Beguiled by Her Betrayer(8)

By: Louise Allen

He sat without a word and reached for the platter of what appeared to be cubes of meat. Madame... No, Cleo, Quin decided, slid a plate in front of her father and passed one to Quin, then gestured to him to help himself. He realised his mouth was watering.

‘You should try to eat. It has been a while since you did, I imagine.’

‘Yes. I was hungry at first and then that vanished.’ He had been on foot and without anything but a small flask of water for two days after his camels were taken. Before that he had been eating sparingly, moving too fast to settle down in one spot and cook himself a proper meal.

‘It seems to with heat prostration. You must rest tomorrow.’

‘I will rest tonight. Tomorrow I will acquaint myself with your military neighbours.’

‘That is foolish. I can ask them what is the best thing to be done with you.’

They would shoot me as a spy, if they knew who I was. ‘If I am to be disposed of, Madame Valsac, I prefer to organise it myself.’

‘Very well. I will not go and you will not be able to find them by yourself.’ She bit down sharply on a piece of flatbread as though to cut off all discussion.

Confound the woman. Is she trying to keep me away from the military because of her own compromised situation or is she merely being inconveniently protective of an injured man?

‘No, I want you to go, Daughter,’ Sir Philip pronounced, reversing his earlier opinion without a blink. ‘I need you to take my correspondence for them to send north. I have finished my letter to Professor Heinnemann.’

Correspondence? ‘The French are obliging enough to act as postmen for you, Sir Philip?’ Quin asked casually as he spread goat’s cheese on his bread.

‘Indeed they are.’ The older man put down his fork. ‘A fine example of the co-operation amongst scholars. As soon as Général Menou realised I was having problems receiving my letters he arranged for them to be handled through Alexandria.’

And how did the general know? Quin shelved that question for the moment. He thought he had hold of the tail of the matter now and he had no intention of letting it wriggle out of his grasp. ‘You have an international correspondence?’ he asked, injecting as much admiration into his tone as he thought was plausible.

He need not have worried about arousing suspicions. Sir Philip was smugly confident of his own importance. ‘Of course. England, France, Greece, Italy, Germany, India, Russia. Spain and Portugal...’ He droned on, complaining about the paucity of news from the Scandinavian countries.

England, the Mediterranean, continental Europe—news from dozens of pens flowing into Alexandria, into the hands of the French. Traitors, agents and innocent scholars all writing to this man who was either so blinded by his obsessions that he had no idea how he was being used or was a willing participant in his French masters’ games. Every scrap of intelligence was like gold to skilled spymasters who could fit it all together from dozens of sources.

‘India,’ Quin said out loud. India, the real reason the French wanted Egypt. If they controlled the Red Sea and the overland route to the Mediterranean, then Britain’s vital link to its most important trading area was lost. And troops were on their way now from India to land on the Red Sea coast and march across the desert to the Nile, then downstream to join the British and Turks in the delta.

Had letters from French agents in India already reached Menou in Cairo on their way to this man? A cold finger trailed down his spine, chilling the perspiration. If the French marched out to cut off General Baird’s long, desperate march through the desert, then the entire tide of the war in Egypt could turn.

‘Yes, India. I think I may well move on there next,’ Woodward said. ‘Fascinating country by the sound of it.’

Quin was aware of the tension in Cleo’s still form. Yet another move where she was taken along like a piece of furniture with no choice and no opinion? She would be much better off back in England where she belonged than dragged around at her father’s heels like so much luggage.

‘I will go with you to the army camp tomorrow, madam,’ Quin said and turned to look her in the face. ‘I want to find out if they have news from any other engineers.’ And I want to get my hands on your damned correspondence, Sir Philip. I may yet be finding a hungry crocodile for you.

‘As you wish.’ If Cleo Valsac had any worries about letting him observe the exchange of letters, she hid it perfectly. ‘I will be taking the donkey so if you collapse we can load you on him,’ she added with a sweet smile that did not deceive Quin for one moment. She thought him a nuisance and she rated his strength, endurance and, probably, his brains very low indeed.

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