Before Philo's ship docked at Baltimore, Michael went on board from the lighter sent out for transferring Ardie's coffin to the hearse waiting ashore.
This encounter marked Philo's first knowledge of the bloodshed on North Charles.
"My God, is Romelle alright?" he asked first.
"She's at home, and recovering nicely from a slight concussion," was Michael's answer. "Her neck's damaged. Could be scarred somewhat. We don't know yet."
"Well, that's another matter," Michael said. "Irene left the poor thing fer dead, but Bridget got the doctor in time to save her life. Lost a lot o' blood. It seems the dagger glanced off her shoulder blade - fractured it pretty bad - and sliced through some nerve an' muscle tissue. Mighty painful, I should say, but the lady will survive. She has a hard road ahead, though."
"Where is my grandson?"
Michael clicked his tongue. "Cap'n, we don't know. His mother, she ran off with him - God knows where - as well she might, considerin' I'd have killed 'er with me bare hands if I could've got 'em on 'er! Bridget refuses to leave Romelle alone, or she'd be here to tell you all about everythin' better than I can. She's at the child's bedside right now."
Romelle was asleep when they reached the house. Bridget met them at the bedroom door with her finger planted on her lips for silence.
In the hallway outside Nelle's old room, where she had moved Romelle for space and light, she gave her version of the incident in whispers, as pieced together from conversations with Irene's two victims.
"Let's sit in the alcove, Cap'n, whilst I tell you the rest of what I know. Michael, me darlin', would you be askin' Hattie fer hot cups o' tea fer us all? An' a plate o' fresh scones, with butter an' jam? An' a glass o' milk? Kathy will be joinin' us, too."
When he was gone, she turned earnestly to Philo. "Cap'n, how was Master Bart when you saw him? Was he well? Is he ever comin' home?"
The quality of the look in her eyes answered Philo's unspoken question about her one-time relationship with Bart. The woman had been, perhaps still was, deeply in love with his adopted son.
"He is healthy," Philo replied, "but as to his coming back to us, Bridget....."
She sighed and nodded her head. "The world moves on, I guess, an' we have to adapt. It's goin' to be awful hard to make the adjustment to Master Ardie never comin' home again. You know, he was as fine a man as ever was. If you'll pardon my sayin' it, he got the worst o' the bargain when it came to a wife, God bless him!
"'Lady' Irene, damn her, never gave him a moment's peace - not really. Nor what I would call love, either! They slept apart, you know, for the past several years. She was no proper wife."
"I didn't know," Philo responded.
Bridget shook her head vigorously just one time. "The vixen! She didn't deserve a good man like him. From what I've heard, she was not only a loony like her mother, but an embezzler like her father! Michael's gone over the books with a fine-tooth comb, Cap'n - the ledgers and such which she's kept in the study safe for the past five years. Only she could be trusted to do the accounts properly, she claimed. Hah! Cap'n, she's been stealin' Duncan Cargo blind! God knows why. It was her own money, fer God's sake! After all, she herself was Missus Duncan Cargo, was she not?"
"Aye, that she was," Philo harrumphed. "What was she doing with the money? Do you know?"
Bridget threw up her hands. "Hidin' it under the mattress, you might say. That's not a joke, Cap'n. Irene had a locked chest in her room - under the bed, mind you - which I found standin' open that afternoon. She left in such a hurry, there were a few bills scattered at the bottom, an' I don't mean one-dollar bills, either. They were tens an' twenties. She must have had a fortune tucked away in there, at least by my standards!
"On top o' that, the whole week's payroll an' expense money were gone from the study safe, which she left open. From the looks o' her closet, an' Brad's, they left with the clothes on their backs - after she changed out o' her blood-soaked dress - and two suitcases apiece, presumably full o' cash money, an' all that nice jewelry she had from her mother, not to mention the beautiful pieces Master Ardie lavished on her through the years. She left you the family silver. Maybe it was too heavy!"
"Do you have any clues as to where they went?" Philo asked.
Bridget shook her head. "They were already gone when I first came on the scene. No one was here to see them leave, an' the neighbors didn't see or hear a thing."
Michael himself brought up the scones and tea, setting them down on a small table in the alcove. He brought a chair from the end of the hall and joined them just as Kathy opened the door of Romelle's room and tiptoed out.
Bridget glanced lovingly at her daughter.
"One sniff o' Hattie's scones brings the strangest things out o' the woodwork!" she chuckled. "Sit beside me, sweetness, an' tell Cap'n Duncan about that terrible afternoon. Cap'n, this is Kathy."
The child curtsied and sat down. As informal and straightforward as her mother, the nine-year-old immediately dived into her narrative, buttering a steaming scone and slathering it with jam while she talked. "Brad and I were upstairs washing our hands and faces the way Dora told us to do when she called us in from the yard. She said Aunt Irene wanted to see Romelle." She paused for a bite of scone and a sip of milk, carefully wiping her mouth with a napkin before going on. "You just don't know how awful it was when Aunt Irene sent for one of us. It always meant we were in trouble. Especially Romy. She hated her, you know. Well, that day, after we washed up, Brad and I met in the hallway at the head of the stairs. We sat on the top step, waiting for Romy to come out."
