Friday, 29 June 2012

June: The Mafiosi and the Missing Mistress




As the asthmatic British Consulate Riley wheezed and spluttered its way down the mountain from Montelepre, Herbert began to outline his plans for the remainder of his truncated holiday in so far as he was able to interrupt Cecco's diatribe about the manifold defects of the example of British engineering he was struggling to drive.

"Really Inspector," complained the Count, "Great Britain is recognised as the birth-place of the industrial revolution and boasts great engineers like Watt, Stephenson and Brunel. You have gifted automotive pioneers such as Rolls - or was it Royce? Whatever it is, your country's proud tradition of fine engineering did not prepare  me for the horror of trying the drive this heap of....if you will pardon my expression...old junk!"

A little relieved that the Count had not descended to greater vulgarity, Herbert tried to change the subject, "If we are able to catch the ferry to the mainland before lunch and swap this car for your Bugatti, do you think we might get back to Naples before nightfall, Count?"

"Certainly, dear boy," replied Cecco, cheered by the thought of being reunited with his beloved Bugatti, "You will then have the benefit of a  rest before taking the ferry to Capri.”

Herbert was able to confirm these arrangements with Bunty on the telephone on the dockside before catching the ferry and speeding though the reverse journey from the foot of Italy to its Neapolitan knee cap.

Hoping to distract his companion from the manifold deficiencies of British motor cars, Herbert tried to change the subject, "I'm looking forward to reaching Capri and beginning our holiday at long last. Tell me Count, what are your plans for the next few days?"

"Well, after I have seen you safely reunited with your wife and bambini at the Consulate, I plan to visit an old friend of mine. She has a villa just outside Napoli, on the road to Sorrento"

"That's nice," replied Herbert with artlessness surprising in a seasoned detective, "And will the Countess be joining you?"

"Hardly, my dear chap. The lady in question is, shall we say, a very good friend of mine. Not of Amelia's!"

"Oh," said Herbert, none the wiser.

However, after a few seconds silence, that seemed much, much longer, he  reddened in the face as the nature of the Count's friendship eventually dawned upon him.

Deep in Herbert's memory lay the recollection of a remark once famously made by Amelia, the Contessa di Faraglione by marriage. By birth, this lady was one of the Wyses of Whitchurch and sister of the highly esteemed Algernon Wyse, the apogee of respectability in the historic Cinque port and genteel gem of the Sussex coast that was Tilling.

The comment in question had been made over tea at Ye Olde Tea House to Diva Plaistow and the Padre.

Diva, the best chronicler in Tilling, had naturally passed the titbit in strictest confidence to her servant Janet and the Padre had felt obliged to vouchsafe it unto the mouse-like ear of his life’s partner, Evie.  Its speedy dissemination throughout the town was therefore guaranteed.

On that famous - and perhaps even infamous – day, Amelia had completed a daring analysis of the dramatis personae of Tilling, including shocking references to “my poor brother (such a prig)” and to “fat Susan.” After describing Major Benjy as a “tipsy walrus” and “Lothario of the tiger skins,” the Contessa concluded her peroration  by mentioning casually,  " My husband has had a mistress for years - such a good-natured pretty woman - and why not your Major?"

Naturally, this statement was immediately subjected to the greatest extent possible to the massive forensic skills of linguistic analysis possessed by the great minds of Tilling, a positively global centre of excellence in deductive reasoning.

A surprising number of undeniable truths were extracted from Amelia’s paltry total of less than twenty words, ranging from the obvious to the oblique:

Ø  the Count had a Mistress

Ø  the Count appeared sanguine that his Countess was aware of this

Ø  The Countess knew this and appeared to have accepted it over a number of years

Ø  The Countess perceived the Mistress to be  pleasant and attractive

Ø  The Countess must either have formed this impression of the Mistress by meeting her on at least one occasion or relied upon hearsay.

Ø  (The latter alternative seemed unlikely, given the importance of the issue and the natural predilection of any wronged spouse to despise the interloper)

Ø  The Countess appeared to consider this an entirely normal arrangement, not requiring complete secrecy, as would undoubtedly be the case in Tilling, though it was unclear whether any degree of discretion was practised or thought advisable

Ø  The Countess was therefore worldly, tolerant and well-informed

Ø  The Count was worldly and either  frank or careless

Ø  Both the Count and Countess were sophisticated and free from neurosis in a manner entirely foreign to Tilling

Ø  The Count was Italian and therefore unquestionably possessed of  hot-blooded Latin temperament

Ø  Despite being of Hampshire stock, the Countess was unselfconsciously  loquacious, enjoyed company and gossip, smoked excessively, played complicated versions of solitaire, sported a monocle, had questionable table manners and held outspoken views.

Ø   Though surprising in a Wyse of Whitchurch these foibles had perhaps been induced by her long sojourn in Italy.

 
Collating and ordering all these points in his mind in a remarkably short time, Inspector Morrison decided upon the best response to this shocking admission.
 
In keeping with the approach traditionally adopted in Tilling upon awkward occasions such as this, Herbert  changed the subject and remarked upon the clemency weather....
 
 

As the head of the Faraglione clan pointed his powerful Bugatti towards Naples, many hundreds of miles to the north, the last surviving Mapp of Maidstone abandoned  her showy roadster, as had become her habit, untidily in the vicinity of the Landgate in Tilling.

