Vittorio was dead, and no amount of voodoo magic would ever bring him back. This Ynez knew with absolute certainty, and in that sense she was reassured. She had laid him to rest in the family tomb with all due ceremony, a grand charade for his co-workers and community, secretly glad to finally be rid of him. She had lived with his deceptions for long enough, he had proven over and over again how terribly inept he was. Yet she had always covered for him, as was the custom. Now she no longer had the worry. She was a widow dressed in black, and people would leave her alone to her grief.
From the beginning he had lied to her and her family, first by giving the false name Rodolfo López, though she had recognized all along what a blatant fortune-hunter he was. Her father had warned her, and she had heeded the advice never to reveal to Vittorio the precise extent of their wealth or holdings. But a woman needed a husband to hide behind in this society, and Vittorio had served that purpose well enough, fathering the children and playing the role of grand patron. She had endured his dalliances, his posturing, his long trips to the Americas, his overbearing flattery of her father, and his final folly, the unsuccessful attempt at reconciliation with his estranged sister, the ballerina Grazia Rosetti, whom he had unceremoniously abandoned in Paris years earlier. The rapprochement had been a costly effort for nought, and that alone was disgrace enough. But, she conceded, had it not been for Vittorio she would never have discovered so much about Capt Harry Blackpool.
Ynez Sylvain Delacroix López looked out from the stone balcony outside la Maison du Soleil, the magnificent mansion her father had built on the island’s highest point overlooking the harbour. Miles away on the horizon she could see the sky turned purple and grey, and her instincts told her that terrible weather was coming. She had observed skies like this before and she knew it did not bode well. There was a suspiciously damp, salty smell to the air, the faint perfume of seaweed churned up from the seabed and blown toward their shores. The wind had picked up considerably, already tiny almond blossoms were flying by, tumbling across the vast lawn before her. The storm would arrive soon, perhaps tomorrow.
‘ Best to shutter the mansion, and move the heavy wagons into the sheds,’ she thought. She would give the order to the foremen tonight.
From what she had pieced together, the husband she called Rodolfo López was actually Vittorio Rosetti, a fallen Italian aristocrat who had years earlier bet his entire family fortune on bonds meant to finance the purchase of vast parcels of land for the construction of a canal in the Suez. His timing had been, as always, impeccably bad. The bonds quickly plunged in value to worthlessness, leaving him and his teenaged sister penniless. In exchange for a large loan, Vittorio had bartered his sister to a stingey Scottish knight named Sir Robert Marsh, who was enamoured of her. Marsh eventually married the girl, but secretly, for he was both infatuated with her yet deeply ashamed of her nationality and her association with the theatre. Vittorio faked his own suicide, changed his name to Rodolfo Lopez, and stole away to Barbados, where he met and married Ynez. For years he lived off the Delacroix family, never revealing his true story. But his sister subsequently gained a measure of fame in Paris as the ballerina called la Fragolina. When Vittorio learned of her success he became obsessed with reestablishing contact, a fact he kept to himself for months. Ynez, sensing a change in his mood, wormed the truth about his past out of him, and learned of his terrible conduct with his sister. If he was to regain Grazia’s trust, he claimed, he would need to reconcile the fraud he had perpetrated on her. For once fate delivered him some assistance. The very bonds which had caused his ruin years before suddenly regained their value and more: a new syndicate took up the canal-digging project. But he could no longer abide the scenario of disgrace and betrayal he had caused, and it consumed him to the point that Ynez insisted he make the journey, pay his sister back, and be done with the business once and for all. So he had spent months planning, and used their family connections, intent on restoring Grazia’s fortune, even going so far as to consult Lord Considine at the Admiralty in London for help in finding an agent who could competently investigate her situation. That was how he had come into contact with the mysterious Capt Harry Blackpool, whose services did not come cheap.
To achieve his goal, Vittorio liquidated half the bonds to finance his trip and paid the exorbitant fee demanded by Captain Blackpool; the remaining money he intended to hand over to his sister. She would then be a woman of property and, Vittorio reasoned, forgive him all his transgressions. Vittorio needed her pity, her recognition, and he secretly envied the notoriety his sister had achieved on her own in Paris.
