Chapter 61

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Lady Sarah was avoiding him.

Penchley had intended to use this trip across the Indian Ocean to cement the attachment begun during the trip through Egypt, but how could he when she treated him with the polite indifference owed a stranger, and refused any overtures?

She blamed him for her doubts about Harburn's intentions, though that dirty dog's purchase of a houseload of furniture to send to Italy was hardly Penchley's fault.

He had learned his lesson, though, about disclosing such stories directly to the lady. Once he'd won back her trust, he'd be more careful.

He'd been careful in Cairo. His skilful manipulation of the British Consul made him smile, even all these days later. He really was an excellent diplomat.

Mr Finlayson, in a dither over his coming interview with His Grace, the Duke of Haverford, had been grateful for the background on the duke's decision to take his daughter to the other side of the world. "The finest of women, I assure you," he'd said, "and you must decide for yourself what kind of cad has enemies who would attack an innocent lady, and one of such high estate. One of the slanderers was Harburn's own cousin!"

Finlayson expressed appropriate horror, and Penchley hastened to disclaim the rumour that Harburn and Lady Athol had once been very close, a circumstance that explained Lady Athol's hasty marriage. "I have no evidence to confirm that story," he said, "but I know for a fact that Harburn and the villain who attacked Lady Sarah fought over a woman in Paris. Something to do with... irregular practices, if you know what I mean."

"I should mention none of this to His Grace, I suppose," Finlayson said, and Penchley assured him that the facts were known all over England. "His Grace will be pleased to know the truth of Lady Sarah's innocence has reached as far as Cairo," he explained. "Especially after the incident in Alexandria." He explained about the fight.

"But it hasn't," Finlayson protested. "I have heard nothing about any of the parties in this scandal, except from you."

"That's good then. Although... Never mind."

Penchley allowed himself to be persuaded to share his concern that—since the rumours had clearly reached Egypt—Finlayson was not as in touch with local sentiment as he should be. "I am sure His Grace will understand," Penchley said. "Your focus on your family, and your relationship with the local people—that is important to the British Empire too, I am sure."

Finlayson, who had married the daughter of an Egyptian notable and been shunted out of all further promotions as a result, chewed at the side of his lower lip, his brow creased. "I suppose I should know what the local British residents are saying," he agreed.

"And any travellers passing through. Over to you, sir, but if I might offer a little advice? It can never hurt to keep such a dignitary happy. You don't need to mention me at all, and if the duke assumes you collected the information in the streets, using your own sources? All to the good."

Finlayson fidgeted nervously with his pen. "I couldn't do that. Could I?"

"Perhaps you could reassure the duke, father to father? Your eldest daughter is a little younger than Lady Sarah, but still... Yes. That will work nicely, I think."

The duke arrived then, interrupting their little tête-à-tête, but it had done the trick. Within minutes, Finlayson was expressing his sympathy for the wronged lady and the distraught father. His Grace enquired, with distant politeness, about the source of Finlayson's information, and Finlayson claimed multiple informants in Cairo—some travellers, others residents. His Grace became colder, stiffer, and more polite still.

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