The Mapp-Flints had returned home to "Grebe" outside Tilling, two days before. After unpacking, the mistress of the house had spent the interim counting her silver and checking the stocks of household provisions, including wines and spirits.

When she had satisfied herself that nothing had been filched by her loyal and valued staff, Elizabeth felt it was time to share with her dear friends in Tilling her version of her glorious Mediterranean cruise on board RMS Orcadia.

Reaching the High Street, the Mapp-Flints made a beeline for a group of their closest friends standing outside Twistevant's,  the greengrocers, "Bonjour, bongiorno  a tutti et tout le monde!" cried Elizabeth by way of multi-lingual greeting to both the Pillsons and Wyses.

The usual round of greetings, handshakes, hat-raising and bows from Algernon Wyse ensued and concluded with the inevitable Tilling pleasantry, "Any news?"

Before anyone else could speak, Elizabeth launched into her account of her cruise with their "magnificent and spacious flower-filled stateroom on "A" deck" and the dear sweet Captain insisting on inviting them to "honour his table at dinner each evening."
 She then went on to detail the breaking of the "devastating news of  our dear sweet Irene's cruel abduction by those ruthless and cruel Sicilian brigands. Knowing that loveliest of girls so much better than anyone else on board," Elizabeth felt that only she "was able to pass on to Inspector Morrison a detailed insight into the character and personality of dear Irene," that she had, "no doubt must have played an immense and essential part in procuring her eventual release."

Those listening were dumbfounded at these comments, since they knew only too well that of all the young women in the world, Elizabeth Mapp-Flint loathed and feared Irene Coles with every ounce of energy she could muster.

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.

What Elizabeth did not know was that correspondence had already been received by the Wyses from sister Amelia, who had gleaned from Bunty Morrison much of what had transpired on the voyage on the RMS Orcadia before the Morrisons disembarked in Naples.

The Wyses had been fascinated to read of and share with Tilling, full details of the quality of the Mapp-Flint's lowly cabin with its bunk beds, the social debacle of their Court dress on the first night aboard  and the unfortunate baboon attack in Gibraltar.

In typical Tilling fashion, the simple pleasure of those listening to Elizabeth's outflow of half-truths and complete whoppers was multiplied many fold by the certain belief that she was currently unaware of their  actual state of knowledge but would shortly be fully advised of it.

The delicious process of educating the Mapp-Flints upon these issues began as soon as Elizabeth's languid and inventive version of events had concluded.

"We're all so glad that you had a nice little holiday, Elizabetha mea," remarked Lucia soothingly, to Elizabeth's extreme irritation.

"We have been fortunate to receive further news of dear Irene direct from Mr Wyse's sister,  Amelia,” intoned Lucia gaily, “Strangely, it does not seem that our brave and resourceful Inspector Morrison mentioned your help in procuring the release of Irene and Lucy. It must have slipped his mind, I suppose?"

"I suppose so," replied Elizabeth sourly.

"And we hear, Inspector and Mrs Morrison dined on the Captain's table each night with our new Consul in Naples and a High Court judge and the Desboroughs. Strange that they didn't mention you, but I suppose they must have assumed we would know to you were included."

"Absolutely, Worship "croaked Elizabeth weakly, "Anyway, simply delicious to see you all as ever, sweet friends.  I fear we must love you and leave you. My Benjy boy and I must be about our little bit of business and must bit you 'Adieu!'"

And before anyone had a chance to respond, Elizabeth and Benjy headed off whence they had come towards the Landgate and the refuge of their badly-parked roadster.

"Well done, Lucia" remarked Georgie as the remnants of the group watched the rapid disappearance of the newly-returned holiday-makers, "You saw her off good and proper."

"Thank you Georgino," said Lucia, "I didn't want to be too pointed in putting Elizabeth in her place, but one has to draw the line somewhere.”

"Even Elizabeth couldn't believe she could get away with claiming the whole credit for the rescue of Irene!" added Susan Wyse, "She was literally the last person one would imagine could do that!"

"Absolutely, Susan" replied Lucia, "We know from Amelia that the credit goes to our Inspector Morrison with help from Count Cecco. I'm still not clear how he actually managed it and I suspect we will never know the whole story – not from the Inspector anyway. But this is his prerogative, I suppose; he was on holiday after all! I must pop into the Post Office to  telegram him to confirm his Commissioner insists that he extends his holiday to make up for time lost when rescuing our damsels in distress."

Georgie and the Wyses nodded in agreement and with a cordial bow and reciprocal wave both couples went their separate ways.

   
   
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.

No sooner had Herbert leaped out of the passenger seat and grabbed his valise than his companion revved up the powerful engine loudly.  Shouting over his shoulder, "Arrivederci – or should I say ‘Au reservoir’ - my friend; my compliments to your good lady.  See you soon!" the Count roared away, leaving just an acrid cloud of exhaust.

Herbert barely had time to wave to the Bugatti disappearing into the busy streets of Naples before he was engulfed by the embrace of his excited son and daughter.

As Herbert happily swung the twins around him, the Morrison family group was completed when Bunty hurried down the steps accompanied by the Consul.

"So pleased to see you safe and sound dear," said Bunty in mid-embrace.

"So am I love, so am I!" replied Herbert "You can’t imagine. Perhaps we can continue our holiday at last!"

"No Count?" asked Bunty, "I was expecting him to be with you"

"He just dropped me off and had to go on to another appointment. I'll explain later," said Herbert with a meaningful glance towards the children. 

