For years now, despite her intimidating size and demeanour, Elizabeth had been subject to incessant and, often ribald, mimicry, criticism and satire from her young tormentor and had never on any single occasion ever been known to muster a credible riposte. This failure gnawed at Elizabeth’s not inconsiderable self-esteem.
As the Count's Bugatti pulled up in front of the British Consulate in Naples, he honked an exuberant tarantella upon the motor horn to announce the triumphal arrival.
"Aren’t those our cases?” he asked, looking at some luggage neatly arranged next to the door.
With that the Morrisons hastily loaded their luggage into yet another of the diplomatic corps’ venerable Rileys and in a flood of thanks, waving and good-byes clambered in and sped off towards the harbour.
Hardly had Amelia and her guests finished enjoying their lunch than the Contessa di Faraglione edged into its berth in Capri.
The following days in the Villa Cercola developed a pleasing pattern. Relaxation prevailed and delicious meals were overseen by Mrs Ponti and served by white-gloved footmen on a jasmine-scented terrace overlooking the Bay of Naples with the slopes of Vesuvius in the distance.
"You should see the study, Bunty" said Herbert, "Come and have a look."
"Mrs Ponti says it's alright to look at the books and pictures. Anything private is safely locked away," replied Herbert removing his wife's qualms.
The bookshelves lining the study contained many classical volumes in Greek and Latin. The entire works of Plato, Aristotle and Thucydides were complimented by an extensive selection of plays, histories, biographies and works of philosophy. Latin texts encompassed works by Homer, Virgil , Horace, Suetonius, Tacitus and Catullus plus many others.
Greek and Roman classics were accompanied by academic studies of archaeology and ancient civilisations ranging from the Egyptian and Mesopotamian to Byzantine and Roman.
Biblical and theological tracts vied with Rosicrucian, Gnostic and mystical studies and works on spiritualism, freemasonry and necromancy. There were sections on art and aesthetics, philosophy and politics.
As Bunty spoke, Herbert glanced through the scrapbook, laughing occasionally and remarked “The person who prepared this might not have had much else useful to do, but I have to admit, I find it hilarious. Look at these drawings and the silly articles where they have substituted Lord Desborough’s name. It says ‘Spectators in the stadium saw a remarkable exhibition of wrestling by Lord and Lady Desborough. Lady D is marked with a cross.’”
Changing the subject, Bunty said “And what’s the other one then?”
“There are various articles” explained Herbert, "Here's a strange pamphlet called ‘The Uric Acid Monthly’. You have to admit that’s quite amusing, don’t you?”
“Sounds disgusting to me, if you really want to know. So it's basically a book of nonsense then? "asked Bunty, who remained singularly unimpressed and found the collected absurdities before her somewhat unsettling, “Is it supposed to be funny?”
“Not that much, thank you dear”
“I suppose we shall have to agree to differ on that point then?”
“Yes, Herbert, we will”
If truth be told, Bunty had already been largely won over to her husband’s point of view on the scrapbooks, but was on holiday and felt like perpetuating the debate for the sheer devilment – simply because she could.
"So, Mr Detective – Tilling’s Senior Police Officer...Now you have seen all the evidence and had time to weigh it up, tell me, who do you think could possibly occupy a study like this?"
"Forgive me dear, but to a professional it’s obvious really," replied Herbert with uncharacteristically hubristic pretension.
"Please indulge my simple amateurish questions," replied Bunty with a sarcasm that entirely escaped her other half, "Do explain. Go on!"
"Well love. It’s plain as a pikestaff really: the classical texts and histories, the novels and poetry, the scrapbooks of humour and the romantic fiction. It's obvious!"
"Go on then Herbert. Tell me!" urged Bunty.
"And ice skating?" added Bunty
"How succinct: very clever of you!" remarked Bunty
"Of course, Herbert, "replied Bunty, closing the door of the study after her
As she followed her husband back to the kitchen, Bunty smiled to herself.
Next morning, whilst the Morrisons breakfasted on the terrace, a footman brought a telephone to the table.
"Scusi , Sir, a telephone call for you. It is the Count. He is calling from Napoli."
Having heard only one side of the conversation, Bunty was still unclear as to what was happening, save that something was clearly amiss, "What did Count Cecco say, Herbert?"
"Of course you must lend a hand, dear. With all the hospitality from him and Amelia here and Cecco's assistance in Sicily, it's the least you can do"
"Of course, I am sure Mrs Ponti and I will manage. We have plenty to do and hopefully you won't be away too long."
"I had better go and pack you an overnight bag."
Within two hours, Herbert was being shown by the tail-coated butler into the drawing room of the Faraglione residence in Naples. As he entered, Count Cecco turned around from the window where he had been overlooking the street below, deep in thought.
"Think nothing of it, Cecco," replied Herbert, "It's the least I could do. Now what is the problem. You mentioned that someone was missing?"
"Yes Inspector. It is, shall we say, quite a delicate problem."
"You can rely on me entirely to be discreet and we can't begin to sort things out unless we talk it through. So?"
"Very well. I will do my best," said the Count, "You will remember I mentioned to you that I had 'a very good friend'?"
"Exactly old man," confirmed the Count, "Her name is Flavia Estelle. She is a great beauty: an actress and dancer I first met in Buenos Aires. She taught me to tango - very well." With this Cecco showed Herbert a grainy photograph of himself dancing what was obviously a sultry tango with an attractive young partner.
"It was instant attraction," Cecco explained, "Flavia came back with me to Italy and has lived quietly in a house I bought for her on the road to Sorrento. We have continued to see each other regularly, but have not flaunted our relationship. That would be so vulgar, don't you think? Amelia knows about it and it is something we simply do not mention. The Contessa, she is what you call 'a brick' is she not? It is a rather grown-up arrangement. Not for everyone, but it works for Amelia and me"
"So what did you do?"
"Then what happened?"
"If you would, please."
You will understand that these are painful words to compose and I will try to be brief and to the point.
Please try to forget me and be happy in your life
Later that afternoon, after the Count's people had duly made all the necessary arrangements, he and Inspector Morrison were ushered into the vestibule of an unprepossessing suburban villa on the outskirts of Naples. The property was notable only for its ordinariness.
To Herbert's surprise, he and the Count were searched rather brusquely on entry. "It's just like in the gangster films, Count. Most illuminating."
"It doesn't happen every day, even here in Naples," commented the Count, "I admit I have never been frisked before. Another life experience, I suppose."
Cecco was reduced to silence by these critical words, which he simply could not find the wherewithal to rebut.
Remorselessly, the Don continued, "And what worse thing could you have done to her? It is bad enough that you have taken away her reputation by making her your mistress - a kept woman hidden away to be available for your gratification as and when required. I don't see what you can say to me that will change anything and think it would be best if you just went now. Neither I nor my ruined daughter ever want to see you again. Good day!"
As they were shown into an adjoining room, Herbert asked if there might be a glass of something to help the Count recover his composure.
Copyright reserved in all appropriate territories Deryck Solomon 2014