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فصل 14

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Chapter fourteen

A car met Victoria at the station, she was driven to the Consulate and in through big gates into a delightful garden. The car stopped in front of steps leading up to a balcony surrounding the house. Mrs Clayton, a smiling energetic woman, came through a door at the top of the steps to meet her.

‘Were so pleased to see you,’ she said. ‘Basrah’s really delightful at this time of year, though there’s no one here now except Dr Rathbone’s young man who’s quite charming. What would you like first - a bath or some coffee?’

‘A bath, please,’ said Victoria gratefully.

If possible, Victoria hoped to meet Edward alone. With this in mind, when she had bathed and put on a summer dress, she went quietly out to sit on the balcony.

The first to arrive was a tall thin man with a thoughtful face, and as he came up the steps, Victoria went to stand out of sight round the corner of the balcony. As she did so, she saw Edward entering through a garden gate that opened on to the river. Victoria called out quietly. ‘Up here.’

Edward, who was, Victoria thought, more attractive than ever, turned quickly - and complete surprise appeared on his face.

‘My goodness! Victoria!’

‘Quiet. Wait for me. I’m coming down.’

Victoria ran round the balcony, down the steps and along to where Edward stood, confusion still on his face.

‘I can’t be drunk so early in the day,’ said Edward. ‘It is you.’

‘Yes, it’s me,’ said Victoria happily.

‘But… it’s unbelievable. How did you get here?’

‘I flew.’

‘I mean, what wonderful chance brought you to Basrah?’

‘The train,’ said Victoria.

‘You’re doing it on purpose, you little witch. I am so pleased to see you. But how did you get here - really?’

‘I came out with an American woman who’d broken her arm. I was offered the job the day after I met you, and you’d talked about Baghdad, so I thought, why not see the world?’

‘You really are great fun, Victoria. But what are you doing now?’

‘I’m still seeing the world,’ said Victoria. ‘But I’ve had to do a few tricks. The idea is that I am Miss Pauncefoot Jones. My uncle is a famous archaeologist who is working out here, and I am joining him soon.’

‘Oh, excellent, that’s a good story. But what will happen if you and Jones come face to face?’

‘I don’t think that is likely. From what I hear, once archaeologists start to dig, they go on digging like mad, and don’t stop.’

‘I say, you really are wonderful, Victoria!’ said Edward admiringly. ‘I’ve never met anyone like you.’

Edward’s admiring look caused Victoria great satisfaction. If she had been a cat, she would have purred.

‘And you will actually want a job, won’t you?’ said Edward. ‘Yes,’ said Victoria, ‘I actually went into your Olive Branch and asked Dr Rathbone for a job, but he wasn’t helpful.’

‘The old man is tight with his money,’ said Edward. ‘He wants everybody to work for love.’

‘Do you think he’s a fake. Edward?’

‘I don’t know exactly what I think. He doesn’t make any money. So far as I can see, all that enthusiasm is real. And yet, you know, I don’t believe he’s a fool.’

‘We’d better go in,’ said Victoria. ‘We can talk later.’


‘I’d no idea you and Edward knew each other,’ said Mrs Clayton.

‘Oh, were old friends,’ laughed Victoria. ‘Only we’d lost contact. I’d no idea Edward was here.’

Mr Clayton, who was the man Victoria had seen coming up the steps, asked, ‘How did you get on this morning, Edward? Any progress?’

‘Oh, the books are there, sir, but the forms to get them are unending. The person you need always seems to be away that day. Everyone is very willing - only nothing seems to happen.’ Everyone laughed and Mrs Clayton said, ‘You’ll get them in the end. It was very wise of Dr Rathbone to send someone down personally.’

As everything was closed during the midday hours, Edward and Victoria went out after lunch to see the sights. Victoria was delighted with the Shatt el Arab River, and the palm trees beside it. She loved the Arab boats tied up in the canal in the town. They walked slowly into the souk. When they turned towards the Consulate and Edward was preparing to leave for work, Victoria asked suddenly, ‘Edward, what’s your last name? I don’t know it.’ Edward stared at her.

‘Don’t you? No, I suppose you don’t. It’s Goring.’

‘Edward Goring. You’ve no idea what a fool I felt going into that Olive Branch place and wanting to ask for you and not knowing anything but Edward.’

‘Was there a dark-skinned girl there? With rather long hair?’

‘Yes.’

‘That’s Catherine. If you said “Edward”, she’d know.’

‘I am sure she would,’ said Victoria without enthusiasm. ‘She’s a very nice girl. Didn’t you think so?’

‘Oh…’

‘Very kind.’

‘Is she?’ Victoria’s voice was now as cold as ice - but Edward did not seem to notice.

‘I don’t know what I would have done without her. I’m sure you and she will be great friends.’

‘I don’t think we’ll have the chance.’

‘Oh yes, you will. I’m going to get you a job there.’

‘How are you going to manage that?’

‘I don’t know but I shall manage it somehow. If not, next thing I know, you’ll be heading for Burma. No, young Victoria, I’m not going to take any chances, I don’t want you running away from me. You’re too fond of seeing the world.’

‘You sweet fool,’ thought Victoria to herself, ‘don’t you know that nothing would drive me away from Baghdad now!’

Aloud she said, ‘Well, it would be fun to have a job at the Olive Branch.’

