The Illustrated Boatman’s Daughter Tour

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The Illustrated Boatman's Daughter cover

 “The Navigators” series of historical adventures

Historical fiction, young adult fiction

 Date Published: October 27, 2020

Publisher: Empire Studies Press


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An Egyptian girl fights amid intrigue and corruption for the completion of
the world’s greatest man-made waterway.

Recent events have placed the Suez Canal in the global spotlight. One of
the world’s most vital waterways, the Canal was originally hailed as a link
between civilizations, between Western science and Eastern mystery.
This adventure is set against the epic creation of the Canal.

Heroes coming of age… and changing history.


“Tom Durwood is the real thing.”

— Joe Weber, Honorable Enemies, Rules of Engagement


The Illustrated Boatman's Daughter tablet


E X C E R P T   F R O M 

The Boatman’s Daughter


“Tom Durwood is the real thing.”  Joe Weber, Primary Target


“There is in Egypt the most important isthmus the world,

that separating its great seas, the Ocean and the Mediterranean:

a place that cannot be avoided without circling all the sinuosities of Africa;

the connecting point, the obstacle, the key,

the only possible door between two areas of the world …”


— Gottfried von Liebnitz, in a 1672 letter to Louis XIV

urging France to send an army to Egypt


Copyright @ 2020 Tom Durwood. Registered with the U.S. Copyright Office. All rights reserved.

girl with book



Egypt, at that moment, was the theatre in which Europe 

played out its fears, its rivalries, its dreams.


— Saul Dubinksy, A Brief History of the Navigators


“I have it in hand,” the Boatman’s daughter, Salima, said. 

“I have the tuition. I can pay for it myself.”

Her father, the burly widower Yaffit, hesitated, one foot on the barge, one foot on the docks. 

“How much is it again, Salima?”

“Twenty-five piastras each month,” answered his only daughter, Salima, age sixteen. “And I already have the first three months’ tuition from my savings …”

Ma’at, the first mate, tugged on the luffing mainsail of the Saa, as patient as a young sailor on a loaded barge can be. The fleet of barges was all stacked and yawing, ready to sail, ready to begin tacking upriver – south, that is — for the all-day journey. The tides and wind favored them – for the moment – and all who sail the Nile know that the river’s favor is a fleeting thing.  

“It’s a good school,” the girl reminded her father. “A Frenchwoman runs it. And Isbaza is the safest of neighborhoods. Goma’s grandfather lives practically next door.”

The collie at her side barked, as though expecting an answer. 

“You take her side, do you?” said Yaffit to the collie. 

The lead barge strained at the ropes constraining it, desperate to swerve out into the river’s channels. The Tunisian pulled the boat back, tugging hard on the ropes which anchored her to Yaffit’s docks. 

“Can’t we decide when I get back –?” Yaffit stroked his beard.

“No,” replied Salima.

A pelican dove into the waters just beyond the dock, and emerged with a wriggling fish.  

“Thoth was smiling last night. That must have been a sign,” said the Boatman. 

“All right,” he concluded. “I suppose it is for the best — ”

“Thank you,” said Salima. She hugged her father.

“Are both the donkeys tied down? If one of them gets even a little loose — ” 

“Yes. Double hitches,” said Salima, and with that Yaffit jumped. 

The lanky, mostly silent Tunisian let go the line, and the sails of the well-laden Saa caught the wind. The little barge sailed prettily into the channels of the Nile, followed close by the other five boats. 

The pelican hovered, looking for more. 

people in the dark 




Truth may walk through the world unarmed.


– Bedouin proverb


Forty miles to the west, in the soft light of pre-dawn, on the benches of the swept-clean stone coutyard, on the bluff above the world’s great river, they waited. 

The people of the Nile sat quiet and polite in the gloaming. Soft, muffled sounds could be heard, of babies shifting in their wraps, and camels chewing, goats shaking off dreams of green grass under blue skies. 

They awaited the Boatman’s Daughter. 

The flag had gone up the night before: barges will run tomorrow. 

Slight breezes, always present so near the water, fluttered the flag above the stone oval courtyard.  

The six barges of the Boatman Yaffit would make their way up the Nile, twenty leagues, to the great cotton farms, carrying the men and women of Egypt’s working classes and their various goods.     

