April 27, 1780
Oxford Street, London
Mary managed to arrange to take Celia and George on a shopping expedition the day before Georgina’s parents were expected to arrive. Sadly, the excursion would not include illicit meal-taking.
“They cannot truly expect Aunt Harriet will sponsor them, can they?” Celia complained, sorely put out to lose her most excellent maid. “After what they did to an earl? And expect to be accepted?”
“That will not be their unforgivable sin. The earl is in such disgrace Harrie does not expect him to be well received in Society, and anyone who has managed to embarrass him will be accepted immediately. Nay. Their acceptance will depend upon their wardrobe and letters of introduction, which they don’t have because you stole them.”
Celia sniffed. “Rafael would not allow Coimbra society to treat me as anything less than a queen no matter what I did, and now I am expected to do nothing more than converse with the ferns, so such dealings and expectations and machinations are too complicated for my feeble mind.”
“George,” Celia said briskly. “You are about to fall in love with a handsome Italian merchant and run off with him to the Continent.”
The girl sighed in utter disappointment at Celia’s decision. “Cap’n, they’ll never see me. I’ll make sure of it!”
“Don’t question me, girl,” Celia growled. “I am not your parents and not intimidated by spoilt adolescent bitches. Do that again, and you’ll be scrubbing the bilge walls with your tongue.” George gulped. Celia added, “Anyroad, I am far more accomplished at spoilt bitchery than you.” Celia chuckled when the girl’s bottom lip trembled. “Dr. Telesca will meet us at the modiste attired in a manner befitting a wealthy cit on holiday. He will bump into us on the street and apologize, et cetera, et cetera. You need only play along and then leave with him when he makes his grand declaration of eternal devotion. You are not to leave my office until you are taken to Rotterdam, and then you are not to step foot off the Thunderstorm unless Leftenant Smith gives you leave to do so. Understood?”
“Aye, Cap’n,” she whispered.
“We will, however, go to the booksellers first. Inform me of any books you deem necessary for Kit’s tutoring and I will purchase them.” She opened her mouth to protest— “Bilge.” —and shut it again. “I’ll not have you spending your money on a man you’re fucking whilst you’re in my care.”
George looked to Mary, but found no succor there. “She’s right, love,” Mary said gently. “And pray do not ask me to intervene for you again. Even I follow her orders.”
“You’ll need that money when you catch and he sets you ashore with a bastard and then conveniently forgets you. Trust me.”
Celia watched as comprehension changed her expression from mulish to resigned, and she heaved a great sigh. “Understood, Cap’n.”
Thus it was that after the ship’s surgeon had swept George away into the arms of glorious bliss along with a message to Solomon written in Arabic, Celia was led into a modiste’s by her mother. They browsed the fabric selections and the fashion plates, but as Mary was thought to be living on the “charity” of a marginally well-off merchant, they could not, in fact, purchase much.
Celia grew more resentful every time she touched a particularly fine piece of silk. Because of her ruse, she could not purchase any of the fine things she loved so much, and at this moment, she was itching to spend money.
It was all she could do to forget about the jeweler five doors down from the modiste.
And the milliner three doors down from that.
And the swordsmith two streets over from that.
“Celia,” Mary murmured, turning her away from the proprietress’s attention, “curb your appetites and mind your character. You are acting like a drunkard who hasn’t had a drop for a week.”
Alarmed, Celia immediately pulled herself back into her persona. No, it would not do to give anyone an indication that she was not the imbecile she claimed to be.
Mary called her thanks to the proprietress and led Celia out of the shop and to the coach. Celia determined to spend a day or two (or three or four) shopping in Rotterdam before the voyage homeward.
That was something she had had only twice in her life, and briefly at that. Though she had grown up on the deck of the Iron Maiden and, all told, lived and worked aboard it for seven years, it was home only by virtue of the fact that she had nowhere else to go. It was not her home.
Rafael’s university-granted living quarters had been more of a home to her than not, her things strewn about for five years, but was still not a home. Of course, they were not much more of a home to Rafael, but he refused to part with coin for a home of his own when his rents were paid.
The Carnivale had been more prison than anything, and while the refurbished Thunderstorm was hers, and her cabin was outfitted to her taste, it was also not a home by dint of the fact that it could sink at any time.
She had not felt the lack until she’d made a home with Talaat in his fine marble palace in Casa Blanca. It was the opening of his life and soul to her, the knowledge that she would never leave again, that she could do something of permanence in the space he wished to share with her that had made it her home. It had also made her recall the home in Philadelphia she’d shared with Bancroft and her mother and her brother for the first eight years of her life: the nursery littered with beloved toys, the wardrobes stuffed with beautiful clothes, her soft bed piled high with dolls—
Papa Papa Papa Papa Papa!
Why, hello, my poppet! With a welcome-home like that, I should rather leave and come back for another.
No, Papa! Come see my sums.
Your sums? Oh, my clever little minx. Well, in a moment. Let me kiss your mother first.
She had never spoken of that time with anyone but Talaat, yet since his death, she had often recalled it and the home she’d shared with him.
