and mended if he was out of bed. The conceit that Mr Bredon might descend on the French camp, toga-clad like a latter-day Julius Caesar if she did not, almost stayed her hand. It was an amusing thought, but perhaps not practical.
She dropped the galabeeyah and his cotton drawers into the wash tub, grated in some of her precious store of soap and pummelled until they were clean. Once they were hanging up on a tent pole where they would dry within the hour she found a new cord for the drawers and a length of white cotton for a turban. Mr Bredon obviously did not know he needed to keep his head covered in the intense sunshine.
‘Magical symbols...’ Her father’s voice reached her from the other end of the encampment. ‘Don’t agree. Obviously a secret priestly code...’
She could almost feel sympathy with Mr Bredon. Almost. Cleo dragged his bed frame into the furthest section of the tent and found room for it next to the storage boxes. If he was well enough to talk to her father, he was certainly not in need of nursing all night in her own bed space, thank goodness. Her privacy was a precious and deeply treasured luxury. She removed the wet cotton quilt he had been lying on and made the bed up afresh, then went back to her own space to tidy it. She hated disorder. Hated it. And sand. Most of all, sand.