Yaffit piloted a safe transport. He kept his boats clean and well-fitted, his lines tight; every night Ma’at inspected each of the six. The lead barge, The Dolphin, was well-known on both shores for its nimble tacking and sleek profile among the slow, bulky flatboats freighting cotton to Alexandria. Yaffit knew the river. He knew the winds, and skies, and stars. His rates were fair and even, throughout the seasons. His crews worked without complaint and his daughter, Salima, kept the barges’ operations orderly. Other transports crammed as much cargo as they could pile onto the vessels, and the devil take all those whose grip failed: not Yaffit. Fair Salima made sure each passenger had a seat, and each donkey a stall. She was kind to all in this world, merchant or fedayeen or pharoah or beast, and her generosity of spirit attracted her clients like a light. 

With a rustle and the metal rattle of a key in a lock, the Boatman’s Daughter emerged unannounced into the courtyard, the black-and-white border collie trotting watchfully beside her. She wore a plain tunic, embroidered in crimsons and blue around the neckline. The necklace which had belonged to her departed mother accentuated her movements with a soft clacking. The unruly crown of chestnut hair was held barely in place with two combs.          

The Tunisian moved behind her.  

She did not walk directly to the table at the head of the oval, under the canopies, by the door, but instead carried a tray of fruits around the patio’s perimeter, to offer to the women and children who had waited all night to be in line, to reserve a space on Yaffit’s barges. The men would not take any. The women and children stood as she came among them, and bowed. She ignored their bows and asked about their families and their livestock, and their fortunes during the week. She knew most of them, and she introduced herself to those she did   not know.        

She sat at the table. 

She opened her ledgers by the light of the torches the Tunisian had lit. 

She smoothed the pages, and arranged her stamps and ink and piles of papers. 

She raised her face to the first in line. Seen very close, Salima’s eyes were not that unusual. It was when you pulled back, just a little, and saw them in the context of her face, that they became so striking. Her features were dark and exotic, like her father’s, and the color of her eyes a brilliant blue, like her mother’s, and the results were a striking combination of French and Bedouin. She had inherited her high cheekbones and the slight almond shape of her eyes from her Arabian father, who drank to excess, yet adored her. The freckles across her nose and her thick eyelashes came from her French mother.

“Hullo, Wagoner.”

“My father sent word,” he said. “The English thrasher struck his largest cart. He needs these.” She saw stacked high behind him, attended by burly fedayeen, eight giant wooden wheels.

“Five is all we can carry, Wagoner. They are too heavy.”

“I know. I promised him I would ask you.”

“Hassan can bring a sixth with him on Friday. Your father delivers Mondays, does he not?”


“All right. Friday morning? Will that do?” 

“Yes,” said the young wagoner, relieved.  

“They will dock Friday, by noon. Be sure you mind the signals.”

She drew a wheel symbol and the numeral 5 and circled it in the middle of her chart of the first boat. The heavy wheels would be placed just by the barge’s centerboard, where they would stabilize the vessel. She made a notation for three extra coils of the heavy rope. 

She stamped a bill of lading and gave it to the young wagoner. He studied it in the flickering light. The wagoner carefully opened his pouch and counted out the gold coins. She counted them, made a notation in the ledger, and lay the coins in the box at her feet. The Tunisian stood sentry.

Next were two messangers with their pouches, from the banks of Alexandria, and then a toolmaker, who was the neighbor of her cousin. Two small girls gave her a box of excellent iron nails which their father had found, along with an illustrated book of legends from Paris, France, and a curved seashell they could not identify. She bowed and thanked them, and gave each two figs.  

A boy her own age, a tall European, stepped forward. His mop of blond hair seemed to glow in the dim light. 

U opnieuw, Mikal?” she asked.

“Yes,” Mikal smiled. “Me again.” 

They both laughed. The women nearby murmured; the Tunisian shifted his feet.

“No courier today? No pouches?”

“Just this.”

The young Dutchman lay a small envelope on the table. She picked it up. It was linen, with the seal of the shipping agents, Mickler Sykes, on it. She turned it over and ran her finger along the raised wax. 

“What is it?” she asked, hefting the envelope.

“It’s an invitation,” answered the young Dutchman. “See that you attend.” 

He bowed. She looked after him as he made his way back up the hill, to Cairo proper.

“A long way to come just to mail a letter,” said on of the women.

By the time the sun was ready to rise, she had charted almost enough cargo to fill her father’s barges. Only a half-dozen clients remained.  

“We are too full to take these now,” said Salima to the next in line, a burly young Afar tribesman, who escorted a stack of long wooden boxes. Two companions stood beside them. “Come earlier next time.” 

“What do you mean, ‘too full’?” he demanded.

“I am not speaking in code, friend,” said Salima. “Take them to the bargeman, Chavi, across the way. He can ferry you. We don’t take guns.” She nodded towards the stacked boxes with the French markings. 