With a twin suspended from each arm, Herbert entered the cool marble hall of the  Consulate.

"Aren’t those our cases?” he asked, looking at some luggage neatly arranged next to the door.
“Well spotted dear,” replied Bunty, “Very observant.”


“It’s  what I do, my love,” he countered, smiling, "So?”


“I’m sorry to confront you with yet another decision, but  it seems best”


“And what’s that?”


“We can either have a leisurely lunch here at the Consulate and then catch the ferry to Capri this afternoon or tomorrow morning...”


“Or?”


“We can go straight to the harbour now and travel over to Capri on the Faraglione private yacht. The Countess is going today and invited us to join her if you returned to Naples in time.”


“How very kind of her,” remarked Herbert.


“Oh dad, do let’s go!” urged the children, “Auntie Amelia said we would be very welcome. We saw it in the harbour. It’s huge. It’s got two funnels and everything. Please say ‘Yes’!”


“If the Consul doesn’t think it rude for us to rush off as soon as I arrive, I’m more than happy to accept 'Auntie Amelia’s' kind offer.”


“I’m sure we have trespassed on the Consul’s hospitality for far too long already Herbert,” said Bunty reassuringly, “But if we’re going to make it on time we need to set off now!”


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.   



Within thirty minutes the Consular Riley had pulled onto the quayside and the Morrisons were looking up at the smart two funnelled cruiser "La Contessa di Faraglione."

No sooner had Herbert, Bunty and the children disembarked than they were joined by she after whom the vessel was named, "Darlings! So pleased you could make it ! Do come aboard our little yacht!”

“Thank you Contessa,” said Herbert ushering the twins up the gangway before him.

“Now, now, Inspector Morrison, no such formality please. You are on holiday now. I am ‘Amelia’ –‘Auntie Amelia’ to the children and I shall call you ‘Herbert.’ I already call your dear wife 'Bunty.' Is that alright with you?”

“Of course, Contessa – I mean Amelia.”

As the party boarded, their luggage was wafted away in a flurry of laughter, smiles and salutes from the white uniformed crew.

“Since it is such a lovely day, I have arranged for a little luncheon to be served on the sun deck here. I think it’s called ‘aft’ but I always get mixed up between  forward and aft and port and starboard. Any way let’s go. I’m famished and would love to have a cigarette and cocktail before we eat. Don’t you just love cocktails, Herbert?”

Taken aback by the veritable flood (rather than mere stream) of consciousness that made up the Countesses’  monologue, Herbert smiled weakly, nodded and followed in the wake of the ladies, thinking that he too could definitely do with a drink.

Several martinis and colourful Turkish sobranies later, Amelia led her guests to luncheon  beautifully laid out beneath a canopy on the aft sun deck.

The Morrisons  were more than a little impressed by the charming table as they took their seats. Crisp snowy  linen was complimented by fine Sevres tableware, gorgeously gilded and bearing the Faraglione cipher.

Fine Venetian crystal vied with silver cutlery,  sparkling  in the afternoon sunshine. Overwhelmed by the exquisite setting with its colourful centrepiece of fragrant jasmine, freesias and gardenias, the twins sat in silence with eyes like saucers.

Sensing that the occasion might be somewhat overwhelming for nine year olds, Amelia soon put the twins at ease by involving them in the conversation and inquiring about their favourite English dishes.

Although the Countess was unable to offer their mother’s steak and kidney pie, she hoped they would enjoy that day’s lunch.

The pasta course to begin included ravioli encasing the sweetest pesto made from basil and pine nuts from the hills of  Liguria. Their hostess explained to the children  where Liguria was and how the dish was made. The ravioli  was made into shapes called “cappelli  del pretes” because they resembled the hats worn by priests. The twins found this very exciting since English food so seldom resembled anything else in particular.

This dish was followed by a warm salad of quails from Capri.

“Like many Englishmen with land, my husband likes to shoot things. Some would say too many things, but there you are – and at least we can eat most of them,” explained Amelia to her guests.

For dessert, figs and honey completed a delicious meal sourced mainly from the Faraglione estate.

After behaving impeccably throughout lunch, James and Dorothy asked to be excused.

"I think so, don't you Bunty?" suggested the Countess, "Why don't you little ones have a walk around the deck and we will see you later? If you look over the bow, you can often see dolphins racing in the wake of the yacht. Or is it porpoises?  I never know which. Whatever it is, go and have fun!"

"We will, Auntie Amelia, we will," chorused the twins as they disappeared towards the prow.

"Thank you for a wonderful lunch, Amelia," said Bunty, "And for being so kind to our Jim and Dot. They really are loving every minute."

"My pleasure, Bunty dear," replied the Countess, "Cecco and I have never been blessed with bambinos. It's been such a pleasure for me to spend a few days with them; they really are a credit to you both. And don't worry about them. The crew will keep a close eye on them. Now, who would like some coffee  -  and perhaps a piccolo liqueur?"

As the grown-ups enjoyed their post-prandial beverages, conversation turned to absent friends.

"My sister-in-law Susan has just written another long newsy letter from Tilling. They are all thrilled that you have managed to rescue their Quaint Irene and her Lucy from the desperadoes in Sicily, Inspector. You are quite the hero. With all your successful cases, you must grow accustomed to such acclaim though. It seems to happen quite often, does it not?"

