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Chapter Sixteen

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"I don't have the faintest idea what you're talking about," Marjorie said. Her tone was whiny. She had a fashion show to get to and Vienna's questions were holding her up. "Oh, damn. I've just applied the wrong fragrance. Bal à Versailles in the middle of the afternoon. No one will be expecting that."

"Think of it as a style statement," Vienna said unsympathetically.

She sorted through another set of letters from the 1840s, correspondence between the Famous Four, most of it pertaining to Sally Gibson, the younger sisters' governess. Stacks of papers were piled on her desk in bundles according to the decades in which they were written. Vienna had set herself the daunting task of inspecting absolutely everything in the study at each of their homes in case her father had misfiled some crucial paperwork that would lead her to the diamond.

"Dad must have told you it was the Cavender necklace," she said as she removed letters from protective plastic envelopes and opened those tied together with ribbons. "He told you everything."

"Not in this instance," her mother insisted. "I'm as shocked as you are. The first time I saw that necklace was the day you turned twenty-one."

"Great-aunt Rachel knew. Did she say anything to you?"

"Not a word."

"I heard her telling Dad it was cursed."

"That's absurd," Marjorie said, but her voice wavered with uncertainty.

"Really? Think about what happened the next time I wore it."

Vienna hadn't intended to raise the subject of the ball, but she'd been frustrated ever since she spoke with Mrs. Danville. It gnawed at her that there was some kind of bizarre conspiracy at work to prevent her from filling in her mental blanks. Even the police were less than forthcoming, fobbing her off with some lame excuse about a fling problem. A young detective had finally told her he would go to the building where the cold case files were stored and locate hers. That was two weeks ago and she'd only heard from him this morning.

As usual, her mother placed the topic firmly off-limits. "I don't think either of us has anything to gain by dredging up the past. Really, Vienna, it's not like you to be superstitious."



"I just want to know where the diamond is." She pushed a button she knew would make her mother sit up and take notice. "I was actually thinking it would make a stunning pendant for your black pearls. Cartier could create something quite superlative."

Marjorie fell silent for a few seconds, no doubt enchanting herself with the possibilities. "Your father ordered the replica when you were in the hospital. He decided it would be safer not to wear the real one." She paused. "The police never ruled out robbery, you know."

"So Dad replaced Le Fantôme, but didn't tell me?"

Marjorie delivered her stock answer to all questions about that night. "We didn't want to upset you."

"I'm not upset, Mom." Vienna had hit upon the perfect explanation for her quest. "I just need to update the insurance. So, where's the diamond?"

She could hear the sound of nails tapping. Finally Marjorie said, "I don't know."

"Is there a safe I don't know about?"



"No." Marjorie sounded mystified and resentful in equal measure. "I searched, you can be quite sure of that. Even the estate attorneys didn't know anything about it."

"Then Dad must have sold it," Vienna said. "And we've been paying a fortune to insure a stone we don't own anymore."

Even her mother could see the unlikelihood of that. Norris was the kind of man who calculated tips exactly and paid not a cent more. Marjorie had always been so embarrassed by his penny-pinching, she slipped cash to waiters when the family dined out. "It has to be somewhere. I'll speak to Wendell."

"Please don't," Vienna said firmly. "We have to keep this to ourselves for now in case we compromise our position. I'll have to explore all avenues if I can't find it. Theft. Fraud." She paused for dramatic effect. "Tax evasion."

Marjorie gasped. "What do you mean?"

"I'm starting to think Dad bought the necklace off the Cavenders for peanuts, then removed Le Fantôme and sold it at a huge profit. If so, he might owe money to the IRS. That could explain why we're still paying the insurance premiums."

"Are you suggesting Norris was covering up a taxation fraud?" Marjorie shrilled.

"Do you have a better explanation?"