When, months earlier, Ynez had finally bade him farewell at the docks, she hoped that he would settle the matter once and for all. But in the time he was gone she found she did not miss him in the slightest, and after a point even her children seemed to lose interest in his letters, which were written in a mechanical and repetitive voice. She dreaded his return, and she found she resented his deception for all the years they had been together. Then he came home mortally ill, and honour compelled her to care for him, which she did with a degree of grace he did not deserve. As they carried him ashore from the clipper ship on a litter, after six months away in Europe, she could tell by his ashen complexion that his condition was grave. It was a miracle that he had survived the ocean voyage, in fact he remembered little of it. He found it difficult to speak.
She listened to his erratic account from his sickbed, and when possible she reconstructed the reality of his trip. The cost had been horrendous, the results disastrous. She could only imagine the calamities which Blackpool must have prevented. Just as Vittorio arrived in London, Grazia Rosetti had fled in the company of a bohemian artist from the Magyar. There had been scandal connected to an incriminating portrait of her which the artist had painted. Vittorio had nearly been lost at sea and then incarcerated in Spain. He had finally intercepted her in some disreputable inn outside Strasbourg, where she rejected Vittorio’s entreaties, but taken the bonds and run off with the artist. Capt Blackpool had disappeared into the night, and had not been heard from again. He had delivered what he contracted to do, he had collected his money, why would he remain any longer in the company of a fool like Vittorio?
There was also the matter of the pearls. It was another example of Vittorio’s reckless extravagance, one she might never have learned about had he not been conscious as she unpacked his sea trunk next to the bed where he rested. He surprised her by motioning at her.
‘The false panel at the bottom,’ he coughed, gesturing. It took Ynez some time to find the hidden seam, which when separated revealed a panel held fast by a very clever system of latches. When she was finally able to open them all and lift it away she discovered a shallow space containing a folio of correspondence with Capt Blackpool, a packet of documents wrapped in canvas cloth and sealed with wax, two bundles of currency, and a flat, wrapped box. Vittorio watched her wordlessly, but when she lifted the box he pointed at it, uttered the words, ‘For you,’ then promptly dropped his arm to his chest and fell into a deep sleep.
Ynez looked suspiciously at the box. Some foolish bauble, no doubt, she thought, which she would open later. She then examined the documents, put the thick file about Blackpool aside, and discovered that during the trip Vittorio spent nearly every penny he had taken along with him, an astronomical sum by anyone’s standards. He had lavishly furnished his berth both directions, rented elegant mansions, hired expensive horses and coaches, purchased a sailing ship which had run aground on the Catalan coast, paid a huge bribe to a Spanish official, and spent whatever remained—which was a king’s ransom—on a strand of pearls at auction. She found the black pearls in the flat box, and though they were of a beautiful hue the sight of them offended her, for they symbolized to her his folly, his ostentation, the magnitude of his misjudgment. No doubt he had foolishly overpaid for them, of that she was certain, though she could not fathom by how much. Whatever it was, the sum written on the receipt from the auction house was immense, unthinkable.
While Vittorio slept she debated what to do with them. She tried them on by candlelight in front of her ornate gold-framed mirror. They were large and bulky and the heavy teardrop ruby suspended from the centre nested uncomfortably between her breasts. She knew she would be embarrassed to wear them in public. Quickly, she returned the strand to the box, at a loss for where to keep them. They were certainly valuable, but they only served to remind her of how disillusioned she was with her husband. Later she locked them in her study, in a secret compartment hidden behind bricks under a great mantle, which her father had installed, a place of which only she knew the location.