"Oh... good" replied Herbert, somewhat embarrassed and unusually unable to think of anything coherent, modest, unassuming or otherwise to say, "Any other news from home?"

"Well, it seems that the Mapp-Flints have turned over a new leaf," replied the Countess.

"In what way?" asked Bunty

"It appears that the entertaining out at 'Grebe' has been unusually lavish since they returned from their cruise. Extravagant dinners and bridge parties.  No more filling chocolate cakes to quell appetites and save money. Lobster a la Riseholme and crepes suzettes on demand and a constant supply of redcurrant fool made with the finest champagne and the oldest, old brandy. Such a change! Mrs Pillson and dear, fat Susan are beside themselves with irritation. Elizabeth has been even more remorseless than ever criticising  Diva over her sardine tartlets; positively venomous.  How marvellous! How I miss Tilling!"

"I suppose they are enjoying their good fortune and making the best of it," remarked Bunty mildly.

"That's not even the most interesting news," replied Amelia," Major Benjy says he is going to buy a horse to hunt with the Ardingly next season!"

"Good heavens" commented Herbert, "He's getting on a little, I do hope it's not too much for him." said Herbert,
"Or the poor horse!" observed Amelia, adding absently, "It will certainly need to be a sturdy creature."

"I wonder if Mrs Mapp-Flint will hunt too?" asked Bunty, "Although, since she disapproved so strongly of cycling, it's hard to imagine her on a horse - even side-saddle!"

"I suspect  that those heavy great sables might get in the way a little," remarked Herbert

"You may make little jokes about the Mayoress or my sister-in-law with their ever-present sables, but do be careful of what you  say about my dear Major!" joked the Countess, "Remember, I always used to say he was 'my flirt'  in Tilling. I still cherish fond memories of him with his whiskey breath and dashing great walrus moustache!"

"Of course, Amelia," replied Herbert entering into the spirit of the badinage, "Far be it from me to criticise your former flirt!"

"My sister-in-law also says my flirt has announced that he is also going to acquire a string of polo ponies for the coming season. He said, "It will be just like the old days in dear old Poona."

"Susan adds 'But without his notorious lady friend!'" explained Amelia, continuing, "She also writes that Mr Georgie said that 'since 'Grebe' was so prone to flooding, the Major might be better advised to take up water polo!'"

"Mr Georgie can always be relied upon to see the funny side," commented Bunty.

"You are so right," replied the Countess, "In Tilling, I always think of Major Benjy as my flirt and Mr Georgie as my jester - my Punchinello, with a  joke for every occasion, always such fun."

"Mr Georgie would like that" commented Herbert,  "Particularly if it involved a new outfit.  And tell me Contessa, will we be having the pleasure of seeing the Count during our stay in Capri?"

"Oh, I think so, Herbert," she replied in the same light-hearted vein ,"I imagine he is visiting his mistress on the mainland just now and should join us tomorrow. A fine, sensible woman - very good-natured. You should meet her some time. More coffee?"    

Hardly had Amelia and her guests finished enjoying their lunch than the  Contessa di Faraglione edged into its berth in Capri.

On the quayside next to the gangway awaited a magnificent Rolls Royce Phantom II bearing both the Faraglione crest on a shield above the windscreen and a pennant displaying the family standard in miniature as an accompaniment to the Spirit of Freedom on the bonnet.

"What a wonderful motor car Amelia!" enthused Bunty as she followed her hostess down the gangway onto the dockside.

"Thank you, Bunty. I know my sister-in-law is so fond of her little 'Royce,' but Cecco and I do prefer our Phantom. Cecco saw the Maharajah of Rajkot being driven along the Croisette in Cannes in his. It was called the "Star of India" and my impulsive husband simply had to have one too. No sooner had he returned home than he ordered the same model from Thrupp and Maberly. It's unique. They called it the "Star of Capri". So charming. More commodious and what you might call 'luxe', don't you think? Perhaps dear Susan will call her dear little Royce, the 'Star of Tilling'? Such fun! "

When Bunty failed to comment beyond a polite smile, Amelia continued, "And it makes a point to my brother and his wife. After all, Cecco is a count and the head of the family. Sometimes these things need to be asserted - albeit gently and whether in stone or bespoke cabriolet coachwork. Now I insist that we drive immediately to the Villa Cercola so that your holiday proper may begin. "     
  


 
Within twenty minutes, the Phantom drew up in front of the Villa Cercola and the chauffeur had opened the passenger doors.

Lined up in readiness, in the cool vaulted hall of  the villa were the staff, headed by the housekeeper, introduced by the Countess as “Mrs Ponti.”

"Welcome! You must call me 'Violetta,'" she announced.

Mrs Ponti made a particular point of greeting the twins and shaking their hands.  The visitors were then introduced to the other domestichi in a blur of butler, cook, kitchen maid, valet, ladies maid, footmen and housemaids. No attempt was made to effect an introduction to any of the three gardeners, much to the relief of all concerned.

After the mass introductions, the Countess bade farewell and her guests waved gaily as the Phantom drove off.  Remarkably generous and welcoming though the Countess had been, the Morrisons were relieved.

"I suppose the holiday proper starts now," said Herbert to Bunty as they walked up the broad white marble staircase to their bedroom. There the valet and ladies maid were busy unpacking their luggage and had already taken away some garments for ironing.

The twins ran into the master bedroom begging their parents to inspect their rooms, which they had found delightful with many toys laid out and wonderful views through the dark green pines and across the sparkling sea.

