The Bahamian Pirate, страница 1
Jane Corrie - The Bahamian Pirate
Serena did not see any particular harm in pretending to be the granddaughter of nice old Mrs. Tonetti. But that was before she had crossed swords with the indomitable Jordan Kerr. Deeply suspicious of the whole thing, he was clearly not going to leave Serena in peace!
Serena blinked and stared at the woman by her side, then half shook her head as if to clear the fog that had suddenly descended on her senses.
'Pretend to be your granddaughter?' she said blankly. 'I couldn't possibly! I mean, I know nothing about you. Have you lost touch with your family? If so, perhaps I could make some inquiries for you?' She broke off, still partially recovering from the slightly unusual request from her companion.
Giving the woman another swift side glance, Serena surmised that she was not as old as she had thought at first, but so frail-looking, as if a puff of wind might blow her away. The woman was well wrapped up in a mink coat that Serena knew the price of, as her mother possessed one. Whoever the woman was, she was a lady of means. Serena rather wished she could pass the episode off as an odd whim on the elderly lady's part, but there was a pleading in the faded blue eyes that ruled out this wish. She was not an eccentric, and she was in deadly earnest.
Serena's lovely violet blue eyes met the blue ones squarely. The look of compassion in hers reached through to the older woman. 'Look, I'd like to help you, but I don't see how I can. I'm only on holiday here. In fact, I should have left for New York yesterday,' she explained patiently.
'Couldn't you possibly stay a day or two longer?' pleaded the woman. 'It means so much to me. Oh, dear,' she exclaimed, 'I'm explaining this so very badly. You must think I'm mad. Well, to tell the truth I must have been at the time. I really don't know what possessed me, but Clarissa Simpson would keep on and on about how wonderful her granddaughter was, and wasn't it a shame I had no one, so you see it really wasn't surprising I did such a stupid thing.' She looked at Serena with her head on one side, reminding Serena of an expectant sparrow.
Having a somewhat scatty mother had its advantages at times, Serena thought. She was perfectly able to follow the reasoning. 'So you made a granddaughter up,' she said.
Her companion nodded eagerly. 'You do understand! I knew you would! When I saw you sitting here all alone, you looked—forgive me, dear, for my bluntness—but you looked as if you were trying to come to some decision. As if you needed to be alone to think something over.' She gave Serena a sweet smile. 'I think I would have stopped and spoken to you anyway, but it was the colour of your hair that made me decide to put this outrageous suggestion to you. Not only that, but when you turned and answered me and I saw those lovely eyes of yours, it—it was as if you had come just to help me.' She patted Serena's hand. 'You're very lovely, my dear,' she said gently. 'But I'm sure you've been told that many times.' The woman looked away quickly and gazed out to the bay below them, but not before Serena caught the glisten of tears in her eyes.
'You see,' she went on, 'you're going to find this hard to believe, but you're just as I described my granddaughter. Long blue-black hair, violet eyes. Oh, even more perfect than I'd conjured up to put that woman's nose out of joint. Her granddaughter's fair, you know, with a sort of film star glamour. Keeps all the bachelors on the island on their toes, had it all her own way since she came back from finishing school.' She sighed. 'Personally, I can't stand the girl, and to think that Jordan…' She went off in a kind of reverie and stared out to sea.
Serena was beginning to feel she was losing out; she had done perfectly well up to now, but it was time a few points were clarified. 'Hadn't we better introduce ourselves?' she asked gently.
'Isn't that just like me!' exclaimed her companion. 'I'm so sorry, dear, I'm so used to everybody knowing everybody else it never occurred to me. I'm Mrs Tonetti. My husband was Italian, I came here a year ago after losing him.'
Serena solemnly held out her hand. 'Serena Belmont,' she said.
'Serena,' breathed Mrs Tonetti. 'What a lovely name, and suits you perfectly.'