Vittorio was very dead, she remembered, and his had not been a graceful passing. Every day he weakened. In his last weeks he drifted between senseless tirades and delirium. Finally, feverish spasms, no awareness of his surroundings, unable to eat or drink, then shuddering, a fall into unconsciousness, then death. She had been out riding in the sugar cane fields when word came. She would have preferred to stay away, let the servants handle it, but instead she yielded to the last detail of the masquerade and immediately went to attend to his burial. Now he rested in the family tomb, the burden of his presence removed from her forever, and she stood at the stone balustrade looking out at the turbulent horizon, and considered her future. There was sugar cane to harvest, molasses to boil in the great vats, rum to distil, ships’ holds to stock, columns of figures to be totalled. After the storm passed, life would go on. Though it seemed an unlikely prospect, perhaps she would find another husband. After all, she was the richest woman in Barbados.
Ynez found the harbour deserted, the stone-paved alleys oddly empty, shutters latched on all sides, the rowboats dragged up on the quai and filled with heavy stones. An eerie calm had descended, and the wind had dropped to a whisper, so that only the furtive cry of a seagull circling high overhead punctuated the uncharacteristic hush. Occasionally she would glimpse someone crossing a passage to steal into a doorway, then the scratch of a lock turning, so quiet she could hear the huffing of her horse exhaling, and the sharp clap of his hooves echoing on the cobblestones. She wasted no time in giving orders to the men at her warehouse—make fast the barrels, chain the cellars, bar the doors, secure the windows. Then she rode to the bay.
She could see the clippers anchored offshore, far enough apart so they would not collide in the coming weather. That was good. She looked down along the blue arc of the beach, which was fronted by sea grapes and coconut trees and it seemed the expanse of golden sand was animated by a strange undulation, but then she realized droves of tiny crabs were dancing in concert at the waterline, settling, then covered by surf, then moving about again after the water receded. The waves churned, tiny whitecaps formed.
She directed her horse towards the foliage again, and galloped back to Maison du Soleil. She turned the mount loose at the jungle’s edge, and he ran off into the brush; she hoped he would find safety, and that she would see him after the deluge had passed. There remained little time for additional precaution. At the great mansion she found servants hurrying about, crating the delicate crystal and china and carrying it into the warren of cellars, while the wind added a chorus of its incredible whine. Inside the cavernous rooms the candles flickered, the skies outside turning an ominous grey, and the last of the staff were hustled down into the underground vaults where bedding and provisions had been placed. Only the children appeared unconcerned, as if some magical game was being played, a vast charade of fantasy among the subterranean passages.
At one point Néné brought to her an emaciated old magician she had consulted from time to time, a blind man in rags, who it was believed had second sight. He turned his face upwards at her, his milky eyes a weird distraction, and he muttered some patois she could not understand.
‘He says that terrible things are about to occur,’ the servant interpreted. ‘But you and your children are sure to survive, though great pain will follow.’ Ynez gave him some coins, he was escorted away, and soon above their heads the cellar doors were fastened tight as the howling wind rose.
In the dim light, cloistered in her own small alcove, Ynez sat close to a lantern and turned her attention to the letters which Vittorio had left behind. Now she could occupy herself with them undisturbed and try to make sense of his disastrous odyssey.
The wind and rain prevailed unabated over the next three interminable days. As she delved deeper into the dossier from the Admiralty she was overwhelmed with the strange names of places she read, exotic lands she had never heard of, reports of exploits so fantastic and daring that it seemed like a novel, and not the story of one person's life. Harry Blackpool's origins were vague—an orphan captured in the forest outside London. He had somehow saved an Indian prince from assassins. Wild red-skinned savages from America were mentioned, and a treacherous French double agent named Pierrepont. Blackpool had been taken as the ward of a Marquis, sent to Rajasthan, given his own name, and then disappeared into the wilds of Kurdistan. He had ventured into unexplored territory intent on finding his protector. He had single-handedly captured a legendary bandit, but the credit was taken by a corrupt British Admiral, and once again Blackpool went north in search of the missing Marquis. This time he had fallen prisoner to wild tribes warring in harsh valleys where no white person dared to go. Again he went lost.
15 years earlier, Waziristan
The ideal prisoner never speaks unless spoken to, bears any load piled upon him, accepts all abuse, sleeps when told to sleep, walks when told to walk. He gratefully eats whatever is given to him, and never asks for more. He wears the cast-off rags he is provided, and he treats everyone, even the lowliest of his captors, with respect and blind submission.
