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She sat for a rare moment of stillness, studying the distant shore.  Isn t
the Suez Canal just the superest thing? Tommy says it saves weeks and weeks of
sailing all around Africa, with storms and all. You English were so clever to
have built it.
It was slightly startling to be given personal credit for the project, and I
felt an obligation to set her and Tommy straight.  Actually, the canal was
here long before England was even a country. Ramses the Second was the first
Egyptian to begin it, although it wasn t completed until the days of Darius,
about twenty-four hundred years ago. Not that it s been open all that time.
The silt blocks it, and a couple of times it was deliberately filled in for
defence purposes, but we can hardly be given credit for thinking of the thing.
Anyone who looked at a rudimentary map would be tempted to get out the
 Well! she exclaimed.  I never. And Tommy said . . . But aren t you clever,
to know these things? I should have gone to school, university I mean, but
somehow it just never seemed to come up.
 It s not too late.
 I suppose, she said dubiously, but we both knew she never would. She spent
perhaps thirty seconds mourning her lack of education, then held out one arm
alongside mine, which was growing darker by the day. (For, whatever our
disguises might be in the weeks ahead, I doubted that pale-skinned English
lady would be one of them.)
 When Mama notices how brown you re going, don t be surprised if she has ten
fits. Whenever she finds me sitting in the sun, she gives me a lecture about
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wrinkles until I put on my topee.
 Topees make me feel as if I m speaking inside a bucket, I said.
She giggled.  Does your mother nag you, too, or does that stop as soon as
you re married?
 My mother s dead, I told her.
Her expressive face crumpled.  Oh, I am so sorry. How stupid of me, I
didn t 
I interrupted before she burst into tears.  Don t worry, it s been a very
long time. So tell me, have you decided to be a Kewpie doll or a harem
The fancy-dress ball was to be the following night, and the ship quivered
with the thrill of anticipation, the ship s tailors working round the clock,
sworn to secrecy. Holmes and I planned on taking advantage of the evening s
empty cabins to begin juggling clubs. Wooden belaying pins when dropped make
quite a noise.
My distraction worked. Sunny clapped her hands and leant towards me as if
there might be spies lurking on the other side of the crate to ask,  Have you
ever been to the cabarets in Berlin?
I reared back to stare at the child, speechless. A Berlin night-club was not
a thing I d have thought Sunny s mother would have allowed her daughter within
a mile of.
 Er, yes.
 Well, I haven t seen one (Thank goodness for small mercies, I thought.)
 but Tommy told me about one girl who dances on stage with a big snake. And
that made me think about the snake charmers in India, and, voil!
 Where are you going to get a snake? I asked. Did snakes perhaps not come
under the P. & O. s pet-exclusion clause?
 Not a real snake, silly! Sunny s eyes danced.  I m having thedurzimake up a
snake for me durzi s what they call tailors in India and I ll wear it around
my shoulders. And I have a dress that matches its skin. Won t that be fun?
I thought that it might be more fun than she was prepared for, considering
the number of young men on board.  It sounds . . . exotic. But, Sunny? Perhaps
you shouldn t mention Berlin in relation to the costume. Those night-clubs
might be considered somewhat . . . risqu for a girl your age.
 Okay. But what do you think of the snake idea?
 I think you ll have every young man on the ship slithering along the decks
after you, I said.
She giggled.
However, later that evening as we were dressing for dinner, Holmes astonished
me as well. He chose a moment of weakness on my part, as he was brushing my
long hair.
 Russell, I think it might be a good idea to go to this costume ball.
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