Bunty and Herbert agreed that both children’s rooms were lovely and the twins reciprocated that their parents’ accommodation also passed muster with ease.

Most of all, the family adored the private terraces with a sublime view over the bay of Naples with Vesuvius in the distance.  Bunty said it reminded her of the set of “Private Lives” which she had seen pictured in her "Ladies Home  Journal.”

“And I’m Noel and you’re Gertie,” joked Herbert.

As soon as Bunty had changed and returned downstairs, she  agreed with Mrs Ponti arrangements for supper that evening the meals for the next day. She did not yet feel sufficiently relaxed to call her “Violetta”, who to her credit did not press the point.

Within ten minutes, as the children explored the terraced gardens, Bunty and Herbert were served chilled Bellini's of fresh peach and prosecco by a liveried footman.

As the afternoon shadows of the tall cypresses and neatly trimmed box hedges lengthened, the couple scanned the sparkling blue vista whilst keeping a practised eye upon the twins playing below.  They sat comfortably on a vine-covered terrace next to a tinkling fountain under the statuesque gaze of the Neapolitan Narcissus.

 
"I seem to remember seeing a copy of this little statue in the back garden of "Mallards Cottage" when Mr Georgie rented it from Isabel Poppit before he moved down to Tilling," commented Herbert.

“And before Isabel went off the rails and decided to live permanently in that shack in the sand dunes.”

"A lot has happened to so many people since then, Bunty. Mrs Lucas and Mr Georgie moved to Tilling permanently. She and Miss Mapp went to sea on a kitchen table - like the Owl and the Pussycat - and survived to tell the tale."

"A million times!"

"Yes, and then marry Mr Georgie and Major Benjy"

"And they lived to tell the tale too!"

"Just about, dear, but perhaps we shouldn't  be too judgemental. I thought this afternoon, as we were having lunch with the Contessa on that wonderful yacht..."

"What?"

"I thought, 'this is a long way from where we started in Mr Twistevant's slums down by the railway station in Tilling. Lunching with a Countess on a huge cruiser on the way to holiday in a villa in Capri! It's been  along road and have a lot to appreciate.'"

"You're right dear. I confess I thought just the same."

"So, I haven't done badly for a simple plod from Sussex?"

"Not too bad at all,” laughed Bunty, "Stop fishing for compliments now. You've achieved all  you have through talent and hard work; nothing more or less."

"Thanks Bunty, I appreciate that and your part in building what we have.  Shall we drink to that?”

"I think we should," said Bunty, raising her crystal flute in a toast.

"To us!"

“Yes – to you, me and the twins!”

 

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.


Time spent enjoying the villa with its exquisite gardens and bathing in the warm sea alternated with sight-seeing around the island.

This naturally included the obligatory trip in a rowing boat into the celebrated Blue Grotto which the twins found fascinating and quite unlike anything they had seen in Sussex.  As they had done since the Orcadia sailed, the children were enthusiastic in taking snapshots with their pocket Brownie camera and using holiday money to buy postcards of their favourite places.

In the gift shop where James and Dorothy so carefully selected their “Views of the Blue Grotto” and “Vistas of Capri”, Bunty was persuaded to buy a volume with a red Morocco leather cover showing a racing yacht in full sail on a heavy sea, embossed with the word "SCRAPBOOK" in gold lettering.

On returning to the villa, the twins were anxious to start work on the diary of their villeggiatura  immediately. Herbert asked Mrs Ponti where he might find some glue for them to stick in their cards and photographs and was directed to the study on the first floor.

Herbert passed onto the twins the pot of paper adhesive and scissors from the top drawer of the desk there and left them engrossed in their task on the kitchen table under the watchful eye of the housekeeper.
The children enjoyed sorting  their snapshot and views and soon prepared presentable records of their recent visits to Pompeii and Naples
 
 
 They were also delighted with their efforts regarding Capri and their favourite Blue Grotto, which they found particularly impressed their new best friend Mrs Ponti.





"You should see the study, Bunty" said Herbert, "Come and have a look."

"Do you think we should? "she asked, "It seems a bit intrusive. Won't there be private things there? It's not really a good example for the children, is it?"

"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.

On the walls of the study were several sepia tinted photographs of Egyptian, Greek and Roman ruins and what appeared to be archaeological excavations.

There were also portraits of several olive skinned youths swimming, about to swim or relaxing, having swum, with sparkling eyes and smiles.

“Younger brothers or nephews, perhaps?” suggested Herbert.

Next, there hung photographs of jolly Alpine mountaineering and skiing parties with sepia figures in Norfolk jackets and plus-fours laughing and gesticulating beneath the Matterhorn. These scenes seemed to be well before the War and possibly in the lifetime of the old Queen.

There were also photographs of skaters competing in figures and racing which Bunty noticed tied in with a slim volume entitled “English Figure Skating.”
 
Adjoining the photographs, several shelves of literature encompassed works from Chaucer and Shakespeare to the Romantic poets and Victorians such as Tennyson.


"It looks like the library of a very well read person - an academic or teacher?" suggested Bunty.

"Can't disagree with that," replied Herbert, “This shelf of plays and novels is pretty varied. Just look: Dickens, Galsworthy, Kipling and Shaw. There is some modern stuff – TS Eliot, Somerset Maugham and P G Woodhouse. There’s even some Rudolf da Vinci and Marie Corelli: strange contrast that...”