Harry Blackpool knew these simple principles were the keys to his survival, and he held to them for months as the ragged band to whom he was enslaved trooped along mountain passes, through wild valleys, next to rushing torrents. Theirs was a strange code, and a new language to learn, and Harry Blackpool waited, invisibly, noting everything he saw or heard. He knew that when his chance for escape came he would need to apply every technique of survival these men possessed. By now he had the body of a man, tall, strong, lean, with skin burnished brown from the elements under which he laboured. He was roughly equal to a pack animal to them, and no matter how hard they tried to break him he remained alive. He climbed rocky precipices, forded frozen streams, moved heavy rock, built fires in wild winds, slept outdoors on the coldest nights, slaughtered animals, and carried food when he was on the brink of starvation, but he did not die. And finally, when the men grew bored they pitted him against their greatest warrior, simply to amuse themselves, never suspecting the outcome. Harry Blackpool had watched the man for months, and he knew his every weakness.
They had arrived onto a high plateau on a hot spring day and made camp at the edge of a valley that stretched below for uncountable miles before them. The horses were tethered and the tents set in a circle, a fire was built. It seemed they were about to allow him a moment of rare relaxation, but as he sat on the rough dirt by the edge of the paddock a group of men approached and dragged him to a makeshift circle. Bets were being taken and they threw him an old, dull knife and pushed him into the centre. Men crowded around the perimeter, jeering. A seasoned fighter called Walid stepped into the circle, his own deathly blade in his hand. Walid was easily a head taller than Harry, feared, but not always well liked. He obviously had been goaded into the match and intended to be done with the dare quickly. The men urged him on, taunting.
Harry Blackpool undersood. Before he had time to think any further, Walid charged, but Harry was ready. He had seen the man fight before, so he used a trick he had been taught by the Iroquois, standing his ground, waiting for the opponent to come close, dodging, then diving for his legs, and he plunged the pommel of the knife into the man’s gut as he rolled sideways away from Walid's blade. Walid fell over with a grunt, winded, stunned, he lay on the ground doubled over, wheezing. Harry wrested the sharp knife from the man’s hand, stepped back a respectable distance, and threw him the dull blade. The assembled crowd grew silent at this unexpected development, Harry waited. Minutes passed, and finally Walid stood up slowly, shakily, hefting the dagger menacingly. In a flash he was at Harry again, slashing with the blade in a wide arc, but once again Blackpool’s superior agility triumphed, and a deft uppercut opened the man’s throat, and the man died where he stood, in a pool of his own blood which seeped into the brown dust under his feet, a bug-eyed, startled look on his face as he slipped into the other world. The men hissed, took their own knives in hand, none moved, and they wondered how revenge would come.
‘Who next?’ Harry Blackpool shouted, turning in a circle, facing them all. ‘Who is next?’ He held the bloody dagger towards them. If this was to be his last moment he intended to take a few of the bad guys with him. Still nobody moved.
‘Did this man address us in our own language?’ It was a voice from outside the ring, that of the warlord Omar. ‘This man who never speaks?’
‘There is no doubt I did,’ Harry Blackpool answered, holding fast to the blade. ‘So, who is next?’
‘I think there has been enough killing for today,’ Omar said. ‘You fought well.’
‘He died well.’
‘Will you swear loyalty to me?’ Omar asked. ‘I can't afford to lose any more men like him.’
Harry Blackpool counted to thirty, nodded yes. Omar held his blade out crossways, flat side up, so Harry placed his fingertips on the metal.
‘Now I rely on your honour,’ the warlord said. ‘You are under my protection, so do not make a fool out of me in front of my men. If you show yourself to be a great warrior then you will be rewarded. If you betray me, then consider yourself already dead.’
‘I give my word.’
‘Good. And soon you will have a problem.’ Harry Blackpool did not show curiosity. ‘No need to worry about it today,’ Omar went on. ‘You will find out at the next jirga, which is only six months away. There's much fighting to be done before then, and at the moment we owe our brother Walid a proper burial.’