‘I wouldn’t describe it as fun. The organization means well, but it’s all a bit silly too.’

‘And do you still think there’s something wrong about it?’

‘Oh, that was only a wild idea of mine.’

‘No,’ said Victoria thoughtfully, ‘I think it’s true.’

Edward turned on her quickly. ‘What makes you say that?’

‘Something I heard - from a friend of mine.’

‘Who was it?’

‘Just a friend.’

‘Girls like you have too many friends,’ Edward complained. ‘You are a devil, Victoria. I love you madly and you don’t care a bit.’

‘Oh yes, I do,’ said Victoria. ‘Just a little bit.’

Then, hiding her delighted satisfaction, she asked, ‘Edward, is there anyone called Lefarge connected with the Olive Branch?’

‘Lefarge?’ Edward looked doubtful. ‘No, I don’t think so.’

‘Or anyone called Anna Scheele?’

This time Edward’s reaction was very different. He caught her arm, ‘What do you know about Anna Scheele?’

‘Ow! Edward, let go! I don’t know anything about her. I just wanted to know if you did.’

‘Where did you hear about her? What made you think this Anna Scheele had anything to do with the Olive Branch?’

‘Has she?’

Edward said slowly, ‘I don’t know. It’s all so - so unclear.’ He looked at his watch. ‘I must go,’ he said. ‘But we’ve got to get together, Victoria. There’s a lot I want to know.’


That evening Edward and Victoria walked together in the Consulate garden. The sunset was beautiful but neither of the young people noticed it.

‘It began simply,’ said Victoria, ‘with a man coming into my room at the Tio Hotel and getting stabbed.’

It was not, perhaps, most people’s idea of a simple beginning. Edward said, ‘Getting what?’

‘Stabbed,’ said Victoria. ‘Anyway,’ she added, ‘he was dead.’

‘How could he come into your room if he was dead?’

‘Oh Edward, don’t be stupid.’

For some mysterious reason Victoria could never tell the truth in a simple way. Her story was uncertain and incomplete and it sounded as if she was telling a terrible lie.

When she came to the end, Edward looked at her doubtfully and said, ‘You do feel alright, Victoria, don’t you? I mean you haven’t had a dream, or anything?’

‘Of course not.’

‘Because, I mean, it seems such an impossible thing to have happened.’

‘Well, it did happen,’ Victoria insisted.

‘And all that dramatic stuff about world powers and mysterious secrets, things like that simply don’t happen. Honest, Victoria - are you making this up?’

‘No!’ cried Victoria annoyed.

‘And you’ve come down here looking for someone called Lefarge and someone called Anna Scheele…’

‘Whom you’ve heard of,’ Victoria added.

‘Yes… but I don’t know if it means anything. It was just - odd. You see, Victoria, I’m not as clever as you. You see things and you understand what those things mean. I just sort of feel that things are - well - wrong - but I don’t know why.’

‘I feel like that sometimes, too,’ said Victoria. ‘Like seeing Sir Rupert on the balcony of the Tio Hotel.’

‘Who’s Sir Rupert?’

‘Sir Rupert Crofton Lee. He was on the plane coming out. A famous man. And when I saw him sitting on the balcony at the Tio, I had that strange feeling, like you’ve just said, that something was wrong, but I didn’t know what it was.’

‘Rathbone asked him to come and give a talk at the Olive Branch, I believe, but he couldn’t come.’

‘Well, go on about Anna Scheele.’

‘Oh, Anna Scheele. It was one of the girls.’

‘Catherine?’ said Victoria immediately.

‘I believe it was, now I think of it. Well, Catherine said to one of the other girls, “When Anna Scheele comes, we can move forward. Then we’ll get our orders from her - and her alone”’

‘That’s really important, Edward. Didn’t you think it was strange at the time?’

‘No, of course I didn’t. I thought it was just some woman who was coming out - perhaps a new boss. Are you sure you’re not imagining all this, Victoria?’

As soon as he saw the look his young friend gave him, he was immediately sorry.

‘All right, all right,’ he said quickly. ‘Only, you’ll admit, the whole story just doesn’t seem real. And you are very good at making things up. The Bishop of Llangow and all that!’

‘Oh, that was just girlish fun,’ said Victoria. ‘This is serious. But look here, Edward, how do you know…?’

A call from the balcony interrupted her.

‘Come in, you two - drinks waiting.’

‘Coming,’ called Victoria.


Victoria went to bed that night with strangely mixed feelings. Her journey had ended - and she had found Edward! Then she shuddered. In spite of everything, she had a feeling of disappointment.

Words floated through her head. Something she had meant to ask Edward in the garden - but Mrs Clayton had called and it had gone out of her head. She must remember because it was important; something was wrong. If only she could remember before sleep…

Victoria dreamed. She dreamed of a woman coming towards her along a hotel corridor - it was herself - but when the woman got near, she saw the face was Catherine’s. Edward and Catherine - how silly!

‘Come with me,’ she said to Edward, ‘we will find Mr Lefarge…’

And suddenly Edward had gone and she was alone in the dark with evil all around her. And she was holding a brown coat, covered with blood. She was running in terror down a hotel corridor. And they were coming after her.

Victoria woke suddenly from her dream, her heart beating wildly.

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