Serena smiled. She hadn't been feeling so serene a little while ago when Mrs Tonetti arrived. It was odd how perceptive she had been, Serena thought. Thinking things over was just what she had been doing; having managed to persuade her mother to go on to New York and leave her to snatch a few days of peace away from Roger's dominating presence, Serena was determined to make the most of her brief spell of freedom. She was safe for a week at least; Roger was attending a conference important enough to warrant a daily attendance. As for trying to come to some decision, Mrs Tonetti had been perfectly right in that, too.
It was now two years since her father died, and being an only child, Serena had been coddled and watched over by her adoring father. She still missed him dreadfully; only he had known how to handle her affectionate but irresponsible mother.
As her father had been a successful financier, money had been plentiful, but his sudden death had coincided with the collapse of some shares he had invested heavily in, and the loss, coupled with death duties, had brought a drastic change to Serena and her mother's way of life.
They could have managed, providing Mrs Belmont had faced up to the facts of life, but Marion Belmont never gave a thought to the morrow. Money was meant to be spent, and spend it she did.
Roger Alton, banker, and friend of Serena's father, had stepped into the breach and taken their affairs into his own hands; not without an ulterior motive. He made no secret of the fact that he wanted to marry Serena. Roger, in his early thirties and a successful man, was a force to be reckoned with. Serena quite liked him, but she did not love him, and had made this fact quite clear to him; but her refusal to contemplate marrying him had not deterred Roger in the least. As yet, there were no rivals to worry about, and he was sure it was just a question of time.
Until three days ago, when they were due to join Roger at his invitation in New York, and from there go on to cruise through the Bahamas, Serena had been content to take life as it came. She was tired of trying to instill some measure of economy into her spendthrift mother, and had decided to look around for some form of employment to stave off the inevitable crunch when it came. That in itself, had been a problem, Serena had no experience to fall back on, or indeed training for any specific work. In the past she had filled her days, or to be more precise, her mother had filled them with various social occasions, such as helping to organise a charity ball, or garden party. This was about the full sum of Serena's past experience and hardly qualified her for obtaining the type of work commanding a high salary, which if they were to survive, was badly needed.
This problem however, was slight compared to the one her mother presented her with the day before they were due to fly out to New York. Serena closed her eyes; how could her mother have been so foolish? In her mind's eye Serena recalled the scene of her walking round their London flat in that dreamy gossamer dress and asking Serena whether she liked it or not. The dress must have cost a small fortune, and it was not as if her mother really needed the dress; her wardrobe, like Serena's, was well stocked from the days of plenty.
On Serena's horrified exclamation on the cost of the dress, Mrs Belmont airily told her daughter she was not to worry, as the dress had been placed on Roger's account. Serena could only stare at her mother and when she was capable of speech she told her she must either take the dress back or recompense Roger for it straight away. Mrs Belmont had opened her blue eyes innocently and said she couldn't see what all the fuss was about. Roger had given her carte blanche to get whatever she wanted for the holiday.
With a sinking feeling in her stomach, Serena demanded to know how many other things had been bought and found it was worse than she had imagined. Her mother had
On Serena's tight-lipped assertion that she wasn't going to marry Roger, her mother had shrugged her elegant shoulders and said soothingly, 'Nonsense, of course you will, you're quite fond of him really.'
Serena began to see the writing on the wall; slowly but surely she was being drawn into a well- laid trap. It was obvious; Roger knew full well her mother's weakness and had deliberately encouraged her. He'd been extremely clever; he would never mention that account, he was too much of a gentleman for that—no, he'd known Serena would eventually find out about it, for he knew how strict a watch she had to keep on her mother's spending and soon the pressure would become more than Serena could withstand. Instinctively Serena knew this was only the start; she had been allowed as much rope as he had been prepared to give her, the lasso was now being tightened around her. Her lips straightened; it appeared she had underestimated Roger's determination to marry her. She ought to have known better; men of his calibre did not accept defeat.
Now, after a few days on this beautiful island in the Bahamas, Serena was no nearer a solution to her problems and couldn't see how she could extricate herself from the subtle bonds that were being woven about her. Feeling a light touch on her arm, she was brought back from her musings.