Ynez read on in the documents, transfixed by the story. During a campaign in the Hindu Kush soldiers had captured a talkative Pashtun, who related a story of a white man living among their midst. It did not take a senior intelligence officer long to recognize that the man described was Harry Blackpool, now missing for almost three years.
A loud crash interrupted Ynez from the manuscript, returning her to the reality of her situation. No respite: the storm continued unabated, though they were well protected among the stone walls of the cellars. She could only imagine the damage, and later would learn that a massive palm tree carried airborne had slammed into the mansion’s roof, breaking through a whole section of the upper floors, leaving the wind to carry away all the possessions left in the rooms, exposing rafters and empty floorboards and fragments of battered walls. At the edge of the broad lawn the hurricane’s force had denuded all the trees—what once were lush groves now stood bare and severe, and great sheets of rain traversed the ravaged sugar cane fields, creating alleys of rushing brown water, clogged by stones and mud. Through the vents and air shafts which penetrated the caverns they heard the howling whine, and they knew better than to climb back. When silence and daylight returned they could assess the damage. For the moment the only course was to wait. Ynez read on.
The Chaman Range, Afghanistan
He would never see the woman again, Harry thought, never see the children again. She had taken them back to her people, since he had declared his intention to continue the search for the Marquis of Blackpool. Time had little meaning these days. He had been gone from Jaipur beyond three winters, but he no longer could say with any certainty what the month was, and it did not matter. Time had become something elastic, season merging into season, days merging into nights, and even the English language an echo which he only heard in his dreams. A long time ago he had killed Walid in a fair fight, and then made war at Omar’s side, pushing east into more rough plateaus, coming down into lush green valleys filled with wildflowers, then back to mud-walled villages where the Jirga was held.
There, as promised, the problem of Walid’s survivors had surfaced, cousins demanded revenge, but Omar spoke on Harry’s behalf. He was loyal and brave, and the fool Walid had left a wife behind, with nobody to marry her in the event of his death. She would either be killed, or given to Harry, since as a widow she would be relegated to begging with the dogs at the outskirts of the village. At age 17 she was well past the marrying age and nobody else wanted her.
Her name was Kamala, and she had been sent to them by a rival tribe in lund pur, a settlement of a feud between families, where a bride was offered to bind enemies by marriage and thus prevent future bloodshed. Walid had left no brothers, fathered no children. Harry Blackpool was not of their people, but the woman was popular among the wives, who from behind their veils wielded incredible power over their husbands. Kamala followed him docilely to the mud hut he was given, and when she had removed her clothes in the firelight he found her to be staggeringly beautiful, lighter of build than the portly women his fellows favoured, young and clean, but with a mass of scars on her back and the backs of her legs from beatings she had endured from her husband. In time she learned to trust Harry, and proved to be a fine partner, eagerly waiting for him when he came home from the campaigns, their tiny dwelling warm and perfumed with the scent of rice and roasting lamb, a soft carpet spread in the corner, firewood neatly stacked, tea kettle at the ready. A year later he returned to find that she had given birth to twins.
Omar’s higher priorities included waging war against a rival tribe, so the men were ordered to pack up, offering Harry only a short opportunity to get to know his own daughter and son before he once more marched off into the mountains, perhaps this time to die. Month after bloody month followed, mud and lice and hardship. When he returned he found that the woman had gone back to her own people and taken the children along.
Now Harry sat on his heels, hidden in dense shadow by a great boulder, looking down into the valley. Nobody had followed him, they could not spare the men. They probably did not expect he would survive, and all that lay before him were miles of barren plateaus, windswept valleys, desolation. Far in the distance he could see snow-capped mountains higher than any he had ever climbed, weeks away for a man travelling on foot. But time had ceased to exist for Harry Blackpool, and another year would pass before he was again sighted, in the foothils of Nepal.
‘You were laughing,’ the nanny said. ‘Laughing rather loudly. It quite surprised us. We thought you might be going mad. That’s why I came to you.’ She had made her way by candlelight down the vaulted corridor to the alcove where Ynez was installed. She peeked around the corner.
