“Oh, my dear young lady, I assure you this is mild, demulcent even, compared to the true summer suffering of this heathen land. You are lucky – or should I say, propitious? You have timed your visit very well indeed – the monsoon season has only recently ended. Such rains as we have been having already this month, a pabulum, a tempering of our customary languish––”

Rue stopped listening. The ambassador’s wife was clearly a woman who enjoyed the sound of her own voice. She dropped flowery vocabulary about her like an incontinent hen might deposit eggs. This would not have been so horrible except that the voice in question was unpleasantly nasal. The banality of the subject matter only added insult to injury. Mrs Godwit was clearly a bore. But a powerful bore. Which meant Rue happily consigned her to Prim’s tender mercies.

Quesnel, one mock desperate look in Rue’s direction, was dragged along by Primrose.

Percy, unable to tolerate blathering, drifted towards a table of comestibles. It was laid with tea and coffee, ginger wine, and hard-iced milk with soda to quench the thirst. Percy was helping himself to a small plate of buttered scones and prunes soaked in rum when he was swarmed by a gaggle of giggling young ladies. Presumably these represented the eligible among the officers’ and ambassadors’ daughters. Percy, as usual, had drawn them to him like jam to toast.

Rue was left alone with Lieutenant Broadwattle. She noted a few other officers were present, wives in tow, but none seemed particularly scruffy or wolfish. “I’m assuming the werewolves will be joining us later, when it is fully dark?”

The lieutenant nodded, his attention on Prim’s graceful form. He offered Rue his arm and they drifted after the others. Mrs Godwit was still detailing the weather.

Prim guided the conversation towards more lucrative territory. “My dear Mrs Godwit, I have heard much of Brigadier Featherstonehaugh. Will he and his wife be attending this evening’s festivities?”

Mrs Godwit played along obligingly. “Oh, dear child, you haven’t heard?” Her expression held all the joy of a hedgehog faced with a bowl of bread and milk. Rue suspected this meant that the topic could only be tragic.

“Oh, my dear Mrs Godwit, he is not ill, is he?”

“Far worse! Oh, my dear, do brace yourself. This is an untamed country, wild even. And so very dangerous. It is not the brigadier but his wife. Mrs Featherstonehaugh – young Mrs Featherstonehaugh – has been kidnapped! By native dissidents. Possibly those wretched Marathas. You know some of their women… Oh, it’s too much, too much for young ears.”

Primrose pressed her to continue.


“Some Maratha women do not wear skirts.”

Even Rue was shocked by that statement.

“You mean…?” gasped Prim, eyes wide.

“Oh no, dear. Not that. But sort of trousers instead. They ride along with their men into battle. It hardly bears thinking about, so ungenteel. Anyway, where was I? Oh, yes. Young Mrs Featherstonehaugh, only a few days ago now – kidnapped! Along with some recently collected taxes. Although, of course, one cannot even contemplate the loss of the money when compared to what that poor girl must be suffering.”

Rue wanted to ask if they would force Mrs Featherstonehaugh to go skirtless, but didn’t want to interfere with the flow Primrose was coaxing forth.

Prim patted Mrs Godwit’s arm. “So sad.”

Mrs Godwit needed no more encouragement. “Of course, the dear brigadier is most distraught. Overwrought and despairing. All his attention of late has been occupied with investigating his wife’s disappearance. Poor lamb. So of course, he is unable to attend. The werewolves, I understand, will be looking in to tender their respects to you, our honoured visitors, before heading out to continue tracking. But the chances of recovering the unfortunate girl seem slim.”

Prim gasped.

Quesnel murmured appropriately aghast niceties.

Rue turned to Lieutenant Broadwattle. “Is this true?”

The lieutenant replied, “To the best of my knowledge. But I am only a lowly lieutenant and not on friendly terms with the brigadier.”

Rue was concerned for the Featherstonehaughs’ plight, of course, but having not met any of the players, she failed to be emotionally involved. Her attention drifted and she scanned the party, looking to identify Miss Sekhmet’s contact.

Lieutenant Broadwattle said, “Oh dear, I do believe most people believe Miss Tunstell is you. I suspect it is her continued conversation with Mrs Godwit, not to mention the elegance of her dress.” The gentleman caught himself at that. “Not that your gown isn’t pretty…” He trailed off, uncomfortable. “Should I make an announcement to the contrary? I mean, about you being you.”

“Please don’t trouble yourself on my behalf.” Rue was waiting to see if anyone, taken in by the scam, was desperately trying to get Primrose alone to pass on a message. But the cycles of social interaction seemed perfectly ordinary for a garden party, even one in Bombay. “Have there been any ransom demands?”

The lieutenant looked confused.

Rue elaborated: “For the brigadier’s missing wife?”

“Not that we’ve been told.”


“Not very – this is India, Lady Akeldama. They do things differently here.”

“Yes, but that differentially? Why else would they want her?”

The young man looked grossly embarrassed.

Rue hastened to elaborate. “You think she was an accidental bonus and the taxes were the intended target?”

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