'You are worried, aren't you, dear?' murmured Mrs Tonetti. 'Forget my stupid suggestion. It was selfish of me to ask it of you. I don't suppose talking over your problem would help, would it? I'm not trying to pry, but I know it sometimes helps. I've often wished in the past I had someone to confide in.'
Serena glanced down at the frail woman by her side. Not only perceptive, but very sweet as well, she thought. She smiled at her, for those few words had helped her to come to one decision at least; she would help Mrs Tonetti if it were at all possible. She would stay the whole week, that would give her three more days on the island. She presumed all she had to do was make an appearance, be introduced as the granddaughter and fade out of the picture.
It could, of course, be tricky; Serena hadn't much experience of duplicity and was not sure she could carry it off, but was game to try. 'I could stay a few days longer,' she said suddenly. 'But I must be on the New York flight on Saturday, or Mother will worry.'
It took a minute or so for Mrs Tonetti to fall in, then she gave Serena a searching look and gasped, 'You mean you'll do it? Pretend to be my granddaughter, I mean?' Impulsively she caught Serena's hand. 'Oh, my dear,' she said, dabbing at her eyes. 'I'll never be able to thank you enough.' Her eyes sparkled as she added, 'Just wait until Clarissa Simpson sets eyes on you!'
'It might not work, you know,' warned Serena. 'I've never done this sort of thing before. Suppose they ask me something and I say the wrong thing? It would be awful if it went wrong, have you thought of that?'
Mrs Tonetti refused to be discouraged. 'I firmly believe in fate, my dear. Why should I suddenly come across you when I'd been so worried about the Centenary celebrations?'
'Centenary celebrations?' echoed Serena.
'That's what it's all about,' replied Mrs Tonetti. 'If I hadn't been so naughty as to fabricate a story about a granddaughter, I wouldn't be in this mess. Never lie, Serena: it just doesn't pay, even though you're sorely tempted—and if Clarissa Simpson wasn't the devil's weapon, I don't know who was! One lie, told in absolute frustration, can completely snowball as this one did. She won't let me forget it. Always mentions my granddaughter and how I must miss her, and wasn't it strange she never came to see me.' She sighed. 'I even had an old friend in England post out letters now and again to keep the deception up. In this part of the world, you know, there's not much goes on that isn't noticed.'
Serena tried to compose herself, but the ironies of the situation were too much for her and she broke out into a deep chuckle. Mrs Tonetti gave her a surprised look. 'Sorry,' smiled Serena, 'but having just agreed to become your accomplice I find the advice a little untimely!'
Mrs Tonetti tried to look stern but failed, and gave a little chuckle herself. 'Well, perhaps what I should have said was take a lesson from what happened to me,' she said.
'You were telling me about the Centenary celebrations,' Serena reminded her.
'Oh, yes,' answered Mrs Tonetti. 'It's quite a big occasion, you know. In fact, quite a lot of visitors will turn up for it. We have one or two occasions during the year, but this one is special. The whole island has a holiday, they'll even re-enact the landing all those years ago of the pirates who took the island by storm. Jordan's ancestors, you know.'
'Er… Jordan?' queried Serena, once again beginning to feel lost.
'Jordan Kerr, dear, the owner of the island. You'll meet him, of course. Such a sweet man, he'll be very pleased to meet you, he's asked after you often, purely for kindness' sake, I assure you. I hated deceiving him, you know, he's been so thoughtful and kind to me since I came here to live, but he's like that, takes everyone's welfare on his shoulders, and he's such a busy man too.' She gave Serena a bright- eyed look. 'Not everyone can settle here, you know. He vets them first.' She gave a slight shiver and gathered her coat around her.
'Ought you to be out now that it's getting chilly?' Serena asked.
'Not really, I know. The doctor did warn me…' Mrs Tonetti broke off suddenly. 'Well, you know what it is when you get old. They always want to coddle you, but it would be rather foolish to catch a chill just when life starts getting exciting.'