‘Perhaps I’m going a bit stir-crazy,’ Ynez admitted, shifting in her chair. ‘Three days of this underground existence hasn’t made me any calmer. I feel like a troglodyte, some variety of mole. Plus I am vicariously reliving Vittorio’s humiliating past.’
‘I think the wind is finally dying down. But, what made you laugh that way?’
‘These letters,’ Ynez answered, holding up the stack she had been reading. ‘Correspondence between my late husband and Capt Blackpool. What a farce! Here is Vittorio trying to pressure the most dangerous man alive, and he has not a clue how foolish he looks. Trying to get Blackpool to lower his fee! It’s almost as if he never read the dossier from the Admiralty, the story of this mysterious soldier who can’t be corrupted, who won’t be negotiated with, who fears nothing. Blackpool would never make such a ridiculous concession, and how Vittorio snivels at him. Well—he deserved everything he got—such a stupid dance between men. The Captain quotes a fee, Vittorio challenges it, Blackpool refuses the job, Vittorio accepts the original price, but now Blackpool will have no part of it. Vittorio begs. Blackpool doubles his fee, and of course Vittorio says yes.’
She wondered what the reality was of the enigmatic meeting in Strasbourg, which Vittorio had mentioned only briefly. There was nothing in the letters describing the aftermath of the event. This much she knew: that Blackpool had somehow arranged the meeting with the ballerina and her lover and her tormented Scottish husband at an inn. Vittorio mentioned shots being fired, his sister taking the money but refusing any further contact. Capt Blackpool galloping off without a word.
‘Your husband was a fool, everyone knows that,’ the nanny said, interrupting her thought. Years of service to the family had accustomed her to the taking of such liberties.
‘Nobody knows to the extent that I do,’ Ynez replied, barely noting the nanny’s impertinence. ‘And you cannot imagine the amount of money he spent to orchestrate his reunion with that sister of his. What a self-centred trollop she must be. She obviously has a very high opinion of herself, yet the theatre was not enough attention for her. She needed to pursue her career, leave her husband and then find a lover. And it’s clear that even Capt Blackpool himself fell victim to her charms. He writes about her with a great, undeserved sympathy. God help us, hers is the blood of my children, and let’s hope she stays away from our doorstep. With luck we will never hear of her again.’
‘I don’t know,’ the nanny confided. ‘The old magician said more trouble was coming. That could mean you see her again.’
‘Last sighted in Venezia, may she stay there. The only one who interests me even slightly is Capt Blackpool. Such an enigma, so taciturn, so calculating. I would very much like to make his acquaintance one day. But that’s an impossible thought. Néné, it sounds quiet up above, it must be daybreak. What do you say we throw open the doors and see what we find outside?’
Devastation is what they found. But an ironically beautiful day with brilliant blue sky, and light breezes playing over the hillsides. There remained no foliage anywhere, only bare muddy stretches strewn with strangely twisted pieces of wood, and wreckage. The fields stood empty, save whatever trees stood, spare skeletons silhouetted against a dull grey landscape, interspersed by pools of standing water. The house was now a brick shell, roof completely gone and reduced to bare rafters, those few which remained. The root ball of a massive palm tree trunk projected from a window on the second floor, its other end hung over the crushed corner of the house at a jarring diagonal. All the windows had been blown away, and what they found in the rooms was debris, or objects soaked, clogged with mud. Each room would need to be cleared, every inch washed, and then every surface restored or refinished. She knew months would pass before the house could be inhabited again.
For a moment she imagined she saw an apparition, but there it was, at the crest of the hill, tranquilly nibbling at the grass that remained, her gelding waited. Somehow he had survived the deluge, she whistled and he was by her side in a moment. She had a groom take him to be brushed out, that is if a brush could be found, for she was not sure how much was left of the stables. It was a good omen he had survived. Out in the harbour she could only see Adelaide, laying dismasted on her side, lengthwise on the beach. What a beautiful ship it was, she thought, marvelling at its elegant bow. Granada would never be heard of again. Down by the quai teams could be seen removing rubble from a collapsed building, and she could make out a line of cadavres arrayed on the stone waterfront. Word came up from her clerks: nearly everything lost, casks afloat in the cellars, the fields denuded, people pleading for help.