"And what are these, here on the desk?" asked Bunty picking up two fully leather bound volumes.

“This one is called ‘Episodes in the Life of Lord Desborough’ Bunty explained, “Wasn’t he that very dull old chap at the Captain’s table on the Orcadia? His wife was great fun, but gosh he was hard work.”

“Yes love, he was. When he could put two words together, he kept rabbiting on about ‘my great interest in bimetallism’ and ‘passion for the Thames Conservancy.’ I don’t know how I kept a straight face – or managed to keep my eyes open!”

“How could I ever forget!  He could bore for England!”

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.’”


Noting Bunty’s blank expression, Herbert put the book down and decided against sharing with her the faux cutting about Lord Desborough “pulling the Royal train single-handedly” and another about him “leading a display of calisthenics with Indian clubs at the Crystal Palace.” He sighed resignedly "Well, I thought it was funny anyway...”

Changing the subject, Bunty said “And what’s the other one then?”


“It’s called ‘The Book of Fearfuljoy’ replied Herbert turning its pages and smiling. It seems to be a collection of funny items – malapropisms, bad verse and stories. There seem to be lots of cuttings, pictures and letters about the novelist Marie Corelli, of all people.  There are some silly jokes - some a little risqué - and some puns and the odd Spoonerism. You know, ‘Town drains and the Dear old Queen and all that.’ It seems to be some kind of scrapbook. A grown-up version of what the twins are making just now.”


“I think the twins’ effort might make a bit more sense,” said Bunty disapprovingly.

“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?”


“I don't see that there's any harm in bringing a bit of levity together. Everyone is so eager to emphasise the serious and negative, why not celebrate the light-hearted and the plain silly once in while? Oh Bunty, don’t be so narrow-minded. Travel is supposed to broaden it you know!”

“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.

"In my considered view, the person in question is a classicist with an interest in archaeology and literature."

"And ice skating?" added Bunty

"Indeed, dear, indeed. And, that person is clearly an elderly lady of considerable intellect and social standing. A veritable Cambridge 'blue-stocking.' So fond of her several nephews. Interested years ago in Alpine sports and most probably a romantic novelist such as Susan Leg or  Rudolfo Da Vinci in the mould of the famous Marie Corelli - of whom she is clearly such  a devoted admirer!"

"How succinct: very clever of you!" remarked Bunty

"Thank you" he replied, "I mustn't show off; it’s what I do for a living after all. Shame that we may never know definitely, but I'm pretty sure I'm correct. Anyway, we had better get back to the twins. Perhaps we can go down to the beach this afternoon?"

"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.
Inspector Morrison was not aware that in his absence, the Countess Amelia told Bunty  some days before that the regular occupier of the Villa Cercola was, "a certain Mr Benson. He is from  a prominent family. His father was Archbishop of Canterbury and his brother wrote the lyrics to ‘Land of Hope and Glory’. Such a charming man - a polymath, ice skater,  classicist, archaeologist and hugely successful author. Just now the Mayor of Rye, just along the coast from Tilling. Strange that you never heard of him really....."

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."

"Thank you," replied Herbert, lifting the receiver, "Morrison speaking.... Good morning, Count...They are well thanks....We are all thoroughly enjoying our stay here....What can I do for you?.... Oh, I see.....Yes.....Yes.....Of course, straight away.....I'll be ready.....See you later. Good-bye."

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?"


Herbert paused as the footman returned and removed the telephone from the table and then replied, "He didn't want to go into detail over the phone, but it seems someone had gone missing and he is very worried. He asks if I could spare a little time to help."

"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"


"I'm glad we both feel the same. You'll be able to cope with the twins alone?"

"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."


Yes. The Phantom  should be here soon and the yacht is waiting to take me over to Naples. I then go to the townhouse to meet up with Cecco"

"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.


The Count strode forward and shook Herbert's hand, "Thank you for coming so promptly dear friend. It is so kind of you to break into your holiday again like this. I am most grateful."

"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'?"

"Yes, a lady wasn't it? You said you were going to visit her after your dropped me off at the Consulate when we returned to from Sicily to Naples."

"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"
Rather than being drawn to comment upon issues of morality, Herbert sought to establish the sequence of events. "So, you drove to Flavia's home that afternoon. And?"

"When I arrived, I found the house shut up with the windows boarded up  and the locks changed. No-one was around, not even any staff -no-one."


"So what  did you do?"

"I went back to my house in Naples and had some supper, actually."

"Then what happened?"
"Next morning a messenger brought me a letter from my  Flavia. Here it is.  It is in Italian, so I will translate if you would prefer?"

"If you would, please."
"Very well, it reads as follows,
          ' Dearest Cecco,            
It pains me to write to you rather than to speak face to face, but sometimes circumstances arise where we are powerless. Sadly, I am now in such a  situation. 

You will understand that these are painful words to compose and I will try to be brief and to the point.
I saw my physician last week who confirmed that I was with child - your child.  In eight months time I will be a mother. Believe me I have every intention of having the baby and giving your son or daughter the happiest life I can.
I have told my father about my present position and he was mortified.  He feels most strongly that my good name has been destroyed and cannot be retrieved once it is known that I am your mistress and have borne your illegitimate child.
Father is outraged that by my actions I have shamed myself, him and my mother and worst of all the Family. You  will know that once the Family have spoken that is an end to the matter and believe me the die is cast and resistance is futile.
They have taken me away to a place out of the city where I am not known and where I can have my baby safely and in private. Their condition for allowing this is that I never, ever see you again.
 From all this, I know you will understand that I have no choice. There is nothing you can do but I felt I at least owed you some explanation.