Serena was not feeling quite so happy about the situation. Quite a lot of people, it seemed, had heard about the mythical granddaughter. This Jordan Kerr, for instance: well, it depended what sort of a man he was. If he really was as kind as Mrs Tonetti said he was, it might perhaps be wise to let him in on the deception, for if things went wrong Mrs Tonetti could depend on him to smooth things over. She put this to her companion.
'My dear, I couldn't possibly! You don't understand. I couldn't bear it if he knew I was such a… wicked liar!'
She spoke with such vehemence and got so upset about it, Serena did not press the point. In any case, Mrs Tonetti seemed anxious to drop the subject.
'Where are you staying?' she asked Serena quickly.
'The Royal,' Serena replied.
'A wise choice,' Mrs Tonetti remarked. 'Not that the other two are bad, but the Royal is considered the best. However, I do not intend to put you to the expense of spending two more days there, their rates are not all that cheap. We'll collect your luggage, and you must come and stay with me, it would look odd if you didn't.'
Having agreed to help, Serena had now burnt her boats. Mrs Tonetti was right, it would look odd if she continued to reside at the hotel. She was glad she had spent the last two days avoiding contact with other residents; spending her time taking long solitary walks among the hills framing the old harbour, Serena had wanted no distractions, for she had a lot on her mind.
As they slowly descended the slight incline down to the hotel grounds, it occurred to Serena that it was a pity she had not inherited her mother's penchant for bizarre situations. Had she been thus approached she would have been in the seventh heaven and plunged into the role with uninhibited enthusiasm —what was more, she would carry it off to perfection. Mrs Belmont did not believe in half-measures!
As they neared the hotel, Serena was grateful they did not have much further to go. Her companion seemed to tire easily, and she wondered how they were going to get to wherever it was that Mrs Tonetti lived. Serena could not possibly carry her three cases, and Mrs Tonetti obviously could not help. She knew there was a shortage of taxis on the island as she had had to wait at the small air terminal for one on her arrival, and she had heard tourists at the hotel complaining about the shortage. Serena remarked on this to Mrs Tonetti.
'We're only a small island, you know, dear,' answered Mrs Tonett
When they arrived at the hotel Mrs Tonetti proved her case, as within ten minutes of Serena packing, a private car stood waiting outside the hotel.
Serena's cases were carried out of the hotel and put in the boot of the car by a tall West Indian wearing the uniform of the hotel, and as they got in the car, Mrs Tonetti met Serena's raised brows with a smile. 'Residents, dear—as I told you, we're very well looked after. Straight home, Charles,' she ordered as the man settled himself behind the wheel.
Mrs Tonetti's residence lay beyond the island's small township. Serena could not see much once they had left the twinkling lights of the main street behind. The journey took only ten minutes or so. The lights were on in the porch of the sprawling chalet- type dwelling they drew up in front of. Charles, as Mrs Tonetti had addressed him, carried the cases into the hall and with a grin that spread from ear to ear, wished them goodnight before returning to the hotel.
'Molly?' called Mrs Tonetti as she led the way through the hall. 'Come and see who I've got with me.' In an undertone she murmured to Serena, 'My housekeeper.'
A few seconds later a stout Negress in a sedate green overall waddled towards them, her white teeth gleaming in a welcoming smile that seemed to come so naturally to these natives of the islands.
'Serena, meet Molly. My absolute treasure, cook, housekeeper, and general dogsbody, eh, Molly?' said Mrs Tonetti, smiling encouragingly at her. 'This, Molly, is Serena, my granddaughter. How's that for a surprise?'
Molly's welcoming smile broadened, she held out a large brown hand and took Serena's in hers. 'Sure am pleased you come, missy. Now Missus okay, eh?' She beamed at her employer.
Mrs Tonetti nodded slowly, her smile a little tremulous this time. For a second Serena felt a brush of sadness in that smile, then as quickly as she had become aware of it, it had gone. Mrs Tonetti moved into a room leading off the hall, drawing Serena with her. 'I'm sure Serena would like a pot of tea while we wait for dinner,' she called to Molly before she settled Serena into a comfortable cane- backed chair.