Lady Emily's Exotic Journey


Chapter One

Constantinople, March 1861 

Constantinople had looked so promising to Lady Emily when they arrived this morning, with the city rising up out of the morning mists, white and shining with turrets and domes and balconies everywhere. The long, narrow boats in the harbor all sported bright sails. It had been so new and strange and exotic.

Now here she was, walking with Lady Julia behind her parents on Wilton carpets. Wilton carpets imported from Salisbury! When even she knew that this part of the world was famous for its carpets.

She heaved a sigh. They had traveled thousands of miles to finally reach Constantinople—the Gateway to Asia, the ancient Byzantium, the capital of the fabulous Ottoman Empire, a city of magic and mystery— and for what?

To be tucked up in the British Embassy, a Palladian building that would have looked perfectly at home around the corner from Penworth House in London.  

She understood that it was British and represented the Queen and the Empire and all that, but did it have to be so very English?

The doors at the end of the hall were flung open and a butler, dressed precisely as he would have been in London, announced, “The Most Honorable the Marquess of Penworth. The Most Honorable the Marchioness of Penworth. The Lady Emily Tremaine. The Lady Julia de Vaux.”

They might just as well have never left home.

Emily smiled the insipid smile she reserved for her parents’ political friends—the smile intended to assure everyone that she was sweet and docile—and prepared to be bored. She was very good at pretending to be whatever she was expected to be. Next to her, she could feel Julia straighten her already perfect posture. She reached over to squeeze her friend’s hand.

“Lord Penworth, Lady Penworth, allow me to welcome you to Constantinople.” A ruddy-faced gentleman with thinning gray hair on his head and a thinning gray beard on his chin inclined his head. “And this must be your daughter, Lady Emily?” He looked somewhere between the two young women, as if uncertain which one to address.

Emily took pity on him and curtsied politely.

He looked relieved and turned to Julia. “And Lady Julia?” She performed a similar curtsy.

“My husband and I are delighted to welcome such distinguished visitors to Constantinople,” said the small, gray woman who was standing stiffly beside the ambassador, ignoring the fact that he had been ignoring her.

Emily blinked. She knew marital disharmony when she heard it. She also knew how unpleasant it could make an evening.

“We are delighted to be here, Lady Bulwer,” said Lord Penworth courteously. “This part of the world is new to us, and we have all been looking forward to our visit.” He turned to the ambassador. “I understand that you, Sir Henry, are quite familiar with it.”

“Tolerably well, tolerably well. I’m told you’re here to study the possibility of a railroad along the Tigris River valley. Can’t quite see it myself.” Before the ambassador realized it, Lord Penworth had cut him out of the herd of women and was shepherding him off to the side.

In the sudden quiet, Lady Penworth smiled at her hostess and gestured at the room about them. “I am most impressed by the way you have managed to turn this embassy into a bit of England,” she said. “If I did not know, I would think myself still in London.”

Lady Bulwer looked both pleased and smug. She obviously failed to note any hint of irony in Lady Penworth’s words. Emily recognized the signs. Her parents would out-diplomat the diplomats, smoothing over any bumps of disharmony in the Bulwer household, and conversation would flow placidly through conventional channels. Boring, but unexceptionable. And only too familiar.

Then Julia touched her arm.

Still looking straight ahead, and still with a faint, polite smile on her face, Julia indicated that Emily should look at the left-hand corner of the room. Emily had never understood how it was that Julia could send these messages without making a sound or even moving her head, but send them she did.

In this case, it was a message Emily received with interest. Off in the corner were two young men pretending to examine a huge globe while they took side-ways glances at the newcomers. This was much more promising than the possibility of trouble between the ambassador and his wife. Refusing to pretend a lack of curiosity—she was growing tired, very tired, of pretending—she looked straight at them.

One was an extraordinarily handsome man, clean-shaven to display a beautifully sculpted mouth and a square jaw. His perfectly tailored black tailcoat outlined a tall, broad-shouldered physique. The blinding whiteness of his shirt and bow tie contrasted with the slight olive cast of his skin. His hair was almost black, and his dark eyes betrayed no awareness of her scrutiny. He stood with all the bored elegance of the quintessential English gentleman. Bored and probably boring.