“We have heard that your rival transports are all inferior to yours.”

She motioned for the next in line. “Those Martini Henrys are good rifles,” she said. “But you may find yourself stuck loading the breech. The American rifles don’t stop firing.” She raised one eyebrow. 

“I can make a separate arrangement,” said the Afar. “Is there a male I could see, daughter? Your uncle? Your father, perhaps?”

“Step out, friend. Come back another day. With another cargo.” 

Fury flushed the tribesman’s features. His shoulders tensed and he reached for his waistband.

She did the same, half-standing –   

The dog growled and started. 

The Tunisian stepped between the two. 

“A thousand pardons.” The Afar bowed and laughed nervously. “It’s a friendly dispute.” He stepped out of line and retreated, with his boxes and his grumbling companions.  

When all the clients had been met, and entries made, and all their cargoes charted, Salima glanced across the courtyard. 

There in the street just outside the stone patio, the taxman sat in his cart. With his mule and stone wheel, he was knife-sharpener as well as tax collector.   

“Ah,” said the taxman. “Another profitable day at the barges.”

“Hullo effendiyah,” said Salima.

The taxman always watched in silence, standing at his cart, in the road. He pressed a blade edge to the grindstone and spun the wheel. Sparks emerged. 

“How goes the Caliph’s canal?” she asked. “Do his gold-plated shovels dig deep?”

“Indeed,” answered the tax collector, for they had made this exchange more than once. “He spends his people’s money wisely.”  

“Good, for it is most dear,” she replied.  

The taxman sharpened blades while she completed her tallies. Sparks streamed from his stone wheel in slim spools of living light, rising and falling in the pre-dawn shadows.  The Tunisian walked over and handed him the envelope. It was a tariff on merchants, a tariff which had gone up four times since the great canal had begun. 

The taxman gave a soft whistle. 

He looked up. 

The Boatman’s Daughter was gone, disappeared in the dawn light.

There was much to do. 

The barges were coming.

suez & upper nile

CHAPTER 2: The Dolphin


The young sculptor drew up plans for a towering statue

of a female fellah. She would be draped in the robes

worn by Egyptian peasants … she would carry a torch, and

her name would be Egypt Bringing Light to Asia.


— Zachary Karabell, Parting the Desert


The six barges approached the docks and tied up amid a flurry of fluttering sails and swinging booms and laughing embraces. I say barge, but you may think of it as a large and broad-beamed felucca, a flat-surfaced open sailboat, of the kind that commonly transports goods and passengers on the river. 

Salima hugged her father, who would not let her go. She greeted each crewman warmly, by name and endearment, and she told them each news of their families.

Salima had designed a system of ropes and stalls for unloading The Dolphin, her father’s lead barge, and the six smaller barges. Once each boat was docked and secure, the mainsails came down and the live cargo came off. Each pig and camel and goat moving through the wooden chutes and roped shunts to the owners’ stalls on the dockside. Nervous lambs squealed and chickens clucked, unfamiliar as they were with the concept of riding on a boat on water and docking at a wharf. The collie let each beast know when to sit still, when to move, and where, and how fast. A set of lanes led to a path up the incline. At the top of the incline stood the open barn, its one wall already partially raised. 

The camels loped and looked on, unperturbed. 

Sturdy cranes (some assembled with oars and driftwood) swung from their stations over each barge and lifted the heavy cargo from above. The Boatman’s clients lined up in their assigned stalls with their wheelbarrows and carts, waited to sign their bills of lading, and then loaded their goods, and were so checked off Salima’s master ledger.  Within an hour all six barges were clear; happy clients trotted off with their intact cargo. The Tunisian was cleaning the decks. The blind man, usually drunken, earned dinner by mending the sails. 

Tides wait for no man, woman, beast or boat. 


* * * 


“The English want to hire us,” announced her father at dinner. 

“Huh,” commented Ma’at.

“Last year it was the Germans,” replied Salima, unimpressed. 

“No. They want to lease our boats. Ten thousand piastras to carry their metal for a month.”

This remarkable comment produced silence around the table.  

“What, and give up all our other business?” asked Ma’at. 

“Yes. And they want you as part of the contract,” added the Boatman, speaking to Salima.

“So would I!” exclaimed Gahji. He looked around, embarrassed as his own frankness. “Sorry! Sorry. I only meant –

“We know what you meant,” laughed Ma’at. 

“We could rebuild the boathouse,” said Yaffit. “Double the size! We could expand the docks. Why with that much, we could — ”

“We’re using the money for my schooling!” said Salima.

Yaffit doled out a new helping of stew. He said nothing. Ma’at glanced up.