While she waited for her mother to stop hyperventilating, Vienna unfolded a thick bundle of letters and spread several pages on the desk in front of her. She could almost read girlish giggles between the lines. The youngest of the Famous Four had witnessed something unusual between the governess and their brother Benedict. She shared her feverish speculation with an older sister, who wrote back demanding more information. There ensued regular communications, most of which reported with bated breath incidents remarkable only for their tedious formality: Benedict knocking on the schoolroom door to advise Miss Gibson that the carriage was now available should she wish to take her charges for a turn. The arrival of a new atlas, compliments of their brother. A letter of thanks penned to him by Miss Gibson that included the shameless words "you are the epitome of kindness." Hardly torrid stuff.

"Maybe it's in Bonnieux," Marjorie said weakly. "I didn't look there."

"Then perhaps you should make those travel arrangements for next year after all."

"Will you come if I'm there?" Marjorie switched to the little girl voice she used for emotional blackmail.

"Of course." Vienna loved spending spring at Bonnieux. The family had often done so when she was a child, returning to the Berkshires just before the goldenrod came into bloom in July. When she could, she still followed that familiar pattern, drawing comfort from the happy memories it evoked.

"By then you'll have taken care of the Cavender matter, thank God," Marjorie said. "And your aunt Cynthia will get off my back."

Vienna had been waiting for the prod. She sometimes wondered what her mother would do once the situation was resolved. The Cavender fixation had provided an outlet for her grief and anger, a link to her dead husband that had helped her through the aftermath of his death. While Norris was alive, Marjorie hadn't shown the same private zeal for their neighbors' destruction.

"Yes, one way or another, it will be over by then." Vienna flipped through several letters until she came to one written in a different hand. It was addressed to Benedict and signed by Sally Gibson.

"Well, I must be going," Marjorie said. "Keep me informed, won't you, darling?"

"If there's any news, you'll be the first to know."

"When are you coming back to town?"

"As soon as I have some answers."

"You know," Marjorie said as though trying to convince herself. "Your father must have had his reasons for not telling us about the diamond."

"I'm sure he did. Enjoy the show, Mom."

As the door closed with a sickly waft of perfume, Vienna read Sally Gibson's long letter with growing fascination.

Is it consistent with the character of a gentleman, first to triumph over the weakness of a woman by inducing her to believe in his affection and in consequence of that belief to obtain her consent; and to solicit convincing proof of her passion; yet afterward to deny his own solemn promises! In what light am I to consider your conduct? Had you no other reason to seek my submission than mere vanity?

I admit the greatest fault was my own, for it was in consequence of my love for you that I discarded my conscience and consented to my own degradation. Alas, I am too well acquainted with these things and have too convincing evidence of your affability to remain ignorant of the condemnation I shall soon enough face from persons who upon learning of my plight will suppose the destitution of virtue to be mine.

It has been my constant study to merit the high regard of your honored parents since finding myself in their service, the good opinion of employers also being the indispensable necessity of all who find themselves in my situation. Too great is my regard to sacrifice your mother's peace of mind by burdening her with disclosure of the oath you have made light of.

I understand that a gentleman who makes a promise solely for the purposes of brutal gratification, and breaks it at his convenience, will be indifferent to the moral duty that would persuade a man of nobler character to consider his obligations. However, I am informed that you are soon to become engaged, so I hope you will be mindful of all that could mar your happiness. Whatever you may think, I do not seek from a spirit of resentment to do harm to your alliance by drawing the attention of vulgar minds to the impropriety of past actions. Yet, however odious, some impeachment of your character may be unavoidable. For although we do not occupy the same station in life, neither are we so separated by birth and the blessings of fortune that your merit as a gentleman entirely outweighs damage done to my reputation as the daughter of a gentleman, and my hopes of conjugal happiness should not weigh less heavily than your own.

Therefore, sir, I must beg on behalf of the child for which I shall soon be responsible, that you act with good sense if not humanity.

I await your answer with respect, Sally Gibson Vienna got to her feet and wandered into the kitchen, taken aback. Unless Sally Gibson was a compelling liar and a con woman, she must have been pregnant by Benedict Blake when she wrote that angry letter. He had obviously led her to believe he had honorable intentions, and then reneged on the promises he'd made as soon as he'd seduced her.