Years to rebuild, she thought. Astounding amounts of money necessary, more than she could imagine. She took a deep breath, and a month passed invisibly. Days and nights merged. Roads got repaired, grounds cleared, new crop planted, materials scavenged. Life resumed, and Ynez could analyse more carefully the situation. She sent Vittorio’s sister a short letter reporting his death. She made it clear he had handed over to her in Strasbourg the last of his money. She reported the destruction on the island and the staggering cost of reconstruction.
She made no mention of the pearls Vittorio had so generously left behind, which now lay waiting in her strong box, soon to be disposed of to replace the missing Granada. She considered the smartest way they could be sold. The only name which occurred to her was that of the same individual present when the pearls were first acquired, Capt Harry Blackpool. He would know where to get the most money for them. He would not be taken advantage of.
So she wrote to him via the address where Vittorio corresponded, some bank in London. She resisted any urge to say things superfluous, keeping her sentences perfunctory and polite. She wished to find the best qualified buyer, and she begged Capt Blackpool’s indulgence in assisting with the sale. And then she waited.
Miraculously Beatrizia, her remaining clipper, sailed regally into the harbour. The ship had not been seen nor heard of for months, so a spontaneous rejoicing broke out on shore, and the waterfront filled with dancing people, the first time Ynez had observed such widespread glee for a very long time. She watched the activity at the dock. Things necessary and frivolous were offloaded, followed by mail, the pipeline to civilization. That night, her desk piled high with business related paper, she stopped to look at the last two unfamiliar letters, both from Italy. Harry Blackpool had replied: pleased to assist with the pearls; he would suggest she bring them personally to Venezia, where they should rendezvous; he recommended immediately having a replica made, and place the actual pearls in safekeeping until the sale. He would make inquiries, provide security, advise on any transactions. He stated his terms, quite high as she had expected, and looked forward to her reply. This unexpected development allowed Ynez to consider the luxury of a trip to Venezia, and she did not hesitate. She would reply immediately, and tell him to expect her there. Venezia, the discharge of the pearls, and the dashing Capt Harry Blackpool, a positively fascinating combination.
The second letter was as if someone had doused her in cold water, and she quickly lost whatever exhilaration she had just savored. This letter came from her sister-in-law, the ballerina Signora Grazia Rosetti, writing from la Fenice, Venezia. Ynez’s letter reporting her brother’s death had obviously crossed with this one somewhere in the Atlantic, so Grazia was unaware of his demise. It was an hysterical appeal addressed to Vittorio. In a frenetic hand she wrote that her companion Count Kozlowski had been abducted and that she had nobody else she could turn to except her beloved brother to help her recover the love of her life Balthazar, and that only Capt Harry Blackpool could find him, so would her beloved brother at his earliest convenience place Capt Blackpool in contact. She alluded to a possible South American tour two years hence, and hoped it would provide them an opportunity to see her dance on stage. Please, please, she concluded in her tiny scrawl, have Capt Blackpool write to me any place any time we may meet. I am extremely concerned. I will make any compensation he asks.
Ynez eyed the letter suspiciously. So, the ballerina had dreamed up a scheme to entrap and seduce Capt Blackpool. Designed to entice him with a kidnapping, something irresistible to a man of his character. This was a distraction which he did not need while concerning himself with selling back the pearls. She wondered how she would reply to the ballerina’s letter. And what would change when la Fragolina learned Vittorio was dead. And she wondered how she could keep the ballerina away from Harry Blockpool.
‘Néné!’ Ynez shouted. Footsteps came rushing down the hall.
‘Have you gone crazy?’ the nanny asked. ‘Howling like that at this hour.’
‘I am not crazy,’ she answered. ‘I am going to travel to Venezia, and then to Nantucket to buy myself a new clipper ship.’
‘Madame, it’s after midnight. Can this wait until tomorrow?’
‘No, you will start packing now. There’s not a moment to lose.’
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