            Please try to forget me and be happy in your life
My love always,
Your Flavia'
"So you see," said the Count clearing his throat and with a moist glaze to both eyes, “I’m in a pretty difficult position here. I do not wish to hurt Amelia or lose Flavia or bring disgrace upon the Faraglione name. I just don’t know what to do for the best.”
“Of course, Cecco, I understand. Given that we can’t undo what has been done, what would you really like to do, if it was at all possible?”
“ To be honest there are certain things I would not  want to change, even if I could,” Cecco explained, “ How could I be sad that my beautiful Flavia is to have our child? Amelia and I were never blessed. It may not be entirely convenient, but it is still a joy.”
“I see,” replied Herbert gently, “What else would you like to achieve if it was could be arranged?”
“Still to be able to see Flavia as before and to support her, but you read what she wrote. Her father and the Family absolutely forbid it. Seriously Herbert, you do not ignore the wishes of the Family with impunity – not in Naples -especially when it is seen as a matter of honour and reputation. It’s not like Sicily where you can summon up a Masonic handshake and a face-saving story with the local Robin Hood and everything is alright. In Naples the word of the Family is more than the law, it is everything.”
“Let me get this straight Cecco. You have to remember, I’m just a provincial  policeman. Do correct me if I’m wrong, but when you say “the Family,” do you mean what we non-Italians might call the “Mafia”?
“I’m afraid I do Herbert. Flavia’s father Don Estelle is a leading figure in the Cosa Nostra here. He is the head not only of the leading Mafia family, but of the family of families –what we call the ‘capo di tutti capi – le grand saussisson, le grand fromage’!
“First things, first, then Cecco, I think we should arrange to  see the Don and pay our respects. I gather from American films that this always goes down well in the underworld and with gangsters generally. We can then see what room for manoeuvre there might be and work out our options. Do you agree?”
"Absolutely,  Herbert. I shall ask my people to  set up a meeting straight away.    

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."


Count Cecco made use of the waiting time to explain to Herbert what to expect from their meeting with the Capo, "He is a very important man and expects to be treated as such.  When you enter wait until he has spoken and I have translated it to you."


"Very well," replied Herbert, slightly taken aback by the awe in which the Capo was held


"And don't be surprised, if he extends his hand to you. Above all, do not be tempted to shake it!"


"Why not?"


"Because you are supposed to kiss his ring."


"Really?" asked Herbert, "As if he were the Pope or King Victor Emmanuel?"


"Precisely Inspector, it is a traditional mark of respect in the Family. Remember that this is Naples after all and you must do what the Neapolitans do."


"Of course," Herbert replied, "It's just that we don't go in for ring-kissing much in Tilling, but  I will do my best."
  

Before Count Cecco had a chance to respond, the door of the ante-room opened and the two henchmen who had searched the visitors on arrival returned.

"Come with us. Don Estelle will see you and the Englishman now,"

With  a suave "Grazie," Cecco nodded in his debonair aristocratic fashion to his companion and led the way into the inner sanctum.

The head lackey inclined his head to the figure seated in an armchair next to a rococo fire place of white marble in which no fire was laid, "Scusi, Don Estelle. Count Cecco di Faraglione and Inspector Herbert Morrison d'Inglaterra."

As the door closed, the Don beckoned his visitors to take a seat in the armchairs opposite him.

Both Cecco and Herbert were more relieved than they cared to admit that they had not been invited to make any closer acquaintance with the Don's signet ring.

Bearing in mind the necessity of allowing their host to utter the first word, Cecco and Herbert sat in respectful silence as the Capo calmly sipped a cup of coffee and observed them minutely.

On the mantelpiece beside him stood an array  of family photographs in sliver frames. These included a touching portrait of a young Flavia dressed in white upon her First Communion. The silence was palpable.
 
After several minutes, he spoke in slow and a grave tone, which Cecco translated for Herbert's benefit.


"I have agreed to meet with you today as a simple matter of courtesy and because I am curious to meet the man capable of bringing such shame upon my only daughter, my wife and I and our entire family. Have got anything to say for yourself? Just say what you must and go."


Count Cecco cleared his throat and very quietly put together his response, "First, Don Estelle, thank you for doing us the honour of meeting with us. I appreciate this cannot have been easy for you."

The Don thanked him for this gruffly and asked Cecco to continue - as quickly as he could.
Cecco then outlined the history of his relationship with Flavia Estelle from their meeting in Argentina to their return to Naples. He besought her father to believe that his feelings for his daughter had been and were sincere and heartfelt and that he cared for her deeply.
Flavia's father responded that, "It was all very well to say that you have feelings for my daughter. This was understandable since she is a beautiful, intelligent and kind woman that any father would be proud to have as a daughter and that any normal and honest man would wish to take as his wife. No decent man would leave such a woman to face the shame of an illegitimate child. You have ruined my daughter's life."

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!"
Whilst not understanding the conversation which had just concluded, Herbert could tell it had gone badly  and that Cecco had become emotional and unable to defend himself effectively.
He put his hand gently on Cecco's shoulder and said, "Just ask Don Estelle if we can have a brief private word together outside and then speak to him again before leaving."
"I don't think there's any point Herbert," replied Cecco with desperation in his eyes," He is adamant."
"Just do it!" hissed Herbert and, taken aback by his directness, the Count complied.