“I want a home,” she said abruptly once she and Mary had left the modiste’s with a pair of ugly satin gloves for Celia that had never been picked up by the client who’d ordered it. “That’s what I want.”
“If you wed Rafael, you shall have one,” Mary murmured.
“I’ve lived with Rafael, Mother. I shan’t do it again.”
“Oh? Then you will remain at sea? That is home to you, is it not?”
“Nay. I sail because it is what I know how to do, I am accomplished at it, there is nothing else I feel compelled to do, and I am beholden to no society or stricture.”
“Yet you desire a home, which brings society and strictures with it.” Ah, she was correct on that point. Then she continued, causing Celia to wonder how long she had been pondering this. “You do not intend to settle in Morocco, do you?”
“I should think not!”
“What do you plan for your houses there?”
Oh, Celia had a plan for the houses Talaat had left her in Casa Blanca and Marrakech, but not one she wanted to share with her mother just yet. “I should give up my holdings there, do you think?”
“Were it for me to decide, yes.”
The question itself was a feint, yet she still needed the advice. Mary was wise in these matters, while Celia had ever been careless with her funds, frittering her money away on any pretty thing that caught her eye. In fact, Celia had never had much before she’d wed Talaat. Dunham had kept a tight rein on her spending while at university, but Rafael bought her whatever caught her fancy. Then Talaat had showered her in jewels and silks before leaving her his wealth. Thus, she was not conversant with the true value of things, which fact she became distressingly aware of when she began using that fortune to refit the Carnivale and retain her crew.
If it hadn’t been for Solomon and Smitty, she’d have been fleeced of every last falus Talaat had left her.
And as for her prizes . . . Dunham and Skirrow had taught Celia well how to spot and capture valuable ships and their cargos, but her skill in selling the goods at a profit was nonexistent. She had never seen Dunham or Skirrow take a prize they did not then sink after the valuables had been offloaded.
If it hadn’t been for Mary, it would never have occurred to Celia to keep the ships, refit them, and sell them or lease them out.
But what if they sink? I will lose money, aye?
Only a bit, because you would have invested only in the cost of the repairs and paying an extra crew to sail them in. Upon signing of the lease agreement, you will collect an initial fee of approximately the same amount as the repairs and payroll. Thus, you will end up with nothing but lost time, as you would have sunk those ships anyway. It is an acceptable risk for the potential return. If you had purchased them, I would advise you differently.
Insure them for thrice their sale value and potential lease fees. Celia! You are a mathematician and you were married to a moneylender. How can you not know these things?
I don’t know, Mama. ‘Tis as if numbers that represent currency are an entirely different mathematical world from the one I know. Talaat tried to teach me, but it seems I cannot comprehend it no matter how I try. People are involved! People make everything more complicated. Fair makes my head spin.
But she was still speaking. “ . . . go ashore alone, you would do better in Paris or Philadelphia.” She paused. “But think on this: What I believe you truly want is what your fa—Nathan and I gave you and Lucien. Before.”
Get her out of my sight before I kill her!
Yes, before. Always before.
“Love and warmth and laughter. A home is not a structure, and I can speak with authority on that. You’ll not find a home alone. You may be able to achieve a semblance of that should you bear children. But a home is not complete without a man who loves you, and a string of lovers in and out of your bed will not give you what I believe you truly seek. Lord knows, Harriet’s been trying that for the last twenty years.”
They sat silent for a while, Celia staring blankly out the window as the carriage wound its slow way through the traffic.
“How close are you to finding those documents?” Mary asked.
Glad to be released from the previous topic, Celia’s breath escaped her in a whoosh. “Barely begun,” she said, reminded of yet another of her problems. “In diverse books, I’ve found three little notes Sarah wrote him as writing exercises. There is no pattern to their dispersement that I can discern, which means I must search every book. Now, with him in residence . . . ”
“I shall send a note to Maarten, explain the situation and beg forgiveness. Then we can leave.”
“Nay. Firstly, my solicitors have only just met with Aunt Harriet’s solicitors, who’ve agreed to send their bills there and, further, confer on the subject. My solicitors know exactly who I am and can give the appropriate advice without giving me away, but I need to be accessible to them. If we are lucky, Rathbone will be assigned a ship soon and then I can get back to Maarten’s task. If, by September perhaps, we still have not made any headway with Bancroft and I feel it prudent to leave, we will. Secondly, if we must flee, I can simply fill the hold out of the warehouses in Rotterdam and sail straight back to Virginia without attempting to take prizes.”
“That will decrease your profit.”
“Mother! I don’t need more money! I need to know what my enemies know!”
Her mother’s mouth tightened and she cast an angry glare at Celia. “That is not your reason for tarrying. You are no kind of spy. What are you planning, Little Miss?”
Celia looked out the window and said nothing for two blocks.
Why did you not pursue me for the figurehead?
I hoped you would come to me.
She took a deep breath and reluctantly admitted, “Judas bade me stay so he could find me.”
The anger in the coach seemed to dissipate, but Mary’s voice was laden with sorrow. “Oh, Celia.”