“You promised!”

“This school, what will you learn? And it’s all the way in Isbaza! How can I protect you — ” 

“You can’t stop me. I’m almost sixteen! I can’t believe this!” 

“Salima — ” 

“Why don’t you just operate the barges without me!”

“Now you know I can’t — ”

“I’ve never been away from this place. It’s like a prison. I’ve never been anywhere.”

“That’s not true. You’ve been to Alexandria — ” 

“When I was three!”

“I’ve taken you upriver — ”

“I’ve never had friends — ” 

“You have us — ” 

All the bargemen looked up hopefully.

“It’s not the same! I mean friends my own age! Girls like me!”

“There are none like you,” said Gahji. 

“You seem pretty friendly with that Dutch boy — ” said Ma’at.

“Maybe I’ll marry him! At least I’ll see some sliver, some particle of the outside world, and go to a school and learn something — ”

Yaffit stroked his beard worriedly

“I bring you all those books. They’re from Sweden. One is from Cathay – you said so yourself — ”

“It’s not the same! I need a teacher! I need a life!”

“This life is not so bad!” 

“It’s terrible. This is just stupid — ”

She stormed out. The collie scrambled to follow. 

excavating pyrimid

CHAPTER 3: Under the Stars

When you sleep in a house your thoughts are as high as the ceiling.

When you sleep outside, they are as high as the stars.


Bedouin Proverb


In her chambers – part bedroom, part library, part observatory — on the top-most floor of the compound, Salima had spread out the newspapers her father had brought back.

She sniffed Fadil, who was gnawing happily at the leg bone (a gift from one of the women who do their laundry at the docks).

“You need a bath.”

The two locked eyes. The dog tensed, ready to bolt.

The moment passed.

“He’ll never change,” declared the girl. “He keeps saying he’ll let me go to school, but he never means it.” She turned a page. “Let’s run away,” she suggested to the collie. 

“Where could we go?”    

The dog ignored her question and switched the bone to the other side of his mouth. 

“My mother had a cousin. In France. I still have a postcard from him.” 

She spun the globe and stopped it with her finger on France, near Alsace. She spun it again and stopped it again. “Mongolia. Maybe we could go there.” 

“What’s that?” she asked the collie. “That will take money, you say?” 

She walked to a high shelf and fished around behind the books and maps and scrolls and assorted river objects until she found a canister. “I have saved money of my own. And not for any dowry.” 

She showed the dog how much was there.   

The dog looked up from his bone, only for a moment.

 “With fifty piastras, I can go to the French school. I could still do the early morning loadings, and I could hire Ma’at’s sister to do the disembark. With a hundred piastras, I could spend a month with my uncle, in Alexandria. With two hundred, I could visit Paris. Meet my mother’s family. My cousins.” She finished counting.    

“Twenty-two. It won’t be long now, Fadil.” 

The dog dropped the bone on the bed to get a different grip on it. In doing so, he nudged an item in the sprawling collection towards Salima. It was the invitation from the young Dutchman.    

She opened the envelope and a card fell out. It read as follows: 



The Pasha Seeks Native-Born Female Shipping Agents  

On His Behalf Mickler Sykes Will Administer a Test

9:00 Thursday 

At the Offices of Our Firm 

Thirty-three Mokattam Street, Municipal Square, The Citadel, Cairo 

Cash Award for Taking the Test: Two Hundred Piastras


“Thursday,” she exclaimed. “That’s tomorrow!”

The dog returned her gaze. He sat on the bed and panted, seeming to approve.   



About the Author


TOM DURWOOD is editor of Empire Studies Magazine, an open-access journal
posting over fifty scholarly features. He taught most recently at Valley
Forge Military College, where he won five Teacher of the Year awards.

He is the author of Teddy’s Tantrum: John D. Weaver and the Exoneration of
the 25th Infantry.  His book Kid Lit: An Introduction to Literary
Theory has earned favorable early reviews.  “My favorite nonfiction
book of the year,” writes The Literary Apothecary (Goodreads).


Foreword Author’s Bio 

Fatima Sharafeddine is a writer and translator for children and young
adults, winner of several awards and honor lists, among which the Etisalat
Award for the best YA book of the year 2017 for “Cappuccino”, (Al-Saqi
publishers), and the Bologna Ragazzi New Horizons Award for her book “Tongue
Twisters” (Kalimat publishers). Her YA novel “Mila’s Pear” was 3shortlisted
for the Etisalat Award 2019, and she was nominated 5 times for the Astrid
Lindgren Memorial Award, the last nomination being in 2020. She has written
over 140 books.

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