The other man looked far more interesting. He was not so tall—slim and wiry, rather than powerful looking—and not nearly so handsome. His nose was quite long—assertive might be a polite way to describe it—and his tanned face was long and narrow. Like his companion, he was clean shaven, though his hair, a dark brown, was in need of cutting. While his evening clothes were perfectly proper, they were worn carelessly, and he waved his hands about as he spoke in a way that seemed definitely un-English. He noticed immediately when she held her gaze on him and turned to return her scrutiny. She refused to look away, even when he unashamedly examined her from head to toe. His eyes glinted with amusement, and he gave her an appreciative grin and salute.

The cheek of him! She laughed out loud, making Julia hiss and drawing the attention of her mother and Lady Bulwer. Sir Henry must have noticed something as well, for he waved the young men over to be introduced to Papa.

They both stopped a proper distance away, and the handsome one waited with an almost military stiffness. Sir Henry introduced him first. “This is David Oliphant, Lord Penworth. He’s with the Foreign Office and will be your aide and guide on the journey. He knows the territory and can speak the lingo. All the lingoes, in fact—Turkish, Kurdish, Arabic, whatever you run into along the way.”

Oliphant bowed. “Honored, my lord.”

Lord Penworth smiled. “My pleasure.”

“And this young man is Lucien Chambertin. He’s on his way back to Mosul where he’s been working with Carnac, digging up stone beasts or some such.”

“The remains of Nineveh, Sir Henry.” Chambertin then turned to Lord Penworth with a brief, graceful bow and a smile. “I am most pleased to make your acquaintance, my lord, for I am hoping you will allow me to impose on you and join your caravan for the journey to Mosul.”

He spoke excellent English, with just a hint of a French accent. Just the perfect hint, Emily decided. Sir Henry was not including the ladies in his introductions, to her annoyance, so she had been obliged to position herself close enough to hear what they were saying. This was one of the rare occasions when she was grateful for her crinolines. They made it impossible for the ladies to stand too close to one another, so she placed herself to the rear of her mother. From that position, she could listen to the gentlemen’s conversation while appearing to attend to the ladies’. What’s more, from her angle she could watch them from the corner of her eye without being obvious.

“I cannot imagine why you should not join us,” Lord Penworth told the Frenchman. “I understand that, in Mesopotamia, it is always best to travel in a large group. You are one of these new scholars—what do they call them, archaeologists?”

Chambertin gave one of those Gallic shrugs. “Ah no, nothing so grand. I am just a passing traveler, but I cannot resist the opportunity to see the ruins of Nineveh when the opportunity offers itself. And then when Monsieur Carnac says he has need of assistance, I agree to stay for a while.”

“Well, my wife will certainly find the ruins interesting. She has developed quite a fascination with the ancient world.”

Oliphant looked startled. “Your wife? But surely Lady Penworth does not intend to accompany us.”

“Of course.” Lord Penworth in turn looked startled at the question. “I could hardly deny her the opportunity to see the ancient cradle of civilization. Not when I am looking forward to it myself.”

“I’m sorry. I was told you were traveling to view the possible site of a railway.”

“I am.” Penworth smiled. “That is my excuse for this trip. General Chesney has been urging our government to build a railway from Basra to Constantinople. His argument is that it would provide much quicker and safer communication with India. Palmerston wanted me to take a look and see if there would be any other use for it.”

The ambassador snorted. “Not much. There’s nothing of any use or interest in that part of the world except for those huge carvings that fellows like Carnac haul out of the ground.”

The handsome Mr. Oliphant looked worried. Before he could say anything, dinner was announced, the remaining introductions were finally made, and Emily found herself walking in to dinner on the arm of M. Chambertin. He had behaved quite correctly when they were introduced and held out his arm in perfectly proper fashion. He said nothing that would have been out of place in the most rigidly proper setting imagin- able. Nonetheless, she suspected that he had been well aware of her eavesdropping. There was a decidedly improper light dancing in his eyes.

She liked it.