Vienna pondered the very different account of events she'd heard. The kindness of those early Blakes to their "fallen" governess was official family history. No one had ever hinted that all was not as it seemed. She supposed it was natural for a scandal of this kind to have been hushed up at the time, and the family wouldn't have wanted to tarnish Benedict's memory after he was murdered. So the half-truths surrounding Sally Gibson made sense, and the truth wouldn't have mattered if Sally had settled down happily with the head gardener and had a brood of children who vanished into the mists of time.

But Sally had given birth to Estelle, and Estelle's parentage mattered a great deal. In fact, it could change everything. Mulling over the ramifications, Vienna let herself out onto the terrace and sat down in a rattan chair. Estelle had married Hugo Cavender, and Hugo had murdered Benedict Blake, sparking the feud Vienna was still fighting a hundred and forty years later. The Blakes had always claimed the murder was a naked power grab, motivated by greed. And perhaps it was. But what if there was another explanation, one less black and white?

Vienna's stomach plunged as she thought about the famous rivalry for Estelle's hand between Hugo Cavender and Truman Blake. If the letter was believable, Truman was Estelle's half-brother. The name he'd chosen for the diamond jumped to mind. The Ghost of Love. All of a sudden, Truman sounded less like a romantic Victorian and more like a heartbroken suitor.

Vienna pieced together a theory. Truman had bought the diamonds for Estelle and then discovered the terrible truth from his father. The family must have told him when they realized how serious he was about marrying her. That was why he'd auctioned the diamonds. And Hugo Cavender was waiting in the wings to lay claim to Estelle as soon as his best friend backed off. But did Estelle love her husband, or had she loved Truman? It was impossible to tell from her genteel letters. A name leapt into Vienna's mind. The Unhappy Bride. The Laudes Absalom ghost. Intrigued, she went back inside and dialed Penwraithe.

"That ghost," she asked Bridget after the usual pleasantries. "The Unhappy Bride. Who is she?"

Bridget sounded amused by the unexpected question. "Mrs. Danville thinks it's Estelle Cavender."

"Why?"

"Well she was the first victim of the curse. It's a tragic story when you think about it... falling into the lake and drowning when she'd just had a brand-new baby."

"But did she fall or was she pushed?"

"Does it matter? She's just as dead either way."

Vienna thought about the marble statue of the angel, Estelle hurrying away from the house with her Saluki as her side. "I think it does matter," she said slowly. "I think it's at the heart of everything."

"Are we expecting you sometime today?" Bridget asked.

"Yes, quite late."

"You sound stressed. Is everything okay?"

"No, not really." Vienna let her thoughts spill out. "I've grown up inside a myth, and I don't know what I can believe anymore."

Bridget heaved a long sigh. "Everyone feels that way about the church sometimes. You need a few days at home. I'll take some venison out of the freezer and make a pie tomorrow. How does that sound?"

Depressing. Her father had loved game and Bridget took enormous pride in making glamorous meals out of pheasant, rabbit, and other creatures best admired in the wild. Vienna didn't have the heart to admit she felt bilious at the thought of eating Bambi, no matter how well disguised with fancy sauces and pastry.

"Perhaps something lighter," she suggested weakly.

"I have a nice capon in a marinade," Bridget announced. "Just the thing with some liver pâté on toast."

Covering her mouth, Vienna said, "Yes, wonderful."

"Oh, by the way, I heard the police were next door talking to your neighbor."

"What?"

Bridget laughed roundly. "Can you believe it? They asked Mason Cavender for a DNA sample."

"Oh, my God." Vienna felt the blood draining from her face. Detective Sherman didn't say anything about DNA when they spoke earlier. Mason was never going to sign the deal now.

"Don't worry," Bridget assured her. "Mrs. Danville says she's not angry, she's just sledgehammering those walls out front for the hell of it."

 


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