An hour after everyone retired, Philo heard a tap at the door of his bedroom, located at the rear of his study. It was Annie. She had never come to his room before.
"I'd like to have a little talk," she whispered.
Philo nodded and closed the door behind her, motioning toward a simple, straight-backed chair.
She looked around, surprised at the windowless room's small size. It seemed hardly more than a closet, yet the study itself occupied less than half the depth of the house from front to back. Annie had expected a manorial bedroom, or at least an imposing suite of smaller rooms for Philo's strictly private use.
The principal feature was a single-width ship-captain's bunk. A bedside table with a reading lamp, and the chair in which she sat, completed the furnishings. There were no pictures or paintings. Her gaze drifted to an inner door standing slightly ajar. No sooner had she noticed than he turned to it and pushed it shut. The hidden latch snapped softly. The wallpaper pattern artfully concealed the door's outline.
Philo sat down on the edge of the bed.
"It's a mess in there," he explained with an enigmatic smile. "Men can be such sloppy creatures!"
Annie's eyes narrowed imperceptibly. She knew him to be utterly fastidious. Despite its being an obvious fabrication, the lame excuse successfully forestalled any inquiry on her part about what might lie behind the door.
"Forgive me for calling on you like this, but I felt it couldn't wait till morning," she apologized. "I thought you might be wondering about my willingness to turn over Romelle to Irene. You know I'm not fond of the woman."
"I always trust your judgment," he responded.
"Thank you," she said. "Beth asked me once to consider Romelle my child. I promised I would, and I do, but I am, as you have pointed out, faced with new realities in my life. Still, that doesn't excuse me from my responsibility toward Romelle. I would gladly take her to Martinique with me, but that's not the right direction for her."
She sighed. "You see, I also have a responsibility to Ardie. Deep in my heart, I feel guilty about him. Miz Nelle entrusted him to me just as Miz Roma entrusted Bart to my care, and just as Beth gave me Romelle. I can tell that Ardie feels somewhat left out of the family. There is so much he hasn't been a part of since he married Irene."
Philo shook his head. "That was his choice. You know he's always been besotted with her. She is his bellwether in all things domestic, but Ardie, despite his weakness where his wife is concerned, is a man of essentially strong character. He proves it in business. You turned him into a fine man, Annie. Please don't reproach yourself. What he has allowed himself to become in his marriage is a thing apart from you, from me, from everyone. His obsessive love for Irene, however, has served a purpose. It has saved her from becoming like her poor mother. She is secure, and I can say unequivocally that she worships her son."
Annie slapped her knee. "Yes! I think Brad has wiped out most, if not all, the mean-spiritedness Irene may have inherited from that vicious Jane. He's a manly, but loving, child. He'll be a perfect brother for Romelle. Being around Bridget's little girl, Kathy, will also be healthy. The children can form a tight family unit of their own. Together, they will be able to withstand anything that comes."
"Thank you, Annie," Philo said, "for being so understanding. I am so happy for your granddaughters in Martinique. You will enrich their lives magnificently."
Annie rose to go. "My only remaining concern is about you, Cap'n Duncan. If Bart goes with them to Baltimore, what becomes of you?"
He shrugged. "Annie, I had a private chat with Doctor Dash on the way back from our visit with the Empress Eugénie. He spoke of a mighty flotilla sent out by Kublai Khan seven hundred years ago. Kublai had conquered China by land, and meant to conquer Japan by sea. But it was not God's plan, so there shot out of Heaven a kamikaze , or 'divine wind,' that scattered the fleet, sinking some ships, driving others back to shore. Thus did Heaven divert man from the path of destruction to the working of good. Kublai abandoned the invasion and turned his energy toward building his Chinese Empire into a government that would serve as a model in Asia for centuries to come. Japan was left alone to develop its unique culture.
"I want to believe it is divine wind that is roiling the waters of our own lives. Some of us have sunk out of sight - Doctor Will, Roma, Nelle, Simon, Jane, the Prince Imperial, Beth. The rest of us drift now in ever widening circles that are gradually carrying us apart. Let us hope that we are drifting toward the accomplishment of some great good.
"Still, Annie, my prayer is that one day we shall all be reunited beyond pain, beyond time, somewhere on Heaven's shore."
"Amen!" Annie sighed. "Good night, Master Angel Hair."
She left him.