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.


“I needed that,” said Cecco after downing a large measure of grappa, “I’m sorry Herbert, but sitting in front of Flavia’s father, I just couldn’t see a way out of it. I almost felt he was right.”


“It’s very fair-minded of you to see the other point of view, Cecco,” said Herbert, “But I don’t really think that any course of action that only brings unhappiness to everyone concerned can be  entirely right, do you?”


“No, that’s what I would like to think, but what else can we do now? I have said everything I can think of to change his mind. I can’t bribe him you know; he is massively wealthy.”


“I understand what you are saying, but let us try to be logical. My first instructor at Police College at Hendon all those years ago, told me that 'good police work was 5% brilliance and 95% ordered thinking and common sense.'"


“Do continue...”


“Well Count, let’s look at what we do know for certain. Let me ask you some questions. Given the choice, would you, Amelia and Flavia continue with your previous ‘arrangements’ as before?”


“I would certainly and I believe Amelia and Flavia were happy. Amelia is very tolerant and is content with her life. In Italy we say, she is ‘happy in her own skin.’  I do not know if you have a similar phrase in England?”


“Yes, we do Count. And Flavia?”


“Flavia seemed to be happy. In a perfect world she would be my wife and we would live together all the time, but she once told me, ‘sometimes you have to make sure that you make the most of what happiness is available to you. If you insist on having everything you can end up with nothing.’”


“Yes, that makes sense,” said Herbert, “I remember Bunty telling me that  Amelia once said that Flavia was “a good-natured woman’”


“Amelia was right,” confirmed the Count, “She usually is.”

“So, the only important party in all this who does not wish you to carry on your life with Amelia and Flavia as before are her parents and the all-powerful ‘Family’?”

“Basically, you are correct,” sighed Cecco, “But in practical terms their view is the one that really matters. Here the Family holds all the trump cards.”

“I cannot disagree with you there Count. You are quite right. But if we recognise that simple fact,  don’t you think our next step must be to work out what we can do to change their opinion and to get the Family to accept your relationship with Flavia?”

“I see what you are saying Herbert, but for the life of me, cannot imagine what would bring them round.”

“I can make a suggestion, if you do not consider it impertinent to intrude in your family affairs.”

“Please do Herbert,  I would feel nothing but eternal gratitude. Do continue!”

“Well, you told me that you and Amelia had not been blessed with children?”

“Yes, sadly that is true.”

“Might I go so far as to suggest  that there must be a risk that the ‘Faraglione’ name and the title will expire with you?”

“That is also true Herbert. I have no siblings or other blood relatives either.”

“I suppose that leave relatives by marriage?”

“Yes, my brother- in- law Algernon, Susan and her daughter Isabel”

“I cannot pretend to know anything about the Italian law of succession or inheritance but there is a technical possibility that your niece by marriage, Isabel Poppit will ultimately become the Contessa di Faraglione?”

“What a thought! Amelia tells me that she now lives a feral sort of life in an unplumbed shack amidst the sand dunes outside Tilling. She has spiky hair and rides a motorcycle like a grubby Valkyrie. I shudder to think that the Palazzo di Faraglione will one day be a beach hut and the Countess a ...’Yahoo’: that is the term is it not?”

“I’m afraid so Count,” sympathised Herbert, “ But please don’t despair,  If you will forgive my further intrusion, could I ask if you have ever thought of recognising the child Flavia is carrying as your heir? I don’t know the law here about legitimacy, but I’m sure you have the very best lawyers who could advise and take all the necessary steps?”

“No, I haven’t  thought of that, but now you mention it, it might well work,” replied the Count.

“From what you have said, the arrangement could well be acceptable to you,  Amelia and Flavia and would appear to be the only approach that would satisfy the honour  of Don Estelle and the Family”

“And if there were legal obstacles to be overcome, at least it would be clear to the Family that I am doing all in my power to right the wrong about which they feel so strongly.”

“And,” added Herbert, “They will be comforted by the possibility that the son or daughter which Flavia is to bear you, their grandchild is formally acknowledged as your heir and may one day become the Count or Countess and owner of all the Faraglione estates!”

“I think you may have found a workable answer to our problem, Herbert,” enthused the Count, “Like you, your instructor at Hendon gave very good advice!”

With that, Cecco and Herbert asked to be readmitted to continue their audience with the capo de tutti cape. In measured tones Count Cecco put forward the plan to recognise Flavia’s child as the heir to the Faraglione title and fortune. The all-important honour of the Estelle family was perceived to be satisfied and the understanding was sealed with several glasses of grappa, handshakes and embraces.

When the Count and Inspector were again in the Bugatti returning to Naples, the Count spoke of the delicate task of explaining the way forward to his wife but was confident that she would find the arrangements acceptable, not least because of her certain aversion to the prospect of a Countess Isabel di Faraglione cavorting au naturel amongst the sand dunes of Sussex.

Herbert was pleased and relieved to have assisted in resolving the impasse and looked thoughtfully out of the window at the passing Neapolitan countryside, hoping that he might now be permitted to enjoy the rest of his holiday. He thought, “Mrs Pillson isn’t the only person from Tilling with the right to complain, “How you all work me!”



 Copyright reserved in all appropriate territories  Deryck Solomon 2014

 

 

 
 






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