Forgetfully wiping her buttery fingers on her dress, she pointed down the staircase. "The study's behind that big double-door at the bottom. We saw Dora sort of standing around at the foot of the stairs, right there. We couldn't hear anything at first. Then, Aunt Irene started yelling. We all heard that. Dora went to the door. She opened it, and ran inside. The screaming! The noise!"
Kathy's fingers flew to her temples to quiet the frightening recollection. "Oh, I can hear it now! Brad was already running down the stairs. I was behind him. He stopped at the doorway. He just stood there with his shoulders scrunched up. His hands covered his mouth so he wouldn't scream like a girl. He was shaking. I think he was crying. That's when I looked in. Oh, what I saw!"
She buried her face in Bridget's ample bosom.
"That's enough, dear," her mother soothed. "We don't need to hear anymore." Bridget wiped the girl's eyes with a napkin. "Why don't you go see if Romelle's awake? She'll be wantin' scones, but don't wake her!"
Kathy peered into the room, and indicated Romelle was sleeping. She disappeared inside.
"I was out shoppin' for groceries with the cook and the butler," Bridget added to Kathy's story. "Hattie always goes along on the days we buy fish. There's nobody knows fresh fish like Hattie. A touch o' cloudiness in those fishy eyes, an' we dine that night on corned beef and cabbage! Harold, her husband, who doesn't just 'buttle,' but is also our Jack-of-all-trades around the house, does the drivin'. My Kathy knows where we shop, and here came Harold arunnin' in and chatterin' that she was wanderin' down at the end of the street and would I come right away. I went outside, and there she was. She was all in a daze, and weepin' like I've never seen her do. 'Momma, she killed 'em,' she said. You can imagine what a fright that gave me! 'Who? Who?' I asked her, but all she would say was the same thing, again and again. We got her to the motorcar and set 'er down inside, and all on a sudden, she yelled at the top o' her lungs: 'Irene killed Romelle and Dora!'"
Bridget fell back in the sofa, her hand on her breast, shaking her head at the memory.
"All the way home, I prayed fer a swift-footed six-horse team instead o' that balky-jackass motorcar! Matter o' fact, I jumped out the last block an' ran. I'd already sent Hattie from the market to find an ambulance. They got here a few minutes after me. That's what saved Dora, gettin' her to Johns Hopkins double-quick, behind a brace o' good trotters! She was on the table fer six hours. Romelle was badly bruised, but I had her home three days later. The doctors told me to keep her in bed fer a couple o' weeks, till the headaches stop."
"How has she taken all this?" Philo queried.
"She wants to know where Brad is," Bridget answered sadly, "an' when Uncle Ardie is comin' back, an' she keeps askin' fer you, Cap'n, an' when you will take her home. She never asks about Irene. Cap'n, God is merciful. Romy doesn't remember the incident at all. It's as though it never happened. Kathy remembers more about it than she does. I put a cot in the room so's I can sleep beside her. Otherwise, one or the other o' us is sittin' there. We've never left her alone for more than a few minutes, not even when she sleeps. The doctors have her on sedatives."
Bridget paused in her narrative. "I hope you don't mind, Cap'n, that I put the child in yer late wife's old room. Everything's kept just as it was. Romelle used to go in there. She'd be at the dressin' table fixin' her hair with some fine Baltimore-terrapin brushes and combs."
Tears moistened Philo's eyes. "I gave those tortoise-shell pieces to my wife on our wedding day. My own dear mother used them, and she had them from her mother. They were made by a famous silversmith up New England way by the name of Paul Revere. Yes, I'm glad you put Romelle in there. My Nelle would have wanted it so. You may all sleep in your own beds tonight. I'll stand watch over my granddaughter."
He rose from the sofa. "I would like to take a peek at her, if I may."
Michael stood, as well. "I'd best be gettin' on with the arrangements fer...Ardie's...funeral. We'll have a memorial service tomorrow, at the time o' the interment. Is that alright with you, Cap'n?" Philo nodded his assent. "Thank you, Michael, for all you've done."
Bridget went to the bedroom door and gestured to Kathy to leave the room.
"Go in now, Cap'n," she whispered. "I'll be here in the alcove with me daughter. Romy will be hungry when she wakes up. Just call me."
Philo closed the door behind him.
The drawn shades shut out the sunshine. Catching a darkened reflection of himself in the vanity mirror, he stared into the depths of his own eyes. Nearly thirty years ago, you vowed you'd never set foot in this room again. Yet, here you are, where you spent the sweetest moments of your life with the only woman you have ever truly loved .
Romelle stirred, momentarily distracting him from his reverie. He looked at her. My wife loved your father as her own son, Romelle .
He knelt beside the bed and closed his eyes. His mind traveled back in time to the night he had found Bart under the Northern Lights. Thoughts that came to him then, returned to haunt him now. Am I only supposed to help this child through the night? Is there larger purpose here ? Bart had been that child. Before Philo lay Bart's daughter, whom he was likewise to see through the night.
Another remembrance rushed in. He saw himself at Farnborough Hill, standing in the "circle of souls" who had pledged themselves to her spiritual welfare. His contemplation echoed Dash's words to Romelle, when lifting her to receive the ancient Mongolian blessings: Destiny has already saved you once. Some great purpose must lie ahead for which you have been spared .
When he opened his eyes, Romelle stared back at him. "You're my grandpapa! I know you from the portrait above the mantel. I knew you would come to take me home. Oh, I knew it!"


Table of Contents · Chapter 10